Bloody cross, empty tomb

I recently found myself in the middle of a very strange conversation with a very educated doctor when the conversation moved to our faith. Of course the most common approach is to assert the viability of every belief, as long as it’s sincere. But after many months of walking with a loved one through illness and the possibility of death, the stakes felt higher. “Everybody believes in something,” he said. “But what is the basis of that belief?” was my question. And then I said it.

My faith is rooted in a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

It was a strong moment. Months later I’m still chewing on the implications of this truth. As we move into resurrection weekend, I’m asking the question afresh: what does this mean?

It means the Judge has judged.

It means sickness is judged by the cross. Bigotry is judged by the cross. War is judged by the cross. Child slavery is judged by the cross. Rape is judged by the cross. Fear is judged by the cross. Oppression is judged by the cross. Sin is judged by the cross. My sin, my pride, my hypocrisy, my deceit, my selfishness are judged on a bloody cross.

It means the King has risen.

It means light beats darkness. It means life beats death. It means justice beats evil. It means cancer is going to bow. It means molestations will be no more. It means poverty is losing its grip. It means racism’s days are numbered.

It means all things will become new.

It means the stories your believing mama told you have to be taken seriously. It means God hears prayers. It means you can break addictions. It means you can be free. It means your family can be restored. It means you are going to make it.

Because if He can beat death, He can beat anything.

It means you’re not defined by your worst mistake. It means you really can be forgiven. It means God’s grace is stronger than your sin. It means God’s goodness trumps your badness. It means God’s capacity to fix you up is infinitely greater than your capacity to screw you up.

It means your story may have horrible chapters, but you have to read it to the end, because when God is the Author, the story always ends well.

It means there is more hope for you than you thought possible, because the very worst this world can throw at you is death. And Jesus beat it. Which means death may take you from this world, but Jesus will take you from death.

Which means you don’t have to be afraid of anything. Ever. Again.

So turn in your pen, stop trying to force your own script, and let Jesus be your Author, resurrection, and life.


So great a salvation

Do not neglect so great a salvation. (Hebrews 2:3)

There is so much debate regarding the possibility – or impossibility – of losing salvation. But the far more practical danger is neglecting salvation. Oh to live in the reality and the fullness of this great salvation.

Indeed there is a salvation-like promise to drugs and porn and fame and fortune and a thousand other little god-substitutes. But they always break their promises.

So great a salvation is altogether unique.

Pardom from all guilt. Forgiveness of all sin. Full atonement. Fresh start. New nature. New name. New covenant. New spirit. New heart. New eyes. New ears. New creation. New birth. One day he will make all things new.

So great a salvation.

Healing from sickness. Comfort in brokenness. Power to overcome. Strength for the journey. Joy inexpressible. Peace inexplicable. Access to the Father. Innocence that we long for. Love that we were made for. An inheritance without compare. A seat in heavenly places. Angels to protect us. A kingdom that cannot be shaken. Freedom, authority, purpose, destiny, hope, and a future.

Do not neglect so great a salvation.

Stir up your gifts, develop your talents, discover your place, and do your deal. Set your mind on things above, number your days, refuse to waste your life, and go. Having been loved, love. Having been served, serve. Having been forgiven, forgive. Having been reached, reach. Having been rescued, rescue. Having been changed, change.

Maybe we should do less talk about joining a movement, and just go move something. In the name of the author of so great a salvation. Jesus.

Cam Newton, the Super Bowl, & the Race Card


I’m not even close to unbiased as we approach the 2016 Super Bowl.

I graduated from the University of Florida. I’m a Gator fan. Gators do not like the Tennessee Volunteers. We struggle to acknowledge that one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time goes by the name Peyton Manning, a Tennessee Volunteer. And yet as extensive as his resume is, let me give you my favorite Peyton Manning statistic: 0-4. That would be his record against my alma mater.

Now we come to Cam Newton. Before he was Superman; before he was a Carolina Panther; before he was Mr. Heisman; he was a Florida Gator. I know Auburn fans claim him as their own, but I remember the kindness and patience of Cam toward children in general, but mine in particular, when he walked off the practice field in Gainesville, Florida. I like Cam.

A couple days ago things heated up as Cam made a statement about being a black quarterback in the NFL. Depending on who you are in the world, his words either ring incredibly true or they carry the stench of the race card.

Depending on who you are the race card is a tool people of color use to blame whites for things that are not their fault or the race card is a term used to disempower minorities and invalidate all claims of racial injustice without respect to current evidence or historical fact.

As I clicked through the comments below Cam’s article, it was once again apparent just how polarized we are. “There’s no bias here,” many argued, “Why is Cam trying to make this about race?”

So I started thinking about my bias.

Growing up in the Tampa Bay area helped me to never get emotionally invested in a football team, as the Bucs found a way to perennially disappoint. But my fan-soul was awakened as I stepped foot on the campus of the University of Florida. Little did I know that I was being immersed into an entirely new culture. Next thing you know, I’m looking at the football world through an entirely different set of lenses. (Orange and blue to be exact.) I didn’t really choose for it to happen; but my days of unbiased participation in the world of football were over.

And that’s why, Peyton, if you’re reading this, I respect your talent, but I want you to lose in a very big way. Cam, if you’re reading this, I hereby commission you to take this Volunteer down one last time. 0-5.

Back to the race card.

When I hear all these people claiming that they possess no racial bias, I find myself wondering, exactly what culture did you grow up in? Do you really believe that you live in a racially-neutral society? Or, if you recognize the inequities, do you really believe that your soul is somehow immune to the effects? “Stop trying to make something out of nothing,” people are telling Cam. But is it possible, that just as subconsciously as I became a Gator-partial man, that each of us slowly develops into adulthood with all sorts of biases of which we are surely unaware. It’s the air we breathe.

I guess I’m pleading with us to be humble enough to admit we are products of the environment in which we were raised. I want us to be courageous enough to say this publicly: Everything is not ok. And for me to bring up the New Jim Crow of our prison system or for Cam to bring up his experience as a black quarterback is not the problem. The solution to brokenness is never denial; but it almost always starts with humility.

The fact of the matter is, I’m a biased man. I prejudge. I hold on to my privilege. And it’s not just football. It’s my ethnicity. My gender. My nationality. The fact of the matter is we are divided. As awkward as it is to spend time with a dysfunctional family that pretends that nothing is wrong is as awkward as it can be in churches when Ferguson or Baltimore, Maryland or Cam Newton are in the news.

Which is why one of the greatest words to proceed from a human tongue is this one: reconciliation.

PERKINS blogWhich is why I can’t wait to see what happens in our partnership with Dr. John Perkins, a man who has given his life (and been beaten within an inch of his last breath) for Jesus, justice, and reconciliation.


My hope is that the body of Christ will be the hope of our nation in achieving reconciliation that comes from truth, humility and justice. And I want to be a part of the solution. Because division is not just an ethnic thing; it’s a human thing as old as the Garden where our first parents broke relationship with God. I know Someone who knows exactly what to do with division.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV)

Game on.


What are you chewing on?

It’s not enough to simply read the Bible.

Jesus made an audacious promise at the end of His sermon on the mount: “Everyone who hears these words of Mine, and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24 NIV)

Here is the problem. It’s easy to hear the words of God; the challenge is putting them into practice. In between the hearing and the doing I hit a wall. It’s easy to hear about loving your enemies or serving your wife or holding your tongue or sharing your stuff. The challenge is the real world of traffic and trials and jerks.

So how do we put God’s words into practice? Meditation.

Your life will follow your meditation.

Look at what God told Joshua: “This Book of the Law must not depart from your mouth, but you are to meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. Then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

The key to turning hearing these words into practicing these words is this controversial activity we call meditation. It’s an interesting word; it’s a misunderstood word; most of all, it’s a neglected word.

To “meditate” is to chew – again and again. Just like a cow chews the cud, God told Joshua to chew on His Word. The interesting thing about the word is how connected it is to words like muttering, musing, even speaking.  In other words, meditation is not a silent and passive activity. Your mouth, body, mind, and spirit all work together when you meditate.

Your life will follow your meditation. So what are you chewing on?

Truth be told, meditating is not reserved for monks in a monastery. We meditate all the time. You already chew; the question is What are you chewing on? If you’ve ever complained in traffic; if you’ve ever shared a Facebook post; if you’ve ever rehearsed what you wanted to say to your boss; if you’ve ever sung along with a song on the radio; if you’ve ever quoted the lines of a movie … then you know how to meditate.

One of the breakthroughs in life comes when we get honest about the “monasteries” that we belong to. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Blogs. CNN. Sports talk. People magazine. Wired magazine. The National Enquirer. USA Network. Friends and family. Porn.

Your life will follow your meditation. It’s a law. Some objects of meditation lead you to worry. Some will lead you to pride. Some will get you angry.  Others will stir you to gossip.

And then there’s God’s Word.

According to God, the key to transformation is not to empty your mind, but to fill it with His Word.  And the promise is clear: then you will make your way prosperous, then your life will be built on a rock.  (Joshua 1, Matthew 7)

This calls for daily injections of the Bible.  Read it actively, attentively, and with some of your best energy.  You’ll start to feel like God is talking to you (because He is).  You’ll sometimes have the sense that these words are alive (because they are).  So when you hit a passage that seems to really click, or apply, or comfort, or challenge … don’t rush by too quickly.  You might even want to memorize a verse and keep repeating it throughout the day.  Or share it on social media.

Pause.  Chew.  Think.  Write it down.  Say it out loud.  Say it again.  Say it again. Take it deep.  Chew a little more.

Don’t be surprised when Jesus shows up.  Because your life will follow your meditation.

Finish well.

Finish well.

In an age of so little perseverance I find these words ringing in my ears like the background music on an elevator. Fight the good fight; keep the faith; finish the race.

I can’t count how many times I heard Pastor Arnold Lastinger speak these words of challenge into my life. As a young man with no experience I probably rolled my eyes, but as time has passed this holy background music has become more like the soundtrack of a timeless movie. (Yes, I downloaded the Star Wars movie score in anticipation of Episode VII. Thank you, John Williams.)

On December 8th, Pastor Lastinger went absent from the body and present with the Lord. What a soul-marking moment it was for me, as I watched him worship until the end, using his dying breath and waning strength to lift his hands to the God he longed for.

Several days later I flew to Mississippi where I spent time with another one of my heroes, John Perkins. Due to his age and health concerns his daughter makes clear that he needs boundaries on his schedule. Yet when he starts talking about Jesus and justice and the greatness of God, he just won’t stop. I’m serious. One night, after hours of conversation, I had to plead with him to go home and go to bed, as it was approaching 10:00. As we finished, he invited me to be a part of the Bible study he was leading the next day. At 5:30 the next morning. I’ve never heard of a Bible study at 5:30 in the morning. But sure enough, there he was, long before the sun would rise, leading a room full of men through Romans 9. It was like watching a child opening a present on Christmas morning. Joy. Energy. Wonder. 85 years of age and he is still burning.

A week earlier, I listened as Pastor Lastinger described his peace and contentment and anticipation of heaven. “It’s all true,” he told me. “When I preached funerals in my 20’s I thought I believed it. But 50 years later I realize, it’s all true. And it works,” he explained with a peace I can’t explain. But then I heard something else: his longing for his Savior. The closest comparison I have is like a bridegroom getting ready for his honeymoon. He was longing for Jesus. On his deathbed he was still burning.

I want to burn till the end.

In an age of so little perseverance these two men stand tall. Their voices have weight. And their entire life has become their message. Neither has tried to stay relevant, and that is part of what makes them so. Their transcendence is their relevance. Oh how it has fed my soul to be exposed to men whose lives carry such a rare grace. Some things can only be said after years. Or decades. Or a lifetime. And the only way you get this kind of gravitas is to persevere. To endure. To finish your race.

What a lesson for young leaders.

I’ve heard it said that it takes 20 years to make a man or woman of God. But I’m starting to think it takes a lifetime. In a culture that bows before the shrine of youth and worships to the tune of the latest one hit wonder, it becomes difficult to discern when timeless words are being written and the truest lives are being lived. But I long for this.

Did these men give me clues about how to persevere? Sure. Both would tell me stay curious. Keep learning. Figure out how to handle your pain. Set up accountability relationships to deal with temptation. But at the end of the day both of these men most fed me because of their obsession with Jesus. I would meet with Pastor Lastinger seeking wisdom, and it was there. But in the middle of a lunch meeting he would break down in tears when he began to speak of Jesus. I flew to Mississippi seeking justice, and it was there. But what I found most was a man dripping with the Author of justice.

Finish well, my friend.

Finish - road

Missouri & Yale & the gaps in our Gospel.

I’m reading the reports from Missouri and Yale and thinking about the gaps in our Gospel.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

Woe to those who consolidate their spirituality into their personal piety while neglecting social action. Woe to those who go to church and live moral lives and claim right theology while neglecting justice. Woe to those who claim a change on the inside that never makes a difference to those weeping on the outside. At least that’s what Jesus said.

We always like to think of ourselves as the protagonist. When the preacher tells the story of David and Goliath, well, I’m David. Of course. The application is always along the lines of, You can do this. Find your slingshot. Trust God, and your enemies will fall. The story concludes with little David triumphantly removing the head of his massive and arrogant adversary. All the little Davids leave church happy. Yet I’ve never heard a preacher land the sermon with, Hey big man, don’t lose your head. Because I’m always the protagonist. I couldn’t be Goliath.

As I watch the cultural challenges unfold before us in the news and social media I keep thinking of Jesus’ words to the hypocrites of his day. I’m sure they thought they were David, and yet Jesus calls them Goliath.

Don’t lose your head.

Don’t neglect the weightier matters of the law.

Weightier matters. What an interesting thought. Jesus says justice is weightier than tithing. Listen, I’m a preacher and we take up offerings every week, but I don’t want to lose my head. I wonder what would happen if we printed out all the sermons preached around the country on tithing and put them on one side of a scale. And then we printed out all the sermons preached on justice and placed them on the other side of the scale. Which pile would be weightier?

Which brings me to college campuses around our nation. Let there be justice.


What is justice? It is the equitable application of God’s moral law in society. Dr. King would write from a Birmingham jail that a just law is a law that squares with God’s law. If he is right, there is no true justice without the true Judge. Which means, of all the people on planet earth, those who claim to know the Judge should be the very most vocal about justice.

And herein lies our problem. When the people who should influence the conversation do not influence the conversation, we leave a vacuum. When the people who should address injustice do not address injustice, justice becomes a moving target. Our protagonist David had a son named Absalom (2 Samuel 13-20). He turned out to be wicked, but I’m not so sure he started out as twisted as we might assume. His treachery begins when his sister is raped, and then subsequently disgraced. For reasons we cannot explain, King David does nothing to address the tragedy. He loses his head. Failed justice embitters Absalom’s soul and turns his heart sour. The story ends with tragedy and unnecessary bloodshed. But the point is this: in the presence of failed justice and unresolved bitterness, hearts become poisoned. Absalom would not sit by and do nothing.

But a bitter activist is a bad answer to a justice problem.

Which is why I am praying that the people of Jesus will listen to Jesus and learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression. (Isaiah 1:17). Hey Goliath, don’t lose your head. Black lives matter. Justice is at the top of God’s agenda. And maybe we will hear what the Spirit is saying to the church in these days.

Things always go south when we neglect the weightier matters of the law.

Our world needs activists – but not like Absalom. I think about men like John Perkins (who will be with us the final weekend of January). He is an activist, but he found the way to beat bitterness. He has washed the feet of a nation and turned the hearts of multitudes by doing what ordinary people would not: finding a way to truly hate the injustice – and fight the injustice – without allowing the injustice to sour him. I want to follow him.

It’s justice and mercy and faithfulness.

Just like the Cross. At the center of the Gospel is this breathtaking truth: the ultimate Judge was judged in my place. Justice was served and mercy prevailed as the faithfulness of God was poured out on a Goliath like me. Selah.

5 reasons the Gators will beat Ole Miss this weekend

5. The Swamp. Noise. Humidity. Sellout. Magic.

4. Hargreaves > Treadwell. WR Laquon Treadwell is great, but CB Vernon Hargreaves III is greater.

3. Catalyst. The last time Ole Miss came to town they served as the catalyst for a Gator national championship, as Tebow gave the legendary speech. Rebels pull greatness out of Gators.

2. Fourth down. The Gators own 4th down. Coach Mac pulls the trigger on 4th down.

1. Did I mention the Swamp? I tried to find tickets to the game but would have had to mortgage my house to buy them. The fans will be out in force. And only Gators come out alive.