Matt's Monday Meditation
Monday, October 26
Have you ever stumbled in some type of epic way? It is embarrassing and painful. Tripping and falling is common among us. It is easy to do, and quite often it is costly. James 3:2 says, “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” Perfect in this verse carries the meaning mature. James 3 sheds light on speech stumbles. If you missed yesterday’s message on the chapter, you can catch up here. The mouth is the last frontier of moral development for maturing Christians. I think the image of stumbling is rather helpful.
Look around you. Folks take stumbling seriously. You often see signs warning of slippery floors. Carpet is replaced at tremendous expense if it becomes a fall hazard. Corporations pay hefty insurance premiums in anticipation of stumbles. Managing and preventing stumbles is a full-time job for some. It needs to be a regular concern for all of us. We can agree on these things:
- Stumbling happens.
- Less stumbling makes for a better life.
- Nobody avoids stumbling on accident.
- We must be intentional about avoiding stumbling.
God has promised to give wisdom to anyone that asks. He will empower us to mature in godly speech. Let’s commit to depend on him as we walk through this world.
“So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12
Tuesday, October 20
Please accept this Monday Meditation on Tuesday. Oops! We encountered quite a text Sunday morning. If you missed the message, you can catch up here. James 2:12–13 are verses that beg for deeper meditation. I am intrigued by the New Jerusalem Bible’s rendering of the text:
Talk and behave like people who are going to be judged by the law of freedom. Whoever acts without mercy will be judged without mercy but mercy can afford to laugh at judgement.
Words, sticks, and stones join together to build a life. We craft our world from talk and behavior. These things are coupled in scripture numerous times. James challenges us to measure our words and deeds on the scale of gospel mercy. This frees us to live with confidence in the presence of our great and good God.
So this week –
Witness to yourself. Remind yourself why you have hope. Clue – God’s Mercy!
Think about your words. Do they reflect the good news?
How about your behavior? Does it honor the gospel?
I pray that you have a wonderful week.
Monday, October 12
Our message yesterday was from James 1:9–27. This is a powerful piece of scripture. If you missed the message, you can catch up here. Let’s look at a small portion of this text.
Humbly welcome the Word which has been planted in you and can save your souls…. But anyone who looks steadily at the perfect law of freedom and keeps to it—not listening and forgetting, but putting it into practice—will be blessed in every undertaking.
James was profoundly against worthless religion. He was a champion of Christ-honoring, people-blessing, profitable religion. This type of religion is Word-centered. We can pursue valuable religion when we humbly welcome the Word. We encounter the Word in Christ, scripture, and the proclamation of the gospel. Our daily times with the Bible and prayer create space for the Spirit to speak to our every undertaking.
This week, why don’t we commit to try with God’s help to:
Listen to the Word
You can go back over this week’s message. You can read along with our church reading plan and join the midweek online Bible study. You can simply do what you do with your regular devotions. Make time to listen to God’s Word.
Remember the Word
Bible study and devotions are not standalone events. They are moments of restoration that move us to reengage life. Remember that receiving the Word is a “so that” type of activity. We are prone to forget. Ask God to help you remember the Word this week.
Put the Word into Practice
We all can probably place our fingers on a godly truth we need to apply in our daily lives. There is no time like now. The Word is a word of freedom. When we apply it, God blesses our undertakings. This assurance does not mean God owes us a jet plane or a third home. It does mean that we live life as God would have it when we live by the Word.
Monday, October 5
We began a new message series yesterday called Religion: A Study of the Epistle of James. If you missed it for any reason, you can catch up here. Religion is a relentless topic. B. H. Carroll once said, “Religion. It’s a big word over the world.” Religion can be toxic—even demonic—yet there is no true spirituality without religion as God would have it. That message is the focus of James. I believe that it will be a fruitful study for us.
The text for this week included one of the great Bible promises: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (James 1:5 NRSV). Let’s humbly confess that wisdom lack is one of our perennial problems. We never get so full of wisdom that we don’t need more. So today:
Let’s recognize our need for God and his wisdom.
Let’s ask God to give us wisdom.
Let’s celebrate God’s goodness by thanking him.
Let’s act according to his mercy.
Monday, september 28
This week’s Monday Meditation first appeared in Preaching Today. Matt and FBC Waco member David Smith collaborate to expand on some of the themes from our “Pay Attention” sermon series, which concluded yesterday. Their advice on overcoming distraction to cultivate love will help other pastors, but it also equips each one of us charged to proclaim the good news of Jesus day by day. Click here to read “Light in the Gallery” at Preaching Today.
Tuesday, september 22
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. Revelation 22:17
I believe that Revelation 22:17 is one of the most thrilling verses in all of scripture. It is an open invitation to live with God. It is also a challenging call to share this life with others. We gathered around this text Sunday. If you missed the service you can catch up here.
I shared a quote in the message from Findley Edge that is significant. Hear it again:
“The Christian’s testimony must be incarnate but it must also be a testimony given by word. The spoken word is never really effective unless it is backed up by a life, but it is also true that the living deed is never adequate without the support which the spoken word can provide. Thus, one of the central tasks of the Christian is to give a witness in word.”
Allow me to offer a pastoral challenge this week. Pray about a person in your life that needs to hear an invitation to life with God. Write the name down. Begin to look for openings to gently and lovingly nudge them toward Jesus. Take a risk. Ask for help. This is a central task. This is a sacred duty. This is a proper game of joy.
Monday, september 14
I hope you had a good Sunday yesterday. It is always a good Lord’s Day when we are reminded of the gospel. If you missed the service, you can catch up here.
Christ liberated and gathered us through the cross. This is our song. A good verse for us to meditate on this week is Isaiah 12:2: Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.
Revelation 5:8–14 is called The New Song or The Song of the Lamb. It is a song of our redemption and is comprised of four stanzas. Each line teaches us something important concerning our salvation.
- The Lamb was slain. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.
- The Lamb redeemed us to God by his blood out of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. Every person and group has been judged by the just judge. No one is without sin. All have fallen short of the glory of God. Every person is also precious to God and the focus of his costly grace.
- The Lamb made us a kingdom of priests to serve God. Out of “every” God gathered an “us.” The church is a community of differents and difference. We represent God before humanity and humanity before God.
- We shall reign on the Earth. The Lamb has prepared a good future for those that love and follow him. Christ is the hinge of history; therefore, we live with a horizon of hope.
As you begin a new week, take some time to preach the gospel to yourself and pray for opportunities to share it with others.
Monday, August 31
Our family would like for you to know how sincerely grateful we are that you recognized my pastoral anniversary yesterday. Our life among you over the last ten years has been a blessing to us. Thank you for being the people you are and for doing all you do. We look forward to the days ahead.
Monday, August 24
We began a new message series yesterday titled Pay Attention. If you missed the first sermon, you can find it here. We began in the beginning by paying attention to God as creator. I made ten theological assertions that I believe are important.
- God created out of nothing. The doctrine of creation ex nihilo is an important part of an orthodox Christian understanding of God and God’s world.
- God acted in freedom. Creation is a work of grace.
- God created all.
- God declared creation good.
- The mystery of evil is related to disordering good creation. Sin is vandalism of God’s
- God is independent of creation.
- Creation is truly dependent on God. Read Psalm 90 this week. It is a wonderful psalm about God’s eternity and our frailty. Take some time and pray through 90:17: “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, And establish the work of our hands for us, Yes, establish the work of our hands.”
- Humanity bears the image of God. Every person you meet has inherent dignity, “for in his own image God made humankind” (Genesis 9:6b).
- Sound creation theology challenges some very malignant “isms.” Yesterday we talked about deism and materialism. That list is certainly not exhaustive.
- God created seen and unseen things. God is the maker of Heaven and Earth. The immanent frame is an illusion. We are not alone.
We began this new series talking about our origins. We will move this week to answering the question, “What in the world happened here?” I hope you will join us in person or online.
We took encouraging steps yesterday with some of our groups meeting again and starting an afternoon college service. I look forward to new life being stirred this Wednesday. God has been faithful, and we have much to celebrate.
Monday, August 17
We gathered to worship God yesterday and were confronted with a fine line of scripture: “…yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this” (Ezra 10:2b). We can receive and cultivate “in spite of this” quality hope. If you missed the message yesterday, you can find it here. Spend some time this week appropriating the principles we talked about.
We cultivate “in spite of this” hope when we rend our hearts. (Ezra 9:1–3)
“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” —Joel 2:13
We cultivate “in spite of this” hope when we revere God. (Ezra 9:4)
Isaiah said, “Hear the word of the LORD, You who tremble at His word….” Humility before God opens us to wisdom and discernment. This gives way to hope. This helps us deal with issues when they are small and keeps us from sin and sin’s consequences. P. T. Forsyth once said, “Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.”
We cultivate “in spite of this” hope when we rest in our relationship with God. (Ezra 9:5–9)
Ezra repeatedly said “my” and “our” when speaking of God. Restoration and spiritual growth take place within the bonds of relationship.
We cultivate “in spite of this” hope when we repent. (Ezra 9:10–10:2)
Repentance is gasoline on a hope fire. Do not resist it.
Have a great week.,
Monday, August 10
Yesterday we focused on leadership lessons from Ezra 8. If you missed the message yesterday, you can find it here. Leadership development is part of our congregational mandate: “We exist to lead all generations to love God, one another, and the world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Leadership is both sacred and needed. Will Willimon once said, “Leadership is necessary only if an organization needs to go somewhere and if an organization is accountable to a mission more important than its own survival.” Both of these “only ifs” fit our church.
Ezra 8 outlines four processes of spiritual leadership:
- The Convening Process
- The Coordinating Process
- The Collaboration Process
- The Consecrating Process
These processes are vital for healthy congregations. Our church is currently working on strategic plans for the fall and 2021. This planning happens each year at this time. This year offers special challenges. Pray for our staff, church council, nominating committee, budget and finance committee, personnel committee, and other church leaders. Pray that each and every member of FBC Waco will embrace the mandate to lead others to love in the Spirit of Jesus. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
Thank you for ten good years. Our family is grateful for the opportunity to serve among you. We pray you have been blessed and encouraged as well.
Monday, August 3
Five Ways to Seek the Word of God
“For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord…” Ezra 7:10
Yesterday we explored how Ezra modeled a healthy engagement with scripture. We all want to prosper under the word. Here are five things we can do to seek God in the scriptures:
I believe that every Christian needs a Bible reading plan. Here are a few good ones:
- The Joshua Hays Plan – Josh has developed a good reading plan for FBC Waco. We also offer a midweek online bible study that links with one of the readings. This is a great place to start.
- M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan – This Bible reading plan is easily available online and has been around quite some time. It allows you to read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice in a year. R.T. Kendall recommended this plan to me, and I’ve benefited from it.
- Chronological Bible – A chronological Bible is a good investment and makes for a fruitful year of Bible reading. It helps gain a sense of scope and sequence.
- lectio continua – All you need is a Bible and bookmark for this one. It simply calls for reading the Bible a little at a time from beginning to end. You go at your own pace. Beth Moore recommended this approach during the Truett Preaching Conference last November.
- Audio – Listen to the Bible being read. Yes, this counts!
Seeking the Word requires faithful study in the community of faithful believers. This is one of the core practices of the church. If you need help connecting with others for scripture study, please let one of your pastors know.
Bible memory work isn’t just for kids (although it is way easier for them). Memorize small bits at a time. Draw verses for memorization from your leisure reading.
One of the gifts of scripture memory is that we can turn our reading into prayers. There are two books I recommend that help here:
Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney
A Prayer Journey with the Apostle Paul: Sixty Devotion by Elspeth Taylor and Michael Green
I preached a series of messages called Praying with Paul. These messages are archived on our church website. Paul is a model for praying scripture because he prayed scripture.
Ezra prepared his heart to seek the word and do it and teach it. Application is the goal of engaging scripture. Here again the John Mackay quote I shared yesterday:
A Christian filled with the Holy Ghost is the redemptive counterpart of the fanatical devotee of political religion. People consumed by the inner fire of the Spirit are the counterpart in human life of the smashed atom which releases cosmic force. It is not enough that I hear the Word of God and obey it. It is necessary that the Word of God becomes incarnate in my flesh in a spiritual sense, that Christ be formed in me, and not simply to me. If there are theological dialecticians who declaim against piety and decry mysticism, so much the worse for them and their future leadership in Christian thought and life. What we need, in a word, within the Christian Church, if the church is to match this hour, is Christians who are utterly Christian, in whom the full potentiality of spiritual life becomes manifest.
Have a great week.,
Monday, July 27
So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendent of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. Ezra 6:14
Life grinds to a halt from time to time. We let disappointment and discouragement set in resulting in a sort of psychic paralysis. This happens in times of decadence and in times of want. It can happen anytime. God is gracious. He steps into our quagmires with dislodging words of encouragement. The Ezra narratives tell of just such a time. God’s people prospered under the preaching of two God sent prophets. The little book of Haggai helps us see how this was done and what we can do to prosper under the Word.
We can reapply the word. Haggai 1:5
God’s people forgot who they were and what they were to be about. We can return to scripture to hear afresh. We can reapply the word.
We can accept reality. Haggai 1:6
Max Dupree said, “The first job of a leader is to define reality.” Haggai helped the people see that their lives were not flourishing because they were living in godless ways. The word helps us see things the way they truly are.
We can repent. Haggai 1:12
We can return to God and God’s ways. Repentance is a gift from God and leads to courage and sanctified ambition. Proverbs 28:1 reads, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
We can be revived. Haggai 1:13-15
James 4:8 admonishes us, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Nearness to God stirs our hearts and animates our lives. Revival is life and we all need it.
We can refocus. Haggai 2:3-9
We often get discouraged because our vision falters. We sometimes don’t see things quite like God wants us to. Godly vision leads to strength and life.
We can prosper under the Word of God. God still speaks, leads and encourages. Spend some time this week pondering Haggai 2:4. It’s a word for your mire.
Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.
monday, july 20
We began a new message series yesterday titled, Now There Is Hope. It is a five week series based on the book of Ezra. I am excited about the series because the stories of Israel’s post-exilic life are currently feeding my soul.
If you missed yesterday’s sermon you can see it here. In the message I talked about our family dogs Lilly Belle and Sam. The meme, reminiscent of our dogs, illustrates an important truth. We all experience events in different ways. As a church we are called to move forward together, recognizing and honoring these differences.
Ezra 1:5-6 helps us understand how to go about this. Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites – everyone whose heart God had moved, prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings. Look at what this teaches us:
We can move forward together in accord with the Spirit’s promptings.
When I as a young pastor the deacons always prayed, “Lead, guide and direct us.” I think that line is part of the unofficial Baptist prayer book. God has been answering that prayer from generation to generation. The Spirit of Jesus is in our midst to move us in appropriate ways. We can humbly trust God.
We can move forward together through careful preparation.
The exiles were moved by God and shaped by preparation. Robust spirituality needs organized religion. We are in the midst of a complicated planning season. I believe that God works in the middle of planning. Please pray for fruitful preparation.
We can move forward together through full participation.
“All their neighbors assisted…” No one was left out of the God honoring ministry. Not everyone moved but everyone was part of the movement. You are a vital part of God’s work through FBC Waco. You can pray. You can give. You can encourage. You can…
We are all being marked by a trying season. The world is fragile but it is not godforsaken. God still moves. We can move with him.
Monday, July 13
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” —Colossians 3:17
The words whatever and all stake a claim. We can’t sort our lives into neat categories, giving God a place. He won’t be sorted out. This recognition means that we should live purposefully knowing that our practices reveal our identity. Words are mighty, actions speak, and Jesus is Lord.
In yesterday’s sermon I offered four filter questions that are helpful when determining a course of action. I remind myself of them from time to time and recommend it as a healthy practice. The questions are:
Whose am I? - The Stewardship Question
As Christians we believe that we truly and rightly belong to God. This conviction gives our lives a richness that can be a source of witness to others who are living in a more three-dimensional world. Philosopher Charles Taylor said that many are experiencing a “malaise of immanence” because they are buffered from God. He described it like this: “our actions, goals, achievements, and the like, have a lack of weight, gravity, thickness, substance….” It does not have to be this way. We belong to God. This truth impacts our words and deeds in profound ways.
Who am I? - The Shape Question
God created you to be unique. There are things God wants you to do because of who you are and how you are shaped. Don’t try to be someone else or wish for their gifts. You are God’s handiwork.
What do I have? - The Supply Question
God has entrusted us with assets. He wants us to think about them in light of his lordship. God asked Moses, “What is in your hand?” He asks us the same question today.
What shall I do? - The Service Question
When we faithfully answer the preceding questions, we are prepared to take a step of faith and act for the Kingdom of God. We are coworkers for the Kingdom. We serve together because we belong to Christ.
The Soul Culture series was a joy to prepare. I believe that we surfaced helpful scriptural principles. We will continue to develop and use them as we continue to grow together as followers of Christ. If you’d like to keep this Soul Culture conversation going, the next opportunity is a webinar at 11:00 am this Wednesday sponsored by Truett’s Center for Ministry Effectiveness. You can register for the Zoom conversation here:
Monday, July 6
I preached a sermon at Paisano a few years ago titled “The Ox Principle.” It was a fun camp meeting message, and I still find it helpful. You can check it out here. As I was preparing to preach this Sunday’s message, I ran across a verse that surely demands a sequel to “The Ox Principle.” A sermon on Ecclesiastes 10:10 could easily be called “The Ax Principle.”
“If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success” (Ecclesiastes 10:10). The Texassissippi rendering of that verse is, “Life is hard. Life is harder if you’re dull.” Ax sharpening is a fine image for the importance of planning. Plans are a real element of soul culture and a defining aspect of life success.
We explored three levels of faithful planning in yesterday’s message. The levels are ultimate concern, broad ambitions, and concrete plans. For the follower of Christ, life’s ultimate concern and broad ambitions are stark givens. They come with God’s grace. Concrete plans are made as we live our lives purposefully in light of the givens. This is the nitty gritty work of baking daily bread using Christ’s ingredients.
We need to sit down and plan so we can rise up and work. We need to sharpen the ax. Plan the work. Work the plan.
The Ax Principle was instilled in me as a kid through a family story. My great-grandfather Ody Lee Snowden was a talented carpenter. In 1929 he was hired to hang doors in The Threefoot Building in Meridian, Mississippi. The sixteen-story art deco building would be the largest in the city, a genuine skyscraper.
Ody agreed to be paid per door. He showed up early every day and sharpened his saws and chisels. He thought everything through over a cup of coffee and then went to it. He hung doors like a mad man. After a bit they asked to put him on salary. He declined, kept hanging doors, cashed out, and started the family business. The story acquired mythic status, The Ax Principle.
Are you planning your life according to The Plan (Kingdom) of God? The great American theologian Dolly Parton once said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Sit down. Sharpen your ax. Have a cup of coffee. Get after it.
I love you and hope to see you soon.
Monday, June 29
Monday, June 22
hin places, the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.
The door cracked for me yesterday. When I placed my Bible on the pulpit and looked into your eyes, the Kingdom came for a sweet, nearly overwhelming moment. I will never forget it.
Being the church includes a measure of going to church. Matter matters. I am soberly aware that going to church will not be like anything we’ve known for a season of time. We are all prepared for that and will calmly live together in patience and hope. With that said, I am glad we have resumed worship at 5th and Webster.
Human flourishing requires the careful balancing of a host of concerns. This week Josh and Baylor’s Byron Johnson published an important piece in Baptist Standard that underscores data we need rattling around in our head. Please take some time to read it as you wade through all the sound and fury in the news this week.
Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety. —Proverbs 11:14
Monday, June 15
Wear Your Mask This Time
If I had a dollar for every youth camp and Disciple Now I’ve participated in over the years I would buy a beach house in Port Aransas. I’ve been a camper, counselor, preacher and parent. I was in Dawson McAllister’s big tent. I stood up when Al Denson told me to. I vividly recall Al Fike playing music with his hands and talcum powder in Panama City. There are a number of things I laugh about today but I’m mostly just grateful for the tired adults that tried to help us find Jesus in all of it. That’s why I became one of the tired adults.
One of the most popular youth camp sermon topics was hypocrisy. They were trying to coax some genuine Christianity out of the soil. Their main opponent was the Deep South cultural version of, “the faith once delivered”. Some of the messages had elaborate props. We were told that the word hypocrite came from a Greek word for actor. Camp preachers are often seminary students that like to show off their Greek a little. Actors in Jesus’ day wore masks. We were told hypocrites wore spiritual masks at church. They were fakes. We were passionately told to take off our masks and never put them back on again. Masks = Bad!!! This message is part of the mixed cassette tape playing in my soul.
Today is Monday June 15, 2020. I’m many years and miles away from Dawson’s big tent revival. Today I’d like to encourage you with the same vigor we encouraged Mark Matlock when he tried, once again, to break out of the straight jacket (he was an Evangelical version of David Copperfield) to PUT YOUR MASK ON WHEN YOU GO TO CHURCH. Leave the spiritual one off but put the cotton one on your face.
A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that among all the strategies for reducing transmission of COVID -19, wearing face masks may be the central variable that determines the spread of the virus. This is encouraging news. Imagine the upside. Consider the minimal investment for the maximum good.
In my former life as a teeball coach I learned not to draft Texas boys named Nolan. There are plenty of them to choose from. Being named Nolan does not guarantee any measure of baseball ability but it does guarantee a baseball dad with visions of Nolan Ryan’s namesake beginning his long march to Cooperstown on your teeball team. Who doesn’t love Nolan Ryan? He recently did a little life coaching for us. In case you missed it here is what he said:
As we open Texas from business, we all need to work together in the fight against COVID-19. As Texans, we need to be responsible. We need to be smart. So when you leave the house, don’t be a knucklehead. Wash your hands, socially distance yourself from others and wear a mask. Do the right thing. Look out for your fellow Texans and together we’ll make it through this.
We are living through a series of “next normals”. We are likely going to be engaged in a prolonged balancing act. There are many elements of the common good that must be considered at the same time. Let’s be wise and do the best we can. So friends, wear you mask when you go church.
Monday, June 8
We continued the One Bread, One Body message series yesterday by focusing on doctrine. If you typically watch on television and missed the message, you can watch it now on the church website.
Jaroslav Pelikan defined doctrine as “What the church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches and confesses on the basis of the Word of God.” The faith has rich content, and the ideas have consequences. Robust Christian theology is part of God’s strategy to rectify the world.
I recently read an instructive book by Alan Noble titled Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age. Noble made a case for the power of doctrine in the cause of Christ. He offered a threefold agenda for bearing witness in the world as it is. He said:
“The best strategy for addressing our society’s condition is to offer a disruptive witness at every level of life. On the personal level, we need to cultivate habits of contemplation and presence that help us accept the wonder and grandeur of existence and examine our assumptions about meaning and transcendence. At the level of the church, we must abandon practices adopted from the secular marketplace that trivialize our faith, and instead return to traditional church practices that encourage contemplation and awe before a transcendent God. Finally, in our cultural participation, we can reveal the cross pressers of the secular age and create space for conversations about the kind of anxieties and delights that we repress in order to move through adulthood.”
We are called to love God, one another, and the world in the Spirit of Jesus. Loving all three with our mind means we give attention to our beliefs as a real element of soul culture.
Have a great week. Pray for me as I pray for you.
Moday, June 1
I Corinthians 10:17 says, “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” This verse will guide our thoughts over the next several weeks as we walk together through the message series One Bread, One Body. Pray for the Holy Spirit to move in our church as we focus on the health of our congregation’s soul culture.
The idea of soul culture is borrowed from J. B. Gambrell’s essay “Working a Batch of Dough.” Gambrell wrote, “There is no greater nor more hopeful task before us than to culture our people as to bring them to a New Testament way of thinking and feeling. This culture is perhaps as much needed in the so-called highest circles as in the lowest. I am not thinking now of worldly culture, but soul culture, growing out of a deep experimental knowledge of God.”
The great and hopeful task of culturing the congregation is advanced when we consider soul culture’s real elements in light of scripture. The real elements are:
This Sunday we will explore belief as a real element of soul culture and recommit ourselves to the faith once delivered to the saints. We all partake of one bread. The Word of Christ has consequential content. That is honest good news.
We will gather again Sunday evening under the oaks. It was great being with so many of you last night. It was a positive first event, and we learned a great deal that should make week two much better. Joel Gregory will be our preacher Sunday night at 7:00 P.M. Joel has a word that is sure to encourage our church family. Make plans to join us if you are able.
Monday, May 18
I was encouraged by our youth-led service yesterday. I am grateful for each contribution and the mature way our students led us in worship. The living water theme was wonderful.
When I heard about what our students were planning, I started humming a song I learned as a kid in Mission Friends. Maybe you know it:
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.
Spring up, O well, within my soul.
Spring up, O well, and make me whole.
Spring up, O well, and give to me
That life abundantly.
A great deal of splishing, splashing, and gushing generally accompany the beloved little chorus. It’s a fun song to sing. It also carries a message so serious it’s worth laughing about. God wants to fill us with himself to the point we pour life on others. God wants to bless us with a dynamic spiritual life because he loves us and wants us to be a channel of his love to others. Living water. Out of our bellies. Amazing.
A few weeks ago, I attempted to quote B. R. Jones and erroneously attributed the quote to B. T. Roberts. They were both Free Methodist leaders and preachers with initials for names. Mea culpa. The actual quote was stellar. B. R. Jones was a Free Methodist bishop during the Spanish flu. His journal offers helpful insights into ministry during a pandemic.
Jones wrote, ”It is with a sense of pleasure that we close the year’s work and take a retrospect and see how the Lord has blessed by giving us grace and physical strength to execute the work assigned to us. But in view of what has been done and what might have been accomplished it is with humble hearts we prostrate ourselves in the dust before the Lord and seek a greater baptism of the Holy Spirit for the purpose that we may be more aggressive and useful in our blessed Redeemer’s cause.” That old-school Methodist grit is inspiring and instructive.
Even now we can look back and give thanks for God’s strengthening grace. In the present moment we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. We ask. God joyfully responds. Gush. Life. Abundantly.
Monday, May 11
Some movie scenes rattle around in your head for long stretches of time. Then they settle in your heart. Then they come back up to meet a new thought, make a fresh connection. Greta Gerwig produced a scene in her film Lady Bird that has had this impact on me.
Lady Bird is a high school kid at a Catholic school in Sacramento, California. Her guidance counselor is a salty old nun named Sister Sarah Joan. In a meeting to discuss Lady Bird’s plans and a college entrance essay, Sister Sarah Joan says, “You clearly love Sacramento.” This conversation follows:
Lady Bird responds, “I do?”
“You write about Sacramento so affectionately,” the nun says, “and with such care.”
“Well,” Lady Bird replies, “I was just describing it.”
“Well, it comes across as love,” Sister Sarah Joan says.
“Sure,” Lady Bird says unconvincingly. “I guess I pay attention.”
Sister Sarah Joan then has a point to make, in the form of a question: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing, love and attention?”
Paying attention is at the heart of Christian discipleship. We can announce our love for God with our lips, but our focus measures our true affection. Theologian John Webster wrote, “The task of theological reason is to pay constant and ever-fresh attention to the gospel, with a measure of focus and single-mindedness.” This is the highest call. It is also the most practical strategy because the gospel endeavors to work itself out in life’s particulars. A pointed particular is the way we used our God-given ability to speak.
This Sunday we were reminded that God desires from us to be persons that impart grace to others. We are enabled to do this when we attend to God’s grace for us, grace that has a past, present, and future tense.
Let’s commit afresh this week to pay attention to Christ and his way. We will find the resources necessary to give grace to others. Have a good week!
So, then, we must pay all the closer attention to what we heard, in case we drift from it.
Monday, May 4
March on, be strong my soul!
Sometimes the sanest thing you can do is talk to yourself. The Psalter is filled with examples of powerful self-talk. Deborah commanded her soul to march. Godly self-talk is an important ingredient for a rich spiritual life.
We introduced The 3 Rs of Inspirational Self-Talk yesterday. We can Rehearse God’s story. We can blow Reveille until our hearts awaken. We can Resolve to pursue the life God has prepared for us. I believe this strategy can serve as an important spiritual practice and one we truly need during this challenging season.
It is humbling to recognize that God has made us to be agents of his purpose. We are redeemed to make a difference. We have been saved to serve. God is at work, and we are part of God’s work. We are factored into his methodology.
The poem in Judges 5 celebrates God’s work and our part in it. In verse 5:20 it is clear that Kingdom power comes from above and beyond: “From the heavens the stars fought; from their courses they fought….” We are not alone in the universe. This is no closed frame. God is alive.
Verse 5:23 emphasizes the human responsibility aspect of God’s work. In this verse a group of Israelites were judged for skipping out on the summons to engage in God’s forward march. John Goldingay translated God’s complaint this way: “...they didn’t come when Yahweh was helping, when Yahweh was helping against the strong men.”
God is helping. May it never be said of us, “They didn’t come.” Speak to your heart. Speak that your soul may hear. March on, be strong my soul!
MOnday, April 27
Words are powerful. Careless or hateful words bounce like sparks into kindling. They do tremendous damage. We were reminded Sunday that godly words are also powerful. They are like seeds. They seem small and insignificant, but they carry the mystery of life. James said, “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace” (James 3:18, ASV). God’s work is often done with godly words.
We speak of the word of God in a threefold sense. Christ is the word of God. Scripture is the word of God. The word of God happens when the Holy Spirit anoints Christian proclamation. Proclamation is both formal and informal. It happens in large groups and across the table. Words have power because words are given actual power. Karl Barth said, “We thus ask: ‘How is the Word of God?’ and the answer is: It is on our lips and in our hearts as the mystery of the Spirit who is the Lord.”
We should continue to pray this week for wisdom and godly words. We can also pray for God to open ears and hearts for gospel seeds. As our friend Kimlyn Bender said, “Knowledge of God is miraculous in nature…” (from Reading Karl Barth for the Church).
We had a Zoom meeting last week with ministry friends in Lebanon. We shared with one another about what life is like in our respective contexts during these Covid days. We prayed for churches, immigrants, and refugees. During the meeting John Raad said, “Pray that the gospel is fruitful. When people are open, they are open to anything.” That is both a sober warning and hopeful opportunity for godly words to do their work.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Paul asked the church to pray that “the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified….” Let’s make that our prayer this week. Let’s speak life.
Monday, April 20
Our friend John Anderson recently sent me an article published in medscape.com titled Why Clinicians’ Spiritual Health Matters in the COVID-19 Crisis. It was written by a chaplain named Elizabeth Berger. Berger made a remarkable statement in this piece. She said, “The pandemic is a global spiritual experience.” I won’t quarrel with her on this. We are currently focused simultaneously on the basic things and the most ultimate realities. This is fertile spiritual ground.
I am grateful to Maddie Rarick and Ryan Russell for sowing seeds into rich soil this week. The messages they spoke to our congregation blessed me, and I am confident they blessed you as well. They helped us see our true identity, our real home, and our vocation in the already/not yet Kingdom of Jesus.
Maddie invited us to hear again Peter’s words in 1 Peter, chapter 1. This text gives us a stunning understanding of our place in God. We are people “...who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance” I Peter 1:2 (NRSV). This is an orienting verse. It places us in God. It is the ground from which we draw our nutrients.
Ryan’s Sunday sermon opened Ephesians 5 to us. It was a reminder that we walk with an unhurried God, and yet we walk in the light. Ephesians 5:10 is a simple verse that can serve as the basis for a truly dynamic spiritual life. Paul says, “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” A young pastor once asked R. T. Kendall for advice. The seasoned veteran simply said, “Find out what grieves the Holy Spirit and don’t do that.” We need brakes and a steering wheel.
A global spiritual experience is an invitation to think big and focus small, to imagine life in God and focus on small details. Maddie and Ryan helped us do that this past week. I am grateful.
Until the glad reunion!
Monday, April 13
“Only” can be a lonely and pitiable word. We are often guilty of using “only” when “and” is far better. Paul took issue with “only” in 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” He believed that we should hope in Christ in this life and in the life to come. The “and” makes the difference.
The gospel shapes an “and” perspective. The Christian message is a transcendent and immanent reality. It points beyond and draws near. In his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone wrote, “The Christian gospel is God’s message of liberation in an unredeemed and tortured world. As such, it is a transcendent reality that lifts our spirits to a world removed from the suffering of this one. And yet the Christian gospel is more than a transcendent reality. It is also an immanent reality—a powerful liberating presence….”
Jesus gives us hope in this world. The Spirit is with us, and God is for us. We can keep the feast with a “nonetheless” attitude because of the gospel. We can persevere. It is also more than okay to grieve, lament, and long for God’s good future. We need liberation now and forever.
This is how I processed Easter Sunday 2020. There was something right and beautiful about celebrating the way we did yesterday. We rang the bells nonetheless. I shed a few tears of joy knowing God never leaves us or forsakes us. It was also a really painful day. There, I said it. I simply won’t accept it as a new normal. Crisis drove us to things I despise. I also shed tears of lament yesterday for not seeing your faces. I long for life without the greasy reside of the Fall; therefore, I hope—and not for this life only.
Let’s let the immanence of Christ’s gospel stiffen our spines for work in the world. Let’s let the transcendence of Christ’s gospel lift us to a rock that is higher. Let’s learn to say “and.”
Monday, April 6
The rocks remain silent. We did the praising yesterday. Last night I thought of the old LaMarquis Jefferson lyric we used to sing in my youth pastor days: “Ain’t no rock, gonna cry in my place. Long as I’m alive, I’ll glorify his holy name.” Grace has taken that youthful defiance and hardened it into resolve. God is good and a shelter in times of trouble. Let us continue to praise him.
Palm Sunday is behind. Good Friday and Easter are ahead. We are in the midst of The Story that changes the story. Lesslie Newbigin once wrote, “A community of people that, in the midst of all the pain and sorrow and wickedness in the world is continually praising God is the first obvious result of living by another story than the one the world lives by.”
We have a unique role to play in the World. We are Christ’s servant community. We are to tend to the Lord’s needs by serving others. We are to witness to his aliveness by being church to one another. We are to worship him with our hearts, minds, and bodies. I pray that you find energizing ways to serve King Jesus this week. Listen to the Holy Spirit speak through scripture. Keep the Lord’s Supper. Sing. Connect. Tell the rocks to wait their turn!
Monday, March 30
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” 2 Corinthian 1:3–4 (NIV).
Our text for the week is Isaiah 61:1–3. We meet the Anointed One in this passage of scripture. The Anointed One preached Good News. The Anointed One announced God’s favor and invited life-transforming surrender. The Anointed One warned of just judgment.
Perhaps the most surprising and wonderful task fulfilled and being fulfilled by the Anointed One was and is the ministry of comfort. I am delighted that Jesus looked at Isaiah 61 and basically said, “That’s me.” We serve a comforting Christ.
He comforts us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. David prayed, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The Lord is with us. Let’s find comfort and courage in that.
He comforts us through his promise. We ended worship this week with 2 Corinthians 4:16–18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” The Lord’s promises are kept. What a comfort!
I pray that we will lean on God’s comfort this week. This will prepare us to give as we have freely received. Hang in there y'all.
Monday, March 23
I thank God every time I think of you. I am thinking about you nearly all the time. Please pray for me as I continue to pray for you.
Your church staff is faithfully working to lead our church through an ever-changing challenge. They are godly, tough, and joyful men and women, and I am proud to call them my friends. We will continue to communicate with you through all the means available to us. Please continue to communicate with us.
We must lean on one another and on an unchanging God in swiftly changing circumstances. Our congregational text for this week is Isaiah 53. This chapter is a pinnacle biblical text. Fleming Rutledge said, “…it serves as a guide for the New Testament as a whole.” It is about God’s plan for our salvation.
Isaiah 53 calls us to behold God as redeemer, victor, and moral example. As you read and meditate on this biblical chapter, I ask you to:
- Thank God for your salvation. Recall how you came to know Christ and thank him for the hope this salvation gives.
- Imagine the future victory God has promised over sin, evil, and death. Read to the end of the Bible. It works out!
- Ask God to show you ways you can follow Christ during Waco’s Shelter in Place.
- Do not get bored. “Boredom is rage spread thin” (Paul Tillich).
- Call me if you hear of needs: 601-616-5413
Monday, March 16
Devotion from Matt
“But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah 50:7
Yesterday was weird and wonderful. It was weird because our routine was blown to bits. It was wonderful because it was the Lord’s Day and we worshipped our living God. We will continue to so do!
Many of you were able to participate through Facebook Live. Others of you will watch the same service this Sunday morning on KCEN. I am grateful for these platforms because they help gather us around a common Word. As a preview/reminder, let’s consider a biblical passage together for a moment.
Sunday’s sermon text was Isaiah 50:4-11. Isaiah gives us an anatomical sketch of the Lord’s Servant. His tongue, ear, back, and face reveal key aspects of following the Lord in trying times. The Servant’s tongue is a picture of compassionate ministry to the weary. His ear speaks to wisdom from God. His back is a metaphor for sacrifice. His flinty face is a portrait of resilience.
We are called to follow The Servant of the Lord and serve through the strength He provides. Sunday’s sermon text was selected long ago, but I could not have chosen a more fitting one for this time. My prayer is that our common life and ministry during this season will be shaped by the values of the Servant: