“The Gospel in Real Life” – Messages for Students from Yale


Hello wonderful friends! This is a series of three messages that I gave to students of Yale University, about the relevance and reason of Christianity.


The first is called: How Christianity Breaks Us Open and Painfully Puts Us Back Together.

It’s about how the Gospel uniquely differs from every other kind of motivation and completely restructures us.

Some things I talk about are: A meta-deconstruction of the Sunday church service, how to bomb a TEDTalk, the last two things I hear from dying patients in the hospital, the haunting of l’esprit de l’escalier, de-romanticizing adoption, the list of my flaws I gave to my wife before we started dating, and how a nine-year-old showed me the heart of Christianity.
You can also download it here.


The second is called: The Eternal Itchy Longing Within Us: Jesus Is Complete Fulfillment.

It’s about how the Gospel solves for two universal human problems and the greatest human need.

Some things I talk about are: How to tell an alien about the human race, conclusions about humanity after a survey with 700 replies, the instant anxiety when you walk into a crowded room, the itchy self-conscious moment when someone is slightly more talented at “my thing,” that loopy moment at night with your best friend when you start confessing everything, two universal human problems and our greatest human need, and the absolutely most important linchpin verse in the Bible.
You can also download it here.


The third is called: Where We Come From and Where We’re Going: Red Sea to Redeemed & Free.

It’s about how the Gospel compels us into action, neither by guilt nor religion, but deliverance.

Some things I talk about are: How long it actually should’ve taken the Israelites to get to Canaan from Egypt (not forty years), the moment right after the wedding, how the grace of my first pastor completely tenderized and galvanized me, the Christian life beyond “overcoming-sin,” and seeing God in the Philippines and a homeless shelter.
You can also download it here.



More messages on iTunes here or my podcast page here.

Be immensely blessed, dear friends! — J.S.

Photo by Alex, CC BY 2.0

A Relevant Faith: Connecting Abstract Belief to The Everyday

axopia asked a question:

Let me start by saying that you’re an amazing human being. You’re so graceful and friendly and warm, sometimes I can’t believe you’re real! I feel like you’ve been my friend forever even though we’ve never spoken, it’s unbelievable. Anyway, I’ve been a Christian for about two years, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’m doing something wrong. I feel like I’m too involved with my own life and I’m not focusing nearly enough on my faith. Do you have any advice on how I can become closer with God?

My dear friend, I truly did need your encouragement today. Thank you so much for your wonderful words, which I know I don’t deserve. Truly do appreciate you.

I believe that all of us at some point will feel like I’m not doing enough or I’m doing something wrong. It’s all a part of our faith-journey. It’s part of being human. And sometimes it only means that we’re being too hard on ourselves.

Continue reading “A Relevant Faith: Connecting Abstract Belief to The Everyday”

I Don’t Have It All Figured Out Yet / Perpetually Skeptical


Hello dear friends! This is an audio preview of my book Mad About God: When We Over-Spiritualize Pain and Turn Tragedy Into a Lesson, about persevering through pain and suffering.

Preface 1 – I Don’t Have It All Figured Out, and That’s Okay
Preface 2 – Perpetually Skeptical: Screaming Through The Red Sea

Preface 1 is about our crazy need to connect pain with a lesson.
Preface 2 is about the constant, uncomfortable doubts about the existence and goodness of God.

Stream here or download directly here. The book is both in paperback and ebook.

Love y’all and be blessed!
— J.S.


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.

It Was A Good Life

Sometimes a friend will ask me for advice because they feel like they’re going nowhere in life.  They tell me their whole story, whether for two minutes or two hours, and I listen.

I can see they’re totally dead inside. Their eyes are hollowed out. Their hands shake. They have that numb zombified look of giving in to lesser things. They have the desperate look of the Reaper coming to collect their corpse. 

It’s always because of a boyfriend. Or a lack of purpose. Or terrible parents. Or a ninth year in college. Or an addiction: porn, heroin, meth, weed, people. Or a low-grade haunting fatigue and depression and cynicism with no discernible cause. 

It’s all these things but none of these things. It is emptiness, and we try to fill it by finding a god in things that are not God. 

At this point, I tell them:

Continue reading “It Was A Good Life”

Question: So I’m Not The Only One Who Struggles With Doubt

thegentleway asked you:

I just read through your Bio and I am so glad/relieved to know that I am not the only Christian struggling with doubts and questions. I’ve been struggling a lot because it seems like everyone have it all together on the outside. I thought perhaps it is because I am being over dramatic, but its so liberating and relieving to know that I am not the only Christian metaphorically (and sometimes literally) dripping sweat, blood and tears with my faith.


I’ll go so far as to say that every single person in the world struggles with doubt.  I don’t know if there’s a person who exists who can say, “I have never doubted God for a second,” whether it’s His existence, plan, power, or love.  All the great biblical heroes doubted, too.  This does not make them bad people, but just human beings.  And doubt itself is not a sin, though because some of us feel this way, it leads us to disobedience.

Continue reading “Question: So I’m Not The Only One Who Struggles With Doubt”

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”

“The Subtle Art of Sabotaging A Pastor”



From Desiring God by Jared Wilson, a “letter” styled after The Screwtape Letters in which a demon writes to his apprentice about defeating pastors.

Excerpt:

Help your patient to see all that he lacks. Stroke his discontent. The less satisfied your patient is with what the Enemy has done for him and all the Enemy has given him, the more alluring the validation, approval, and praise of others will be. Empty him of his confidence by highlighting his failures so that therefore his head will be far more easily swelled with adulations and self-confidences. Then pop those like a pin to a balloon and start again. It is easy for a pastor to move to pride—it is his default setting—so this should not be too difficult for you.

Convince him that difficulty is something strange, undeserved. Convince him that allegiance to himself is a suitable substitute for allegiance to the Enemy. Convince him to seek peace at all costs, especially at the expense of the truth of the Bad News. Your patient is a needy, insecure little man. Ply him with the tenuous, vaporous security of being liked as if it is the end all, be all.

Continue Reading at Desiring God



Read Related:
— When Pastors Just Want To Quit
— The Ex-Pastor: How To Appreciate Your Pastor
— In Seminary They Don’t Tell You
— The Warfare of Discouragement
— Dear Pastors: To Whom It Does Concern



Article from:

Book Review: ReThink


ReThink
By Steve Wright

Summary:
Youth ministry is messed up, don’t you know? So says every article on youth ministry, ever. Steve Wright is onto something here, but beats a dead horse so badly that it looks alive from the twitching of his unrelenting beatdown.

Weaknesses:
The ratio is about Ten to One: Ten complaints for every One solution. He never stops saying there’s a problem with youth ministry. We get it. By chapter four when he offers a way forward, he still keeps hammering that there must be change. This doesn’t let up to the final page.

Continue reading “Book Review: ReThink”

“Give Up the Gimmicks, Youth Pastors”



An article about youth ministry by Brian Cosby at The Gospel Coalition.

Excerpt:

“All too often, youth programs have turned to entertainment-driven models of ministry in order to bring in youth. Success has become the name of the church-growth game. The devastating effects, however, are not only seen in the number of youth leaving the church after high school, but also in a spiritually and theologically shallow worldview among many American teenagers. The irony is that these same teens actually want to grow and learn hard truths. They want to know how to think about suffering, how to pray, and why Jesus had to die.

If there’s anything a youth pastor knows—even after only a few months in ministry—it’s that fatigue and feelings of burnout come with the task. The constant pressure from parents, youth, church leadership, the senior pastor, and even his own family can wear a minister out very quickly.”

Continue Reading at The Gospel Coalition


Read Related:

— Young People: Not So Young
— Question: Youth Ministry Struggles
— How To Lose God In Ten Days
— When Pastors Just Want To Quit
— Book Review: Speaking To Teenagers
— Book Review: You Lost Me


Question: Spiritually Immature, Or Sick?

brianli asked:
Hey there, I’ve been following your blog as well as your tumblr for a while now and I just wanted to pass on some encouragement as well a ask a question that has been on my mind recently. I’ve heard the term “spiritual maturity” or even simply “oh I have/haven’t been doing well spiritually” and I was just wondering, what constitutes or defines whether someone is spiritually mature or whether they’re doing well spiritually? It’s gotta be more than an emotional thing, right?

I’m digging the idea of the Christian faith being susceptible to spiritual allergies, as if some days we can feel congested (I missed my QT) or we can’t stop sneezing (I cursed out my grandmother). But I don’t think spiritual maturity has anything to do with the strange claim of “I haven’t been doing well spiritually.”

So a little theology lesson: James 1, 1 Corinthians 3, 13, and Hebrews 5 all mention the actual definition of a legit mature Christian. You’ll notice that emotions don’t have much to do it with it, if at all. James talks about how we consider our trials, the Greek work hegeomai, which means to reason out or carefully deduce. Paul talks about infants drinking spiritual milk because they are still in love with the world, and later in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter, Paul says to put childish ways behind you. Hebrews 5 says spiritual solid food helps us to discern between good and evil.

There are other passages about maturity, but they all have one thing in common: they are more about the attitudes of our heart than what we say, do, or feel. And from the position of our heart comes the saying, the doing, the feeling. Christian maturity is a growing process of habits, obedience, experiences, biblical learning, accountability, and church involvement that accumulate over time and tough seasons, which result in a continually changed heart. Think of the four seeds, the Parable of the Sower, and while some say the seeds represent different types of people, it could also be the stages of one person’s spiritual journey.

When someone says, “I’m not doing well spiritually,” I understand what they mean — they haven’t been reading their Bible lately, they’re not connecting in worship service, they watched Jersey Shore and liked it — but that’s usually a cop-out for lukewarmness.

Continue reading “Question: Spiritually Immature, Or Sick?”

“Dealing with the Doubting”



A great article by Michael Patton at the Gospel Coalition Blog.

Excerpt:

“Doubt is not unbelief. Doubt is the bridge that connects our current faith to perfect faith. That bridge will stand until death or Christ returns. However, those who are going through a faith crisis don’t naturally see things this way. Once doubt come in and infects their life on a conscious level, they interpret it as outright unbelief. They don’t know how else to process it. They think that they are on an inevitable road to complete unbelief.

“Each person is unique. Just like with depression, the length of this faith crisis has no timetable. For some people, due to personality and life circumstances, their crisis will last a very long time. The more contemplative (and compulsive) might suffer with this intermittently for their entire lives. I know that it is a long time to teeter on the edge of unbelief, but this is sometimes God’s method.”

Continue Reading at Gospel Coalition


Read Related:
– My Faith Is Bigger Than Yours: The Gifted Class Vs. The Boom Boom Class
– Question: So you used to be an atheist
– It would be easier if I wasn’t a Christian: Part One