The One Thing We’re Not Doing About Injustice


I went on social media again to read about the outrage with everything that’s been happening, and all the polarized back-and-forth shouting just made me sick to my stomach — as it always does.  It’s a whole lot of yelling, but none of it does anything, nor does it influence anyone who could do something.  It’s obvious that juries are not swayed by it.  And most people who are yelling on their blogs are just trying to go viral and look relevant and be sassy instead of actually caring about the people involved.  You can tell, and we can see right through it.

I believe in the right to peacefully protest.  I believe it works.  I believe we should leverage our social platforms to speak up for the voiceless.  I believe even trolls have the right to speak, because the least dignified person is afforded the dignity to speak their mind.

But I think there’s one thing we keep saying that we’ll do and we simply don’t.  We say we will, and we’re not.

I keep seeing, “We need to pray.”  I keep hearing that over and over.  I’ve probably said it too.  “Pray for our country.”  It sounds nice and it’s true.  But I wonder how many people are actually doing this.  I wonder if they realize the potential magnitude of what they’re saying and what prayer can actually do if we went for it.

How about if the billions of people who tweeted and preached and blogged and sassed about injustice actually did pray?  I don’t mean to sound uppity or self-righteous. I’m preaching to me too.  I’m not telling you what to do with your anger; I’m also angry.  But I mean imagine: if we all got on our knees together daily, even just a few hundred of us, and sought to commune with God and reflect on each other’s needs and thought about how to serve one another.  Imagine taking five seconds to have empathy, and what that could do for the whole day.

Earlier today, after reading too many cruel comments online, I felt driven to my knees to pray.  To be truthful, I haven’t done this in a long time.  I consider myself a “Bible-believing Christian” — but prayer is hard.  I usually do it in the car, between places, always on the go.  It’s totally different on my knees.  At first I thought, “This will make a great blog post.”  It took a while to really be in silence.  I was too self-conscious, and I expected it.  I pushed through.  Soon — I ran through the fog of my own distraction, and I knew He was there.  I knew He was grieving over us.  And I could only say, “We’re so screwed up right now.  I’m screwed up, God.  Please help us.  We need your help.”

Maybe it did nothing.  But at least God and I, we had a good time together.  I felt a sober peace.  The light outside felt brighter, sharper, new.

I don’t think we need to be “religious” to do this. If there’s no God, then there’s really no harm. You spent some time wishing peace upon the world, and if anything, it’s helped you think of others. We think about fictional people all the time, and it’s probably less healthy. But if there is a God, and He has the power to intervene and change hearts and orchestrate human structures, then I don’t see how we could be doing anything else but prayer.  If God does exist, and I believe He does, then we need nothing less than His divine power to heal a hostile weary world. We need action strengthened by prayer.

I’m sure this sounds like Pascal’s Wager or that I’m endorsing passivity.  I suppose there a lot of reasons not to pray. It’s easier to yell and tweet and write passive-aggressive commentary and to preach to the same choir and attack phantom enemies.  Something in us resists the spiritual. Even those who want to pray find it hard to focus.That’s all understandable.

I’m only asking that we would ask, “If I really believed prayer worked, what would I pray for the world right now?”  Then maybe some of us would go do that.  A few of us might cross the line and really pray to the God who can do what we can’t.  And even if nothing changes, then you did, and if we all did, then there’s a chance we could turn this whole thing around.  I have hope for that, even in a world such as this.

— J.S.

The Real Hero Is Each Other.

I want to make a movie where the first ten minutes is a hero chasing a villain on the streets of New York as they weave in and out of crowds of people in a cat and mouse game of espionage, and then the bad guy opens fire on the hero and an innocent bystander is hit, a woman who’s walking with her husband on a date to save their marriage. Suddenly the movie shifts focus to the hospital bed of this woman and her husband, and they’re told she probably can’t walk anymore due to the severity of the wound.

The husband gets like four jobs to pay the growing hospital bills and he learns to play some love songs on an old used cheap guitar but he can’t sing so well and he’s too broke to afford new strings, yet he sings to her every other evening between his day shift and night shift even when she’s sleeping. He cries a lot by himself and he looks at an alcohol bottle which is an old habit he used to have that was ruining his marriage, but right before he throws it out the window he ends up throwing a local fundraiser party with all his liquor and he raises just enough to pay for a few months of physical therapy. Laughter montage with no dialogue and a small cake with a single candle and the exhausted husband falls asleep holding his wife’s hand. A few months later the wife finally takes her first step by herself, but the husband is working and he misses it so he gets a call and rushes to the hospital to see his wife walking but he’s so sleepy from working so much that he gets in an accident and his car flips over.

Cut to the next scene where he wakes up in a hospital bed and across the curtain is his wife, and she reaches from her bed and holds his hand and says, “It’s my turn to take care of you now,” and by the end you realize not all heroes chase bad guys down street corners, but can also look like two ordinary people fighting for each other and finding strength in their weakness together. Fade to black on their enclosed fingers, wedding rings, and credits.

— J.S.

So About God’s Punishment and Wrath: A Mega-Post On Theology That Bothers Us

abbybethh asked a question:

Hello, do you have any posts/ thoughts on God’s punishment? It’s been a topic I’ve been really confused on. Thank you for all that you do & congratulations on your engagement!!

Hey dear friend, thank you so much for your kind words.  I want to kindly share with you three different angles on God’s punishment to consider.  As always, please feel free to skip around on this post.

1) God’s punishment is His burning anger and wrath set against our sin and it’s often correlated to each act of disobedience.

2) God’s punishment is actually His grieving heart for our active disconnection from Him, so He allows us to have what we want and for the consequences to unroll.

3) God’s punishment is an outdated term from the Bible that has been misinterpreted, and is simply language that describes the continuing effects of sin in our world.

So we could say God’s punishment is 1) God’s wrath, 2) our consequences, or 3) the effects of sin.

For the most part, Christians have put these views in a boxing ring to duke it out.  Augustinian and Calvinist theology would say it’s all God’s wrath.  Emergent or mystical theology would call it natural consequences.  The New Perspective on Paul might call it the effects of sin.  [You don’t have to know any of that stuff, by the way, to love Jesus.]  Westerners don’t like “wrath” and Easterners would say that of course God is vengeful.

I tend to think it’s a combination of all three views, but I also confess that I’m too limited in my imagination.  We’re each hamstrung by our own cultural ideas about God, and we need to admit our weakness before beginning to grasp Him.  We must occasionally dare to have God confront us and contradict us with the uncomfortable, especially with the stuff we don’t find pleasant about Him.

We need to be careful about our own preconceived biases.

The thing is, most Westerners hate the idea that God could punish anyone.  Even the idea of “guilt” is too much.  Most of us have been Pavlovian-conditioned by the Enlightenment to consider God as either a grandfather or a clockmaker, so we’re offended by things like the cross and we enjoy images of haloed sheep-holding Jesus.

But in the East, the idea of an anthropomorphic loving God is absolutely horrifying and insulting.  That God could “forgive” and be “personal” is to put God at the level of a pigeon.  And ideas like “wrath” and “vengeance” already make sense in an honor-and-shame culture.

So it depends on who you’re talking to. Simply distilling theological thoughts about God into tiny culturalized categories can hardly explain God to a tiny 3 lb. human brain.

Continue reading “So About God’s Punishment and Wrath: A Mega-Post On Theology That Bothers Us”

Releasing Expectations, Letting Go Control.

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

A Letter To Pastors, Worship Leaders, and Praise Teams

To Pastors and Church Leaders:

Stay humble, stay faithful. You’ll be tempted to look to the big-time platform, the bigger church, the larger crowds, that next big event. I was, too. You’ll look forward to when you’ve “made it” to that elite circle of celebrity pastors. But your people need you there, to be present, in this appointed time, to preach to even one person as if you were in a stadium. Please don’t look to the “awesome version” of how you want things to be. It’s a mirage. And your people will know if you’re looking past them. Your church needs you now, with sleeves rolled up, eye-to-eye and chair-to-chair, to enter in the trenches with your fully embodied presence, like Jesus. Be here, in the dirt, in the mess.

To Worship Leaders and Praise Teams:

Stay encouraged. When people arrive late or goof off or don’t clap or don’t care, you’re still planting sovereign seeds. When practice is rough or no one’s ready or you forgot to print that one song, keep loving your team. When no one else is singing or you blunder that note, worship hard. In the frantic rush of getting it right, point to the King. God is still working. Trust Him. Sing loud. Grace will win.

— J.S.

God Is Going To Work With You On This.

When we hear sermons about sex and dating, a piercing guilt sets in — It’s too late for me, because I’ve already messed it up.

In a Christianese church culture, there’s no room for sinners like you and me. You’re either in or you’re out. You got it or you don’t. It’s one-shot or it’s over.

[This] can make you feel you lost out on something, like you’re somehow beyond His reach. We get locked into a cycle of compensating for our wrongs. The Christianese way is to run, jump, and kick our way through faith.

The truth is that no matter where we are in our “identity” or “purity” or “maturity,” God is going to work with you on this. This is who He is. God cannot help it. He loves His children, and even those like you and me. Nothing you do could ever change God’s heart towards you, and it’s His unchanging heart that changes you.

— J.S. from The Christianese Dating Culture