“I Was Raped by my Dad When I Was 9”

How do you respond to that? Recently I was at the Recovery House, a residential treatment facility for those overcoming drug and alcohol addictions. Every time I meet someone new I try and learn their story, because they are not a statistic. They are a human being, broken and battered as they might be. They have dignity and worth even in the midst of their current struggles.

As always, their stories, and especially the path that led them to addiction fills me with a mix of mild shock and heartache.

  • I met Karen*. This is her 11th rehab. She’s a mess and she knows it. She is the black sheep in a good family. Mom and dad are still together. Both have respectable jobs. One works for the government, the other is a lawyer. But the pressure to perform in a ‘perfect family’ quickly became to much. She started abusing drugs and alcohol before she was 10. It doesn’t help that her mom is a functioning alcoholic and set that as an example for her daughter. Her mom can handle her alcohol (or so she thinks). Karen obviously cannot.
  • I met Rachel*. This is her first rehab. Really, she got addicted later in life. Good childhood, never had any problems before her 30s. When she was 34 she was recently divorced and had a weekend free. In her words she had a “bright idea” to visit a liquor store and get some wine “because she could.” That simple decision led to a three year addiction and downward spiral that cost her a career, a home, and all of her savings. She said when she walks out of rehab she’ll be walking out with nothing.
  • And then there’s Brittany*. She’s young, in her early 20s. She’s in for meth. This is only her first rehab, and she was still coming down off of the toxin in her system, but she’s been abusing drugs and alcohol for over a decade. Growing up locally, she’d never really been to church. Her question to me was, “How can you forgive and forget like the Bible says?” She then began to use the hypothetical of someone who was raped. By this time I’d been speaking with her for an hour, so I cut through that and said, “We’re talking about you, aren’t we?” Brittany said “yes.” I asked her how long ago she was raped, and she said, “I was raped when I was 9, and I’ll go ahead and tell you, it was by my dad.”

What do you say to that? How do you respond? What kind of evil lives in the world that allows this to happen? I responded in anger on her behalf. I said that as a man, I am sickened by other men who could molest young children. I said part of me wished I could go and cut off the pecker of every single man who would rob a child of their innocence. There is a special place in hell reserved for people like that. I reaffirmed to Brittany that she did not deserve to have that happen. It was in no way her fault.

Going to her original question, I told her that she may never forget (the Bible never actually says “forgive and forget”), but God can help her to forgive. I encouraged her not to focus on forgetting, but on God redeeming. I told them how God could take even the worst circumstances and bring something good out of it.

As a way to make a connection, I referenced some of the deepest pain I’ve ever walked through: my wife and I’s struggle with infertility. For years, the label my wife and I wore was that we were the couple that couldn’t have kids. There were countless nights of heartache and tears. Yet through that, God brought us our oldest two sons, sons that we would have never adopted if we had kids on our timetable. We can honestly look back and say we are thankful for the struggle, because God has redeemed it so beautifully.

I told Brittany that I know that my struggle was nothing in comparison with what she walked through, and that she would never look back and say she was thankful that happened (nor should she), but my prayer was that one day she could look back and see the good that God has brought out of it. I encouraged Brittany to go deep in this rehab, to unpack all of the baggage that she could and to get to a good place, because there are untold girls out there in dark places, and God can use her to give hope to girls struggling with similar situations. Her greatest ministry in life might be offering healing to women who were molested as children. My heart breaks for Brittany. It breaks for the evil in the world that would allow this to happen. It has shaped her past and her present. But through the power of Jesus it does not have to shape her future. Amen.

QUESTION: If you had the chance, what would you say to Brittany?

*names have been changed to protect their identities

How Donald Trump Helps Us Understand the Appeal of Jesus

I can’t believe I’m actually comparing Donald Trump to Jesus. Believe me, I’m already uncomfortable with this. Somehow I don’t think Donald Trump would have much of a problem comparing himself to Jesus, which is why I’m so uncomfortable with it. But I’ve asked myself the question over and over these past few weeks: what makes Donald Trump so popular?

It’s not the hair, as much as he might display it. It’s not his wealth; we’ve had wealthy candidates before. It’s not merely his views. He has a mixture of views that doesn’t fit squarely inside any political platform. And it’s not because America is stupid and people view the presidential election as another reality television show. The pundits who write off Trump’s popularity as merely a symptom of the uneducated underbelly of American life are failing to tap into the true reason for Trump’s current popularity: anger and frustration at the political elite.

People are angry. They see jobs being shipped overseas, taxes increasing, health premiums going through the roof, all the while it seems like the Washington power brokers and the Wall Street executives maintain a symbiotic relationship that keeps the rest of us in the “have not” category. Whether that anger is justified or not, that anger is real. And people are frustrated. Politicians have talked a big game since the beginning. Our current president was elected on ‘hope and change.’ And yet it seems like the cycle of politicians in all branches of government maintain the status quo of government dysfunction.

Enter Donald Trump, a brash outsider who doesn’t look or sound like a politician. He has real world business metrics to back him up. He gives a voice to the people fed up with the current system. He says what people have felt for years. He may break the system, but many people feel the system needs breaking.

Now, stay with me for a moment. Many of these same elements help explain the popularity of Jesus when he arrived on the scene in the first century. Jesus was born into a religious and economic system designed to keep the ruling class in power and the rest of society shut out. People were sick of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the outright theft of the Sadducees and the temple racket. But they had no voice, until Jesus came along. He gave the people a voice. He channeled their frustration. He called out the religious elite, calling them snakes, hypocrites, whitewashed tombs. He didn’t just talk a big game; he backed it up with miracle upon miracle.

Jesus was a breath of fresh air to a society that had become oppressively stagnant. The religious elite couldn’t understand his hold on the masses and wrote him off. “A prophet does not come out of Galilee” (John 7:52). Jesus was the ultimate change agent. The religious leaders killed him because he was such a threat to the system, the system he ultimately broke.

Now please here me, this comparison breaks down quickly. Trump’s character is a shadow of Jesus’ and their missions are completely different. Jesus came to save the world. Donald Trump has come to either save America or build his brand. At this point, I don’t plan on voting for Donald Trump. Way too many character issues that could trump (pun intended) any policy changes he’s advocating.

But when I see the appeal of Donald Trump in the Republican primary, I’m reminded of another firebrand that walked this earth so many years ago.

QUESTION: Am I crazy, or does anyone else see any similarities in their appeal to the masses?

If Christ Came to Set Us Free, Why Don’t We Feel Free?

We know on the most basic level as Christians that Jesus came to set us free. When Jesus launched his public ministry in Luke 4, that’s literally what he declared:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

Jesus came to set us free. He conquered death and sin on the cross. He accomplished everything he set out to accomplish. So why do so many Christians still walk around in chains?

Every time we light up a cigarette, every time we fall to temptation, how many of us are convinced that God is angry at us, disappointed with us? Many of us don’t walk around with heads held high in holy confidence. For many of us, we’re secretly convinced that God’s angry at us because our lives are still so screwed up even after we became a Christian.

Some of us are enslaved to things, to addictions. We know of others that got saved and immediately were able to quit. Why were they able to and you weren’t? Why do you still struggle with addiction? Are you just weaker than everyone else?

Some of us still feel like life is out to get us. Things never seem to work out. We know that God is in control, which actually makes it worse, because now it seems like he’s the one that ordered the dark cloud to follow us around. Does God just have it out for us?

It is far too easy for us as Christians to claim victory on Sunday mornings but live in defeat the rest of the week. It shouldn’t be like that. Jesus didn’t rise victoriously from the grave so that we could walk through our days in defeat. He came to set us free. This sermon series we’re launching Sunday at MTVchurch called Freedom is about how we can experience that freedom day in and day out.

Join us at MTVchurch or online at www.mtvchurch.tv (9:00 am and 10:30 am CST)

5 Ways to Embrace the Messes

In the most famous story Jesus ever told (the Prodigal Son), the climax comes when the wayward son returns home and his father runs out and embraces him, mess and all (Luke 15:20). As followers of Jesus, how can we exhibit the heart of the father and embrace the mess around us? Here are five ways:

1). Embrace your own mess. The first and biggest issue for many Christians is that we never can embrace our own mess. We think we have worked ourselves to the place where we are better than other people. If we want to embrace the messes, we need to realize that we’re the mess. We may hide it better, we may look more like good church people, but we’re just as much of a mess as everyone else. That’s why when Jesus starts his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, he starts by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” To be poor in spirit is to realize that you’re a mess, that you’re spiritually bankrupt without God.

2). Never get over how much Jesus has embraced you. This is why we sing about the cross constantly. It’s why we get together as a church several times a week to talk about Jesus. We need to keep his grace and his mercy in the forefront of our minds. It’s too easy for us to forget, to move past, to think we’re beyond it. We can never get over what Jesus did on the cross for YOU. You sinned, you deserve hell as punishment for your rebellion against God. There’s no way you could make it right. But Jesus came and took your punishment that you deserved. He did it because he embraced you, mess and all. We need to keep that forgiveness in the forefront. Jesus says in the book of Luke, “whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.”

3). See people through your Heavenly Father’s eyes. You can look at the messes in our community and see just that, a mess. They’ve made mistakes, they’ve broken promises, they’ve hurt people, maybe society has given up on them. But through the eyes of their Heavenly Father (that’s key), they’re a hurting child that needs help. They’re someone’s child, and yes they might be a mess, but they’re still a child of God. A church member wrote me recently, At the end of service, we were singing Come Ye Sinners. In the middle of the song I looked down at my 7 year old and just started crying. I love my children and would do anything for them. I know now, that’s the way the Lord loves me! I don’t know why it never clicked before now. 

4). Be family to someone who needs it. God is our Heavenly Father. As the hands and feet of Jesus, we’re called as believers to live out tangibly the love of the Heavenly Father to a lost and dying world. There are too many people out there without family, and we can be family to them. You can be a surrogate mother, father, aunt, uncle, to those that need it. Our society is so mobile that hardly anyone grows up with grandparents anymore. We desperately need people willing to pour into others and be that brother or sister, that parent, or that grandparent that God wants for all of us to have.

5). Love till it hurts, then keep loving. Not every relationship is going to be wrapped up with a shiny bow. Not every story is going to have a happy ending. When you embrace the messes, some of that mess spills over on you. It’s unavoidable. If you truly embrace the messes your life will become more demanding. You’ll be called to sacrifice more. Your life won’t be as predictable and manageable as you’d like. But it’s what Jesus has called us to do. And aren’t we glad that Jesus didn’t give up on us the first moment our lives got messy?

QUESTION: How else can we embrace the messes?

Why 90% of My Sermons Are Preached Out of the Gospels

There are 66 books in the Bible, but I overwhelmingly stick to four. I don’t think anyone would disapprove about skirting around the layout of the tabernacle in Leviticus or Obadiah laying into the Edomites. But what about Romans? There’s some deep stuff in there. What about Genesis and its incredible stories? What about Revelation? No one really understands it but it’s always fun to read.


I believe the entire Bible is inspired by God and given to teach us about Him and about life. But the reason I preach the vast majority of my sermons from the gospels is simple: I’m trying to get people to fall in love with a person, not a book. As great as the Bible is, the Bible is not the center of my faith. Jesus is. As profitable as Bible knowledge is, love for Jesus is infinitely more important. (If you have knowledge of the Scriptures but no love for Jesus, the biblical definition for that is a Pharisee). As much time as Christians spend arguing over theology and right beliefs, the seminal command given by Jesus in John 13:34-35 wasn’t to have right theology but to love one another.

Now I see incredible value in the rest of Scripture. I have significant portions of the New Testament outside of the Gospels memorized. But as the Apostle Paul so eloquently put it, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). If Christians today tend to lean to one extreme, it would be the extreme that replaces love for God and love for others with more and more Bible knowledge. We want to explore the deep truths of Scripture, we want to go deep, all the while leaving a lost and dying world in its precarious state.

American Christians have a dangerous temptation to fall more in love with a book than a person. That’s why I preach a majority of my messages from the Gospels. If you don’t think Jesus is deep, I’ll let you take that up with him. He’s deep. He’s challenging. He calls you to follow him. He calls you to action, not just knowledge. I’m trying to get people to fall in love with a person, not a book.

The Most Offensive Aspect of Christianity

There are a truckload of issues where Christians are seen to be offensive and countercultural: gay marriage, abortion, religious liberty being the most prevalent. Yet with all of these issues, I would argue that as offensive as our views on these issues might seem to the world, there is one that is more offensive still: the gospel.



Why is the gospel so offensive? Because of Jesus’ claims. He says he’s the good shepherd, which means everyone else is lost. He’s the light, which means everyone else is in darkness. He’s the bread of the world, indicating that everyone else is hungry. Everyone is sinful, only Jesus can forgive. He’s coming to judge the world, and Jesus will decide eternal destinies on the day of judgment.


The central offense is the claim that Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus says in John 14:6, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. We want more ways. If there were 1000 ways to God, we would want 1001. We want to call the shots. The Bible says the only way we can receive forgiveness is to turn from our sins and trust in Jesus.

The idea that Jesus is God is offensive to people. Over 1 billion Muslims in the world find it offensive that God would ever humiliate himself by becoming a man. Hundreds of millions more think it’s preposterous that a man could be divine.

But the offense goes further. Not only did God become man, but that God-man was crucified at the hands of a pagan government, a humiliating death as there could be. Imagine taking a successful, well-dressed American with a nice job, big house, sweet car and free-thinking American woman who thrives on her independence and leading them to a garbage dump, where a naked man hangs by nails on a tree, covered in blood, and telling them, “This is your God.” They would laugh at you, possibly feel sorry for you, and certainly move on with their lives.

The peak of their offense would come when you told them that their eternal destinies rested not on anything they did, but on believing that the naked dying man was in fact God. If they don’t believe, their eternity is hell.


When you put all these truths together, you realize that the most offensive and countercultural claim in Christianity is not what Christians believe about homosexuality or abortion, marriage or religious liberty. Instead, the most offensive claim in Christianity is that God is the Creator, Owner, and Judge of every person on the planet, and that forgiveness only comes through believing in His Son. That’s offensive.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

7 Ways the Church Can Redeem the Supreme Court Decision Legalizing Gay Marriage

Gay marriage is here. Rather than long for the past or fear the future, how can the church redeem the present? How can we turn this tragedy into an opportunity to advance the gospel? Here are 7 steps forward.


1. Rejoice. Wait what? Absolutely! Rejoice. What does the Bible say in Philippians 4:4? Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! How can we rejoice? What can we rejoice in? God is still on his throne, Jesus still died for our sins, the tomb is still empty, heaven still awaits us. We need to be characterized by joy, not defeat. This caught us by surprise, but this didn’t catch God by surprise. Our mission hasn’t changed. We don’t need to be moping, defeated, angry, bitter, complaining Christians. We serve the Almighty God of the universe. He’s got this. Choose to rejoice.

2. Wake up from our slumber. Romans 13:11 says, And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Maybe this is the wake up call that we needed. Maybe we need to be reminded that we’re in a war, not with the government, not with the Supreme Court, and not with the LGBT community. We’re in a war with the principalities and powers in the spiritual realms. As fun as ball games and television shows and cell phones are, we’ve got bigger issues. Let’s wake up from our slumber and and realize we’ve got a part to play in this world, and it’s not to be distracted by all the cheap entertainment out there. Our salvation is nearer then when we first believed. Some people say this is a sign of the end times. What if it is? Are we ready? Are we paying attention or are we distracted by all the first world problems we deal with in America?

3. Make your marriage the most winsome one out there. We can condemn homosexual marriages all we want. Where we need to be aiming our attention is at all the heterosexual couples that are making a mockery of God’s institution of marriage. Let’s get our own house in order on the heterosexual side of things before we start condemning the other side. The gay community sees us proclaiming the only way as one man and one woman for life, and they see our sky high divorce rates, and they see hypocrisy, and they’re right. One of the greatest witnessing tools you’ll ever have is your own marriage. Don’t just witness with words, witness with deeds. Make your marriage the most winsome out there. Make it the most attractive. Make it the strongest. If this is your first, second, third or fourth marriage, make it so strong and so appealing to the outside world that they come to you, asking you what your secret is. Then you can point them to Jesus. Jesus himself tells us this in Matthew 5:18, In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. If this whole debate is about marriage, let’s not just say what we’re for, let’s show what we’re for by our own marriages.

4. Choose the way of grace and truthChurches are picking sides today. There is going to be a strong gravitational pull to choose either the compromise camp or the condemnation camp. Even the gay community itself will say, “You’re either for us or against us.” Let’s choose the way of grace and truth. Let’s choose the way of Jesus, Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). But if we don’t come out and condemn homosexuality, doesn’t that mean that we’re condoning it? Not at all. Look at Jesus in John 8, in the passage we read earlier. When Jesus encountered a woman caught in the act of adultery, he didn’t compromise his belief in Scripture. Adultery is still wrong. But neither did he condemn her. He held onto truth but showed her grace. If we can figure out how to live out grace and truth when it comes to this issue, first we’ll find a way to truly redeem this opportunity and shine the light of Christ’s love in a dark place. Warning we’ll probably be as misunderstood as Jesus was and receive friendly fire from the right and from the left.

5. Love first. Peter tells us, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Befriend homosexuals like you would anyone else. Some of you have family members that are gay, and you’re already trying to figure out how to love them without condoning their lifestyle. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Someone asked me, should I allow a gay couple into my home? I would. I’ve got no problem with it. Because I’m comfortable with it? No. But because Jesus did it. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. He showed grace where people needed it the most. The religious people didn’t understand it. Don’t stigmatize someone for their homosexuality anymore than you stigmatize someone for their obesity, marital status or economic status.

6. Prepare for refugees from the sexual revolution. The Bible is clear that homosexual acts are a sin. That shouldn’t cause us to rejoice with righteous indignation as much as it should cause us to grieve at all the pain people are subjecting themselves to. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error (Romans 1:27). Since we believe that God’s plan for sexuality is within marriage, we will deal with a lot of hurt people who found out the hard way that sex outside of marriage is not God’s way. In the same way, there is an entire community out there who is convinced that all of their problems just got solved by the Supreme Court’s decision. What we believe is that sooner or later, they’re going to realize that the homosexual lifestyle is not the answer they were searching for. There are going to be a lot of hurting people out there, and we need to be ready for them. That’s why it’s so important to love first. If we’ve burned all the bridges between us and them, there’s no way for them to come back when they search for God.

7. Pray for a Saul of Tarsus from the LGBT community. If we think this is a dark time, go back to Acts 8, when Saul of Tarsus started destroying the church in its infancy. That was a truly dark time, until Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and changed the course of Christianity. Let’s pray that a Saul of Tarsus, someone right in the middle of the LGBT community, a leader of that community, finds Jesus in a revolutionary way. A person like that could change his or her world. Let’s pray that God would raise up a Saul of Tarsus from the LGBT community.

QUESTION: How else can we redeem the Supreme Court’s decision and turn this tragedy into an opportunity?

12 Thoughts on Our Response to the Coming Reality of Gay Marriage (Part 2)


Originally posted: April 12, 2013

In my last post, I began to share twelve thoughts on our response to the coming reality of gay marriage. By the sheer number of clicks on that post, it’s obvious that this is a topic that many are working through. So, for what it’s worth, here are six more thoughts on the subject. Would love your comments below.

7. Jesus showed grace to notorious “sinners.” If you look at Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4), Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 6), or Jesus calling Matthew (Matthew 9), you’ll quickly discover that even when “religious” people avoided notorious “sinners,” Jesus didn’t. He embraced them. What example does that set for us? As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew 9:9

8. James tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. This should knock out any angry Facebook rants on the subject. Here’s the reality: you can’t argue someone into the Kingdom. Even if you technically win on points, you’ll still only drive them further away. Was an argument was persuaded you to follow Christ? My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20

9. Paul tells us to speak the truth in love. Speaking the truth in love requires a relationship. If you’re going to share something as foundational as biblical truth on sexuality, you need to build a relational bridge strong enough to support the gravity of that truth. So, before you flippantly condemn the entire homosexual community to Hell, how many homosexuals are you friends with? Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15

10. One of the greatest evangelistic tools you’ll have is a strong God-honoring marriage. A strong, long-lasting biblical marriage of one man and one woman for life is getting rarer and rarer these days. It seems like most don’t make it. If you make your marriage work, you’re providing an incredible witness to the world. God’s design for marriage was to be a picture of his love for the world. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25

11. Don’t allow hatemongers to represent us or shame us. There will always be extremists on either side, pressuring us to come out unequivocally in support of gay marriage or to come out and violently condemn the entire homosexual community. Jesus didn’t allow hatemongers to put words in his mouth. Neither should we. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” John 8:3-5

12. This whole issue reminds us that this world is not our home. We look forward to a better place. There will be a day when we don’t have to deal with this issue, or any other dividing controversy. Remember, for believers, this world is not our home. We look forward to a better place. Put your hope in that. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

QUESTION: What thoughts would you add to this discussion?