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.
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.
colvmbiana asked a question:
I love God very much. But I recently saw a post on my dash that said, “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” and now I can’t stop thinking about that. How can He?
Hey dear friend, I truly struggle with this doctrine too, and if it were up to me, I’d be done with the whole idea of hell in a heartbeat. But I do want to consider the question, “How can a loving God send people to Hell?” — and examine the words loving, send, and hell.
First I have to say: I’m not sure that any Christian is irrevocably bound to believe the doctrine of hell. I know Christians who believe it and some who don’t. I love them both. We must not make the ancient mistake that 1) our theology is only about “consequences,” because it’s primarily about intimacy and oneness with God, and 2) to bicker over such dogmatic differences. Too many people wrongly emphasize the doctrine of hell as a motivation for Christianity, and that’s a false phantom motive that boils down to, “Date me or I’ll punch you in the face.” If there really is a place called hell and people are going, then 1) no one would become a Christian just by trying to “avoid” hell, and 2) the devil would love to have us arguing about it instead of loving on people towards God.
The following are some thoughts to consider. Please feel free to disagree, to fill in, to discern and to question and to dismantle. I recognize that many of us are appalled at the idea of hell and find it atrocious, and I’m with you: I hold the same feelings, while pondering the gravity and depth of its possibilities. There are no easy, satisfying answers here, but only ruminations, in which you and I must land on a conclusion, however differently.
1) Hell couldn’t be just for anyone. No one could be “sent” there. It would be hard work to get into hell.
C.S. Lewis says, “The doors of Hell are locked on the inside.” What he means is, getting to hell takes a massive amount of effort over a lifetime.
I think it’s a lot harder to get into hell than we think. A prison, at least in its original intentions, isn’t meant for someone accidentally wandering in without effort or knowledge. Hell is designed for the unrepentant, remorseless, unconscionable person who is deliberately dead-set on chaos and sadism. “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” That sort of person is rare, but they exist.
In tiny blips throughout history, someone will perpetually abuse their own singular life to the point of irreversible perversion, and very consciously choose everything against God’s design of love, compassion, and generosity. I believe that the idea of hell, in its purest conception, is a place exclusively reserved for that kind of cruelty. I might even replace the word “hell” with justice, or safety, or balance.
Of course, anyone can be rehabilitated. I will always believe that. I would never ever be satisfied at anyone going to hell, not even at the worst sort of criminal. Anyone who relishes the thought of someone going to hell must really re-think their own sanity. I believe that God gives a billion chances, over and over, all throughout Scripture. Many of our “Bible heroes” were murderers and tyrants and cheaters who reformed. Yes, there is grace even for child molesters and kidnappers. That’s the craziness of grace. If you care even the slightest about God’s divine heart for the world, then no, I highly doubt you’ll fall into hell.
Real love doesn’t meet you at your best.
It meets you in your mess.
[Art from Judith Bernice]
If you’re breathing, you matter, because you matter to the One who gave you breath.
Art by worshipgifs
Hello dear beloved friends! This is a message called, Rest and Resolve: What Gets Us Through Deadlines, Demands, and Disorder.
I talk about Jesus versus Peter at the Transfiguration. Some other things I talk about are: That moment of exhaustion when you sigh for a long time before you walk through the door, the burn-out check-out from school and marriage and career, the strange beauty of enjoying something you can’t pay for with nothing to offer, the greatest miracle Jesus ever pulled, faith as a long-distance relationship, a word for both perfectionists and slackers, and the one crucial question they ask you at a car accident.
All messages can be streamed here. Be blessed and love y’all!
Anonymous asked a question:
Would God purposely put His children in a situation where they would be hurt in any way (rape, kidnapped, something like that)? Or is this the work of the devil? I don’t think He would, but I don’t know.
My dear friend: There’s probably a huge list of questions I’d like to ask God the second I see Him (right after I collect my eyeballs back into my head). So right upfront: I’m not sure why the devil is given such a long leash. I’m going to ask God about that one, probably with my arms crossed and eyes rolled (and my head on fire).
The Question of Evil has not been adequately answered by the greatest philosophers of history, and I probably won’t be the one to crack it today, either. It’s the kind of stuff that makes me doubt God everyday. Even if I did have some solid theology on why certain atrocities happen, I still doubt it would satisfy the victim of abuse and slavery and oppression and terminal illness, no matter how much “logical sense” it makes to the brain. Even if I concluded, “All the bad stuff is really from Satan,” then a suffering person could only reply, “So what?”
I can only offer a few thoughts that might help you on your journey here, because this tension of why bad things happen will never be resolved by any single answer. Anything we say on pain will always be inadequate for the actual suffering person. No such all-encompassing answer from any belief system really exists. I say this as a chaplain who works in the hospital, who has seen the very worst kinds of suffering, knowing that any amount of inspiration or explanation will never be enough.
I can only say that I believe the Christian perspective best accommodates the problems we see today. I’m also aware that some of us will never meet eye-to-eye on this and we can “deconstructively reduce” anything I’m saying with snark and cynicism. That’s easy mode. And that’s okay. We’re free to disagree and wrestle and think for ourselves.
And please know: I would never, ever enumerate these reasons out loud the moment after a person has been seriously harmed. I would never bring this to the bedside of any of my patients in their inexplicable grief. None of this theology really matters as much as you being there in the trenches with a heart of listening and love.
As always, please feel free to skip around.
Jesus welcomes doubts, questions, confusion, frustration, venting, and disbelief. He welcomes those who draw near and say, “I feel so far.”
If you haven’t talked to him in a while, he will not bite your head off.
His arms are always open. Jesus can handle your clenching of the teeth and shaking of the fist. What he does not want is for you to stay there.
Art from worshipgifs
Anonymous asked a question:
So I’m taking an honors world history class taught by an atheist teacher and we’re learning about evolution and it’s really really testing my faith. Honestly I don’t know what’s true right now. My theology isn’t the greatest because I’ve only accepted Christ for two years now. I’m just now finding it hard to believe in the Bible and God right now.
Hey dear friend, thank you for sharing this with such honesty.
The truth is, every single type of belief system will eventually get shaken somewhere. When this happens, we can 1) investigate deeper into what we really believe, and 2) incorporate the new information into our beliefs somehow.
We each experience a kind of cognitive dissonance when our worldview is shaken. It can actually make you disoriented, nauseous, and depressed. Sometimes it’s from learning more about the world, or it’s from a terribly brutal tragedy, or it can be a very persuasive argument that uses flowery language. And these experiences will inform our theology and philosophy, and vice versa. But none of this has to be a threatening, stomach-punching trauma.
While we’re certainly going to feel what we feel, we can still explore this new information in light of what we currently know, and then navigate a way through it. It’ll be tough, and you may be scared or surprised by your conclusions, but it can actually make you a more thoughtful, whole person, too.
Anonymous asked a question:
How can we not judge others? What if they are doing something wrong and I wanna correct them? Does that mean I “judged” them? What if I categorized their action as a sin? Still “judged” them?
Hey dear friend, I believe this is one of those myths that needs to be cleared up with a big dose of nuance and balance.
If you ask most people about the general message of the Bible, we might say, “Love everybody” or “Don’t judge or you’ll be judged!” And those are true. The problem is: that’s way too simplified for our human condition. The Bible also offers many extra layers for us, because we’re all squishy fragile beings with three lb. brains that need more than a sloppy idea of “love” and “don’t judge.”
Love includes telling the truth (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 13:6). It includes accountability, wisdom, boundaries, and healthy exchange (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12-13, 1 Cor 6:19-20). We’re called to be as pure as doves but as wise as snakes (Matthew 10:16). Love doesn’t mean we let people off the hook, and there are plenty of examples where Bible figures spoke up at the risk of death: Esther, Nathan, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist, who was beheaded for it. And saying “Don’t judge” is often a hidden ploy that really means, “Don’t judge me because I want to be selfish and destructive without your finger-wagging nagging.”
The famous passage on judging, Matthew 7, actually says:
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
That final verse is important. Paraphrased, it says: First look at yourself, and then you can actually see someone else.
In other words, there’s actually a way to judge someone that isn’t a passive-aggressive, flesh-driven, smug, backhanded superiority, but a sincere effort to see the best in someone when they’re slipping up. It necessarily starts with looking at ourselves first. Am I judging this person out of my own need to win? To just get things off my chest? To just tell them off? To let them have it?
Anonymous asked a question:
As a christian how can we be intimate with God so that he fills the void of companionship?
Hey dear friend, I’m afraid that this might be a false dichotomy. In other words, intimacy with God and companionship with people are not two separate things. Jesus told us the Greatest Commandment is (paraphrased a bit), “Love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength … and love your neighbor as yourself.”
To quote Timothy Keller:
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.
Loneliness is not a sin, but points to a very real need that we’ve had since the very beginning. Certainly, if our loneliness leads us to idolize others or people-please or squeeze unhealthy expectations, then we will be crushed. On the other hand, if we only “rely on God” in a sort of monk-like asceticism, then we will either grow resentful of “these worldly people” or we will never participate in the stream of God’s loving activity, which involves people.
Anonymous asked a question:
I am a little confused about something and I was hoping you could help. In Matthew, it talks about the narrow path and gate into heaven. How can I, as a Christian perceive that to mean something other than that lots of people walk towards God but very few actually make it. This seems to go against grace? And also the profession of Jesus as a saviour?
Hey dear friend, this is certainly a troubling passage that is very off-putting at first glance: but I’d like to balance this passage with the entirety of Scripture.
Let’s look at the passage in question, Matthew 7:13-14, which says:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
So it looks like most people alive today will end up in Hell, an eternity under the wrath of God, while only a fraction will make it to Heaven.
But then, let’s look at Matthew 25:13 here, known as the Parable of the Ten Virgins (or Bridesmaids). To summarize, Jesus tells a tale about a wedding where ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to begin the ceremony, but only five of the bridesmaids came prepared with extra oil in their lamps to greet him (this sounds like a weird custom back then, but weddings have always had weird customs throughout history, e.g. throwing bouquets or fishing for garters or dancing past a reasonably non-creepy age). So five of the bridesmaids make it, but five don’t. This implies that at least half of the people we know will end up in Heaven.
Lastly, let’s look at Matthew 13:24-30 here, known as the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. To summarize, Jesus tells a tale where a farmer’s field is sabotaged by weeds. The farmer, instead of pulling up the weeds, decides to let the wheat and weeds grow together, and at the time of harvest he will separate them. This implies that most people we know will end up in Heaven.
So which one is true? Is it the story of the Narrow Gate, or the Ten Bridesmaids, or the Wheat and Tares? Do only a few of us make it, or half of us, or most of us?
Anonymous asked a question:
I don’t know if you’re familiar with Apollonius of Tyana but there are some people arguing that he also had followers, performed miracles and rose from the dead. That’s why they kept saying he’s the ~real~ Jesus. Thoughts?
Hey dear friend, here’s a cool fact:
A ton of people in the first century claimed they were the Messiah. Only one is really remembered today, and that’s a strange historical truth that must be taken seriously for both Christians and those exploring faith.
Here’s the context. The Jewish Israelites in the first century hadn’t heard from God or any of His prophets for about four-hundred years, since the prophet Malachi, who also wrote the last book of the Old Testament. They were waiting on either 1) another prophet, or 2) the prophesied Messiah, the “Suffering Servant,” who would apparently liberate them from the oppression of the Roman Empire.
The Jewish Israelites believed that God hadn’t spoken for centuries because of continuous idolatry and rebellion against God. This mindset incidentally formed a group called the Pharisees, who devised over 600 laws to follow, so that such perfection would honor God and possibly hasten the Messiah’s appearance. The Pharisees were so strict that any person who claimed to be the Messiah was almost immediately shut down, because worshiping any god outside the true God was only more idolatry, which had put them in this position of God-silence in the first place. So even though we dismiss the Pharisees today, I can definitely understand their mentality back then and how fast they were to condemn Jesus.
Many new Messiahs did appear. Two of them are mentioned in Acts 5 by a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who mentions Theudas and Judas the Galilean. History books also talk about Judah the Hammer, who enacted a siege against the Roman Empire but was just as quickly crushed. All of these “Messiahs” acted as warrior-presidents that used military force to throw a coup, like a militia attempting to oust the government. Nothing came of them. And the Pharisees were pretty happy about this, because in their mind, such false Messiahs only kept God at bay.
When Jesus came around, he was different than every other Messiah. Here are at least ten reasons why Jesus was unique compared to the religious leaders of his day, and perhaps among every other religious leader.
Anonymous asked a question:
How do you believe when, pardon my french, you’ve been taught that everything about Jesus is bulls__t? I’d love to believe it, I really want to, it’s just hard to when you’ve been taught the opposite. Do I have to unlearn the foundation of my education?
Hey dear friend, to be truthful: you’re in the best place possible, with the single biggest advantage over someone who’s been raised in the church.
You get to be in a place where you’re starting with a hugely skeptical eye towards Christianity, which means that if God starts to lean in on you, you will have already encountered your biggest questions about faith. If only every Christian honestly encountered every doubt and argument and problem with Christian theology, with complete openness and abandon, then we might see how deep Christianity can really go.
Please do not think you have to unlearn anything you’ve learned. I suggest the opposite. Use your education to fairly weigh every piece of evidence you encounter. Keep digging into Christianity down to the bottom, to see that it’s both true and fulfilling, that it’s both intellectually coherent and existentially satisfying.
creative-reblogging asked a question:
Hello! I was technically raised in the Christian faith, but my parents were never great about really consistently taking me to church as a child. I want to figure out where I stand in terms of my faith, so that I can carry it with me as I go into adulthood. I’m trying to view it as if I’m new to Christianity altogether. Would you have any suggestions as to where to start? Just reading the Bible is confusing to me, and I feel like I don’t get anything from it. How do I get to know God?
Hey dear friend, I want to commend you and applaud you on your newfound adventure of faith. Wherever it takes you, you have my prayers and a super big double high-five and internet fist-bump (and a hug too, why not?). I’m genuinely excited for you.
I’m honestly a bit new to Christianity myself (I was an atheist longer than I’ve been a Christian and it was a slow journey to faith throughout my seven years of college), so the memories of starting new are still quite fresh. I also understand that faith can feel intimidating, partially because the church can make it difficult, but faith itself can seem like an amorphous unfathomable maze. These are only my suggestions, as everyone’s road has different curves and obstacles, so please feel free to add or subtract or modify as you will.
– Find a church. If you have any friends who are currently attending a church, ask them about their Sunday service or any recommendations for you (you can also try websites and check out their statements of faith and their group pictures). The thing with church though is that it can feel overwhelming when you walk in: most people are uncomfortable in new situations with new people and unfamiliar surroundings. Even as a pastor and a chaplain, aka a “professional Christian,” I still feel all kinds of anxiety when I walk into a new church to visit. So it’s a really good idea to go with a friend. It’s also a good idea to try the Friday or Wednesday service, when the numbers are scaled down and it’s a more intimate setting.
A sidenote: Finding a church is incredibly hard and requires more than once. Just think, you’re looking for a second family, a second home! That’s no small feat to approach lightly. Last year, my wife and I desperately looked for a new church-home when we got married, and we tried about a dozen different churches before landing on one (and the one we landed on, we had to go about three times before we both felt called to stay). We gave many of those churches a second or third chance, so altogether, it took us over seven months to find a place where we felt we could serve and be led.
– Download some sermon podcasts. I’m a self-professed sermon junkie; I probably listen to about ten hours of sermons per week. While podcasts shouldn’t be the “main diet,” they’re sort of like supplements, or protein shakes, for a growing faith. I often listen to them on headphones at the gym or on car rides to work (I live about an hour from my workplace). Some preachers I listen to are: Timothy Keller, Andy Stanley, Francis Chan, Louie Giglio, Ravi Zacharias, and Matt Chandler. I also really love Brené Brown.
A sidenote: Please consider heavy discernment when listening to podcasts. In other words, you don’t have to believe every single opinion or statement, and sometimes a preacher’s theology might be a little fuzzy in some areas. Not every preacher or author is perfect, and public speaking has a way of blurting out certain things that are not always carefully worded. So listen with both a critical ear and a soft heart, or as Jesus says, “be as wise as snakes and as pure as doves.”
– Get with mature Christians and elders. We all, and I mean all, need some kind of leadership and mentoring and authority, speaking into our lives, in every season. We need both encouragers and challengers in our lives: people who can speak a grand vision over us while stretching our views and habits and beliefs. That means, get with your pastor and married couples and elderly Christians and successful business leaders and anyone who will spare a lunch — yes, your parents too! — and consistently ask annoying questions to grab their wisdom. Every person is a fountain of experience who is waiting to pour out to love on someone else. Ask about how their faith has gotten them through hard times; ask about how their faith informs their marriage, career, raising kids, and keeping focus. You’ll grow by leaps and bounds.
A sidenote: Soon enough, or perhaps already, you’ll be in a position where you can pour out to others. This entire cycle of pouring out is called discipleship in the Christian language. It’s a deep life-on-life pouring out of who you are for another; it’s the best of you for the best of them. We’re each called to disciple others just as we’re called to be discipled. This is the number one way I’ve found that Christians grow and one of the highest honors to give and receive.
Hang in there. This world is not our final home. Do something; move on.
Photo by worshipgifs
Hello dear friends! This is a message I preached called, Writing Them In Instead of Writing Them Off: A Grand Vision of Saul to Paul, on the story of killer Saul becoming Apostle Paul, from the perspective of his first roommate, Ananias.
I talk about how the disciple Ananias helped to turn a Christian-killing terrorist Saul into the Bible-writing healer Paul — and how God does that kind of work in us. Stream below or download directly here. I’m also on iTunes here.
Some things I talk about are: Adopting my abused dog Rosco and rehabilitating him, how an African-American musician befriended and changed a KKK leader, why I agree with the Elder Brother against the Prodigal Son, the impossibility of outgrowing your nickname and time-stamped hometown past, the one frustrating difficult person that never changes, how the back-row of punk kids at church completely humbled me, and the freedom of finally becoming the kind of person that loves no matter what.
All messages are here. Be immensely blessed and love y’all!