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