In Defense of New Year’s Resolutions

Let me just come out and say it.  I’m a New Year’s Resolution kind of guy.  I love everything about them:  the reminder of a fresh start, dreaming about the future, reflecting on the past year and giving myself something to aim for in the coming year.  I’ve got a few Evernote files with potential resolutions on my computer right now and Laura and I will spend New Year’s Eve honing in on our goals as a family for 2015.

What surprises me most about New Year’s Resolutions is the increasing number of Christians who feel obligated to turn up their theological noses and reject New Year’s Resolutions as unspiritual or not gospel-centered.  The basic argument seems to be: resolve to love Jesus more and everything will change.  Awesome.  I totally agree with the theology behind that.  I just don’t think we need to take it so far that we aren’t specific about some of the changes we would like to see.  Paul seems to spend the second half of his letters being very specific about the kind of change a proper understanding of the gospel should bring about in our lives.

So, if you want to join me in coming up with a few gospel-centered resolutions for 2015, here are two questions I’ve been asking myself this past week.

1.  Would any of my resolutions be shocking to a non-Christian?  

If all you want out of 2015 is to lose a little weight, pay off a little debt and go on a nice vacation, you’ve got to ask yourself how much the gospel is really rearranging your priorities.  Everyone wants these things!  What are you praying for in 2015 that only makes sense if Jesus Christ is the Sovereign King and you know for sure you will spend eternity with Him?

There’s nothing wrong with getting in shape and being a good steward.  But don’t settle for that.  Push on to greater things – new ways to serve; people you want to see come to faith; new ways to be generous with your time, experience and money; new things you want God to do in your heart.  These are the prayers God loves to answer and these are the goals worth fighting for in life.

Yeah, it would be great to spend a week in Hawaii but what about a week on the mission field?

2.  What heart change is required to stick with this resolution?  

There is zero benefit in coming up with a long list of things you would like to have happen without developing a plan to make them happen.  If you don’t have a plan, it’s just a list of dreams.  If your plan doesn’t involve the gospel transforming your heart, you’re destined to abandon your resolutions just as quickly as you did last year.  If this is the 3rd year in a row you’ve vowed to pay off your credit cards and you’re more in debt now than you were three years ago, something clearly isn’t working!  Don’t take a 4th lap around the same bad track.  Dig deep into your heart…why do you keep acting the way you do?  What lies are you believing that keep leading you to the same bad place?  How does the gospel speak to this issue?  How would God lead you to freedom in this area?  This is where the real power in resolutions is found.  Don’t just make a list of things to do.  Ask what needs to change in your heart to start living differently.

Whether you’re a New Year’s Resolutions kind of person or not, I hope you have an incredible 2015.

I’ll start blogging regularly again on Monday, January 5th.  Until then, Happy New Year!

DNA Forms Early

IMG_1706I loved having this year’s class of Summit Network Church Planting Residents in town over the weekend.  These amazing guys are going to be planting gospel centered churches in Charlotte, NC; Asheville, NC; and Denver, CO in 2015.  Getting to spend a weekend with these men was awesome – they’re great guys and the faith God has given them to plant the churches they will lead is inspiring.

For me, it’s a really big deal to be able to do a weekend like this when our church is so young.  I believe God is calling us to weave church planting into the DNA of Restoration City from our earliest days.  From what I’ve seen, many church plants wait too long before they get meaningfully involved in planting another church.  I’m praying God will protect us from that at Restoration City.

Even though we’re incredibly young as a church, we’ve made the decision to give 8% of our internal giving to the planting of other churches.  In our short life, your generosity has allowed us to invest just over $4,500 in new church plants!  Having church planting residents in town for a weekend is an extension of that spirit in the same way as our time praying for these guys in yesterday’s gathering.  Part of the vision for Restoration City has always been loving, supporting and encouraging other church plants and we want to be in on that from the beginning of our journey.

We aren’t involved in church planting because it’s trendy.  We’re involved because it’s biblical.  I pray God will open the doors for us to be even more active in the months and years to come.

Restoration City Church Sermon Podcast Is LIVE

We’ve officially launched the Restoration City Podcast!  You can search for it in iTunes or just follow this link.  I’m so grateful to the team of people that has worked to make this happen – Ben, Tyler and Dan, you guys are the best!  This is a huge win for us as a church for two reasons:

1.  When people are looking for a church, they want to know what’s being preached.  A sermon gives people a really clear sense of our doctrine and our culture as a church.  So, use this as a tool to tell friends about Restoration City Church.

2.  It enables you to catch up when you miss a Sunday.  That’s a really big deal in general but specifically for our amazing RCCKids volunteers.  We have a group of people who give up being in our gathering on a Sunday morning to serve our kids and this podcast means they can still track along with the sermon.

Right now, we have two old messages posted.  The message from last Sunday will be up over the weekend and then we’ll get in the habit of posting weekly.

Praying this resource serves our church and city well.

Vision Versus Reaction

It can be so easy in leadership to mistake a reaction for a vision.  I know I’ve made that mistake a number of times in my life and it’s led to bad decisions, misspent energy and reduced effectiveness.  It’s a trap I’m asking God for the grace to avoid going forward in my leadership life but doing that requires a solid understanding of the difference between the two.

I’ve never come across a better definition of vision than the one Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, has made famous, “Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.”  Definitions of reaction are harder to come by so I’m going with the ever reliable dictionary, “an action performed or a feeling experienced in response to a situation or event.”  Understanding the difference between the two is essential.

Let me give you a very practical example.  Let’s say you attend a church where the pastor preaches largely topical messages organized into short sermon series that are well packaged for a non-Christian audience.  Let’s take it one step further and say you aren’t getting as much out of those messages as you think you should; maybe you’ve even called them “shallow.”  Just for fun, let’s say you’re on staff at that church.  One day you’re driving home after church with your spouse and you let loose with, “I’m so tired of this watered down nonsense week after week, if I was the pastor of this church, we would actually teach the Bible.  People who don’t do verse by verse expositional teaching are just wasting the congregation’s time and dishonoring God.”  Boom.  Tweet that and call it vision.  Except for the fact that it isn’t…it’s a reaction.  Reactions do very well on social media but they’re horrible at building a healthy organization.

Vision for preaching would sound a lot more like, “Nothing has ever changed my life the way God’s Word has.  I love it.  I can’t get enough of it.  It’s fresh every time I come to it and I want to devote my life to helping people see that.  When I preach, I want people to know they are hearing from God through His Word and that His Word changes lives.  So, I don’t want anything in my message to distract from God.  Can you imagine a church where people come expecting to hear the voice of God speaking into their lives?”  Totally different – I’d get fired up about building that church!

So, how do you spot a reaction?  Here’s a few thoughts:

  • It’s a statement of what you aren’t as opposed to what you are
  • It’s motivated by a desire to prove someone else wrong
  • It’s disconnected from the personal life of the leader
  • It’s a means to an end, not an end in and of itself (you’re only doing x as a means to get to y)
  • It’s quickly formed
  • Success is virtually impossible to define or illustrate
  • Close friends are more cautious than supportive

Think about how different that is from vision:

  • It’s all about the organization you want to see come into existence
  • It’s motived by love for what could be
  • It flows out of and is consistent with the personal life of the leader
  • You know what success would look like and feel like
  • You believe the picture you are trying to paint is inherently valuable
  • It percolates over time, is confirmed in prayer and sharpened by God’s Word
  • Close friends are leaning in and telling you to go for it.

The bottom line in all of this – beware of the danger of mistaking a reaction for a vision.  Sure, reactions might help sharpen our vision but they aren’t the same thing at all.  Lead from vision and leave the small bands of angry reactionaries to other people!

DoSomethingDC’s Christmas Plans

At the center of the Christmas story is an infant King who was born to ransom His people from their sin.  The King of all glory came to live a life of humble service, outrageous sacrifice and selfless love.  The One who created the universe left the throne of heaven for the throng of humanity.

We’ll never fully experience the joy of Christmas if we don’t find ways to free our hearts from the greed, stress and self-indulgence that can so easily sneak into our hearts this time of year.  Finding a way to serve this Christmas is really about finding a way to maximize our joy this season.

That’s why I’m so excited for the work our DoSomethingDC team has done in creating two different ways for us to serve our city through our ministry partners.

Our friends at the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center have a huge need for diapers for families who can’t afford them.  They’ve told us the one thing we could do that would have the largest impact this Christmas is help replenish their supply of diapers.  So, we’re collecting diapers at our worship gatherings on Sunday, December 14th and 21st.  All you need to do is go buy a pack of diapers (any size) and bring them with you to Restoration City.

Our friends at Casa Chirilagua are hosting a Christmas party for the community they serve on Saturday, December 20th from 7-9 pm.  They are looking for a number of volunteers to serve with them in very specific capacities.  I’m so grateful that God opened up a door for us as a church to help defray some of the cost of this party.  But I would love to see a number of you join Laura and I in serving the Casa Chirilagua community the evening of the 20th.  You can get more info and sign up here: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0e4eafa92ca64-20142

I don’t ever want us to lose sight of the fact that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45).  Following Jesus means adopting that same mindset and translating that mindset into action and generosity.  I hope you don’t miss the chance to be a part of DoSomethingDC this Christmas season.

Passion2015

passion2015

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of spending two days in Atlanta with the Passion team as they are preparing to host Passion2015.  They are such an incredibly welcoming, generous and encouraging group of people that it really is hard to put into words what a joy it is to spend time with them.  But even more importantly to me, they are a group of people who love Jesus, champion the glory of God and want to see awakening in the collegiate generation.

When an organization gets as large as Passion, the cynic in all of us wonders what really drives them – is it crowds, record sales and fame or is it Jesus?  For what it’s worth, I can tell you that I know the answer for Passion.  It is without a doubt Jesus – His fame, His glory and His renown.  The reason I love Passion so much is because they love Jesus so beautifully.

If you’re in the collegiate generation (18-25 years old), you really need to get to Passion2015.  The first gathering in Atlanta is sold out but there’s still space at the second Atlanta gathering and the Houston gathering.  I honestly believe these will be life altering days if you’re able to join us for Passion2015.  You can learn more and register at: http://268generation.com/passion2015/.

Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on these days!

Audacious Ambition

Following Jesus does not mean we need to give up ambition.

A lot of Christians seem to think ambition is a bad word; it’s something God is trying to drive out of us.  Not true.  In fact, the Bible calls us to a level of ambition that is breathtakingly audacious.  Consider 2 Corinthians 5:9, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”  That is Paul calling the church to a radical form of ambition – please Jesus in every situation we encounter. That is aspiring to something so much beyond wealth, fame or power.  It’s reaching for the ultimate – that our lives would cause God to smile.

No doubt that perspective would require a remapping of ambition in many of us.  Scripture does call us to abandon selfish ambition, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)  But the Bible does not call us to kill our ambition.  We are made to create, to achieve, to pursue goals and the Scripture reminds all of us that intimacy with God is the greatest thing we could aspire to in our lives.  The gospel doesn’t kill ambition but it does remap it.

Not only does the gospel offer a new path for ambition but it also offers a new power for fulfilling our sanctified ambition.  Maybe we can make a few bucks on our own or get a promotion based on our efforts.  But the goal of pleasing God is so unattainable in our own power that we are forced to lean on His power.  If we could please God in our own power, it would lead to pride.  But when we realize it’s only possible through the union we have with Jesus and the enabling power of the Spirit, pride gives way to worship and joy.

So, be ambitious!  Strive with all of the power God provides to live today in such a way that God is pleased.

How different would your day be today if you resolved now to adopt this new ambition and ask God for the grace to live it out?