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

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!

RCC…In The Library

Restoration City Church | 06.30.19

Life as a portable church can get really interesting at times. Like when you get a call at the end of the day on Wednesday letting you know that all the AC in the middle school you meet in has been turned off for a system upgrade and no one knows how long all of this is going to take. That’s where we were this time last week. And then we found out on Thursday that the library had AC and decided to meet there as a stopgap while we got a better sense of what our overall plan was going to look like for the summer.

In all honesty, my prayer going into last Sunday was something along the lines of, “Dear God, please help this not be a total disaster!”

Which turns out to have been way too small of a prayer. Not only was Sunday not a disaster, it was a really good day in the life of Restoration City. Over the course of the morning, we started to realize we not only had a workable solution for as long as we are out of the theater (BTW, we will be adding more chairs this Sunday!) but also that God is using this season to do some pretty significant things in our church.

Here’s some of what I see Him doing and how I’m praying for this season:

Church is NOT an event we attend. It is a community we join.

We say that all the time but there’s something about breaking out of our normal routines that drives the point home. If nothing else, everyone walked into the library on Sunday without “their normal seat.” As a result, many of us, even those who have been attending RCC for a long time, met new people.

I’m praying that our temporary location makes us even more welcoming for new people and even more connected to each other as a community.

Worship is NOT something we listen to. It is something we participate in.

Standing really close to one another in a room filled with natural light really seemed to drive this home. There were so many moments on Sunday when I couldn’t tell who was louder – the band in front of me or the congregation behind me. As simple as it sounds, hearing one another sing is a massive spiritual encouragement.

I’m praying that our temporary location intensifies our expectation for and participation in corporate worship.

Adversity is NOT something we should fear. It is something God uses.

We aren’t shrinking back into survival mode for the summer. We’re trusting that God is going to do something incredible. He’s already doing that through the registration for our Summer Sessions and we’re trusting Him to add a significant number of new volunteers to our team through the Help Wanted initiative we’re going to be introducing this Sunday.

I’m praying that we add at least 25 new volunteers who are willing to serve regularly in one of our six internal team while we are meeting in a temporary location.

Ultimately, I’m praying we carry all of these things back to the theater with us when the AC upgrade in complete, whether that’s in 2 weeks or 2 months. God is doing some great things in our church right now and I’m so excited to see what He has in store for us this summer!

Mid-Day Prayer

mid day prayerA few months ago, our staff team added a new rhythm to our daily schedules – stopping to pray at 11.30.  These prayer times are really simple, nothing complicated at all.  We spend a few minutes in silent, personal prayer and then come together to read God’s Word and pray.  When we first started moving in this direction, I knew it would be good for our team and for my soul.

What I didn’t know is how hard it would be to carve out this time.  And I don’t mean that in some sort of “poor, overworked pastor” kind of way.  In fact, my job should make it so much easier – I’m paid to pray and it’s still a challenge!  The problem isn’t my schedule – it’s my heart.  By that point in the day, I’ve gotten a decent amount of work done (hopefully) but there’s also been enough time for a decent amount of work to pile up – emails, questions from our team, texts, phone calls, you name it.  And whatever has piled up always feels so urgent right at 11.30.  How can I stop to pray when I haven’t gotten back to so and so yet?  How can I stop and pray when I have unanswered emails?  What about that meeting this afternoon? And on and on and on…

But that’s really the point.  There’s always going to be another email to answer, a text to return and a phone call to make. Always.  Whether I pray or not.  So, my only real options are (a) some undone work plus time with the Lord or (b) some undone work and no time with the Lord.  Trust me, I feel the pull towards option b but I know my soul needs option a.

In fact, I’ve learned that the harder it is to stop, the more I need it.  I need to be reminded that the future of this church doesn’t rest on my shoulders.  Jesus is the head of the Church, not me. (Col. 1:18)  Yes, I want to lead with diligence (Rm. 12:8) but that diligence absent the power of God won’t accomplish anything. (Jn. 15:5).  Yes, I want to do my work as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23) but productivity can never take the place of sitting at the feet of Jesus. (Lk. 10:42)

I’m sharing all of this because I want to invite you to join us in this rhythm.  If you can do that in person, great.  I’m serious – we would love to have you come join us in our Crystal City offices any time you can make it.  Just email Alex (alex@rcc.church) and she’ll get you everything you need.  But if you can’t be with us at 11.30, set an alarm on your phone.  When it goes off, pause and pray.  If you can only carve out 60 seconds, that’s better than nothing!  But my guess is you could carve out 5-10 minutes if you got creative.  And, just to state the obvious, there’s nothing special about 11.30 – if that doesn’t work for you, pick another time.  Just be consistent because it’s that consistency that ingrains it in your daily rhythms.

Adopting this rhythm might be one of the more significant changes you make in your relationship with Jesus this year.  It’s a beautiful reminder that our hope in in Christ, He provides the grace our lives run on and He’s with you in the midst of the trials and temptations of your day.  Don’t just spend time with Jesus in the morning to check a box.  Lingering at His feet for a few minutes in the midst of the chaos of our days reminds us that His grace really is sufficient for the challenges of our real, complicated, broken lives.

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!

 

 

Tennessee Mornings

Ocoee

It’s pretty easy to spend time with Jesus in the morning when you wake up to this view.  At least that’s what I found last week when I got to spend a few days in East Tennessee speaking at a student summer camp.  I could hardly wait to wake up in the morning, grab a big cup of coffee, sit in a rocking chair on the front porch, take in the majesty of God’s creation, read His Word and spend time with Him in prayer.  To make it even easier, the cabin I was staying in had no phone line, no internet and no cell signal and my nearest neighbor was miles away.  Just to complete the picture, Laura and the kids were at her parents, so there were no little voices asking me for juice or to telling me they had to go potty.

So, I would sit there in silence and solitude. Read a little.  Pray a little.  Talk to myself.  Talk to God.  Reflect.  It was all kind of surreal…kind of like I found my own Walden Pond, in a really good way!

And somewhere along the way, I found myself thinking, “this is the way life should be.” That’s an unsettling thing for a guy living in an apartment in the city with a family of five to be thinking.  But, I suspect all of us city dwellers think similar things when we get out of town for a bit, right?  If we had different jobs, more space, less traffic, and simpler lives we would have better relationships with Jesus.  In short, if we lived elsewhere, we’d be healthier.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s something really good about getting out of our routines.  My friend Mark Batterson says it so clearly, “change of pace + change of place = change of perspective”  He’s totally right and I’m all for vacations, retreats trips out of town and speaking at any church retreat with a good view!

But blaming our spiritual apathy on our surroundings is a cop out.  That was a point the Lord drilled home one morning last week with a simple question in my spirit, “John, which are you enjoying more, me or the view?”  Ouch.  Was I reveling in Jesus or in a novel experience?

When it comes to spending time with God, we all have a tendency to put too much hope in the experience and too little hope in experiencing God.  We spend so much time getting ourselves comfortable and creating an experience that will look amazing on Instagram and so little time enjoying Jesus.  Any time we lose sight of the fact that Jesus is the best part of any experience, we’re headed for trouble.

What mattered last week wasn’t the view.  What mattered is that God was there.  He wanted to speak.  I wanted to hear.  And that’s transportable.  That’s available in DC.  That’s available everywhere.  To every one of us.  Today.  Tomorrow.  And the next morning.

Don’t settle for an experience when God invites us to experience Himself!

 

How’s Your Prayer Life?

Pray Beach.jpg

If you want to make the average Christian feel guilty, ask them about their prayer life.  We all have this sense that we should be praying more and that when we do pray, we should be getting more out of it.  All too often, we reduce prayer to reciting a to do list in the presence of God or just firing requests His way like He’s a hyper competent concierge.  Although, if we’re honest, we often have little to no confidence that He’s actually going to come through on anything we’re asking.  Then we read passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing” and we throw our hands up in frustration.  Most of us are just trying to find meaningful time with God on a daily basis.  Many of us are wondering if it “counts” if we get that time on the Metro.  Pray without ceasing seems like a cruelly absurd joke.

All of that adds up to a tragic short selling of the way the gospel impacts our prayer lives. We think the goal of the gospel is to get us to pray.  Prayer becomes evidence of saving faith.  The frequency of prayer becomes a measure for our spiritual health.  And the whole conversation is limited to getting us to pray.  But the gospel does much more than compel us to pray.  It opens the door for prayer and shapes our prayers.

Apart from Christ, prayer isn’t possible.  You can meditate, talk to yourself, or fling requests in the direct of a fictitious higher power.  But you can’t connect with God.  You can’t “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)  That confidence only comes through a relationship with Christ that allows us to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)  But in Christ, we’re welcomed into the very presence of God Himself.  Not as beggars but as children.  Not as someone who needs to take a number but as someone who can feel His embrace.

The most significant evidence of the gospel’s work in our hearts isn’t that we pray, it’s what we pray.  This is where I’m frequently convicted – I often pray for the exact same things my non-Christian friends would pray for if they believed in Jesus.  Listen, there’s nothing radical about praying for a raise, a good night’s sleep, a bigger house, a vacation, or a Red Sea like parting of traffic on the beltway.  It’s not even particularly Christian to pray for a date, a child, a spouse or the healing of a sick family member.  Should we pray for those things?  Of course!  Every good and perfect gift comes from God, so ask Him.

But we’ll know the gospel has grabbed hold of our hearts when we start to pray for things that wouldn’t even be on a non-Christian’s radar.  Our prayer lives should be marked by requests that God would kill our pride, give us opportunities to share the gospel, allow us to give more generously to His work, fight for the oppressed, lovingly stand for truth, die to ourselves, take up our cross, consider others more important than ourselves and use us for the sake of His name.  When those prayers flow from our souls, we’ll know that God is doing a deeply transformative work.

Here’s the funny thing – when we start praying that way, we start seeing God move in powerful ways.  We become, at times painfully, aware that God hears and answers prayer.  We realize how utterly dependent we are on His grace and His power.  We run to Him without even realizing we’ve slid into prayer.  Duty becomes delight.  Pray without ceasing starts to make sense.  And we connect with the One who made us for His own glory.

Want to upgrade your prayer life?  Allow the implications of the gospel to work their way into the depths of Your heart.  You’ll pray more.  But you’ll also pray differently.

 

This Fall At Restoration City

Fall At Restoration City.jpg

These are really special days for us as a church.

It’s Wednesday morning and I’m still celebrating everything we saw God do this past weekend.  We planted Restoration City for days like last Sunday – days of salvation and days of celebration.  By God’s grace, the dream of a vibrant community that loves Jesus, one another and this city is becoming a reality.  And I believe God has so much more in store for all of us.

Over the last weeks, I’ve been praying the heart of 1 Thessalonians 1:5 over our church; that the gospel would come to us “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”  Yes, it’s important that we sing the gospel and preach the gospel on Sundays.  Yes, the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rm.1:16).  Yes, our church is shaped by the gospel.  But if that ever becomes simply text on a website or doctrine in our heads, we’re in trouble.

I’m praying we will hunger and thirst for the power of God in our lives, in our church and in our city.  That’s what we need – the Holy Spirit of God to save sinners and send saints.  We need the rushing wind of God’s grace and love to blow through our Community Groups.  We need to be caught up in something so much bigger than ourselves. Something that can only be explained by the power of God.

I believe God wants to use 1 Thessalonians 1:5 to shape not just one weekend at Restoration City but this whole fall.  We’ve got an incredible few weeks ahead leading into ServeDC on October 27-30th.  I’m praying it’s a season of new life in Christ and new boldness in mission.  I’m praying we’ll be carried by the power of the Spirit like never before.

Will you join me in three simple commitments for this fall?

  1. Regularly praying 1 Thessalonians 1:5 over our church and your life.
  2. Boldly engaging with those around us who don’t know Jesus.  Invest in their lives.  Invite them to church.  Introduce them to Jesus.
  3. Welcoming those who are new to Jesus or church into our Sunday gatherings and Community Groups.

Nothing profound.  Just simple ways of participating in what God’s doing in our church and city.

I’ve never been more excited about what God is doing through our church than I am right now.  I pray we steward this season well.  I pray we’re able to hold out the grace and truth of Jesus in a way that’s worthy of the God we love so much.  I pray we see Him do what we can’t even imagine.  And I pray we never lose sight of the privilege it is to be a part of this together.

Reordering Our Prayers

Praying

One of the clearest indications that we’re growing in our understanding of the gospel is a continuous reordering of our prayer lives.  What we chose to talk about when we’re alone with God is one of the best indicators of what’s important to us.  In a lot of ways, prayer is a wonderful diagnostic tool for our hearts.

All too often, I’m not comfortable with what my prayers reveal about my priorities.  Like most of us, I can be extremely self focused.  My prayers tend to be about me, my circumstances, my needs, my problems, my desires and how God can help me have a better day according to my definition of “better.”  Sometimes, it feels like other people, our church or our city only get thrown in at the end as a formality.  Praying for others is something “professional Christians” are supposed to do, so I make sure that box is checked.  But what often goes unprayed for is my own heart.  It seems like I’m more interested in my circumstances than my heart.

But as we grow in the gospel, that gets inverted.  All of the sudden, we find ourselves praying for our hearts more than our circumstances.  So, the new gospel shaped prayer priorities look like: my heart, others and then my circumstances.  No, there’s nothing wrong with asking for our daily bread or making our requests made known to God.  We’re told to do that (Matthew 6:11, Phil 4:6).  But the psalms filled with far more prayers for our hearts than for our circumstances.  Consider just a few:

  • “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” (Ps. 90:14)
  • “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:10)
  • “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Ps. 84:2)

The gospel shaped heart realizes it’s greatest enemy is the sin within, not the circumstances around.  So, we pray for our hearts.

Then, we pray for others.  As God transforms our hearts, we can’t help but look to the world around us.  We see needs, suffering, injustice and people desperate for a knowledge of Jesus.  All of it breaks a heart shaped by the gospel and that shows up in our prayers.

Finally, we get around to praying for those things the Father already knows we need.

So, what do your prayers say about your priorities?  Heart, others, circumstances.  Which gets top billing in your time with God?

The Priority of Prayer In Evangelism

So much of the current conversation about evangelism in the church seems to center on techniques, strategies, and methods.  Seminary students can fight all day about whether the church should be missional or attractional.  Pastors are quick to share their latest tactics: it’s all about inviter cards, or Facebook ads or going to the same coffee shop every day or getting congregants to write the church’s website on their restaurant checks or just about anything else you can imagine.  No joke, I honestly got an email the other day offering a great outreach idea centered around duck calls!!

I wonder if all the focus on technique has caused us to lose sight of the role of prayer in sharing the gospel.  Is it possible that what the church needs is more prayer and less technique?

Don’t get me wrong – organized outreaches, evangelistic campaigns and tools that make it easier for a congregation to have gospel conversations aren’t necessarily bad.  In fact, they can be really helpful.  But they need to be balanced with what Jesus says in John 6:44:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

It’s the Father who draws people to the Son.  There’s nothing you and I can do to argue a dead man into life.  God does that.  Yes, we’re called to be ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) and witnesses (Acts 1:8).  Yes, we’re called to give an answer for the hope that’s within us (1Peter 3:15).  Yes, God told us to go into all the world making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).  But the work of conversation is a supernatural work of grace.

Do we pray like that’s true?

If we believe the Father is the One who draws people to the Son, our evangelism must be preceded by, accompanied by and rooted in fervent prayer.  Do you pray regularly for the people in your life who don’t know the gospel?  Do you pray for opportunities to share the gospel?  Do you pray God would make you effective when sharing the gospel?  If not, your prayer life needs a make over before your evangelistic effectiveness is going to increase.

I’m pretty sure those prayers would yield a lot more fruit than the newest evangelism craze.