So I wrote some books. They’re on sale at Amazon for less than nine dollars and the e-books are four!
Be blessed and love y’all!
Blessed by your response and grateful for each of you!
Dear friend: If you’re continually abused by someone who keeps saying, “I’ll stop this time, I swear, you know I love you” — then I have bad news. They’re not going to stop. The reason is because (and this is important), why would they even want to? What incentive do they have? If their “love” for you is not enough to keep from abusing you, then certainly they don’t respect themselves enough to seek help and to change. This is NOT to say it’s even a tiny bit your fault. But take extreme measures. Expose them, or call 911, or cut them off completely, and don’t look back. An external force is your last resort, but it’s often the only thing that works in the end. Loving a person is not the same as enabling them, and sometimes distance and firm wisdom is the best way you can love them. More than that: have some love for yourself, too. You’re allowed to look for better.
Lately I’ve been fearing the opinions of people. I’ve been downright neurotic and scared. That if I don’t reply quickly enough, they’ll think I’m too busy or too good for them. That if my reply is inadequate or lacking or phrased imperfectly, they’ll respect me less and say “Now I know how he really is.” That if I don’t live up to the expectations of others, I’ll constantly disappoint others who have now “seen” me as I am.
I don’t mean to say that other people’s opinions are unimportant. It’s worth hearing criticism, to know our blind spots, to truly estimate ourselves. Yet even as a kernel of truth exists in all criticism, so I must guard my heart at the core and ground my security in the unshakeable, for I cannot rise and fall on the praise and derision of others. I can’t please everyone, or even a few. God is the only please-able one in the universe, who does not demand the unreasonable, and only His heart could ever sustain the unbearable weight of my need.
It’s possible that we too quickly place a negative filter on someone so that their subsequent actions are regarded with malicious intentions. If I’m seen this way, then I was never going to win the opinion of people anyway. I will eventually disappoint you, even deeply, no matter how hard I try not to. So if we must be disappointed in one another, I must carry on, not in a prideful strut or swagger, but in a humble confidence that trusts you will give me grace and offer patience. It’s the same chance you would want for yourself. It’s the same grace we’ve been given by the God whose opinion of us is not shaken, and so then I can be free of your opinion long enough to respect it.
In that Giant Gap between who you want to be and who you really are, every other religion, including the evangelical church, tells you to “close the gap.” That’s religion.
Jesus is the only who said, “I will meet you where you are. I am running backwards through the gap to you. And we will walk this walk together, one step at a time, me in the lead, and I will be with you whether you feel me or not, always.” Faith is being more and more sure of this reality, and it’s not being more sure that you’re sinning less. It’s never just running from sin, but running to Him.
— J.S. from What The Church Won’t Talk About
Last week I visited a mega-church, and I sat behind a group of college and high school students who were goofing off and checking their phones and leaving early. One of their mothers left in the middle of the sermon and didn’t come back. I started getting terribly sad and angry about the whole thing; they all had Bibles in their hands and some had notepads to take notes, but they were just being rowdy and whispering loudly and laughing at the most inappropriate times. I thought, This is it, this is our future of church. No one cares.
And then — I remembered when I was in high school and college, and how much I goofed off and talked during the sermon and was so dang fidgety and rowdy, and how God still worked through a young rebellious punk like me. I remembered how God side-tackled me into pastoral ministry and blessed me with a full scholarship to seminary and pulverized my heart into a Jesus-loving, people-serving, unashamed follower. Not perfect, never, but far from where I used to be in the very same place as those kids.
So I stopped judging and I started praying. I prayed for big visions for all of them, that God would do incredible wonderful things that they could barely believe were happening — amazing works that they never thought possible. I mean if I went back to my past self ten years ago and said, “Here’s what you’re going to do for God,” I never would’ve believed it. But this is what Jesus does. He takes the most ragged, rowdy, unlikely wanderer and puts us on the frontlines to flex His glory, to wield His love, to heal people just like us. He’s always doing things like that: and it gives me hope. It gives me patience, and grace.
This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of my new book on dating and relationships, called The Christianese Dating Culture. This was my personal favorite chapter to write, about the difficult, gritty reality of relationships.
We have a propensity for over-romanticism in our hyper-sentimental culture, and when reality meets expectations, we get disillusioned and jump ship. I’ve seen it happen all the time: in marriages, in parenting, in careers, in church. A poor estimation of the daily grit of life will always cause us to check out and quit too early.
This is a prevalent pattern in a world of five-minute ramen and eight minute abs – we run out at the first sign of trouble. It gets easier to do this each time, until we’re jumping from one half-committed island to another.
There’s a depth to all these things, a kind of marathon endurance that pushes past the emotional spark of grandeur. When the fun of beginning is over, then there’s an actual finish-line ahead of us.
My fiancé and I probably look cute in pictures (her much more than me), and maybe our story would give you a false idea that it was “love at first sight” and it somehow fell into place. We’ve been together six years, and I still have a crush on her like it was the first week. Yet most of our six years was effort upon grace upon sacrifice. At the three-year mark, we had broken up for six months because we were sure it was over. We found our way around again, painfully, through many brutally honest conversations, and this is the shape of everyday love.
Nothing is wrong with high standards or even high expectations. It’s just that these will only tell half the story. It’s an incomplete picture that we expect to complete the picture in our heads. Real life involves a lot of sweaty armpits, standing around in line, sending texts with embarrassing typos, coughing really weird at the wrong moment, pulling out wedgies when no one notices, and the constant waiting for the next best thing to happen.
My dear friend: The honeymoon has to end.
The start is the easy part.
We begin things well. It’s hard to finish strong.
It’s good to get excited, but excitement must give way to a deeper, truer pulse.
If you can persevere past the naïve burst of beginning —
We can expand our wonderful first memories into a beautifully woven story.
Relationships are a lot more embarrassing and gritty than we would like to admit. When I hear a glamorous story about how a couple fell into each other’s arms, I’m absolutely sure that’s not how it happened.
No one wants to talk about the regretful text messages or the immature arguments or the tactless yelling over the art of arguing. The first fart. The long stream of farts from then on forever. Crusty-eyed drool face. The pre-makeup face. Cry-face. Yawn-face. The obnoxious hyper-moments when you apparently lose control of your civilized body and do puppet shows and movie impressions.
Soon you’ll encounter all the crustiness of a real person.
Eventually, everyone “falls out of like.” You’ll be in the direct space of all a person’s grossness, including your own. As Tim Keller says, “Finally, you have nowhere to run.”
When the romanticized feelings go: where do we go from there?
Hello dear friends! I’ll soon be recording an audiobook of my book on dating, so you can take me around in your car or iPod or before you sleep. I’ve really been enjoying audiobooks when I’m at the gym lately. I also recently did a seminar for a college and young adult group coinciding with the dating book here, on my podcast for free.
This will also be out around the same time I’m releasing the e-book on breaking porn addiction, the first week of December!
You can pick up my books in paperback for less than nine bucks each here on Amazon!
Love y’all and be blessed. 🙂
Hello dear wonderful friends!
So I wrote some books. I want to graciously ask if you’ve been blessed by the books (or if you hated them!) and if you have some time, to please consider writing an honest review on Amazon. Takes just a few moments and it will really help out a lot!
And of course, if you haven’t gotten them yet, they’re both on sale for less than 9 dollars. 🙂
Pick them up for holiday reading!
Thank you and love y’all. Be blessed!
What’s so crazy is that the Bible wasn’t mass-produced until the last few-hundred years, and even then, it wasn’t translated in an understandable way for us until the last century. Yet we beat ourselves up into a frenzy over memorizing Scripture and doing QT and Bible Studies, when there have been Christians for thousands of years without access to printed copies. Certainly it’s great and necessary to dig into the Bible, but I’m not motivated to read it when someone beats me with a guilt-trip that it’s “collecting dust.” I’m more motivated to read the Bible knowing that I even have access to ancient Scripture at all. To think God preserved it and transmitted it to our language and entrusted it into the hands of crusty squishy people is downright incredible.
If you miss a day of reading, please don’t get on your own case. Simply behold the wonder of having something called God’s Word, and I can guarantee you’ll miss Him enough to start reading again, not as duty but out of gratitude.
foundworthy asked a question:
What is your process for sermon prep?
Hello AJ! While I wouldn’t want to give you a simple formula, since each of us must find our own way, I’ll outline just a few things I do.
1) I often preach in series, about 4 to 7 sermons long, because it helps me to know where I’m going. Usually each sermon inside the series is supporting One Big Point that I’m trying to make.
2) In seminary, my professors always did the 3 am Test. Basically: If I were to shake you awake at 3 am on Sunday morning and ask you, “Tell me your sermon in one sentence!” — and you couldn’t do it, then it wasn’t ready. Simplify, simplify, keep it simple.
3) Exegesis (digging into the particular meaning of Scripture) is very valuable, but please know what to put in the showcase and what to keep in the basement. Sometimes I find a really cool fact of history during my study of the Bible, but I realize this is only me nerding out and has zero relevance to what I’m saying. So I save it for another day and look for another.
4) Sermons are hard work. I study hard. I read the news. I pray hard. I listen to how others did the same passage. One message might take about 20 hours per week. But the main thing is: I have to constantly meet up with the church. Sermons are a way to love and serve people by the powerful healing Spirit of God. I have to love my people first. Without that, then the pulpit is just a catharsis or a college lecture. Seminarians spend so much energy crafting a precise message, but they barely love their people or love the King. Love your people.
5) I constantly assume there are people who don’t care or who hate Jesus. I think of the twelve year old suicidal kid who is ready to hurt himself again. I think of the single divorced mom raising three kids on three jobs with a father who left them. I think of the skeptical college student who once loved youth group but has hardened by parties and amateur philosophy. I think of the pregnant fifteen year old whose parents have shamed her and she’s been vilified at school. I think of my close friends and family who don’t know Jesus. I practice my sermons by pulling up a chair in front of me and going one-on-one, because sermons are speaking to real people, and they’re coming to Sunday service with a load of burdens they can hardly carry, and they do want to know there’s something more.
Please know I’m way more comfortable writing, and speaking has always been tough for me. Thank God for grace.
Also check out:
Purchase my book on tough topics of faith here!
Purchase my new book on love, sex, and dating here!
Someone asked me how I “won your girl’s heart.” I replied:
Hey, I don’t mean to rain on your parade at all and I know it’s a struggle, but I definitely didn’t “win the girl’s heart.” We both made mutual decisions toward one another out of risk and much reflection. To “win” someone assumes that she has no autonomy and she’s not her own person. She decided to take a chance with me, and it’s no small thing for a woman to entrust herself with a man. I’m not the hero of my own narrative who “won” an objectified trophy called a woman. I learned to respect her personhood and that she has her own hopes, dreams, and insecurities, like everyone else. She supports my dreams as much as I support hers.
I’m sorry, I know you expected a fun cute answer and I’m definitely not accusing you of false motives. I’ve just always had problems with the idea of “winning” a person and I think we’ve all been conditioned to think of women this way, which is why many men haven’t grown up, and why I myself still have plenty of growing to do. Until men see women as people, men will never be mature enough to be a person on their own, either. I’m preaching this to myself too, brother. May we all get there.
When guilt threatens to overwhelm you, remember who you are:
you’re a child of God,
forgiven and free,
restored by the work of Jesus on the cross,
resurrected to new life by his victory over death,
and you have the Holy Spirit living inside you that is not a spirit of fear or timidity,
but of love, power, and self-control.
We don’t live in a locked-down house of laws — we live within the free grace of an awesome loving dad who wants us, who loves us, and who likes us. I’ll follow that sort of God all the way to the end.
— J.S. from The Christianese Dating Culture
Disclaimer: To protect my family and myself, I am not using names and I’m purposefully obscuring certain details. I cannot confirm them privately, either. These are well-known people in Christian circles who I still believe are doing helpful things, despite the terror behind closed doors. I must be careful here, because 1) they would absolutely crucify me if they saw this post, and 2) they could also deny having ever met me, despite email correspondences and recorded conversations. But I have to speak up.
I want to tell you about my most horrifying church experience ever, because it began so ordinary and subtle, and I want to protect you from the nightmare I eventually woke up to.
I know there must be so many more terrible experiences at church and mine is not nearly the worst, yet I hope you’ll know that not every horror story about church happens in a cult of backwood druids sacrificing goats to chanting. It can happen in the most mundane sort of atmosphere with a slowly tightening chokehold, until it’s too late.
Years ago, I befriended the lead pastor of a church ministry that was doing amazing things in the community and we first became friends over the phone. The pastor explained that every church in America was doing it wrong. This really appealed to my discontent about the church culture, and our phone calls were filled with tons of encouragement and positive affirmation over my “gifts, talent, treasures, insights, and abilities given by God.” Whenever I spoke bad about my own church, the lead pastor agreed as loudly as possible.
In the first few months, he offered me a position at his ministry, but I was obligated to my current church. However, I was still able to visit. I was completely seduced by the way he and his team did ministry. Their preaching was fun, their services were boisterous, their praise team was incredible, and they knew every single family by name. They were well-respected by the community and they were funded completely by other churches and individuals from all over the world. All the while, they were saying, “We do it better than the other guys” and their website sold tons of church curriculum. I even bought some.
I can do one of two things for you as a pastor, as a Christian, as your friend. I can beat you up with rules and religion — “Do more, try harder!” — and I can make you conform your behavior. Like that guy who makes you jump during worship. It would be an external apparatus working on your outside, but it would never become a part of you. You’ll get short-term change, but Monday through Saturday when the fear is gone, the change won’t last.
Or the second thing I can do is: I can tell you about the grace of God, the goodness of God, and the love of God — where God loves you no matter what, without conditions, even counter-conditionally, through the depth of our very worst, at the cost of His very Son. So then our actions would spring out of gratitude for what He has done for us and for who He is. That comes not just from rules and religion, though those are important, but from a real living relationship with the living God. That’s the only pure sustainable motivation. Grace can take a lot longer than guilt-trips, but in the long-term, grace is the only thing that can internalize to change your heart.
— J.S. from The Christianese Dating Culture
I’m so amazed and overwhelmed that my book made it all the way to Japan. Praying today for the JCF Ministry and that Jesus would awaken hearts and bring healing to my fellow Asian brothers and sisters.
My book on Amazon here!
Is it really improbable for someone to “like” or “want” to be a pastor? I just think that there really are people who understand what it means to be one and are really filled with passion to preach Christ, with compassion for the lost and with care for the flock, that they really “like” or “want” it whatever might be the cost.
Hey there my friend. I think you’re referring to some of the tough things I said about seminary and a pastor’s calling.
I believe it’s not improbable to just “like” or “want” to be a pastor, but it’s certainly unlikely.
Please hear me saying this in all love and grace for you. I know it will sound like such a downer, and when I talk to young dudes who want to be pastors, this is always the hard part. I feel like the harbinger of bad news or the crusher of dreams. I end up saying “No you’re not ready” a lot of the time, and usually the response is, “You’re just a hater, you don’t know me man, God’s gonna use me.”
I’ve hurt a lot of fragile egos who weren’t willing to undergo the honesty of self-examination. I get cussed out or cut off, and that’s okay. By now, I’m jaded by those sort of things. There’s a lot of triumphalistic tribal language about victory and haters and trolls, but really: I’m trying to give an honest accurate view of what pastoral ministry is really like. If I don’t do that, then I wouldn’t be a good friend. And even if that person “thinks” they understand what it’s like to be a pastor, they don’t. Seriously. I’m being nice here. You can’t possibly know what it’s like until you’re there, day to day, in the trenches of real people bleeding your life away to serve.
Simply: Ministry is downright impossible except for the anointing of God. There’s no way to simply “like” your way into ministry. The life of a pastor is extremely difficult, and if it’s not, you’re probably doing it wrong. I will never ever sugarcoat this or water it down to spare your feelings. It’s why doctors will tell you that med school isn’t for kicks and cred: they want you to man up and be ready. If you’re called, awesome. If not, wait.
I do see what you’re saying. There should be joy in ministry. Of course it helps to like what you do. Pastors must certainly “like” the church, even and especially when it’s difficult. But if that’s the sole motivation, it will never last.
I hate to be the jerk that says all that. It’s just that I’ve seen so many distracted half-focused jokesters in the pulpit that I realize: no one ever told them the true meaning of being a pastor. They don’t realize they have the lives of entire families in their hands who want healing and guidance and truth and a true picture of God. It’s like some of these dudes went to youth camp once and thought it would be fun and easy and so they sign up for seminary to have a “one day per week” job. And that’s not even close to how it really is.
I get nervous around guys who want to be theologically correct all the time. I know it’s important and I can’t diminish right doctrine, but I’m constantly anxious I’ll say something stupid or wrong around them. I can’t really be sloppy or tip off my weakness.
I say this as a pastor who graduated from maybe the most conservative seminary in the world, who was taught by world-class professors and authors, and I can hang with the best of them. I just get exhausted of the secret competition to know more Bible than the next guy. You can quote Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, that’s cool, I actually read the whole thing, but right now I want to talk about TV shows and my favorite hamburger place and that really dumb thing my dog did the other day. I want to relax sometimes because Jesus played with kids and drank wine with his buddies and roasted fish for his disciples, and one time he took a nap on a boat while a storm almost flipped them all over. I love theology, but it drives me to love you and to love the King. That’s the only theology worth having.