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

Annual Giving Commitments

In a recent letter to the Restoration City congregation, I asked everyone who calls this their church home to give a one time, year end donation before December 31st and to make an annual giving commitment for 2019.  In the letter, I explained that the year end donation is about our collective vision as a church while the annual giving commitment is about our individual discipleship to Jesus.  Understanding the role of generosity in both our collective vision and our individual discipleship is crucial for us as Christ followers.  So, I’m going to use this week and next week’s blog posts to dig deeper into each, starting with the idea of an annual giving commitment.

There’s a temptation to see something like an annual giving commitment as nothing more than a fundraising or budgeting tool that helps us operate as a church but that’s really not the case.  It’s a discipleship tool that helps each of us as Christ followers be intentional about the spiritual discipline of generosity.  In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul writes that each of us should, “give as he has decided in his heart.”  In other words, our giving is preceded by an internal, heart level decision.  An annual giving commitment gives us a specific opportunity to make that decision.  By making that decision now for the coming year, we become intentional stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us.

Jesus helps us see the significance of intentional stewardship in a short section in the middle of His Sermon on The Mount.  

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Matthew 6:19-21

We need to pay really careful attention to what Jesus is saying in that last sentence: Your heart follows your dollars.  Where we invest our treasure today is where we will find our heart tomorrow.  Every dollar we spend points our hearts somewhere.  The question is whether we are intentional or accidental about that pointing.  If we want to be intentional, we need to ask ourselves three simple but crucial discipleship questions.

  1.  Do you know how your spending is shaping your heart? In my experience, the vast majority of us have only a vague sense of where our money goes every month.  We know what our rent is and our student loan payments but most everything else gets a little fuzzy, oftentimes deliberately so.  Let’s be clear, not knowing where your money is going isn’t just financial irresponsible.  It’s spiritually reckless.  If our hearts follow our dollars, we owe it to ourselves to know where our dollars are going.  So, start tracking your spending.
  2. Are you comfortable with how your spending is shaping your heart?  When I say comfortable, I mean spiritually comfortable, not financially comfortable.  Your budget is as much a spiritual document as it is a financial planning tool.  A good budget doesn’t just make sure you spend less than you make.  A good budget is an intentional plan to shape your soul.  Are you stewarding God’s resources in a way that’s enriching your soul?
  3. What changes is God leading you to make in the coming year?  Maybe it’s time to cut some things out.  Maybe it’s time to save more.  Maybe it’s time to give more.  Maybe it’s time to spend more in certain areas of life.  The key is actually having the conversation with God.  A lot of times, we want to keep God at arm’s length when making financial decisions and that should be a real warning sign to us that something is wrong.  If we’re willing to trust God with our salvation, we should be willing to trust Him with our finances.

That’s what our annual giving commitments are all about – taking control of how our spending is shaping our souls.  So, please, have a conversation with Jesus.  What is He asking you to do?  What changes do you need to make?  What is generosity going to look like for you next year?  Take some time to pray about it and when you’re done, send in your annual giving commitment, either online or with one of the cards we have available on Sunday mornings.  And when you do, know that you’ve taken an important step in your discipleship to Jesus.

Gearing Up For The Fall

Turn Page On CalendarPhoto by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

You may not know it but these last few weeks of summer are a really significant time for us at Restoration City as we gear up for the fall.  The start of the school year creates one of the most significant opportunities for ministry we have all year at Gunston, on college campuses, and as people throughout our city get refocused after the summer.  Given what’s at stake, we don’t want to stumble into the fall; we want to be prepared for all God wants to do through us individually and corporately.  As part of that gearing up process, I want to focus all of us on two of the most foundational ways you can be involved in what God is doing through Restoration City: generosity and prayer.

At our recent congregational meeting, our members voted to approve an aggressive $730,000 budget for the fiscal year starting on September 1st.  To be clear, this is a tremendous leap of faith for us as a not yet three year old church plant.  In simplest terms, we’re trusting the Lord to provide an additional $130,000 beyond what He did last year.  While that’s a big jump, we believe God is more than able to do it and believe these resources are what we need to be faithful to all the Lord is calling us to do as a church.  In part, our confidence in this provision came from the Connected & Committed giving commitments many of us made this past May.  If you are one of the people who committed to either start giving or increase your giving in the coming year, please login to your CCB account to start or update your recurring donation.  I also want to encourage you to pray about making a one time year end gift to the church between now and the end of August as we close out this fiscal year.  We’ve had a couple of unbudgeted but important capital expenditures this past year (most significantly our box truck and some staff computers) and need your help for a strong finish to the year.

Even more importantly, I want to continue calling us to prayer as a church.  I genuinely believe what I said in my July 30th sermonwe won’t pack out our auditorium until we pack out our prayer room.  Our next steps as a church won’t be based on our strength but on our dependance.  If our hearts long for gospel restoration in our lives, families and city, then prayer must be our first, not our last, resort.  That’s why I want to invite you to join me this and every Sunday at 9.15 in the morning in the back of the Gunston Auditorium to pray for a powerful move of God’s Spirit in our church and city.  Finally, I want to encourage you to use these next three weeks to ask God how He wants to work through you personally in the year to come.  Don’t assume He’s got your life on cruise control and dreams of nothing bigger or different than what He did last year.  Carve out real time to pray, “Here I am, Lord.  Send me.” and see what He stirs in your heart.

I can’t wait for all that’s ahead of us as a church.  I genuinely believe year 3 is going to be our best yet and I’m thrilled to be on this journey with each of you.

See you on Sunday!

 

 

Connected & Committed

Connected&Committed_Cover

I really feel like God is using this season at Restoration City to strengthen and prepare our church for greater impact in our city and world.  That’s the heart behind our Membership Renewal Process and our Connected & Committed Giving Commitments.  As we get ready to bring our Connected & Committed Giving Commitments to our gathering this Sunday, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page with why we do this and what I’m asking as well as let you know how I’m praying as we head into this Sunday.

Why Connected & Committed?

There are two really simple answers to this one:

  1.  Our fiscal year runs from September 1 – August 31st and we present the annual budget to our members for a vote at a Congregational Meeting in late July.  So, we’re in the early stages of pulling that budget together. In order to do that responsibly, we need to get a sense of what our giving will be for next year.  Rather than guess, we ask.
  2. Our weekly attendance has increased by 37% since we started meeting at Gunston in July but our internal giving has only increased by 6.5% during that same period.  In some ways, that’s how it should be – nobody expects you to start giving the week you start attending a church.  But if you’ve made Restoration City your church home, I want to ask you to pray about investing in our mission.  Something like Connected & Committed creates an easy opportunity for you to start giving regularly to our mission.

What Am I Asking?

Simple answer: Fill the card out and bring it with you on Sunday!

Complete Answer:  Pray about what God is asking you to give next year.

If you’re currently giving to Restoration City, I would love to have you doing what Laura and I are – reevaluating your budget and planning your generosity for next year.  That may mean you end up giving the same, more or less than you are giving now.  However the Lord leads, I’m convinced the discipline of planning out your generosity for the coming year will have tremendous benefits for your budget and your soul.

If you’re not currently giving to Restoration City and consider this your church home, I’m asking you to set up a recurring donation on CCB.  God is opening a lot of doors for us as a church to be serving our city but we can’t walk through them without your generosity.  So, please, consider partnering with us financially.

How Am I Praying?

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” – Luke 21:1-4

No, I’m not praying you give all of your savings to the church!  Nor am I praying for a couple of really big commitments (although we’ll take ’em!).  I am praying that a lot of us will participate.  You may only be able to give $20 a month or even $5 – that’s awesome!  Don’t you dare believe that Jesus would be more honored if you gave $2,000 or $500.  He delights in a heart that trusts Him and is captivated by the gospel enough to sacrificially give towards the advancement of the gospel that changed everything for us.

I’m really hopeful for all the Lord is going to do for His glory and the good of our city this summer and in the year to come.  Let’s be motivated by that as we pray over our Connected & Committed Giving Commitments for this Sunday.

RestoreDC Recap

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Our family had the best time this past Saturday as we joined with this incredible group of people to work a yard sale at Community Lodgings, one of nine RestoreDC partners throughout the city.  We were able to raise some money for the great work Community Lodgings does in transitioning families from homelessness to self-sufficiency and we were able help resident in the Chirilagua neighborhood get some much needed household items at great prices.  I loved knowing similar things were happening at 8 other partners around the city.  All together over a hundred people from Restoration City covered over 165 shifts from Thursday evening – Sunday afternoon.

Whenever we go into one of our RestoreDC weekends, I’m reminded of two passages in Isaiah that capture so much of what we’re asking God to do.  Isaiah 58:12 says, “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”  And Isaiah 61:4 goes on to say, “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”  Oh, how I long for us to be the restorers of this city.  How I long for us to shine the light of Jesus into the darkness of poverty, homelessness, and hopelessness.  How I long for our church to have an undeniably positive impact on the community around us….to be a beacon of hope and an unpost of freedom for those who need it.   And I pray we do it all in a way that glorifies God, not ourselves.  Matthew 5:16 makes it really clear that we should serve in such a way that God gets all the credit, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

When our hearts beat for the restoration of this city and for the glory of God, we won’t be content with just doing RestoreDC two weekends a year.  That’s our deepest desire for RestoreDC – that it will be a catalyst to ongoing service throughout the year.  So, if you’re wondering what to do now that RestoreDC is over, the answer is simple.  Go to our website and get information about our external partners, see what their needs are and get involved!

I love the desire for restoration that underlies everything we do at Restoration City.  I’m praying we will all embody this more and more by the grace of God.

This Christmas: I Could…But Instead

christmas-generosity

One of the phrases that’s come to describe the culture of generosity the Lord is creating at Restoration City is, “I Could…But Instead.”  It’s a simple reminder that generosity is about forgoing one thing in favor of another.  It’s a simple refrain with enormous power to shape how we spend our time and money.

If you carry the thought one step deeper, it’s a embodiment of what generosity is:

Sacrificing

All too often we practice an “I Can…While Still” form of generosity where we figure out how much is left over after we’ve taken care of everything we want or need for ourselves.  That’s not generosity, it’s selfishness in disguise where the primary goal is maintaining our lifestyle, not the good of others or the glory of Christ.  Real generosity requires sacrifice.  It involves us consciously deciding not to do or buy things for ourselves so that we have space to do or buy for others.  The depth of our generosity isn’t measured by how much we give but rather how much we give up.  

Trading Off & Up

A lot of us get in trouble by forgetting that generosity is a zero sum game.  We become convinced that we can have and do it all, especially this time of year.  Christmas becomes the most stressful time of the year – perfect parties, gifts, cookies, family dinners, trees, cards and travel.  And then the church jumps into the mix to ask for your time and money.  And we say sure, flinging those commitments onto an already overtaxed calendar and stretched checkbook.  One of the hidden benefits of generosity is that it gives you motivation to say no to a lot of things.  When it comes to generosity, think trade off not adding more.

And think trade up.  Matthew 6:19-20, “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.”  

Generosity is a letting go of things that won’t matter a month from now in favor of things that will last for all eternity.

Reflecting The Gospel

2 Corinthians 8:3-5 is a stunning depiction of generosity from a 1st century church, “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”  Paul didn’t browbeat this church into generosity or even tug on their heart strings with a tear jerking video.  No guilt.  No “if you really love Jesus, you’ll do this.”  Just a congregation begging earnestly for opportunities to give more.  How does that happen?

2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”  When our hearts are captured by how much Jesus gave up for us, it becomes a joy to sacrifice for others.  The gospel ensures that the tradeoffs of generosity really feel like a trading up.  

That’s what an “I Could…But Instead” culture looks like.  It’s what I’m committed to personally and what I’m asking God to deepen at Restoration City.  If you’re looking for ways to serve or give this Christmas season, check out a full list of opportunities to trade up at restorationcity.church/christmas.

Calendars & Checkbooks

calendar-checkbook“Show me your calendar and your checkbook and I’ll show you your priorities.”

I honestly can’t remember the first time I heard some version of that statement.  It’s been attributed to so many people that I have no idea who said it first.  But I know it’s true. It’s true for my life.  It’s true for yours.  And it’s true for our church.

It’s something I think about a lot for us at Restoration City.  It’s easy to talk about our values, come up with a nice website and sprinkle some vision into a sermon every now and again.  But it’s how we spend our resources – both time and money – that shows us our priorities.  

That’s why I love knowing that last year we gave slightly over $58,000 as a church to partners outside of our own walls.  For the record, that doesn’t include money raised or given through short term mission teams.  We gave to church plants, to local partners and to international partners.  We’re participating in God’s work in DC, Brooklyn, Kenya, Tanzania, Nicaragua and many other places.

That’s why I love knowing that ServeDC starts tonight and runs through this weekend.  We’ll be serving with nine different partners all over our city.  We’ll have Restoration City people cleaning up parks, working on Gunston Middle School, distributing meals and participating in many other tangible expressions of love for our city.

Could we do more?  Absolutely!  Am I satisfied with where we are? No!  But I love what God is building through this church.  I love measuring our success by how much we give away – in time and money.  By God’s grace, we’ll continue to give away more of both.  I want our calendar and checkbook as a church to be pleasing to God and to reflect His priority, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.“(Lk.19:10)

Celebrating Generosity

surplus

This past Sunday, I shared some incredible news with Restoration City about God’s financial provision for our church throughout the past fiscal year.  I know talking publicly about money can be awkward and I even debated how specific to be in this post.  Ultimately, I decided to be as specific here as I was on Sunday because it’s not a story about our church.  Although this story is best told with numbers, it really is a story about the faithfulness of God and the generosity of His people.

At the start of the fiscal year that ran from September 2015 – August 2016, we felt God leading us to adopt a $482,445 budget. To be honest, that seemed crazy to me for a church plant that was only 11 months old! I remember asking Dan Iten, our Operations Director, how much of that money we had to spend and how much we could pull back if giving didn’t meet our expectations. Well, giving didn’t meet our expectations; it exceeded them! Through your generosity, the Lord provided $511,714.43! At the same time, we were able to hold expenses to $456,395.32, meaning we finished the year with a $56,000 surplus. That’s incredible for a 2 year old church plant! So many of you have sacrificed so much to make that happen and I can never thank you enough.

In addition to strengthening our operating reserves and saving for some long term needs, our elders felt compelled to give $6,000 of this surplus beyond Restoration City. We were thrilled to make an additional $1,500 gift to four of our external ministry partners, which continues a pattern of giving that is essential to us at Restoration City. As part of our budgeted expenses for the past fiscal year, we had already given $52,186.42 to other ministries, including church plants, international missions, and local ministry partners.

More than a few friends have joked with me in the last couple of days that announcing a surplus is a pretty amazing way to get people to stop giving to the church!  To be honest, I hope it has the opposite effect.  Personally, I love knowing that over 10% of everything I give to Restoration City goes beyond our church to other gospel partners!  It makes me want to be more generous, not less.  I’m praying you’ll feel the same way – inspired to continue giving, to increase your giving or to start giving to the vision of Restoration City.  We’ve significantly increased our budget for this year to just over $700,000, so we need your ongoing support. But I’m not just asking on behalf of our church. I’m asking on behalf of those beyond the walls of our church who are touched by your generosity. By God’s grace, we’ll exceed the $58,000 we were able to give this year and be able to do even more in the year to come.

Ultimately, our generosity is motivated by Jesus who “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9).  A generous church makes the gospel visible to the world around us in a way that’s utterly captivating.  Wouldn’t it be awesome to be know for our generosity as a church?  

If you would like to set up a recurring donation to Restoration City or make a one time gift, you can do so at RestorationCity.Church/Give.  I would love to have you participate in the culture of generosity God is creating at Restoration City!

Moving Away From Greed

This time last week I was driving a moving truck down 95 from DC to Durham.  Yes, that means today is pretty much an upgrade no matter what happens.  It also means I’ve been thinking a lot about moving recently.  And thinking about moving has made me think about materialism, greed and my obsession with stuff.

It wasn’t until we started packing up the house in DC that I realized just how much stuff we had.  I’d lived in the same house for over 8 years – that’s more than enough time to accumulate more than enough stuff!  What really struck me wasn’t how much we had but how much of it was just totally unimportant to me.  It didn’t matter if we brought it to Durham, put it in storage or gave it away.

Now I know some of you are getting ready to throw the “good for you, Captain Self-Righteous” flag.  Don’t.  Because that is NOT how I felt when I bought all of that stuff.  I remember how much I wanted that CD, how cool I thought that shirt was, how essential those shoes were to impressing that girl, how I bought that tv even though I couldn’t afford it, etc…  Less than 8 years later, that treasure had faded to junk.

King Solomon said the same thing in even more extreme language:

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.”

– Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

Our culture sells us a perpetual chasing after the wind.  And I fall for it a lot.  I still have a list of things I want right now – stuff I really want, stuff that will make me cooler or happier or better.  But the gospel frees us from needing the latest and greatest because we already have the best and ultimate in Jesus.

So, I’m trying to remember the lessons of moving – today’s treasure is tomorrow’s junk.  Before you make that next purchase, ask yourself if you are even going to care about whatever it is in a year.  My guess is a lot more will stay on the shelf thanks to that question.