Wind and Waves

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31

I’ve felt a lot like Peter over the last two months. The only difference is that I didn’t chose to get out of the boat. I wasn’t looking for this kind of faith building moment with Jesus. We were all ejected out of the boat of comfort, control, and stability by a virus and now we’re all navigating a storm formed by the winds of a public health and economic crisis. Every step we take feels so tentative, uncertain, and unstable. I think we’re all learning that walking on water really is pretty hard.

As I try to figure out life in this season, it’s deeply comforting for me to know that this storm isn’t catching Jesus by surprise. If anything, He allowed us to sail into it because He intends to meet us in it. That was certainly true for Peter and his crew 2,000 years ago. This passage in Matthew 14 comes right after Jesus just fed 20,000 people, a pretty massive display of power. As soon as the crowd had been fed, Jesus sent His disciples out ahead of Him onto the Sea of Galilee. He knew they were tired and He wanted some time alone with His Father so he sent them ahead. Maybe you see it differently but I don’t think the Guy who just fed 20,000 people was unaware of the weather forecast. I think He knew a storm was coming and while He didn’t take any pleasure in the terror His followers would feel, He did have something for them that they could only experience in the storm.

Are you willing to believe that the God of Heaven has something for you in the midst of this storm? Something you could only receive in a storm?

As we face the challenges of this season, we need to aim for more than simply riding out the wind and waves. Our goal needs to be finding Jesus in the storm. We need to look for how and where and when He’s coming to us. We need to listen for His voice. You’ll recognize it as the one whispering, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) In the face of all the wind and waves, Jesus will be the One drawing near in love, offering us the grace to do the impossible.

But then, all of the sudden, Peter is out of the boat. Walking on water is impossible on a calm day but Peter is trying to do it on top of a sea that was constantly moving, changing, evolving. Anyone else’s life feel like that right now? Some days the storm blows fierce and raw. Others days it feels more gentle. But it never feels normal. The sea never stops moving.

There’s really only one option when you’re trying to walk on the top of a heaving sea. Keep your eyes on Jesus. That’s a big part of what we learn from Peter, isn’t it? When he takes His eyes off of Jesus, he starts to sink. Same for us. The funny part is that we can sink in one of two different directions.

Sinking into panic is the easy and obvious one. Our church hasn’t met in person since Sunday, March 8th and I have no idea when we’ll be able to gather again. We’re financially dependant on the generosity of others and really like getting a lot of people into the same room at the same time. What if people give up on our church? What if they find one that’s more broadcast savvy than we are? What if, what if, what if…..

Pride and false confidence give us a second, less obvious but equally deadly way to sink. God has been really good to our church. People are staying engaged in Community Groups and continuing to give. We’re helping people in our community stay in their homes through our partnerships with Casa Chirilagua and Gunston Middle School. People are being patient with us while we figure out virtual church and Chris Kim is doing a fantastic job leading us in worship each Sunday.

It’s really weird how I can be in panic one moment and indulging a prideful sense of “we’ve got this” the next. But both lead me to sink. Both threaten to tug my soul under the waves. Both tempt me to give up. And both are answered by keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus. He’s the One who truly knows how to dance on the waves. He’s the One who isn’t worried, isn’t stressed, and isn’t ever going to leave us.

Even when we get it wrong, Jesus is right there to grab us by the hand. The second Peter starts to go under the waves and reaches out to Jesus, Jesus grabs his hand. He doesn’t let him sink a bit more just to prove a point. That’s not how Jesus operates. He’s right there, ready to take us by the hand and remind us that it’s safe to put all of our faith in Him.

Don’t let pride or panic tug you under the waves. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He’s the One who will give us everything we need to walk on water.

Photo by Nick Sarro on Unsplash

Coming Back Stronger

When all things Covid flipped our world upside down, I found myself asking one question over and over again, “What would it look like to come back from this time stronger than we went into it?” I know that in some ways that’s an outrageously optimistic or privileged question to ask in the face of a global pandemic, perhaps insultingly so. But that’s not how I mean it.

I mean it in a way that helps me find vision for myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I mean it in a way that helps me find vision for my marriage and our family. I mean it in a way that helps me think about more for our church than simply surviving. I mean it in a way that’s consistent with some familiar New Testament texts.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:5-6

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-16

But over the last few weeks, my question has evolved just a bit. Instead of simply asking the vision question of what would it look like, I’ve started asking the implementation question of what is it going to take. It’s one thing to have a picture of what you want, it’s a totally different thing to have a plan for how to get there. While I can’t offer us a one-size-fits-all plan, I can share a few simple ideas that have shaped my plan.

Formation Over Consumption

While there is nothing inherently wrong with it, binge watching multiple online church gatherings every Sunday is not the best way to accelerate your spiritual growth during this time. Binge watching church is one more example of our post-Enlightenment belief that all transformation comes via information or inspiration. Yes, renewing our minds is a big part of spiritual formation (see Romans 12). But so are the spiritual disciplines, and a vibrant relationship with the Spirit, and a more contemplative life, and reading good books.

We come back stronger by deeply engaging with God.

Relationships Over Isolation

I get it. Zoom calls are getting old. They’re not the real thing and they take more energy than a face to face conversation. But you know what’s worse? Isolation. The first thing in all of history that God ever said was not good was humankind being alone. Just about the worst thing you could do right now is retreat from community. I’ve seen that story play out hundreds of times in my ministry and it never ends well.

We come back stronger by staying connected.

Rhythms Over Frenzy

Everything in God’s creation functions with a sense of rhythm. Day and night, six days and then a sabbath, seasons, years, lifetimes. We thrive when we’re living with a sense of rhythm. But right now it’s easy to slide into frenzy, chaos, and disarray. Fight it. Set your alarm, make a schedule, stick to it, go to bed on time, and then get up and do it all again tomorrow.

We come back stronger by adapting our rhythms and then living into them.

Presence Over Anticipation

It’s so easy to obsess about the future right now. When are we going to reopen? What’s it going to look like? Will there be a second wave of Covid in the fall/winter? Please, God, tell me the kids are going to go to school this fall! Obviously, we all need to be thinking about those questions to a certain extent. But not to the point where we lose our ability to be present to today and live this moment well. Jesus said it this way, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

We come back stronger by living one day at a time.

Trust Over Control

So much of my obsessing about the future is driven by a need to find something I can control. Maybe if I scour the internet long enough, I can find the information I need to make definitive plans for how we’re going to come back as a church. Sure would be nice. But it’s just not there, at least not yet. But what we do have as followers of Jesus is actually better – the presence of a God who promises to lead us by the hand into the future He is writing for us (see Psalm 139). Our job is to focus on Him and pray for the faith to believe He’s leading us every step of the way.

We come back stronger by resting in God’s sovereignty.

Generosity Over Hoarding

In the face of uncertainty, our natural tendency is to hold a little tighter to the things we do have, whether that’s cleaning supplies, flour, toilet paper, or money in the bank. But Jesus shows us a better way, a way that only makes sense if we’ve learned to trust Him. We are called to live with a generosity that reminds ourselves that God really is big enough to take care of us if we do our part to help take care of others. If you need help, ask for it. But, if you’re able to help, don’t let this moment pass you by. Chose generosity.

We come back stronger by knowing we did what we could to help others.

So, what does it look like to come back stronger for you? My prayer is that God would not only give you vision for this season but also show you what it’s going to take to fulfill it.

Photo by Hamish Duncan on Unsplash

Making The Best of Easter

Let’s make the best of the opportunity we have to reach people this Easter!

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:2-6

Let’s start with the obvious. There was not a single church leader in America who thought, “Hey, I know how to make Easter especially awesome this year. Let’s just have everyone stay home and worship online!” Nor was there a single family that thought, “Hey, if we could just spend the majority of Lent stuck in the house together, that would make it super special when we spend Easter stuck in the house together.” It just didn’t happen.

Nonetheless, as we head into this weekend, I keep thinking about Paul’s words here in Colossians 4. Even when he’s in jail, Paul is praying for and dreaming about the advance of the gospel. In particular, I keep coming back to that little phrase, “making the best use of the time.” He’s urging the Colossians to take every advantage of every opportunity they have to declare the mystery of Christ.

And I believe we have a tremendous opportunity to do just that this weekend. We find ourselves celebrating Easter at a time when everyone is thinking about their mortality, about what’s really important in life, and about God in some way, shape, or form. We find ourselves walking into a weekend where people simultaneously need the hope of the resurrection more than ever and are more open to it than they’ve been in a really long time.

As a church, we’re doing everything we can to create an online experience that is going to serve you and your friends well. Chris Kim is going to be leading worship, I’m going to be sharing a message called “Alive” and Heather Ross is going to be hosting the entire gathering. But we need to be thinking about more than just how we are going to worship online as a church. We need to be thinking about how God might want to use every single one of us to reach someone this Easter.

Our goal this Easter is not to make the best of a bad situation. Our goal is to make the best of this opportunity. And it’s easier than you might think. I’m asking each of you to join me in a very simple outreach over the next few days: Pray, Text, Talk.

  • Pray. Ask God to bring specific people to your mind. Ask Him to show you where He’s already working, where He’s already been creating openness, and where He’s already been planting seeds. Please, don’t skip this step or assume you know the answer. Ask. You might be surprised by some of the names He brings to mind.
  • Text. Reach out to that person with a simple text. Maybe something like: “Hey, I would’ve loved to invite you to go to church with me this Easter but obviously that’s out. Would you be interested in watching my church’s online service? I would love to talk with you about it afterwards.” If you’re feeling really old school, you could call them. Or you could post something on social media. But the key here is to set the stage for the next step.
  • Talk. It’s one thing to share a link. But take it one step further with another text, “Hey, what did you think about church today? Love to talk more, if you’re interested.” This is where you really open up space for God to work and where you start to make yourself available for God to work through you in starting a great conversation with your family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers.

Restoration City, I’m praying for each of you as we head into this weekend. Let’s not waste this opportunity. Let’s be make the best of it: Pray. Text. Talk.

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Hope In The Waiting

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:24-25

The thing that all of our souls are aching for as we press deeper into this Covid-19 crisis has a name. It’s called hope. It’s the thing that enables us to believe this won’t last forever, that life will return to normal, that we are going to be okay, and that God really is going to provide. Hope is the thing that gives our souls the courage to believe in the possibility of a better tomorrow.

The tricky thing about hope is that it is lives in the world of things that we can’t quite see, at least not yet. Paul is trying to get us comfortable with that reality here in Romans 8. Hope isn’t about our ability to find answers to all of our questions. It’s about our approach to the inevitable unknowns of life.

And right now, we are all confronted with so many unknowns. We know life will get back to normal but we don’t know when. We trust that God will provide but we don’t know how. We want to believe it’s all going to be okay but what if that turns out to be a little too simplistic? It’s the unknowns that make all of this so difficult. It’s the uncertainty that drains us. But we need to remember that uncertainty is not the enemy of hope. It’s the prerequisite.

Uncertainty is not the enemy of hope. It’s the prerequisite.

It’s one thing to scour the internet in search of good information that will enable us to make responsible decisions. But we’re never going to find the hope we’re looking for through the news, social media, or best the data models available. Hope, at least the real, gritty kind that will carry us through a pandemic, comes from a totally different source.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

Psalm 62:5-8

We find hope in the certainty that the same God who holds tomorrow in His hands is also holding us in His arms. Information can and should help us navigate life but only faith can fill us with hope. And, make no mistake about it, the Christian story is always one of hope. It’s the story of a God who loves the world so much that He sent His Son to die in our place so that we can live forever. It’s a story of suffering endured, death defeated, and eternity purchased. It’s a story that boldly announces that even when death comes, we still win. In Christ, there is always the hope of a better tomorrow.

For now, we wait. I’ll admit, my waiting isn’t always characterized by the kind of patience Paul is talking about in this passage. But, the more I lean into real hope, the more I sense little glimmers of patience working their way into my soul. We really are going to get through this and we really can trust God to lead us every step of the way.

My prayer for all of us is that we would learn to lean into the things that connect us with the God of hope and to pull back from the things that fuel a culture of anxiety and fear.

One Thing

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

I have come back to this passage over and over again as we press deeper into this period of social distancing. I keep coming back because I keep seeing so much of Martha in myself. Her issue isn’t that she’s working. That’s not what this passage is about at all. Martha’s problem is that she’s distracted, anxious, and troubled. That’s what Jesus points out. That’s what Jesus wants to lead her out of and it’s what He wants to lead us out of as well. I keep coming back because I need the daily reminder that the one thing we truly need is the one thing that can never be taken from us. I keep coming back to hear the voice of God, the voice that melts anxiety, fear, and distraction.

And I’m not the only one who needs to keep coming back to this truth. We all do. I read an article yesterday that told us that 43% of American adults say their emotional health has gotten worse over the past week. For what it’s worth, I also think that means 57% of survey respondent are either (a) way more spiritually mature than I am or (b) lying. You decide! But I don’t know anyone who isn’t feeling a little distracted these days. It’s where our hearts and minds naturally go during times of uncertainty and upheaval. And, now, we have 24/7 internet access to relentlessly fuel it all.

All of which means we need to cultivate rhythms that enable us to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His voice, even in the midst of a pandemic. He’s speaking through the miracle of His Word and the presence of His Spirit. He’s inviting us to believe that He’s real, to believe that He’s still good, and to believe that He’s still for us and not against us. He’s inviting us to make King David’s prayer our prayer during this time:

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul.

Psalm 86:11-13

Those rhythms are going to look a little different for each of us but here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

  • Getting up at the same time I always do to spend time with God in the quiet of the morning.
  • Only allowing myself to check the news and social media twice a day. For what it’s worth, this is the hardest one for me!
  • Pausing 2-3 times during the day to be still, to pray, and to read a short passage of Scripture.
  • Participating in our RCC Prayer Nights every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 8PM.
  • Continuing to practice a weekly Sabbath.
  • Intentionally engaging with the sermon and other Sunday morning content we make available rather than having it play in the background while I multi-task.
  • Continuing to meet with my Community Group, just online.
  • Going to bed at the same time I always do so I can get up and do it all again tomorrow.

Lord Jesus, teach us to listen. Teach us to hear your voice. Teach us to enjoy Your presence. Help us step away from the chaos and to just be still.

All Together: RCC's Vision For Navigating Coronavirus

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.”

Acts 2:1

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.

Prayer Prompts

  • 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.

Discussion Questions

  • 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?
  • How can I pray for you this week?

Other Important Resources

Coronavirus Traps To Avoid

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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.

Trap #4: Despair

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

Take courage

Hold on

Be strong

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.

A Call To Prayer

“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

John Piper

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.

You will find everything you need to join us at rcc.church/prayernight.

See you tonight!