7 Things Christians Must Not Do After the Election

My fellow Christian Americans, Last night, Donald Trump won the election and will become the 45th President of The United States of America. This mourning — I mean, morning — I saw a lot of sad, angry, rude, happy, anxious, fearful posts and faces.

I was disappointed months ago when the nominating process was over because both candidates embodied different anti-Kingdom values. The choice between a bullet and a noose isn't much of a choice, after all. I'll leave you to decide which one got elected.

We're Christians. We already have a King. He was King yesterday, and He's King today. Since we're citizens of a Kingdom that will never end, here's what we simply cannot do as we occupy this Republic that most certainly one day will:

  1. Do Not Panic Breathe. Neither Trump nor Clinton can destroy your reward. We elected a president, we did not install Emperor Palpatine. I understand that you may feel afraid, concerned, or upset. Grief is a perfectly acceptable and normal response. Panic is not — not for God's people.

    Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory... (Deut. 20:2-3)

  2. Do Not Gloat Half of you got what you wanted yesterday. Half of you did not. If you did, do not gloat. Spiking the ball and proudly declaring that "we got our country back," betrays your idolatrous allegiance to the wrong kingdom and the wrong king. If you voted for Donald Trump and you are happy today, act like a Christian. Seek to understand your brothers and sisters who did not.

    Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5)

  3. Do Not Judge Half of you did not get what you wanted yesterday. I've read your mean tweets ... "How could anyone who loves Jesus vote for this man." I understand your bewilderment, but these are your brothers and sisters. Jesus' injunction against judging them means that you can't allow their vote and your loss to break your fellowship. Love like a Christian.

    Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt 7:1-2)

  4. Do Not Hate Some of you are angry. Righteous anger only takes a little sin to turn into hate. You cannot hate those with whom you disagree. If you voted for Hilary, you cannot hate the Trump voter — not if you love Jesus. This is your opportunity to feel what they felt 4 and 8 years ago. If you voted for Trump, you cannot hate the Hilary voter. This is your opportunity to practice humility in your temporal electoral victory. Love like a Christian.

    "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

  5. Do Not Fear Jesus doesn't want us to be afraid of anything we face in this life. We all must remember that King Jesus is King Jesus, and he's in charge of the world. Here are some words Paul wrote to a church ruled by tyrants:

    Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)

  6. Do Not Get Cynical Cynicism is just cowardice with sarcastic clothes on. Christian, you're called to engage the world, your neighbor, your political opponent, and even your political ally with the gospel of Jesus. Cynicism says, "There's no point" to gospel proclamation, acts of mercy, and social responsibility. Resist the temptation to get cynical.

    Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)

  7. Do Not Stop We are citizens of heaven, called to build the Kingdom of God and make disciples at all times, under any administration, with all our hearts, so that all the world can know King and Savior of all creation.Do. Not. Stop.Do not stop praying. Do not stop proclaiming. Do not stop repenting. Do not stop believing. Do not stop fellowshipping. Do not stop hoping. Do not stop giving. Do not stop loving.

    And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:9-10)

Image of God over Issues

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

Why Is This Wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

Don't Elevate Issues Over the Image

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

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

The Image of God Unites Us.

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

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


Trinitarian Politics and Trending Totalitarianism

As a pastor, a Christian, and an American, I'm feeling increasingly alienated from my country's political process. I'm probably not the only one. It may not surprise you that a pastor isn't happy with politics. But what may surprise you is why. It's not because I'm a shill for the Republican or Democratic parties. Neither is my greatest alienation over a particular policy (though books could be written about policies I dislike). I'm not even most disturbed about the petulant tone of the discourse (even if it happens to resemble a middle school student election I once participated in). No, my deepest problem with our politics is a theological one.

What disturbs me, perhaps more than everything else, is the way in which our political process has abandoned the most foundational doctrine of my faith: the doctrine of the Trinity.

Trinity is a word that described the tri-unity of God. He is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This fact about God's nature holds endless implications, but the one most important for our current political discourse is this: If God is trinity, we matter and you matter.

Trinity Means We Matter

Christian theologians (the good ones, anyway) derive their conclusions on human interactions from the nature of God. So, if God were a radical individual (one God, one person) we may reasonably conclude that individuals may exercise supreme authority over others. But, God is not a monad (radically one). God is three-in-one. He is unity and community — a tri-untiy. That means that, for God, three matters as much as one.

Because God is Trinity, we matter — communities of individuals matter. That's not a view that started with 19th century Liberalism. It's a view that starts with God. Vintage Trinitarianism.

Trinity Means You Matter

If you were to only read the first heading, you might begin feeling the Bern. Socialism FTW, right?

Slow your roll, comrades. It's not that simple.

Because God is one God, and the individual Persons of the Trinity are in fact individual persons, individuals matter. On the Christian view, individuals should own property, do work, and exercise authority as individuals. Oneness doesn't trump three-ness. Neither does three-ness trump oneness. I matter and we matter, because the Father (and the Son, and the Spirit) matters and the Godhead matters.

Without Trinity We Trend Totalitarian

In a world of political and social brokenness, we can easily see what happens when individuals are sacrificed for the good of the community or state. We only need look as far back as World War II to find out what happens when a society decides that a certain group of individuals is undesirable. The killing fields of Cambodia, the concentration camps of Dachau and Auschwitz — these stand as monuments to the idea of the supremacy of the society at the expense of the individual. If God is simply one without internal diversity, then we would have no way to justify the rights of individuals in communities.

However today we live in an age when the rights of individuals are so over-preferred that a single person's preferences, feelings, and proclivities can change the course of the entire society, because the individual is the basic unit of society, or so it is said. If there were three separate gods, then we would have no theology to support a strong community. But, because within God there is unity and diversity, and we are made in his image, we have a means to hold in balance the rights of individuals and needs of communities. God's very nature gives us a great resource to develop a proper understanding of the balance of a civilization and its parts. Without this, what anchor have we against tyranny of the state or the citizen?

Socialism in its various forms is the idea that the "we" matters more than the "you." As I Christian, I just can't feel the Bern, I'm afraid, because Socialism is simply anti-Trinitarian. But before you righties start cheering, the Truth cuts both ways. We can't prefer individual rights at the expense of the community — Trumpian triumphalism means certain people win, while a lot of others don't. The "You" doesn't matter more than the "we."

This basic understanding was, at one point, built into the fabric of our Republic. It seems to be absent now. One party seems poised to elect a totalitarian individualist while another is tilting toward the totalitarianism of the state. Without Trinity, I'm afraid the totalitarian trend is inevitable.

What to do (and how to vote) is, well, a post for the future. But until then, vote Jesus for King.

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 :-)

Crisis Fatigue, Cowardice, and Christian Genocide

ISIS-Genocide-665x385-600x347I'm weary of war. And poverty. And disease. And large-scale crises of any kind, really.

I'm soul-tired of decade-long conflicts — of men from my generation dying in deserts across the globe. I'm exhausted of the internet and cable news which delivers evidence of the fall before my very eyes all the time. In short, I've got an acute case of crisis fatigue. This is a condition that's epidemic, I'm afraid. Its symptoms include increased distraction with trivial matters (Facebook, TV, everything BuzzFeed), terminal shallowness (because thinking and knowing deeply hurts, and we're tired of hurting), Selfies, and worst of all, cowardice.

Crisis Fatigue is making me a coward.

Cowards are those who lack the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things. I'm so tired of seeing, reading about, and watching really unpleasant things that I simply don't want to endure them anymore.

Actually, I think Crisis Fatigue is making all of us cowards.

Politically, our cowardice shows as the impulse to create "fortress America," and withdraw from the world. Socially, this manifests in the instinct to live virtual lives where we're liked in lieu of real lives where we're loved. Morally, our cowardice rears its ugly head in our flat refusal to call wrong wrong. Spiritually, we're afraid to open our mouths and declare the good news of God's grace either because we're terrified it won't really work or mortified at the prospect of being frowned upon by someone else.

And, then there's Christian genocide. In my increasing and unnoticed cowardice, I was distracting myself with social media. Normally a safe haven for the meaningless mind vomit of other crisis-fatigued cowards, my social streams were overrun with report after report of the genocide of Christians in Iraq, carried out at the hand of ISIS. As I sat next to my own children, I scrolled past pictures of Iraqi children dying in the desert, or worse. As I sat reclining on my couch in my home I read reports of whole families fleeing theirs. Something shook on the inside of me.

That shaking was a grace.

At that point, my reaction was to quickly think about something else. Anything else. I scrambled for another show, another story, another anything ... Like a coward, I tried to run. But graciously, there are some stories — some images — from which one cannot run. That, I think, is the point.

Since that moment I have not refused to watch, to learn, and to hurt deeply at what I see in the world. I'm staring ISIS down in my soul. I'm heaping prayers up for them toward Heaven. I'm coordinating ways to help through our church. No longer running, I've found the courage to fight again.

Am I still Crisis Fatigued? You bet. Do I still hate what I read and watch? Absolutely. But God has given me a grace. He let me see my inner coward — fat on the luxuries purchased by the blood and sweat of men greater and earlier than me. And, horrified by what I saw in myself, He called me to return, readied again to engage.

May it be with us. This will not be the final struggle we see. May God give us the grace to rise up under it, strengthened by love, hardened by trial, and head first to the fight. The battle to pray, to be bold, to give generously, love recklessly, and give ourselves away for God's glory and the good of all.

"...the righteous falls seven times, but gets up again..." (Proverbs 24:16)







News and Views Roundup

Here are some stories and articles that have garnered my attention this week.

Marriage for the Common Good

James K.A. Smith is a Philosophy Prof at Calvin College, and a generally stupendous fellow who spins a solid stream of social commentary. Over at Cardus he wrote a great article called Marriage for the Common Good. Challenging the concept of Wedding, Inc. to the expense of martial success, he writes:

If we want to raise up a generation passionate about the common good, perhaps we should say "No" to the dress—and all of the spectacular trappings of Wedding, Inc.—and instead plan for a marriage with open doors, honest in its vulnerability, even eagerly dependent.

There's a Christian Holocaust in Iraq

The terrorist army ISIS has systematically been killing thousands of Christians, forcing most of them to convert, die, or be displaced from the home their sect of Chaldean Christianity has called home for thousands of years — 700 of which were before Islam existed. Here's a quote from one of the many articles that no one in our government seems to care about.

When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003, there were at least 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Over the last ten years, significantly in the last few months with the emergence of ISIS, that figure has dropped to about 400,000.

In a region where Christians predate Muslims by centuries, over one million Christians have been killed or have had to flee because of jihadi persecution, while America is basically standing by and watching.

This shouldn't surprise us, but it does. We Western Christians have allowed the relative ease of life for the past few centuries to feel a certain homey warmth about this world which makes us shocked at persecution. But Jesus told us to expect it, and embrace the responsibility of suffering well. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq, and across the world who are suffering.

The Prince of Preachers' Lost Sermons

Charles Spurgeon was an amazing preacher, leader, and teacher of the 19th century. His influence still reverberates today. How often I myself wonder through his words, picking up wisdom like gold from the ground. Well now there's good news for people like me, we've found more of his sermons! Most of these sermons are from his early years — years full of struggle, mistakes, and pleas for grace. As a young pastor, you can imagine I can't wait to get my eager hands on this multi-volume set when it arrives.

A Beautiful Bible is Blowing Up on KickStarter

As a font nerd and a dude who really loves the Bible, this is like some sort of cosmic convergence of awesome things. A book designer/graphic artist/GENIUS named Adam (Coincidence? Of course not) has launched an effort called Bibliotheca. He wants to give the world a Bible that's beautiful to hold, read, and feel in your hands. I will be buying one or more of these.


A Year After the Bombing, Three Reflections

Last year I wrote on my perspectives on the bombing of my city. A year later, a few reflections seem in order. Everything Changed For many in Boston, everything changed. For the victims, the police officers, the leaders, the marathon runners, and even for the perpetrators of the crime, life would never be the same again. How could it be? At the mention of The Boston Marathon, new associations will dawn in the mind. Athletes and heroes, victims and victory, terror and triumph, mingled together. For me personally, this was the day when Boston finally felt like home — my home.

Nothing Changed There is a good-hearted temptation to believe that tragic events change everything. In face of tragedy, we stand together, unified by our common wound and say well-intentioned things like, "we must be more kind," "justice will be done," and "we must put a stop to this evil." But sadly, the tragic events which expose the resident wickedness in the human heart are not in themselves powerful enough to change our hearts. A year after the Boston bombings, evil still exists, crime still persists, and injustice still resists even our most earnest promises to root it out.

We Must be Changed These dual realities — that while a great many things changed, many things stayed the same — illustrate the deep need we all share in Boston (and indeed we all share as humans). This is the need to be fundamentally changed. This is Holy Week, a time we remember another great tragedy, the murder of the Son of God at the hands of sinful men. God, looking at the repeating cycle of tragedy, chose to get involved. To step into the tragedy, and rend from it the ultimate victory. The greatest hero, the King of Kings walked into the blast meant for us, from the charges we set in our own depravity, to show us what love really is and how change truly happens. God dying for men — greatest tragedy bringing final victory.

So today, I remember the tragedy of a year ago. But I don't only remember, I hope and pray that this tragedy would cause us to remember the greater tragedy of the cross, in preparation to celebrate the greatest victory imaginable. Jesus rose, after all. I'm believing that Boston will too.


We Give Thanks

(This blog was originally posted at It's an update on our progress in 2013 at Aletheia) Thankfulness is a discipline. In a society that conditions coolness to mean cynicism, honest thankfulness and hopeful praise is as rare as hens’ teeth (to use a southern expression). But around here, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

In 2013, God helped our growing church plant in some amazing ways. Here are a few of them…

Dozens Met Jesus In our services, in our groups, and in our normal relationships, God is saving many. Watching people who’ve never followed Christ repent of their sins and trust him is the reason we planted this church.

Discipleship is Happening We set out a goal to have a community group for every 15 attendees at Aletheia. While we haven’t quite hit that mark, the number people regularly engaging the Scriptures in a group has increased greatly this year.

We’ve Given Away Around 20% of Our Budget to Missions, Mercy, and Church Planting It may sound crazy, but we fundamentally believe that we are given resources to give them to Kingdom causes. This year, we as a church gave away over 20% of all funds we raised to missions, mercy, and church planting. Praise God for such an opportunity.

One Service to Three Services This year, we’ve given our city three different opportunities to join us to worship Jesus. That’s up from just 1 at the beginning of 2013.

One Location to Two Locations This year, we’ve planted a new congregation in downtown Boston. It’s started well and we are expecting 2014 to be a year of breakthrough for this new site.

More Leaders are Leading The group of men and women who lead (Ministry Team leaders, assistants, Community Group leaders, interns, etc.) has increased in the last 12 months.

New Staff are Joining In 2013 we set out a goal to see a few new staff members join our team. First, a campus minister to help us reach and disciple college and high school students. Then, an administrator to help us keep all the plates spinning with excellence. By God’s grace, we’ve added both those staff members!

We’ve Doubled in Size Each year we expect to grow. But to double in size is an amazing grace. The average American church plant does not pass 100 attendees after 4 years. In three quarters of that time we’ve seen 5 times the average. That’s all from Jesus and a great grace to celebrate.

Here’s what this does not mean: we’re awesome. This very clearly means that God is gracious and kind. He loves Boston so much that he’s happy to work with flawed people like us to accomplish something greater than we could ever bring about.

And of course, these are just the church metrics. None of this speaks to the countless stories of breakthrough, life change, miracle healing, provision, and grace in all our people. Those stories are too many for a little blog post.

So, we give thanks to Jesus for these graces in 2013. And, we look forward with eager expectation to see all the graces that are available in 2014. It’s an awesome adventure. We’d love you to join in.

Loving Dzhokhar

(The following is an article I had the pleasure of writing for Leadership Journal's Blog.) On the way to work yesterday, I was disturbed. As I scanned through the radio stations, more than once I heard calls to "round up the terrorists," to "send those foreigners home," or worse yet, to "eradicate the Muslim threat." Looking for distracting music I was confronted with destructive hatred. When I arrived at my office, I perused a few news sites and found the world of editorial journalism wasn't faring much better. "What does their religion matter?" one editorial asks. Another, "So what if they were Muslim?"

I'm observing two distinct and unhelpful reactions to the apparent Jihadist terrorism that has struck our city. The first is the xenophobic, racial, and even religious hatred of our Muslim neighbors. The other is the willful ignorance of the religious connection to these terrorists acts—the blind assumption that all religions are created equal. Neither are good. Neither are truthful. And more importantly, neither are Christ-like.

It is obvious to the liberal mind that hatred of our Muslim neighbors is wrong. It is not obvious to the liberal mind that one can observe what is immoral in one religion without hating all of its people, being a racist, a bigot, or a backwards fundamentalist—a favorite straw man of our time. This is why the liberal mind (and the conservative mind, for that matter) must experience a change of mind. Christians must have Christian minds. So how are we to think about our Muslim neighbors? About Islam? Even about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

Christians Should Believe Christianity is Right To quote Tim Keller (which is almost always a good idea) It is no more narrow to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions is right. It just won't work to say, "All religions, faiths, and belief systems are equally valid, and if you don't agree you're a bigot." The idea falls in on itself because, in making a claim that exclusivity is wrong, you're excluding the exclusivist. Darn that logic, ruining all our fun.

Christians do, in fact, believe that Christianity is right. And by the way, not believing Christianity is right is not Christian love, it's hate. Jesus is the self-described savior of the world, forgiver of sin, and restorer of humanity. If he is who he claimed to be (and Christians believe he is) then to not proclaim that news to the whole world is twisted and sadistic. Our silence is preventing them from obtaining the cure to what is broken within them and all of us. What kind of love is that? In the name of not wanting to offend anyone we implicitly condemn everyone. I'm glad that Jesus didn't love me like that.

Christians Should Believe Loving our Neighbor is Right Perhaps you say, "If Christians believe Christianity is right, then they won't love their neighbors. They'll condemn everyone else, especially Muslims." But I would say that if Christians really believe Christianity is right, then we'll be fiercely committed to Christ, who commanded us to love our neighbor. How did Jesus interact with those of different religions? Ask the woman at the well. She was a Samaritan. Ask the Roman official. He was a pagan. Did Jesus have an interfaith worship service, affirming the equality of their own paths to God? No. Did he picket them, getting the disciples to stir up racial or national hatred against them? No.

Jesus demonstrated his unique, exclusive grace by talking with them, loving them, and changing their lives. If our cultural values have drifted so far as to call this behavior hateful, then color me hateful. I'll be glad to be in the same camp as Jesus. Hopefully all Christians would be.

Christians Should Believe in Sin We shouldn't wring our hands and have to qualify our hatred of evil. Jesus didn't. When we see evil in the world, call it evil. When we see evil in the church, call it evil. When we see evil in other religions, call it evil. If Christians, who are supposed to know Truth, cannot identify evil, we merely demonstrate that we are either wrong, ignorant, or complicit with the evil we won't name. This does the world no favors. The ubiquity of evil is part of the gospel. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection makes precisely no sense whatsoever if evil is not real, horrible, and everywhere.

But of course, evil is real, horrible, and everywhere. That's the problem with it. The biblical word for this problem is sin. The horror of sin contrasts the wonder of Jesus' grace. If we refuse to see the horror, then we'll miss the wonder. If we don't help the world see the horror, then we can rest assured they'll miss the wonder as well.

Christians Should Believe in Grace After we name the evil, we must keep talking. Part of the problem with the culture war was that it went about loudly labeling the wrong while much more quietly proclaiming the right. If we believe Christianity is right then we will invite everyone everywhere (including our Muslim neighbors whom we love) to experience the grace extended to humanity by Jesus Christ.

This is not a glib, cheap invitation, by the way. Grace is a costly, bloody thing. The cycle of violence and hatred stops at the cross because God’s justice was poured out on his innocent Son for a guilty humanity. If God has done this for a race like ours, then it shows that we are both totally guilty in our sin and unimaginably loved in Christ’s grace.

Christians aren't better than Muslims. Christians aren't better than Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We share in the same fallenness they do. We must love them like Christ. We must talk to them like Christ. We must invite them to Christ.

Doing all of that requires that we first start thinking like Christ.

The Smoke Clears: On Tragedy and Mission

As I stood and sang with hundreds of other Christians, "It is well with my soul," my heart was filled with hope. I was, along with other pastors, praying for the grace of God to shower our hurting home. In solidarity we were gathered, keenly aware of the presence of God with us. It was a great experience... interrupted. Leaving, I walked through the streets of downtown. An eery hush marked a city known for noise. The place seemed abandoned, except for military and police personnel—like something out of a sci-fi movie. The church meeting felt full. The city felt empty. This contrasting experience caused me to wonder what the church's next step should be. Honestly, I felt something like frustration. "Surely," I wondered, "there must be more Christians can do than pray and sing. Surely we can scatter as powerfully as we gather." I wasn't the only one felt this way. A friend in our church who came from the same event, through the same streets, summed it up by saying, "A simple 'is everyone here okay?' elicited streams of conversation from a shop clerk, a waiter—those who watched hundreds wander through their doors on Monday. Boston is aching and has no idea how to really, truly make it better."

So as the smoke clears, what's the church's move? Walking through downtown I found myself asking, "Lord, show me what you want us to do." I walked. I wondered. After some waiting, a thought occurred. Perhaps it was memory, perhaps divine guidance. I'm not skilled enough to parse between the two. But the thought came as though God himself were saying, "I've already told you what to do. Go." I knew what that mean. For the Christian, "go" is a very meaningful word. "Go" is the standing order that Jesus himself gave to the church which, until he returns, is in effect. We're to go to the hurting, empty streets. We're to go to the aching who can't make it better.

Going, by the way, doesn't mean simply showing up with water, blankets, and medicine. I mean, this is Boston. The best hospitals in the universe are here. It's a world-class city. The people don't lack for much, materially speaking. So when we go, what—or more accurately, who—do we bring? Well, put simply, Jesus. The city doesn't need my stuff, they need my savior.

Tragedy has a unique power to open the human heart to its frailty—to true need. If that is true, then should we not bring truest grace to truest need? The dramatic contrast between the prayer meeting and my street walking shook me. My city is hurting. Could it be that his people have a moment to speak to the pain that we're all suddenly aware of? Isn't it possible that God, in making beauty rise from ashes, is opening an opportunity to speak this truth? I think it's more than possible, it's what God does. The gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection shows us that God is able to make the greatest good arise from the most torturous evil. The emotional whiplash I felt between my two experiences last night showed me at least this: Boston should get a shot at singing, too. The church has to go into this city.

Yes, I will sing "It is well with my soul." And as the smoke clears from this tragedy, I'm going work harder than ever to invite Boston to sing along with me.

Where is God in the Murder of Kids?

As I write this, I sit here with my infant son, sleeping soundly in my arms. My living, healthy children are all asleep in their beds, and for that grace I am grateful... especially today, given the tragic and terrible news of the murder of my fellow New Englanders. Tragedies like this cause many of us to pose the question, "Where is God?" One commentator opined, "If God can part the Red Sea, why can't he stop a bullet?" Powerful, emotional question, isn't it? And, before we get to some observations about God, we shouldn't glide past that raw, pain-filled inquiry. At some point, all of us have asked it, or something like it. In the face of horrible, seemingly senseless evil, where is God? Let me suggest an answer to such a question by saying where God is not.

God is not Absent. The timing of this tragedy is no coincidence. If the Advent tells us anything, it's that God is not some useless deity in far-off realms, but that He is very much with us. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was and is Emmanuel, God with us. God the Son took upon himself humanity, entered into our world, and walked among tragedy. He then left, but not without sending God the Holy Spirit—the omnipresent, comforting, powerful, and precious third Person of the Godhead. We may struggle to see him in these moments, yes. But we may not say He is not there. When the Son left Heaven and the Spirit filled men and women, God's absence ceased to be a possibility.

God is not Weak. Maybe God would like to stop evil, but it's just a bit too much for Him. How do we know this isn't true? Well, the scriptures are pretty clear about God's power. He spoke the entire universe into being, (Gen. 1). Moment by moment he holds all things in existence, (Heb. 1:3). And, most importantly, he actually defeated death itself in the resurrection of his Son, (2 Cor. 15:50-58). It cannot be that God is unable. For if he were, then he wouldn't be God.

God is not Unaware. Perhaps God isn't weak, then. He's just absent minded—a bit far off, distant—or too busy to be concerned with us. But the Advent doesn't allow us to think this, either. The Advent is the very divine stamp upon the human story. God in flesh becomes a man like us, with temptations like us, problems like us, subject to abuse like us, pain like us, and even death for us. Only the Christian God has stepped down from Heaven to identify with the murderous, senseless evil we've wrought upon the Earth. God the Father is very aware of what these weeping parents feel like today because he knows what it's like to lose a Son at the hands of violence and evil. God the Son is very aware of what it's like to be the victim of injustice, because he willingly and freely gave up the precious blood of life which pulsed through his veins so that we, in turn, may be washed free from our violence and brokenness by means of this crimson flow. He is not unaware, my friends. He knows deeply the pain of loss.

God is not Unloving. So why hasn't he stopped it? In what way may we conceive of God as loving in the light of such news? In this way: God has decisively defeated evil at the highest possible cost to himself and the free-est possible cost to us. For God so loved the world—the child-murdering, marriage destroying, war-fighting, injustice-perpetuating world—that he gave his only son. He gave his son to love, save, redeem, restore, rescue, and renew a world like that... a world like this... a world like ours. Perhaps in the face of seemingly senseless evil we have a harder time seeing God as loving. This only makes sense to us, because evil, at it's core, does not make sense—it is complete disorder, the unraveling of what is good, sensible, even rational. But remember this, evil is only senseless without God, not with him. Only God can make evil make sense because only God is powerful enough to rend good from it—even when to us it seems senseless. If in a moment of deep pain we jettison God, we jettison along with him any hope for good rising from the ashes of pain. But God is good at raising things up again, even from death. In fact, it's his speciality.

A Humble Prayer God is not absent. He is not weak. He is not unaware. He is not unloving. So what is He? He is here, and he hears. So I submit to you this prayer that I'm praying, and I invite you to pray it with me.

Father in Heaven, our hearts are broken and heavy with the loss of our children, our friends, our neighbors.Our sadness affects everything we see.

Please, God, bring comfort and peace to the moms and dads who've lost kids, to the kids who've lost parents, and the friends who've lost neighbors.

We pray with the saints for the last two millennia, that you would come quickly. You are our only hope. Only you can raise the dead. Only you can finally destroy injustice. Only you can deal with brokenness rightly, and finally. So please God, come quickly and do so. God, for those who are tempted to reject you, bring soft humility under your mighty inscrutable sovereign power and wisdom. Thank you that you saved me through the seemingly senseless tragedy of the murder of your Son, whom you raised for my salvation. I'm sure that act of violence didn't make sense to anyone at the time, and yet in your wisdom you wrought unceasing good from unimaginable evil.

So, God, I'm casting all my hope in you today. You're the only one I know who can do anything good with  horrible violence. So, please God, do it. Do it in such a way that at the end of days, when all the dust settles, your greatness and beauty are magnified above and beyond all question, and in seeing you we find unstoppable joy.

In the name of your son, whom you lost, to save a murderous wretch like me. Amen.