Question: Thoughts on Halloween

shalomtwotwo asked:

What are your thoughts on Halloween?


You know, when I see my fellow Christians rally against Halloween: I sort of giggle a little bit. 

Not because I think I’m a cool relevant hipster kind of Christian, but because if we’re going against Halloween, then we also better picket against Christmas and Easter.  Both have countless pagan traditions.  And while we’re hating on pagan-related stuff, better quit drinking Starbucks too, since their logo is a Greek homicidal temptress.


Some things to consider about Halloween:

– There’s a huge difference between the occult/witchcraft/sorcery stuff that sacrifices squealing animals and an American pastime that’s celebrated by kids.  It’s not hard to make the distinction.

– If you’re into Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, or The Walking Dead, this does NOT disqualify you as a Christian

– But if for some reason you’re easily scared, or you get those horror-type images stuck in your head, or you’re recovering from a dangerous situation with the occult, then by all means: please practice caution for yourself.  That’s totally a Romans 14 issue.

– While it’s good to at least address the made-up mythology behind Halloween for younger kids, we don’t need to judge parents who take their kids trick-or-treating. 

– I also think it’s totally okay to have an alternate event for younger children at your church.  We might poke fun at “Hallelujah Night” or the even worse “Harvest Day” (sounds like we’re in the illegal organs business), but I’ve always had fun hosting these for my Sunday School.  After all, it’s probably unwise to scare young kids with putrefied zombies or extremely messed up ghost stories, because there’s really a limit of safety for kids who will get freaked out by anything.

– I’m not okay with the church making Halloween some kind of grand social issue.  There is a long list of other concerns that out-prioritizes this, and God is not patting us on the head for taking a stand against ghosts.  If someone is yelling “blasphemy” at Halloween, then I also hope we’re yelling blasphemy that our churches are not giving aid to the poor, rescuing sex slaves, or caring for the 6000+ people groups who don’t know Jesus. 

I really do love the church, but come on.  In the end, God will not say, “Well done, good and faithful Halloween fighter.”

— J

Quote: Poured It On

“Instead of withholding love to change somebody, I poured it on, lavishly. I hoped that love would work like a magnet, pulling people from the mire and toward healing. I knew this was the way God loved me. God had never withheld love to teach me a lesson.”

— Donald Miller

Fake, Fraud, and On Empty


At times when I’m serving at church or encouraging a friend or writing some inspirational piece, I think —

If people knew how I really am, they’d run screaming.

Because I often feel like I’m compensating for the wrong I’ve done, and that there is never enough I can do to wash out my past. I think it’s all a desperate race to look good when I’m really still crooked inside, and any second now I’ll be exposed and pay the penalty and everyone can say, I always knew something was wrong with him.

I wish there was a magic bullet for this: but the itch never goes away. It’s a constant anxiety that others might pull off the mask and see I was just a fake the whole time.

Continue reading “Fake, Fraud, and On Empty”

Quote: Joy of Obedience

“I am often asked what a Christian should do if the cheerfulness of obedience is not there. It is a good question. My answer is not to simply get on with your duty because feelings are irrelevant! My answer has three steps. First, confess the sin of joylessness. Acknowledge the culpable coldness of your heart. Don’t say that it doesn’t matter how you feel. Second, pray earnestly that God would restore the joy of obedience. Third, go ahead and do the outward dimension of your duty in the hope that the doing will rekindle the delight.”

— John Piper

Everyone Knows Better: Only One Knows Best


When you’re about to make a tough decision:
everyone else will have a vision for your life.

Your parents, who love you but are living through you.
Your best friend, who has selfish motives and secret agendas.
Your other friends, who don’t think about you during the day.  
The culture, which aims at your wallet.  
Some pop song, written by a guy in a 3000 dollar chair.  
A movie, which holds you in a spell like a drunken stupor.  
Even you, who can so easily deceive yourself with promises you keep breaking.

Don’t trust it.  Don’t trust some articulate well-spun wisdom.  Don’t trust that blogger.  Don’t trust me.  They might say good things, when it’s really dressed-up advice made to sound good so you would call them wise, and they’re not even following it themselves.

There is only One Voice who knows you better than you know you.  He is not selfish, and He does think about you during the day, always.  His chair is a throne, but His feet touched the earth.  He means what He says.  He followed His word down to the letter and bled.

Get with Him, because He made you and He has your best interests at heart.  Shut out everything else.  As best you know how, clear the cobwebs and hear His soft whisper and follow Him.  He can be trusted.  You will know it’s Him because it’ll probably be the last thing you wanted to do, but the one thing you always knew was true.  

It is a harder path: but it’s the joy you’ve been waiting for.


The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

— Psalm 37:23-24

— J.S.

Question: Battling That Anger and Bitterness

Anonymous asked:

I have a really hard time dealing with anger. I bottle it up inside because I don’t know how to let it out. When I do let it out, it’s an explosion! What is the biblical way to deal with anger and how do I keep myself from getting angry/bitter so fast? P.S. You answer peoples questions very well and straight forward. Thank you for taking the time to answer! P.S.S. I think you’re quite handsome!


Hey friend: First of all, thank you for saying I am “handsome.”  I’m guessing you saw my recent pictures from Alabama.  I hardly ever get told that (except by my girlfriend and mother), so I really do appreciate it. 

And hey: I am right there with you on anger, more than you could know. 

Before I go on, I’d like to shamelessly plug a sermon I preached recently on anger here called “Prioritizing Your Outrage.”  I’ll go over some of the same points.

Continue reading “Question: Battling That Anger and Bitterness”

Be Honest, Be Free

I know not everyone will agree, but:

I think the Christian world, more than anything, tends to push out honesty. It’s not your fault, really. We want to look like the tribe, affirm our position, embrace the language, conform to duty. No one wants crazy and it’s a “bad witness” to be messy, so we wear the angel face. And you might be accepted that way: but at the high cost of your soul.

For God’s sake, be honest. Be your slobbery gross vulnerable weak squishy self. Don’t have it all together to please some invisible moral bar. Dress how you want in church. Wear the black lipstick and the gauge earrings and the fedora hat. Don’t hide your tattoos. Don’t hide your scars. Say what’s on your mind. Say you’re not okay. Say you’re angry. Say you want change. Say the awkward truth, when it helps and when it hurts. Be so happy you can’t control your body. Not everyone will like it — but really, who cares? Who freaking cares? When did the Bible say “Care more about what others think than what God thinks”? Be honest. Be free. Do not let anyone crush you out of you. So long as you honor God with your honesty, it is the most dignified way to honor others. The you that God wants you to be is the you that you always wanted.

— J.S.

Quote: Squeezed

“We were created in such a way that music erupts from us when we are squeezed. Whether it is a violent wringing or love’s embrace, song drips out. So sing with all your might. Paint with fury. Write words noisy with color. Dance. Dance until we can see your soul. Let remembering squeeze you, then go get a bucket to catch the drippings.”

— David Crowder

Question: Let’s Blame Religion For Everything


I was writing an essay for class when I stumbled upon information about Hitler. I found out that he was very much into Christianity and he was a strong believer which led him to do the things that were horrible but he used God as his support. He did things which the Christians in the bible did yet 100% of the people in the world can say that he was wrong and sinful. But then to refute this, Hitler could say God vs. world (people). How does one know if they are for God or against?


This is such an awesome nerdy question that my theology-antenna is doing cartwheels.

At first glance it seems this argument holds up well —

If there was no such thing as religion, we wouldn’t have so many wars and genocide and killings and bad things!

And of course, according to Godwin’s Law, someone must always bring in Hitler or Nazis into an argument.  The moment you bring in Hitler or Nazis to make your case, you’ve gone off the deep end into hyperbolic excess.

No self-respecting irreligious person would even argue this anymore.  There are too many cases where religion has done good and where the absence of religion has gone horribly wrong — so it’s a really weak argument that my former atheist self would’ve avoided altogether.  It’s much too randomized to make any correlation.

But I do understand your concern.  The Bible has been used (wrongly) to support slavery, chauvinism, imperial oppression, genocide, witch hunts, and just about any horrible thing you want.  If you were really determined, you could also make the Bible support homosexuality, incest, and abortion.

Continue reading “Question: Let’s Blame Religion For Everything”

Still A Rookie: The Secret Anxiety of Every Blogger

A guy who sometimes reads my blog told me, “You must be really well-adjusted. You’re not like those other Christians.”

I wasn’t sure what this meant. I wanted to tell him that as much as I love writing inspirational things, I’m actually pretty crazy inside. Honestly — I’m often two loose bolts from falling apart at high speed.

I get the feeling many of us blog the same way we live: sort of preaching at others how we would like to be, vaguely implying our real selves through ambiguous glimpses, never fully letting on how neurotic and insecure we really are. So much of it is for show. We think if we can inspire others, we’re probably doing a good job at life and it shouldn’t matter how I feel if others can feel better. It’s living vicariously through others in reverse.

But that’s the point: We all secretly blog about how we would rather be. There’s an approximate ideal image we wear in public that loses its polish when you get up close. Some of that is hypocrisy maybe — but I sense that even in the striving, we are finding who we really are.

I don’t think I’m well-adjusted. But hopefully our blogs are not “preaching” anything we’re not already trying to do. Hopefully our blogs are more being than wanna-be. And I think we’re all sort of trying to get it right together. I wish we could be open about that in a way where we’re not glorifying the struggle to get pity and attention, but open enough to quit sounding like we know what we’re doing. We inspire each other when we’re real about the mess inside.

I’m still a rookie at all this. We all are, and it’s okay to be honest about that.

— J

Published on Sermon Central!

Hello friends! I was recently published on Sermon Central ..!

The post is for preachers, leaders, and Bible study teachers.
It’s about seven gut-checks before presenting.

The original post is here.

Be blessed and love y’all!
— J

Question: How To Do Discipleship

Anonymous asked (edited for length):

Hello. I’d like you to know that I really like how you answer people’s questions … You are such a blessing, pastor. Also, I want to ask how to disciple. I don’t really know how, but I’m willing. Thank you in advance.


Thank you for your very kind words, and also for your willingness to step it up and make disciples.

With questions like these, it’s easy to start with “How To” — but I think we need to answer Why. 

I mean if you asked me about marriage, I don’t want to start immediately with “Five Keys For A Happy Home-Life.”  That might work on the surface, but if we know Why: then we can really dig into the purposeful heart of our actions and it can be sustainable.

Please feel free to skip around, and add anything you like.  Discipleship is so much more than I could write in this post, but probably not much less.

Continue reading “Question: How To Do Discipleship”

Question: Getting “Right” With God Again

Anonymous asked:

– I’ve become agnostic since I started my semester at school, and I haven’t been too concerned about my relationship with God since. Lately, I’ve been feeling “spiritually empty” but I don’t really know where to begin with setting things “right” with God. I know that I “strayed away from the path” and praying doesn’t seem to work out for me at the moment, but I feel like I am on the verge of losing my love for God.


Dear friend: thank you so much for your honesty and for caring to try again. This is a huge question that I can’t hope to answer in a single post, but I can hopefully point the way. Please feel free to skip around.

I’m assuming by your question that 1) you are uncertain about God in your life, but 2) you are willing to explore Him again, and 3) you want to know how.

I can guarantee that you have probably heard tons of advice already.

This includes:

Go back to church, go to a revival/retreat/conference, read the Bible, read this Christian book, watch this sermon, go in solitude with God, find a wise mentor or counselor or pastor, find a group of Christians, ask a random blogger, start a journal, study theology, study Calvinism, serve the homeless, strap a fish on your car, quit masturbating, don’t chew tobacco, stop racing cops, eat vegan.

This is probably all sound advice.

But — even if you follow every single thing, you will end up back where you started. Disillusioned, disenchanted, disenfranchised.

So I think we need to ask a question. We need to begin in a fundamental place of honesty with ourselves.

Why did this happen?

How did you end up spiritually empty?

Please allow me to take a guess. If I’m wrong, skip ahead.

Continue reading “Question: Getting “Right” With God Again”

Question: What’s With Fasting?

Anonymous asked:

Is fasting a heart issue? I hear all kinds of arguments, “fasting from Facebook, fasting from football”, etc.


We often second-guess ourselves about the “purity of our motives” and whether we can truly “follow God from the heart” or whether this is a “real” fast.

But let’s break it down this way.

1) Everything we do comes from our heart: our entire being.

2) Our hearts are always mixed up with spotty motives, because we’re human and we have that condition called sin.

3) But we follow God anyway, imperfectly, by all His available grace.


So hey: If someone in their less-than-perfect knowledge of Jesus decides to fast from Facebook and football and donuts and blogging and smoking, no one has a right to cut in with judgments of “heart issues” or other condemning accusations. 

I do understand what what you mean here — that we should advise people of being sincere because there’s a danger of making it a religious duty — but I have met absolutely NO ONE who says, “You know what, I want my fast to be fake this time. I’m tired of being authentic.”  

By the grace of God, we’re all struggling to be real here, and if fasting from watching the game on Mondays will help with that, then by all means let’s applaud our baby steps together.

Continue reading “Question: What’s With Fasting?”

You Do Have What It Takes

In the days of Jesus, young Israelite students began memorizing the Old Testament by ten years old … and by fifteen, they could ask their rabbi, “Can I become your disciple?” The rabbi could either say, “You’re not good enough, you don’t have what it takes,” or he could say, “Follow me.”

[In Mark 2:13-17,] Matthew also had the family name Levi, which means he most likely descended from the Levitical priests like Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel, Ezra, and Malachi. So Matthew’s family was banking on him becoming a disciple … but when we meet him, he’s a hated tax collector, a sell-out of his own people. Which means Matthew’s rabbi had told him, “You’re not good enough.”

I can just imagine that long walk home, Matthew’s father seeing his son from the doorstep and realizing he didn’t make it, backing into the house, the silent click of the door. I can imagine Matthew’s heartache, his rejection … and like the Prodigal Son, grabbing his inheritance to buy a tax collector’s booth.

Then Jesus walks by Matthew’s table, and in a moment predestined before the foundation of time itself, Jesus says the words that Matthew Levi has been waiting to hear his whole life: “Follow me.”

Matthew was probably thinking, “Why? Why would you want me? I’m a screw-up. You don’t know what I’ve done. I’m not good enough, I don’t have what it takes. Not even my father wants me.”

But Jesus, without a single question, without qualifying him, without telling him to clean up first, was telling him: “Levi, it’s your mess-ups that qualify you for this kingdom of mine. It’s because of your mess-ups that I want you. In my eyes, you are good enough. You do have what it takes. Come on. Follow me.”

— J.S. from this message