Masks @ Church

This coming Sunday, August 29th, Restoration City Church will return to Gunston Middle School for the first time in a year and half. I honestly can’t wait to be back for our Sunday morning gathering – it’s a beautiful theater with easy parking and all the room we need to offer a proper kids ministry. In a lot of ways, it’s going to feel like one significant part of life is getting back to normal. Except for the fact that we will all be wearing masks.

Now, in case you haven’t noticed, masks have become a little bit of a cultural lightening rod, to say the least. Add church into the mix and you have everything you need for your very own online controversy. So I thought it would be helpful to offer two quick observations as we all grab our masks and head to Gunston on Sunday.

Keep Masks In The Proper Perspective

For us, the decision to wear masks is far more pragmatic than it is theological or philosophical. Yes, we want to be guided by the Spirit, the Word, and the gospel in all things. But that doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to practical considerations. For example, Gunston is not only our best option for a Sunday morning gathering but it is also an Arlington County Public School and they require us to wear masks if we want to use the space. So, guess what, we wear masks!

That may seem like an obvious point but it’s important because it should defuse a lot of the tension around this issue. It also enables us to be generous in our interactions with other churches that handle the mask question differently. No church has it easy right now and we’re all doing our best in light of the unique constraints and opportunities in front of each one of us. So, let’s not make a big deal out of something that really isn’t. That kind of foolishness plays great on social media but it’s toxic within the body of Christ.

I’m Glad We’re Wearing Masks

Having said all of that, I am glad that we’re wearing masks. Think about Paul’s words to the Corinthians.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 

1 Corinthians 9:19-20 (ESV)

I totally get it – Paul isn’t talking about masks. But he is talking about a willingness to meet people where they are and do whatever he can to remove barriers that would prevent people from hearing the gospel. Paul was willing to sacrifice his preferences and comfort in pursuit of a larger and more significant goal. Let’s just be real – there are a lot of people in our city who are appropriately cautious about indoor gatherings due to the delta variant. That’s the cultural landscape of the city God has called us to love and serve. For me, that makes wearing a mask an easy call. If my mask makes it more comfortable for someone to join us, then I’m all for it! It’s a small price to pay for seeing my church family and seeing someone discover the beauty of the gospel.

I hope that we masks not only in terms of our own health but also in terms of aligning with the missional heart of God. That’s what the church and church planting are all about – seeing people come to faith in Jesus. Don’t just bring a mask on Sunday, bring a friend! It’s what we’re here to do. Let’s embrace the mission God has given us.

So, RCC, we’re not totally back to normal yet. But we’ve come a long way and I can’t wait to see you on Sunday!

A New Season For Restoration City, Part 2

The closer we get to August 29th, the more excited I am about the new season we are stepping into as a church. Last week, I wrote about what isn’t changing in the new season and why this such a pivotal time for us as a community. If you didn’t catch that post, please check it out so you will have some context for what I want to share today as I describe some of the other changes we envision for the new season.

Empower Lay Leadership

In order for the church to function the way God intended, we need to lean into two foundational texts from the New Testament. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are all created by God and that every Christ follower has been given specific work to do to contribute to the advance of the gospel. Moreover, 1 Corinthians 12:7 tells us that every Christ follower has been given a specific gift to be used for “the common good.” That means you are empowered by God to do something in this city and in this church that no one else can do as well as you. And we need you to step into whatever role God is asking you to play in this season.

I find that vision utterly thrilling and deeply challenging because it means the staff has to relinquish control. Nothing will kill God’s vision for His church quite like a staff team that needs to make every decision and micro-manage every detail. So many of you are wired to do so much more than run a play designed by someone else. You have vision, knowledge, ability and gifting. More than anything, I want to release you and empower you to run after the dream God has placed in your heart as we pursue our shared calling as a church.

Allow Pastors to Pastor

In order for this redistribution of leadership to go well, three things need to happen. The fist is very practical: the staff and elders need to ensure that everything we’re doing as a church is aligned with our calling, our strategic distinctives, and our culture. The church can’t become a big ball of tape rolling around and picking up every good idea it bumps into – that’s a recipe for chaos. So, our staff and elders need to reprioritize this aligning work. The next two come straight from the New Testament. So much of a pastor’s job description is contained in Ephesians 4:12 – “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” That means a renewed focus on leadership development, training, and coaching. In other words, pastors and elders are called to help you live out Ephesians 2:10. They are also called to “present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28) Spiritual formation is the foundation of leadership development and the primary calling of every pastor. In other words, would you allow us the privilege of caring for your soul as you pursue the life God has called you to?

Emphasize Formation & Mission

We did not plant Restoration City Church because we thought the Christians of DC needed another option on the Sunday morning worship buffet. We planted Restoration City because the non-Christians of DC need more Christ followers committed to living on mission. Jesus’ plan for the church is clear – make disciples of all nations. (Mt. 28:19) That’s why we exist; to see people cross from death to life.

At the same time, the gospel calls us to so much more than simply receiving forgiveness for our sins. 2 Corinthians 3:18 reminds us that we are being increasingly transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus. That’s the work of spiritual formation and it is essential to our lives as Christ followers.

Formation without mission turns the church into a support group. Mission without formation offers a hallow vision for life. But when mission and formation collide, we feel the full power of the gospel.

Make Space For Relationships

Church isn’t an event you attend, it’s a community you join. We say that all the time at Restoration City. Yet, the pandemic revealed how fragile some of our relationships really were. We were in the same places at the same times but we weren’t really in each other’s lives.

Spiritual formation happens in the context of relationships. That’s why small groups are so important to us. Not because you need something else on your calendar and not to check the “weekly Bible study” box but to create a space that allows for real, deep, authentic relationships. Yes, our groups engage with God’s Word and, yes, they pray. But they are also a place to be known, to be heard, to be loved, to grow with others, to share your story, and to be real.

I truly love where we’re going as a church in this next season and I really want you to be a part of it. I would also love to have you inviting others to be a part of this new season with us. Who could you invite to come with you to RCC this weekend? Who do you know who would love to be a part of a church that’s moving in this direction? Reach out to them, tell them you would like to take this journey with them and then dive in!

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A New Season for Restoration City, Part 1

Starting on Sunday, August 29th, Restoration City Church will once again meet in Gunston Middle School for our Sunday gatherings. By the time we go back to Gunston, it will have been over 17 months since we were last there on a Sunday morning. Not only is that a stunning amount of time but it is also stunning to think about just how much has changed for all of us since March of 2020. That’s true for me personally and it is certainly true for us as a church – so many have moved out of the DC area, so many have gotten connected to RCC online, we’ve mourned the loss of family members, and we’ve welcomed many babies. So much life has happened.

To capture the significance of this moment, I’m thinking about August 29th as a whole new season for us as a church. We’re asking God for so much more than a return to a familiar venue at the end of the summer. We’re asking Him for a fresh start and a new beginning. Less a resumption and more a relaunch.

As we start to think about a new season as a church, I want to be clear about what is changing and what isn’t changing for us as a church.

What Stays The Same

  • Our theology and doctrine. I hope we are continually growing in our understanding of the gospel and its implications for every area of life but we haven’t changed our basic theology one bit.
  • Our mission. Restoration City Church exists to glorify God by making disciples. That’s the mission Jesus gave His church and I don’t see any reason to rethink that one.
  • Our calling as a church. Restoration City Church exists to glorify God by making disciples who are being restored by Jesus, in community, and for mission. This is where we get a little more specific about why our church exists – a community where people experience not only the redeeming love of God but also the restoring love of God. The God who forgives also makes whole.
  • Our strategic distinctives. We’re still radically focused on spiritual formation, neighborhood transformation, and developing the next generation.
  • Our connection with the Summit Collaborative. This is the family of churches we most naturally connect with and our most immediate partner in planting new churches.
  • Our affiliation and partnership with the SEND Network and SBC.

So, why call this a new season?

Great question. I promise it’s not just a PR stunt to get people to come back to church in person! We’re using this language because it accurately reflects where we are as a church in a number of ways:

  • Transition. A new season accurately reflects the amount of transition we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic. To be blunt: we’ve lost a lot of people since March of 2020. Most of them have moved out of the area and some have found other churches here in DC but we have said goodbye to a lot of folks. At the same time, God has brought a healthy number of new people to RCC over the course of the pandemic. In order to avoid any sense that there’s an old guard and a new crew, we’re going to create a “we’re all new here” culture over the summer and into the fall.
  • Leadership. A new season accurately reflects the amount of transition we’ve seen in our elders, staff, small group leaders, and ministry team leaders. Three of our five elders have started serving in this capacity during the pandemic. Other than me, we have a totally different staff team in 2021 than we did in 2020. Our production, kids, and outreach ministries will all have different leaders when we step into this new season. As you can imagine, we’re essentially rebuilding all of our teams right now.

But we also see this as a fantastic moment to clarify and reinvigorate certain aspects of our calling and culture as a church. There’s a lot to say about that so I’m going to devote next week’s blog to those shifts. But, for now, circle August 29th on your calendar. It’s about more than a new location, it’s about a whole new season!

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Contemplatives In Action

Those of you who live in the DC area may be able to figure out where I took this picture. If you go to National Harbor in Maryland, you’ll find a long walking/jogging/biking trail that curves around the waterfront before ultimately extending up and over the Wilson Bridge on the Beltway. When you get to the top of that path, you see this unique juxtaposition of a beautiful river, a bustling commercial center, a gorgeous park, and a massive freeway. It’s honestly one of my favorite places in DC. So, one day last fall when Laura and I were there, I snapped this picture because I was totally captivated by the contrast between the trees in their full fall colors and the rush of the beltway.

As I’ve sat with this picture for a couple of months, I’ve realized how much it embodies the way I want to live my life. During my four years as an undergrad at Georgetown, I picked up a few phrases from the Jesuits (the order of Catholic priests who founded Georgetown) that have become deeply significant in my life. The one that resonates the most with me is the Jesuit ideal of being a contemplative in action.

Being a ‘contemplative in action’ means that your active life feeds your contemplative life and your contemplative life feeds your active life.

Andy Otto

In other words, I need the hustle and bustle of the beltway and the quiet of a park with beautiful trees and a majestic river. It takes both to follow God well and following God well will result in both being present in our lives.

The Contemplative Life

Modern day contemplatives are essentially seeking to bring the ancient riches of Christian mysticism and monasticism into the frenzy of our nonstop, over scheduled, and technology driven 21st century American lives. These modern mystics talk about practices like Sabbath, fixed hour prayer, meditation, rest, simplicity, silence, and solitude. They delight in slowing down to be with God, to be present in the moment, and to hear the still small voice of the Spirit.

It’s a beautiful way to live life.

But ten years ago, I would have told you that a contemplative life is at best an anachronistic thrown back and at worst a bunch of feel-good, new age nonsense for the emotionally needy. Marriage, parenting, planting a church, reading more broadly, and following Jesus more closely has shown me just how wrong I was.

I now realize that the contemplative life is essential to our spiritual formation. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that Christianity is simply an external moral code to be followed in an attempt to please God. It’s not. It’s an invitation to be transformed from the inside out by the grace of a God who did everything necessary for our salvation on the wood of a cross. It’s an invitation to come fully alive, to cultivate intimacy with the Creator of the world, and to enjoy life as a child of God. But here’s the thing: that inner transformation doesn’t happen on the fly. It requires us to open the deepest parts of our soul to God’s healing and restorative work.

To put it as simply as I can: If you want to grow and change, you’ve got to slow down.

The Active Life

As we grow and change, we not only realize the depth of God’s love and concern for the world but also start to embody that love. You can’t have a deep relationship with Jesus and be indifferent to the pain and suffering of the world around you. Christ doesn’t call us to withdraw permanently from the world. Rather, He invites us to join Him in His work of reconciling sinners to God (that’s all of us, by the way) and renewing creation. He invites us to take up a cross, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

In many ways, this is what comes most naturally to those of us who have spent significant time in the action oriented world of evangelicalism. There’s always an event to attend, a place to serve, a mission trip to take, a need to meet. And none of that is bad. The world desperately needs the hope that we carry in our souls. We are constantly surrounded by brokenness, hostility, incivility, and fear. As followers of Jesus, we are called to go into that world as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.

The deeper you go with God, the more engaged you will be with what He is doing in the world.

Being A Contemplative In Action

Now you know why that picture means so much to me. We can’t pick either the contemplative life or the active life. Following Jesus requires a hearty yes to both. Action without contemplation leads to burnout, moral failure, legalism, and bitterness. Contemplation without action leads to complacency, self-absorption, and lingering questions of how much you’ve actually encountered the real Jesus. But when we join them together, when we become contemplatives in action, it unleashes something powerful in us and in our world.

That’s my prayer for you today. Don’t allow yourself to settle for a monochromatic relationship with God. Find a quiet parks and dive into the hustle of the city.

Once A Month Isn’t Enough

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.

Psalm 92:12-13

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!

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.

Shooting In Del Ray

IMG_1527

When Laura and I moved back to D.C. to plant Restoration City Church, we rented a little row house in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.  It was right down the road from where our church was gathering in Crystal City and we quickly fell in love with the neighborhood.  It felt like a small town right in the middle of a big city, it was walkable and had great restaurants and coffee shops.  The coffee shops were a particularly big deal for me because they doubled as my office.  My favorite is a placed called Swings.  I would walk there almost every day.  It was only a few blocks from our house and I could get there even faster by cutting through a park with a baseball field.  It’s called Simpson Park.

And this morning a Member of Congress, a Hill staffer, a lobbyist and two Capitol Police Officers were shot there.  I know exactly where the 3rd base dugout is; I’ve stopped there to make phone calls on my way home.  When I hear media reports of Members of Congress being escorted to a basketball court, I know which one they’re talking about.  There’s a little park right by the left outfield; that’s where we put Aidan in a swing for the first time. Laura still shops at the Aldi across the street and I still spend a lot of time at Swings.  So, it’s more than a little surreal to think of a shooting happening in the middle of a place we know so well and love so much.

I’ve been distracted all day by the shooting.  I keep thinking about it, wanting more information, wanting it to make sense and knowing it never will.  It makes me sad to know the whole thing will be politicized.  It makes me sad to realize that our national political discourse is so divisive that this kind of violence is tragic but not surprising.  But there are two thoughts that keep coming to mind more than any other.

One, this is why we planted a church that still meets right up the road from Del Ray.  Not this specific incident but the brokenness it flows out of.  Not political brokenness, not even moral brokenness but spiritual brokenness.  The loss of hope that comes from not knowing God, the fear that comes from not trusting His guiding hand and the pain that sin unleashes in our souls.  The church doesn’t exist to make good people better or to keep Christians entertained on a Sunday morning.  The church exists to shine the life and hope of Jesus into our world.

Two, we must do more to love and serve our city.  I’m shaken up because violence has reared its head in my neighborhood.  But for too many in our city and in our world, this is a daily reality.  I’ve always lived in neighborhoods where people say, “things like that don’t happen here.”  But there are plenty of people who live in neighborhoods where people say, “another one?”  Jesus died for the people in those communities as well.  He died to make sure that hope wouldn’t be limited to affluent zip codes.  He died that every soul would have the opportunity to find life in Him.  Every soul.

I love the city I call home.  I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else or lead a church anywhere else.  My prayer is simply that we would be the church – willing to reach out, to care, to love and to serve.  And to pray.  To pray for those shot, for their families, for our city and for our nation.

Community & Friendship

friends

Community is both one of the most powerful and painful forces in our lives.  There are few things as exhilarating as being fully known and still fully loved.  Yet there are few things more damaging than being rejected by people we thought we trusted.

The Scriptures are clear that we’re made in the image of a relational God and are designed for community.  The local church is anchored in the belief that God uses others to make us more like Jesus.  Experience tells us that we can’t be fully human apart from relationships.

At the same time, we also know the hurt, disappointment and disillusionment that often comes with community.  Sin is the explanation for most of that.  We’re all messy, broken people.  Community simply multiplies the mess.

But sin alone doesn’t explain our struggle with community.  Unmet expectations also play a big role.  In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer says, “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”  That’s a shocking truth – our zeal for community can turn us into unintentional destroyers of community.  But that’s what happens every time we create a utopian picture of community that simply doesn’t exist this side of heaven and then blast every opportunity for community we have because it inevitably fails to meet those expectations.

The more I think about it, the more I realize a lot of our unmet expectations come from confusion regarding the relationship between the words friendship and community.  We commonly use them as synonyms.  But they aren’t.  They mean very different things.

I recently listened to a sermon that Pastor Leonce Crump preached at Renovation Church in Atlanta, GA.  He was preaching about our need for community but also our need to understand that community and friendship are two different things. His point was simple – both community and friendship are essential but they are also distinct.

The whole sermon is worth listening to but here’s his argument in a nutshell: you might become friends with some of the people you are in community with but friendship is not the ultimate expectation of community.  Yes, the church is a family.  But Crump points out that not all family members are friends and reminds everyone that’s okay.  There are some cousins you like to hang out with and some you don’t.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t family or that you’re doing something wrong.  It just means you aren’t friends.

Here’s what all of that means – you aren’t going to be friends with everyone at church.  And that’s okay.  You also aren’t going to be friends with everyone in your Community Group.  And that’s okay.  Yes, we’re a family.  Yes, we’re called to love one another as Christ has loved us.  We are a community.  But we’re not all going to be friends.

If friendship isn’t the ultimate expectation of community, what is?  Pastor Crump defines the ultimate purpose of community as “fellowship, partnership and encouragement to walk faithfully with God.”  I love that because that’s exactly what our Community Groups at Restoration City are designed to do!  We gather together every week to spur one another on, to encourage one another not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and to encourage one another to run our race well.  Will friendships develop out of that?  I hope so.  But friendship isn’t the ultimate goal of our Community Groups – mission is!

Crump’s distinction is enormously important for us to process.  If we think the ultimate goal of Community Groups is to help us make friends, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.  If we come knowing the goal is to make us more like Jesus, we’re setting ourselves up for growth.

Just to be clear, I’m not minimizing the importance of friendships.  They’re vital.  But no church or program can form friendships for us.  Friendships are something we form individually, one person at a time.

I want to keep thinking more about this in my life and in our church.  Would love any thoughts or feedback you have.  Feel free to leave a comment below.

RCC Membership Renewal

Man Writing Document Dinning Table Concept

I love the season we’re in as a church.  As I shared in the sermon this past Sunday, we’re asking all of our members to enter into a really simple but really significant membership renewal process over the next few weeks.

When I say simple, I mean all we’re asking you to do is let us know you want to continue as a member, update your contact information, reaffirm the commitments you made when you became a member and let us know if you have any questions or concerns you would like to discuss with our staff or elders.  That’s it.  The whole thing will take you less than five minutes to do online; just click here.

Let me also tell you why I think it’s significant:

  1. Ensures Our Membership Rolls Are Accurate.  As our church continues to grow and we add more members, communicating well within the church requires more and more intentionality.  It’s honestly one of the bigger challenges we have, so it’s not a small thing for us to make sure we have an accurate phone number, email address and mailing address for you.  We also want to make sure we’re updating our membership records to reflect people who have moved out of the area or started attending another church.  We don’t want to be the church that proudly reports 2,000 members but has less than 100 people showing up on a Sunday morning!  Membership renewal helps us avoid that trap.  We want to have an accurate sense of who’s really with us as a church.
  2. Reminds Us That Membership Matters.  I meet a lot of Christians today who dismiss church membership as an unhelpful relic of the past.  Maybe that’s true if you look at membership as a formal promise that you won’t even think about attending another church, even if ours is really bad and a really awesome one moves in right down the road.  Church membership isn’t about trapping you.  It’s about discipling you within a local church.
  3. Prompts Reflection On The Commitments We’ve Made To Each Other.  This is what church membership is really about – the commitments we’ve made to one another.  For us at Restoration City, our members make 9 commitments to one another; they’re the commitments that create our culture, define expectations and keep us healthy as a spiritual family.  More than anything, my prayer for this membership renewal process is that it will be a catalyst for self reflection.  It’s a chance to step back and ask ourselves how much those commitments are shaping our lives, make any needed course corrections and move forward as a unified body.  It’s about resyncing us with what we’ve already committed.
  4. Creates An Additional Touchpoint For Pastoral Care.  No, I don’t think a web form is pastoral care.  But I do think it can become a prompt for it.  Please, use the comments and prayer requests sections of the form.  Our staff and elders would be honored to pray for you and we want to hear from you.  If you have questions, concerns or suggestions about the church, let us know.  We want your input and would be happy to talk more in person or over the phone.

So, if you haven’t done so already, please complete your renewal process today.

If you’re not yet a member of Restoration City but would like to become one, please plan to join us for our next New Members Class on Sunday, June 4th right after church.  You can get more information and sign up here.

I’m really grateful for all God is doing in this season to strengthen and unify us as a church.

Refugees Are A Gospel Issue

refugees

One of the convictions that shapes us at Restoration City is the belief that when our city, country or world is talking about something, we should too.  If we don’t, it creates the impression that there’s the real world on one hand and the teachings of Scripture on the other.  Restoration City doesn’t exist to be an escape from the world but rather a place to be strengthened, inspired and equipped to engage the world.  So, I felt it was important to address the current debate about refugees at our gathering this morning.  In doing so, my goal was to make three things clear:

  1.  The church has a tremendous opportunity to serve the national conversation simply by showing that it’s possible to disagree and remain civil.  Our culture is rapidly loosing that ability.  All too often, we vilify people with different views rather than engaging and discussing.  We toss incendiary nonsense around social media because we’ve learned that’s what gets attention.  We’ve replaced careful though with cheap soundbites.  And we’ve divided ourselves into narrowly defined camps that war with other narrowly defined camps.  Restoration City, please don’t give into that kind of lazy thinking or that kind of divisive rhetoric.  It’s not worthy of the sons and daughters of God.  Disagree, debate, engage but do it with respect and gentleness.
  2. Long before refugees ever became a political issue, they were a gospel issue.  The Scripture speaks clearly to our responsibility as Christians to welcome, love and care for refugees.  Often the Bible uses the words alien, stranger or sojourner instead of refugee but they all mean the same thing.  I say refugees are a gospel issue for three reasons:
    1. The central figure of all Scripture was Himself a Middle Eastern political refugee.  When Mary and Joseph took the Lord Jesus to Egypt to escape persecution under Herod, He became a refugee.  There’s simply no other way to describe it.
    2. The Bible speaks to our treatment of refugees in many places.  Consider just a few:
      1. Exodus 23:9 – You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt
      2. Jeremiah 22:3 – Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
      3. Matthew 25:42-45 – For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
    3. Our treatment of refugees demonstrates our understanding that we are aliens and strangers in this world.  1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  Our true home is in heaven.  We are sons and daughters of an eternal Kingdom and this world is not our home.  We’re here as aliens and strangers.  The more we understand that, the more we will welcome those who come to our country as aliens and strangers.  The gospel puts each of us right in the middle of Exodus 23:9 – we also should know the heart of a stranger because we are sojourners in America.
  3. We should allow the Bible to shape our prayers.  We should pray for our leaders and for the flourishing of the church in America (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and we should pray for those fleeing their homelands to escape war, persecution and death.

My role as a pastor is not to make political statements.  It’s to teach the whole counsel of God and lead us into conforming our lives to the teachings of Scripture.  That was my goal this morning and it’s my goal in this post.  I’m praying for each of you as you shine the light of Jesus into our world this week.  Be bold.  Be brave.  Be respectful.  Be motivated by the glory of God and the good of humanity.