The Discipline of Grace

The more I study the lives of Christian men and women I admire, the more I realize how much they resemble a sailboat.  From a distance, sailing seems effortless; you glide majestically over the waves powered only by the wind.  But the closer you get, the more you realize there’s a tremendous amount of work going on to make the ship sail.  The same is true of our lives with God.  On one hand, we’re powered by the breath of God and hopelessly adrift without the grace we need to fill our sails.  On the other, following Jesus takes a lot of work.

If you want to grow spiritually, it’s going to take grace and discipline.

Paul hints at this in Colossians 2:5 when he writes, “For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.”  Paul rejoices in both their good discipline and their faith in Jesus.

As our churches pursue gospel centeredness, we run the risk of ignoring the need for discipline in the Christian life.  If you fall into that trap, you will face spiritual stagnation.  If you want to spend time with God every morning, it’s going to take discipline to get out of bed – angels aren’t going to magically transport you; you need to turn the alarm off, get up and move to that first cup of coffee!  If you want to read books that nourish your soul, it’s going to take discipline to turn off the tv.  If you want to experience the joy of giving generously, it’s going to take discipline to reign in your other spending.  If you want to preach a great sermon, it’s going to take discipline to prepare.  If you want a great marriage, it’s going to take discipline to prioritize your relationship.  Stop thinking any of this is going to come easy without you having to do some work.

On the other hand, you can have the greatest crew in the world on the fastest yacht ever and you’re not going anywhere without some wind.  Discipline doesn’t move the boat, it can only help you catch the wind of God when it blows.  Our only hope of real momentum in life is the grace of God.  All the discipline in the world won’t get you out of bed in the morning if God doesn’t give you a love for His Word.  It’s only as we understand the gospel more, embrace the lavish grace of Jesus and learn to find our identity in Him that we experience real growth in our lives.  If you want to know how central grace is, consider that even the discipline we have is a gift of grace.  Paul points that out in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

If we want to live the life God created us for, it’s going to take discipline and grace.  The key is getting the order right.  Grace motivates discipline.  Discipline never produces or earns grace.  So, pursue grace.  But you’ll know you’ve found it when that grace produces discipline in our lives.

Catch the wind, work hard and see how far God will take you!

The Marriage Gap

IMG_2526Over the weekend, I had the honor of officiating the wedding of a young couple that Laura and I care about very much.  It was a beautiful day celebrating what God has done in bringing them together and praying for all He will do through their now joined lives.  It’s always fun watching people cross the divide from singleness to marriage.

I just wish the divide wasn’t so wide in the church.

Just to make it personal, the greatest segregation I see at Restoration City is between married couples and single adults.  Sometimes it feels like we live in two different worlds.  Married people hang out with other married people and talk about married people things.  Singles hang out with other single people and talk about single people things.  Just like the rest of the world.  And we all miss out.

What if the church became a place that narrowed the divide, not widened it?  We have so much to learn from each other and so many way to bless and encourage one another.  Consider just a few:

  • Single young adults need to be exposed to healthy, Christ centered marriages and families.  In a culture that increasingly tells young singles to avoid or delay marriage and the resulting loss of freedom, we need to create spaces where people see marriage is actually a good and desirable thing.  Married people, you have the ability to bless and serve singles simply by inviting them over for dinner.  Also, the home cooking will be much appreciated!
  • Married couples with children have a huge need for time together to invest in their marriage.  Singles, you have the ability to bless a young family beyond belief by babysitting for a few hours.  Two hours of your time would pour so much life into young parents.
  • Lifelong singles are able to follow the words of Paul and have an undivided focus on the things of the Lord.  Your singleness isn’t a curse from God.  It may be a blessing that allows you to be on the the greatest contributors to the church. (1 Cor. 7:32)  Speak into the lives of the next generation, shape ministries and know that we are all tremendously grateful to have you in our midst.  You aren’t a second class citizen, you are a vital part of the body of Christ.
  • Married people get trapped in a bubble and think only other married people understand their struggles and temptations.  True, to an extent.  But more than empathy, marriages need biblical truth and singles are certainly able to offer that.  Married people could also use a few friends to remind them that life doesn’t have to shut down at 9PM all the time!
  • Married couples, when you’re real about your journey, your struggles, your joys and your disappointments in marriage, you give singles an accurate picture of marriage rather than the silly nonsense flowing from pop culture.

This is one of the primary reasons we are committed to co-ed, multigenerational community groups.  We want marrieds and singles to interact, to form friendships and to encourage one another and to learn from one another.

Are you living exclusively on one side of the divide?  Then break out, reach out and see how much you could learn from the wonderful people on the other side.

Leadership Lab

Leadership-Slider-5There is no greater leadership laboratory than the local church.  No other environment will stretch you in as many different ways, give you as many transferable skills or give you as great a sense of satisfaction.  So, if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ looking to grow as a leader, you should plunge as deep as possible into the life of a local church.  It’s not just pastors who learn to lead in churches.  It’s all of us.

Here’s why I will always point to the local church as the ultimate leadership lab:

  • High Stakes.  You’ll never fight for anything that matters more than someone’s soul.  Church isn’t about making a program run.  It’s about restoration for dying souls, broken homes, shattered communities and a faltering world.  We’re not trying to accomplish small things through the church.  We’re participating with God in the biggest things.
  • High Standards.  If our mission really is that important, mediocrity doesn’t seem appropriate.  The local church isn’t the place for weak leadership where people are just happy you’re willing to suit up for the game.  There’s too much at stake for that.  You should expect to be pushed at your church to do more, achieve more and believe more than you ever thought posssible.
  • High Opposition.  As vital as the mission of the church is, there are many who oppose our work.  The Bible even warns us of spiritual opposition.  So, don’t expect a cakewalk where everything’s easy.  You’ll hit obstacles, encounter challenges and develop your ability to problem solve.

You should find all three of those things in a local church. But, I’m not naive enough to think they only exist in a local church.  The military easily offers all three as do other forms of public service and many private sector companies.  Here’s where the church makes her unique contributions:

  • High Volunteerism.  The work of the church is accomplished through people who never receive a paycheck.  Yes, I mean that even though I receive a paycheck from a church.  But my job isn’t to do the work of the church.  My job is to equip the saints for the work of the church(Eph. 4:12).  The real work of Restoration City Church is done through our non-paid volunteers.  Want to learn to lead?  Then figure out how to motivate, deploy and inspire people without depositing one dollar into their checking account.  In all honesty, it’s not just that we don’t pay our volunteers, we actually expect them to give to the church!  But here’s what I know – if you can lead volunteers, leading employees will be easy.  Nothing will explode your leadership capability like volunteering to lead other volunteers!
  • High Grace.  It’s okay to fail in the church.  It’s okay to take risks and get it wrong.  It’s okay not to have all the answers.  It’s okay to make a mess.  We’ve got a theology for that.  We call it grace.  God loves us despite all of our brokenness.  He redeems and restores us.  He does more through our weakness than we could ever dream of accomplishing in our strength. Imagine a space where you were free to fail, learn from your mistakes and keep growing.  If you don’t experience that kind of grace as a volunteer at church, you’ve probably stumbled into a church that doesn’t understand the gospel.

Want to be a better leader?  Then bust down the door of a local church that will develop, value and empower you and jump on board with God’s mission.

Time for Patience or Courage?

It was just over a year ago that I made the transition from being a church planting resident to a full time church planter.  I remember how thrilled and terrified I was to transition off the staff of The Summit Church.  I knew God had called us to plant in Washington, DC.  It was obvious He was working and I couldn’t wait to see the vision He had given us become reality.  At the same time, it felt like we were leaving every last remnant of security and stability behind.  We were about to jump off a cliff into a sea of uncertainty and the closer we got, the faster my heart was beating.

Now it’s been 12 months since we took the plunge.  I can tell you the thrill has far outweighed the terror.  God’s grace is stronger than my weakness.  Jesus really meant it when He said He would build His church.  Experiencing it all first hand has changed me in more ways than I ever would have imagined.

Somewhere along the way, I developed a great love for leaders standing on the edge of their own personal cliff.  It might be the cliff of planting, moving to a new church, accepting a new role at your current church or moving overseas for the sake of the gospel.  For me, the particular cliff doesn’t matter as much as the moment.  Do you jump or not?

In talking with leaders over the past year, I’ve become convinced of two things:

  • We need fewer 25 year olds planting churches and more 35 year olds.
  • Your 20’s are a time for patience and your 30’s are a time for courage.

Yes, both of those are generalizations and I know there are exceptions.  You might even be an exception.  But, in general, those two convictions would serve young leaders and the church planting movement well.

If you are a leader in your 20’s, I absolutely love you.  You have amazing potential.  The fact that you are serving God at such a young age is beautiful and inspiring.  But if you aren’t old enough to rent a car, please don’t pretend you have a fully formed philosophy of ministry!  You need time to grow, to be tested, to be broken, to figure out who you are as a person and a leader.  In general, that means staying where God has you. Be patient. Learn. Pray. Grow. Submit to authority.  Your day will come.  But a blind leap off a big cliff rarely ends well.

If you’re a leader in your 30’s, I’m right there with you. Married. Two kids. A mortgage. A 401(k). A lot more to loose.  Isn’t it amazing how risks that wouldn’t have fazed us in our 20’s now seem borderline insane?  All of the sudden, the cliff takes courage.  But that isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the last 10 years – you have as well.  You’re actually ready to take the plunge.  By now, you know who you are as a person and a leader.  You know the kind of church you want to serve.  You know how you’re gifted.  You have something to say and something to offer.  Don’t run from the cliff just because your wife and kids are going to take the plunge with you.  Be strong and courageous.

Maybe another way of saying all of this is that if the cliff doesn’t seem scary, you probably aren’t ready to jump.  If it does, you probably are.  Don’t be afraid to wait but when your time comes, don’t you dare miss out on the thrill of jumping!

Understanding Race In America

Driving In TanzaniaShortly after landing in Nairobi last Monday night, I started to hear of the unrest in Baltimore.  At first, it was hard to gauge how serious the situation was but it soon became clear that something major was happening.  It seemed so ironic to be laying in bed in Kenya, texting with my brother who lives in Baltimore and telling him I would be praying for his safety.

As I watched events unfold from East Africa, I was alarmed by not only what I saw in Baltimore but also on my news feed.  So many of the tweets and status updates I read were unhelpful at best and hateful at worst.  Whites decrying the loss of property.  Blacks decrying the loss of justice.  So much pain, fear, anger and misunderstanding.

All week, I kept thinking of a quote from Stephen Covey, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I wonder how different our conversation about race in America would be if we actually took that advice.  The Bible commends the wisdom of listening as well, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” (Prov. 1:5)  As a 37 year old, middle class, white male, I’m convinced the most significant thing I have to offer the conversation is my ears, not my voice.

Last week helped me realize just how little I understand the African American experience.  God used a road trip from Arusha, Tanzania to Nairobi, Kenya to help me see that.  On Thursday morning, I made the roughly four hour drive with three friends in a car with Kenyan license plates.  From the time we left the medical clinic we had visited that morning to the time we crossed the border (about an hour and a half), we were pulled over 7 times by the police.  It seems like Tanzanian police love to pull over a car with Kenyan tags.  By the way, we weren’t getting pulled over because we had done anything wrong.  We were getting pulled over to see if we had done anything wrong.

On the first stop, it was determined that there was one person in the car breaking the law.  Me.  I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.  So, the officer issued a ticket and demanded payment on the spot in cash.  That set us back 60,000 Tanzanian shillings, which happened to be all the cash we had on us.

Six more times we went through the ritual (sometimes within a few hundred yards of a previous stop).  I found myself getting more and more frustrated, impatient and angry.  I also felt a little twinge of fear each time.  What if they did find another offense?  What if they demanded payment on the spot?  We didn’t have any money.  What would happen?  Would they detain us?  Could I possibly end up in a Tanzanian police station?  Yes, I felt a little comfort in my American passport but I also knew that wouldn’t necessarily help all that much.  The balance of power had shifted and, for one of the few times in my life, I felt nervous around authority.  I wasn’t sure the system would protect me.  I wasn’t sure I would be treated fairly.  I wasn’t sure justice would win.

I’m not pretending for one second that my experience in Tanzania has made me an expert on the black experience in America.  Just the opposite – it’s convinced me of how little I really know and understand.  So, I’m determined to listen.  I’m determined to ask uncomfortable questions.  I’m determined to understand a little more.

That’s my challenge to you – whether you are white or black.  Throwing rocks, tweets and ill formed opinions isn’t getting us anywhere.  Maybe it’s time to find the humility to listen.