He needed a refill of his Lomotil, the message said. Had he seen the gastroenterologist like I advised? No, but if I could just send some pills to the pharmacy, he’d appreciate it. I wanted my patient to feel better, but I knew that diarrhea can be a symptom of something much worse. Like the older gentleman who came in for loose stools and ended up with a twelve centimeter mass in his colon. My patient wanted a quick fix and–when it comes to sin–so do we. We want the discomfort go away without having to face an underlying diagnosis. But sin–like colon cancer–is easier to treat when we diagnose it accurately, and early.

Jesus came so that we could enjoy life to the full (John 10:10), but sin drains the abundance out of our lives. If we want abundant life with God–and aren’t experiencing it–we might want to check if we’ve been complaint with God’s treatment plan for sin:

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

1. Own the diagnosis

Something in humans dreads a diagnosis; we’d rather take a pill to make the diarrhea stop. If a hard day at work leaves us short fused and we snap at a family member, we might try to brush off the unease that creeps into our nervous system by grabbing an excuse about how much work drained us, offering a vague apology for being sorry if we hurt them, or distracting ourselves from the fact that we blew it by turning on Hulu.

But glossing over our failure is as effective as taking Lomotil for colon cancer. It might relieve our psychosocial angst, but the underlying tumor will just keep growing Continue Reading…

I sat at the oak desk answering questions that could take me to China. I breezed through the final query: Explain the gospel to me. Twenty years of Sunday school, church camps, and Christian college rushed to answer. After I finished, she said, “You explained forgiveness really well, but what about the resurrection and ascension?”

After my embarrassment drained off–I was the kid with the all right answer in Sunday School–I resolved to never forget the resurrection again. But when I thought about the gospel, it still seemed that all the action–forgiveness, substitution, promise of eternal life–really happened at the cross. 

Andrew preble 181949 unsplashPhoto by Andrew Preble on Unsplash

More than a decade passed before I realized how often Christians talk about eternal life without ever mentioning bodily resurrection. Or how we look to Good Friday as the day that changed history, rather than the following Sunday. Not that we ever stopped believing in the resurrection, we just sort of left it in the shadows. The cross took center stage in God’s solution to the problem of evil. 

But resurrection burns at the heart of the gospel. The metatarsal bones that Jesus stood on as he talked to Mary in the garden. The twitching biceps as he extended his wrists toward Thomas. The esophagus peristalsing fish down to his stomach by the Sea of Galilee. His brown skin rising into the clouds. All of these broadcast something new about God and his plans for creation. The resurrection expands the gospel beyond what the cross has to offer Continue Reading…

Last week, I posted “10 Questions to See If You’ve Accidentally Become a Christian-Gnostic.” If you missed it, you might want to check that out before reading this. 

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Gnosticism, that ancient belief that physical stuff is bad, has snuck back. While Evangelicals believe that Jesus had real hair follicles and sweat glands, rather than just appearing to be human, many of us still slip into gnostic thinking in other areas of our life–predominantly a sneaking suspicion that our bodies are bad. Or, at least, not as important than our spirits.

But if Christianity officially smacked-down Gnosticism in the fourth century, how has it managed to infiltrate our thinking without the alarms going off? As far as I can see, at least three factors make us susceptible to a soft version of gnosticism. 

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Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

1. Fallout from the Protestant Reformation

Zeal for the Bible drove the Protestant reformers to center their newfound churches around Scripture–literally. They moved the pulpit to center stage, abandoning the cruciform blueprints of cathedrals for more acoustic-friendly layouts where everyone could be sure to hear the preacher. Sola sciptura shaped their architecture Continue Reading…

You’re probably not one of those Da Vinci Code heretics who believes Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene. But even if you’re quick to slap a scarlet H on the Gospel of Thomas or the idea that Jesus wasn’t really human, you might be affected by a subtle reboot of this heresy seeping through American evangelicalism. Unlike it’s older brother, Christian-gnosticism can be hard to see and a bit slippery to catch–a fact I know from firsthand experience. So here’s a quiz to take your temperature and see if you’ve been affected: 

10 Questions

Photo by Ben White on Unsplashedited


  1. Does it feel like a stretch to think about worshipping through football, a slice of german chocolate cake, or–if you’re married–having sex? 
  2. Do you think it makes God happier when you read your Bible than when you pick up trash from the side of the road? 
  3. Do you feel like sex is dirty? Are you ashamed of your sex drive?
  4. Does it surprise you that there might be politics and commerce after the resurrection?
  5. Is your Christianity strong when it comes to lying and prayer, but light on gluttony and fasting? Continue Reading…

Sometimes mom said “no,” but that never stopped me from asking. If I didn’t smell chocolate chip cookies as soon as I opened our front door after school, I’d request a snack. Sometimes she made me wait for dinner, but not always, so every day I asked. I had a confidence in my mom that I often lack with God.

For years, I questioned the value of praying for a husband, since I knew singleness could be part of God sovereign plan. Sometimes I doubt whether he cares about things like a tight budget. I find it hard to ask him to heal my sister-in-law’s multiple sclerosis, since a “no” pushes me into the dark place of suffering.

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Photo by Asdrubal luna on Unsplash

I hear other Christians share similar obstacles. If God cares more about eternal things, like people dying and going to hell, they wonder whether he really cares about finding them a new job. If God is sovereign, he’ll do what he wants, so why bother asking for another child. If they ask God to heal their mom, but she still dies, they struggle with feeling abandoned by him Continue Reading…

A stranger’s fingers grip mine. The words reverberate from my throat and into my ears. Liturgy is new for me–but stepping into the same words every Sunday works like a garden hoe on my heart. After weeks and months of hands grasping mine as we pray together, “Our Father in heaven,” two realizations have churned up from this regular tilling of the Lord’s Prayer.

Even though I grew up in nonliturgical churches, like many Christians, I memorized the Lord’s prayer. I could say it in my sleep, and when I started attending my husband’s church last fall, the words tumbled out of my mouth, often on autopilot. 

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Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash, edited

In the months since, I’ve stubbed my spiritual toes on two truths about the Lord’s prayer, so large I’m shocked I never saw them before. (I’ll stick to tackling the first one here). In both cases, my blindness stemmed, in part, from treating the Lord’s prayer like a newspaper clipping. I learned it out of context and never asked how the surrounding paragraphs should shape my understanding of what Jesus intended to teach with this string of phrases.

Continue Reading…

I love Jesus, but if God is handing out spiritual report cards, I’m probably getting an F when it comes to getting excited about Heaven.* The Apostle Paul—who tells us to imitate his faith—says, “I desire to depart and be with Christ” (Phil 1:23), but when I try to rev my enthusiasm for that place after death, my battery sputters.

Over the last five years at seminary, I had the chance to study the Bible as one big story, from the garden to the city. Revisiting the edges of God’s story gave me a new lens for understanding why I have a hard time getting excited about heaven. Here’s three of my top reasons:

I find it hard

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1. Worship songs aren’t really my thing. 

After three repetitions of the chorus from “10,000 Reasons” at church, I’m ready to call a time-out and connect with the maroon cushions, not stay on my feet for another four songs. I’ve never been a good stander. And despite my laser focus when it comes to reading and writing, singing turns my mind into seven-year-old with ADD. Music time at church deteriorates into twenty minutes of hand-slapping my brain back to attention. 

Continue Reading…

I tried to peel myself off the alley as the Spanish words got louder, men’s voices, but my Columbia pants stuck to the dirt. My bones ached and bowels churned. Montezuma was mounting his revenge and it was one of the worst hours of my life.  


It was also one of the best days of my life, but you have to widen the edges of the story to see it. Zooming out, you’d see the alley I lay plastered in, tucked high up on a jungle mountain. You might see that–by a miracle of nature–later that day I’d steady my limbs and force them up ancient steps until I could look back over the green and grey city of Machu Picchu.  


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Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash


One day, but two different stories depending on how wide you set the frame. In a similar way, Christians can cut the edges off God’s story. Sometimes we zoom in so tight on the cross, sanctification, and getting to Heaven when we die, that we crop the storyline. The Great Commission looms so large in our minds, that we almost forget about the first commission, the one God gave us in the Garden of Eden.  

Continue Reading…

Pills or Prayer?

smgianotti@me.com  —  April 12, 2018

This post first ran at Fathom Magazine on February 12, 2018. 

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She slumped in her chair as I again suggested that she might be depressed. She teared up, but declined a prescription. Her husband, a leader in the church, believed depression came from spiritual issues, not medical ones. She couldn’t risk people finding out she took pills for depression.   


This is often the case when I see patients for mental health issues. I find that they want to condense their problem into something bite-sized. As a health care provider, I’m tempted to do the same. A diagnosis feels more manageable if we can isolate and label the problem. So we zero in on biochemistry. “Just give me a pill, doc.” Or we focus exclusively on spirituality. “If I had more faith, I could get past my anxiety.” Or we allow our social history to consume us. “I’m damaged goods—life will never get any better.” 

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


Other times, we do the opposite, ignoring or smothering dimensions of our lives that contribute to our diagnoses. We ignore the impact of relationships. “I can’t deal with those memories—they hurts too much.” Or we neglect the physical, recreational, or emotional aspects of our lives. “I’m too busy to exercise . . . find a hobby . . . spend time making friends.” But wherever we neglect part of our humanity in our struggle with mental health, we curtail God’s healing in our lives Continue Reading…

Dead Saturday

smgianotti@me.com  —  March 31, 2018


I have a hard time with Holy Saturday. A Good Friday service promises to weigh me down with my sin, the wetness of Jesus’ blood, and the distress in his voice as he cries into the darkness, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” And I can wake up Easter Sunday knowing that the planters filled with lilies, church goers shouting “He is risen indeed,” and a steaming plate of ham will draw me into a celebration of resurrection. But Saturday slips quietly in between and I’m tempted to wake up to the world as I know it, the world as normal.


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But the silence of Saturday ripples with paradox and grief. If we take the time to venture in, we can see the chaos our sin creates and feel, if just for a moment, a heaviness that makes us long for Resurrection Sundayboth Jesus’ and our own Continue Reading…