Where Is Your God?

This Sunday, we’re starting a new series of messages at Restoration City dealing with the topic of anxiety. Matthew 6:25-34 is up next in our study of the Sermon on the Mount but it didn’t feel right to spend only one week discussing Jesus’ teaching on worry and anxiety. One, doing so would run the risk of oversimplifying the issue. I think we all need more than, “Jesus tells us not to worry so you should really stop worrying.” Two, doing so would run the risk of ignoring what a massive issue anxiety is for so many of us. I know this is one of the biggest challenges people in our church struggle with on a daily basis. I also know what a massive issue this is for so many in our city who are not yet following Jesus.

So, we’re going to slow down and devote the next four weeks to understanding how Jesus leads us out of anxiety. Here’s what I can tell you about the series:

  • We’re going to talk about anxiety as a physical, psychological, and spiritual issue. Too often the church ignores the physical and psychological. That’s not helpful. At the same time, our anxiety has deep spiritual roots and lasting change requires bringing God into the conversation. We’re going to take a holistic approach.
  • We’re going to talk about anxiety in a way that doesn’t provoke guilt or shame. There isn’t going to be a hint of, “If you were a better Christian, you wouldn’t be so anxious.” We can talk about deepening our faith in Jesus and the gospel without heaping on a bunch of shame, which only makes the problem worse.
  • The goal is to move together as a community on a path that actually reduces our anxiety. We don’t just want to learn more; we want to trust God for real growth and change.
  • These are a great four weeks to invite family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. We have a chance to help a lot of people. Let’s not miss it.

So, I hope you’ll join us in person or online for all four weeks of this series.

But I want to ask you to do much more than just show up. I want to ask you to pray with me that God will do a powerful work through our church in the next four weeks. I’m praying we see people come to faith in Jesus, embrace vulnerability in community, take risks on the journey towards healing, and experience real freedom from anxiety. I know God is able to do it but let’s not trust in our power – let’s lean in to Him and His grace and see what He can do in His power!

Is Your Phone Making You A Better Person?

In my last post, I described some of the reasons why I decided to take a pretty major step back from social media over the past few months. In short, I could see some ways that my use of social media was harming both my soul and my relationships. So, I expected my step back to have some positive impacts. But, in all honesty, I didn’t really know what to expect, as a person or as a pastor. In this post, I’ll tackle the personal impact and in the next I’ll tackle the pastoral (I have A LOT to say about that one). But, for today, here’s what I noticed over the past few months:

  • I’m going to gloss over the obvious: I was less distracted, less anxious, more present, and less enticed by the comparison trap. Before I move on to the rest of my list, I want you to pause and think about the massive claims I just rattled off quickly as the obvious benefits of stepping back from social media. My guess is you weren’t surprised by any of them, right? That’s just the predictable boilerplate stuff that you’ve heard dozens of times, isn’t it? What does it say about us that we maintain a slavish devotion to something that we know makes us distracted, anxious, less present, and constantly comparing our lives to others? That alone should make us stop and think.
  • I was more productive – and not just at work! Our mornings were smoother around the house. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still chaotic…three kids and two working parents make that somewhat inevitable. But they were better. So were our evenings. And weekends. It’s just easier to run a house when your head is fully in the game.
  • I was more intentional with my friends. Social media breeds a level of complacency in our friendships, even with those we truly care about and want to prioritize. Thanks to social media, we all passively monitor each other’s lives and get lulled into this sense that we already know what’s going on with each other. So, why bother with a phone call, grabbing coffee, or inviting someone over for dinner? We’re already caught up. But we’re not! Watching the highlight reel of your friend’s life is not the same as genuinely connecting with others to learn what’s really going on, how they’re really doing, and what they’re really thinking about for their future. I still found myself picking up my phone but now it was to make real phone calls to real people!
  • I was more attracted to substance. It’s not just that I read more or engaged with more thoughtful content, it’s that I found myself desiring substance. Social media is like sugar – insanely addictive and good for a quick hit. But once you break the addiction to digital candy, you realize how much good content there is out there and how much more satisfying it is. Tweets are fine but I would much rather read something that took more than 30 seconds at a stoplight to compose.

All of this is to say if you’re looking to be a better version of yourself, it might be time to rethink your relationship with social. In my next post, I’ll take about the ways that stepping back from social might make you a better pastor too.

One Thing

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

I have come back to this passage over and over again as we press deeper into this period of social distancing. I keep coming back because I keep seeing so much of Martha in myself. Her issue isn’t that she’s working. That’s not what this passage is about at all. Martha’s problem is that she’s distracted, anxious, and troubled. That’s what Jesus points out. That’s what Jesus wants to lead her out of and it’s what He wants to lead us out of as well. I keep coming back because I need the daily reminder that the one thing we truly need is the one thing that can never be taken from us. I keep coming back to hear the voice of God, the voice that melts anxiety, fear, and distraction.

And I’m not the only one who needs to keep coming back to this truth. We all do. I read an article yesterday that told us that 43% of American adults say their emotional health has gotten worse over the past week. For what it’s worth, I also think that means 57% of survey respondent are either (a) way more spiritually mature than I am or (b) lying. You decide! But I don’t know anyone who isn’t feeling a little distracted these days. It’s where our hearts and minds naturally go during times of uncertainty and upheaval. And, now, we have 24/7 internet access to relentlessly fuel it all.

All of which means we need to cultivate rhythms that enable us to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His voice, even in the midst of a pandemic. He’s speaking through the miracle of His Word and the presence of His Spirit. He’s inviting us to believe that He’s real, to believe that He’s still good, and to believe that He’s still for us and not against us. He’s inviting us to make King David’s prayer our prayer during this time:

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul.

Psalm 86:11-13

Those rhythms are going to look a little different for each of us but here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

  • Getting up at the same time I always do to spend time with God in the quiet of the morning.
  • Only allowing myself to check the news and social media twice a day. For what it’s worth, this is the hardest one for me!
  • Pausing 2-3 times during the day to be still, to pray, and to read a short passage of Scripture.
  • Participating in our RCC Prayer Nights every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 8PM.
  • Continuing to practice a weekly Sabbath.
  • Intentionally engaging with the sermon and other Sunday morning content we make available rather than having it play in the background while I multi-task.
  • Continuing to meet with my Community Group, just online.
  • Going to bed at the same time I always do so I can get up and do it all again tomorrow.

Lord Jesus, teach us to listen. Teach us to hear your voice. Teach us to enjoy Your presence. Help us step away from the chaos and to just be still.

Breathe – Starting This Sunday At Restoration City

Breathe 1

I absolutely can’t wait to start our new series, Breathe, at Restoration City this Sunday.  We’re talking about the three things that seem to create the most anxiety in our lives – time, money and the future.  I’m trusting God to use these three weeks in massive ways in the life of our church.  We’re doing this series for two reasons:

1.  We Need It As A Church.

I feel like there are a lot of us burning the candle at both ends, running on empty and not experiencing the fullness of joy Christ promises because we’re spending so much time worrying and filling up our lives with things that don’t really matter.  My biggest prayer for this series is that we would all have room in our lives to say “yes” to the things God is putting in front of us in 2015.  This series is a chance for all of us to make sure we don’t miss out on everything God wants to do in our lives this year.

2.  Your Friends Need It.

This series is designed to make it as easy as possible for you to invite people to church.  Yes, we want every Sunday to be welcoming and accessible for people who are new to church and Jesus.  But there are a couple of times every year when we want to be especially intentional about that – new years is one of them!  So, don’t just plan to be at church this Sunday.  Pray about who should be there with you…and then invite them!  Would love for this to be a month of us welcoming new friends into the Restoration City family.

If we all rally around this series, it could be a game changer for our church.  Don’t miss out on Breathe!

One Year Ago

IMG_0877Exactly one year ago today, a group of people got together at Summit’s Chapel Hill Campus to talk about planting a church in DC.  It was the first public step we took on the road to planting Restoration City Church.

I remember walking into that day with absolutely no clue what was going to happen.  I wasn’t a 100% sure anyone was actually going to show up.  And I really wasn’t sure how many would be interested by the time we were done!

One year later, I love scanning this photo and seeing how God has knit people who were total strangers a year ago into a church meeting weekly in DC.  It’s been an amazing ride that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.  But if I could go back in time and talk to myself a year ago, I know what I would say:

  • Get Over Yourself.  Jesus is the One who builds His church (Mt. 16:18).  Sure, vision, strategy and leadership matter but the success of Restoration City Church has little to do with me and everything to do with Jesus.  A year ago, I was worried about being impressive.  Today I would much rather have people impressed with Jesus.
  • Stop Worrying.  One, it doesn’t accomplish anything (Mt. 6:25-34).  Two, Jesus is faithful. (Deut. 7:9)  It’s so strange that we all think the God who has never once dropped the ball might just start with us.  If God calls you to do something, He’ll get you where you need to go.  A year ago I didn’t know what the road ahead looked like and it freaked me out.  Today, I have no more clarity about the road, just more confidence in the One who leads us.
  • Have Fun.  Don’t get me wrong – this last year was great!  Laura and I have so many good memories of our time at Summit and in NC.  But sometimes I don’t fully enjoy this moment because I’m so focused on the next.  I keep thinking about tomorrow and missing out on today.  Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve made much progress on this one!  But I know the ability to slow down and present is a really big deal.

If God is leading you into a new season, take a deep breath, relax, trust Him and enjoy the ride.  It really is an amazing thing to walk through life with the Living God.  RCC is one small example of His power, His faithfulness and His mercy.

Motive Matters

It’s not hard to tell the difference between people who genuinely like you and those who are nice to you because they want something from you.  I remember the girl in college who was super nice to me…because she wanted to date my roommate.  I’m tempted to be really nice to people considering joining our church because we really need more leaders.  When I compare those interactions to the joyful shout I get from Jack when I come home, the difference is striking.  He’s not after anything.  He’s just glad Dad is home.

Which is a better description of your relationship with God?

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus says this, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.“(Mt.6:33)  It’s a wonderfully comforting verse at the end of a passage where Jesus takes dead aim at worry and anxiety in our lives.  He’s arguing that our Father in heaven knows what we need and will care for us.  We don’t need to eagerly seek after the things of the world.  We need to eagerly seek after God.

But how much of our God-seeking is really stuff-seeking?  Are we pursuing God because we love Him or because He’s a better means to the same old ends?  I’ll confess that I frequently descend into caring more about “all these things” than I do “His kingdom and His righteousness.”  What about you?

By the way, if we can tell when people are using us to get something, I think it’s safe to assume we aren’t fooling God.  If you’ve been trying to use God and fool Him, it’s time to repent.  Attempting to use God is the height of arrogance and pride.  It’s time to confess your attempted manipulation to God and ask Him for a heart that loves with pure motives.  Ask Him to have mercy on you and lead your soul to a place where it pursues Him because of who He is not because of what He can do for us.

When we understand that God is more valuable than all of His gifts, worship explodes in our hearts and Christianity finally starts to make sense.

The Stress of Indecision

When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, my natural tendency is to try getting as much off my plate as quickly as possible.  I’ll do anything to relieve the pressure, including pushing off decisions I don’t absolutely need to make today.  Call it intentional decision procrastination.

Or we could call it what it really is: a terrible idea!

Postponing a decision rarely relieves the stress of having to make the decision – it only guarantees you’ll carry the stress longer.  In deciding not to decide, I’m giving myself one more day to think it over, dwell on all the ways it could go bad, envision all of the people who could be upset and think over how much it could cost me if I make the wrong decision.  I end up wallowing in the stress I’m trying to reduce.

Yes, there are times we can’t make a decision today because we need more information.  I totally understand and agree with that point.  But I’m not concerned with those decisions because they don’t produce the same anxiety.  My mind really can punt those until I do more research, hear back from someone or see the outcome of another decision.  We arrive at some decisions slowly, through prayer and with outside counsel – great, no need to rush those.  But my guess is those aren’t the ones eating away at our joy.

I’m talking about the decisions where we already have all the information we need.  In some cases, we even know what we’re going to decide.  We’re stalling.  We don’t need more information.  We just need to decide.  For example:  When are we having dinner with that couple?  Am I going to break-up with this guy?  Do I go to my friend’s wedding?  Am I buying a new printer or not?  Should I approve that purchase at work or not?

Where are you suffering from decision procrastination?

Take some time this weekend to make a list of decisions you’ve been putting off and then…decide.  Right then, right there.  Make a decision, communicate it and be done with it.  You’ll feel a whole lot better as the stress of indecision fades.

Feeding Jack & The Provision Of God

Jack has developed a little habit that really needs to go.  The boy seems to think Laura and I are on a mission to starve him.  For the record, I totally understand that crying is a baby’s way of communicating.  I totally get that Jack prefers shouting to crying – fine, his prerogative.  What I don’t understand is why the shouting continues while he’s actually being fed.  There he is, strapped into his high chair, food in front of him, me feeding him and still shouting between bites!  In goes the applesauce and rice cereal, it’s happily swallowed and before I can get the next spoon to his mouth…a yelp.  It’s like he’s compelled to make sure I understand he’s still hungry, needs more and if I stop now, it will be bad news for all of us.

Let’s be clear – it’s not the volume that’s killing me.  It’s the lack of trust.  We’ve never not fed him!  Laura hasn’t slept through the night since the Super Bowl to make sure this little guy gets fed enough.  We’ve got enough food.  We love him.  Even with all that, he thinks I’m somehow going to hold out on him.  Maybe he’s afraid I’ll forget, ignore him or just cheap out.  I’m not sure but I’m pretty much offended whatever the case may be.

Of course, I tend to treat God the same way.

Matthew 6:8 tells us our Father “knows what you need before you ask him.”  Yet, I still think He’s going to come up short, not come through, forget what I need, hold out or leave me hanging.  If you watch your prayer life closely, I’m guessing you’ll notice the same thing.  We are way more focused on presenting our needs than resting in His love.

Yes, our Father wants us to bring our needs to Him.  But He wants us to do it confident of our standing in Jesus.  He wants us to come boldly to the throne of grace trusting in His character, His goodness and His love for us.  You might call this “gospel conscious praying.” In Christ, we aren’t orphans begging to be noticed.  We are beloved children of a limitlessly good Father in heaven.

Let’s start praying that way.