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Eternal God, we come to you this morning praising your holy name. You are worthy to be praised. All blessing and honor and glory and power and dominion be to your name. You are rich in love, and You’re slow to anger. Your name is great, and Your heart is kind. You are the fountain of every blessing. Holy triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, eternally love giving and glorifying one another. Self-sufficient. Holy. Sovereign. Glorious. Mighty. Yes, Lord we praise you this morning.

Father, fill us with your Holy Spirit that we might know you, and your eternal Son, Jesus Christ more deeply for this is eternal life. Holy Father, keep us in your name, that we may be one even as you and Christ are one. Sanctify us Lord, sanctify us in the truth; your word is truth. Open they eyes of our heart to understand the depths of Scripture and rest in Jesus that our joy might be fulfilled. Send us into the world with great joy to share the good news of the gospel.

Father, we pray for those hurting and broken. Some here today are filled with pain and suffering, emotional and physical. Great Physician would you mend these wounds. Apply the balm of the gospel to the hurting; ease the pain of those suffering physical ailments. In the name of Jesus, bring healing in ways that only you know best. And we pray not just for those in this room, but for those around the world battling trials, suffering and sorrow. As we read the news our hearts break as we see terrorism and racism and violence and war. The suffering of the world is ever before our eyes. Forgive us for being so numb, so calloused, so unconcerned; cause these things that break your heart to break ours. We pray for racial peace in this country. We pray for religious peace and national peace around the world.

Father, we pray for our own government. As elected officials at the national, state, and local level begin new terms, grant them wisdom and insight. Help them rule with a sense of justice and to do what is right for well-being of the people. Father, as these officials and as supreme court judges have so often make decisions in weighty, complex polarizing ethical matters, would you grant them conviction to do what is right in your eyes, not just what is wanted. We thank you that we live in a country where freedom exists. Show us how to use our freedom wisely and how I’m to show proper respect to everyone, including those elected officials with whom we disagree.

Thank you for raising up men and women to serve as police officers and firefighters and other first responders. Thank you for those serving in the military in this country and in others, seeking to protect the welfare of citizens. We thank you have gifted men and women to serve and to protect your image bearers.

Lord God, we pray for our own church this morning. That you would continue to protect and deepen the unity we have. Cause us to always lay aside personal preference that we might have gospel unity. Cause us to treasure Christ above all things, delighting in his supremacy. Help us by your Spirit to behold your glory in the face of Christ. Give us the grace to serve one another selflessly, rebuke each other graciously, spur each other on eagerly. We pray for our sister Paola. Make your Word sweet to her and grow her in the gospel. We pray for J and L Bruce; we praise you for the work you’re doing in their lives and ask that the joy of the Lord would take root all the more. Thank you for the labors of M.H. and W. K. as they serve our church in so many unseen ways. Thank you for the labors of each Community Group leader. As we start back Community Groups this week, use these gatherings to develop new relationships and deepen existing ones. Use our time in Community Groups to help us care for one another and to labor and strive to present everyone mature in Christ Jesus.

Father, as we come to you this morning, we confess that we are not perfect; we have sinned against you. Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We confess that we are prideful and self-righteous. We confess that we get sinfully angry and carry around bitterness in our hearts. We confess that we are greedy. We confess that we discipline our children not out of love but impatience. We confess that we lie to protect our image. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. We thank you for the perfect life, sin-paying death, and life-giving resurrection of Jesus. Thank you for the mercy and forgiveness found in him alone. Fill us with your Spirit that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.

During our corporate worship service we take time to pray for other churches locally and globally. You may wonder why we do this? Well an article at Ligonier Ministers mentions 5 good reasons to pray for other churches:

  1. It encourages congregational humility.
  2. It will stimulate relationships between church leadership.
  3. It helps build networks of known faithful churches.
  4. It can help provide protection against the prince of this world, Satan.
  5. It strengthens our evangelistic witness.

Read the whole article here.

“We are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

That is amazing. It’s amazing that we are being transformed back to the way it’s supposed to be – into the image of Christ. This is also perhaps a bit disheartening. It’s disheartening because it only happens one degree at a time.

Degree by degree? Really? Wouldn’t we much rather get a formula where we could plug in this behavior plus that circumstance equals a change of 20, 40, 90 degrees at a time. But that’s not how God works. “One degree of glory to another” that’s how God works.

You can’t microwave true change. You can’t quickly manipulate Christ-like maturity; it comes from beholding over time. The trajectory of your life is not made in the big heroic moments; it’s made in the 1,000 small decisions made every day and week. Will you behold Christ or turn the other way? Little degrees here and there with every decision you make.

Will gather for corporate worship only if nothing else is going on or go out of your way to gather with the saints? A little degree. Will you use an excuse to miss Community Group or meaningfully engage? A little degree. Will you pursue comfort or deny yourself to serve another? A little degree. Will you check your email or Facebook 1st thing in the morning or read the Scriptures? A little degree. Will you cancel that discipling relationship meeting because you’re too busy or get done what you need to get done so you can meet up? A little degree.

I’m not trying to guilt you into any of these things. I simply want to show you that it’s the little things that add up over the course of time. Degree by degree; that’s how we change. If we’re not careful we can begin to think the little things don’t truly matter. But as you can see they do. We behold God even in the little things and this is what God uses to change us.

This past Sunday we looked at 2 Corinthians 3:18 which tells us that God changes us from one degree of glory to another. But here’s a question…

Doesn’t God, through the Holy Spirit, have the power to transform us 20, 40, 90 degrees at a time? And if so, why doesn’t he do that? Wouldn’t that bring him more glory? Wouldn’t that bring us more joy?

Let me answer first by saying that sometimes God does radically change us many degrees at a time. This certainly happens when we come to faith in Christ. We are changed from death to life. And this also happens in the lives of believers; sometimes they are radically changed through answered prayer or through a specific circumstance or by a certain passage of Scripture that grips their hearts. It can and does happen; we should pray for that to happen (Eph. 3:20-21)

But I don’t think this is the normal way God changes us. I think he normally changes us just as Paul says, degree by degree. So why does he do it that way?

Here’s my attempt to answer this question: God doesn’t change us 20, 40, 90 degrees at a time because he’s gracious.

He knows our hearts are fickle and prone to wander. And I think if we could do “X, Y, and Z” and be radically changed then we would stop trusting in Christ and start trusting in ourselves. We would think that we are stronger than we actually are; we would think that we could control more than we actually can; we would think that we obey more than we actually do. Our focus would be on ourselves and not on Christ.

Yes, God could have saved us and made us instantly perfect. But he didn’t. Instead he uses our beholding to transform us not instantly but degree by degree. I think he does this so that we won’t be tempted to trust in ourselves, so we won’t trust in ability to change, but we would always be growing in humility and dependence and gratitude for the One who changes us. So God is gracious and changes us slowly so that our gaze will always be upon Christ. And as we behold Jesus we’ll increasingly become like Jesus, degree by degree.

Let me be clear: This is not an excuse to sin, saying “Well I’m only moving in degrees and I’m not that far along yet so this sin is okay.” No. That’s not what happens when you truly behold the glory of the Lord.

When you behold the Lamb who has been slain in the gospel you realize that you’re not just saved of your sins but you’re saved from your sins; this propels you toward holiness. True beholding never leads to excusing sin; it leads to embracing the Savior.

And as we change degree by degree here on earth, we look forward to heaven. We look forward to the day when we’ll see Jesus as he is and this will change us  be fully and completely. To use the words in 1st John 3: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

Restoration Church, in 2015 lets resolve to be a church that heralds this gospel message.

  • Lets resolve to be patient in walking alongside our brothers and sisters as they move from one degree of glory to another.
  • Lets resolve to help each other focus not just on behaving differently, but encourage each other behold Glory.
  • Lets resolve to not excuse each other’s sin, but to humbly point each other toward the Savior.
  • Lets resolve to behold and then boast that others in our community might behold the glory of God in the face of Christ and join us in our delight.

Gracious Heavenly Father,

As we gather before your throne this morning, we sit in awe of you, Lord, not merely because of what you’ve done for us, Lord, but because of who you are.  As we celebrate the arrival of yet another new year, we are reminded, O Lord, that though this may be the 20th or 40th or even 60th year we’ve seen come and pass, you alone, O Lord, have born witness to every new year that there has ever been, beginning with the first, for you alone, O Lord, have existed since before time began, for you, O Lord, created time.  We praise you, Eternal Father! And we worship you, O Lord, for you are a faithful God! Unlike us, who make New Year’s resolutions we so often fail to keep, you, O Lord, are always faithful to fulfill your promises, and your plans, O Lord, always come to pass.  Praise your glorious name!

And we thank you, Lord, for the many ways you’ve displayed your faithfulness to us over this last year!

  • We prayed that you would draw more unbelievers to Yourself through the ministry of Restoration Church, and Lord, you have been faithful to do so.  Because of the great love with which you loved them, even when they were dead in their trespasses, you made Liam, Josh and David alive together with Christ! By grace they have been saved! Praise you merciful Lord!
  • We prayed that you would grow our body in spiritual maturity, and you have.  Through our Sunday gatherings, Community Groups, Discipleship relationships, Men’s and Women’s Retreats, Grudem discussions, and most of all through our time spent alone with you in prayer and reading your Word, you have increased our love for Christ, our love for your Word, and our love for one another. Praise you, O Lord!
  • We prayed that you would grow us in number for the glory of Your name, and indeed you have.  Not only did you draw numerous visitors to our Sunday gatherings, including some who simply saw our sign outside and decided to walk in, but you added so many dear brothers and sisters to our body as covenant members of Restoration Church, you created the need for more community groups to be established, and you blessed us with more children (including two born within the last few months!) to disciple through the ministry of Restoration Kids! How grateful we are, Lord!
  • We prayed for more elders, and you provided us with Chris and Deholo, two men who have been so faithful in shepherding our body and in pointing us to Christ, our Great Shepherd.
  • We prayed that You would plant a Christ-exalting Spanish speaking church in Columbia Heights, and indeed you’ve been drawing Spanish speakers to the weekly bible study at David Hill’s apartment, and you’ve connected our elders with Alejandro Molero, a man who could potentially lead the Columbia Heights church plant.  Praise you God! And please continue to grant our elders wisdom as they consider whether Alejandro should lead this effort.
  • We prayed that You would give us opportunities to build relationships with the community surrounding Woodrow Wilson High School, and you have.  Not only have we had the chance to meet neighbors while doing a food drive for the Central Union Mission and a toy drive for DC127, but you’ve blessed our body with the opportunity to, on a monthly basis, visit Friendship Terrace, a local elderly community, to build relationships with the residents there, to worship through song with them, and to share Your life-giving Word with them.
  • We prayed that you would strengthen the marriages within our church, and you have.  Our “newly weds” have grown to learn what it means to count one another as more significant.  And our “been marrieds” have learned what it means to trust you in new seasons of their lives, and they’ve seen your power to restore their marriages even when, in their eyes, they’ve appeared on the verge of breaking.
  • We prayed for fruit from our church’s involvement in the American Friends program at American University, and we’ve seen numerous international students attend our Sunday gatherings and engage in meaningful Gospel-conversations with our members.
  • We prayed for more generational diversity within our body, and by the work of your hand, we’ve seen Christians, who have been faithfully walking with you for many years, coming through our doors.
  • We prayed for the churches in Haiti, that their pastors would be faithful teachers of your Word.  You granted our church the opportunity to facilitate the translation of the book “9Marks of Healthy Church” into their native language of Creole, an effort which is nearing completion.
  • We prayed for jobs for members of our body and we’ve seen you provide abundantly for Emily, Travis, myself and others.
  • We prayed that we would be wise with our finances, investing them in a way that would serve to further your kingdom here in D.C. and abroad.  You provided us the opportunity to lease an office space that’s close to Woodrow Wilson High School, where our pastors can prepare sermons, counsel members and conduct elder meetings, and a place where members can host events like cultural immersion dinners and engagement celebrations.  And you gave us the opportunity to continue supporting a missionary to K, to support 9Marks ministry which helps to establish healthy Gospel-centered churches, and other local ministries around Washington, D.C.

Praise to you, O Lord, for you have heard our prayers!

And yet, despite your faithfulness, how quick we are to treat our time in prayer as insignificant and ineffective, simply an empty ritual that we practice because “that’s what Christians do.”  O Lord, please forgive us for this sinful pattern of thinking.  Please grow in us a confidence in knowing that you, indeed, hear our prayers and you use them to bring about your redemptive plan.  And please give us a desire to meet with you regularly, not because we have to, but because it brings us joy.

And Lord, please continue to bless the ministry of Restoration Church in the coming year! We pray that you would draw 20 non-believers to yourself this year, that you would draw 20 new Spanish speakers to the Columbia Heights bible study, and that you would draw to Restoration Church 20 more Christians who’ve been faithfully walking with you for many years!  We pray these things knowing that you are able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.  We pray that you would do so.

In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

From Tim Challies, here is a round-up of some of the ways you can read the Bible in 2015.

Ligonier Reading Plans. Ligonier offers what is probably the best and most thorough round-up of reading plans. They have plans that will take you through the Bible in a year, plans that will take you through the Bible in a few years, and plans that you can do at your own pace. Some of the plans involve only reading the Bible while others offer daily devotionals. There is something for everyone here.

ESV Bible Plans – The ESV site offers 12 different plans that are available in a variety of formats. You can also subscribe to their podcast which will allow you to listen to the Bible; if you do that you will go once through the Old Testament each year, and twice through the New Testament and Psalms.

Bible.com – Bible.com, which offers the amazing Bible app, has a long list of plans to choose from. You will need to use the site or app to access them.

Professor Horner’s System – Professor Horner’s System is intense—10 chapters per day. You’ll read 10 chapters from 10 different books each day, which means you’ll always be reading different combinations. It’s a great system but takes a lot of commitment.

The Change Your Mind Plan – This plan is very simple: “1. Choose a book of the Bible. 2. Read it in its entirety. 3. Repeat step #2 twenty times. 4. Repeat this process for all books of the Bible.”

Denny Burk’s Plan. Denny Burk’s plan goes through the Bible in a year in canonical order, one book at a time. There are a handfull of “catchup” days thrown in in case you get behind.

JCRyle

“These wise men believed in Christ when they had never seen Him; but that was not all. They believed in him when the scribes & Pharisees were unbelieving; but that again was not all. They believed Him when they saw Him as a little infant on Mary’s knees, and worshiped Him as King. This was the crowning point of their faith. They saw no miracles to convince them. They heard no teaching to persuade them. They saw nothing but a newborn infant, helpless and weak, needing a mother’s care like any of us. And yet when they saw that infant they believed they saw the divine Savior of the world! We read of no greater faith than this in the whole volume of the Bible!”

J.C. Ryle
(1816-1900; England)

Image Source: www.truthendures.com

RSibbes

“There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.”

Richard Sibbes
(1577-1635; England)

Image Source: Britannica.com

RBaxter

“Keep as far as you can from those temptations that feed and strengthen the sins which you would overcome. Lay siege to your sins, and starve them out by keeping away the food and fuel which is their maintenance of life.”

Richard Baxter
(1615-1691; England)

Image Source: www.higherpraise.com

JCRyle

“Here is the whole reason why many professing Christians never seem to get on; they are careless and slovenly about their private prayers. They read their Bibles but little and with very little heartiness of spirit. They give themselves no time for self inquiry and quiet thought about the state of their souls.”

J.C. Ryle
(1816-1900; England)

Image Source: www.truthendures.com

RMMCheyne

“What your [congregation] need from you most is your own personal holiness.”

Robert Murray M’Cheyne
(1813-1843; Scotland)

Image Source: ilyston.wordpress.com

© 2015 Restoration Church
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