God loves everyone. No exceptions. (Alternate title: The Gospel According to “The Greatest Showman”)Read More
Desmond Tutu said, “We are, each of us, a piece of God.” When I look in the mirror, I see just one piece of God. I need you to help me see God clearly.Read More
A friend of mine sent me a message recently that read, "Life sucks." And I responded, "Yep. It's a promise from Jesus."Read More
Steve Austin shares his story of recovery from a suicide attempt on the Not Your Mama's Christian Podcast.Read More
I've been fortunate enough to have led worship music for nearly the past two decades. If you grew up in the Evangelical church like me, you'll likely feel right at home with this collection of worship favorites. This is an hour of Christian music (15 songs)...sung by me!
This exclusive bonus content is a gift for supporters of The #AskSteveAustin Podcast who contribute at the $5/month level or higher. "Worship Favorites" includes 5 originals & 11 covers, plus a brief reflection on the story of the prodigal son. These songs have been recorded over the past fifteen years at various homes and churches. There's even a few from the radio. Enjoy!
Here's the list of worship favorites:
- Alone (Clint Brown)
- Let Me Be Used (Steve Austin)
- Jehovah Jireh (Steve Austin)
- Everlasting God (Chris Tomlin)
- The Anthem (Planetshakers)
- Love Came Down (Brian Johnson)
- Prodigal (a reflection by Steve Austin)
- 10,000 Reasons (Matt Redman)
- Great Are You Lord (All Sons and Daughters)
- Oceans (Hillsong)
- Spirit Fall (Aaron Keyes)
- I Really Love You (Brian Johnson)
- Majesty (Michael W. Smith)
- You're My Light (Steve Austin)
- Stay (Steve Austin)
- Holy (unknown)
This bonus content is exclusively for supporters of The #AskSteveAustin Podcast. Want access to this hour-long stroll down Memory Lane? Support the show at $5/month or more today for immediate access! Just click here. Supporters of the show also get access to the Messy Grace Tribe on Facebook, plus loads of other bonus content, including guided meditations and interviews from the vault. Join the Messy Grace Tribe today! Click here for immediate access.
My little boy is a Lego-maniac. He's only six-years-old, but he's got a brilliant imagination and is meticulous with the details. At least once a month, his grandmother takes him to a "build night" at the local Lego store. Forthe first few months, on build nights, Ben would get a small kit and follow the instructor's directions precisely. Eventually, he started bringing extra packages home, one of us adults would supervise and guide him as he pieced the characters, airplanes, and superheroes together. Building Lego's with Ben reminds me a lot of my journey as a spiritual misfit.
For Christmas, I bought Ben a Lego "blockhead" (great name, right?) of the Beast from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." Sitting with my son through the construction was a great chance to have some quality time with the little boy I adore so much.
At first, things were going great. My son was following the booklet, section by section, piece by piece. The longer Ben worked, I started to notice an interesting tension between his excitement over what was coming to life, and his exhaustion over not being able to follow such detailed diagrams.
But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse—and it’s doomsday to you if you do. (Matthew 18:6-7)
We were about 80% complete with building the Beast when Ben realized he'd put one piece in the wrong place. It couldn't have been any bigger than 2cm x 2cm, but that one out-of-place Lego messed up the entire construction. If you've been following my blog for the past few years, you know my spiritual journey has mirrored that of little Ben and the Lego's.
Eventually, Ben lost his temper and smashed his brand-new construction to bits. It wasn't perfect, and to my son, if it's not perfect: it's worthless. I've been there, trying to jump through the hoops of manmade religion. I've exhausted myself, attempting to live up to every unrealistic expectation of religious leaders and armchair theologians. For a while, I became an angry Deconstructionist, too.
If you've had a similar experience, stubbornly seeking the approval of the institutional church, but only becoming more disenfranchised and disillusioned, I hear you. If you have more questions than answers, me too. I have been angry, frustrated, and worn out.
As a spiritual misfit, I find solace in the words of Jesus:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30)
After a while, my son calmed down and wiped his angry tears. In the process, Ben learned three lessons I hope he clings to the rest of his life:
- Manmade rules aren't for everyone.
- Whatever has been crushed can be restored.
- Everyone belongs, not everything fits.
Looking for more?
Jon Scott and I had a great conversation on The Holy Heretics Podcast today. The title of the episode is "Faith...I doubt it!" If you are looking for a faith that embraces the gray areas of spirituality, listen to this podcast episode today!
- Is Your Faith Water or Cement?
- I stopped praying months ago. Here's what happened...
- Wholeness in a Time of Polarization
I'm not sure why you clicked on this story, but I feel like it should come with a disclaimer. The goal of this article is not to get you to say "Happy Holidays." I'm not a soldier in the "War on Christmas." Leave the baby Jesus in the manger and say "Merry Christmas" to whomever you choose. Go for it. I am not looking to pick a fight. I’m writing this because I’m struggling with the whole concept of Christmas for the first time in my life, and this blog has always been my safe place to air some of my inner-dialogue.
Christmas in the Grey Area
In most of the circles where I hang these days, people are actively deconstructing their Christian faith. It's humbling to hear the stories of lifelong Christians who have either walked entirely away from the faith of their childhood or much like me, feel trapped somewhere in the grey area.
A phrase I've been using to describe my current stop along the journey of faith is a Christian Agnostic - I just don't know anymore.
But people - it's Christmas! And for me, Christmas has never existed outside the Biblical story of the baby Jesus. Christmas has always been about that little Nativity scene my Mama stitched together when I was just a toddler. It's about memories of my Dad singing "Mary, Did You Know" and remembering how my Grandfather would gather us around the fireplace on Christmas morning to read the Biblical account from the Gospel of Luke, no matter how long it took, or how much his grandchildren squirmed.
During my earliest years, we were pretty close to poor. As such, it was never about the big presents or lots of money. We didn't go to movies on Christmas Day like other families or take elaborate vacations. For us, Christmas was about the miracle in the manger, the Star over Bethlehem, and a stocking full of my favorite candies.
This is the first year in a long time that I haven't written an Advent devotional or visited a local church to watch a Christmas play. I haven't even participated as my wife continues to light the candles each night, celebrating with our children and teaching them about the long-awaited birth of the Christ child.
There's a part of me that wants my kids to have the same experiences I had with a Christian kind of Christmas, but where does Christmas fit for the lifelong cultural Christian who suspects they may no longer buy it?
Did the Wise Men have their doubts? Did they question each other along the way, growing weary with each mile of the journey? Had Joseph faced a theological crisis of his own? After offering the Magnificat, did Mary still lack certainty?
Or should I just shut up and participate in the Advent story and light the damn candles and sing “Away in a Manger” even though my brain can’t quite figure it all out?
Christmas is full of red and greens, and for many people, an American Evangelical Christmas is also very black and white. But what about a Christmas in the grey area? Does it still matter when you no longer feel connected to the story?
I think what I’m really asking is this: can we live a life, full of doubts, while also being intrigued by (and even seeking) genuine faith?
This year, the Nativity speaks to me in a way like never before. I am not a deeply theological person, and I could be flat wrong, but I wonder if this picture of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus is the perfect metaphor to my life? An image of the marriage of uncertainty and faith, but right in the middle of it all...is God.
No matter what name you give it, or what religion it's attributed to, for me, Christmas is ultimately about Hope being birthed in the dark. It's about Joy coming in the midst of despair. Christmas has never been about big presents or lots of money. And maybe my friend Ed Bacon is right, the magic of the Christmas story “is about our hearts savoring what our minds cannot comprehend”. Christmas is the story of wondrous, unconditional love that continues to choose humanity, even 2,000 Decembers later.
For more great discussion on the magic and mystery of Christmas, listen to this week's special Christmas edition of The #AskSteveAustin Podcast.
The Rev. Ed Bacon joins me for this one, plus Christmas carols with my kids and listener stories! Click the "play" button below, or listen at AskSteveAustin.com or on your favorite podcasting app!
I replayed the conversation in my head, over and over again, wishing I could go back to change my words and attitude. My stomach twists and twirls like a tornado is whipping around inside, my head cycling the lies I’m tempted to believe about my whole self: I am ignorant, I am arrogant, I am prideful, I don’t know what I’m talking about, I am a burden, I am not of value...in fact I hurt others so much I shouldn’t even have a voice.
Somehow I’m shoved straight back into multiple conversations that happened on the weekly years ago. We were on staff at a church at the time—my husband the Youth Pastor, me the Outreach-Hospitality-Youth Ministry-Office Assistant—and our pastor frequently reminded me of my pride. His words pierced into me in ways that altered me forever, compounding the lies I already struggled with.
Prideful. Arrogant. A burden. Worthless. Entitled.
These are the identities I’ve battled for years, walked through entire days-turned-weeks covered in shame. At times they’ve won, silencing me into depression and doubt, crippling my daily life and productivity. At other times I find strength to speak Truth over myself, to combat the swords of words turned into identity.
Recently it’s been a fight with the former, using every ounce of excess energy to not fall into the drought of doubt and depression. Discouragement is defeating when it nags at you all day every day.
It’s exhausting, warding off the lies and false identities that like to attach themselves to our souls and selves.
It’s easy to be bogged down with the inner voice demanding: who do you even think you are? You deserve desolation and depression.
Once in a while I wonder if I’m the only one. The only one wondering about myself, believing the absolute worst, listening to the lies threatening to defeat me.
But I’d bet you struggle with doubt and false identities shoving their way into your head and heart.
I’d bargain shame tempts to creep in and cover you, becoming all-consuming, debilitating your every move because you cannot shove the lies from your mind.
I don’t know about you, but once in a very rare while I’ll catch myself protecting my heart by hardening it, writing off other people or putting the blame somewhere else, using every effort to avoid feeling the shame or lie pushing itself in.
But usually I find myself sitting so deep in shame, I am buried beneath it. False identity and lies heap shame on me, forcing me to own the shame instead of the Truth.
In the deepest parts of me I want so badly to share with others the grace that Jesus continues to drench me in. And grace is for the messy, right? His grace is scandalous and unending. If it wasn’t, none of us would need it.
I continue to uncover that I have no way of sharing something I don’t actually have. I cannot release and hand someone something I am not holding onto for myself.
If my greatest goal in life is to chase grace and drag people along with me, then I must intentionally sit in it for myself. Embracing grace for myself is where it all must start, but doing so is stupidly difficult at times.
In order to actually grab ahold of the grace being handed me, I have to actually acknowledge my actual need for it. This only happens when I have the courage to be gut-wrenchingly honest about my mistakes, missteps, faults, and false identities.
I have seven questions I walk myself through when I find myself bogged down with shame and false identities. I’m not a fan of formulas and strategies, but this is something I have done time and time again and it has yet to fail me.
Chasing Grace In An Ungracious World was created initially for myself, printed out and hung in my office, where I often journal and find myself face down crying into carpet fibers of the mess of brokenness I often find myself in. I turned it into an official document for anyone who wants it, walking through the very questions I answer with utmost honesty, as I wade through the trenches of shame.
Honesty is often scary, entirely vulnerable, and sometimes feels ugly. But it is the avenue to wholeness, to healing, to grace.
Let's shed your shame and walk in grace.
Here's 4 Ways to Keep Chasing Grace:
- What lie are you believing about yourself? “I am worthless,” “I am not good enough,” “I am a burden,” “I am prideful,” “I am annoying,” “I am nobody.” You are _____. Sometimes you'll know this immediately, other times it'll take a few moments of intentional processing. Try a naming few things if you’re unsure; when you speak the one you subconsciously believe, you'll know. You'll be overtaken with emotion and possibly shed a few tears.
- Speak the lie out loud. Speak it. Say it. Notice it. Grab it. You cannot empty your hands of something you are not holding.
- It's heavy, isn't it? That lie? The shame?It's so, so heavy. Too heavy to hold for very long. Allow yourself to feel the weight, the emotion, the heaviness. Where did the shame come from? This may be a voice in your head that began as someone else’s voice. Where is your lie coming from?
We have to process our brokenness so we can be whole, grab ahold of grace, and share it with every person we encounter.
Offering ourselves space to process our shame and our pain helps us become better parents, better spouses, better friends, better employees, better employers.
When we know where our shame stems from, we can fight the walls we are tempted to build. We can push back against hardening our hearts, and in doing so, we can love others far better.
When we aren't all about protecting ourselves, we are able to see the world more clearly. When we see the world more clearly, we are able to have true compassion and empathy.
I believe there are oceans of grace waiting for each of us, ready to swallow us whole so the shame doesn’t have a chance to.
So much love to you, dear friend. I hope to see you around.
Natalie Brenner is a wife, mom to virtual twins, and photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the best-selling author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Like you, Natalie is a fierce believer in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty. You can love Jesus or not, go to church or not: she'd love to have coffee with you. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a lover of fall. Connect with her at NatalieBrennerWrites.com and join her grace-filled email community.
- Instagram: @nataliekbrenner
- Facebook Community Page: Natalie Brenner
- Twitter: @nataliekbrenner
- Pinterest: @nataliekbrenner
Check out more of Natalie's story and details about her new book, This Undeserved Life, on Episode 42 of The #AskSteveAustin Podcast:
Last Thursday on the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, I had the honor of talking with my friend (and best-selling author), Natalie Brenner about her fantastic new book, This Undeserved Life: Uncovering the Gifts of Grief and the Fullness of Life.
Natalie has served alongside her husband in ministry, been wounded by the church, had a miscarriage, and so much more. She knows a little something about grief and looking for life in the midst of hard times.
Is it okay to grieve? What about loss other than death? Can I be sad and still trust God?
Have you ever had the walls of your life shatter and feel you weren't allowed to be upset? Me too. The phrases, "This must be God's plan" and "It was meant to be this way" are often thrown around as encouragement but only deepen the wound.
Loss after loss, I felt these fix-it phrases stripped my consent to grieve and acknowledge sorrow.
This Undeserved Life invites you to honestly grieve your losses. You will recognize loss and brokenness are not a part of God's plan. It isn't weak to grieve; it takes courage and strength to choose to give loss the space it demands.
A few questions from this interview:
- You talk about Jesus in a very genuine and loving way – but your heart at times has nearly been crushed under the weight of grief. How do you reconcile the two? And what the heck do you mean when you say the gifts of grief?
- Can we talk about the struggle with church hurts when all you really want to do is love Jesus and his people?
- Who is Jesus?
- Why is it so important to create a safe space for others to be vulnerable?
- What’s it like to parent a child of a different race?
- Autographed book giveaway! Retweet this week’s pinned post on twitter @iamsteveaustin for your chance to win a personalized, autographed copy of This Undeserved Life by Natalie Brenner
- Compassion means to co-suffer. OMG. Yes, she said that.
In Episode 41 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Steve Austin talks with David P. Gushee, author of the brand-new book, Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism. Tony Campolo says, “Still Christian takes us on the journey of a Christian leader who endeavors to maintain his integrity while navigating his way from a rigid fundamentalism with its right-wing political agenda into a progressive worldview.” Listen now at AskSteveAustin.com or on your favorite podcasting app!
A piece of my journal from March of 2016 says this:
I’m too liberal for the Republicans and too conservative for the Democrats. I’m a 30-something Southerner, born and raised in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I was dunked by the Baptists, spoke in tongues in the Assemblies of God, went to a Church of God college, returned to my Baptist roots as a youth pastor, became a Methodist, and now agree with about 80 percent of the Catholic Church’s teachings. I attended George W. Bush’s first inauguration as a senior in high school but have voted Democrat in the last election. I study the King James Bible with a concordance but I read The Message on my iPhone for enjoyment, while having a glass of wine and smoking a cigar.
I’m a walking contradiction.
Maybe there was once room for people like me. Maybe everyone is like me, if we’re all honest with each other. But our culture no longer allows contradictions. I run from discussions with other Christians because it almost always ends poorly. A loss of friendship, a loss of faith, a loss of fervor. I’m tired of being burned.
When many people of faith force it to be an either/or battle of choosing sides, how do you find your voice without losing your soul? This is what today’s episode with David Gushee, author of Still Christian, is all about.
Some questions from today’s conversation:
- What’s it like to become a born-again Christian in 1978, during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter and the formation of the Religious Right?
- How has stepping away from American Evangelicalism impacted the way you pastor and parent?
- What is life like for you, as a pastor or Christian leader, when church life in America seems to be on the decline?
- Do you have any advice for folks like me, who are in the midst of a personal deconstruction of faith…on how to hold onto their faith, while not abandoning their intellect or ignoring the questions?
- Is the Bible literally true?
- How similar were the religious wars of the 1980’s to whatever we’re experiencing today with the marriage of President Trump and the Religious Right?
- If we look at life through the lens of American Christianity, politics, and culture in 2017 – when do we compromise, and when we do we stand our ground?
- Do you have any advice for Evangelical Christian pastors who feel stuck, Sunday after Sunday, with the obligation to support their family pressing right up against their secret affirmation of the LGBT community, or their support of women, or their disdain of the President?
- You have been described as “every liberal’s favorite evangelical” and you have also been described as “every liberal’s least-favorite evangelical”. Which one would you rather be, and why?
- You are an anti-torture, pro-environment, LGBTQ-affirming, academic…and yet you seem to still consider yourself a Baptist? If so, how and why?
- After all that you’ve been through, how is this not just a book about a disillusioned ex-Christian?
Favorite quote? “I’m disillusioned. But I’m not an ex-Christian.”
You can also listen on iTunes.
JOIN THE EXCLUSIVE #ASKSTEVEAUSTIN FACEBOOK COMMUNITY FOR AS LITTLE AS $1 PER MONTH! DETAILS AT PATREON.COM/IAMSTEVEAUSTIN
ORDER YOUR COPY OF SELF-CARE FOR THE WOUNDED SOUL: 21 DAYS OF MESSY GRACE, BY STEVE AUSTIN TODAY ON AMAZON.