Confronting Racism isn't Optional — It's Central

“Pastor, I appreciate that you preached about racism, today,” he said. “But, I always appreciate a good gospel sermon, too.” He shook my hand, walked away, and I moved on to speak to the next person. A small line usually forms around a pastor after his sermon, after all. But this man’s passing comment made a lasting impression on me. You see, this man probably didn’t mean anything by this phrase. I had, in fact, preached about racism that Sunday. I had also worked hard to make that sermon a gospel-saturated sermon. Yet, despite my best efforts, this man managed to walk away thinking I preached about race, and not about Jesus. There are race issues, and there are Jesus issues, with a semi-permeable membrane between them.

And that, right there, is the problem.

We white people have the luxury of thinking this way because we almost never, ever have to think about being white. We just are. Then, when confronted by our black, asian, or hispanic bothers and sisters about their experiences with racism we think, “Well why don’t they just think like me? I never think about being white, so they should stop thinking so much about being black.” When we think this way (or worse, talk this way) we do our non-white friend a double injustice: we misunderstand their experience, and we, white people, demand they change to be more like us.

Inability or unwillingness prevents us from seeing that most people of color don’t ever get a day off from thinking about their ethnicity. Why? Because we live in a culture that just won’t let them. So, we go on thinking that there are race issues and Jesus issues. “Systemic injustice may or may not exist,” we tell ourselves, “but I’m just going to preach the gospel.” And we are wrong, because race issues are Jesus issues.

A Tale of Two Scriptures

When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus he gave some of the most beautiful words to those Jesus issues. The glory and greatness of the gospel expound in Ephesians 2:1-10 is one of those well-worn paths in my Bible.

“You were dead in your trespasses … but God being rich in mercy made you alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved…”

Yet, despite my love for this part of Ephesians, I never saw how it necessarily connects to 2:11-22.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility … that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

And as any good New Testament exegete would know (or at least, should know) these two passages are connected with the magic word “therfore” (v. 11) That is, Paul built his whole case for ethnic unity and mutual love atop the gospel, not apart from it.

A Tale of Two (More) Scriptures

Lest you think that such a connection is a one-off Pauline fluke, join me in 2 Corinthains 5. Again, this chapter contains one of my favorite Scriptures,

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

That is a wonderful bit of news: that God exchange my unrighteous sinfulness with Jesus’s perfect and beautiful righteousness. But that verse summarizes an entire chapter on reconciliation!

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 For 5:18-19)

In other words, the preaching of the message, “God wants to reconcile you to himself,” is organically connected to the message, “God is reconciling the world to himself.” So, as Paul says, “Be reconciled to God!” (v. 20)

The Cost and The Opportunity

For a long time the American church missed this connection. But God was not content to let people of color languish, so he raised deliverers out from under the white, evangelical church. But what if we white folks allowed that fact to wake us from the slumbering insufficiency of believing there are Jesus issues and race issues. If we go on thinking like that, then answers to our nation will seek answers to race issues from every other source but Jesus. That cost is too high to bear.

No, let it be said of us that we seized the opportunity to love God more, to love the gospel more, and to love our neighbors more be finally embracing the fact that race issues are gospel issues. Therefore, confronting racism isn’t an option for Jesus’ people. It’s built in to the great commission.

Paul seemed to think so. So, I wonder. Do you?

The Shining Men

In shining cities made of gold, shining men were kings,They made the art, the songs, the shows, and dimmer men believed, That all was gold and shined quite bright, in citadels so strong, None could believe or dream that all gold would go wrong.

As time went by the gold grew faint, and needed fresh refinement, But refiners fire was difficult and cost much, some decided, So bit by bit the drossy gold was painted o'er instead, So shining men kept up the work on which the dim ones fed.

More gold grew dross, more paint was splashed, more citadels stood gleaming, Eventually refiner's fire became the stuff of nightmare's dreaming, No one remembered how to smelt, to forge, or beautify, They traded goldcraft for the art of candy making for the eye.

But what the shining kings forgot — or just failed to remember, Is that painted gold won't last for long, and must eventually dismember altogether — 'twill fall apart, and will need fresh refinement, And then refiner's fire will burn and burn all that was painted by it.

But ignorance was bliss enough, and kings continued making, Eyecraft for the masses which the dimmer men kept taking, But now, infrequently there was a shining man found out, For taking paint upon himself, exposing all to doubt.

"Nothing to fear," the others said, "That man's not one of us," "We'll take good care to quell you fear," so dimmer men would trust, The words of other shining men, the kings of citadels, But slowly creeping came the thought they might be painted hells.

"Of course not," they would tell themselves, to quiet inner sounds, Of wisdom, discord, and the truth that dross was all around, Refusing, unwilling to see the fact that golden city was, So painted, now so unrefined, that towers turned to dust.

And not just towers, once so bright, were touched with dross's plague, But more men now, and women too, were painting for the stage, Was no one now of solid gold? Was no one true to from? The dimmer men were now quite bold, though many just as torn.

The shining city's edifice, and the shining people, too, Now grew with greater discontent, until someone quite new, Said, "It's okay, all is well, you're painted gold, so what?!" "Refinement hurts, it's just the facts, be who you are," and such.

So slowly shining cities came to trade their kings for those, Who waxing philosophical spun foolishness in prose, Now they made art, and songs, and shows that dimmer men believed, Because all were painted, all were dim — shining was now a dream.

They laughed and played, these painted ones, covering the gold, But underneath the dross grew dark, and citadels grew cold. The city cracked and shook one day, as shows and songs were sold, The shining city rocked and reeled, the world now seemed so old.

The citadels were broken down, the truth now on display, The shining city and the kings were dross-filled, painted, fake. "We need refinement," shouted some — the few who still believed, But now the dross and paint was such that no one else agreed.

The cities now were haunts of old, broken and beleaguered, The shining people — men and women — were filled with rage and anger, Consumed with hatred for the ones who painted themselves first, They never saw what's true of all: we paint for what we thirst.

As cities fell and citadels which once held shining kings, Came tumbling down upon the ground, an older man was seen. He sang a song, lamentable, with dirge-like poetry, And this is what was heard that day, among the anarchy,

"In shining cities made of gold, shining men were kings, They made the art, the songs, the shows, and dimmer men believed, That all was gold and shined quite bright, in citadels so strong, None could believe or ever dream that all gold could go wrong."


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.

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)

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)

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.

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 7.15.58 AM

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.

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.


Image of God over Issues

Once again, an act of terrible violence and evil has occurred. An unhinged Muslim man, motivated by a cocktail of false beliefs about God, hatred of LGBT people, and who knows how much personal brokenness, has injured or killed 100 people in Orlando. Sadly, it took approximately .0025 seconds for our political impulses to get the better of us and for everyone to take sides. As a pastor — heck, as a human — this was so grievous to me that I had to turn off the social media streams for a day just to get a little perspective. I think I've gotten some, and I'd like to share it with you.

Why Is This Wrong?

Why is this act wrong? Well, first let's figure out what aren't the reasons:

  • Killing or injuring 100 people isn't wrong because the victims were Americans.
  • Killing or injuring 100 people isn't wrong because the victims were gay.
  • Killing or injuring 100 people isn't wrong because the shooter was Muslim.
  • Killing or injuring 100 people isn't wrong because of guns.

Hear me clearly: Killing or injuring 100 people is wrong because the victims are people — they bear the image of God. Snuffing it out the image of God is always always always always wrong.

It's wrong to kill gay people, Muslim people, gun-owning people, unborn people, American people, conservative people, black people, poor people, the mentally infirm people — because it's wrong to kill people.

Do we have work to do with the way we love our LGBT neighbors? Absolutely. Do we have work to do with Muslim community? Absolutely. Do we have work to do with our gun laws? Absolutely. But this act was not wrong for any of those reasons — at least not primarily. And when any of us take a tragedy of this magnitude and make it about an issue (and isn't it fascinating that it's always about our pet issue) we ignore the importance of the image of God for the sake of an issue. That is wrong.

Don't Elevate Issues Over the Image

Now, let me go one step further: Using a tragedy as a fulcrum to gain leverage for your position is the worst kind of power mongering. It's literally the attempt to write law in the blood of victims about whom you care less than you do your issue. Their blood cries out to us from the streets of Orlando to remember that they are more than an issue. They are precious, image-bearing, God-made people. All of them. They are dead. That is wrong, and that reason is sufficient.

Some of you reading this will say, "Yeah, but our nation has really strange gun laws, those need to be dealt with." Others will say, "Yeah, but LGBT people have been systematically ignored or hurt by us for too long." Others will say, "Yeah, but we've got a big problem with radical Islam." And let me be give a big yes to all these related issues. Much is the work to do. But, that's my point exactly: these are related issues. By definition, therefore, they are not central. One issue is central: God's image was wiped off the earth 50 times over, and none of us seem to be more grieved by that fact than we are about issues.

The Image of God Unites Us.

This one issue which should unite us in our grief is the same issue which unites us in our humanity. We are image-bearers. But it does more still. It unites us in our hope.

Remembering that we are God's image bearers will quickly call one final reality to mind: The image has been marred. Twisted and bent, the image of God within us has a condition wrapped around it like a python around its prey — a condition called sin. Only one image-bearer has ever crushed the head of this ravenous snake. When tragedy comes, the people of God must resist the temptation to wriggle out of this serpent's grip by ranting and raving about issues, no matter how legitimate they may seem. The time will come for issues. First, we must be among those who look to the one who has vanquished this foe, and plead with him for the grace to help us do the same. If we did, we may just start to see His image in others again — even those with whom we disagree about the issues.


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 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]

The Exhaustive, Complete List of Everything God Owes You

I've been asked a lot about how to get God to answer our prayers faster, give us our blessings better, and position ourselves to get what we want from God more readily. Hypocritically, these questions annoy me in others, yet feels justified in myself. But, hidden in such questions can be an unhealthy belief that we have some sort of Bill of Rights before the Lord. Such a belief turns prayer into litigation and our suffering into injustice at the hands of God. So, I decided to compile a once-and-for-all, final, exhaustive list of everything the Bible says God owes us humans. Here it is:

  1. Wrath.

That's it. God owes you His wrath. It's the only thing you deserve, and I deserve. This is more-or-less the whole point of Romans 1-3.

Now, the good news is that God loves to give you grace — that's the whole story of gospel. But let's get this really, really clear: you don't deserve grace. You can't deserve grace. That's what makes it grace. It's free for you, but rather costly to God.

It's helpful (for me at least) to remember that what I deserve is wrath, but what I get is grace. No matter what I experience in this life, if it's in this life, then it's better than I deserve.

Social Justice Needs Personal Righteousness

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

We live in the day and age of the social justice warrior — the young man or woman committed the ideas of making the world "out there" more just. Conveniently, you can qualify for this job without any concern for your personal righteousness — a grave injustice itself. But, since today is MLK day, I feel it's important to remember that King (and Paul, and Jesus, and all the prophets) didn't share this rather modern (rather ridiculous) view.

When Dr. King wrote his now famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, it included the oft-repeated phrase, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." And, that's true. But before you ride your noble steed off into the unjust world to "fix it," it would be helpful to remember the rest of the idea. "We are caught in an escapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."

In other words, it's not just morals "out there" that matter — what we often call social justice. It's also our personal righteousness "in here" that counts — what we call morality. If we're really serious about pushing back racism, sexism, classism, and the many other ills from which our culture suffers, we must also be serious about personal righteousness. They are all connected — we are all connected. If I'm struggling morally, somehow that will affect society. Conversely, if society is riddled with injustice it will affect me. It sounds counterintuitive to us, but it's true.

Scripture declares that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God's throne. That explains why God connected the ideas in Jesus' great commandment — to love God and other people. Because, they are connected.

All this means that I'm personally very grateful for Dr. King. His struggle for justice is connected to even my personal righteousness. I can't be who I'm called to be without his efforts to make the world better. In response, let's commit to grow more personally righteous through Christ. Only then will this work look more like Heaven. As righteousness and justice meet in our lives, they'll meet in our world.

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.

Leaders Must Pull Close

Relationships are hard work. What kinds of relationships, you ask? Only the ones with humans.

I find within myself and the people I'm privileged to pastor two forces. First is the force which compels us into relationships. Call it love, society, or whatever you like — it's a strong force. And largely, it's a good force. You don't have to be too much of a theologian to find solid, biblical grounds for this desire to be in relationships. God is a unified society — a oneness in relationship. That's what Trinity means.

But then there's the other force. Call it self-protection, shame, or fear. This is also a strong force, but it's not so good. This force is the drives us away from relationships because, often, they're painful. That mask you wear, the hard conversation you avoid, and those lies you tell others — they're all this contrary force at work.

Here's the point: Leaders must pull close. If we don't we're colluding with the relational entropy that signals the beginning of the end of the relationship.

As a leader, you'll find it most difficult to pull relationally close to someone when:

  • They disagree with you.
  • They hurt you.
  • They talk about you.
  • You hurt them, and you know it.
  • You have bad chemistry.
  • You sense it's time for a change.
  • Trust has been broken.

Sounding more familiar? We all want to have deep, abiding relationships with those we lead. But the leader who becomes relationally distant and emotionally aloof won't be leading those same people for long. Pretty soon, the team will leave, the band will break up, or the staff will turn over. Leader, if you want to lead well, pull close.

  • When they disagree with you, talk to them. Don't email them. Talk to them.
  • When they hurt you, buy them coffee and ask them about it.
  • When they talk about you, don't talk about them. Talk to them.
  • When you hurt them, repent. Quickly.
  • When you have bad chemistry, acknowledge it to them.
  • When you sense it's time for change, be honest. Be their ally.
  • When trust has been broken, let them know. Seek to repair it.

Leader, if you'll pull close — if you'll fight the shame-fueled isolation — you'll lead well. How do I know? Well do you remember all those ways we hurt each other? We did all that to God. Thankfully, God pulled close. That's the gospel story.

Let's go live it out among those we lead.

Hey Critic, Go Create

criticismb In the movie Ratatouille, the character Anton Ego uttered profound truth when he stated,

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

I can't but help think about this quote as I scroll through my social media feeds. It seems that one can get a rather popular little blog following by criticizing something or someone else. And it's especially popular amongst my fellow Christians who stand ready to crank out negativity at a pace and volume that would be impressive were it not for the content of their rather prolific sludge.

So, here's my challenge to me, you, and everybody else. The next time you (I) feel tempted to write that "Open Letter to ____" (Where ____ is the person or thing I'm really annoyed at/tired of/offended by), sit down with a blank sheet of paper and take an hour to come up with a better way to do what ____ is doing. The worst that could happen is that you make the world better while not contributing to the volume of complete garbage on the internet.

There ya go, two birds with one stone.

Far harder it is to build than to break, Far tougher to tend than to tear, Far better to create than to critique, More loving to rejoice than to despair.

Disagree ≠ Hate

In her biography on Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote, "I disapprove of what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." For many years now her words have been the mantra for freedom of speech in Western society. And for many years, most of us have simply presumed that the right to say what’s on our mind (even if others think it to be wrong) was, indeed, right. In recent years, however, this basic foundation of American (thus, Western) society has come under pressure. As the internet has connected us more than ever, it's also divided us more than ever. Instead of connecting all of us to each other, we have preferred connections to others most like us. Instead of one shared set of values, we now hold the values of whatever subculture to which we're most inclined. This means that today there is not one American spirit, for example. Now there are a myriad of cultural nation-states which hold our allegiances far above our country. So what do we do when those values come into conflict?

Formerly, we would argue vigorously. Our shared set of values meant that, ideally, we would listen, presume the best intentions of our opponents, and seek to find some kind of working consensus. But today such work is rare. Why? Because we have come to believe that to disagree with someone is equivalent to hating them.

That is a lie.

Here are the basic ideas I'd like to make clear:

  1. To disagree with someone is not to hate them.
  2. Love disagrees, often very passionately, with the beloved.
  3. Freedom of speech exists in direct proportion to love.
  4. Therefore, the action of disagreement should be an action of love.

First, we must rid ourselves of this idea that disagreement is hatred. That's just obviously silly and false. I disagree with my wife quite a lot and I love her more than anyone else on this planet. Is she to take my disagreement as a sign of hatred? Certainly not. Further, I pastor a church filled with people with whom I disagree about a ton of things: politics, ethics, the superiority of mac to pc ... the list goes on. Do I hate them? Good grief, no. I'm their pastor for goodness sake. If I hate someone (and I shouldn't, but if I did) I would probably disagree with them, but the reverse is not true. If I disagree with someone, I do not therefore hate them. Thus, (1).

In fact, the opposite is quite true. If I am passionate in my disagreement with you, it is more likely to be a sign of my love for you. Again, take my wife, for example. I love her. I've made a life-long covenant with her. So if I disagree with her about, say, how to parent one of our children, or where we should live, or how we should spend our money, I don't hate her. I love her, and am so committed to her welfare that I want her to get it right. And she wants me to get it right, so she pushes back. In fact, I want to get it right, right along with her. I want agreement on the good, and that may involve the passionate exchange of ideas (a euphemism for arguing). Therefore, premise (2).

Let's expand the analogy to society. We're supposed to live in a culture where the marketplace of ideas weeds out the good ideas from the bad ones through debate, honest disagreement, and passionate dialogue. But what makes such a marketplace possible? Love. Without a deep love for the image of God in you, I won't care to passionately debate you. I'll just want to silence you. But far from being a sign of hatred, vigorous, careful disagreement is a great sign of love and respect. Hatred silences, love discusses (even at painstaking length). Hatred freaks out when challenged. Love sees a challenge as an opportunity to refine one's position and win the other to it. Without love there is no real freedom — to speak, or to do anything else for that matter. Thus, (3).

These basic (and sadly no longer obvious) premises bring us to (4) — disagreement should be an action of love. As a Christian who holds to more or less really old beliefs about God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, money, sex, humanity, etc., there is a lot to disagree with these days. So when I write, speak, and argue for the veracity of these ideas I'm often called a hater. Have I been hateful before? Probably, but my point here is that I shouldn't be. We shouldn't be.

Think of it this way: If I find a truth that others don't believe, the most hateful thing I can do isn't to argue with them, but to leave them in their error. If they really are in error then their error will probably not bring about their ultimate good. But in withholding that fact I haven't loved them, affirmed them, or tolerated them. I've hated them. I've preferred myself, my comfort, my good name, and my ease of life to their good, their joy, and their prosperity. The opposite of love turns out to be selfish apathy toward others.

Furthermore, if disagreement is hate, then Jesus Christ is the most hateful being to have ever lived. Why? Because he came in complete disagreement with every human, of every culture, at the core of their belief structures. His hate speech included calling everyone wrong (Mark 12:27), telling them that they are following the father of lies (John 8), and correcting the wrong moral behavior of all of us (John 3, 4, Matt 5, et. al.) He was such a hater that the progressive, tolerant, and culturally savvy Romans decided to execute him. And what did he say as he bled? "Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." Even with his dying breaths, he begged our forgiveness on the basis of our error and ignorance.

That's because he loves us. This man who disagreed with the whole world did so not from hate but from love. In fact, so great was his love for humanity that he willingly embraced death both to show us the error of our ways and open the way for us to live in accordance with the truth.

Shall we be a people who really love one another enough to painstakingly, passionately, and carefully argue for truth? Or, shall our hatred for one another run over the banks of our better natures, silencing, shouting, and insisting that to disagree with you is the same as hating you? Apparently, I love you enough to ask you.

The Genius of Relational Leadership

"Do it!" I said to her. Why did I need to say it again? Why couldn't she simply obey? "Why?" She snapped back. Her big, beautiful eyes glistening with frustrated tears.

"Because I said so. I'm your dad." I thundered.


This was my conversation with one of my daughters recently. I'm ashamed and embarrassed by it, but I recall it here because it was the starting point of a revelation.

With my wife away that morning, I began the day with a plan for parental awesomeness. I laid out the plan, and the little people cheered. So, I led my brood of four to the playground. Next came an invigorating walk, with nature lesson included (bonus points). There was laughter. There was learning. All that was left was the walk home, where my pre-made lunch was awaiting us. Slow clap for dad of the year.

And then the wheels fell off. Whining, heat, sweat, scrapes — all results of our little journey — began to take their toll on my beloved brood, and by the time we walked up to the house, we looked less Swiss Family Robinson and more Children of the Corn. Oh, and the lunch I made? No one wanted it. Yeah. That.

My flesh began to show through my garments of grace as I commanded these little creatures to eat. Eat! Then the push back came. Then, the conversation above happened. Finally, I pulled out my big ol' trump card and slammed it on the table. I'm the dad, I'm the boss, eat your food, or it's gonna get unpleasant around here.

But this blog isn't about parenting, it's about leadership. See, I made the mistake I've made a thousand times before, and you've probably made the same mistake too — the error of leading from position instead of relationship.

Positional leadership says, "Follow me because I'm the boss." And, while most of us want to be the boss, leading from the position of "boss" is actually the worst way to lead. The real genius of leadership happens when you don't do what I did with my kids. The real genius is in relational leadership.

Relational Leadership is Strong The strongest leaders are looked up to by those who follow them. How does that happen? Among other things, it happens when leaders are related to their followers. When they can say, "That guy is one of us and I trust him," they will not only achieve their short-term goals, but establish the strength of their long-term leadership.

Relational Leadership is Safe Leaders make mistakes. Only one leader never did, and you're not him. So how can we trust and follow someone who is not perfectly trustworthy and always worth following? When we know them, not just their position. Had I been more concerned about relating to my kids rather than commanding them, I might have cared a little bit more that it was 91 degrees outside, and they'd already walked 3 miles, and that's quite a bit for a little squirt. They would have been safer if I'd leaned into my relationship with them, rather than my rulership over them.

Relational Leadership is Loving Simply put, if you don't care to know the people you lead, you don't care about them. While the CEO can't know everyone in the company, he can certainly know his direct reports. He can be a hero to his VP's wife and kids, rather than a villain. I didn't act in love in my conversation with my daughter that day, I acted in pure authority — something God doesn't do, so why should I?

Relational Leadership is Christ-like Speaking of God, let's talk about how he leads. God doesn't lead us like some despot on a power trip. God leads us — his people — like a great dad. Jesus said, "I only do what I see my Father doing." The Son of God taught us to follow God as our Father, not just our ruler. God cared enough for us to relate to us personally, not just command us with mere authority. We're safe in that kind of leadership because we're known. We're known because we're loved. And because we're known and loved, of course we can follow God's leadership. Who wouldn't want to follow a leader like that?

The good news is, aside from moments like the one I mentioned, I've got a pretty good relationship growing with my kids. I came to them later and repented for my bad leadership. They forgave. And we all talked about the good leadership of Jesus, and how we both — leaders and followers — better be led by him. Only when we're led by Jesus, can we ever be any good at leading like Jesus.

Kill the Christian Criticism Culture

The crazy culture of Christian criticism has to stop. Alan Noble recently wrote a piece on the Evangelical Persecution Complex — essentially offering insight into our odd, self-identification as people under persecution. It seems to me, however, that given the regular number of hit pieces from Christian leaders on other Christian leaders, we like to dish out the hate about as much as we take it.

That is a problem. And, it's probably sin.

"But Adam," you say, "some Christian leader that I vaguely dislike is being scorched online. I need to let all my friends (most of whom aren't Christians) know that I have a disagreement with this fellow." Well, that's a pretty compelling reason to cheer on his or her public demise, isn't it? Oh wait, no. No it's not.

Not surprisingly, we're not the first generation to vent our intramural disagreements outside the walls of fellowship. The Corinthians did it too. And when Paul found out, he was so thrilled about it that he wrote this encouraging little "ataboy" to them:

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteousinstead of the saints? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? (1 Cor 6:1, 5-7)

To answer Paul's rhetorical question, we would rather not suffer wrong because we don't believe him. We don't believe that it might be better to be quiet publicly about our offense with someone else. We do what the Corinthians did — we air our grievances against our brothers and sisters outside the family. This is, according to the Spirit who I believe inspired this text, to our shame.

"But Adam," you might protest, "someone needs to let the world know these people are wrong!" I get that. I get that from the inception of the church, Christian leaders have had to fend off heretics, rebuke the wolves in sheeps' clothing, and all the rest. I'm not suggesting we stop defending against bad doctrine. But the social media feeding frenzy that occurs when a leader screws up is nothing like Iraneaus' Against Heresies, for example. You aren't Augustine battling Pelagius. You have a Facebook page. Settle down.

Not one to simply complain, let me suggest five ways we can kill the Christian criticism culture, and just act like Christians:

1. When You Have a Problem with Someone you Know, Have the Guts to Tell Them, Not the Internet. Crazy idea, right? But go with me for a minute.

I pastor a growing church in Boston and Cambridge, MA. I preach a lot, which means I offend people. One of my favorite things in the world, however, is when someone in our church loves me enough to tell me about it. I feel so loved! So cared for! Why? Because someone in my very own church had the guts to have an uncomfortable conversation with me for my good, and the good of the church. They didn't blog about it, tweet it, snapchat it, or make it a "prayer request" (which often is a Christian euphemism for gossip). They just put on their big kid britches and acted like a Christian.

2. When You Have a Problem with Someone You Don't Know, Have the Character to Pray for Them, Forgive Them, and Reach out to Them if you Can I disagree with all kinds of Christians leaders all the time. I read their books and hear their sermons with reactions ranging from, "Hmm, I wouldn't have said it that way," to "Heresy!!"  So what's a Pastor like me to do? Whatever I should be doing, I almost certainly shouldn't be echoing the stories of their humiliation in public. I most definitely shouldn't be jabbing them with my most pithy and piercing 140-character line. And, I certainly shouldn't be merrily celebrating their problems in front of a world that watches how Christians treat each other.

I probably should pray for them. And I try to, I really do. I want the current Christian rockstars to look progressively more like Jesus. But when Mark Driscoll, Rob Bell, John Piper, N.T. Wright, Pope Benedict, Brian McLaren, Tim Keller, Bill Johnson, T.D. Jakes, or anyone else of the Pro-Preacher class have a problem in public, we should not be among the crowd chanting "Fight! Fight! Fight!" like adolescents in the school yard. We should weep. We should pray. If we know them, we should call. And, we should hope to God in Heaven that some of them will call each other, too.

3. For Sake of the Gospel, Stop Reposting, Retweeting, and Otherwise Dancing Around the Graves of Fallen Christian Leaders by Echoing the Stories of their Screw Ups I wonder if there is nothing left of the fear of the Lord in us. Does no one remember the story of Noah's kids? Go back and read it. God's not cool with publicly shaming his people — especially when his people shame each other. We don't need to echo the horrible stories of someone else's sin. We should be telling good stories of gospel glory, not salivating over the demise of a popular preacher we don't like very much. That impulse is called hatred.  It is to be avoided.

Just stop doing it. With the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Think about that before you hit the repost button next time.

4. Be Free from the Obligation to Judge I think it wonderful news that I do not need to judge other leaders. Jesus will hold me responsible for my family, my leadership, my words, and my church. Mine. He will not hold me responsible for anyone else's. Therefore, I do not need to be in charge of the social media trial and execution of anyone. I don't even have to show up for it. I can just ignore it. When a whiff of weirdness comes across my nostrils from another leader, I can call them, pray for them, and then trust Jesus to govern his church just fine. It's really quite freeing.

5. For the Love of God, Celebrate the Good Because it's not my job to judge another man or woman's work, I'm actually free to appreciate the grace of God in them, despite them. Do you get how great this is? That means I can appreciate my favorites and my not-so-favorites amongst the Pastoral Illuminati, by God's grace. I can actually look at someone with whom I wildly disagree and honor God's grace in them enough to be private and discreet about my problem with them. How lovely.

Let's all join together and kill the Christian criticism culture. If we could, that would be a great story to retweet, and an entirely appropriate grave around which to dance.

In Praise of No

no No has fallen on hard times lately.

With more technology and more competition, we're saying yes to more to stay ahead.  FOMO flings us into more yesses than we can take. Where no once stood as a fence between work and life — no calls after 9, no texts at dinner — yes has taken over. Yes to the iPhone everywhere. Yes to one more email when the kids stand longing for father. Yes to the conversation with your forehead when I talk to you, and you talk to the internet as you say yes to other peoples' lives through likes and hearts and favorites and ... Hey, are you even listening to me?


No also once guarded our souls. No was the bulwark keeping us from self destruction. Human flourishing at stake, we said no to immorality, infidelity, and inch-by-inch compromises of our consciences. But the seductive yes has supplanted the stalwart no. Suffering follows.

We used to shout, "Yes!" to those who used no well. They were the heroes — the leaders. They were the ones who said no to so many good things so we could say yes to the right things.

Jesus was great at no. No to demonic temptation. No to law's demands for conformity. No to those who condemned the sinners. No to getting down off the cross as mockers jeered, disciples feared, and angels watched.

Today, one of the few places no is to be found is in the way respond to this man. In a terrible irony, the only no many of us are comfortable saying is to Jesus — the One who died to say yes to us.

So, here's to no. May this powerful word once more find its proper place in our lexicon. Wielded against all that is wrong, so we can say yes to all that is right.