The Planks In Our Eyes.


I’ve been learning over and over that unless someone is willing to see the unwieldy plank in their own eye, it’s absolutely impossible to help them out of their destructive patterns and self-deception.

You can yell and grieve and make a scene. You can spend hours in gentle counsel and eloquent exchange and loud weeping and tongue-biting patience. But unless that person wants to change, it’s not happening. No argument or mercy or fervency is enough. They’ll need to be pierced by their own convictions, or in the worst case, they must come to their own ruin and see the miles of hurt they’ve caused. Otherwise, you’re only reinforcing their pride and building their defenses and rationalizations.

Often the only thing we can do is to pray and humble ourselves. To look at our own plank first. To expect the best, even if the other person is taking no strides. To keep the door open. To keep serving. And maybe it’s not about the other person anyway. If they don’t change, you will.

— J.S.

Jaded and Worn Down, Waiting on God Again

Photo from Lucash

The other night, I was at a church service and I was really asking God to do something.

I’ve just been jaded. Really, really worn down. I’ve heard every kind of sermon there is, I know all the right theology, I’ve read every bestseller, I know all the songs and what they’ll say next. It’s a bad place to be. It feels like maybe, I’ve tapped out on faith and I would never have that fiery, from-the-gut connection that I used to. I’ve gotten out of it before, but maybe this time, I would have to learn how to settle. I guess it would be okay.

Continue reading “Jaded and Worn Down, Waiting on God Again”

Why Did God Make Me This Way?

bluerbluebluesky asked a question:

Hey JS it’s been a while, hope you’re well and congrats on your marriage (and your new books). Please bear with me, it’s weird writing in being removed from Christianity, but you really do seem like a genuine and real guy and I had really appreciated your words before. How do you stay confident in a good God when He has “fearfully and wonderfully” made you with depression? I can’t understand why He’d watch His kids live with chronic unbalanced neurochemicals that make them suicidal. Thanks JS

Hey dear friend, I appreciate your very kind words and I’m thankful for your honest challenging question.

I think there are really two ways to look at this. One is that God created everything in history, including death and disease and disasters, as a big ball of yarn that will one day be un-done by His glory. The other is that God created a perfect world of perfect yarn, but it became frayed when sin and death entered the picture and we now live within the stream of a disarrayed universe, which will be re-done by His glory. (If you’re a doctrine-nerd, the first view is called “supralapsarianism” and the second is “infralapsarianism.”)

The problem with the first view is that it assumes God is the author of evil and tragedy. The problem with the second view is that it assumes God is out of control somehow, as if He didn’t see this coming. It’s hard to reconcile either idea, and both of them have good points while bringing up tons of troubling questions.

As a fellow fighter of depression, this is personal for me, too. And I can only try to balance it right down the middle. I believe I wasn’t made with depression. I don’t think we were meant to be sick or starving or dead. And at the same time, I believe God is the author and He’s totally in control. I don’t know how both of these things can be true, but it’s beyond me to understand. My three pound brain is allergic to paradoxes and it might catch fire if I figured it out. So I live within the tension of a fallen imperfect world and a perfectly loving God.

What I won’t do is moralize or spiritualize any of this to say that “pain is a lesson” or that God gives everyone a “wonderful plan for your life.” I don’t know why such evil exists. I think it scares some Christians to say “I don’t know,” but I can’t pretend to draw lines between my depression and some epiphany. Our pain is going to be bad, and there’s nothing else I can do but let it bleed sometimes and let it be part of our story.

I can be certain of one thing.

Continue reading “Why Did God Make Me This Way?”

The Jesus That I Need


Image from Beauty4ashes


The Jesus that I want would probably serve me and my own interests and align with my theological leanings and plans and dreams.

The Jesus that I need would serve the people that I forgot existed, who lived outside my best-laid plans and doctrinal camps, and he would just as quickly subvert my interests to care about others’ interests above my own.

The Jesus that I want would probably listen to my music, look like my race, match my Myers Briggs, and fight for my ideology.

The Jesus that I need would knock me over with exuberant music I never heard, enter my culture without condescending or conforming, would accept and challenge who I am, and transcend the very petty human idea of an ideology.

The Jesus that I want would probably die for people who liked me or were like me or were most likely.

The Jesus that I need died for the people who were nothing like him and he loved them, and even liked them, and he rose to find them. He even rose to find you and me: the least likely, because he’s the love we want, and need.

— J.S.


What Is Grace? How Does It Change Us? The Grace of God in Two Minutes


What is grace? How is it different than pampering or enabling or being “nice”? How does grace confront sin and change our lives?
Two and a half minutes on how grace pulverizes us into new people.

Subscribe to my channel here. Love y’all! — J.S.

[Thank you to Steven Hause of pudgyproductions]


The Highs and Lows of Faith: Getting Past the Spiritual Crash

Photo by Dave Apple

happymuffinsnapeface asked a question:

I’ve just experienced a spiritual “high” and now I’m feeling distant again, what can I do to get closer to him?

Hey dear friend, may I just say: This is just about the number one concern I receive from Christians all over the world, so you are absolutely not alone in this. I’m there, all the time, barely hanging on — much more than I’d like to admit.

As always, the Big Christian Secret is that everyone gets distant from God; we doubt He exists; we feel far from Him through no fault of our own. We can even do all the right things to return to Him, but they might not work for a long while. The best thing is to keep doing what you’re doing and to keep believing, even if it’s with a tiny shred of faith. Keep serving, singing, praying, reading your Bible, and hanging out with Christians, even (and especially) when you don’t feel like it.

I know that “going through the motions” is vilified in the church and considered total hypocrisy. I get that. But when a preacher is telling me, “Are you really truly sincerely worshiping from the bottom of your gut?” — I just feel worse. Guilt-trips don’t jump me back into on-fire faith. Sometimes “going through the motions” is exactly what I need to get me through this desert valley. If our default setting is sin, then even the weakest movement towards God is worthy of celebrating.  And maybe feeling God is a false parameter for our faith, because faith is often about how we stay despite wanting to leave.

Do I love my wife? Yes. Do I wonder if she loves me sometimes? Yes. Does it get tough? Yes. Do I stay her husband? Of course. Marriages are not on maximum volume all the time. The highs come with the lows; it’s a roller-coaster of doubts and frustration and boundless happiness. I don’t always “feel” romantic or gushy. But the bottom line is always there, that we are married by a promise of love, and my actions for her are not ultimately determined by how I feel. In fact, my actions for her are often the doorway to feel love and loved again.

Continue reading “The Highs and Lows of Faith: Getting Past the Spiritual Crash”

8 Reasons Why I’m Excited About All The “Persecution”

image

There’s a lot of doom-and-gloom talk about the loss of American religious freedom, but I for one am excited about the whole thing.

I don’t mean in a golly-gosh, let’s-be-like-first-century-Christians sort of way, and I don’t mean to diminish real life-and-death persecution happening elsewhere.  But really: this is the long overdue spank we need on our angry little Western bottoms.

Eight reasons why this “persecution” is a good thing.

Continue reading “8 Reasons Why I’m Excited About All The “Persecution””

7 Ways To Stop The Christian Gossip Mob

We’ve all been in a crowd where someone starts doing the sassy finger and going into hater mode.  “Did you hear about our dear so-and-so in Christ?  Because not to be a gossiping jerk, but I’m about to be a gossiping jerk.”

It’s not too hard to stop your own mouth (simple: don’t start), but when someone else among friends starts going off on gossip, it gets awkwardly difficult to control.  It’s not enough to just change subjects or step away.

So then, some ways to shut this down.

Continue reading “7 Ways To Stop The Christian Gossip Mob”

Overcoming The Fear of Man, Image, and Reputation


Anonymous asked:

How do I get over my fear of man? I know what ultimately matters is God’s opinion of me. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. I feel constantly misunderstood, or I make decisions out of fear, not love because I’m afraid of what others might think of me. I don’t give in to surface things like peer pressure, but it’s more of deeper things like what people think of me in ministry and my integrity. Am I idolizing my reputation? How can I care less what people think of me?

I believe this has been one of the most problematic issues my entire life, and I wish I could say I’m over it, but it’s not easy.  Dear friend: It’s impossible not to think about what other people think about you.  So if you trip over yourself or accidentally fart in public, then you can act as cool as you want, but you’ll be screaming to death inside.  And that’s natural.  We are relational creatures, and there’s no getting around the need to please people.  Allow yourself a bit of breathing room here.

It takes time, patience, practice, and God-empowered grace to overcome this — and it often happens in layers.  While I still feel the burning needle of other peoples’ opinions lodged in my heart, I’m also not as controlled by other opinions as I once was.  You don’t have to rush the process.

But there is a process.  I’ve learned over the years that whenever I feel the attention-seeking, people-pleasing, self-condemning fear, I break down this anxiety into several logical parts.  It requires a discipline by the grace of God to really dig in.  So here are some things to consider every time you feel the pressure.

Continue reading “Overcoming The Fear of Man, Image, and Reputation”

True Confidence Vs. False Bravado: How Fighting Insecurity Makes Us Insecure

Anonymous asked:

I realized that I wasn’t as confident as I ought to be and in that period, I sought help from these youtube male confidence-coaching/life coaching channels. They can teach good things like speaking your mind, not being so self-conscious … but then there’s the drive to when it comes to attracting a woman – being an alpha (not a beta) male; walking with confidence, and just a number of other things that just make me so anxious and uncomfortable … What would a Christian notion of true male confidence even be? How does the ‘alpha-male’ notion stand up? Thanks again for your dedication for allowing God to use you to bless others, brother.

Hey there dear friend, I appreciate your honesty since I know it probably wasn’t easy to ask.

I think the main problem with “coaching” about male confidence or any other particular standard is that it inevitably becomes a contest with no goal. It’s a completely arbitrary, random finish-line that we’ll never be happy with. Any kind of “level” we’re trying to reach is going to be another burden, whether it’s a Twelve Top Things To Be A Man type of list or Five Steps to a Better You. Even a three-point sermon eventually becomes a guilt-trip that leaves us feeling like we’ll never make it.

The Christian Gospel is never about adding burdens on, but taking burdens off. This means that “striving for the ideal” is ultimately a phantom concept that implodes from the inside. Whether it’s the Christian trying to stay pure or the athlete going for gold or a businessman making the next dollar: all these goals, while good and important, cannot be the sum of a whole person.

Trying to be confident will always defeat itself, because it never knows when to rest or be content. It’s a kind of legalism that operates out of the human problem: a self-justifying heart that must bolster the ego or be motivated by fear. Both will kill us. Even the most “macho” looking dude is either operating out of prideful vanity or fearful self-shaming.

I think these coaches can say good things and it can be good to pick up tips from them, but really they’re only covering symptoms of a larger problem. It’s like pruning a tree but never watering the roots. The way the world works is to reach higher, better, faster, sharper, and more. But as you’ve found, this is such a neurotic self-measuring anxiety that it collapses.

True confidence, perhaps ironically, means you don’t really care about having it. As C.S. Lewis says, to give a good first impression you must not try to make a good first impression, and then it will happen by itself. How does someone do that? How does someone inherently, naturally, instinctively have a security so strong that they don’t care what anyone thinks, yet loves them too?

Continue reading “True Confidence Vs. False Bravado: How Fighting Insecurity Makes Us Insecure”

Trailer Video for “What The Church Won’t Talk About”


A trailer for my book, What The Church Won’t Talk About.

The paperback is here and the ebook is here. The revised edition is here and its ebook here.

[Subscribe to my YouTube channel here!]
[Thank you to Steven Hause of pudgyproductions!]

— J.S.


Everything Is Wrong With Everything And We Know It: About The Loaded Word “Sin”


What is “sin”? Is it merely just drinking and cursing and skipping church? Why is the word “sin” still important today?
How sin explains the itchy longing inside every human heart, and why it’s good news that you’re a sinner.

Subscribe to my channel here.

Love y’all!

— J.S.


[Thank you to Steven Hause of pudgyproductions]

When The World Goes Crazy: Here’s What I Really Need.


Photo from Athena Grace


When the world goes crazy and life gets upside-down, it’s really hip to say, “Just be there for someone” — and you’re called a jerk if you say anything else. This is the new quip-ster cliché, and it’s now its very own legalism.

I understand this, because it’s insensitive to preach cold abstract theology at hurting people. Anyone who does this is thrown under the Religious Nut Bus. Defending God over cancer and car accidents and earthquakes often feels like I’m punching the air. For some of us, the evil in this world is the single largest hang-up we’ll face to faith, even more than bigoted hypocritical Christians. We might part ways here and it’s easy to be cynical. And that’s okay. We’re free to disagree.

But I wonder if most millennial Christians only resort to “Don’t talk about God, just-be-there-for-them” because they’re afraid of backlash from mainstream opinion. I wonder how much of our talk on “relevance” is a cowardice in offering a clear lucid theology on the pain of a broken world. The church has definitely messed up this conversation in the past, with bad platitudes like “He moves in mysterious ways” and “Just-wait-until-heaven,” but when we’re done apologizing for where we got it wrong, the Bible still has something good to say. If we can get past the fear of ridicule, there’s a rich, robust, roaring framework of faith that can endure the worst that life will throw at us. Even when we don’t believe it to be true, I find myself wanting it to be.

Of course we need to be present to love, to listen, to learn. Our “being-there” has priority over theology. I’m not going to bring up my systematic outline of God’s sovereignty at the moment of your collapse. But at some point, I need to give you more than a hug. I need to respond to the hurt, and no one wants a pat on the head or a pat response.

I truly believe that the Christian faith has the most coherent, cogent, competent worldview on suffering. Christianity offers both the pathos and the logos, both a presence and a reason. On one hand, we keep silent vigil when a friend suffers; we are loyal by their side. And on the other hand, we talk it out. We vent our frustrations. We seek wholeness.

I believe, like Job, that it’s absolutely acceptable to struggle with the nature of God’s goodness, and that it’s okay if we’re never fully at rest with pain. We can keep asking: Is He truly good? Is He really in control? How much am I allowed to doubt Him while still holding onto Him? Do I have the grace to question Him?

Even if God never tells us why we go through tragedy, we can still ask Him —

What do we do now?

Christians believe this is all going somewhere. We don’t always know why, we don’t always know what God is really doing, we don’t always find it easy to trust Him.

But I don’t want to be ashamed of my theology.
After all, my theology is alive, risen, and here.

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

Jealousy Vs. Generosity: A Generation Held Back

 

No one ever looks in the mirror and says, “I’m a jealous person,” because it implies other people are better than us or that we’re weak somehow, and we’re always trying to protect our egos. 

Because it’s so hidden: jealousy is one of the most destructive problems of all.  I’m so good at pretending I’m not jealous that I can disguise my hate as “criticism” and “observation” and “keeping it real.”  Certainly criticism doesn’t always come from jealousy, but you can tell when it does. 

I can attack someone’s weaknesses and presume a whole bunch of other weaknesses by clever extrapolation all while highlighting my strengths, and this makes me nothing more than a jealous petty little hater. 

During testimony-time at church when everyone is confessing all kinds of drug addictions and sexual deviance, I’ve never heard a single person say, “I’ve destroyed others with my envy.”  No one ever says, “I’m straight up drunk from haterade.”

When you see someone better than you — and we all do — there are two ways to respond.

1) Find ways to downgrade their human value, then rationalize your own contempt as justified criticism.

2) Celebrate their achievements and generously promote their growth while learning from them in humility.

Continue reading “Jealousy Vs. Generosity: A Generation Held Back”

Five Primers On How To Study The Bible

Photo from Breanna Lynn

Anonymous asked:

Tips on how to study the word of God? Thanks!

Hey dear friend, I totally got the thing for you.

1) Lather yourself in holy water borrowed from your local vampire hunter store.

2) Get in your booster chair and wear the bib that says, “Christmas? How about putting the CHRIST BACK IN CHRISTIANS #JesusJuke”

3) Put on 3-D glasses and your Bible Man cape and mask.

4) Use a fan to open your Bible and stop at any page with any of the Ten Plagues finger puppets.

5) Play “Mind Heist” by Zack Hemsey. You won’t regret it.

6) Read the Bible in a Welsh English accent as loud as possible.

7) Wait for a fiery dove to rip through your ceiling with a new chapter of Revelation, which should already be happening at your weekly prayer meetings.

By the way, if you actually do this, please record it and show me.

Okay, but seriously.

Reading the Bible is hard. The Bible wasn’t even mass-produced until the last few-hundred years, and suddenly we’re all guilt-tripping each other on “read more Bible or bring the lighter fluid for your stake-burning.” But the Bible itself is hard. Am I allowed to say that? It’s dang hard.

So I want to say first: It’s okay to feel dumb about it. The quicker we can admit, “This is way over my head,” then the safer we’ll feel to get help. Here’s some help then to read the Bible.

Continue reading “Five Primers On How To Study The Bible”

Five Ways That Christianity Helps You Think For Yourself

Photo by Andrea Howey

shatterrealm asked a question:

How would you say Christianity challenges you to think for yourself?

Hello dear sister in Christ! I have to plug you here and recommend your other blog, gothicchristian. I’m a fan!

Contrary to misinformed popular opinion, I would say Christianity challenges us to think for ourselves in several great ways.

1) God first and foremost commands us to think for ourselves.

If God’s commands are a way of describing reality and how it ought to work, then it’s a big deal that God wants us to think through to the bottom of everything. Passages like 1 John 4 and Proverbs 2:9-11 show that God wants us to have discernment and wisdom, and that “knowledge is pleasant to the soul.”  Acts 17 is almost entirely about Paul wanting us to dig deep on what we really believe. God is absolutely pro-intellect and pro-science, and anyone who says otherwise hasn’t read the Bible very far.

2) Traditional Christianity had such a profound respect for knowledge that it practically kept libraries open during the so-called “Dark Ages.”

I know that not everyone will see eye-to-eye on this one, but modern scholars have completely dismissed the “Dark Age” myth and how “Christianity set us back for centuries.” This is a terrible misconception and only repeated by the shallowest of college students. Any medieval historian will tell you that early Christians cared so much about knowledge, whether pagan religion or Greek philosophy, that they preserved such teachings until it revitalized academia, to the point that you can link this revival with the scientific method and the Enlightenment. I personally believe the church has really lost their way on this in the twentieth and twenty-first century – but it must never be said that the early Christians tried to snuff out the sciences. It’s the very, very opposite. The purest state of Christianity will always seek knowledge in its purest form, no matter where it comes from, because the Christian believes all information can point us back to the true God (1 Timothy 4:4, Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1-4).

Continue reading “Five Ways That Christianity Helps You Think For Yourself”

How Hard It Really Is To Talk Faith.


I know how hard it is to talk about Jesus. It’s the most awkward conversation you’ll ever have. If you even say the whole Gospel out loud right now, it sounds like the craziest thing you’ve ever heard. But the Gospel isn’t some ‘speech’ you unload on people and then ‘leave it in God’s hands.’ Blasting people with theology is like serving icing for dessert. Evangelism is your whole life, it’s sharing your home, it’s enduring patiently, it’s being a human being, it’s availability, it’s sharing Jesus through who you are; not perfectly, but passionately. Yes, invite them to church and to that revival and talk about your faith and your testimony, but once you dare to go there, just know you might be rejected immediately, a lot, and aggressively. Except secretly they can’t deny there must be something to it, because you’re not just a billboard. You’re an overflow of a barely containable supernatural miracle.

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


Encouragement For Your Hurt.


Writing this one meant a lot to me as it contains real stories from real people with heartache, loss, and (not-so-easy) redemption. I often recounted these stories with tears and prayers. Life doesn’t always wrap up in a bow-tie with a neat little lesson at the end, but people still choose to endure despite all that has happened. Even brokenly, they crawled forward and went on.

I hope you’ll consider picking up the book. It’s on sale for 8.99 in paperback and 3.99 in ebook. It’s meant for you if you’re hurting right now, and meant for your friend if they’re hurting too.
Be blessed and love y’all.  — J.S.

http://www.amazon.com/Mad-About-God/dp/0692390472/


Is Christianity Just a Copy of Other Religions?

flower-detonation asked a question:

I’m a Christian that’s been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I’m blessed to have found your blog. However, I’ve read a lot about how Christianity is actually based on ancient Egyptian religion and philosophy and pretty much white people took these ideas and made it into Christianity. So i guess my question is that I am fooling myself for believing in the “white man’s religion” cuz to me it doesnt make what’s said in the Bible any less true but is the Bible an allegorical text then?

Hey dear friend, thank you so very much for your kind words. Thank you also for the challenging question.

Let’s consider the following three things.

Continue reading “Is Christianity Just a Copy of Other Religions?”

How Do I Accept Myself As An Introvert?

Photo from Rosan Harmens

my-heart-beats-only-for-you-god asked a question:

Hi Pastor J.S, so my question is: How can I accept myself being introvert? That’s my personality, but sometimes inside and outside the church, people seem to make jokes about it, saying that I’m to shy or I’ve never talked and so on. Sometimes I feel sad about that and it really affects me emotionally. I know I have to adapt in those kind of situations, but how can I accomplish that?

Hey dear friend and fellow introvert! Alas, we have found one another.

I’ve learned two things over time about being introverted:

1) I love being an introvert. Really. I’m happy to be who I am.

2) I don’t have to let the label “introvert” make decisions for me or to wholly define me.

I think no matter where you go, whether you’re an introvert or Christian or irreligious or you’re part of twelve fandoms, someone out there won’t understand it. Maybe a lot of people won’t get you, at all. That’s a part of life and a part of who people have unfortunately decided to be (and we still need to have grace there). If they did get to know you, I’m sure they’d discover the great quirky wonderful person you are. But even if they don’t, you can still be the great quirky wonderful person you are. That’s not decided by how they think about you or how you think about you.

Continue reading “How Do I Accept Myself As An Introvert?”