Peru Festival

Foto de Machu Picho, Peru

We want to be a church that gathers where the community gathers.  Too many times, we think of the church as being removed from the everyday lives of ordinary people.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  There’s something beautiful about holding out the hope of Jesus right in the middle of our community.  That was one of the driving reasons behind our move to Gunston Middle School.

And it’s why I’m so excited about the opportunity we have this Sunday when a major Peruvian Festival comes to Gunston.  By the time you walk out of the theater on Sunday morning, Peru Fest will be in full swing – food, music and so much more!

Not only will this be a great event but it will also be a big moment for us as a church.  Will we be the people who get annoyed that our parking lot is full and leave as soon as possible with as little interaction as possible?  Or will we be the people that embrace the opportunity to meet some of our neighbors?

I hope you’ll take advantage of this opportunity to go grab lunch with some friends, meet some people and make some new friends.  Being a church for the city means we embrace moments like this.  How could we not?  We talk so much about reaching the community.  Well, this Sunday the community is coming to us.  Let’s enjoy it!

Dan Iten

Dan and John

This past Sunday was an incredibly significant moment for me.  I got to watch a guy I baptized years ago become an elder at Restoration City.  The above photo is as significant to me as it is grainy – it was taken just before I baptized Dan Iten.  When I first got to know Dan, I was moved by his openness and vulnerability with me, his desire to live a life that was pleasing to God and his desire to pursue a life of ministry.  I remember being so proud of him and so grateful to God when I baptized him.

All of that pride and gratitude came rushing back on Sunday when I watched our members vote him onto our elder board with Adam and Mike.  It was a great day for our church and a great day for me personally.  I have loved watching Dan grow as a man, a husband and a leader in the church.  He’s frighteningly good at his job and works unbelievably hard to make Restoration City the place that it is.  He’s a partner in the gospel and a brother in Christ.

I can take very little credit for what God has done in Dan’s life.  It’s His grace that transforms, molds and shapes.  But I can tell you that there is nothing quite like watching God’s grace at work in someone else’s life up close and personal over a period of years.

We’ve talked so much about discipleship at Restoration City over the course of the spring. On Sunday, I was reminded of just how much joy this whole discipleship journey brings.  Find someone you can pour your life into, love them, walk with them and celebrate what God does in their life – it’ll bring you more joy than you can imagine!

3 Questions As We Get Ready To Vote On Elders This Sunday

Question

This coming Sunday is a big day for us at Restoration City.  I will officially nominate Dan Iten, Adam Ricketts and Mike Graese to form a Directional Elder Board with me.  At that point, our outside Advisory Board will dissolve and we will become a self-governing church.  It’s an important milestone for us on this journey of planting the church.  We will now be fully following the New Testament pattern for church governance.

As I’ve talked with members about the upcoming vote, I’ve gotten three main questions.  I thought it would be helpful to answer them below:

Why Dan, Mike and Adam?

This one is easy – two simple answers.

I’ll give you the most important one first.  The Bible is very clear about the qualifications for elders.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

1 Timothy 3:1-7

Titus 1 contains a similar list.  Quite simply, these three men embody these qualifications.  Each of them as shown a remarkable amount of transparency and vulnerability as they moved through this process – they’ve each opened their lives to me, allowed me to ask probing (and, at times, invasive) questions and shown tremendous humility.  I am 100% confident they are biblically qualified.

Additionally, they’re each gifted leaders who bring experience and expertise that we really need as a church as we continue to grow and plan for the future.

Why now?

Again, two answers:

  1.  It’s taken this long for me to be satisfied that we have three men who meet the above qualifications and will be in town long enough for us to form a functional board.
  2. We will become a financially self-sufficient church in this upcoming budget year.  Last summer’s congregational meeting helped me see the wisdom in linking these two milestones.  I agree with those who had some hesitation about us being financially self-sufficient without being self-governing.  In God’s mercy, we’re able to achieve both at this time.

What do elders do?

We could do a whole Bible study on this.  But let me give you a condensed answer to that question.

  1. Shepherd the congregation – we’re not a board of directors, we’re a team of pastors. (1 Peter 5:1-5 is the key text on this).
  2. Provide oversight on behalf of the congregation.  I’m directly accountable to the Directional Elders and ultimately the congregation.  That means, for example, the elders know and set my salary, know and approve every single line item in our budget, review our staff policies and overall hiring practices.  In other words, they’re involved in the details of leading a church on behalf of the congregation.
  3. Serve as a source of counsel for me as I lead the church with our staff and volunteer leadership team.  They’re a sounding board, a source of stability in crisis and a place to consider where God is leading us as a church.  A healthy elder board ensures I’m not off dreaming up vision alone on some mountaintop but rather am processing where God is leading us in the context of a community of Godly and mature men.

I hope these answers are helpful.  If you have other questions, let me know.  I’m really looking forward to taking this step on Sunday but want to make sure you have the information you need to vote with confidence.

I love being the pastor of this church and so look forward to adding Dan, Adam and Mike into the leadership mix by forming a functional elder board.

Live From Love Reading List

Booka

I’ve been so encouraged to hear how God is already using our “Live From Love” series in people’s lives.  I know He’s been working these truths deep into my soul over the past few weeks as I’ve been getting ready for this series and it’s been a breath of fresh air for me.

If this series is resonating with you, you might consider reading one or more of the books I’ve been reading in preparing these talks.  Frankly, even if the series isn’t blowing up in your heart, you should still read the books…they’re much better!  Perhaps you could read one of these books with some friends and find time to discuss.  Whether you read them alone or in a group, I pray they fan the flame of your love for Jesus.

Beginner

Oswald Chambers, “The Love Of God”

Francis Chan, “Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God”

Intermediate

James K.A. Smith, “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit”

Charles Spurgeon, “Love of God”

Advanced

RC Sproul, “God’s Love: How The Infinite God Cares For His Children”

Thomas Goodwin, “Christ, The Glory of the Gospel”

Enjoy!

I Know Who Will Lead Us

Church In America

Over the weekend, CNN ran an article under the headline, “Who Will Lead Us?”  In it, Stephen Collinson was bemoaning the current leadership vacuum in American life.  He was essentially throwing his hands in the air and wondering out loud how we’re ever going to get out of the mess we’re in as a people.  It’s a good question.  And one that has few promising answers when you survey the landscape of political, cultural and moral leadership in modern America.

But if you bring the church into the conversation, you start to find hope.  When you bring Jesus into the mix, everything becomes possible.  Our country shouldn’t have to be looking around for hope.  We should see it flowing out of every church and out of every Christian.

This is the church’s moment.

 

America needs the church far more than the church needs America.

Yes, I enjoy the freedoms of religious liberty.  Yes, I like gathering with my church without any fear of arrest or persecution.  But most of us can’t imagine the church without America and that’s just wrong.  When you drop the church into the persecution of China, she thrives.  When you drop the church into the hardships of Africa, she explodes.  We don’t need to worry about the church – she’ll be just fine.  In fact, not even the gates of hell will prevail over her. (Mt. 16:18)

The question is whether she’ll thrive and explode in this American moment.

I believe she can and I believe she will.  The country is looking for hope – for people not afraid to talk about the deep wounds of racism, for people willing to confront the brokenness of humanity, for people who will point the way towards justice and peace, for people who have been deeply impacted by the message of grace.

The grace of Jesus will inspire people to do what no law can command.  It’s in response to an infinitely rich God who became poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9) that we start living generous lives.  It’s in response to a God who died for us while we were enemies that we find the courage to love our own enemies. (Romans 5:8 and Mt. 5:44)  It’s in response to the cross that we find the strength to fight for justice.

This isn’t a time for the church to be quiet.  This is a time for us to hold out the hope of the gospel.  The hope of a God who forgives all.  The hope of a God who changes hearts.  The hope of a God who will one day make all things new.

This boldness can’t just come from the pulpit.  It must flow from our lives.  We, like Paul, must not be ashamed of the gospel.  Why?  It’s the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).  We must take up our calling to be ambassadors of Christ.(2 Cor. 5:20).  Be salt and light to our world.(Mt. 5:13-16)

Don’t feel bad or embarrassed that you follow Jesus.  Be thrilled that you know the One who is hope.  Delight in the privilege of being His child.  Be bold, be wise, be loving, be gentle.

Just don’t run from the world.  Run to it with hope, grace and the name of Jesus.

 

Overcoming Evil

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I’ve never understood or needed Romans 12:21 more than I have in the last 72 hours.  The Scripture simply says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  I’ve walked with people through tragedy, injustice and death.  I’ve seen evil.  But I’ve never felt like it was overcoming me.

And then Alton Sterling was killed.  And then Philando Castile was killed, this time with the aftermath being live streamed for all of us to watch.  And then five Dallas police officers were killed, and at least six others were shot.  There’s a sense of dread in me every time I check the news.  I find myself wondering just how bad things will get.

At the same time, I feel an increased determination to embrace the calling of the second half of the verse.  Overcome evil with good.  My heart needs that.  My home needs that.  My family needs that.  My neighborhood needs that.  My church needs that.  My city needs that.  My country needs that. Overcome evil with good.  It’s the heart of the gospel.  The horror of the cross is answered by the majesty of an empty tomb.

We planted Restoration City with the belief that the church was never meant to be an escape from the world but rather hope for the world.  Much of the trajectory of my life was established in my early 20’s when I heard Bill Hybels, the legendary pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, say, “The local church is the hope of the world.”  That wrecked me and I knew I wanted to give the rest of my life to that advancing that kind of hope.  I still do.  And I believe more than ever that our world is desperate for the hope of the gospel.

That’s why we’re taking this Sunday at Restoration City to pray, to worship and to reflect on everything our society is walking through right now.  I had planned to start a new series this week but it just doesn’t seem right.  The world is talking about Dallas, Minneapolis and Baton Rouge.  We should be as well.  I’ll be speaking from Romans 12:9-21 and I’m asking the Lord to use our time mightily for the sake of His Name and our city.

I want to ask you to do two things before Sunday:

  1. Pray for me.  This talk has been brewing in me for a while but I’m asking the Lord to bring it all together in the next 48 hours.  I really would appreciate your prayers.
  2. Invite a friend or co-worker to come with you.  Everybody is trying to figure out how to make sense of everything rocking our country.  I think they’ll find this Sunday really helpful.  Everyone you know is hurting, confused, grieving or uncertain.  Ask them to join us as we process all of this as a church.

These are hard days for our country.  Let’s not turn a blind eye.  Let’s lean in, think, mourn, pray, love.  And, yes, let’s dare to hope.

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.