Blog

Betting the Odds

Odds are a funny thing – especially when it comes to college football season and election seasons. I love watching how the political and sports pundits try to convince their viewers of how the odds are stacked against an opposing person/team and immediately write them off. Take for example when Clemson faced Alabama in the latest NC game. Nearly every sports pundit predicted Clemson to lose. In fact, Vegas had the Tide as a 7 point favorite. At the beginning of that game, the odds were stacked against Clemson. However, Clemson defied the odds and took home the trophy.

Consider the previous election season in 2016. Every news outlet said the odds of every American seeing a UFO and winning the lottery at the same time were greater than Donald Trump winning the election. (Slight exaggeration, but you get the point.) One website had Hillary with a 71% chance at winning the election and Donald with only a 28% chance. Yet, like him or not, even though the odds were stacked against him, Trump defied the odds and is now our president. 

Some would call stories like these “underdog stories”, others call it “luck”, but whatever you call it – don’t call it impossible. Don’t count people out or think a situation is impossible just because the odds are against them. 

Throughout the narrative of the Bible there are stories just like these – men and women overcoming the odds. Consider Moses – with the most powerful army in that era of time pressing against the children of Israel, God said, “I like the odds of this” and delivered them from the hand of the enemy. Gideon? This punk-turned-mighty-man-of-valor started with an army of 30,000 to go against an army of 135,000 Mideanites. God didn’t like those odds so He stripped Gideon’s army to just 300 to go on to defeat the Mideanites. What about Mary and Joseph? The brutal regime in power wanted to murder every little boy, which included their baby, Jesus, yet God had the final say. The odds were stacked against Jesus from the time he was born to the time he brought himself back to life. (Or perhaps God stacked the odds against himself?) And this narrative continued throughout the scripture just so that people can see that it is never any man or woman’s effort, but it is God who brings total victory.

My story is no different. I have been backed into many corners wondering if God was ever going to move. And just when I thought it was over, God stepped in and said, “I like the odds of this.” This has not only been my story, but Refuge Point’s story (where I pastor). We have been backed into many corners and we’ve had every reason to quit. We’ve even said we want to reach 1,000 people by 2020. Yet, time after time God has looked at each of these odds and said, “that’s exactly where I want you.” Not so people can see how awesome Matthew is or how awesome Refuge Point is, but to say, “Look at how awesome God is and how faithful He is.” 

You may be in a situation where the odds are stacked against you. It may be a failing marriage, a wayward child, a financial crisis, or a sickness – I want to remind you that God does his best work when the odds are stacked against you. The odds stacked against you are never too big for God to handle.

 

Belong Local

How many times have you seen “shop local” or “dine local” in your town? Although this is mostly something that is seen in smaller towns, it is a marketing campaign for locals to stop shopping at national chains and the internet and go to the local shops, markets and restaurants. Why? Because buying local helps build the local economy. Experts say that if just half the U.S. employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue.

But what about the idea of belonging local? I’m not talking about belonging to a gym or a local club. I’m talking about belonging to a local church. (Key emphasis on local and church.) Don’t check out on me yet…but think about it. Many Christians don’t belong to a church and some Christians simply go when it’s convenient. And then some of us “go” to a church that isn’t even local. We’ll drive to a massive church that’s 30-60 minutes away and “go”, just to get lost in the crowd – forsaking the call of belonging to a church.

I think the reason “belonging to a church” is foreign to us is that we treat the church like it’s secondary to our faith. Maybe because we’ve been hurt in the church or maybe it’s because we just don’t care. However you feel about the church, as believers the church is who we are. So we can either say we don’t want to identify ourselves as the church because of poor decisions by other morons, or we can take on the name and redefine it for everyone who doesn’t know what the church is supposed to be.

The truth is that Jesus never intended for us to to go to church. Jesus said that He is building a church (from the Greek word ecclesia – a gathering of people.) He isn’t starting a go fund me page for a building program, rather he is building a people. And it baffles me when “Christians” say they want nothing to do with what Jesus said he is building. It’s like expressing your affections to your friend, but hatred towards their spouse. Jesus’ intention for us is to belong to His bride, The Church. Belong to what is the cure to every issue in this world. Brokenness? Poverty? Loneliness? Addictions? Hurts? The Church has the answer – it’s what we are supposed to belong to. And I’m so convinced that God wants to do something so spectacular in our community today – but we as Christians are holding people back from that movement because we are individuals who simply refuse to belong to a church.

My challenge for us is to stop going to church and start belonging to church. Let’s stop being critical of her and start building her up with our gifts. Stop trying to drain all of her resources and start giving to her.  Stop going when it’s convenient for you and start belonging faithfully. Stop coming by yourself and start bringing people with you to grow her. Stop comparing your church to the latest fad in the next town and start building her up.

Don’t forsake the church or attend apathetically – belong local to the ecclesia – The Bride of Jesus.

Sticks, Stones & Words

Do you remember being in the playground as a kid and either saying or hearing the following phrase? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Yeah, that old adage that dates back to the mid 1800s, is a lie. In fact, sticks, stones and words have the power to kill someone – whether physically or emotionally. The power of our words are strong enough to start fights but also usher in peace. Sticks, stones and words can be used to build up and at the same time can be used to tear down.

Yet, as painful and life altering as this is going to sound, we don’t get to determine the impact of the hurtful words we speak. Yes, we do have the power to control our tongues, but we often allow our words to fly like bullets in the night. And in the event that we speak hurtful words, we tend to forget that it can actually cause devastating damage. When most of us speak hurtful words, we tend to follow them up with, “sorry you feel that way“, “you’re just oversensitive“, or “grow some and suck it up”, which only reveals a lack of maturity and escalates the chaos. This nearly 3,000 year old proverb echoes its simple yet relevant truth to us today – “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”. (Proverbs 18:21)

I just ended a 6 week sermon series on words we speak and as a recap I thought I would share 2 phrases that could end up being worse than sticks and stones:

1. Just Kidding! If you know me, you know I love sarcasm and being the quick witted guy that has a comeback for everything. But there’s a huge problem, not everyone is created the same and not everyone gets the joke. Not only that, being the brunt of a joke can be devastating. Even though I joke a lot (probably way too much) I don’t even like being the guy who is the brunt of the joke. For some reason we think that if we say something hurtful and add, “just kidding” to the end, it makes it okay. Well, it doesn’t. “Just kidding” may seem like you’re just throwing a twig at someone, but it could feel like a log to the person on the receiving end. As the old proverb says, “Like a madman who throws flaming darts and deadly arrows, so is the person who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking.” (Proverbs 26:18-19)

2. Well, I heard… Do I seriously need to get in to this one? This phrase has become more evident on social media. When there is a controversial topic going on, everyone seems to be experts on the subject matter. They ignorantly start off their comment by saying, “well, I heard…”, and then follow it with some hurtful jibber jabber. Well, do you know what I heard? YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. So, maybe we should do the world a favor and keep our ignorant opinions to ourselves. If it doesn’t bring a solution to the problem, then it may be best to keep it to yourself. “Well, I heard” is also a form of gossip – talking about a situation that has nothing to do with us or talking about a person without that person. C’mon folks…let’s put this one to death.

Like a small spark that lights a dry forest on fire, our words have the power to destroy everyone in its path. Sticks and stones hurt, but words have the power to kill, destroy, and rob us of our self-esteem. Maybe as a society we could step back from all of the daily bombs being tossed around and take the time to listen. Listening more and speaking less is a lost art in our culture.

The bottom line is that we are all uniquely wired, which means not one person is the same. We are white, black, hispanic, rich, middle-class, poor, and dirt poor. We are highly educated and we are uneducated. We are religious and non-religious. We are democrats, republicans, and even independents. We are addicts and we are struggling in our sobriety. We are happy, joyous, bitter, angry, anxious, depressed, content, and some of us are an emotional wreck. Yet one thing we have in common is that we have a mouth, and this mouth also has a muscle tissue known as a tongue. Might we all understand that this muscle tissue has more power than any stick or stone?

I challenge you to choose your words wisely. YES – engage in conversations, please! – but be kind, respectful and offer meaningful solutions. Offer words of freedom, grace, peace and justice when engaging in difficult conversations. Because your words can change the trajectory of a persons life – for the good or for the bad. Yes friend – your words are more powerful than sticks and stones. Sticks, stones and words have the power to tear down and the power to build up. Choose wisely.

Words Matter

I’m in the middle of a teaching series at Refuge Point called Just Sayin’. Like me, you’re probably overly familiar with that phrase. If not, it goes something like this: Someone states a critical opinion to stir the pot and then says, “I’m just sayin'”. Or someone wants to give an aggressive PSA and then ends it with “Just Sayin'”. Others often express some form of gossip, negative view, or a cheap shot at someone and then ends the rhetoric with, “I’m Just Sayin'”. What these people don’t understand is that their “Just Sayin'” rhetoric has the power to change the direction of someones life.

Think about how powerful words are. Yet doesn’t it seem like the smallest phrases of words have the greatest impact? When you said, “I do” – did that phrase not change your life? When you said, “yes or no” to that drug or when you said “yes” to that person in the back seat of your car? Think about how those simple yet powerful words changed the trajectory of your life. And to know that we have the power with the words we speak to either bring life or death to a situation should weigh heavy on every person.

The average person will spend 1/5 of his/her life speaking. (Unless you’re like me…it’s more like 3/5.) Of that time, I wonder how many of us are using our words to bring life to situations. I would imagine it would be very little. For most of us, encouragement and spreading God’s love and grace isn’t on our lips. Rather, it’s words of gossip. Gossip is talking about someone without that someone. We simply fill the voids of our conversations with gossip just so we can avoid dealing with the issues and sins of our own hearts. It’s also negativity. Most of us can never say something good about another person because we’re consumed with all the bad he/she has done.

If you’re like me, then you feel defeated when you start thinking about all of this. So what’s our remedy? Jesus said that from the overflow of our heart, the mouth speaks. So, if there’s death in our hearts, then words of death will come out of our mouths. But if there’s life in our hearts, we’ll speak life. The remedy is to ask Jesus to transform our heart. The issue is never the action, it’s always the heart. The way to watch the words coming out of your mouth is to watch what is going into your heart. Store up good things in your heart and watch good things come out of your life.

“The words of a person’s mouth are deep waters, a flowing river, a fountain of wisdom.” Proverbs 18:4 (CSB)