Welcome To The Neighborhood, HQ2

Crystal City

I remember being horrified when some of the buildings in our neighborhood started getting covered with this weird, quasi-artistic fabric.  I assumed Crystal City was trying to turn eyesores into art but couldn’t figure out why they were broadcasting just how many buildings in our neighborhood were sitting empty!  And then I learned it was all connected to Amazon’s search for a second headquarters.  Crystal City was putting together what a lot of people saw as a long shot bid to bring HQ2 to our little part of the world.  Turns out it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all and Amazon’s moving into the neighborhood!

This is a really big deal for our city, our neighborhood, and for us at Restoration City Church.  Only time will tell exactly how this will impact our church but as one of a very small number of churches that gather in the Crystal City/Pentagon City area, it’s going to have a big impact on us.  No doubt we’ll face some challenges (I suspect our rent is going up!) but HQ2 also presents us with tremendous opportunities.

At the very least, Jeff Bezos picking Crystal City should impact how we think about our neighborhood and city.  It’s no secret that Crystal City has had a bit of a self esteem problem for a long time – it’s hard not to when your claim to fame is an underground shopping mall!  Not only have we not been the trendiest neighborhood in DC but DC in general doesn’t always have the best reputation as a place to live.  People come here for their careers but it often seems like they’re counting the days until they leave from the moment they arrive.  Sometimes that’s just a function of being stationed at the Pentagon, which always comes with an end date.  Cost of living is a big and understandable part of it.  Kids frequently take the blame for it, “Yeah, this place is great for now but when we have kids we’re out of here.”

In all honesty, it’s been a long time since this felt like a place where people are excited to live.  I know I’ve felt that as a church planter – people are happy to have found a good place to go to church while they’re in DC but, man, they can’t wait to go back home.  So, it’s a massive boost to our collective psyche to have Amazon pick this place!  Truth be told, DC really is a great place to call home and Crystal City is worth getting excited about – our church loves gathering here and  Laura and I love raising our family inside the beltway.  It just feels really good to see other people getting excited about a place I really love.

HQ2 also means there are going to be a tremendous number of people moving into the neighborhood.  We’ve always cared about serving our community and loving our neighbors – this just means there are going to be so many more to serve!  We’ll be talking more about this on Sunday but God has given us the privilege and the responsibility of being Christ’s ambassadors in this neighborhood.  He put us here in Crystal City just over 4 years ago at a time when no one really cared about Crystal City.  In fact, there were plenty of well intentioned people who told me we were making a mistake meeting here.  But God has always had a purpose for us in this neighborhood.  I sure didn’t know HQ2 was part of it, but He did.  There’s not a chance in the world we’re going to watch this pitch go by, Restoration City.  We need to recommit ourselves to loving our community, having an undeniably positive impact on our neighborhood and pointing people to Jesus.  God has us here for a reason!

This is a really big day for our city and it’s a really big day for our church.  Let’s be praying the Lord will give us the grace we need to navigate all of this well in the months and years to come.

We Need Your Help!!

kids

While God is doing so many incredible things in so many different areas of Restoration City right now, that work is probably most evident in RCC Kids.  Both our Parent’s Morning Out and Parent’s Night Out events are near capacity every time we offer them and our twice a month morning playgroup is thriving.  On top of that, our Kids team continues to partner with Community Group Leaders in making childcare available for CG’s that need it.  And then there’s Sunday morning!  We now have 5 classrooms per week that serve a minimum of 30 kids per Sunday, with that number increasing rapidly.  It’s honestly amazing to see what God has done through Alex Dibble and our children’s ministry team!

If you’re a member of that RCC Kids team, I want to publicly thank you for all you are doing to serve the parents and kids of our church.  You’re making a huge impact on families and the lives of these young kids and you’re sacrificing a lot to do it.  We all know you pour a lot of energy, love, and sweat into a Sunday morning!  And we all know you’re giving up the chance to be in the main gathering to do it.  Your willingness to serve says so much about your heart for Christ, His church, and the next generation.  On behalf of every family at Restoration City, I want you to know how grateful we are.  It’s no small thing to be raising our kids in a church where they’re excited to go to church and it’s your sacrifice that makes that possible.  So, thank you!  You’re incredible.

And we need more of you!

The only way to keep serving an increasing number of families and kids is by increasing the number of volunteers.  We need 12-15 volunteers per Sunday, plus the volunteers at  our additional events.  We only ask RCC Kids volunteers to commit to 1-2 Sundays per month so you still are able to be in the main gathering 2-3 times per month.  But that means we need a regular volunteer pool of 40-50 in RCC Kids.  Right now, that number is closer to 30 regular volunteers.  So, you can see the need for more help in response to how abundantly the Lord has and is growing this area of our church!

If you’re willing to commit to 1-2 Sundays per month, we want to get you trained and serving with us.  Our need is especially great in the summer since so many of our regular volunteers are traveling.  If you can help us love and serve these kids, please shoot Alex an email today.  She would love to talk with you!!

The Prison Of Passivity

Rearview Mirror

First of all, hi!  I know it’s been a while since I last posted and it would feel really weird to jump right back in without acknowledging that it’s been a couple of months.  I’ll post more about why I took the break and how God’s used it later but, for today, I just want to say I’ve missed this chance to connect with our church and am looking forward to posting more regularly.

If nothing else, this blog provides a convenient format for me to Monday morning quarterback my own sermons, which I feel the need to do today.  All last week, I had been so excited to preach yesterday’s message, “The Prison Of Passivity” but as I was driving home, I found myself concerned that I wasn’t as clear as I should have been.

I definitely wanted to shake all of us, myself included, out of the rut of passivity.  I just hope I did that in a way that built on the unshakeable foundation of God’s grace.  It’s grace that saves us, sustains us, provides for us, guides us, and transforms us.  If you take grace out of the equation, you no longer have Christianity.  Everything in our lives flows from the fountain of grace.

But that grace doesn’t exempt us from effort.  It empowers it.  And I think that’s where we tend to get confused, justify our apathy, and spiritualize our innate laziness or passivity.  As I said yesterday, what we see as grace in the rearview mirror of life always looks like effort through the windshield.  I fear that we’ve lost sight of that reality.

Yes, God parts the Red Sea.  But we still have to walk through it.  Yes, no one can come to the Son unless the Father draws them.  But God makes His appeal through our lives and our words.  Yes, it’s love for Christ that motivates us to spend time with him in the early morning hours of the day.  But it takes an alarm clock to make it happen.  Yes, any professional success we have is attributable to God’s grace.  But it’s also going to take a lot of hard work.

I was listening to a sermon from Pastor Levi Lusko on the treadmill this morning and heard him say, “If you see someone on the top of a mountain, you know he didn’t fall there.”  There was a long, hard climb to get there.  Jesus rarely offers a ski lift to the top.  He’s far more likely to empower us for the hike.

Praise God for grace.  We would be no where without it.  But that grace doesn’t exempt us from effort.  We want to be a people who see holiness and hustle as two sides of the same coin, not competing values.

So, whatever you’re up to today, “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col. 3:23-24).  Don’t live today locked in the prison of passivity.  Grace has freed you from that!

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!

 

 

Shooting In Del Ray

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When Laura and I moved back to D.C. to plant Restoration City Church, we rented a little row house in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.  It was right down the road from where our church was gathering in Crystal City and we quickly fell in love with the neighborhood.  It felt like a small town right in the middle of a big city, it was walkable and had great restaurants and coffee shops.  The coffee shops were a particularly big deal for me because they doubled as my office.  My favorite is a placed called Swings.  I would walk there almost every day.  It was only a few blocks from our house and I could get there even faster by cutting through a park with a baseball field.  It’s called Simpson Park.

And this morning a Member of Congress, a Hill staffer, a lobbyist and two Capitol Police Officers were shot there.  I know exactly where the 3rd base dugout is; I’ve stopped there to make phone calls on my way home.  When I hear media reports of Members of Congress being escorted to a basketball court, I know which one they’re talking about.  There’s a little park right by the left outfield; that’s where we put Aidan in a swing for the first time. Laura still shops at the Aldi across the street and I still spend a lot of time at Swings.  So, it’s more than a little surreal to think of a shooting happening in the middle of a place we know so well and love so much.

I’ve been distracted all day by the shooting.  I keep thinking about it, wanting more information, wanting it to make sense and knowing it never will.  It makes me sad to know the whole thing will be politicized.  It makes me sad to realize that our national political discourse is so divisive that this kind of violence is tragic but not surprising.  But there are two thoughts that keep coming to mind more than any other.

One, this is why we planted a church that still meets right up the road from Del Ray.  Not this specific incident but the brokenness it flows out of.  Not political brokenness, not even moral brokenness but spiritual brokenness.  The loss of hope that comes from not knowing God, the fear that comes from not trusting His guiding hand and the pain that sin unleashes in our souls.  The church doesn’t exist to make good people better or to keep Christians entertained on a Sunday morning.  The church exists to shine the life and hope of Jesus into our world.

Two, we must do more to love and serve our city.  I’m shaken up because violence has reared its head in my neighborhood.  But for too many in our city and in our world, this is a daily reality.  I’ve always lived in neighborhoods where people say, “things like that don’t happen here.”  But there are plenty of people who live in neighborhoods where people say, “another one?”  Jesus died for the people in those communities as well.  He died to make sure that hope wouldn’t be limited to affluent zip codes.  He died that every soul would have the opportunity to find life in Him.  Every soul.

I love the city I call home.  I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else or lead a church anywhere else.  My prayer is simply that we would be the church – willing to reach out, to care, to love and to serve.  And to pray.  To pray for those shot, for their families, for our city and for our nation.

New Series: margin.

margin_right-page-001We’re going to be taking a break from Boundless for the next couple of weeks as we start a new series of messages at Restoration City Church.  I honestly believe it’s one of the most important series we’ve ever done as a church.  We’re going to deal head on with one of the greatest joy killers in our lives – a total and complete lack of margin.

Dr. Richard Swenson defines margin as “the space between our load and our limits.”  For way to many of us, that space is nonexistent – we operate at our limits every single day.  Our calendars, our checkbooks, and our emotional capacity is maxed out.  We just don’t have anything left in the tank, yet alone in reserve.  If many of us are honest, we’ll admit that we’re carrying a load that actually exceeds our limits.  We’re running at 110% of capacity but justifying it under the guise of “it’s only for a season.”

That’s just not the way God designed us to live.  The Author of Life tells us that we work best when we build margin into all of the areas of our lives.  It’s one of those truths in the Bible that we all agree with but all struggle to live out.  That’s what this series is for – helping us deal with the heart issues that rob our lives of margin.  I’m not going to waste your time with a feel good, gospel free pep rally for a calmer life.  We’re going to explore how the gospel demands and empowers margin in multiple areas of our lives.

As your pastor, I’m asking you to prioritize these next few Sundays.  This is a conversation we need to have as a church.  It’s also a fantastic time to invite non-Christians to join us on Sunday mornings.  I’m praying we’ll all find the next few weeks helpful, challenging and inspiring.

Wellspring: A New Year’s Guide

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Whew, 2016 was quite a year.  So much happened and, if you’re like me, you haven’t had enough space to slow down and process it all.  That’s why I’m really looking forward to this weekend.  You can’t help but pause and think around New Years and I want to be super intentional about that this year.

To help with that, we’ve created Wellspring, a 3 day devotional guide.  Our church is going to be walking through this over the weekend instead of gathering on Sunday morning.  If you would like to follow along, we would love to have you!

Wellspring is designed to help us press beyond superficial examinations of the past year or shallow resolutions for the coming year.  It’s designed to help us focus on our hearts, realizing that’s what really shapes our lives.  So, if you want to press under the surface and get to the source, Wellspring is for you.

You can access the guide at rcc.church/wellspring.

ServeDC: Undeniable Positive

servedc

If you’re around Restoration City at all for the next 2.5-3 weeks, you’re going to hear a lot about ServeDC.  You’ll find out it’s central to our vision as a church and you’ll find out we really, really want you to be involved in some way.  Please, join with us for an incredible 3 days of loving our city by serving our city.

ServeDC is something we’ve done as a church since before we launched our Sunday morning gatherings 2 years ago.  It’s a concentrated weekend of service where we mobilize as many people as possible to make as big an impact as possible in a short period of time.  We have opportunities for you to serve with 9 local partners starting on Thursday evening and running all the way through Saturday afternoon.  You’re more than welcome to sign up for one shift but we encourage you to sign up for more if you can.  We’re trying to blitz the city with the love of Jesus!

Lord willing, we accomplish three goals through ServeDC:

  • Give you a chance to meet other RCC people outside of your Community Group.  That’s why we host a cookout on Saturday evening – it’s a great chance to gather the whole church in a totally relaxed, social atmosphere.  It’s also why we encourage you to serve multiple shifts with multiple different groups of people.  Break out of your normal crew and make some new friends!
  • Connect you with long-term opportunities with local ministry partners.  We want you to serve with a partner that’s a good match for your passions and interests.  Do something that looks like fun to you and benefits a group close to your heart.  And go in open to the possibility that God might call you to be involved in that ministry beyond ServeDC.  Who knows?  God might use this weekend to connect you with a ministry that will be a huge part of the story He’s writing in your life over the next few years.
  • Show our city the restoring power of the gospel.  Let’s be honest, when most people think about Christians, “servants” isn’t the first word that comes to mind.  But if Jesus came “not to be served but to serve”(Mk.10:45) shouldn’t we be known for the same?  After all, He was the One who washed feet and told us to do the same. (Jn. 13:14-15)  We want our community to experience the love of Jesus through the ways we serve.

As a church, we talk a lot about having an undeniably positive impact on the world around us.  We aren’t just trying to keep Christians busy on a Sunday morning.  We want people who’ve never been through the doors of Restoration City to be grateful for our church.  There should be much joy in our city because our church exists (Acts 8:8).  ServeDC is one small step towards that goal.

And I’m asking you to join with us in having that kind of impact.  Please, get signed up now for one or more shifts.  It’ll only take you a few short minutes.  Click here to join us.

Rest For The Powerless

sleep

Little kids and sleep is a really tricky combination.  There are times when I fight like crazy to keep them awake so I won’t have to fight like crazy to make them go to bed that night.  There are nights when they just pass out in my arms and there are nights when the whole bedtime routine is an exhausting battle of wits and wills.  From what I can tell, most parents who boast about how great their kids sleep are lying…the bags under your eyes and venti coffee in your hand is what gives it away, in case you’re wondering!

Yet, there’s something about little kids sleeping that is so captivating to our adult minds and souls.  It’s not what keeps them up at night.  It’s what doesn’t keep them up at night…stress and worry.  Our amazement is compounded by how truly powerless they are.  There they lay, no ability to take care of themselves, no clue what tomorrow will bring, no control over even the smallest aspect of their days.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

We, on the other hand, are experts at laying awake.  The more powerless we feel, the more sleep we lose.  And let’s be honest, there are a lot of situations in our lives that make us feel powerless: our health, a wayward child, the status of a relationship.  All to often, we feel powerless at work, powerless over our future, even powerless over the direction our country is taking.  Power feels like it belongs to someone else – teachers, professors, bosses, shareholders, politicians, whoever…just not us.

If you’re tracking with me, I want you to know there’s hope.  It comes from a Persian King named Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther.  We’ve been talking a lot about him at Restoration City the last couple of weeks and he’s helping me sleep better.  In the world’s eyes, Ahasuerus was a really big deal.  He ran the Persian Empire, which stretched from Ethiopia to India in those days.  The whole thing was massive – 127 provinces worth of massive.  And Ahasuerus was a fool.  This political giant was comically inept.  He enters the story as a drunken mess and things only get worse from there.  The man can’t make a decision to save his life, even when it comes to his own family.  He gets suckered into exterminating the Jews for a cheap bribe and then changes his mind because of two good meals and the possibility of sex.  Yes, he takes out a guy who seems to be threatening his wife but even that feels more like “don’t play with my toys” than “I’ll fight for her honor.”  The guy is a clown.  Yet, God uses him for his purposes.

There are some obvious parallels to our world (insert Election 2016 commentary on comically inept political giants).  But that isn’t the only link.  It also has to do with our jobs, our relationships and our finances.  It has to do with the powerless places in our lives.  The places that keep us up at night with stress and worry.

The Bible doesn’t try to talk us out of that feeling of powerlessness.  In fact, the Bible helps us see that we’re all more powerless than we imagined.  But it does hold out the promise that all of life is playing out under the watchful eye of the Almighty.  God was working through the King of Persia to accomplish His will.  Guess what?  He’s doing the same thing through your boss/landlord/professor.  Yes, even the clueless one who seems intent on doing you harm.

We lay awake at night because we’re terrified we don’t have what it takes.  Yet, our kids sleep just fine knowing they don’t have what it takes.  Their hope and security is in the power of another.  So is ours.  His name is Jesus and He holds everything together by the power of His will.  Nothing can separate you from His love.  He holds the world in His hands and He’s moving His plans and purposes forward.  Trust Him.  He won’t let you down.  And He just might help you sleep through the night.

Community Group Open Houses

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The entire McGowan family loves Sunday nights!  And that has nothing to do with having made it through the busiest day of the week for us.  It’s all about how much we love our Community Group and how much we look forward to coming together on a weekly basis.  Those times are huge for our family – a chance to connect with friends, process what God is doing in our lives, pray together and encourage one another in our walks with Jesus.  Added bonus…the kids love it too…and the food is really good!

If you aren’t connected to one of our Community Groups, we want to make it as easy as possible for you to find one that works for you.  So, next week (Sunday – Thursday evenings), each of our Community Groups are hosting an Open House.  There’ll be plenty of food and a lot of space to get to know other people in the group.  Instead of doing a formal Bible study, we’re just going to take time to hang out and get to know one another.  So, it’s a really easy week for you to check out one of our groups.

Here’s the bottom line – Jesus restores us in community.  God will do some of His deepest work in you through other people.  If you read through the New Testament, you will see the phrase “one another” used at least 59 times.  In other words, so much of what Jesus calls us to can only be obeyed in the context of the community.  A life of isolation is not only unfulfilling but also disobedient to the pattern of New Testament Christianity.  

As a church, we invest a lot of time and effort in Community Groups.  It’s not that we think you need one more thing on your calendar.  In fact, we know you’re probably already over scheduled and will need to intentionally create space for a Community Group.  We do it because discipleship happens in the context of community.  We do it to create spaces for God to work through others in your life.

Don’t settle for attending Restoration City.  Please, get connected!  For a full list of Restoration City Community Groups, visit our website.  One of them would love to welcome you next week.