099 – Experiencing the True Love of God (With Jason Elam)

How to experience the true love of God:

Experiencing the love of Jesus isn’t always what we claim it is in church. It’s not a worship service, a fuzzy feeling, or a strung together set of songs. Experiencing the true love of God goes deeper and is intensely more personal. 

This week, we are talking with Jason Elam, host of the Messy Spirituality podcast about his journey through deconstruction after spending years as a pastor, missionary, and evangelist. Jason was “that guy” who other pastors called in to straighten out a church that was asking too many questions. But one day he had an encounter with a God he didn’t recognize through all the layers of religiosity he had been attempting to view God through.

God is bigger than our box, bolder than our attempts to define Him, and way less religious than most of those who claim His name. When we allow our minds to venture out a bit further from our preconceived notions, we begin to experience a deeper love than we could ever have witnessed from the shoreline.

This week we talk about:

  • Experiencing the love of God in a new way
  • Encountering God beyond the ways we have always been taught
  • Coming to a place of grace for those who do not believe the same as you
  • What constitutes church
View Transcription (by Otter.ai)

Cody Johnston 1:24
My name is Elaine and my name is Cody and you’re listening to Episode 99. Next week is our 100th episode. And oh my gosh, we’ve been doing this for almost 100 episodes. That’s crazy. And I cannot think of a better guest to have as our final guest of our first 100 episodes. Then Jason Isla, he’s the host of the messy spirituality podcast and he joins us today to talk about his past in pasture hood his deconstruction walking away from church and Ultimately reconstruction finding God and why he started his podcast but even more specifically, the beauty of what it’s like to have a relationship with God to find God in those more subtle ways and to get beyond just thinking that we have all the answers and trying to build for ourselves God based on someone else’s image something you know, Elaine is something that we’ve been talking about quite a bit lately line and just and constructing for yourself based on your experiences who God is guys. I just listened back over this episode before we even recorded this intro and I am just absolutely blown away by everything Jason brought to the table. I cannot express enough how much I personally got. I mean, I was like taking notes myself, because I greatly enjoyed this episode with Jason. He’s become a very dear friend to us in the short time, relatively short time. We’ve got to know Him, and I’m just excited to have him here on the show. So we’re going to get right into that in just a second but just a few things are real quick this week. I have a new itinerant episode coming out so if you do not follow itinerant stop what you’re doing go down to the show notes. Click that link or just do a quick search and whatever podcast player you are listening to this show on and subscribe. Also, just another quick promo for Elaine’s other show her solo show the prodigal daughter She just came out with a new episode last week and can I get a huge like amen to us having our office back again we can sit on our couch and not have to stand or sit on a metal like metal chairs third chord. Oh,

Elaine Johnston 3:49
so you are introducing Jason and our conversation. I was just looking at the floor and I was like we have floor Yeah, I am so excited for that. We have you never realize how much you need for until you don’t have it.

Cody Johnston 4:02
Yep. floors are important. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. If you didn’t catch last week’s episode, we literally talked about what the literal practical, practical examples of what we learned from a literal deconstruction how that relates to spirituality. I enjoyed that episode too. Yeah, if you haven’t done so, so far, if you would go and click that link and become a part of nomads, there’s amazing conversations happening and we want you to be a part of this conversation. This is not just a one sided thing. We love getting to talk with you guys to hear what is on your mind, what’s on your heart, what you’re going through what you’ve achieved. And we would love to have you a part of nomads go and click the link asked to view part and we will see you in there. You know what, I think that’s enough precursor stuff. Let’s get right into this amazing conversation with Jason Elam, hosts of the messy spirituality podcast. Alright everyone, we are here with Jason Elam. He is the host and creator The messy spirituality podcast. Jason, how are you? I’m doing well. It’s good to talk to you guys again. Absolutely. So Jason, let’s just kind of get right into this and open it up with just asking you why you started messy spirituality. And I’m sure that’ll lead into your backstory, which I’m anxious to hear about.

Jason Elam 5:19
Yeah, I started messy spirituality for twofold reason. Alright. First reason is I want to pay tribute to a book called messy spirituality that rocked my world. Mike Yaki Nelly, the founder of youth specialties, wrote this book years ago, and honestly, it was the first Christian book that I read, that had a cuss word in it. And it just took all the pressure off because I could read that and think, oh, my goodness, this guy’s talking about God. And he talks like he knows Jesus, you know, but he’s just shooting it exactly like it is. It’s very straight talk. It’s very, there’s no pretense about it. He’s not covering up the stuff we don’t want people to see. And he’s talking about the most spiritual person he knows is that is a cussing chain smoking woman who and it just changed my paradigm of what Christianity was and then I started digging into Mike Yaki and Ellie’s friend Brennan Manning. And that just set off a chain reaction of books that I read, that just totally changed my ideas about Jesus and holiness and the church, and why we exist. And so I started a podcast calling and calling it messy spirituality, because I wanted to pay tribute to him. He’s gone now. But his work still has an impact on me. And so I’m trying to have honest conversations with people who won’t put up a wall of pretense pretending to be something they’re not about God and are changing ideas of God and what he wants from us. And so that’s been an interesting journey. The second reason was just Because podcasts have changed my life. I remember after about 25 years of ministry in the local church, I was a youth pastor. I was a senior pastor. I was an associate pastor. I was a missionary to Romania for a year, I was all these different things in the local church. And I found myself really feeling empty. And like I had not really accomplished very much. And I was walking around the track at the gym, where I would work out and listening to a podcast of Jonathan Martin. This is his old podcast that he called son of a preacher, man. And he was interviewing Brad jers, Zach, and they were talking about the love of God. And something happened inside of me just walking around that track. I’m bawling my eyes out. I’ve got just tears streaming down my face. I know people had to think I was absolutely insane, like was having some kind of a breakdown at the gym. But I just had an encounter with the love of God. You know, there were some things On the surface of my heart some questions about eternal conscious torment and about the inerrancy of Scripture, things like that, that were kind of right there at the surface that I was pushing down because I was the pastor of a local church. And I knew what that would do. But once I had that encounter with the love of God, there was this absolute security, to start asking questions, start dealing with those questions. And so that same evening, we had a small group meeting at our church. And I started asking those questions. And of course, it’s split the church ended up closing the church, but I have never been more free in my life. So just because I had such an impact, or that podcast had an impact on me. I wanted to be a part of asking those questions on a podcast, to give other people those kind of experience. That’s good. You said something just now that really stood out to me you had said that you experienced the love of God. And of course, the first thing that kind of like comes up in my head is that means you had not previously experienced the love of God. And I know we actively talk about the love of God in church we talked about Oh, yeah, God’s love. He pours out His love for us. That’s why he died, blah, you know, etc, etc, etc. What was it that made you realize, oh, wow, I hadn’t experienced the love of God. Did you think you’d experienced that before? How was that different? Yeah, you know, I think I had experienced the love of God in a lot of different ways. This was a tangible, this was a one on one encounter. I think all of my other encounters with God’s love had been through a person, you know, you know, the love of my parents, the love of someone at the church, the love of my wife, but this was just God, bringing all of the stuff that I was ashamed of, to the surface of my heart, showing it to me and saying, you know, I’ve always loved you. And it’s not even in spite of this. I’ve always just loved you because you remind, you never had to do anything to earn it. You never had to do anything to be worthy of it. You never had to do Anything, but just exist for me to love you. And that’s a game changer. I remember when I was seven years old, responding to an altar call West Carrollton Church of the Nazarene near Dayton, Ohio. There was a children’s revival, very sweet older couple who came in to minister to the kids. This was their whole life. They were very good intention people. But the message that I heard that night as a seven year old was pray this prayer so you don’t burn in hell forever when you die. Now who doesn’t want to burn in hell forever. So I raised my hand. They told me to come down, they tell them I would have prayed whatever prayer they wanted me to. But that was the beginning of my quote unquote, Christian journey. And so I know this sounds bad. I tried so hard this morning to come up with a better way to say this for this conversation, but I got saved for the wrong reason. I got saved out of fear. I responded to that altar call that night to buy fire insurance.

You know, that’s one thing for a seven year old to do that I got baptized grew up in the church, we had a few years, we moved around a lot as when I was a teenager. And so we had a few years where we’d go to church at all. But when we did get back in church, I was a struggling professional wrestler, who had had a knee surgery and couldn’t do the wrestling, the techniques, the jumping, the running, as well as I done it previously. So I was basically facing the end of my dream job. And I went to church with my mom for Mother’s Day as a Mother’s Day gift because I couldn’t afford to buy her a present and heard a call of God. Was that what I interpreted as a call of God? wreck and responded to an altar call again, and said, I’m going to give my whole life to ministry. God, I hear you, you want me to share your message with whoever you lead me to? And so I’m going to respond. Well, here’s the problem. The message that I had heard as a seven year old was the message that I felt like he was calling me to to share So again, I got saved for the wrong reason I went into ministry with the wrong mindset. And so 25 years, most of that time, was caught up in hell. Caught up in the in times. Caught up in I mean, my pastor. I don’t know if y’all are old enough to remember the hysteria around. y2k? Probably not right you guys,

Cody Johnston 12:23
I can remember it. Like we had this conversation. Elaine says she can’t but I can’t I remember watching fireworks like I went.

Jason Elam 12:32
Okay, good for y’all for being younger than me. I remember the hysteria. My pastor literally got up in the pulpit and said Jesus was coming back at the stroke of midnight, January 1 of the year 2000. Oh, wow, that there had been you know, based on numerology from the Bible, you know, that that was my life. I mean, all of that stuff was was what I thought ministry was, and so any encounters that I had With the love of God, were through a filter of that, which will change your experience with God. And so when God started showing me what his love was really like, a lot of the things that used to be important to me weren’t important anymore. A lot of things that I thought ministry was all about weren’t what ministry was all about anymore. And that’s when I started to redefine ministry is just the administration of God’s love. And that doesn’t have to happen in a pulpit. It doesn’t have to happen in a sacred building between 10 and 12 on a Sunday morning, that can happen anywhere. And you know, I’ve encountered the love of God through you guys this podcast. You guys have had some fantastic episodes. Your stuff with the naked pastor and Tom Ward, and I love Carl forehand and these are these are fantastic people that I’ve learned so much from about the love of God. And that just changed my life. Yeah,

Cody Johnston 13:52
that’s that’s, that’s deep. Yeah. Whenever you you kind of started going through, would you? Would you call it deconstruction? You went I know that’s a common term thrown around. Right? deconstruction, we’ve talked about that plenty. Would you call it fat? Or what would you kind of label was the the mental process? I guess for you.

Jason Elam 14:12
For me, it felt like a spiritual nervous breakdown. Okay. That’s a good one. I like that one. Brad yours that puts it this way. He talks about, you know, some people talk about deconstruction, like it’s a really nice, neat 90 day program, you know, that they went, they just worked through. That’s not what happened to me. The house burned down. The house burned down the structure that I thought was Christianity, the structure that I thought was church or my faith, it just burned to the ground. And the only thing left was Jesus. And some of my beliefs about Jesus have changed, but Jesus is still there. And, you know, I’ve had some conversations with God that were like, man, I was so wrong about so many things. It’s almost Like, the father just kind of shakes his head and laughs and like, Yeah, well, I never thought you had it all together to begin with. So we’ve been good. Yeah. But I do think about the pain that I caused a lot of people over those 20 years I was the guy that people would bring in the pastor would bring in to preach when he wanted his congregation set straight. They were challenging authority, they were asking too many questions. So I was the guy that they brought in to beat up people and get them to the altar to repent. And I’m so sorry for that.

Elaine Johnston 15:30
I love your story for one because I feel like it’s everyone’s story at some point in their lives. They have that spiritual breakdown where they’re like, not even just deconstruction and questioning their beliefs, but they just like don’t have that freedom or know the true love of God, even though they preach it on in the pulpit every Sunday. You know, we all have that moment of like, wait, what am I doing? Who am I? Who are these people like I don’t really know what I believe and so many people People call themselves Christians because they want to have that fire insurance because, you know, they don’t actually have the freedom and love of God that they should have. They just know that they’re not going to hell, and that’s enough for them. But that’s, there’s so much more to it. And I just, I, I never experienced like, the whole left behind bit or like the fear of hell or any of that. But I know that that’s a huge issue with people of feeling that if they’re not saved, like the rapture is going to happen and all these bad things, and God doesn’t actually love them. Or I’ve heard things if God loves you so much that if you don’t accept this, then you’re going to hell and you’re just like, what is this? Like, if you put that on, like a parent and a child, like the parent just loves the child so much, that if the child doesn’t love them back like, well, the parent just has to murder them into the hell and you’re just like, yeah, this doesn’t make sense. Oh,

Jason Elam 16:56
yeah. No, it didn’t make sense, but I was so locked in a system where we weren’t allowed to question that I was an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Church in Alabama, y’all. And so you can’t ask questions. You can’t have real conversations you can’t. It’s not just about disagreeing with Scripture. It’s about disagreeing with the popular interpretation of Scripture. And that’s a whole nother level of control and manipulation. And I was such a part of that for so long. And like I said, I’m so sorry. But I’m so grateful for you, Elaine, that you were never caught up in that fear. Because, you know, the problem with getting saved to avoid Hell is you think every time you get outside the boundaries, you’re at risk of hell again, there’s never any assurance. There’s never any I mean, once I became a southern, I became a Southern Baptist just so I could believe in eternal security. So I didn’t have to worry about you know, losing my salvation again. Once the fear is there, it’s always there. You know, maybe my salvation is not real. What What if there is this unforgivable sin? And we do that and then we’re just doomed to Hell, no matter what we do, and there’s no prayer we can pray to get out of it. There’s just so much condemnation, so much pain.

Cody Johnston 18:10
Yeah. And that’s, it’s interesting from what what experience I have of talking with, with people who believe in Once saved, always saved is I was like, Well, what happens, you know, if they walk away from their faith? Or if they will, the kind of the answer that’s always given me is Oh, they were never a Christian to begin with. I’m like, so it’s the same thing. Like no one actually has a grip on a grip on grace here. So whenever you began to question these things, whenever you begin to have these these new views or these new understandings, I don’t want to call them doubts, because there is doubt involved, but there’s also a learning process with that, right? Was there anger involved? Was there resentment involved? Like what were the emotions that were in this and when did those kind of come and kind of transition to more of this love and grace?

Jason Elam 18:53
Hmm. The first response for me was disillusionment with the church, which made me angry I felt like I’d been sold a bill of goods as a child. Again, these were very well intentioned people. I don’t hold them personally responsible. But the system itself is bad. And I was so angry at the system for so long. But you know, if you live there very long, you become a very cynical human being. And I think the world needs less cynical human beings, not more. And so there is that learning curve. There’s that process you work through, you work through the anger, you work through the resentment. And then you realize, you know what I was, I was caught in that system the same way the folks that I met at now are caught in that system. So why would I be angry at them for doing something that I did for 20 years, and then you just come to a place of grace and realize that everybody’s in a different place in life. And everybody approaches God through the filter of their own understanding through their own baggage, through their own upbringing, through their own religious experience, and I’m going to learn from everybody. I’m going to learn something about who God is. And I’m grateful for the Southern Baptist because I wouldn’t know beans about Jesus’s but wasn’t for Southern Baptist with a heart for souls. So you eventually learned to move on past the cynicism. If you just decide you’re not going to live there.

Cody Johnston 20:13
That’s good. What any of that be kind of labeled as like a reconstruction for you? Or do you have a point, a specific point that you’re like, I’m reconstructing where that was kind of like a realization.

Jason Elam 20:23
Yeah, I’m still working through all of that. I hope that I continue to learn for the rest of my life. I hope that reconstruction doesn’t end. I hope that it goes on forever, and it just gets built, the building just gets stronger and taller and fuller, you know, but I don’t know. I don’t know how that’s gonna all shake out. That was something I couldn’t say for 20 years of ministry, or 25 years of ministry was I don’t know. And so I’ve got to get more comfortable with saying it now. That’s really the most honest and

Elaine Johnston 20:54
you feel more freedom and not saying like, I don’t have the answers and that’s okay.

Jason Elam 20:58
Yeah, absolutely. I think anybody who pretends to have all the answers is lying to themselves and to anyone that hears it. And I don’t want to be that guy. You know, I pretended to have answers I didn’t have for so long and lead people down the wrong path. And so I don’t want to be that person anymore. If the most honest thing I can say is, I don’t know, then that’s what I need to say.

Cody Johnston 21:18
Yeah. And I think God honors that. I mean, what does it think it’s in Jude? You know, it’s a verse we come back to a loss be patient with those who doubt. You know, like there’s there’s there is there’s there’s wisdom in not knowing the wise man has more questions, and he has answers kind of thing. You know, like, there’s a beauty in being able to come to the place and that’s something that’s hard for me is like, I’m a knowledge based person. I like thrive on having it all together and having an answer and even if I don’t have an answer, I can make one up on the spot just sound like I know what I’m talking about. But like there’s comes this point where you’re like, you know, I’m okay with not having an answer to this because that doesn’t mean not having an answer to this for 100 A lot of it and you may be able to attest to this can kind of speak more life into this for what I’m trying to say here, but whenever you come to a place where you don’t feel like you’re having to defend every little aspect of God, you get to experience God in a much more free way. I think that’s how I’ve kind of tried to work that, like I’m not having to defend my little points on things anymore.

Jason Elam 22:22
When I thought that I was saved because I had the right answer, then, you know, salvation, everything depends on the right information. But now, I just believe God loves me. And I don’t think it’s about anything I know or anything I’ve ever done, or anything I ever will do, or anything he wants me to do. It’s just because he loves me. And that does absolutely set us free to explore, you know, figure out what what it is we really do believe have a faith of our own that we own for ourselves. You guys are too young to remember this. But when I was a kid, we used to have cassette tapes, and when we’d hear some on the radio, we’d record it on our cassette tape, right? But I had a double debt cassette tape and so I could make copies for my friends. Well, when I would copy something I recorded off the radio the sound quality got worse, right? And then we started all doing mixtapes and high school for each other. You know, every little girlfriend, every little boyfriend, you’re all giving each other mixtapes? Well, you copy those things that every copy of the copy the sound integrity comes down. That was my faith. It was a copy of a copy of the copy of somebody else’s faith. But when you have an encounter with the love of God for yourself, when God says to you, you are my beloved child and whom I am well please. And maybe that’s the message of that story in Jesus life when he comes to the Jordan River to be baptized, before he ever did a miracle before he ever died on the cross. Before he ever did so many of the things that were so impressed with. There’s that voice from heaven saying, You’re mine. And I love you. It’s almost like I’m so proud of you moment. And it was it In response to in the great miracle that he had done, I’m so glad that it was written that way. I’m so glad that that’s the way it took place. So he could, we could see that it’s, it’s just the fact that we’re his kids that he loves. And it’s not for anything that we bring to the table.

Cody Johnston 24:16
That’s good. That’s good. And I love that because it takes away this, this cycle of, Oh, I’m deconstructing I’m reconstructing I’m questioning and it just makes it I’m learning. I’m learning a new aspect of God, I’m coming to a new understanding, which is a constant process. That’s what growing in faith is. That’s the thing that the church, I think, at the core of it, what are at you know, that’s the, that’s the message that they that they desperately want. And I think they try to preach, but it gets lost in the mix of of law, right, that we’ve kind of all these established barriers and law and it just takes it back to. There’s a freedom in Christ that is so much greater than our human understanding and our desire. For knowledge, and that’s so good. So have you since your your process of like kind of kind of coming into a new understanding of God’s love, have you been back to church? Do you attend a church? Have you? You know, what is your experience with church since then? Ah, you know,

Jason Elam 25:18
I have tried since I stopped pastoring a church. I have tried to visit church a couple of times. It’s really hard for me, because there’s a lot of triggers in a local church service. I think there’s a lot of beauty. I think there’s a lot of good people. And I hope to get to a point where I can sit through one and not feel like I’m about to have another nervous breakdown. Yeah. But I’m still getting there. I will tell you this, though, outside of Sunday morning, that that Wednesday night, small group that I told you about where I felt like I was able to talk about some questions. When I did that some of the people that had walked beside me for years left, but the people who remained have been the best circle friends that I could ask for. And so you know, I’ve moved away I moved out of state, I left Alabama and now live on the Gulf Coast coast of Florida. But when I go back to Alabama and get together with those people, we have church, and everybody can talk about their questions, and it’s okay. So I know it can happen. years ago, the best expression of church that I’ve ever seen was a group. We called it organic church, we met in a coffee house. It started with like six people. It grew. Believe it or not, the Birmingham news showed up one night to just find out what was happening in this coffeehouse. And this little group that started with six people. That night, I guess word got out that the newspaper was coming. There’s like 65 people packed in this little coffee house. But that that encounter, where it’s just interactive, and nobody’s in charge, and people can talk about their struggles and their differences and their failures and their successes, without judgment or shame. We’re not trying to raise money for some religious machine, that is church. And that can happen anywhere that I feel like I’m a church with you guys right now.

Cody Johnston 27:09
Yeah. And that’s good. And that actually kind of tied in a little bit. What I was gonna ask is, what would you say is a good definition for actual church? And how are some other ways we can experience that? Oh, man, I guess

Jason Elam 27:21
I have to go back to just the words of Jesus were two or three are gathered in his name. He’s there. And if Jesus is there, it’s church. I don’t think what we do in the name of the denomination counts as church. I don’t think what we do in the name of the local church brand, councils, church. I think what we do in the name of Jesus counts his church. And so when the two of you and I are sitting here, having this communicate this conversation over the Internet of all places, that’s church because Jesus is right here in the midst of us. It can happen in a coffee house, it can happen the Mexican restaurant, it could happen at Walmart, of all places. It can happen anywhere. Church is wherever we go looking for the kingdom. So

Elaine Johnston 28:05
for Cody and I, technically we’ve been out of church for what, two years now? Yeah. Um, but we have more of like a nomadic church lifestyle where sometimes we go to a random church or we visit a friend church or we go hiking instead, or we do our devotional or whatever, on the front porch. And so it’s different every week. And something that I’ve kind of come to realize, especially recently is that I don’t really get a whole lot out of the actual Sunday morning service. But whenever I go out to eat afterwards, at lunch with our friends, that’s when I feel church, that’s when I feel that fellowship and actually connecting and, and talking about, you know, just everything about life, not just what the Bible says about a certain story that happened, but just finding beauty in that whenever you take away the titles and the labels and all this stuff, like yeah, the structure like you said, it’s organic. You have that conversation and it’s not forced, and it’s just natural. So that’s kind of what I’ve had been experiencing lately as I my church is at the coffee shops is at lunch after church service is on our front porch, you know, hanging out with friends or playing board games. That’s where I feel deeply connected with those around me.

Jason Elam 29:19
I love that’s so good. I was talking with somebody just a couple of days ago, and they were talking about the church that they had been to that day. And you could just tell it wasn’t life giving it was draining, they felt like they had to perform. They were terrified of what was going to be said next, or what they were going to be asked to do. And so I wanted to say to them, I didn’t feel the freedom to do it. But I want to say, why would you do that? Why would you feel like you have to do that church has to be more than a presentation of our most talented members. This is not America’s Got Talent. It This is not American Idol. And some church or church services are definitely not the things. There’s a lot more talent on TV than there are lots of church services. But it shouldn’t be about our most talented members and putting on a presentation. What you’re experiencing at lunch is the church. And so I think there’s a great freedom that comes when you just realize I don’t have to go to that service. I can cut straight to the good stuff. I can just go to lunch, I can go for a hike, I can walk my dog, and then go meet my friends for lunch and experience Jesus right there.

Cody Johnston 30:28
Well, and I think that’s that’s such a powerful thing, too, is just reminding people there isn’t this weird spiritual obligation that is tied to one specific ideology of getting to God, right? Like we have this our Americanized westernized, I don’t know, modernize whatever you want to call it, like traditional path of the steps to Jesus is, you know, someone invites you to church, you go to the altar, then you get plugged in and start serving coffee every other Sunday. And then you carry the offering basket once a month, like, you know, like there’s this weird systematic, you got to get plugged in, like, I swear, I’ve seen so many outlets on church bulletins, like with little plugs, you know, it’s just such a common thing of you have to follow this path to understand God, and you’re gonna come on Sunday mornings and you’re going to get spiritually fed using air quotes there. And you hear the same messages. You hear the same thing because you have a pastor and let’s be really honest here. I’m not even pinning it on the pastor, you have a pastor who’s burning both ends of the candle trying to write some kind of new thing about some scripture that’s been rehashed, 500 times and try to give some new understanding with every single day. It’s like there’s more rules put in place on what he’s allowed to say. And it has to be put into this kind of box even though you know, he goes home and struggles with the very thing like you’ve been in that position. You were that person. I’ve been that person. We go and say what the hell are we preaching And, and it’s just you walk away from it like, why am I saying this? Well, because if I teach it a different way, like God forbid, you know, like, oh, we’re gonna lead someone astray. And so they’re trying to rehash the same old things trying to lead the best they can, but they’re caught up in the systems and everyone’s just cogs in a machine and there’s no organic life to it.

Jason Elam 32:22
That’s right. And what was so devastating to me was every sermon I preached was another iron bar in my own prison cell, because you’re presenting it as if you have it all together. And this works in order to get people to commit to your brand, right? We had visited a church recently, and we were looking at their website because my wife and I, and we’ve got three teenagers and then an eight year old, and we want to serve we really love the idea of feeding the hungry and being a part of seeing the kingdom of God come to earth, right. And so we’re looking, they’ve got a whole section on their website about 12 ways you can serve as part of this church. Guess what every Every single one of those 12 ways was how you can serve at their Sunday morning church service. You know, being a greeter, making the coffee, like you were talking about passing that offering basket teaching Sunday school watching the nursery. Now is that really what church is all about is about putting on a special service for two hours a week. It’s got to be more than that. It’s got to be when we lost Jared Wilson, that was so devastating to me because I know the prison he was living in. I know, the pain. I know the feeling of isolation that comes with being thought of as a minister or pastor or whatever the title is. I know how lonely that is. And you don’t feel I mean, he was very vocal about the struggles that he had with mental illness and depression. But just the fact that you’re living in a fishbowl is so isolating and it’s so overwhelming. I mean, Jared had preached a funeral for somebody who had no Their own life, just hours before taking his own. There’s a beautiful video that his wife posted of, of holding up his little boy and flipping him and little boys just laughing and cackling and, and it brings a smile to Jared face. And he went from that to ending his own life and just a matter of hours. That isolation is so damning. It’s so destructive. And so anything that we can do, whether it’s through our podcast, or just through our relationships, to dismantle the prison cells that people are living in to make sure they know they’re not alone. That’s been the greatest blessing about the podcast for me, Cody and Elaine, is that people respond and say, I thought I was the only one who dealt with these questions. I mean, thank God for the internet. Facebook is a zoo, but some of the best people I know on metal.

Cody Johnston 34:51
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that’s good. It’s interesting to me, you know, we’re talking about just that whole situation for One like being in a ministry position, like a leadership ministry position, even struggling with something like depression or like my struggles with anxiety and stuff like that. It’s you always feel like you have to present it. And even if you don’t present it this way, it’s always seems to be perceived as if, Oh, I bet I’ve overcome that. Because you’re not allowed to talk about it if you haven’t overcome it, right? Like, oh, you can’t talk about your struggles unless you’ve overcome your struggles. Otherwise, you know, you’re talking from a place of defeat or however people view that. Well, the same thing kind of goes from the perspective of Christians, if you carry the title of I’m a Christian or a follower of Christ. You know, it’s this perspective that it’s taught I’ve heard it taught recently, a couple different times of like, you have to be outside of the world you have to stand apart from the world you’re not allowed to look like the world. You know, James for for like, you’re not allowed to be part of this or part of that and you have to be visibly like people if they don’t just notice it. Right off the bat that you’re not part of that, then then you’re not preaching the gospel and from my experience every single time I have ever tried to look not part of the world and I’m, you know, you know, kind of you I think you understand what I mean by that. I’ve always come across as pompous, arrogant, and like I’m better than everyone else, because I’m like, Hey, I’m better than you. I’m over here. I am not part of you. I’m not going to sit here while you say a cuss word, I’m not going to

Unknown Speaker 36:29
have struggles,

Cody Johnston 36:30
right? Like, I’m not going to talk about my struggles, because I’m not, you know, I can’t talk about those things. I’m superior to that God delivered me in reality, I go home and I’m freaking out with my anxiety attacks or whatever. But God forbid I talk about that. And I feel like we put this false, this false sense of separation. And we isolate Christians apart from people. We kind of take the humanity out of God. Yep. Do you have anything to say I’m ranting you have anything you’d like to add to

Jason Elam 36:59
that No, I just think that you’re exactly right. We not only is it isolating for the the minister in that situation, but it also puts up walls between individuals. I mean, you don’t have to be in a pulpit to experience that, that can happen in the coffee house that can happen at the restaurant at at lunch, the minute I decide to hide a struggle that I’m going through from somebody who’s earnestly asking me how I’m doing, I’m putting up a wall, and we learn to live within those walls, and we feel like it’s safe. Because church, which should have been a safe place for us to ask questions and talk about our struggles, has never been that for most people. And so I think we’ve got to redefine church. I think we’ve got to redefine the Christian life. I think we’ve got to get good at talking about the things that we struggle with the things that the times that we mess up, and that’s really hard. And there’s a vulnerability required there that has not ever been written. required for the Sunday morning service.

Cody Johnston 38:02
Yeah. So Jason, what advice do you have for people listening right now who, who are going through these changes of thought who are thinking these new things, who maybe have been to the point of people are kind of shunning them for their thoughts or what have you, and what advice you have for them just as they begin to understand new aspects of God or their understanding of God’s love begins to broaden, and those walls start kind of coming down.

Jason Elam 38:27
Well, I think I’ve learned to say that I don’t give advice anymore. I just tell you what, what has worked for me, okay. Find somebody that you can be real with. Find one person that you can be real with, tell them everything that you’re afraid is going to get out about you one day. Tell them everything that you struggle with. If you really know you can trust them, you know, they won’t use it against you. Just tell them who you are. Everybody needs one person who can hear the worst and not change their mind about it. Yeah. And I When you have that person you can invite and hopefully, it can be your spouse or your best friend or whatever. But we all need that one person who’s gonna believe the best about us even when we don’t, and then refuse to go to a religious environment where you can’t feel comfortable being you just just refuse to go, why would you put yourself in that situation? And I know everybody can’t do that. And I know that I, I speak from a place of privilege just because I’m out on the outside looking in now. You don’t have to do that. What I want every person to hear that is going through what I’ve gone through these last few years. It’s just that you’re not alone, that God loves you. It’s not because you’ve got it all figured out or you have it all together. God loves you because you are just God’s child. And there’s nothing you can do that’s going to change God’s mind about you. And there’s a lot of us on this same journey and we’re all figured it out. We’re going to screw it up. We’re going to make mistakes. There’s going to be times when it looks like we’ve just switched from one side of fundamentalism to another. But God’s grace is real. And he has a way of undoing all of that. And sometimes it feels like he’s killing us, when he’s dismantling the walls that we built. But there is a place of safety there. There are people who love us. And we just need to learn who they are and stop pretending to be somebody. We’re not in their presence. Yeah,

Cody Johnston 40:26
yeah, that’s really good. Jason, have you ever had someone ask you a question that brought just like a new understanding of God? Or do you have a question you would like to ask to just kind of help put people in the right mindset to understand God’s love on a deeper way?

Jason Elam 40:41
Well, I had actually had an encounter on Facebook just the other day. There’s a guy named john terney. I he’s known as the unpassed are on Instagram and Facebook. I interviewed him for the podcast yesterday. A few days ago, he posted on his Facebook feed, a question that I thought was really good at just judging the book. of our hearts. He said, If you found out that nobody was going to hell would that make you happy? Or make you angry?

Unknown Speaker 41:08
Dang, that’s hard. Yeah.

Jason Elam 41:10
Yeah. I feel like that brings things right to the surface and just brings all those issues. Because you know, God says several times in Scripture that he doesn’t want anybody to go to hell. So if he gets his way, would I feel like he owed me an apology, because he let somebody else in who was worse than me. And I might even put a finer point on that. If Hitler gets to go to heaven. It maybe in more modern times, if Osama bin Laden somehow by the grace of God is in the presence of God, now, having all of the the evil and all of that stripped away, you know, Jesus talked about we would all be salted with fire. What happens if that fire is the furious love of God that we encounter at death? When this mortal body sheds itself, and what if we run face first into the furious love of God, and all that we’ve done out of ego, and pretense is melted away, so that only that loved, beloved child of God remains. And what if the separating of the sheep from the goats is just that furious love of God burning out all the impurities of our life, and we all somehow find ourselves in the presence of God. You know, for most of my life, I would think that God owed me an apology. Because I, I was that older brother in the prodigal son story, that guy screwed up his life. He was a drug addict. He was a porn addict. He didn’t go to church for 30 years, like I did. He didn’t jump through all the hoops. He didn’t have all those expectations to meet. He had an easier life, but you’re going to let him in here. He never even read the Bible, you know? And so questions like that, bring that stuff to the surface in me. And that’s hard. I mean, that that that heart surgery at a deeper level than most of us are comfortable.

Cody Johnston 43:02
Yeah, yeah, that’s so good. Because I mean, that’s something that I have recently been, you’re just kind of the idea of just running into God’s love and that being I mean, Jesus kind of describes god you know, as the fiery fire refining fire. You know, you have these parallels so many times of like, Oh, well, we talked about hell is such a bad thing. But what if it is just that refinement of just coming to understand God’s love? You know, I’m sure he would probably feel pretty hellish realizing just the potential you could have lived in, you know, all of us. Every single one of us realizing the potential we had that we never allowed God to activate in our lives, you know, I’m sure that would probably feel pretty, pretty, pretty tense and pretty warm. But, uh, you know, and I love that question. That question is just insane. It’s a deeper version we had. A guy in our group asked, asked a similar question yesterday as a matter of fact, and his question was simply, if hell was a peaceful place with mansions and heaven was you meant you lived in a barn but you had God which would you actually choose? And I don’t know that’s just a similar parallel to me is like, what’s heaven to you? Is it paradise where you don’t have to worry anymore? Or is it truly God that you’re seeking after and that’s, you know, that takes it one step further with what you were saying. It’s just what is your intention? Are you hoping other people burn in hell would approve you right? Or would you honestly prefer everyone may honor that’s just, I gotta sit. That’s That’s intense. We got to sit with that. So Oh, man, Jason, where can people find your show and all that you’re up to?

Jason Elam 44:38
Jason eylem.org messy spirituality.com or org or something? I don’t know. You could find the podcast everywhere that you listen to podcasts. And that’s pretty much most of what I’m doing. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, but I think that the best of me goes to the podcast, social media, I get drawn into some stupid arguments that I wish I did. Honestly, I think practically every day about just walking away from social media forever, especially the closer we get to the election next year, oh, yeah. I get so tempted, that I’ve got a book that’s going to come out either late this year or early next. And I’m pretty sure my publisher would not want me to abandon social media right now, but I really want to, but I’ve got some really good friends. But you know what, we’ve got our private Facebook groups, I saw what you guys are doing with nomads and those kind of things that’s life giving and we can stick with that. But maybe there’s a way that we can weed out the circus of social media while still being in the intentional, healthy part.

Cody Johnston 45:49
Yeah, I think that’s been the unfollow button for me. Every time I unfollow someone Facebook’s like, would you like to review who you’ve like no,

Jason Elam 45:56
no, why would I? Why would I ever want to read this?

Cody Johnston 46:02
Jason, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story. There’s just I really love this conversation. I look forward to having more in the future.

Jason Elam 46:09
Well, I love both of you. And I love what you’re doing. And your work is so important, and I hope that you never quit. And Elaine, I’m really excited about what you’re going to be doing on your podcast and I’m looking forward to diving into itinerate don’t quit, keep having honest conversations. You’re changing the world.

Elaine Johnston 46:24
Guys. I just want to thank Jason Ilan for just talking with us this week and just sharing his story. And I just absolutely love the new friendship that we have with him.

Cody Johnston 46:34
Yes, Jason, thank you so much, guys. Go follow him. Give him some love. He mentioned how he has a book coming out. Come on. That’s fantastic. He his show is just super beautiful. I don’t know how to describe it. I love the conversations he has he’s so open and willing to have conversations a man after my own heart. He’s becoming super bold on social to even more. So in the New Year. So if you want to see someone stirring up some controversy, it feels like

Elaine Johnston 47:05
a healthy way to finish in a healthy way, someone

Cody Johnston 47:08
who’s not afraid to say some truth. Let’s just put it that way. Go over and follow Jason as well. You can find him his show and all that good stuff in the show notes below. If you haven’t done so, so far, go down there and click that review button. Leave an honest review that helps everyone passing by to see what this show is about. There’s no one to trust better than all of you amazing listeners. So thank you for that in advance. And of course, nomads Hey, where my nomads that all of you guys and girls who are not a part of nomads yet go on there, click that link and asked to be a part what are you waiting for? It is a safe place for Christians to ask unsafe questions. So guys, next week is Episode 100. You’re 100 episodes in we have a little something special planned for that. So make sure if you haven’t done so, so far Click that subscribe button so you’ll know right when it comes out so you can join in on the celebration. And as always be brave, be bold and be reckless. We’ll talk soon

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Jason Elam

Jason Elam

Host of the Messy Spirituality Podcast
Jason Elam is Brandi’s grateful husband, proud dad of 4 awesome kids, a former professional wrestler and radio broadcaster, and former pastor for over 20 years. He currently oversees The Hope Center, a community resource center serving one of Alabama’s poorest communities, and hosts The Messy Spirituality Podcast.Visit Jason’s website:

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