Swim Your Own Race

A lot of my teenage years were spent in a pool.  I started swimming year round in middle school and stuck with it through high school and briefly into college.  While I didn’t know it then, all of that time in a pool was teaching me some lessons that would become tremendously helpful in life.

For example, I learned to stay focused on my own performance in a race and not pay attention to the other swimmers in the pool.  That one was hard for me – I always wanted to know how I was doing relative to everyone else.  Was I winning? Losing?  How far behind was I?  How far ahead was I?  I had this insatiable need to know because I thought I would do better if I knew exactly how I was doing compared to everyone else.

My coach hated that habit and did his best to break me of it.  You see, in order to look at the other swimmers, I had to turn my head to one side or another and that broke my rhythm and started to pull my body off track.  It made me slower; I was losing time looking at others.  All of my comparing wasn’t helping me win – it was costing me time and making me less effective.

I think about that often these days, especially in the era of Twitter and Instagram.  It’s so easy to get distracted by what God is doing with other people.  Their vacations always look better than mine.  Their churches seem to be growing faster than the one I lead.  Their houses seem nicer.  They seem much holier and happier than I am.  And I spend so much of my time thinking about their race that I can lose ground in mine.

Right at the end of John’s gospel, we see Peter wrestling with something similar.  Jesus has just restored Peter to fellowship and ministry following Peter’s denial of Christ in high priest’s courtyard.  They have this wonderful conversation and at the end, Jesus tells Peter to follow Him and they go walking down the beach.  But John, the pesky young disciple, starts following them at a distance.  Apparently bothered, Peter starts asking Jesus about what’s going to happen in John’s life.  Here’s Jesus’ response, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22)  I love it!  It’s Jesus’ way of telling Peter not to worry about John and his race but to stay focused on his own.

It would save us so much discouragement, bitterness or pride if we would do what Jesus is calling Peter to in this verse.  Don’t be so worried about everyone around you.  Some are ahead of you.  Some are behind.  What’s it to you?  Swim your own race with everything you’ve got.  Push yourself, enjoy it and stay focused on what God is calling you to do, where He is calling you to go and the pace He’s setting for your progress.  At the end of the race, it isn’t about who you beat.  It’s about hearing “well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21) from the One who called you into the race in the first place.  Worry about being faithful to Him and don’t get so distracted by everyone else.

Solid Leadership Advice

Every year I keep an eye on the commencement addresses being given at universities around the country. Some are ridiculous. Some are extraordinary. This one is helpful. Admiral McRaven, the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, offers some practical leadership principles to the graduates of the University of Texas at Austin. Ultimately, the real power for change in our world is found in Jesus. But this talk lays out some great leadership principles.

Discipleship Economics

All I ever really understood in my college economics classes was the basic supply and demand curve.  If I remember correctly, everything hinged on figuring out the relationship between those two variables.  High supply and low demand dropped prices.  High demand and low supply increased prices.

When I look at the church today, it seems like the price of discipleship is going up.  If that’s true, the problem is definitely on the supply side, not the demand side.  As someone planting a church to reach the young leaders of Washington, D.C., I can tell you the demand for discipleship among younger believers is high.  That’s not the issue.  What we need as a church (both Restoration City specifically and the church generally) is more mature Christians who are willing to step up on the supply side of the equation.

If you aren’t pouring your life into at least one other believer who is a little behind you in the race of faith, you’re missing out.  For the last nine months, I’ve met every other week with a UNC student named Joey.  We met randomly in a coffee shop because he had a Summit Church sticker on his laptop (he had a Mac, so I knew the kid had potential!).  After having lunch together, we figured out we had a decent amount in common, he had a desire to grow and we both decided to make time to meet every other week.

I hope I’ve made some small difference in his life.  What I know for sure is that I’ve loved the experience and have gotten a lot out of it myself.  If you’ve never discipled someone, here’s just a bit of what you’re missing out on:

  • The joy of seeing God transform a life.  The apostle John gives us great insight into the heart of a pastor in 3 John 1:4 when he writes, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”  But I don’t think that’s just a verse for pastors and I don’t think it just applies to people you’ve personally led to faith.  It represents the heart every mature follower of Jesus should have towards seeing others grow.  If you can’t get fired up about seeing someone else grow in their understanding of the gospel, I have to question how deep your understanding of the gospel really is.
  • Regular reminders of how God has worked in your life.  There’s nothing like sitting down and discussing what God is doing in someone else’s life to remind you of the great ways He’s worked in your life in the past.  I love watching Joey wrestle through questions or situations I encountered a few years ago.  It reminds me of how God met me and led me through those situations.
  • Encouragement and challenge in your own walk.  Please don’t think discipling someone is just a one way street.  It’s most definitely a two way conversation and you’ll be challenged by the faith, the devotion and the excitement for Jesus you see in the person you’re discipling.  For example, Joey always anchors his prayer requests in Scripture.  That’s something I aim to do as well but he’s honestly more consistent at it than I am.  So, our meetings have definitely pushed me to up my game in that area.
  • The sharpening that comes through teaching.  Teaching is the greatest way to figure out where the gaps are in your own understanding of the gospel.  Having to explain something to someone else will definitely stretch you, grow you and increase your own personal understanding.  Turns out teaching is one of the best ways of learning.

I regularly pray God would send more mature followers of Christ to Restoration City.  We’ve got plenty of young leaders – what we need is more men and women willing to invest their lives in this next generation.  If you want to join us in that, we would love to have you.  But you don’t have to come to RCC to pour into others.  I have no doubt there are plenty of people right in your own church that would love to be discipled.

It would be great to see the cost of discipleship go down in our churches as we see a resurgence on the supply side of the equation.

The Priority of Prayer In Evangelism

So much of the current conversation about evangelism in the church seems to center on techniques, strategies, and methods.  Seminary students can fight all day about whether the church should be missional or attractional.  Pastors are quick to share their latest tactics: it’s all about inviter cards, or Facebook ads or going to the same coffee shop every day or getting congregants to write the church’s website on their restaurant checks or just about anything else you can imagine.  No joke, I honestly got an email the other day offering a great outreach idea centered around duck calls!!

I wonder if all the focus on technique has caused us to lose sight of the role of prayer in sharing the gospel.  Is it possible that what the church needs is more prayer and less technique?

Don’t get me wrong – organized outreaches, evangelistic campaigns and tools that make it easier for a congregation to have gospel conversations aren’t necessarily bad.  In fact, they can be really helpful.  But they need to be balanced with what Jesus says in John 6:44:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

It’s the Father who draws people to the Son.  There’s nothing you and I can do to argue a dead man into life.  God does that.  Yes, we’re called to be ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) and witnesses (Acts 1:8).  Yes, we’re called to give an answer for the hope that’s within us (1Peter 3:15).  Yes, God told us to go into all the world making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).  But the work of conversation is a supernatural work of grace.

Do we pray like that’s true?

If we believe the Father is the One who draws people to the Son, our evangelism must be preceded by, accompanied by and rooted in fervent prayer.  Do you pray regularly for the people in your life who don’t know the gospel?  Do you pray for opportunities to share the gospel?  Do you pray God would make you effective when sharing the gospel?  If not, your prayer life needs a make over before your evangelistic effectiveness is going to increase.

I’m pretty sure those prayers would yield a lot more fruit than the newest evangelism craze.

Guide For RCC’s Day of Prayer & Fasting

Our church family is scattered all over the country today.  But we’re standing united in prayer.  We’re standing united in faith and belief that our God is able to do whatever He pleases.  He’s able to secure a venue for us.  He’s able to open doors that no man can close.  We believe He’s made it clear where our church is to gather this fall and now we need Him to move and secure that venue.  As our negotiations with the venue hit a critical point, we’re setting aside today for prayer and fasting to ask God for this venue.

I pray the Spirit will call each of us to our knees, maybe even our faces, to intercede on behalf of our church “home”.  We are asking for a heavenly invasion, a supernatural move of God in this natural world, a softening of hearts and an assenting of wills so that we can set down roots as a body and dig into our ministry.

Please use the following scriptures to guide your intercession and if the Spirit leads you to another passage, by all means, follow Him there!

– Numbers 13:17-30 (just as the scouts spied out the Promised Land, so RCC by God’s guidance has spied out our “Promised Land” and now we look to Him to move so that we can “go up and take possession of the land”)

-Isaiah 45:1-8 (as we are now the Lord’s anointed, who DO acknowledge Him, we pray that He would go before us to subdue the opposition, to “open doors so that gates will not be shut….level the mountains and cut through bars of iron”)

-Isaiah 52:7-12 (praying that the Lord of Hosts, Almighty God, would lay bare His holy arm on our behalf, that as we “carry the vessels of the Lord” into DC that “the Lord will go before [us] and be [our] rear guard”)

-Psalm 16 (we rest in the assurance that the Sovereign of the universe has ordained “the times and places set for us” and thus “the boundary lines” fall in pleasant places for us- we set Him only and always before us and thus we will not be shaken)

-Psalm 46 (exalting that God IS our strength, He is within us and therefore “we will not fall; God will help [us] at break of day”- we pray that God would be known, that He would “be exalted among the nations and in the earth” and particularly in Washington, DC)

-Psalm 97 (we are glad because our God reigns, “righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” and “He guards the lives of His faithful ones”)

-Matthew 17:20 (may we have mustard seed faith, to move mountains and claim the territory that God has given us)

God doesn’t hear us because of the length or eloquence of our prayers.  He moves in response to the faith of our prayers.  So, as you pray today, be bold!  Don’t shrink back and dishonor God with tiny prayers and feeble requests.  Grab hold of the mercy seat of God today and plead with Him to bear His mighty arm to give us this space to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Day of Prayer & Fasting

The Restoration City Prayer Team meets on the 3rd Thursday of every month to pray over our launch team, leadership, church and DC.  Up to this point, those meetings have happened in Durham.  Starting next month, those meetings will be held in DC.  But we’re doing something different in May.  Rather than attend a meeting, I’m asking the entire team to set aside this Thursday, May 15th, as a day of prayer and fasting.

If you want in, you can join us by doing two things:

1.  Fasting in some form.  Maybe that means skipping lunch or not watching tv or staying off social media or not eating at all.  The specifics are between you and God.  But fasting is a wonderful way of focusing us on our dependance on God.  It’s not about punishing ourselves or giving something up so God will be impressed with our devotion.  It’s about taking something out of our lives that we’ll miss to remind us that what we really need in life is Jesus.

2.  Carve out 45 minutes to pray.  I know that seems like a crazy long time for a lot of us!  But don’t worry – we’re going to post a prayer guide to this blog as well as distribute it to the email list of people who regularly pray for the church.  Just figure out when you’re going to pray – first thing in the morning, at lunch, in the evening…whenever it’s good for you.  We’ll give you some ideas on how to use the time.

We’re going after something specific on Thursday.  We’re at a critical stage in our negotiations with a potential venue for RCC to start meeting in this fall.  We’re asking God to fight on our behalf.  We’re asking Him to open the door for us and to give us this space as a location for our church.  So, if you’re willing to pray with us, we would love to have you!

Check back here on Thursday for the full prayer guide.