The Search for Community

What is community? Is the church still relevant today? And what sort of imagination will be required by those who follow Jesus for the future?

Hear the answers to these questions and the evolving story of Restoration Church in a message given to First Missionary Church in Fort Wayne, IN on September 22, 2019.

Follow the entire series on “Defining Community: Restoring Life with God and Others” on the Restoration Church Podcast. http://restorationlz.org/podcast/

A Message to the Church: You are Free to Love

It’s no secret the church, specifically the broader evangelical church, is in a state of crisis. Attendance and engagement is down, stories of financial, physical, and spiritual abuses are mounting, and any meaningful conversation regarding theology, philosophy, and morality in the cultural mainstream has become nearly impossible. Even the faithful in the evangelical church are becoming disheartened, weary, and have stories of frustration, disenfranchisement and hurt. This growing crisis should cause us to take an honest look inwards through the lens of Scripture, in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and with a heart of great humility before the Lord.

Continue reading “A Message to the Church: You are Free to Love”

To The Ends of the Earth

Blog post 9-18-18

Jesus radically turned the world upside down. His life, death and resurrection sparked a worldwide movement of these new believers that no longer answered to the kings or religious rulers of the world, but to a ruling Messiah, a heavenly King, a redeeming Priest, a loving God. The message was simple, yet profoundly strange and nearly incomprehensible, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). It was through this very message that the sick were healed, the sinner was restored, relationships mended, the poor and widows provided for, the walls of diversity broken down, and the assurance of an eternal salvation was given to the world. This message was not only a message of hope and faith, but one of radical transformation.

Today, our world is starving and striving for answers to the biggest issues of our day, and its the Church (not the institution, but the people) that has been given the mission to extend God’s plan of redemption from generation to generation. Our Kingdom mandate is to share Jesus with the world. God is already at work — we simply need to join Him in it.

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Matt teaching at Village Church of Barrington, Barrington, IL, on February 18, 2018.

Watch this sermon at, https://vimeo.com/256307434.

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

I’m guilty. Guilty of constantly changing the narrative of the story to put myself in the best light and come out looking better than I actually am. I introduce slight variations and constantly tweak the story. I consciously avoid specifics or other elements of the story that make me look bad or cast a negative light. Or, I simply justify my attitude and behavior based on what I want to hear or believe about myself.

If you were to ask me anything about my life and rate it on a scale of 1-10, even in my best attempt to be honest and vulnerable, it’s highly likely my number would be no less than one number above what it truly is. “How is your personal joy today?” I give it a nine (it’s really a seven). “How is your daily prayer life?” A seven (more like six). “How about your feelings of bitterness and frustration?” Yikes, getting real now … a six, I need some work here (try four — maybe three — this week). I’m a mess.

Adam and Eve had the same problem (recall Genesis 3).

God, “Who told you to eat from the tree?”
Adam, “The woman did!”
Eve, “The talking serpent made me to do it!”

Now I know where I get it from, it’s in my genes.

The natural operations of our heart is to blame-shift, self-protect, avoid, self-justify and falsify authenticity. Even in our best and most honest efforts, we maintain a corrupted, distorted, and prideful sense of self. After all, we’re creatures under the fall and distant from glory. So often, this also is our approach to reading Scripture. We fail to see the real message, identify the real need, and rightly apply the gracious and wonderful hope to which it speaks into our lives today.

So what do we learn from the story of Jesus who heals the paralytic that was lowered through the roof of a first-century Galilean home, and the call of Levi the tax collector? How do these stories from Mark 2:1-17 apply to our discussion here? A simple, profound, and healing message: Jesus restores sinners.

O come Immanuel (God with us)

As Christmas day approaches, I’m both burdened and hopeful. How about you?

I’m burdened by the pain, suffering, brokenness, violence, war, and division in the world. Burdened by the deterioration of life and a creation that was meant for good and glory. And yet I’m hopeful for a bright future. Hopeful for unlimited peace and joy. Hopeful for eternal reconciliation. Hopeful for a perfectly restored creation.

The source of my burden is the fallen creation and humanity’s inherited rejection of God and his Kingdom. We don’t have to look further than Genesis 3 to understand the universal cause of our pain and suffering.

Yet the source of my hope is in the grace and love of a God who initiated a cosmic reconciliation through the living presence of himself in Jesus Christ. Christmas is the single historical event that changed everything. Christmas is the day we remember that God fulfilled his promise that he would be with us – his creation, his people, his children, his loved ones. Christmas is the day that marks the beginning of the end that will bring about a perfect new beginning. Christmas is the reminder that Jesus is with us now and forever.

 

The Matchless Christ

All too often I find Christians believing in and selling a weak and shallow gospel. It goes something like this: “follow Jesus and get the life you always wanted.” There are all sorts of variations to this, but in the end, these superficial gospel messages are rooted in a superficial theology of the person and work of Jesus Christ. A shallow gospel becomes nothing more than fire insurance for the afterlife or pithy inspirational messages that boost one’s emotional morale for the day.

In contrast, a deep theology of Christ is the unshakable foundation to something more than fire insurance or daily inspiration. Intimately knowing the person and work of Christ, His unrivaled supremacy over all creation, and His defeat over sin and death is what brings about total transformation – a fully restored life and world.

The Necessity of Prayer

It wouldn’t surprise most that prayer is a necessary aspect to our journey of faith in Christ. But why? Prayer is necessary because it increases our faith in the God who heals, restores and saves. When we pray to the Lord in the name of Jesus Christ, we are acknowledging our willful submission to God. In other words — “I don’t have this, so help!”

Prayer is an active process that appeals to God in a posture that reflects our dependence on Him, thus increasing our faith in His sovereignty. The goal in the journey of faith is not to treat prayer as a secondary response to the critical, painful, or fearful moments of life, but rather a natural response in every moment.

The Practice of Prayer

With the affluence of technology such as email and text messaging, handwritten letters are quickly growing out of style and practice especially among the younger generation. I myself am included in this and the evidence is in my rapidly deteriorating handwriting. Likewise, as affluent Westerners with access to everything and any anything within the free two-day shipping window through Amazon, our dependence on a sovereign and loving Lord becomes less appealing and necessary. As a result, our prayer life becomes less used and therefore out of style and practice.

However, prayer is not reserved only for the moments when we need something, but rather is best understood in the context of a relationship between you and a Holy God. Although your methods of communication between friends and family have changed, the nature and purpose of your communication has not. We still communicate with those whom we love, need and intimately understand us.

Reignite your prayer life with this encouraging and grace-saturated sermon, “The Practice of Prayer”, from Matthew 6:5-15.

 

We Are One: A Vision for Unity of the Church

I’m proud to be part of a church that is intentionally seeking out missional partnerships and breaking down barriers that would typically divide rather than unite. Despite some of our differences, we’re united in the core principles of the faith and our commitment to the true gospel as given to us in Scripture. However, the church as a whole hasn’t had a great run historically speaking. It’s safe to say that our divisions have helped foster disbelief among a watching community and world. Look no further than the two churches that sit next door to one another and never talk, discuss, collaborate or exchange a friendly wave in front of a watching world to sense the lack of community and love that we Christians love to brag about.

Unity for the sake of unity is not a sufficient response. Instead, we need to look beyond the superficial and see the true means and purpose for unity among gospel-centered churches in a world that is craving a sense of meaning and belonging more than any other time in history. The gospel unites God’s people and his church so that the world may believe.

Gospel-Centered Communities

If there is one thing that I’ve learned over the years, it’s that we were made for community. We need others to laugh with, cry with, complain with, bond with and just to be with. However, it’s true when they say “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Who we live with often determines the person we become.

The role of a gospel-preaching church is to encourage and equip others to live in a vibrant community that is centered on the very message of hope and the pursuit of holiness that can only be found in Jesus Christ. We need communities that are committed, loving, gracious, truth-telling and redemptive. We need communities that are focused on the gospel.