Matt's Monday Meditation
Monday, May 18
I was encouraged by our youth-led service yesterday. I am grateful for each contribution and the mature way our students led us in worship. The living water theme was wonderful.
When I heard about what our students were planning, I started humming a song I learned as a kid in Mission Friends. Maybe you know it:
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.
Spring up, O well, within my soul.
Spring up, O well, and make me whole.
Spring up, O well, and give to me
That life abundantly.
A great deal of splishing, splashing, and gushing generally accompany the beloved little chorus. It’s a fun song to sing. It also carries a message so serious it’s worth laughing about. God wants to fill us with himself to the point we pour life on others. God wants to bless us with a dynamic spiritual life because he loves us and wants us to be a channel of his love to others. Living water. Out of our bellies. Amazing.
A few weeks ago, I attempted to quote B. R. Jones and erroneously attributed the quote to B. T. Roberts. They were both Free Methodist leaders and preachers with initials for names. Mea culpa. The actual quote was stellar. B. R. Jones was a Free Methodist bishop during the Spanish flu. His journal offers helpful insights into ministry during a pandemic.
Jones wrote, ”It is with a sense of pleasure that we close the year’s work and take a retrospect and see how the Lord has blessed by giving us grace and physical strength to execute the work assigned to us. But in view of what has been done and what might have been accomplished it is with humble hearts we prostrate ourselves in the dust before the Lord and seek a greater baptism of the Holy Spirit for the purpose that we may be more aggressive and useful in our blessed Redeemer’s cause.” That old-school Methodist grit is inspiring and instructive.
Even now we can look back and give thanks for God’s strengthening grace. In the present moment we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. We ask. God joyfully responds. Gush. Life. Abundantly.
Monday, May 11
Some movie scenes rattle around in your head for long stretches of time. Then they settle in your heart. Then they come back up to meet a new thought, make a fresh connection. Greta Gerwig produced a scene in her film Lady Bird that has had this impact on me.
Lady Bird is a high school kid at a Catholic school in Sacramento, California. Her guidance counselor is a salty old nun named Sister Sarah Joan. In a meeting to discuss Lady Bird’s plans and a college entrance essay, Sister Sarah Joan says, “You clearly love Sacramento.” This conversation follows:
Lady Bird responds, “I do?”
“You write about Sacramento so affectionately,” the nun says, “and with such care.”
“Well,” Lady Bird replies, “I was just describing it.”
“Well, it comes across as love,” Sister Sarah Joan says.
“Sure,” Lady Bird says unconvincingly. “I guess I pay attention.”
Sister Sarah Joan then has a point to make, in the form of a question: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing, love and attention?”
Paying attention is at the heart of Christian discipleship. We can announce our love for God with our lips, but our focus measures our true affection. Theologian John Webster wrote, “The task of theological reason is to pay constant and ever-fresh attention to the gospel, with a measure of focus and single-mindedness.” This is the highest call. It is also the most practical strategy because the gospel endeavors to work itself out in life’s particulars. A pointed particular is the way we used our God-given ability to speak.
This Sunday we were reminded that God desires from us to be persons that impart grace to others. We are enabled to do this when we attend to God’s grace for us, grace that has a past, present, and future tense.
Let’s commit afresh this week to pay attention to Christ and his way. We will find the resources necessary to give grace to others. Have a good week!
So, then, we must pay all the closer attention to what we heard, in case we drift from it.
Monday, May 4
March on, be strong my soul!
Sometimes the sanest thing you can do is talk to yourself. The Psalter is filled with examples of powerful self-talk. Deborah commanded her soul to march. Godly self-talk is an important ingredient for a rich spiritual life.
We introduced The 3 Rs of Inspirational Self-Talk yesterday. We can Rehearse God’s story. We can blow Reveille until our hearts awaken. We can Resolve to pursue the life God has prepared for us. I believe this strategy can serve as an important spiritual practice and one we truly need during this challenging season.
It is humbling to recognize that God has made us to be agents of his purpose. We are redeemed to make a difference. We have been saved to serve. God is at work, and we are part of God’s work. We are factored into his methodology.
The poem in Judges 5 celebrates God’s work and our part in it. In verse 5:20 it is clear that Kingdom power comes from above and beyond: “From the heavens the stars fought; from their courses they fought….” We are not alone in the universe. This is no closed frame. God is alive.
Verse 5:23 emphasizes the human responsibility aspect of God’s work. In this verse a group of Israelites were judged for skipping out on the summons to engage in God’s forward march. John Goldingay translated God’s complaint this way: “...they didn’t come when Yahweh was helping, when Yahweh was helping against the strong men.”
God is helping. May it never be said of us, “They didn’t come.” Speak to your heart. Speak that your soul may hear. March on, be strong my soul!
MOnday, April 27
Words are powerful. Careless or hateful words bounce like sparks into kindling. They do tremendous damage. We were reminded Sunday that godly words are also powerful. They are like seeds. They seem small and insignificant, but they carry the mystery of life. James said, “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace” (James 3:18, ASV). God’s work is often done with godly words.
We speak of the word of God in a threefold sense. Christ is the word of God. Scripture is the word of God. The word of God happens when the Holy Spirit anoints Christian proclamation. Proclamation is both formal and informal. It happens in large groups and across the table. Words have power because words are given actual power. Karl Barth said, “We thus ask: ‘How is the Word of God?’ and the answer is: It is on our lips and in our hearts as the mystery of the Spirit who is the Lord.”
We should continue to pray this week for wisdom and godly words. We can also pray for God to open ears and hearts for gospel seeds. As our friend Kimlyn Bender said, “Knowledge of God is miraculous in nature…” (from Reading Karl Barth for the Church).
We had a Zoom meeting last week with ministry friends in Lebanon. We shared with one another about what life is like in our respective contexts during these Covid days. We prayed for churches, immigrants, and refugees. During the meeting John Raad said, “Pray that the gospel is fruitful. When people are open, they are open to anything.” That is both a sober warning and hopeful opportunity for godly words to do their work.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Paul asked the church to pray that “the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified….” Let’s make that our prayer this week. Let’s speak life.
Monday, April 20
Our friend John Anderson recently sent me an article published in medscape.com titled Why Clinicians’ Spiritual Health Matters in the COVID-19 Crisis. It was written by a chaplain named Elizabeth Berger. Berger made a remarkable statement in this piece. She said, “The pandemic is a global spiritual experience.” I won’t quarrel with her on this. We are currently focused simultaneously on the basic things and the most ultimate realities. This is fertile spiritual ground.
I am grateful to Maddie Rarick and Ryan Russell for sowing seeds into rich soil this week. The messages they spoke to our congregation blessed me, and I am confident they blessed you as well. They helped us see our true identity, our real home, and our vocation in the already/not yet Kingdom of Jesus.
Maddie invited us to hear again Peter’s words in 1 Peter, chapter 1. This text gives us a stunning understanding of our place in God. We are people “...who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance” I Peter 1:2 (NRSV). This is an orienting verse. It places us in God. It is the ground from which we draw our nutrients.
Ryan’s Sunday sermon opened Ephesians 5 to us. It was a reminder that we walk with an unhurried God, and yet we walk in the light. Ephesians 5:10 is a simple verse that can serve as the basis for a truly dynamic spiritual life. Paul says, “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” A young pastor once asked R. T. Kendall for advice. The seasoned veteran simply said, “Find out what grieves the Holy Spirit and don’t do that.” We need brakes and a steering wheel.
A global spiritual experience is an invitation to think big and focus small, to imagine life in God and focus on small details. Maddie and Ryan helped us do that this past week. I am grateful.
Until the glad reunion!
Monday, April 13
“Only” can be a lonely and pitiable word. We are often guilty of using “only” when “and” is far better. Paul took issue with “only” in 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” He believed that we should hope in Christ in this life and in the life to come. The “and” makes the difference.
The gospel shapes an “and” perspective. The Christian message is a transcendent and immanent reality. It points beyond and draws near. In his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone wrote, “The Christian gospel is God’s message of liberation in an unredeemed and tortured world. As such, it is a transcendent reality that lifts our spirits to a world removed from the suffering of this one. And yet the Christian gospel is more than a transcendent reality. It is also an immanent reality—a powerful liberating presence….”
Jesus gives us hope in this world. The Spirit is with us, and God is for us. We can keep the feast with a “nonetheless” attitude because of the gospel. We can persevere. It is also more than okay to grieve, lament, and long for God’s good future. We need liberation now and forever.
This is how I processed Easter Sunday 2020. There was something right and beautiful about celebrating the way we did yesterday. We rang the bells nonetheless. I shed a few tears of joy knowing God never leaves us or forsakes us. It was also a really painful day. There, I said it. I simply won’t accept it as a new normal. Crisis drove us to things I despise. I also shed tears of lament yesterday for not seeing your faces. I long for life without the greasy reside of the Fall; therefore, I hope—and not for this life only.
Let’s let the immanence of Christ’s gospel stiffen our spines for work in the world. Let’s let the transcendence of Christ’s gospel lift us to a rock that is higher. Let’s learn to say “and.”
Monday, April 6
The rocks remain silent. We did the praising yesterday. Last night I thought of the old LaMarquis Jefferson lyric we used to sing in my youth pastor days: “Ain’t no rock, gonna cry in my place. Long as I’m alive, I’ll glorify his holy name.” Grace has taken that youthful defiance and hardened it into resolve. God is good and a shelter in times of trouble. Let us continue to praise him.
Palm Sunday is behind. Good Friday and Easter are ahead. We are in the midst of The Story that changes the story. Lesslie Newbigin once wrote, “A community of people that, in the midst of all the pain and sorrow and wickedness in the world is continually praising God is the first obvious result of living by another story than the one the world lives by.”
We have a unique role to play in the World. We are Christ’s servant community. We are to tend to the Lord’s needs by serving others. We are to witness to his aliveness by being church to one another. We are to worship him with our hearts, minds, and bodies. I pray that you find energizing ways to serve King Jesus this week. Listen to the Holy Spirit speak through scripture. Keep the Lord’s Supper. Sing. Connect. Tell the rocks to wait their turn!
Monday, March 30
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” 2 Corinthian 1:3–4 (NIV).
Our text for the week is Isaiah 61:1–3. We meet the Anointed One in this passage of scripture. The Anointed One preached Good News. The Anointed One announced God’s favor and invited life-transforming surrender. The Anointed One warned of just judgment.
Perhaps the most surprising and wonderful task fulfilled and being fulfilled by the Anointed One was and is the ministry of comfort. I am delighted that Jesus looked at Isaiah 61 and basically said, “That’s me.” We serve a comforting Christ.
He comforts us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. David prayed, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The Lord is with us. Let’s find comfort and courage in that.
He comforts us through his promise. We ended worship this week with 2 Corinthians 4:16–18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” The Lord’s promises are kept. What a comfort!
I pray that we will lean on God’s comfort this week. This will prepare us to give as we have freely received. Hang in there y'all.
Monday, March 23
I thank God every time I think of you. I am thinking about you nearly all the time. Please pray for me as I continue to pray for you.
Your church staff is faithfully working to lead our church through an ever-changing challenge. They are godly, tough, and joyful men and women, and I am proud to call them my friends. We will continue to communicate with you through all the means available to us. Please continue to communicate with us.
We must lean on one another and on an unchanging God in swiftly changing circumstances. Our congregational text for this week is Isaiah 53. This chapter is a pinnacle biblical text. Fleming Rutledge said, “…it serves as a guide for the New Testament as a whole.” It is about God’s plan for our salvation.
Isaiah 53 calls us to behold God as redeemer, victor, and moral example. As you read and meditate on this biblical chapter, I ask you to:
- Thank God for your salvation. Recall how you came to know Christ and thank him for the hope this salvation gives.
- Imagine the future victory God has promised over sin, evil, and death. Read to the end of the Bible. It works out!
- Ask God to show you ways you can follow Christ during Waco’s Shelter in Place.
- Do not get bored. “Boredom is rage spread thin” (Paul Tillich).
- Call me if you hear of needs: 601-616-5413
Monday, March 16
Devotion from Matt
“But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah 50:7
Yesterday was weird and wonderful. It was weird because our routine was blown to bits. It was wonderful because it was the Lord’s Day and we worshipped our living God. We will continue to so do!
Many of you were able to participate through Facebook Live. Others of you will watch the same service this Sunday morning on KCEN. I am grateful for these platforms because they help gather us around a common Word. As a preview/reminder, let’s consider a biblical passage together for a moment.
Sunday’s sermon text was Isaiah 50:4-11. Isaiah gives us an anatomical sketch of the Lord’s Servant. His tongue, ear, back, and face reveal key aspects of following the Lord in trying times. The Servant’s tongue is a picture of compassionate ministry to the weary. His ear speaks to wisdom from God. His back is a metaphor for sacrifice. His flinty face is a portrait of resilience.
We are called to follow The Servant of the Lord and serve through the strength He provides. Sunday’s sermon text was selected long ago, but I could not have chosen a more fitting one for this time. My prayer is that our common life and ministry during this season will be shaped by the values of the Servant: