What Brings You Life?

Calvert Cliffs State Park, January 2, 2021

Wouldn’t it be great if turning the calendar to 2021 enabled us to leave all of the challenges of 2020 in the past? But, at least so far, that doesn’t seem to be working. Covid is still very much a thing, our politics are still very much a mess, and life is still very far from normal. Turning the calendar doesn’t seem to have magically revolutionized the culture in our home nor has it rocketed me to new intimacy with God. If anything, life seems pretty much the same. In other words, life is still hard.

Which is why I’m trying to be as intentional as possible about prioritizing the things that bring me life. I’ve noticed that I never need to go looking for the things that drain me – they have a way of finding me all by themselves. They don’t need my help. But the things that bring me life are different. They’re never urgent, nobody ever demands that I do them, nobody ever gets angry if I don’t do them (with the exception of myself!), and they all require some effort. I rarely stumble into the things that bring me life. I have to plan for them, protect them, and even fight for them. And that’s the big insight for me. The path of least resistance never brings life. It leads to a Netflix binge or mindlessly surfing the internet or one last check of my email before I go to bed.

And I want more for 2021. I want to live with passion, with vigor, with joy. I don’t want to muddle through my days in the vain hope that tomorrow will be better. I want to work really hard on things that really matter with people I really love. And I want to fight for the things that bring me life.

If you’re wanting to walk a similar path, the first step involves determining what actually brings you life. Crafting this list might end up being harder than you think but you owe it to yourself to know what truly replenishes you. For what it’s worth, here’s my list:

  • Hiking…hence the photo and how we spend just about every Sabbath as a family.
  • Long walks with Laura…it’s where we have our best conversations.
  • Travel…at least I remember it fondly!
  • Fire…fire pits, fire places, candles. Really fire in all its forms.
  • Good conversations with good friends….preferably near a fire!
  • Swimming…for fun and for exercise.
  • Reading….theology, leadership, spiritual formation, novels, biographies, and books about politics.
  • Coffee…probably should have been first.
  • Watching movies…we do this about 3 times a year but I always enjoy it.
  • Lake Ontario…DC is home but the Great Lakes are the best!

Obviously, I believe all of those activities need to be built on the foundation of a vibrant relationship with Christ.

When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:4 (CSB)

Christ, who is your life. Jesus doesn’t just bring life. He is life. And no list of life giving activities can ever take the place of the life of Christ in us. But you also can’t bury the life of Christ under a relentless pile of things that drain you and expect to live with joy. We’ve got to fight for the things that bring us life.

So, what’s on your list? Are there any that you can build into the ordinary routines of your life? How can you build more life into your calendar this year? However you do it, fight for the things that bring you life!

Mid-Day Prayer

mid day prayerA few months ago, our staff team added a new rhythm to our daily schedules – stopping to pray at 11.30.  These prayer times are really simple, nothing complicated at all.  We spend a few minutes in silent, personal prayer and then come together to read God’s Word and pray.  When we first started moving in this direction, I knew it would be good for our team and for my soul.

What I didn’t know is how hard it would be to carve out this time.  And I don’t mean that in some sort of “poor, overworked pastor” kind of way.  In fact, my job should make it so much easier – I’m paid to pray and it’s still a challenge!  The problem isn’t my schedule – it’s my heart.  By that point in the day, I’ve gotten a decent amount of work done (hopefully) but there’s also been enough time for a decent amount of work to pile up – emails, questions from our team, texts, phone calls, you name it.  And whatever has piled up always feels so urgent right at 11.30.  How can I stop to pray when I haven’t gotten back to so and so yet?  How can I stop and pray when I have unanswered emails?  What about that meeting this afternoon? And on and on and on…

But that’s really the point.  There’s always going to be another email to answer, a text to return and a phone call to make. Always.  Whether I pray or not.  So, my only real options are (a) some undone work plus time with the Lord or (b) some undone work and no time with the Lord.  Trust me, I feel the pull towards option b but I know my soul needs option a.

In fact, I’ve learned that the harder it is to stop, the more I need it.  I need to be reminded that the future of this church doesn’t rest on my shoulders.  Jesus is the head of the Church, not me. (Col. 1:18)  Yes, I want to lead with diligence (Rm. 12:8) but that diligence absent the power of God won’t accomplish anything. (Jn. 15:5).  Yes, I want to do my work as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23) but productivity can never take the place of sitting at the feet of Jesus. (Lk. 10:42)

I’m sharing all of this because I want to invite you to join us in this rhythm.  If you can do that in person, great.  I’m serious – we would love to have you come join us in our Crystal City offices any time you can make it.  Just email Alex (alex@rcc.church) and she’ll get you everything you need.  But if you can’t be with us at 11.30, set an alarm on your phone.  When it goes off, pause and pray.  If you can only carve out 60 seconds, that’s better than nothing!  But my guess is you could carve out 5-10 minutes if you got creative.  And, just to state the obvious, there’s nothing special about 11.30 – if that doesn’t work for you, pick another time.  Just be consistent because it’s that consistency that ingrains it in your daily rhythms.

Adopting this rhythm might be one of the more significant changes you make in your relationship with Jesus this year.  It’s a beautiful reminder that our hope in in Christ, He provides the grace our lives run on and He’s with you in the midst of the trials and temptations of your day.  Don’t just spend time with Jesus in the morning to check a box.  Lingering at His feet for a few minutes in the midst of the chaos of our days reminds us that His grace really is sufficient for the challenges of our real, complicated, broken lives.

The Heart Of Margin

Heart of margin

We’ve spent the last few weeks as a church talking about creating margin in our lives.  We did it because God didn’t create us to be stressed out, maxed out and on the road to being burnt out.  We also did it because mission requires margin.  Generosity requires financial margin.  Serving and investing in others requires margin in our schedules.  Staying healthy as we pour ourselves out for the good of others requires emotional and relational margin.  Where there’s no margin, there will be no mission.

Along the way, we’ve seen that margin is a heart issue well before it becomes a calendar, financial or relational issue. So, as we wrap up our focus on margin, I want to highlight the three heart issues we need to deal with in order to create margin in our lives.

Identity

We’ll never be able to create and defend margin if we allow the approval, opinions and expectations of others to form our identity.  If we’ve given people control over our identity and value, it’s no wonder we give them control over our schedules and spending.

As followers of Jesus, our identity doesn’t come from others or even from ourselves.  It comes from the One who loved us enough to die for us.  “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)  Those word were written by Paul but they’re every bit as applicable to us as Jesus followers today.  You are so loved that Jesus willingly died in your place on that cross.  He gave Himself up for us so that He never has to give up on us.  When we believe that, we become a new creation.  Christ Himself lives in us.  He’s our hope of glory, our source of strength and the One who calls us to a bold, beautiful life of freedom and faith.

You aren’t defined by other people’s hopes, dreams and expectations for you.  You’re defined by God’s work for you.

Intimacy

One of the biggest margin killers in our hearts in FOMO (fear of missing out).  We’re terrified we won’t get a date if we don’t go to the party; won’t get the promotion if we don’t go to the conference; won’t get the contract if we don’t take the call; won’t have any friends if we don’t go on the trip.  We say yes to everything because we’re terrified of the consequences of saying no.

But when you bring Jesus into the mix, FOMO loses its grip on our hearts.  “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.“(Ps. 84:11)  God withholds no good thing from His children when they allow Him to determine their path.

The question is whether or not we’re asking Jesus to determine our path for us.  This is where intimacy come in.  We know God has told us that apart from Him we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5).  We usually take that to mean we can’t do the thing we’ve already decided to do without God’s help.  I’m learning more and more in my own life that it also means we shouldn’t do the deciding without God either.

Paul Tripp often talks about how the gospel shapes our lives “at street level” – meaning the seemingly small, mundane details of our lives.  I’m convinced this is one of the greatest secrets in creating and defending margin in our lives.  Prayerfully engaging Jesus in deciding how and where we spend our time gives us confidence that we’re not missing out.  When He tells us to say no, it’s for our good.  And when He tells us to say yes, it’s for our good.  No more FOMO.

Intentionality

Creating and defending margin isn’t easy.  It involves countless collisions between God’s plan for us and other people’s expectations of us.  In Mark 1, we see Jesus actively resisting the demands of His disciples and the residents of an entire city.  Margin doesn’t come easy.

And it doesn’t come without planning, without difficult conversations and without confronting our fears of missing out or disappointing others.  This is where intentionality comes in for us.

My goal in leading us through this series wasn’t just to get us all feeling bad about our lack of margin, or to get us talking more about margin or even to get us wanting more margin.  My prayer is that we will actually create more margin!  So, what decisions do you need to make?  Conversations do you need to have?  Emails do you need to send?

I so want us as a church to be healthy and to be deeply engaged in the mission of God.  Both require margin.  For your sake and for the sake of a city desperate for the hope of Jesus, do the heart work necessary to create the margin that mission requires.

Does Margin Matter?

Margin

Last Sunday we launched a new series at Restoration City called “Margin”.  It’s a series about creating space between our limits and our load.  It’s about having a little something left in the tank at the end of the day financially, emotionally and in our calendars.  It’s about not being maxed out, stressed out and on the road to being burnt out.  

It’s a series we desperately need as a church.  And it’s a series that’s intentionally counter cultural.  Washington, DC isn’t known for cultivating margin; it’s known for devouring it.  And Restoration City seems to attract people who go pretty hard at life – we want to get the most out of every day and we want to make our lives count as much as possible for the glory of God.  So, I’m not surprised that some of us are struggling with whether or not we should even be worried about creating margin.

If you’re not sure why this whole margin thing matters, let me give you five reasons:

  1. Obedience.  I tried to make this case out of Leviticus 19 last Sunday.  Even if you found that less than compelling, we all need to wrestle with why God would have made honoring the Sabbath the 3rd commandment.  I know a lot of Christians who like to answer that we’re no longer under law but under grace (true) and that Sabbath doesn’t apply today (less true).  But, even if that is true, it still begs the question of why God included taking a day off on a short list of things that tell us how humans are designed to function.  At least when it comes to time, we need to consider to what extent margin is purely an obedience issue.
  2. Promised Blessing.  This is where I was going with Deuteronomy 24:19, “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”  God seems to be very clear in His Word that when we trust Him enough to create margin, he does more with our time, money and relationships that we ever could if we tried to max ourselves out.
  3. Health.  Truth be told, I thought margin was for wimps when I was in my 20’s.  It was the kind of silliness that people with nothing to do came up with to justify their laziness.  I was wrong.  And I started to pay for it in my 30’s.  I didn’t make time for the gym, so my energy levels suffered.  I had run so hard for so long, that I was losing my joy.  I hadn’t saved as much as I should have and I was way more tired at 30 than I should have been.  Something had to change – and adding margin to life was that something.
  4. Mission.  When I say mission, I don’t just mean trips, defined serving opportunities or leadership roles in the church.  I mean personally building relationships with non-Christians, sharing the gospel with them and celebrating their baptisms.  When people push back on margin, I often ask them how many people they lead to faith last year.  When that gets awkward, I ease up and ask how many non-Christian friends they have and are investing in.  It’s usually in that 2nd round of awkwardness that people feel the need to create some margin for the sake of the gospel!
  5. Gospel.  Creating and defending margin in our lives is both a response to and a reminder of the gospel on a daily basis.  It’s a reminder that our hope in life is not in our effort, but in God’s grace.  Jesus isn’t calling us to build a life on our sufficiency but on his.  Unscheduled time, uncommitted dollars and meaningful relationships are both the reward of a life that trusts in Jesus and a reminder to trust in Jesus.  Margin is about gospel consciousness.

Margin isn’t about being a lazy slug.  It’s about working really hard on things that really matter in a way that shows that Christ really is our hope.  That’s what I want for you, for our church and for my life.

See you on Sunday….we’ll be talking about time!  You won’t want to miss it!

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.

Replenished Through Stillness

EN7AWY4OEB

Stillness is one of the rarest and most valuable commodities in our frenzied world.  That’s especially true this time of year.  As wonderful as Christmas is and as much as there is joy in all of the travel, family, preparation and celebration, stillness is rare.  Maybe we’re able to steal a few minutes alone by the tree before the house wakes up or on a walk through the neighborhood.  But most of the time we’re going, talking, doing.

Our souls need stillness.  To be with God.  To reflect.  To thank.  To pray.  To breathe.

So, we’re not gathering as a church tomorrow morning.  Yes, many of us are out of town anyway.  But it’s also about finding stillness in the midst of a busy time of year.  

As strange as it sounds to say, I pray tomorrow morning is a gift to you.  I pray you’re able to rest, to take it all in, to enjoy an extra cup of coffee or a long run.  Get alone with Jesus.  Take a nap.  Do whatever you need for your soul to be replenished.

Rest: The Person, The Mission and The Provision Of God

Rest video FINAL from Restoration City Church on Vimeo.

As you spend time with Jesus today, the following questions may help guide your thoughts and prayers.  It’s a long list, so don’t worry about getting to all of them.  Just use the ones you find most helpful.

  • Do you spend time with Jesus to earn His blessing or enjoy His presence?
  • Are there any changes you need to make to your daily routine to find more regular time with Jesus?
  • Are you growing in your understanding of the gospel and it’s implications for your life?
  • What was the best book you read this past year?
  • What has been the most important thing you’ve learned about God and yourself this past year?
  • Think back over the last year, what was the one time you most felt like God was working through you?
  • Who is the one person you would like to see baptized this year?  Are you praying for them regularly?
  • When you think of the year ahead, what’s one way you think Jesus wants to use you to reach and disciple others?
  • Are you living beyond what God has provided with your finances, time or energy?  Where do you need to cut back?
  • Where are the places in life where you know your five loaves and two fishes are inadequate to the challenge in front of you?  How are you training yourself not to replace fear with faith?
  • Is there anything you’re not pursuing because you’re not sure God will provide?

Enjoy today, Restoration City.  The Scripture promises that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.(James 4:8)  That’s more than enough to make today incredible!

Getting The Most Out Of This Sunday

maximizing rest

Hopefully, you’ve heard by now that Restoration City is NOT gathering this Sunday, August 16th.  We’re taking an intentional day of rest at the start of an intentional week of rest. I’m convinced it’s going to be a great day for all of us – if we use it well.  That’s where this post comes in – I want to offer you some really practical thoughts on how you can get the most out of this Sunday.

What NOT To Do

Resist the temptation to use this Sunday for any of the following:

  • Getting caught up on work (whether that’s your job, running errands, doing laundry or paying bills).  Don’t even think about being productive!
  • Visiting another church.  I mean that in the least territorial, defensive way possible!  But if the goal of Sunday was to participate in corporate worship, we would just meet ourselves.
  • Scheduling anything you don’t want to do.

What To Expect

  • Earlier this month, I recorded a 10 minute video based on Mark 6:30-44.  We’ll post that to this blog early on Sunday morning as a resource to guide your morning.  Check it out – it’ll give you a Biblical framework for the day.
  • We’ll also post some reflection questions on Sunday morning.  They’ll be the kind of questions that lead to some good reflection and journaling.

What To Do

  • Block out 9am – 1pm on your calendar this Sunday, roughly the hours you devote to our weekly gathering.  Don’t schedule anything.
  • Develop a plan.  Where do you want to go and what do you want to do during that time?  Hike into the woods with your Bible?  Lay out by the pool?  Read and journal in a coffeeshop?  Have brunch with your spouse?
  • Here are the questions that should guide your planning:
    • Where do you connect most with God?
    • How do you ensure you get some time in the Word and prayer?
    • Are you more in need of time by yourself or with a good friend?
    • What is the one thing you could do this Sunday that would give life to your soul?  Remember, this is all about getting time with Jesus.
  • If you have kids, figure out how you want to handle them.  Maybe get a babysitter?  Divide 9-1 into two shifts and each of you get 2 hours to be by yourself and 2 with the kids?

Using Sunday well is going to take a little planning.  Remember the goal – to get time with Jesus in a way that pours life into your soul.  Don’t waste this gift by sleeping in, doing laundry and answering email.  Do the things that give life to your soul!

Why Restoration City Is NOT Gathering This Sunday

why rest

Can you believe it?  Restoration City Church is NOT gathering this Sunday.  What kind of a slacker church shuts down for a week?  Just to add to the insanity, none of our Community Groups will meet next week either.  We’re shutting the whole thing down for seven straight days.

It’s not that we couldn’t find a band.  I’m not burning out.  We’re not in crisis.  In fact, everything’s going just fine.  So, what’s this all about?

Simple answer: REST.  

The benefits of resting as a church are huge:

  • We’re reminded that church is a community you join, not an event you attend.  It’s so easy to think about church as a Sunday morning event and a mid-week Community Group.  But it’s so much more than that – it’s a family that loves, encourages and cares for one another.  We’re still the church, even when we don’t gather.
  • Our volunteer teams get a Sunday to recharge.  Sunday morning would literally not happen without an incredible team of volunteers who do everything from lead worship, to production, to RCCKids, to connect, to our prayer team.  I love the thought of that team having one Sunday this summer when they don’t need to pour out and can create space for God to pour in to them.  This is a massive thank you to those who serve all of us week in and week out.
  • We’re reminded what a joy it is to be together on a Sunday morning.  They say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and in some ways I think that’s true.  I love the fact that I will genuinely miss each one of you on Sunday morning.  There’s something good about missing one another – it’ll make the reunion on the 23rd that much sweeter.
  • This allows us to champion rest in a city that’s terrible at it.  Our culture may pay lip service to the idea of taking care of yourself but most of DC is horrible at resting.  If you don’t believe me, send a work email at 9PM tonight and see how long it takes to get a reply!  Maybe it’ll help to think of it this way – we’re creating space for us to practice resting.

This past year has been incredible in the life of Restoration City and I honestly believe we’re going to see God do some amazing things in this city over the fall.  Let’s take a week to look back at all He’s done and prepare ourselves for all He’s going to do.

Tomorrow, I’ll post some very specific things you can do to get the most out of this coming Sunday morning.

Stillness or Striving?

Be_Still

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

(Psalm 46:8-11, ESV)

Be still.  It’s the Hebrew word for a silent, motionless state.  Stop.  Say nothing.  Do nothing.  Be fully at rest – no words, no work, no worry.  There are few words my soul needs to hear more.

We live lives of constant motion, frenetic effort and unrelenting pressure.  There’s always something to check, to do, to schedule.  We run harder and harder and feel like we’re only getting more and more behind.  Emails, dishes and meetings all pile up.

The psalmist is showing us another way.  Cease striving.  Trust God.  Realize it all doesn’t rest on your shoulders.  Accept the gentle rhythms of grace.  Find stillness for your soul.

Sounds great.  If only it were possible, right?

Well, the psalmist is giving us a roadmap to genuine soul rest.  The roadmap is found in the character of God.

Past Faithfulness

Verses 8-9 recount the works of God.  The description seems jarring but it’s a reminder of God’s faithful deliverance of Israel.  Think about your past.  Can you name one time when God was unfaithful to you?  Maybe He didn’t meet your expectations and maybe He didn’t follow your script and maybe He let you down.  But unfaithful?  I don’t think so.

Future Promises

God’s faithfulness in the past gives us confidence in His promises for the future.  That’s the heart of verse 10.  We can be still because God is going to accomplish all of His purposes.  It’s a done deal.  We simply need to play our part.

Current Presence

When the Lord of hosts is with you, your soul can rest.  That’s the hope of verse 11.  He’s in your corner today.  He’s walking into the exhaustion, uncertainty and opportunities of the day with you.  You aren’t alone.  You may be in over your head but He isn’t in over His.

Stillness and hard work aren’t mutually exclusive.  Stillness often gives rise to great effort, productivity and resolve.  But it’s not frantic, scattered, flailing.  Stillness is a fountain of energy.  Striving is an energy drain.

Which are you operating from today? Stillness or Striving?