Grace > Law

There are two ways people relate to God. One is through the law (what we can do for God). The other is through grace (what God has done for us) . They are two different approaches that create two different outcomes. I feel so passionate about helping people experience the freeing power of grace!

Yesterday I preached this message and read a list I had written that captures the difference between law and grace. Some have asked for the list, so I thought I’d post it here.

  • The law mindset is focused on me. It’s driven by what I can accomplish for myself. The grace mindset is focused on Christ. It’s driven by what He has accomplished for me.
  • The law mindset is based on effort. It’s a race that requires striving and sprinting toward an elusive finish line that is constantly postponed further and further into the future. It is to strain toward a goal that can never be reached. But the grace mindset is based on faith. It’s a race that combines wrestling with resting as you journey toward a finish line that has already been secured through the victory of Christ over death and hell and the grave. It is a race that offers daily renewal. Even though the struggle still exists, the Spirit of God is present to renew and refresh you every step of the way.
  • The law mindset is deceiving. It tricks you into believing you’re pleasing God, while defeating you in the process. But the grace mindset is liberating. It reminds you that God is already pleased with you because of Christ, so all you have to do is live as someone who is loved which produces the courage and inner strength to actually quit.
  • The law mindset is counter-productive. By trying to be a good person, I make it harder for myself to actually be a good person. But the grace mindset is empowering. By focusing on Jesus, and His work of grace through the cross, I end up discovering the love and joy that produces the power to actually become the person God created me to be!

Moving Forward


Four years ago Leah and I moved to Philly with a dream to create a place where people far from God, no matter what their background might be, could experience God in a life-changing way. A team started coming together in our South Philly row-home where we met weekly asking God to fill us with His love for Philly. But nine months later, even as our team caught that vision and began to grow, we still didn’t have a place to launch the church. Finally, at what seemed to be the last possible moment, God opened an incredible door!

I’ll never forget walking into the Academy at Palumbo for the first time three years ago and meeting the principal, Dr. Chew. She took a chance on us and opened the door to her school. For the past thirty three months it’s been an honor to gather at Palumbo every Sunday morning, and come alongside the school as a faith-based partner.

About six weeks ago our application to continue meeting at Palumbo was declined by the School District, and we found ourselves in a similar position again. Immediately, our church began praying the same prayer our launch team was praying three years ago, “God, open the right door so we can continue creating a place where THE ONE far from God can be filled with life in Christ!”

Yesterday I had the privilege of making a big announcement to CityLife Church that God has answered that prayer! Last week we signed a contract to rent the space at Penns Landing Caterers for our Sunday morning worship services.

We have been praying for God to open a door close to Palumbo, so we can continue to build on the impact God has allowed us to have these past three years. Thankfully, Penns Landing Caterers is only one mile away, at the corner of Washington and Columbus Boulevard.

I believe this new location is going to reposition us to accomplish our mission in an even greater way!

  • Location: We can remain a church that impacts South Philly, while also having the opportunity to impact the region in a greater way.
  • Space: The new building will give us the capacity to reach more than twice as many people as we currently reach!
  • CityLife Kids: We will have safe, fun, and flexible environments for our kid’s ministry to continue to flourish.
  • Lobby: Our new lobby is open and spacious and will provide more opportunities to connect with friends.
  • Setup: The new location provides several strategic advantages for our setup and teardown teams.
  • Air Conditioning: And all the CityLifers did a little dance!
  • Parking: For the first time in our three year history we will have a parking lot (with hundreds of spaces)!

August 31 will be our final services at The Academy at Palumbo. We will take time that day to celebrate all that God has done during our time there. We also plan to continue our partnership with The Academy at Palumbo after we’ve moved. We love the administration, teachers and students, and want to continue to invest in their mission. Then, beginning in September, we will be meeting at the new location.

I expect that if God is moving us physically, He also plans to move in us spiritually. He is going to challenge us and strengthen us. He’s going to call us to recommit to love God, love people, and prove it! And even as we dream new dreams as a church, I believe many of you will dream new dreams in your life. You’re not going to want to miss any of the action over the next two months as we experience all that God has planned for us!

Let’s pray together that by God’s grace we will move forward with remarkable boldness and a deep sense of unity to make an even greater impact on Philly this fall!

The World Won’t End (How to Plan a Personal Retreat)


A few weeks ago I blocked out two days to get away by myself. It’s never easy to break away from the daily demands of ministry and family. But when I finally did, I rediscovered an amazing thing. I went into airplane mode, and when I turned my phone on two days later, Flight MH370 was still missing, and Donald Sterling was still a few fries short of a happy meal.

This practice of breaking away to recalibrate is something Jesus prioritized.

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself (John 6.15).

I’ve been challenged by Jesus’ example in four specific ways.

Jesus withdrew to refocus. He knew the people had an agenda. They wanted to make him a king. But Jesus knew their political agenda would be a distraction from his mission. Every leader will face distractions as they serve people with competing expectations. Time away helps us identify distracting priorities, surrender them, and refocus on the main thing.

Jesus withdrew to a specific place. He had his mountain. For you, it may be a beach, or a cabin in the woods. Where is the place that feels good to your soul? I like to go to the Jersey shore, where I can sit on the beach and walk the boardwalk. There’s something about the power and consistency of ocean waves that remind me how big God is and how small my problems are in comparison.

Jesus withdrew repeatedly. He went to his mountain “again.”  Rest and reflection should be a regular rhythm in our lives, not an afterthought or random retreat. When is the last time you withdrew? You may not be able to make this a monthly practice immediately. But what would it look like for you to make this more consistent? Can you get away once a quarter? Once a year? Whatever you can do, do it, and then repeat it.

Jesus withdrew alone. This may be a challenge if you’re an extrovert. But every one of us, no mater our personality, need the quiet, peace, and perspective that only comes from solitude. Sometimes it’s only when every other voice disappears that we can reacquaint ourselves with the voice of the Father and the true condition of our souls.

Finally, here are a few practical tips if you’re fired up and ready to schedule a few days alone in your happy place.

  1. Read the Bible. Pick a character or a book and really meditate on it. During my last retreat I spent one morning slowly reading through the life of Elijah in 1 Kings 17-19.
  2. Get outside. Take a walk. Go for a run. Hike. Skip some rocks. Feel the wind in your face and the sand in your toes. Watch the sunset.
  3. Worship. Maybe it’s singing. Maybe it’s journaling. Maybe it’s just thinking. But stop producing and just connect with God.
  4. Take a nap. It’s more spiritual than you think! Seriously, a nap may be the best way to get rid of the guilt we feel if we’re not constantly getting stuff done.
  5. Write. Ask yourself some deep questions, and journal the answers. Spend some time reflecting.
  6. Listen to a life-changing sermon. What’s the most encouraging message you’ve ever heard? Take it with you and listen to it again.
  7. Meditate on the cross. Remember what Jesus did for you, and really embrace the reality of it again.

I’m officially giving you permission to get out your calendar and schedule a few days for yourself. Your team will like you better. Your kids will like you better. Your spouse will be glad you did. You may even like yourself a little better!

And at the end you’ll be relieved to make this important discovery.

The world didn’t end.

An Epic Easter at CityLife!


Last week was an incredible game changer for our church! CityLifers hit the streets everyday and gave away more than $21,000 to hundreds of people in our city. We’ll be posting a full recap on the church’s Facebook page, but here are some of my favorite moments.

We spent a morning at The Academy at Palumbo serving breakfast and giving gifts to the forty seven teachers and staff who work at the school. One of the teachers wrote us afterward and said she was “stunned” by the generosity of the church.

One team passed out 125 tokens at some of the major SEPTA stops in the city. People were shocked they were getting free tokens with no strings attached, even getting off their cell phone conversations to say thank you!

Several Life Groups visited six different firehouses in South Philly with dinner from Famous Dave’s. My group hung out eating and talking with the firemen for about thirty minutes until the alarm rang. They were on the truck and out the door in about ten seconds. So cool to serve an awesome group of guys who are also committed to saving lives!

On Thursday night our team handed out 75 back-packs and 65 bag lunches to the homeless at Love Park. We were also able to connect three folks with Project Home to help them find a way off the streets. NBC even showed up with a TV crew and covered the event on the news–right before Jimmy Fallon came on!

On Saturday teams blanketed Philly and went crazy with generosity. We went into several stores and paid for everyone who came in. Dunkin Donuts. Ritas water ice. Frozen yogurt. Grocery stores. It was nuts!

Our team met one man outside Dunkin Donuts and invited him inside. He was out of work on disability and on his way downtown to pawn his watch so he could give $50 to his sixteen year old son. We gave him the $50.00 and prayed with him. He started weeping in the parking lot, and came to church for the first time on Sunday morning!

While buying groceries for people in line at the grocery store, our teams served three people who were searching for jobs, and one who had lost her job just last week. The store clerks couldn’t believe what we were doing and began rooting for us, getting swept up in the excitement of giving. And it was amazing to see God work out every detail. Several volunteers felt prompted toward a woman who had a large number of items in her cart. When we finished paying for her bill, we had exactly one cent left on the gift cards!

All of the generosity and love flowed into an incredible Easter weekend at CityLife. Our Dream Team stretched like crazy and we ended up serving 613 people in three services, with dozens of people making a commitment to follow Jesus. Leah and I remember gathering three years ago with about 25 launch team members for an Easter service at Jason and Dana Corosanite’s house. I’m blown away by all that God has done!

When we moved to Philly our dream was to start a church that would do whatever it takes to reach THE ONE who is far from God. Last week I saw CityLifers get radical and take that commitment to a whole new level! Way to go team. The best is yet to come!

Easter at CityLife


I’d like to invite you to a party this weekend! Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. Seriously, if there’s ever a reason to celebrate anything, this is it!

We’ll be hosting three identical worship services this weekend for the first time ever at CityLife Church. Everyone who attends will receive a coupon for a free t-shirt. There will also be a free family photo shoot with professional photographers after both services on Sunday. We’ve got some more fun and surprising “firsts” happening in all three services. But most of all, we’ll be presenting the good news in a clear, creative way, and celebrating the fact that about 2000 years ago, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God played his winning hand.

The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won. -N.T. Wright

I hope you’re ready for a God-party this weekend, and that you don’t come alone!

A Generosity Buzz at HUP


Two of our Life Groups kicked off Servolution last night at The Hospital of Pennsylvania (HUP). CityLifers took gift baskets filled with snacks into the waiting rooms on the surgical floors to encourage people and pray with them. Then we setup in the cafeteria and started paying for everyone’s orders.

It didn’t take long for the word to spread, and once it did, the cafeteria was packed with patients, doctors, nurses and other hospital staff. A girl who attends CityLife was actually on call when some co-workers on her floor started buzzing about a church that was paying for everyone’s food in the cafeteria. I loved her response. “I think that’s my church!”

The highlight of the night for me was meeting Maurice. He hadn’t had anything to eat for two days. He woke up Monday morning and prayed for God to send him some food. He was blown away by such a creative reminder that God knows exactly where he is and exactly what he needs! Out of hundreds of folks who came through the cafeteria, he was THE ONE.

It was fun watching people come through the line, find out their meal was paid for, and say, “Really? Why?!” No strings attached! God is the most generous being in the universe, and He has wired us to experience true joy when we give what we have away.

Thanks for being so radically generous CityLife! Your giving helped pay for 888 items, and put God’s heart on display for the whole hospital to see. I feel like this is the start of something special.

Let the Serving Begin!


Yesterday I shared a dream with our church. If I could press a button and instantaneously create a reputation for CityLife in our community, this is what I’d love to hear people saying.

That is the most generous group of people I’ve ever been around! I’m not sure I believe everything they teach, but I’m so glad they’re in our neighborhood.

Of course, we can’t just press a button. But we can choose to live in simple, radical ways, and unleash some generosity on Philly! That’s the heart behind Servolution.

Over the past two weeks, our church has given more than $19,000 in our Easter offering. This week we get to give it all away! We started on Thursday by sharing breakfast and gift bags with all of the teachers, custodians, counselors, and support staff at The Academy at Palumbo. Here’s an overview of what’s coming next.

  • Monday: Visiting Pennsylvania Hospital where we’ll buy dinner for everyone in the cafeteria and give snack baskets to people in the waiting rooms.
  • Tuesday: Gathering at Love Park to distribute 75 care kits to our homeless neighbors.
  • Wednesday: Throwing a dinner party for the staff of Children’s Choice, a foster care organization in South Philly.
  • Thursday: Giving away bus and subway tokens to SEPTA riders, and gift cards to taxi drivers.
  • Friday: Delivering dinner from Famous Dave’s to the firemen at six firehouses in South Philly.
  • Saturday: Going crazy with generosity! Buying groceries for random folks at the grocery store! Buying everyone’s order for three hours at Dunkin Donuts! Visiting laundromats with snacks and detergents and paying for people’s laundry! Throwing a baby shower for a single mom in North Philly!

Why? Because a generous lifestyle is the most enjoyable, thrilling way to live. And the heart and example of God is radically generous.

We’ll be sharing plenty of updates this week on this blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Would love to see your updates as well. Just make sure to include the hash tag #servephilly.

Let the serving begin!