Shooting In Del Ray

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When Laura and I moved back to D.C. to plant Restoration City Church, we rented a little row house in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.  It was right down the road from where our church was gathering in Crystal City and we quickly fell in love with the neighborhood.  It felt like a small town right in the middle of a big city, it was walkable and had great restaurants and coffee shops.  The coffee shops were a particularly big deal for me because they doubled as my office.  My favorite is a placed called Swings.  I would walk there almost every day.  It was only a few blocks from our house and I could get there even faster by cutting through a park with a baseball field.  It’s called Simpson Park.

And this morning a Member of Congress, a Hill staffer, a lobbyist and two Capitol Police Officers were shot there.  I know exactly where the 3rd base dugout is; I’ve stopped there to make phone calls on my way home.  When I hear media reports of Members of Congress being escorted to a basketball court, I know which one they’re talking about.  There’s a little park right by the left outfield; that’s where we put Aidan in a swing for the first time. Laura still shops at the Aldi across the street and I still spend a lot of time at Swings.  So, it’s more than a little surreal to think of a shooting happening in the middle of a place we know so well and love so much.

I’ve been distracted all day by the shooting.  I keep thinking about it, wanting more information, wanting it to make sense and knowing it never will.  It makes me sad to know the whole thing will be politicized.  It makes me sad to realize that our national political discourse is so divisive that this kind of violence is tragic but not surprising.  But there are two thoughts that keep coming to mind more than any other.

One, this is why we planted a church that still meets right up the road from Del Ray.  Not this specific incident but the brokenness it flows out of.  Not political brokenness, not even moral brokenness but spiritual brokenness.  The loss of hope that comes from not knowing God, the fear that comes from not trusting His guiding hand and the pain that sin unleashes in our souls.  The church doesn’t exist to make good people better or to keep Christians entertained on a Sunday morning.  The church exists to shine the life and hope of Jesus into our world.

Two, we must do more to love and serve our city.  I’m shaken up because violence has reared its head in my neighborhood.  But for too many in our city and in our world, this is a daily reality.  I’ve always lived in neighborhoods where people say, “things like that don’t happen here.”  But there are plenty of people who live in neighborhoods where people say, “another one?”  Jesus died for the people in those communities as well.  He died to make sure that hope wouldn’t be limited to affluent zip codes.  He died that every soul would have the opportunity to find life in Him.  Every soul.

I love the city I call home.  I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else or lead a church anywhere else.  My prayer is simply that we would be the church – willing to reach out, to care, to love and to serve.  And to pray.  To pray for those shot, for their families, for our city and for our nation.

Community & Friendship

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Community is both one of the most powerful and painful forces in our lives.  There are few things as exhilarating as being fully known and still fully loved.  Yet there are few things more damaging than being rejected by people we thought we trusted.

The Scriptures are clear that we’re made in the image of a relational God and are designed for community.  The local church is anchored in the belief that God uses others to make us more like Jesus.  Experience tells us that we can’t be fully human apart from relationships.

At the same time, we also know the hurt, disappointment and disillusionment that often comes with community.  Sin is the explanation for most of that.  We’re all messy, broken people.  Community simply multiplies the mess.

But sin alone doesn’t explain our struggle with community.  Unmet expectations also play a big role.  In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer says, “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”  That’s a shocking truth – our zeal for community can turn us into unintentional destroyers of community.  But that’s what happens every time we create a utopian picture of community that simply doesn’t exist this side of heaven and then blast every opportunity for community we have because it inevitably fails to meet those expectations.

The more I think about it, the more I realize a lot of our unmet expectations come from confusion regarding the relationship between the words friendship and community.  We commonly use them as synonyms.  But they aren’t.  They mean very different things.

I recently listened to a sermon that Pastor Leonce Crump preached at Renovation Church in Atlanta, GA.  He was preaching about our need for community but also our need to understand that community and friendship are two different things. His point was simple – both community and friendship are essential but they are also distinct.

The whole sermon is worth listening to but here’s his argument in a nutshell: you might become friends with some of the people you are in community with but friendship is not the ultimate expectation of community.  Yes, the church is a family.  But Crump points out that not all family members are friends and reminds everyone that’s okay.  There are some cousins you like to hang out with and some you don’t.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t family or that you’re doing something wrong.  It just means you aren’t friends.

Here’s what all of that means – you aren’t going to be friends with everyone at church.  And that’s okay.  You also aren’t going to be friends with everyone in your Community Group.  And that’s okay.  Yes, we’re a family.  Yes, we’re called to love one another as Christ has loved us.  We are a community.  But we’re not all going to be friends.

If friendship isn’t the ultimate expectation of community, what is?  Pastor Crump defines the ultimate purpose of community as “fellowship, partnership and encouragement to walk faithfully with God.”  I love that because that’s exactly what our Community Groups at Restoration City are designed to do!  We gather together every week to spur one another on, to encourage one another not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and to encourage one another to run our race well.  Will friendships develop out of that?  I hope so.  But friendship isn’t the ultimate goal of our Community Groups – mission is!

Crump’s distinction is enormously important for us to process.  If we think the ultimate goal of Community Groups is to help us make friends, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.  If we come knowing the goal is to make us more like Jesus, we’re setting ourselves up for growth.

Just to be clear, I’m not minimizing the importance of friendships.  They’re vital.  But no church or program can form friendships for us.  Friendships are something we form individually, one person at a time.

I want to keep thinking more about this in my life and in our church.  Would love any thoughts or feedback you have.  Feel free to leave a comment below.

Singing In A Cave

Cave

My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

Psalm 57:7-11

Those words were written by David, the great King of Israel.  But he didn’t write them from his throne.  He didn’t write them after he defeated Goliath, got married, brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem or entered into a covenant with God.  He wrote them from a cave.  He was there because Saul, the then King of Israel, wanted him dead.

I’ll be honest – caves creep me out.  I hate caves.  They’re dark, wet and you have absolutely no idea what else is in there with you.  Bats are a given and then the horror just spirals out of control from there.  Being in a cave is like being locked in a dark basement as a kid but with actual reason to be afraid.  So, when a cave is the safe option, you know you’re having a bad day.  And David was having a pretty bad day – he was being hunted like an animal with no help in sight.

Yet, David holds a worship service.

That should stop us in our tracks.  We so often struggle to worship on a Sunday morning when everything is going well, never mind a Thursday morning when nothing is going right.  What had David found in God that we overlook?

Focus On His Soul & Savior, Not Circumstances

Yes, David asks God for mercy (v.1,2) but he’s not obsessed with his circumstances.  I would have made sure God understood just how bad my situation was, how unjust it was and how much I really, really wanted Him to do something about it.

But not David. He seems most focused on the condition of his own soul.  Five times in the psalm He makes a reference to His own soul or heart.  It’s his soul that takes refuge (v.1), is in the midst of lions (v.4) and is bowed down (v.6) in addition to being steadfast.  Which leads me to ask, are we more focused on our souls or our circumstances?  I know that when it comes to my soul, I tend to take more of a “we’ll deal with all of that once you get me out of this cave, God” approach.

David’s focus on his soul is so essential because it leads him to focus on his Savior.  David’s hope is in God’s steadfast love (v.10).  He’s not praying that God will bless his plan in some way.  He’s confessing that his only plan is to take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings and trust God to rescue him.  God’s grace is plan A and there is no plan B.

Confidence In The Promises Of God

Even though life is falling apart, David is totally confident that God will be faithful to all of His promises.  He knows that God’s promises aren’t dependent on our circumstances but on His character.  So, David is sure that God will send from heaven and save him (v.3).  It’s not a question for David.

We get so concerned when God deviates from the script we’ve written for Him.  If only we could learn that God’s deviations aren’t because He doesn’t love us but because He does.  He’s going to fulfill every single one of His promises to you.  Don’t look to your circumstances to figure out if you believe that – look to the cross of Jesus and be sure of it!  You can trust a God who’s already died for you.

Caves aren’t a reason to forget the promises of God.  They’re a reason to cling to them even more fiercely.

Desire For The Glory Of God Above All Else

We become brave when we find something bigger to live for than our own lives.  That was David’s story.  Even in his cave, his desire was constant, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!  Let your glory be over all the earth.” (v. 5,11).  He’s so focused on God’s glory that he prays the same thing twice!

If all we care about in life is our own comfort, the inevitable caves of life will kill our joy and crush our spirits every single time.  But if we find something bigger, something that can’t be touched even in the darkest cave, something that spans all of eternity, caves loose their power.  No, we’ll never enjoy them.  But we will trust that God can use them.

Songs of hope are most powerful when they echo out of caves of despair.  When praise erupts in the middle of affliction, the world notices.  When thanksgiving comes in the same breath as a plea for mercy, people listen.

Your cave isn’t a sign that God doesn’t love you.  It’s an invitation to put all of your life in His hands and trust that He will be faithful in using you in a story that spans all of eternity.  Caves aren’t comfortable.  But they aren’t catastrophic either.

We really can learn to sing in a cave.

Summer Reading List

Summer Reading ListWell, it’s unofficially summer.  Pools are open, cold brew coffee is a must and we’re all dreaming of vacation.  I hope you’re also building a summer reading list of books that will stir your affection for Jesus and make you more effective in the local church.  If you are, I wanted to share five relatively easy reads that have impacted me significantly over the last 12 months.  They’re the kind of books you’ll get a lot out of and enjoy reading:

Saving The Saved, Bryan Loritts.  Bryan shows how the performance free love of Jesus frees us from the meritocracy of religion and invites us into the freedom of the gospel.

Goliath Must Fall, Louie Giglio.  Using the story of David and Goliath, Louie paints a beautiful picture of Jesus as our Giant Slayer and shows us how the gospel topples some of the most common giants in our lives.

Befriend, Scott Sauls.  One of the best explorations of friendship, community and the gospel I’ve read in a long time.  Scott examines what real friendship looks like and all of the ways we form them in our lives.

You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith.  James explores how our hearts shape our lives and how our habits shape our hearts.  I may not agree with all the specific liturgical practices in this book but it’s well worth your time.

Designed To Lead, Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck.  Geiger and Peck challenge us to see the church as a leadership development locus for the whole community.  This is easily the most influential leadership book I’ve read this year.

I’m praying you’re able to enjoy one or more of these books over the summer.  I’m also curious what suggestions you have for me.  Leave a comment with your must read recommendation for the summer.

Church: A Community On Mission

Community And Mission

It seems like there’s an increasing trend in the church to place community and mission on opposite ends of a spectrum and then invite individual followers of Jesus and whole churches to decide where they fall on that spectrum.  I know plenty of churches who say they’re all about community – Sunday morning is warm and welcoming, it’s easy to join a community group with plenty of friendly people, and there’s one epic hangout after another to make sure you’ve always got something to do.  I also know plenty of churches who say they’re all about mission – Sunday morning is simple and no frills, it’s easy to start serving with a team of really committed people, and there’s an endless series of opportunities to serve, sacrifice and give.  It’s so convenient – all you have to do is pick the church that’s the best fit for you and have a great time/make your life count.

It’s an attractive but deadly trap.  Community church may be a blast but it never accomplishes anything and ultimately forgets why it exists.  Mission church may do a lot of good but people don’t seem all that healthy and end up feeling like a cog in someone else’s wheel.  At the end of the day, Jesus didn’t die to create a social club or an impersonal organization of exhausted people.

Jesus died to create a community on mission.

Maybe more accurately, Jesus died to pursue His mission through a new community we would call the church.  Jesus didn’t create a mission to keep the church busy.  He created a church to pursue His mission.  Community and mission are so intertwined that any attempt to pursue one without the other leaves us missing both.

Here’s how all of this connects for us at Restoration City – many of our mission problems are really community problems and many of our community problems are really mission problems.  Let me show you what I mean:

  • A lot of us who are struggling to find community aren’t serving.  I’ll often hear people say they want to get the community box checked first and then they’ll start serving.  Wrong!  Start serving and you’ll likely find your community through that team.  When people tell me they’re having trouble connecting at Restoration City, my first question isn’t which Community Group they’re in but where they’re serving.  Want to deepen your community?  Engage with God’s mission.
  • On the other hand, there are some of us with a deep passion for a ministry but we’re frustrated that no one else seems to be jumping in to help.  It’s maddening – God’s broken your heart over something and no one else seems to care.  I’ve come to learn that the answer to that is not an announcement in our gathering on a Sunday morning but to get more engaged with a Community Group.  People want to get to know you before they’ll follow you.  Want to engage others with God’s mission?  Deepen your community.

When we stop seeing community and mission as two ends of a spectrum and start seeing them as two sides of the same coin, it unleashes something powerful in our lives and churches.  Don’t pick between community and mission.  Join a community that’s on mission together.

 

 

The Heart Of Margin

Heart of margin

We’ve spent the last few weeks as a church talking about creating margin in our lives.  We did it because God didn’t create us to be stressed out, maxed out and on the road to being burnt out.  We also did it because mission requires margin.  Generosity requires financial margin.  Serving and investing in others requires margin in our schedules.  Staying healthy as we pour ourselves out for the good of others requires emotional and relational margin.  Where there’s no margin, there will be no mission.

Along the way, we’ve seen that margin is a heart issue well before it becomes a calendar, financial or relational issue. So, as we wrap up our focus on margin, I want to highlight the three heart issues we need to deal with in order to create margin in our lives.

Identity

We’ll never be able to create and defend margin if we allow the approval, opinions and expectations of others to form our identity.  If we’ve given people control over our identity and value, it’s no wonder we give them control over our schedules and spending.

As followers of Jesus, our identity doesn’t come from others or even from ourselves.  It comes from the One who loved us enough to die for us.  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.“(Gal. 2:20)  Those word were written by Paul but they’re every bit as applicable to us as Jesus followers today.  You are so loved that Jesus willingly died in your place on that cross.  He gave Himself up for us so that He never has to give up on us.  When we believe that, we become a new creation.  Christ Himself lives in us.  He’s our hope of glory, our source of strength and the One who calls us to a bold, beautiful life of freedom and faith.

You aren’t defined by other people’s hopes, dreams and expectations for you.  You’re defined by God’s work for you.

Intimacy

One of the biggest margin killers in our hearts in FOMO (fear of missing out).  We’re terrified we won’t get a date if we don’t go to the party; won’t get the promotion if we don’t go to the conference; won’t get the contract if we don’t take the call; won’t have any friends if we don’t go on the trip.  We say yes to everything because we’re terrified of the consequences of saying no.

But when you bring Jesus into the mix, FOMO loses its grip on our hearts.  “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.“(Ps. 84:11)  God withholds no good thing from His children when they allow Him to determine their path.

The question is whether or not we’re asking Jesus to determine our path for us.  This is where intimacy come in.  We know God has told us that apart from Him we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5).  We usually take that to mean we can’t do the thing we’ve already decided to do without God’s help.  I’m learning more and more in my own life that it also means we shouldn’t do the deciding without God either.

Paul Tripp often talks about how the gospel shapes our lives “at street level” – meaning the seemingly small, mundane details of our lives.  I’m convinced this is one of the greatest secrets in creating and defending margin in our lives.  Prayerfully engaging Jesus in deciding how and where we spend our time gives us confidence that we’re not missing out.  When He tells us to say no, it’s for our good.  And when He tells us to say yes, it’s for our good.  No more FOMO.

Intentionality

Creating and defending margin isn’t easy.  It involves countless collisions between God’s plan for us and other people’s expectations of us.  In Mark 1, we see Jesus actively resisting the demands of His disciples and the residents of an entire city.  Margin doesn’t come easy.

And it doesn’t come without planning, without difficult conversations and without confronting our fears of missing out or disappointing others.  This is where intentionality comes in for us.

My goal in leading us through this series wasn’t just to get us all feeling bad about our lack of margin, or to get us talking more about margin or even to get us wanting more margin.  My prayer is that we will actually create more margin!  So, what decisions do you need to make?  Conversations do you need to have?  Emails do you need to send?

I so want us as a church to be healthy and to be deeply engaged in the mission of God.  Both require margin.  For your sake and for the sake of a city desperate for the hope of Jesus, do the heart work necessary to create the margin that mission requires.

Connected & Committed

Connected&Committed_Cover

I really feel like God is using this season at Restoration City to strengthen and prepare our church for greater impact in our city and world.  That’s the heart behind our Membership Renewal Process and our Connected & Committed Giving Commitments.  As we get ready to bring our Connected & Committed Giving Commitments to our gathering this Sunday, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page with why we do this and what I’m asking as well as let you know how I’m praying as we head into this Sunday.

Why Connected & Committed?

There are two really simple answers to this one:

  1.  Our fiscal year runs from September 1 – August 31st and we present the annual budget to our members for a vote at a Congregational Meeting in late July.  So, we’re in the early stages of pulling that budget together. In order to do that responsibly, we need to get a sense of what our giving will be for next year.  Rather than guess, we ask.
  2. Our weekly attendance has increased by 37% since we started meeting at Gunston in July but our internal giving has only increased by 6.5% during that same period.  In some ways, that’s how it should be – nobody expects you to start giving the week you start attending a church.  But if you’ve made Restoration City your church home, I want to ask you to pray about investing in our mission.  Something like Connected & Committed creates an easy opportunity for you to start giving regularly to our mission.

What Am I Asking?

Simple answer: Fill the card out and bring it with you on Sunday!

Complete Answer:  Pray about what God is asking you to give next year.

If you’re currently giving to Restoration City, I would love to have you doing what Laura and I are – reevaluating your budget and planning your generosity for next year.  That may mean you end up giving the same, more or less than you are giving now.  However the Lord leads, I’m convinced the discipline of planning out your generosity for the coming year will have tremendous benefits for your budget and your soul.

If you’re not currently giving to Restoration City and consider this your church home, I’m asking you to set up a recurring donation on CCB.  God is opening a lot of doors for us as a church to be serving our city but we can’t walk through them without your generosity.  So, please, consider partnering with us financially.

How Am I Praying?

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” – Luke 21:1-4

No, I’m not praying you give all of your savings to the church!  Nor am I praying for a couple of really big commitments (although we’ll take ’em!).  I am praying that a lot of us will participate.  You may only be able to give $20 a month or even $5 – that’s awesome!  Don’t you dare believe that Jesus would be more honored if you gave $2,000 or $500.  He delights in a heart that trusts Him and is captivated by the gospel enough to sacrificially give towards the advancement of the gospel that changed everything for us.

I’m really hopeful for all the Lord is going to do for His glory and the good of our city this summer and in the year to come.  Let’s be motivated by that as we pray over our Connected & Committed Giving Commitments for this Sunday.