“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.”
Even though we can’t be together physically this morning, we can come together as a church around a common vision for these days. In this message, I lay out three anchors for us as a community of faith during these days.
Pray that God would give parents an incredible sense of patience as they balance work, homeschooling, closed daycares, and all of the other responsibilities of life. (Colossians 1:9-12)
Pray for the most vulnerable in our communities, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Ask the Lord to protect them and empower them to make wise choices during this pandemic. (Psalm 91:1-6)
As Christians, we believe that Jesus has authority over the natural world. Luke 8:22-25 is only one example. Therefore, we should pray boldly, asking Him to slow the spread of this virus.
How have you seen God at work in your life over this past week?
What have you learned about the kind of rhythms you’re going need to stay healthy (physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually) during this time? What worked well for you last week? What didn’t
How worried are you about your job and financial well-being during this time?
Where do you see God opening doors for you to engage with others in sharing the gospel? What do you think your next steps could be?
It was right around this time last week that news of Coronavirus started to dominate the national conversation. And then, last Thursday, life started to shift for all of us. Maybe it started to shift slowly at first but here we sit, nearly a week later, starting to realize just how much it really has shifted. We’re all feeling the impact of this virus, figuring out new rhythms, and wondering just how long this is all going to last.
For the first week, we talked a lot about not giving in to fear.
“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
– 2 Timothy 1:7 (NASB)
We still need that reminder today. But as I pay attention to my own heart and what’s happening in the lives of people I love, I realize fear isn’t the only thing we need to fight in this moment. Here are four Coronavirus traps I’m working to avoid.
Trap #1: Obsession
My screen time report for this past week is going to be ugly!
I’ve spent way more time on news websites, blogs, and social media than I have in a really long time. Part of that is the desire to stay informed and part of that is the desire to connect with family, friends, and our church. And a lot of it is a way of wasting time and trying to cope with all of the uncertainty.
I’ll be honest. The roles that God has given me in life don’t require an hourly update on the latest Coronavirus statistics. Some of you have roles that do; thank you for serving us all. But most of us don’t. Staying informed is good. Obsessing isn’t.
Trap #2: Indifference
This Coronavirus thing is real and the more we sacrifice now, the faster things should get back to normal. “Stop being silly, wash your hands, and get on with life” just isn’t a good look right now. And, frankly, it’s an unacceptable look for followers of Jesus. We should be taking the lead in sacrificing for the most vulnerable, going out of our way to promote the common good, and following our leaders on the federal, state, and local levels.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NASB), emphasis added.
In this moment, love looks like social distancing.
Trap #3: Pride
For many of us, Coronavirus is impacting more than our schedules and travel plans. It’s impacting our physical, mental, and emotional health. And it’s impacting our jobs and our finances.
The simple reality is that a lot of us are going to need some help to make it through this. Not because we’ve been unwise or done anything wrong but because this is all so unprecedented.
So, if you need help, ask. Don’t let pride or shame stand in your way. You don’t need to do that to yourself or to your family.
At Restoration City, we’ll be sending out information on how to request assistance from our benevolence fund in our weekly email. But for now, just know you are not in this alone.
Asking for help when you need it isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of humility.
Laura and I went for a walk with the kids this morning and we were talking about the need to both take this threat seriously and to remain confident that we’re going to get through this. Right now, we don’t know how long that’s going to take. But we are going to come out on the other side.
It feels like our country is coming together. Leaders are working together to solve problems. And we have a lot going for us. Many of us have the ability to have groceries and almost anything else we want delivered right to our doors. That was unheard of ten years ago. Or think about the regularly scheduled doctors appointment that I have tomorrow. We’re going to do it virtually. In fact, we’re finding out there’s a lot we can do online, including our Prayer Nights.
So, don’t give in to despair. Remember the words of the last song we sang together as a church before this all started:
Don’t let your heart be troubled
Hold your head up high
Don’t fear no evil
Fix your eyes on this one truth
God is madly in love with you
Remember where our help comes from
– “Good Grace”, Hillsong United
We’re going to get through this. Who knows, we might even come out stronger on the other end.
“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”
If God is doing 10,000 things in our lives, imagine what He’s doing around the world. Even in these days of Coronavirus; especially in these days of Coronavirus. Clearly, we won’t know the full extent of what He’s doing until eternity. But one thing seems clear. He is stirring His people to pray.
As I have thought and prayed through where God is leading us as a church during these days, I have felt a clear leading to call us to consistent, specific, and corporate prayer. We need regular touch points with each other and we need regular rhythms of spending time with Jesus. As the people of God, we have a responsibility to be seeking Him on behalf of our city, our country, and our world. As Christ’s ambassadors in this world, we have an obligation to be opening our doors to our community, even when we can’t do so in person.
So, last night a group of us got together to pray online. A few of our leaders led the call but we were all able to participate or just sit back and be reminded that God is still in control. It ended up being a really powerful time. So, we’re going to do it again tonight at 8pm. Not only would I love to have you join us but I would also encourage you to invite others, whether they go to church or not and whether they believe in Jesus or not. We may not be able to gather physically but we can still come together spiritually.
Like everyone else in our city, the staff and elders of Restoration City Church have been paying a lot of attention to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and thinking very carefully about how we should respond as a church. As the week has unfolded and new information has become available, my thinking on this subject has shifted dramatically.
After consulting with our staff and elders, we have made the decision NOT to gather as a church this Sunday, March 15th. We are also asking all Community Groups to either not meet or experiment with an online option like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts for the week of March 15th. As of right now, this decision is only for the week of Sunday, March 15th. We will be paying very careful attention to this rapidly developing situation, sending regular updates, and looking to resume meeting as soon as possible.
I know this will be a surprising and maybe even disappointing decision for many of us. Believe me, I understand. I love gathering with our church and I care deeply about the people in my Community Group. The Scriptures are clear about the importance of gathering together for corporate worship and the preaching of God’s Word (Hebrews 10:23-25). We take that seriously as a church and I take it seriously as your pastor. I also think it is incredibly important for us as Christ’s ambassadors to be a source of life, hope, and stability for our communities in troubled times. After all, I just preached a message called “Untroubled Hearts in a Troubled World.” The last thing we want to do is give in to fear or feed into sensationalism. That’s not what the people of God do.
We are making this decision for one very simple reason. Jesus calls His followers to sacrifice out of love for those around us. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and to pay particularly careful attention to “the least of these.” (Matthew 25:40). I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right when he wrote, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving.” That almost always means gathering. But, in this case, the best information we have available from public health officials tells us that means staying home as a form of social distancing. There is something beautiful about the church of Jesus gathering in the face of danger and persecution, when the risk is on us. I believe there is something equally beautiful about the church of Jesus choosing not to gather when doing so puts others, especially the most vulnerable in our communities, at risk. This is a moment for the church to lead the way in sacrificing for the common good. Even if you disagree with this decision, please trust that’s the heart behind it.
I will be speaking more about this in a special video message for our church on Sunday morning. Between now and then, I would ask you to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), to pray for the well-being of our city (Jeremiah 29:7), and to pray for the churches of our city.
Life as a portable church can get really interesting at times. Like when you get a call at the end of the day on Wednesday letting you know that all the AC in the middle school you meet in has been turned off for a system upgrade and no one knows how long all of this is going to take. That’s where we were this time last week. And then we found out on Thursday that the library had AC and decided to meet there as a stopgap while we got a better sense of what our overall plan was going to look like for the summer.
In all honesty, my prayer going into last Sunday was something along the lines of, “Dear God, please help this not be a total disaster!”
Which turns out to have been way too small of a prayer. Not only was Sunday not a disaster, it was a really good day in the life of Restoration City. Over the course of the morning, we started to realize we not only had a workable solution for as long as we are out of the theater (BTW, we will be adding more chairs this Sunday!) but also that God is using this season to do some pretty significant things in our church.
Here’s some of what I see Him doing and how I’m praying for this season:
Church is NOT an event we attend. It is a community we join.
We say that all the time but there’s something about breaking out of our normal routines that drives the point home. If nothing else, everyone walked into the library on Sunday without “their normal seat.” As a result, many of us, even those who have been attending RCC for a long time, met new people.
I’m praying that our temporary location makes us even more welcoming for new people and even more connected to each other as a community.
Worship is NOT something we listen to. It is something we participate in.
Standing really close to one another in a room filled with natural light really seemed to drive this home. There were so many moments on Sunday when I couldn’t tell who was louder – the band in front of me or the congregation behind me. As simple as it sounds, hearing one another sing is a massive spiritual encouragement.
I’m praying that our temporary location intensifies our expectation for and participation in corporate worship.
Adversity is NOT something we should fear. It is something God uses.
We aren’t shrinking back into survival mode for the summer. We’re trusting that God is going to do something incredible. He’s already doing that through the registration for our Summer Sessions and we’re trusting Him to add a significant number of new volunteers to our team through the Help Wanted initiative we’re going to be introducing this Sunday.
I’m praying that we add at least 25 new volunteers who are willing to serve regularly in one of our six internal team while we are meeting in a temporary location.
Ultimately, I’m praying we carry all of these things back to the theater with us when the AC upgrade in complete, whether that’s in 2 weeks or 2 months. God is doing some great things in our church right now and I’m so excited to see what He has in store for us this summer!
Just the other day, my son, Aidan, walked into the room and boldly announced, “Dad, I’m not coming into this room to talk. I just need something from you.” Literally. That’s what he said. And I just sat there for a minute astonished that he clearly saw nothing wrong with his statement at all. In his mind, he really was just trying to explain how he wanted all of this to go down. Clearly, we still have a couple of things to work on with him!
But there was also something disarming and almost endearing to his boldness. And I definitely wasn’t mad at him. If anything, I was convicted. Not about how I talk with other people but about how I talk with God. Granted, I would never start a time of prayer by saying, “God, I’m not here to talk with you. I just need something.” But, all too often, that’s my attitude. I’m not here to spend time with you, God. I’m here to get You to do some things. That’s why Psalm 105 has become so important in my prayer life.
“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”
Yes, seek the Lord and His strength. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help and for power but that’s the part that comes easily to us. The real beauty of prayer is found when we press beyond that to simply enjoy being in the presence of God. Don’t settle for strength when God is offering presence.
In a lot of ways, the two are very closely related. If anything, strength from God is found in the presence of God. Sometimes we think prayer works like the drive up window at Starbucks – we pull off the road of life for a minute, order what we need to make it through the day, and pick up our answer in just a few minutes. We want God to serve up His strength and power on demand. I’m not here to talk. I just need something. But we’ll never find the strength we need without the presence we were created to enjoy.
By the way, we should be thrilled, not disappointed, that the two are inseparably linked. If God were to give us all the strength we need but never invite us into His presence, He would only be giving us second best. To want God’s strength without God’s presence is to rob ourselves of what’s best. Yes, I got Aidan his milk but he missed out on what could have been some great moments with his father. At the time, he was just fine with that. But, ultimately, his life will be far richer because of moments with his father, not cups of milk. I wonder how often we shortchange ourselves in prayer. Yes, God will still help us through the meeting but we miss out on the blessing of just being with him.
Obviously, I’m sharing this to encourage all of us to seek God’s presence with even more intensity than we seek God’s strength. In thinking about that, I was struck by one more thought. I didn’t love Aidan any less for his inartful approach. I still wanted to spend time with him. I still wanted him to spend time with me. It’s the grace that should flow naturally between fathers and sons. And it is the grace the flows naturally between our Heavenly Father and His adopted sons and daughters.
Seeking God’s presence isn’t a roadmap to seeking God’s strength. Seeking God’s presence is the fruit of comprehending “with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18-19) The more we comprehend God’s love for us, the more we’ll be filled with a desire for his presence, and the richer our lives will be.
Last night I realized that Restoration City has only gathered 1 out of the last 4 Sundays. Between the changes to our schedule because of Christmas and then the snow, it’s been a pretty rough stretch for us. The irony of that is that I’ve been praying specifically that we would all renew our commitment to gathering on a Sunday morning in the New Year! Specifically, my prayers for us have been shaped by Psalm 92.
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.
When I read Psalm 92 over the Christmas break, it triggered something powerful in me. The psalmist paints such a beautiful picture of what we all want for our lives – to flourish and grow. Some of us are more familiar with the beauty of a palm tree swaying in an ocean breeze and some of us know just how massive a cedar tree is when it’s full grown. Either way, we want that kind of flourishing and growth in our lives.
And one of the ways that happens is by prioritizing time with the people of God in the house of God. As the psalmist says, we flourish when we are planted in the house of God. We were designed to live with a sense of rhythm and our souls need to gather corporately once a week to worship, to take communion, to soak in the Word of God, to be renewed in our faith, and to be strengthened for the challenges in the week to come.
I know there are plenty of good reasons why we can’t always gather with the church – illness and travel are the big two. But, apart from those, where does gathering with the people of God fall on your list of priorities? I can tell you based on the last month that gathering with the church 1/4 of the time is no where near enough for our souls. I’ve missed it and can’t wait to be back together this Sunday, Lord willing.
I’m not trying to guilt any one here. But I am willing to fight for our common flourishing. Don’t sporadically attend three different churches. Don’t go to church when you have nothing else to do. Don’t think a podcast is a good substitute. Don’t believe the lie that “you just need a week of.”
The Sundays when you’re most tempted to skip church are probably the ones you most need to be there and the ones that will nourish your soul the most. So, fight through it. Be planted in the house of the Lord!
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Those words, first spoken by Zechariah as he rejoiced in the birth of his son John, have become the heart of my prayer for our church this Christmas. I pray that we all experience the sunrise of Christmas in our souls today.
Today we celebrate the tender mercy of our God. His answer to sin and death, pain and suffering, fear and despair arrived in the form of an Infant King. A little One who would save us from our sin and show us how life was meant to be lived. A Baby who came as light, and life, and love.
Christmas is the dawn of a new, a wild, and an unbreakable hope.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
Usually that’s our way of saying we hope everything goes well as someone celebrates this holiday. We hope our family and friends are able to navigate the holiday with minimal unpleasantness: no burnt turkeys, drunk uncles, fights over dinner, or traffic. It’s our way of saying we hope you have fun, get to relax, and maybe even get a nap at some point over the weekend. There’s nothing wrong with any of that but it misses the deeper reality of that greeting – being thankful actually makes us happy!
By the way, that’s not sentimentality. It’s science. Study after study has confirmed that being thankful makes us happier. When we take time to reflect on the things that make us grateful and express that gratitude, it actually changes us on a neurobiological level. Being thankful causes our brains to release both dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is the chemical that makes us happy, optimistic, sociable, and goal-oriented. Serotonin is an anti-depressant that increases will power and motivation. So, if we do this thanksgiving thing correctly, it should literally make us happier!
The Apostle Paul didn’t understand the neurobiology of gratitude but he knew the experiential reality of it.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
That’s my prayer for you this Thanksgiving. May the peace of God guard your heart as you allow gratitude to mingle with your need in a way that drives away anxiety. May the joy of Christ be yours as you meditate on the goodness, mercy, and provision of God in your life. May you be more focused on the blessings you celebrate than the details of your celebration.
So, Happy Thanksgiving. Or maybe I should say, “Thanksgiving Will Make You Happy.”