Talk To Yourself Like You’re Brooks

Our oldest is mildly obsessed with baseball. By mildly, I mean totally and completely. We’re talking t-shirts, halloween costumes, birthday cakes, and, yes, actually playing baseball.

So, the Saturday before last was a big one in our house. It was Jack’s first try-out for a spring baseball team since he’s now playing AAA ball. Don’t worry…no one gets cut, the league’s just trying to make the teams somewhat even by distributing players according to their skill level. So, this wasn’t a complete make or break moment. But good luck telling that to a 10 year old who is mildly obsessed with baseball, more than a little competitive, and a bit of a perfectionist.

As we were headed to the try-out, I could tell Jack was nervous. It seemed like a good moment for me to do a little coaching/pastoring/fathering. I know Jack has a tendency to be really hard on himself and get discouraged when things don’t go well (I have NO IDEA where he gets that from?!? Must be Laura’s side of the family?). So, I wanted to help him think through how he was going to react if he didn’t hit a ball or dropped a catch or made a bad throw. He has a tendency to beat himself up in moments like that, “You’re the worst, you suck, no one wants you on their team, everyone’s watching, everyone’s laughing, you’re the worst, you suck, what’s wrong with you, you should quit, you’ll never be any good, you’re the worst, etc…”

It’s kind of hard to hit the second pitch with all of that running through your head. I wanted to help him talk differently to himself. So, I asked him who his best friend from baseball is. In classic Jack fashion, he responded, “Man, I don’t know. Can I pick like four or five?” (He does get that one from his Mom!). Nope, gotta pick one. Don’t overthink it, just give me a name! He finally landed on a kid named Brooks. Great choice. I really like that kid!

I asked him what he would say to Brooks if Brooks got a strike on his first swing. Jack being Jack, he launched into a full-volume cheer from the backseat, “You got this, Brooks! You can do it! Next one’s yours! Come on, man. You got this!!”

We find it easy to cheer for others but so hard to do the same for ourselves.

What if we all did what I asked Jack to do on Saturday – talk to yourself like you’re Brooks!

There are two vital conversations that shape our days and our lives. One, the conversations we have with God. Two, the conversation we have with ourselves. And a lot of us are really hard on ourselves. We pray to a God of grace and forgiveness but we’re harsh and unforgiving to ourselves. We preach a gospel of mercy but pummel ourselves. We need to let the two conversations that shape our lives blend together. Stop preaching hope for others but brutalizing yourself. Give yourself the same grace Jesus has already given you.

Talk to yourself like you’re Brooks.

Preparing For Lent

I grew up in an Irish-Catholic family so lent was always a big deal for us. No meat on Fridays and we always gave up something – ice cream was a popular option for the kids (sacrificial but still leaving the door open for a wide range of other desserts) but Mom and Dad would usually reach for something a little more challenging – all desserts, or wine, or, for one particularly bleak year, coffee.

To be honest, I never really got it. God was cool with a burger on Thursday but not on Friday? And why couldn’t I eat ice cream? How was that helping me love God more?

So when I found a spiritual home in more evangelical traditions, I was happy to be done with lent. I remember being thrilled by a God who loved me based on what He gave up on the cross not on what I gave up for 40 days. Also, no more ashes on my head. I didn’t like that part either.

More recently, I’ve been drifting back to observing lent and trying to lead our church in that direction as well. And I’ve found it deeply rewarding.

While there are years that I do choose some kind of fast, I’m going in a slightly different direction this year. Or, maybe you could say I’m intentionally reconnecting with the entire idea of lent. Lent isn’t primarily about what you give up. It’s about who you are pursuing. It’s about taking a period of time to intentionally pursue your relationship with Jesus. If that pursuit leads you to give some things up for a season, great. Maybe Netflix is killing your prayer life or Instagram is capturing your heart or you’re using food to avoid your emotions or you’re looking to alcohol for help decompressing at the end of the day. If that’s the case, take a step back.

But keep your eyes on the goal – Jesus. The goal is to connect with Him, to be with Him, to learn to trust Him more, to delight in His presence. Whether you call it lent or not, forty days pursuing Jesus would do all of us a lot of good.

Photo by Jamie Ginsberg on Unsplash

Praying for Growth

Recently, I’ve found an incredible freedom and joy in praying the Lord will grow our church. That’s new for me because I usually feel self-conscious, uncertain, or even guilty in praying for church growth. It feels unspiritual. Maybe even self-serving. If you’re not a pastor, that might sound weird. But, trust me, a lot of pastors, leaders, and Christians wrestle with the same thing.

Some of us come from traditions and cultures where church growth is everything. The only thing that matters is a trend line that moves up and to the right when we look at our attendance and offering reports. On the other hand, some of us come from traditions were church growth is greeted with suspicion. The assumption is that small churches are pure and big churches are shallow, gospel-light, feel good shows.

Honestly, I’m not really held back by either tradition. Not all fruit can be measured but healthy things do grow.

What I tend to struggle with is my motive in praying for church growth. Why do I want to see more people join our community? Is it about my ego, about job security, about feeding the idol of success that so easily tempts me? Because I can’t get clear on my motive, I tend to hold back and not do the very thing Jesus commands us to do in Scripture.

He told them, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.

Luke 10:2 (CSB)

The freedom and joy I’m experiencing is coming as a direct result of this verse. Jesus doesn’t tell us to pray for attendees or givers or crowds. He tells us to pray for workers, specifically for workers who will go into the surrounding community to engage the spiritually lost with the revolutionary power of the gospel. So, I’m praying for workers. And I’m doing it without guilt, hesitation, or apology.

I’m praying because we are developing a partnership with a local middle school that is presenting us with more opportunity than we can fulfill right now. I’m praying because we have opportunities for men and women from RCC to go to Ethiopia this year. I’m praying because DC is a college town and we have so much to do to reach and disciple the next generation. I’m praying because we’re currently resettling a refugee family from Afghanistan and could use more help. I’m praying because we have plans to serve foster families in the DC area. I’m praying because our church is located right on the edge of one of the largest first generation immigrant communities in the DC area. I’m praying because the harvest really is abundant right now. But we need more help to fully meet the needs of this moment.

So, no, I’m not praying that people will leave another church and come to ours because they like the preaching better (or the music, or the kids ministry, or community groups, or whatever). I’m praying the Lord will bring and raise up partners in ministry – people who really want to move the ball in our city, people who want to see the Kingdom come here in DC, and people who want to invest their lives in things that make eternal impacts.

If you live inside the beltway and happen to read this and don’t have a church home, we would love to have you on the team at Restoration City. But wherever you are, whoever you are, would you join me in praying? Would you join me in the freedom and joy of asking Jesus to move for the glory of His name and the good of others?

Photo by Kyle Richards on Unsplash

Eugene Peterson, MLK, and Ed Sheeran

Since my last post was about Martin Luther King, this seems like as good a time as any to share some thoughts that have been building in me over the past few years. While I’m so grateful for so much of what I got to experience as a young pastor, I also understand what Ed Sheeran means with his fantastic lyric, “Have no regrets but wish I did things in a different way.” (from Tides)

For example, I learned early on that a quick shot at Eugene Peterson and The Message (his paraphrase of Scripture) in a sermon was an easy way to get a laugh and make clear that I was serious theologian. Never mind that he was a professor and, at the time, I hadn’t even been to seminary! We were Bible people and Eugene Peterson could take his watered down theology elsewhere.

What a shame.

Eugene Peterson is one of the great saints and pastors of the last 100 years. He loved Jesus, treasured Scripture, thought deeply, and served so many so well through his teaching, his writing, and his personal ministry to pastors. His books have had a profound impact on my life (go read A Long Obedience In The Same Direction) and I would love to be like him when I grow up. He lived with a grace that embodied the gospel and influenced many (after you read A Long Obedience, you can watch him talking about the psalms with Bono).

And I made fun of him to show that I was a real pastor.

Which brings me back to MLK. In school, I learned about him as a civil rights leader but in church I never learned about him as a pastor. I knew his dream moved my heart but I didn’t know just how much his dream was shaped by his faith, by my faith, by our shared faith in Jesus. It’s not that I made fun of MLK but I never would have quoted him in a sermon either. I respected Dr. King but failed to see him as Rev. King.

I was too narrow in my thinking, my reading, and my preaching. I was living in a really small corner of the church and believing the lie that we were the only ones doing it right. It wasn’t just Eugene Peterson and MLK. Catholics and Anglicans were off limits. Charismatics were to be ignored. And, God forbid, learning something from a woman.

I’m sorry.

In some ways, this is a public apology. But it’s also an invitation to read broadly, to think critically, to engage with people you don’t agree with, and to be intellectually curious. You’ll be better off and so will those you influence and serve.

Photo Credit: By Clappstar – Own work, CC BY 3.0,