Wind and Waves

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31

I’ve felt a lot like Peter over the last two months. The only difference is that I didn’t chose to get out of the boat. I wasn’t looking for this kind of faith building moment with Jesus. We were all ejected out of the boat of comfort, control, and stability by a virus and now we’re all navigating a storm formed by the winds of a public health and economic crisis. Every step we take feels so tentative, uncertain, and unstable. I think we’re all learning that walking on water really is pretty hard.

As I try to figure out life in this season, it’s deeply comforting for me to know that this storm isn’t catching Jesus by surprise. If anything, He allowed us to sail into it because He intends to meet us in it. That was certainly true for Peter and his crew 2,000 years ago. This passage in Matthew 14 comes right after Jesus just fed 20,000 people, a pretty massive display of power. As soon as the crowd had been fed, Jesus sent His disciples out ahead of Him onto the Sea of Galilee. He knew they were tired and He wanted some time alone with His Father so he sent them ahead. Maybe you see it differently but I don’t think the Guy who just fed 20,000 people was unaware of the weather forecast. I think He knew a storm was coming and while He didn’t take any pleasure in the terror His followers would feel, He did have something for them that they could only experience in the storm.

Are you willing to believe that the God of Heaven has something for you in the midst of this storm? Something you could only receive in a storm?

As we face the challenges of this season, we need to aim for more than simply riding out the wind and waves. Our goal needs to be finding Jesus in the storm. We need to look for how and where and when He’s coming to us. We need to listen for His voice. You’ll recognize it as the one whispering, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) In the face of all the wind and waves, Jesus will be the One drawing near in love, offering us the grace to do the impossible.

But then, all of the sudden, Peter is out of the boat. Walking on water is impossible on a calm day but Peter is trying to do it on top of a sea that was constantly moving, changing, evolving. Anyone else’s life feel like that right now? Some days the storm blows fierce and raw. Others days it feels more gentle. But it never feels normal. The sea never stops moving.

There’s really only one option when you’re trying to walk on the top of a heaving sea. Keep your eyes on Jesus. That’s a big part of what we learn from Peter, isn’t it? When he takes His eyes off of Jesus, he starts to sink. Same for us. The funny part is that we can sink in one of two different directions.

Sinking into panic is the easy and obvious one. Our church hasn’t met in person since Sunday, March 8th and I have no idea when we’ll be able to gather again. We’re financially dependant on the generosity of others and really like getting a lot of people into the same room at the same time. What if people give up on our church? What if they find one that’s more broadcast savvy than we are? What if, what if, what if…..

Pride and false confidence give us a second, less obvious but equally deadly way to sink. God has been really good to our church. People are staying engaged in Community Groups and continuing to give. We’re helping people in our community stay in their homes through our partnerships with Casa Chirilagua and Gunston Middle School. People are being patient with us while we figure out virtual church and Chris Kim is doing a fantastic job leading us in worship each Sunday.

It’s really weird how I can be in panic one moment and indulging a prideful sense of “we’ve got this” the next. But both lead me to sink. Both threaten to tug my soul under the waves. Both tempt me to give up. And both are answered by keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus. He’s the One who truly knows how to dance on the waves. He’s the One who isn’t worried, isn’t stressed, and isn’t ever going to leave us.

Even when we get it wrong, Jesus is right there to grab us by the hand. The second Peter starts to go under the waves and reaches out to Jesus, Jesus grabs his hand. He doesn’t let him sink a bit more just to prove a point. That’s not how Jesus operates. He’s right there, ready to take us by the hand and remind us that it’s safe to put all of our faith in Him.

Don’t let pride or panic tug you under the waves. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He’s the One who will give us everything we need to walk on water.

Photo by Nick Sarro on Unsplash

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

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.

Matt, Savannah, You, Me & The Hope Of Grace

Today Show

I can’t remember exactly when but at some point during high school, I started watching The Today Show.  That was back before Katie Couric said goodbye to Bryant Gumble and started breaking in this young upstart named Matt Lauer.  And, when I say I watched The Today Show, I mean, I watched it every single day.  “But, first this is Today on NBC” anchored my morning routine as much as anything else for years.  Maybe that’s why I was so shocked to hear that Matt Lauer has joined the long list of cultural figures to fall in the two months since The New York Times’ first reports on Harvey Weinstein.

To be honest, I’m usually skeptical of Christian authors, bloggers and pastors who use the controversy or news of the day as fodder for a quick blog post.  I’m always concerned those who write such posts are silently grateful for a topic that could generate a lot of interest.  The last thing I want to do is be that guy but I do want to respond to a massive question Savannah Guthrie asked as she shared the new about her friend Matt Lauer, “How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?”  It’s such a significant question because most of our culture’s attempts to reconcile those two thoughts leave our souls deeply unsatisfied.

All too often, we resolve the tension by cutting the person who has behaved badly out of our lives.  Maybe it’s because we don’t know what to say and saying nothing seems easier and safer.  Maybe it’s because we feel so hurt and betrayed that a friend let us down.  Whatever our motivation, cutting someone out always reveals that we never really loved them, only what they could do for us.  Love doesn’t see friends as assets or liabilities but so much of what we call friendship does.

At other times, we careen off in the other direction and ignore, excuse, minimize or laugh off their behavior.  We don’t love our friends enough to tell them they were wrong, instead we help them rationalize their failings.  We pretend what they did doesn’t matter, we defend what is indefensible, and in so doing we tarnish our integrity and betray our own expectations for ourselves.

We’ve lost the ability to say, “I love you even though you’ve behaved very badly.”  It’s an ability we desperately need if we’re every going to have healthy, enduring relationships.  And it’s an ability we’ll only develop when we realize that’s exactly what God has already said to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  It’s an ability that calls on us to embrace three complementary truths:

Uncompromising Standards

Nobody wins when we lower our moral standards to the basest levels of human depravity.  Sexual harassment is wrong; it violates the dignity of a person who is made in the image and likeness of God.  And to sexual harassment we can add a long list of other things that our culture has become far too permissive of in an attempt to answer Savannah’s question.  But mornings like today reveal that we all really do know better; some things are just wrong.  Sex is a sacred gift from God, not a weapon to be used in exerting power over someone else.

Deep Humility

In our assessment of others, we would do well to consider the words of 19th century Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “The seed of every sin known to man is in my heart.”  As much as I want to fight that conclusion for myself, I know it’s true.  Apart from God’s grace, I’m capable of doing whatever Lauer did and even worse.  It’s dangerously prideful to live without that kind of self awareness and it reflects a willful ignorance of our own failures.  What if your biggest regret, greatest sin and deepest source of shame was being thrown all over the internet today?  How would you be feeling if that moment was the topic of conversation all over the country today?  That thought alone should be enough to lead us into deep levels of humility.

Radical Grace

It’s only humble souls that can deal in the economy of grace.  Grace is the unique contribution of Christianity to the human experience – the ability to say that my love for you isn’t based on what you do but on who you are.  It’s the ability to stand with both the sinner and the sinned against.  It’s the ability to separate love from performance.

It’s what God has done for us in Jesus.  On the cross, we see the fury of God’s hatred for sin but we also see God’s deep love for sinners.  The fury of God’s wrath fell on His Son so that it could pass over us.  God made a way for sinners to become sons and for rebels to find peace.  God doesn’t love us because we deserve it.  He loves us because it’s who He is.

And that’s how he calls us to love one another.  Not sweeping sin or sinners under the carpet but showing a grace that melts the hardest of hearts and gives life in the most hopeless situations.

Oh, how I long to love people the way Jesus has loved me.  Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we could all take a step closer to that this Christmas?  A baby Boy was born to show us that grace and truth flow together and change everything they touch.

Shooting In Del Ray

IMG_1527

When Laura and I moved back to D.C. to plant Restoration City Church, we rented a little row house in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.  It was right down the road from where our church was gathering in Crystal City and we quickly fell in love with the neighborhood.  It felt like a small town right in the middle of a big city, it was walkable and had great restaurants and coffee shops.  The coffee shops were a particularly big deal for me because they doubled as my office.  My favorite is a placed called Swings.  I would walk there almost every day.  It was only a few blocks from our house and I could get there even faster by cutting through a park with a baseball field.  It’s called Simpson Park.

And this morning a Member of Congress, a Hill staffer, a lobbyist and two Capitol Police Officers were shot there.  I know exactly where the 3rd base dugout is; I’ve stopped there to make phone calls on my way home.  When I hear media reports of Members of Congress being escorted to a basketball court, I know which one they’re talking about.  There’s a little park right by the left outfield; that’s where we put Aidan in a swing for the first time. Laura still shops at the Aldi across the street and I still spend a lot of time at Swings.  So, it’s more than a little surreal to think of a shooting happening in the middle of a place we know so well and love so much.

I’ve been distracted all day by the shooting.  I keep thinking about it, wanting more information, wanting it to make sense and knowing it never will.  It makes me sad to know the whole thing will be politicized.  It makes me sad to realize that our national political discourse is so divisive that this kind of violence is tragic but not surprising.  But there are two thoughts that keep coming to mind more than any other.

One, this is why we planted a church that still meets right up the road from Del Ray.  Not this specific incident but the brokenness it flows out of.  Not political brokenness, not even moral brokenness but spiritual brokenness.  The loss of hope that comes from not knowing God, the fear that comes from not trusting His guiding hand and the pain that sin unleashes in our souls.  The church doesn’t exist to make good people better or to keep Christians entertained on a Sunday morning.  The church exists to shine the life and hope of Jesus into our world.

Two, we must do more to love and serve our city.  I’m shaken up because violence has reared its head in my neighborhood.  But for too many in our city and in our world, this is a daily reality.  I’ve always lived in neighborhoods where people say, “things like that don’t happen here.”  But there are plenty of people who live in neighborhoods where people say, “another one?”  Jesus died for the people in those communities as well.  He died to make sure that hope wouldn’t be limited to affluent zip codes.  He died that every soul would have the opportunity to find life in Him.  Every soul.

I love the city I call home.  I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else or lead a church anywhere else.  My prayer is simply that we would be the church – willing to reach out, to care, to love and to serve.  And to pray.  To pray for those shot, for their families, for our city and for our nation.

Refugees Are A Gospel Issue

refugees

One of the convictions that shapes us at Restoration City is the belief that when our city, country or world is talking about something, we should too.  If we don’t, it creates the impression that there’s the real world on one hand and the teachings of Scripture on the other.  Restoration City doesn’t exist to be an escape from the world but rather a place to be strengthened, inspired and equipped to engage the world.  So, I felt it was important to address the current debate about refugees at our gathering this morning.  In doing so, my goal was to make three things clear:

  1.  The church has a tremendous opportunity to serve the national conversation simply by showing that it’s possible to disagree and remain civil.  Our culture is rapidly loosing that ability.  All too often, we vilify people with different views rather than engaging and discussing.  We toss incendiary nonsense around social media because we’ve learned that’s what gets attention.  We’ve replaced careful though with cheap soundbites.  And we’ve divided ourselves into narrowly defined camps that war with other narrowly defined camps.  Restoration City, please don’t give into that kind of lazy thinking or that kind of divisive rhetoric.  It’s not worthy of the sons and daughters of God.  Disagree, debate, engage but do it with respect and gentleness.
  2. Long before refugees ever became a political issue, they were a gospel issue.  The Scripture speaks clearly to our responsibility as Christians to welcome, love and care for refugees.  Often the Bible uses the words alien, stranger or sojourner instead of refugee but they all mean the same thing.  I say refugees are a gospel issue for three reasons:
    1. The central figure of all Scripture was Himself a Middle Eastern political refugee.  When Mary and Joseph took the Lord Jesus to Egypt to escape persecution under Herod, He became a refugee.  There’s simply no other way to describe it.
    2. The Bible speaks to our treatment of refugees in many places.  Consider just a few:
      1. Exodus 23:9 – You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt
      2. Jeremiah 22:3 – Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
      3. Matthew 25:42-45 – For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
    3. Our treatment of refugees demonstrates our understanding that we are aliens and strangers in this world.  1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  Our true home is in heaven.  We are sons and daughters of an eternal Kingdom and this world is not our home.  We’re here as aliens and strangers.  The more we understand that, the more we will welcome those who come to our country as aliens and strangers.  The gospel puts each of us right in the middle of Exodus 23:9 – we also should know the heart of a stranger because we are sojourners in America.
  3. We should allow the Bible to shape our prayers.  We should pray for our leaders and for the flourishing of the church in America (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and we should pray for those fleeing their homelands to escape war, persecution and death.

My role as a pastor is not to make political statements.  It’s to teach the whole counsel of God and lead us into conforming our lives to the teachings of Scripture.  That was my goal this morning and it’s my goal in this post.  I’m praying for each of you as you shine the light of Jesus into our world this week.  Be bold.  Be brave.  Be respectful.  Be motivated by the glory of God and the good of humanity.

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.

Jesus In The Chaos

quiet-morning

 

Distraction.

More and more, it feels like my greatest battle is against distraction.  The unexpected phone call.  The “quick question” that turns into a 45 minute conversation.  Social media.  Email.  Checking out houses on Redfin even though we aren’t in the market.  Gossip.  A few texts.  Breaking news.  Netflix.

It all adds up and there are days when I wonder if I’ve really accomplished anything.  Busy? Definitely.  Tired?  Absolutely!  Productive?  I’m not sure.  Connected to God?  I know He’s with me but I don’t seem all that aware of His presence.

I know Jesus isn’t intimidated by the chaos of my life.  I know He isn’t running scared.  I know He doesn’t stay home sipping coffee while I go to work.  I know He’s with me.  He promises that in His Word, “I am with you always.” (Mt. 18:20)  He’s not the problem.  I am.  I loose sight of Him and get focused on a thousand other things.

For me, the battle for focus starts long before the sun is up.  I’m learning the more I connect with God in the morning, the more He shapes the chaos of my days.  I know how simple that sounds.  But I also know there’s a huge difference between “doing my quiet time” and connecting with God.  I can have a really well structured quiet time and totally miss God.  It happens more often than I would like to admit.  I power through a devotional book, journal a few thoughts, read some Scripture and pray a few rote prayers.  Quiet time done.  God missed.  And then there are days when those same raw ingredients combine to create a beautiful encounter with God.  His voice is clear, His presence is real, His love is almost tangible.  Most of the times, the difference is found in my expectations – power through or slow down and meet with Jesus?

When I slow down and meet with Jesus in the morning, He’s so much easier to see throughout the day.  He’s there helping me say no, avoid distractions and do what He’s called me to do.  When the unavoidable interruptions of life come, He’s there reassuring me He’s still working even though we’re off my script.  He’s near and real and everything’s better.

Yes, there are ways to manage distractions.  But it’s not like they’re going away.  And it’s not like Jesus is going away.  I’m just much more focused on staying connected with Him during the day.  And I’m finding that my best shot at connection during the day is connection before the day gets started.

Hope For A Weary Land

Sparlers

A 37-year-old black man was shot to death on Tuesday while he lay on the ground in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  On the same day, one presidential nominee narrowly escaped indictment and settled for a blistering attack on her judgement and trustworthiness.  Meanwhile, the other presidential nominee was busy sharing reflections on what he admires most about Saddam Hussein.

And those are just the headlines.

As a country, we oscillate between outrage and apathy.  Fear, indifference, anger and division increasingly dominate the national conversation.  For some reason, we still seem convinced that yelling at each other on social media is going to accomplish something. The ability to disagree and treat one another civilly has almost evaporated.

It’s all just hard to watch.

Our country is crying out for hope.  And we as Christians are largely silent.  That’s the part that’s hardest for me to watch.

I’m not talking about our social media activism or political engagement.  I’m talking about our willingness to talk with others about Jesus.  Somewhere along the way, we became afraid to talk about Him.  Somewhere along the way, we learned to apologize for Him, hide Him or leave Him out of the conversation.  Maybe we didn’t want to offend.  Maybe we were afraid.  Maybe we didn’t know exactly what to say.  But we learned to be quiet.  We learned to raise our hands in worship on Sunday and go undercover on Monday.

Our country is desperate for the hope we’re afraid to share. 

The wounds of racism, injustice, corruption, greed and self-interest can be healed.  No one needs to live in the grip of bitterness, fear and alienation.  The gospel not only saves souls.  It transforms communities.  It gives hope for eternity and power for the challenges of today.

Christian, you don’t have anything to be ashamed of.  The hope our world needs is alive in you.  You’re an ambassador of Christ.  You’re a herald of grace, of love, of hope.  The world needs you.  The world needs Jesus.  The world needs you to carry the name of Jesus.

A Perfect Christ In An Imperfect Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful time of year if you have a perfect life.  Or at least that’s the message I get from our culture.  If you’re good looking, are in a wonderful relationship, have plenty of money for gifts, a beautiful family and a couple of Clydesdales kicking around your snow covered back yard, this is the season for you.  If you’re one of the seven people in the world who actually like fruitcake, even better.

The problem is I don’t have that kind of life.  Yes, I’m married to a wonderful woman and we have a ridiculously cute son but life isn’t always easy.  The cute kid also pukes a lot and seems to enjoy screaming, often in the middle of the night.  Sometimes our house is a mess.  Sometimes I just wish we could make it to the end of a day without being exhausted.  And, for the record, I hate fruitcake.

Add to that all of the fears, hurts and frustrations in my heart.  Planting a church is scary work – what if we fail?  How will I explain it to people if we follow God into this and it doesn’t work?  It’s been a hard year for our family.  We said goodbye to a church we had been at for 10 years.  We said goodbye to friends in DC.  We set out into something new.  There were people who loved us well but also people who hurt us.  Many times I wonder why the high road can’t be the easy road.  I think about friends who have lost parents this year and friends who are uncertain about their future and friends who just want their kids to be healthy.  Not exactly the stuff of a perfect Christmas.

So we do our best to ignore it all.  We turn a blind eye and hope like crazy next Christmas will be better and we won’t have to fake it so much.

And we miss the whole point of Christmas.

Jesus wasn’t born because we had it all together.  He didn’t come on a perfect night, to a perfect family in a perfect place.  He was born to two poor, unmarried and terrified teenagers.  He made His royal entry into our world in a smelly, dirty cave.  Yes, angels sang.  But only shepherds came that night.

He didn’t come as the cherry on top of a perfect world.  He left perfection behind to taste our pain, to experience our temptations, to identify with our weaknesses and to show His Father’s love for us. He never asked people to clean themselves up before they came to Him.  He was called a friend of sinners.

The more tired, broken and hopeless you are, the more Christmas is for you.

The infant King offers hope, a fresh start and a life that never ends.  It’s not the life we deserve.  It’s the life He purchased for us on the cross.  His cross makes our forgiveness possible.  His death secures our life.  And His life offers hope to us all.

So, Merry Christmas.

You may not have a perfect life but you do have a perfect Christ.