I Imagine Jesus Going.

I imagine Jesus going to the blind, beggars, lepers, sick, demon-possessed, and little children: and I bet he fit right in. Maybe no one could tell it was Jesus from afar, because they expected someone cleaner. I wonder if Jesus bent down on one knee to the girl with the cleft lip, touched her face, and called her beautiful. I wonder if he prayed for her right on the spot, hugged her, pulled back her hair and told her to smile. I wish I could’ve seen her light up, throw off all insecurity, and do something worthy with her life. That’s what Jesus is about. I want to be about that too.

J.S. from The Christianese Dating Culture

Squeezing Validation.

We often demand of people what only God can give us — encouragement, affirmation, strength, motivation — and we end up wringing them dry. It’s okay to expect some things from people, so long as you know they’re just human beings who thirst like you. They need an Infinite Well as much as you do. If you drink deeply of Him first, you’ll be less controlled (and controlling) by your expectations, and you’ll actually seek others not to squeeze from them but to encourage them by your overflow.

When you can let go of the idols of relationships, wealth, intellect, success, beauty, and career: you can actually enjoy them for what they are. You don’t expect salvation or redemption from them. You don’t crush them with expectations or demand them to serve your every whim. You instead see them as gifts, as privileges, as an honor to respect and to cherish. Treat the earthly as divine and you will lose both; treat the divine as your treasure and the earth will be just as beautiful.

— J.S. from The Christianese Dating Culture

Does Prayer Even Do Anything? Doesn’t Stuff Happen Anyway?

peterpencomplex asked:

hi pastor j- i think your blog is AWESOME, but i didn’t have enough room to explain myself. just wanted to say i think you should keep being completely 100% honest/real, because that’s how everyone else knows their walk of faith is not in vain. wanted to ask you about prayer. why do i pray? am i the only one that feels like i am closing my eyes and whispering into a vast darkness of nothingness? why is God so insistent on prayer, yet I don’t see anything changing? (matthew 7).

seeking-a-revival asked:

When we pray for someone I know that our prayers alone cannot change them but when we see prayers answered God has listened and His spirit has helped the person we prayed for? I am not sure what to think when I see a prayer get answered no matter who or how many prayed for a specific cause.

Hey my friends: May I first please commend you because you both actually care about your prayer-life.  When people tell me, “The least we can do is pray,” I always think, “That’s the most we can do.”

But I also know that prayer is extremely, ridiculously, awfully difficult.  Whenever a preacher starts with his guilt-trip — “When was the last time you really prayed, huh?” — I immediately feel like crap.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “Man I got that prayer thing on lock.”  I haven’t met a single person who’s fully confident in the art and results of prayer.

Mostly we feel icky about this because —

1) We feel too guilty to pray.  We’re not sure God wants to hear us after we looked at porn / cussed out my parents / gossiped for two hours / punched that guy in the ear.

2) We’re self-conscious about it.  We’re not sure how long, or what words, or if we’re doing it right, or if we’re truly sincere.

3) And of course: We secretly wonder if it even works.

So here’s one thing I know about prayer.

Continue reading “Does Prayer Even Do Anything? Doesn’t Stuff Happen Anyway?”

The Just-Because Love.

Whenever you love somebody, there’s usually a list. “I love you because of ___.” Your voice. Your hair. Your confidence. The way you crinkle your nose when you laugh. How you change your mind a hundred times at the drive-thru. How you bend down to a child to speak to them at eye level. How you look in a mean dress.

But at the bottom of this long list, God always adds one more. He says, “I love you just-because.” No specific reason, not based on externals, and not even based on anything we say or do. It just is. Because we all get old and gray. We all change over a lifetime. The reasons that others love us never stay the same, because we are a people in progress shaped by the edges of time. God loves us when our souls turn ugly, when we are cowardly and crass, when we fail and stumble, when we lose patience at the drive-thru and set a poor example for children. He loves us when the dress stops fitting. He loves us when those who’ve seen our underbelly silently walk away. Our God is the God who stays when everyone else leaves.

And when our voice fades, when our hair is gone, when we can hardly laugh without pain: God loves us just because. He can’t help it. This is who He is, regardless of who we are, because His love does not reside in a list. His love is free. It is reckless. It is forever.

— J.S. from The Christianese Dating Culture

YouTube: “Be Passionate For Your Friend’s Passion”

– Be Passionate For Your Friend’s Passion –

We’ve all been shot down for being “too excited” about something, whether it’s anime or Lord of the Rings or comic books, or writing and dance and music and art.

But if it’s important to your friend, it’s important to you too.
You don’t have to get it, but you get them. That’s friendship.

And if your friend stays to the end of a Marvel movie to watch the end credits scene: don’t ever let them go. It’s real.

Please subscribe to my channel and love y’all!

— J.S.

5 Ways To Love On Your Hurting Church

If you dread going to your church because there are a ton of issues there, please consider a few things before blowing up or walking away.

1) Pray for your pastor. 
He most likely knows all the issues at hand and he’s just as desperate to fix them.  You might be angry about some stuff: but he’s probably losing sleep and having those midnight arguments in his head and losing.  Have grace for your pastor.  Ask him how you can help.

2) Be part of the solution, not the problem. 
We do need criticism, but at some point we need constructive restoration.  It’s easy to see what’s wrong from a distance; anyone can do that.  It’s hard to roll up your sleeves and get into the mess to help change things.  Find the weak areas and bring strength.  Go to what’s dead and bring life.  Don’t keep speaking death over death. And do NOT keep doing the most popular stuff in your church, like the praise team.  Help with the stuff that no one wants to do.

Continue reading “5 Ways To Love On Your Hurting Church”

Not Quite Asian, Not Quite American; Fully Human

My mom and dad came to this country separately over thirty years ago and met in New York City, where they were married; my dad came to the U.S. with sixty dollars in his single pair of pants, and my mom couldn’t speak a word of English.  My dad was a Vietnam War Veteran, 2nd Lieutenant in the R.O.K. Army on the side of the U.S., and the only escaped prisoner of war from the Tet Offensive in 1969.  He’s also a licensed veterinarian and a Grand Master of Tae Kwon Do, a ninth degree black belt, the 54th 9th degree in the world.

Before my parents divorced when I was fourteen, my mom owned a laundromat and a grocery store next door to each other and would run back and forth between them to serve customers; sometimes she took old clothes that people left behind because we were too poor to afford any. My dad owned a martial arts dojo and mopped the entire floor every morning, then taught four classes in the evenings almost all in Korean.  Between the two of them, they worked almost 200 hours per week and slept maybe three hours per night.

One summer, someone spraypainted a swastika on the front wall of the dojo. My dad painted over it, but on those hot humid days, we could still see that Nazi symbol like an angry pulsing scar.

We got a message on our answering machine — maybe the same Nazi artists — who spent a good ten minutes making fun of my dad’s accent. I remember seeing my dad listen to it several times, staring quietly out a window. When he noticed me, he turned it off and said, “Just boys playing a joke.” The voices were from grown men.

When we visited with friends, we felt the invisible walls of cliques and class between us.  We were aliens from another world, just a foreign prop in the hero-story of the Westerner.  I was the token Asian.  When I visit churches, I still am.  Christians feel proud to know me because I meet their diversity quota; my other friends are proud to know me because they can make Asian jokes and explain, “Don’t worry, I have an Asian friend.”

In elementary school, when I first made friends and came over, I would immediately take off my shoes and bow to their parents.  I remember freaking out the first time I saw a fork.  I asked for two sticks to eat my food, and they said, “No, you can stab your food now.”  I still slightly bow to people as a reflex, and I still don’t get forks.

When I meet native Koreans from my own country, they call me kyopo, which is a slang term for misplaced native.  They make fun of my heavy American accent when I try to speak Korean.  They’re surprised I’m taller than them and say, “It must be hormones in the McDonald’s.”  They think I’m arrogant because I watch American TV shows and I have a blog written entirely in English.

I live in two worlds. I do not fully embody either, yet belong to both.

Continue reading “Not Quite Asian, Not Quite American; Fully Human”

A Guy Flicked Me Off But Then

I was driving in downtown Tampa and accidentally went into the pedestrian lane, and this guy walking through cussed me out, threatened to key my car, and flicked me off. I was a little shaken up because he sort of came out of nowhere. A bunch of people were staring at me and this guy, who was cussing the whole way. I drove around the block a dozen times and couldn’t find parking, so I paid ten bucks for a pass. I went into the pizza place (by myself to eat a whole 20 inch pizza, because Friday night) and was in sort of a crappy mood. A nice young black lady next to me asked, “Are you really going to eat that by yourself?” I laughed really hard and we started chatting. When I went back to my car, I took out my parking pass, which was good until midnight, and gave it to a couple that just happened to drive in. They thanked me a whole lot and I left feeling way better.

Life is up and down, all the time. Might be a bad moment now, but joy is around the corner.

— J.S.

The Bible Is Not To Bludgeon.

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.S.

Love Would Cut In and Open The Door.

Whenever we dismiss someone as incapable of change, we instantly suckerpunch the sovereign grace of God.

We are downsizing His sovereignty to those people and not these. Then we’re no longer talking about God. We’re just exposing our laziness.

You know what I mean. I see a person on their first lap of faith and I make assumptions; I see 0.5 percent of a person’s life and somehow predict their future; I see half a story and presume the whole story. But this is a sort of evil that holds back potential, that undermines growth, that destroys a child’s dreams. It’s an ugliness that I’ve experienced from others, who wouldn’t give me a shot, who wouldn’t see past their negative filters and accusations and condemnations, who saw me as a deadbeat nobody with no hope of a turnaround.

But occasionally, love would cut in and open a door. It grew my heart. It embraced me in.

Love sees a greatness in someone who cannot see it in themselves.

Love keeps no record of wrongs. It hopes in all things, it does not rejoice in evil. It perseveres.

— J.S. from What The Church Won’t Talk About

The Crushing Truth About Christian Books and Authors and Big Preachers

I was speaking with a literary agent for the Christian writing industry about some of my favorite authors, and at some point she says, “Yes, her writing style is really easy to imitate, it’s easier for her publisher.”

I ask, “How do you mean?”

She says, “Oh, she hires someone who copies her style and writes her books.  She doesn’t have time to write her own.  You didn’t know?  Tons of authors do this, those big celebrity preachers just pay someone to ghost-write.”

I was seriously crushed. Before I could ask her to stop, she began dropping names.  Each one hurt me a little more than the last.  I won’t share them here.  Maybe it would’ve been better if the names weren’t of Christians that I looked up to, but some of my heroes were slapped down from their pedestals.

Continue reading “The Crushing Truth About Christian Books and Authors and Big Preachers”

Don’t Use Your Pain for an Inspirational Sales Pitch

I was published on ChurchPlants.com!

Purchase my new book on Amazon here!

I don’t tell many people, but English was not my first language. About 99 percent of the time, you wouldn’t be able to tell; but sometimes it slips, and my insecurity spills out sideways.

I’ve had stage fright since sixth grade. To this day, I still get light-headed when I speak in public. I also had a lisp and a stutter, both which occasionally seep out too. For two years of my childhood, I breathed through a machine for an hour each day in order to open up my undeveloped lungs.

I had asthma and chronic bronchitis. I’m legally blind. I’ve had hemorrhoids since I was nine. I permanently damaged my lower left back when I was 15. I’ve struggled with depression, including a suicide attempt in 2004.

I’m allergic to a lot of stuff: dairy, pollen, bugs, dust and every single fruit (so I can’t eat pineapple pizza or most ice creams). I have scars from all my hive break-outs over the years. I have flat feet. I’ve never ran over a mile in my life, because I physically cannot. And I know there are millions of others who are afflicted with so much worse.

I was able to get my black belt by 11 years old but only because my dad pushed me so hard (it also helped that he’s a ninth-degree black belt and owned several dojos). I can max 275 lbs. on the benchpress and part of my job as a pastor is to speak in public several times per week. But all of that was an uphill battle, and still is. None of this comes natural or easy or inherent to my stature.

Yet I tell you this NOT because I’m some kind of victorious story and not to brag or to say, “You can do it too!” My disability is not a motivation for some grand story of redemption. It’s not a cute romantic made-for-TV montage. Because, in fact, life is way harder than that. There are many times I wanted to give up because of my physical limitations, or I let that be an excuse to stay home and wallow in self-victimizing pity.

I could be the positive blogger who says “No matter what!” but really that would be a lie. Knowing that I will never be fully healthy is psychologically taxing, and some days I grit my teeth and barely get through the day.

Would it be easier if God had made me differently? Of course. I have no illusions about “God held me back for a reason,” because much of our brokenness points to the reality that nothing is as it’s meant to be, and nothing is in its true form. I can’t sugarcoat that with a pep-talk that denies the difficulty of our circumstances. I don’t want to be a cheap grinning poster boy for a pseudo-inspirational sales pitch.

The one thing I know is that either way, whether we sit down or move forward, life is pain.

If I choose to stay home, it will hurt.

If I choose to chase my hopes, it will hurt.

If I choose to feel sorry for myself, it will hurt.

If I choose to stand, clench my fists, grit my teeth and grab my dreams: It will hurt.

My physical disability is only half the story: because we’re all saddled with the same anxiety, second-guessing, existential panic and self-doubt. Our brokenness runs deep, and we all work from pain. And it’ll hurt anyway.

So I can’t sit down for long. I do what I can. I am not merely the sum of my abilities nor accomplishments nor weaknesses. I am wherever I’m available, to pursue the passions set before me, now. God help me, God willing, I’m here, to climb this mountain.

— J.S.

YouTube: “We Can Disagree, And That’s Okay”

Here’s my first YouTube video, called “We Can Disagree, And That’s Okay.”

You like cats AND dogs? That’s okay.
You’re into science AND religion? That’s okay.
Single and not looking? That’s okay.
Introverted or extroverted? That’s okay.
You prefer romantic-comedy Ryan Gosling over Oscar-serious Ryan Gosling? That’s okay.
Republican or Democrat or neither? That’s okay.
Cheese on your ramen noodles? Well … maybe not okay.

Please subscribe to my channel and love y’all!

— J.S.

YouTube logo

My Favorite Author Re-Tweeted My Book.

My favorite author of the last few years, Josh Riebock, who wrote Heroes and Monsters, just retweeted about my book. I don’t mean to be that kind of guy, but I’m seriously cheering.

Get it here on Amazon!

— J.S.

Obliterating Fear.

You don’t have to wait for the fear to subside. Often fear is obliterated by the very act of deciding and doing.

The more you can act in spite of yourself — you’ll suddenly find that none of your worst fears are all that bad. The sky doesn’t fall on you and your pants don’t spontaneously disappear (if that’s happened, I’m so sorry). True confidence is just going for it anyway. Emotions are a good fuel at best and unreliable at their worst. Your emotions are real, yes, but they can’t determine your decisions. As determination wins, it gets easier every time.

— J.S. from What The Church Won’t Talk About

Why Don’t We Care More About Persecuted Christians?

Image from CNN, showing Syrian Kurds behind border fences to cross into Suruc.

prism0prone asked a question:

Why isn’t anything being done about ISIS? We’re all just living our privileged little lives. As the days pass I feel more depressed & farther away from God. I cry to Him about it but I hear nothing & I’m afraid. And every time I see a cheerful Christian post about God keeping us safe, I feel bitterness and anger and I can feel my emotions slowly shutting down and I don’t want that but it just hurts. So. Much.

My friend, honestly, your question very much stirred me and disturbed me and convicted me.  It broke my heart.

Because I think I’m part of the problem.  I post prayer requests about ISIS or some other atrocity or disaster or tragedy, and I question myself.  Am I doing this to show I care?  Do I really care?  Can I do more?  If there are 27 million slaves in the world and 26,000 children who die everyday of preventable causes: how could I even be on this blog?  How could I even think about anything else?

It’s so discouraging.  To be truthful, it keeps me up at night.  I’m not saying that to boast.  The one time I really did anything about it a few years ago, I gave away half my salary to fight human trafficking, and even then, I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing enough.  I don’t say that to boast, either.  We live in a painfully broken world where even a single glance at it could eat us alive.

There’s another layer to this guilt, too.  Sometimes I think I use poor people as a prop for my own “savior-narrative.”  Or I become a pseudo-Social Justice Warrior about issues I’ve hardly researched, or I try to be a Google-Expert about statistics that I haven’t double-checked.  I donate money to various charities every month, but maybe even this is because I look around my apartment and I see wealth, and it disgusts me, and I donate out of a self-loathing heart.  I want to boycott a billion different things, or say to everyone, “Your problems are dumb, because kids in Somalia are dying and there’s still genocide in Iraq and 80% of the world lives on less than a dollar per day.”

The more news I read, the more it kills me inside.  The more I see mocked up selfies, and cute Christianese slogans on Instagram, or these theological debates that only other theologians care about: the more I get angry, frustrated, hurt.  How can we break free from this cycle?

Continue reading “Why Don’t We Care More About Persecuted Christians?”

Beggars, Choosers, Truth.

I’ve been serving on and off at the homeless ministry for over four years now, and when volunteers say “Beggars can’t be choosers,” I always say “No, they totally can.” I don’t mean they can be spoiled, but the homeless have preferences and likes and dislikes, like everyone else. Sometimes they don’t want the pasta or the mashed potatoes or the tuna casserole and they just want the salad. Sometimes they don’t want your really old used up walkman or your backpack from middle school. And not every homeless person is there to ego-boost some wealthy person’s savior-narrative. They want the same respect and humanity and dignity we all do.

— J.S.

The Dilemma of Witnessing Versus How I Really Am

warmwordsforcoldnights asked a question:

One thing that’s on my mind some days is about witnessing and living your life. Is it a daily thing, that you witness to others or in the course of your life when your led is it that way. It may be a crazy question, but seeing that I’ve never seen it done or have been discipled. It feels like most times I’m just guessing and when I have shares my faith it was like I felt I didn’t say the right thing or I left something out.

Hey my friend: I think you landed on exactly what’s so tough about evangelism.

There’s a secret fear with Christians that we’re somehow fooling people into Jesus, as if we’re selling a campaign that we don’t quite believe ourselves.  It could be that we’re never quite certain about the right doctrine or the best presentation.  Or we’re not exactly living up to the ideal that we share, and there’s a troubling guilt that we might be wrong about this whole thing, so it’s this awkward sheepish hesitation masked with an almost too-loud confidence.  Like selling snake-oil that we want to really believe in, but remain unsure.  And some of us just feel straight up unworthy or too unknowledgeable to speak up.

I think a lot of this is because of the way we’re taught evangelism.  In the mainstream church (which I love, by the way, and I’m not bashing), we’re mostly taught to package the Gospel with one-liners, retorts, psychological allurement, and a final deal-closing prayer.  I mean let’s think about this.  I’m going to tell you the truth of the universe about God in a five minute sale at your front door.  I’m cool with door-to-door evangelism: but is this really the standard for sharing our faith?

This is a sort of “success model” in which we’re expected to “convert” people by numerical values and scripted responses.  In the end, it’s trying to turn the Gospel into one more program.  So of course, we get nervous that we’re not living it right AND saying it right, and it’s a double-fear that many Christians don’t talk about.  We just act as convinced as possible but we’re not willing to doubt our own product.

Continue reading “The Dilemma of Witnessing Versus How I Really Am”