The Devil is Real. The Bible is True. The Work Remains.

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.

7 Things Christians Must Not Do After the Election

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:

  1. 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)

  2. 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)

  3. 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)

  4. 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)

  5. 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)

  6. 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)

  7. 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)

5 Axioms Shaping My Leadership Right Now

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?

3 Reasons to Try Silence

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.

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

How to Read a Difficult Text

This past Sunday I preached 1 Peter 3:1-8. It's not an easy text to hear for modern, Western peoples. In fact, if you read it quickly, it sounds like the first line of evidence in the argument for the case that the Bible is really just an outdated, mostly useless book. Most of us read the Bible about like we read our Facebook feed — quickly, shallowly, and on the hunt for cheap click-bait. So, when we come to a text like the one above, we're instinctively hunting for the frowny-face button to show our dislike. Let me suggest a different way.

How NOT to Read a Difficult Text

  1. Sweep Everything Under the "Culture" Rug One of the quickest ways we Christians have found to alleviate ourselves from the need to listen to (much less obey) hard texts is by saying something like, "Oh, that was cultural. They believed/acted/understood that in a certain way back then, but we're in a different (which we often mean as a euphemism for "better") culture now."

    Phew, that was close. For a second there, I thought we'd have to actually exegete the text. But now that you've pointed out the heretofore ignored fact that modern American society is not the same as ancient Roman society, I feel much better. #Sarcasm

    No. In fact, embracing this technique is really the first step in unraveling your trust in the text entirely, because pretty soon you're the one picking and choosing what is a best fit in our culture. That's not biblical faithfulness, it's syncretism. Furthermore, it's strikingly similar to the method of Bible reading that slavery-endorsing "pastors" used in the south hundreds of years ago, and Nazi-endorsing "pastors" used decades ago. Anyone excited about the culture-driven Bible reading plan anymore? Ok, let's move on.

  2. React and Run Away Reactivity is almost never good, and that's especially true with the text of the Bible. When the Bible offends you, don't run away. You probably should do the when anyone offends you. Yet, we're nursing a kind of millennial angst against offense. Hurting someone's feelings is now morally equivalent to punching them in the face repeatedly. It's just that nothing about that is true. God hurts our feelings with truth so that he can show us grace. When you're offended, lean in.

How TO Read a Difficult Text

I'm taking some of Tim Keller's best ideas on this and expanding them with my own thoughts. So, let's see what we should do with a hard text when it comes and offends us.

  1. Consider the possibility that it doesn't mean what you think. Most of the time that we're offended at a text it's because we've read it at the aforementioned Facebook-feed-level of depth. We're just ignorant of what it's saying because we're not ancient Greek-speaking Romans (in the case of the NT audience). That why people like me go to graduate school — to understand the text so that we can explain it more accurately to our readers and listeners. So, when a text is hard to hear, ask yourself if you're hearing it rightly.
  2. Consider your unchecked belief in the superiority of your own cultural moment.  "That text is offensive," we say. "It's anti-woman, or anti-gay, or anti-progressive cultural values." But let's do a little thought experiment. Suppose we all got on a plane and went to Moscow, then Ramadi, and then Hong Kong. Suppose we brought our offensive Bible text with us. In each of those cities (and cultures) they would have problems with the Bible — just not your problems with the Bible. All the texts we think are regressive for women seem to progressive in Ramadi, for example. So why do you and your culture's problems with the Bible get to be the controlling, most important problems with the Bible?

    Dismissing the Bible because you think it's regressive is, at bottom, an act of pretty extreme arrogance. Sitting atop your mountain of presumed progress, you look down your nose at those poor regressive (which is the NewSpeak pejorative du jour) peoples. Humility would, in this case, be listening to the text.

  3. Ask yourself, "Do I really want a God like me?  We all want God to be on our side, at least initially. But then we need to stop and think, do we really? I mean, you're great and all, but if God is pretty much up there agreeing with you and your culture all the time, in what sense is He God over you? At what point does God get to come and fundamentally alter or correct us and our ways of life?

    In fact, relationships involve trusting the other enough to correct us. God is not a Stepford wife. He is not programmed by us for our pleasure. You can't have a relationship with someone like that. God is God, and He loves us enough to unsettle us from time to time.

  4. Finally, find the good news.  I love the Bible. Like, a lot. And yet there are whole chunks of it that I find really hard to read and understand. But part of the fun of reading the text is digging for diamonds. It takes hard work sometimes, but eventually you strike upon the deeper vein of treasure.

    Ask yourself, "where is the good news in this text? Why would the Spirit have inspired this to be here for me to read?" Get a good study Bible, a good commentary, a good church, and get to work.

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.

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.


Sunday Wrap: Money

Yesterday I preached on everyone's favorite topic — money. Here's my random smattering of observations regarding that super-fun topic to preach about:

  1. The generosity of God in Jesus Christ means responsibility and generosity in this life. God has been crazy generous to his people. He, the wealthiest conceivable being, took responsibility for a problem that was not his own (our sin) and generously dealt with it at the highest imaginable cost, the death of His Son. When we receive that grace, we should do likewise.
  2. Hyper-Capitalism isn't the Kingdom Making profits in business is good, not bad. I mean, Jesus worked as a for-profit small business owner for the great majority of his adult life. But hyper-capitalism is the belief that profit is the good — transforming a tool into an idol. This false view of God's stuff plays on the emotion of fear and love — fear of lacking money, and a love of money itself. It creates selfish, money hungry people, not disciples.
  3. Marxio-Communo-Socialism isn't the Kingdom, Either When I made point 2 yesterday, everyone smiled. When I made this point, everyone scowled. That's because I'm in the Northeast. If I preached the same sermon in Alabama, it would have been just the reverse. But again, Jesus was a small-business owner. He wasn't a socialist (or a communist, or a Marxist), because he very obviously believed in the private ownership of property and the means of production. This view doesn't play on our love of money or fear of lack. Rather, it plays on our self-pity and jealousy.
  4. A Right View of Money Starts with a Right View of God We can't build an autonomous view of money. If we're going to think, feel, and act rightly with God's stuff, then we should probably think, feel, and act the way God does about stuff. If you think God is a celestial miser, you'll treat money wrong. If you think God is to be manipulated by prayer and obedience into giving you what he wouldn't otherwise, you'll treat money wrong. We must see that God is crazy generous. That's the starting point. And, his generosity is on display for all to see in the giving of Jesus for the sins of the world.
  5. Receiving God's Generous Grace Means We Must Be Responsible When we get something from God, we must note three things: (1) It's not ours, it's God's. (2) We must be faithful with it — using the best wisdom from the Scriptures and from the pros to manage it well. And, (3) we must use our faith. We should invest, save, and spend in faith — asking and trusting God to provide blessing and protection over our investment.
  6. Receiving God's Generous Grace Means We Must Be Generous We can't be selfish grace recipients. Receiving grace entails generosity. This one's pretty simple, really. If we're not responsible with God's stuff, we won't have any money with which to be generous. But if we are, we will. And when we are responsible and see a profit, we must be generous.
  7. Preaching on Money is Not Fun, It's Necessary Man, I got some mean looks from folk when I criticized their politics. The idolization of the voting booth appears to be alive and well in my church. I intend to offend into the light and kill it with the truth, because the belief that we can vote the Kingdom of God in from the hyper-capitalist or the socialist is just plain foolish. I'm not called to console Republicans or make Democrats. I'm called to make disciples, and the politics of the Kingdom would scandalize both parties and their respective economic visions at different levels.
  8. I love Lists Especially numbered lists. Mmm. Lists...


Talent Ain't Enough

If you're leading a church, you're probably gifted. God's given you some skills which you bring out on a regular basis to build the church. Maybe it's a preaching or leadership. Perhaps you're a great evangelist or strategic thinker. Whatever your talent is, it ain't enough.

Your talents aren't enough to do what God has asked of you. If they were, then you wouldn't need God. Can you get to a certain level on your own? Sure. But to take the work of God in your hands to greater heights, you're going to have to see that your talent alone just won't cut it. Your people deserve you to be more than who you are naturally.

To your talent, you'll need to add the following to steward your talent well:

Study Don't just rely on your gifts. Work your mind to make them better. Get that seminary degree. Dust off the Greek and Hebrew. Your people need you to know what you're talking about.

Fidelity Talent and faithfulness aren't the same. In fact, a lot of talented people get discouraged and quit. Don't. You'll have to become faithful to be truly fruitful.

Practice Talent is just a sign of untapped potential. If you're naturally a good communicator, imagine how good you'd be if you practiced. Do the hours, do the reps. Get better.

Coaching Whatever you're talent is, I guarantee there's some better. Find that person and beg them to coach you. You're never too old, too good, or too lofty to get good kick and a hug.

Your talents aren't enough. But, they're a great place to start. Get a plan, and get to work on them to maximize your effectiveness for Jesus.

A Little Post-Easter Pastoral Perspective (Or, "Resurrection is for Pastors, Too")

Yesterday was Easter Sunday — pretty much the biggest Sunday for us pastors. The pressure was on early this year, since Easter came so Early. But, the folks show up in their Sunday best (even in Boston). Familiar and unfamiliar faces find their way into the seats to celebrate the risen King. Or, at least, to have something to do before brunch.

In any case, Easter Sunday can be a source of massive encouragement and/or massive discouragement for us pastors. So, here are four handy reminders for those of you who find yourself in ministry this meaning, either feeling either good or bad over what are simply the wrong things.

Church Competition Sucks

Measuring my church's crowd against your church's crowd is just terrible. I've been on both sides of that equation. When church is small, you think, "I'll feel better better when it's bigger." But, you don't. When the church is big you think, "I wonder if I'll see many of these people again." Quit comparing your church to something else. Pretty sure the only one who wins there is the devil. Be faithful with what you have, not fretful over what you don't.

Mustering Crowds is Easier Than Making Disciples

Fact: If you give me a million dollars in my marketing and outreach budget, my church will "grow" enormously.

I love that a lot of people came yesterday. And, I'm grateful that it was more than the previous year. But let's be honest, it's way easter to muster a crowd than to make disciples. Fellow pastors, let's celebrate the little movements of discipleship more than the big moments. It seems to me Jesus would feel that way. You know, more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, and all that.

The Easter Moment Could Make Movement

Here's what's great about Easter: opportunity for movement. As my old pastor used to say, people are more likely to believe the gospel if they're in church hearing the gospel. The crowd is bad at all. It's an opportunity. So, however yesterday went, learn from what happened. How could you turn great moments into discipleship movements?

Jesus Rose for Pastors, Too

Hey, Pastor, Jesus rose for you, too. If yesterday was awesome, it wasn't so awesome that the resurrection is somehow less great — peripheral. In fact, if you weren't stunned at the resurrection yesterday, it's a good indication that you're attempting to metabolize ministry success into spiritual life. Not good.

And, if yesterday was terrible, it wasn't so terrible that resurrection won't redeem it. Fellow shepherd, Christ is alive. He is our hope, not just the hope of our people.



For whatever reason, we have a tendency to complicate spiritually simple matters. One such simple matter is prayer. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he didn't write them a book or hold a seminar. Nor did he launch into a really long sermon. He simply said, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'”

Three verses.

Jesus is a genius, because in these scant 37 words he gives us everything we need to pray really well.

How Not to Pray Like Jesus

Maybe you already pray well, but I sure find in myself a tendency to pray poorly. Two errors usually come up in my heart which I must resist. See if they sound familiar.

  1. Praying Like a Pagan We pray like pagans when we think that the words we use or don't use some how manipulate God into giving us what He otherwise wants to withhold. This often sounds like saying, "In Jesus' name," after asking for something we can all be reasonably sure Jesus has no interest in giving you. It also sounds like repeating all of the names of God you can think of, over and over again and being wordy.God doesn't listen to our prayers because they're wordy, creative, or special. This prayer, not an incantation. And, He certainly isn't manipulated to cough up a blessing like a cheap date begrudgingly paying for the bill.
  2. Praying Like an Atheist This is simply prayerlessness. Sure, we may lob up the odd, "Hey God, I really need..." but not much more. Some pray little because they have an unbiblical view of the sovereignty of God. "Well, if God knows the future," they say, "why pray?"Look, Jesus prayed. If the Son of God felt it necessary to pray, you need to pray. Further, the Bible commands you to pray. Stop trying to sound smarter than God. "Well Lord, I know you're really so sovereign that your desires will certainly be accomplished. So ... um ... I'll just be very spiritually watching Netflix." Stop it.

How to Pray Like Jesus

If we want to pray well, we simply must learn to pray like Jesus. Here are a few observations we can make from the Lord's prayer:

  1. Pray as a son, like Jesus Jesus said we should call God, "Father." If you belong to Jesus, you come to God as a great dad, not as a cranky boss, angry slave driver, or uninterested acquaintance. Repeat and remember often.
  2. Pray for God to be honored, like Jesus "Hallowed be your name," sounded to me like a weird formality in prayer, a bit like "God save the Queen," in the presence of Her Majesty. These words are actually incredibly missional, not formal. We're asking God to make his name honored where it currently is not. That's huge.
  3. Pray for the mission, like Jesus Like the phrase that precedes it, we pray for God's Kingdom to come down from Heaven and back from the future. We're asking God to extend His presence and power in places that are currently enemy-held territories, both in our lives and in the world.
  4. Pray for provision, like Jesus "Give us our daily bread," isn't just about you. The phrase is "give us," not "give me." Of course God cares about our personal provision, but He also wants us to own, in prayer, the cost of the mission.
  5. Pray for forgiveness, like Jesus On the cross, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Jesus came to forgive us of sin. When sin remains unconfessed in our lives our prayer and participation with God is hindered. Bring your sins before God often and ask Him to remove their stain.
  6. Pray for reconciliation, like Jesus "We ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us," is a weighty prayer. This prayer, if prayed, will heal our social fabric. It will restore our broken relationships. If Jesus forgives me, I can't not forgive you. Praying this prayer will transform the church into a family, healed of hurt and free from offense.
  7. Pray for transformed affections, like Jesus James K. A. Smith likes to say that we are what we love. In this prayer, we're asking God to lead our loves — to change our palette, as it were, from enjoying the taste of sin to savoring the sweetness of God. Only when God is more fulfilling than sin will we resist sin well.
  8. Pray persistently, like Jesus Apparently Jesus' prayer life was so frequent and so admirable that his disciples wanted to model it. Then, he went and told a parable about persistence in prayer. If we're going to pray like Jesus, we're going to have to keep praying like Jesus. It's not a one-and-done.
  9. Pray in faith, like Jesus That parable which follows the above verses asks, "How much more will your Heavenly Father give...?" Jesus understood that faith isn't about bluster, but belief — belief that God really is trustworthy, good, and able to do all He has promised to do. When we pray, we pray in faith like Jesus.

I dare you to renew your prayer life in this fashion. I know I will be. After complicating and paganizing prayer unnecessarily, I think I'll try to follow the simple formula the master left us. Seems to me he knew something about the matter, and didn't much feel the need to complicate for us.

Leading Means Listening

As a leader, I'm often asked what other leaders should be doing to lead well. What techniques should we employ? What data are we missing? What styles of communication work best? Very rarely am I asked, "How should we leaders be listening?" But, when I see Jesus leading, I see him doing a lot of listening. Here are three ways I see that — for Jesus — leading means listening.

Listen Ahead

Leaders don't just look ahead, they listen ahead. On the cutting edge of every organization — corporate or church, government or school — there is unclaimed territory. What's the sound of that place? What to they believe there? What do they talk about? What's the accent like? Leaders can't lead the mission in a language that isn't spoken. Jesus spent 30 years listening, absorbing, and preparing. Leaders who would follow him must listen ahead like he did.

Listen Behind

Leaders must also listen to those who are coming behind them. Not only must leaders hear their followers, but also their future successors. What do they see? How do they feel? This doesn't mean leading by democratic vote. It means leading by love. Jesus asked Peter, "Who do men say that I am? Who do you say that I am?" (Matt 16:15-16) Leading well means hearing your people, even if they say things you wish they wouldn't. Think about how discouraging it must have been for Jesus to listen to his followers miss his message time after time! But if Jesus' followers missed the message of the master, it stands to reason your team might not get it the first time either. Jesus probably led better than you.

Listen Above

Leaders don't just listen on the flat horizon of human experience. We must learn to listen to God — to listen above. I find it fascinating that Jesus took time to go listen to the Father, not just talk. (Lk 5:16, Mk 1:35) If I'm going to lead well I need to listen to God. This is the distinguishing mark of Christian leadership which separates it from good advice. We're trying to lead where God wants to go. We're leaders under authority. You and I have to schedule time to stop, get away, and listen to God. Otherwise we might employ good leadership techniques to take our people to the wrong place.

Leader, listen well. Listen ahead, behind, and above.

Swinging the Hammer with Dad

My father is a general contractor. As a kid, I remember riding around with him to and from his different job sites, watching him coordinate the goings-on of the various sub-contractors. I also remember building stuff with him — decks, benches, roofs — all kinds of things. These are some of my most treasured memories. He'd correct my hammer swing, show me where to measure and cut. In all probability, I slowed him down. But, he taught me how to build. Now I've got my own home, and I've remodeled it quite extensively. I know what I'm doing because I know my dad.

I have spiritual fathers, too. And, like my dad, they build stuff. Not houses made of wood and bricks, but spiritual families made of lives and faith. They, like my dad, let me build stuff with them — churches, ministries, movements — all kinds of things.

They, like spiritual fathers, correct my hammer swing, show me how to measure my work correctly, and what to cut. In all probability, I slow them down. They have to circle back sometimes and show me the better way. But, they're teaching me how to build. Now I have my own church, and I know what I'm doing in large part because I know them.

Each generation has a choice — to build fast or to build well. Building fast is very satisfying. We make what we want, the way we want it. But because we've not explained to our sons and daughters the why and how of our structures, they find them ugly and useless. But if we give our kids — natural and spiritual — the chance to swing the hammer with us, we'll build well and they'll build with us. I'm really glad my fathers did this with me.


You Probably Didn't Know This About The Holy Spirit

On Sunday I preached on the Holy Spirit at church. Whenever the topic of the third person of the Trinity comes around, there's no shortage of misconception about His nature and His roles. Unsurprisingly, people steeped in a rigorously secular culture like ours have a difficult time embracing, much less understanding, God the Spirit. So, here are a few interesting facts about the Holy Spirit that you may not know, but should.

The Spirit Works to Advance the Mission

If you were to visit some modern Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, you might reasonably assume that the role of the Holy Spirit was to make people act oddly and occasionally fall over. In fact, the manifestations of the Spirit are, without exception, given to advance the mission of making disciples. Luke's writings make this cespecially clear. Here's a fun chart (charts are fun, btw)[note]John Hardon, "The Miracle Narratives in the Acts of the Apostles," Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 16 (1996): 303-18.[/note] explaining the miracles that Luke records in the book of Acts:

Miracle Associated with Peter


Miracle Associated with Paul


Many signs and wonders were done by the Apostles, with Peter, among the Jews in Jerusalem (2:43) The gospel was preached and many believed (2:47). Many signs and wonders were done by Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles in Asia Minor (14:3). The gospel was preached and controversy arose (14:7).
Peter, in the company of John at the temple gate, heals the man lame from his mother’s womb (3:1 sq.) Praise, and all were filled with wonder, and the gospel was preached (3:10-16). Paul, in the company of Barnabas at Lystra, heals the man lame from his birth (14:7 sq.) The gospel was preached and many disciples were made (14:21).
Peter rebukes Ananias and Saphira, who are struck dead for tempting the Spirit of the Lord (5:1 sq.) Fear came upon the church, more believers were added (5:11, 14). Paul rebukes the sorcerer Elymas, who is suddenly blinded for making crooked the straight ways of the Lord (13:8 sq.) The proconsul believed the gospel (13:12).
The building in Jerusalem is shaken, where Peter and the disciples were praying for strength from God (4:31) Generosity, grace, and growth resulted (4:32-37). The prison building at Philippi is shaken, where Paul and Silas were praying and singing the praises of God (16:25 sq.) The jailer and his whole household believe (16:31).
Peter is so filled with the power of God that even his shadow is enough to heal the sick on whom it falls (5:15) More believers were added (5:14). Paul is so effective in working miracles that even handkerchiefs and aprons were carried from his body to the sick and the diseases left them (19:12) People repented and the word of the Lord increased (19:20).
At Lydda, Peter suddenly heals the paralytic Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years (9:33 sq.) The residents of Lydda and Sharon returned to the Lord (9:35). On Malta, Paul suddenly cures the father of his host, Publius, of fever and dysentery (28:7 sq.) Provision for the mission of God was given (28:9-10).
At Joppa, Peter restores to life the woman Tabitha, who had been devoted to works of charity (9:36 sq.) Many believed (9:42). At Troas, Paul restores to life the young man Eutychus, who fell down from the third story (20:9 sq.) The disciples were comforted and the church meeting continued (20:10-11).
Peter’s chains are removed, and he is delivered from prison in Jerusalem by means of an angel (12:5 sq.) Peter was free to preach the gospel (12:19). Paul’s chains are suddenly loosed in the prison at Philippi (16:25 sq.) The jailer is converted (16:30).

The work of the Spirit is to advance the mission of making disciples and glorifying God. Always, only, ever.

The Spirit Didn't Stop When The Bible Did

A common rejoinder from modern secular 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. The only problem with that is 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.[note]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.[/note] The are entire books on this subject, but here are a few choice quotes:

God imparts spiritual gifts from the grace of His Spirit's power to those who believe in Him according as He deems each man worthy thereof. I have already said, and do again say, that it had been prophesied that this would be done by Him after His ascension to heaven. . . . Now it is possible to see among us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God.[note]Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 6.1.[/note]

In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God.[note]Iranaeus, Against Heresies, 32.3.[/note]

Others still heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years.[note]Iranaeus, Against Heresies, 2.32.[/note]

The history of the early church is not all doctrines and councils. Its the story of the work of the Spirit to grow the church in the midst of a hard culture.

The Spirit Is Alive and Well Today

The fastest growing religious movement in the history of the human race is the the global Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.[note]Allan Anderson, "Global Pentecostalism," A Paper presented at the Wheaton Theology Conference, 3 April 2015,  Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.[/note] In fact, the story of the global church is one that is no longer shy of the supernatural, because it doesn't share Western, post-enlightenment epistemological baggage. In his book The Next Christendom,  Philip Jenkins writes, “Making all allowances for generalization, then, global South Christians retain a strong supernatural orientation. . . . For the foreseeable future, though, the dominant theological tone of emerging world Christianity is traditionalist, orthodox, and supernatural.”[note]For more on this see: Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford, 2011)[/note] I love academic theology, and I love the exchange of ideas. But if we are to be academically honest, then we must admit that the engine which drives the forward progress of the gospel is not the power of the mind, but the power of the Spirit. He is alive and well and working wonders, and we need more of His power. I'll let Dr. David Martin Lloyd-Jones say it best:

In the New Testament and, indeed, in the whole of the Bible, we are taught that the baptism with the Spirit is attended by certain gifts. Joel in his prophecy, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost, foretells this. . . . Joel, and the other prophets who also spoke of it, indicated that in the age which was to come, and which came with the Lord Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, there should be some unusual authentication of the message. . . . My friends, this is to me one of the most urgent matters at this hour. With the church as she is and the world as it is, the greatest need today is the power of God through his Spirit in the church that we may testify not only to the power of the Spirit, but to the glory and praise of the one and only Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord, Son of God, Son of Man.[note]David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Sovereign Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1985), 26, 33.[/note]

8 Questions I Ask To Prepare a Sermon

I've had the privilege of leading a preaching lab recently. It's been a blast. This process has forced me to clarify how I prepare my sermons. Some time back, I heard Mark Driscoll offer his set of questions that he asked himself during sermon prep, which started me thinking along this line. (Giving credit where it's due here. I don't care what you think about Mark Driscoll, so please, don't get distracted). But now that I've been at it for a while, here are the 8 questions I ask myself when I'm getting a sermon ready:

  1. What does the text say? What am I reading? What's happening in the text? This question discovers what's actually going on at face value. Very important to hold off interpreting until you read it a few times.
  2. What does the text mean? Now come the tools of hermeneutics and exegesis. How, according to the rules of good Bible reading, am I to interpret what the text says.
  3. What is the hook? Every good song has a hook—the part we remember in the chorus, even if we forget the verses. Sermons should have hooks if preachers want the content remembered.
  4. What are the defeater beliefs? What am I preaching that will be stopped by the inherent defeaters my audience believes? What pre-existent beliefs are opposing the gospel?
  5. How will I overcome the defeater beliefs? If you don't mention their defeaters and start defeating them, then your people will quietly begin exuding themselves from obedience.
  6. Where is Jesus? How is Jesus exalted in the text? This is where you get out your Bryan Chappell and Tim Keller books and make sure you're not just pasting justification-by-faith at the end of your sermon. Think about it. He's there. Show them where.
  7. What do I want the Christians in the room to do? How should they apply your preaching? Repent? Sign up for a group? Evangelize? You'd better tell them, or they probably won't do much.
  8. What do I want the non-Christians in the room to do? If you care about people who aren't yet Christians, you need to start telling them what to do as well. How should they respond? Remember, you're preaching to Christians and to non-Christians every week. Let me know you know they're there, and that you love them by talking to them too.

Yes, a lot more goes into prepping a sermon than this. But, this is how I start to organize my thoughts. Did I miss something?

3 Axioms Helping My Leadership

  Axioms are self-evident, pithy truths that fit well in ones mental pockets. Here are three that are really helping me right now.

Small is Big

I struggled to believe this one. I like big. Big crowds, big results, big faith, big budgets ... all that sounds fun. But here's the deal, big is illusory. If I want to make a big change in my city, my kids' lives, my relationship with my wife, or my walk with Jesus, I must work the small things. Eye contact, consistency, prayer, kind words ... it's a game of inches.

Do For One...

This is an old, true Andy-Stanley-ism. "Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone." So, so good. As the church grows and my heart continues to see more and more of the world that needs so much help, the weight can be crushing. I can't fix everything, but I can fix something. I can't do for all, but I can do for some.

You Replicate What You Celebrate

This one is huge. If I want to see a disciple-making, Jesus-exalting, Kingdom-bringing movement in my house, my church, or my city, then I must shout and sing when ground is gained toward those goals.

I love helpful leadership axioms like these. Which ones are helping you?

3 Questions Pastors Shouldn't Be Afraid to Ask Their People

I love being a pastor. But, having been around a lot of pastors at our various confabs around the world, I've noticed something unhealthy. Some of my brethren are afraid to ask their people tough questions.

Actually, let me include myself in that. Sometimes I am afraid to ask my people tough questions.

But, ask we must. Why? Because Jesus has called us to tend his flock and to add to it. Our lives are, according to David Hansen's book The Art of Pastoring, to be lived out parables of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we're going to do that well, then we'll need to know the answers to some tough-to-ask questions.

  1. Are you actually following Jesus? Lots of people who do church things are not Church people. Notice the capitals there—they may be in your church but they're not part of The Church. There are those in all our congregations who act churchishly. They go to gatherings, give a little money, and appreciate that the youth group keeps their teen out of trouble. But, they're not Church people—part of the bought, bled-for, bride of Christ. They're not following Jesus. A pastor should never, ever be afraid of asking anyone in his church if they are actually following Jesus like a disciple should. "Is Christ your treasure? Is he Lord and Master of your life? Are you really trusting him as Savior?" We must ask these questions, often.
  2. Who do you hate / What are you angry about right now? You need to know what anger, fear, and hatred is living in your people right now. If we're going to shepherd the flock of God among us, then we must know what's hurting them. This is especially true if you pastor a church that isn't exactly like you. I pastor a rapidly growing, very diverse church. So I must ask this one, often.This question has helped me be a better pastor for everyone. For example, when some issue of racial injustice blazes across America, that will probably create some righteous (and maybe some unrighteous) anger in the hearts of the African-Americans in my church. I love them, but I might not automatically feel what they feel. I'm white, and have never been the victim of racism. I don't know what it feels like. I have to ask them, and not pretend I already know—because I don't. Or, if some issue of political scandal is raging in Washington, it will make half my church happy and the other half sad or angry (Party politics and all). I need to know that, if I'm to shepherd them well. So, I have to ask.Now, this question has brought up some hard conversations. Hard for some to say, and hard for me to hear. But Jesus didn't call us to skip the hard stuff. He called us to preach the whole counsel of God. Knowing what angers and hurts our people is critical to gospel application.

    Also, this question helps the people in your pews who aren't just like you know you love them, and care to understand their experiences. I really do care, but I can't actively pastor the people I care for if I don't ask this one.

  3. If you were me, what would you do differently? This is a dangerous question, because everyone has opinions on what we pastors do. And, just like I don't know what it's like to be a banker, mother, teacher, etc., no one but me knows what it's like to pastor my people. So before you ask, you have to decide you won't be defensive.This question helps your people understand that you love them, and what to do your best for them. Also, as a leadership tip, this question prevents blow-ups. I can say that up to this point we haven't had any major explosions in our church, but we've had a few near misses! Asking this question helped sniff them out before the bomb went off.And hey, Pastor, you just don't know everything you should be doing. Practice some of that Christian community you're always talking about and let someone speak some truth to you.

Ask these tough questions, brothers. They'll make you better and help you love your people more like Christ.

The Romance of Regularity

"I stopped reading my Bible regularly because I just wasn't feeling as close to God as I used to." "Nah, we haven't been on a date in a while. The last time we did, we got in an argument."

"I don't know where he'd been. We used to hang out a lot, but then it just trailed off for some reason."


We have romanticized our relationships way, way too much. We've made them center on feelings over commitments — emotions over reality. Here's the simple fact: If you want a great relationship with God, with your wife, or with your friends, regulate it.

I don't mean make a bunch of rules for it. I mean that you must make it regular — scheduled, written, and active. We must learn to detach commitment to a relationship from the floating non-foundations of our feelings — doing something with someone only when it feels right.

Want to hear God? Get up every morning, read your Bible, and pray. Do that most days for a year. Feelings will follow.

Want to have a great marriage. Get up every day, thank God for her. Make her coffee, without the snark, and serve her.

Want a great friendship? Commit to walk out life with someone else. Use a calendar. Make it happen.

This is the romance of regularity.