How to Not Hear the Holy Spirit

“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.

No wonder some respond to this problem by simply denying God’s Spirit speaks to us today. My point here is not to debate that point, since others have done so (e.g., here and here).

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.

Call Evil What it Is

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.


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?


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.


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.





3 Lessons from Papa Bill

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.


The Headache and Hope of Multi-Ethnic Ministry

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.

Football, Fellowship, and Farces

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.

Football Pharisee

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.

5 Ways to Help Refugees Right Now

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 anotherand 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)

How To Behave Online. Or Not.

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.

Of Discipleship and Destiny

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.

Four People Who Encouraged Me Yesterday

I found encouragement in four very unlikely places yesterday.

Donald Trump

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.

Hillary Clinton

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.

Barack Obama

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.

Paul Ryan

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.

3 Reasons We Must Fight for Joy in God

“To the world, the dejected Christian seems to accuse God and His service, as if he openly called Him a rigorous, hard, unacceptable Master, and His work a sad unpleasant thing… You are born and new born for God’s honor; and will you thus dishonor Him before the world?”   Richard Baxter, 1830. I'm going to risk offending someone with this, but it must be said.

Nowhere in the world have I ever lived or visited where the residents seemed more regularly dogged by depression, anxiety, and unhappiness. In my church full of young, bright, healthy people this most obvious. Now, there are really good reasons to experience sadness — injustice, death, tragedy, to name a few.


Many of us walk around with pursed lips and furrowed brows for some bad reasons. Maybe we think it suits our temperament. Or, maybe we've erroneously thought that Christians should be serious people — so serious, we're horribly sad. Maybe we just like the attention we get. Baxter has a point that we can't qualify into oblivion.

Unjustified Sadness Tarnishes God's Glory

Key word: Unjustified. Christians are not to be people who fake smile their way through life. The Bible says that there is a time to weep. It's just not all the time. When we're dour for no reason we tarnish the glory of God. Christian, you're ineffective at spreading the good news of the gospel when you unceasingly act as if it's bad news in your life.

Unsought Victory Minimizes God's Power

While the Bible clearly teaches that human beings are sinners in need of grace, it also calls Christians overcomers. But merely practicing a few spiritual disciplines with faith, how much victory could we experience! But when we don't seek victory over sadness, we minimize God's power. We say with our lives, "God's really sorry, but he can't help you right now."

Unmixed Sorrow Forget's God's Future

Sorrow is real and appropriate many times in life. But sorrow cannot be the lonely only emotion we experience. God is bringing about a world that, even in the darkest of times, we're never to forget. That's why Christian sorrow should always be mingled with invincible joy. Heaven is real, and it is coming. Sin is real, and it is defeated. Jesus is real, and he is victorious. God's future is forgotten when our sorrow goes unmixed with deep joy.

Get up, man of God. Fight your folly.

Woman of faith, resist your sadness.

Christian, take hold of your Bible, engage your faith, confess what it says about you. Seek pray from others and practice the pursuit of joy. Much depends on it.


The Mission Has a Spirit

Imagine the profound idiocy of a general sending troops into battle with no weapons, radios, or air power. Such is the situation with much of modern church planting, I fear. In a quick survey of the last ten books I’ve read on church planting, not more than 5% of the total text had anything to do with the Holy Spirit, much less was it devoted to pleading with the planter to pray for the Spirit to move mightily in the work of the church plant. That’s a good deal less than God’s book on church planting—the book of Acts. A brief Google of the phrase “church plant conference” unearths vast practical resources, website companies, church plant gear guides, and other so-called “must haves” of the entire enterprise of church planting. But if one were to go by the Google results alone, one would be hard-pressed to believe that the church ever got off the ground in the first century at all without the whizz-bangery of church planting that we’ve come to believe is mission-critical. In fact, a study of the early church may lead us to believe that the aforementioned mission-critical whizz-bangery is just all noisy gongs and clanging cymbals compared to the Spirit that powered the mission in the first place.

The Mission Started With The Spirit

There they were, praying in the upper room, when the local church planting coordinator called and informed them that they got a huge grant, and a few hundred people were just outside. So, Peter put on his face mic and walked out just as the worship leader was putting down his all-rosewood, custom Taylor guitar, having just ended a new rendition of phos hilaron. Lights up, stool out, Pentecost time.

Wait. No … That’s not how it happened at all.

They were scared, small, and stirred by the resurrected Christ to wait for the Spirit. He came, and the mission of the forward motion of the church began. We who care about church planting would do well to remember that the church began by a powerful working of the Spirit of God which was preceded by a dramatic experience of faith in Christ. Having just seen Jesus after he was raised, they were believing, but they were waiting. When the Spirit came, the church began. The mission given by Jesus was turned to action by the Holy Spirit.

The Mission Advances By The Spirit

Further, the power of Pentecost wasn’t just the church’s big coming-out party. Of course, a common rejoinder from modern people is that when the cannon of Scripture was closed, the Spirit packed up all the party supplies (supernatural gifts and acts) and went home. But a rejoinder to that rejoinder is, well, history. And the Bible. In fact, the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit is uniformly attested to by the earliest post-biblical sources as not only normative, but critical to the mission. Early church leaders were pretty much expected to operate in the gifts of the Spirit.[1] In fact, there’s good evidence to suggest that between the death of the Apostles and the writings of the first Christian apologists, the church’s main mission strategy was through demonstrations of power which attested to the truth of the gospel message.[2]

Of course, we’re skipping entirely over the books of Acts, which is replete with descriptions of miracles, healings, answers to prayer, and other powerful workings of the Spirit which, in every single case, serve to advance the mission. The fact is, the history of the early church is not all doctrines and councils. It’s the story of the work of the Spirit to grow the church in the midst of a hard culture.

Your Mission Needs The Spirit

Look, I get it. Who wants to be a crazy charismatic? Your church plant plan doesn’t include any mention of falling over, shaking, or any otherwise odd-looking behaviors. You’re just hoping to lead some people to Jesus, preach well, and make disciples. Nothing to see here, right?

Here’s the thing, I’m actually really grateful for all the whizz-bangery of church planting. I think it’s all an expression of a Spiritual gift, actually—the gift of wisdom. It’s wise to have great music. It’s wise to have a decent website. It’s wise to attend a conference, build a team, and do best practices. I teach that stuff to church planters all the time. But I don’t know if you’ve read 1 Corinthians lately, but the Spirit offers a great many more gifts to us than just wisdom. And if we’re really serious about getting the mission done, then two suggestions come to mind. First, we should re-read Jesus’ mission statement. He said, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” Then, we should go read that commandment in 1 Corinthians 14:1, and start to earnestly desire Spiritual gifts.

Further, every church planter is already asking God to do a far greater miracle than the kinds of things that give John MacArthur heartburn. We’re asking Him to perform the miracle of conversion—the new birth. Raising a sinner from spiritual death is a good deal more impressive than the gift of prophesy. And yet, strategically, God has given a whole set of gifts to bring about that gift. Why not just ask God for all of them?

God is a great general. He would never send his people into confrontation with the gates of Hell unarmed. That’s why the disciples waited in an upper room. Before you and I step out onto the mission field, perhaps we should prayerfully await the Spirit, too. Who knows what powerful work God would do if we believed the mission had a Spirit.


[1] Ronald Kydd notes that “[All the leaders] were expected to minister charismatically. . .; Ronald A. N. Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984), 10.

[2] Ed Stetzer, “The Wandering Ecstatic Prophet in the Mission Strategy of the Early Church,” Journal of Evangelism and Missions (Spring 2003): 1.

Can a Christian Be Patriotic?

I remember the little church we would frequent had two flags: one American, one Christian. One Fourth of July weekend, I clearly remember singing the National Anthem and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Church and State were partners in those days, and the patriotism seemed to go hand-in-hand with Christianity. And, in many churches today, this is still the case. But should it be? Some Christians believe quite strongly that we cannot be patriotic. With our citizenship in Heaven (Phil. 3:20) shouldn't be skip the fireworks on the Fourth and instead long for the country that is coming — the one without corruption, without injustice. The one ruled by the One great King?

Not Blind Patriotism

Both of these views are right, and both are wrong. Blind patriotism is clearly wrong. And, many American Christians are blindly patriotic. Believing only in the Christian America origins of our nation, this view utterly ignores the weeds of injustice which have grown up along the good stalk of the puritanical vision. The same weeds that today seem to be choking it out altogether in many quarters. Indeed, our citizenship is in Heaven, so we can never be blindly patriotic.

Worst of all, though, blind patriotism always devolves into a kind of syncretism. It muddies the clear, fresh water of the gospel, trading it for the mixed, brackish, and unhealthy false gospel of "America first."

Not Separate Kingdoms

So why not separate entirely? Why would Christians even bother engaging in an American that is wrought with so many problems? Well, the simple answer is, the Bible commands us to engage the world, not retreat from it. While we're not of it, we're still in it. (Jn 17:16) The very reason that God's people remain in the world is to engage it with the gospel, so that every nation might be present before God in worship for all time. (Rev 7:9)

Tragically, those who advocate the church as a completely different kingdom than the world devolve into a sub-Christian separatism. I'm just glad Jesus wasn't a separatist.

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Patriotism as Resident Aliens

The Apostle Peter gives insight into this question in his epistle. He calls the church, “elect exiles of the Dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1). Christians are chosen by God to live as exiles in another country—resident aliens. The citizenship of the Christian is in heaven, but the residence of the Christian is in his city. The allegiance of God’s people is to the King of the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ. But God’s people must love their city and their neighbors all the same. Keller notes:

Resident aliens will always live with both praise and misunderstanding. Jesus taught that Christians’ “good deeds” are to be visible to the pagans (Matt. 5:16), but he also warns his followers to expect misunderstanding and persecution (v. 10) ... Both Peter and Jesus indicate that these “good deeds” ... will lead at least some pagans to glorify God ... The church must also multiply and increase in the pagan city as God’s new humanity, but this happens especially through evangelism and discipling. (Keller, Center Church, 148.)

5 Practices of a Christian Patriot

It's not wrong to love your country, because you and I are commanded to love our neighbor. We shouldn't love it blindly, nor should we hate it blindly. Instead, consider these five practices of a Christian patriot:

  1. Pray for America -  The Scriptures command it. Pray for your leaders, your neighbors, and your city.
  2. Learn the Christian Foundation Story - I know it's not a perfect place, but it's got some good stuff in the foundations. For a refresher, I recommend this book.
  3. Vote Well - People have bled and died so you could participate in government. Quit complaining and use your vote with wisdom and the fear of the Lord.
  4. Be Prophetic - Love calls out injustice. When we Christians see what is not good in our country, we should say something about it.
  5. Make Disciples - Evangelism in our pluralistic society is hard, but it's right. The onus is on us to show how the gospel fares in the market place of ideas that is America.

This patriotic weekend, let us remember our call to love our country — to love it well enough to tell it the truth, and to love it well enough to love Jesus more.

7 Things We Christians Simply Must Stop Saying

I like words. I also like philosophy — logic, particularly. My twin affinities have caused my to head throb over some of what passes for Christian lingo. So, in order to alleviate my headache and help my brethren and sisteren (?) clean up their language, I humbly offer this exhaustive list of things Christians need to stop saying. And spoiler alert, it's a bit of a rant.

"Doing Life"

Oh sweet tautology of tautologies. This one hits my ears like fingernails across a chalkboard.

Fun fact, all you ever do is life. That's what life is — the sum total of the lived experience. I know, I know ... what you mean to say is, "I want to have deep and meaningful relationships with others." Yes, that's awesome. Me too. So say that. That's why we have words which correspond with your meaning. Use those.

What else could you possibly be doing, non-life? In fact, if you're ever truly convinced you're not doing life, check your pulse. You may be dead.


This is a personal favorite. To a normal English-speaker, a season is a climatological word demarcating things like Autumn from Winter, Spring from Summer, and so forth. But to a Christian this word is shorthand for any conceivable span of time, with no clear beginning or end, known only to the user of the word. Prime examples include, "I feel like I'm in a season of prayer," or, "God's calling me to a season of service," or whatnot. And look, I get it. It's handy. And, it was probably creative the first few BILLION times it was trotted out. But look, the season for using the word "season," is over. Find a new word.

"I feel like God's calling me to _______."

Turn your Bible over. Now, whack the spine a few times. Look down. Did this phrase fall out? Nope. It did not.

NO PERSON IN THE BIBLE EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER <breath> EEEEVERRRRR used this phrase to describe their experience of the call of God. You know why? Because the Holy Spirit would have never inspired anyone to elevate their FEELINGS over God's instructions. God is calling or He's not. Your feelings about the matter, well, don't matter.

Now, it's not that you can't feel called to do x, but this little phrase has been used to excuse all kinds of silliness. But because it's you who feel called, no one is ever allowed to challenge you on it. As a pastor, I hear this all the time. "But pastor, I feel called to date this loser," "But pastor, I feel called to this obviously disobedient and self-destructive behavior." And if you "feel called" it becomes nigh impossible for anyone to budge you from your "calling," no matter how terrible it may be.

Discern what God is saying, not how you feel about it.

"I'm not being fed."

Phew. This one. I just ... I just need a minute.

This one is a favorite of flaky, semi-attentive consumers of religious goods and services. It usually comes just before they flake their flakerly flaktacular flakiness way the flake out the door.

Now, let me get the disclaimer out of the way: there are sadly a lot of pastors who completely fail to remember that their job is to attend to the Word and prayer (Acts 6). They preach garbage, opinions, heresy, or some cocktail of all three. They are literally not feeding their people.


This has become a favorite excuse of lazy maybe-Christians who actually think that their only spiritual 'meal' is on Sunday. Think of church like going out to eat at restaurant with an open kitchen. Hopefully, I'll cook you up a nice, nutritious meal. Hopefully you leave full of delicious Bible. But now that you've watched the chef cook, go give it a try yourself. Or you'll starve.

Any / all references to multiple bodies of water in worship songs.

Look, I know that a lot of people have been blessed by lots of songs involving good ol' H2o. I'm happy for that, I really am.

Or, I was until they were played to death. Like, actual death may ensue. We're singing about so many oceans, rivers, lakes, fjords, lochs, and ponds that God may just hear us and drown us all. We're going to church on Sunday, not a three hour tour. There's enough water sung about most Sundays to get on Aquaman's nerves. I don't know if all that hair product is just getting to our worship leaders' heads, but I'm praying the Spirit leads you where your songwriting skills are without borders. Particularly, aquatic borders.

All of God's names all of the time in all of the prayers.

"Lord Jesus Father God, I just wanna thank you Jehovah Father Spirit God..."

You know who knows his name? God. God knows his name. How would you like it if I walked up to you and said your name and all your attributes every single time we spoke. "Pastor husband Adam Mabry Man, I was wondering if I could borrow that pen, Adam Leader Male American White Christian Pastor ..." Kuuuuuuhhhhhwitit. Jesus literally said, "When you pray, say 'Father ...'" That's it.

"Hey dad," and you're off to the races.

"I have an unspoken prayer request."

Do you? Really? Then I'll just unpray about it. I feel like God's calling me to a season of doing life where I unpray about unspoken prayer requests. I prayed to Jehovah Jira Father Lord Jesus God Father, and he was cool with it.

Humor aside, I've said everyone of these things. But we Christians say silly things, often with little or no meaning. If you're really offended by any of this, feel free to email me at growasenseofhumor@imnotgonnareadit.nope

4 Ways Rest is Resistance

"I've got 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence." That's what Harold Abrahams famously stated in the movie Chariots of Fire. He ran, chasing his worth. We're just like him, I'm afraid. So much of our doing — heck, of my doing — is a chasing. But in the gospel we find an invitation to rest in the finished doing of Jesus. Which begs the question ...

How do we do that?

Answer: We resist. And that's where sabbath rest comes in. So, here are four ways rest is an act of resistance.

Rest is Resistance Against Anxiety

God's people can resist the anxiety built in to the system of performance-based religion, production-based value, and market-based human worth by resting. Taking a day off differentiates us from the system. The practice of leisure and levity are super important here. Anxious people can't laugh. Conversely, laughing people can't remain anxious.

Rest is Resistance Against Autonomy

There is a self-actualization arms race that pressures Western people to "be their most authentic self." No longer do we find our meaning, identity, and purpose within the society, the family, the church, or the group. Now we all bear the pressure of discovering and deploying our authentic individual self — something which the Bible never commands us to do. When we rest, we're resisting the false gospel of the autonomous self and remembering that we're a part of a different people. Namely, those who've found rest in Christ. Those who have laid down their striving after their ten seconds, as it were.

Rest is Resistance Against Coercion

The whole system of self-discovery, self-governance, and self-value that this world offers us is not just oppressive. It's coercive. The demands of the boss, of the game, of the kids' soccer, creep into the time of rest. Therefore the practice of sabbath is an act of defiance against these demands. It's saying a strong, clear "no." Practically, this is where the sabbath practice of avocation (or hobby) comes in. You can put your hands to something that isn't your job because you're free in Jesus to do so.

Rest is Resistance Against Idolatry

All of this frenetic, never-ending doing is rooted in a kind of idolatry. Like the false god-king Pharaoh demanded the Israelite slaves never stop working so he could enjoy rest, the false gods we worship do the same. The career god demands we skip vacations to climb the ladder. The perfect-family-god cries out to us to us to give our lives over to our children in unceasing labor. Jesus isn't like the false gods.

Jesus is the only God who has already done the work of redemption, of acceptance, and of justification, and offers us the fruits of his labor as a gift. Rest is an act of faith where we remember that we're on the receiving end of grace, not the producing end.

Rest is hard for driven people. I know, because I'm driven. But we must resist the rush and return to rest.


3 Trust Issues We All Have

Trust is a sticky issue for most of us. In bygone days, we weren't constantly bombarded with story after story of human untrustworthiness. But today our feeds are filled with clickbait-laden stories of how everyone is really quite untrustworthy. Small wonder, then, that when it comes to trusting God or anyone else, we struggle. Romans 1:17 says, "The righteous shall live by faith." But that greek word "faith" can be just as easily translated as "trust." And when I switch the words, suddenly I see all the ways that I don't trust. Suddenly I'm aware of my trust issues. Here are three I think we all have, and we all can get past with Jesus.

"I Can't Trust God."

This is the big one. When you and I hear that the righteous shall live by faith, we probably think, "Oh, I'm a man of faith. I have faith in God." But when we replace the word faith with its close synonym "trust," then the verse becomes a whole lot more difficult. Trust is active, present, and continuous. Trust is relational. Trust means, "Hey God, I trust you."

When hard times come, we feel that is somehow evidence that God is untrustworthy. "If God were good," we say to ourselves, "then He wouldn't allow this." Or maybe you do this as you read the Scriptures. Coming upon a hard passage you balk, "No God who says this could be trusted," so you walk away.

"I Can't Trust Them."

Our trust issues with God extend to people. If I had a dollar for every person who walked through the doors of my church who said, "Oh I love God, I just don't trust the church. Organized religion, man, it's where all the problems are," then I would have many dollars! Church hurt breeds a lot of mistrust. Perceived church hurt probably breeds more.

Here's the thing — trusting God inseparably entails trusting people. Why? Well because God became a person. Then, he put his Spirit in many other persons. Those people are called Christians. Refusing to trust others (especially other Christians) is a sign of a trust issue, not of a deft personal relationship policy.

"I Cant' Trust Him/Her."

Trust issues with God and with the group of God's people always trickles down to trust issues with an individual. And when we refuse to trust individuals for whatever reason we cannot carry on any kind of relationship with them. This is tragic for a million reasons, but perhaps the most tragic among them is because our mistrust of them means we can't properly love God.

You see, the Scriptures tell us that loving God means trusting people. That's what 1 Cor. 13 means when it says, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, eendures all things." Did you see our word? Belief. Or, you guessed it — trust. To love someone means to extend trust toward them, even if it is hard for us to do. To maintain a posture of cynical unbelief toward someone is to, in some way, be unable to love them.

Getting Past My Trust Issue

So what's a cynic like me to do? Back to the Bible. Back in Romans 1 we read that in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed, and the whole thing begins and ends in faith. Or, to use our word of the day, trust.

The gospel — the story of what God has done in Jesus Christ — is the ultimate proof that God is worthy of our trust. That's why Paul says that the whole kettle of fish starts and ends with trust (v. 16). To get past my trust issues, I've got to start by realizing that God has gone to an infinitely great length to prove his trustworthiness to me. Not because he had too. God doesn't have to do much. But because he loved me enough to want to. Getting past my trust issues starts with getting stuck into the story of the gospel, and letting my cynicism melt.

I'd invite you to join me. That is, if you can trust me.

7 Pastor Pitfalls I've Fallen Into (And How I Got Out)

I'm by no means a veteran pastor, but in my short tenure I've made enough mistakes to challenge the length of Barth's Dogmatics. So, I thought I might summarize a few of them and how I'm learning to overcome. 1. Confusing Sermon Prep for Spiritual Sustenance The sermon is a great privilege of pastors. We get to spend lots of time in conversation with great men of God from generations past, pouring over the text, and engaging their genius as we prepare a sermon. But preparing a sermon is not the same as spending time with God. That's like the chef never eating on the basis that he's cooked food all day.

2. Saying Yes to Everyone We pastors can be people pleasers. So, when one of the faithful comes forth with an idea, it's hard to tell them no. Early on I didn't do a good job of this. Just one more meeting. One more initiative. One more ... whatever. Saying yes to everyone is a sign of insecurity, fear of man, and an emotional neediness that we shepherds need to get over.

3. Being Nice Instead of Deep So many people, so little time. Instead of making the hard choice Jesus made as to the few men into whom I should invest my life, I've made the mistake of being nice to the hundreds instead of being deep with the twelve. It's not wrong, to be nice, of course. But if I'm going to have a lasting impact like Jesus did, then I must be deeply involved with the few.

4. Not Confessing Sin Quickly Enough Putting the word "pastor" in front of one's name can make you begin to believe in your moral impenetrability. Or, perhaps more accurately, the image of your moral impenetrability. When I've struggled with sin as a pastor, I've hidden far too often. I must confess sin more quickly. Pastor, get yourself a confessor.

5. Refusing to Rest Refusal to rest is what a Messiah Complex looks like. "The church is so busy," I'll say. Or, the more Christian sounding, "It's a busy season." Jesus ain't buying it, and neither is my family. Refusing to rest puts everything at risk, lighting fuse of burnout for an any-day-now explosion. Pastor, rest.

6. Preferring Platform over Pastoring I've been on stage since I was 5. I like stages, and the bigger they are the more I like them. But chasing a bigger and bigger platform is neither a moral good, nor helpful to my being a better Pastor. I've had to learn the difference between allowing God to open an opportunity for me and me striving for a thing I shouldn't have. God has called me to pastor, not to platform build.

7. Venting My Anger Like any job, Pastoring can be frustrating. The unique twist of pastoral frustration is that I can trick myself into thinking that my anger or frustration with my job or my church may be righteous anger. And hey, maybe sometimes it really is. But venting my anger is not righteous, it's foolish. I've had to learn that I can actually vent to Jesus in order to love his people, and that's really liberating.

So, there you go. Some of my issues for you to learn from. Please do, and figure out to leap past your own pitfalls.

The Gospel for the Relationally Exhausted

It's Springtime in Boston, and that means one thing — exodus. This time each year, around 200,000 students begin to trickle out of the city, many of them never to return, as they enter the real world of employment (hopefully). Others leave the city because of the nature of the place itself. People come here to pad resumes, get degrees, complete internships, etc. Put simply, the high taxes, high cost of living, and tempestuous weather means that most folks who find there way here eventually find their way out again.

What this all means for me is that around 20% or so of my flock turns over each year, usually around this time. Then, in just a few short weeks after the exodus, the city fills back up again. Hundreds of new faces stare back at me as I preach, new hands extend to me as I greet, new messages fill my inbox to request a coffee.

And it's absolutely. relationally. exhausting.

Saying goodbye to people I love and hello to people I don't know — over and over and over and over and over again — is just hard. I mean, it's even hard for me. I'm an extreme extrovert. I'm not particularly emotional about this kind of thing, either. I'm pretty well-built for a place like this. And I'm exceedingly grateful to Jesus that our church is a growing church, and that so many come through our doors.

But, jeez. Even me being me, this can all get really relationally exhausting.

What's worse, I can see this same relational exhaustion in my leaders. While a huge number of people in my church turn over each year, another huge number of people don't. They live here, and they don't plan to leave any time soon. They're trying to build relationships, and this transience makes that really, really hard. And while I may be an extrovert, most of them aren't. I can see their care-worn faces, wishing for roots that simply resist the soil of our city.

How Do I Know If I'm Relationally Exhausted?

Relational exhaustion manifests itself in me in two ways. First, when I begin intentionally distancing myself emotionally from pretty much everybody, I know that my emotional defense mechanisms have kicked it. I see you there. You're new. I smile, introduce myself, small-talk, and then walk away. Five minutes, I have forgotten you, your face, and your story. Safety.

The other symptom of relational exhaustion comes when I start measuring my interest in another human being based solely upon their answer to the question, "How long do you plan to be in Boston?" Less than a year? Bye bye.

These are not good reactions at all. They're understandable, but not appropriate for a minister of the gospel.

A Danger and an Opportunity

The great opportunity of ministry in the global city is just that — it's a global city. People from literally all over the world come to this city to become great. What better place to reach the world? What more strategic location from which to proclaim the good news of the gospel and make disciples? This is the opportunity that I and others have who do such ministry.

But, liabilities abound. The opportunity for cynicism is high. With so much human turnover, it's entirely possible to see these image-bearers of God as a commodity instead of a creation. I must guard my heart against that tendency. Equally dangerous is leaning into the frustration that comes from desiring a safe, stable, relational Mayberry where I see all my closest friends and neighbors as I walk my children to the same, safe, idyllic school all their kids attend. We "do life" together, grow old together, and a whole bunch of other stuff that probably won't happen. Do I wish for that life? Sure. Who wouldn't. But if I allow my longing for a perfect relational heaven to trap me in a frustrating relational hell, that's no good either.

Impermanence and It's Fruits

The simple fact is, that relational place I'm longing for does not exist. At least, not on this side of the Sun. Everything here is impermanent.

What's a Pastor to do with the impermanence of his ministry? What's a Christian to do with the impermanence of his influence? What are the relationally exhausted to do with the impermanence of their relationships? I can think of three appropriate responses.

  1. Long - Impermanence of the good in this life must not create the soil for cynicism to grow. Rather, it must be the beginnings of an appropriate longing for the future world with Jesus Christ. In the Kingdom, we will finally be home. Those roots we wished to lay in this world that just never seemed to take will finally establish themselves in the soil of the Heavenly city. The friendships we were designed for but destined to drop will be had. Laughter will be richer, meals will be fuller, and we will know even as we are fully known. That's a good thing to want.
  2. Wait - In the meantime, we must wait. Waiting is a fact of life designed by God to improve our character. Patience is not a natural phenomenon. It's formed in the waiting room. While we will have great friendships in this life, we must wait for the greatest one. While we will have laughter in this life, we must wait for the greatest joy.
  3. Work - We must resist with all our might the twin temptations to relationally retreat or emotionally write off others, just because they might not be permanent fixtures in our lives. We should work to fight the cynical thermodynamics of relational exhaustion. We must make friends, even for the 53rd time. We must invite people in our lives, even though we're freshly sad about those who've recently left our lives. We simply must work to be and become all that God has for us here.

The gospel is good news for the relationally exhausted precisely because in Jesus we find the one man who loved the world that abandoned him. I, for one, am glad he did. Now I shall attempt to go and do likewise.

You Are Not Invisible

One of the most effective lies I see militated against the people I pastor is the lie that they are, despite their proximity to others in day-to-day life, alone — the feeling of utter invisibility. This lie — that no one truly sees us — is especially effective because pulls the rug out from our pursuit of God while also undermining our ability to be in relationship with other people.

Sinning Is Easier When You Think No One Sees

The enemy of our souls is a brilliant strategist, and he understands that if he can get you to believe the myth of your invisibility, you’ll do in the dark what you’d not do otherwise. If you cannot see me, if no one can see me, then in what sense am I accountable for my actions? What makes my deeds matter?

The Scriptures tell a different story — one where all our deeds will be brought into the light. Forgetting this fact, however, makes missing the mark easier.

Despair Is Deeper When You're Invisible

Among our deepest longings is to know and be known. This longing drives us toward relationships with each other and God. But the sense of invisibility — of utter aloneness — means deep despair. For, even in my deepest human relationships I am not fully known. What ballasts the soul when faced with the fact that we can’t, in this life, be fully known by another person, is the understanding that we can be full known by God. Without that, the exhilaration of discovering someone new will soon give way to the hell of knowing you’ll never fully know anyone, nor be fully known.

God Turned His Back on Jesus So He Could Turn His Eyes Upon You

Only God can deal with this problem — the problem of invisibility. Only God can fully see and know us, and then only can we be fully known. Of course, our sin gets very much in the way of such intimacy. For, our sinful rebellion against God casts our souls away from the only relationship that can both satisfy our soul-deep need for intimacy.

But God has mended the tear which hides us from Him. In turning His back on His Son, He turns His gaze on you. When Christ went to the cross and uttered, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” he embraced the despair of invisibility so we could experience intimacy.

You aren’t alone. Not in Christ, not anymore.

Come out from the dark, and back from the brink. He sees, He knows, and His forsaken Son has been to the outer darkness to call you back from it.

A Monday Missional Mind-Dump

Yesterday was an awesome day at church. For the first time, we baptized people in all four of our weekend gatherings. That's a pretty big milestone for us. All of this cool stuff has my head spinning, and pumped for the mission of God in the Earth. So, here's my Monday Missional Mind-Dump:

God is on an Unstoppable Mission to Love and Save His Enemies I just don't get why, but God really, really loves his people. And we, His people, are one messed up group of folk. But, cover-to-cover, the Bible tells a story of a God who is dramatically and deeply devoted to redeeming the servants of his enemy and adopting them into his family. Piper says it well when he writes:

He created us "in his image" so that we would image forth his glory in the world. We were made to be prisms refracting the light of God's glory into all of life. Why God should want to give us a share in shining with his glory is a great mystery. Call it grace or mercy or love-it is an unspeakable wonder. Once we were not. Then we existed-for the glory of God! [note]John Piper, Desiring God. (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 1986) 55.[/note]

God Delights to Involve Us in the Mission What's crazier than the mere fact that God loves us sinners is that he commissions us into His service for the mission. The mission which led to our salvation doesn't stop with us, it consumes us.

God Uses Regular People The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 reveals something: God uses a regular dude to do an irregularly awesome thing. Philip here was not the Philip, famous as one of "the twelve." This was the other Philip — the one who was always getting confused with the Philip. This Philip was just a regular guy who led a ministry team in the early church.

Missional Efficacy is Proportional to Spirit Sensitivity Philip had a couple things going for him. First, he was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Because of that, he could hear when God said, "Yo, go talk to that guy." Are we Spirit sensitive? Would we even hear if God told us to tell someone the gospel? Do we know His voice?

Truth + Grace = Change Over and over again I see in the Scriptures how effective gospel ministry appears to be this beautiful combination of truth telling and grace giving. Philip was able to explain the Scriptures to the Ethiopian. I wonder, could you have done the same thing? Part of the reason we study the Bible for its meaning (not just its significance to us personally) is so we can accurately explain it to others. But when we share the truth, we must show grace. When gospel truth mingle with gospel grace, lives change. People get saved, delivered, and helped.

Baptizing People Is My Favorite Certain parts of ministry totally get old. Baptizing people into the family of God never does.