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.

The Story Continues – Act VII

Seven years ago my wife and I, along with a handful of incredible people, launched Refuge Point Church with around 40 people. Although our number was small, our God sized dreams were extraordinarily large. Seven years ago we stepped into a story that we could have never thought about writing. 

Before I launched Refuge Point, some friends of mine blessed me by taking me to the Catalyst conference in Atlanta. During our lunch break I remember being at a Moe’s sitting with my friends and a guy by the name of Jeff Murphy, a pastor in Columbus, Ga. He shared his incredible church planting story and then he told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “Matthew, God will write you’re story and it will be uniquely for you.” I remember thinking, “NO, I already have it written the way I want it!” Jeff wasn’t lying and thankfully, God stepped in and changed the narrative for Refuge Point. Because only God could have done the things that’s happened at Refuge Point. If I would have written the story, the book would be over.

As God began to write the pages of our story week after week, He included a diverse people who found the same hope, the same love and a new life. Today, our story continues with new characters, new settings, new plots, different conflicts, yet with the same resolve; Jesus at the center of our reality. 

As I reflect on the last 7 years, I can’t imagine what it would have been like without God at the center of our reality and with me at the helms of the ship. Honestly, it has been because of the faithfulness of God that we are here today. Sure, there were many times where the church planting roller coaster ride seemed too intense. There were many times where the enemy wanted to stop us, where I wanted to quit, and even times where people wanted us to quit. But I say to that wretched four letter word (quit) “go back to hell where you came from” because quitting is not a part of my story. Simply because this is God’s church and this is God’s vision.

I constantly have to remind myself of (and I remind you of) the powerful words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18, “I [Jesus] will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” Dear Church Planter, Pastor, fellow Christian – You are a part of God’s Church. The greatest movement in the universe. The hope of the world. God sent us himself and we called him Jesus. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit and then Holy Spirit sent us – The Church.

As we press onward towards the vision God has given us to reach 1,000 people in our small town, we will continue to do what we set out to do 7 years ago – reach out, welcome in, and move forward. I don’t know exactly how the next page of our story will read, but since Jesus is the author of our book, our future looks extraordinarily incredible. And I do know this – our future will include three things: God, The Gospel, and People. 

To everyone who has believed in me and has supported us during this journey, thank you. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of the people who labored in prayer and labored physically to get us going. 

Success vs. Faithfulness

Our culture is inundated with how to achieve success. Not only are we bombarded with how to be successful, we are painted a black and white picture of what success looks like. To our cultures standards, success looks like good health, six pack abs, nice house and car, and an extremely successful business or job. Think about how social media has influenced the picture of success for wherever you are in your life. If you’re a pastor, then check out the biggest names in the church world. If you’re trying to get healthy and in shape, then check out all of the fitness models. If you’re a mom or dad, then check out how Sally and Bob (I don’t know a Sally and Bob) are buying their kids the latest toys and hottest clothes.

And as a pastor, I am guilty of wanting this picture of success. I want my sermons to be successful, I want our numbers to be successful, I want my staff to be successful, I want my family to be successful – and I could go on forever here.

But what if I told you that success isn’t the end game? What if looking like everyone else isn’t what we’re supposed to do? Now, I don’t think that wanting success is a total bad idea, it just cannot be the main idea. Do you know how exhausting it is trying to live to the standards of success in our world? Jesus paints a clear picture for us about the one thing he wants from us in Matthew 25:21, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ I’m going to give you the most freeing thing you will hear today: Jesus never called you to be successful, he called you to be faithful. 

The problem is that since we are too caught up with trying to be successful, faithfulness takes a back seat in our priority list and we miss what God is trying to do in and through us. God wants us to be faithful with both the large and small things of life, simply because he’s looking for a people who will place more value in faithfulness over success.

But maybe, just maybe, for those of us who are comparing our lives to the rock stars of social media, maybe we ought to redefine what success looks like. Because success should mean that we are being faithful in what God has entrusted us with.