RCC…In The Library

Restoration City Church | 06.30.19

Life as a portable church can get really interesting at times. Like when you get a call at the end of the day on Wednesday letting you know that all the AC in the middle school you meet in has been turned off for a system upgrade and no one knows how long all of this is going to take. That’s where we were this time last week. And then we found out on Thursday that the library had AC and decided to meet there as a stopgap while we got a better sense of what our overall plan was going to look like for the summer.

In all honesty, my prayer going into last Sunday was something along the lines of, “Dear God, please help this not be a total disaster!”

Which turns out to have been way too small of a prayer. Not only was Sunday not a disaster, it was a really good day in the life of Restoration City. Over the course of the morning, we started to realize we not only had a workable solution for as long as we are out of the theater (BTW, we will be adding more chairs this Sunday!) but also that God is using this season to do some pretty significant things in our church.

Here’s some of what I see Him doing and how I’m praying for this season:

Church is NOT an event we attend. It is a community we join.

We say that all the time but there’s something about breaking out of our normal routines that drives the point home. If nothing else, everyone walked into the library on Sunday without “their normal seat.” As a result, many of us, even those who have been attending RCC for a long time, met new people.

I’m praying that our temporary location makes us even more welcoming for new people and even more connected to each other as a community.

Worship is NOT something we listen to. It is something we participate in.

Standing really close to one another in a room filled with natural light really seemed to drive this home. There were so many moments on Sunday when I couldn’t tell who was louder – the band in front of me or the congregation behind me. As simple as it sounds, hearing one another sing is a massive spiritual encouragement.

I’m praying that our temporary location intensifies our expectation for and participation in corporate worship.

Adversity is NOT something we should fear. It is something God uses.

We aren’t shrinking back into survival mode for the summer. We’re trusting that God is going to do something incredible. He’s already doing that through the registration for our Summer Sessions and we’re trusting Him to add a significant number of new volunteers to our team through the Help Wanted initiative we’re going to be introducing this Sunday.

I’m praying that we add at least 25 new volunteers who are willing to serve regularly in one of our six internal team while we are meeting in a temporary location.

Ultimately, I’m praying we carry all of these things back to the theater with us when the AC upgrade in complete, whether that’s in 2 weeks or 2 months. God is doing some great things in our church right now and I’m so excited to see what He has in store for us this summer!

Power & Presence

Just the other day, my son, Aidan, walked into the room and boldly announced, “Dad, I’m not coming into this room to talk. I just need something from you.” Literally. That’s what he said. And I just sat there for a minute astonished that he clearly saw nothing wrong with his statement at all. In his mind, he really was just trying to explain how he wanted all of this to go down. Clearly, we still have a couple of things to work on with him!

But there was also something disarming and almost endearing to his boldness. And I definitely wasn’t mad at him. If anything, I was convicted. Not about how I talk with other people but about how I talk with God. Granted, I would never start a time of prayer by saying, “God, I’m not here to talk with you. I just need something.” But, all too often, that’s my attitude. I’m not here to spend time with you, God. I’m here to get You to do some things. That’s why Psalm 105 has become so important in my prayer life.

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”

Psalm 105:4

Yes, seek the Lord and His strength. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help and for power but that’s the part that comes easily to us. The real beauty of prayer is found when we press beyond that to simply enjoy being in the presence of God. Don’t settle for strength when God is offering presence.

In a lot of ways, the two are very closely related. If anything, strength from God is found in the presence of God. Sometimes we think prayer works like the drive up window at Starbucks – we pull off the road of life for a minute, order what we need to make it through the day, and pick up our answer in just a few minutes. We want God to serve up His strength and power on demand. I’m not here to talk. I just need something. But we’ll never find the strength we need without the presence we were created to enjoy.

By the way, we should be thrilled, not disappointed, that the two are inseparably linked. If God were to give us all the strength we need but never invite us into His presence, He would only be giving us second best. To want God’s strength without God’s presence is to rob ourselves of what’s best. Yes, I got Aidan his milk but he missed out on what could have been some great moments with his father. At the time, he was just fine with that. But, ultimately, his life will be far richer because of moments with his father, not cups of milk. I wonder how often we shortchange ourselves in prayer. Yes, God will still help us through the meeting but we miss out on the blessing of just being with him.

Obviously, I’m sharing this to encourage all of us to seek God’s presence with even more intensity than we seek God’s strength. In thinking about that, I was struck by one more thought. I didn’t love Aidan any less for his inartful approach. I still wanted to spend time with him. I still wanted him to spend time with me. It’s the grace that should flow naturally between fathers and sons. And it is the grace the flows naturally between our Heavenly Father and His adopted sons and daughters.

Seeking God’s presence isn’t a roadmap to seeking God’s strength. Seeking God’s presence is the fruit of comprehending “with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18-19) The more we comprehend God’s love for us, the more we’ll be filled with a desire for his presence, and the richer our lives will be.

Once A Month Isn’t Enough

Last night I realized that Restoration City has only gathered 1 out of the last 4 Sundays. Between the changes to our schedule because of Christmas and then the snow, it’s been a pretty rough stretch for us. The irony of that is that I’ve been praying specifically that we would all renew our commitment to gathering on a Sunday morning in the New Year! Specifically, my prayers for us have been shaped by Psalm 92.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
    they flourish in the courts of our God.

Psalm 92:12-13

When I read Psalm 92 over the Christmas break, it triggered something powerful in me. The psalmist paints such a beautiful picture of what we all want for our lives – to flourish and grow. Some of us are more familiar with the beauty of a palm tree swaying in an ocean breeze and some of us know just how massive a cedar tree is when it’s full grown. Either way, we want that kind of flourishing and growth in our lives.

And one of the ways that happens is by prioritizing time with the people of God in the house of God. As the psalmist says, we flourish when we are planted in the house of God. We were designed to live with a sense of rhythm and our souls need to gather corporately once a week to worship, to take communion, to soak in the Word of God, to be renewed in our faith, and to be strengthened for the challenges in the week to come.

I know there are plenty of good reasons why we can’t always gather with the church – illness and travel are the big two. But, apart from those, where does gathering with the people of God fall on your list of priorities? I can tell you based on the last month that gathering with the church 1/4 of the time is no where near enough for our souls. I’ve missed it and can’t wait to be back together this Sunday, Lord willing.

I’m not trying to guilt any one here. But I am willing to fight for our common flourishing. Don’t sporadically attend three different churches. Don’t go to church when you have nothing else to do. Don’t think a podcast is a good substitute. Don’t believe the lie that “you just need a week of.”

The Sundays when you’re most tempted to skip church are probably the ones you most need to be there and the ones that will nourish your soul the most. So, fight through it. Be planted in the house of the Lord!

Merry Christmas

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Luke 1:76-79

Those words, first spoken by Zechariah as he rejoiced in the birth of his son John, have become the heart of my prayer for our church this Christmas. I pray that we all experience the sunrise of Christmas in our souls today.

Today we celebrate the tender mercy of our God. His answer to sin and death, pain and suffering, fear and despair arrived in the form of an Infant King. A little One who would save us from our sin and show us how life was meant to be lived. A Baby who came as light, and life, and love.

Christmas is the dawn of a new, a wild, and an unbreakable hope.

Merry Christmas.

Annual Giving Commitments

In a recent letter to the Restoration City congregation, I asked everyone who calls this their church home to give a one time, year end donation before December 31st and to make an annual giving commitment for 2019.  In the letter, I explained that the year end donation is about our collective vision as a church while the annual giving commitment is about our individual discipleship to Jesus.  Understanding the role of generosity in both our collective vision and our individual discipleship is crucial for us as Christ followers.  So, I’m going to use this week and next week’s blog posts to dig deeper into each, starting with the idea of an annual giving commitment.

There’s a temptation to see something like an annual giving commitment as nothing more than a fundraising or budgeting tool that helps us operate as a church but that’s really not the case.  It’s a discipleship tool that helps each of us as Christ followers be intentional about the spiritual discipline of generosity.  In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul writes that each of us should, “give as he has decided in his heart.”  In other words, our giving is preceded by an internal, heart level decision.  An annual giving commitment gives us a specific opportunity to make that decision.  By making that decision now for the coming year, we become intentional stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us.

Jesus helps us see the significance of intentional stewardship in a short section in the middle of His Sermon on The Mount.  

“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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Matthew 6:19-21

We need to pay really careful attention to what Jesus is saying in that last sentence: Your heart follows your dollars.  Where we invest our treasure today is where we will find our heart tomorrow.  Every dollar we spend points our hearts somewhere.  The question is whether we are intentional or accidental about that pointing.  If we want to be intentional, we need to ask ourselves three simple but crucial discipleship questions.

  1.  Do you know how your spending is shaping your heart? In my experience, the vast majority of us have only a vague sense of where our money goes every month.  We know what our rent is and our student loan payments but most everything else gets a little fuzzy, oftentimes deliberately so.  Let’s be clear, not knowing where your money is going isn’t just financial irresponsible.  It’s spiritually reckless.  If our hearts follow our dollars, we owe it to ourselves to know where our dollars are going.  So, start tracking your spending.
  2. Are you comfortable with how your spending is shaping your heart?  When I say comfortable, I mean spiritually comfortable, not financially comfortable.  Your budget is as much a spiritual document as it is a financial planning tool.  A good budget doesn’t just make sure you spend less than you make.  A good budget is an intentional plan to shape your soul.  Are you stewarding God’s resources in a way that’s enriching your soul?
  3. What changes is God leading you to make in the coming year?  Maybe it’s time to cut some things out.  Maybe it’s time to save more.  Maybe it’s time to give more.  Maybe it’s time to spend more in certain areas of life.  The key is actually having the conversation with God.  A lot of times, we want to keep God at arm’s length when making financial decisions and that should be a real warning sign to us that something is wrong.  If we’re willing to trust God with our salvation, we should be willing to trust Him with our finances.

That’s what our annual giving commitments are all about – taking control of how our spending is shaping our souls.  So, please, have a conversation with Jesus.  What is He asking you to do?  What changes do you need to make?  What is generosity going to look like for you next year?  Take some time to pray about it and when you’re done, send in your annual giving commitment, either online or with one of the cards we have available on Sunday mornings.  And when you do, know that you’ve taken an important step in your discipleship to Jesus.

A Thanksgiving That Will Really Make You Happy

Thanksgiving 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

Usually that’s our way of saying we hope everything goes well as someone celebrates this holiday.  We hope our family and friends are able to navigate the holiday with minimal unpleasantness: no burnt turkeys, drunk uncles, fights over dinner, or traffic.  It’s our way of saying we hope you have fun, get to relax, and maybe even get a nap at some point over the weekend.  There’s nothing wrong with any of that but it misses the deeper reality of that greeting – being thankful actually makes us happy!

By the way, that’s not sentimentality.  It’s science.  Study after study has confirmed that being thankful makes us happier.  When we take time to reflect on the things that make us grateful and express that gratitude, it actually changes us on a neurobiological level.  Being thankful causes our brains to release both dopamine and serotonin.  Dopamine is the chemical that makes us happy, optimistic, sociable, and goal-oriented.  Serotonin is an anti-depressant that increases will power and motivation.   So, if we do this thanksgiving thing correctly, it should literally make us happier!

The Apostle Paul didn’t understand the neurobiology of gratitude but he knew the experiential reality of it.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

That’s my prayer for you this Thanksgiving.  May the peace of God guard your heart as you allow gratitude to mingle with your need in a way that drives away anxiety.  May the joy of Christ be yours as you meditate on the goodness, mercy, and provision of God in your life.  May you be more focused on the blessings you celebrate than the details of your celebration.

So, Happy Thanksgiving.  Or maybe I should say, “Thanksgiving Will Make You Happy.”

Welcome To The Neighborhood, HQ2

Crystal City

I remember being horrified when some of the buildings in our neighborhood started getting covered with this weird, quasi-artistic fabric.  I assumed Crystal City was trying to turn eyesores into art but couldn’t figure out why they were broadcasting just how many buildings in our neighborhood were sitting empty!  And then I learned it was all connected to Amazon’s search for a second headquarters.  Crystal City was putting together what a lot of people saw as a long shot bid to bring HQ2 to our little part of the world.  Turns out it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all and Amazon’s moving into the neighborhood!

This is a really big deal for our city, our neighborhood, and for us at Restoration City Church.  Only time will tell exactly how this will impact our church but as one of a very small number of churches that gather in the Crystal City/Pentagon City area, it’s going to have a big impact on us.  No doubt we’ll face some challenges (I suspect our rent is going up!) but HQ2 also presents us with tremendous opportunities.

At the very least, Jeff Bezos picking Crystal City should impact how we think about our neighborhood and city.  It’s no secret that Crystal City has had a bit of a self esteem problem for a long time – it’s hard not to when your claim to fame is an underground shopping mall!  Not only have we not been the trendiest neighborhood in DC but DC in general doesn’t always have the best reputation as a place to live.  People come here for their careers but it often seems like they’re counting the days until they leave from the moment they arrive.  Sometimes that’s just a function of being stationed at the Pentagon, which always comes with an end date.  Cost of living is a big and understandable part of it.  Kids frequently take the blame for it, “Yeah, this place is great for now but when we have kids we’re out of here.”

In all honesty, it’s been a long time since this felt like a place where people are excited to live.  I know I’ve felt that as a church planter – people are happy to have found a good place to go to church while they’re in DC but, man, they can’t wait to go back home.  So, it’s a massive boost to our collective psyche to have Amazon pick this place!  Truth be told, DC really is a great place to call home and Crystal City is worth getting excited about – our church loves gathering here and  Laura and I love raising our family inside the beltway.  It just feels really good to see other people getting excited about a place I really love.

HQ2 also means there are going to be a tremendous number of people moving into the neighborhood.  We’ve always cared about serving our community and loving our neighbors – this just means there are going to be so many more to serve!  We’ll be talking more about this on Sunday but God has given us the privilege and the responsibility of being Christ’s ambassadors in this neighborhood.  He put us here in Crystal City just over 4 years ago at a time when no one really cared about Crystal City.  In fact, there were plenty of well intentioned people who told me we were making a mistake meeting here.  But God has always had a purpose for us in this neighborhood.  I sure didn’t know HQ2 was part of it, but He did.  There’s not a chance in the world we’re going to watch this pitch go by, Restoration City.  We need to recommit ourselves to loving our community, having an undeniably positive impact on our neighborhood and pointing people to Jesus.  God has us here for a reason!

This is a really big day for our city and it’s a really big day for our church.  Let’s be praying the Lord will give us the grace we need to navigate all of this well in the months and years to come.

Coming Soon: The Restoration City App

PushPay MigrationThis past Sunday, we announced a small but significant shift that will ultimately impact all of us at Restoration City.  Since before we were planted, we’ve used a third party vendor to facilitate all of our online giving.  They handle the back end things required to process your donations, keep your financial information safe, and maintain our giving records.  In exchange, we pay them a small percentage of each transaction, what they call a merchant fee.  Nothing all that exciting, I know.  But it’s really important.

What we announced this past Sunday is that we’re moving to a different vendor for three reasons:

(1)  Our current vendor was about to raise their merchant fees and the new vendor, PushPay, will match what we had previously been paying so we avoid a fee increase.  That’s significant because we want to direct as much of your giving as possible to actual ministry, not vendor fees!

(2)  The new system has more functionality and is easier to use.

(3)  The new system comes with the ability to support a Restoration City app, which we will be launching on Sunday, November 18th!

It’s important for us to be good stewards of the resources you entrust to us and we want people’s online experience to be as easy as possible.  But it’s the app that you’re really going to love.  It’s going to make a lot of things a lot easier for us as a church!

The only catch with all of this is that we need every single person who has set-up a recurring donation in the old system to move that to the new system!  We can’t do it for you but it will only take about 2 minutes of your time to respond to the email you got from PushPay on Sunday afternoon.  If you didn’t get that email, please let Dan Iten know.

As of right now, 42% of our recurring donors have already moved their donations over to the new system in the last 48 hours!  Thank you!!!  If you haven’t had the chance to do it yet, no worries, but we would love to have you do it before Sunday!  Let’s see if we can get that 42% up to 80% by Sunday.

I know online giving platforms aren’t the kind of thing any of us get all that excited about (with a few possible exceptions!).  But it’s doing little things like this well that set the stage for everything else we’re able to do as a church.

Relational Perfectionists

pool party

Being a perfectionist is exhausting.

Trust me, I know.  I’m a recovering one.  I’ve spent more of my life trying to get perfect grades, create the perfect resume, be a perfect leader, and preach perfect sermons than I care to admit.  Even now, there’s a part of me that wants to write the perfect blog post about how it’s okay not to be perfect…and, no, I’m not kidding when I write that!

For me, the journey out of perfectionism hasn’t been about lowering my standards and embracing mediocrity.  It’s been about developing realistic expectations and, even more importantly, learning to show myself grace when I don’t meet those expectations.  I’m reminding myself of truths I already know:  I will always have room to grow, my value isn’t found in my achievements, and those closest to me don’t love me because of what I accomplish.  So, I’m still aiming high.  I’m just learning how to cope when I fall a little short every now and again.  Pretty simple stuff.

It just seems to be particularly hard for me to apply in the area of relationships.  No where have I found perfectionism more damaging and harder to overcome than in relationships.  I was reminded of that all over again in preparing for this past Sunday’s sermon at Restoration City.  In that sermon, I shared a well-known quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book about community, Life Together, The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” In other words, relational perfectionists kill community.  It’s true in marriage.  In dating.  In friendship.  In families.  Really, in any relational system.

I’ve had to embrace the hard truth that one of the greatest obstacles to improving my relationships is my frustration with the fact that my relationships need improvement.  I know how crazy that sounds but that’s how relational perfectionism works.  I develop and fall in love with an idyllic picture of marriage, friendship, church, or work.  It’s a gorgeous vision of relational perfection – everyone is getting along perfectly, everything is in its place, there’s good food, and everyone is saying and doing all the right things.  It’s incredible.  No filter required – it’s perfect all by itself.  But, the real world never lives up to that vision.  Laura and I have a good marriage but it isn’t perfect.  I have three really great kids who often don’t act so great.  I don’t get to see my friends as often as I would like and people move out of DC way more than I want.  In other words, relationships aren’t perfect.

A lot of our relational fulfillment depends on how we handle those imperfections.  Relational perfectionists are tempted to withdraw into a cave of frustration, despair, anger, and discouragement.  We tend to blame ourselves and wonder why we can’t even get relationships right.  We love to use comparison to beat ourselves up even more – look at everyone else, their relationships look so perfect on Instagram.

Here’s the problem and it should be obvious: it’s hard to build good relationships in the cave of frustration.  Despair, anger, and withdrawal never improves our marriages, friendships, or parenting.  It only makes things worse.

If we’re going to live in community, it’s crucial to develop realistic expectations for relationships and show everyone grace when life doesn’t live up to those expectations.  I still have a long way to go but I’m trying to live in the second half of Bonhoeffer’s quote – just love the people around you.  Stop being disappointed that our marriage isn’t perfect and just love Laura in the midst of the imperfect.  Stop being sad that our family dinners aren’t exactly the thing of HGTV splendor and love my kids in the midst of the chaos.

Don’t let your vision of community suffocate the people around you.  Stop being a relational perfectionist and dive into the mess of community.  It’s isn’t perfect but it’s where life happens and where we meet God.

 

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

Hard Things: Discipline or Obligation?

Discipline

I do a lot of things every day that I don’t really want to do.  In fact, many of them are things that I really don’t want to do: get out of bed, go to the gym, reply to emails, and many of the other things that keep me healthy and productive.  Unless you’re independently wealthy, laying in bed, and eating ice cream right now, you would say the same thing about your life.  We all know that the easy road never leads anywhere worth going.  Our willingness to do hard things is directly related to the significance of our lives.

We call all of this self-discipline – the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it, according to the nice people at dictionary.com.  It’s a good and biblical thing.  Paul urges Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Even in the spiritual life, Paul commends self-discipline, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”  In other words, the spiritual secret to spending time with God in the morning is called an alarm clock!

But I’m learning that there’s a huge difference between discipline and obligation.  Both require us to do things we really don’t want to do.  But they have very different outcomes.  Discipline leaves us better off, more fully alive, growing, and with a satisfied soul.  Obligation leaves us exhausted, frustrated with ourselves for giving in once again, and with a depleted soul.  Discipline takes us where we want to go, even if the road is hard, while obligation takes us away from where we want to go.  

A lot of our success and happiness in life depends on our ability to decide if each new request for our time, each new opportunity, and each new activity is an obligation to be avoided or something we should discipline ourselves to pursue.  If it takes discipline, it’s worth doing but if it’s an obligation, it’s worth avoiding.  I’ve started using three filters to help me tell the difference:

Filter #1: Desire

I know this is a strange starting point when we’re talking about things we don’t want to do but it’s essential to probe that lack of desire a little bit more.  If it’s an obligation, the more you press, the more that lack of desire is confirmed, “I really don’t want to do this.”  But if it’s an opportunity that calls for discipline that lack of desire starts to morph into, “I don’t want to do this but I want to have done this.”  For example, going to the gym.  I would rather sleep in but an hour from now, I’ll be glad I got out of bed and worked out.  If you’ll be glad you did it later today, it’s worth doing.  But if the opposite is true, it’s worth skipping!

Filter #2:  Benefit

There’s really two questions when it comes to benefit.

One, is anybody going to get any benefit from me doing this?  Notice, you might not get any benefit but someone else might benefit greatly.  Or you could be the sole beneficiary or some combination.  But the point is someone, somewhere is benefiting.  If that’s the case, it might be a time to dig deep and summon a little self-discipline.  On the other hand, if nobody gets anything out of you doing something, why in the world would you feel obligated?

The second question is a little trickier because it requires a cost/benefit analysis.  Yes, your friend might be touched that you flew across the country for her bachelorette party but is that worth $1,7000, an exhausting weekend, and missing church?  If she’s a really good friend, the answer could be yes!  But it’s also possible the answer is no – and that’s okay!  Not every benefit is worth the cost.  Discipline gives us the freedom to say no whereas obligation condemns us to a lifetime of resentful yeses.

Filter #3:  Prompting

This is where we drag the Holy Spirit into the conversation.  What’s He saying?  Is He leading you to do something that may not make much sense to anyone but will honor God and be a mark of obedience?  Then listen!  Be disciplined and go for it.  If, on the other hand, He’s leading you to say no, then go with Him in that as well.  We don’t just grow our faith by saying the difficult yes, often times we grow it by saying a difficult no.  In some ways, this last filter is the only one that matters.  Just be aware that the voice of God probably sounds very different from the voice of the person asking you for something.

I want to say yes to everything that God brings into my life, even if it’s hard.  I want to pursue life with a vigor that can only come from God.  But I’m realizing that requires me to say no to things I would be doing purely out of obligation.  So, I’m trying to filter all of life through a framework that says. “Disipline, yes.  Obligation, no.”