Hang In There

Hang In ThereIt’s been an incredible gift for Laura and I (and Emma!) to spend the last two days at The Summit Network Pastors Retreat in Raleigh-Durham, NC.  We’ve been able to connect with old friends, meet new church planters in the network and have a great time celebrating all God is doing through this network of churches.  But, more than all of that, it’s been an incredible celebration of God’s faithfulness.

I can’t begin to count the number of times Laura or I has used the phrase, “Can you believe it was only 3/4 years ago that…”  And then we end the sentence with something that now feels like it happened a lifetime ago.  Three years ago, we still lived in Raleigh-Durham and were getting ready to move back to DC to see what God wanted to do through Restoration City.  Jack was only 15 months old.  We knew God had called us to Restoration City but had no idea what that would look like.  Honestly, we were incredibly excited and incredibly scared!

But, in a lot of ways, it’s four years ago that’s been on my mind a lot these last few days.  Four years ago, I knew I was called to plant a church but worked for a pastor that was vehemently opposed to church planting.  I was watching a college ministry I had built from the ground up retreat from the campuses of our city and close its doors.  I wasn’t teaching or preaching at all.  Life was nothing but uncertainty and I had a wife and 3 month old son to care for and lead.  Those were the darkest days of my walk with Jesus.  I was tempted to give up on the church, on ministry and on myself.  I was tired, frustrated and felt terribly alone.

Maybe you’re in a similar spot right now.  Nothing’s working.  Everything’s crumbling. Uncertainty and fear seem to be the only constant.  Hope seems so illusive and it would be so easy to give up on ever finding it again.  If that’s you, I get it.  I’ve been there.

And I wrote this whole post to say one thing to you: Don’t give up because God hasn’t given up on you!

He will be your “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” while He carries you through this storm.  I promise you, His grace really is sufficient.  He hasn’t let go of you, abandoned you or turned His face from you.  Maybe He’s discipling you.  Maybe He’s testing you.  He’s certainly molding you, shaping you, preparing you.  And He promises He’s fighting for you.

While Laura and I were praying, God was working to connect me to The Summit Network through a friend.  I called him in desperation one day which prompted him to have a conversation with the Summit guys about where I felt God was leading me.  And then I got a call from Summit asking me to come to RDU to spend a year with an incredible church, raise up a team and head back to DC to plant Restoration City.  I never say any of it coming and never orchestrated a bit of it.  But God did.

In all of the uncertainty, He was working.  Lining up.  Getting things ready.

And I believe He’ll do the same in your life.  Don’t you dare give up.  God didn’t give you your dream just to taunt you with it. He’s placed hopes, desires and passions inside your soul because He wants to bring them to life.  None of it may make sense to you right now but that doesn’t mean He isn’t working.

Hang in there.  Trust.  Believe.  Pray.

Intentional In The Ordinary

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We all want to live an extraordinary life.  I know I do and I know there is nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I’m certain that longing deep inside each of our souls is part of God’s fingerprints on our lives.  He’s the One who put that yearning deep inside each one of us – to make life count, to do significant things, to rise above pointless mediocrity.

But a lot of times we go about it all wrong.  We dream about the heroic moments.  The major decision.  The captivating sermon.  The bold new initiative.  The defining conversation.  While there’s nothing wrong with those things and I do believe we’ll each face a few of those moments in our lives, it’s the wrong focus.

Most of our lives are very ordinary.  Get up, spend time with God, workout, go to work, come home, put the kids to bed, pass out in exhaustion.  And repeat the next day.  Meetings, travel, commutes, groceries, phone calls, emails, trips to the dentist, and reports.  It all stacks up and it all feels so dull.  So boring.  So ordinary.

But I’m convinced that the secret to an extraordinary life is being intentional in the ordinary.  It’s the decision not to coast through Tuesday.  It’s the decision to be fully present, to work as unto the Lord, to love with our whole heart and to give it all we’ve got.  No one’s going to ask you to make the heroic decision if you duck the ordinary ones.  You’ll never be asked to lead until you figure out how to follow.  Nobody’s ever said, “Hey, that guy never takes on any added responsibility, let’s put him in charge of the new initiative.”  Extraordinary moments seem to find those who are intentional in the ordinary.

Be bold.  Be courageous.  Be intentional.  Not tomorrow.  But today.  In the sea of meetings, tasks and texts.  Be intentional.  Move the ball forward.  Do your best.  Lean into the power God offers.

Don’t stop reaching but do stop neglecting what’s right in front of you.

When Good Vacations Go Very Bad

Laura and I had been looking forward to last week since Christmas.  Back in December we talked about Christmas gifts for each other and realized all either of us wanted was a few days away as a family.  We hadn’t gone on vacation by ourselves since Jack was born and thought a few days in a little cabin in some picturesque mountain setting seemed perfect.  So, that was our gift to each other.  And last week was our chance to enjoy it.

But I need to give you a little backstory to explain just how much anticipation we had for these days.  When we finally found the place we wanted to rent, we realized we could only afford two nights.  That was a little less than we had hoped for but we were good with the trade to stay in a place with such a great view.  So, we booked it.  The next day, I got an email from the owner saying they were running a buy two nights, get one free special for February that they hadn’t posted on the website yet but we were welcome to come up a day early if we wanted.  We were thrilled!  And you better believe we were talking about God’s blessing on our lives.  We had already booked the two nights – they didn’t have to offer us the third.  This was God’s favor on a tired little church planting family.

When we got there on Wednesday, it was every bit as beautiful as we had hoped.  The first few hours were exactly what we pictured – infant son frolicking in the living room while Laura and I worked on dinner looking out over the mountain view.

And then Jack puked.

No big deal.  Kids do that.  But then he did it again.  And again.  And again.  Add in a few other symptoms and by Thursday we knew the boy was in rough shape.  On Friday, I joined the party. That’s when things went from bad to worse.  That’s also when my lovely nurse practitioner wife arrived at two conclusions: one, Jack and I had norovirus (yes, the thing of cruise ship fame); and, two, we were leaving immediately.  I honestly was so weak and sick that I couldn’t help pack the car at all but Laura went into some kind of superhuman Mom mode where she took care of everything, loaded us up and brought us home.  Because I like you, I won’t give you details – but it was the worst car ride of my life and probably Jack’s as well.

Fortunately, Laura never got sick.  But it was still a pretty nasty weekend around our house.  I’m starting to feel better but working from home today so I don’t give this horrible thing to anyone at the church.  Poor Jack is still struggling to get better.

But here’s the real question: what happened to God’s blessing?!?

Did we fail Him somehow?  Did He fail us? Was He punishing us for sin?  Treating His servants unfairly? Letting us down? Angry with us?  Cruel?

My guess is we all tend to think about God’s blessing the same way.  When everything is great, God is blessing us.  When everything falls apart, He isn’t.  Maybe we give Him credit when everything goes well but we definitely give Him the blame when things don’t.

But that’s not what the Scripture teaches.  God was every bit as good when I was puking my brains out as when we were getting free nights in the cabin.  He uses all things for good (Rom. 8:28).  He never fails us (Josh.1:5).  He’s with us always (Mt. 28:20).  And all of His work is done in faithfulness (Ps. 33:4).

Here’s the point: even when we can’t see God’s blessing in our circumstances, it is constant in Jesus and in the gospel.  After all, God’s promise to bless us with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3) doesn’t rest on our obedience but on His grace.

The question is which we value more: vacations or eternal life?  Which produces more joy: a good meal or knowing that we are co-heirs with Jesus to everything (Rom. 8:17)?  What do you want most out of today: ease or intimacy with God?

Yes, God blesses our circumstances and I love it when He does.  Yes, we should thank Him for vacations, date nights, good weather and good health.  But don’t anchor your hope in that stuff.  Real, enduring, unshakeable hope is found in the person and work of Jesus on the cross.

I would much rather have Him and a bad vacation than a great vacation without Him.