Language Matters

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Language creates culture.

That’s one of those leadership principles that has become so widely recognized that no one seems to know who said it first.  That’s okay – whoever said it was absolutely right.  The language an organization uses isn’t a symptom of an underlying culture.  Language is one of the underlying drivers of culture.  That’s why Starbucks calls all of their employees “partners”and the University of Virginia calls their campus “grounds”.

It’s also why we call our sunday worship service a weekly gathering at Restoration City.  Some people think it’s just trying to be cute, creative or different.  But it’s not.  It’s a reflection of one of our deepest convictions about church – church is a community you join, not an event you attend.  The phrase “worship service” seems both event driven and confusing all at the same time.  First of all, no one knows why we traditionally call it a service.  Secondly, we’re not really sure who’s being served…us, God, or someone else. But it’s not only ambiguous.  It’s also event focused and we try really hard to avoid language that suggests church is an event or an obligation.

So, we say “weekly gathering.”  We don’t say worship gathering because we believe that all of life is meant to be an act of worship.  Done properly, your commute can be as much an act of worship as the gathering of the church.  We say weekly because that’s how often we do it.  We say gathering because that’s what it is – all of Restoration City and any one else who wants to join us coming together.  We’re every bit as much the church when we’re scattered throughout the city.  Sunday mornings simply give us an opportunity to come together to worship in song, hear God speak through His Word and pray together.  We gather.

That’s huge for us.  It helps us understand Sunday morning properly but even more importantly it helps us understand the rest of the week.  Today is an opportunity for worship, you are the church and God has sent you to your work place or wherever you are to live out His calling on your life.

So, I hope you’re on board for a little culture creating with me.  It seems small but talking about our weekly gathering would be an important step in creating the culture God is leading us to at Restoration City.

Someone Greater

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I used to think leadership and spiritual growth were all about becoming self sufficient.  The goal was to become the guy with all the answers, the guy who could get it done and inspire others to do the same.  I honestly saw being a husband and father the same way.  But the longer I walk as a husband, father and pastor, the more I realize my insufficiency.

I need someone to lead me – to point me in the right direction, tell me what to do and hold my hand from time to time.  I need someone to empower me when I do know the right thing to do but can’t seem to put one foot in front of the other to walk down the road of righteousness.  I need help doing the very things I most want to do – loving the people around me, delighting in God and living for His glory.

I need someone greater.

That might sound like weakness to you.  But it sounds like wisdom and experience to me. It also sounds like the soil in which faith grows.

The Bible unfolds the beautiful story of Someone greater.  Someone who speaks universes into existence but knows my name.  Someone who holds the stars in His hands and counts the hairs on my head.  Someone who is high and lifted up but dwells with the contrite and lowly.

Jesus.

If you’re feeling weak, tired, inadequate, afraid or overwhelmed, just know this: Jesus is for you.  You don’t have to have it all together.  You don’t have to be amazing.  You don’t have to have it all figured out.  He does.  And that’s more than enough for today.  He’ll lead you, empower you and help you.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

I’m okay with not having it all together.  In fact, I would rather depend on the One who created the heavens than try to get it right on my own.  He’s always going to do better than I am any way!

Need someone to lead you today?  Read the Bible and allow God to speak His Word into your soul.  Need someone to empower you?  That’s why God has placed His Spirit inside those of us who belong to Jesus.  Need someone to give you a whole new heart?  That’s why Jesus died on the cross – to pay for our mess and give us His righteousness.

Lift your eyes.  There is Someone Greater.  Everything changes the moment you realize He’s for you, not against you.

Blank Page

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I waste a lot of time trying to convince God to bless the script I’ve written for my life.  By the way, it’s not an evil script.  It’s actually a pretty good one – a healthy family, a church that’s impacting our community, enough rest and money to keep going and some fun along the way.  Maybe I would be okay if I just left it there.  But I don’t.  I keep going and start telling God exactly what we need to do to achieve those goals.  I get myself in trouble every time I try to micromanage God.

The problem is God already has a script for our days.  He’s had it for all eternity.  Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”  Before God created time, He knew we would exist and He had Monday, August 24, 2015 all planned out for us.  Unreal!  God has a specific script for how He wants to use each one of us today.  He has things for us to do, people for us to love and ways He wants to make us more like Jesus.  Today isn’t a Monday to be endured.  It’s a divine gift to be explored and embraced.

So often I miss out on God’s script because I’m trying to force mine.  Sometimes my script is a bold new idea I want God to get behind.  And sometimes it’s just being entrenched in the mundane routines that allow us to live days at a time on autopilot – the same commute, to the same meetings, to the same project, to the same gym, to the same tv, to the same bed, all to be repeated again tomorrow.

Recently, I’ve been trying to see each day as a blank page.  What if there was nothing scheduled, nothing in my inbox, nothing that I needed to do?  How would God want me to use today?  What would today look like if I brought God a blank page and asked Him to script every detail of the day?  What if I acknowledged that, yes, there are some things on my calendar but asked God how He wanted to use those opportunities?

There’s so much freedom and joy in giving God a blank page rather than a script.  It’s my way of trying to live out Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  Clay never becomes anything beautiful on its own and my script rarely amounts to much.  But God is the master potter who writes beautiful scripts.

It may seem risky to bring Him a blank page but it’s the wisest, most freeing decision you can make.

Perfectionism Is Paralyzing

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So many times I find myself longing for the day when I’ll be totally free to focus all of my life on Jesus.  I want to live for Him, to seek His Kingdom, to champion His name, to love others and to serve freely.  I want to build relationships with the lost, make disciples and live with a wholehearted focus on the glory of God.

If only I didn’t have so many problems.

I don’t know about you, but my greatest enemy in living this kind of life is myself.  I don’t pray as often as I should.  I get worried about money, housing and when we’re going to need to replace the van.  Church and family keep me pretty busy and I usually don’t have a lot of energy left by the end of the day.  My heart can be such a traitor and my flesh can be so weak.

In other words, all I need is a perfect life before I start to serve Jesus and live the way I really want to.

Which explains why it’s so easy for every one of us to miss the joy of partnering with God to bring redemption and restoration to our world.  News flash: we will never have a perfect life this side of heaven.  In fact, Jesus promises the opposite, “In this world you will have trouble.” (Jn.16:33)  The journey of life takes us through many trials, much suffering and frequent difficulty.

Here’s what I’m learning.  The difficulties of life are meant to be a catalyst to serve, not an excuse to avoid serving.  Our problems remind us that the world is broken and we await the perfection of heaven.(Romans 8:23)  Jesus uses our weaknesses to display His strength.(2 Cor. 12:9)  We think we need to take care of ourselves first and then focus on the Kingdom of God.  Jesus tells us to seek the Kingdom first and trust Him to take care of us.(Matthew 6:33)

The gospel reminds us that God has never needed our strength.  Jesus died for us when we were spiritually dead enemies of God. (Romans 5:8)  We didn’t need to clean ourselves up to be loved by Him.  He loved us first and that truth transforms us.(1 John 4:19)  We are saved by grace and we serve by grace.

The smartest thing you and I can do today is leverage all of our lives for the glory of Christ.  Take a step towards obedience in the chaos, mess and uncertainty of today.  Don’t wait for perfection.  Trust Jesus to use the mess.

Digital Detox

digital detox

We can get so used to experiencing life through the screen of our phone that we forget how much better the real thing is.

To combat this, I did a little digital detox last week.  No email, phone or social media for five days (with one minor exception…just to keep it honest!).  I knew it would be good for my soul.  I didn’t know a few of the other things I would learn.  Here’s the most significant:

  • After sitting out five days, it took me less than an hour to get caught up on my email, texts and social media accounts.  It was amazing how many problems had resolved themselves or no longer mattered.  I say all of this because I usually spend an hour a day on email.  Imagine getting 4-5 hours of productivity back every week simply by checking email less!
  • I found myself thinking about and praying for real people in my life more than normal.  All of the attention that normally goes to people I don’t even know on my Facebook newsfeed automatically swung to people I do know and really care about.  Cutting off my digital connections enhanced my personal connections.
  • I was able to enjoy the moment.  Technology is wonderful when we use it well.  When we use it poorly, it leaves us playing with our kids, thinking about an email, wondering if a tweet was directed at us, and debating if the whole scene is cute enough for Instagram.  Everyone looses, especially the kids.

So, I’m not swearing off technology.  But I am resolved to use it better…and it might not be all that long before my next digital detox!  Maybe you should schedule one as well.  If five days seems unbearable, could you do five hours one weekend?  If the answer is no, you really need to detox!

Rest: The Person, The Mission and The Provision Of God

Rest video FINAL from Restoration City Church on Vimeo.

As you spend time with Jesus today, the following questions may help guide your thoughts and prayers.  It’s a long list, so don’t worry about getting to all of them.  Just use the ones you find most helpful.

  • Do you spend time with Jesus to earn His blessing or enjoy His presence?
  • Are there any changes you need to make to your daily routine to find more regular time with Jesus?
  • Are you growing in your understanding of the gospel and it’s implications for your life?
  • What was the best book you read this past year?
  • What has been the most important thing you’ve learned about God and yourself this past year?
  • Think back over the last year, what was the one time you most felt like God was working through you?
  • Who is the one person you would like to see baptized this year?  Are you praying for them regularly?
  • When you think of the year ahead, what’s one way you think Jesus wants to use you to reach and disciple others?
  • Are you living beyond what God has provided with your finances, time or energy?  Where do you need to cut back?
  • Where are the places in life where you know your five loaves and two fishes are inadequate to the challenge in front of you?  How are you training yourself not to replace fear with faith?
  • Is there anything you’re not pursuing because you’re not sure God will provide?

Enjoy today, Restoration City.  The Scripture promises that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.(James 4:8)  That’s more than enough to make today incredible!

The Mess of Community

community

For a few years after college, I lived alone.  No wife, no kids, no roommates.  Just me.  At times I was lonely but, to be completely honest, I didn’t mind it that much.  In fact, I kind of liked it.  The place was always clean (I’m a little compulsive about that), I went to bed when I wanted, got up when I wanted and pretty much did what I wanted.  I never had to wait to do laundry and had very few interruptions when I was working.

Now my life looks considerably different.  I’m married and have two kids.  We’re part of a great church and love having people over for coffee, dinner or whatever.  The only time the house is perfectly clean is after the kids have gone to bed (and even then, it’s questionable).  Life is filled with interruptions, tears, laughs and a lot of chaos.

Here’s my point: community is messy.

I’m not against living alone but I am deeply concerned that so many in our culture have learned to live alone emotionally.  Just to be clear, you can live in a house full of people and still live alone emotionally.  Living alone emotionally is about building up walls where we never allow others to get to know the real us.  It’s about keeping our relationships superficial enough where we have plenty of people to go to a movie with but no one we’re really committed to or investing in.

Pressing into relationships, whether it’s at work, school, home or church, is inviting a mess into your pristine isolation.  If you let people in, they’ll bring their best and their worst. The more you get to know people, the more you realize they aren’t quite as perfect as they pretend.  Sin, brokenness and hurt that can be hidden at a distance becomes unavoidable up close.  Even worse, they’ll start to figure out all of your broken places as well.

I always want to pull back from community when it gets hard.  When the relationship requires work, I want to give up.  When things are awkward, I want to withdraw.  But I know that is I do that, I miss out on a chance to grow.

I’ve come to learn that messiness is one of the surest signs that community is actually working.  Neat and clean exists only in the world of shallow and superficial.  Messy is reserved for the deep and vulnerable.

So, when community gets hard, keep pressing in.  You’re finally getting somewhere!