New Series: margin.

margin_right-page-001We’re going to be taking a break from Boundless for the next couple of weeks as we start a new series of messages at Restoration City Church.  I honestly believe it’s one of the most important series we’ve ever done as a church.  We’re going to deal head on with one of the greatest joy killers in our lives – a total and complete lack of margin.

Dr. Richard Swenson defines margin as “the space between our load and our limits.”  For way to many of us, that space is nonexistent – we operate at our limits every single day.  Our calendars, our checkbooks, and our emotional capacity is maxed out.  We just don’t have anything left in the tank, yet alone in reserve.  If many of us are honest, we’ll admit that we’re carrying a load that actually exceeds our limits.  We’re running at 110% of capacity but justifying it under the guise of “it’s only for a season.”

That’s just not the way God designed us to live.  The Author of Life tells us that we work best when we build margin into all of the areas of our lives.  It’s one of those truths in the Bible that we all agree with but all struggle to live out.  That’s what this series is for – helping us deal with the heart issues that rob our lives of margin.  I’m not going to waste your time with a feel good, gospel free pep rally for a calmer life.  We’re going to explore how the gospel demands and empowers margin in multiple areas of our lives.

As your pastor, I’m asking you to prioritize these next few Sundays.  This is a conversation we need to have as a church.  It’s also a fantastic time to invite non-Christians to join us on Sunday mornings.  I’m praying we’ll all find the next few weeks helpful, challenging and inspiring.

Why I Keep Talking About Refugees

refugees

In recent weeks, I’ve spoken, written and posted a good deal about refugees.  Although this is not a new topic for me or Restoration City (we had a senior leader from World Relief speak on a Sunday morning at our church last May), I’ve given it more emphasis in the last two weeks in light of President Trump’s now famous Executive Order.  I know my comments have alternately surprised, angered and thrilled various members of our congregation.  In light of that, I thought it would be helpful for me to share my three goals in raising this issue:

Goal #1: Clarify The Teaching Of Scripture

The primary way I serve our church is by teaching God’s Word.  In my experience, many Christians are not familiar with passages like Matthew 25, Exodus 22 or many others that make it clear that we as the church have an obligation to care for the refugees in our city.  No, those passages say nothing about the government’s role in establishing laws that keep us safe as a country and how we balance compassion with security.  But they make it explicit that when refugees are admitted to our country, we have an obligation to care for them.  Turning our backs on refugees already in our country is quite literally turning our backs on Jesus.  I feel obligated to make this point as clearly as possible.

Goal #2: Challenge Our Thinking

The real conversation over the last two weeks hasn’t been about us caring for refugees when they’re here.  It’s been about whether or not we should suspend (for 120 days or indefinitely) portions of our national refugee resettlement efforts.  I understand that’s a different question than how the church cares for refugees once they’re in our country.  That’s why my goal has been to challenge our thinking, not tell us how to think.

As thoughtful followers of Jesus, we all wrestle with how our biblical and moral convictions shape our approach to public policy and to politics.  That’s the way it should be!  We need to think through how the clear teachings of the Bible influence our participation in the public square on places wherever the Bible is clear – life beginning at conception, marriage being a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman, the moral evil of human trafficking, the need for racial reconciliation and a command to care for the least of these (the poor, the oppressed and the refugee).  To be clear, I don’t think it’s my job as a pastor to connect those dots for you.  But it is my job to raise the question, to suggest that societies flourish most when aligned with God’s design and to argue for a consistent framework as we all wrestle through those questions.  In other words, the way you think about abortion and refugees should both be influenced by the Scriptures and should be influenced consistently.

Goal #3: Build Bridges

I do believe the national conversation about refugees gives us an opportunity to reach out productively to many who are not followers of Jesus.  Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a member of our church who recounted a conversation she had with a friend earlier in the day.  They were talking about refugees and the friend, who is not a Christian, asked with a great deal of challenge in her tone, “So, did your church say anything about this today?”  She was stunned to hear the answer was yes and it made her slightly more open to Jesus.  That’s a win in my book!  All too often, people assume the church and the religious, political right are the same thing.  Not true.  As I’ve said before, if your God fits perfectly into any political party, He’s too small and His name isn’t Jesus.  The broader culture in our city knows theologically conservative churches oppose abortion and defend a biblical view of marriage.  I want to make sure they’re equally clear that we stand with the poor, the vulnerable and the oppressed, including lawfully admitted refugees.

At the end of the day, we aren’t a political advocacy church.  I’m not preaching about the 9th Circuit’s ruling on Sunday.  I’m preaching on Acts 3:1-10 and the foundational rhythms of a life on mission.  We’re about Jesus, Community and Restoration.  But when the culture is talking about something the Bible speaks to, I would rather lean in than pull back.

Think Before You Ask

Startup Stock Photos

One of my greatest desires for Restoration City is that we would be known as a church that’s serious about developing leaders.  I pray often that God would give us the privilege of planting a church one day that’s pastored by someone who came to faith through Restoration City.  That means we need to be really effective in reaching the lost, making disciples and giving gifted people the freedom to lead.  It also means we need to create a culture where we’re regularly learning about leadership.

To that end, our staff team is currently working through Liz Wiseman’s incredible book, Multipliers.  It’s easily one of the most impactful books I’ve read over the last few years and I recommend all the time to people wanting to grow in their leadership.  The basic premise of the book is simple:  It’s better to be a genius maker than a genius.  The best leaders are the ones that tap into the genius of the people around them instead of relying on their own genius.  One of the implications of this idea is that as leaders, we all need to decide if we want to be the person with all of the answers or the person who develops other leaders.  You simply can’t have both.  Many of us think leadership development is nothing more than drilling our genius into other people’s heads.  Nope.  It’s about releasing the genius God has placed in others.

As good as that all sounds, it’s incredibly hard to do.  I know many leaders who think the only reason they have their job is that they know better than everyone else in the organization.  In that view of leadership, the organization exists to execute the genius of the leader but the leader has nothing to learn from the organization.  Two words of caution if that’s how you see yourself.  One, no one likes working for you and your best people will leave.  Ultimately, you’ll be left leading a talent free team that can’t think for themselves and that’s a recipe for disaster.  Two, decision fatigue will exhaust you and deteriorate the quality of your answers.  So, you end up leading a team blindly executing bad ideas.  You can figure out how that’s going to go, genius.

The real question is how we prevent ourselves from leading this way or make changes if we’re already leading this way.  Frankly, that’s what the book’s about, so you should read it!  But our team has latched onto one little anecdote and is working to ingrain it into our culture.  In chapter 6 of Multipliers, Wiseman tells a simple story from a summer internship with a management training company.  Her boss had asked her to edit a marketing brochure and next to one section she wrote “AWK” to indicate it was awkwardly phrased.  Her boss agreed but came charging back into her office and said, “Don’t ever give me an A-W-K without an F-I-X”.  He didn’t just want her to point out problems, he wanted her to think through solutions. As simple as that is, it’s an incredible leadership development moment.

We’ve tried to internalize that as a staff team with the following leadership plumline: Ask me anything, as long as you have a recommendation.  Or, if you would like a shortened version, “Think before you ask.”  It’s a plumline that helps us simultaneously pursue two goals: One, keep leaders engaged.  “Ask me anything” forces a leader to stay involved and accessible.  No one wins when we throw people into the deep end to sink or swim on their own.  Two, it forces team members to think through an issue and decide what they think they should do before bringing it to their leader.  You only get to ask the question if you have a suggestion.  We’re deliberately fighting back against the “hey, what do you want me to do?”  followed by, “Do x,y,z” interactions that dominate most workplace conversations.

That means as a leader I find myself using the following phrases more and more regularly:  Good question, what do you think?  I don’t know, what do you want to do?  If you had my job, what would you decide?  You’ve thought more about this than I have, where have you landed?  What do you think would best serve our leaders/people/mission?

When I answer my team’s questions with one of those questions I’m setting us up for one of three possible outcomes:

Outcome #1: Affirm their recommendation.  This is the best case scenario.  I basically get to say, “See you already knew what to do!  Next time, just do it.”  It’s a home run for your team  member’s morale and it gets one more decision off your desk.

Outcome #2:  Correct their recommendation.  This is the most valuable scenario.  As the leader, you need to understand why they arrived at the answer they did.  Once you understand that, you get to explain how you arrived at the answer you did and show how that solution better serves the organization. This is one of the most valuable forms of leadership development there is.

Outcome #3:  Change your mind.  If this isn’t an option on the table, don’t kid yourself, you aren’t really interested in developing leaders.  You’re just interested in being right.  Don’t make the mistake of assuming your answer is correct – the person you’re developing may well be right.  This is the invaluable scenario.  Nothing builds credibility with your team like being willing to learn from them.

You’ll know you’re getting the idea when you come to the conclusion that being a developer of other leaders is harder in the short run but far more beneficial in the long run.  It’s easy to spend all day enthroned behind your desk spouting answers.  But no one grows, you get depleted and the mission suffers.  Trade the easy way for the meaningful way and see what it does to your team, your organization and the leaders who work with you.

 

Be A Grown Up And Put The Phone Down

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I read an article in Bloomberg last week that stunned, convicted and challenged me greatly.  Researchers have found that middle aged Americans spend more time on social media than millennials.  In fact, 35-49 year olds spend an average of 7 hours per week on social media – that’s a little over 15 days per year!  It’s horrifying to me that people in the prime of their life (I say that as someone who sits right in the middle of that demographic!) are wasting this much time.  It’s coming at the expense of marriages, kids, careers and significance for Jesus.  It’s all so sad.

And all so familiar.

I’m not sitting in judgement of those people.  If anything, I’m aware of how much of myself I see in that statistic.  As I’ve searched my own heart, I’ve realized my social media obsession is driven by two primary factors:

We’re dissatisfied with our lives.

Truth be told, I think a lot of us are disappointed in ourselves.  Life doesn’t seem to be working out according to our plan.  We aren’t as extraordinary as we had hoped and are, in fact, struggling to keep up with the ordinary demands of life.  Ten years ago, we dreamed of being a CEO and now we’re just trying to pay the mortgage.  We wanted an amazing marriage and are learning to make peace with a domestic partnership.  We dreamed of significance but now we just dream of retirement.

And social media provides an incredible opportunity to avoid all of that.  Why deal with our own lives when we can look at someone else’s?  Plus, if we stay on social media long enough, we’ll find someone who makes us feel better about ourselves.  So much of our social media obsession is driven by a toxic combination of escapism and comparison.  All of the irate political banter, selfies, latte photos and vacation envy helps us avoid our situation.  But it’s a lot like getting drunk – it may distract us in the moment, but our problems only grow and our ability to deal with them only shrinks.

So, stop judging or envying others and get busy living your own life.  Deal with your problems.  Find your own joys.  Embrace your reality.

We’re unsatisfied in our souls.

The prophet Jeremiah had never heard of Twitter but God gave him tremendous insight into the human soul.  “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:12-13)  For many of us, social media is a broken cistern.  It isn’t holding water.  It’s leaking like crazy and our marriages, kids, careers and churches are suffering.  But we’re only trying to trap water because our souls are thirsty.

It’s not just that we’re looking for an excuse to avoid the laundry.  Our souls are crying out for relief – refusing to give up on the belief that we were made for more and demanding we find something to satisfy that thirst.  As a Christian, I know that thirst can only be satisfied in Jesus.  I know when I’m walking closely with Him, immersed in His Word and connected in prayer, I don’t care that much about Facebook.  But when I’m not abiding in Him, the thirst of my soul demands satisfaction and I’ll run to Instagram.  It’s so sad because living water is ours for the taking.  Our souls don’t have to thirst.  We just need to learn how to satisfy them.

So, what do we do about all of this?  Let me suggest one simple solution.  And, no, it’s not to get rid of all social media.  There’s plenty of good, inspiring content out there to be found.  It’s a small change born out of a realization I had in my own life – when my phone is in my hand, it’s like whiskey in the hand of an alcoholic, I’m almost powerless not to check it.  When it’s in my pocket, it’s not much better.  But when it’s in my bag or in a drawer in the kitchen, I don’t really care about it that much.

Just that little separation helps me resist the temptation to check out and actually stay present with Laura and the kids.  I can actually get work done.  I can actually go to the gym.  I can actually address the areas of my life I’m not satisfied with.  I can actually make progress, focus on God’s Word, find rest and end up much happier.  No doubt, God is doing a lot of work in my soul to deepen my satisfaction in Him.  But my contribution to that work is putting the stupid phone down and creating the space for him to work.

Refugees Are A Gospel Issue

refugees

One of the convictions that shapes us at Restoration City is the belief that when our city, country or world is talking about something, we should too.  If we don’t, it creates the impression that there’s the real world on one hand and the teachings of Scripture on the other.  Restoration City doesn’t exist to be an escape from the world but rather a place to be strengthened, inspired and equipped to engage the world.  So, I felt it was important to address the current debate about refugees at our gathering this morning.  In doing so, my goal was to make three things clear:

  1.  The church has a tremendous opportunity to serve the national conversation simply by showing that it’s possible to disagree and remain civil.  Our culture is rapidly loosing that ability.  All too often, we vilify people with different views rather than engaging and discussing.  We toss incendiary nonsense around social media because we’ve learned that’s what gets attention.  We’ve replaced careful though with cheap soundbites.  And we’ve divided ourselves into narrowly defined camps that war with other narrowly defined camps.  Restoration City, please don’t give into that kind of lazy thinking or that kind of divisive rhetoric.  It’s not worthy of the sons and daughters of God.  Disagree, debate, engage but do it with respect and gentleness.
  2. Long before refugees ever became a political issue, they were a gospel issue.  The Scripture speaks clearly to our responsibility as Christians to welcome, love and care for refugees.  Often the Bible uses the words alien, stranger or sojourner instead of refugee but they all mean the same thing.  I say refugees are a gospel issue for three reasons:
    1. The central figure of all Scripture was Himself a Middle Eastern political refugee.  When Mary and Joseph took the Lord Jesus to Egypt to escape persecution under Herod, He became a refugee.  There’s simply no other way to describe it.
    2. The Bible speaks to our treatment of refugees in many places.  Consider just a few:
      1. Exodus 23:9 – You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt
      2. Jeremiah 22:3 – Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
      3. Matthew 25:42-45 – For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
    3. Our treatment of refugees demonstrates our understanding that we are aliens and strangers in this world.  1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  Our true home is in heaven.  We are sons and daughters of an eternal Kingdom and this world is not our home.  We’re here as aliens and strangers.  The more we understand that, the more we will welcome those who come to our country as aliens and strangers.  The gospel puts each of us right in the middle of Exodus 23:9 – we also should know the heart of a stranger because we are sojourners in America.
  3. We should allow the Bible to shape our prayers.  We should pray for our leaders and for the flourishing of the church in America (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and we should pray for those fleeing their homelands to escape war, persecution and death.

My role as a pastor is not to make political statements.  It’s to teach the whole counsel of God and lead us into conforming our lives to the teachings of Scripture.  That was my goal this morning and it’s my goal in this post.  I’m praying for each of you as you shine the light of Jesus into our world this week.  Be bold.  Be brave.  Be respectful.  Be motivated by the glory of God and the good of humanity.

For Life

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Today is the annual March for Life here in Washington, DC.  For the 3rd time in a week, massive crowds will fill the National Mall.  I’ll leave it to others with more time on their hands to debate which crowd is largest.  I’m more interested in what these three gatherings say about our world and the role the church must play in it.

Jesus came as Light shining into the darkness of His day (John1:5).  And then He told His followers to do the same (Matthew 5:16).  We can only fulfill the command of Ephesians 5:8, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” by being robustly for life.  But, for me, that’s not a political statement; it’s a gospel statement.  All humans are made in the image of God and given a soul by their Creator.

A gospel shaped for life worldview is desperately needed and astonishingly rare in our culture.  It’s marked by at least three characteristics:

  1.  Not Selective.  Our world desperately needs the church to advocate a for life position that speaks for the unborn, for women, for minorities, for refugees, for the elderly, for the poor, and for the disabled with equal passion and vigor.  Our politics tell us we must pick between women and the unborn.  Jesus shows a radical love and affirmation of both.  All too often, we cherry pick an issue or two that generates political heat or social media sensationalism without seeing that our inconsistency undermines our best intentions.  If you stand for the unborn, you must stand for the refugee.  The gospel reaches across political lines to be a beacon for justice and righteousness in our world.
  2. Motivated By Grace.  Yes, we need to have the moral courage to say abortion is wrong.  But we need to do it in a way that people who have chosen that path still feel welcome in our churches this Sunday.  Jesus didn’t come to shame bad people.  He came to give life to spiritually dead people.  Jesus has as much grace and mercy for those who have chosen abortion as He does for their children.  Don’t ever forget, we represent a God who endured the murder of His Son so He could forgive those who have terminated theirs.  Our message is one of grace, of love, of forgiveness.  It’s a pro life orientation that melts stone hearts and revives crushed spirits.  We aren’t angry.  We’re agents of grace.
  3. Personal Engagement.  I have little patience for people whose social media engagement never translates into anything useful in the real world.  Tweet, post, comment, like and share as much as you want.  But then go do something.  That’s why we partner with the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center and Casa Chirilagua at Restoration City.  We stand where Jesus would be – with the hurting, the marginalized, the afraid, and the broken.  Those are the places where grace does it’s deepest work and those should be the places where it’s most likely to find followers of Jesus.

In writing about Jesus, John says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (Jn. 1:4)  My prayer is that His church would carry that light well.  Our world needs it and it’s what we were made to do.