3 Lessons from Papa Bill

I loved my Papa Bill. This week, after 86 years of life, his body gave way to the entropy of time. When I found out the end was near I got in my car and drove to Florida from Boston. Normally I don't make that trip by car, but having just been hit with a blizzard, Boston was shut down. The 1,500 mile journey afforded me some unexpected gifts, one of which was the opportunity to reflect on my grandfather.

Those who know me know that my family is not picturesque. We're a messy patchwork with lots of frayed edges, for sure. But that hardly means that tender reflection is impossible. Of course, there are no perfect families. Yet, thinking on the life of my grandfather has produced three clear lessons I wish to learn from him. As a way of honoring him, I offer them to you.

It's About People

William Herman Hall was born May 22, 1930. Growing up in the midst of The Great Depression, he spent his days working in his father's grocery store and pinching whatever pennies came his way. Later in life, Bill would find great success in business. Yet, growing up in a depression had a different effect on him than it had on many of his time. Where lack made some miserly, it only served to show Bill what was really important — people.

As a businessman, and later on in retirement, he would become known as a relentlessly generous, jovial man who never missed a chance to be with his friends. Success was never about the stuff, it was just an opportunity to be with people.

As an achiever who often makes hitting goals more important than cultivating relationships, this is a lesson I want to learn.

Start Stuff and Mentor Men

Papa Bill went into business with his uncle right out of college. He took a small restaurant and innovated it into a career with multiple successful businesses. His entrepreneurial drive mingled with his love for people made him a business mentor for many. My own father has what he has and does what he does because Papa Bill approached my parents with an entrepreneurial idea. With capital both in money and wisdom, he did this with many young men, helping them build legacies that simply wouldn't exist without him.

I can't help but think this is incredibly Christ-like. As a dude who trying to kill his own messiah complex, I'm grateful to have the example of a man who didn't need to be the star of the show. He just needed to know that his creativity was catapulting other men into their destinies. I want to be like that.

Give Your Burdens to Jesus

Like all of us, Papa Bill had regrets. His was not a perfect life. There were particular tragedies that weighed upon him for too many years. Humans are not designed to hold the weights of our own difficulties alone. But strong patriarchs aren't quick to share pain. This is a tendency in my own heart — trying to pay forward the costs that my past follies wish to extract. But that's a bill none of us can meet, no matter how successful.

In what would be my final visit with my Papa Bill, I took him to lunch. After an afternoon together we sat in the car, talking. I loved to listen to his stories, so I'd ask tons of questions. This was also the moment where, for the first time, I got to help my Papa Bill give his burdens to Jesus. He wasn't a particularly religious man, but tears streamed down his life-worn cheeks as we prayed for the grace of God's great burden-bearer to help.

In a few days I'll drive back to Boston. The funeral will be over, families will return home, and the new normal will settle in uncomfortably, as it always must after a death. Time will probably afford me the chance to see much more to learn from my Papa Bill. But, if I can get these three lessons, I'll be a little more like him and a little more like Jesus, and I'm more than a little okay with that.


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.

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.


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.


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.

3 Ways To Be A Good Son

I'm learning how to be a good son. Family is for me — like many of my generation — a difficult idea. All my parents have had rough marriages, and walked through circumstances that have been extremely challenging. The wrong way to respond to all of this was the way I responded for many years.

For many years, I disdained my family on multiple levels. I looked down upon their poor choices, confident that I, were I in their position at the time, would have done the right thing. I thought myself smarter, better, a cut above, and was therefore eager to leave my hometown. And so I did. As I expected, I accomplished a lot of good things. But on the way I learned something, too. I learned that, while I'd been very good at school, work, and achieving my goals, I'd not been a very good son.

On a recent trip back to my hometown, it all came very much together for me. Here are three things I learned:

A Good Son Celebrates The Good

I love my parents and grandparents. And, I'm learning that part of honoring them means honoring the good I received from them. For instance:

  • Mom taught me diligence. I get my fiery personality from her. She never quit, raised me well, even though it meant working late and missing moments with me. She taught me to be an adult, and never liked the kind of parenting that tried to pal around with progeny. "My job is to teach you not to need me," she would say. Powerful stuff, I think. I appreciate that.
  • Dad is the reason I build. My father is an actual builder, and he's really good at it. I don't think he knows how to do anything but his best work. He taught me that quality and details matter. He was a great provider. He taught me how to work with my hands. Yesterday, in fact, I built a table from scrap wood around my house. Couldn't help but think of him and to be thankful.
  • My grandparents are all amazing. From them I learned entrepreneurship, art, music, manners, and more. My grandfather (we call him "Papa Bill") is a greatest-generation man's man. He has started more business and released more people into more prosperity than anyone I know. As a church entrepreneur, I love that. He's also one of the most generous people I know. My grandmother (we call her "Jay Bird") taught me how to love music, art, and the stage. She was always taking me to plays and musicals, and I fell in love with music in many ways through her. She also taught me manners and how to set a table. My other grandmother ("Granny") is everything great about the South, made flesh. She is the sweetest, most vibrant grandmother ever. No one makes better fried chicken, or breakfast. No one is more kind, either.

I can go on and talk about how great my step-parents are, my siblings (natural and step), my in-laws, and even my spiritual fathers. But, this is a blog, not a book. All that was probably more fun for me to write than for you to read. The point is this, a Son celebrates the good he got from his family.

A Good Son Rejects Cynicism

Man, this one is hard. All of us go through that moody, teenage phase. Some of us never emerge from it.

Every family has junk. When faced with family junk, we have some choices. First, we can embrace the junk and carry it forward. This is not wise, but it is normal. Cynically, this choice says, "this is who we've always been and who we'll always be." This is part of how destructive behaviors like alcoholism, violence, passive-aggression, and all kinds of brokenness get passed onto the next generation. A good son doesn't do that.

Another choice might be to eschew the whole family for the sake of the junk. This was more my style. But very little good has ever come from throwing babies out with bathwater. The image of God resides in every person, along with their brokenness. It's no good to reject the image on account of the sin, except in the most extreme cases. Good sons avoid this move, too.

A Good Son Embraces The Best Son

So what is this, just good advice I'm spinning? May it never be.

The gospel means that I've been adopted into the only perfect family. Just as I was born into my natural family, I needed to be born again into this one. And, just as I did nothing to merit being born into the Mabry household, merit and good work didn't get me born into the family of God. I've been adopted. I've been embraced, despite my sin. Jesus bled to rescue the image of His Father in me. If this is the cost that the best Son paid to reunite me with His family, then I can do likewise.

The best Son saw the good in me, and loved me, despite all my sin.

The best Son rejected cynicism about me, and loved me instead.

To be a good Son, I can look at the best Son, and do with my family what He did with me.

I'm learning how to be a good son. The best Son is teaching 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.

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 (Not) to Know God

I occupy a weird space in church world. One foot is firmly planted in the historic, Reformed world. This is a world of exquisite theology, great exegesis, brilliant theologians, and more good doctrine than you can shake a stick at.

The other foot is firmly planted in the powerful, charismatic world. This is the world of signs, wonders, and miracles, plus the occasional oddity, as Spiritual fire is released at the cutting edge of the Kingdom of God.

My weird space — somewhere in but out of both these worlds — makes it awkward for me at theological cocktail parties (which don't really exist, but as I'm writing this, they sound like a great idea...). But I love my weird space, because the tension of these two worlds keeps me on the narrow road of knowing God.

One way not to know God is to drift into the extreme of my first foot — that of academic theology — which offers knowledge of God mostly on the basis of doctrines. Is doctrine therefore bad? Obviously not. Knowing great doctrines about God is akin to knowing great facts about your spouse. But in my experience I observe many of my fellow thinkers fall so madly in love with the doctrines that love for God is sublimated. Knowing God is about more than knowing truth about God, just like knowing my wife is about more than memorizing fact about her.

Another way not to know God is to overcorrect from the previous extreme into the other — the extreme of experiential knowledge. This extreme offers knowledge of God on the basis of an experience with him, usually at the exclusion of rigorous study, thought, or examination of the Scripture. It's the Christian equivalent of "if it feels good, it must be right." Because obviously all good vibes are from the Holy Spirit. Right? Knowing God is about more than having experiences with Him, just like knowing my wife is about more than having experiences with her.

It seems to me that knowledge about God and experience with God fuel our pursuit of God. Let's go back to my weird space.

I love thinking hard about God. The intellectual rigor of theology is fun to me. But as soon as I feel myself ascending the high tower of knowledge which excludes me from my less theologically inclined brethren, the Holy Spirit pulls me to Himself in experience. Some prayer, worship, or moment with God calls me out of the library and onto the mission. But, on the field of battle, I realize that I need more than faith and fire. I need to understand God more deeply. So my experience drives me back to the text. And I can't stay in the text long before I am compelled from the text into the world. And on the cycle goes.

The narrow road of knowing God features knowledge and experience — life and doctrine. So get out there and learn something about Him you didn't know. Then, like fresh logs on a fire, let your knowledge fuel your worship and work for the God you're knowing better.


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.

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.

4 Moral Responsibilities We All Have To Truth

There is an interesting reaction happening among many young Christians. It is the cautious conviction that it is, perhaps, wrong to speak truth. Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that deep within us all lies der wille zür macht (the will to power). This is the idea that each of us are consumed with gaining power and prominence over others. According to Nietzsche,  this goes for (especially) us religious folks. Some of us are pretty convinced that when someone says they "know God," they're acting immorally, irresponsibly, or even dangerously. Postmodern philosopher Denis Diderot famously said, "Men will never be free until that last king is strangled on the entrails of the last priest."(1) Yikes.

But, the fact remains that some people use their claim to know truth as a wedge for power.

This may surprise you, but this objection wasn't first sounded by hippie philosophy students who were trying to throw off the oppressive shackles of "the Man." It was sounded by Jesus. This was the same accusation that Jesus leveled against the Pharisees. He said of them, "[They] tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on peoples' shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger."(Matt. 23: 4). Did Jesus just agree with a postmodern critique of religion? Why yes he did.(2)

Yes, truth can be misused. And yes, truth can go unsaid. But these observations are hardly new. Jesus criticized the religious leaders of his day over the same sorts of things. Why? Because truth is all tangled up with moral responsibility, and we all already know that. We sue people for false advertising. Lying politicians (hopefully) get voted out. When a spouses lie, divorce may follow. We all know that we have a moral connection to truth. Here are four ways that plays out:

To Know It

The biggest problem with humanity is that we, in sin, suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). According to the Scriptures, truth became flesh in Jesus. And according to those same Scriptures, knowing Jesus sets us free from sin's lies. There's nothing morally praiseworthy about believing what is false.

To Believe It

When we know truth, we're then accountable to believe it. You can sell books with clever sounding unbelief, but that's just the adult version of that annoying, know-it-all friend from third grade. Everyone knew he was full of hot air then, and he still is, even though he sells books. If truth is true, then we are accountable to trust it.

To Teach It

Truth is to be shared. Just as it would be unjust to knowingly teach school children incorrect mathematics, it is unjust to knowingly perpetuate falsehood. Why? Because lies don't lead to human flourishing. If incorrect equations make technology work incorrectly, then incorrect moral and metaphysical beliefs will have the same effect on the soul. We have a moral responsibility to not obfuscate, but to educate — to speak clearly and not deceptively.

To Not Misuse It

The reason so many are so scared to speak truth clearly is because we've seen it misused. We've seen truth said unlovingly, and it hurts. We've watched people who thought they knew truth hurt folks who were "wrong." Our reaction, however, has been to toss the baby out with the bathwater. One moral failure (not speaking truth) doesn't fix another (misusing truth). We must be among those who use truth truthfully.

The good news is, we've got really good precedent for faithful, useful truth telling. Jesus Christ is truth made flesh (John 14:6). He knew it, even though everyone around him wanted to deny it. He believed it, even through it was thoroughly unpopular. He preached it, because he knew that only through contact with truth can humanity be rescued from the lie of sin. And he never misused it, but came under the penalty of those who did, to rescue them.

Let's stand up in fidelity to truth. After all, truth has already done so for us.

(1) Denis Diderot, attributed by Jean-François de La Harpe in Cours de Littérature Ancienne et Moderne (1840)

(2) Adam Mabry, Life and Doctrine: How the Truth and Grace of the Christian Story Change Everything. Aletheia Resources. 

Omnicompetence is the New Pride

"Just as there is no way we can serve both God and money, so there is no way we can (openly or secretly) believe in our personal omnicompetence and at the same time believe in Jesus as the Savior of sinners."(1) When you ask people about pride, few consider it a bad thing any more. School pride, national pride, (insert social cause here) pride ... pride has been moved off the moral no-no list in modern American Newspeak. That makes it very hard to locate. But, locate it we must. Just because we've become more cozy with the sin of pride doesn't make it any less that — sin. And I think I may have found where this particular devil has been hiding out: Omnicompetence.

Omnicompetence is not a word, but if it were it would describe our (my) deep, personal conviction that I can do pretty much anything, and that I need very little help. "I've got this," is its confession. "I can handle it," is its mantra. And, "I'll be alright," is its rather unformed eschatology.

I can see omnicompetence when I skip reading the Scriptures because I'm busy.

I can hear omnicompetence when I lie to a friend who asks how I'm really doing.

I can feel omnicompetence when I'm short-tempered with others and difficult to get on with.

Omnicompetence is the new pride. It's the way we modern people have made a virtue of personal utility and a vice out of humble needfulness. It's the rebranding of the one sin that lies at the root of all the others, and makes the heart so hard that it refuses to ask for help. In fact, if you're a devout believer in your omnicompetence, Jesus came to empower you, perhaps, but not to save you. I mean, you've got this, right?



Omnicompetence is the ultimate expression of practical atheism. But, take a minute to examine it up close. If you look deeply into the shiny surface of this idea, you'll begin to see the fissures. Those small, nagging ways we fail, falter, and miss the mark. Omnicompetence has a real problem with recognizing sin, and the humble vulnerability that such a recognition produces. But, like paint over rotting wood, omnicompetence can't hide our true nature for very long. No set of skills, no matter how great, can ever overcome our deep need for help.

For grace.

Lord, help me part ways with the belief in my omnicompetence — my pride. Hold my neediness before my eyes long enough to cause me to voice my need for the Savior.

(1) Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day, 93.

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.

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.

Data Streams | 6 Places to Go

What are your data streams? I've got a theory about data streams: most of us have way too few, or too many that are too alike. One of my aforementioned measurable goals is to add a number of new data streams to my life. Data streams are those watering holes of information from which you drink. For me, they look like this:

  1. Bible Highly important data stream for me. Should be for you, too.
  2. News You've gotta get yourself some diverse news sources. I'm talking to you both, Connie Conservative and Libby Liberal. Read Fox and Drudge and MSNBC and Huffington Post. And more.
  3. Tech If you live in the West, you live in a world increasingly dominated by technology. Get a few data streams about technology, and what's coming soon.
  4. Podcasts Super helpful data streams, especially if you're an aural learner like me. Get some good Christian podcasts, and also grab some things that will stretch your brain in different directions.
  5. Books Apparently folks used to publish their thoughts in an edited form on paper. I think that may be a fairy tale, but this website called may know something about it.
  6. Think Tanks These are groups of smart people who research stuff. Again, you need some good conservative and liberal ones, but know you know they're there. Go research some stuff.

A final word of warning... social media is an insufficient data feed. It's the junk-food of the mind. Easy, cheap, and tasty (who, after all, doesn't like to chow down on a good buzzfeed from time to time). But thinking well on the basis of social media is like trying to live well on Doritos and Skittles — not going to happen.

For more details on what exact data streams I enjoy, just ask :-)

3 Great Expectations for 2016

Expectation is a very visible emotion in my house, especially at this time of year — especially among my kids. Expectation for fun, presents, and all-around Christmasy goodness. I'd imagine they have such great expectation because, for the most part, Hope and I are pretty good parents who like to give them good stuff. Well, God's a better dad than me. So as his kids, we should approach this new year with some great expectations. Here are three of them:

Expect Evil to Persist I know, not the most encouraging one. But seriously, why are (Christians especially) so surprised when evil rears its ugly head? It's horrible, yes, but hardly surprising. We've got a whole theology about evil that does a pretty good job explaining why it's there. Unless Jesus returns in 2016, evil is will remain. You can expect it.

Expect the Gospel to Work In the face of evil and brokenness, here's another sure thing — the gospel will still be the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. In fact, as evil gets worse, the power of the gospel to rescue and redeem gets bigger and brighter. So let's not skulk into 2016, pining for a so-called Christian culture of a by-gone age. Let's charge ahead with the confident expectation for the gospel to bring the Kingdom.

Expect God to Do Great Things If you expect God to do very little, you'll probably get what you expect. You're facing some giants in 2016 — health, money, dreams, and destiny. So show up like my kids do this time of year. Don't let disappointment drain your faith. Don't allow disillusionment to lead you into doubt and despondence. God is great, so expect Him to do greatly. You will not be disappointed.

Measure the Resolution

Each year around this time I engage in a little ritual. I review the passing year up against my goals that I set at its beginning, to see how I did. But here's the problem with a lot of this past year's goals — they're immeasurable. I'll give you an example. Last year, in a pious moment, I wrote, "Pray more powerfully." I also wrote, "Be a better father," and "work on my character."

"But Adam," you say, "how will you know if you've actually achieved any of these goals?" Heck if I know. And that's the point.

So here's my approach this year: Measure the resolution. I'm going to set goals that I can measure in some quantitative way. I'm reading a biography of Jonathan Edwards at the moment, and have been blown away by the specificity of his resolutions. So, here's mine:

Resolved: to make resolutions I can measure, so I can know if I've actually achieved anything.

If you make some measurable resolutions, let me know how it goes.