Sermon Recap: A Subversive Kingdom

Note: This is the first installment of what I hope will become a weekly feature on this blog – a quick, think 500 words or less, recap of this past Sunday’s sermon at RCC. The goal is to help catch you up if you weren’t able to join us, reinforce key points if you were able to join us, add additional content, and create a resource you can share with friends or refer back to in your own walk with God. I’ll give you a one sentence summary of the talk, the key passage, and whatever else seems helpful. Hope it’s helpful!!

Sermon in a Sentence: Understanding why the Kingdom of Heaven causes so much controversy helps us endure conflict and opposition.

“You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:11-12 (CSB)

We’re gearing up for a collection of messages that will walk us through the Sermon on the Mount by taking two weeks to explore the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven as we find it in the first 4 chapters of Matthew’s gospel. When the Scripture says “kingdom of heaven”, we should think “rule and reign of God” or “community, culture, and creation operating under the rule and reign of God.” God’s Kingdom is about an authority, not about a territory. This notion of a Kingdom provides us with an incredibly compelling vision for our lives as followers of Jesus – a community of love, mercy, justice, and concern for the good of the world. Yet, this captivating vision has always created deep controversy. Why?

In this talk, we look at the three primary sources of opposition to the Kingdom of Heaven in the early chapters of Matthew’s gospel.

Political Leaders

Think Herod for this one. Sure, no one loves a political rival but this isn’t a legislator concerned about a strong challenge in their next primary. This is someone willing to murder every male child two and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. That’s next level.

And, no, this does not mean that if you work on the Hill, you’re a bad Christian and living in rebellion against the rule and reign of God in your life. The real question for each of us, regardless of profession, is how we use whatever power we have. If you use your power for the good of others, you’re in line with the vision of the Kingdom. But if you insist on using power for your own selfish gain, you’re pushing back against Heaven itself. This one is about power, not position.

Religious Leaders

John the Baptist really goes after the Pharisees and Sadducees when they come to check out his revival meetings, “you brood of vipers!” Not exactly the way to curry favor with the religious elites. But John is worried about religious complacency (you think you’re good with God because of the family you were born into) and religious condemnation (those who use the ethical teachings of the New Testament simply to judge, condemn, criticize, and look down on others). Hypocrisy, empty religion, earning favor with God, and condemning others have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember, Jesus comes not to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:17). The gospel offers both salvation and transformation by a grace that transforms our hearts and then our lives.

In short, it never ends well for religious hypocrites.

Evil Itself

Jesus and Satan go toe to toe in Matthew 4. Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world in exchange for His worship but Jesus will have none of it. Jesus and evil and categorically opposed to each other – they’re never going to get along, which is why so many of us are trapped in futility. We’re trying to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus but keep a little foothold in evil. We want Jesus and greed to coexist in our hearts or Jesus and any other form of self-centeredness. There’s got to be a way to honor Jesus and sleep with the person I’m dating, right? Wrong! Don’t waste time trying to get Jesus and evil to be friends. It’s never going to work.

Bottom line: Getting serious about your relationship with God always creates some controversy as the light of the gospel collides with the darkness of evil, empty religion, and the abuse of power. Hopefully, if we understand how the Kingdom of Heaven challenges the values of the Kingdoms of this world, we can find a little more strength to endure the challenges of our lives.

If you’re interested in more, you can watch the full message here or listen to it on our podcast.

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