Diapers & Clothes For Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center

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One of the things I love about our DoSomethingDC partnerships is the ability to meet specific needs as they arise.  While most of our work with our partners involves ongoing activities or things planned long in advance, some of our greatest impact comes by meeting unplanned and urgent needs.

Our DoSomethingDC team recently became aware of one of those needs through the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center.  They have an urgent need for diapers (sizes 1,4 and 5) and clothes (boys sizes 3T and 4T).  So, this Sunday and next, we’re going to have a donation center set up in the lobby of the Synetic Theater.  If you’re looking for an immediate way to have a real impact in our community, this is for you!  Just buy one or more of the above items and bring them with you to church on Sunday.  It’s that simple.

We talk a lot about living for restoration in DC.  This is part of how it happens.  I hope you’ll join Laura and I in doing something to serve the families of the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center this Sunday.

My Prayer For DC In One Statue

awakening statue

This potentially gruesome statue has become one of my favorite places in DC.  If you’ve ever been to National Harbor in Maryland, you’ve no doubt seen this piece of art rising up out of the sand.  To be honest, it used to creep me out.  But that all changed when I learned the name of the piece: awakening.  Now I can’t look at it without thinking about the gospel and my prayers for DC.

Pray For Awakening In Our City

I love this town.  There’s no other place I would rather live and no other place Laura and I would rather raise our children.  But there’s so much death and despair here.  Earlier this week, it was reported that we now stand at 78 homicides YTD in the District alone.  That’s a 20% increase over last year.  Synthetic drugs are robbing young people of their hopes, futures and lives.  Families struggle to put food on the table.  Churches keep closing their doors.

I want my life to be about awakening in this city.  An awakening to the truth, hope and life found in Jesus.

Pray For Awakening In Our Souls

But that awakening will only come to a city when it first comes to our souls.  Our Christian lives look a lot like the awakening statue – parts of us have burst out of the ground to new life.  God is changing, molding and strengthening.  But there’s so much of us that remains buried under the sands of sin and shame.  So many places where we long to be new but detect the old.  So many places where we know but don’t believe the gospel.

How I long for a life fully awake to the glory of God.  He’s more majestic, powerful, just and merciful than we can imagine.  We need Him to open our eyes that we would fully taste and see His goodness.

Power For Awakening

There is hope for awakening.  For me, for you, for our city.  It’s the hope that comes from knowing there was once a man who really did rise up out of the ground.  The tomb of death couldn’t contain Jesus.  He came back to life that we would do the same.  He defeated death that we could be alive, awake and available for His mission.

The incredible thing is that God intends to accomplish this awakening through His church.  You may be more focused on the parts of you still buried but God is more focused on how to use the restored parts of you for His glory.  Don’t hold back because there’s still work to do in you.  Press forward into the hope of the gospel and the mission of bringing awakening to a city.  It’s why we’re here.

Vision On A Page

BudgetYesterday the members of Restoration City Church approved a new budget for the fiscal year starting in September of 2015.  I’m grateful for the way Dan Iten led us all through this process and incredibly grateful for a church that’s willing to believe God for big things.  Most of all, I’m grateful for what this budget represents – it’s not just numbers on a page, it’s vision on a page.  It’s a statement of who we want to be as a church.  Two things in particular stand out for me and both are percentages:

51% Of The Budget For Personnel

Even with creating room for a possible 3rd staff position starting in January of 2016, we’re able to keep our staff percentage at 51%.  Many studies suggest that for a church to be considered healthy, that number should be under 60%.  Anything around 50% is strong and anything under 50% is territory few churches ever see. So, to be at 50% as a small, less than one year old church plant is fantastic.

It’s an embodiment of the Ephesians 4 culture we want to create at Restoration City.  Ephesians 4:11-12 teach us, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” In other words, it’s the pastoral team’s job to equip the saints for the work of ministry and the job of the saints to do the ministry of the church.  When a church operates that way, God does incredible things.  So, if you’re serving at Restoration City, you need to know all the hours you invest in the church make a huge difference – in lives transformed and in dollars that don’t need to be spent on staffing.  God is using your sacrificial service to advance the gospel.

16% Of The Budget For Outreach/Mission

By keeping staff expenses low, we’re able to free up more money for mission.  This is the part of the budget that gets me the most fired up!  As a member of Restoration City, I love knowing that 16% of every dollar I give to the church goes to support external ministry partners doing incredible work whether that’s here in DC, in East Africa or church plants in Brooklyn.  That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of – one that is leveraging it’s resources for the good of our city, country and world.  If we make our budget next year, we will have the privilege of giving $78,000 to mission next year.  Nothing makes me happier!

In order to reach these goals, we need every person who calls Restoration City their church home to lean in with us.  If you’re not serving, join our connect team.  If you’ve been serving for a while, maybe God is stretching you into greater responsibility or leading you to serve outside of the church with one of our ministry partners.  If you’re not giving regularly to the church, go to our website and set up a recurring donation.  Or maybe God’s leading you to give more generously.  Whether it’s with your time, your resources or your prayers, we need you to lean in with us like never before.

I love being a part of a church that’s fighting for something – to see restoration come to Washington DC through the gospel of Christ.  I love where God is leading us and I’m so grateful we get to go there together.

I truly believe we are going to see God do some amazing things in this coming year.  We will see yet again that He really is the God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,” (Eph. 3:20)

Thank you, Jesus.  You died that we could live and have a role in what you’re doing in the world.  Help us walk worthy of the calling you’ve placed on our lives.

A Church That Makes Disciples

Which is more important to the success of a church: structure or relationships?

The answer is not as clear as you might think.  If you say relationships, you’ll end up with a church where everyone loves each other but nothing gets done.  It’ll feel a lot like five year olds playing soccer – a whole lot of fun and not a lot of progress.  But if you say structure, you’ll have great programs that produce little life change.  It’ll feel a lot like working at a company with a great business plan but surprisingly few customers.

I would respond to my own question by saying it’s a bad question.  Many times, the church sees structure and relationships as polar opposites.  They aren’t.  They work together.  A good church needs both.

The key is making sure you create structures that facilitate relationships.

Lives are transformed in the context of relationships.  Jesus invited 12 ordinary men to become His inner circle (Mark 3:13-19).  The early church was radically communal (Acts 2:42-47).  Paul poured his life into Timothy and Timothy poured his life into the Ephesian church. (1 Timothy 1:1-3).  Paul’s heart for discipleship is evident in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

Want to be more like Jesus?  Live life in a community of people who love Jesus, love the Bible, love each other and love you.  Dig into the Word together.  Pray together.  Care for one another.  Call each other out on sin.  Speak life into each other’s souls.  It’s all about relationships.

We need people way more than we need a program.

When structures facilitate those kinds of relationships, they’re invaluable.  When they take the place of relationships, they’re deadly.  At Restoration City, we create Community Groups and Life Groups to facilitate these relationships.  Community Groups are the entry point.  They’re co-ed, open to anyone and designed to get you in an environment where people share a meal, study God’s Word and pray together.  They’re a great way to start connecting with our church and continue growing in Christ.  But, ultimately, you’ll need something more.  That’s where Life Groups come in.  These are much smaller, single gender relationships that you form with 2-4 others for accountability, confession of sin and spiritual care.  It’s in these smaller, safer environments that God does His deepest work.

Good structures serve, not subvert, relationships.  But don’t ever forget that structures are a means to an end.  Don’t put your hope in a Community Group or Life Group.  Use those as a vehicle to cultivate the relationships you need to grow more like Christ.  Don’t just go to a Community Group, be fully engaged in the life of the group.  Don’t settle for shallow.  Push for deep.  Use everything as an opportunity to cultivate the relationships that will transform your soul.

Stillness or Striving?

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Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

(Psalm 46:8-11, ESV)

Be still.  It’s the Hebrew word for a silent, motionless state.  Stop.  Say nothing.  Do nothing.  Be fully at rest – no words, no work, no worry.  There are few words my soul needs to hear more.

We live lives of constant motion, frenetic effort and unrelenting pressure.  There’s always something to check, to do, to schedule.  We run harder and harder and feel like we’re only getting more and more behind.  Emails, dishes and meetings all pile up.

The psalmist is showing us another way.  Cease striving.  Trust God.  Realize it all doesn’t rest on your shoulders.  Accept the gentle rhythms of grace.  Find stillness for your soul.

Sounds great.  If only it were possible, right?

Well, the psalmist is giving us a roadmap to genuine soul rest.  The roadmap is found in the character of God.

Past Faithfulness

Verses 8-9 recount the works of God.  The description seems jarring but it’s a reminder of God’s faithful deliverance of Israel.  Think about your past.  Can you name one time when God was unfaithful to you?  Maybe He didn’t meet your expectations and maybe He didn’t follow your script and maybe He let you down.  But unfaithful?  I don’t think so.

Future Promises

God’s faithfulness in the past gives us confidence in His promises for the future.  That’s the heart of verse 10.  We can be still because God is going to accomplish all of His purposes.  It’s a done deal.  We simply need to play our part.

Current Presence

When the Lord of hosts is with you, your soul can rest.  That’s the hope of verse 11.  He’s in your corner today.  He’s walking into the exhaustion, uncertainty and opportunities of the day with you.  You aren’t alone.  You may be in over your head but He isn’t in over His.

Stillness and hard work aren’t mutually exclusive.  Stillness often gives rise to great effort, productivity and resolve.  But it’s not frantic, scattered, flailing.  Stillness is a fountain of energy.  Striving is an energy drain.

Which are you operating from today? Stillness or Striving?

Young Preachers, Pay Attention To Donald Trump

donald-trump-abc-news

If you want to learn something about longevity and effectiveness as a preacher, keep your eyes on Donald Trump.

Love him or hate him, the Donald is on quite a roll these days.  He’s surging in the polls and his face seems to be everywhere.  It almost seems like the more outrageous his statements become, the bigger his brand gets.

He has become the poster child for a culture that rewards shock value, at least in the short run.

His rise is emblematic of a trap that snares so many young preachers.  It’s one I’ve fallen into from time to time.  If you say some outrageous things, tell some borderline stories and use some edgy language to “keep it real”, you’ll probably get some attention for yourself.  It’ll feel great in the moment and you’ll laugh at voices that urge you to build your ministry on something deeper.  After all, your numbers are soaring.

That’s where Trump comes in.  He’s headed for an implosion.  His campaign is a lot like spring break – short, raucous while it lasts and filled with regret afterwards.  You don’t want the same thing to be said of your ministry!

Don’t settle for short term notoriety when God wants you to have long term impact.  Real impact is rooted in years of faithfulness, humility, work and grace.  It doesn’t come through one killer illustration.  It comes through dozens of faithful sermons.  Real impact requires a deep foundation in the Word of God.

It’s the Word of God that revives souls (Ps. 119:25), is living and active (Heb. 4:12) and is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16).  The gospel doesn’t need gimmicks, only faithful heralds. Yes, tell the story of grace creatively, authentically, engagingly, winsomely and with every ounce of strength God provides.  Great truth deserves a great presentation.  But keep Christ the center, feed your sheep the eternal words of God, root them in the gospel and pray God would be pleased to bear fruit.  Teach them that good theology and the abundant life go hand in hand.

Don’t be the Donald Trump of preachers.  Learn patterns when you’re young that pave the way for decades of effective, gospel shaped preaching.

Want To Grow? Take Notes!

NotebookDo you want to know the three things your pastor most wants you to bring with you to church this Sunday?  I know the cynics will say, “My wallet, a friend and a willingness to laugh at bad jokes.”  In response to that, let me go out on a limb and say that if that’s actually true, it’s time to find a new church.  I’ll also tell you how I would answer the question for the people I lead at Restoration City:

  • A Bible
  • A Notebook
  • A Pen

I know I’m running the risk of sounding like a cranky old guy but let me press it one step further: your plan to consolidate all three of those into one smartphone isn’t a good one.  You need to go old school on this one and use paper.  Before you totally write me off, I’ll let you know that I absolutely have the YouVersion of the Bible on my phone and love it.  I use Evernote and understand that I’m writing this on a blog.  And oftentimes my pens are out of ink.

But if you really want to get the most out of Sunday, you’ll bring a Bible, a notebook and a pen.  Michael Hyatt, one of the most successful distributors of electronic content in Christian publishing today, recently wrote a fascinating blog on the advantages of paper books over ebooks.  One of the advantages he writes about is improved memory.  In my experience, this is certainly true of studying the Bible.  I tend to remember things better from a paper Bible and be able to find the verse again easier in the future if I’ve had to flip to it in the pages of a Bible.

Note taking will enable you to get exponentially more out of a sermon.  If you come to the sermon with the expectation that God is going to say something to you, you might also want to come with a way to record that.  Jot down verses, questions, thoughts, action steps, key phrases, whatever impacts you.  Taking notes in a sermon is the easiest way to accelerate your spiritual growth this weekend.

Your Bible, notebook and pen are a tangible reflection of your attitude towards the sermon.  If you’re coming to be entertained, you don’t need them.  If you’re coming to learn, you wouldn’t consider leaving them at home.

Whether you’re part of Restoration City or another local church, there’s no greater sound on a Sunday morning than the rustling of pages.  Your pastor will love it.  And so will you!