ServeDC: Hope Is Real

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I hear a lot of people talking about the scarcity of hope in our world today.  I get it.  We’re all watching the upcoming election with a sense of horrified fatalism.  We’re all worried about our schools and communities.  We’re all wondering if we’re leaving our kids a better country than our parents left us.  There are days when our hopelessness seems well founded.

But I’m not worried about hope.  I know it’s real and I know where the find it – in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We carry a message that is the rawest announcement of hope the world has ever known.  And that gospel shapes our lives so that we live as beacons of hope.  There should be no more hopeful place on earth than the local church.

And this past weekend, I was reminded that the hope we celebrate in the church lifts the communities around the church.  If you’re wondering where hope comes from in this world, consider the following stats about this past weekend’s ServeDC experience:

  • 120 people participated.
  • Those 120 people did over a combined 684 hours of work in our community.
  • We worked with 10 different partners.
  • Trunk or Treat provided a safe Trick or Treating option for over 150 kids.
  • Our work at Gunston improved the school for 839 students & 120 staff members.
  • CASA Family Dinner Night team served families dinner & had fellowship alongside 100 CASA family members.
  • At CHPC Parenting Class Dinner we served dinner & spent time with 40 family members.

I don’t worry about hope. I know where to find it.

My prayer is that God would deepen our passion to love and serve our city.  I pray we will continue to be a beacon of hope as we live out Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Calendars & Checkbooks

calendar-checkbook“Show me your calendar and your checkbook and I’ll show you your priorities.”

I honestly can’t remember the first time I heard some version of that statement.  It’s been attributed to so many people that I have no idea who said it first.  But I know it’s true. It’s true for my life.  It’s true for yours.  And it’s true for our church.

It’s something I think about a lot for us at Restoration City.  It’s easy to talk about our values, come up with a nice website and sprinkle some vision into a sermon every now and again.  But it’s how we spend our resources – both time and money – that shows us our priorities.  

That’s why I love knowing that last year we gave slightly over $58,000 as a church to partners outside of our own walls.  For the record, that doesn’t include money raised or given through short term mission teams.  We gave to church plants, to local partners and to international partners.  We’re participating in God’s work in DC, Brooklyn, Kenya, Tanzania, Nicaragua and many other places.

That’s why I love knowing that ServeDC starts tonight and runs through this weekend.  We’ll be serving with nine different partners all over our city.  We’ll have Restoration City people cleaning up parks, working on Gunston Middle School, distributing meals and participating in many other tangible expressions of love for our city.

Could we do more?  Absolutely!  Am I satisfied with where we are? No!  But I love what God is building through this church.  I love measuring our success by how much we give away – in time and money.  By God’s grace, we’ll continue to give away more of both.  I want our calendar and checkbook as a church to be pleasing to God and to reflect His priority, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.“(Lk.19:10)

Celebrating Generosity

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This past Sunday, I shared some incredible news with Restoration City about God’s financial provision for our church throughout the past fiscal year.  I know talking publicly about money can be awkward and I even debated how specific to be in this post.  Ultimately, I decided to be as specific here as I was on Sunday because it’s not a story about our church.  Although this story is best told with numbers, it really is a story about the faithfulness of God and the generosity of His people.

At the start of the fiscal year that ran from September 2015 – August 2016, we felt God leading us to adopt a $482,445 budget. To be honest, that seemed crazy to me for a church plant that was only 11 months old! I remember asking Dan Iten, our Operations Director, how much of that money we had to spend and how much we could pull back if giving didn’t meet our expectations. Well, giving didn’t meet our expectations; it exceeded them! Through your generosity, the Lord provided $511,714.43! At the same time, we were able to hold expenses to $456,395.32, meaning we finished the year with a $56,000 surplus. That’s incredible for a 2 year old church plant! So many of you have sacrificed so much to make that happen and I can never thank you enough.

In addition to strengthening our operating reserves and saving for some long term needs, our elders felt compelled to give $6,000 of this surplus beyond Restoration City. We were thrilled to make an additional $1,500 gift to four of our external ministry partners, which continues a pattern of giving that is essential to us at Restoration City. As part of our budgeted expenses for the past fiscal year, we had already given $52,186.42 to other ministries, including church plants, international missions, and local ministry partners.

More than a few friends have joked with me in the last couple of days that announcing a surplus is a pretty amazing way to get people to stop giving to the church!  To be honest, I hope it has the opposite effect.  Personally, I love knowing that over 10% of everything I give to Restoration City goes beyond our church to other gospel partners!  It makes me want to be more generous, not less.  I’m praying you’ll feel the same way – inspired to continue giving, to increase your giving or to start giving to the vision of Restoration City.  We’ve significantly increased our budget for this year to just over $700,000, so we need your ongoing support. But I’m not just asking on behalf of our church. I’m asking on behalf of those beyond the walls of our church who are touched by your generosity. By God’s grace, we’ll exceed the $58,000 we were able to give this year and be able to do even more in the year to come.

Ultimately, our generosity is motivated by Jesus who “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9).  A generous church makes the gospel visible to the world around us in a way that’s utterly captivating.  Wouldn’t it be awesome to be know for our generosity as a church?  

If you would like to set up a recurring donation to Restoration City or make a one time gift, you can do so at RestorationCity.Church/Give.  I would love to have you participate in the culture of generosity God is creating at Restoration City!

Distinct

distinct-coverI can’t wait for the start of our new series, Distinct, this Sunday at Restoration City.  We’re going to devote the next seven weeks to talking about the ways the gospel shapes our relationships with one another as followers of Jesus.  It’s all aimed at leading us to friendships with one another that are totally different than anything else the world offers.  In short, we should be distinct.

Community is such a buzzword in our culture yet so many of us are starving for friendships.  We’re looking online, at the gym, at work, at happy hour, in our apartment communities or in the local coffee shop.  All too often, we’re looking and not finding.  Or if we are finding, we’re settling for relationships that are so shallow that they’re hardly worthy of being called friendships.  And our souls are shriveling.

Sadly, we don’t always find friendships in the church being all that different.  Maybe slightly more sober, with less cussing and a little more Jesus.  But are we really living out Jesus’ commands for our lives?  I’m not sure.  But I can’t wait to spend seven weeks asking God to grow us in this area.

If we’re following Jesus in our friendships, people who don’t know Christ should look into our church and be astonished by how we love one another.  They should look at the depth of our relationships and our joy in one another and be captivated.  There should be people coming to Restoration City simply because they want in on our kind of friendships.  And in the course of their time with us, they should see that our community is shaped by our King.  What makes us distinct isn’t that we’re nicer people, it’s that we’re being transformed by the Spirit and conformed to the gospel.

I’m praying these will be seven culture shaping weeks for us at Restoration City.  I’m not after head knowledge about community and friendship.  I’m asking God to deepen our relationships and conform them to the truths of the gospel.  I’m ready for this series.  I need this series.  I can’t wait to see what God does with it.

Learning To Love

A photo by Asaf R. unsplash.com/photos/UalImdHGjGUFor years, I missed the boat when it came to love.  And, no, I’m not talking about my dating life as a younger guy!  I’m talking about the fact that I thought love was a personality trait.  Some people had it, some people didn’t, and there wasn’t much you could do about it.  It was like being an introvert or an extrovert.  Sure, you could learn some techniques to be a little more loving, but it wasn’t like you were going to become a whole new person.

Maybe I struggled because our culture has such a cheap view of love.  We reduce it to nothing more than butterflies in our stomachs, warm fuzzies and something, if I’m being totally honest, that’s very feminine.  It’s all bubbly emotion, all the time.  And I just wasn’t into it. Turns out God has a different definition; read 1 Corinthians 13 for more on what robust, biblical love looks like.

But the more I read the Bible, the more problematic my view of “love as personality trait” became.  Two things became incredibly clear to me:

1. Love is an evidence of salvation.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

-1 John 4:7-9

All of the sudden, love wasn’t so peripheral any more.  It was essential.  If I didn’t have it, what did that say about my relationship with God?  If I did have a relationship with God, why wasn’t my heart more characterized by love?

To be honest, that didn’t comfort me very much.  In fact, it scared the crud out of me.  I had long seen myself as someone who was low on the love meter.  My heart just wasn’t some warm, bubbling sea of affection for God and others.  It was often cold, indifferent or even hostile.  I realized that what I had always accepted about myself was something God was very intent on changing.

2. Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

The Holy Spirit lives in the heart of every Christ follower and He produces love inside of us.  As surely as an apple tree brings forth apples, the Spirit of God brings forth love.  Newsflash: love isn’t a personality trait and it is something we can grow in.  It’s something God produces inside of us.

The more I reflected on God’s love for me in Jesus, the more I found myself loving other people.  In fairness, I still experience love through the lens of my personality.  Love for me is a steady, even keeled commitment to do whatever I can for you.  It doesn’t come out in poetry.  It comes out in prose.  But it does come out.  It’s there and, by God’s grace, it’s growing.

Don’t you dare believe you are condemned to a loveless life.  Jesus died to free you from that, to place His love on you so firmly that you find love rising up from the depths of your heart.  The more you walk with Him, the more you’ll learn to love.

Leadership: Self or God Focused?

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It’s terrifyingly easy to be a leader with God focused words and a self focused heart.  We know the right things to say: we’re honored and humbled to play even a small part in God’s story; we’re just grateful for the chance to serve; He must increase, we must decrease; etc, etc…  But all too often those platitudes aren’t an expression of our heart.  If anything, they’re a false veneer carefully constructed to hide what we’re really feeling: when will I get the credit I deserve; why hasn’t God given me greater responsibility; why isn’t this easier; how come that joker’s church is growing faster than ours; why wasn’t I invited to speak at that event; etc, etc…  It’s an exhausting place to be.  I know because I’ve been there.

It’s a lonely place where burnout or moral collapse is lurking right around the corner.  But it’s also a place where God does some incredibly deep work in our souls.  It’s the place where we decide whether we’re going to be a God focused or a self-focused leader.  It’s the place where we learn the value of keeping our heart focused on God and shaped by the gospel.  It’s the place where we resolve not to spend the rest of our lives parroting someone else’s words but rather live out of the overflow of what God is doing in our own hearts.

Whenever I see myself sliding back into self-focused leadership, I think about Ezekiel.  He got a master class in God focused leadership early in his ministry.  Through him, we see what a God focused leader looks like:

 

 1. God Focused Leadership Starts With A Call From God

Ezekiel never had to wonder why he got into this whole leadership thing in the first place.  The answer was incredibly clear:

Ezekiel 1:3 – the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.

Do you have that kind of clarity?  That’s not just a question for pastors and elders but for Community Group leaders and ministry team leaders as well.  What got you started?  Did God prompt you to do this or did someone else talk you into it?  Were you following Jesus or just trying to make a name for yourself?  Were you more captivated by the gospel or the thrill of being in charge?

2. God Focused Leadership Is Sustained By Awe 

God focused leaders know the key to staying in the game is awe of God and His Word. We see both in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 1:28(b) – Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

Ezekiel 3:15 – And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.

Ezekiel wasn’t bored by God.  He was overwhelmed and on his face, sometimes literally.  God’s Word only intensified that awe:

Ezekiel 3:1-3 – And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.”  So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat.  And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

Ezekiel 3:10 – Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears.

Leadership that isn’t sustained by awe is usually sustained by duty or desperation.  Duty says I don’t dare quit.  Desperation says I can’t possibly quit.  Maybe it’s a fear of letting people down.  Maybe it’s the fear of no longer getting a paycheck.  Maybe it’s the fear that no one will pay any attention to you if you aren’t leading.  Maybe leadership has become pure muscle memory – you don’t even know what you would do if you weren’t leading. None of that leads to ministry vitality or personal flourishing.

Keeping our hearts focused on God and shaped by the gospel is our highest priority as leaders.  It’s more important than the work we do, the roles we play or the responsibilities we have.  A neglected soul will be the biggest threat to your leadership.

3.  God Focused Leadership Endures Difficulty

Ezekiel’s ministry was not an unbroken string of pain-free success:

Ezekiel 2:5-6 – And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 3:7 – But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.

If Ezekiel had been driven by man’s approval, he would have quit early on.  If all he wanted to do was make a name for himself, he would have been out.  If he was in it until it got hard, he wouldn’t have even gotten started.  But he keeps going – staying obedience to God’s call on his life and sustained by awe.

In a world of self focused leaders, I’m praying God will raise up a new generation of God focused leaders in His church.  Leaders who will shape culture, lift communities and transform lives for the glory of Christ and the good of their cities. It’s possible.  We just need to stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on God.

ServeDC: Undeniable Positive

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If you’re around Restoration City at all for the next 2.5-3 weeks, you’re going to hear a lot about ServeDC.  You’ll find out it’s central to our vision as a church and you’ll find out we really, really want you to be involved in some way.  Please, join with us for an incredible 3 days of loving our city by serving our city.

ServeDC is something we’ve done as a church since before we launched our Sunday morning gatherings 2 years ago.  It’s a concentrated weekend of service where we mobilize as many people as possible to make as big an impact as possible in a short period of time.  We have opportunities for you to serve with 9 local partners starting on Thursday evening and running all the way through Saturday afternoon.  You’re more than welcome to sign up for one shift but we encourage you to sign up for more if you can.  We’re trying to blitz the city with the love of Jesus!

Lord willing, we accomplish three goals through ServeDC:

  • Give you a chance to meet other RCC people outside of your Community Group.  That’s why we host a cookout on Saturday evening – it’s a great chance to gather the whole church in a totally relaxed, social atmosphere.  It’s also why we encourage you to serve multiple shifts with multiple different groups of people.  Break out of your normal crew and make some new friends!
  • Connect you with long-term opportunities with local ministry partners.  We want you to serve with a partner that’s a good match for your passions and interests.  Do something that looks like fun to you and benefits a group close to your heart.  And go in open to the possibility that God might call you to be involved in that ministry beyond ServeDC.  Who knows?  God might use this weekend to connect you with a ministry that will be a huge part of the story He’s writing in your life over the next few years.
  • Show our city the restoring power of the gospel.  Let’s be honest, when most people think about Christians, “servants” isn’t the first word that comes to mind.  But if Jesus came “not to be served but to serve”(Mk.10:45) shouldn’t we be known for the same?  After all, He was the One who washed feet and told us to do the same. (Jn. 13:14-15)  We want our community to experience the love of Jesus through the ways we serve.

As a church, we talk a lot about having an undeniably positive impact on the world around us.  We aren’t just trying to keep Christians busy on a Sunday morning.  We want people who’ve never been through the doors of Restoration City to be grateful for our church.  There should be much joy in our city because our church exists (Acts 8:8).  ServeDC is one small step towards that goal.

And I’m asking you to join with us in having that kind of impact.  Please, get signed up now for one or more shifts.  It’ll only take you a few short minutes.  Click here to join us.