Coming Back Stronger

When all things Covid flipped our world upside down, I found myself asking one question over and over again, “What would it look like to come back from this time stronger than we went into it?” I know that in some ways that’s an outrageously optimistic or privileged question to ask in the face of a global pandemic, perhaps insultingly so. But that’s not how I mean it.

I mean it in a way that helps me find vision for myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I mean it in a way that helps me find vision for my marriage and our family. I mean it in a way that helps me think about more for our church than simply surviving. I mean it in a way that’s consistent with some familiar New Testament texts.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:5-6

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-16

But over the last few weeks, my question has evolved just a bit. Instead of simply asking the vision question of what would it look like, I’ve started asking the implementation question of what is it going to take. It’s one thing to have a picture of what you want, it’s a totally different thing to have a plan for how to get there. While I can’t offer us a one-size-fits-all plan, I can share a few simple ideas that have shaped my plan.

Formation Over Consumption

While there is nothing inherently wrong with it, binge watching multiple online church gatherings every Sunday is not the best way to accelerate your spiritual growth during this time. Binge watching church is one more example of our post-Enlightenment belief that all transformation comes via information or inspiration. Yes, renewing our minds is a big part of spiritual formation (see Romans 12). But so are the spiritual disciplines, and a vibrant relationship with the Spirit, and a more contemplative life, and reading good books.

We come back stronger by deeply engaging with God.

Relationships Over Isolation

I get it. Zoom calls are getting old. They’re not the real thing and they take more energy than a face to face conversation. But you know what’s worse? Isolation. The first thing in all of history that God ever said was not good was humankind being alone. Just about the worst thing you could do right now is retreat from community. I’ve seen that story play out hundreds of times in my ministry and it never ends well.

We come back stronger by staying connected.

Rhythms Over Frenzy

Everything in God’s creation functions with a sense of rhythm. Day and night, six days and then a sabbath, seasons, years, lifetimes. We thrive when we’re living with a sense of rhythm. But right now it’s easy to slide into frenzy, chaos, and disarray. Fight it. Set your alarm, make a schedule, stick to it, go to bed on time, and then get up and do it all again tomorrow.

We come back stronger by adapting our rhythms and then living into them.

Presence Over Anticipation

It’s so easy to obsess about the future right now. When are we going to reopen? What’s it going to look like? Will there be a second wave of Covid in the fall/winter? Please, God, tell me the kids are going to go to school this fall! Obviously, we all need to be thinking about those questions to a certain extent. But not to the point where we lose our ability to be present to today and live this moment well. Jesus said it this way, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

We come back stronger by living one day at a time.

Trust Over Control

So much of my obsessing about the future is driven by a need to find something I can control. Maybe if I scour the internet long enough, I can find the information I need to make definitive plans for how we’re going to come back as a church. Sure would be nice. But it’s just not there, at least not yet. But what we do have as followers of Jesus is actually better – the presence of a God who promises to lead us by the hand into the future He is writing for us (see Psalm 139). Our job is to focus on Him and pray for the faith to believe He’s leading us every step of the way.

We come back stronger by resting in God’s sovereignty.

Generosity Over Hoarding

In the face of uncertainty, our natural tendency is to hold a little tighter to the things we do have, whether that’s cleaning supplies, flour, toilet paper, or money in the bank. But Jesus shows us a better way, a way that only makes sense if we’ve learned to trust Him. We are called to live with a generosity that reminds ourselves that God really is big enough to take care of us if we do our part to help take care of others. If you need help, ask for it. But, if you’re able to help, don’t let this moment pass you by. Chose generosity.

We come back stronger by knowing we did what we could to help others.

So, what does it look like to come back stronger for you? My prayer is that God would not only give you vision for this season but also show you what it’s going to take to fulfill it.

Photo by Hamish Duncan on Unsplash

Making The Best of Easter

Let’s make the best of the opportunity we have to reach people this Easter!

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:2-6

Let’s start with the obvious. There was not a single church leader in America who thought, “Hey, I know how to make Easter especially awesome this year. Let’s just have everyone stay home and worship online!” Nor was there a single family that thought, “Hey, if we could just spend the majority of Lent stuck in the house together, that would make it super special when we spend Easter stuck in the house together.” It just didn’t happen.

Nonetheless, as we head into this weekend, I keep thinking about Paul’s words here in Colossians 4. Even when he’s in jail, Paul is praying for and dreaming about the advance of the gospel. In particular, I keep coming back to that little phrase, “making the best use of the time.” He’s urging the Colossians to take every advantage of every opportunity they have to declare the mystery of Christ.

And I believe we have a tremendous opportunity to do just that this weekend. We find ourselves celebrating Easter at a time when everyone is thinking about their mortality, about what’s really important in life, and about God in some way, shape, or form. We find ourselves walking into a weekend where people simultaneously need the hope of the resurrection more than ever and are more open to it than they’ve been in a really long time.

As a church, we’re doing everything we can to create an online experience that is going to serve you and your friends well. Chris Kim is going to be leading worship, I’m going to be sharing a message called “Alive” and Heather Ross is going to be hosting the entire gathering. But we need to be thinking about more than just how we are going to worship online as a church. We need to be thinking about how God might want to use every single one of us to reach someone this Easter.

Our goal this Easter is not to make the best of a bad situation. Our goal is to make the best of this opportunity. And it’s easier than you might think. I’m asking each of you to join me in a very simple outreach over the next few days: Pray, Text, Talk.

  • Pray. Ask God to bring specific people to your mind. Ask Him to show you where He’s already working, where He’s already been creating openness, and where He’s already been planting seeds. Please, don’t skip this step or assume you know the answer. Ask. You might be surprised by some of the names He brings to mind.
  • Text. Reach out to that person with a simple text. Maybe something like: “Hey, I would’ve loved to invite you to go to church with me this Easter but obviously that’s out. Would you be interested in watching my church’s online service? I would love to talk with you about it afterwards.” If you’re feeling really old school, you could call them. Or you could post something on social media. But the key here is to set the stage for the next step.
  • Talk. It’s one thing to share a link. But take it one step further with another text, “Hey, what did you think about church today? Love to talk more, if you’re interested.” This is where you really open up space for God to work and where you start to make yourself available for God to work through you in starting a great conversation with your family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers.

Restoration City, I’m praying for each of you as we head into this weekend. Let’s not waste this opportunity. Let’s be make the best of it: Pray. Text. Talk.

Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

Hope In The Waiting

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:24-25

The thing that all of our souls are aching for as we press deeper into this Covid-19 crisis has a name. It’s called hope. It’s the thing that enables us to believe this won’t last forever, that life will return to normal, that we are going to be okay, and that God really is going to provide. Hope is the thing that gives our souls the courage to believe in the possibility of a better tomorrow.

The tricky thing about hope is that it is lives in the world of things that we can’t quite see, at least not yet. Paul is trying to get us comfortable with that reality here in Romans 8. Hope isn’t about our ability to find answers to all of our questions. It’s about our approach to the inevitable unknowns of life.

And right now, we are all confronted with so many unknowns. We know life will get back to normal but we don’t know when. We trust that God will provide but we don’t know how. We want to believe it’s all going to be okay but what if that turns out to be a little too simplistic? It’s the unknowns that make all of this so difficult. It’s the uncertainty that drains us. But we need to remember that uncertainty is not the enemy of hope. It’s the prerequisite.

Uncertainty is not the enemy of hope. It’s the prerequisite.

It’s one thing to scour the internet in search of good information that will enable us to make responsible decisions. But we’re never going to find the hope we’re looking for through the news, social media, or best the data models available. Hope, at least the real, gritty kind that will carry us through a pandemic, comes from a totally different source.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

Psalm 62:5-8

We find hope in the certainty that the same God who holds tomorrow in His hands is also holding us in His arms. Information can and should help us navigate life but only faith can fill us with hope. And, make no mistake about it, the Christian story is always one of hope. It’s the story of a God who loves the world so much that He sent His Son to die in our place so that we can live forever. It’s a story of suffering endured, death defeated, and eternity purchased. It’s a story that boldly announces that even when death comes, we still win. In Christ, there is always the hope of a better tomorrow.

For now, we wait. I’ll admit, my waiting isn’t always characterized by the kind of patience Paul is talking about in this passage. But, the more I lean into real hope, the more I sense little glimmers of patience working their way into my soul. We really are going to get through this and we really can trust God to lead us every step of the way.

My prayer for all of us is that we would learn to lean into the things that connect us with the God of hope and to pull back from the things that fuel a culture of anxiety and fear.

Responding To Coronavirus

Like everyone else in our city, the staff and elders of Restoration City Church have been paying a lot of attention to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and thinking very carefully about how we should respond as a church. As the week has unfolded and new information has become available, my thinking on this subject has shifted dramatically.

After consulting with our staff and elders, we have made the decision NOT to gather as a church this Sunday, March 15th. We are also asking all Community Groups to either not meet or experiment with an online option like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts for the week of March 15th. As of right now, this decision is only for the week of Sunday, March 15th. We will be paying very careful attention to this rapidly developing situation, sending regular updates, and looking to resume meeting as soon as possible.

I know this will be a surprising and maybe even disappointing decision for many of us. Believe me, I understand. I love gathering with our church and I care deeply about the people in my Community Group. The Scriptures are clear about the importance of gathering together for corporate worship and the preaching of God’s Word (Hebrews 10:23-25). We take that seriously as a church and I take it seriously as your pastor. I also think it is incredibly important for us as Christ’s ambassadors to be a source of life, hope, and stability for our communities in troubled times. After all, I just preached a message called “Untroubled Hearts in a Troubled World.” The last thing we want to do is give in to fear or feed into sensationalism. That’s not what the people of God do.

We are making this decision for one very simple reason. Jesus calls His followers to sacrifice out of love for those around us. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and to pay particularly careful attention to “the least of these.” (Matthew 25:40). I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right when he wrote, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving.” That almost always means gathering. But, in this case, the best information we have available from public health officials tells us that means staying home as a form of social distancing. There is something beautiful about the church of Jesus gathering in the face of danger and persecution, when the risk is on us. I believe there is something equally beautiful about the church of Jesus choosing not to gather when doing so puts others, especially the most vulnerable in our communities, at risk. This is a moment for the church to lead the way in sacrificing for the common good. Even if you disagree with this decision, please trust that’s the heart behind it.

I will be speaking more about this in a special video message for our church on Sunday morning. Between now and then, I would ask you to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), to pray for the well-being of our city (Jeremiah 29:7), and to pray for the churches of our city.

Power & Presence

Just the other day, my son, Aidan, walked into the room and boldly announced, “Dad, I’m not coming into this room to talk. I just need something from you.” Literally. That’s what he said. And I just sat there for a minute astonished that he clearly saw nothing wrong with his statement at all. In his mind, he really was just trying to explain how he wanted all of this to go down. Clearly, we still have a couple of things to work on with him!

But there was also something disarming and almost endearing to his boldness. And I definitely wasn’t mad at him. If anything, I was convicted. Not about how I talk with other people but about how I talk with God. Granted, I would never start a time of prayer by saying, “God, I’m not here to talk with you. I just need something.” But, all too often, that’s my attitude. I’m not here to spend time with you, God. I’m here to get You to do some things. That’s why Psalm 105 has become so important in my prayer life.

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”

Psalm 105:4

Yes, seek the Lord and His strength. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help and for power but that’s the part that comes easily to us. The real beauty of prayer is found when we press beyond that to simply enjoy being in the presence of God. Don’t settle for strength when God is offering presence.

In a lot of ways, the two are very closely related. If anything, strength from God is found in the presence of God. Sometimes we think prayer works like the drive up window at Starbucks – we pull off the road of life for a minute, order what we need to make it through the day, and pick up our answer in just a few minutes. We want God to serve up His strength and power on demand. I’m not here to talk. I just need something. But we’ll never find the strength we need without the presence we were created to enjoy.

By the way, we should be thrilled, not disappointed, that the two are inseparably linked. If God were to give us all the strength we need but never invite us into His presence, He would only be giving us second best. To want God’s strength without God’s presence is to rob ourselves of what’s best. Yes, I got Aidan his milk but he missed out on what could have been some great moments with his father. At the time, he was just fine with that. But, ultimately, his life will be far richer because of moments with his father, not cups of milk. I wonder how often we shortchange ourselves in prayer. Yes, God will still help us through the meeting but we miss out on the blessing of just being with him.

Obviously, I’m sharing this to encourage all of us to seek God’s presence with even more intensity than we seek God’s strength. In thinking about that, I was struck by one more thought. I didn’t love Aidan any less for his inartful approach. I still wanted to spend time with him. I still wanted him to spend time with me. It’s the grace that should flow naturally between fathers and sons. And it is the grace the flows naturally between our Heavenly Father and His adopted sons and daughters.

Seeking God’s presence isn’t a roadmap to seeking God’s strength. Seeking God’s presence is the fruit of comprehending “with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18-19) The more we comprehend God’s love for us, the more we’ll be filled with a desire for his presence, and the richer our lives will be.

A Thanksgiving That Will Really Make You Happy

Thanksgiving 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

Usually that’s our way of saying we hope everything goes well as someone celebrates this holiday.  We hope our family and friends are able to navigate the holiday with minimal unpleasantness: no burnt turkeys, drunk uncles, fights over dinner, or traffic.  It’s our way of saying we hope you have fun, get to relax, and maybe even get a nap at some point over the weekend.  There’s nothing wrong with any of that but it misses the deeper reality of that greeting – being thankful actually makes us happy!

By the way, that’s not sentimentality.  It’s science.  Study after study has confirmed that being thankful makes us happier.  When we take time to reflect on the things that make us grateful and express that gratitude, it actually changes us on a neurobiological level.  Being thankful causes our brains to release both dopamine and serotonin.  Dopamine is the chemical that makes us happy, optimistic, sociable, and goal-oriented.  Serotonin is an anti-depressant that increases will power and motivation.   So, if we do this thanksgiving thing correctly, it should literally make us happier!

The Apostle Paul didn’t understand the neurobiology of gratitude but he knew the experiential reality of it.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

That’s my prayer for you this Thanksgiving.  May the peace of God guard your heart as you allow gratitude to mingle with your need in a way that drives away anxiety.  May the joy of Christ be yours as you meditate on the goodness, mercy, and provision of God in your life.  May you be more focused on the blessings you celebrate than the details of your celebration.

So, Happy Thanksgiving.  Or maybe I should say, “Thanksgiving Will Make You Happy.”

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.

New Series: margin.

margin_right-page-001We’re going to be taking a break from Boundless for the next couple of weeks as we start a new series of messages at Restoration City Church.  I honestly believe it’s one of the most important series we’ve ever done as a church.  We’re going to deal head on with one of the greatest joy killers in our lives – a total and complete lack of margin.

Dr. Richard Swenson defines margin as “the space between our load and our limits.”  For way to many of us, that space is nonexistent – we operate at our limits every single day.  Our calendars, our checkbooks, and our emotional capacity is maxed out.  We just don’t have anything left in the tank, yet alone in reserve.  If many of us are honest, we’ll admit that we’re carrying a load that actually exceeds our limits.  We’re running at 110% of capacity but justifying it under the guise of “it’s only for a season.”

That’s just not the way God designed us to live.  The Author of Life tells us that we work best when we build margin into all of the areas of our lives.  It’s one of those truths in the Bible that we all agree with but all struggle to live out.  That’s what this series is for – helping us deal with the heart issues that rob our lives of margin.  I’m not going to waste your time with a feel good, gospel free pep rally for a calmer life.  We’re going to explore how the gospel demands and empowers margin in multiple areas of our lives.

As your pastor, I’m asking you to prioritize these next few Sundays.  This is a conversation we need to have as a church.  It’s also a fantastic time to invite non-Christians to join us on Sunday mornings.  I’m praying we’ll all find the next few weeks helpful, challenging and inspiring.

Boundless Committments

boundless-mountains

We’re only a few weeks into our series in the Book of Acts and God is already doing some incredible things.  I know He’s been stirring a lot up in my heart and I trust He’s doing the same in yours.

This coming weekend, we’ll be celebrating the baptism of two incredible members of our community who are now walking with Jesus.  We’ll also be celebrating the results of the Boundless cards so many of you filled out in the last two weeks.  If you haven’t yet completed a Boundless card, you can still bring one back this weekend.  But, here’s how you’ve responded so far:

  • 84 people or couples have returned a card
  • 68 cards indicated a commitment to stay in town for Easter
  • 71 people committed to at least one RestoreDC shift
  • 40 people indicated interest in one of our three international mission trips
  • Each of our local partners received a list of potential new volunteers ranging from 3-21 people

This is amazing, Restoration City!  I’m so moved by your commitment to the mission of God and I pray for all He will do as we continue to seek Him as a community.

See you on Sunday!