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.

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.

Why Do We Need the Cross and Resurrection?


Why did Jesus have to die? What does the Resurrection do? Why did Jesus punch death in the face?
The story of those three fateful days in three minutes. And why the Resurrection is just as important as the Cross.

Subscribe to my channel here.

Happy Resurrection Weekend and love y’all!
— J.S.

[Thank you to Steven Hause of pudgyproductions]


Spoken Word: Friday / Saturday / Sunday


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.

Stream here:

Or download directly here.

I’m also on iTunes here.

Love y’all and be blessed!

J.S.

A Theology of Loss, Love, and Leaning In

For my chaplaincy, I had to answer the questions:

Where is God in the midst of suffering, loss, illness, tragedy?
Where is God for the patients?
Where is God for you?

Here’s my meager attempt to answer these very huge questions.

In the worst moments of our lives — the cancer, the car accident, the phone call that changes everything — I’m not always sure where God is. Even the most trusting and devout are spouting, “God’s got this” with quivering lips and a shaking voice, with the slight clench of a fist, with feverish bewilderment: because the words fall flat on the cold linoleum of the hospital.

No matter how much theology we know in our three lb. brains, it all goes out the window when the floor opens up and steals us into the abyss of loss, the irreversible before and after, and the world becomes a chaotic, unsafe place of random disaster.

I can’t say where God is.

I can only say with some certainty where God is not.

I don’t believe God is distant and detached from our pain. I don’t believe He’s gloating over us behind a glass cage. I don’t believe He uses pain to teach us a lesson. I don’t believe that trials are part of “God’s amazing plan for your life.”

I don’t believe that God is some stoic, abstract teacher who waits for us to “get it.” Pain is pain, and it hurts, and no amount of theology is going to glamorize a special reason that it happens.

Not every pain has a connect-the-dots theology. When a hurricane misses a city and everyone “praises God,” it’s only condemning the millions of people who are hit by the same storm. When a child dies of preventable diseases or drunk drivers or a genetic anomaly, there’s no curse or blame upon the child. We can’t force such a tragedy into easily quantifiable boxes. To make such a correlation, if anything, is worse than the pain itself.

The truth is that we live in loss every single second, just by the mere fact that our lives won’t turn out the way we want them to. We live within absolute suffering just by losing time on the clock in the inevitable march towards death. The hospital only puts a neon sign around the coffin that awaits us all.

But my Christian faith tells me that this is completely expected. We live on a fallen world where the thread of sin has woven its tendrils into every part of our being, and that something will always be missing. Rather than deny pain, the Christian faces it head-on and acknowledges the tension. From our grief in loss to our hunger for approval to our need for intimacy: we float in this strange limbo of discontent, where nothing is ever quite the way we want it.

At the same time: My faith holds onto the hope that total fulfillment really exists. Our pain is unbearably awful, but it actually points to our desire for a healing of everything that has ever fallen apart. The inverse irony of pain is that when we’re hurting, it conveys a contrast to a very real wholeness. It’s why pain hurts. Pain tells us that something is terribly wrong and we know it ought to be put right. Or as C.S. Lewis said, “Nothing is yet in its true form.” The very reality of suffering points to our need for an ultimate comfort and justice: for God Himself.

This means there is some perfect song on the other side of the door; a light at the end of the tunnel that fills the tunnel; a beauty that doesn’t explain our pain, but is stronger and louder and bigger than all that has happened to us. We know this because we know bad notes, we know the darkness of a tunnel, we know the scars of marred beauty. Christianity says that the only real beauty is the infinitely satisfying perfection of God, who is the only being in existence that fulfills every longing we’ve ever had for truth and beauty and wholeness.

But I believe that Christianity fulfills us not only by perfection, but also by descending. Christianity says that God became one of us, out of solidarity, to suffer with us, not as a mere deity in an abstract palace, but a flesh-dwelling person in a sand-swept desert, so that, though God is so above us, He knows what it’s like to be one of us. The Christian believes in a God who wept and bled and suffered, an infinite God who infinitely compensated for our hurt, thereby cosmically answering for our afflictions and fulfilling the deep need to be heard and known at our very worst.

This must mean that God is just as mad at suffering as we are. God must be grieving with us, too. And in fact, my Christian faith tells me that because God is mad at our pain and still perfect, we’re also allowed to be as mad as He is at the very same things.

Maybe there’s an intellectually satisfying answer why we’re suffering: but what I want is someone who relates instead of debates. This is why we get flustered when someone connects the dots on our tragedies. It’s better they get with me in the trenches.

This means my job is not to solve for the other person’s pain. It’s not to bring diagrams and flowcharts. It’s to sit inside the uncertainty and anxiety of suffering and to shout against the dark, until we have shouted ourselves out. This is when God can begin to show up at all, for at our rock-bottom, He is already there.

Continue reading “A Theology of Loss, Love, and Leaning In”

Electric Ballet, Ashes in Glass Jars, and Memories Made of Stone.

Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number eight. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

I had four trauma alerts in a row. They happened in the same hour; the first two happened within five minutes of each other.

As strange as this sounds, one of the things I like about traumas is the teamwork. Of course, the situation is awful: it’s frantic, fast, sweaty, often bloody and crowded, and there’s a human being hanging in limbo. I don’t want to lose sight of that. But given where we are, I would trust this trauma team if I was the guy on that bed. The medical staff in the room knows their part, like the pins in a lock that fit the contours of a key, and they weave in and out and create this quilt of knowledge around the patient, with hand-in-hand humility, each bringing their expertise to the table. I have nowhere near the proficiency of a doctor or nurse, but I’m still a tiny part of that room somehow. It feels like I belong, like purpose is stirring there.

Though the individual visits are wonderful, like slow dancing, and the conversations can be life-changing — the trauma bay is this electrified organism trying to bring back the dead, a highly choreographed ballet. I think people have to be a little crazy to enter the medical field and to work the emergency department. It’s the one place where you have to be completely, fully engaged with undivided allegiance to the moment. It’s probably why I like it: the work of healing requires me to be fully alive.

Our didactic was about dealing with compassion fatigue and secondhand grief. A chaplain’s regular day is full of exposure to pain and death with almost zero closure, and while it takes an obvious toll: most people don’t realize that until it’s too late. Some of the signs are snapping at others in a rage, random bouts of crying, and feeling like you’re bothering people if you talk about it.

I’m understanding more and more that simply helping people is extremely draining and unromantic, and not many of us count the cost of pouring out for others. There’s no Hollywood montage full of high fives and confetti. It’s usually dirty unappreciated work, sleeves rolled up, waist high with people who are rightfully scared, angry, lonely, and sometimes slipping. There might be some people who have iron skin for this sort of thing, but I’m not one of them.

Continue reading “Electric Ballet, Ashes in Glass Jars, and Memories Made of Stone.”

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]

The Horrifying Moment When All This Faith-Stuff Sounds Crazy


I often have these troubling moments when I totally don’t believe in God anymore, and I wonder what it would be like to live without Him.

I was an atheist for most of my life, so these thoughts are comfortable and familiar, like the blue plaid super-hero cape I wore in third grade. I go down a spiral of binge-reading atheism blogs and I can’t stop myself. I start to wonder if God even does anything because there’s so much horror in the world, or if He’s just a construct of a hopeful mind looking for momentary relief. It can take days to pull back from this, and doubts never really fade; you just live with them.

I remember the words of that father with the demon-possessed son, who told Jesus, “I do believe, but help my unbelief!” And Jesus healed him. He didn’t shut them down. He didn’t say, “You better believe all the way first.” I get to thinking there must be more than all this, and that God did break into this fractured world somehow and began a healing at some point in history for all of eternity, an invitation to a new story, a reversal of entropy. I get to thinking we’re not just spinning alone out here, and that this is all going somewhere, and I have this tiny mustard-seed-sized faith that Jesus tells me can move mountains. I think even if this isn’t true, I so badly want it to be, and maybe that’s okay too. I do believe, and he doesn’t shame me for my unbelief. For that, I can believe Him — and for a moment, the mountains get shaken.

— J.S.

A Living, Breathing, Pulsing, Dirt-Filled Faith



Hello beloved friends!

I had the privilege to preach at a wonderful church in Huntsville, Alabama.

The sermon is titled: A Living, Breathing, Pulsing, Dirt-Filled Faith.

Stream here or download directly here.

 

In this message, I discuss real relational intimacy with our Father — about a faith that is bigger than just church. The passage is John 15:9-17.

Some of the things I talk about: The time my dad saved my brother from drowning on a tricycle, how the homeless helped me love Jesus, that time Jesus busted a drug ring, and the greatest Christian I ever met.

Love y’all!

— J
















For my podcast, click here:


Four Obstacles To Break On The Way To A Breakthrough

All kinds of motivational literature are good at telling you what’s good and bad. The church is great at beating the dead horse of consequences, drenching it in lighter fluid, and lighting it with napalm. We get it. Sin bad, God is good.

You might as well describe the water that the person is drowning in.

There are always real obstacles in the way of breaking free to a breakthrough. Like spiritual blocks that cut the momentum. What might not seem like a big deal to you might be a big deal to them. Because not everyone thinks like you. This is where it gets messy, messed up, and it’s not so black-and-white. Moving forward is not a straight line, and “sanctification” is less of a light switch than it is a journey.

God understands this and wants to break down each obstacle in the way, one at a time, until you can step forward unburdened by blind spots and dead weight. None of these obstacles make you a bad person, but just misinformed. Jesus didn’t come to make you “un-bad” anyway. He came to give you True Life.

Here are four obstacles to tackle to really break through to the other end of God’s vision. These things are not your fault, but you can choose not to wallow in them.

Continue reading “Four Obstacles To Break On The Way To A Breakthrough”

Honestly, Half The Time I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

I always thought my parents and these grown-ups had a super-secret system for organizing their life and making Huge Forever-Changing Decisions. Writing checks and doing taxes and paying the rent was like second nature to them. Me in my little kid boots, a sore neck from looking up all the time: it was daunting to think of being a grown-up.

It turns out, they were guessing most of the time.

Continue reading “Honestly, Half The Time I Have No Idea What I’m Doing”