Nine months ago, Laura and I stood on a stage with Pastor J.D. and three other families in front of The Summit Church. For me, that was the first time I had ever worshipped with this church. We were brand new, a little nervous but trusting that God had us here for a reason. I remember standing on that stage with J.D. and wondering how The Summit Church would respond to this idea of raising up four teams of people at the same time to go plant new churches. We were asking people to leave an amazingly healthy church and move their lives to D.C., to Wilmington or two other plants right here in Durham. Honestly, I remember driving home from that weekend and thinking, “If this was my church, I don’t think I would be going anywhere.”
Well, two things happened in these nine months.
One, Summit became my church. I didn’t expect that one – we moved here to raise up a team, develop a plan and head back home to D.C. From day one, there was an expiration date on us. We knew we were blessed to be at Summit but we didn’t know how much we would come to see this place as our church home. These last nine months have had a huge impact on me, my family and the church we’ll lead. I’ve seen a grace filled culture. I’ve seen people love one another well and sacrifice deeply to participate in God’s mission. I’ve seen the power of the gospel to save and to send.
Speaking of sending, that also happened these past nine months. This past weekend, we were back on that same stage with J.D. but there weren’t just four families. There were 120 other people. Jesus has been faithful to His promise to build the church. He’s raised up teams of leaders who will carry the vision with us. He’s sent out missionaries to Durham, to Wilmington and to D.C. The gospel continues to transform lives.
Thank you, Summit, for an incredible nine months.
As I sit here this morning, I have to believe the best is yet to come. Restoration City, we’ve been sent! Now it’s time to see how God is going to use all of this for His glory.
“The dignity, offices, blood, righteousness, faithfulness, and compassion of the Redeemer, in whom he rests, trusts and lives, for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, are adequate to all his wants and wishes, provide him with an answer to every objection, and give him no less confidence in God, than if he were sinless as an angel: for he sees, that though sin has abounded in him, grace has much more abounded in Jesus. With respect to the past, all things are become new; with respect to the present and future, he leans upon an almighty arm, and relies upon the word and power which made and upholds the heavens and the earth. Though he feels himself unworthy of the smallest mercies, he claims and expects the greatest blessings that God can bestow; and being rooted and grounded in the knowledge and love of Christ, his peace abides, and is not greatly affected, either by the variation of his own frames, or the changes of God’s dispensations towards him while here.”
– John Newton, former slave trader turned follower of Jesus, on the character of a Christian. “Select Letters of John Newtown, Letter 29”
The resurrection gives me all the hope I need to plant a church.
In case you’ve never done it before, planting a church is pretty hard. It’s a lot like starting a business staffed entirely by volunteers with a vision to change the world and barely enough money to pay the bills. Add in a little spiritual warfare, no facilities and your own sinfulness and it’s a pretty daunting scenario. Sure, we romanticize all of that when we talk about it at conferences but in the moment, it’s a little intimidating.
But there’s an empty tomb that speaks to all of that.
The God we follow can’t even be held back by death. Jesus’ resurrection confirms that all things really are possible for God. People counted Jesus out on Friday and started to move on that Saturday. They factored Him out of their hopes, dreams and plans for the future. But then there was Sunday. God showed that the final word is His.
Don’t count God out in the life of a church plant. And don’t count God out in your life either. The tomb confirms Jesus’ promise to bring life to all who would believe. The tomb confirms that Jesus really is the divine Son of God. The tomb confirms that Jesus really has authority over all things.
Where is life causing you to lean on God like never before? For me, it’s planting a church. What is it for you? It’s the thing that keeps you up at night. It’s the thing you just aren’t sure is going to work out. It’s the place you’re afraid God might let you down.
If the grave didn’t overwhelm Jesus, you won’t either. He can handle your fear, your pain, your brokenness and your needs. He’s already made provision on the cross to deal with your greatest problem – sin and death. He’s not going to die for you and then leave you on your own in this life! So, be encouraged. There’s an empty tomb that shouts hope to you and me today.
Live in the aftermath of that tomb. Easter didn’t end last night. The promise of resurrection is still our hope this morning.
Good Friday marks the death of all our pride and the dawning of all our hope.
God’s verdict on my life was rendered on the cross of Jesus Christ. That should have been me hanging there. It’s what I deserve when you compare the sinfulness of my life with the holiness of God. Yes, the wages of sin are death. (Rm.6:23) But have you ever stopped to think that the cross represents God’s verdict on our best of days as well? Isaiah 64:6 humbles us all by saying, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Even our best days are like a filthy rag to God. If all of that is true, pride is insanity. Who am I to think I’m better than someone else? Who are you to look down and judge others? Who are we to pretend we’re good and others are bad? We should have been on that cross and there’s no room for pride in that reality.
But we weren’t on that cross. The only Innocent One in all of history was. The Son of the Living God hung on that tree. The One who created the world died in our place. He suffered the weight of what should have been ours. And we now live in the freedom of all that is His. And that’s the dawning of our hope. Jesus died so we don’t need to get what we deserve. Jesus died to set us free from sin and death and to call us to a new life that will never end.
Jesus will never be beautiful to you until you believe that should have been you on the cross. Until we see that we deserve what He got, we don’t understand the gospel. But when we humble ourselves to admit our need, we receive His grace. He didn’t go to the cross because you were worth it. He went to the cross because He’s gracious, loving and unfolding a plan to glorify Himself that should take our breath away.
Look to that cross today. It’ll humble you and it’ll fill you with hope.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. ” – 1 Peter 5:8-9
If you’re following Jesus, you have an enemy. Make no mistake about it – he’s wicked, ruthless, cunning and bent on your destruction. He’s stalking you and he would love to take you out of the game. He’ll throw discouragement your way. He’ll whisper lies into your heart. He’ll tempt you to sin. He’ll mock you for your failures. He hates you. And he’s very real.
Pretty frightening words, huh?
I know many of us on the Restoration City Launch Team have felt the weight and truth of these words more in the past few weeks than we have in a while. There’s been strain in marriages. There’s been uncertainty with employment. There’s been discouragement in school or at work or with friends. Many of us are realizing that when we made the decision to help plant a church, we put a spiritual bullseye on ourselves.
When those attacks come, we need to remember that 1 Peter was written to Christians suffering under Roman persecution. When Peter writes of suffering he’s talking about the terror unleashed by Nero. He’s writing to a group who knew pain all too well.
But he’s also calling that church to fight! He’s calling us to resist. To stand firm in the truths of the gospel. To remember that Satan may be a roaring lion but he’s a defeated lion. Jesus wins! We’ve been adopted into the family of God. Our Father owns everything in all creation (Psalm 50) and Jesus has absolutely all authority on heaven and earth (Matthew 28). We’re precious in His sight and He fights for us always! (Exodus 14)
If you’re going through a hard time, look to Jesus! He’s our life. He’s our hope. He’s our strength. He’s our refuge. He’s our protector. He’s our King. And the defeated lion of this world is no match for the One who lives in us.
So, take heart. This road is long and it’s hard. No one ever said planting a church would be easy but it’s worth it. And Jesus is fighting for you every step of the way.
There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as dreaming about something for a long time and then seeing God exceed all of your expectations. That was definitely the story this past weekend as we brought the launch team of Restoration City Church together for our first ever retreat. We had expected it to be a great weekend but I don’t think any of us anticipated God doing as much as He did and leaving our hearts as full as they are right now.
One of the greatest challenges and blessings we’ve had in the process of planting this church has been a launch team that is currently living in two different locations. About 40% of our team still lives in Raleigh-Durham and the other 60% is already in DC. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an awesome problem to have! But it’s still a challenge because those two teams have, for the most part, never met. Until this weekend.
Finally, the majority of our team was in one place. And there was no more appropriate place for that to happen than right in Washington, DC. From Friday evening through Sunday afternoon we all got to do life together – build community, pray over our city, worship together, take communion together and celebrate all God is doing through the planting of this church.
So many things happened that filled my heart with hope for our little church. The DC folks were such gracious hosts. The team that planned the retreat did an amazing job. We genuinely loved and cared for one another. And so much more.
All of that was great but I don’t think it’s the big story of what God did. The big story was us becoming one team. There isn’t a DC team or an RDU team any more. There’s only a Restoration City Launch Team. Yeah, some of us are in RDU today and some are in DC (and one in Richmond!) but we’re one team of people.
Now the job is to preserve the unity God forged this weekend. I pray God would give us the grace to live out Ephesians 4:1-3, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Restoration City, we’re united by more than a great weekend. We’re united in Christ – Jesus purchased our unity on the cross. We’re already one. We just need to act like it and live it out. And I can’t think of a group of people I would rather do that with than the incredible people God has called to plant this church.
It’s wasn’t just a great weekend. It was a game changer for us!