Summer Reading List

Summer Reading ListWell, it’s unofficially summer.  Pools are open, cold brew coffee is a must and we’re all dreaming of vacation.  I hope you’re also building a summer reading list of books that will stir your affection for Jesus and make you more effective in the local church.  If you are, I wanted to share five relatively easy reads that have impacted me significantly over the last 12 months.  They’re the kind of books you’ll get a lot out of and enjoy reading:

Saving The Saved, Bryan Loritts.  Bryan shows how the performance free love of Jesus frees us from the meritocracy of religion and invites us into the freedom of the gospel.

Goliath Must Fall, Louie Giglio.  Using the story of David and Goliath, Louie paints a beautiful picture of Jesus as our Giant Slayer and shows us how the gospel topples some of the most common giants in our lives.

Befriend, Scott Sauls.  One of the best explorations of friendship, community and the gospel I’ve read in a long time.  Scott examines what real friendship looks like and all of the ways we form them in our lives.

You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith.  James explores how our hearts shape our lives and how our habits shape our hearts.  I may not agree with all the specific liturgical practices in this book but it’s well worth your time.

Designed To Lead, Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck.  Geiger and Peck challenge us to see the church as a leadership development locus for the whole community.  This is easily the most influential leadership book I’ve read this year.

I’m praying you’re able to enjoy one or more of these books over the summer.  I’m also curious what suggestions you have for me.  Leave a comment with your must read recommendation for the summer.

Church: A Community On Mission

Community And Mission

It seems like there’s an increasing trend in the church to place community and mission on opposite ends of a spectrum and then invite individual followers of Jesus and whole churches to decide where they fall on that spectrum.  I know plenty of churches who say they’re all about community – Sunday morning is warm and welcoming, it’s easy to join a community group with plenty of friendly people, and there’s one epic hangout after another to make sure you’ve always got something to do.  I also know plenty of churches who say they’re all about mission – Sunday morning is simple and no frills, it’s easy to start serving with a team of really committed people, and there’s an endless series of opportunities to serve, sacrifice and give.  It’s so convenient – all you have to do is pick the church that’s the best fit for you and have a great time/make your life count.

It’s an attractive but deadly trap.  Community church may be a blast but it never accomplishes anything and ultimately forgets why it exists.  Mission church may do a lot of good but people don’t seem all that healthy and end up feeling like a cog in someone else’s wheel.  At the end of the day, Jesus didn’t die to create a social club or an impersonal organization of exhausted people.

Jesus died to create a community on mission.

Maybe more accurately, Jesus died to pursue His mission through a new community we would call the church.  Jesus didn’t create a mission to keep the church busy.  He created a church to pursue His mission.  Community and mission are so intertwined that any attempt to pursue one without the other leaves us missing both.

Here’s how all of this connects for us at Restoration City – many of our mission problems are really community problems and many of our community problems are really mission problems.  Let me show you what I mean:

  • A lot of us who are struggling to find community aren’t serving.  I’ll often hear people say they want to get the community box checked first and then they’ll start serving.  Wrong!  Start serving and you’ll likely find your community through that team.  When people tell me they’re having trouble connecting at Restoration City, my first question isn’t which Community Group they’re in but where they’re serving.  Want to deepen your community?  Engage with God’s mission.
  • On the other hand, there are some of us with a deep passion for a ministry but we’re frustrated that no one else seems to be jumping in to help.  It’s maddening – God’s broken your heart over something and no one else seems to care.  I’ve come to learn that the answer to that is not an announcement in our gathering on a Sunday morning but to get more engaged with a Community Group.  People want to get to know you before they’ll follow you.  Want to engage others with God’s mission?  Deepen your community.

When we stop seeing community and mission as two ends of a spectrum and start seeing them as two sides of the same coin, it unleashes something powerful in our lives and churches.  Don’t pick between community and mission.  Join a community that’s on mission together.

 

 

The Heart Of Margin

Heart of margin

We’ve spent the last few weeks as a church talking about creating margin in our lives.  We did it because God didn’t create us to be stressed out, maxed out and on the road to being burnt out.  We also did it because mission requires margin.  Generosity requires financial margin.  Serving and investing in others requires margin in our schedules.  Staying healthy as we pour ourselves out for the good of others requires emotional and relational margin.  Where there’s no margin, there will be no mission.

Along the way, we’ve seen that margin is a heart issue well before it becomes a calendar, financial or relational issue. So, as we wrap up our focus on margin, I want to highlight the three heart issues we need to deal with in order to create margin in our lives.

Identity

We’ll never be able to create and defend margin if we allow the approval, opinions and expectations of others to form our identity.  If we’ve given people control over our identity and value, it’s no wonder we give them control over our schedules and spending.

As followers of Jesus, our identity doesn’t come from others or even from ourselves.  It comes from the One who loved us enough to die for us.  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.“(Gal. 2:20)  Those word were written by Paul but they’re every bit as applicable to us as Jesus followers today.  You are so loved that Jesus willingly died in your place on that cross.  He gave Himself up for us so that He never has to give up on us.  When we believe that, we become a new creation.  Christ Himself lives in us.  He’s our hope of glory, our source of strength and the One who calls us to a bold, beautiful life of freedom and faith.

You aren’t defined by other people’s hopes, dreams and expectations for you.  You’re defined by God’s work for you.

Intimacy

One of the biggest margin killers in our hearts in FOMO (fear of missing out).  We’re terrified we won’t get a date if we don’t go to the party; won’t get the promotion if we don’t go to the conference; won’t get the contract if we don’t take the call; won’t have any friends if we don’t go on the trip.  We say yes to everything because we’re terrified of the consequences of saying no.

But when you bring Jesus into the mix, FOMO loses its grip on our hearts.  “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.“(Ps. 84:11)  God withholds no good thing from His children when they allow Him to determine their path.

The question is whether or not we’re asking Jesus to determine our path for us.  This is where intimacy come in.  We know God has told us that apart from Him we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5).  We usually take that to mean we can’t do the thing we’ve already decided to do without God’s help.  I’m learning more and more in my own life that it also means we shouldn’t do the deciding without God either.

Paul Tripp often talks about how the gospel shapes our lives “at street level” – meaning the seemingly small, mundane details of our lives.  I’m convinced this is one of the greatest secrets in creating and defending margin in our lives.  Prayerfully engaging Jesus in deciding how and where we spend our time gives us confidence that we’re not missing out.  When He tells us to say no, it’s for our good.  And when He tells us to say yes, it’s for our good.  No more FOMO.

Intentionality

Creating and defending margin isn’t easy.  It involves countless collisions between God’s plan for us and other people’s expectations of us.  In Mark 1, we see Jesus actively resisting the demands of His disciples and the residents of an entire city.  Margin doesn’t come easy.

And it doesn’t come without planning, without difficult conversations and without confronting our fears of missing out or disappointing others.  This is where intentionality comes in for us.

My goal in leading us through this series wasn’t just to get us all feeling bad about our lack of margin, or to get us talking more about margin or even to get us wanting more margin.  My prayer is that we will actually create more margin!  So, what decisions do you need to make?  Conversations do you need to have?  Emails do you need to send?

I so want us as a church to be healthy and to be deeply engaged in the mission of God.  Both require margin.  For your sake and for the sake of a city desperate for the hope of Jesus, do the heart work necessary to create the margin that mission requires.

Connected & Committed

Connected&Committed_Cover

I really feel like God is using this season at Restoration City to strengthen and prepare our church for greater impact in our city and world.  That’s the heart behind our Membership Renewal Process and our Connected & Committed Giving Commitments.  As we get ready to bring our Connected & Committed Giving Commitments to our gathering this Sunday, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page with why we do this and what I’m asking as well as let you know how I’m praying as we head into this Sunday.

Why Connected & Committed?

There are two really simple answers to this one:

  1.  Our fiscal year runs from September 1 – August 31st and we present the annual budget to our members for a vote at a Congregational Meeting in late July.  So, we’re in the early stages of pulling that budget together. In order to do that responsibly, we need to get a sense of what our giving will be for next year.  Rather than guess, we ask.
  2. Our weekly attendance has increased by 37% since we started meeting at Gunston in July but our internal giving has only increased by 6.5% during that same period.  In some ways, that’s how it should be – nobody expects you to start giving the week you start attending a church.  But if you’ve made Restoration City your church home, I want to ask you to pray about investing in our mission.  Something like Connected & Committed creates an easy opportunity for you to start giving regularly to our mission.

What Am I Asking?

Simple answer: Fill the card out and bring it with you on Sunday!

Complete Answer:  Pray about what God is asking you to give next year.

If you’re currently giving to Restoration City, I would love to have you doing what Laura and I are – reevaluating your budget and planning your generosity for next year.  That may mean you end up giving the same, more or less than you are giving now.  However the Lord leads, I’m convinced the discipline of planning out your generosity for the coming year will have tremendous benefits for your budget and your soul.

If you’re not currently giving to Restoration City and consider this your church home, I’m asking you to set up a recurring donation on CCB.  God is opening a lot of doors for us as a church to be serving our city but we can’t walk through them without your generosity.  So, please, consider partnering with us financially.

How Am I Praying?

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” – Luke 21:1-4

No, I’m not praying you give all of your savings to the church!  Nor am I praying for a couple of really big commitments (although we’ll take ’em!).  I am praying that a lot of us will participate.  You may only be able to give $20 a month or even $5 – that’s awesome!  Don’t you dare believe that Jesus would be more honored if you gave $2,000 or $500.  He delights in a heart that trusts Him and is captivated by the gospel enough to sacrificially give towards the advancement of the gospel that changed everything for us.

I’m really hopeful for all the Lord is going to do for His glory and the good of our city this summer and in the year to come.  Let’s be motivated by that as we pray over our Connected & Committed Giving Commitments for this Sunday.

Four Truths About Money I Wish I Had Known In My 20’s

Money1

I loved speaking on the need to create financial margin this past Sunday at Restoration City.  If the overall premise of this “margin” series is that mission requires margin, then the premise of this past Sunday’s message was that generosity requires financial margin.  That’s such an important thought for our entire church to latch onto as we pursue God’s mission for us as a church.  And, I believe, it’s an especially important thought for our 20-somethings to latch onto even though you’re young and poor.

The financial decisions you make in your 20’s will create a trajectory that will shape your 30’s, your 40’s and, in some cases, the rest of your life.  Here’s why this is such a big deal for me: I made the worst financial decisions of my life when I was in my 20’s.  And I don’t want you to go down that road.

So, let me give you four truths about money that I wish I had learned at 22:

 I’m Not Going To Have My Parent’s Lifestyle

At least not yet.  Yes, Mom and Dad may eat out regularly, drive nice cars, take great trips and live in a great house.  You know the main difference between them and you?  Roughly 30 years of working, saving and investing!  But when we’re in high school and college, we get to draft of their lifestyle – their house is our house, their vacation is our vacation and their income establishes our lifestyle.  But then we’re out on our own, just with less income.  Guess what?  That’s how it’s supposed to be!  The problem comes when we don’t adjust our lifestyle.  Debt comes when we think we’re entitled to eating out a few times a week, going to Europe once a year and living in a place with granite counter tops.  Your 20’s aren’t a time to keep up with your parents in their 50’s.  They’re a time to do in your 20’s what your parents did in theirs – live simply, eat inexpensively and save!

The More I Save Now, The More Options I’ll Have Later

I don’t know why I couldn’t quite figure out that 35 year old John would end up needing some of the money that 25 year old John was busy spending.  But, as it turns out, all of those things you dream of in life are rather expensive – weddings, honeymoons, houses, kids, they all add up.  No, I’m not suggesting you become a Scrooge-like hoarder.  But the less you spend now, the less you’ll stress later.

If I Need To Spend Money To Impress Them, They Aren’t Really My Friends

Don’t blow a lot of money trying to keep up with people you won’t even be in touch with in 10 years.  It’s okay to say no – to dinner at Chipotle, spring break in Cabo or happy hour.  If they have a problem with that, they don’t really like you; you’re an accessory to their insecurity and lifestyle.  Spend time with people you’ll be able to rely on when life gets hard.

Generosity Is About My Heart, Not My Income

You aren’t going to magically start giving money to your church, a charity or a missionary when you start making $75k a year.  In fact, how generous you are when you make $35k is a pretty good indicator of what’ll happen at $75k.  The issue isn’t your bank account – it’s your heart.  No, you may not be able to give much now but the amount is no where near as important as the intent.  So, find something you care about and start giving regularly to support it, even if it’s only $5 a month.

Don’t spend your 20’s killing financial margin.  Spend your 20’s cultivating it.  You’ll thank yourself for it later.

Hang In There

Hang In ThereIt’s been an incredible gift for Laura and I (and Emma!) to spend the last two days at The Summit Network Pastors Retreat in Raleigh-Durham, NC.  We’ve been able to connect with old friends, meet new church planters in the network and have a great time celebrating all God is doing through this network of churches.  But, more than all of that, it’s been an incredible celebration of God’s faithfulness.

I can’t begin to count the number of times Laura or I has used the phrase, “Can you believe it was only 3/4 years ago that…”  And then we end the sentence with something that now feels like it happened a lifetime ago.  Three years ago, we still lived in Raleigh-Durham and were getting ready to move back to DC to see what God wanted to do through Restoration City.  Jack was only 15 months old.  We knew God had called us to Restoration City but had no idea what that would look like.  Honestly, we were incredibly excited and incredibly scared!

But, in a lot of ways, it’s four years ago that’s been on my mind a lot these last few days.  Four years ago, I knew I was called to plant a church but worked for a pastor that was vehemently opposed to church planting.  I was watching a college ministry I had built from the ground up retreat from the campuses of our city and close its doors.  I wasn’t teaching or preaching at all.  Life was nothing but uncertainty and I had a wife and 3 month old son to care for and lead.  Those were the darkest days of my walk with Jesus.  I was tempted to give up on the church, on ministry and on myself.  I was tired, frustrated and felt terribly alone.

Maybe you’re in a similar spot right now.  Nothing’s working.  Everything’s crumbling. Uncertainty and fear seem to be the only constant.  Hope seems so illusive and it would be so easy to give up on ever finding it again.  If that’s you, I get it.  I’ve been there.

And I wrote this whole post to say one thing to you: Don’t give up because God hasn’t given up on you!

He will be your “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” while He carries you through this storm.  I promise you, His grace really is sufficient.  He hasn’t let go of you, abandoned you or turned His face from you.  Maybe He’s discipling you.  Maybe He’s testing you.  He’s certainly molding you, shaping you, preparing you.  And He promises He’s fighting for you.

While Laura and I were praying, God was working to connect me to The Summit Network through a friend.  I called him in desperation one day which prompted him to have a conversation with the Summit guys about where I felt God was leading me.  And then I got a call from Summit asking me to come to RDU to spend a year with an incredible church, raise up a team and head back to DC to plant Restoration City.  I never say any of it coming and never orchestrated a bit of it.  But God did.

In all of the uncertainty, He was working.  Lining up.  Getting things ready.

And I believe He’ll do the same in your life.  Don’t you dare give up.  God didn’t give you your dream just to taunt you with it. He’s placed hopes, desires and passions inside your soul because He wants to bring them to life.  None of it may make sense to you right now but that doesn’t mean He isn’t working.

Hang in there.  Trust.  Believe.  Pray.

RCC Membership Renewal

Man Writing Document Dinning Table Concept

I love the season we’re in as a church.  As I shared in the sermon this past Sunday, we’re asking all of our members to enter into a really simple but really significant membership renewal process over the next few weeks.

When I say simple, I mean all we’re asking you to do is let us know you want to continue as a member, update your contact information, reaffirm the commitments you made when you became a member and let us know if you have any questions or concerns you would like to discuss with our staff or elders.  That’s it.  The whole thing will take you less than five minutes to do online; just click here.

Let me also tell you why I think it’s significant:

  1. Ensures Our Membership Rolls Are Accurate.  As our church continues to grow and we add more members, communicating well within the church requires more and more intentionality.  It’s honestly one of the bigger challenges we have, so it’s not a small thing for us to make sure we have an accurate phone number, email address and mailing address for you.  We also want to make sure we’re updating our membership records to reflect people who have moved out of the area or started attending another church.  We don’t want to be the church that proudly reports 2,000 members but has less than 100 people showing up on a Sunday morning!  Membership renewal helps us avoid that trap.  We want to have an accurate sense of who’s really with us as a church.
  2. Reminds Us That Membership Matters.  I meet a lot of Christians today who dismiss church membership as an unhelpful relic of the past.  Maybe that’s true if you look at membership as a formal promise that you won’t even think about attending another church, even if ours is really bad and a really awesome one moves in right down the road.  Church membership isn’t about trapping you.  It’s about discipling you within a local church.
  3. Prompts Reflection On The Commitments We’ve Made To Each Other.  This is what church membership is really about – the commitments we’ve made to one another.  For us at Restoration City, our members make 9 commitments to one another; they’re the commitments that create our culture, define expectations and keep us healthy as a spiritual family.  More than anything, my prayer for this membership renewal process is that it will be a catalyst for self reflection.  It’s a chance to step back and ask ourselves how much those commitments are shaping our lives, make any needed course corrections and move forward as a unified body.  It’s about resyncing us with what we’ve already committed.
  4. Creates An Additional Touchpoint For Pastoral Care.  No, I don’t think a web form is pastoral care.  But I do think it can become a prompt for it.  Please, use the comments and prayer requests sections of the form.  Our staff and elders would be honored to pray for you and we want to hear from you.  If you have questions, concerns or suggestions about the church, let us know.  We want your input and would be happy to talk more in person or over the phone.

So, if you haven’t done so already, please complete your renewal process today.

If you’re not yet a member of Restoration City but would like to become one, please plan to join us for our next New Members Class on Sunday, June 4th right after church.  You can get more information and sign up here.

I’m really grateful for all God is doing in this season to strengthen and unify us as a church.