Talk To Yourself Like You’re Brooks

Our oldest is mildly obsessed with baseball. By mildly, I mean totally and completely. We’re talking t-shirts, halloween costumes, birthday cakes, and, yes, actually playing baseball.

So, the Saturday before last was a big one in our house. It was Jack’s first try-out for a spring baseball team since he’s now playing AAA ball. Don’t worry…no one gets cut, the league’s just trying to make the teams somewhat even by distributing players according to their skill level. So, this wasn’t a complete make or break moment. But good luck telling that to a 10 year old who is mildly obsessed with baseball, more than a little competitive, and a bit of a perfectionist.

As we were headed to the try-out, I could tell Jack was nervous. It seemed like a good moment for me to do a little coaching/pastoring/fathering. I know Jack has a tendency to be really hard on himself and get discouraged when things don’t go well (I have NO IDEA where he gets that from?!? Must be Laura’s side of the family?). So, I wanted to help him think through how he was going to react if he didn’t hit a ball or dropped a catch or made a bad throw. He has a tendency to beat himself up in moments like that, “You’re the worst, you suck, no one wants you on their team, everyone’s watching, everyone’s laughing, you’re the worst, you suck, what’s wrong with you, you should quit, you’ll never be any good, you’re the worst, etc…”

It’s kind of hard to hit the second pitch with all of that running through your head. I wanted to help him talk differently to himself. So, I asked him who his best friend from baseball is. In classic Jack fashion, he responded, “Man, I don’t know. Can I pick like four or five?” (He does get that one from his Mom!). Nope, gotta pick one. Don’t overthink it, just give me a name! He finally landed on a kid named Brooks. Great choice. I really like that kid!

I asked him what he would say to Brooks if Brooks got a strike on his first swing. Jack being Jack, he launched into a full-volume cheer from the backseat, “You got this, Brooks! You can do it! Next one’s yours! Come on, man. You got this!!”

We find it easy to cheer for others but so hard to do the same for ourselves.

What if we all did what I asked Jack to do on Saturday – talk to yourself like you’re Brooks!

There are two vital conversations that shape our days and our lives. One, the conversations we have with God. Two, the conversation we have with ourselves. And a lot of us are really hard on ourselves. We pray to a God of grace and forgiveness but we’re harsh and unforgiving to ourselves. We preach a gospel of mercy but pummel ourselves. We need to let the two conversations that shape our lives blend together. Stop preaching hope for others but brutalizing yourself. Give yourself the same grace Jesus has already given you.

Talk to yourself like you’re Brooks.

Preparing For Lent

I grew up in an Irish-Catholic family so lent was always a big deal for us. No meat on Fridays and we always gave up something – ice cream was a popular option for the kids (sacrificial but still leaving the door open for a wide range of other desserts) but Mom and Dad would usually reach for something a little more challenging – all desserts, or wine, or, for one particularly bleak year, coffee.

To be honest, I never really got it. God was cool with a burger on Thursday but not on Friday? And why couldn’t I eat ice cream? How was that helping me love God more?

So when I found a spiritual home in more evangelical traditions, I was happy to be done with lent. I remember being thrilled by a God who loved me based on what He gave up on the cross not on what I gave up for 40 days. Also, no more ashes on my head. I didn’t like that part either.

More recently, I’ve been drifting back to observing lent and trying to lead our church in that direction as well. And I’ve found it deeply rewarding.

While there are years that I do choose some kind of fast, I’m going in a slightly different direction this year. Or, maybe you could say I’m intentionally reconnecting with the entire idea of lent. Lent isn’t primarily about what you give up. It’s about who you are pursuing. It’s about taking a period of time to intentionally pursue your relationship with Jesus. If that pursuit leads you to give some things up for a season, great. Maybe Netflix is killing your prayer life or Instagram is capturing your heart or you’re using food to avoid your emotions or you’re looking to alcohol for help decompressing at the end of the day. If that’s the case, take a step back.

But keep your eyes on the goal – Jesus. The goal is to connect with Him, to be with Him, to learn to trust Him more, to delight in His presence. Whether you call it lent or not, forty days pursuing Jesus would do all of us a lot of good.

Photo by Jamie Ginsberg on Unsplash

Praying for Growth

Recently, I’ve found an incredible freedom and joy in praying the Lord will grow our church. That’s new for me because I usually feel self-conscious, uncertain, or even guilty in praying for church growth. It feels unspiritual. Maybe even self-serving. If you’re not a pastor, that might sound weird. But, trust me, a lot of pastors, leaders, and Christians wrestle with the same thing.

Some of us come from traditions and cultures where church growth is everything. The only thing that matters is a trend line that moves up and to the right when we look at our attendance and offering reports. On the other hand, some of us come from traditions were church growth is greeted with suspicion. The assumption is that small churches are pure and big churches are shallow, gospel-light, feel good shows.

Honestly, I’m not really held back by either tradition. Not all fruit can be measured but healthy things do grow.

What I tend to struggle with is my motive in praying for church growth. Why do I want to see more people join our community? Is it about my ego, about job security, about feeding the idol of success that so easily tempts me? Because I can’t get clear on my motive, I tend to hold back and not do the very thing Jesus commands us to do in Scripture.

He told them, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.

Luke 10:2 (CSB)

The freedom and joy I’m experiencing is coming as a direct result of this verse. Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray for attendees or givers or crowds. He tells us to pray for workers, specifically for workers who will go into the surrounding community to engage the spiritually lost with the revolutionary power of the gospel. So, I’m praying for workers. And I’m doing it without guilt, hesitation, or apology.

I’m praying because we are developing a partnership with a local middle school that is presenting us with more opportunity than we can fulfill right now. I’m praying because we have opportunities for men and women from RCC to go to Ethiopia this year. I’m praying because DC is a college town and we have so much to do to reach and disciple the next generation. I’m praying because we’re currently resettling a refugee family from Afghanistan and could use more help. I’m praying because we have plans to serve foster families in the DC area. I’m praying because our church is located right on the edge of one of the largest first generation immigrant communities in the DC area. I’m praying because the harvest really is abundant right now. But we need more help to fully meet the needs of this moment.

So, no, I’m not praying that people will leave another church and come to ours because they like the preaching better (or the music, or the kids ministry, or community groups, or whatever). I’m praying the Lord will bring and raise up partners in ministry – people who really want to move the ball in our city, people who want to see the Kingdom come here in DC, and people who want to invest their lives in things that make eternal impacts.

If you live inside the beltway and happen to read this and don’t have a church home, we would love to have you on the team at Restoration City. But wherever you are, whoever you are, would you join me in praying? Would you join me in the freedom and joy of asking Jesus to move for the glory of His name and the good of others?

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Eugene Peterson, MLK, and Ed Sheeran

Since my last post was about Martin Luther King, this seems like as good a time as any to share some thoughts that have been building in me over the past few years. While I’m so grateful for so much of what I got to experience as a young pastor, I also understand what Ed Sheeran means with his fantastic lyric, “Have no regrets but wish I did things in a different way.” (from Tides)

For example, I learned early on that a quick shot at Eugene Peterson and The Message (his paraphrase of Scripture) in a sermon was an easy way to get a laugh and make clear that I was serious theologian. Never mind that he was a professor and, at the time, I hadn’t even been to seminary! We were Bible people and Eugene Peterson could take his watered down theology elsewhere.

What a shame.

Eugene Peterson is one of the great saints and pastors of the last 100 years. He loved Jesus, treasured Scripture, thought deeply, and served so many so well through his teaching, his writing, and his personal ministry to pastors. His books have had a profound impact on my life (go read A Long Obedience In The Same Direction) and I would love to be like him when I grow up. He lived with a grace that embodied the gospel and influenced many (after you read A Long Obedience, you can watch him talking about the psalms with Bono).

And I made fun of him to show that I was a real pastor.

Which brings me back to MLK. In school, I learned about him as a civil rights leader but in church I never learned about him as a pastor. I knew his dream moved my heart but I didn’t know just how much his dream was shaped by his faith, by my faith, by our shared faith in Jesus. It’s not that I made fun of MLK but I never would have quoted him in a sermon either. I respected Dr. King but failed to see him as Rev. King.

I was too narrow in my thinking, my reading, and my preaching. I was living in a really small corner of the church and believing the lie that we were the only ones doing it right. It wasn’t just Eugene Peterson and MLK. Catholics and Anglicans were off limits. Charismatics were to be ignored. And, God forbid, learning something from a woman.

I’m sorry.

In some ways, this is a public apology. But it’s also an invitation to read broadly, to think critically, to engage with people you don’t agree with, and to be intellectually curious. You’ll be better off and so will those you influence and serve.

Photo Credit: By Clappstar – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Creative Extremists: Remembering MLK

As we pause to honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr, I want to share a quote I read to our church yesterday.  It’s from Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.  If you’ve never read the full letter, you owe it yourself to spend some time today with Dr. King’s words.  You can read the full letter online but this is the quote that struck me as I prepared for this past Sunday at Restoration City:

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Letter from Birmingham Jail

Our nation and our world are still in dire need of creative extremists.  So is the church.  Extremists for love, for justice, for equality, for grace, and for mercy.  Men and women who are willing to take Jesus seriously, even when He leads us well outside of our comfort zones.  Men and women who don’t settle for the cheap work of criticizing others but who do the real work of making something better.  Men and women who have found something bigger than self, something more joyful than comfort, and something more life giving than ease.  Men and women who don’t run from the world but run to the world with the name, grace, and resurrection power of Jesus. 

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.

Today I’m praying the Lord will raise up a new generation of creative extremists to meet the needs of our moment in history. 

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Gratitude Increases Joy

But one of them, seeing that he was healed, returned and, with a loud voice, gave glory to God. He fell facedown at his feet, thanking him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Didn’t any return to give glory to God except this foreigner?”

Luke 17:15-18 (CSB)

In Luke 17, Jesus heals ten lepers. Each of the ten showed a lot of courage as they came to Jesus as a group and cried out for healing as a group. They also demonstrated a lot of faith in that Jesus didn’t heal any of them until they are already on their way to present themselves to the priests in the temple. But only one comes back to say thank you. Only one of them gets the best version of the story.

In my experience, it’s really easy to beat up on the other nine newly healed lepers as nothing more than a bunch of ungrateful degenerates. Jesus heals them and they can’t even be bothered to say thank you?!? But I don’t think they’re bad guys and I don’t even think they are unappreciative. I’m sure they were thrilled with what Jesus had done for them. So thrilled that they were at home kissing their wives or holding babies or hugging parents. Maybe they went off to play basketball with their friends for the first time in a while, to swim without shame, or to just stroll through the market without anybody caring. They’re not ungrateful, they’re just busy feasting, dancing, and laughing. Not bad guys. Just guys who missed something, something that would have only made their party better.

They missed the connection between gratitude and joy. Had they taken a few minutes to come back to Jesus, it would have made their celebration that much sweeter, the story that much better. Gratitude increases joy.

When it comes to our relationship with God, gratitude isn’t about proper manners or staying on His good side for the next time we need a miracle. Gratitude is about recognizing the grace behind the gift. It’s about saying, “You didn’t have to do this, I don’t deserve this, but I’m so thankful that you chose to do this. This only happened because of you.” Maybe that’s why the only one to come back to Jesus is a Samaritan, a foreigner, the one with the least right to expect anything from the Jewish Messiah. He was the one most able to see the grace behind the gift and he was the one who comes away as the real winner in the story.

As a final note, Jesus tells us that gratitude for grace is one of the main ways we glorify God. By saying thank you, this man was not only giving God the credit but also celebrating God’s character – He’s the kind of God who shows mercy to those who have no right to expect it.

I don’t want to live like the nine lepers who don’t come back, appreciative but entitled. I want to taste the joy that comes through grace and gratitude.

If you want to live with more joy, be intentional about living with more gratitude.

Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash

Making Space

We usually roll into this time of year poised to start some things – new rhythms, new habits, new projects around the house, new initiatives at work. At the very least, we think of the new year in terms of improving things – investing in our marriage, having more meaningful conversations with our friends, caring for our bodies, stewarding our finances. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for all of that. I love this time of year with its sense of new beginnings, fresh starts, and renewed possibilities.

But we tend to overlook a crucial prerequisite to all of this starting and improving. Before we add, we need to subtract. That’s why I’m coming into 2023 wondering how I can create more space in my life for what really matters. For me, it’s easy to dream about a life filled with prayer walks, healthy eating, deep connection, and creativity. The hard part is creating the space I need to create that kind of life.

Let’s face it – none of us were all that bored in 2022. It’s not like we were sitting around with all kinds of unscheduled, undistracted, idle time and now that Christmas is over we’re finally getting around to doing something about it. We live in a world of tight schedules, limitless distractions, and physical exhaustion.

Making new years resolutions without first making space is an exercise in futility. Worse, it’s an exercise in cruelty – it’s like spending a weekend shopping for a new car that you absolutely cannot afford. Why fall in love with the vision of regular date nights, energizing workouts, and bonding around a fire pit when you’re already not keeping up with everything?

So, hold on to your thoughts, dreams, and plans for 2023. They’re important. In fact, I think those longings give you a pretty good sense of some of the work God wants to do in your life. But before you dive headlong into new plans, schedules, and activities, make some space.

That’s my prayer for us this January – make space for what matters.

Which means letting go of some of the things that really don’t. For me, making space really comes down to two things: screens and schedules. The life I want requires less time on email, YouTube, HGTV, and news websites. There’s no reason to talk about the books I want to read until I get some space from the screens I don’t want to watch. The life I want to lead doesn’t have space for unproductive meetings, constant availability, or saying yes to every request. That’s just me. You might need to make space in your finances, in your closet, in your kid’s schedules, in your social calendar, or in your social media usage.

Here’s the thing – I really want all of us to get to those hopes and dreams we’re holding on to or 2023. But they won’t happen if we don’t take the time to make some space first.

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

Faith Like A Child

There are a lot of things that Laura and I are trying to teach our kids. What they don’t know is that there’s also a lot we’re learning from them. They’re experts in wonder, delight, anticipation, and play. They laugh easily and forgive quickly (most of the time!). Curiosity and exploration are their default modes. Their hearts are tender to the needs of our city and world.

Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Leave the little children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to me, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:12-14

The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who take risks, need help, trust, and long for adventure. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who don’t care what they wear, who delight in snow, and get swept up in the moment. God is found by those who see no alternative to grace and are often confronted by their need for grace.

May the grace of Christmas help each of us rediscover a childlike faith.

(Dis)Contentment This Christmas

As we head into Christmas, I have been thinking a lot about my relationship with contentment. If I’m honest, I see in myself a tendency to be what Jude called “a discontented grumbler” (Jude 1:16), although I prefer the term “recovering perfectionist.” So, I need to fight for contentment. At the same time, I realize I need to be careful not to settle for a false form of contentment that is nothing more than complacency in disguise.

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:11-13 (CSB)

Clearly, God wants us to learn how to be content in the present moment, whether it is a time of plenty or scarcity, comfort or affliction. Ultimately, this means learning to satisfy the longings of our soul in ways that are independent of stuff and circumstances. We find this kind of contentment through communion with God and relationship with others. As our souls rest in God, we’re able to enjoy Christmas for what it is without asking gifts, meals, and moments to carry more weight than they are able to bear.

I’m asking God to fill my heart and home with that kind of contentment. Christmas is a gift and the miracle of God with us is all my soul truly needs. Contentment enables us to enjoy simple pleasures, to be present with others, and to not miss out on what God is doing in the moment. For me, contentment feels like savoring a simple cup of coffee, enjoying a walk in the woods, and reading a good book. It doesn’t need to be loud, flashy, epic, or perfect. It’s okay with a little mess and some disrupted plans. It’s able to forgive and discover empathy for others and the choices they make.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.

1 Timothy 6:6-7 (CSB)

I want to know God in a way that leads to contentment.

Except that’s only half of the story.

I don’t want to be content with extreme poverty, spiritual apathy, broken marriages, a refugee crisis at the southern border, and war in Ukraine. I don’t want to make peace with the daily reminders that our world is broken and crying out for restoration. Contentment does not mean complacency. Contentment is able to walk into the gap between the world as God designed it and the world as it is today. Contentment doesn’t need to be protected from hard things. Contentment is able to bring light to darkness and hope to the hopeless.

As is so often the case, my heart tends to get it all wrong. I am discontent with what I have and content with what should trouble me. I’m praying for the grace to realign my heart with God’s heart this Christmas.

I’m good with what I have. I’m not good with the world as it is.

Photo by Marta Filipczyk on Unsplash

What Really Matters This Christmas

I think we all come into Advent with the best of intentions. We’re going to get all the shopping done early, stay in budget, keep Jesus at the center, have meaningful conversations, give meaningful gifts, create margin, give generously, bake beautiful cookies, send cards, sing carols, stay healthy, get sleep, and allow ourselves numerous quiet moments in front of the tree to thank God for the grace of an Incarnate Son who comes to rescue and redeem the world.

And then reality hits.

We find ourselves overwhelmed, stressed, tense, and just trying to get through the whole thing all the while promising ourselves that NEXT year is going to be totally different.

But I would like to think this year can still be different. Yes, you might have to jettison some of your plans and you might not meet everyone else’s expectations but it is not too late to enjoy this Christmas. We just need to get clear about what really matters to us this Christmas. Before we make promises about next year, we need to figure out what we’re looking for this year.

For what it’s worth, here’s my list of what matters to me this Christmas.

  • Time for prayer. Probably no surprise (I hope!) that Jesus was going to be first on my list. But I wanted to be more specific so faith or spirituality doesn’t become a vague platitude. I want more time for prayer this Christmas, not less.
  • Meaningful connection with those closest to me. Rather than being spread thin, I want to go deep with those I love the most. I’m also really aware that in order to have anything to offer my family and friends, I need time with God in prayer (see point 1).
  • Give generously and joyfully. For me this is about participating in what God is doing in the world and about fighting greed and materialism in my heart. But what really matters to me on this one is my motivation and attitude in giving – fighting against fear, duty, or obligation and finding joy in opportunities to bless others.

That’s it. That’s what really matters to me this Christmas. Knowing that and being able to share it with others creates so much clarity for me as I navigate this season.

The point of a list like this is not to create some brutal gauntlet that all requests for my time, energy, and money need to pass through before I say yes. Nor is the point to be overly legalistic and rigid. My Christmas will not consist solely of time alone, deep conversations, and moments of spontaneous generosity (although that doesn’t sound bad!!). The point is knowing what matters so that we don’t just endure Christmas but enjoy it.

I’m praying the Lord will give each of us the grace and courage we need to treasure these days and find what our hearts are truly longing for this Christmas. May the grace of Christ guide us to the joy of Christmas.

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