The Boys

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Jack & Aidan

It’s hard to believe Aidan is already seven days old.  A week ago, I was holding him for the first time.  Today, I can’t imagine life without him.  I remember being amazed when Jack was born how quickly I fell in love with him.  I’m happy to say the same holds true the second time around.  I love those little boys with a love I never knew was possible.

In a couple of days, Jack will turn two. Until then, Laura and I get the joy of saying we have two boys under the age of two.  As a total aside, it’s pretty hilarious to see the looks of sympathy, pity and confusion we get from people when we say that!

Jack and Aidan both need their diapers changed constantly.  Neither one can feed themselves.  They don’t have a clue what’s in their best interest.  Crying is common.  Sleep is frequent for them but rare for us.

They are also incredibly joyful, trusting, loving and happy little people.  Jack can’t get enough of Aidan, constantly wants to know where he is and will go ballistic if you try putting him to bed before he can kiss Aidan goodnight.  Aidan is a little trooper who has already made a huge mark on our family.

They are totally helpless but totally trusting.  Inadequate but have everything provided for them.  Selfish but loved.  Sacred but safe.

And Jesus tells you and me we must see ourselves the same way to enter the kingdom of God, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.“(Mt. 18:3)  That runs deeply against our human nature.  It’s wired into us to grow up, be good at something and earn your place in life.  Jesus invites us into something different – the wonder of grace.

The gospel is the story of a perfect God becoming sin on the cross so that sinners could become perfected in God’s sight through faith in Jesus.  God doesn’t expect us to get our lives together, impress Him and earn His favor.  He’s totally certain we could never do that on our own.  He’s comfortable with our helplessness, our inadequacy, our fears and our selfishness.  He offers us life not because we’ve earned it but because He’s earned it on our behalf.

So many of us strive to act like we have it all together.  Maybe we’re trying to impress others and maybe we’re trying to impress God.  Either way, it’s exhausting. And unnecessary.

I don’t hate Jack and Aidan because they need Laura and I.  If anything, it makes me love them more.  I love being strong for them, teaching them, lifting them and protecting them.

But I also love knowing I have a Father in heaven who is strong when I am weak (2 Cor. 12:9), who fights for me (Ex. 14:14) and who will provide for me (Mt. 6:26).  Honestly, I don’t think I could be strong for my boys if God wasn’t strong for me.  That’s our privilege as followers of Christ – to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.“(Heb. 4:16)

It’s okay to come to God as a helpless child.  In fact, it’s the only way to ever find Him.

You’ve Gotta Say It

I came home from work the other day and started filling Laura in on everything that had happened since we last connected in the morning.  In the course of our conversation, I started talking about a member of our church and said something along the lines of, “I really love that guy and am so grateful for him.”  Laura’s response was so typically female and so incredibly convicting, “Did you tell him that?”

Umm….no!  What’s wrong with you?  Guys don’t talk that way, babe!

Rather than say all that, I just mumbled something like, “no, but I’m sure I will” and quickly changed the subject.  But Laura’s point was right on.  Secret gratitude doesn’t do much good.  But the words “thank you” have tremendous potential to lift, encourage and honor other people.  So many times, I make the mistake of assuming people know I love them or appreciate them.  Don’t fall into that trap.  Be vocal, genuine and generous with your love and your gratitude.

The Apostle Paul (who is not the most touchy-feely guy in the Bible!) did this so well in his letter.  Look at what he says about the church in Philippi in a letter addressed to them, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:7-8)  Talk about swinging for the emotional fences!

You don’t have to be as eloquent as Paul to encourage someone today.  So, let me ask you; Who do you need to text, call or look in the eye and thank?  Who are you assuming knows how much they matter?  Take some time to reach out today and tell them!

The Gospel According To Martin Luther King

MLK

The life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr still ripples through our country and our world.  His dream still inspires us to work for a better tomorrow.  His courage reminds us that one man really can make a difference.  His humility reminds us that the only ones who make a lasting difference are the ones who live for something bigger than themselves.  His assassination reminds us that darkness hates the light.

His life and legacy also remind us of the power of the gospel to change hearts, cultures and nations.  MLK’s approach to racial justice was saturated in an understanding of the gospel.

A few miles from our house is a monument to Dr. King.  The last time I was there, I took the above photo.  It’s the essence of how MLK’s thinking was shaped by the gospel.  Notice how Dr. King wanted to bring about change, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that.”  That’s the gospel!

Dr. King knew that individuals and a country would only give up the dark sins of their past when they embraced the beauty of a better future.  He didn’t simply rail on the injustice of racism.  He invited a country to believe with him for a better day, a day when “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”  He gave the country a vision for something better, something that called us out “of the valley of despair” and into hope.  People, cultures, and nations change when we find something better than our small minded, self centered sins.

That’s the essence of the Christian gospel; Jesus is better and He’s calling you into something better.  He offers the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and intimacy with God.  He calls us out of our valley of despair and into hope.  Jesus is the ultimate “something better.”  Don’t try to fight your sins through self-discipline, will power and bashing yourself with consequences.  Draw so near to Jesus that He becomes your life and sin looks pathetic in comparison.

I love Dr. King and his influence.  He reminds me that the gospel isn’t just the good news of personal transformation.  It can also become the impetus for profound societal change as well.

Live In Community

We planted Restoration City Church around three main ideas:

  • Live Through Jesus
  • Live In Community
  • Live For Restoration

Those three statements are going to anchor our journey for a really long time and I want to encourage you to lean into them as much as possible if you’re part of the Restoration City family.  In all fairness, they’re biblical values, so I think you should lean into them even if you aren’t a part of Restoration City!

One of the highlights of this past week for me was sitting on the floor in my living room on Tuesday evening for our Community Group’s weekly meeting.  By the way, I was on the floor because there weren’t any more seats available; the room was packed!  And I loved every minute of it.  There is literally no one, other than Laura, in our Community Group who I knew this time last year.  It’s amazing to me how God has taken a group of strangers and turned us into a family.  I love that the family keeps growing – we had two new people join us this week.  I love walking through life with these people, opening God’s Word together, praying together and encouraging one another.  I love that our interaction isn’t limited to Tuesday evenings – the encouraging emails during the week, random dinners, coffees, hangouts and concerts are some of the sweetest benefits of living in community.

This past week, 70 people attended one of our five Community Groups.  That’s pretty awesome!  But it also means we have room for another 20-25 people to join a Community Group.  It also means we need more leaders to step up and plant new Community Groups so we can keep inviting others to join us in community.  If you’re interested in either, visit our website at http://restorationcitydc.com/about/community-groups/

You were not made to live life alone.  Community might seem risky but it’s what you were made to enjoy.

Keep On Sowing

Earlier this week, I had a great conversation with a bus driver.  I was on the MetroWay bus from our house into Crystal City and struck up a conversation with the driver about the weather and how I almost froze at the bus stop.  Ultimately, he asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was the pastor of a church in Crystal City.  His reply?  “Are you the chapstick people?”  I almost fell out of my seat!!

Here’s the backstory.  The week before Restoration City launched in October, we spent one evening at the Crystal City and Pentagon City Metro stations handing out chapstick and invitations to come to our first gathering.  This guy got one, has been thinking about us ever since and is still thinking about his chapstick three months later!  By the way, I’m not sure if he’s going to come to Restoration City any time soon or not.  He didn’t seem to hate the idea but he also didn’t make any promises.  So, this is not leading to some great, “and we’re baptizing him on Sunday!!” moment.

Here’s where it is leading: we never know the way God is going to use the little seeds we plant.  In 1 Corinthians 3:16 Paul is writing about his ministry and the way he partnered with another Christian named Apollos when he writes this, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”  Don’t miss the big picture: God is the One who builds His church, calls people to faith and changes lives.  Sometimes he works through a number of different people along the way.  Sometimes He even gets the process started with some chapstick.  Growth belongs to God but you and I have a role to play in His work.  We’re the seed planters.  We’re the ones who are here to open our mouths and let people know there is a God who loves them, forgives them and calls them to a whole new life.

Simple question for the day: Where are you planting?  Are you scattering any seed for someone else to water?  What are you asking God to grow?  Our city is in tremendous need of hope and you and I have the answer!!  People need Jesus.  How could you leverage your life today to reach out to someone, have a conversation and see what God will do with it?  You never know what He will do with it.  Rise up, Chapstick People!

Team McGowan

Team McGowanOf all the t-shirts I own, this is one of my favorites even though I can’t say I’ve ever worn it out of the house.  If anything, it’s one of those shirts that means so much there’s no chance I’m wearing it to the gym.

Five years ago, Laura and I were going through Premarital Counseling with an amazing couple, Carol and Mark Hernandez.  They prayed with us, poured into us, facilitated great conversations and loved us through the ups and downs of the torturous season known as engagement.  Right before our wedding, they gave both of us a t-shirt that simply said Team McGowan.  The point was simple – our lives were about to be joined together and we needed to remember that we were a team.

On the eve of my wedding, I didn’t understand how profound the phrase Team McGowan would become in my life and our marriage.  I was totally in love with this girl, she had agreed to spend the rest of her life with me and I figured operating as a team would always be obvious.  Not true.  If anything, I’m amazed by just how quickly our sinful flesh forgets we’re a team.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s taking care of the house, running errands, raising kids, planting a church or navigating the daily ins and outs of life, it can be easy to forget your marriage is the most intimate and important team you’ll ever join.

Genesis 1:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  I love that ESV translates the word “cleave” as “hold fast.”  That’s such a good picture of marriage at times, especially when things are hard.  Hold fast.  Be a team.  Don’t turn on one another.  Help one another.  Lift one another.  Encourage one another.  Pray with and for one another.  You’re a team.

The God Who Restores

There are few people in life more discouraged than Christians stuck in their own past.  But it’s so common.  I have so many friends who trudge through life weighted down by the guilt, shame and secrecy of their past.  In some ways, we’re astonished by just how far we can fall.  In other ways, we can’t get over the devastation caused by our sin.  We’ve left a wake of hurt, of pain, of regret and brokenness and we feel like we’re meant to spend the rest of our lives looking back and letting Satan rub our noses in our failures.

Some of us define ourselves by our past.  You’re the person who had an abortion.  You’re the guy who had an affair.  You’re the girl who was enslaved to pornography.  You’re the guy who stole from family to get out of debt.  You’re the girl who lied.  You’re the guy who cheated at work.  You’re the girl who slept with the boss to get ahead.  You’re the guy who sold the drugs that led to the car wreck.  It’s just who you are.

The crazy thing is we still see ourselves that way even when we know God has forgiven us for our sins.  The forgiveness of sins is the core of the gospel.  We’re broken, we’re sinful, we need a Savior.  Jesus is holy, He’s perfect and He is the Savior.  He lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died.  Our life is found in His death.  The wrath of God has been satisfied.  Sin has been paid for on the cross.  Life Himself died that dead men could be made alive.  We’re forgiven and we’re free.

God sees you as son, daughter, friend, redeemed one, adopted family member, part of His body, member of the household, ambassador, light, salt, beloved.  He doesn’t see the shame of your past.  Only the glory of His Son.

What’s more, He promises to restore everything that sin destroyed.  One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Joel 2:25, I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,” God takes back the years eaten by the locusts of sin.  What sin destroys, God rebuilds.  It’s how the sexually broken find intimacy.  It’s how the lonely find community.  It’s how the fearful are made strong.  It’s how the self centered become loving.  God doesn’t just forgive.  He restores.

Maybe your life has a long chapter of devastation.  Maybe the locusts of sin chewed up all of college.  Maybe you look back at your 20’s and all you see is devastation.  Could I suggest it’s time to stop looking to devastation of the past and start looking to the restoration of today?  The God who makes all things new is for you.  He will restore those years.  He’ll do it in this life and He’ll finish it in the life to come.

You aren’t defined by your past.  You’re defined by Jesus, Christian.