Sunday Reflection

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

Yesterday was one of those days. One of those days you're startlingly reminded that God has a real enemy, and he hates you. I arrived to church yesterday and, for no reason at all, my back went out. I could hardly stand. On the way into the building, my daughter was nearly run over by someone fleeing the police. After church, someone hit my car. After I got home, my son and I stayed up half the night because he couldn't stop coughing. I didn't sleep.

And yet, it was also one of those days that you're wonderfully reminded that God wins, and his victories are better than you can possibly imagine. We had more people respond to the gospel than ever. After some folks laid hands on me and prayed, God healed my back and I preached four services and taught a class. Emails and texts were waiting in my inbox to encourage me.

Here are my conclusions:

  • The devil is real.
  • The Bible is true.
  • Jesus is victorious.
  • God still saves.
  • God still heals.
  • The work remains.

I'm a super big jerk, everybody. I don't deserve his grace. I just deserve the back pain. God's crazy, as far as I can tell. Crazy good. Crazy kind. Crazy patient. Crazy powerful. And crazy determined to bring His Kingdom to this little patch we call Boston.

The work remains. Carry on.

5 Ways to Help Refugees Right Now

There's a lot of chatter on social media about President Trump's executive action. So, in an effort to turn passion into Kingdom action, I humbly submit for your consideration five steps we can take right now to be helpful toward this cause:


A lot of great, godly charities are funneling money and resources to those fleeing persecution. Because we live in the richest country on earth, our donations can make a huge impact. Consider partnering with them. Here's one, and here's anotherand here's another one.


If you belong to Jesus, you have at your disposal the most powerful, history-altering resource known to humanity — prayer. Pray for the refugees. Pray for the leaders of their broken countries. Pray for our own leaders, to practice compassion for the least of these while trying to secure our borders. Pray against a spirit of fear which foments our worst natures.


There are some great organizations that serve incoming refugees. Let's be known as those who welcome them, care for them, and serve them. We Christians are pro-life people. From conception to resurrection, people matter to God. Let's find ways to serve them.


After preaching yesterday on the refugee crisis and God's heart for the nations, I spoke with many internationals who were grateful to have found a place that welcomed them. While I know a thousand things our church can do better, I was glad for the little grace of foreigners feeling welcomed in our midst. When you meet your refugee neighbor, invite them into your community, your home, and your circle of friends, and yes, your church.


Part of the responsibility of God's people is to speak prophetically to our leaders when they go astray. Protest is a longstanding American tradition and a protected civil liberty. So, when appropriate, be present to be heard. Call your congressmen and senator. Advocate for godly, compassionate, and wise rule in our land. Just remember that as you do, God hears what you say and how you say it. In these gatherings there will always be temptation to give way to the worst parts of our common humanity. So often our enemy can turn righteous anger into sinful rage. So, as a mentor once told me, speak truth in a way that you'd want to hear it if you were the one in the wrong.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Lk. 10:27)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:2-3)

A Monday Missional Mind-Dump

Yesterday was an awesome day at church. For the first time, we baptized people in all four of our weekend gatherings. That's a pretty big milestone for us. All of this cool stuff has my head spinning, and pumped for the mission of God in the Earth. So, here's my Monday Missional Mind-Dump:

God is on an Unstoppable Mission to Love and Save His Enemies I just don't get why, but God really, really loves his people. And we, His people, are one messed up group of folk. But, cover-to-cover, the Bible tells a story of a God who is dramatically and deeply devoted to redeeming the servants of his enemy and adopting them into his family. Piper says it well when he writes:

He created us "in his image" so that we would image forth his glory in the world. We were made to be prisms refracting the light of God's glory into all of life. Why God should want to give us a share in shining with his glory is a great mystery. Call it grace or mercy or love-it is an unspeakable wonder. Once we were not. Then we existed-for the glory of God! [note]John Piper, Desiring God. (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 1986) 55.[/note]

God Delights to Involve Us in the Mission What's crazier than the mere fact that God loves us sinners is that he commissions us into His service for the mission. The mission which led to our salvation doesn't stop with us, it consumes us.

God Uses Regular People The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 reveals something: God uses a regular dude to do an irregularly awesome thing. Philip here was not the Philip, famous as one of "the twelve." This was the other Philip — the one who was always getting confused with the Philip. This Philip was just a regular guy who led a ministry team in the early church.

Missional Efficacy is Proportional to Spirit Sensitivity Philip had a couple things going for him. First, he was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Because of that, he could hear when God said, "Yo, go talk to that guy." Are we Spirit sensitive? Would we even hear if God told us to tell someone the gospel? Do we know His voice?

Truth + Grace = Change Over and over again I see in the Scriptures how effective gospel ministry appears to be this beautiful combination of truth telling and grace giving. Philip was able to explain the Scriptures to the Ethiopian. I wonder, could you have done the same thing? Part of the reason we study the Bible for its meaning (not just its significance to us personally) is so we can accurately explain it to others. But when we share the truth, we must show grace. When gospel truth mingle with gospel grace, lives change. People get saved, delivered, and helped.

Baptizing People Is My Favorite Certain parts of ministry totally get old. Baptizing people into the family of God never does.


Sunday Wrap: Money

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

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


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

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

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

Church Competition Sucks

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

Mustering Crowds is Easier Than Making Disciples

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

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

The Easter Moment Could Make Movement

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

Jesus Rose for Pastors, Too

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

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


Never Enough

Sundays are a 17+ hour day for me, and I love them. But, every Sunday, without exception, I arrive home and feel like I should have done more. Awaiting my arrival home are usually emails from folks who thought I didn't/wasn't x enough. Accompanying them are other emails from other folks who thought I did/was too much.

I have conversations and I wonder, "Did I say/do x enough?" I study and prepare wondering if I read and prayed enough. I lead wondering if I led well enough.

Fact: I will never be enough, study enough, care enough, or lead enough for other people.

And then I think about Jesus. Suspended on the cross by rusty nails that executed the Father's will, he said, "It is finished." He was so secure in His work and His words that He exhaled and His Spirit left His body. He stopped. He was enough.

In my not-enough-ness, Jesus is enough. In your not-enough-ness, Jesus is enough. The clamoring critics, the angry boss, the demanding children — you're not going to be enough for them. If you let them, they'll create a black hole in your soul that can never be filled. If you (and I ) lean on Jesus' enough-ness, we can help those who need our help, and when we've done enough, we can be finished. Like Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highways in the Heart

Long Road "Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion..." Psalm 84:5

Yesterday I preached a completely different message at church than I had planned. As I prayed on Saturday night, I knew very clearly wanted that he wanted me to change my plans. I preached from Psalm 84.

Since yesterday, however, verse 5 has been lodged in my mind like song I can't stop singing. There the psalmist speaks about the blessing and strength that come when we've got highways to God paved in our hearts. According to the writer, all kinds of benefits follow: strength, endurance in suffering, flourishing, etc. What the psalmist assumes, however, I think needs some explaining. How in the world do you lay a road in your soul from your heart to God's house? What does that even mean? Here are my highly un-edited thoughts:

Survey Before a road is built, a crew of trained surveyors and planners must work hard to plan the route. Similarly, if we're going to build a highway in our hearts to Heaven's gates, we've got to know how. It is surely a trail through the foothills of prayer and repentance, across the mountains of Bible study. It's path curves through the deserts of fasting and the forests of worship. All of this road's ways must first be known before they can be travelled.

Clear the Road Next, the ground must be prepared and the land must be cleared. Rocks must be moved, trees cut down, and even mountains blown out of the way. Similarly, we've probably got some things that need to be cleared out of the way so we can construct this highway in our hearts. Schedules will need to change, priorities shifted. Time must be given to prayer. Money must be spent on a great Bible. Effort must be invested in study.

Pave Paving a road is a slow process. We've all seen it — driving along, we see dozens of workers and huge pieces of equipment devoted for months at a time to preparing just small portions of a highway. Similarly, paving the highway of the heart may take some time. Prayer is a discipline that takes time to learn. Reading the Bible is a process that requires effort. Learning to hear God — to listen to his Spirit speak — means doing some listening. Staring may seem daunting, but as you do you're building the road you'll travel to connect to God almighty.

Travel Once you've paved this road, you can now travel! This highway in the heart — the path for the Christian to connect with God — is a road meant to be travelled on. Rise early in the morning and commute toward communion with God.

Maintain One more thing ... roads must be maintained. Just as overgrowth must be trimmed and potholes must be filled on any road, so too must the highways of the heart be maintained. Distraction can grow like weeds and hurts of the heart threaten to break the pavement. This road must be traveled and inspected in order to be maintained.

I don't know about you, but I've got work to do on the highway of my heart.

God Doesn't Need Me

Most Sundays when I approach the pulpit, I'm prepared. I believe in hard work, study, and spending hours getting ready for the preaching and teaching that I do at church. But, this Sunday I was not. Emotionally, I was a wreck. Mentally, I was clouded. Physically, I was tired. Spiritually, I was dull. "This is going to go terribly," I thought. The music faded, I took the pulpit, I prayed, and I opened my mouth.

What followed was nothing of Adam Mabry. It's a little difficult to explain. I was involved, obviously. I was present, and I was active. But the power of the words, the effect they were having on the people, and the results which flowed from my preaching, were so obviously not from me that I was quite literally dumbfounded. People came to faith in Jesus. Repentance flowed as tears streamed. Sicknesses were healed. It was as though, for a moment, the veil between Heaven and earth was pulled back, and we experienced a small expression of the glory of God.

This experience of my desperate inadequacy and God's gracious sufficiency afforded me a few insights:

God Doesn't Need Me Theologically, I knew that God didn't need me before yesterday. But the experience I had yesterday of being completely at the end of my rope mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually — and God doing so much anyway — solidified what I knew.

God Loves His People How crazy is the love of God for people that he'll simply meet with his people directly?! My preparation is not the pre-condition for God's manifestation.

God Loves Me Again, a fact I knewbut not an experience I walked in. Yesterday, across our three services, we had the best attendance we've had all summer. We had the most response to God we've ever seen. We had the most dramatic experience of worship that our gatherings have ever achieved. I watched it and all I felt was God saying, "See, I love you. I've got this."

God Wants Me This one is the most mind-bending of all. I "love" a lot of people that I don't want to be around much. That's because I'm still selfish and self-preferring. God's not like that. God actually wants to use me. He wants to be around me. He wants to meet with me, and my people. He doesn't need to, that's obvious. The only other option is that, for some reason, he really likes to. And that's crazy.

I've read God's words to the Apostle Paul a thousand times, "My power is made perfect in weakness." But yesterday — yesterday I saw it.

Yesterday I was weak. And God — God was so strong.

Providence, and 4 Wrong Ways to Think About 2013

Here we are at the precipice of another year. The gyms are revving up their new year's campaigns, the self-help aisles in the book stores are fit to burst, and we're feeling the itch to make lists full of to-do's. But before we get too foam-at-the-mouth over this coming year, it may be helpful to think about the one we're leaving. When it comes to thinking about the past, we can make at least four mistakes:

Fatalism The fatalists are those among us who live by c'est la vie. This perspective sees the past as a series of uncontrollable events that "just happened." The fatalist views yesteryear like a line of dominos. One event touches another in a series that never stops. He copes with this by saying, "it is the way it is." He puts his head down. He moves on.

Activism The activist is the opposite of the fatalist. He's the can-do achiever who looks at the past like one big O.T.I. (which, according to previous coaches apparently means, "opportunity to improve.") Life doesn't happen to you, you happen to life, darn it, and life better watch out. The activist has a plan, has the will, and, if he ever references the past, only does so to achieve something in the future.

Futurism Speaking of the future, there's a fourth wrong way to look at the past, which is to neglect to do so at all. There are those among us who are futurists. If life were Disney World, they'd never leave Tomorrowland. The futurist is the one who says, "chin up, tomorrow will be better." Why does he say this? Who knows. But the futurist is convincing enough for himself, at least.

Victim-ism The final wrong perspective that eats our cultural lunch is victim-ism. The victim is like Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh, always wondering, "Why did this have to happen to me?" In our therapeutic culture, blaming everyone else for our own issues is as natural as instgram-ing that totes hilarious situation you were in that one time (See what I did there?) But blaming others for the pain doesn't help it, it just deflects it.

This all begs the question. What is a good way to look at the past? May I suggest the robustly biblical answer, through the perspective of providence? Providence affirms the following:

God is Strong Enough to Order History Only Jesus reveals a God who is strong enough to rule over time without obliterating personhood. How do we know? Jesus had a clear destiny. Born to die and rise. Yet, he wasn't a machine. He was a real man with real experiences. No other religion offers such a Deity. Not a fatalistic tinkerer, a Sovereign Savior.

God is Good Enough to Account for the Pain "But what about those painful parts of last year?" God rules over those too. But only Jesus reveals the kind of God who is good enough to account for the pain. Why? Because he's experienced more suffering than any of his children ever will, he can say, "I know this hurts, but trust me," and we can believe him.

God is Gracious Enough to Gift and to Wound God loves to give gifts to us. Over and over, the New Testament describes God like a great daddy, eager to give beautifully wrapped gifts to his kids. But God does not only give grace wrapped in bows, but veiled in pain. These are those graces that grow us up, prune us, hurt us, and help us. Like weight on the spiritual bar, or surgery on the spiritual problem, it hurts. But a perspective of providence allows us to see that God is the kind of dad who not only gives presents, but pressure. And like a good dad, he's not interested in us just having what we want, but becoming who must.

So before you and I pop the corks and toast 2014, let's look backwards with some proper perspective, thankful to God for those graces that were obvious, as well as the ones that were veiled in suffering.

We've Gotten Sex all Wrong

This past weekend we kicking off a new teaching series at Aletheia called Sex, Money, Politics (and a few other things you're not supposed to talk about in Church)Leading us off, Nick Nowalk (a good friend and teaching fellow for Christian Union) tackled the topic of sex. Sex is a personal decision, right? I mean basically, sex is like food. Your body wants it, so you satisfy your desires with whatever feels best. There's nothing moral or immoral about that, is there? Such is the current cultural mood about sex.

It's just not a popular time to hold onto Christian sexual ethics—I mean, they just seem outdated, don't they? How in the world is it good news Jesus is lord of sexuality.

Christians Usually Get the "What" of Sex Right, but the "Why" of Sex Wrong "Don't look at porn!" "Don't sleep around!" "Don't ___________ (insert your own sexual deviancy here)!"

In the church we're pretty good at telling everyone what not to do with sex, but not so good at why. But knowing the why is critical. If we only learn the rules and not the reasons, we become morally stunted, unable to navigate the sea of grey all around us. We come off judgmental when we should come off gracious. We seem unloving when we should be understanding.

Taking for granted that most people understand that (despite the exegetical acrobatics of some modern preachers) God's vision for sexuality is to be only legitimately expressed between a husband and a wife, let's ask, why?

Your Physical Body Matters to God For all kinds of reasons we won't go into, most of us think that the physical world just isn't the most important world. Our "true" selves are somehow disconnected from our bodies. If you believe that, then your view of sex will necessarily be skewed. If, for example, you believe that any second now God's gonna throw all of creation into some cosmic trash can and start over, then what you do with your body, the earth, and pretty much anything physical just doesn't matter. If the physical world doesn't matter, then neither do sexual ethics.

But the physical world does matter. It matters very much.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-20, Paul lays out a theology of sex. His basic argument (to a church that was engaging in all kinds of sexual craziness) was, "Listen, God raised Jesus from the dead, and He will raise you too. Therefore, your body matters." Ask anyone today if we should recycle and they'll say some variation of, "Yes. After all, the earth will be here for a long time." How ironic, then, that we treat our bodies like brain transportation devices, subjecting them to whatever sexual experience that our flesh demands we give it. What we do today echoes into eternity.

Sex is Greater Than You Thought Sex is not about sex. Sex is a sign and symbol of a greater reality. When we reduce sex to a physical activity like hunger or thirst, then we've missed the grandeur of sex altogether. First, sex is about covenantal one-ness. In Genesis 2, the author writes that the two (man and wife) are to become one (echad). This, by the way, is the same kind of one-ness with which God describes his own inner life. Therefore, we must see that in God's eyes, sex points to a much greater reality than desire. Nick summarized this in four basic ways:

  • Monogamous - Sex is to be enjoyed exclusively with the covenant partner (husband or wife). This echoes of God's exclusive commitment to us.
  • Different - Sex is to be experienced by opposite genders together. This speaks of God's relationship to us—we are not the same as Him, nor is He the same as us.
  • Committed - Sex is a sign and symbol of our covenantal commitment to our spouse. This reflects the covenant love of God and his people—God never leaves us, therefore we never leave our spouse.
  • Life-Long - Sex is to be enjoyed in a progressively greater way in this relationship for all of life. This reality reflects the permanent commitment that God makes to his people.

Any and every kind of sexual brokenness the world deals with today is a violation of this positive, beautiful vision of human sexuality.

What we Do with Sex Reveals what we Believe about Jesus Sexuality tells a story. For the Christian, we live according to a whole new and different story—the gospel. The gospel vision of sexuality celebrates the good news that Jesus Christ is lord of sex, and I am not. Our big problem with sex isn't that we don't know what's right. Our big problem with sex is that we fundamentally do not believe that Jesus lordship over sexuality is better than ours. We do not trust him. Whenever we live out a different sexual story than the one Jesus gives us, we say to the world, "I do not trust that Jesus is better than I am." The testimony of our lives is, "I am better than Jesus."

At bottom, any disagreements we have about sexual ethics aren't really about sex. They are about Jesus. The question which faces us is simply and only, "Do I find Jesus, and his vision for human sexuality, better than me and my own?"

We would all do well to ponder that question. For Christians, this question should make us patient and gracious. For, experience Jesus as better than self may take some time. Just as God is patient but resolved to lead us into progressive abandonment of sin and pleasure in Christ, we must do the same for others. For non-Christians, this question should clarify the argument. Disagreement about sexual ethics is not (for the Christian, at least) about bigotry, hatred, or "why can't you understand God made me this way..." It's about lordship. And for the Christian, Jesus is lord of everything, including sex.

And that is really, really good news.



Yesterday at Aletheia we jumped back into our teaching series in Genesis, having a look at Abram. In the first nine verses of chapter twelve, we found a goldmine of faith. There is some debate these days amongst preacher like myself which asks the question, "Should we preach as though men like Abram are examples to be followed?" My answer to that question is yes ... and no. That is, the story of Abram shows us some powerful principles of what faith does—what faithing looks like (to invent a verb). In fact, here are a few of those principles...

Faith Obeys I find it fascinating that for Abram (the archetype of faith), his faith immediately showed up in obedience. If we really trust God then we'll simply do what he asks—even if it sound crazy. Like moving from your hometown at the age of 75 with all your stuff and your weird nephew and his weirder wife.

Faith Journeys In these nine short verses, we're told three times that Abram "journeyed on." In fact, his whole walk with God was 99% journey. He never actually saw with his own eyes what God promised him. Yet, because God is worthy of trust, Abram journeyed with him.

Faith Goes for the World God made a huge, gracious promise that Abram totally didn't deserve. "I'll bless you and make your name great ... so that you will be a blessing." Abram's journey of faith wasn't primarily about Abram. It was about God's purposes in the nations. Good to remember that our faith journey has more riding on it than our personal fulfillment.

Faith Goes All In When God called Abram out of Ur, he moved. Everything. Out. That is, he didn't keep a condo in Ur. He didn't leave a little bit back, just in case God didn't make good on his promises. He left Ur to follow God. Have you gone all in with God? Or, are you trying to go on the journey without leaving the "Ur" of your former life? Trusting God means going all in with him.

Faith Feasts in Worship The journey of faith is done best when we worship along the way. Twice in these verses we see that Abram stopped to build an altar, remember the promise, and worship God. Worship isn't the duty of the faithful, like some extra burden to carry for the journey. Worship is the feast... the fuel! We worship so we have endurance for the journey.

So back to the debate. Should we preach this story as a "be like Abram," kind of example? Yes and no. These principles are great, but all by themselves they're insufficient. We need something more ... someone more. In Christ, we have a truer Abram. Jesus, like Abram, left Heaven to journey in a land that wasn't his home. Like Abram, his journey ended in death, but not before giving birth to a new line of God's people. But unlike Abram, Jesus didn't just die, showing us what faith looks like. He rose, enabling true and transformational faith. We look back on his life not just to inspire faith, but to enable it. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is the ultimate example of God's faithfulness. We know we can trust him because he's shown himself to be ultimately trustworthy.

Jesus' life is more than an example, it's transformational.

Easter Sunday Post-Game (April 1, 2013)

This was an absolutely amazing weekend. Such awesomeness can't possibly be covered in just one heading, wo we'll use three. Here we go.

Good Friday

For all the effort that we put into Sundays, it was really sublime to come to Good Friday's service. Simple, quiet, and deep. We came together to remember the beautiful tragedy of the cross. Beautiful because in God's design, we came to be saved by it. Tragic because it was necessary in the first place.

What it Was and What it Does The cross is an historical event with a metaphysical significance. So it's important that we understand both what it was and what it does. The cross was a real, physical, historical instrument of sadistic torture and murder. In modern times we've made it into a piece of jewelry that confers style and a bit of luck on the wearer. Everyone from rap stars to porn stars bedazzle themselves with the jewelry of torture, divorced from its history. The cross means murder and death. And knowing this allows us to move from what it was to what it does. Jesus died so we can live. We wear the cross, sing the cross, preach the cross, and glory in the cross precisely because we didn't have to go to the cross. Jesus' death means our life.

You Need Quiet If our worship is always only loud and happy, then our worship isn't real. Good Friday reminds us that we can still sing when the news is hard. When Christians sing about the horror of the cross, they show its power. Jesus' death is something that we worship God through. We need the quiet of those moments. We need sometimes to gather as a body and hush, pray, weep, and meditate. When we don't, we make Christianity look glossy, polished, and fake. We need the quiet, and the world needs to see us quietly worshipping sometimes.

The 3rd Annual Easter EggStravaganza

This event blew. my. mind. It was hugely attended, enormously fun, and even covered by the Boston Globe. Here are my highlights...

We Love our City Many times I'm asked, "Yeah, but Pastor how many people actually show up at church on the back of these events?" Answer: not many. But, that's not the primary reason we do them. We do them because we love our city. Easter shows us that God loves us in a way that's free for us but very costly for Him. It's good to model that. It was expensive, time-consuming, and a mad rush to pull of. And it was totally worth it.

I Love our People You people bless me like crazy. You're the volunteers that arrive early and stay late. You show up, pay for stuff, put candy in eggs, pick up trash, talk to people about Jesus, and so much more. I've got nothing but love for you. You know who you are. Thank you.

More than We Imagined We basically doubled our attendance this year. Estimates range from 2,500 - 3,500 people walked through our Egg Hunt. That's awesome. What a privilege to show some love to that many.

Resurrection Sunday

Our attendance exploded. We set a new record by hundreds. But way cooler than that was the joy that lit up our celebrations. Jesus is alive, and that fact is simply more important that me, us, our numbers, or anything else. Celebrating that is a privilege of the church.

Love Your Volunteers Seriously. Two Services. Two full-service Aletheia Kids experiences. A bajillion cups of coffee. Approximately eleventeen thousand bulletins stuffed. Show some love to the vols and the leaders, people.

Resistance is Futile Paul says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against demonic forces. Guess what, sometimes they show up to church too! We encountered some real, present, spiritual resistance on Sunday. Call it thickness. But we prayed, we praised, and we preached the resurrected Jesus. Resistance against that message is futile. We know how the story ends. Jesus won, and Jesus wins.

Resurrection Means Peace and Power When Jesus appeared to the disciples while they were cowering the upper room, he gave them peace and power. Peace because he won the victory, so they needed fear no longer. Power because they (and we) were commanded to go make disciples. We can't do that alone. We need power for mission. So, lower the drawbridges, church. The resurrection means we've got something to say out there in the big bad world.

Fruit Requires Focus Okay, congratulations church. We've exploded in spectacular growth. Let's all be happy about that. For a moment. Then, let the startling reality of what that means hit you. Now, let the happy turn to focus. We're called to make disciples who bring the truth, grace, and changing power of the gospel for the glory of God and the good of all people. Big meetings are a part of that, but they themselves aren't that. So, let's roll up our sleeves, open our homes, start dozens of new community groups, and get to work. We've got fruit to bear.

Sunday Post-Game (March 25, 2012)

Yesterday was a milestone in our history as we kicked off two services! And by God's grace it went really well.

Our Volunteers are Awesome Our church has grown to the size now where there are a great many of our volunteers that I've never actually met. So, when I find someone who's face I know but name I don't turning up quite early on a Sunday to setup, I'm struck with gratitude. Our teams (and their leaders) did an outstanding job. It looked like we'd been doing this for years.

Pruning Hurts but It's Necessary I'll admit, part of me wasn't looking forward to two services. I mean, a full house just feels better than a less full house. But full houses can also make you lazy. "Oh look at us, we're so full this Sunday..." and motivation to scatter is sapped. In going to two services, we're not only creating more room for more people to worship Jesus. We're creating a small visual reminder that we all have a role to play in that. Prune the fruitful branch and what happens? Pain. But after the pain, more fruit.

Thank our Teams All our teams worked hard(er) yesterday. So, when you see someone next weekend carrying a gigantic speaker, teaching our kids, or welcoming guests, thank them for their service. Heck, invite them out to coffee, get to know them. Show some love to those who show it often.

You probably don't know this (because there's no reason you should) but the story of Cain and Abel was the very first text of Scripture I ever preached. Since first thinking about this story, it's never ceased to amaze me just how unapologetically real, raw, and uncensored the Bible is. Here are some lingering thoughts for your perusal.

Cain Thought God Owed Him You can see Cain's heart in the way he reacted to a "no" from God. Cain thought (like many of us) that God is obliged to accept us. We deserve a shot. We deserve acceptance. Cain was wrong, and so are we. God owes us nothing. That he gives us goodness at all should tell us what kind of good, loving, gracious sovereign we actually have.

Self-Pity is Sin When Cain was told no, first he got angry. His anger gave way to a puddle of self-pity in which he wallowed. Anger and self-pity are emotions we experience when we feel that someone has wronged us. Cain felt like God wronged him. Abel wronged him. He deserved to be angry. He deserved to be pitiful. This is the blindness that sin creates. It covers our ability to see that we, yes us, are the problem. Self-pity is sin.

No one Else to Blame Cain murdered Abel. Cain. It wasn't like he was from a bad part of town. There wasn't a bad culture. No poor schools to blame. No bad group of friends. We're so quick to look around at something other than our nature to blame for depravity. But this story won't let us. It's just the nature of this fallen human, one generation from paradise. The problem isn't (primarily) school, government, sex, drugs, rap music, friends, mom, dad, him, or her. It's you. It's me.

The Righteous Guy Died I realize that at any given moment there's someone on TV with a great suit and a plexiglass pulpit who'd like to sell you his book all about how if you're righteous and live by faith nothing bad will ever happen to you. The Bible, however, knows nothing of such nonsense. Abel was the first guy outside of Eden who was righteous by faith. And he was murdered. Doesn't seem fair? Not what you thought? How could a loving God? Remember, the inheritance of righteous in the next life is good enough to overshadow his temporary suffering in this one. It's a shadow and the sun. The sun shines the shadows away and the shadow leaves nothing but a memory.

The Righteous Guy (Figuratively) Rose Cain's line turned out to have lots of culture and no righteousness. Where was the promised redeemer of Genesis 3 coming from? From the line of Abel. Abel died, but Seth was born in his place. Figuratively speaking, the righteous line rose from death. Sound familiar? It should, because just as Cain killed Abel in sin, we killed Christ. Just as the ground opened to receive Abel's blood, Christ when into the ground. And just as Seth was born to take his place, Jesus came back to life so that all who might call on the name of the Lord would be saved.

Sunday Post-Game (March 18, 2012)

In the book of Jeremiah, the message of God was described as the burden of the Lord. Approaching the topic of the fall, that's exactly how I felt—burdened. Having spent a good amount of time thinking and praying through the roots of our fallenness, a few thoughts occur...

If Sin Doesn't Break our Hearts, then our Hearts are Already Broken. That is, if we are not emotionally moved by what we encounter in Genesis 3, then there's something wrong with us. Everything we hate, every injustice, and every sad fact is rooted in the rebellion and curses of Genesis 3. If we don't feel the weight of that, then something has happened to our capacity to feel anything.

Modifying Behavior will Never, Ever Work. The religious response to sin will never succeed in dealing with it, because sin is deeper than our actions. Sin is rooted in our autonomy and foolishness.

SinAll Sin Begins with Autonomy Contrary to popular opinion, autonomy is not a virtue, but a damnable vice. Autonomy ("self-law") is the insistence that our own, individual capacity to reason is as authoritative as God's revelation. It's living life unhitched from God's lordship and leadership. This is the exact opposite of the way our minds should work. It's unreasonable to reason out from under the source of all reason (God). Yet, for us to sin, that's precisely what we must do: think independently from God. Eve did this when she saw that the fruit was desirable with her own eyes. Not God's eyes. Hers.

Autonomy Makes us Fools Once we've decided—even implicitly—to be our own masters (autonomous), then all our best wisdom will be foolishness. The Scriptures say that Christ is the wisdom of God by which the world was founded. True wisdom is found in the fear and reverance of the Lord. If we reject him, then what we think will make us wise really ends up making us fools. Eve thought the fruit would make her wise, but in the end she just became a fool, and we followed her.

Disobedience is the Visible Fruit of Autonomy and Foolishness On the surface, sin looks like all the bad things we do. Yet, we can't make it to bad behavior before we become autonomous fools. To change, something must be done about that deep, fibrous root of autonomy.

Jesus Rescues Autonomous, Foolish, Lawbreakers Jesus is better than Adam. He passed the test of temptation. Adam did not. He perfectly obeyed the law of God. Adam did not. He was not autonomous, but only did what his Father said. He lived his life submitted to God, full of wisdom, acting in obedience. If we trust him and ask him, all his perfection can be ours by faith.

The coming weeks hold great momentum and growth for all of us. But our growth will require faith and hard work. I can't wait until next week when we kick of two services at Aletheia!

Sunday Post-Game

Yesterday at Aletheia we kicked off our new teaching series in the book of Genesis. It was a great start, and I'm more excited than ever to dig into this crucial book. But the fact is, the scope of the book of Genesis is beyond what sermons and Sundays can capture. This 50 chapter book covers more time than any other book of the Bible. Taken in its most natural sections, I could happily find myself preaching through this book for 7 years. Let's be honest. No one really was begging me to do that. So, we wrote a book for you, hoping it would empower and encourage you to do some digging yourself.

The Point The main theme of Genesis 1-2 is simple: God creates. In those two words lie volumes of theological beauty, some of which we explored yesterday. These two words confront us with the fundamental reality of God, and his rights as creator to write our story. None of us get to self-define. None of us get to take God's good gifts and redefine them. Creation, humanity, marriage, sex, and work—all of these are good gifts, made by a good God, for a good purpose, within a good context. If God creates, then we don't get to change them, because they are not ours to change.

Secondary Issues There are some other issues that we bring to this text that—in my opinion and those of my commentators—are not the main point of the text. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't ask these questions, but it does mean that when we do, we must realize that the text wasn't written to answer these questions, primarily.

    • Age of the Earth - This is an interesting in-house debate among Christians. What does Genesis teach regarding the age of the earth? Broadly, there are two camps: young earth and old earth. While there are dozens of varying theories within each heading, a few issues come up. Young earth advocates will point out that the text, read most naturally, leads us to think that God made the earth in six, literal, 24-hour-day periods. The best arguments I've seen for this position come from Answers in Genesis. More popular these days is the Old-Earth position. This view tends to synthesize some degree of evolution and modern cosmology with the biblical witness. Good work on this view can be found from Reasons to Believe. This is an old, often passionate debate. Before you dive in remember: unity in the essentials (creation, christology, the gospel), diversity in the non-essentials (age of the earth), and in all things charity (love those with whom you disagree).
    • Evolution - Not surprisingly, neo-darwinian synthesis, DNA, and the exact date of the Cambrian Explosion are not mentioned in Genesis 1-2. Why? Because this work was written to Israel en route to the promised land, not to the director of the NIH. However, the scriptures do give us some guidelines on how to think about evolution. If God creates, then we cannot think of evolution in the way our atheistic counterparts do. It cannot be blind, merciless, and infinitely creative. (Creativity, by the way, can never be the product of a process, but only of a mind...) A lot of good work has been done on this topic. My favorite few books that open this up are Signature in the Cell (Meyer), Three Views on Creation, and Darwin's Black Box (Behe). Before you grind your axe over your favorite view, read. Always a good idea.
    • The Goodness of Sex, Love, and Marriage - The Scriptures have a lot to say about sex, love, and marriage. These are all good gifts that God gave us for with a good context. Last year, I wrote my first book on the topic, and I'd like to shamelessly self-promote it to you.

Growth Recently, we've experienced a real surge of numerical growth in Sunday attendance. For that grace, I'm grateful. This has caused us to launch a second service, and think more about the future. Here are my thoughts about our growth:

    • Everything good comes from God, and I'm not him. While your pastors are God's people, this growth is a gracious gift from our King, not due to primarily to any awesomeness on our part. So, make Jesus your rockstar, not your leaders.
    • This increases our responsibilities. More people means more lives to steward and more disciples to make. So don't just sit back and watch the show. Get involved, get trained, and make disciples.
    • Growth must always be rhythmic to be sustained. We must grow toward God in holiness, sanctification, and worship, and toward others in love, mission, and discipleship.
    • Pray. Pray all the time. Pray that we'd make disciples, plant churches, reach campuses, and do more for the Kingdom as God gives more to us.

I'm pumped, people. Simultaneously grateful and more determined than ever, I'm ready for a great week alongside you.

Sunday Review: What's at the Center?

Fact: Your life will center on something. The only real question is, on what? Or better yet, on whom? This Sunday at Aletheia we kicked off a new series called Centeredwhich was my direct assault on the temptation we pastors feel to preach try-harder-do-better sermons at the beginning of each year. Each new year brings with it a bunch of unmet resolutions, promises that won't be kept, and visions of grandeur which will never be achieved. Why? Because at our core, we don't want them. Obtaining those goals doesn't live on the inside of us. What lives inside us will always, always, rule what's outside.

As a result of Sunday, a few observations came to mind:

If Jesus Abides at the Center, I Can't Not Grow Abiding isn't a word we use much these days, but it basically means "to live with." It's not a one-time word, it's an ongoing activity. I abide with my wife because we share a home, a life. Similarly, for Jesus to abide at the center of my life means that I'm in constant fellowship and communion with him. How? As my friend Steve Murrell likes to say, same. old. boring. strokes. We pray, we fast, we ask, we obey. And you know what, those little habits of drawing near to Jesus draw him near to us. The result, growth. It just can't not happen.

If Jesus Abides at the Center, We Can't Not Grow Like the first point, but for our church. I'll be honest, I hate church growth books. I've read a bunch of them, and most of the time I feel either condemned or falsely hopeful. But if Jesus is really dwelling at the core of this church, then our biggest problem will be what to do with all the fruit. We abide, he guarantees fruitfulness.

Jesus' Love Language is Obedience My love language is words of affection. My wife's is acts of service. But Jesus is different, because Jesus isn't our peer, he's our Lord. If we truly wish to love Jesus, then we'll obey him.

2013 is Going to be a Great Year I think that this year will be the most fruitful that Aletheia has ever seen. I'm not confident in this because I'm a great pastor (cause I've got plenty of problems). It's not because our "show" is so glamorous (because it's not). I'm confident because God's grace is sufficient to keep Jesus at the center of our affections this year. So, that's what I'm praying for us, church. Jesus, be the center. Everything else will take care of itself.

The Advent Changes Everything

The Advent Changes everything. Before Jesus stepped into the scene, God coming to help out directly seemed like an anomaly in an otherwise closed universe. Humanity was enslaved to the merciless consistency of cause and effect. Cause: sin. Effect: death. Cause: sin. Effect: pain. Cause: sin. Effect: brokenness. But that was before Advent—before the chain was broken, when the lid to universe was opened from the top and the creator stepped in.

You and I and everyone else who has put their ultimate hope in Jesus will be singing for ten thousand forevers of the mystery and effect of the Advent. So, I'm not going to pretend to unpack it all in one brief blog. But I do think that it's worth a moment, given the season, to consider a few very important ways the Advent changes everything.

The Advent means Nobody is a Nobody ...there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them...  (Lk. 2:8b-9a)

Shepherds were nobodies. Shepherds in the backwoods of Bethlehem, which was in the backwoods of Jerusalem, were the nobodies of nobodies. And yet, God sent legions of angels to sing in their presence of the birth of Jesus—them! If God almighty chooses to reveal the good news of the Gospel of Jesus first and foremost to the nobodies of the world, then everyone—without exception—qualifies to hear it. No one is too low, too unimportant, nor too high and self-important, to miss it. When God's armies show up to nobodies, all of a sudden they become somebodies. Now, nobody is a nobody. That's great news, especially if you've ever been tempted to think yourself too small or unimportant for God to use you or speak to you. If you're small, then you qualify.

The Advent Means God is Incomprehensibly Loving And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Lk. 2:10-11)

Love can be measured by the cost of its givenness. That is, you love someone only in proportion to your willingness to sacrifice for them. The Advent therefore can only mean that God is incomprehensibly loving, because he gave in the most helpless and humble state his own son to a race of beings which deserved him least. If God has done such a thing, then questions of his love for humanity are now answered with an unshakable proof—he gave us his son. He loves us, and the Advent makes this a settled fact.

The Advent means We can be Changed And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Lk. 2:20)

The shepherds came back to their fields changed. That's precisely what the Advent does—when Jesus comes to us, and we come to him, the only right response is exactly what the shepherds did—worship. The delight of the heart into which Jesus has come is worship. This is the feast for the hunger after God. This is the consummation of the love of God. And, this the proof positive that these shepherds where changed, all because of an encounter with Jesus. And if Jesus can change them, then good news: he can change me too.

Tonight was a great night—easily the most successful Christmas event we at Aletheia have ever done. My prayer, though, goes way past numbers or meetings. My prayer is that width would be quickly accompanied by depth. My prayer after a great Sunday night like tonight is that, in my great city, the news of the Advent of the Son of God would change absolutely everything.

It's starting.