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.

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.

Vamos a Mexico

Mexican Flag

I’ve been excited about Restoration City’s upcoming mission trip to Western Mexico for a long time but that excitement has hit a new level now that I get to co-lead the team and see first hand all that God is doing through our friends in Western Mexico.  I can’t wait for those days in early October!

Every mission trip is significant for both the members of the team and the community that’s impacted through their efforts.  But this trip is particularly special for me and my expectations are really high for a couple of reasons:

  • It’s Personal.  We are going to serve alongside two members of our church who are serving in Mexico for two years to plant churches in remote and hard to reach areas of southern and western Mexico.  We aren’t coming alongside like-minded strangers, we’re going to serve with our friends!  Being able to send a short term trip to serve alongside missionaries who are members of our church is more than a dream come true…it’s an answer to prayer!
  • It’s Strategic.  We’re going to be spending a week in and around a large migrant worker camp in western Mexico.  Workers from much more remote areas of Mexico come to this camp to work the harvest and we’ll be heading to Mexico right at the start of their harvest season when this little temporary city will be coming to life and filled with people.  Our hope is to love and serve these people and share Christ with them with the prayer that some will place their faith in Christ and carry the gospel back to their home village and community.  It’s an incredible way to reach some un or under reached people groups in remote areas of Mexico.
  • It’s Filled With Potential.  I’m thinking mainly of the members of our team when I write that.  Literally every single person going on this trip could be leading the trip (that’s not an exaggeration!) and I’m so looking forward to getting time with each of them.  I honestly believe so many of the leaders of future trips are going to come from this team.

I honestly believe the Lord is going to use all of this in some pretty incredible ways and I would love to have you be a part of it with us.  I totally get that it’s unlikely you’re going to jump onto the team at this late date (but if you’re interested, let me know!!).  But maybe you would consider being involved from home by praying or giving.  I’ll be posting prayer requests over the next month and I would love to have you praying with us for all the Lord is going to do.  And I would be so grateful if you would consider making a one-time donation to our Mexico 2018 fund.  We’re trying to raise $13,000 to support this team and the work we’re doing in western Mexico.  We would love to have your help in reaching that goal.

It’s amazing to know that we’re just one small part of the church that Jesus is building all over the world.  In DC.  In Mexico.  And all over the globe.

We Need Your Help!!

kids

While God is doing so many incredible things in so many different areas of Restoration City right now, that work is probably most evident in RCC Kids.  Both our Parent’s Morning Out and Parent’s Night Out events are near capacity every time we offer them and our twice a month morning playgroup is thriving.  On top of that, our Kids team continues to partner with Community Group Leaders in making childcare available for CG’s that need it.  And then there’s Sunday morning!  We now have 5 classrooms per week that serve a minimum of 30 kids per Sunday, with that number increasing rapidly.  It’s honestly amazing to see what God has done through Alex Dibble and our children’s ministry team!

If you’re a member of that RCC Kids team, I want to publicly thank you for all you are doing to serve the parents and kids of our church.  You’re making a huge impact on families and the lives of these young kids and you’re sacrificing a lot to do it.  We all know you pour a lot of energy, love, and sweat into a Sunday morning!  And we all know you’re giving up the chance to be in the main gathering to do it.  Your willingness to serve says so much about your heart for Christ, His church, and the next generation.  On behalf of every family at Restoration City, I want you to know how grateful we are.  It’s no small thing to be raising our kids in a church where they’re excited to go to church and it’s your sacrifice that makes that possible.  So, thank you!  You’re incredible.

And we need more of you!

The only way to keep serving an increasing number of families and kids is by increasing the number of volunteers.  We need 12-15 volunteers per Sunday, plus the volunteers at  our additional events.  We only ask RCC Kids volunteers to commit to 1-2 Sundays per month so you still are able to be in the main gathering 2-3 times per month.  But that means we need a regular volunteer pool of 40-50 in RCC Kids.  Right now, that number is closer to 30 regular volunteers.  So, you can see the need for more help in response to how abundantly the Lord has and is growing this area of our church!

If you’re willing to commit to 1-2 Sundays per month, we want to get you trained and serving with us.  Our need is especially great in the summer since so many of our regular volunteers are traveling.  If you can help us love and serve these kids, please shoot Alex an email today.  She would love to talk with you!!

The Prison Of Passivity

Rearview Mirror

First of all, hi!  I know it’s been a while since I last posted and it would feel really weird to jump right back in without acknowledging that it’s been a couple of months.  I’ll post more about why I took the break and how God’s used it later but, for today, I just want to say I’ve missed this chance to connect with our church and am looking forward to posting more regularly.

If nothing else, this blog provides a convenient format for me to Monday morning quarterback my own sermons, which I feel the need to do today.  All last week, I had been so excited to preach yesterday’s message, “The Prison Of Passivity” but as I was driving home, I found myself concerned that I wasn’t as clear as I should have been.

I definitely wanted to shake all of us, myself included, out of the rut of passivity.  I just hope I did that in a way that built on the unshakeable foundation of God’s grace.  It’s grace that saves us, sustains us, provides for us, guides us, and transforms us.  If you take grace out of the equation, you no longer have Christianity.  Everything in our lives flows from the fountain of grace.

But that grace doesn’t exempt us from effort.  It empowers it.  And I think that’s where we tend to get confused, justify our apathy, and spiritualize our innate laziness or passivity.  As I said yesterday, what we see as grace in the rearview mirror of life always looks like effort through the windshield.  I fear that we’ve lost sight of that reality.

Yes, God parts the Red Sea.  But we still have to walk through it.  Yes, no one can come to the Son unless the Father draws them.  But God makes His appeal through our lives and our words.  Yes, it’s love for Christ that motivates us to spend time with him in the early morning hours of the day.  But it takes an alarm clock to make it happen.  Yes, any professional success we have is attributable to God’s grace.  But it’s also going to take a lot of hard work.

I was listening to a sermon from Pastor Levi Lusko on the treadmill this morning and heard him say, “If you see someone on the top of a mountain, you know he didn’t fall there.”  There was a long, hard climb to get there.  Jesus rarely offers a ski lift to the top.  He’s far more likely to empower us for the hike.

Praise God for grace.  We would be no where without it.  But that grace doesn’t exempt us from effort.  We want to be a people who see holiness and hustle as two sides of the same coin, not competing values.

So, whatever you’re up to today, “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24).  Don’t live today locked in the prison of passivity.  Grace has freed you from that!

Easter & Shadow Me

Shadow_Me_Main

I’m a terrible celebrator.  As soon as something is over, I move on to the next thing.  Maybe I look back every once in a while, scroll through some old photos, draw on lessons learned, or enjoy a memory.  But, in general, the whole celebrating thing is something I need to work on as a husband, a father, and a pastor.

So, before I tell you about the new series we’re starting this coming Sunday, let’s take a minute to thank God for everything He did this past Sunday.  It was both our largest gathering yet as a church and the first time we had over 300 with us on a Sunday morning.  That all by itself is worth celebrating – it felt great to see so many people streaming into church, to have so many kids running around afterwards, and to feel the energy in the theater.  Honestly, I want every Sunday to feel that way!  But what means even more to me is the roughly 35 people who served in some way to make Sunday morning happen (Kids, Production, Worship, and Connect teams).  You all did an amazing job, served people so well, and honored Jesus greatly.  And God used you in a powerful way – to welcome first time guests, to tell the story of Jesus to the next generation, and to enable others to hear the gospel.  We’re still hearing the stories of all God did on Sunday but can say for sure that at least four people came to faith in Jesus!  So, when you add it all up, Easter was a pretty special day for us at Restoration City.  We have a lot to celebrate.

And we have a lot to look forward to as we start a new series, Shadow Me, this coming Sunday.  This series of messages will be anchored in Scripture but is born out of the work God has been doing in my life over the last five plus years.  It will be, by far, the most personal series of messages I’ve ever shared – exploring my battle with guilt, shame, rejection and the freedom I’ve found in Christ to be the person God has created me to be, to do the work He has called me to do, and to enjoy the people He has placed in my life.  The truths I’ve discovered from God’s Word, loving friends, and wise mentors has changed my life.  Of, maybe more accurately, has freed me to live my life.

For years I lived a fake life.  I was desperate to figure out who I needed to become in order for people to like me, to accept me, to love me.  But it was all an act.  I was working on creating a shadow version of myself, not working on the core of who I am.  I was busy creating an image, hiding my struggles, and polishing the shadow version that I let everyone else see.  But I was crumbling on the inside.  It’s a terrible and dangerous way to live.  It will crush your soul, damage your relationships, and kill your passion for God.  And I’m convinced we all do it way more than we think.

I want to fight back over the next six weeks.  I want to fight to uncover the real you; the one created by God, loved by God and redeemed by God.  The one Jesus went to the cross for, the one the world longs to know.

I would love to ask you for three things as we head into this season:

  1.  Pray for me.  Talking about things you’d prefer to ignore is never easy.  Doing it in a room full of people takes it to a whole new level!
  2. Commit to all six weeks.  I’m really unpacking one theme over six weeks, so catching one or two talks won’t be anywhere near as beneficial as catching all six.  Yes, we’ll keep the podcast running but being there in person is so much better!
  3. Invite friends.  This is a fantastic series for you to invite non-Christian friends, so don’t be shy.  They’ll be grateful you took the risk!

I’m excited for these next few weeks.  I think they’re going to help a lot of us find freedom and I pray they have a ripple effect on our culture as a church.  We want to be the kind of place where it’s safe to be yourself!

Easter Is Almost Here

Easter 2018

It feels a little strange to be writing about Easter in the midst of the worst snow storm we’ve had all winter.  When I look outside, I want to write a Christmas sermon but when I look at the calendar, I realize I better get to work on Easter…it’s a little more than a week away!!

But I’m not the only one who needs to get to work on Easter; we all do.  I’m not just talking about planning the weekend, the outfit, the meals, and the relaxation but also planning how to use the incredible opportunity of Easter to deepen a relationship with someone who doesn’t attend a local church or know Jesus.  Easter Sunday is the single greatest opportunity we have all year to invite people to church.  I say that for two reasons.  One, there are a lot of people who don’t normally go to church who still see church as part of their Easter ritual.  And, two, people in D.C. don’t travel at Easter the way they do at Christmas.  This city is a ghost town on Christmas Eve but people love to stay here or come here for Easter (as long as the snow melts by then!!).  This means many of your co-workers, friends, and neighbors are likely to be around and thinking about going to a church.

The real question is how we’re going to respond to that opportunity, which really is a question of how much we’ve been changed by our 15 month study of the Book of Acts.  I’ve tried to bring a different aspect of the story of the early church to life every Sunday we’ve been in Acts but those aspects are all in service of the overall story: God intends to accomplish His mission through His people by His power.  God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.“(1 Timothy 2:4)  That desire is so strong that Jesus gave His life on a cross to make it possible.  God’s heart beats with compassion for the lost, the lonely, the hurting, and the broken of our city.  If the Spirit of that God lives in us, then our hearts should beat for the same things.  We should be bothered by people going to hell and by people living without the hope that comes from knowing Jesus.  And we should do whatever we can to join God in His mission of reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Can you imagine Paul’s reaction if he saw Christians approaching the opportunity of Easter with casual indifference?  It’s tempting to think of the fiery evangelist ripping into an audience of lazy, indifferent, self-centered Christians.  And maybe there would be a little of that – he didn’t hold back when he needed to confront Peter about his hypocrisy.  But I’m also sure his rebuke would be tempered by grace and the invitation to remember was God has done for us.  He writes something along those lines to the church in Ephesus, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.“(Ephesians 2:11-12) Remember what it was like to have no hope, to be alienated from God, to be judged by people.  Remember what someone did for you so that you could come to a knowledge of the truth.

That’s my challenge and invitation to us as a church – be willing to do for someone else what someone did for you in light of everything Jesus has done for us.  Pray that God will give you opportunities between now and Easter to talk to people about Jesus, to invite them to church and to start a spiritual conversation with them.  I honestly believe this is going to be the best Easter yet at Restoration City and I want you to be a part of it.  Not simply by being there but by being there with someone who needs to find a church or needs to find Jesus.

Don’t waste your opportunity!

Leaky Tires & Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

tired

A couple of weeks ago, I was taking one of our kids to school when I noticed one of the tires on the van was a little flat.  So, I took it to the gas station, filled it up and went on with my day.  Well, by noon the same tire was close to flat again and I knew we had a leak.  So, I brought it to another gas station, they sprayed some kind of liquid on the tire, found the leak, patched it and inflated the tire.  Problem solved, back to life.

None of that is a big deal when it comes to a tire but when we approach our relationship with Jesus the same way, it’s a very big deal.  Over the course of the week, we become aware that our lives are leaking a bit – we see flashes of anger, hints of selfishness and bursts of lust.  We know something’s off but we aren’t quite sure what, so we go to church on Sunday and I spray a little liquid on the tire of your life during the sermon and help find the leak.  “Oh, I’m angry because I’m struggling to trust that God is using His sovereign power for my good.”  Then we patch the leak with a little forgiveness, some fresh inspiration and a whole lot of determination.  But over the course of the week, we see a leak so we go back to square one and start the process all over again.

It’s a totally reactive way of living the Christian life.  You’re always fighting to get back to neutral and never growing into a stronger disciple of Jesus.  It’s settling for sin management when Jesus has called you to Kingdom impact.  There’s no growth, just damage control.

And it will stay that way until we learn to address the deeper issues that are causing the tire to leak in the first place.  That’s why I’m so thrilled to be offering Pete Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course this spring at Restoration City.  It’s an in depth discipleship course designed to help us explore what’s going on under the surface of our lives – where the leaks are coming from and why we struggle with some of the things we do.  The course combines a robust understanding of emotional health, a biblical understanding of spirituality, and the life changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that will be tremendously beneficial to your soul and life.

All of this fits perfectly with our deep commitment to the centrality of the gospel in all things.  At the end of the day, the gospel is not only the patch on the tire but also the way to stop the leak at it’s source.  EHS isn’t presenting an alternative to the gospel – it’s helping us see where and how to apply the gospel in our souls and lives.

I believe this course is so foundational to where God is leading us as a church that I’m  teaching all 8 weeks.  We’ll be meeting from 12.30 – 2.30 at our WeWork offices on Sunday afternoons starting on April 22nd and going through June 17th with the exception of Memorial Day weekend.  If you’re willing to take the journey with me, get registered today at rcc.church/ehs.

RestoreDC, Take 7

RestoreDC

Tomorrow we kick off our 7th RestoreDC weekend as a church.  As of this morning, 93 people from Restoration City have signed up for 150 different shifts with our 9 partner organizations.  The work we will do over the next three days is a really big deal for our partners who are counting on us.  I also want to make sure they’re a big deal for us as a church.

They say familiarity breeds contempt.  I don’t think there’s much chance of that with RestoreDC but I am concerned that regularity might breed indifference.  Not even a lack of participation, just a lack of excitement for what God is doing.  Kind of a been there, done that, got the t-shirt (literally!) attitude.

That’s why I’m praying God will give us all fresh excitement for RestoreDC.  I’m praying we will serve with joy and a desire to bless our community.  This is one of the most tangible ways we live out our plumbline to be an undeniable positive as a church.  We want to live in such a way that our community is grateful for our presence even if they don’t embrace our theology.  We want DC to be better because Restoration City exists.

So, as we head into this weekend, I want to anchor all of us in some texts that fuel my passion for RestoreDC:

  • “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7
  • “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.” – Matthew 5:16
  • “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.” – Isaiah 58:12
  • “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” – Isaiah 61:4
  • “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

I honestly can’t wait for this weekend. Let’s pray today that God will exceed all of our expectations over the next three days!