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

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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!

Wellspring: A New Year’s Guide

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Whew, 2016 was quite a year.  So much happened and, if you’re like me, you haven’t had enough space to slow down and process it all.  That’s why I’m really looking forward to this weekend.  You can’t help but pause and think around New Years and I want to be super intentional about that this year.

To help with that, we’ve created Wellspring, a 3 day devotional guide.  Our church is going to be walking through this over the weekend instead of gathering on Sunday morning.  If you would like to follow along, we would love to have you!

Wellspring is designed to help us press beyond superficial examinations of the past year or shallow resolutions for the coming year.  It’s designed to help us focus on our hearts, realizing that’s what really shapes our lives.  So, if you want to press under the surface and get to the source, Wellspring is for you.

You can access the guide at rcc.church/wellspring.

Merry Christmas From The McGowans

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A few weeks ago, a brave family friend ventured over to our apartment for a little Christmas photo shoot.  Of all the photos she captured, this one is my favorite.  It’s our real life.  Jack is having a great time but teetering on the brink of trouble.  Aidan has figured out how to communicate displeasure.  Emma’s cute and clueless.  And then there’s Laura and I.  Laughing in a “have we lost our minds?” kind of way.  Welcome to our life.

It also reminds me of one of the biggest lessons God’s been teaching me this Christmas: Don’t let the longing for perfect prevent you from enjoying good.

We were made for perfect.  There’s nothing wrong with that desire; it’s from God.  It’s what tugs our hearts towards Him and fuels a longing for eternity.  That desperate desire to be in a problem free, pain free, disappointment free, sin free world will be satisfied one day for all of us who follow Jesus.  We’ll be with the God who makes all things new.  Revelation 21:4 promises, “He 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.”  I can’t wait for that to be true.

But we’re not there yet.  Kids get sick.  Photo shoots crumble.  Living rooms get messy.  Schedules get trampled.  Work piles up.  Laundry piles up.  And, if I’m not careful, I can get so discouraged that everything isn’t perfect, especially at Christmas.  I so want to create that magical, perfect holiday for my kids.  To be honest, I just want them to want that magical, perfect holiday enough to stop spilling their juice on the coffee table!

But Jesus wasn’t born to admire our perfection.  He was born to offer us His.  He was born to hang on a cross so that one day we would taste perfect.

Between now and then, I want to enjoy the life I have.  I want to see God’s grace in these three beautiful kids, an amazing wife and a church we love deeply.  I want to see God’s goodness in my friends, in His creation and through His Word.  I want to enjoy my reality and not long for someone else’s.

That’s my prayer for you this Christmas.  Don’t let what’s wrong prevent you from enjoying what’s right.  Rest in God’s love for you.  Celebrate life that knows no end.  Perfect is coming.  Until then, there’s grace.

Merry Christmas!

Rest For The Powerless

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Little kids and sleep is a really tricky combination.  There are times when I fight like crazy to keep them awake so I won’t have to fight like crazy to make them go to bed that night.  There are nights when they just pass out in my arms and there are nights when the whole bedtime routine is an exhausting battle of wits and wills.  From what I can tell, most parents who boast about how great their kids sleep are lying…the bags under your eyes and venti coffee in your hand is what gives it away, in case you’re wondering!

Yet, there’s something about little kids sleeping that is so captivating to our adult minds and souls.  It’s not what keeps them up at night.  It’s what doesn’t keep them up at night…stress and worry.  Our amazement is compounded by how truly powerless they are.  There they lay, no ability to take care of themselves, no clue what tomorrow will bring, no control over even the smallest aspect of their days.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

We, on the other hand, are experts at laying awake.  The more powerless we feel, the more sleep we lose.  And let’s be honest, there are a lot of situations in our lives that make us feel powerless: our health, a wayward child, the status of a relationship.  All to often, we feel powerless at work, powerless over our future, even powerless over the direction our country is taking.  Power feels like it belongs to someone else – teachers, professors, bosses, shareholders, politicians, whoever…just not us.

If you’re tracking with me, I want you to know there’s hope.  It comes from a Persian King named Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther.  We’ve been talking a lot about him at Restoration City the last couple of weeks and he’s helping me sleep better.  In the world’s eyes, Ahasuerus was a really big deal.  He ran the Persian Empire, which stretched from Ethiopia to India in those days.  The whole thing was massive – 127 provinces worth of massive.  And Ahasuerus was a fool.  This political giant was comically inept.  He enters the story as a drunken mess and things only get worse from there.  The man can’t make a decision to save his life, even when it comes to his own family.  He gets suckered into exterminating the Jews for a cheap bribe and then changes his mind because of two good meals and the possibility of sex.  Yes, he takes out a guy who seems to be threatening his wife but even that feels more like “don’t play with my toys” than “I’ll fight for her honor.”  The guy is a clown.  Yet, God uses him for his purposes.

There are some obvious parallels to our world (insert Election 2016 commentary on comically inept political giants).  But that isn’t the only link.  It also has to do with our jobs, our relationships and our finances.  It has to do with the powerless places in our lives.  The places that keep us up at night with stress and worry.

The Bible doesn’t try to talk us out of that feeling of powerlessness.  In fact, the Bible helps us see that we’re all more powerless than we imagined.  But it does hold out the promise that all of life is playing out under the watchful eye of the Almighty.  God was working through the King of Persia to accomplish His will.  Guess what?  He’s doing the same thing through your boss/landlord/professor.  Yes, even the clueless one who seems intent on doing you harm.

We lay awake at night because we’re terrified we don’t have what it takes.  Yet, our kids sleep just fine knowing they don’t have what it takes.  Their hope and security is in the power of another.  So is ours.  His name is Jesus and He holds everything together by the power of His will.  Nothing can separate you from His love.  He holds the world in His hands and He’s moving His plans and purposes forward.  Trust Him.  He won’t let you down.  And He just might help you sleep through the night.

Community Group Open Houses

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The entire McGowan family loves Sunday nights!  And that has nothing to do with having made it through the busiest day of the week for us.  It’s all about how much we love our Community Group and how much we look forward to coming together on a weekly basis.  Those times are huge for our family – a chance to connect with friends, process what God is doing in our lives, pray together and encourage one another in our walks with Jesus.  Added bonus…the kids love it too…and the food is really good!

If you aren’t connected to one of our Community Groups, we want to make it as easy as possible for you to find one that works for you.  So, next week (Sunday – Thursday evenings), each of our Community Groups are hosting an Open House.  There’ll be plenty of food and a lot of space to get to know other people in the group.  Instead of doing a formal Bible study, we’re just going to take time to hang out and get to know one another.  So, it’s a really easy week for you to check out one of our groups.

Here’s the bottom line – Jesus restores us in community.  God will do some of His deepest work in you through other people.  If you read through the New Testament, you will see the phrase “one another” used at least 59 times.  In other words, so much of what Jesus calls us to can only be obeyed in the context of the community.  A life of isolation is not only unfulfilling but also disobedient to the pattern of New Testament Christianity.  

As a church, we invest a lot of time and effort in Community Groups.  It’s not that we think you need one more thing on your calendar.  In fact, we know you’re probably already over scheduled and will need to intentionally create space for a Community Group.  We do it because discipleship happens in the context of community.  We do it to create spaces for God to work through others in your life.

Don’t settle for attending Restoration City.  Please, get connected!  For a full list of Restoration City Community Groups, visit our website.  One of them would love to welcome you next week.