Don’t Get Cynical; Keep Hope


One look at the news and it’s easy to get cynical. It’s easy to give in to pessimism. It’s understandable, given our daily trauma, the terrible headlines, and our disappointing leaders. It’s tiring. But often the world is the way it is because too many of us have accepted the way it is. Pessimism has always been a sport for sidelines. I’m afraid that the detachment of pessimism, as fun as it is, is often just laziness.

No, simply “thinking positive” doesn’t make things better. And it takes momentous effort, decades of sweat and tears and rallies and voices, to move the needle towards real change. That has to start with you. With me. With believing that change is possible. With our little corners and small platforms and unseen podiums. With believing that even ancient institutions like politics and the church and social attitudes can be completely transformed.

Optimism doesn’t only see how we are, but who we could be. I want eyes that see that far. The way ahead was lit by others who dared to hope. Change happened by those who first believed it was possible. So we must carry the light for those coming next. We are the next. We can’t go down without a fight.
— J.S.

“God Is in Control,” but What This Really Means


When somebody tells me, “Don’t worry, God is in control,” too often that’s used as an excuse to be passive. When I hear “God will provide,” that usually means, “I don’t want to help.” When I hear, “That’s God’s Will,” that seems to mean, “Better that guy than me.” These are no better than empty “thoughts and prayers.” At best they’re a cowardly cop-out, and at worst they’re abuse powered by false theology.

If God is really in control, that means I have to answer to Him. That raises my responsibility to the highest level. And if He’s in control, He has given us real resources to help. That should be motivation to do more, not less. If I am not in control, then I can’t do it in my strength, but His. That’s good news.
— J.S.

To You, John


I’ve always been uncomfortable speaking. I have a bad case of stage fright and I’ve been introverted long before it was internet points. It might be hard to see but I’m shaking and sweating up there. The very thought of speaking makes my guts go funny. Plus, I’ve been told my actual voice sounds like one of those surfer turtles in Finding Nemo.

I spoke on Sunday just hours before John’s funeral. At one point during the message, I paused for a a very long five seconds. It wasn’t because of the stage fright. Of course, I thought about John. Every Wednesday where I work, we have a chapel service, and John was always there. Every single Wednesday. It makes me crazy thinking he won’t be at chapel anymore. He was always the first to enter the the doors, the first to share a prayer request, to enter the discussion, and the last to leave after talking about the sermon for ten minutes. Sometimes weeks later he’d tell me, “Hey I tried that thing you preached about three weeks ago.” I hardly remember what I ate yesterday. But he was that kind of guy.

I’d like to think in some way that John will be there. Cheering us on. Making the church exactly what it should be. Here’s to you brother.
— J.S.

(And thank you to my brother Pastor DL of Harvest KPCO for extending the honor to preach. Love you man. Your church is just as generous and wonderful as you.)

To Be Set Free Takes Honesty


Honesty is the first step to healing. It’s really difficult to confront your own ugliness inside. It’s hard to confront your own selfishness; it’s threatening to confess that you are wrong. But it’s only with a reckless self-confrontation that you can be liberated from the lies you have believed. You can see the lie for what it really is. It’s only by stepping back from the momentum of darkness that has swallowed up your vision that you will begin to see once more. The light is staggering, blinding, painful, and even humiliating, but to see yourself as you really are is to begin the path to be set free.
— J.S.

You Can’t Be Too Hard on People


A homeless man once told me: “You can’t be too hard on people. They only know the world they came from.”

I’d like to believe that everyone’s trying their best with what they have in all the ways they know how. Maybe not everyone’s trying their best. But it doesn’t help anyone if we don’t believe the best about them. And that’s my best: to believe we’re trying.
— J.S.

Grace Is Something Different


Grace is thoughtful. It considers a back-story, an upbringing, their trauma and trials, the whole person, and not just a tiny single slice of their life.

Grace brings wholeness to a hasty judgement; it regards my own flaws first, in light of the grace I’ve also been given.

Grace brings what could be instead of what should’ve been. Grace covers my past and empowers my future. Grace does not shame. It does not enable. It does not condemn nor condone, but convicts and re-creates.

Grace confronts the worst of a person and does not shy away from surgical rebuke. At our worst, we realize how much we must confront the ugliness inside. But grace restores there, in the wreckage. It sees what is both our doing and the undoing of others; it sees both our affliction and the pain that was inflicted. It is always healing the fractured fallen weary sinner.

Grace is what we least want to give but most need to receive. Jesus saw what we deserved, but gave us what we needed instead. That’s grace. Not merely unconditional love, but counter-conditional, unfazed, unrelenting.

— J.S.

About to Get a Therapist: How Do I Do This?

Anonymous asked a question:

Hey there. so I’m going to be starting counseling soon and I’m kind of anxious about it. Do you have any advice on opening up to a new medical professional?

Hey dear friend, that’s great news you’re getting counseling. If it were up to me, I wish we could all have a mental health scholarship to get a counselor.

In my experience here’s what I’ve found to be helpful in a therapeutic alliance. It’s a lot, but of course, you don’t have to memorize these or anything. Maybe even one thing here will give you some peace. And friends, if I missed anything, please comment below.

Continue reading “About to Get a Therapist: How Do I Do This?”

How Do We Show Love for Hate Groups Like Westboro?

Anonymous asked a question

You know what? I’ve heard a lot of criticism towards Westboro Baptist Church and I’ve searched for Christians who have reached out and I could only find two on the whole internet. I’ve noticed Christians disassociate themselves with them understandably but I think they are victims in many ways but ultimately been held in bondage by the enemy. I don’t hear about enough of us praying for them for their own sake. What do you think?

Hey dear friend, I think this is extremely kind and generous of you. 

It’s true that the members of Westboro Baptist Church, in a sense, are victims of their founder Fred Phelps. In fact, his granddaughters Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper left the Westboro cult around 2012. They’ve both since become activists, particularly Megan Phelps-Roper. They certainly deserve our compassion and empathy and a second chance. Megan credits Twitter users with changing her mind about Westboro, because it was there she found gracious and real people who were willing to dialogue with her. It’s possible that in our lifetime, Westboro will cease to exist. 

Here’s the thing. The Westboro cult is inexcusably terrible. No one should ever feel like they have to reach out to them. It’s up to each person to decide whether they’re called to dialogue with them, pray for them, or connect with them. No one should feel less compassionate just because they’re not reaching out to Westboro. Some people are simply gifted at reaching out to very difficult people. Some of us were never meant to.

Continue reading “How Do We Show Love for Hate Groups Like Westboro?”

How Do I Open Myself Up to Friends Again?

Anonymous asked a question:

I read a text post from you about wanting friendship just for appreciation of the person, not opportunism. I used to be like that. But somehow through the hurt I’ve accumulated from people, real relationships feel too fragile. To cope, I found myself using people for clear defined reasons, than sentimentality. It has kept me safe, but I feel like I’ve lost a part of my humanity too. How can I love people for who they are despite the total possibility of being letdown?

Hey dear friend, thank you for your very honest message.

I went through a very similar phase where for years, I couldn’t trust anyone. I had been brutally hurt by a church and I never thought I would recover. I did. It took a ton of therapy and self-examination and safe people to get there.

Continue reading “How Do I Open Myself Up to Friends Again?”

The Only Time a Christian Goes First


When I preach love in a time like this, my words aren’t credible because the church is not. I can’t help but feel the church is always part of the problem. We contributed to this mess.

The church is called to be the safest, most gracious place on the face of the earth. Not perfect, but passionate, with arms open as wide as the cross. I know I’ve fallen short. God help us. God start with me.

— J.S.


I Hope You Will Hear Me


Eventually I’ll say something that you’ll disagree with. I will disappoint you. I’ll come off brash, inconsiderate, ignorant, and misinformed. Your favorite writer or pastor or celebrity will miss an angle or fumble a point or miss the whole thing. You’ll think, “How could I have ever liked this guy?” We then dismiss and demonize based off one sentence, one phrasing, one particular choice of word. I’ve done it, too. You know, farewell forever.

Maybe it’s for a legitimate reason, and they really did go too far. Then farewell, sure. But I wish we could give a little space for a conversation. Even over coffee. It’s possible this person misspoke because they’re just a person and they don’t always get it right. It could be that they need the patience of dialogue to re-examine what they said, instead of the hasty hate-train that offers no fair exchange. It could be they really didn’t know better, or they just needed a nap.

I want your help. I want to know when I’m wrong – but it’s hard to hear what’s right when everyone is yelling. I want the freedom to make mistakes so that I’m not afraid to learn from you. I don’t want to be afraid that you’ll throw things when I don’t phrase things exactly the perfect way. And really, I’m not sure if you would listen to yelling, either. I’d want the same chance you’d want for you, too.

I know there are some non-negotiables that can never be compromised. I cannot say every “side” is equal or that every platform is good. None of us will ever agree on everything. Sometimes we must part ways. And that’s okay. I just don’t want to judge an entire life over a few degrees of difference. We can disagree and still be friends. Even if we must part, I want to become better from our disagreements, to see what I had not seen before, and mostly, to see you. I will hear you.

— J.S.


In Darkness He Rolls the Stone


When I ask if God is good
I see a cross, an empty tomb.
What He writ large in the stars
is writ small for our wounds.
From the sky to my sin
He is re-making us again.
When nothing else is good,
He is the only one who is.
— J.S.

Jesus, Barabbas, You and Me


I wonder how they could yell Barabbas instead of Jesus.
I wonder how they sang “Hosanna” and days later, “Crucify him.”
I wonder how Pontius could wash his hands of it, as though a dirty conscience could be so easily cleaned.

But – I am Barabbas, sinner set free.
I yell “Crucify him” as I sing praises with ease.
I am Pontius, who turned a blind eye to glory.
And yet, so Christ still died for me.
Still he died, where I should be,
a perfect love on that tree.
J.S.


If You Say You Love God


It’s super easy to preach “love your neighbor,” but the loving part is crazy hard. I think most people really believe they’re loving and kind when they have to be, but the second someone disagrees or causes inconvenience or looks at you funny, the love thing can go out the window real quick.

What I usually see online or in church or in politics or in marriages is that unless a person fits an exact specification of beliefs and behaviors and likes and dislikes, that person is cast out of the inner-ring. I’ve spent a lot of terrible energy trying to carve others into my own image, overriding their point of view, always waiting for others to “come around.” That‘s no better than hate.

It seems Jesus said that “hate is murder” because when we only accept the people who match our values, we are disappearing them. We’re essentially saying, “Be like me or you don’t exist. I’d rather you be someone you’re not.” This is hate, and it’s crushing somebody out of existence.

This is especially obvious in social media, when one wrong word gets you canceled. But it’s worse when it comes to religion. That’s attributing a supernatural superiority to hatred. It gives an awful permission to say, “God said it, not me.” Which is cowardly. And if your god always agrees with what you believe and only likes the people you like—that god is the one you made up to justify your bitterness and to boost your ego. It’s a push-button keychain god that does your bidding. It isn’t the God who will challenge you, stretch you, surprise you, and who loves the people you can’t stand.

No, we cannot love all the things that people do. Yes, I believe in accountability and justice and boundaries. But over all, I want to love my neighbor for who they are and not for my version of them. I believe not in who someone should be, but could be. It’s the same way that I believe God loves a guy like me.

J.S.

What I’m About


Discouraged, exhausted, beat down, beat up, clawing and falling, it’s so far, but my God, by God, another inch I crawl.
J.S.

You Are My Family


I grieve with you. I am angry for you. I hurt with you. Your pain is my pain.
J.S.

I Am Not My Depression

Anonymous asked a question:

Hi J.S., as someone who has been diagnosed with depression, GAD, and PTSD, your writing has been a huge comfort. I wanted to ask this – have you come to accept your battle with depression? I still struggle to accept that my mood is out of my control. My faith has been rocked after the past few years of intense battling. I still get discouraged when I think that I have to work so hard to feel “normal” and even then, normalcy isn’t guaranteed. How do you continue to trust God and fight through?

Hey dear friend, first I want to encourage you: You are loved, you are incredible, you’re doing great.

My answer to your question, “Have you come to accept your battle with depression?” is both Yes and No.

Yes, I recognize that my brain is broken. Something essential to my well-being will always be missing. I will, out of nowhere, seemingly at random, fall into the abyss for long seasons. One day, my depression might win. I have accepted it as much as any person can accept they are mortally wounded. I have accepted the hand I’ve been dealt.

But no, I do not accept my depression. I am angry. I am livid. I am insulted by it. I hate what it does to my friends and family. And I have to fight. It’s exhausting. But I have to scream no. And I think part of my non-acceptance is what keeps me alive. I do not accept that God wanted this for me. I am open to therapy, to medicine, to every treatment available. I have to fight.

Continue reading “I Am Not My Depression”

I Am With You.


I am with you.
I am for you.
I am sorry.
I love you.
How can I help?
J.S.


Only Heroes and Monsters


No one is the one-dimensional, evil caricature that they’re painted to be.
No one is the shiny version of a person that’s worshiped on a pedestal.
It’s easier to hate a cartoon-parody idea; to denigrate a hologram; to blast the artificial; to praise the effigy. It’s easier to demonize a faceless, disembodied, phantom enemy.
If you and I could sit down for coffee, we would discover hidden layers, messy dimensions, buried motives, unspeakable trauma, two fractured people hanging on.
We are wildly struggling, conflicted, complex.
We are not wholly evil nor holy good.
Yes, monsters deserve justice for their crimes. Heroes deserve more applause. But I will pause to consider that we are often both. We can be our own worst enemy, and we are just as capable of being our own heroes, overcoming the worst of us with the best in us.
Across a table, chair to chair, eye to eye, we might disagree—but I hope we will learn how we came to be. To hear the whole story.
— J.S.

My Greatest Fear Is Death

Anonymous asked a question:

Do you have any idea as to how I can combat my death anxiety related to a generalised anxiety disorder? Despite having been a Christian for the entirety of my life, I’m really struggling with the fear of losing loved ones and eventually, dying myself. My greatest fear is just becoming nothing.

Dear friend: I have the same fear.

The other day I was on the couch watching a show with my wife and my dog, and I had the crazy (if unoriginal) thought that a hundred years from now, we’ll be gone. The people in the show: gone. Our pictures and trinkets and trophies and stacks of collected papers will soon mean nothing to no one. What will become of our stories? Who will remember us?

I can’t say that I know how to deal with this all the time. The terror of death is a real anxiety. Some theories have said that we work and play and create and pray to ease the fear of annihilation. It could be true. All our living could be a futile dance towards the grave.

As a Christian too, sometimes the Christian story gives me great comfort. Other times it can feel so abstract and unreal. I want to believe so badly that we are headed towards a better eternity. But my doubts run rampant. I doubt, a lot.

Continue reading “My Greatest Fear Is Death”