In Heaven, there will only be one person with scars. You’ll have none because he will have taken yours.
Here’s why I believe in Jesus.
Because at some point in human history, God became one of us and reversed the human condition. Just one place, at one time, in the dirtiest sand-swept stain of a city, He healed our entropy: and He invites us into that better story.
In the cross and resurrection: Jesus absorbed the cycle of human violence. He showed there was a better way than self-centered tyranny and retaliation. He paid the cost of sin on our behalf. He reversed the ultimate consequence of death from the first Garden by turning death backwards in a new Garden. He bestowed that same death-defeating power into those who believed his story. He identified with us by taking on all the harm of sin, though he never sinned himself. He promised us a union with Him by uniting us to the Spirit of God. He inaugurated a new kind of kingdom where the weak can win, the poor can succeed, and all our survival values are flipped into sacrifice.
Jesus redefined what it meant to be human by creating an upside-down kingdom where the humble will be elevated and the prideful would be melted by love.
He walked into the fragments and re-created the pieces. He doesn’t answer why bad things happen, but he gives us a love stronger than all that does.
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.
Jesus’s death and resurrection built an iconoclastic world-upheaving truth that is upheld by the counterintuitive element of grace.
Jesus is existentially satisfying because he accurately describes the human condition and provides the solution. Every other system of belief is built on performance, maintenance, reward/punishment, dichotomous banner-waving division, moralism, superiority, self-improvement, and self-isolated relativism. Jesus destroys all these categories and provides a way above all ways that I have absolutely not found in any other system of thinking.
He speaks to my desperate need for self-justification. All day long, I’m justifying myself to prove I’m worthy. I am making myself better than others and comparing my weakness to someone who is weaker than me. I am in a moral race that causes me to laugh at a celebrity’s downfall or to help the poor to look righteous. Jesus destroyed this in the cross by calling us all equally guilty and all equally loved. It was never in us to justify ourselves, but only Jesus can do this.
He speaks equally to my lack of humility and my lack of confidence. Jesus had to die for my sin so I can’t be prideful: but he was glad to die for my sin so I can’t be in despair. Both are somehow true at the same time, and it’s this paradoxical union of tensions that keeps me oriented to a self-forgetting love for others and a right estimation of myself.
He speaks to my need to serve myself and make life about me. I’m set free because my life is not about me. Life is about the story of God and we’re all bit players. Imagine this sort of freedom: when you can quit living selfishly for yourself. You’re no longer enslaved under the tyrannical dictatorship of self. Imagine this sort of Gospel-shaped person who loved you but didn’t need you, because they’re not using you as a vehicle to serve themselves. They’re not killing you as an obstacle who is in the way of their desires. They’re instead seeking to love you simply because they love you and not because of what you can or won’t do for them, and this is because they are loved the same way.
You see: Every other kind of motivation is inherently selfish. It is all seeking a means to an end, one method using another for self-gain. We’re motivated by fear, by conformity, by trophies, by pleasure, by social standing: and while they might benefit a few, they really just benefit me. The love of God is entirely intrinsic unto itself, in a single direction initiated by its own essence, with nothing to gain and no reason to exist except that it does. When we understand such a love: we’re motivated by a purely one-way love to love in the same way, motivated by the reason of no-reason, because it has inherently punctured through our souls. There is no stronger force than this in the entire universe.
Hello beloved friends!
This is a Spoken Word performance. It’s a modern re-telling of the three fateful days of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, and how the chaos of the cross turned into beautiful death-defying glory.
Or download directly here.
I’m also on iTunes here.
Love y’all and be blessed!
You’ve been in meltdown before, when the world felt unusually cruel and your insides collapsed and there weren’t enough tears to cry through your heaving convulsing sobs. Like the wind was uppercut out of your soul.
It’s not pretty. Not like the movies. It’s not dramatic or cathartic or ironic or Oscar-worthy — it’s ugly, snot all over, face puckered in fifty places, bowled over with all kinds of noises spewing from your guts.
I was reading John 20, and Mary Magdalene was there too.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying.
I read this and grew horribly sad, imagining her hunched over and hopeless. Her world was punched through. I knew how she felt.
The man they called Savior, who had rebuked seven demons out of Mary and had been bathed by her family’s precious perfume, was now just a cold lifeless body in an airtight tomb. Along with his body were the dreams of a different future.
Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.
The patient, Jerome, had a trapezoid-shaped hole in his head, and he told me it was from his son.
Jerome’s son had waited in his father’s home until he came back from work, and then he robbed him. Jerome fought back. In the struggle, his son had picked up one of those bright and shiny geode rocks the size of a torso, lifted it to the sky, and wham, in a sick, slicing arc, brought it down into his father’s head. The son was still at large. The father, after six months in physical therapy, still could not get the blood stain out of the carpet in his house. Jerome had lost his job at the oil rig; his wife had left him; his other son took two jobs to pay off the hospital bills, but one evening after dropping off his dad for PT, had been struck by a sixteen-wheeler and died on impact.
“Chaplain, I had this dream,” Jerome said, scratching his old wound, “that in another world, I was someone else, I was someone better, that I have two sons who love me, my wife never left, I was still at the rig with the boys … I had a dream that I was someone not me. It was extraordinary. It was wo—”
He fell asleep, which he told me would happen. His brain needed to shut down when it overworked itself. A few seconds later, he woke up and apologized.
“I had this dream, chaplain. Do you ever dream that you are someone in another world, a different you?”
Hey friends, I’d like to ask for a quick prayer and encouragement. I’ve been working on a new book about fighting depression, and it’s about halfway done. It was supposed to be done three months ago. It’s been excruciating to get through each page, and it’s a crucially important work (for me, anyway) to share with fellow fighters. At times, I want to give up: it’s painstakingly difficult to finish, not least of all because of revisiting the shadows behind me.
I know this is a tiny problem amidst all that’s happening out there, but please pray I’d have the fortitude to follow through. If it helps just one reader, it’ll have been absolutely worth it. Thank you and love you, friends.
There are friendships I’ve mourned over where too much history got in the way. There were too many harsh words and broken promises and silent disagreements, and it rotted to an impatient grave. But there are others where we traveled the jagged road of reconciliation, mending wounds and untying knots and covering with grace: and on the other end of this is an ocean-deep intimacy of perseverance that couldn’t be reached any other way. We had to wrestle with the ugly parts of our nature. Demons were exposed. Secrets were spilled. Yet there is a joy in this sort of enduring friendship that goes the long distance; there’s a crazy sort of laughter with a lifelong friend that is colored by the weight of heels digging into the ground, a love that says, “I’m staying.” We see it in the cross, and we can have it now, even in a world such as this.
– In the book of Genesis, there’s a verse where God said that it was not good for man to be alone so He will make a helper for him. I think this extends even beyond marriage to say that we were made to have close relationships in our lives. What’s confusing is how this applies when we feel lonely? It’s not all about us & what we want but, how do we cope with loneliness when we were made to have those close friendships to walk through life together but also know that God is all we truly need?
– Hi, I have struggled with loneliness for a very long time. God has been healing me but I still have problems with it. During my lonely times, I would listen to sermons, sing praise songs, or just do activities I enjoy but sometimes, I just get wrecked and end up sinning. I belong to a church and try to catch up with friends but because relationships are like revolving doors- they come and go, it doesn’t really help. How can I trust God when I am an emotional wreck.
Hey there dear friends: thank you for trusting me with such a huge important issue. I think it’s very rare that we get to hear about a theology on loneliness and companionship, and while I know I can’t possibly remedy all your concerns today, we can chip away a few layers of this together.
Please first know that loneliness is part of who we are and is not wrong or bad or sinful. In other words, being lonely actually shows you’re human, and not anything else.
To quote Timothy Keller, he says:
Adam was not lonely because he was imperfect. Adam was lonely because he was perfect. Adam was lonely because he was like God, and therefore, since he was like God, he had to have someone to love, someone to work with, someone to talk to, someone to share with.
All of our other problems—our anger, our anxiety, our fear, our cowardice—arise out of sin and our imperfections. Loneliness is the one problem you have because you’re made in the image of God.
But of course, it’s not just as simple as walking into a party or a college campus or a church and suddenly finding all you’re looking for. While I’m not sure I can hit everything you’re thinking, here are a few things to consider.
Hey friends, I was published on Thought Catalog! It’s a post called 9 Tricky Defense Mechanisms That Are Ruining The Communication In Your Relationship. It covers defensive tactics like rationalizing, deflecting, blame-shifting, gaslighting, and other easy-to-spot moves.
Here’s an excerpt, the one I’m most guilty of:
6) Value Judgment / Moralizing. Measuring a person’s inherent value as inferior, especially when their preferences or personalities are different than yours.
The way you think is not how things are. Can I say that again? The way you think is not how things are. It’s simply how you think. Your personality and preferences are not the barometer by which the world turns. I struggle with this one the most; I’m always tempted to mold someone into my own image. Even when there are healthy standards to abide by, it becomes a problem when we grade someone’s value based on how well they’ve caught up to them. And surprise!—we rationalize or blame-shift or deflect when we ourselves don’t measure to our own standards. To truly understand another person requires knowing the whole story, and not just a tiny slice of their life.
Read the rest here. Love y’all, friends! — J.S.
I’ve always had trouble approaching someone with a fragile ego, because I know if I say anything disagreeable or honest, they’ll defend themselves like crazy with a million excuses or throw insults or throw things off the desk or make ugly-cry-face and cut me off for a month.
I know this because it’s me too. It’s hard to hear the truth about yourself. It’s hard to confront the ugliness inside.
But confronting yourself is the only way to be truly liberated from the lies we believe. Without rebuke, we’re left sauntering in an unseen momentum of darkness that threatens to destroy us by a gradual downhill fade. The most dangerous way to die is slowly, unaware, in descent.
A few years ago, one of my best friends was messing up with something. No one else knew but me. It probably wasn’t a big deal, and no one would’ve been hurt if he continued, but as a friend I had to bring it up. I really didn’t want to, but I couldn’t just sit by.
My friend is the coolest guy in the world. I’ve never seen him rage out or say a harsh word in his life. He was the kind of guy who would walk away from a group the second they began to gossip, who wouldn’t hesitate to break up a street fight on his way home.
But even when I bring the truth to the coolest people: I’ve seen the worst come out of them. There’s always a mirror-defense where they decide to bring up your grievances, or a lot of casual dismissal, or loud angry hostility. Honestly, I was jaded to this sort of thing whenever I tried to confront someone, and I expected it to go bad just like with everyone else.
If you’ve ever been in an escalating argument, you’ll always notice how it becomes a “meta-argument” about unrelated things that are not really the point. The dialogue gets further and further away from the main thing, until you’re both screaming out your lungs and throwing appliances at the ceiling. Arguments, in hindsight, often look embarrassing, full of cringe and regret and wreckage like an irreversible radioactive wasteland.
When conflict comes around, everything feels like it’s at stake: your value, your truth, your work, your very life. So understandably, we resort to self-preserving mechanisms to scratch and claw for our very lives. Here are a few defense mechanisms that get us stuck, and how we can get un-stuck.
Celebrating birthday by the beach in Florida.
lovelyishe asked a question:
What is your opinion on the stance that you should end a friendship because of differing political opinions? Is there a time when you believe it is best to drift apart from them or no?
Hey dear friend, this is certainly a difficult, relevant question today, as it seems political differences more than ever are not merely a disagreement of opinions, but becoming an aggressively different opinion of human value, with all kinds of dangerous implications.
I’m fortunate and blessed to have friends with a wide range of political beliefs who are open to discourse or even changing their minds. Not every person on the opposite side of politics acts like the caricatures you’ve seen online. There are many, many thoughtful people across the spectrum that do not fall easily into our biased categories.
My concern is not that everyone has to agree a particular way. My major concern is that our beliefs have sound reasons behind them. When I hear the stories of enlisted soldiers, military veterans, the mentally ill, the desperately poor, victims of racism, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates, immigrants (like my parents), and abuse survivors, I can begin to see why their experiences have shaped their positions on specific issues. The more stories I hear, the more I can understand. I can become a student instead of a critic. I can more easily reach across the aisle, not necessarily to change minds, but to build bridges where our stories are respected in the overlap.
Of course, this bridge-building cannot happen with everyone. Sometimes a person’s politics are so explosive and divisive that it seems they only want to watch the world burn (or as it’s said, it’s a zero-sum game). There really are people who cannot be engaged with, no matter how gracious we approach. But unlike the terrible circus we see online, on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr, most people are way more three-dimensional than that. It’s only ever a last, last, last resort that I would ever break off a friendship because of politics.
Note to future self:
When you don’t get it right —
Apologize quickly and let go.
Don’t beat yourself up or defend yourself too long.
Humans are squishy with small brains. We don’t get it right every time.
And that’s okay. Being wrong is not the end of the world.
Learning this now.
Does your theology drive you to your knees to weep for people who disagree?
Or does it provoke a surge of self-righteousness and increased volume and overpowering tactics to prove your point?
Does your theology allow room for growth and imperfection and an eye-to-eye understanding of the whole story?
Or does it imprison a person into a one-dimensional caricature who must think exactly you like do, or else?
Does your theology look for ways to love and engage and move in? Or does it look for permission to cut off and shut down and divide?
Does your theology have grace for people with bad theology?
Or did you read this thinking “This is for them and not for me” …?
Without grace, our theology is only posturing, and that’s not what Jesus came to die for.