Question: God’s View on Optimism Vs. Pessimism

 mi-mi-92 asked:

This may be a strange question-is it against God to be pessimistic? In light of the S.Korea ferry tragedy, I pray that more survivors are rescued. But deep down, I don’t believe much more made it (although I hope I’m wrong). I feel bad for thinking this and I feel like I’m disrespecting God. Thoughts?

Hey there my friend, first of all: thank you for caring about the South Korean ferry incident.  I know that’s been far removed now from our collective minds because it’s no longer in the news, but I do appreciate you acknowledging them.  I don’t mean to sound snobby there, but we’re just so quick to forget about tornadoes and tsunamis and Trayvon Martin and so we move on to the next trendy thing.

I believe the nuance of Christian faith does call us to realistically assess the brokenness of the world while at the same time knowing there is a better hope above our circumstances, a hope that we can experience in the middle of our tragedies between heaven and heartache.  I don’t think the Christian needs to pick one or the other — we reach for both.

Continue reading “Question: God’s View on Optimism Vs. Pessimism”

Bigger.

Everyone is trying to be the bigger person all the time, and I get that: but a world full of bigger people means we all just crush each other to death.

Life can’t be about being bigger than the next guy. At some point there has to be peace with yourself, with God, with others. The way up can be down; the first can finish last; the greater can relax; we can hoist others on our shoulders to celebrate them. Not everything is a contest of maturity. That means it’s okay to be small sometimes, and we can let others be the protagonists of our story.

— J.S.

Question: Does Doubt Disqualify Us?

kylaonthego asked:

I follow your ten thousand posts a day and want to first say thank you for shining a light. You do an excellent job of answering questions according to the Bible and also out of your informed wisdom. A man like you is needed in this generation. Ps. John I was wondering, if the disciples got to see Jesus, and walk with Him and know Him so closely and yet still struggled so much in their faith, what hope do I ever have of kicking my doubts and truly igniting my flame for Christ? I feel stuck.

Hey my dear friend, thank you so much for your kindness, and please allow me to point you here:

– A Mega-Post on Ragged Jagged Bipolar Faith

You know, you’re exactly right on when you say the disciples struggled in their faith — and that’s a huge clue to our faith journey today.  While I would never promote anything less than a vibrant, robust, thriving sort of faith, I also know that God has room for the doubters and strugglers and up-and-down travelers.  I’m talking about people like Peter and David and Moses and Esther and Martha, who didn’t get it right every time and had very open frustrations about God.

Continue reading “Question: Does Doubt Disqualify Us?”

Your Will, God’s Will.

With the distractions of the world aside, I hear God in my prayers like a laser beam. Most people want to know the “will of God” or to hear the “voice of God,” but this is way more scary than you think. Imagine if God did speak: and we actually had to obey.

Finding God’s will is not some romantic picnic or celestial epiphany. It’s often just a silent whisper that cuts through all the lies we’ve been rehearsing, toward a kind of life that feels impossible but for the grace of God. It removes the constant gloss of our familiarity. It rips away our excuses. It will sting.

Every Christian throws around God’s Will so casually, like a trump card to assist our own agendas, but once you really get it: you cannot go back. You either really want to find Him, or you want to say you did. Find Him, and it will be more reckless than you could’ve dreamed. Find Him, and find your life.

— J

Mirror Vs. Weapon.

Christians tend to eat their own.  Because when we have a vague half-formed awareness of the Bible, it becomes a shoddy justification to feed our bloodlust for self-righteousness.  We naturally default to using the Bible as a weapon instead of a mirror for our own repentance.  Then really we have only traded the idol of violence for the idol of religion, and there has been no true surgical transplant by the love of Christ.  At that point we’re only doing Christianese things around God but not with Him nor for Him.  It’s like a soldier turning to his fellow man and stabbing him with a bayonet while pledging allegiance to the general.  This soldier might be many things — religious, moral, effective, gifted — but he is most certainly not a Christian.  The Christian is in the business of healing his brother and sister, because he knows Jesus died for them too.

It’s worth celebrating when we get it right and encourage our family towards better.  It’s a wonderful thing when we stand side-by-side in the battle as brothers ready to die for each other.  A church is my shoulder against yours, Jesus at the helm.

— J

Question: The God of the Old Testament Versus The New

 i-got-a-hobby asked:

There seems to be a marked difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. How do we reconcile as Christians the Old Testament God with the New Testament God?

Hey my friend, please allow me to point to some old posts here:

– God Seems A Little Crazy In The Old Testament — A Mega-Post on the OT

– The Down-Low on The Old Testament Commands

– God Loves Everyone, Except Esau

It definitely feels like the God of the OT is different than the NT, and like everyone, I’m still learning about that.  Here are a few things to consider.

Continue reading “Question: The God of the Old Testament Versus The New”

Romance, Really, Real.


For those who are seeking advice on relationships and romance —

Before asking those questions, let’s ask some questions of ourselves.

Why am I even going after this relationship?  Why do I want this person to be my significant other?  How much do I actually want to know this person just to KNOW them?  Do I care enough about them that I can just be friends with them, even if they “reject” me? Why is romance so important to my existence?  Is this person I’m crushing on just an object of affection in the musical called “My Life”?  Is my primary goal to date them?  Then what?  Are they just a trophy of hologram-romance that I’ve mentally formed in my own head over sleepless nights?  Where did I get my idea of romance from?  Is my idea of romance informed by movies and TV shows and books?  Am I just addicted to the chemicals of infatuation and attraction and curiosity and “new people”?  Do I just like the drama of flirting and rejection and longing?  Do I actually care that this other person has their own thoughts and ideas and hopes and dreams?  Does attraction instantly mean we need to start a relationship out of thin air?  Is my penis talking?

I think most people buy into a Hollywood paradigm of pseudo-romance that no one ever clearly thinks about: because no one likes to honestly confront themselves.  We’re never called out on this crap.  We don’t get to the bottom of our thoughts because it’s easier to accept the provocative cultural norm of sideways glances and brushing-shoulders-and-fingertips without understanding that relationships demand hard work.

No one thinks of intimacy.  Of really knowing someone, their screw-ups and insecurities and all.  No one thinks of the daily effort of communication and forgiveness and vulnerability and enduring the darkness.  We only like the cute beginnings of possibilities, but not when it requires a real investment of our souls.  It’s dipping our toes into an island of halfway commitment, but jumping ship when we see a tiny flaw that doesn’t fit our fickle preferences.  We say “friend-zone” because we don’t want to say, “I’m an entitled over-privileged spoiled petty kid who always gets my way with everything.”  No one owes you anything.

Maybe we can stop looking out the window at the moon and actually roll up our sleeves and do something worthwhile with our lives, you know, before we invite someone else into that mess.  Relationships happen when we invite someone alongside us into our adventure.  But the adventure has to be in motion first, or else we’ll abuse someone else to create something real when there was nothing real there at the start.  Your journey begins with you.

— J


Off To The Philippines For Two Weeks

Tanza Philippines


I’m heading to the Philippines today for a two-week mission trip with my wonderful church. We’re serving Manila and will mainly be in Tanza.

Please pray for us as we minister to the people of the Philippines and bring the story of God’s love and glory.

I won’t have my phone or laptop, but there will still be scheduled posts here on the Facebook page and some scheduled posts on my main blog here.

Please pray for our safety, our mission, and to be a blessing to this lovely country.

Love y’all and see you when I return!

— J.S.


Question: Graciously Entering The Mess of Another

beingdaisy asked:

How do I relate to people who are tempted in ways I do not feel tempted by? How can I show Christ’s love in that situation? Also, what is the difference between judgement and discernment? Sometimes, it feels from the Christian community to be one and the same with different connotations.

Hey my dear friend, I really appreciate you asking about this because I almost never hear this question. I’m thankful for your sincere heart in this.

There are many Christians I meet today who try really hard to act like they’ve been through it all so they can relate to everyone — and I’m guilty of this too. It seems there’s a new fear in church where if you haven’t been through a ridiculously prodigal phase of debauchery, then you’re somehow not qualified to counsel anyone else either.

I remembering being in a crowd of Christians once where they were comparing their former lives — how many shots they could do, all the drugs they sold, cars they wrecked, even abortions they had — and while I understand it was painful for them, I also felt like they were glamorizing some of these things to gain street cred. I noticed some of the ones who grew up in church their whole lives were either jealous or discouraged, because they felt sheltered from all these “real” experiences.

But let’s balance this out.

1) I’m jealous of sheltered people too. If you grew up in church your whole life and you’ve loved Jesus as long as you can remember, please consider yourself blessed. Those of us who are free from toxic lifestyles are always in recovery, and it’s not as glamorous as our storytelling appears to be.

2) A broken person like me needs those who have never been through what I’ve been through. I understand that recovering alcoholics and addicts need other recovering friends to know how to fight. But if we only have these kinds of friends, then we can easily enable each other or get tempted through our weakness.

When I quit porn, I went to a friend who had never struggled with porn (and those kinds of dudes are almost impossible to find). His innocence with the whole thing was exactly the perspective I needed: because his utter lack of struggle in that area showed me the true size of the temptation. It really took the fangs off. There’s also a different sort of strength from the purity of a person who has been relatively clean their entire lives.

3) No one is “more saved” than someone else. The former heroin dealer who used to beat up kittens and race cops has a cool story, sure. But when he was changed by Jesus, he’s just as much a miracle as the pastor’s daughter who heard the Gospel her whole life and accepted Jesus at youth camp. Neither has more “social capital” than the other. They might relate to different groups of people, but they don’t need a badge of baggage to help anyone.

Having said all that, I think we need some humility on both sides.

Continue reading “Question: Graciously Entering The Mess of Another”

Heaven, Hell, Festival.

There’s an old story that describes Heaven and Hell.

In Hell, there are long ornate tables topped with giant plates of freshly cooked food, as much as you can eat, with giant golden forks and spoons. The people attempt to eat with those huge utensils but they can’t ever get the food in their mouths.

In Heaven, there are the same tables, the same food, the same golden utensils. And the people are eating with celebration and joy: because they’re feeding each other.

I think we see glimpses of this everyday, right now, because Hell is isolation and Heaven is meant to be shared. And I think they’re not too far apart, because God did make all things for good, but it’s our decision to use them for good or for evil. It is the orientation of our heart towards God and His grace that bring us closer together: for the closer we are to an infinitely loving God, the less selfish we become.

I hope we will choose to get in that fun messy festive life of feeding each other.

— J

The Desperate Difficulty of Knowing God’s Love

Anonymous asked:

I really enjoyed reading your posts as they taught me a lot about God and His love. Recently I felt depressed as I think even though I’ve been a Christian since young, I’ve never truly experienced His love. I felt worthless as a Christian as I’m not living a victorious life. What should I do?

Hey my dear friend: I can definitely sense that you want to get this whole Christian life right, and I totally commend you for that. Even the fact that you asked a stranger online about this shows a humble step in the right direction, and I’m privileged to be a part of that journey.

Here are just a few things to consider. As always, please feel free to skip around.

Continue reading “The Desperate Difficulty of Knowing God’s Love”

Furiously Investing In Nothing To Make Noisy Platforms: And Forgetting The Real Fight

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At Starbucks, it’s interesting to eavesdrop the conversations.  “My teacher don’t teach right.” “My husband can’t do it.” “What we gonna do later.”

There’s an intense interest in the doing of things –

But underneath a bored, suffocated detachment from the actual thing itself.

We are furiously invested in our earthly engagements – but very quick to disengage when we lose interest. Which happens quickly.

We are choked out by a massively soul-demanding schedule pulled in all directions.  We live in a swirling mass of deadlines, phone calls, papers, drama, bills, health, family, good news, bad news.

We have to react to these things, press buttons, return calls, mediate, never hesitate.

None of this intense detachment is our fault — because making a lot of passionate noise is often all that makes sense to us.

Continue reading “Furiously Investing In Nothing To Make Noisy Platforms: And Forgetting The Real Fight”

Grace For You, For Me, For Us

In my church, there are three pastors, including me. After the first service, the first pastor came to me and said, “I was really off today in the sermon, it just didn’t work.” And I let him know that we all have off-days, that I found his sermon really quite good, and there’s always next week. He seemed to cheer up. He remembered that this was not about himself anyway.

After my first service, I felt like my own sermon was way off. I had points that went nowhere, I started strong but finished weak, and a few people fell asleep. I beat myself up for a while over all the fumbles.

But it was strange that only an hour earlier, I was encouraging someone for the exact same reasons: and I forgot to encourage myself. I forgot to have grace for me. I forgot that we all have off-days, and hey: we always have next week. God is working, always. And it was never about me anyway.

— J


Grace: Love That Hurts


Mostly in the Bible, I see that God’s law is black and white.  “Don’t be like this guy” or “The angel of death will slay you” or “Don’t do that or things will mushroom cloud real fast.”  There are clear-cut lines, sharp boundaries, no wiggle room.  The law is oak and iron and all closed fists.

But then everyone in the Bible keeps making these enormous ridiculous mistakes, not even brushing up against the law but leaping over it full speed, and there’s a candid sort of rawness with how each story tells the unabashed account of total failure.  They purposefully screw up their lives in a near-parody of a reality show.  I just wouldn’t include any of these guys if I was making up a religion.  Your favorite Bible heroes make really good celebrity mugshots.

And this is where God comes in, every time, certainly with an arm of discipline and a face-melting intervention — but also with a gentle scooping hand of compassion and a heart of constant mercy.  God never lets up on the law, but He often pays for it Himself by absorbing the cost of what we did.  It’s this sort of grace that eventually re-shapes these men and women into thankful people, who almost can’t believe the second chance they’ve been given: and when the grace kicks in, they never stop getting overwhelmed by Him.  They would follow Him anywhere, with zero limits, which is exactly how much grace God shows us.

It would’ve hurt if God had just slapped us around with His divine law.  But it hurts even more that God steps in with kindness.  It’s the type of hurt that tenderizes a heart and revokes our selfishness: because we know God ultimately paid the law with the life of His Son.  Where we stood guilty and embarrassed and downright wrong, Jesus loved us up to a cross.  There he took upon the consequences of the very law which was meant for our good.  To receive grace, it only costs our pride; for God to give grace, the cost was His Son.

His grace is the kind of love that hurts, and so then, it is real love.

It’s hard to see Jesus there and then go back to who I was.  He died to set us wretched ones free.  He rose for my new life, that I would see the law as the vision of who I’m to become: not as a measure for how I’ve failed, but as a future memory of the man I’m meant to be.  Only grace will get me there.  Only grace can bring me to follow the law with joy, with gratitude, with peace.  Only grace can tell me I am fully flawed and wholly beloved.

— J


Question: Cognitive Dissonance — Lining Up Our Beliefs and Actions

shatterrealm asked you:

At your convenience, could you talk about cognitive dissonance and why it isn’t ideal? Specifically, why our actions and our beliefs should line up?

Hey my dear friend, I totally love this question.  And I have to give a shout-out to your other blog too, you’re one of my favorites.

As always, please feel free to skip around on this one.

In case we need an easy definition, cognitive dissonance is basically the tension between what we say and what we do.  The wider the gap and the longer we let it exist, the more tension we experience and the more we justify it with crazy half-baked rationalizations.

A classic case of cognitive dissonance is smoking cigarettes.  By now, we all know that smoking is bad for your health — so either 1) a smoker has to quit, or 2) a smoker has to reinforce why they need to keep smoking.

Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theories (1957) showed that “we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony and avoid disharmony.”  Research even shows that smokers who quit and then relapse back to smoking are even less likely to ever quit again, because they had to increase their excuses to go back to their smoking habit.

All this to say: Cognitive dissonance can actually be a very powerful motivator to quit certain things and start new ones, and it points to a deeper spiritual reality about how things ought to work.  People are not meant to live within the tension of dishonesty for too long.

Integrity is inherently important to people, and those who fail to be accountable are often torn apart in the media or beat themselves up too.  No matter what people are saying about morality today, everyone still wants to keep it real.  Everyone can hear the obvious anvil-thud of rationalizations and we’re all sick of political double-talk.

I actually believe this anger towards hypocrisy points to a very simple human truth: that every single human being, regardless of their beliefs, is measured by the common scale of authenticity.  Somehow an ideal exists that dishonesty is the corruption of something very good, and that even the authentic failure is better than a covered up conspiracy.

We could say this ideal exists because of evolutionary development or social pressure or a morally rewarding culture or careful parenting or a biological directive — but then we’d have to explain why that exists too.

Here’s my guess. 

Continue reading “Question: Cognitive Dissonance — Lining Up Our Beliefs and Actions”

Seek Rebuke, Pursue Truth.

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We all need rebuke sometimes.

Men, women, children: everyone needs to get rebuked once in a while. We need to hear the hard truth because no one gets it right all the time, and that’s really okay. It’s not the end of the world to say you’re wrong.  You can quit pressuring yourself into putting off a better holographic image than you really are.  You can’t sustain that sort of tyranny over yourself for very long.

“I’m wrong,and I’m sorry.” It’s not so hard.  It’s the first step to healing.  It cuts our illusion of perfection.  It says that weakness doesn’t mean we’re weak.

It’s not okay to cry your way out of this.  It’s not okay to put up a mirror-defense by yelling “What-about-you.”  If you get offended or take it personally or defend yourself, that’s fine: but it doesn’t absolve the truth you heard.  If your friend is really your friend, it hurts them more to tell the truth than it hurts you.  They get no benefit from this; they’re risking your friendship to be real.

Continue reading “Seek Rebuke, Pursue Truth.”

Question: How Can I Trust You?

Anonymous asked:
[Question 1 of 2]

How come you don’t cite bible verses? I could easily believe you’re a farse

You’re absolutely right.  I could easily believe I’m false too.

So here’s what we do.  Don’t trust me, because I will let you down.  Please don’t take anything I say at face value.  Please don’t let me spoon-feed you. Please use heavy discernment in anything I’ve written, and that goes for every book and blog you read.  Please disagree with me.  Do not have a soft ear.  Go seek in Scripture to make sure that everything I’m saying is lining up with God’s wisdom, like the Bereans did.  Don’t trust any flashy, snarky, witty, articulate blogger with all the likes and reblogs (and especially not if they’re after your money).

Please go into deep reflection, meditation, and prayer by the guidance of God’s Spirit and His Word to arrive at your own conviction.  Don’t be a jerk about those convictions.  Double-check with wise mentors and your pastor and thousands of years of church history to see what they say.  Check other interpretations and ask around. But don’t trust them completely either.  Trust Him alone.

The thing is: Even if I referenced a billion Bible verses in everything I wrote, that doesn’t make me more truthful.  Text-proofing has led to some horrible atrocities.  Like Francis Chan said: “You can justify just about anything with this book …You’ll find some verse and twist it even though that’s not the natural reading of the Scriptures … We don’t really want to do what this book says. We want to use it to justify what we want.”

Let’s take this a step further.

Continue reading “Question: How Can I Trust You?”