3 clues to know if a sermon is good

A few years ago, my daughter Erica went to church by herself for the first time. She’d just started at Georgia State University and went to visit a church where I knew the pastor.

Since then, she’s married Austin and they’ve moved to a different part of Atlanta and had to find a new church. Again. Lucky for them, I knew a few good options. But not everyone’s dad is a pastor or knows what are the faithful, biblical churches in a given area.

Chances are slim in our transient modern era that an adult Christian will never have to search for a church. Finding a faithful preacher of God’s Word is the key to finding a good church. Brilliant music, kid’s programs and facility won’t cut it if you aren’t fed God’s Word.

And in a season of our culture where we tend to base our decisions on how we feel, I hope this post will challenge you to think about this important issue.


This struck home to me re-reading some posts from one of my favorite blogs – I’m Speaking Truth– written and moderated by a good friend (who blogged anonymously from 2008-2012 so as not to suffer threats to his life and family). IST exposed false teachers. He tried to get people to leave what he calls “pulpit pimps” and the “clubs” for the sake of saving their souls. He names names and says things only a man who was ‘come off the plantation’ could say. He’s still one of my heroes.

Highly recommended reading, especially for my evangelical Anglo brothers and sisters who don’t get out of their theological circles much.

Resources for Finding a (True) Church and a (Reliable) Pastor

So how should one go about finding a true church and a faithful pastor? You shouldn’t just follow the crowd, only take your friend’s advice or pick a church off of an internet list. Listen discerningly to sermons and examine church government and ask about accountability for the pastor(s) and leaders. But let’s focus on the sermon. Here are three clues to help discern.

Clue #1 – Are the sermons from the Bible? Sermons should be from a specific text – a big chunk of Scripture – not just picked out verses that seems to prove a point. If there is a lot of opinion, take note.

And yes, this will require that you, as a Christian, actually read and learn the Bible for yourself. Be a student of Scripture as a disciple of Jesus.

Clue #2 – Does the sermon link to the work of Jesus? Christ Jesus is the central figure of the entire story of the Bible, so if he gets left out or just tacked on, take note.

In one sense, the redeeming, saving work of Jesus IS the message of the Bible. It is essential IN EVERY SERMON. Even sermons preached to Christians. Why? God saves sinners and grows up sinners into mature disciples by faith in the work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit convicting us of our need to change and convincing us the truth and depth of our dependence on Jesus. A sermon without Jesus is an empty shell.

Good sermons talk about both sin and God’s solution. Both the law and grace.

Clue #3 – If the preacher or you personally are the focus of how you feel or think after the sermon, take note.

Two common heresies run rampant in the church today. Moralistic, therapeutic deism (Wikipedia’s page is a good place to start as is Al Mohler’s post here) is super common, as is the Prosperity Gospel (the major topic of I’m Speaking Truth mentioned above.)

Notice, what I did not say.It’s hard but important work to find a true church and a reliable pastor. The church you choose will deeply impact your life. Choose wisely.


Why Cuba Rocks My World

My friend Dave’s thoughts about our last trip to Cuba. Really appreciate and identify with how he feels about our friends there!

Our Life On The Border

Cuba Rocks My World

IMG_2962 Havana at night

The main reason Cuba rocks my world is because of the people. They are an amazing  and resilient people. All they’ve suffered through, which is heart breaking, yet God in His grace has used their pain to draw them to himself.

I find it hard to walk through the streets of Havana and see the long lines as the people wait to buy some very basic products for their needs. One particular instance comes to mind as I saw a young man wearing a baseball cap. The hat represented a Major League Baseball team. I wondered where he got the cap in a place where there seems to be so little. I was reminded of the stores in the USA that only sell hats for sports teams. There are wall to wall hats! The contrast of abundance to scarcity hit me.

Hunger &…

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Church: 5 Reasons to Welcome Aliens

Five reasons our church welcomes and accepts people without legal status.

1. Aliens are people too. God created each one in His image. A person’s status with any government does nothing to change God’s view of them as His creation – worthy of dignity, respect and an opportunity to receive the gospel. Scripture is the higher law in these cases.

2. God’s people are aliens.God commands us to not mistreat an alien and remember that we too were aliens in Egypt (Exodus 22:21 and 23:9). Our citizenship is first in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

3. Articles like this one in the US media tell only a glimpse of the fear, intimidation and terror that brings Mexicans here to the US without status. People in our church don’t just come to ‘steal American jobs’ but rather they are refugees escaping fear, injustice and intimidation from many fronts.

4. We are missionaries of the gospel of God’s grace through Christ alone. If our church members who do not have proper status get arrested (and many have) and deported (and some do), then we send them back as missionaries. The gospel of grace is foreign in the religious landscape in their countries of origin.

5. It is not only a biblical value. As a serious student of American history, a descendant of immigrants from many nations including Native Americans, I recall these words are engraved on our Statue of Liberty.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Beg the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Solemn Vows: Taken Before God

A few years ago, I was part of a commission of our denomination to ordain and install a dear friend into the pastoral ministry.

As I read the vows on the screen behind him, as I heard Pastor Walter read them aloud, my friend could barely keep it together. His sincerity caused me to look into my own heart. I was struck by the depth and significance of these vows. He’s taking this so seriously – and so should we all.

The tribe I’m in now is more known for intellect than emotion. But that is not my friend’s background. He was moved to tears several times throughout the night. This man’s overwhelmed state got to me. I’m an easy mark when it comes to Jesus and His church.

I was not the only one moved by this holy moment. As the Westside congregation, a church I helped give birth to, I was equally moved by the depth and meaningful sincerity of the vows taken by the congregation. It took me back to the day in January 2007 when Crosspoint, the church I founded, made these same vows. I too was moved to tears.

And I am again as I write these words.

Church, this is deep.

God is calling forth a movement of His Holy Spirit in some new churches in Atlanta and He is crossing hereto seldom approached barriers. In these churches Jesus’ gospel is all the good news that matters. Not race, not class, not ability, not looks, not power, not hipster coolness. Jesus is King. And He’s awesome.

I’m copying those vows below. Read them. Think about them. It should move you as you think and feel what this means.

Consider again (or for the first time) the covenant, the trust and the honor we have of being a church so loved by our Savior Jesus Christ and so well led by His Sovereign Kingship.

Vows Taken Before God by the Officers of Our Church and Declarations about Their Roles

All Officers (Elders and Deacons) Take These Same Ordination Vows:

  1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
  1. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
  1. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity?
  1. Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?

(Book of Church Order Chapter 21 Paragraph 5 and Chapter 24 Paragraph 5)

Teaching Elder’s Take These Distinct Ordination Vows:

  1. Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?
  1. Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?
  1. Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, whether personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the flock of which God shall make you overseer?
  1. Are you now willing to take the charge of this church, agreeable to your declaration when accepting their call? And do you, relying upon God for strength, promise to discharge to it the duties of a pastor? (BCO 21-5)

Ruling Elders’ and Deacons Take These Distinct Ordination Vows:

  1. Do you accept the office of ruling elder (or deacon, as the case may be) in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
  1. Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church? (BCO 24-5 (#4 &6)

At the conclusion of the Ordination of Ruling Elders and Deacons, the Following is Declared:

I now pronounce and declare that ____________________ has been regularly elected, ordained and installed a ruling elder (or deacon) in this church, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he is entitled to all encouragement, honor and obedience in the Lord:  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen. (BCO 24-5)

At the Ordination of a Teaching Elder, the following is Declared:

I now pronounce and declare that ____________________ has been regularly elected, ordained and installed pastor of this church, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he is entitled to all encouragement, honor and obedience in the Lord:  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.  (BCO 21-7)

Congregations’ Vows Taken Before God at the Ordination of Officers:

Vows Taken by Congregation in Receiving/Calling a Teaching Elder:

  1. Do you, the people of this congregation, continue to profess your readiness to receive _________________, whom you have called to be your pastor?
  1. Do you promise to receive the word of truth from his mouth with meekness and love, and to submit to him in the due exercise of discipline?
  1. Do you promise to encourage him in his labors, and to assist his endeavors for your instruction and spiritual edification?
  1. Do you engage to continue to him while he is your pastor that competent worldly maintenance which you have promised, and to furnish him with whatever you may see needful for the honor of religion and for his comfort among you? (BCO 21-6)

Vows Taken by Congregation in Receiving Ruling Elders and Deacons:

Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive this brother as a ruling elder (or deacon), and do you promise to yield him all that honor, encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which his office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him? (BCO 24-5)

Pro Tip: after Easter

Pro Tip: Often after resurrection comes doubt

Doubt and despair have a funny way of sneaking in the backdoor after hours. 

I’ve preached Easter sermons 13 out of the last 14 years. Most of those years, right after celebrating Easter, I would get hit by lies and doubts and want to quit. Sometimes on the way home from service, other times that night when I was wrung out. I am the worst at tying my performance to my happiness. Even Jesus’ followers had their doubts after His resurrection (Thomas, Peter).

If you feel that way on Sunday or Monday, it’s a normal temptation. But it’s also one from the pit of hell and smells like smoke. Be quick to repent and run to the truth of Jesus’ love. If you can’t remember. call until you find someone who will remind you. Call me and I’ll remind you!

Reminder for Easter and after

You are beloved NOT based on how well your Easter sermon goes or how smart you are or how many people attended or how many of them think you are awesome or how much (insert name of your worst critic here) thinks you stink.

You are beloved simply because God loves you. Because Jesus died for you and was raised again and by the faith the Father gives you, you receive his life and righteousness! Prepare and preach like a warrior remembering your acceptability is BASED ON WHAT JESUS DID!!!

Revel in this: you GET to be part of the in-breaking of GOD’s Kingdom as you preach and pastor/plant JESUS’ church. It isn’t your church. Or even technically your sermon. The Holy Spirit preaches the gospel as you preach. He is the power!

One other pro tip: Don’t take yourself too seriously. My colleague Tom Wood wrote a great post about an Easter sermon illustration he used one year. I dare you to use it. I want to hear the stories!

As a planter and a coach for church planters with CMM, I have to say I’m proud of all of you who preaching the gospel in church plants on Resurrection Sunday. Its our big day as Christians!


2 Common Church Start-Up Fails


As Jeff was giving me a tour of the city, his wife Nancy and my wife Elizabeth were in the backseat getting to know each other. We were visiting one of the couples I’m coaching through the process of starting up a church.

Later Nancy asked, “What are the most common mistakes church planters make?” I laughed, “Nancy, there are so many!” She laughed (maybe just out of politeness) but she was serious. It’s a really good question.

So, in an effort to keep church start-up people from making the same FAILs let me highlight two of the biggest I see in the life of the church planting pastor and his family.

1. Working alone without an experienced gospel coach. Yeah, you saw that one coming didn’t you? It’s what I do! But it does not negate the point! It’s exactly why I coach!


Gospel coaching is the single most important ingredient to the vitality of a church planter and his family. And the church start up.

If the enemy who hates the church can take out the planter or his marriage, he will usually have taken out the church too.

Do not plant alone. Get a gospel-focused church planting coach who is certified. Take advantage of the available wisdom and resources you can tap into through a coach.

2. Not resting. Start-up people want to do a really great thing! Start a church so more people will follow Jesus! But a driven person with an amazing opportunity + a large dose of your own reputation at stake = long hours and little to no rest.


You need rest. And I mean literal rest. As in the weekly Sabbath. As in day-long seasons of quiet prayer. As in long annual vacations where you really unwind.

Even if a start-up family lacks the resources to take two weeks of vacation at the beach, nobody is exempted from the fourth commandment or from prayer. Find ways to shut down and rest.

Start-up church leaders also should rest in what Jesus has done for them rather than puny human effort and ability. Spiritual rest and physical rest are related.

Confession: God literally had to close down our first church plant before I would admit how I was worshipping the idol of ministry success. You have got to rest. For more confessions of an old church planter, see my colleague’s blog on CMMnet.org.

These two fails can leave the biggest and widest holes and have the deepest implications in the life and family of church planters. If you are a start-up pastor type and need someone to talk to about this, let me know.

Next time I’ll focus on fails in the work of the start up church.


3 reasons I broke up with Facebook


I joined Facebook in 2008 and immediately enjoyed re-connecting with friends I’d lost track of over the years. Had to learn some etiquette and boundaries from my teenagers, but it quickly become a valuable connecting tool for me in ministry and personal life. Almost everyone I know is on FB.

So why did I break up with Facebook recently? Three reasons.

1. This election. Elizabeth and I studied Spanish in Costa Rica for eight months in 2016. Cramming a new language into a ‘mature’ brain meant I was toast mentally by about 5pm. FB was a way to relax and connect back in the US.

Until we all (myself included) started getting testy, rude and/or disagreeable, saying things we would not say if the person(s) were in the room. Over politics.

Tobias Rose-Stockwell’s post How We Broke Democracy is worth a read. It makes a case against (me) using FB. He says the way we use our technology, particularly Facebook, ‘has changed this election and is now undermining our ability to empathize.’  The powerful FB algorithm has created what my friend Danny Slavich calls our own ‘personally curated social media echo chambers’ where I had actually cut myself off from people while reinforcing my own sinful opinions and pride.

2. Neighboring 101. We chose to live in a part of Atlanta where we are a minority because we wanted to be part of the solution to racism. But I lost my way along the virtual trail. I forgot who my neighbors are and that God’s great command says clearly…

Love the Lord your God… and your neighbors as yourself.

Which leads to some hard questions!

  • Can I really love God without loving neighbors as myself?
  • Am I loving myself as God loves if I’m not loving my neighbors?
  • Are FB friends or people in my physical community my neighbors?
  • Do neighbors tweet, post or talk? Which is more helpful and kind?
  • What if I treated my neighbors like people are treated on FB? ummm

The most basic teachings of the Christian faith have so much to say to our current situation. Scripture says far more about loving actual neighbors than it does about political involvement.

3. Need more joy in life. This rarely-quoted verse in the Bible startled me when Pastor Héctor read it last Sunday.  “…I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink (keyboard and screen?). Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our j o y may be c o m p l e t e.‘ (2 John 13).

My mother taught me that ‘joy is being glad to be with someone’ and if there is anything I need or want more of now, it is joy in the midst of division, sadness and anger. I need to be together, talking face-to-face MORE not less.

So, see you later Facebook. It was nice for a while.


(Note: I’m not closing my account. Yet. Nor am I advocating that you close your account. Rather, I’m using it like email or snail mail for messages. And I’m keeping up with this blog and Twitter. FB has a redemptive purpose in that I can communicate with many people who are indeed real-life friends and family. For that I am grateful.)

Boring? or Life Changing?

Jesus said, ‘If my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.’

What a promise from Jesus? How does it work?

When I was 15, we had just moved to Norcross (outside of Atlanta) and my parents and friends from church encouraged me to memorize Bible verses topic by topic. I had a pretty boring summer job so it gave me something to do mentally while I picked up trash, cleaned carpets and scrubbed the pool at an apartment complex.

I don’t remember how many of those verses I memorized.

But lately I’ve been reviewing. And it’s amazing how many of them are still in my mind. And in my heart and life. I have had a pretty clear picture of who God is, how to live by faith in Christ, how to fight against temptation and live in Christ while in this world. I’m far from some super-Christian but I think I’m doing well.

It has something to do with God’s Word being in me, I think. Let me recommend to you the Navigators’ Topical Memory System. Or any system that will get God’s Word to abide in you.


Going back to Jesus’ words I started with: I have not gotten every single thing that I have wished for – because often my wishes were flat out wrong and I didn’t know it – but I’ve grown to understand and celebrate what Jesus has done for me.

And I’m learning to ask for things that line up with His will. Like that you would memorize Scripture.

It might sound boring. But if you feel that, you’re wrong. It’s life changing.


Most & least diverse religious groups

Thought this was interesting in light of recent conversations. Hope denominations that stress the importance of the biblical doctrines of grace continue to develop in diversity. Why?

The goal is not multi-cultural churches. The goal is churches with one gospel culture.

From the Pew Research Center 2014 Religious Landscape Study


Will US Believers Suffer Well?

In 2008, I heard John Piper talk about his book Spectacular Sins.

Piper’s prophetic about US Christians persecution and partnering in suffering is strong, biblical and true…. It makes me wonder if this is the tonic for what ails us?

When things do not go well for you personally, physically or politically will it be a crisis of faith for you?

“Our felt needs are about to change.”

“Coddled people will not be good listeners when their world collapses.”

“The aim of this book is not to meet felt needs, but to awaken needs that will soon be felt, and then to save your faith and strengthen your courage when evil prevails.”

“If we are to endure and bear and believe and hope, we need to see the spectacular sins of history the way God sees them. I hope this book helps.”

bss_mediumI never bought the book but the questions haunt me.