How the blood runs down the legs of the Divine
and drips from his toes.

There he hangs,
more real than the break of day.
The dirt in his shadow
is pooling with his blood.

There on that hill,
the God-man who borrowed
my sins from me
and does not seem intent on
giving them back.

There they all go,
my shame and my showmanship,
my darkness and death,
my worry and want.

And Look!
There he is three days later
with holes in his heels
and life in his hands.


Why is No One Talking About Mother Teresa’s Dark Night of the Soul?


Whenever you want to talk about a stereotypical ‘good person,’ there are a mandatory few people who come to mind: Ghandi, The Pope, or Mother Teresa. Few people have made such a mark on the world using humility and grace as she, yet there is a gigantic element of her life which most people tend to overlook.

In the 16th century, a Spanish monk named John of the Cross penned a poem entitled “The Dark Night of the Soul,” which introduced and gave shape to this concept of the dark night. In essence, it is a time of feeling distant from God for purification of the believer’s soul. Few pieces of writing are so intense and deal so squarely with feelings of abandonment from God. John records his battle with Divine exile as he battles his demons and attempts to put to death all earthly desires of his flesh.

Since the inception of the idea, plenty of Christians have recorded their own dark nights of the souls, to varying degrees and lengths. In the 18th century, a man named Paul of the Cross reportedly had a Dark Night which lasted over 40 years. More recently however, Mother Teresa reported her own Dark Night of the Soul which lasted roughly 50 years.

For 50 years, Mother Teresa endured “Such deep longing for God, so deep that it is painful, a suffering continual, and yet not wanted by God, repulsed, empty, no faith, no love no zeal,” she wrote in a letter.

For 50 years, she lived in what she called “the darkness.”

For 50 years, Mother Teresa forced herself to smile toward God, writing that her smile was “a big cloak which covers a multitude of pains.”

She went so far as to say that she often felt unwanted and unloved by God.

I want to remind you who we’re talking about here. We’re not just talking about a woman who showed up to church on Sunday and went through the motions. This is no lukewarm quasi-religious person who talks about God despite no relational depth with Him.

This was a woman who committed her life to “the poorest of the poor” in India. She lived with orphans. When a new shipment of shoes arrived, she made sure to get the first shot at it…so she could dig through them and take the worst shoes available. She didn’t want anyone to wear worse shoes than she did, and as a result, her feet were mangled and misshapen.

Her spiritual writings have influenced millions and led them into a closer walk with God through humility and sacrifice. Yet this woman, to whom the Catholic Church awarded sainthood in 2003, seemed to have an intense struggle with darkness for the majority of her life.

Too often, we as American Christians portray our faith as an ever-increasing journey in which we only improve and grow. Peppy megachurches spew positive messages about God’s favor, as if the Bible were chock-full of stories of flawless people living happy lives. Yet when a contemporary figure as notable as Mother Teresa releases letters in which she admits to struggling with darkness for most of her life, we tend to look away.

That won’t make anyone’s day or put a skip in your step.

Yet when we are honest and articulate our own walks with Jesus, how many of us can really attest to a nonstop happiness-fueled life, derived of pain and suffering? I know that’s not my experience, and I would wager it’s not yours either.

I imagine that when you think about your own walk with the Lord, there tends to be more silence than revelation. I can usually relate more to Psalm 22’s refrain, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? than I can to the songs of rejoicing and celebration because the Lord has delivered me.

I think there is enormous value in honestly sharing our stories and our experience with the Lord, rather than shining it to a blinding polish that hides all our blemishes. From the outside of Christianity, I imagine this collection of people pretending to be perfect and pain-free would be more repulsive than attractive.

It is important to note, however, that Dark Nights of the Soul, including Mother Teresa’s, are not purposeless suffering. John of the Cross, when he first articulated the concept, spoke of the night as a time to purify the soul, robbing it of its desire for earthly pleasures.

For example, in my own life, I can pinpoint several points of feeling very distant from God and alone. Most of the time, I have fled from the feelings of abandonment and loneliness with the escape hatches of Netflix, Facebook, or pornography. But when I think about God using these times to purify me, I should see them as times to eradicate sinful desires from my life. I should come to terms with singleness to the degree that my desire for a wife is eclipsed by my desire for nearness to God. I should see it as a time to chop away at my pride in order to live a more humble life.

For some odd reason, it brings me comfort to know that one of the greatest contemporary saints, Mother Teresa, wrestled with the same feelings of darkness and abandonment I often find myself in. I feel like we modern people tend to be so distracted by technology and noise that we don’t feel this disparity to the degree that she did, but if we were to strip away all the distractions, we would likely be scared of what we would find.

We wear the masks of ‘pretty good people’ most days, and I think this is the heart of what is addressed by the Dark Night of the Soul. The Dark Night is a reminder that we are utterly in need of God and the redemption of Jesus Christ.

May we be people who, when feelings of darkness arise, see them as opportunities for purification rather than escape into the world of noise and distraction. May we be honest about our imperfections, struggles and pain. May we humble ourselves like so many saints before us, embracing our experience with the Lord as unique. And may we be faithful to Him to the end, despite the hardships, trials and darkness that come against us.


Is Christian Persecution Coming?



Today I was at the gym with my amigo Elliot and we were having your typical gym talk: Eschatology, religious martyrdom, and Political persecution. It sparked a couple thoughts in my head that I want to share here. I also want to say up front that I do NOT want this to be another political post clogging up your news feed. It is directed at Christians and is meant to encourage you and hopefully spur you toward dislodging some notions of the American dream, the Prosperity Gospel, entitlement to comfort, etc.

Our conversation began when I brought up some recent occurrences in politics that seemed to move the American population away from religious liberty, and even begin to sound like some anti-Christian rhetoric. This shouldn’t be news to us, as religious liberties have been coming under fire for years in the US, but the interesting part is what came next.

“I think victimizing Christians wouldn’t be the worst thing for us,” I stated. “I think it would dislodge a lot of those nominal Christians who claim Christianity as their religion on Facebook but have little else going for them. I think persecution would also expose a lot of churches that have used flashy lights and the allure of rock concert-style worship for the spineless counterfeits they are.”

“Wow, wow, wow,” replied Elliot. He noted that my thought was valid, but extreme. He reminded me that Christians should not seek out persecution for the sake of persecution, but that there is a balance to strike. I agreed with him…to a degree.

Let me give a VERY brief history of Christian persecution in the first couple centuries.

Back in the first and second centuries, Christianity was sweeping across the Western world, and spreading about much of the Roman Empire. These Christians publicly made allegiances to Jesus, which made the Roman government nervous. They saw Christ as a threat to their power and control of their people, so they did what they saw fit: They persecuted Christians.

This did not always mean death. Sometimes it just mean public humiliation and being ostracized by many. But there were many times when it did mean death. Christians were brought to coliseums to be killed by wild animals or gladiators. Nero even reportedly covered Christians in tar for use as “human torches” to illuminate his parties, hanging them from tall poles and lighting them on fire.

In the midst of all this martyrdom came two camps: Those who committed to Christ and His name until the very end, all the way through torture and death; and those who recanted, denying Christ and being freed from persecution.

Accounts from these early centuries report that the latter, those who saved themselves from torture and death, often felt such remorse and guilt that they returned to the Romans and went through with their martyrdom. In other words, they had the opportunity to publicly suffer and die for the cause of Christ, but they turned it down in order to return to comfort, only to be haunted by guilt that they had denied their Savior.

Much of the early Church’s passion for the crown of the martyr came from Revelation 2:10, where John writes that God will give a special crown to those who are faithful unto death. It could be argued that they wanted to be martyrs too badly. 

However, historians would often come to note a resounding phrase that has echoed through the centuries and remains true today:

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Because of their persecution, Christians were dislodged from the comfort of their own homes and forced to relocate to other parts of the world, taking the Good News of Jesus Christ with them. Therefore, thanks to the violent slaughter of Christians, the gospel began to spread globally.

Not only did the gospel spread geographically, but even those who were killing the Christians, the Romans for example, began to come to Christ as a result. They saw the dedication to Christ the Christians exhibited, and the calmness and peace with which they gave their lives for this singular cause. This is why Paul wrote in Philippians 1 that his chains and persecution have advanced the gospel. (Note that the early Christians didn’t cry out about the unfairness of their persecution, or write angst blogs against their enemies. They simply laid down their lives, joyfully proclaiming Christ…Just like Jesus had done.)

This persecution continued until about 313 AD, when Constantine took power and put an end to the religious persecution in Rome. It’s debatable whether or not he was a true Christian or if he held to the Arian heresy until the end of his life, but that’s beside the point. What Constantine implemented was the Holy Roman Empire: A toxic blend of politics and Christianity from which the world is only now recovering.

Constantine laid the path which would lead to the modern idea of a “cultural Christian,” someone who simply grew up in church, could spout out pithy statements about their faith with no real substance or relationship to back them up, and assumed they deserved to go to heaven because they safely claim the monicker of a Christian. Constantine’s Christianity is one that spouts the jargon of victory rather than defeat. Yes, Christians are victorious over sin and death because of Jesus, but Constantine translated this to politics and warfare, claiming that it was his Christian faith that drove him to conquer his enemies.

But true Christianity is not victorious.

It is not glamorous.

True Christianity looks like the man Jesus Christ hanging on a tree in utter defeat and humiliation.

This pseudo-victorious cultural Christianity is what will be eliminated if persecution comes again.

I’m not trying to be a conspiracy theorist or a paranoid doomsday sayer, but Christians are well on their way to being on the other side of popularity once again. And when this comes, how will we respond? Will we take up swords like Peter did when the Romans came to arrest Jesus, slashing at our enemies with a violent zeal? Or will we take the mentality of the early Church, who followed the example of their Lord, laying down their lives just as Jesus had laid down His?

I can’t predict the future, and whether or not America will ever come to such violent opposition of Christianity once again, but I can say this: If it comes, it will do the American church some good. It will uproot us from our notions of entitlement and comfort, and put to shame pastors who promise material wealth in this life. There will be a distinction between those who truly knew Christ in His suffering (Philippians 3), and those who were just claiming His name for the benefits it came with.

Elliot told me that no Christian should intentionally go seeking out persecution, and he is correct. That would be masochistic. But I see far more Americans who fear persecution (read: fear man) and would rather maintain their status as ‘protected by the government’ than have Christianity divorced from politics and go underground.

My dad mentioned recently in a similar conversation that Christianity flourishes when it is forced to be subversive. When it is mainstream and popular, it becomes fat and lazy, and this is what I see happening in America.

We see the opposite today in many other countries. For instance, the Chinese Church has been violently persecuted for decades, forcing them to meet in secret and in constant fear of ambush. Yet the Chinese Church is growing at rates exponentially above the comfortable American Church! The same is true of our brothers and sisters being slaughtered by ISIS and Boko Haram. The violence suffered by these men, women and children has only strengthened their bond to Christ and commitment to His gospel.

I see the American Church reflected in Christ’s words in Revelation 3 to the Church at Laodicea:

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

We should not fear persecution, because what can humans do to us? Kill us? Then we depart and get to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). Instead, should it come to American soil, it will be a way of sorting out those who are hot from those who are cold. Too many of us American Christians have sat comfortably in the middle, living like practicing atheists while claiming the monicker of a Christian.

We should not look forward to persecution, but we should prepare for it. One of the scariest things I perpetually ask myself is, if ISIS had me tied to a pole, about to light me on fire, would I be one of the Christians who remained faithful to the end, or would I beg for my life at the cost of denying Jesus?

I hope we don’t need to face persecution.

But I hope that if we do, we will all be able to say we remained faithful to Christ until the end.


PS, I hope this post also calls us to pray for our international brothers and sisters who face this persecution daily. Those who are crushed by steam rollers and flogged and beheaded should be our examples. But pray that God will ease their suffering and be with them in their suffering. Let us who are not presently facing this violence not forget the Christians in the world who are. And may we follow their example, should the opportunity arise. Learn more here.

The Boring and The Holy


In 1983, U2 played a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater where they recorded the live concert video Under a Blood Red Sky. 

They never played another show there again.

In interviews since the shoot of the video, U2’s singer Bono has said they could never have a better concert than they did the night of June 5, 1983. The stands were only a third full due to the pouring rain and mist that had invaded Colorado the entire day leading up to the show. Yet U2 refuses to ever play there again for fear of ruining the holy night they once experienced.

I regularly run at Red Rocks Amphitheater, pacing back and forth across the stone seats, or jumping up all 60-something of the rows. As an outdoor exercise spot, it is absolutely unbeatable. I’ve also seen a good amount of shows here, and they never fail to disappoint. The natural acoustics of the gigantic red rocks cause a surreal intimacy between the massive audience and the performer.

I’ve had a lot of good days at Red Rocks, but I wouldn’t call any of them holy, per ce.

Then there are the janitors. The people who literally vacuum the miles of seating before each show, baking in Colorado’s summer sun. There are the beer vendors and the lighting technicians, just showing up for work.

But there was that day back in 1983 when this ordinary land became holy.

For about two years, I worked with an organization called YWAM, which stands for Youth With A Mission. Or, if you’ve ever known a YWAMer, it stands for Yes, We Arrange Marriages. Today, in thinking about this post, I realized it also stands for Yes, We’re After Miracles.

I love YWAM with everything in me, and have nothing but respect for every single YWAMer. But during my time there, I got this idea that my Christianity was nothing unless crazy miracles were happening and people were leaping out of wheelchairs left and right as my shadow grazed them on the sidewalk.

This led to a lot of discouragement in my life, as people rarely kept out of wheelchairs for me, even after half an hour of prayer. I got it in my head that my faith was too weak and I needed to try harder. I thought the supernatural was avoiding me for some reason.

YWAMers also have this unspoken rule that you’ve got to travel. A lot. Or else your ministry is too comfortable and not affecting the needy people of the world. So on my landlocked seasons when I was forced to stay stateside, I also felt somewhat bummed out, as I was unable to be where God was doing the real action.

I was thinking about the story of Moses earlier. Especially the part where 40 years pass and he has done nothing but herd sheep in the desert. We kind of graze over those years to get to the good stuff like freeing millions of slaves, as if there isn’t anything for us to learn from his 40 years of monotony.

But then one day, as he is with his flock in Midian, he sees a bush on fire but it’s not burning up. The coolest thing I realized about this story is that he wasn’t in a foreign land. He was in a place he had been passing by for the last 40 years, and NOTHING had ever happened.

In your life, it would be equivalent to the water cooler in the office or the elevator to the third floor. A place so mundane or ordinary that you don’t even realize when you pass by it. Now imagine you’ve been passing that same water cooler or riding that same elevator for 40 years. I can’t even comprehend this, as I’m not close to 40, nor have I even stayed in the same place more than a few months at a time!

The point is, the place Moses was was more boring than the color beige. It was very, very natural. Nothing super about it.

Until one day, it was holy. It was related to the divine.

It was so holy, God spoke to him and said to take his sandals off because the ground he was on was so holy.

The water cooler speaks to you and says this office space, this faded blue carpet, is now holy.

Take off your penny loafers.

The other day I was driving on Santa Fe, a road I have to take to get anywhere, so it’s become sort of drab to me. It is my water cooler, or desert of Midian. I was listening to a random playlist when a song came on. I can’t even remember which song it was, but I know it was a Christian song, and suddenly my car traveling across Santa Fe became a holy place.

Usually my music, Christian and secular alike, just crackles through my speakers as background noise while my mind races on. But that day, the sun set in a misty haze over the nearby purple peaks of the Rockies. I caught glimpses over the factories where the yellow and red treetops were beginning to pop among their greener brethren, and the entire scene just leveled me.

I don’t know how to describe the emotion aside from a holy moment. It was a brief glimpse of the Almighty.

God used the view from a very ordinary road, as I was driving in my very ordinary beater, and even a song I had heard many times before. My speakers were no longer coiled springs interacting with silicone cones, they were something more than that.

The supernatural reached right through my very natural environment and poked me.

I had this friend in college who used to keep a little brown notebook in his breast pocket. On the front of the small, beat-up booklet was written in ballpoint pen Glimpses. He opened it for me and flipped through full pages of one-line entries where he saw the supernatural peek through his natural days; where he saw God reveal Himself in the smallest ways.

One of the entries was just something like, “the rays of sunlight through the skyscrapers.”

They were all that small, or smaller.

I wonder how much of the world we take for granted, dismissing opportunities to see the holy in the ordinary.

When we read the Bible, I can’t help but wonder if God more often works through seemingly ‘natural’ means to work in transcendent ways. Look at communion: A loaf of bread is suddenly Christ incarnate, and some fermented juice is the blood of the Creator.

Baptism is a person falling under some water and coming out. But it’s also more than that.

It’s the dead come to life.

It must be.

There is a holy movement in the rhythms of communion and baptism, and I can’t help but think that this rhythm underscores more of our day-to-day lives than we think.

So keep your eyes open.

Seek out the holy, even in the natural, even in the boring and mundane. Even after 40 years in the same place, walking by the same water cooler.


Porn: The Hidden Self


“And you’re wondering why you felt like you weren’t good enough?” my friend Dave said. “You were literally conditioned to think that way!”

I had just finished telling Dave about an exercise I had been doing for a class on addiction in which I created a timeline of my life. In doing so, I realized that there was a lot of rejection in my younger years. Prior to college, nearly every girl I had been interested in either dumped me after a few weeks, or flat out rejected me from the start.

I hardly dated anyone after that.

It has taken me a while to freely admit it, but one of the deepest roots of my addiction to pornography has been this feeling that I’m not good enough for a real woman.

You see, in middle and high school, I was not the oxen of a man you see today. I was not the “Shirtless Wonder.”

I was a nerd.

A geek.

Whatever label you want to stick on the kid that moved a couple times, went to three high schools and two middle schools, and had a collection of 500 comic books. The kid who had every detail about Middle Earth memorized and longed to become Batman (truth be told, that’s part of the reason I started working out…I guess comic books were good for something.)

After a number of failed relationships (or whatever you call two 9th graders going to a movie), I came to think that the problem was me. That I was the undesirable one.

So I worked to change it.

I chopped my Beatles-era haircut and hit the weights. I bought nicer clothes and dropped the Star Wars t-shirts. I did everything I could think of to change people’s perception of me into a man who was worthy of dating. The problem with these things is that they do nothing to heal the wounded heart of a man.

Dr. Dan Allender says that men today are broken hearted. “Not broken hearted as in sad or full of grief,” he writes. “Instead, we are broken into fragmented selves that are unable to do much other than posture and pretend we are someone whom we know we are not.”

At an early age, my heart was broken into a dozen different pieces. Some of these pieces ventured to the identity of a nerd while others worked at getting into better physical shape. Some tried to earn value in artistry, while other fragments delighted in being the class clown.

All of these “identities” were only parts of a shield, though. Like a turtle shell I could tuck into whenever someone looked my way, while the Real Ethan, the weird, eccentric, tender-hearted self stayed safe inside.

John Eldredge echoed this sentiment when he wrote,

This is every man’s deepest fear: to be exposed, to be found out, to be discovered as an impostor, and not really a man…We are hiding, every last one of us. Well aware that we, too, are not what we were meant to be, desperately afraid of exposure, terrified of being seen for what we are and are not, we have run off into the bushes. We hide in our office, at the gym, behind the newspaper and mostly behind our personality.

The sad thing is, most of us go on living like this and wondering why we feel so severed from our real self. Why there is no peace inside us. Why we feel splintered into so many pieces. Social media doesn’t help because we can look any way we want online.

I maintained the charade for many many years until recently when I decided to do the tough work of examining myself and taking a good, hard, honest look in the mirror. It was like pulling a hermit crab from his protective shell: It was ugly and it snapped and fought like hell against being exposed, because the work of healing is not easy.

Several years ago, I was on the bus in Chicago with a Moody student who was an acquaintance of mine. He began sharing what the Lord was teaching him in that season, and the only part I remember was one line: “The Lord is teaching me that it’s okay to be weak, to be broken.”

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much respect for another human being in my life.

It’s as if he was standing before me as the bus tilted and rocked, holding his palms open to me saying Look, this is me. I’m not that cool. I’m hurt and broken. But God’s cool with that, and I’m learning to be cool with it too.

So I’m attempting to become like that too. It’s incredibly hard for a man to admit that he is weak and broken, but I think that is the first step in healing.

Because women don’t fall in love with how many pounds you can put up on the bench, or that sweet new shirt from H&M. They can’t even love the jokes you make or the intelligence stored in the folds of your brain.

People love other people, not the things they try to wrap around themselves as a disguise.

Learning this is hard, because ever since we got the boot from the Garden of Eden, we’ve been trying to cover ourselves up, trying to look better than we actually are.

Underneath all the fancy fig leaves and one-liners, we are all pretty ugly and weak, but that doesn’t mean we’re unworthy of love. God doesn’t stop chasing you because you woke up with bedhead, or you can’t curl a 5 pounder.

It’s hard to examine myself and see that there are a lot of things I don’t like about myself. But it’s even harder to accept that despite them, God still loves me. And hopefully, there’s a woman out there who will too. But living with a splintered heart and trying to be a dozen men at once is exhausting and will keep us returning to the fire hydrant of porn to try to nourish our broken heart.

My friend Michael Cusick points out that the word “integrity” comes from the word “integer,” meaning whole. A person of integrity is a whole person, not a shapeshifter who modifies themselves to fit the scene.

So may we be a people who give up disguising ourselves and trying to be more impressive than we are.

May we seek wholeness, root ourselves in quietness and peace and know ourselves as we are known by God, recognizing that God loves the weak and the broken; He lifts up those who are low. (Psalm 145)

“But [Jesus] said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in my weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

-2 Corinthians 12:9-10


The Fault in Our Stories



Tressa and I, c.a. January, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stories we tell.

Or more accurately, the stories we hear. The films we watch and the books we read. And If I were to make a monstrous generalization about modern Hollywood’s ideals, it would be summed up in two words: Happy endings.

I touched on this in a recent post, but wanted to expound on this idea of a ‘one-fight life’. Even the best romantic movies fall prey to this outline of a plot: Meet, flirt, fall in love, roll romantic montage, and here is where the drama sets in. A secret from earlier in the film is revealed, or maybe a trait that she wasn’t supposed to see appears. A battle erupts, but peace is eventually restored and they make out.

Take, for instance, one of my favorite films of all time, Beginners. Realistic as it is, it is heavily laden with artistic takes and romantic whimsy. The film reaches a place where the protagonist unravels years of psychological threads; his noncommittal character breaks down and he leaves his beautiful French girl. Without giving away too much, there is a happy ending. A reunion after their singular conflict. The jazzy piano croons on as the last shot gives way to the credits.

And after the credits roll, the audience is left with this vague good feeling because the conflict has been resolved and in our minds, the two romantic leads continue on in their blissful romantic utopia, never to fight again.

In our optimism, we have adopted this repetitive plot into the liturgy of our lives.

What I mean by liturgy is a repeated action or input into our lives that eventually develops certain rhythms within us. For instance, I used to work in the Chicago Juvenile Detention Center and would always ask the guys about their influences. They talked about characters like Lil’ Wayne, who glorifies getting money above all. Right under money was getting girls and shooting their enemies.

Their liturgy was one that glorified money above all, as well as exalting a lifestyle of violence and self-glorification because they repeatedly put those concepts into their minds via Wayne, Eminem or Chief Keef. A lifetime of this liturgy led them to juvy, because it became the entirety of what they hoped for and worked toward. Their end goal fueled their actions. (Of course this is an oversimplification, but you get the concept of how liturgies affect our lives).

My uncle, a Doctorate in Theology, says that we should never take in media with our brains turned off. Always be aware of what your movies and music are saying. Everyone is always saying something, so learn to recognize how your media is affecting your desires, your actions, and your thoughts. There is no neutral ground. It is either orienting you toward God and His grace, or it is pointing you toward yourself, money, sex, pleasure, et cetera.

We often fail to recognize our own liturgies—repetitive actions or thoughts in our lives—because they are less explicit and cloaked in the innocent spirit of rom-coms and love songs. Even commercials promise that this one simple product will be a quick fix for whatever ailments your life has accrued.

We expect every situation in our lives to be resolved simplistically and offer a permanent solution to whatever ache or conflict we are engaged in because that is what our postmodern liturgy has promised us. Especially as Christians, we often associate coming to faith in Jesus with the elimination of our sins, struggles and conflicts.

I wonder if this is why so many marriages end prematurely: We think that when the first winds of conflict stir, it means there is a problem with the person we have chosen. Or when your porn habit simply will not go away, even though you repeatedly pray to Jesus to take it away, you wonder if you’re really saved.

Because there should be a quick fix and a happy ending, right?

Hardships, trials and conflicts will continue as long as sinful people continue to walk the earth. This is why so much of premarital counseling teaches the prenuptials how to fight, rather than how to avoid fighting.

Because in real life, there is more than one fight.

There are a lot more than one fight.

I once was in Florida and this beautiful couple that must have been hovering around 80 years old invited me to dinner. They were cuter than plums on the porch, and I expected to witness a couple that only said kind words to each other with the gentleness of a baby’s rear end.

Instead, I was privy to an ongoing (hilarious) bicker battle between the loving couple. They were still very much in love with each other, and both knew it, but she yelled at him for getting the wrong flavor of ice cream, and he jabbed back that there was too much sauce on the salad. It went on most of the night in the cutest way possible. Like two puppies wrestling.

I was trying so hard not to laugh out loud.

They had learned how to fight well. They did not expect a one-fight marriage followed by a Pax Romana. Rather, they accepted that they would never agree on everything and engaged in a life together in which conflict was an acquired skill.

This doesn’t just apply to relationships either. I feel like every episode of Modern Family offers some kind of pithy moral throughout the course of the plot, as if life change happens over the course of 21 minutes and endures the rest of our lives.

If my life is any indicator, this is clearly not the case.

Because sin is ongoing. My pride and selfishness are ongoing. My fallen human nature creeps up again and again and I find myself falling into the same pit,

climbing out,

and falling in again.

At the end of his life, well-battered and weathered, Brennan manning sat in a chair in his Kansas home and told a camera crew, “Let yourself be loved by God, as you are and not as you should be, because none of us are as we should be…” After struggling with alcoholism for decades and only finding relief in the arms of a gracious God, Manning found only one cure for the repetitive liturgies sung to us in the smoothest voices from Hollywood and television: the love of God.

Repeatedly returning to God reminds us that there is not one solve-all solution for our brokenness and pain. Creating new rhythms that engage with His Word, His body, and His Spirit are what begin to reorient our lives toward what is true. Maybe this is what Paul meant in Romans 12 when he wrote, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Yes, you will continue to battle the urges to look at porn, or to lose your temper at your husband. These may be lifelong struggles that take years to eradicate, but implementing new rhythms and liturgies into our lives will help us change; they will help us see God in everything as His Spirit works and moves through the mundane and ordinary things in our lives.

May we be a people who integrate holy rhythms into our lives in order to orient our hearts toward God daily.

Not just once.


Theology as Best I Understand It: Unio Christi

johnny 80

A few days ago, I got an email from a reader who asked me a simple, yet penetratingly deep theological question. She asked, “If we, as the Church, are the Bride of Christ, and therefore Christ is the groom, does that imply that we are to become one with Christ? And if this is true, what does becoming one with Christ mean?”

At first, I shook my head because after three years of Bible college, preceded by two years with various missions organizations, this language was commonly understood. Of course union with Christ is the central tenet of our Christianity! There is nothing else!

But then I had another realization. That is, not everyone has the benefits I have had of learning everything I have been able to through the various schools I’ve attended, and I need to quit being a pedantic jerk about it.

The very least I can do is begin a series of theological blogs to help share some of the truth I’ve accrued the past several years. They may not rake in the clicks like my posts on porn or singleness, but I really want to create them for the sake of helping people learn more about Christ.

Many people have this notion about Christianity that what we know doesn’t really matter, as long as we love Jesus, but I could not disagree more.

I always recite John 4:24 to people, where Jesus says, “Believers will worship in spirit and in truth.” Truth is not more valuable than the spirit with which we worship, nor vice versa. Having the truth without the spirit is just dry and human effort to connect to abstract facts, but having spirit without truth is how cults are made. It’s running fast on ‘spirit juice,’ but not always in the right direction.

Additionally, in Hosea 4:6, God says that “my people perish for a lack of knowledge.” Evidently, there is ample value given to true knowledge that leads to life and a closer walk with the Lord, and that’s why I will be writing several of these theologically-oriented posts.

May they be beneficial!

For this first one, I want to answer and expand on the great question posed by my reader: Essentially, what is union with Christ?

Not only is this one of the biggest and most overwhelming of theological topics, but it is the root from which nearly all other theological dialogue stems. So I will do my best at a crash course.

I think that in order to begin thinking about how unio Christi plays into our salvation, we need to first think about the nature of God. And how is it that we primarily describe Him? Is it as the eternal? If this is the case, He is very impersonal and cold. As the Creator? With this in mind, He is eternally dependent on His creation.

No, When we think of God’s identity, we must first see Him as a Father from whom all love and good things come. Because when we see Him as a Father, we see Jesus rightly as the Son. (It is worth noting that there is no hierarchy within the Trinity. The Father is not greater, or more God than the Son or the Spirit.)

So, if the Father is eternally loving the Son and giving Him good things, what does that have to do with us?

The Bible uses a lot of familial language to describe aspects of our salvation. We are the Bride of Christ; we are sons of God. By binding ourselves to Christ (through the Holy Spirit), we then become recipients of the Father’s love.

Think of it in human terms: Picture a great, loving father who loves his son. One day, his son is grown and comes home with a girl. They eventually get married and the new daughter-in-law receives all the blessings the son did. By binding herself to the son, the wife is now included in the family and gets all the perks (like the family’s social status, financial blessing, et cetera).

When we are saved by Christ, we are bound to Him in such a way that we become participants in the Father-Child relationship that has existed within the Trinity for all eternity past. This is why the Bible is not an instruction manual, and Christianity is not just a label or a collection of rule-followers.

Christianity is a participation in the greatest relationship in the universe. The Trinity allows for an invitation into this relationship, whereas single-person gods (such as Allah) have no relationship to invite us into. They are lonely for eternity past, where the Trinity has been in loving relationship for as long as they can remember (which is…a long time.)

This helps explain why Allah seems to be more of a harsh judge than a loving entity. A solo god wouldn’t know how to interact with another being, whereas the Trinity has been practicing love for, well, forever. And creation is an overflow of that loving relationship. (Kind of like how a baby is the ‘overflow’ of love between a husband and wife.)

So, is uniting ourselves to Christ important? Well, yes. From it springs all other aspects of our salvation. Picture a spider. The body of the arachnid is our unio Christi and all the legs extending from the center are the other elements of that relationship. Our sanctification is rooted in our bond with Christ. Our justification is rooted in our bond with Christ. And so on.

To be continued!

For more on this, check out One With Christ by Marcus Johnson, as well as Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves; from both I have borrowed heavily.


I’m a Woman and I Struggle with Porn (Guest Post)


I’m handing the reins over to my dear friend Jillian today. In fact, I desperately wanted her to write this piece to shed light on the women’s side of struggling with pornography. Jill is a wife, barista and friend who lives in Chicago.     -e

Long before I ever cracked open a Bible, Cosmopolitan Magazine was teaching me right from wrong. I remember buying the magazine with my girlfriends around the age of twelve or thirteen, feeling a little embarrassed and ashamed as we reached the register, but full of excitement for the things we’d find inside. Looking back it felt empowering, even though at that age you don’t really understand it that way. Cosmo was teaching me about things I could do, sexual things that would give me power, and the better I could perform these things, the more I was worth in the eyes of a man. My eyes and heart were shaped by all these things before I ever even had my first kiss.

I remember sitting on my bed and reading my thin magazine ‘bible’ as it gave me all the best websites for soft porn. Porn that was more “girl friendly”, not so rough, you know? I remember a specific Q&A even, where a reader had talked about how she enjoyed lesbian porn more than your typical guy/girl action, and she wanted to know if this made her gay. I remember being relieved by the answer as the sex guru explained that lots of straight women felt more turned on with girl on girl.

I was relieved of course, because I was one of them.

I remember the all-consuming enticement as my brain would start to wander to porn, the primal sensation of lust as it drove me to my computer screen. The longing was so intense that it felt impossible to calm unless it got what it wanted. I can also just as clearly remember the quickness of the drop as my climax came to completion. The weight and the depth of the shame and disgust for myself and for the things on the screen. I remember the quickness of my hands as I’d close out my tabs and delete my history and push my computer far away from me, as if I could just make it all go away. It’s so wild to me how both the overwhelming longing and lust, and the disgust and shame are such natural responses with no invitation. I did not ask for those feelings, it’s as if my emotions led me with no warning, rhyme or reason.

The reason I opened with those stories is in hopes that I am not alone. I started this way, with some extremely personal memory-sharing in a desperate attempt to see if there are more of me. Maybe you have a different story, but you can relate when it comes to the worth associated with your sexuality, the intensity of your emotions and lust as they lead you, and the intense shame that follows you as a woman who has struggled or is struggling with sexual sin. Maybe you have felt dirty, too. Maybe you have felt used and manipulated by your own emotions as they drag you into the fiercest desires and longings of lust, like a fire within you, and then in one fell swoop mock you as you are filled with disgust and shame. The emotions that laugh at your own naked body and dirty mind and cause you to become more self-conscious, untouchable, and alone.

Are you out there, women who have used your bodies in such an intimate, selfish, and distasteful way and are now reaping the consequences of feeling filthy? How have our bodies become this way? And our emotions? Am I the only female asking these sort of questions?

After all, women are not raised like men. We don’t get the porn and masturbation classes in Sunday school. We don’t have female role models openly talking to us about their sexual temptations and fantasies. We as women are the ones who need to dress modestly for the MAN’S lustful mind, right? We can’t experience lust like a man does…or at least that is what we have been seasoned to believe.

So here it goes, I am asking. Am I the only woman who has struggled with sexual sin? Am I the only one who feels weirder, and dirtier, and even more of a sinner because I am a WOMAN who has touched herself and seen incredibly explicit things on the internet?

Of course I’m not.

And this is why I am writing.

I am writing because I believe women and men handle sexual sin differently and because there is very little material about why women struggle with sexual sin and what deep-rooted desires and hurts drive us to it.

I believe that as women we have a deep, ingrained desire for acceptance. Not just acceptance, but for people to breathtakingly, awe-strikingly desire us, our whole person. Our souls and our bodies. We desire to be deeply desired, and we have been lied to and tricked by our culture and our own flesh to think that giving into this lust will somehow make us feel more complete.

You see, this desire is healthy. The desire to be wanted. We were magnificently designed with it. It should not cause us shame. As a woman, you were programmed for desire. As a woman, you were programed for sexual empowerment, and you were programed for connection. You were programed for passion, and sexuality. You were programmed for good, raw, sexy, sex within the proper context of marriage. And you were also—and most importantly—programmed for the admiration your Savior feels toward you.

This is why I am writing.

I am writing for you and for me. I am writing for us and for the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume in Luke 7. And for the other prostitute in Southeast Asia and for the one in your home town. I am writing for the lovely and broken women in those videos I watched online. I’m writing because I want to be clear that Jesus has given these sort of women a special opportunity to weep at His feet as He tells you how crazy He is about you.

I am writing because I know the self-hate that goes along with these types of sins and I know how ashamed you can feel. And most of all, I know that this type of failure and wreckage is exactly what drives us to a Jesus who looks at us in awe, our whole person, mind, body and spirit in awe. The God who is Jesus thinks of us as perfect and wants nothing more than for us to sit with Him in our hurt as He dresses every wound and mends every scar and calls us clean.

This type of longing that our Jesus has for us is what we are made for.

And as we take it, test it, and make it our own, as we learn to truly believe His love for us, we will begin to stop looking for that acceptance in places where all we find is emptiness.

We, as “this sort of woman” have an opportunity to know our Savior’s love much more deeply than one who is unaware of just how ugly their sin is. We know His love because we need His love, and this causes us to love Him back in deep deep ways. I am writing for the women who have dived into sexual sin, feel like they have lost a lot and gained nothing, and have come out with more self-hate than satisfaction. I am writing specifically for you, to tell you that your sins, which are many, are forgiven — for you loved much. (Luke 7:47)


“4 Reasons You Should Keep Looking at Porn”



Last night I tried to write a sardonic satire piece on pornography entitled “4 Reasons You Should Keep Looking At Porn.” I got through the first three—Avoid the unnecessary pain! You’ll never get rejected! Provide jobs for struggling actors!—but then I got to the last one, Provide jobs for people worldwide, and I simply could not keep the satirical tone.

The piece wasn’t meant to be a funny satire, but simply a “Hey, these are true facts about pornography that I want to write in a different way” type piece, but I realized that there is a real weight to the sexual brokenness of our world that should not be trivilaized.

As hard as I tried, I could not come up with a satirical way to present (even in a somber tone) a child being taken from her family and forced to commit sexual acts with strangers, all before the age of a Kindergartener. Or women who, when the PornHub camera stops rolling, burst into tears because any real sense of personhood they tried to hold onto has evaporated.

When I was in junior high, I got caught by my parents looking at porn on our family computer. They sent me to chat with my youth pastor, who explained that although I messed up, there is grace and forgiveness for me, and that everyone struggles with it.

Over the next couple years in youth group, I would find porn to be the subject of many of our jokes. We would break up into our high school boy’s group and spend half the time making jokes about masturbation and porn. I don’t think this was my youth pastor’s fault, as I grew up in the era when pornography was exploding onto the digital scene and leaders in the church hardly knew how to react. Certainly, making light of the subject is easier than delving into the darkness we were dealing with.

So that is what I knew. Growing up, it became normal to joke about porn and masturbation, and I carried the tradition long into my college years, and even recently, I find myself making jokes I immediately regret.

Because there are things we don’t joke about.

I think this may have been what Paul was referring to when he wrote that there should be no “foolish talk or coarse joking” (Ephesians 5) among the people of God.

Because I think God calls us to be better than that.

Look at Jesus as He talks to the woman at the well in John 4. He could have easily cracked a few one-liners about her being married five times (Hey, you know what they say! Sixth time’s the charm!), but He doesn’t. He addresses the deeper issues within her soul that she was neglecting to address, and got to work healing her.

I think when we encounter Jesus, we have to make a decision. Are we going to keep making light of things that hurt us, and our world, or are we going to speak of them seriously and address them in a life-giving, healing way? Are we willing to press a little where it aches, or just keep inhaling the nitrous oxide and forgetting the injury is there?

So I guess, in place of my satirical piece, here are the same three facts (I combined the last two) about pornography, presented with the gravity they warrant.

Quitting Porn Hurts

Most of us came to pornography out of innocent curiosity, sensual desire, or accidental exposure. But all of us stay with pornography because it takes away the pain. Pain from broken relationships, abandonment, rejection, and a whole novella of other sources. It keeps us in its grip because the numbing agents get straight to work, helping us to escape the harsh reality of life. Maybe your marriage is a let-down and you want a quick upgrade. Maybe you’re tired of being overweight and never being asked out. There is no itch pornography cannot scratch.

But for some reason, I expected my life to be easier and more pain-free when I quit. I quickly found that’s not the way it works. If you struggle with porn and masturbation, don’t quit trying to quit because the familiar pain from your life returns.

And it will return.

Expecting pain to evaporate when you remove porn from your life is akin to expecting the agony of an amputated leg to magically disappear once the morphine wears off. That’s just not how it works. Invite Jesus into your life, and even into your past to walk through these painful places with you. Embrace the pain. Embrace revisiting painful moments in your life in order to properly heal from them.

Scars make us stronger, laughing gas does not.

You won’t be rejected

One of the appeals of pornography is that it never says no. It never rolls over in bed, or walks away form you at the bar. The women and men on the screen are always smiling, happy to see you, and eager to do exactly what you want.

John Eldrege writes, “The dangerous thing about porn is it allows a man to feel like a man without requiring anything from him.” In other words, there is no risk of rejection with pornography.

And I think this has raised up a generation of milquetoasts, myself included. I see a lot of men and women who lack confidence in themselves because they have become accustomed to this risk-free outlet. Why talk to a real girl when I have my laptop at home?

People often ask me why I’m single, and if I’m honest, I think porn has a lot to do with it. I have avoided the risk of asking a girl out because the safety of my web browser beckoned louder. There are times when a situation calls for us to be bold, but we choose the route of passivity because porn has conditioned us that way. It conditions us to avoid risks.

You are perpetuating the sex trade industry

How could I possibly be helping the sex trade industry? I’ve never even paid for porn!

These same sentiments echoed through me for years until I began to understand the way the internet works. Traffic is what drives a website to success, because the more clicks it gets, the more people want to advertise on it. And the more advertising there is, the more money the website is getting.

So like it or not, by visiting pornographic websites, you have funded the sex industry.

Sadly, this does not just include actors, directors, ‘writers’, and cameramen. It also includes the people who are victim to human sex trafficking. If pornography creates the desire, the sex slave industry is the ultimate outlet for those urges to pragmatically use people purely for their bodies.

Children as young as 5 and older are forced into the sex industry by the millions every year. Some counts position the current sex slave population—these are people who are forced into being sex slaves; they did not choose it, are not being paid for it, and they have severe emotional, mental, and physical problems as a result—at around 28 million.

28 million human beings.

It breaks me down to know that I have unwittingly contributed to this number with my porn addiction.

Somehow, in all of this, Jesus still wants me. He still wants you. He still walks over to us and says, “They do not condemn you? Then I don’t either.” He still draws near to us, no matter how fast we try to run from Him. He still washes us and makes us clean.

In light of this heavier post, I want to close with a piece from the great Puritan prayer, The Valley of Vision:

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.


Jesus, The Easy Way Out


A few nights ago, I couldn’t sleep and headed to my favorite 24-hour coffee shop to write a blog. I was stoked to write one on the theological Father-Son relationship we are ushered into through Union with Christ (Don’t worry, it’s coming soon!), but there were no empty tables.

Being the ever optimistic bachelor, I approached the cute girl sitting alone and asked if I could share the table with her. She eagerly agreed and before I could get a keystroke down, we began chatting.

“Are you a lawyer?” she asked, pointing to my law-book-sized Bible.

I told her No, I’m a writer and this is my Bible.

The next three hours were spent talking about our religious differences, until 1am when I told her we should go across the street and I’d buy her an ice cream cone from McDonald’s.

Over the course of our conversation, she verbalized most people’s main struggle with Christianity. She was from a Muslim country, so she was used to a religion where your effort earned you pardon in the eyes of an angry god: You sin, you repent. You do your daily prayers, you stay pure. And hopefully your actions are good enough to earn you a spot in heaven.

What if they’re not?

I don’t know, I just hope I’m good enough.

I spent a few minutes explaining what I believe: That Jesus is the one who repents for us. He is the one who lives a perfect life in our place. He is the one who was tortured and descended into hell so that we never have to. In that sense, Christians never have to wonder if we are doing enough to warrant God’s favor. It’s the difference between a God who is first and foremost a Father versus one who is an angry judge demanding punishment.

I recited one of the analogies I used with prisoners in Chicago when I used to work in the Juvenile Detention Center:

Imagine that you’re on trial for murdering 100 people. The judge orders you to a life sentence of being beaten and tortured until the day you die. But then, something unexpected happens. The judge steps down from his stand and walks through the gate. He motions you to stand up, and the guard to unlock your cuffs. He then puts them on and sits in your chair. He tells you to go, because he is going to pay your life sentence.

The girl responded the same way the inmates always did: “But that would never happen! You could just go back out and kill more people!”

“That’s why I could never be a Christian,” she added. “It’s too easy! You take the easy way out!”

“Exactly!” I responded. “Jesus is the easy way out!”

She then got down onto her knees and began a relationship with Jesus right there.

Just kidding.

I wish it was that easy.

As much as I pray that elements of our conversation stick with her, I was certainly reminded of the good gospel of grace that night. I was reminded that I have chosen the easy way out. I have chosen to bind myself to Jesus, who makes my burdens lighter, because I am so so weary (Matthew 11).

I have chosen the easy way because, as she said, I can go back out and commit whatever heinous crimes my mind can concoct and He will still welcome me back with open arms. Seven times seventy times (Matthew 18).  Such is the nature of grace.

I chose the easy way because, despite my constant sin and unfaithfulness, the mercy of God is new each morning (Lamentations 3). Because He still runs after me, the wandering prostitute, and showers His love upon me (Hosea).

I think this is the gate through which all people initially come to Jesus: A man bending down to help up the adulterous woman, telling her that He does not condemn her (John 8).

And although this is the starting point, I don’t think it is the ending point. I think those who choose to follow Jesus soon find that, while their sins are washed away and the punishment has been absorbed by Jesus, and their minds have begun to be healed, life is far from easy.

There is a word that most Christians today can’t define, although it is a central tenet of the Christian faith: Cruciformity.

It is essentially the joining of the believer to Christ in His sufferings, being crucified alongside Him. There are dozens of verses pointing us to this idea that along with the benefits of knowing Christ come joining in His sufferings. Jesus Himself tells us that following Him includes every part of His journey: including taking up our crosses and dying (Matthew 16).

Jesus never promised that our bodies will be immune to cancer, or that the baby will never die. He never promised that we won’t be beheaded or lit on fire by those who don’t know Him.

He didn’t offer us a pardon from suffering and pain, but a way to walk through it with Him.

Jesus never promised us an easier life—in fact quite the opposite—but He did make us two promises which I think are worth mentioning here:

He promised to be with us

We will still have suffering in this life. Most likely, lots of it. But in this, we know that Jesus is with us in more ways than one. He is with us in the sympathetic sense, that He has already undergone suffering, and whatever we are going through is not foreign to Him. God the Father watched as His Son was tortured and pinned to a cross and died. Jesus endured the beating and the rejection and the shame.

Jesus is no stranger to pain and suffering. So as we walk through the valleys of our own lives, we can know that He has gone before us, but He also walks beside us through the Holy Spirit (John 14). He didn’t promise an escape from the pain, but He offers to walk through it with us when it does come (Matthew 28).

We have assurance of our salvation

For many years, I thought this term was such a grandma word. I didn’t get why assurance was such a big deal. However, after a handful of conversations similar to the one I had the other night, my understanding of the word has changed.

We as Christians don’t have to worry if we are doing enough to satisfy God. We don’t have to stress about where we’ll wake up after our last breath is taken. There is no more mystery about whether our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds. Jesus has taken those scales and smashed them. He is the one who has satisfied the scales of justice once and for all, so that our puny ‘deeds’ don’t even register on the meter.

The Bible says that the Holy Spirit operates as a down-payment, or a deposit (2 Corinthians 1:22) of our inheritance that is to come. We have assurance of our salvation, not because of anything we can do, but because of what Jesus already has done.

So yes, I have taken the easy way.

And despite the fact that it is laced with continued suffering and pain, I hope you take it too.