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!

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