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Monday, April 19

Reviving Mr. Bud’s Prayer Requests: Prayer for the Lost, the Providentially Hindered, and the Unconcerned in the Time of Covid

            When I was a seminary student in New Orleans, I had the privilege and pleasure of serving as pastor of the Wanilla Baptist Church. This South Mississippi congregation left a lasting on mark on Meredith and me. Life in the parsonage was every bit as educational as my formal studies in the classroom.

            The same group of faithful Christians shuffled in to three services a week at Wanilla Baptist. Sunday morning services had the big game feel and excitement. Sunday night was relaxed with plenty of time to walk through the books of the Bible. The Wednesday evening prayer service was the family gathering. We shared our burdens, worked out our problems, and from time to time swapped produce. The nights Paul Wilson gave out brown paper sacks of peaches are particularly memorable.

            Like in many congregations, prayer requests took on a bit of a predictable rhythm on Wednesday nights. After a little while you just knew who was going to pray for what. We all had sick folks we cared about. Certain people made sure the missionaries were covered. A saintly veteran always prompted us to pray for the national leaders charged with leading our country. A retired teacher made sure we lifted up teachers and kids. It was an organic division of labor. Mr. Bud laid claim to the most unique and consistently offered prayer request. Each Wednesday evening Mr. Bud asked us to pray for the lost, the providentially hindered, and the unconcerned. It took me a few Wednesday nights to sort out these categories. I think about them frequently these days as we navigate the residual impact Covid is having on the church. Mr. Bud’s categories are helpful.

The Lost

            Mr. Bud had a true concern for men and women who lived outside of a relationship with God in Christ. Jesus’s parables teach us that lost persons are precious. They were precious to Mr. Bud. They were his lead prayer request.

The Providentially Hindered

            Mr. Bud taught us to have prayerful concern for professing Christians that had life circumstances that kept them for gathering with their church community. Some of these folks were chronically hindered due to age or illness. We kept up with this group. We visited them. We prayed for them. They watched Charles Stanley and John Hagee on the satellite dish, but they would have rather been coming to church. Some others were acutely hindered through an emergency on the farm or a sudden commitment out of town. The bottom line was the providentially hindered would be actively engaged in the church community if they were solely in control of the situation. We felt for them because we loved them.

The Unconcerned

We did not let a Wednesday roll by without a prayer for the unconcerned. This group was a group of professing Christians that just simply did not engage the church any longer. They claimed Christ but had lost their commitment to the church. Mr. Bud loved these folks with a heartbroken family love. They were to be prayed for and encouraged. His attitude and actions are helpful in the current climate.

            Every Christian in the United States became providentially hindered on the same day in 2020. It has been a long and difficult road. God has been faithful, and the church has been creative and resilient. There is much to celebrate. There is also a great deal to be concerned about. As we progress from stage to stage out of the pandemic, Christians are reengaging the church in different ways. Some continue to be or have freshly become hindered by life circumstances. Church leaders must be sensitive to this category and minister accordingly. Others have been molded by new habits and have moved from hindered to unconcerned. The pastors I talk to are deeply concerned by this. It is time for every Christian to search his or her own heart. It is time for every Christian parent to search their calendars. For some Covid has moved from concern to cover. This is something worth praying about.

            I am leaning on Mr. Bud’s example these days. As the church continues to emerge, we are lifted by our prayers. Prayer turns into love, which turns into meaningful action. So friends, let us pray for the lost, the providentially hindered, and the unconcerned and keep an eye peeled for peaches.

Gratefully, 

Matt

Monday, April 12 - with Ryan Russell

This Sunday our sermon text was Colossians 2:6-8: We talked about how our discipleship to Christ is a journey of both rooting and uprooting. We root our lives in Christ by practicing the way of life Jesus has modeled for us. We uproot by paying attention to the ways we are being discipled by our culture.

In terms of uprooting, our relationship with technology is a primary aspect to consider. Brain science is teaching us that the seemingly neutral action of using our phones is changing the way our brains work. On a practical level, there are two things we may consider. First, we can limit the notifications we allow our phones to send us. This limits the influence we allow our phones to have over us. Second, as there are certain apps that have an especially strong pull over us (social media?), we can self-impose time restrictions on a specific app, so that our phone alert us when our time is up for the day. While this sounds elementary, we are often not even aware of the great amounts of time that pass when using our phones. If you have an iphone, you can visit the Notifications and Screen Time sections of your Settings app to make either of these changes.
 
In terms of rooting, I recommend silence & solitude as a wonderful accompanying practice to limiting our usage of technology. As we begin to have more margin in our lives, we can fill that time with being still and listening for the voice of God. Though we may like the idea of this practice, we often do not know where to start. For this reason, I've attached a guide we recently gave our college students that serves as a practical how-to guide for silence & solitude. I recommend a daily habit of 5-10 minutes of silence & solitude daily, before or after your daily devotion. Enjoy.
 
See you soon friends. Let's be busy with the work of rooting & uprooting.
 
Gratefully, 
Ryan Russell 

Monday, April 5

Dear Friends, Happy Easter! - Matt

Monday, march 29

…present yourselves to God as people who have been brought back to life from the dead.

                                                                                                                        Romans 6:13

Friends,

We gathered to celebrate Palm Sunday yesterday. It was a gift to gather at 5th and Webster. I am a grateful pastor. If you were unable to attend, you can see the service here.

Yesterday’s message was from John 12:12-27. In this text Jesus lays out his theology of “seed faith.” Life emerges from his death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus is the pioneer of our faith. He lived, died, and was raised for us. He also did this so that we can do this with him.

As we head toward Good Friday, we need to recall the cross and life. Hear Frank Stagg: “Strange as this may seem, these two go together: cross and life, not just cross and death. No deeper teaching came from Jesus than this, that one finds life by losing it. One lives by dying to self-centeredness and coming alive to God.”

As we head toward Easter, we need to recall that the resurrection is the basis for the life that is truly life. Hear James McClendon: “The resurrection of Jesus Christ from death is at the center of Christian morality, providing a new ground, a new outlook, a new dynamism for followers of the way.”

As followers of the way, we live, die, and live by seed faith. Meditate on this as we experience Holy Week together. Hear Jesus: I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, march 22

Friends,

I hope you had a good Sunday yesterday. Gathering on the Lord’s Day is one of the most precious gifts/commands given by God. If you missed the service, you can see some of the content here.

We concluded the “Gospel of God” series yesterday with a message on the cross and the consummation. We are a people of hope. God is the ground and object of our hope. We simply do not have hope outside of God.

Gabriel Marcel said:

It is evident that a metaphysic of faith can be built on the ruins of humanism: and here there develops an impassioned dialectic. For it is possible to say that the death of God in the Nietzschean sense preceded and made possible the agony of man which we are now witnessing, it is legitimate in a certain sense to say that it is from the ashes of man that God can and must rise again.

Marcel said this in the 1940s. Lessons must be relearned in each generation. Nietzschean thought is seen in popular culture and in places of power. Groups of people clamor for a grand leader to press their case. We divide as tribes and subdivide as consumers. Givenness is rejected for expressive individualism. We declare ourselves our own personal deity. We pursue happiness on our own terms and reap the wind. There is nothing new under the sun. But above it there is more than silver sky.

God is. God is good. We can hope in God. Let the future He has promised inspire you to winsome faithfulness on this cloudy Monday.

Gratefully,

Matt

And now, little children, remain in relationship to Jesus, so that when he appears we can have confidence and not be ashamed in front of him when he comes. 1 John 2:28

Monday, march 15

Friends,

We continued “The Gospel of God” series yesterday by looking at the cross and compassion. If you missed the message, you can find the digital version here

At the end of the sermon, I encouraged us to look for open doors and opportunities to channel God’s love to others. Let’s ask God for these opportunities this week. 

While the personal application of the doctrine of justification by faith is our way of life in Christ, it’s important also to recognize the communal, and even societal, implications of the doctrine. I’ve grown to love Miroslav Volf’s brief piece “Shopkeepers’ Gold.” Please take some time to read it this week. I believe it will be an encouragement to you. 

Gratefully,

Matt 

Click here to view "Shopkeepers' Gold"

Monday, march 8

“The church’s first word is not ‘church’ but Christ.” Juergen Moltmann

“…our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Titus 2:14

Friends,

We continued the Gospel of God message series yesterday with a word from Titus 2:14. If you missed the worship service, follow this link and get caught up on the content. Our focus Sunday was the cross and the church.

The church of Christ is utterly unique. We are marked with an odd baptismal brand. We share superficial similarities with scores of institutions, but our foundation and future are wildly different. Scripture teaches us that we are people of cross. 

Take some time this week to ponder anew the scripture passages listed here. I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to shape a godly understanding of the church and form us into a people worthy of the Name.

  • We were founded by Christ. Matthew 16:18
  • Christ is our head. Colossians 1:12–23
  • Christ is our destiny. Hebrews 2:9–11

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, march 1

“In response to any environment of extraordinary gratification and pampering, the insatiable-infant part of me will simply adjust its desires upward until it once again levels out at its homeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction.” —David Foster Wallace

“You lust and you do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have….” —James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ

“I can’t get no satisfaction ‘cause I try and I try and I try.” —Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

 

Friends,

“Enough“ is a moving target. The suggested retail price for security is more. The social, moral, and spiritual plague we find ourselves in has an origin in our busted “wanters” and dissatisfaction. Sin isn’t born in an exotic market but in our own bored hearts.

The Gospel of God offers conversion from this way of life to life in Christ. If you missed the message yesterday, you can find the digital version here.  Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. This gives us hope there is life truly worth the living. I pray that you have a good week and hope to see you soon.

Gratefully,

Matt

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” —1 Timothy 6:6

Monday, February 22

Holy, holy, holy!

Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;

Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!

God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Friends,

We lift songs of adoration and praise to “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.” What does this mean and what difference can this make? We began a partial answer yesterday as we celebrated the cross and the communion of the Holy Trinity. If you missed the service, you can catch the digital version here.

In worshipping our triune God, we are saying with the Apostle John, “God is love.” God is love in God’s essence. Even His wrath flows from His loving pursuit of eradicating sin, evil, and death. The wrath of God is the wrath of the Lamb. God’s sacrificial love at the cross makes fellowship with God possible. We sing in response, “…there is none beside Thee, perfect in power, in love, and purity.”

As you think about these things this week, ponder this quote from Michael Reeves’s lovely little book Delighting in The Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith:

If God is not Father, Son and Spirit, then he is eminently rejectable: without love, radiance or beauty. Who would want such a God to have any power, or even to exist? But the triune, living God of the Bible is Beauty. Here is a God we can really want, and whose sovereignty we can wholeheartedly rejoice in.

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, February 8

Friends,
 
Thank you for praying for our family as we manage COVID 19. Your encouragement means the world to me.

We joined many of you online this Sunday and were inspired by the service. Even Sam the dog got in on it. If you missed the service and Joel Gregory’s message you can catch up here.

I am glad that Scott Gibson will preach this Sunday. We will all be edified by his message. Hang in there y’all.
 
Gratefully,
Matt

Monday, February 1

“‘Which of these three, thinkest thou, proved neighbor unto him that fell among robbers?’ And he said, ‘He that showed mercy on him.’ And Jesus said unto him, ‘Go, and do thou likewise’” Luke 10:36–37 (ASV).

Friends,

We gathered around the parable of the Good Samaritan yesterday. If you missed the service, you can find the electronic version here. I hope you will be encouraged by the mercy of Christ.

I woke up thinking about the “Go, and do thou…” part of the story this morning. It brought to mind a memorable experience. We once visited the Kokernot o6 Ranch in West Texas. The legendary ranch in the beautiful Davis Mountains is a magnificent place. It is worked by some really amazing folks. As we were riding around the property, I listened carefully to the conversations. I learned that in West Texas cattle culture, the word neighbor is a verb. It represents a skill and disposition: “He neighbors well.” “They don’t neighbor.”

Instead of asking who our neighbors are, we can ask ourselves how well we are neighboring. That seems to be a more fruitful question. I hope you have a wonderful week. Pray for me as I pray for you.

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, January 25

Arise! Shine! Your light has come; the Lord’s glory has shone upon you. Isaiah 60:1

 

Friends,

From time to time we all ask, “What’s the point?” Isaiah 60:1-6 is a fantastic text for helping us sort out this question. If you missed the message on these verses yesterday, you can find the electronic version here.

The point is to arise and shine. This is our life. This is our vocation. God said, “Arise!” This is a word of power that enables us to live. It is the first move of grace that gives us an authentic identity and purpose. As you meditate on these verses this week, consider the quote from A. J. Conyers that I shared Sunday:

We might think of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus as a rich image of deepest meaning of vocation. Lazarus is not merely healed, but raised from the dead. From the isolation of death, he is called by Christ’s powerful voice to the community of the living. His grave clothes, in which he is bound, are loosed and he is made free to respond as one living before God and in the power of God. Each of us is so called. Vocation is about being raised from the dead, made alive to the reality that we do not merely exist, but we are “called forth” to a diving purpose.

Gratefully,

 

Matt

 

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 6:14-16

Monday, January 18

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

Friends,

We gathered around Proverbs 3:5-6 yesterday. If you missed the service, you can see a digital version here. We are grateful for Dudley and Charlotte Taylor for submitting this passage to the series. If you’d like to submit one, use the form here.

He shall direct your paths. These five words are quite a promise. God offers his guidance to those who trust in him. Let’s meditate on the five words for just a minute.

He – God is personal. We can have a direct “I-Thou” relationship with him. We know this because he turned to us in love.

Shall – This is a confident word, a word of promise. We can count on God to do what he promises to do.

Direct – This is the promise. God’s guidance is one of his greatest gifts.

Your – This underlines the personal and purposeful relationship God offers us.

Paths – We are going somewhere. Nobody is truly stuck. Where am I headed? Is it the right direction? These are important questions.

This week I challenge us to find time to place our paths purposefully before God. Let’s ask God if our direction is the way he wants us to go.

“The way of Christ comes into being under the feet of the person who walks it. To tread the way of Christ means believing in him. Believing in him means going with him along the part of the road he is taking in the present moment.” —Jürgen Moltmann 

Monday, January 11

Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord! Psalm 27:14 (CEB)

Friends,

We continued our Through All Generations series yesterday. If you missed the service you can see a recording of it here. We gathered around the “life guide” that is Psalm 27. This psalm ends commending active hope in the Lord.

Lewis Smedes once said of hope, “Hope is to our spirits what oxygen is to our lungs. Lose hope and you die. They may not bury you for awhile, but without hope you are dead inside.” Hope is life. Hope is actively waiting on a trustworthy, promise keeping God. Perhaps we should begin every day by looking in the mirror and saying, “Hope in the Lord”!

I am currently looking out the window, watching the Texas sun slowly melt a blanket of beautiful snow. Snow was an image of hope in the bible. It spoke of God’s promises and processes. Listen to Isaiah –

Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and don’t return there without watering the earth, making it conceive and yield plants and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater, so is my word that comes from my mouth; it does not return to me empty. Instead, it does what I want, and accomplishes what I intend. Isaiah 55:10-11

That melting snow we see has something to say about the life that will bud out in the spring. It is accomplishing something. It is working quietly and slowly. It is working none the less. Let it remind you on this Texas snow day that God is working. His word will not return empty. It is doing what he wants. Hope in the Lord!

This week:

I challenge you to memorize Psalm 27:14. Use the CEB version that I quoted in this meditation. It is fresh to most of us. Meditate on this scripture as you do the dishes, walk on the treadmill, wait in traffic, endure a meeting that should be an email, etc. Let’s breath in hope and live.

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, January 4

“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3

Friends,

We began a new message series yesterday titled Through the Generations. If you missed the service, you can get caught up here. There is still time for you to offer verses for this series. Here is a simple form.

The family of Nita Ray Martin offered Psalm 56:3.  Mrs. Martin pressed this verse into her family, and it has encouraged them for generations. Psalm 56 is a powerful psalm for troubled times. It is honest. Notice it says “when” and not “if” I am afraid. Psalm 56 deals squarely with life as life comes. It is also a hopeful psalm because it calls for active trust in the living God. It gives reason to trust God.

  • We can trust God because he is the God of the word.
  • We can trust God because he is the God that sees us.
  • We can trust God because he is the God that acts on our behalf.

This week:

Let’s express our trust by confidently confessing – When I am afraid, I will trust in you.

Let’s sing – “Yes I will, lift you high in the lowest valley. Yes I will, bless your name. Yes I will, sing for joy when my heart is heavy. All my days, oh yes, I will.”

I will sing of the lovingkindness of the LORD forever; to all generations I will make known thy faithfulness with my mouth.”  Psalm 89:1

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, December 21

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.  Psalm 89:1

Friends,

Yesterday was the 4th Sunday in Advent. We celebrated God’s great love. If you missed the service, you can catch it here. The psalmist taught us that singing is an appropriate response to divine love. I am grateful for our music ministry and the A Night of Carols broadcast. Let this program help you celebrate God’s faithful love. You can find A Night of Carols here. Take time this week to share with your friends on social media. That is one small way to make known God’s faithfulness. Look for other ways to point others to Christ this Christmastime.

Looking Forward – Psalm 89:1 is providing the title for my next message series. It will be called Through All Generations. I will be preaching on texts that were passed down in intentional ways from one generation to another. Think about family members, mentors, Sunday School teachers, coaches, etc. What are some of the verses that they impressed on your soul? I invite you to share them with me through a simple form here as select texts for the new year. I think this will be an encouraging series as we consider God’s faithful presence and his kept promises.

Have a great week.,

Matt

Monday, December 14

Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. Psalm 126:6

Advent commingles precious things. It looks back to Christ’s first advent. It looks forward to His second. Advent also helps us recognize that the Spirit of Christ is present now to save and restore. 

Advent psalms give us a vocabulary of praise and petition. If you missed yesterday’s message on Psalm 126, you can catch up here. I shared a quote from Charles Spurgeon about the psalms that I think is worthy of a second look and some deeper thought. It is perfect for this season.

A psalm may be either a prayer or praise or both. There is another form of utterance, which is certainly prayer, but is used as praise and is really both. I refer to that joyous Hebrew word that has been imported into numerous languages: Hosanna. Is it a prayer? Yes, it means: “Save, Lord.” Is it praise? Yes, for it is tantamount to “God save the king” and is used to extol the Son of David.

While we are here on earth, we should never attempt to make a distinction between prayer and praise. We should neither praise without prayer nor pray without praise. But with every prayer and supplication, we should mingle thanksgiving as we make our requests known to God. This commingling of precious things is admirable.

I pray that you have a joyful week.

Hosanna!

Matt

Monday, December 7

…for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.

                                                                                                                                               Psalm 85:8b

 

One of God’s great promises is that there will be peace. God’s good future will be a reign of peace. Heaven is at peace today.

Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. We need peace but we aren’t doing a terribly good job of making it. Folks are tired and angry. Most of my pastor friends are discouraged because church members are dividing up over how the church is managing life together during these odd days. We are under stress but we can do better.

What can we do? This week why don’t we take a break from turning on each other. Instead, let’s turn to Him in our hearts. There is no peace without peace with God.

 

Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you.

Psalm 85:6

Monday, November 30

Leaves Are Falling All Around

…we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6b

It’s a cold autumn morning, and I’m looking out the window. Leaves are falling all around. The image of falling leaves has inspired writers as diverse as Isaiah and Led Zeppelin. Bible prophecy and the rock classic “Ramble On” have a similar jarring impact. They make the hearer stop and see the leaves fall. And fall they do.

Our lives are fragile and fleeting. There is no soft peddling that. Our lives can also be wonderful. They can be everlasting. This is the deep magic of the gospel. Isaiah asked, “How then can we be saved?” (64:5). There is no legitimate answer for this question outside the mercy of God. God is the gospel. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him (64:4).

My challenge for us today is simply to meditate on the everlasting mercy of God. Pray. Find something to sing. Think about these lyrics. –

Frail children of dust,

and feeble as frail,

In Thee do we trust,

nor find Thee to fail;

Thy mercies how tender,

how firm to the end,

Our Maker, Defender

Redeemer, and Friend.

 

Ramble on y’all,

 

Matt

Monday, November 23

Friends,

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5–9

It is Thanksgiving week in the United States. You will likely observe the day a little differently than in years past. Let’s be honest though, no two years are exactly the same. Life is filled with ups and downs. Like the late songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker once said, “Change is the most natural thing, and life is mostly attitude and timing.” In times of discontinuous change, flux, and chaos, the constant presence and kindness of God is a stabilizing grace. So let’s give thanks.

This past Wednesday I joined with our Senior Life ministry to return thanks. Our midweek Oasis service focused on Philippians 4:4–9. I invite you to read that text this week. Paul had likely been stewing on Psalm 34 when he wrote this portion of the letter. He had God’s nearness in the front of his mind. The challenge was to reject anxiety and pursue peace. The key was the two-word phrase with thanksgiving.

He called them and us to:

Pray with thanksgiving.

Ponder with thanksgiving.

Practice with thanksgiving.

The challenge for the week is to talk to God. Express your gratitude. Count your blessings.

Think about the good, true, and beautiful. Take a break from the noise that assaults your peace.

Do the gospel. Find at least one way to bless another person for God’s glory.

Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving.

Matt

Monday, November 16

Friends,

We gathered around some wise sayings from Proverbs yesterday. The writer celebrated God’s abundance and admonished us to live generously in response to it. If you missed the message you can catch up here.

During the message we listened to Psalm 104. It is a poetic commentary on Genesis 1. God meets Creation with an open hand: “What you give them they gather in; you open your hand, they are filled with good" (v. 28). The psalmist’s world was aglow with God. Our world is too if we have eyes to see. Seeing is a key component to flourishing.

As we approach Thanksgiving, let’s attempt to collect ourselves and our thoughts. Let’s behold. I would like to challenge you to memorize Psalm 104:34 this week:

May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the Lord.

Let these words knock around in your brain as you go about your week. Let them guide your prayers. Perhaps the second part of the verse could act as a defiant declaration against the status quo. God is God, and God is good. Let us thank him.

Gratefully, 

Matt

Monday, November 9

Friends,

We finished out journey through the Epistle of James yesterday. If you missed any of the series, you can get caught up here. James is a challenging and hopeful word, and I am bit sad that the series is over. I will be returning to it in my devotional times.

James ends with some sobering and inviting words: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20).

We are in this together. Perseverance is a group activity. I believe that this current crisis will tempt many to wander from the truth. Be prayerful and keep an eye out for one another. Commit this week to reach out with a word of encouragement!

Gratefully,

Matt

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. I Peter 4:8

Monday, November 2

Friends,

We continued our journey through James yesterday. If you missed the message you can catch up here. Psalm 27:4 made an appearance in the sermon and is a passage of scripture that begs for some Monday meditation.

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple (KJV).

Five words jump off the page when I read this verse. Each one of them contributes to flourishing in life. That is what real religion is all about. Let’s look at them in turn:

Desire – Real religion takes into account the power of desire. God works in our lives to harness and channel desire for his glory and our good. Rather than suppressing desire, God-honoring religion seeks to order it. Desire for God is the ruling desire, the one thing God graciously offers us to put our lives in order.  

Seek – Desire is an internal reality. Seeking is external. Desiring God turns into seeking God just as our hearts and our hands are mystically linked. Isaiah invites us to “seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

Dwell – Dwell calls to mind home. Our dwellings are where we live. We live life with those closest to us. David wanted to dwell with God. In Covid lingo he wanted to be in God’s bubble of living. He valued worship and life with God as essential. He had this desire for “all the days of his life.” The sand is falling in the hour glass. Do we want to dwell with God during the days of our lives?

Behold – Love means paying attention. David desired to spend his life beholding the beauty of the Lord. Theologian Jonathan King said, “Beauty is an intrinsic quality of things which, when it’s perceived, pleases the mind by a certain kind of fittingness.” Fittingness is a wonderful notion. It is a kind of ought-to-be-ness. God’s acts of creation and redemption are beautiful deeds of fittingness. Our blessed hope gives us a vision for ultimate fittingness. The gospel is breathtakingly beautiful. Real religion invites us to spend a life beholding it.

Inquire – The word inquire suggests a genuine I-Thou relationship with God. I believe one of the most beautiful promises in the Bible is found in James 4:8: Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. What an audacious sentence. What a beautiful God.

Have a great week.

Matt

Monday, October 26

Friends,

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

Gratefully, 

Matt

Tuesday, October 20

Friends,
 
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.
 
Matt

Monday, October 12

Friends,

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.

 

Gratefully,

 

Matt

Monday, October 5

Friends,

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.

 

Gratefully,

 

Matt

 

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

Friends,

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.

 

Gratefully,

 

Matt

Monday, september 14

Friends,

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.

  1. The Lamb was slain. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, August 31

Friends,
 
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.
 
Matt

Monday, August 24

Friends,

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.

  1. 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.
  2. God acted in freedom. Creation is a work of grace.
  3. God created all.
  4. God declared creation good.
  5. The mystery of evil is related to disordering good creation. Sin is vandalism of God’s
  6. God is independent of creation.
  7. 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.”
  8. Humanity bears the image of God. Every person you meet has inherent dignity, “for in his own image God made humankind” (Genesis 9:6b).
  9. Sound creation theology challenges some very malignant “isms.” Yesterday we talked about deism and materialism. That list is certainly not exhaustive.
  10. 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.

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, August 17

Friends,

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.,

 

Matt

Monday, August 10

Friends,

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).

Gratefully,

Matt

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

Friends,

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:

Read

I believe that every Christian needs a Bible reading plan. Here are a few good ones:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Audio – Listen to the Bible being read. Yes, this counts!

Study

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.

Memorize

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.

Pray

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.

Apply

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.,

Matt

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

Friends,

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.
 
Gratefully,
 
Matt

Monday, July 13

Friends,

“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:

https://baylor.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_vbnwvCKbS4mtI4rvcpCgWg?fbclid=IwAR1XxL0Kj9o2XEzCtg2HhHQnclzpGjxzOyj0DHVJr52r1U16HyUgfqd7Pps

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, July 6

Friends,

            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.

Matt

Monday, June 29

As we continue forward together through a succession of “next normals,” daily life looks and feels different for each one of us. This unfamiliarity is as true for pastors as anyone else, but thankfully Scripture continues to provide light for our next steps. Many people have described current circumstances as “unprecedented,” but that’s just not the case. While many details are unique—they always are—God’s people, including their shepherds, have long dealt with disruptions and disorientation. The book of Ezra provides particular light here as it describes the people of God returning to worship after decades apart in exile. They remained faithful throughout their sojourn, and when they finally reconvened on Mount Zion they experienced both joy and sorrow.
 
Preaching Today invited Matt to share his reflections on ministry during the present crisis to encourage fellow pastors. I’m pleased to share them with you below; I trust that they will encourage you this week too.
 
Gratefully,

Josh
I’ll Be There with Bells On: 7 Marks of Priestly Pastoral Ministry
 
“And they made bells of pure gold and attached them all around the hem between the pomegranates.” Exodus 39:25
 
I did not memorize Exodus 39:25 in Sunday School. My grandmother did not cross stitch it and hang it on the wall. I cannot imagine it appearing on a coffee mug, t-shirt, bumper sticker, or Testamint candy. It is an obscure verse, yet I have come to think about it nearly every day. The priestly bells rang to remind mostly unremembered servants of God that their work before God was from and for the people of God. The people crafted the bells and made the robes for the priests. The priests jingled in God’s presence. They rang a song not just their own. The bells rang in the Tabernacle and Temple. The bells rang after the horror of the exile. The bells may toll for us.
 
A friend recently asked me what being a pastor is like during the Covid-19 crisis. I thought for a moment and said, “I feel very priestly.” It surprised me a little. I am a deep-water Baptist accustomed to parroting lines from Carlyle Marney about how we are “priests at each other’s elbows.” I believe in a priesthood of all believers and that casseroles really mean “I love you.” The functional requirements of ministry during the pandemic seem to demand an older view of priestly pastoring. When I lead now, I do so with spiritual bells on my hem. I can hear them in my heart. They remind me that ministry before the Lord is from and for God’s people even if they aren’t currently at my elbows.
 
The books of Exodus and Ezra have become important texts. They are both “post-event” narratives. The exodus and exile were major crisis moments that both revealed and shaped life for the people of God. “Post-event” circumstances strip away illusions of control. Cormac McCarthy’s memorable line about the “post-event” world in The Road speaks to this reality: “The frailty of everything revealed at last.”
 
The frailty of a post-pandemic world provides a fresh backdrop for ministry. For over 100 days, pastoral leadership has been lived out in various states of quarantine. In-person worship is resuming in many places with very modest participation. All pastors are priests now, and we feel it. Like our Old Testament exemplars, we are doing the work from and for the people. Ministry will remain this way through a series of next normals as we live out what appears to be a prolonged balancing act.
 
The book of Ezra can be a help to us. The episodic narratives give us scenes we can identify with as priestly pastors. The book offers at least seven marks of priestly pastoral leadership that need our reflection.
 
Priestly Pastoral Leadership is Marked by Promptings (Ezra 1:5-6)
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...
 
Priestly ministry following the exile began with God moving hearts to return and rebuild the House of God. The world is frail, but it is not godforsaken. The Holy Spirit’s summons to life and ministry animates priestly pastoring. Vocation rests on this divine action. In difficult seasons it is important to remember God’s gracious call. Like Graham Green’s priest in The Power and the Glory, the call of God is “like a birthmark.” We did not ask for it, and we cannot wash it off. In a post-pandemic world, it is also wise to remember that faithful Christians will re-enter corporate worship and public ministries at different paces. These believers are vital to the ongoing strength of the church and can enable ministry through neighborly generosity.
 
Priestly Pastoral Leadership is Marked by Pluriformity (Ezra 2:69)
According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver and 100 priestly garments.
 
I Peter 2:10 asserts that the church is a “royal priesthood.” In verse 4:10 of the same epistle, Peter calls the priestly church to steward faithfully God’s grace in its various forms. We need to remember this call when we preach to a camera or a “studio audience” congregation. When social distancing is a community policy and wise plan for life, it is natural to feel alone. Do not trust that feeling. The people of God are always present. They are present in spirit and purpose. Pastors, we are wearing golden bells and priestly vestments made by God’s people. It is their work we are doing. It is by them and for them unto God's glory. Think of the men and women that have emerged in the last three months that have made innovative ministry possible by offering generous gifts and sometimes hidden talents. Marvelous is the manifold grace of God.
 
Priestly Ministry is Marked by Praise (Ezra 3:10)
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”
 
We must put on our Sunday clothes and remind God’s people that God is good, that his love endures forever. Praise is prescribed in scripture and is an act of trusting faith. Christians celebrate Easter in cells and catacombs because grace puts hope in our bones. The singing of the church has largely been silenced. Prudence requires this measure. Priestly pastors and modern-day Levites step into this space and lift a word of praise on behalf of the covenant community.
 
Priestly Ministry is Marked by Pain (Ezra 3:12-13)
But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard by many.
 
I find this to be one of the most powerful scenes in scripture. It is a testament to the faithful noise that is made when praise and pain are commingled. This image is a fitting metaphor for our current crisis ministry. Denying the pain denies our basic humanity and undermines the resilience inherent in orthodox Christian living. Honest to God, let’s be honest with God. Gardner C. Taylor famously said, “There are days when we can bring before God…laughter of joy and gratitude. There will be other days when we can only muster a bitter, angry complaint. Be confident that God will accept whatever we lift up before him, and will make it serve his purpose and our good.”
 
Priestly Pastoral Ministry is Marked by Proclamation (Ezra 7:9b-11)
For Ezra devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
 
Ezra arrives in Jerusalem in chapter 7. Ezra is a prototypical priestly pastor. Verse 7:10 is something of a job description. Study. Observe. Teach. The description of the good parson in Canterbury Tales fits Ezra and every other faithful priestly pastor: “He was a model his flock could understand, for first he did and afterward he taught.” The church and greater community need embodied Christian truth. Priestly pastors proclaim, in deed and word, winsome Christian hope.
 
Priestly Pastoral Ministry is Marked by Pastoral Leadership (Ezra 8:15)
I assembled them at the canal that flows toward Ahava, and we camped there three days.
 
Ezra’s little phrase “I assembled them” says a great deal. Priestly pastors are stewards of convening power. There is no faithful way around, under, or over this truth. We are in a season of discontinuous change. Priestly pastors call the meeting. We must help define reality and shepherd the movement from the next normal to the next normal.
 
Priestly Pastoral Ministry is Marked by Prayer (Ezra 10:1)
While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him.
 
Prayer is the core mark of priestly pastoral ministry. In response to sin, brokenness, discouragement, and frustration, Ezra led the people to pray. This communal life of prayer generated a clear-eyed, sober confession: “...there is still hope for Israel” (10:2). Indeed there is.
 
Pastors, we need to keep showing up with bells on. Our ministry before God is essential. I was generated by his call. It is also derived from his people and is for their good. We are their priests as they are ours.
 
 

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.
                              Sharlande Sledge
 
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

Friends,

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.

Gratefully,

Matt

Moday, June 1

Friends,

            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:

  • Beliefs
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Goals
  • Practices

            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.

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, May 18

Friends,

 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.

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, May 11

Friends,

 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.

—Hebrews 2:1

Gratefully,

Matt

Monday, May 4

Friends,

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!

Gratefully, 

Matt

 

MOnday, April 27

Friends,
 
           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.
 
 
Gratefully,
 
Matt

Monday, April 20

Friends,

            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!

Matt

Monday, April 13

Friends,

          “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.”
 
Gratefully,

Matt
 

Monday, April 6

Friends,

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!

Gratefully,

Matt

 

Monday, March 30

Friends,
 
“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.

Gratefully,
 
Matt

Monday, March 23

Friends,

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:

  1. Thank God for your salvation. Recall how you came to know Christ and thank him for the hope this salvation gives.
  2. Imagine the future victory God has promised over sin, evil, and death. Read to the end of the Bible. It works out!
  3. Ask God to show you ways you can follow Christ during Waco’s Shelter in Place.
  4. Do not get bored. “Boredom is rage spread thin” (Paul Tillich).
  5. Call me if you hear of needs: 601-616-5413

Gratefully,

Matt

 

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:

  • Compassion
  • Wisdom
  • Sacrifice
  • Resilience
               Pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us to flesh out these values. We are God’s. He has a work for us.