For Life

life

Today is the annual March for Life here in Washington, DC.  For the 3rd time in a week, massive crowds will fill the National Mall.  I’ll leave it to others with more time on their hands to debate which crowd is largest.  I’m more interested in what these three gatherings say about our world and the role the church must play in it.

Jesus came as Light shining into the darkness of His day (John1:5).  And then He told His followers to do the same (Matthew 5:16).  We can only fulfill the command of Ephesians 5:8, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” by being robustly for life.  But, for me, that’s not a political statement; it’s a gospel statement.  All humans are made in the image of God and given a soul by their Creator.

A gospel shaped for life worldview is desperately needed and astonishingly rare in our culture.  It’s marked by at least three characteristics:

  1.  Not Selective.  Our world desperately needs the church to advocate a for life position that speaks for the unborn, for women, for minorities, for refugees, for the elderly, for the poor, and for the disabled with equal passion and vigor.  Our politics tell us we must pick between women and the unborn.  Jesus shows a radical love and affirmation of both.  All too often, we cherry pick an issue or two that generates political heat or social media sensationalism without seeing that our inconsistency undermines our best intentions.  If you stand for the unborn, you must stand for the refugee.  The gospel reaches across political lines to be a beacon for justice and righteousness in our world.
  2. Motivated By Grace.  Yes, we need to have the moral courage to say abortion is wrong.  But we need to do it in a way that people who have chosen that path still feel welcome in our churches this Sunday.  Jesus didn’t come to shame bad people.  He came to give life to spiritually dead people.  Jesus has as much grace and mercy for those who have chosen abortion as He does for their children.  Don’t ever forget, we represent a God who endured the murder of His Son so He could forgive those who have terminated theirs.  Our message is one of grace, of love, of forgiveness.  It’s a pro life orientation that melts stone hearts and revives crushed spirits.  We aren’t angry.  We’re agents of grace.
  3. Personal Engagement.  I have little patience for people whose social media engagement never translates into anything useful in the real world.  Tweet, post, comment, like and share as much as you want.  But then go do something.  That’s why we partner with the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center and Casa Chirilagua at Restoration City.  We stand where Jesus would be – with the hurting, the marginalized, the afraid, and the broken.  Those are the places where grace does it’s deepest work and those should be the places where it’s most likely to find followers of Jesus.

In writing about Jesus, John says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (Jn. 1:4)  My prayer is that His church would carry that light well.  Our world needs it and it’s what we were made to do.

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!

Wellspring: A New Year’s Guide

well-spring-graphic

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

mcgowan-2

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!

The Most Wonderfully Stressful Time Of The Year

chrsitmas-grace

In 1963 Andy Williams released “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” on his first ever Christmas album.  Since then, it’s become one of the best known Christmas songs in America, consistently appearing on Billboard Top Ten lists.  It’s a great song and one I find myself singing a lot this time of year.  In fact, I bet you can hear it in your head as you read this blog – “It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with kids jingle belling….”

But there’s something about the song that doesn’t sit right with me.  Or, maybe more accurately, something about the song that captures the tension of this season.  It’s a list of things to do.  Host some parties, have family over, go caroling, find some mistletoe, call friends.  And do it all with a smile.  I’m not blaming Andy; although I would like to know why he thinks kids and jingle bells are a good combination!  We’re all really good at making Christmas To-Do lists.  Get a tree, decorate the tree, decorate the house, bake cookies, put up lights, buy gifts, wrap gifts, send cards, plan meals, mandatory office party fun, go to church, do something charitable.  And do it all with effortless Pinterest perfection.  No wonder we’re all about to snap.  We’re so busy making this the most wonderful time of the year that we end up hating the whole thing.

Stick with me here – I’m not going off on an angry Christmas rant.  I love the traditions of this time of year.  But if they aren’t the overflow of something deeper, they’re going to burn us out, leave us dry and collapsed in a pile of debt on December 26th.  There’s no such thing as a perfect Christless Christmas.  But when He’s in the center, everything else finds it’s place.

The Prince of all Peace was born in a feeding trough outside of Bethlehem so that you and I would know that we don’t have to have it all together to be touched by Majesty.  The Infinite One is comfortable in the mess of our lives, our living rooms and our hearts.  He didn’t come to call us to the impossible.  He came to do the unthinkable – to die for His people.

It’s a story of grace.  Of rescue.  Of One greater than us who comes to do what we could never do for ourselves.  He’s for you.  Even if you don’t send out cards.  He loves you.  Even if you skip the party.  He died for you.  Even when you fail to live for Him.

So, breathe.  Two weeks from now the presents will be opened and the dinner will be over.  And, I pray, your heart will be full.  Full not because you finally create the perfect holiday.  But full because you’re resting in the love of the Perfect One.

He came to show the world grace.  Maybe it’s time to show ourselves some as well.

This Christmas: I Could…But Instead

christmas-generosity

One of the phrases that’s come to describe the culture of generosity the Lord is creating at Restoration City is, “I Could…But Instead.”  It’s a simple reminder that generosity is about forgoing one thing in favor of another.  It’s a simple refrain with enormous power to shape how we spend our time and money.

If you carry the thought one step deeper, it’s a embodiment of what generosity is:

Sacrificing

All too often we practice an “I Can…While Still” form of generosity where we figure out how much is left over after we’ve taken care of everything we want or need for ourselves.  That’s not generosity, it’s selfishness in disguise where the primary goal is maintaining our lifestyle, not the good of others or the glory of Christ.  Real generosity requires sacrifice.  It involves us consciously deciding not to do or buy things for ourselves so that we have space to do or buy for others.  The depth of our generosity isn’t measured by how much we give but rather how much we give up.  

Trading Off & Up

A lot of us get in trouble by forgetting that generosity is a zero sum game.  We become convinced that we can have and do it all, especially this time of year.  Christmas becomes the most stressful time of the year – perfect parties, gifts, cookies, family dinners, trees, cards and travel.  And then the church jumps into the mix to ask for your time and money.  And we say sure, flinging those commitments onto an already overtaxed calendar and stretched checkbook.  One of the hidden benefits of generosity is that it gives you motivation to say no to a lot of things.  When it comes to generosity, think trade off not adding more.

And think trade up.  Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  

Generosity is a letting go of things that won’t matter a month from now in favor of things that will last for all eternity.

Reflecting The Gospel

2 Corinthians 8:3-5 is a stunning depiction of generosity from a 1st century church, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”  Paul didn’t browbeat this church into generosity or even tug on their heart strings with a tear jerking video.  No guilt.  No “if you really love Jesus, you’ll do this.”  Just a congregation begging earnestly for opportunities to give more.  How does that happen?

2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”  When our hearts are captured by how much Jesus gave up for us, it becomes a joy to sacrifice for others.  The gospel ensures that the tradeoffs of generosity really feel like a trading up.  

That’s what an “I Could…But Instead” culture looks like.  It’s what I’m committed to personally and what I’m asking God to deepen at Restoration City.  If you’re looking for ways to serve or give this Christmas season, check out a full list of opportunities to trade up at restorationcity.church/christmas.

Less Trying, More Dying

growing

For years I had it all wrong when it comes to growing as a Christian.  It wasn’t that I was trying to get it wrong.  I just carried a lot of bad assumptions into my relationship with Jesus and the end result was stagnation.  I was stalled in the same patterns of sin and frustrated that I wasn’t experiencing more of the love and joy I read about in the Bible. I wanted to grow but couldn’t seem to make it happen.

What was holding me back was a lack of understanding about how we grow as Christians.  I believed spiritual growth happened like growth in every other area of life: learn the basics, practice, and see results.  That’s how it worked when I was a competitive swimmer – learn to swim, swim thousands of laps, get faster.  Swim more laps, improve your technique and keep getting faster.  There’s nothing wrong with that when it comes to swimming, but it doesn’t work when it comes to heart change.  In that model, growth is about getting better and the end result is measured in increased ability, independence or self-sufficiency.  Effort equals results.

I thought Christian growth was about trying.  Read the Bible, pray, go to church, give money, serve, read the right books, talk to the right people, etc…  By the way, none of those are bad things, unless we start to treat them like swim practice.  And that’s exactly what we do when we reduce growing in Christ to a “learn the basics, practice, and see results” model, which we do all the time.  Want to grow?  Read the Bible.  Not growing fast enough?  Read more of the Bible.  Still not growing?  Read the Bible plus a devotional.  Still nothing?  Read the Bible plus a devotional twice a day.  And on and on and on.

Here’s what we miss: spiritual disciplines aren’t designed to make us better, more able, more independent or more self-sufficient.  They’re designed to remind us of our weakness, inability, dependance and need for grace.  They aren’t designed to make us better.  They’re designed to remind us of our need for Jesus.

Paul knew that well.  “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)  Growth in the Christian life comes from dying, not from trying.  

Following Jesus is a call to take up our cross daily.  It’s a call to die every single day.  To die to our self reliance, our self centeredness, our self interest.  It’s a call to get over ourselves and live for Him.

You want to grow in Christ?  Don’t make a list of things you need to try.  Ask God to show you the places where He’s asking you to die.  And then ask Him for the grace to die a little more today.  There’s a tremendous amount of love and joy to be found in following Jesus.  It’s found as we die, not as we try.