The Path Of Grace

Path Of Grace

Earlier this month, I was headed out to run some errands on a Saturday morning when I realized things were getting a little chaotic at home and the best thing I could do for Laura was to bring the boys with me.  As soon as I suggested that, the look on her face confirmed that I had read the situation correctly!  So, the boys and I headed to the underground parking garage in our building to jump in the minivan and knock out a few errands.

Unfortunately, in my zeal to move quickly, I managed to sideswipe a very inflexible concrete pillar as I was backing out of our space.  Just like that, I had a caved in door, a dangling side view mirror and two freaked out little boys who kept asking, “Daddy, why did you do that?!?”  As soon as I was able to convince them that it was an accident and not a sign that Daddy was having a break down, they calmed down.  And, by calmed down I mean they spent the rest of the day telling everyone they could that Daddy had broken the car.  To this day, I still can’t back in or out of a space without one of them condescendingly (yes, toddlers can do condescending…I promise!) reminding me to be really careful not to hit anything.  And every time they do, I’m reminded of the beauty and power of grace.

As soon as I hit the pillar, I knew it wasn’t going to be good.  But, for a fleeting second, I held onto the hope that somehow that loud noise hadn’t resulted in any damage to the van.  As soon as I got out to check, I realized that wasn’t going to be the case.  There was damage.  And it was my fault.  There was no excuse to make, no one else to blame, no way out of it.  I messed up.

In that moment, I really didn’t need someone to berate me.  I didn’t need someone to point out that we had better things to spend our money on than the insurance deductible.  I didn’t need someone to spell out how this was going to disrupt our plans for the day and our schedules for the week.  I didn’t need a lecture on safe driving, not rushing and paying attention.  All of that would have only made me angry.

What I needed was grace.  Someone to say they were sorry that had happened.  Someone to reassure me that it wasn’t going to bankrupt our family.  Someone to point out this is why we have insurance.  Someone to treat me in a way that showed they weren’t mad and that I wasn’t going to be punished.

Praise God, that’s the kind of woman I married.  The grace Laura showed me in that moment was exactly what I needed.  No condemnation, no guilt, no exasperation, no lecture.  Just a willingness to jump in, coordinate a rental car and get the van to the body shop.  It was exactly what I needed!

I think her grace to me was so compelling because I so often struggle to show that same grace to her and others.  I can be so quick to judge, condemn, point out faults and failures.  It can be so important to me to make sure people understand just how bad their mistake really was.  I often want people to feel enough pain as a result of their sin that they won’t do it again.  I buy the lie that if I can make someone feel bad enough, they’ll change.

But it never works.  I’ve yet to guilt or condemn someone into genuine repentance and I’ve yet to see long term improvement in someone because of how strongly I denounced their inadequacy.  It just doesn’t work.  You can spend your life hammering away on people but don’t kid yourself, you aren’t helping them.  You’re only making them more angry.

This all should be ingrained in our hearts as Jesus followers because of how God treats us.  He answers the horror of our sin with the grace of the cross.  He answers our rebellion with His peace.  He covers our sin and shame and cancels our debt of sin.  He shows kindness and mercy.  And we change as a result.  We grow to be more like the One who loves us when we are least lovable.

Imagine how much better our families, friendships and workplaces would be if we were so captured by the grace God has shown us that we show that same grace to others.  What if we walked the path of grace?

It’s what I’m praying for me, for you and for all of us this week.

Overcoming Trauma Fatigue

Trauma Fatigue.jpg

I went to bed feeling pretty good about life on Sunday evening.  It had been a good morning at church, a productive afternoon at the office and a relaxing evening at home with Laura and the kids.  Mondays are my day off and I was looking forward to taking the kids to the zoo the next day.  Little did I know that we were about to set yet another record for the worst mass shooting in US history.  But on Monday, I turned my phone on only to learn that 59 people had been killed and more than 527 had been injured at a Las Vegas music festival.

And I felt numb.  Maybe even indifferent.

Sad, appalled, and horrified, yes.  But also somehow unable to summon those emotions with the intensity this kind of carnage deserves.  It felt like I was suffering from some kind of trauma fatigue.  There’s just been too many bad things happening too quickly to keep up with it at all.  Charlottesville, Houston, The Florida Keys, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas.  North Korean nukes, fake Russian Facebook ads and ongoing debate over kneeling during the national anthem.    It’s just too much to process.

And then Romans 12 helped me understand exactly was was happening in my soul – I was being overcome by evil.  The full verse reads, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rm. 12:2)  I was allowing my spirit to succumb to wave after wave of evil.  I was allowing those waves to lap away at my joy, my hope, my compassion and even my calling as a Christian.  Yes, Jesus is “our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1)  But He is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the One who fights for His people and the One who calls us to overcome evil with good.  He calls us to push back against the tide of hate, division, and fear that is ravaging our country.  He calls us to fight with the weapons of truth, of love, and of grace.

I don’t want to be overcome.  I want to be an overcomer.  Specifically, I’m praying my life and our church would be characterized by the following:

Resist The Temptation Of Self-Righteousness

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of telling the story of the world in terms of good people and bad people, the right and the wrong.  It’s how the world operates; we just can’t agree on who belongs in which category most of the time.  It’s also part of why we rally together during times of national crisis – at least we can all agree that mass murderers are bad.  And they are.  Unthinkably so.  But so are you.  And so am I.

The thing that makes you want to fight back against that conclusion is called self-righteousness.  It’s why we all define good people and bad people in terms that put us squarely in the middle of good.  Bad is always someone else.

But all of us are deeply broken, tragically flawed  and capable of more evil than we are comfortable admitting.  A century ago, a British newspaper asked the question, “What is wrong with the world?”  The writer G.K. Chesterson wrote a famous reply to the editors:

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G.K. Chesterson

If only we could learn to replace our finger pointing with humble self-awareness.  If such spiritual poverty seems off putting to you, remember Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)  Those words were spoken by the One who would go to a cross so that we would inherit a Kingdom.  It’s His love poured out for us that makes it safe to admit that we don’t have it all together.  It’s His goodness that enables us to confront our brokenness.

There are no good people.  And there are no bad people.  Only people simultaneously made in the image of God and in need of the grace of God.

Cling To The Hope Of Eternity

There is a day coming when God Himself will make all things new.  He will dwell among us and “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)  In that day, all the promises of the Kingdom of God will be fulfilled and, as Tim Keller says, every sad thing will become untrue.

That doesn’t mean the pain of this world doesn’t matter.  But it does mean we don’t lose hope in the midst of our pain.  The Apostle Paul explained it this way:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The brokenness of this world only intensifies our hunger and thirst for the one to come.

Talk About Jesus

Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  I’m 39 years old and I can’t remember a time when the world needed the church more than it does right now.  But not a cowering, fearful, disengaged church.  Not a church that runs from the world.  Not a church that’s afraid people will laugh at us because of our faith.  Not a church afraid of upsetting people with the truth of the gospel.  Not a church marked by indifference.  And, most of all, not a church that perpetuates the self-righteous lie of good people versus bad people.

No, our world needs a church that is confident, hopeful and willing to engage the deep questions of our time with the eternal hope of Jesus.  The world is dying for the hope we’re afraid to share.  It’s time to get the lamp out from under the basket. (Matthew 5:15)   Time for the people of God to rise.  Time for the people of God to love, to serve and to believe that He who is in us really is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

The more I ponder the gospel, the more I find my trauma fatigue morphing into determination.  Determination to mourn with those who mourn.  Determination not to turn a blind eye.  Determination to fight back.  Determination to overcome evil.  Determination that only be sustained by the grace and power of God.

Closed Doors & The Will Of God

doors

As we continue in our Boundless series on the Book of Acts, we’re going to be skipping over the five verses that would come next.  It’s not that they’re unimportant, it’s just that we’re trying to get to a certain place in the text by Christmas.  But I don’t want to skip over them entirely because they have tremendous value for us in navigating our occasional frustrations with the ways God reveals His will for our lives:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.  So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Acts 16:6-10

We live a lot of life on the front side of a Macedonian call.  Yes, there are moments when it feels like God literally pulls back the curtain of heaven and tells us exactly what to do.  But, for most of our lives, it feels like we’re stumbling around, banging into closed doors and trying to figure out what Jesus is asking us to do.  Even as I write this, I can think of at least three ways Laura and I are trying to navigate that right now.  In the midst of that frustrating and painful lack of clarity, this text brings three helpful reminders:

Don’t Let What Seems Illogical Distract You From What Is Certain

Imagine how disorienting all of this must have been to the Apostle Paul.  He’s the great evangelist and church planter of the early church.  He’s completed one missionary journey and is on the first leg of his second journey.  His whole aim is to tell people about Jesus.  He’s not praying through whether or not he really needs the iPhone X.  He wants to pluck as many people as possible from the clutches of hell.  And his biggest obstacle seems to be the Holy Spirit.  What’s wrong with preaching the gospel in Asia?  Does God hate the Bithynians?  How can the God who has always said go now say no?

Closed doors are so frustrating because they often seem so illogical.  Why is God doing this?  Why won’t He open the womb, help us with the down payment, get me into grad school or accelerate our adoption process?

Paul doesn’t minimize the confusion but he also doesn’t get distracted from what he’s certain about – the mission God has given him.  He’s going to preach the gospel.  If not in Asia, Phrygia will be just fine.  If not Bithynia, Troas works.  He was so committed to that mission that when he finally has a revelation from God, his only conclusion is that God has called him to preach the gospel in Macedonia.  He isn’t thinking sea side sabbatical.  He’s thinking gospel mission.

You may not know what God is doing in your life right now.  But you do know your purpose in life – to glorify God by making disciples.  Everything else finds its place in relationship to that mission.  So, don’t give up on it when life doesn’t make sense.  Keep pressing forward.

Obedience, Patience and Inactivity Aren’t The Same Thing

Paul demonstrates a tremendous amount of obedience and patience in all of this.  He doesn’t try to kick down any closed doors (one of my favorite ways of running afoul of God’s will for my life). Imagine how easy it would have been for him to conclude he was mishearing the Spirit of Jesus.  That Spirit is always telling us to go.  Now He’s saying no? I probably would have stormed into Asia demanding God’s blessing on my well-intentioned disobedience.  But not Paul.  He obeyed and waited.

But he didn’t stagnate.  He kept moving.  His bias was towards unblocked action.  If God was saying no in certain ways, Paul was determined to keep moving forward in a way that God was allowing.  He didn’t grind everything to a halt and linger in neutral until God told him what to do.  He kept moving, trusting the Lord to make it all clear.

I know so many followers of Jesus who struggle with this.  They assume the default posture of the Christian soul is passivity interrupted by the occasional Macedonian call.  Not true!  We are a people with a bias for action.  This passage simply reminds us that action must walk down the paths of obedience and patience.

God Will Open The Right Door, The Right Way, At The Right Time

Don’t get discouraged!  God is more than able to break through the fog of closed doors whenever He needs to, in whatever way He needs to?  For Paul, all of the closed doors finally make sense with one vision.  God has been leading Paul and his team (which now includes Luke, the author of Acts) to Macedonia the whole time.  The gospel moves forward and we’re reminded that God has known what He’s doing all along.

Today, those moments are more likely to come through a study of God’s Word, wise counsel and circumstances than dreams and visions but dreams and visions are still on the table.  If that’s what it takes, that’s what God is going to do.

In the midst of the uncertainty of closed doors, we can cling to the hope that God will keep us on the path He has designed for us. All of our confusion isn’t going to thwart God’s plan for our lives.  Job 42:2 has been such a comfort to me over the years, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

When the time comes, God will get you right where He wants you.

There are few things in the Christian life as disorienting as illogically closed doors.  They can give rise to all kinds of fears – has God abandoned me, is He angry at me, am I being punished?  Don’t fall for that kind of thinking.  You might be facing many closed doors but the arms of your Savior are wide open.  He’s already made what He thinks of you abundantly clear on the cross.  He tasted death so you never have to.  He purchased you, declared you His own and adopted you into His family.  He didn’t do it to leave you helplessly floundering through life.  You can trust Him, cling to Him and pray for the day the fog lifts.  In the mean time, keep walking!

Back To School

Back To School

Now that our oldest is safely and happily in his Pre-K classroom, I’ll spend my day like most parents on the first day of school – wondering how in the world I’m going to survive dropping him off at college.  Don’t get me wrong, by bath time tonight, I might be dreaming of sending him to college or possibly boarding school but, for right now, Pre-K is all I can handle.  Even as I’m writing this, I find myself praying that he’s having fun, feeling comfortable and not stealing anyone else’s snack.

This whole adventure of parenting is filled with more highs and lows than I ever would have imagined.  When I was a kid, I thought grown-ups had all the answers, were never afraid and totally had this thing called life figured out.  I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be; it would have rocked my world to know how unsure, overwhelmed and, at times, scared my parents must have been.  But now that I am a grown-up (or at least a parent), I’ve come to realize they must have felt that way.  And I’ve come to realize that’s a good thing.  All of that parental uncertainty draws two things out of my heart.

One, compassion for other parents.  It’s really easy to judge parents when you don’t have kids.  But, once you join the sleep-deprived club, you realize that everyone’s trying to do their best.  No, we don’t all parent the same way and, yes, the Bible has plenty to say about how we should raise our children.  But, wow, this parenting thing is hard enough without all the critiquing and criticizing we’re all tempted to run to as a way of covering our insecurity.  Our little people need us to stick together and keep the Moma Drama to a minimum.

Two, dependance on God.  The one thing that helps me sleep well at night is the certainty that God loves my kids more than I do.  At times that seems hard to believe but I know it’s true – they were His idea long before they were mine and He sacrificed more for them in Jesus than I ever will.  He has plans and purposes for their little lives and, in His wisdom, He knew that growing up with me and Laura as their parents was the best way to bring those plans to fruition.  He’s a source of wisdom, grace and strength when we don’t know what to do.  We just need to humble ourselves enough to ask.

In the sea of our parental uncertainty, Laura and I are trying to stay anchored in three commitments this school year:

  1.  Assume the best of and pray for your child’s teacher.  No, your kid’s teacher isn’t going to do everything exactly the way you would.  By the way, even if you homeschool, you’re not always going to meet your expectations for yourself!  In the moment when you are tempted to send that fiery email, take a breath and assume the best.  Make it a habit to pray regularly for your child’s teacher.  Ask God to strengthen, encourage and bless him or her.  Ask the Lord to work through this person to shape your child’s heart and mind.
  2. Show grace to other parents and families.  I was thinking about this the other day when I saw the list of foods banned from our kid’s school.  My goodness – PreK has turned him into a functional vegan.  By the time you add up everything that anyone in the classroom is allergic to, he’s pretty much going to eat celery for a year.  No flax seed?  Fine.  No peanut butter?  You just messed with a pillar of American education!  Does all of this make lunch a little more complicated?  Yeah.  Is it a big deal?  Not really.  The Bible calls us to outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)  Make that your goal when interacting with other parents and families – whether it’s about lunch, birthday parties or what tv shows they watch.
  3. Love your kid without comparing your kid.  If your kid had a melt down this morning, it’s easy to wish he was more like the confident little bugger down the road.  If, on the other hand, your kid leaped out of the mini-van and barely said goodbye, it’s easy to wish he was more like the sensitive kid down the road.  Why go there?  Love the kid God entrusted to you and make sure he or she goes to bed tonight knowing how proud you are of him/her, no matter how today went.

Before long, all the emotion of today will fade.  But, if it leaves us all a little more humble, dependent and compassionate, then it really will have been a good first day.

 

(Photo courtesy of  Aaron Burden on Unsplash)

Launching Grace Hill

Grace Hill Logo

I’m so grateful for the messages Dan Iten and Allan McCullough preached the last two Sundays at Restoration City.  If you missed either of them, do yourself a favor and listen online or subscribe to our podcast.  Both of these guys are incredible pastors and great friends and it’s a huge joy in my life to be connected with both of them.

As you also know, Allan and an incredible team of people are planting Grace Hill Church in Herndon, VA and they will officially launch on Sunday, September 10th.  We’re privileged to be their sending church so we’re already committed to Grace Hill financially, spiritually and in sending members from our church to join their launch team.  But in these next few weeks, I want to add a new element to our commitment to Grace Hill – being a voice for them.

Being a voice for Grace Hill isn’t any where near as hard as you might think and would likely accomplish much more than you might think.  Here are two really simple things every one of us can do to help our brothers and sisters at Grace Hill reach their communities with the gospel:

  1.  Text friends who live in the Reston, Herndon, Sterling and surrounding communities and let them know Grace Hill is launching on September 10th.  Best thing to do?  Send them a link to Grace Hill’s website: http://gracehillchurch.com/.  In particular, be thinking about friends who don’t have a church home, are looking for increased opportunities to serve or don’t know Jesus.  One simple text might make a huge difference in people’s eternities.
  2. Post a link to Grace Hill’s website on your social media feeds letting friends know that Grace Hill is launching soon.  Same deal but with a bigger audience.

As a church, we want to launch Grace Hill well – and your voice will help us in that.  So, take a minute to do a little texting and posting for the advance of the gospel!

Gearing Up For The Fall

Turn Page On CalendarPhoto by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

You may not know it but these last few weeks of summer are a really significant time for us at Restoration City as we gear up for the fall.  The start of the school year creates one of the most significant opportunities for ministry we have all year at Gunston, on college campuses, and as people throughout our city get refocused after the summer.  Given what’s at stake, we don’t want to stumble into the fall; we want to be prepared for all God wants to do through us individually and corporately.  As part of that gearing up process, I want to focus all of us on two of the most foundational ways you can be involved in what God is doing through Restoration City: generosity and prayer.

At our recent congregational meeting, our members voted to approve an aggressive $730,000 budget for the fiscal year starting on September 1st.  To be clear, this is a tremendous leap of faith for us as a not yet three year old church plant.  In simplest terms, we’re trusting the Lord to provide an additional $130,000 beyond what He did last year.  While that’s a big jump, we believe God is more than able to do it and believe these resources are what we need to be faithful to all the Lord is calling us to do as a church.  In part, our confidence in this provision came from the Connected & Committed giving commitments many of us made this past May.  If you are one of the people who committed to either start giving or increase your giving in the coming year, please login to your CCB account to start or update your recurring donation.  I also want to encourage you to pray about making a one time year end gift to the church between now and the end of August as we close out this fiscal year.  We’ve had a couple of unbudgeted but important capital expenditures this past year (most significantly our box truck and some staff computers) and need your help for a strong finish to the year.

Even more importantly, I want to continue calling us to prayer as a church.  I genuinely believe what I said in my July 30th sermonwe won’t pack out our auditorium until we pack out our prayer room.  Our next steps as a church won’t be based on our strength but on our dependance.  If our hearts long for gospel restoration in our lives, families and city, then prayer must be our first, not our last, resort.  That’s why I want to invite you to join me this and every Sunday at 9.15 in the morning in the back of the Gunston Auditorium to pray for a powerful move of God’s Spirit in our church and city.  Finally, I want to encourage you to use these next three weeks to ask God how He wants to work through you personally in the year to come.  Don’t assume He’s got your life on cruise control and dreams of nothing bigger or different than what He did last year.  Carve out real time to pray, “Here I am, Lord.  Send me.” and see what He stirs in your heart.

I can’t wait for all that’s ahead of us as a church.  I genuinely believe year 3 is going to be our best yet and I’m thrilled to be on this journey with each of you.

See you on Sunday!

 

 

Q&A With Alex Dibble

Alex does an amazing job leading our RCC Kids ministry and you’ll love reading her answers to these questions:

You joined the RCC Launch Team right out of college. What made you want to be a part of RCC?

During my senior year of college, I wanted to be a part of the RCC Launch Team out of a desire to help plant a church and reach families in an urban city. Although I thought that it would look differently than is did when I planned to move to DC to help start RCC, I quickly saw that the Lord wanted to work in and through me in this city in ways that I could not have asked for or imagined.

What’s your favorite part of living in D.C.?

My favorite part of living in DC is continuing to see how the Lord has and is building a community of believers around me through his local church and allowing me to be apart of inviting others into it as he does so. When preparing for our launch, I may have said that passion was the central reason that I moved to DC, and while that is still a major factor in why I love being here the people are now what keeps me here and he his growing my love for this city alongside of this.

What do you think it the biggest misconception people have about serving in RCC Kids?

I think that the biggest misconception people have about serving in RCC Kids is that we are simply caring for the children during service; however, the children who are in RCC Kids are loved and served not only through the care given but through the truths about our God that are taught each Sunday.

How has leading RCC Kids strengthened your relationship with Jesus?

Leading RCC Kids has strengthened my relationship with Jesus by teaching me to come to him with a childlike faith, full of curiosity and openness to learn. In doing so, I have also learned to simplify the gospel and truly rest in its certainty in the midst of a world with so many unknowns.

If you could travel anywhere in the world for a month, where would you go?

I would go to Pittsburgh for a month to spend time with a friend before she begins school. It is sometimes a challenge to know and love someone from a far and I think the Lord would use that time to deepen our relationships with one another and him.

Who is the person who has had the greatest impact on your spiritually? What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from them?

My best friend from college, Kelly, has had the greatest impact on me spiritually. Her friendship has taught me what it looks like for iron to sharpen iron. The biggest lesson I have learned from her is to trust fully in the work of the Lord not only in my life, but the lives of those I care deeply for.

In the last 12 months, what’s the book that’s had the biggest impact on your life?

None Like Him by Jen Welkin, has been the book that has had the biggest impact on my life in the last 12 months. It has helped me to see the Lord, myself and others rightly based own his character and how he made us. This has allowed me to receive and give grace and truth more freely as I seek to rest in and walk in his design.