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VIDEO: Why It’s Time to Let Go of Past Pain & Move Forward

Why It's Time to Let Go of Past Pain & Move Forward

Have you ever been hurt so badly that you thought you’d never get out of that pain and move to the other side? You deserve to let it go and learn how to move forward with your life. Here’s why.

Are you ready to let go of past pain and move forward with your life? Watch this. via @iamsteveaustin #catchingyourbreath #coachinglife

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Why No One Really Cares What You Believe

How to Be a Better Christian: Notes from an Ex-Pastor

“One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practise the very antithesis of these principles. How often are our lives characterised by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anaemia of deeds! ”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

How to be a Better Christian: Notes from an Ex-Pastor via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #lovewins #graceismessy

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For the Bible Tells Me So

When my daughter was around the age of two, she slammed her chubby hand on the kitchen table like some sort of fire and brimstone preacher as she yelled, “For da Bible tells me SO!”

“What did she just say?” I asked my wife. I could barely control my laughter.

“Tell Daddy again, Cara.”

“For da Bible tells me SOOO!” She stretched the last word into at least five syllables, her round face red with fury.

Why was she so angry? She had been refused another snack because it was only half an hour before supper. Sweet Caroline didn’t like my rationale and continued to wail as my wife and I tried our best to keep it together. “Where on Earth did she come up with this?!”

Lindsey laughed and sang the first few words of “Jesus Loves Me.” I smiled wide and said, “I’m quite familiar with the song, but why is this the phrase she chooses when she is pissed off?”

It was funny at the moment, but it reminded me of this truth: no one really cares what you believe.

Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.

Defending Your Faith

As an ex-pastor, I promise you, no one cares how many Bible verses you’ve memorized. They won’t ask what Bible college you attended or how many times you’ve been to a marriage conference. They are less-than impressed by the fact that you’ve read Defending Your Faith or The Case for Christ. Your neighbors aren’t likely interested in your views on penal substitutionary atonement or anything else in the realm of stuffy theology.

When I was in Bible college, I was convinced that people genuinely cared about my theology. We regularly practiced defending our faith. Every theological hill was an acceptable one to die on. Rather than defending Jesus, we were trying to own God.

Before that, it was high school youth group. Every Friday night, we went to the Galleria and passed out Gospel tracts. The paper was printed and folded to look like a dollar bill. We would drop them on the floor or leave them on the bathroom counter, hoping someone would pick them up and be forever saved from eternal conscious torment. I wonder how many dudes lost their cool when they realized it wasn’t a real buck...

The most embarrassing part was getting into the “If you were to die tonight,” conversations with complete strangers. I’m still amazed at our boldness. We would approach total strangers - out and about with their family and friends on a Friday night at the mall - and blast them with our theological certainty. Our blessed assurance included the conviction that anyone who didn’t believe just like us was doomed to hell.

No question about it: in trying to be a better Christian, I did more harm than good.

No one really cares what you believe. Here's why. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #graceismessy #lovewins

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How to Be a Better Christian

The story might feel different if our Bible study and prayer time made us more loving, for sure. But a theology steeped in fear, shame, and guilt will never produce actions rooted in love.

If you want to be a better Christian, hear Jesus calling us to be humble, kind, generous, patient, loving, and gracious. Listen to the greatest commandment: to love God, self, and neighbor. Jesus is begging us to be better examples of the faith we so boldly proclaim by understanding that there’s much more to belief than what most of us hear preached on a Sunday morning. Rather than using the Bible to justify our judgment and exclusion, Jesus is calling us to engage the world around us with Love.

When we talk about becoming a better Christian, we’re talking about the kind of human you are. Are you going to be the kind of person who binds and heals the wounds of others? Or are you going to drive the knife deeper? Will you give a glass of water to someone dying of thirst? Or will you pour the cement of your concrete theology down their throat?

The world is full of hurting people. And sadly, hurting people have bet against church folks. They don’t give a damn about the rightness of our theology or the firm foundation of our faith. They’re just looking for respect. For common decency. For eye contact. For a hug. For someone crazy enough to admit they don’t have it all figured out. For a hot cup of coffee or a cold beer and some honest conversation. For safety and love and belonging and a place to rest their tired feet and weary souls.

How do you make people feel? When you walk into a room, do you shift the energy with your loving kindness? Or do you suck the air right out of the crowd with your judgment? You can spend every waking moment of your life, clinging to the Bible, exegeting Scripture, debating every nuance of theology, and policing the thoughts and actions of those around you, or you can give your life away, embracing those in need.

A theology steeped in fear, shame, and guilt will never produce actions rooted in love. via @iamsteveaustin #graceismessy #lovewins #exvangelical

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A Thread of Love


If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. 1 John 4:20

So, you want to be a better Christian? Stop expecting people to fit your mold, agree with your politics, and live up to your societal expectations. The world is so much bigger than your local church and your precious pastor. People are hungry for joy and freedom, but they’ll never find it through your rule-keeping: this is the essence of the message of Jesus.

In a society permeated by fear, shame, and guilt, the way to be a better Christian is to practice more love, vulnerability, and forgiveness. Now, more than ever, we should love the person in front of us, understanding that we are all connected. We are all the same. We are entirely woven together in a tapestry of diversity, and the thread that holds us all together is a universal desire for safety, love, and belonging.

The only thing people really care about is the way you treat them. If you want to be a better Christian, understand that you prove your faith by the depth of your love.

The Divine Call to Action

Looking for a daily reminder that being a better Christian means loving people? Click below to download my free printable, "The Divine Call to Action." Let's start loving God by loving each other.


People will never find joy and freedom through your rule-keeping: this is the essence of the message of Jesus. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #graceismessy #lovewins

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My Little Boy Taught Me How to Love My Neighbor

My Little Boy Taught Me How to Love My Neighbor

"Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of."

- Jim Casy, The Grapes of Wrath

My son loves LEGOs. He’s been building things as long as either of us can remember. At least once a month, his grandma takes him to the LEGO store at the mall downtown, and he gets to build with other LEGO fanatics, just like him.

So you’ll understand why I was a bit concerned when he came home yesterday and didn’t want to go to LEGO night. Ben never turns down a chance to build with the little plastic blocks, I mean ever. I started to question Ben when my wife looked up from texting and gave me “the look.” Any man who has been married very long knows “the look.” You don’t question the look, you just know to shut up, and do it now.

I wrinkled my eyebrows a bit, and then I shut up. Apparently, Lindsey knew something I didn’t know...

What my Little Boy Taught Me about Loving My Neighbor

I'm excited to share my second guest post over at RedeemedForMore.com - click here to read the rest of this story.

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Jesus was a master at practicing empathy. Here’s why.

Jesus was a master at practicing empathy. Here's why.

I was a pastor when my world fell apart. Lying in an ICU hospital bed, looking up at the ceiling, numb from the waist down, it seemed pretty clear to me that I only had a couple of choices: get out of the hospital and figure out how to heal, or leave the hospital, and make damn well sure I died the next time.

Thankfully, I chose to live, which meant everything had to change.

Over the past seven years, since the darkest day of my life, I’ve deconstructed and reconstructed my faith and deconstructed it some more. I nearly walked away from Christianity altogether for a while, but the same Voice that called to me in the hospital room, saying, “I’m not finished with you yet,”  continued to whisper hope, safety, and belonging through my dark night of the soul.

So I held on. Scared. Uncertain. Wobbly. I had faith, but it was full of holes.

I'm honored to share the rest of this story on Josh Casey's, "Dust Makers" blog. Just click here to read the rest of this story.

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VIDEO: I was a pastor when I nearly died by suicide.

Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide.

I was a pastor when I nearly died by suicide.

This is my story.

Want more?

To read the original post, just click here.

To view my list of suicide prevention/mental health resources, click here.

To order your copy of From Pastor to a Psych Ward, click here.

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Missing Jesus: The Death of My Childhood Faith

The Death of My Childhood Faith

“Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different...”

- C.S. Lewis (Prince Caspian)

Missing Jesus: The Death of My Childhood Faith

“I’m struggling hardcore, missing Jesus,” That’s the text I sent to my buddy Michael, three days before Christmas.

I’ve had to sit with the uncomfortable truth that exists in this story for the past couple of months. “Saucer and blow it,” as my grandma would say. This post involves some deep soul work that most would likely hesitate to share. Plus, I know how nasty certain fundamental Christians can be when it comes to talk of deconstructing your faith.

In the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, “...human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God.” Even though this blog is my safe space, it’s difficult when you know there are some who prefer to lurk around the edges and throw stones rather than sit down for coffee.

As gracious as Michael’s response was, it still managed to piss me off, “It’s okay to like Jesus still. He didn’t do anything wrong to you.”

My reply? “No Michael. Like he's on the cross, dying. Or dead. Gone. Not coming back. It feels just like when my Grandpa died. Ugh. I think I’m grieving Jesus.”

My friend gently pushed back, “My grandma is gone too, but I can still like her. And remember the best parts. No shame in that. It’s okay to like the best parts of Jesus that led you to be caring. If it was real to you back then, why wouldn’t you mourn? Brains are funny. You don’t have to throw the 8lb 4oz baby out with the bath water. Don’t let your stubbornness get in the way of your process. Float in the river a bit and see where the water takes you.”

I have the very best friends.

“...human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God.” - Barbara Brown Taylor via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #catchingyourbreath #amwriting

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In the middle of what felt like a faith crisis, I also sent a text to Brad (a former pastor), “Do people still ask you to pray for them?”

To Melody, I sent a confession, “I think Jesus is the best of God. The good side.”

And to Angie? “I know he’ll never come back. But I sure wish he could. Just for a moment. It’s a real grieving process.”

This is how I roll when the spool starts unraveling, and I realize, yet again, that I’m losing more of that childhood script. You know the script - the one they give you in Sunday School or youth group, that makes everything easy because it’s the same script everyone else receives. When it hits me that I don’t have a faith script any longer, it freaks me completely out, and I need my friends to remind me that in the middle of my uncertainty, I’m not losing my mind.

Brad reminded me that I’m still “Pastor Steve” to most people, and I always will be. He even said something crazy like, “You can still be people’s pastor, even if you don’t believe in God.” (It’s true. Read my friend Brandon’s book, if you don’t believe me.)

To be fair, I’m not grieving Jesus; he isn’t gone or missing. It’s the simplicity of my childhood faith that I miss the most. Christmas to Easter, the centrality of my faith was summed up in one miraculous dude I read about in the Gospels and saw on felt boards every Summer at Vacation Bible School. More than anything, I’m grieving the certainty of my childhood faith.

I’m grieving the certainty of my childhood faith. You, too? Read this. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #faith #agnostic

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Brad agreed. “Everything was black and white. It was easy to see the boundaries. There’s comfort in that. The problem is that the only way to grow is to leave the village, so to speak. When you leave the village, you leave behind everything that makes sense and gives your life meaning. That’s hard. What you’re feeling is totally normal.”

What I’m feeling is totally normal. I say it to myself again and again. I really don’t know what I’d do without my friends who are willing to check their judgment at the door and love me by listening.

Later that day, I was giving blood. The technician had interacted with me for less than three minutes, when she asked, "Are you a pastor?"

I smirked. Then I laughed and shook my head. "Seriously?!" I asked. It had been a while since I'd been asked; it used to be much more frequent.

"Are you a worship leader?" They'd ask.

"You must be a youth pastor." It happened all the time.

Is it the spikey hair? The incessant Dad jokes? I don't know exactly, but she said, "You're all pretty easy to spot."

When I responded, "Not anymore," she paused from prepping my arm and said, "Now, there's a story waiting to be told."

I asked her how much time she had, and she looked down at my chart before looking back up and said, "As long as it takes, Pastor - er - I mean Mr. Austin."

I laughed a bit more and said, "This one typically takes a while; there are a lot of gory details."

"Yea," she said, "I gathered that with the whole 'not anymore' bit."

So we talked about Pentecostal Jesus and how he was supposed to fix everything, until he didn't. We talked about how brains can break. Even pastor's brains. We spoke of ICU and the psych ward and getting fired and rethinking literally everything.

"Quick pinch," she said.

"Ouch.”

"You've lived through worse than that tiny bee sting, Mister," she said with a crooked little grin.

"So what's the rest of the story? There has to be more to a story like this one."

I drew a deep breath, and said, "Well, I'm not so sure anymore."

"About what?"

"About anything."

"So what do you believe?"

"To be honest, I'm still a huge fan of that Jesus guy I read about. The one who was really kind and gracious and generous. The one who called out religious people on their bullshit. I think he would have been the coolest guy to have a drink with, or just sit and not say much of anything. I'm not sure if Jesus was God, but he's the closest thing I've ever found to the kind of example I'd like to follow."

"So you're an Agnostic, just like me," she said, holding her head up high.

"See, Tina?" she yelled to the other technician at the front of the LifeSouth bus, "we're not all hell raisers and crazies! This guy's a pastor!"

I cleared my throat, "Was a pastor."

"There's plenty of us Agnostics who still need a pastor. Some of us even like Jesus - sounds like you do, too. And if you ask me, you still sound an awful lot like a pastor."

Hm. I guess Brad was right.

Brains can break. Even pastor's brains. via @iamsteveaustin #keeptalkingMH #exvangelical #catchingyourbreath

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I got off the bus and had a text from Angie, “At times like this it can be beneficial to focus on the things Jesus represented and find those within humanity, within a larger view of God, or within the Universe. Love, humor, goodness: these are the things I'm hearing you loved about Jesus and things I see echoed all around us.”

So many spend their time trying to make the Unknowable knowable, trying to turn the Great Big into bite-sized pieces; yet, I see Jesus doing something a little different: he talks about how this Great Big God actually cares for the tiny sparrow. And how with just the smallest thing (i.e., a seed), we can connect with the greater whole. Jesus reminds us that the ordinary, small, and often overlooked things (and people) are actually the key to the whole Universe. With just a seed or a sparrow, we can tap into something much larger than ourselves.

And why is that? Because everything is sacred. Because everything is a smaller part of a greater whole. Because there’s plenty we don’t know, and as we learn to stop focusing on all the things that we may never figure out, there’s a whole world of beauty in trusting, embracing love, and connecting with those around us.

Stepping away from the Christian Machine left me reeling for a while. Shredding that childhood script was scary as hell, but in slowing down and prioritizing what matters, I'm finding meaning all around me: in cuddles and deep conversation with my wife, the wonder in my daughter's eyes, the joy on my son's face, and the mystery of a magenta sunset.

If you still find comfort and meaning inside the pews and surrounded by songs at a candlelight service, thank heavens for that - it's a beautiful thing. But if you’re currently finding meaning outside the walls of man-made religion, you can be grateful for that, too.

So this journey is about disconnecting from the Christian Machine and reconnecting with the Christ who is deeper and wider than even the God of Jesus. It’s about death and resurrection. (It’s always about death and resurrection.) It’s about something Universal - something with the power to connect us all, even if it blows our minds and shatters our certainty in the process. In leaving the faith of my childhood, I’m rediscovering childlike faith.

In leaving the faith of my childhood, I’m rediscovering childlike faith. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #faith #doubt

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What about you? 

Are you still finding faith inside the church? Have you left the childhood script behind for something different? What does spirituality look like for you these days? I'd love to read your story in the comments below. 

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Why Empathy Matters to the Little Girl with No Daddy

Why Empathy Matters to the Little Girl with No Daddy

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 

– Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

Yesterday, my daughter was playing in the backyard with the neighbor girl. They were sliding down the muddy bank on a cardboard box. These miserable little Alabama children, never get to see snow, so they were pretending.

My Caroline is about to turn five, and the neighbor girl is a first-grader. But she’s tiny. And they play really well together. During their playtime, the neighbor girl said to my Caroline, “My Daddy drank poison and made everyone cry.”

After they were done playing, my wife texted the story to me. “Cara came back in and said ‘I’m so glad that I have an awesome daddy. He loves me and makes me laugh.”

Now here’s the struggle for me - I am a good daddy. I’m basically a badass when it comes to the daddy department. I show up. I’m present. I play and laugh and snuggle and tell funny stories and genuinely enjoy being their daddy.

I’ve wanted to be a Daddy for as long as I can remember, but please hold your applause.

I don’t need your Father of the Year award or #1 Dad mug, because I know how one bad decision can take us from Medal of Valor recipient to no-good low-life in a matter of moments. It was just over six years ago when I tried to abandon my wife and our one-year-old son.

When I got Lindsey’s text, it sucker punched me in the gut.

I know people see my Instagram photos and our Facebook videos and think we have it all perfect. As I write this, I’m sitting in my leather recliner, under a heavy blanket, while my little princess listens to Faure’s "Opera Number 50," twirling in the living room like a ballerina.

I guess we do have it pretty damn good, but just like the neighbor girl’s Daddy, I know what it’s like to drink poison and make everyone in my family cry.

If the police hadn’t broken into my hotel room nearly seven years ago, my wife could be just like the neighbor woman, whom I am so prone to judge. She sits on the front stoop in front of our townhouse on a throw pillow from her couch, wearing a housecoat, smoking her Camel cigarettes, with bright orange earplugs in her ears. I always assume it’s so she doesn’t have to hear her “annoying children.” She must hate being a mother, right?

The truth is, I don’t even know her name.

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“You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.” – John Steinbeck #choosekindness #empathy #catchingyourbreath via @iamsteveaustin

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There’s a theory in behavioral science called the Law of Attribution, or the Attribution Theory. This theory states that most often when we observe others, we attribute their behavior to their character - yet we attribute our own behavior to our circumstances. This logic applies negative assumptions as to why someone else misbehaves, but cuts ourselves slack for our own poor actions.

An example would be encountering a sales clerk that appears to be rude and disinterested in helping us. We attribute that behavior to the nature of their character. We decide they are a mean person and shouldn’t be in a helping profession. We then, in turn, are rude to that sales clerk and feel justified, because we have determined they are “innately rude,” whereas we are just mirroring their behavior and would be kinder to them if they weren’t so awful.

We blame them for their behavior and justify our own.

Consider another scenario: I have just received terrible news, and I’m so distracted that I forget an important meeting and leave someone high and dry. They depended on me. They were waiting for me. Without apology, I move on to the rest of my day, knowing the news I received was shocking and terrible, and my actions weren’t purposefully irresponsible; they were just due to my unfortunate circumstances.

Later that week, a co-worker drops the ball and forgets to do something vital for a work project, causing the team to miss a deadline. Angry, I shoot off a heated email, causing blame, believing my coworker doesn’t have a good work ethic. What piss-poor standards, I think to myself.

In each case, I attribute my behavior to my circumstances and the other person’s behavior to their character. It just isn’t fair. No matter the reason, it is never ok to impact someone in an inappropriate way, or even to judge them without knowing their story.

My frustration may be justified in certain stressful situations, but I never have the right to judge the plight of another human being, and I sure don’t have the right to cause pain to someone else.

When you’re angry or unkind to another person, it negatively impacts them. Pay attention and try to change your behavior so it reflects how you want to influence and treat those around you. If you are in a crisis or in a particularly bad spot, be transparent about your struggle with those around you, so they have a chance to offer their support.

If you are in so much pain that you can’t be civil, consider staying in to take a mental health day and doing self-care to get yourself back on track. Taking care of your emotional health is the number one goal so you can set a healthy example for those in your sphere of influence.

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“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know when it will be too late.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson #empathy #kindness #catchingyourbreath via @iamsteveaustin

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Sometimes our neighbor woman is a few minutes late to pick up her children from the bus stop. She must be a miserable mother, right? And the way she just lets them roam all over the neighborhood until dark? Surely, no good parent allows their children to have the run of the neighborhood.

My wife could have been just like the neighbor woman. A single mother - a widow.

My son could have been telling everyone on the playground about how his daddy drank poison the night before my little guy’s first birthday and ruined his party (and his life) and made his mom and grandma cry. He could be telling everyone how I left him to learn how to do everything on his own, and fend for himself.

I guess the Kindergartener’s Golden Rule applies here: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. It could have been me. It could have been my family. And the truth is - it could have been yours.

New Episode: Why Compassion Matters

The Power of 1: The Transformative Power of Empathy & Compassion

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Recommended reading: I Thought it was Just Me (But it Isn't), by Brene Brown