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Scarred Faith

This is a story about how Honesty, Grief, a Cursing Toddler, Risk-Taking, AIDS, Hope, Brokenness, Doubts, and Memphis Ignited Adventurous Faith

Foreword by Ian Morgan Cron

About The Book

In an original and thought-provoking work, Pastor Josh Ross invites us to enter into the suffering around us—and to embrace our scars and God’s restoring work.

ARE YOU SCARRED? Tired of platitudes that don’t heal your brokenness? Have you wondered if you’re allowed to say things like, “God, this doesn’t make any sense. Where are you?” Are you looking for the balance between honesty and faithfulness? This book is for you.

Josh Ross lets you in on his own journey of grief as he discovers that faith is about experience, movement, and process. It is about adventure, adventure that demands honesty. God honors that. He is big enough and even willing enough to handle your questions, no matter how hard they are.

Suffering can be ignored, or suffering can force us to reimagine a world where we are participants in Jesus’ story of restoration. God is raising up people eager to run into the brokenness of the world to experience healing and new life. Are you willing to follow God into these places?



I am drawn to Jesus, irresistibly, because he positioned himself as the dividing point of life—my life. . . . Sometimes I accept Jesus’ audacious claim without question. Sometimes, I confess, I wonder what difference it should make to my life that a man lived two thousand years ago in a place called Galilee. Can I resolve this inner tension between doubter and lover?


Deep faith is scarred faith.

Faith can be stirred within the walls of church buildings, but faith is formed and nourished in the waiting rooms of hospitals, helplessly witnessing a thirty-one-year-old sister suffer, holding kids affected by the AIDS epidemic, and being stretched outside of our own social makeup.

It’s a good thing to be able to memorize the names of the sixty-six books of the Bible by the age of five, but not if you’ve never had a meal with someone from another race by the age of sixteen. Not if you’ve never shaken a hand in a soup kitchen. Not if you don’t know the names of your neighbors.

■  ■  ■

A guy walked into my office a while back. I was fairly new to Memphis at the time, but he had literally spent years of his life on its streets. His worn-down body slumped in my recliner, and I could sense his heavy burden. He looked depressed, physically and mentally drained. He had recently entered into an AA program, and one of the Twelve Steps encourages the confession of sins. I’m not a priest. A black suit with a white collar is quite different from my everyday wardrobe, which consists of blue jeans with a golf shirt, shirttail hanging out. We didn’t know each other very well, but he felt like I was a safe place for him to unload the secrets of his life. He took a deep breath and then began confessing.

“Josh, let me begin at the age of fourteen when I murdered someone for the first time.”

Okay, in my decade of full-time ministry I’ve heard all kinds of confessions. I’ve heard about adultery, cheating on taxes, pornography, racism, masturbation, cheering for the Yankees, and teenagers seeking advice because they got a tattoo without their parents’ consent. This was the first time I felt uneasy about a confession. Maybe it’s because he said “for the first time,” meaning there were more murder confessions coming. Maybe it’s because he was sitting between me and the door, and my mind immediately began going through scenarios of what I’d do if he lifted his street-smart body from my recliner and approached me with both hands stretched out for a stranglehold. I calmed myself. I had seen three seasons of 24, and when in difficult situations like this, who wouldn’t ask, “What would Jack Bauer do?”

For the next forty-five minutes I heard about thirty years of complete brokenness and pain. He laid it all out in front of me, year after year of betrayal and utter darkness. For a moment I wanted to hit Pause on our conversation in order to call my mom and dad to thank them for a wonderful childhood. I thought I had it rough because my parents refused to buy us automotive vehicles when we turned sixteen. My new friend had only been a Christ follower for a couple of years, but he felt lost, unforgiven, and guilty. He defined the first thirty years of his life as a complete failure. And that’s when I interrupted, feeling the need to speak Christ into this situation.

“Listen here. Do you believe that God has the power to redeem you? Do you believe that God can rewrite the next thirty years of your life? Do you believe that he has the power to usher you into a better story—a story that will be so beautiful, so glorious, so redeeming that your life will bear witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus? You are a man with physical and emotional scars. Do you believe that God can redeem your scars?”

He lifted his head. The brokenness was still evident, but there was a look of hope that asked, “Is there really a God who can redeem these scars?”

Isn’t that the good news of the Jesus story? Faith isn’t about forgetting the past, but redeeming the past. It’s the story of a God who is able to recreate from life’s scars.

Deep faith is scarred faith.

Faith isn’t something that is downloaded into a brain like antivirus software onto a desktop. It is about lived experiences. Faith doesn’t run deep because one is stuffed with right answers. It is cultivated by asking the right questions. Faith is about journey, experience, movement, and process. It is about adventure. And one thing we know about adventure is that there are moments of pain, regret, wounds, suspense, and questioning.

And so we receive this two-word invitation from Jesus: “Follow me.” We would much rather focus on words like “Accept me” and “Believe in me,” because these phrases tend to be more about the mind and what we believe in our hearts. But “Follow me” is an invitation into life. It’s not about Jesus getting into our hearts so much as it is about us getting into Jesus. It is physical as much as it is mental.

To respond to these two words might just wreck your life as you know it. Or so it has mine.

■  ■  ■

I did something when my oldest son was only three weeks old that most first-time dads don’t do: I went skydiving. I can still remember driving south of Houston on I-45 drinking 5-hour ENERGY shots with my friends, as if we really needed an energy boost considering we were within a few hours of free-falling from thirteen thousand feet at a speed of 120 miles per hour.

The anxiety was building as we got dressed in our blue jumpsuits. A thirty-minute instruction video provided comic relief as we were forced to practice our free-falling skills while lying facedown on the carpet. It was a moment for grown men to become like fifteen-year-old boys in a locker room.

My breathing was back to normal until one of our instructors said, “Hey, we’re minutes away from boarding the plane. I’ll be right back. I’m going to see if I can find a parachute that works.” Needless to say, we entered into freak-out mode again.

Halfway up in the plane, the professional I was jumping with leaned over my shoulder, and over the loud engine he screamed, “When you go home, go to YouTube and type in ‘Wildest Weddings,’ and you can watch my wedding ceremony.”

So, I did it.

Check this out: this guy and his bride-to-be were on an airplane. He was in a tux; she was dressed in pants with a white top. The minister sat on the plane in front of them and had them recite their vows.

“Do you take this woman to be your wife?”

“I do.”

Then, looking at the bride: “Do you take this man to be your husband?”

“Yes, but, if you want me, you have to come and get me.” She turned toward the door of the plane and jumped out. The groom didn’t hesitate. He jumped out after her.

The four-team video crew was filming a wedding taking place between fifteen thousand and five thousand feet in the air. Dropping at a rate of five seconds per one thousand feet doesn’t give you much time to exchange rings and kisses, but they did it. Think how crazy this is: it’s one thing for a woman to put a guy’s ring on his finger while free-falling at ridiculous speeds because it only costs a couple hundred bucks, but it’s another thing to exchange a ring that has a fat rock on it.

Fortunately, they were able to pull their parachutes, and when they hit the ground—or, better said, when they landed on the ground—a minister ran over to the landing spot to pronounce them husband and wife.

How’s that for adventure?

■  ■  ■

We love adventures because of the thrill and sheer magnitude of suspense. It usually involves close friends or relatives, because adventures aren’t nearly as fun if you’re alone. Adventures provide memories that will last a lifetime. In fact, nonadventurous people are usually lousy communicators, because their Rolodex of life is often void of authentic experiences.

But most of us have a love/hate relationship with adventures.

Adventures involve sacrifice, time, and commitment. Whether it’s the churning stomach of a free fall or the soreness of pounding-the-concrete training for a marathon, adventures cost something.

■  ■  ■

It’s interesting, as one friend says, that Jesus spent most of his time trying to get people to take seriously the life that is lived outside of the Temple, yet we have spent nearly two thousand years trying to get life back into a Temple. It’s much easier to have a Bring a Friend Day at church than it is to have a Be the Church Day. One involves inviting friends to come inside of a church so that the worship minister and teaching pastor can lead them to Jesus. The other involves people taking their own lives into the streets and neighborhoods to become living sacrifices or, as many say now, to become the hands and feet of Jesus.

When faith fails to acknowledge the power of adventure, it soon becomes wrapped in discrete forms of legalism that strangle the joy of following Jesus in the present world.

Faith without adventure is reduced to crossing our fingers and hoping that we get into heaven in the end instead of answering the radical call of Jesus to experience the abundant life that he has to offer in the here and now.

To strip adventure and risk taking from faith and spirituality causes immense oppression, injustice, and brokenness throughout our world, because people no longer hear the voice of Jesus calling them into the places soaked with his breath, sweat, and tears. And if they do hear his voice, they are more prone to offer up a quick prayer or write a check than to restore dignity to people through handshakes, hugs, or any kind of actual touch.

“Follow me” is an invitation into the abundant life. In fact, however you choose to interpret “abundant life” will determine how you choose to live this life. If “abundant life” only means being with Jesus after you die, then you will most likely live as a person who will do little to advance the kingdom of God on this earth. But if you believe that the “abundant life” begins on earth, then you will enter into the joy of following the one who came claiming to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, right now.

■  ■  ■

Adventures do something to us. They wake us up. They give us life.

But they also leave us with scars: permanent tattoos bearing witness to the fact that we have lived life. Scars have stories, and they force us to ask questions:

■ How did it get there?

■ What caused it?

■ Why did it happen?

■ How did you survive?

■ Who helped you?

■ What was therapy like?

■ How has it changed you?

■ Where is God when it hurts?

No one solicits scars. We don’t ask for them. We don’t sign up for them. We don’t endorse them. They just happen. The most painful scars might not be physical; they might be social, emotional, or personal.

Choosing to answer the invitation to follow Jesus will leave us with scar-worn bodies, or so this book will suggest. I’m inviting you on a journey with me. It begins autobiographically, but I think you’ll quickly find that my story is one among many. In fact, we’re all wrapped up in this greater narrative of a world that is groaning for redemption.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Scarred Faith includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


God is present at all times. This does not mean that he will shield you from life’s painful experiences, but he will be with you through it all. The story of scripture depicts a scar-filled world, but it also hangs its existence on the hope that God is at work to repair our brokenness. It is up to us not just to observe it, but to participate in the greater story of restoration. It is this partnership that makes our doubts and pain allies of deep faith, as we open our hearts to allow God’s redeeming work in spite of and through the questions.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. When Jenny’s health was deteriorating Josh’s mom urged those who had gathered in the hospital not to get upset and, “serve any other gods.” (p. 30) Have you ever been tempted to serve another god during a challenging time? If so, how did you work through the struggle? If not, what kept you from going down that path?
2. Josh talks about asking God to intervene and save Jenny, but ultimately, she slips away. When have you prayed for something that you feel went unanswered? Did you ever find peace or see that God answered in a different way than expected?
3. On p. 41, Josh asks the question, “What does it mean to be a disciple when we don’t get our way?” Have you ever been tempted to “unfollow” Jesus, as some of his disciples did when they realized the journey would be different than they expected? What are some lessons you have learned along the way about surrender?
4. What do you think the Ross family’s use of CarePages (pp. 43–45) says about the connection between suffering and community?
5. How do you feel about the song that Josh’s family posted while they were grieving over Jenny’s death? Can you relate to the sentiments expressed in the lyrics?
6. Josh comments that “Maybe we force others into celebratory moods when many need to know that God can meet them where they are.” (p. 48) What was a time in your life when you needed the God who meets you where you are? How was this healing in its own way?
7. In one of Josh’s journal entries after Jenny’s death, he bares his anger and frustration with God. Have you ever felt anger like that toward God? Did you allow yourself to share your anger with Him?
8. Why do you think Josh felt he needed God to “cry with him?” (p. 61) How do you think this helped him during this difficult time?
9. Josh describes how his baptism makes him a “participant in the rhythm of creation” (p. 94) and how this no longer allows him to push aside the brokenness he sees around him. What does it mean to be a “participant,” and do you see yourself in this way?
10. How would you describe what it means to ra’ah (pp. 104–105)? Have you ever experienced a moment when you felt you’ve “seen” the world?
11. In Chapter 10, Josh talks about how stepping into the suffering of the world can result in persecution, but it also allows you to see God moving. Have you been hanging back or stepping into the suffering in your community? How have you seen a glimpse of God’s redemptive work?
12. Reflect on your own story. Can you see God’s presence in your life when you reflect upon your emotional, spiritual, or physical scars?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Josh uses the example of the song his friends wrote—“Some Explaining to Do”—to describe how he and his family felt after Jenny’s death. (pp. 45–46). The song is sometimes controversial and asks God for answers, but Josh writes that it helped him and his family deal with their suffering. Write and share a poem or song to express how you’ve felt in the middle of a difficult time.
2. Similar to what Josh had to do in seminary, come up with your own metaphor to describe your faith, and share and discuss with your book club members.
3. As the Rwandan pastor shared, “once you’ve been swallowed up in pain, you can’t help but want to see the pain and suffering of others alleviated.” (p. 132) As a group, commit to a number of community service or volunteer hours to accomplish over a year, and plan volunteer activities that can be accomplished together as a group.

About The Author

Photograph by Melissa Sweazy

Josh Ross is the Lead Minister for the Sycamore View Church in Memphis, Tennessee. In addition to speaking regularly around the country, he has been published in New Wineskins, At Home Tennessee, The Christian Chronicle, and other publications.

Product Details

Raves and Reviews

“Josh Ross does not write about suffering as an expert, a theologian, or a pastor—though, in some sense, he is all three. Scarred Faith is an honest and raw description of life with God in the dark moments of pain and loss. This is not a book for those who want a Disney Jesus. This is a book for the rest of us, who, day by day, are learning to allow God to draw close to us in the midst of—not in spite of—our doubts, questions, and anxiety. Josh is a witness to the truth that God allows us to take on the strength of that which we overcome. So, read. And be strong in God.” —Josh Graves, author of Heaven on Earth and The Feast

– Josh Graves, author of Heaven on Earth and The Feast

“If you prefer a domesticated and sanitized faith, DON'T READ THIS BOOK! Josh asks hard questions, deep questions, the kind that people only ask who care as deeply as they hurt. But if you have been wounded and if the pain of the world breaks your heart, READ THIS BOOK! You will find hope and courage, not to remove your scars, but to redeem them.” —Rick Atchley, Senior Minister of The Hills Church in Fort Worth, Texas

– Rick Atchley, Senior Minister of The Hills Church in Fort Worth, Texas

“This book clung to me for days after I read the first draft. Here Josh Ross walks us into places where God makes no sense to us—and where, on the face of things, He appears to be anything but a good God. The writing style is fresh and creative, but the real genius lies in the way Josh draws the reader up close to raw and inexplicable pain and loss—yet also reveals a way to embrace our pain, rather than to run from it. Ross calls us to be ‘scarred with God’ because God is willing to redirect overwhelming grief into enormous positive energy. A really helpful read for those of us who suffer—and for those who care.” —Lynn Anderson, Hope Network Ministries

– Lynn Anderson, Hope Network Ministries

“Reading Scarred Faith reminds us that even when death and painful suffering knock us off the busy sidewalks of life into a dark alley of hopelessness, even when we stop believing that a doorway of beauty will open up for us, God arrives. Josh writes beautifully, and with brutal honesty, about the loss of his sister Jenny and brings us closer to the understanding that God dwells in the allies of grief and loss, and it is here that we can find a peace beyond all understanding. This book will challenge you to really dig deep and ask yourself: what is it again that I truly believe?” —Pam Cope, Touch A Life Foundation

– Pam Cope, Touch A Life Foundation

“Scarred Faith is a must read for anyone who wants to go deep with God. Josh Ross has captured the true essence of what it means to walk a life with Christ. Sometimes we celebrate answered prayers and sometimes we don’t understand, but in the end Jesus wins. Adventure, heartache, childhood to adulthood, Scarred Faith covers the meaning of growing closer to Christ through everything that we endure and enjoy in life. You will not be able to put this book down.” —Tommy Maddox, Super Bowl Champion and Former NFL Quarterback

– Tommy Maddox, Super Bowl Champion and Former NFL Quarterback

“If faith always works the way it should for you, if your prayers are always answered, if you're always living in the delight of a spiritual summer, this book may just puzzle you. But if you have battled doubt, if you have agonized over God's apparent silence, if you've felt gusts of winter chilling your spiritual journey—well, this is your book. Ross writes with raw honesty about life's disappointments but also with bold hope about God's future. I look forward to putting it in the hands of many people who are struggling to believe among life's disappointments.” —Mike Cope, Director of Ministry Outreach, Pepperdine University, and author of Megan's Secrets

– Mike Cope, Director of Ministry Outreach, Pepperdine University, and author of Megan's Secrets

“Every few years, a book comes along that inspires you to reexamine your life and your purpose according to what Christ truly has asked us to do as believers. Scarred Faith is such a book. Joshua Ross writes with beautiful honesty and even humor as he fearlessly dives into a world marred by the ugliness of sin, suffering, grief, and tragedy. Joshua seeks not to answer the question 'Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?' But he instead shows us—from firsthand experience—God’s intention that good people use the bad things that have happened to redeem the world around them with the love of Christ. If you were only to read a few books this year besides the Bible, Scarred Faith should be one of them.” —Dudley Rutherford, author of God Has an App for That!

– Dudley Rutherford, author of God Has an App for That!

“Although Joshua Ross is not a native Memphian, his book Scarred Faith demonstrates that he reflects some of the most precious values for which our city is known, namely, resilience and faith in God. He has embraced ministry in our city with the type of zeal and deep affection that one would possibly only expect from those with longstanding familial and social connections here. It just shows that Joshua Ross is truly one of us—by geography and by spirit.” —A.C. Wharton, Jr., Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee

– A.C. Wharton, Jr., Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee

"Sometimes wisdom comes from unexpected places. Joshua Ross has written a book that speaks to the human experience and provides a compassionate answer for all of those who havelost a loved one and, with it, their faith. Weaving together the story of losing his beloved sister with lessons of how that loss challenged his faith as an ordained Christian minister, Ross bravely shares with us his own anger and doubt caused by the failure of his prayers and petitions to save his sister. He then leads us to a deeper exploration of the true Christian journey by recognizing that our emotional scars carry with them the opportunity for grace. Ross was inspired to move his young family to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis, Tennessee, in order to heal himself and to live out the true social gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. As a mother who lost her own son just four years ago, Scarred Faith assures me that my pain can be used to humbly serve others and, in the process, heal myself. It is a book of simplicity, subtlety, and beauty that needs to be shared with the world." —Gayle S. Rose, Chief Executive Officer, Electronic Vaulting Services

– Gayle S. Rose, Chief Executive Officer, Electronic Vaulting Services

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