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?

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.

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.

Of Discipleship and Destiny

It was a fresh, autumn day. "Fresh" is that euphemism that Scots use to describe utterly terrible, grey, rainy weather that most other places in the world would deride. Call it a coping mechanism.

Anyway, it was fresh with a bit of sun that day.

I just moved to Edinburgh with my wife, our three-month-old daughter, our dog, and her grand piano. I was 21, she was 22, and we'd been in country for a few weeks. All our earthly possessions had been delayed, not to arrive for another couple of months. But, it was time to get to work.

We'd moved to help a team of men and women plant a new church in the city, and the work couldn't wait for my couch to arrive. So, off to the train station I went to get to Edinburgh Uni. My job was to reach out to incoming freshmen (or freshers, as they're known there. Boy, they love that word "fresh,"...) I arrived to Teviot Square. I was to tell students about Jesus. This was the moment I'd prayed for, worked for, hoped for, and raised a small pile of money for. It had all come to this. I stepped into the square, teeming with students.

I was terrified.

I probably walked around that square for an hour, praying and asking God to open a door, to give me courage — to make it easier. Then, I spotted a Georgia Tech hat.

As a graduate of FSU, I knew what that meant. I'd found a southerner — a dude who rooted for an ACC school, no less. This was my man, so I approached him. "Are you from Georgia?" I asked this dude. Confused, he tilted his head and replied, "no."

As it turned out, this fellow had gotten the hat from his roommate, who was (and is) American. He borrowed it and stepped out to play a bit of frisbee there in the square. We struck up a conversation. He attended an outreach we were sponsoring. He and I began to get together for coffee. I told him about Jesus, and about the destiny and calling on his life. After a while, he began to believe me.

Weeks later, this young man found his way to the first few worship gatherings of our newly formed church — Every Nation Edinburgh — meeting weekly at the Dominion Cinemas. He joined our setup team. Then our worship team. This young Scot became one of the first men I had the privilege of discipling. By the end of his first year at University, God had done quite a work in his life.

For the five years that we lived in Scotland, I enjoyed this relationship with Gordon. I was mentoring him in the faith, and in a bit of life, too. I played music with him (since I was the worship leader), and I did a bit of campus ministry with him (since I was the campus minister, too). I got to watch a teenage boy who wandered to university become a man of God stepping into his destiny.

Seven years ago, I said goodbye to Gordon, to Scotland, and to many other young men into whom I had the privilege of investing a bit of my life. Hope and I packed our bags, a few more kids, and her grand piano, and moved home.

This week, I got to return.

The occasion was to be one of the many men who witnessed Gordon become the Lead Pastor of our church in Edinburgh. The dream of any missionary is to hand the work over to locals, and for the many of us who invested our lives into this place, it was a glorious occasion of thanksgiving to see this young man and his amazing wife step into leadership. Missionary dream come true.

I had the chance to catch up with many old friends this week, pray with many, encourage many. Now that I'm on my way home to Boston again, I can't help but draw a few conclusions.

Discipleship is About Destiny

Twelve years ago I could have never known that Gordon would become a pastor. That's not why I spent time with him. I invested my life and faith into this young man because Jesus calls his disciples to make disciples. The fun part, only known to the Lord at the time, is the result. I'm convinced, however, that if we'll stick by our calling to make disciples we will never cease to be stunned at the destinies that are walked into.

Discipleship is Not Automatic

I'm tempted to make discipleship a class or a program. And, while classes and programs are indispensable, discipleship ends up being about relationships. Those don't just happen. They aren't automatic. They require a high degree of intentionality.

Destiny is Up to God

We don't make disciples because we see their destinies. We never know what will happen, only God does. I think it's safer that way. God wants us to be faithful to invest in others. We embody faith in the gospel and trust in the God of the gospel when we leave the results to him.

I'm proud of Gordon. I'm grateful to God. And, I'm really humbled and stunned that this is the kind of work I get to do. By grace, it's work that, for me, will never stop.

Miscellanies: How I'm Beating Anxiety

There's a future version of Adam Mabry that I'm working to become. He's better, smarter, wiser, more loving, and host of other things that I'm not at the moment. You probably do this, too. Heck, the Bible does. The Scriptures hold out the hope of resurrection and the perfect, glorified future that goes with it. But in a city full of do-ers, in a country full of do-ers, we can become quite discouraged that we haven't yet gotten this one done. It's discouraging to think that you're not yet what you could — or should — be.

Enter anxiety, depression, sadness, and self-loathing. How do we beat this?

The Psalms give a clue, many of which are simply poetic reminders of what God did a long time ago — parted the red sea, made the world, established the kingdom of Israel. I can imagine being a faithful Israelite in, say, the 5th century B.C. could be depressing. On the one hand you had promises of a coming messiah, on the other a present situation that looked more like Hell than Heaven. But here's their genius that is helping me:

Past Providences Fuel Present Praise.

Instead of freaking out about the gap between what is and what is to come, they rejoiced at the journey from what was to what is. Instead of wondering if God would be faithful tomorrow they remembered that God was faithful in every yesterday.

The anxious temptation to reject God because I don't see what He will do is subverted by the memories I have of what He has done. His past providences are like gasoline on the fire of my present praises. My present praises shape my heart to trust God's future graces ... Graces that one day will be past providences.

3 Reasons I Don't Believe God

When someone I trust makes me a promise, I believe them. Why isn't this true when God makes me a promise? I believe in God, but sometimes I don't believe God. Believing in God and believing God are not the same. In prepositions lie the power of life and death.

I Don't Know Them

I can't believe promises I don't know. Now, everything in the Bible isn't a promise. Proverbs aren't promises. Descriptions of terrible sin isn't a promise. But the Scriptures do contain literally thousands of promises from God, should I bother myself to find them. But if I never read them, I'll never know them.

I Don't Remember Them

There's a hole in my soul, and out of it seems to fall so much of what is good, right, and true from God. I can't just read the promises, therefore. I have to keep reading them and commit them to memory. Further, I have to be around men and women who will remind me of what my situations help me forget.

I Don't Say Them

So much of the Bible was written to be read aloud. The promises of God are confessional. The greatest promise of all — that God will justify us by faith in the gospel — is only accessed by confession. "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord ... you will be saved." (Rom 10:9). We need to be people who confess these promises aloud.

Here's an action item for you to consider. Download this short list of promises from God. Read them. Remember them. Say them. Then, repeat that process for about 30 days. I dare you. Tell me if it doesn't move the needle of your trust in God, make your more fruitful, and cause you to grow.

Download the PDF

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 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:19-22)

3 Reasons We Must Fight for Joy in God

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

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


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

Unjustified Sadness Tarnishes God's Glory

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

Unsought Victory Minimizes God's Power

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

Unmixed Sorrow Forget's God's Future

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

Get up, man of God. Fight your folly.

Woman of faith, resist your sadness.

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


3 Trust Issues We All Have

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

"I Can't Trust God."

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

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

"I Can't Trust Them."

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

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

"I Cant' Trust Him/Her."

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

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

Getting Past My Trust Issue

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

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

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

The Wonder of Weakness

Like you, I feel constant pressure to look better, stronger, and more successful than I actually am. The world likes the strong. We root for them. We pay them millions to be stronger than others. God, however, seems to be drawn to the weak. "Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted ... you do see, for you note his ... vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless." (Ps 10:14-15)

Three simple observations that are really helping me today.

  1. God isn't attracted to my success, but draws near in my not-enough-ness.
  2. God sees my troubles. Therefore I don't need to whine about them, or sulk in self-pity.
  3. God is the refuge of the weak. The weak commit themselves to God, in part because they have no other help.

Strength is great, but deceptive. Success is wonderful, but worrisome. Only Jesus is the kind of God who displays the wonder of God in the weakness of man. I'm glad I don't have to become strong enough for him. He became weak enough for me.

5 #TrueFacts About Faith

Here are five #TrueFacts about faith:

  1. Faith is not a Feeling Western peoples have never fully recovered from Romanticism. We lean way to heavily on how we feel at any given moment. This is probably why so much of our church experiences these days are designed to evoke or promote certain feelings. But, faith is not a feeling. It is trust (regardless of feeling) in God.
  2. Faith is a Gift "For by grace you have been saved athrough faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God," (Eph 2:8). If we want to trust God more, we should ask. True we can stir the faith we have, but more faith means more asking. "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." (Mk 9:24).
  3. Faith is Powerful Jesus said that if we have faith like a mustard seed we can command mountains to move. (Matt 17:20). Whatever that means in practice, great faith brings great power.
  4. Faith = Trust, not Manipulation Faith means trusting God, not manipulating him. Having great faith doesn't mean you always get what you want from God. It means you always get God no matter what else you get.
  5. Put Faith in God, not Your Ability to Understand This is subtle, but really important. Faith says to God, "Father, your will be done." While studying the Bible introduces us to God, it does not give us secret knowledge of all His ways. Sometimes we will pray for things to which God says, "no." In those moments, we must remember that we are people of faith in God, not in our ability to comprehend Him.


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.

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.


The Instructive Power of Anxiety

Anxiety is the emotion of unbelief.  That's what my friend Greg Mitchell likes to say. The more I've lived and thought about it, the more true I've found it. I don't know about you but I feel anxious regularly, about all kinds of things.

Recently, I received some ministry-related news that gave me anxiety. It was the kind of news that made begin to ask frantic, anxiety-fueled questions like, "What about the future?" "What if growth slows?" "What about our image in the city?"

And then I stopped. I breathed. The Holy Spirit spoke to me, took me back to the Bible, and lovingly led my worrying heart back to Jesus. But in the aftermath of that moment, I realized something: anxiety, though awful to experience, can be very instructive.

Anxiety Shows Me What I Love

Anxiety over losing something shows me what I really care about. If I'm so afraid of something being taken away, changing, or moving away from my control, then I probably love that thing more than I should.

Anxiety Shows Me What I Worship

Stress is like a sacrificial offering to a false god — I kill my peace on the altar of false worship dedicated to a thing that isn't God. I'll worry and fear the loss of the thing that I may be living for.

Anxiety Shows Me My Unbelief

As Dr. Greg says, anxiety is the emotion of unbelief. Anxiety reveals the precise location of my unbelief in the gospel, the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, and the power of His grace to heal, deliver, and take care of me.

Anxiety Shows Me Where I Must Believe

Very practically, anxiety then reveals where, precisely, I must repent. I must trust Jesus at the points over which I worry because those points reveal those wastelands of my heart where the refreshing life of Christ has not yet flowed, but should.

Maybe the instructive power of anxiety is part of the reason God allows us to experience it. He loves us enough to show us where we don't yet love Him enough.

How To Keep Going When It Sucks

Sometimes, life sucks. You get bad news. You feel depressed. Your kids act up. Your relationship breaks up. You're walking in the promises, alright. Just not the promises you wanted. You're experiencing that oft-ignored verse, "In this life you will have trouble..." (John 16:33).

I get those days. Here's how I get past them:

(Note: Since I'm a pastor, I'm automatically inclined to alliterate. So today's life insights are brought to you by the letter D.)

Don't Pretend

Don't pretend life isn't hard. There's a weird version of faith teaching that seems incapable of admitting when life is hard. Don't do that. That's not faith, that's just stupid. You can still be a man of God and say, "Man, this just really sucks right now."


Decide to deal with it, not to be dealt with by it. Seriously, this isn't some psycho-babble mumbo jumbo. You've got to get up and decide not to be dominated by the demonic forces arrayed against you, your bad habits, someone else's attitude, etc.

Don't Self-Pity

This one's tough. When things go badly, pitying self seems natural. Don't do that. Self pity is a sin. It seems attractive to imbibe in a little woe-is-me. But once you've come close to that siren, she'll eat you. Self pity is not the right way to deal with a rough day, week, or month.


I'm convinced that one of the reasons that God lets us go through hard times is to remind us to depend on him. I have to depend on Him. I don't "got this." I'm not a black-belt ninja master at life. I need a savior, and a helper. Dependance on God in the trial is, very often, the point of trial, I think.


Dispel the dark emotions. You can confess Scripture, pray, talk to friends, and tell your soul to worship God, even when life sucks. David did it. "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Hope in God!" (Psalm 43:5)

So there you have it. This is how I deal with the hard days. I hope this handy alliteration helps you when that promise of Jesus happens to you.

His Faithfulness Observed

This Sunday we celebrated our fifth birthday at Aletheia. It was a great day—a wonderful moment to celebrate all that God has done over the last five years. Very often I will write to solve a problem, share a skill, or add a thought to an ongoing issue in church planting or in culture. But to commemorate all that God has done for me personally and for our church corporately in the last five years, I couldn't think of anything more appropriate than to briefly enumerate some of the amazing ways God has proven Himself faithful.

  • God called some of our best friends in the world to move to Boston with us. We would not be where we are if it weren't for Donny and Janna Fisher.
  • God gave me a supportive, prayerful, faithful woman of God in my wife, Hope. Without her, I would not and could not do this.
  • We were so scared to move up here, but God gave both our families beautiful, new apartments right on top of each other. Our kids got to play, we got to laugh, and our families grew in close proximity. This made the hard, early years so much sweeter.
  • God gave us a people from day 1. Not everyone gets that, but I never once had to bear this church plant totally alone.
  • God gave me two amazing ministry mentors in Jim Laffoon and Stephen Mansfield, who have walked closely with us for years, guarding me, my family, and our church, with selflessness and wisdom.
  • God provided a building in the perfect location for our launch.
  • God gave us every single dollar we needed, from partners who've given to our ministry for years, to churches who gave us enormous special gifts.
  • Through us, God has saved a lot of people.
  • We launched with 99 people.
  • We've never stopped growing.
  • God has given us hundreds of amazing volunteers. These men and women are selfless, Kingdom-minded, and joyful co-laborers for Christ. I am humbled to lead them.
  • God called and enabled the launch of a second location in downtown Boston.
  • My kids love Jesus and like me. Not everyone can say that, so I'm grateful.
  • All our gatherings are packed, and that's nuts to me.
  • God has allowed our spiritual family to be a diverse one, and I'm so, so grateful for that testimony of gospel power for unity.
  • When I was walking through the valleys of depression, God delivered me.
  • I get to preach the Bible for a living, and make disciples of Jesus Christ as a full-time job. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.
  • God has given us an amazing spiritual family in Every Nation. There's no other group of men and women I'd rather walk with in the world.
  • God gave us an amazing staff, and I love these men and women with all my heart. I love working with them, and think they're all rockstars.
  • I've lost count of how many people I've baptized in the last 5 years.
  • When church planting was hard, God never left me. His presence and power sustained me.

It's good to make lists like this. One thing is sure, not every day in ministry will be as sweet as a 5th birthday, but seeing just some of what God has done in the last few years reminds me that He is unstoppably faithful. I can't wait to see what the next few years hold!


Trusting God Means Taking Risks

Trusting God means taking risks. The thought is pretty simple, really. Trusting God means trusting Him, not your ability to understand everything He does. As a pastor, I watch people get confused by this one a lot.

"Where's God right now? What's He doing"

"Pastor, why did He let me experience this?"

"I don't understand what God could be doing in this situation."

We seemed to be convinced that if we can't see what God is doing, then God can't be doing it. But here's the thing: God doesn't have to approve His plan with you. If He did then you would never have to trust Him. You'd simply be approving his plans. And, those are not the same. If you require a comprehension of God plans, you'll never take a risk and step out in faith. Why? Because you'll never do anything that totally depends on God and His character, just on you and your understanding.

What a lame way to live.

Trusting God means taking risks — stepping out in obedience doing things that have unclear outcomes (from our perspectives, at least). If you're afraid of risks, the answer isn't to just manifest some bravery. It's to remind yourself of the nature of God. He's the kind of God who can be trusted with your step of faith.

Jesus said, "Follow me." You may not be sure where you're going, exactly. But, you know you can trust your leader. Take the risk. Trust God.

Will Your Way to Worship (3 Practices)

Today is hard. Money is tight, friendships are lean, you feel emotionally spent, or maybe spiritually dry. Someone just died, or is about to. That special person cut the relationship off. And in the middle of all that you're walking through, here's what God says:

"Worship the LORD with gladness; come into His presence with singing!" (Ps 100:2)

Doesn't He know how hard your life is right now? Doesn't He understand that you just can't authentically create the emotions of joyful worship when life is so challenging? Doesn't God get it?

Yes. He gets it. He gets how hard it is to worship in the middle of a bad day. Try singing Psalm 22 while you hang on a cross. The Son understands how hard it is to will yourself to worship, especially when it's hard. Yet, He did it. He worshipped when it hurt.

Here are three practices I've found from Jesus' life that show us how he willed himself to worship:

Jesus Had a Pre-Existing Practice of Worship

You're not going to sing and shout to God in pain if you've never done so at all. Jesus had a practice of worship and communion with the Father before He experienced pain. (Luke 5:16, Mark 1:35)

Jesus Sang Scripture

Jesus sang the Psalms and so should we. I love great music, new and old. I'm not worship style warrior, hellbent on my preferences. But, Jesus knew how to go to the Psalms and sing God's word over His life. When Hell breaks loose in your life, you need the Psalms. (Matt 27:46)

Worship Shaped Jesus' World

Worship isn't a coping mechanism. We are worshipping, loving creatures, constantly orienting ourselves around that which we hold most valuable. Jesus' worship of the Father shaped his world. By worshipping regularly, we're reshaping the contours of our affections to wrap around the Worthy One. Doing so will change the way we see the world.

Today is still hard. This is when we must will ourselves to worship. God doesn't demand our praise because He's an insecure killjoy. He demands it because He loves us. He knows the only way to walk through the valley is with our eyes on the one whose rod and staff comfort us. Take the steps. Will yourself to worship today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And watch your world get reshaped.

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.

3 Reasons to Keep Going

You're in the middle of something right now — maybe even something great — and you want to quit. Don't.

Some activities, habits, and attitudes we should quit. I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about quitting on your calling, your relationships, your work — the things you know you should do. Do you ever just want to tap out on those things because they're just really hard?

Again, don't.

Here's three good reasons not to quit on good things:

Your Not Supposed to Quit Things like your calling — your real purpose in life — you're not supposed to quit. You can't tap out of being who God made and appointed you to be. "It's really hard, though," you say. Yes. Yes it is. That's because it's good, and everything good is hard. An unhealthy side effect of our overly-coddled culture is the belief that when opposition comes (or just when the good vibes leave) we must be in the wrong lane. That's not true. If God commands it, you're to do. Don't stop.

Jesus Didn't Quit Let's talk about the archetype for perseverance a moment. Jesus didn't quit. He didn't hang up his gloves because his team still didn't get it. He didn't roll back when his family thought he was nuts. He didn't even quit when the Roman soldiers were ripping the flesh of his back, nailing him to a cross, and watching him die, slowly. He didn't quit.

Maybe you're suffering right now. Suffering doesn't mean you should stop. God uses our suffering to build our character, purge our sin, and make us stronger. I'm really glad Jesus didn't quit when it was hard. Don't quit.

God Gives Persevering Grace to the Persevering God doesn't abandon you when it's tough. The genius of the Christian story is the way God remains omnipotent while entering into human suffering, and overcomes. Because Jesus overcame this world, he can now give overcoming grace to those of us still in it. I know it's tough right now. God gives grace when it's tough. He is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. His grace is there to sustain.

Whatever you're in the middle of right now, don't quit. Show up, ask God for help, keep going.

Dangerous Doubt and Why You Need It

Let's talk about doubt. For some, doubt is a big bogeyman. Feel doubts about your faith? Expunge them with all haste!

Well, maybe.

I depends on the kind of doubting you're doing. But you may be surprised by what the Scriptures actually say about doubt.

You're Commanded to Doubt

You may not know this, but the Bible actually commands Christian to doubt. At least, a kind of doubt. Paul wrote, "Test everything, but hold fast to the good." (1 Thes. 5:21) This the wise, soul-protective doubt that keeps faith filled disciples from becoming foolish chumps who believe anything that looks vaguely Christian. Understood in this way, I can't help but think that a whole lot fewer end-times books would sell if Christians took Paul's command to heart.

When Doubt is Dangerous

Doubt is dangerous when it metastasizes into the cancer of cynicism. Cynicism is a false epistemology — a way of knowing that says, "You can't know that," about everything. It takes the position that truth can't be found. But saying "I don't believe that," about everything is just another way of saying "nothing is to be believed," about anything. C.S. Lewis exposes the foolishness of cynicism when in The Abolition of Man,

You cannot go on 'seeing through' things forever. The whole point of seeing through things is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too. It is no use trying to 'see through' first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To 'see through' all things is not to see.(1)

Look, I get cynicism. Cynics sound smart, but they're not. They're fools engaging in a sophistry that hides the fearful insecurity and lack of trust that marks hurt hearts.

Some Things You Should Never Doubt

There are some things that you should never doubt. God's character, never doubt that. God gave you his Son when you gave him the finger. That's a good God. God's love, never doubt that. His love for you and I cost him everything. There are more things not to doubt, surely. But of all people, Christians shouldn't fear doubt. We should fear the slide that doubt may place us on toward the cancer of cynicism. So, doubt well.

(1) C.S. Lewis. The Abolition of Man. Pg. 53-54.