Quote: Uppercut

Please do not determine the course of your life based on what you think is possible today.

You might feel like you’re stuck in a rut or circling a doubt or anchored to a feeling: but the thing is, I would never put it past God to uppercut your life. He can, does, and will. When God is in the equation, mountains get moved and any kind of heart in any condition can surprise itself.

We can’t really claim that your current slice of life right now is how you will always feel. Don’t take a tiny percentage of your journey as a reflection of the whole thing. Please be open to the possibility that God will do anything He wants through you.

— J.S.

Question: My Pastor Doesn’t Preach Deep Enough

Anonymous asked (edited for length):

I know you lovingly and jokingly ‘hate’ on reformed churches. I spent half my life in a reformed Church, but after moving states, I’ve been called to a somewhat more ‘neutral’ denomination … But I miss the deep theology and resonance of a ‘reformed’ sermon. The sermons in my current Church lack luster … I love my current Church but I do miss my ‘reformed sermons’. A lot of young people in our Church are complaining that they are not growing / the sermons are not deep enough … What I’m trying to grapple with for myself is what really is at the heart of a reformed sermon? … Are ‘reformed’ sermons really scripturally deeper? …  I’m trying to get to the heart of this myself so I can be more satisfied with the spiritual feeding my current Church is offering. I am supplementing all this with Piper/Keller/Driscoll sermons online, but I miss being excited about the sermon on Sundays.

Dear friend, thank you so much for asking this.  Many of us love our churches but feel off about the Sunday sermons, and this is a much more common issue than you think.

I edited a lot of your original question, but you were very fair about your pastor and I appreciate your gracious tone. There are too many people who are overly harsh on this sort of thing, and you’re not one of them.  I know it’s also a sensitive issue because you want to respect your leadership while also challenging them to a deeper level. But really there are a few simple adjustments you can make when you’re “not being fed.”

About Reformed Calvinism: secretly, I am indeed a Reformed Calvinist but I no longer self-identify as one. I do like to poke fun at us because I think we need to lighten up and no one really calls us out, but as far as the theology goes, I’m all there.  I also very much love my Reformed brothers and sisters, even when they’re not always fun to hang out with (hah).

If you feel you’re not being fed on Sundays, please don’t leave the church yet.  Here are some things to consider.

Continue reading “Question: My Pastor Doesn’t Preach Deep Enough”


When someone says “Life is great and God is good,” it sounds like they’re saying, “God is good when MY life is great.”

I don’t think that’s really gratitude. When our thankfulness is attached to things we can lose: we’re not living the way we’re designed. Then we’re determining value based on our surroundings, and this is a never-ending game of swinging between idolatrous happiness or fist-shaking despair.

We were created to cling onto a permanent reliable source of life, and there is only one. God is the love you can never lose, the cosmic king of constancy who will never leave you. So when life sucks, things can still be good because God is still good. He doesn’t change when we do. He is still the same when the world is upside-down: because He holds that world the same as yesterday as forever. No one gets the last word on your life but Him, and He is writing your story with a ferociously final love that cannot be beaten.

Then any other blessing is just a bonus, and good things or bad things regain their proper perspective. When things happen — good or bad — they are just things that happen to you, and they can be pretty tough sometimes, but they are NOT you. God determines your value and His mind is already made up about you. For that: I am thankful.

— J

The Art of Preaching To Yourself: Fighting Your Pride and Your Pain

Hello beloved friends!

This is a message I preached for the lovely people of Refuge Full Gospel.  It’s called The Art of Preaching To Yourself: Fighting Your Pride and Your Pain.

Stream here or download directly here!

The Scripture is Psalm 42:1-15.  Some things I talk about are: My ultimate social fantasy daydream when I run for political office, growing up in the same town with the same labels, imagining that back room of rumors about you, the epidemic called Main Character Syndrome, when you crush someone with a false hologram version of them, and when God replaces your lungs.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

— J

Quote: Instantaneous

“[My friend John] told me that when Terri gave birth to Chris and he held his son in his arms for the first time, it was the closest he had ever been to understanding the love of God. He said that though he had never met this little person, this tiny baby, he felt incredible love for him, as though he would lie down in front of a train if he had to, that he would give up his life without so much as thinking about it, just because the child existed. John set this love beside other relationships, but they didn’t compare. In other relationships, the person he knew had to earn his love. Even with his own father, John learned to love him, and with his wife, they had fallen in love over several years, becoming closer and closer friends. But it wasn’t that way with his children. His love for them was instantaneous, from the moment of their birth. They had performed nothing to earn his love other than be born. It was the truest, most unconditional love he had known. John said if his love for Chris was the tiniest inkling of how God loved us then he had all the security in the world in dealing with God, because he knew, firsthand, what God’s love toward him felt like, that it was complete.”

— Donald Miller

A Hug, A Name

Before I left church the other day, a little Sunday School kid said, “I won’t be here this Sunday. Can you give me a hug? And can you remember my name?” Suddenly I knew what Jesus felt like when he picked up children with their arms wide open, and I’m reminded that every human desire is really to be known and to be loved. It’s the heart of a kid who doesn’t want to be forgotten.

— J

Why Did I Donate Half My Salary of $10,000? Because of the Gospel

At the end of 2012, 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.

Continue reading “Why Did I Donate Half My Salary of $10,000? Because of the Gospel”

I don’t ever want to preach a good sermon.

– For pastors, preachers, leaders, Bible study teachers, and for us all. –


If I preach a good sermon on a Sunday service:

I didn’t do it right.

Yes, I want to research hard.  To study up, do the exegesis, dig up the Greek and Hebrew, get into my historical-grammatical exposition, find the redemptive purpose.  I want to speak in a dynamic tone, find the best stories, sharpen my metaphors, keep it relevant, be self-aware and self-deprecating, know my people and give them permission to laugh.

All this is good.

But if people are saying, “You’re good” or “Great sermon!” — then I totally messed it up.

You know why, pastors.  Because our job is to point to Him.  To step out of the way so that instead of the hearers saying, “Isn’t our pastor great?” — they say, “Isn’t Jesus great?”

I understand though.  Many churchgoers hear a sermon like they’re watching a movie, reviewing its contents and checking for internal consistency and mentally debating whether they like it or not.  For many, it’s entertainment.  Just a guy with a mic to inspire everyone.

And it’s very difficult to turn the tide on consumer consumption.  Especially when most of our churches are set up like disposable theaters.

It’s also tough to get rid of that manic, desperate, sweaty demeanor that is begging for validation from the whole room.  It’s not easy to stop saying with your body, “Do you like me?  Am I cool?  Is this working?”

With all this mixed in, it’s not easy to preach a good sermon.  And certainly you don’t want to preach a bad one.

I’ve found that only one thing works.

And it’s exactly because you can’t “make it work.”  It’s completely beyond formula, fashion, crafting, and content.

Continue reading “I don’t ever want to preach a good sermon.”

How C.S. Lewis Felt About Everything

A rare picture of C.S. Lewis.

It has been fifty-years since the passing of C.S. Lewis, as well as JFK and Aldous Huxley. It’s also been one-hundred twenty years since Lewis was born.

C.S. Lewis has been the most influential Christian writer in my spiritual journey. He has shaped my spirituality more than any other writer I know. I do not agree with all he says (when do we ever find such a person anyway?) — but he is absolutely a kindred soul. I also love his tales of pulling pranks on his dear hapless friends.

To commemorate, here are some of my favorite Lewis quotes.

Continue reading “How C.S. Lewis Felt About Everything”

Quote: Go Back In Time

“Sometimes I wish I could go back in time, sit down with myself and explain that things were going to be okay, that everybody loses ground sometimes and it doesn’t mean anything. It’s the way life works. This is hard to understand in the moment. You get to thinking about the girl who rejected you, the job you got fired from, the test you failed, and you lose sight of the big picture — the fact that life has a beautiful way of remaking itself every few weeks. The things that matter right now aren’t going to matter a month from now, a year from now.”

— Donald Miller

Question: Victory Over Binging

Anonymous asked:

Hey, thanks for that post about binge eating. I use food as a coping mechanism too, and I hate myself for it. Your victory gives me some hope though, so thank you. I did want to ask — are there other ways of coping that you developed instead of binge eating?


I’m definitely no expert on binging but I can share a few personal things that helped.  Please know that these are only suggestions.  Feel free to toss them or modify them as you see fit.  And don’t be afraid to seek counseling or medical treatment — there is zero shame for seeking help.

Continue reading “Question: Victory Over Binging”

Strugglers, Sinners, Saints

Strugglers: There really is a struggle and we really are broken, but sin is also ugly and we can’t water that down.  Don’t let “struggling” become a permission slip for lukewarm living.

Sinners: It is not about avoiding sin.  There is so much more that God has for you than overcoming all the time.  Jesus set you free for your purpose, His people, His presence, His power, so that you’d be a countercultural force for good in the world.  Pursuing His Kingdom despite yourself can be enough to repent and run to Him.

Saints: The church is a holy place, but it is also a hospital.  Keep others accountable, but tend to the wounded and weary.  And when others speak well of your deeds, resist the glory, because it is all His in the end.  Keeping glory is ruinous vanity; giving glory is joyous freedom.

— J

Quote: Self-Pity

“If you are like me, the reason you sometimes feel sorry for yourself is because it feels good. I know that sounds odd, but if you think about it, it really does. When I feel sorry for myself, what I’m really saying is that I deserved better, that I am a better person than what the situation has dealt me. And if you think about it, that’s kind of an arrogant thing to say. It would be better if our attitude was more like, Man, that stinks, I didn’t get the job, or, That girl rejected me; better luck next time. Or we could just laugh about it with our friends. The trouble comes when something hard happens and we choose to stop and milk it for attention. There’s no progress in that, and it isn’t going to get us anywhere. And it’s also annoying.”

— Donald Miller

In From The Cold

I want to be one of those restaurant owners who gladly welcomes patrons in five minutes before closing time.

I know that sounds like a stupid romantic thing to say. And when I was a busboy, I used to hate it when people did that. But really.

Because first of all: I’m running a business and I’m there to make money, and if I can’t commit to my hours of operation, then I shouldn’t even own the place.

But mostly because: I know what it’s like to get off work late and look around for a place to eat. It’s not that I had so much money to eat out, but I just wanted to be around people who were not demanding work stuff from me for eight hours before I go home to an empty apartment. This sometimes means that I’m looking for a restaurant at the last minute, and I already feel bad that I’m making the place stay open, and I’m just hoping some smiling face would welcome me in and let me unwind from the whole day. I’m hoping someone would let me come in from the cold.

I want to be the guy who serves that guy.

— J

God Is A God of Wrath, Justice, and Holiness: Because He Loves Us.

Hello beloved friends!

This is a message about Heaven, Hell, and the Wrath of God.  It was a tough one.  The message is titled: God Is A God of Wrath, Justice, and Holiness: Because He Loves Us.

Honestly, I love being the voice of encouragement, but I find it extremely difficult to talk about the hard parts of the Bible.  Because I want people to like me.  But the most loving thing I can do is tell the whole truth even when it hurts.  At times my voice is shaking and it was uncomfortable for both me and my church.  I can only hope I balanced both truth and grace.

Stream here or download directly here.

To stream other podcasts, click here.

Be blessed and love y’all …!

— J

Quote: Good Time As Any

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

— Hugh Laurie

Stuck In A Rut With My Faith

amberswords asked:

What would you recommend to someone who is in a rut and is having a hard time falling in love with Christ again? I’ve felt so broken for a long time, and have built up so many walls because of messy relationships, and now I’m not even sure how to let Him back into my life. Any ideas? Thanks!

Hey friend: thanks so much for your honesty.  I do get questions like this quite a lot, so you’re definitely not alone.  Please allow me the grace to link them first, here, here, here, and here.  And please feel free to skip them.

You’ve probably heard tons of advice already, but there’s no silver bullet for this sort of thing.  I wish I had some cute magical catchphrase to turn it all around, but I don’t.

The thing is, many of us go through roller-coaster cycles of up-and-down faith — I’m an expert on that — and you really shouldn’t feel bad about it.  No one can blame you for being human, and God doesn’t either.  At times, we will fall “out of love” with Christ just as easily as we dislike a TV show based on a single episode, or your family when they go insane for a night, or relationships when they end up devastating you.  That’s life, and it’s okay to say it stinks sometimes.

Occasionally we enter a fuzzy fog that chokes the color out of everything, and the only thing to do is keep walking.  That does sound like a catchphrase, but the part they don’t tell you is that these fogs in life can feel like they’re forever — and they’re not.

Continue reading “Stuck In A Rut With My Faith”

The Pressure of Do’s and Don’ts: The Secret Language of Policing Behavior



Whenever I see a post titled “7 Ways to Know How” or “What You Should Obviously Know” or “Don’t Do This or You’re A D-Bag” — I get a little knot in my guts and I’m compelled to tattoo all the info in my brainfolds.  It’s an overwhelming shock of adrenaline and endorphins.  I feel both a mini-panic-attack and a bursting well of satisfaction that I suddenly know more than the helpless masses, because I got the secret sauce from Cracked and Relevant and Christianity Today, so I’m ready to flex my newfound skills to impress my witless friends.

Many of these practical tips are useful, and maybe even life-saving.  There are experts who have done it better than us, and we need to hear from them.

But all this anxiety-driven pragmatism either 1) paralyzes me into a deep fear of failure, or 2) gets me in an uppity self-righteous superiority over others who don’t know nothing.

I also get the sneaking suspicion that I’m just copying some programmatic method to earn the approval of my culture-bubble, and if I don’t know the 20 Facts on What To Do When I’m 20, then I’m totally losing at life.

I can see the slithery snake of a needle underlying all these “Do’s and Don’ts.”  We have suspected a secret insider-language suffocating every must-know list —

You should.  You’re supposed to.  You have to.  You better — or else.  If you miss this — you’re out.  Get on my program, or you’re dead.

I’m not sure this is any better than religion.  It sounds like we’re adding burdens rather than setting people free.  And a list of “How To Set People Free” is still dripping with the poison of arrogance.

It’s just adding rules about how to follow rules.  This is legalism, and it’s not okay.

Continue reading “The Pressure of Do’s and Don’ts: The Secret Language of Policing Behavior”