Last Friday night, about 80 people gathered at The Groves Church to support our adoption. We held a trivia night and silent auction, and it could not have went better. The honest truth is that even though I ran/MC'd the night, I had NEVER been to trivia night before! For never having been to one, we were overwhelmed and thrilled at how it went.
Leslie and I were humbled by all of you who supported us. We could not believe we raised over $3400.00. We now have enough funds to pay our agency fees off as well as pay for our lawyer fees. Never in a million years 10 months ago did we think this would be possible when we started the adoption process. We were passively thinking we would have to do like so many have to, and go into debt to adopt and start a family. All glory to God that does not have to happen.
By the grace of God, and in his will, we will have a baby in our home within the next month. Please continue to pray for this process, that it may be smooth as we near the timing of the baby's birth.
None of us like the word discipline, do we? It just doesn't sound good. For most of us, the word discipline is like nails on a chalkboard-it doesn't sound nice. Over the past year, I have to admit something-i've gained a bit of weight. I'm not longer a youngster, and at 34 i'm learning that eating like a teenager will have some bad effects on you. So, Leslie and I have been trying and trying to get ourselves back on the right path. It's hard, though, right? You know that eating well and exercising will bring you health-but when you are staring at a Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (if you are not in St Louis, you won't understand that reference-sorry) it makes things very difficult.
This past Sunday I was able to open the word of God with The Groves Church and we studied I Timothy 4. We learned that discipline spiritually is not only an "ok" thing, it is the right thing. We many times think of discipline spiritually as "legalism". Indeed, it can be if applied inappropriately. But spiritual discipline is how God teaches us and how he speaks to us. It is how we know who Jesus is. Reading the scriptures, prayer, and any number of the spiritual disciplines are not only good "things", they are how we are developed into who Jesus wants us to be. None of us look to our physical bodies and think, "if I just sit here and do nothing, I'm going to be healthy and look great". We know that's not true. But spiritually, we find ourselves frustrated but in an effort to not be seen as legalistic, we may not pursue the things we know that bring life to our spiritual walk.
Don't misunderstand what I am saying-the spiritual disciplines do nothing to make you just before God. Salvation comes only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. We can't earn anything from doing spiritual disciplines. However-by daily disciplining ourselves spiritually, we learn over, and over, and over again that we are nothing with Christ-and should the Holy Spirit be stirring and living through you-you will be brought your knees again, again and again-because you will realize Jesus is truly your only hope. As this happens, true, deep rooted repentance occurs. When true, deep rooted repentance occurs, worship begins. And when worship begins in your heart-He is going to use you mightily for his sake.
Now to me-this doesn't sound like legalism, does it? Someone smarter than I said this in relationship to this, and it has really helped me:
May each of us be spiritually disciplined, God-centered people. For when we are, we see God do great and mighty things through us, for His glory.
Ice Storm 2017! Dear Friends, I'm so sorry we can't gather at The Groves this morning for worship. However, that doesn't have to stop us from digging in his word. Please enjoy this brief devotional based on some of my planned sermon for this morning.
How many of you love to watch the Olympics? My wife is crazy for the olympics. Needless to say, I got to watch more than my share of gymnastics, swimming, etc this past summer. Growing up, there was one team that was dominant for the USA. They were the DREAM team. Remember them? The 1992 Mens olympic Basketball Team:
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, and that is only the beginning. Many say that this was the best team that has ever been assembled to play basketball. Prior to this olympics, professionals were not allowed to play. But in 1992 it all changed. And this team in 1992 was marked by fun. They enjoyed playing with one another, they were having a good time, and played hard and well together. The USA became dominant.
That is, until 2004. Anyone remember the 2004 USA Olympic Men’s Basketball Team? Yeah neither did I. They were forgettable. It wasn’t a lack of talent-the best the NBA had, including Lebron James, Duane Wade, Carmelo Anthony. They had a legit coach in Larry Brown. So what went wrong?
Two things I think plagued this team.
First, there was no unity.
Their coach, Larry Brown, went after his players in the media. That’s always good for team unity when your coach criticizes you in the newspapers. Others say that Larry Brown didn’t even like the team he got-it wasn’t “his style” of play. He liked coaching veterans, and a new crop of players made up the team.Ask any member of that team, and they will tell you, the problem was their coach.
However, unity was not the only problem. Lack of humility was the other.
One of the more well known players came over to a reporter during the Olympics and said, “You know, Coach Brown isn’t letting me play like I like to play. He said this almost whining like a little child. And as a result, Larry Brown tried to remove this NBA all star from his team! Apparently, this was a common theme throughout the team, each talking about themselves.
So you have a coach who doesn’t like his team, and a team who are all there for themselves-this is gonna turn out well, right?
Well, as it would turn out, they won the bronze. But for USA basketball, they might as well have not even won a game. That is not the standard for them. This was a major set back. This team, who had all the talent in the world, did not perform as they should have. It became more about themselves than about representing their country, unified with humility for the greater cause.
In Philippians 2, we find a church who is called to advance the Gospel, even through suffering and struggle. Paul's exhortation to the church is two fold-that through Christ alone, you must have unity and humility.
God calls our lives to be lived through the power and by the example of Christ. Others Lives Matter for our lives because others lives, like ours, are made in the image of God. Counting others lives more important than our own means through humility we submit ourselves to Christ, uniting around Him alone to give us the ability to do so.
For Other's Lives To Matter, as they do to God, we must pursue God individually and corporately. We must ask God to bring unity to our church body each day, and we must ask God to humble us. We must ask for his power to move in our hearts and in our lives. When we are united in the Spirit, as Paul suggests, we are bound together and humility breaks through. We begin to tell stories not of ourselves, but of God's faithfulness-how He is moving and working among each of us. How he is using our lives to bless others. This is who we want to be. This is how we want to live. For the glory of God.
Take a few moments this morning and read Philippians 2 with your families, and pray would give us unity and humility, to advance the Gospel together.
After you read, think upon these three next steps.
1. How am I pursuing unity in and through the Gospel alone?
2. Think about Who Christ is and the work He has done. Are you humbled?
3. Think about the value of other's lives to you, in contrast to God. Do they line up?
To close, When we stop seeing other people as competition, problems, etc, and see them for what they are-made in the image of God-and ask God to break our hearts-He will. The Holy Spirit will transform our hearts and we will see that it is better to serve than to be served. It is better to be last than to be first. I think as this happens, Other's Lives will not just be friendships, or coworkers, or people who serve us coffee, but the very people God wants to use our lives to touch with the Gospel.
One of the themes that has been running through my head ever since we transitioned to St. Louis for our replant residency and eventual second transition to a church to replant is the theme of faithfulness. Please note: These are incomplete thoughts-so if you are a person who likes to poke holes in things-you'll probably have fun with this one. I'm ok with that. Hopefully, you'll hear my heart.
On a personal level, God has been challenging me more than ever that he is not impressed with my capacity, my ability, or how great I or others think I am. God is concerned that I am faithful to Him. He is interested in Matthew, imperfect as he is. He desires my total devotion, and provides grace each day as I fail in that. As a man, I must keep God's priorities for my life. He desires my worship, desires me to lead my wife well, to love my family, and honor Him in my integrity and holiness that He builds in me. How do we lose sight of this? I'll readily admit I have had many moments where I have. I've been concerned about what people think about me. I've been focused on how successful (or unsuccessful) i've been in ministry. In those times, the idea of faithfulness doesn't enter my mind.
Even more than that, I don't think i'm alone. This past week I was able to have several discussions with pastors at a state conference for the denomination I get to be a part of. I was helping at a booth, talking about church replanting. Pastors were walking up, young and old, and all had a look of defeat in their face. They asked about replanting, and then proceeded to share their stories of their situations/ministries. They were defeated, and yet, my assessment for many of them is that they were playing the wrong game (much as I do at times).
The game they were playing was the game of comparison. The type of meetings like I was at this week is probably one of the best places to play this game. The temptation is to meet other pastors who are leading ministries that in your estimation are doing great work, and it seems that just have to drop a seed and fruit is coming like a vending machine. Then the temptation is to compare this to the small, sometimes dysfunctional, flock that you might lead or be a part of. This is what causes the look of defeat upon these pastors faces. As they play the game of comparison, it always ends the same-despair.
Pastors-we must stop playing the game of comparison. Our jobs are not to build bigger churches and bigger ministries. Our jobs are not to be in the top 10% of churches in the nation for ______________ (fill in the category). Our job is not even to be the most amazing multiplying church in the nation. Our job as pastors is to be faithful for what God has called us to. For some of us, this will mean that we will see great things happen-people following Christ, baptisms, many churches planted, etc. For others, it might not mean that we see the fruit....ever. Having worked with missionaries in my previous ministry post, I know many who have been faithful for years and seen little fruit, only to see people come after them and benefit and God finally moves.
Pastors: Our job is to shepherd not the people we wish were a part of the flock (although missional outreach should be a huge part of a pastors job), but to shepherd those God has entrusted to Him, even if they are few in number. Even if they are a dysfunctional brood. We are called to shepherd, to care, and to be faithful.
Faithfulness sticks with something that isn't perfect. Faithfulness says that I trust a God that is mightily in control more than I trust myself, or even my own judgement.
Faithfulness is sacrifice.
However, faithfulness, when lived in trust to God, brings inexpressible joy.
This joy comes only from the Lord. As pastors, inexpressible joy in replanting happens only when God does the work. It's not the newest trend. It's not our clever wisdom in ourselves. Joy is found only when we as replanters, and pastors, pursue our joy in Christ-and trust Him for who He is-Faithful.
To the pastors who I met this week-I honestly have not been in every situation you find yourself in. Each one of your experiences are real and difficult. In fact, you cannot stay faithful on your own accord. None of us can. I know I can't. It is only by Christ's power, each day, that any of us can. My heart, as a pastor, goes to you. My prayers go to you, that you may stay faithful, even through discouragement, frustration, and possibly even despair.
For me, i've had a renewed sense and understanding that Christ must be my ultimate and supreme joy. He must reign, and be #1 in my heart and life. My love for Christ must reign over my love for success in the world's eyes.
As Christ becomes bigger, and His joy builds in my life, the reality of struggle is still there. But as I think upon His faithfulness to me-I can rest that my identity is not found in how many people attend my church on Sunday, if I ever get invited to speak at a conference, or if i'm ever recognized for anything.
This week I heard a platform pastor speak and say "Pastors-we are already dead". He is right. Paul said it in Galatians-Christ lives through you-you are crucified. Many days-I try to live as if I still live through me.
Let Christ by your joy, your hope, and trust Him, because he is Faithful.
Trust that God is going to move, in His way, in His time, and for His purpose. Stay faithful, and even if you never see the fruit-God will still be honored.
Over the past month I have been able to read several books that I would highly recommend to anyone thinking of replanting. So if the slight chill in the fall air has motivated you to open a book, grab one of these and enjoy!
This book as greatly impacted me. Brian shares his story candidly of over 10 years of faithful ministry, where it seemed that he was going to be fired by the people he was led to shepherd multiple times. God's faithfulness is shown through this book and it encouraged me that replanting is not short term change-it is going to a place, planting yourself there for a generation, and seeing God change hearts.
This book is a wonderful read of hearing how God truly used the Blackaby's to see replanting happen in Canada. I especially appreciated the theme of faith in this writing. To replant a church, faith is THE key component. Marketing, flashy worship, or all the money in the world won't do what only God can do in replanting a church. Amazing. The Blackaby's are a real asset to the replanting effort.
I have been able to attend the National Church Replant Lab in Atlanta the past two days. It was at a gathering similar to this one about 15 months ago that began Leslie and I on our journey in pastoring and replanting. Now we find ourselves in St. Louis, serving alongside The Groves Church in a replanting residency, and preparing for what the Lord has next for us in replanting.
Several things have stuck out to me from the gathering (among many others that are not listed):
-The Replanter truly is a missionary-he goes to a place that no one else will, should expect persecution, and you are called to do the work only God can do.
-The issues in most churches that need replanting is authority and leadership issues that have not been dealt with for sometimes decades. Ecclesiology does matter, and it is a journey to get the church to (or back to) a healthy ecclesiology.
-Tactical patience is the key to the work.
-God must truly break the hearts of the people in the church for replanting to happen.
-As you are replanting a church-struggle, persecution and hardship is not the sign to leave-it is the sign to stay. This means God is truly at work.
-Suffering is inevitable to the work of replanting.
-Brian Croft's 5 questions in evaluating a dying church:
-Authority: Who is In Charge?
-Leadership: Who Do I Follow?
-Membership: to Whom Am I Accountable?
-Unity: Who Is My Brother?
-Worship: Why Do We Gather?
This has been a really solid gathering.
Last week I started a three part series, based on the High Priestly Prayer, on our mission in the world. Last week, we discussed why as followers of Jesus, we should not remove ourselves from the world. Today, we will discuss why we should not conform to the world.
While we should not withdraw, we should also not conform. There is no better scripture to base this one than Romans 12:1-2, a classic verse.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Notice we are not to do something, but instead something is given for us to do. What is that?
Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
How does this occur?
The mind is one of the keys to the Christian life that we don’t talk about because we talk about the “heart” in our western culture so much.
From scripture we know these things:
A non-Christian does not respond to Christian truth positively because they cannot discern spiritual truth apart from the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:14). The Gospel calls the unbeliever to repent of his sin and embrace Christ by faith. The Greek word for repentance carries the idea of a “change of mind”. Our thinking must be changed from old, ungodly ways into new Godly ways. What we know to be true by the teaching of the Holy Spirit forms a conviction in our hearts and that truth, that conviction in our hearts translates into MISSION. And that is what we are to be. Not people who withdraw from the world, not people who conform to the world, but people who are on mission, in a foreign land, TO the World. And that foreign land could be flying half way around the world, or it could be equally as much as walking across the hall at your apartment complex to your neighbor. As we do that, we are to look different. Our hope is not in fleshly things. Our hope is not in the next President. Our hope is not in how much money is in our bank account. Our hope is not in anything-BUT JESUS. And that looks very different to an unbelieving world who are striving for worldly rewards.
Are we people who are claiming Christ but striving for worldly rewards?
Look at verse 17. Jesus prays that God would Sanctify them in your truth; Your Word is truth.
To Sanctify means to set apart for a special or Holy purpose. Followers of Christ-you are a set apart people, unique. And your call is not to conform to the world and look just like it. God has brought you where you are for more than just your gain. He has brought you there for his glory and to be used by him with joy!
Take a look at I Peter 2:11-12: Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
So we are not a people who are to look like the world. We are a set apart people. We are a people that are called to something. But notice in I Peter 2 that it says that WHEN they speak of you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.
So as our culture becomes more and more unfriendly toward the Gospel, what are we to do? We are to SERVE the culture. We are to LOVE the culture. We are to do GOOD DEEDS. Not to earn anything. Not to be self righteous and be proud of ourselves. We are to do this, so that God may receive glory! And through this-you probably, and along with your congregation, or your small group, will never receive glory? Are you ok with that? Are you truly ok with not receiving glory and God receiving it?
If we make these decisions based upon fear-all we will do is hold up in a closet and hide from the world or we will look way too much like the world. and God does not call us to live this way.
Next week, we will finish up with our third part of our series, looking at our true call as Christians living in the world (and we have already hinted at it-MISSION).
To God Be The Glory.
Today begins a three part blog series I am releasing. It is based upon a portion of Jesus' High Priestly Prayer in John 17. Over the past year, the Lord has taught me much about our mission in the world as followers of Jesus, of which i've gotten to share with various groups over the past 6 months. Today, in part one, we discuss why as followers of Jesus, we should not remove ourselves from the world.
Many times, this is the approach we think is successful. We believe the idea that if we simply withdrawl from the world, we will be more pleasing to God as somehow we will not be infected by the world. I have news for you-you are already infected! Whether you are a Christian or a non Christian. We all are! We are all sinners. Since Adam and Eve, we have been infected with sin. And yes, as followers of Jesus, we are covered by the blood of the lamb. But, that is the only way we are “clean”. We are not clean by our “Good doing”. It is only Christ, and his blood, that "cures" us of this, and we must rely on him daily for the cure.
Withdrawing from the world has always been seen as something to do for the religious over the centuries, however it NEVER works, nor is it what Christ calls for us.
Think about the Pharisees...what were they? To be a Pharisee was the be a separatist. The goal of the Pharisees was to escape a society that was degraded. That is not what it means to be a follower of Christ in an unbelieving world.
In the 3rd century Christian hermits fled to the deserts of Egypt.
In the middle ages monastaries arose to be separate from the world. Paul Tripp discusses this in his book “Dangerous Calling” and suggests that monasteries were and are a failure because they neglected one very significant Biblical truth: the biggest danger to every human being...is located inside of him, not outside of him. There is something dark and deceitful that still lurks in the heart of everyone of God’s children who has not yet been fully glorified: SIN. It is only ever the sin inside of you that draws and hooks you to the sin outside of you. Every day there is a war fought for control of your heart. But your jealous Savior, with the zeal of gorgeous redemptive love, will not share your heart. He will not rest until your heart is ruled by him and him alone.
We sometimes even do this in our day. An example could be our decision to go to a “Christian business” rather than the buisness that a number of differing kinds of people go to, so that we don’t have to be around people that think differently and act differently. When I was in Kansas City assisting with a new work to get started-our team intentionally spent time at community gathering places-and in that eclectic community-it was a coffeeshop. It as an interesting place. I befriended people, and loved people, that thought and believed differently than I did. But you know what? If we had said to ourselves, “No, we won’t go in there....you know what? We would have never built any relationships, and we would have never saw the work God did in individuals lives there. We think by staying in our little bubbles that we are staying holy-but are we being a good witness and following the commands of our savior-really?
Many times we can let this mentality of withdraw consume our lives and go way too far. Sometimes, the way in which we live our lives are motivated by nothing but fear. We get this mentality that to be Godly is to be away from unbelievers who do not have the same values and viewpoints on life as us, and that’s simply not what the Bible tells us, and not the way that Jesus lived his life.
There are countless passages of scripture that point to Jesus going to an unbelieving (and many times hostile) world, interacting with it, and doing life with people who were much different than He. Below are a few examples:
Matthew 9-jesus calls Matthew the tax collector (and everybody LOVES the tax collector-right?) to be his disciple-he is spending time with them
Luke 7-The sinful woman anoints Jesus with Ointment and wipes Jesus’ feet with tears (and let's be real people, she was not sinful because she stole a loaf of bread...this was scandalous)
Luke 15-tax collectors/sinners are drawn to Jesus, while the Pharisees grumbled about it
Luke 19-Jesus hanging out with Zachaeus-he repents and comes to faith-yet the Pharisees grumble about it.
John 4-Woman at the well-a Samaritan woman! In their culture, Jesus should not even be acknowledging her! But he does, and she goes on to be an incredibly impactful woman for the Kingdom.
We all need to ask ourselves if we have functionally removed ourselves from the world., and if so why? Do we really believe that we are going to catch some kind of virus? Do we not understand that we have the virus already? Do you go to your school, your job or your community, and as believer, try to remove yourself from anyone that doesn’t think or live like you? We are called to live missionally every day of our lives amongst people who need to know the greatest news they will ever hear.
Christ has prayed in John 17 that we would not be removed from this world, to go into hiding, to simply hang out with each other, but that we would be protected from the evil one.
15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.
That we would be sent out-as called ones-living missionally at our schools, at our jobs, in our families-but that God would protect us. That is a very different posture when it comes to how we live our lives.
In part two, we will discuss how we should not conform to the world.
We are thrilled to release our first newsletter update today. In it, you will find all the information about where we are at in our process, and how to pray and support us. The best thing you can do is subscribe to this newsletter. Instructions are included in the newsletter on how to do so. Then, you will automatically receive our updates! Please enjoy (click the link below).
CLICK HERE FOR OUR MARCH 2016 UPDATE NEWSLETTER
Leslie and I would like to announce publicly today some exciting news in our lives.
At the beginning of June 2016, we will be transitioning from Springfield, Missouri and moving to St. Louis, Missouri. I will step away from my role at Second Baptist as the Associate Missions Minister, and Leslie will step away from working with the Willard, Missouri School District. The past four years in Springfield have been a blessing, but God has now clearly directed the next step in our lives.
So the big question is, “What will we be doing?”. Over the past few years, God has clearly been preparing our hearts for pastoral ministry. I (Matthew) have realized this for a while. At the same time, we are passionate about missions/church planting, and that will always be at the core our hearts. Recently, we have entered into a relationship with the North American Mission Board, being assessed and affirmed in our calling as Legacy Church Replanters. Between 900-1000 Southern Baptist Churches close their doors and cease to exist each year. Many of these are churches exist in urban areas (such as the St. Louis Metropolitan Area), where the population is growing. A growing population and more and more dying churches is not an indication of a hopeful future for the advancement of the Gospel. While traditional church planting efforts are needed, which God is using, there are also congregations who are 3-5 years from death who need the Gospel infused back into them. God has called us to see new life come into these declining churches. A mentor in my life says often, “God does not get glory from churches dying”. In addition to this, St. Louis is a city that desperately needs Gospel-centered churches. Less than 15% of the population claim any involvement with evangelical churches. There is great need for healthy churches in many of the neighborhoods of St. Louis.
Starting in June of 2016, we will begin a residency with Pastor Bob Bickford and The Groves Church in Webster Groves, Missouri (right in the heart of St. Louis). Over the past four years, Bob has worked to replant the former Sherwood Baptist Church in Webster Groves--which struggled to survive--into a healthy, growing, normal-sized church again. Bob not only is pastor of this church, but also serves as the chair of church revitalization for the St. Louis Metropolitan Baptist Association, and is a Legacy Replanting Catalyst for the North American Mission Board.
During our time at The Groves, I will apprentice Bob, much like a tradesman would learn the specific skills of his job. He will teach me the specialized skills it takes to replant a dying church. I will have the opportunity to attend coaching meetings with declining churches, as Bob and his team (from the Metropolitan St. Louis Baptist Association) coach them in making decisions toward Legacy Replanting. During this time I will also be introduced, as the Lord leads, to potential replanting situations in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area that Leslie and I could transition to, and begin the work of replanting. We will also be in fellowship, community and growth with couples and individual seeking similar callings in their lives. This residency will be for approximately 1 year, with the goal of us transitioning again to a church in the St. Louis Metropolitan area that is ready for replanting.
There is no doubt this is the next step in our journey. We are excited and thrilled, yet not without bittersweet emotion and we begin to transition. Springfield has been our home for 4 years. We purchased our first home here. It will always have a warm place in our hearts.
In order to follow God's leading, we will be raising both prayer and financial partnerships to see this accomplished. It would be our honor to sit down with you for a cup of coffee, over Skype, or in some other manner to share our hearts. As well, if you would like to receive a packet of information related to our next steps, we would be honored to share that with you. We will not be able to see God do what he wants without your help. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Also, if you are interested in partnering with us, you may also fill out this quick online survey. This form will send us an notification that you are interested, and we will touch base with you. http://tinyurl.com/creathsupport
Beginning in March, we will have an email newsletter that will be sent out regularly for prayer and updates. We would love for you to receive this as well, if you desire.
We are grateful to God for the opportunity to serve in building the Kingdom. We are grateful for clarity of call and timing, and are ready to see God use us in whatever way He desires in St. Louis.
To God Be The Glory.
Matthew is 34 years old and currently lives in St Louis, Missouri with his wife Leslie. He serves as the Associate Pastor at The Groves Church, in Webster Groves, Missouri.