God Versus Our Mistakes

nblomblr asked a question:

Is God sovereign over our mistakes?

Hey dear friend, I believe He is. However, I see what you mean by the question.  There’s a double-edge to it, because if “God is in control,” that means we’re not responsible for our actions and we could do what we want. But if God is not in control, then He wouldn’t be God either.

I can’t hope to fully explain the whole thing about sovereignty and our responsibility, because this is a paradox and my 3 lb. brain is allergic to paradoxes.  But I do believe that God is somehow both in control while we’re each responsible for our choices. I don’t know how it reconciles. C.S. Lewis offers a little help when he says,

“Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed him.”

I leave a few things to mystery. I hope that’s okay. I know our Enlightenment-conditioned minds are afraid to do this: we all have this wild urge to make narrative sense of our lives because we’re so trained towards Westernized formulas. Growing up as an Easterner, the “mystery” part was never a problem for me. I left some things to the unknowable void of human limitations and bowed down to a universe I could not always understand. This isn’t satisfying, but neither is trying to understand dang near everything. As the priest said in Angels and Demons,

“My mind cannot comprehend … my heart is not worthy.”

But to answer closer to home, I do believe God works with our mistakes.

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The Top 14 Posts of 2014

Here are the Top 14 Most Viral Posts from this blog of 2014, ranging from topics like singleness, homosexuality, racism, quitting porn, Mark Driscoll, and a confession about my brush with a celebrity pastor.

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For God So Loved Even You and Me

For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son to die for your mean neighbor and your crazy roommate and the picketing bigot and the racist blogger and your gay friend and all the politicians and our crazy parents and the pastor down the street and the uptight religious folk and the girl at work you can’t stand, because Jesus didn’t just die for the people you like, but for people like you and me.

— J.S.

No Matter What You’ve Heard: You Are Loved

Faith is: growing in the certainty of God’s love by the proof of Him sending His Son to die and rise for you, knowing that He wants to spend the rest of eternity with you.

When you believe this, then four things are certainly true —

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The Skeptical Christian Limping to the Finish Line

hayleylepugh asked a question:

What do you mean by skeptical Christian in your description? Don’t you have strong faith? (I’m not asking this in a rude way, I’m just genuinely curious.)

Hey my dear friend, I was an atheist for longer than I’ve been a Christian, so my natural default mode is to doubt, a lot.  There are days I think this whole faith thing is crazy and I want to throw the Bible in the trash.  I’m sorry if that’s too candid or honest.  But it’s one of those things in the church we just don’t talk about, and I’m learning I’m not alone.  It’s the entire point of this blog.

When Moses parted the Red Sea, I’m sure there were Israelites saying “In your face you Egyptians!” — but then another group was screaming the entire way through.  Yet they all made it by grace.  I’m one of the screamers.

I’m not endorsing a halfway lukewarm faith.  I believe God wants us to have a robust, vibrant, thriving relationship with Him.  But at least for me, I’ll be limping to the finish-line.  I’m more Peter than Paul.  I’m more Martha than Mary.  I’m more David than Daniel.

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Too Much Advice For My Dating Life

mythoughtfulmind asked a question:

Hi! Within the last 6 months or so, I’ve thought a lot more about relationships than I ever have before. I’ve never been in one & it gets tough to see so many around me sometimes. With the secular world telling me to get out there, and the Christian views saying I just need to wait & “don’t worry, relationships are hard & being single is good!” sometimes I don’t know what I’m even “allowed” to feel among my Christian peers about this adventure of dating. Advice for a girl not sure what to think?

Hey my friend, first please allow me the grace to point you to my book on dating.  It actually talks about the very issues you’re talking about.  I’m sorry for the shameless plug, but it’s less than nine bucks and I think it’ll at least jumpstart your own thought process on relationships.

The truth is that you’re going to hear about a billion different opinions on dating.  In the book I discuss how we’re all living within the reactionary backlash of someone else’s thoughts, so each opinion on dating (or life or faith or politics) is just a response to another response.  That’s why we have the bizarre subculture of Christian dating versus the cool casual hipster pastors who shrug at purity.

My humble opinion is:

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When I Feel Too Far Gone In My Faith

cashmoneykatelyn asked a question:

Lately I’ve been feeling like God is so far from me. I know he says he’s just a breath away, but it never feels that way. I fear that for the rest of my life I’ll feel like this. I question if I even love God like I thought and that’s why I have problems.

Hey my friend, I’ve said before that the Big Christian Secret is we all run into doubts, frustrations, confusion, and questions.

I believe the church culture has inadvertently made a rock-show environment that induces hype every Sunday, so that each service must top last week until we get exhausted and crash.  Then when those feelings are gone, we assume God is gone, and that maybe we’ve done something wrong.  You haven’t. 

We sometimes falsely pressure ourselves into a mountaintop experience everyday, but every person in the Bible also fell into valleys and deserts, and this is exactly where God does His best work.

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I Believe But I’m Not Changing: Where’s The Fruit?

deliveredfish asked a question:

Hello. I understand that my own works could never get me into Heaven, and it’s pointless to weigh myself down with rules and moral obligations. Nevertheless I do believe that genuine faith results in a changed lifestyle, and that good works are a byproduct of faith. This causes me to question the sincerity of my own faith, as I notice that my natural inclination is to sin/my nature is still corrupt/I don’t display much fruit of the spirit. I miss feeling secure in my salvation. Any advice?

Hey my dear friend, I absolutely believe that a follower of Christ is going to have evidence of change in his or her life.  But please consider a few things before you go too hard on yourself.

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It’s Not What You Run From, But To.

The Christian life can’t just be about running away from sin: but is ultimately about running to Him. That means finding His mission, His purpose, and His heart for you. It means asking for His wisdom in how to discipline yourself, to be shaped by His truth, to be restructured in His image. It means bonding with other like-minded individuals to live out your God-given calling. It’s so fully experiencing the love of God that you are shaken down to your very core, melted and tenderized by His grace to never go back, but only pursue Him forward.

— J.S. from The Christianese Dating Culture

When God Says Something I Totally Dislike

genericrandomusername asked a question:

I know that homosexuality is a sin. But one thing I’ve learned is that everything labeled “sin” is something God is protecting us from. Like any good father, his rules are there for a good reason. I understand why casual sex, lying, and gluttony are dangerous, but what are the dangers of homosexuality? What is God protecting us from? The reasons I’ve gotten from Christians have were either stupid or totally convoluted. I need to know why I oppose something. Something beyond a weak apologetic.

Hey my dear friend, please allow me the grace to offer just a few challenges to consider from very opposite angles.

– I’ve written about homosexuality before and I no longer talk about it much because everyone starts yelling at each other as loud as dang possible, and the people actually inside the issues get lost in the mix.  Whenever issues get trumped over people, I’m out, because I love people more.

I’ve realized long ago that no one’s actually interested in having a real conversation over this one, and I haven’t had a single rational discussion about it, not once.  It doesn’t matter how polite I am, someone is going to rage-cuss and I’m just too jaded for it now.

I’m not pro or anti anything, I’m just pro-people.  I tend to anger both “sides” with that answer because it’s apparently too soft (sort of like “Give to God’s what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”). But if that makes me a cop-out, I think it’s actually more of a cop-out to reduce a person to his or her sexuality; it’s too simplistic to reduce the abortion issue to a nine-month window of time; I think it’s reductionistic to get angry at the President or to legislate morality on Capitol Hill or to dichotomize people into binary oppositions.

Let’s see it this way. If I’m caught in a current about to head off a waterfall and you throw me a lifesaver, it would be weird if I said, “What color and texture and material is this thing?”  In other words, I need to get saved before I work out the details.  I know the analogy breaks down somewhere (they all do), but the doctrine of faith is prioritized over the doctrine of sexuality.  Both are important, but there’s an order.  If we’re not getting to Jesus first, then who cares what I think about sex?  I can’t put the caboose before the engine.

So I’m done with that.  I’m a simple guy.  My job isn’t to persuade anyone of anything.  I love people like Jesus does, with grace and truth: end of story.

I’m going to leave behind that topic to back up over the larger picture.

– The thing is, if I tried to convince you of why you should believe any particular thing about the Bible, it won’t work that way.  If you or I presume that God has to make a convincing case for His Word, then 1) we’ll keep our arms crossed and never be convinced enough, 2) we can be persuaded right out of it, or 3) we’ll follow Him with begrudging drudgery.

While I absolutely believe there’s a logical rationale behind all of God’s commands, if we don’t believe they’re for our good, then it doesn’t matter how logical they sound: I still won’t believe them.

Adam and Eve had a really strange rule in the Garden.  Don’t eat the fruit off the tree.  Was there any tactical advantage or practical benefit?  Did it somehow profit the human race or create positive energy?  Did the fruit have mystical evil properties?  Maybe.  But it’s more likely that God was saying, You have the entire Garden for you by grace, because I love you. Now please don’t eat the fruit off this one tree, simply because you love me.

That’s it.  No hocus pocus or diagram or flow chart.  No list of seven reasons why it’s a good idea to follow God.  This is called a covenant, in which both parties love each other out of mutual trust instead of functional pragmatism.  It’s for the essence of, not for what it can do.

Here’s what I’m not saying: I’m not saying we don’t ever question God. Believe me, I’ve questioned Him about a billion times at every painful step of faith. I grew up an atheist and I still default to doubt and skepticism very quickly.  Some of God’s commands seem ridiculous at first glance.

But the more I learned about the particulars of the Old Testament (they’re an unfolding narrative and not a prescription) and grasped the idea of God’s commands (they’re not to restrict us, but to show us what’s best and give us abundant life), the more I was able to settle with God one-by-one on what He says.

It’s not that I flip a switch and trust Him overnight; I know some Christians who can do this, and God bless them.  But I’ve eventually found that the heart of God is His love for me, and even His law is about touching upon His heart.  My bias used to be that I distrusted God at every word; now my bias is slowly coming around to trust Him at His Word, and when I obey, it always makes sense later.

There’s also no place I need to look much further than the cross and resurrection.  The Gospel is primarily an invitation into the True Story of the world; without this, then none of His commands matter anyway.  All this will only make sense when we see the man on that tree who died for me, that savior who released me from the grip of sin by conquering its terrible grip.  Without faith in Jesus, then it doesn’t matter what else we believe about what he says.  God rescued His people from the slavery of Egypt before giving them the Ten Commandments. Rescue comes before internal renovation.  I can’t put doctrine ahead of the Gospel, or else we have no doctrine.

Continue reading “When God Says Something I Totally Dislike”

What I’ve Learned About Sundays.

What I’ve learned about Sundays is that everyone mentally agrees with the pastor and has no problem with values like love, peace, joy, and forgiveness. But on the way home, back into the world on our phones and Facebook, that three-point sermon doesn’t work in the heat of the moment. We can amen a sermon on loving others, but rush hour traffic turns us all into demon-possessed pagans. Because we’re human. That’s why every Sunday has to point to the Savior, who didn’t just save us once, but is also the daily grace we need to make it a day at a time. He’s our hope in traffic, in our jobs, with our spouses, with raising children, and choosing better when we most want to explode and give up. He gives us humanity when we least want it.

— J.S.

Battling Church Burn-Out and Exhaustion

rosemarychungphotography asked a question:

How do you deal with church burn out (exhausted from serving, attending church, etc.) and the pain associated with it?

Hey my dear friend, thank you so much for your honesty.

Four quick thoughts on church burn-out:

1) Please be absolutely honest about what’s going on. 

Please talk with your pastor, your leaders, your team.  I don’t mean that we can go around saying “This church is burning me out.”  But sometimes simply talking it out can both release your clenched burden and also help navigate your feelings.  While complaining can be toxic, keeping it in is even more unhealthy.  Have a time with your pastor when you can say every single thing that’s on your mind, no matter how small you may feel it is.

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The Hidden Anxiety Underneath Our Competitive Language.

The next time you walk into a room full of people, I want you to see how they talk and interact and exchange and tell stories and make jokes. Simply watch, listen, soak it in.

Soon you’ll see there’s a hidden anxiety underneath all their language, a deeper sort of quest for each person to validate their individual existence. You’ll see this web of tug-of-war where everyone is pulling, clawing, scratching, grasping for this weight.

It’s like there’s a secret limited stash of golden currency in the air, and everyone’s fighting for it by telling the better story, bragging about their bank account, trying to be the funny guy, showing off their intelligence, dropping famous names, wearing a name, holding up false bravado, pretending to be a mystery, masking their voice in tight controlled expressions of eloquence.

You know what this is: insecurity. Everyone’s fighting for glory to cover the emptiness, that vacuum fracture. And even when they get the glory from that room, it will never be enough: because we weren’t made for the temporary glory of this earth. Our true glory is beyond the room, outside one another, from on high.

— J.S.

Christian Bloggers Trying To Go Viral: Preaching All Day But Ain’t Living Your Bible


If you’re a Christian, whether you like it or not, you’re preaching with your blog.  This is a big deal.  Of course, we all have an insecurity that we don’t deserve the platforms we have.  Most of us are conveying a hologram of the person we-would-like-to-be.

I think it’s okay to be honest about that — to say, “I’m not there yet.”  We’re all still learning here, most especially me.

The harsh truth is, I see too many Christian bloggers who are trying to preach much further than they really are and always talking from a condescending high ground of pseudo-idealism.  Include me in there: I’m always tempted to act tougher than I really am.  We seem to care less about loving actual people and more about tweeting our moral epiphanies.  It’s a lot of full-time blogging from part-time Christians only saying things they’d like to do, like a half-competent coach who pushes his students so he can live vicariously through their success.  If that sounds mean, it’s because it hurts my heart to see so much passion with no momentum.

I wish we were more transparent about how hard it really is: not in a way that enables or pampers, but actually relies on the God we claim to love.  I wish we could stop chest-bumping the hardness of our right theology and stop shaming other Christians with coercive manipulative one-liners.

It’s easy to be a basement blogger and to post photos of the mission trip; it’s harder to roll up our sleeves everyday and get into the grit of real hurting lives.

Blogging naturally necessitates that you put your life on hold to write about your experiences — but if you go immediately from the moment to blogging, you’re not really letting the experience take hold of your heart.  Soon you’re only doing the bare minimum to write for likes and reblogs, which is not transformative but showcasing.  We can all see through it.

If you keep taking shortcuts from living to blogging by skating on the surface of faith, you’ll short-circuit intimacy with the glorious, face-melting, galaxy-sculpting Creator — and He’s the only one who can pierce our hearts deep enough to genuinely sacrifice for each other.

It’s cool if you have the Instagram with the ocean wallpaper and the pick-me-up verses in fancy fonts.  I just think God would rather you be you and not some shrill version of you, to be honest about your unique challenges in this journey with Him.

If I Hear “Wrecked” One More Time

I saw a blog post the other day about “The Future of The Church” written by a guy who was about twenty years old, with all kinds of bold declarations about the decline of ministry.  I think it was supposed to “wreck” me.  I like him and he’s a good person, but I sort of cringed at the whole thing.  Not because he was wrong, but because he cared too much about being right.

Continue reading “Christian Bloggers Trying To Go Viral: Preaching All Day But Ain’t Living Your Bible”

Grace For Police and Law Enforcement

thesilvercolonel asked a question:

Something has been weighing heavily on my heart lately and I was interested in hearing your thoughts. I greatly care about those in law enforcement (my father is a retired police officer) and pray for them all the time. It bothers me the way they are portrayed by the media, as if all police are brutal and corrupt. I know that’s not the case, because most officers sacrifice so much to protect and serve others. I realize I shouldn’t let what others say get to me, but it’s difficult not to.

Hey my friend, I totally feel you on this one.  Having trained police officers myself (I have a fifth degree black belt and I regularly teach martial arts), I understand the stress that law enforcement goes through in both their jobs and public portrayal.

Like anything else, the media often paints things in one-dimensional caricatures that instantly assumes full-fledged heroes and villains, as if people never had gray areas or nuance.  Like any other institution, whether it’s church or business or the medical field or social movements, there are going to be some “bad seeds” and unwise decisions made by certain people.  And there will always be massive criticism on the entire institution based on the small actions of a few.

However, I think this criticism is sometimes necessary.  Public outcry doesn’t happen magically out of thin air.  As much as I absolutely support law enforcement, there’s also been an increasing awareness that a few of them, if not many, are doing unconscionable illegal things.  I don’t believe this reflects on the entire establishment, but it does mean we need justice for the few who abused the law that they swore to uphold.

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