N.T. Wright is among the two or three most influential theologians alive today. And recently, I had the privilege of spending some time with him.
“Pastor, I appreciate that you preached about racism, today,” he said. “But, I always appreciate a good gospel sermon, too.” He shook my hand, walked away, and I moved on to speak to the next person. A small line usually forms around a pastor after his sermon, after all. But this man’s passing comment made a lasting impression on me. You see, this man probably didn’t mean anything by this phrase. I had, in fact, preached about racism that Sunday. I had also worked hard to make that sermon a gospel-saturated sermon. Yet, despite my best efforts, this man managed to walk away thinking I preached about race, and not about Jesus. There are race issues, and there are Jesus issues, with a semi-permeable membrane between them.
And that, right there, is the problem.
We white people have the luxury of thinking this way because we almost never, ever have to think about being white. We just are. Then, when confronted by our black, asian, or hispanic bothers and sisters about their experiences with racism we think, “Well why don’t they just think like me? I never think about being white, so they should stop thinking so much about being black.” When we think this way (or worse, talk this way) we do our non-white friend a double injustice: we misunderstand their experience, and we, white people, demand they change to be more like us.
Inability or unwillingness prevents us from seeing that most people of color don’t ever get a day off from thinking about their ethnicity. Why? Because we live in a culture that just won’t let them. So, we go on thinking that there are race issues and Jesus issues. “Systemic injustice may or may not exist,” we tell ourselves, “but I’m just going to preach the gospel.” And we are wrong, because race issues are Jesus issues.
A Tale of Two Scriptures
When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus he gave some of the most beautiful words to those Jesus issues. The glory and greatness of the gospel expound in Ephesians 2:1-10 is one of those well-worn paths in my Bible.
“You were dead in your trespasses … but God being rich in mercy made you alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved…”
Yet, despite my love for this part of Ephesians, I never saw how it necessarily connects to 2:11-22.
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility … that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
And as any good New Testament exegete would know (or at least, should know) these two passages are connected with the magic word “therfore” (v. 11) That is, Paul built his whole case for ethnic unity and mutual love atop the gospel, not apart from it.
A Tale of Two (More) Scriptures
Lest you think that such a connection is a one-off Pauline fluke, join me in 2 Corinthains 5. Again, this chapter contains one of my favorite Scriptures,
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
That is a wonderful bit of news: that God exchange my unrighteous sinfulness with Jesus’s perfect and beautiful righteousness. But that verse summarizes an entire chapter on reconciliation!
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 For 5:18-19)
In other words, the preaching of the message, “God wants to reconcile you to himself,” is organically connected to the message, “God is reconciling the world to himself.” So, as Paul says, “Be reconciled to God!” (v. 20)
The Cost and The Opportunity
For a long time the American church missed this connection. But God was not content to let people of color languish, so he raised deliverers out from under the white, evangelical church. But what if we white folks allowed that fact to wake us from the slumbering insufficiency of believing there are Jesus issues and race issues. If we go on thinking like that, then answers to our nation will seek answers to race issues from every other source but Jesus. That cost is too high to bear.
No, let it be said of us that we seized the opportunity to love God more, to love the gospel more, and to love our neighbors more be finally embracing the fact that race issues are gospel issues. Therefore, confronting racism isn’t an option for Jesus’ people. It’s built in to the great commission.
Paul seemed to think so. So, I wonder. Do you?
In shining cities made of gold, shining men were kings,They made the art, the songs, the shows, and dimmer men believed, That all was gold and shined quite bright, in citadels so strong, None could believe or dream that all gold would go wrong.
As time went by the gold grew faint, and needed fresh refinement, But refiners fire was difficult and cost much, some decided, So bit by bit the drossy gold was painted o'er instead, So shining men kept up the work on which the dim ones fed.
More gold grew dross, more paint was splashed, more citadels stood gleaming, Eventually refiner's fire became the stuff of nightmare's dreaming, No one remembered how to smelt, to forge, or beautify, They traded goldcraft for the art of candy making for the eye.
But what the shining kings forgot — or just failed to remember, Is that painted gold won't last for long, and must eventually dismember altogether — 'twill fall apart, and will need fresh refinement, And then refiner's fire will burn and burn all that was painted by it.
But ignorance was bliss enough, and kings continued making, Eyecraft for the masses which the dimmer men kept taking, But now, infrequently there was a shining man found out, For taking paint upon himself, exposing all to doubt.
"Nothing to fear," the others said, "That man's not one of us," "We'll take good care to quell you fear," so dimmer men would trust, The words of other shining men, the kings of citadels, But slowly creeping came the thought they might be painted hells.
"Of course not," they would tell themselves, to quiet inner sounds, Of wisdom, discord, and the truth that dross was all around, Refusing, unwilling to see the fact that golden city was, So painted, now so unrefined, that towers turned to dust.
And not just towers, once so bright, were touched with dross's plague, But more men now, and women too, were painting for the stage, Was no one now of solid gold? Was no one true to from? The dimmer men were now quite bold, though many just as torn.
The shining city's edifice, and the shining people, too, Now grew with greater discontent, until someone quite new, Said, "It's okay, all is well, you're painted gold, so what?!" "Refinement hurts, it's just the facts, be who you are," and such.
So slowly shining cities came to trade their kings for those, Who waxing philosophical spun foolishness in prose, Now they made art, and songs, and shows that dimmer men believed, Because all were painted, all were dim — shining was now a dream.
They laughed and played, these painted ones, covering the gold, But underneath the dross grew dark, and citadels grew cold. The city cracked and shook one day, as shows and songs were sold, The shining city rocked and reeled, the world now seemed so old.
The citadels were broken down, the truth now on display, The shining city and the kings were dross-filled, painted, fake. "We need refinement," shouted some — the few who still believed, But now the dross and paint was such that no one else agreed.
The cities now were haunts of old, broken and beleaguered, The shining people — men and women — were filled with rage and anger, Consumed with hatred for the ones who painted themselves first, They never saw what's true of all: we paint for what we thirst.
As cities fell and citadels which once held shining kings, Came tumbling down upon the ground, an older man was seen. He sang a song, lamentable, with dirge-like poetry, And this is what was heard that day, among the anarchy,
"In shining cities made of gold, shining men were kings, They made the art, the songs, the shows, and dimmer men believed, That all was gold and shined quite bright, in citadels so strong, None could believe or ever dream that all gold could go wrong."
“I feel like the Lord is leading me to do it.” Those were my friend’s parting words to me. I told him not to follow this leading, but he’d had an experience he “really felt was from the Lord.” I tried to explain what the Bible had to say about his choice. In fact, many had. But, he had an experience, and he wasn’t budging. So off he went—into his error, out of the church, and away from Jesus.
This situation it so common in churches across the spectrum that you could probably fill in details from similarly painful conversations. Add to that our culture’s commitment to an expressive individualism that exalts actualizing our desires above conforming to God’s, and we’ve set the stage for rough times when trying to convince someone that what they “feel led to do” may not be the Holy Spirit at all.
Regardless, the Scriptures admonish us to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). And there are some ways we should all be able to agree one cannot do that. Here are four.
1. Without the Bible
Attempting to follow the Spirit’s leading without the Bible is foolish at best and sinful at worst. As I’ve written before, we may learn much here from our charismatic friends. But if one argues that the Spirit has led them to a conclusion, action, or emotion the same Spirit has condemned in Scripture, that person blasphemes. Perhaps you think that’s too strong a word, but consider this: Such an insistence tacitly accuses God of double-mindedness, calls into question the authority of his Word, and makes the believer the final authority in matters of life and practice. That’s blasphemy.
The Spirit wrote a book, so being led by him starts there.
It’s entirely possible that someone had a profound spiritual experience that led him or her to no longer trust the Bible. That’s deception. The Spirit himself tells us we’re to expect such deception (2 Cor. 11:14). The Spirit wrote a book, so being led by him starts there.
2. Without the Church
A sure-fire way to not walk with the Spirit is to try to walk by yourself. There is simply no evidence in Scripture that we should expect to faithfully live a Spirit-filled life if we’re not being led into and among his people. God—at the infinite cost of his life—has given us not just a spiritual relationship with himself, but also with each other.
This is why broken fellowship within the body is such a big deal. We are members of one another. Tearing away from Christ’s body while trying to be faithful to his Spirit is like severing your arm while expecting it to keep operating the remote control. When you feel led to do something, it is wise to run such promptings by your trusted fathers and mothers in the faith, particularly in the context of your local church.
3. Without Wisdom
Proverbs aren’t promises, but they are proverbs. That is, the same Spirit that now resides within God’s people inspired Solomon to write down many words of wisdom. Paul prays that we’ll be filled with the Spirit of wisdom—the Holy Spirit.
If you “feel led” to do something that seems foolish to you, your trusted advisers, and your Bible, your feeling is likely just that.
4. Without Faith
Without faith we cannot please God (Heb. 11:6), much less follow him. Keeping in step with the Spirit, then, means trusting that God can and will lead you. You trust and follow, and he guides and leads, often to do seemingly impossible things—raising godly kids, remaining faithful in a difficult marriage, trusting him for evangelistic opportunities, planting churches, and making disciples.
None of that comes naturally to any of us. It all requires Paul’s prayer—that our eyes be opened to the Spirit’s powerful working—to come true. And it will, if we believe.
Sitting Ducks for Deception
Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful at convincing my friend. He’d had an experience. He’d shut his Bible, shut his doors, shut out wisdom, and, therefore, shut out God. And tragically, he’s not alone. We must learn to hold on to the Spirit and to Scripture—to personal faith and to spiritual family. If we do so, we’ll set ourselves in a good place for the Spirit’s leading. If not, we may be sitting ducks for deception.
So before we say, “I feel like the Lord is leading me,” let it be said of us that we’ve been listening to his Word, his people, his wisdom, and his ways.
This was from a message I preached at Grace City Church. It was an outdoor service and the audio is a bit messy, but you can hear it here.
"Well you know what the problem is?" She said.
Silence hung in the air as this matronly, southern hostess spoke. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and we were her guests. She was the kind of woman who, when you saw her, you immediately loved — the grandmother you didn't know you had. She was full of "aw Sugar," and "bless you heart," and "have more pie," and all of it in that wonderful southern accent. And there we all were, seated at the table, overlooking the water, in her lovely home.
We waited for her to finish her sentence.
"The problem is all the blacks."
"Mmhmm," one said. "Right," said another.
I said nothing.
To my shame, I said nothing. And that is the problem.
#Charlottesville. And, #Trayvon. And #MichaelBrown. And #PhilandoCastile. And, and, and...
Fast forward fifteen years. I'm the pastor of a fast-growing, young, diverse church. Like, really diverse. Like, how-in-the-world-am-I-the-pastor-of-such-a-diverse-people diverse. And, while I can't change the fact that 15 years ago I sat silent like a coward, today I can do something else. The racist, alt-right, neo-nazi, bigot convention in Charlottesville was evil. Satanic, demonic, spewed onto the earth from the pit of Hell, evil. Someone died. Others got hurt. And I'm really, really angry. I'm angry for my people. I'm angry for their kids. I'm angry at my President. I'm angry that this keeps on happening.
So what do we do? The Apostle John gives us some insight:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
CALL EVIL BY ITS NAME
Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or a sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
The beloved disciple has some strong words for us. If you hate others who bear God's image, you are the moral equivalent of an axe-murderer. And that's really easy for us to believe in the case of these racist bigots.
But, do you hate them?
Seriously. Do you hate these people who hold such monstrous, ungodly beliefs that white people are ontologically superior to non-white people? Oh how tempting are the designs of the evil one. He, by inciting bigots to be hateful and murderous, may stir in us the very thing we hate in them.
We must call evil by its name without becoming complicit in the same.
Racism is evil. And as a white, male American, I'm ashamed to see it. Yet, if my hatred of these ideas gives way to hatred of the humans who say them, then Hell cheers.
Seriously, can you pray for David Duke? Can you pray for Donald Trump? I know we can pray for the victims, but can we pray for those who clear the path for the victimizers?
If I'm unwilling to pray for them, then I hate them. Then I'm like them. Then, I am them.
Pray for the victims and the victimizers. Both. At the same time. Like Jesus. Otherwise, what in the world does it mean to say we are his people?
EMBODY THE BETTER STORY
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
John is a moral genius, and he totally gets the gospel. Do we?
As I mentioned, I'm angry. I could totally march, protest, and shout. And, maybe I will. But what then? What will I do four weeks from now when it's not cool to care anymore, and #Charlottesville isn't trending? I'll tell you what I can do — I can embody a better story. I can tell my kids a better way. I call call my black friends and be their friend, because how bad must this hurt them. I can live out the love of King Jesus because in his upside-down kingdom, that's how evil is defeated. Not with boots and guns, but with blood and grace.
I can serve because God served me.
DON'T SIT QUIETLY
Fifteen years ago I acted like a coward. Jesus, forgive me for that.
Today, I can act like a man. I can call evil what it is. I can pray for its victims and their victimizers. And, I can embody the better way.
Maybe you need to have an awkward conversation with an otherwise nice person. Maybe, you need to interrupt her dinner party with truth said with love. Maybe it's worth upsetting people. Jesus upset people with the truth.
I'm not sitting quietly at the table anymore. I'm going to speak, and pray, and try by God's grace to embody the Kingdom way. Join me.
A while back my publisher The Good Book Company put together an event where I got to dish with Tim Keller and Richard Coekin on urban church planting. Here's the vid.
I loved my Papa Bill. This week, after 86 years of life, his body gave way to the entropy of time. When I found out the end was near I got in my car and drove to Florida from Boston. Normally I don't make that trip by car, but having just been hit with a blizzard, Boston was shut down. The 1,500 mile journey afforded me some unexpected gifts, one of which was the opportunity to reflect on my grandfather.
Those who know me know that my family is not picturesque. We're a messy patchwork with lots of frayed edges, for sure. But that hardly means that tender reflection is impossible. Of course, there are no perfect families. Yet, thinking on the life of my grandfather has produced three clear lessons I wish to learn from him. As a way of honoring him, I offer them to you.
It's About People
William Herman Hall was born May 22, 1930. Growing up in the midst of The Great Depression, he spent his days working in his father's grocery store and pinching whatever pennies came his way. Later in life, Bill would find great success in business. Yet, growing up in a depression had a different effect on him than it had on many of his time. Where lack made some miserly, it only served to show Bill what was really important — people.
As a businessman, and later on in retirement, he would become known as a relentlessly generous, jovial man who never missed a chance to be with his friends. Success was never about the stuff, it was just an opportunity to be with people.
As an achiever who often makes hitting goals more important than cultivating relationships, this is a lesson I want to learn.
Start Stuff and Mentor Men
Papa Bill went into business with his uncle right out of college. He took a small restaurant and innovated it into a career with multiple successful businesses. His entrepreneurial drive mingled with his love for people made him a business mentor for many. My own father has what he has and does what he does because Papa Bill approached my parents with an entrepreneurial idea. With capital both in money and wisdom, he did this with many young men, helping them build legacies that simply wouldn't exist without him.
I can't help but think this is incredibly Christ-like. As a dude who trying to kill his own messiah complex, I'm grateful to have the example of a man who didn't need to be the star of the show. He just needed to know that his creativity was catapulting other men into their destinies. I want to be like that.
Give Your Burdens to Jesus
Like all of us, Papa Bill had regrets. His was not a perfect life. There were particular tragedies that weighed upon him for too many years. Humans are not designed to hold the weights of our own difficulties alone. But strong patriarchs aren't quick to share pain. This is a tendency in my own heart — trying to pay forward the costs that my past follies wish to extract. But that's a bill none of us can meet, no matter how successful.
In what would be my final visit with my Papa Bill, I took him to lunch. After an afternoon together we sat in the car, talking. I loved to listen to his stories, so I'd ask tons of questions. This was also the moment where, for the first time, I got to help my Papa Bill give his burdens to Jesus. He wasn't a particularly religious man, but tears streamed down his life-worn cheeks as we prayed for the grace of God's great burden-bearer to help.
In a few days I'll drive back to Boston. The funeral will be over, families will return home, and the new normal will settle in uncomfortably, as it always must after a death. Time will probably afford me the chance to see much more to learn from my Papa Bill. But, if I can get these three lessons, I'll be a little more like him and a little more like Jesus, and I'm more than a little okay with that.
Yesterday was one of those days. One of those days you're startlingly reminded that God has a real enemy, and he hates you. I arrived to church yesterday and, for no reason at all, my back went out. I could hardly stand. On the way into the building, my daughter was nearly run over by someone fleeing the police. After church, someone hit my car. After I got home, my son and I stayed up half the night because he couldn't stop coughing. I didn't sleep.
And yet, it was also one of those days that you're wonderfully reminded that God wins, and his victories are better than you can possibly imagine. We had more people respond to the gospel than ever. After some folks laid hands on me and prayed, God healed my back and I preached four services and taught a class. Emails and texts were waiting in my inbox to encourage me.
Here are my conclusions:
- The devil is real.
- The Bible is true.
- Jesus is victorious.
- God still saves.
- God still heals.
- The work remains.
I'm a super big jerk, everybody. I don't deserve his grace. I just deserve the back pain. God's crazy, as far as I can tell. Crazy good. Crazy kind. Crazy patient. Crazy powerful. And crazy determined to bring His Kingdom to this little patch we call Boston.
The work remains. Carry on.
This post was one I wrote for my pals over at The Gospel Coalition. Recently my denomination of churches, Every Nation, gathered for our global get-together in Cape Town, South Africa. There was a tangible buzz in the air among the 5,000 or so delegates. Most striking was the diversity of the room. As the conference opened, a funny story was told.
A young American man was introducing himself to the woman who would later become his wife. In meeting her, he broke almost every rule of polite Japanese society. As she began to bow, he went in for the handshake. Their heads collided, leaving them both with quite the headache. What makes for a funny story now was terribly embarrassing in the moment.
And so it goes for many of our attempts at diversity.
Headaches Aren’t New
Jesus’s disciples were all from the same Jewish culture and ethnicity. They grew up just miles from each other. They must have been utterly gobsmacked, then, at Jesus’s instructions: “You are to bear witness to these things to all nations.” They were Jewish, living in the epicenter of Judaism, and following their Messiah. What in the world could he mean by sending them to “all nations”?
Since the church was initially slow to get around to the “all nations” part, God allowed a severe persecution that scattered the homogenous Jewish church across the Roman world, like seed tossed into the wind.
It wasn’t long until the Jewishness of Christianity came to blows with the Gentileness of the surrounding culture. As more and more non-Jewish folk filled the fledging church, the racist, sectarian, and nationalistic parts of the flesh began rising up. The first church council was called to deal with some of that tension (Acts 15). Large sections of Galatians and Romans were written to alleviate confusion over racial boundary markers and right belief in Jesus Christ. Peter himself—the rock!—was publicly called out by Paul for succumbing to this confusion and refusing to eat with image-bearers of a different ethnicity (Gal. 2:11–14).
No Headache, No Multi-Ethnic Beauty
Gratefully, Peter repented. But have we?
Many of us sit happily in the pews of our churches surrounded by persons of our own cultural tribe, playing the music of our own preference, while wondering why those around us look just like us. We develop whole (bad) theologies ensconcing our musical and aesthetic preferences, effectively barring the door from those whose culture is too expressive, too loud, or too different.
And we wonder why they don’t come. Here’s why: We don’t want the headache, and they know it.
I’m not saying every church has to meet some false standard of diversity. Nor am I suggesting churches mostly composed of one ethnic group are bad. Yet if any church isn’t concerned with the other tribes—unconcerned to reach them, to know them, and to be known by them—how is that not the same kind of self-preferential partiality of which Peter was guilty? We carry the lunch tray of our cultural preferences to the table filled with persons like us because we just don’t want the headache of dealing with the other.
I’m a white guy pastoring a multi-ethnic church, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve tried to shake hands when I needed to bow. I’ve said ignorant things; I’ve hurt feelings; I’ve made mistakes. So why do it? Why not just be happy to pastor a white church?
Because the hope of a multi-ethnic church is worth it.
Refuse the Headache, Rob the World
The church isn’t primarily about worship styles, preaching methods, budgets, and buildings. The church is about being an embassy of heaven, an outpost of God’s kingdom on earth. It’s about embodying a picture of the future world that has come rushing backward into the present—and, while embodying that heavenly future, inviting people into it through faith in the gospel. But if we refuse to embrace the challenge of understanding why our black neighbors have a hard time in our white churches, how different are we from the local country club?
Such tendencies made Jesus angry. When he walked into the temple, he was furious at what he saw (Mark 11:15–17). The homogenous Jewish community had filled the one place the non-Jewish world could come and worship Yahweh. Jesus wanted Israel to understand that his house was to be a house for all ethnicities—pantos ethnous (Mark 11:17). He wasn’t angry because he didn’t like commerce. He was angry because God’s people had forgotten their role in the world: to be a light to the Gentiles. They didn’t want the headache of all those people in their place of worship.
Embrace the Headache, Embody Gospel Hope
Our nation—and our world—are rife with sectarian, racist, and tribal animosity. From Rwanda to Russia, South Africa to south Alabama, humans have always preferred those like ourselves.
But aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t feel that way? I’m so grateful he embraced the headache of welcoming outsiders into fellowship with him. I’m glad he did the hard work of figuring out how to include my tribe, and yours, into his everlasting kingdom.
As churches, we have a unique opportunity to tell the story of gospel hope with our sermons and illustrate it with our lives. For most of us white people, it means being willing to relinquish the privilege of not having to think about such matters, and to stand up for those who do. For non-white believers, it may mean continuing to model Christlike longsuffering in spaces where your ethnic identity is often overlooked or discredited.
Such gospel living must persist among us, especially when your brother bumps your head with his handshake.
I love John Piper. His book Desiring God, stirred in me a passion to pursue pleasure in the person and work of Jesus Christ probably more than anyone. Admonishing us to not waste our lives on the frivolity and farces popular culture offers, his focus on the message of desiring God above all has been so refreshing — so focusing. Like a cool drink of water in the midday sun.
One of the farces and frivolities that Piper warns against is football. Seeing it rightly — as a quasi-false-religion for millions — he wants God's people to be very wary of giving their passion to a game when their passion for God needs to be stoked.
This is a message that has always resonated pretty easily with me. I never played football. My family never watched football (or any team sports, really). So, giving up something I never really liked was hardly a sacrifice. And feeling morally superior to my peers whose passion for the game was manifest all around me appealed to my flesh and insecurity.
And, therein lies the problem.
I became a Big Game legalist — a bit of a football pharisee, if you like alliteration.
Look, watching millionaires in stretchy pants run around on a field probably won't inspire me more than it has anytime soon. I'm unlike to become suddenly smitten with game stats and Sports Center. And yet, watching the Super Bowl with my family last night (mostly because I live in New England and felt it was my missionary duty to do so), I couldn't help but realize that I was sharing an experience with the millions of people in my city. For many of them, the Pats winning a stunning upset victory last night really will be the highest of joys they taste. They'll treasure this moment for decades to come, squeeze it for ever drop of pleasure that they can.
Shared Experience and Sharing Faith
Shared experiences allow God's people to demonstrate that all-satisfying joy in Christ by enjoying lesser things appropriately. God didn't design the world — sports included — for us his people to turn their noses up and disapprovingly walk away. We're actually the ones that should be free in Christ to enjoy the world appropriately. Sharing this moment with my fellow New Englanders creates a bit more real estate on a shrinking piece of shared life that Christians may have with an increasingly hostile culture. Should I willingly cede that ground of gospel possibility for the sake of preference? Probably not.
Mini Battles Point to the Big One
While football isn't really my thing, I am extremely competitive. I like to win ... a lot. And, I think God likes to win, too. Especially since He's working out the greatest upset victory of all time. Is football a farce? It is if it's the only battle we've got in mind — the only one we're living for. Should athletes be paid unfathomable amounts of money to distract us while the world suffers from real problems? Probably not. But that system won't change if Christians aren't engaged, modeling the appropriate proportion of praise these guys are due. We can enjoy wins and brush off losses because we're supposedly the ones aware of a bigger game going on.
Enjoy the Game and Enjoy God
I could probably learn to enjoy the game more, that's true. But, I can also learn to enjoy God more. And, done rightly, football (or anything else in the world) can build a scaffold for the expression of joy that Christ supersedes and actually satisfies. For the millions in my region, the victory will be sweet for the next few days. That is, until it wears off. Or until the Pats lose. Or until Brady retires.
Not so with God. His victories only increase. His glory only grows. His goodness never ceases. His mercies never stop. And, in him, we're all heading toward a championship that will last longer and taste better than any football game. But, if we're thinking rightly, it's also the kind of victory that the best of games may point to.
There's a lot of chatter on social media about President Trump's executive action. So, in an effort to turn passion into Kingdom action, I humbly submit for your consideration five steps we can take right now to be helpful toward this cause:
A lot of great, godly charities are funneling money and resources to those fleeing persecution. Because we live in the richest country on earth, our donations can make a huge impact. Consider partnering with them. Here's one, and here's another, and here's another one.
If you belong to Jesus, you have at your disposal the most powerful, history-altering resource known to humanity — prayer. Pray for the refugees. Pray for the leaders of their broken countries. Pray for our own leaders, to practice compassion for the least of these while trying to secure our borders. Pray against a spirit of fear which foments our worst natures.
There are some great organizations that serve incoming refugees. Let's be known as those who welcome them, care for them, and serve them. We Christians are pro-life people. From conception to resurrection, people matter to God. Let's find ways to serve them.
After preaching yesterday on the refugee crisis and God's heart for the nations, I spoke with many internationals who were grateful to have found a place that welcomed them. While I know a thousand things our church can do better, I was glad for the little grace of foreigners feeling welcomed in our midst. When you meet your refugee neighbor, invite them into your community, your home, and your circle of friends, and yes, your church.
Part of the responsibility of God's people is to speak prophetically to our leaders when they go astray. Protest is a longstanding American tradition and a protected civil liberty. So, when appropriate, be present to be heard. Call your congressmen and senator. Advocate for godly, compassionate, and wise rule in our land. Just remember that as you do, God hears what you say and how you say it. In these gatherings there will always be temptation to give way to the worst parts of our common humanity. So often our enemy can turn righteous anger into sinful rage. So, as a mentor once told me, speak truth in a way that you'd want to hear it if you were the one in the wrong.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Lk. 10:27)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:2-3)
These last few months have been a harrowing time to be online. If you're social media savvy, chances are you've gotten sucked into scrolling through political, social, sexual, and moral filth. And, if you've gotten sucked into the any of the aforementioned nonsense, you've probably seen your fellow follower of Jesus step in it a time or two. So, I humbly offer five ways for Christians not to behave online.
Utilize the Comment Section
Sweet Solomon's shorts, please stop with the comments. You know how many people have ever been convicted by the comment section of a blog? Zero. I'll bet you your Study Bible.
Be Selfie Righteous
Keep up the illusion that you're the social justice, whole-grain, fair-trade warrior, completely compliant with the new "morality" by taking all the shots of you and your moral talismans.
Show Up to Every Online Fight You're Invited To
Do you see something that doesn't require your comment? Does a fellow human hold a belief you find objectionable? Then by all means show up with guns-a-blazin'. Nothing helps the world know we're Christians more than when fight in public like pagans.
Get Your News From One or Two Sources That Already Agree With You
You wouldn't want to be triggered by another point of view. So, make sure you only read The Atlantic. Or Drudge. Or whatever. Because that's what Jesus would do.
Read Social Media Feeds More Than Scripture
By all means, make sure you're more up-to-date with the latest memes than the timeless, eternal Word of God.
In all seriousness, I love you fellow believers. But, I think we can do a little better :-) If you're upset by this blog, though, please feel free to leave comments. That will almost certainly help.
It was a fresh, autumn day. "Fresh" is that euphemism that Scots use to describe utterly terrible, grey, rainy weather that most other places in the world would deride. Call it a coping mechanism.
Anyway, it was fresh with a bit of sun that day.
I just moved to Edinburgh with my wife, our three-month-old daughter, our dog, and her grand piano. I was 21, she was 22, and we'd been in country for a few weeks. All our earthly possessions had been delayed, not to arrive for another couple of months. But, it was time to get to work.
We'd moved to help a team of men and women plant a new church in the city, and the work couldn't wait for my couch to arrive. So, off to the train station I went to get to Edinburgh Uni. My job was to reach out to incoming freshmen (or freshers, as they're known there. Boy, they love that word "fresh,"...) I arrived to Teviot Square. I was to tell students about Jesus. This was the moment I'd prayed for, worked for, hoped for, and raised a small pile of money for. It had all come to this. I stepped into the square, teeming with students.
I was terrified.
I probably walked around that square for an hour, praying and asking God to open a door, to give me courage — to make it easier. Then, I spotted a Georgia Tech hat.
As a graduate of FSU, I knew what that meant. I'd found a southerner — a dude who rooted for an ACC school, no less. This was my man, so I approached him. "Are you from Georgia?" I asked this dude. Confused, he tilted his head and replied, "no."
As it turned out, this fellow had gotten the hat from his roommate, who was (and is) American. He borrowed it and stepped out to play a bit of frisbee there in the square. We struck up a conversation. He attended an outreach we were sponsoring. He and I began to get together for coffee. I told him about Jesus, and about the destiny and calling on his life. After a while, he began to believe me.
Weeks later, this young man found his way to the first few worship gatherings of our newly formed church — Every Nation Edinburgh — meeting weekly at the Dominion Cinemas. He joined our setup team. Then our worship team. This young Scot became one of the first men I had the privilege of discipling. By the end of his first year at University, God had done quite a work in his life.
For the five years that we lived in Scotland, I enjoyed this relationship with Gordon. I was mentoring him in the faith, and in a bit of life, too. I played music with him (since I was the worship leader), and I did a bit of campus ministry with him (since I was the campus minister, too). I got to watch a teenage boy who wandered to university become a man of God stepping into his destiny.
Seven years ago, I said goodbye to Gordon, to Scotland, and to many other young men into whom I had the privilege of investing a bit of my life. Hope and I packed our bags, a few more kids, and her grand piano, and moved home.
This week, I got to return.
The occasion was to be one of the many men who witnessed Gordon become the Lead Pastor of our church in Edinburgh. The dream of any missionary is to hand the work over to locals, and for the many of us who invested our lives into this place, it was a glorious occasion of thanksgiving to see this young man and his amazing wife step into leadership. Missionary dream come true.
I had the chance to catch up with many old friends this week, pray with many, encourage many. Now that I'm on my way home to Boston again, I can't help but draw a few conclusions.
Discipleship is About Destiny
Twelve years ago I could have never known that Gordon would become a pastor. That's not why I spent time with him. I invested my life and faith into this young man because Jesus calls his disciples to make disciples. The fun part, only known to the Lord at the time, is the result. I'm convinced, however, that if we'll stick by our calling to make disciples we will never cease to be stunned at the destinies that are walked into.
Discipleship is Not Automatic
I'm tempted to make discipleship a class or a program. And, while classes and programs are indispensable, discipleship ends up being about relationships. Those don't just happen. They aren't automatic. They require a high degree of intentionality.
Destiny is Up to God
We don't make disciples because we see their destinies. We never know what will happen, only God does. I think it's safer that way. God wants us to be faithful to invest in others. We embody faith in the gospel and trust in the God of the gospel when we leave the results to him.
I'm proud of Gordon. I'm grateful to God. And, I'm really humbled and stunned that this is the kind of work I get to do. By grace, it's work that, for me, will never stop.
I found encouragement in four very unlikely places yesterday.
On my way into work I listened to Trump's victory speech. It was humble, and I was frankly stunned. He said nice things about Mrs. Clinton. NICE THINGS. His words were a welcome contrast to the divisive and ugly things he's said in the past.
Tuning into Secretary Clinton's concession speech, I was also stunned. She was gracious, humble, and even went the extra mile by urging her supporters to give Mr. Trump the chance to lead well. I was truly grateful for her largess and dignified words.
President Obama fought fiercely against Trump and his policies. But yesterday he encouraged me greatly by his willingness to work hard for a peaceful, graceful transition of power. I'm glad to have a president who sees the country as more important than himself.
Speaker Ryan — another man who really did not want Trump to be president — laid aside his personal preferences and pleaded with us to unify, praising his political opponents (Obama and Clinton) for leading the way toward national unity.
Let's follow our leaders' encouragements — liberal and conservative, black and white, political opponents and allies — and work together for the glory of God and the good of all.
My fellow Christian Americans, Last night, Donald Trump won the election and will become the 45th President of The United States of America. This mourning — I mean, morning — I saw a lot of sad, angry, rude, happy, anxious, fearful posts and faces.
I was disappointed months ago when the nominating process was over because both candidates embodied different anti-Kingdom values. The choice between a bullet and a noose isn't much of a choice, after all. I'll leave you to decide which one got elected.
We're Christians. We already have a King. He was King yesterday, and He's King today. Since we're citizens of a Kingdom that will never end, here's what we simply cannot do as we occupy this Republic that most certainly one day will:
- Do Not Panic
Breathe. Neither Trump nor Clinton can destroy your reward. We elected a president, we did not install Emperor Palpatine. I understand that you may feel afraid, concerned, or upset. Grief is a perfectly acceptable and normal response. Panic is not — not for God's people.
Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory... (Deut. 20:2-3)
- Do Not Gloat
Half of you got what you wanted yesterday. Half of you did not. If you did, do not gloat. Spiking the ball and proudly declaring that "we got our country back," betrays your idolatrous allegiance to the wrong kingdom and the wrong king. If you voted for Donald Trump and you are happy today, act like a Christian. Seek to understand your brothers and sisters who did not.
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5)
- Do Not Judge
Half of you did not get what you wanted yesterday. I've read your mean tweets ... "How could anyone who loves Jesus vote for this man." I understand your bewilderment, but these are your brothers and sisters. Jesus' injunction against judging them means that you can't allow their vote and your loss to break your fellowship. Love like a Christian.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt 7:1-2)
- Do Not Hate
Some of you are angry. Righteous anger only takes a little sin to turn into hate. You cannot hate those with whom you disagree. If you voted for Hilary, you cannot hate the Trump voter — not if you love Jesus. This is your opportunity to feel what they felt 4 and 8 years ago. If you voted for Trump, you cannot hate the Hilary voter. This is your opportunity to practice humility in your temporal electoral victory. Love like a Christian.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
- Do Not Fear
Jesus doesn't want us to be afraid of anything we face in this life. We all must remember that King Jesus is King Jesus, and he's in charge of the world. Here are some words Paul wrote to a church ruled by tyrants:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)
- Do Not Get Cynical
Cynicism is just cowardice with sarcastic clothes on. Christian, you're called to engage the world, your neighbor, your political opponent, and even your political ally with the gospel of Jesus. Cynicism says, "There's no point" to gospel proclamation, acts of mercy, and social responsibility. Resist the temptation to get cynical.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)
- Do Not Stop
We are citizens of heaven, called to build the Kingdom of God and make disciples at all times, under any administration, with all our hearts, so that all the world can know King and Savior of all creation.Do. Not. Stop.Do not stop praying. Do not stop proclaiming. Do not stop repenting. Do not stop believing. Do not stop fellowshipping. Do not stop hoping. Do not stop giving. Do not stop loving.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:9-10)
There's a future version of Adam Mabry that I'm working to become. He's better, smarter, wiser, more loving, and host of other things that I'm not at the moment. You probably do this, too. Heck, the Bible does. The Scriptures hold out the hope of resurrection and the perfect, glorified future that goes with it. But in a city full of do-ers, in a country full of do-ers, we can become quite discouraged that we haven't yet gotten this one done. It's discouraging to think that you're not yet what you could — or should — be.
Enter anxiety, depression, sadness, and self-loathing. How do we beat this?
The Psalms give a clue, many of which are simply poetic reminders of what God did a long time ago — parted the red sea, made the world, established the kingdom of Israel. I can imagine being a faithful Israelite in, say, the 5th century B.C. could be depressing. On the one hand you had promises of a coming messiah, on the other a present situation that looked more like Hell than Heaven. But here's their genius that is helping me:
Past Providences Fuel Present Praise.
Instead of freaking out about the gap between what is and what is to come, they rejoiced at the journey from what was to what is. Instead of wondering if God would be faithful tomorrow they remembered that God was faithful in every yesterday.
The anxious temptation to reject God because I don't see what He will do is subverted by the memories I have of what He has done. His past providences are like gasoline on the fire of my present praises. My present praises shape my heart to trust God's future graces ... Graces that one day will be past providences.
When someone I trust makes me a promise, I believe them. Why isn't this true when God makes me a promise? I believe in God, but sometimes I don't believe God. Believing in God and believing God are not the same. In prepositions lie the power of life and death.
I Don't Know Them
I can't believe promises I don't know. Now, everything in the Bible isn't a promise. Proverbs aren't promises. Descriptions of terrible sin isn't a promise. But the Scriptures do contain literally thousands of promises from God, should I bother myself to find them. But if I never read them, I'll never know them.
I Don't Remember Them
There's a hole in my soul, and out of it seems to fall so much of what is good, right, and true from God. I can't just read the promises, therefore. I have to keep reading them and commit them to memory. Further, I have to be around men and women who will remind me of what my situations help me forget.
I Don't Say Them
So much of the Bible was written to be read aloud. The promises of God are confessional. The greatest promise of all — that God will justify us by faith in the gospel — is only accessed by confession. "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord ... you will be saved." (Rom 10:9). We need to be people who confess these promises aloud.
Here's an action item for you to consider. Download this short list of promises from God. Read them. Remember them. Say them. Then, repeat that process for about 30 days. I dare you. Tell me if it doesn't move the needle of your trust in God, make your more fruitful, and cause you to grow.
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:19-22)
Leadership is a gift and a skill. I read a good number of books on leadership, some more helpful than others. But I find that Proverbs-style, pithy, and portable phrases are helpful to me. Like actual proverbs, you can chew on them. So, here are five (mostly unoriginal, yet totally helpful) axioms that are shaping my leadership right now. Leading Means Listening When I was a music student as an undergrad we took whole courses on listening. Why? Because you can't conduct a choir or orchestra well if you can't hear when one part, one section, or even one player is out of tune. Similarly, I've got to listen to my people. Like a great orchestra, the diversity of my people ethnically, socially, and generationally means that we don't all sound the same, and sometimes we're out of tune. I can't just charge ahead, leading means listening.
Do for One... Famous old Andy-Stanley-ism, but man it's still so good. The whole thing goes, "Do for one what you wish you could do for all." There are a lot of people in the church, and I can't personally help everyone. I can be paralyzed by that. But, if I can do for one what I wish I could do for all, I create a culture where all can be helped.
You Can Have Control or Growth, But You Can't Have Both Guys I'm such a control freak. I want it all a certain way ... my way ... the right way! That's fine as long as I'm willing to disobey the Scriptures and keep our church super small. But if I'm going to make leaders and grow a people, I've got to let go of a LOT. Don't remember who said this one, but high fives to them.
You Can't Over-Preach Vision and Values As an achiever, I suffer from serial boredom. Once I've done something, it's really hard for me to go back and do it again. It's crossed of the list ... next! But leading means taking those core truths about who we are and holding them up for all, all of the time. I can't say our vision and values enough. In fact, the only thing I should be saying more is the actual gospel.
Reaction isn't Leadership Being loud, angry, and reactive isn't leadership. There's a lot in this world that's truly horrible and worth getting loud and angry about. And, if I were only concerned with expressing myself, I'd go for it. But as a leader I don't have the luxury of venting my emotions at injustice and sin in the world. I have to orient a people toward action. So, I've got to constantly deal with the PH balance of my soul, and keep myself at a low state of reactivity. Otherwise, my words become acidic and my leadership bullying.
What axioms are helping you?
I didn't write during the month of August. There's a reason for this. I felt it important to be quiet. Quietude is not a strength of mine. I mean, I'm a preacher. And, I'm an extroverted preacher, at that. I like people, and I like talking to people. My mom says I could engage a potted plant in interesting conversation. You get it. "Shh," isn't my strong suit.
But, silence has immense value. So, to wade back into the waters of my writing world, here's three reasons that you should consider moments — or even seasons — of silence.
Silence Allows You to Listen
You can't listen and talk at the same time. There are hurting people all around me. I know that the gospel is the answer for their pain. Yet, I don't always know how the gospel should answer their pain. When I am silent, I can hear them. I can hear God.
...a man of understanding remains silent. - Proverbs 11:12
Silence Allows You to Heal
I hear hurtful speech often. When I'm silent, I've found a place to both not hear the hurtful voice of my enemy, my flesh, and my detractors. Because of that, I can heal. I can listen to God's voice in the Spirit and the Scripture. I can remember who He says I am.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet. A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. - Proverbs 29:9, 11
Silence Allows You to Stop
As much as I can hear hurtful speech, I can dish it out too. My strength of speaking, teaching, and stringing words together in funny, pithy ways can, if my sinful flesh takes hold, be really ugly. When I'm silent, I don't say the foolish things I'm thinking. God can correct my thinking, and I can change.
Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. - Proverbs 13:3
Never in the history of humanity has there been more recorded speech. And never has there been more mental illness, depression, anxiety, and all manner of brokenness. Maybe we who think we're wise should try shutting our mouths for a minute and listening. I'm trying to.
Give it a try with me.