Posted by & filed under Live Sent.

Rock Bridge,

I am writing this to you not only as your Lead Pastor, but also as a member of this amazing body of believers that I love so much. My calling and passion to serve as Lead Pastor of Rock Bridge, faithfully preaching God’s Word and providing strategic vision and leadership remains as strong as ever. I am writing today to share with you a decision and direction the Lord has been leading me towards since January. What began as an impression has now become a God-given conviction about a direction I am supposed to take. Since this will become public soon, I want to first share it with you—my church family.

Since the adoption of our boys, the Lord has deepened my compassion for those in poverty, especially children. In 2012, I began to better understand many of the challenges we face in our communities and how the church should mobilize in response. So our church launched a new initiative—H.O.P.E.—to help address several of these challenges, including poverty and its impact on our children.

Increasingly, I have come to realize that a high-quality education is one of the indispensable ingredients for ensuring children—whether in Ethiopia or Haiti or here at home—have the opportunity to achieve their God-given potential. This opportunity should exist regardless of a child’s zip code, their parents’ income, or their skin color.

This realization has been transformed into a conviction from God that I am to pursue a seat on the Dalton Public Schools Board of Education during the 2017 election. This is the system both of my parents retired from; this is the system Beth and I graduated from, and this is the system where our two boys currently attend school.

Since January, I have prayed, fasted, meditated on Scripture, and pursued godly counsel only to experience God’s providence and to receive greater clarity and a stronger conviction about this direction. Yes, I experienced doubt. But every doubt was followed by reassurances from God, including the affirmation of our Elders and Beth’s strong support. Our elders and my accountability partners see this as an extension of who we are at RBCC—people living sent to bless others in a variety of ways and platforms.

In the past, God has made it abundantly clear that I should attend the Naval Academy, marry Beth, start Rock Bridge, and adopt our boys from Africa. While God’s methods of communication have been different regarding this decision, He has been no less clear. I found the pattern of God’s call described in John Ortberg’s book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat to be helpful:

  1. There is always a call.
  2. There is always fear.
  3. There is always reassurance.
  4. There is always a decision.
  5. There is always a changed life.

During this process of listening and discerning, my dependence on Him has increased, my prayer life has grown richer, and my commitment to Jesus and the cause of His Kingdom has grown deeper. However, I have had to fight against the fear of losing, the fear of experiencing people’s disapproval of me, and the temptation to put my identity in a position or an outcome, rather than in Christ. But God is faithful, and He has been clear. While I don’t know if it’s God’s will for me to be elected, I do know God is leading me to pursue this seat on the board. If elected, I’ll be driven by what is best for all of our kids, seeking the best possible educational outcomes for them.

As we move forward in this direction, the elders will continue to provide strong accountability, guardrails, and support for me. Furthermore, I will not use the pulpit of this church or any other Rock Bridge platform in the pursuit of this seat on the Board.

As my church family, I would greatly appreciate your prayers:

  • for the Lord’s will to be done
  • for me to represent Jesus in the public arena faithfully by displaying civility and compassion while offering wise, visionary, and strategic leadership
  • for God to use me in the places “He appoints, at the time He chooses, and with the provision He is pleased to make” (Sinclair Ferguson)

Live sent, Rock Bridge!

 

Matt

 

“…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you …”

Jeremiah 29:7 {ESV}

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Opening day.

The first day of school.

The wedding.

First day on the job.

Baptism.

We love to celebrate the start. However, a strong start does not translate into a strong finish. The Bible is more into celebrating strong, faithful-to-the-end finishes.

“… the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13, NLT)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7, HCSB)

“…follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.” (Hebrews 6:12, NLT)

The trouble is we often do not realize the ingredients for a weak or tragic finish are present in our lives. This is why we need to practice the discipline of self-reflection, using principles and insights from Scripture to discern how we are running the “race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1, HCSB).

Here are 4 questions to ask yourself to see if your current pace and direction are heading toward a faithful finish.

1) Does “it” help me run?

Notably, the author of Hebrews commands us to get rid of not only sin, but also “every weight” (other translations use ‘encumbrance’). In other words, anything that does not help us run needs to be removed. There is a reason why great athletes follow strict diets and schedules. Yet Christ-followers run for a greater cause and a better reward.

This means we have to put a lot more things on the table of evaluation besides what is sinful. We have to look at how we spend our time, what we watch on TV, what we eat and drink, what we do for entertainment … and a whole lot more. The good can often be the enemy of the best. So what things in your life might need to be removed—not because they are necessarily wrong or bad—but because they are not helping you run?

2) What is consistently grabbing or competing for my attention?

Focus is a key ingredient of a strong finish, yet we face more distractions than ever in the 21st century. When we think of focus, we must realize that we are finite beings capable of expending a finite amount of energy, time, and effort every day. So what stuff seeks to grab your attention or distract you away from the race of faith?

3) Am I growing to believe and trust more in God’s sovereignty and love?

The longer we run, the more we experience adversity and challenges. Only a resolute belief in God’s power and goodness over and through our circumstances will keep us in the race. We can’t succumb to fatalism or victimhood, and we definitely can’t quit. We can look to Jesus and realize God is in control and working out infinitely and eternally good purposes in a broken and fallen world.

Remember: a hard race does not mean the wrong race!

4) What particular joy is driving me right now?

We are all driven by joy. However, not all joys are the same. Some joys are temporary, some are enslaving, and some are deceptive. There is joy in physical pleasure and material gain. There is joy in comfort and joy in relief from pain. However, God designed us for joys of significance, of fruitfulness, and of His unending presence. Therefore, our highest joy is always found in Christ and the race He gives us to run!

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and other questions I get about tithing…

As Christ-followers we must wrestle honestly with the Bible’s teachings about money, stewardship, and generosity. As we wrestle, we will inevitably experience the tension of how the world views money versus how God views money. These tensions will create some questions, and below are several great questions I’ve asked personally or been asked by others.

Are Christians supposed to tithe since we are no longer under the Law?

The logic here is that Jesus set us free from the Law and since the tithe was part of the Mosaic Law, then Christians are not obligated to tithe anymore. Jesus did, in fact, set us free from the Law as a means of being righteous before God; now we are righteous by faith in Jesus, receiving His righteousness as our own (2 Cor. 5:21).

However, we must wrestle with the fact that Abraham tithed before the Law of Moses was given and that Jesus affirms the tithe in Matthew 23:23. Furthermore, when Jesus taught about the Law, He taught that He came to fulfill it, and then He intensified the Law’s requirements. (See His teachings on what constitutes murder and adultery as examples of this.) Jesus did this because God is after the heart and wants obedience and good works to flow from a heart that is fully devoted to Him. Christ-followers have been given a new heart, or a new value system, that esteems and treasures Jesus above all.

So how does the “heart” show up in giving? Through radical and often sacrificial generosity that testifies to the worth of Jesus and our ambition for His global mission. Understood this way, the tithe is a great place to start in our giving.

Should I give or tithe off the net or gross?

The Old Testament describes tithing as being a “first fruit,” meaning the first of what we make as income. We should give back to God first, before giving or spending anything else.

Should I get out of debt first or start giving first?

I firmly believe the Bible teaches that generous giving should never be neglected for any reason, as long as a person has an income. We see in 2 Corinthians 8:2-3 that the Macedonian churches gave more than they were able to give. This means that being generous was the top priority for how these Christians handled their finances.

Should I give only to my local church?

In the Old Testament, we clearly see that the tithe supported the work of the temple and that other offerings were taken for the poor and for other needs. In the New Testament, the church is the new temple (1 Cor. 3:16) and the central institution for global disciple-making. Therefore, Christ-followers should give first to the church—the only organization Jesus founded while on earth. However, the local church does not need to be the only recipient of generous giving. We should be open to any opportunity to bless others and partner in Kingdom causes as the Holy Spirit guides.

In conclusion, generosity and stewardship are areas we must constantly monitor our lives to guard against greed, materialism, and idolatry. Because God gave Himself to us in life and in death, we must continually die to the master of money and live joyfully under the reign of King Jesus. As we open up our hearts more to Jesus, we’ll find our hands opening up more to give, to bless, and to serve. This is why I encourage us all to stare deep at the love and mercy of God on display in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to meditate on His radical generosity to us, and to reflect on the cost of our forgiveness and new life … then give—not out of guilt, fear, or reluctance—but as response to the indescribable gift of God (2 Cor. 9:15).

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Living by faith, keeping in step with the Spirit, and setting our minds on things above are definitely challenging, but they are also joy-producing, peace-giving, and exhilarating pursuits. However, sometimes we get distracted, deceived, and diverted from our calling to live in the Kingdom of God because let’s face it, life can be overwhelming!

So I have worked on an acronym to help increase my attentiveness to God’s presence in my life and to keep me focused on Him. This tool is only that—it is not a rule, but it is one way to cooperate with the grace of God. The tool merely serves the grand vision of being led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14) and participating in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). Maybe it will help you, too!

A.I.M.S.

ADMIT helplessness and dependence. Humility is the precondition for experiencing God’s presence, and therefore it is important to continually confess our need for God and His grace. This is a way for us to not “rely on our own understanding,” but rather to forsake self-reliance for trusting wholeheartedly in God in everything (Proverbs 3:5-6).

IN Christ. Paul uses this short prepositional phrase over 150 times in the New Testament, and it forms the key to understanding the accomplishment of the Cross, the position of the believer, and the resources available to us. In Christ, we have an eternal identity as God’s beloved children; in Christ, all God’s promises to us are “yes” (2 Cor. 1:20); in Christ, we have every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).

MAGNIFY Christ. We declare our intention to allow Christ to live His life through us (Galatians 2:20) and therefore, be magnified in and through us.

SITUATIONS … Prayerfully think through the situations we are facing, with the “A.I.M.” of our heart centered on living in His presence.

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This weekend we announced that God in His grace to us and sovereignty over us has given us a “perhaps.”

A perhaps is when God places circumstances before us that seem to align with His promises and purposes, asking us to make faith a verb, and trust Him in a bold way for Kingdom victories.

The most famous “perhaps” in Scripture is when Saul’s son Jonathon squares off with some Philistines, and even though he is badly outnumbered, he initiates a fight on a “perhaps” —

Jonathan said to the attendant who carried his weapons, “Come on, let’s cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will help us. Nothing can keep the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” [I Samuel 14:6 HCSB]

The result? A significant victory for Israel explainable only by God’s favor… and His servant Jonathan’s willingness to go bold on a “perhaps.”

Our “perhaps” is to build a second Rock Bridge campus DEBT-FREE! Because of delays in building planning, our BOLD fund balance has grown, and we have some extra reserve cash in our “strategic” opportunities fund. Practically, this means if we have enough cash on hand before construction starts in the next 2-3 months that—by God’s grace—we could perhaps build TWO new ministry platforms without debt!

But we have to act on the “perhaps”…

We need all Rock Bridgers who can to seek the Lord on this and see what each of us can willingly, cheerfully, and sacrificially give to the BOLD Initiative between now and the end of May.

As you consider giving something to BOLD, please

  • Ponder God’s gift of His Son to us. Recognize that Christ is the “indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15). We cannot out give God.
  • Cheerful giving comes as a product of embracing God’s grace to us in Christ and making Christ—not money—our greatest Treasure. We cannot out give God.

May the words of Paul guide your prayers and your inform your giving:

Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. [2 Cor. 9:6-8 HCSB]

 

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BOLD HALFTIME WEEKEND 2017

I believe that 2017 is a wonderful time to follow Jesus and BE the church.

That statement may sound naive given the political unrest and rise of people citing “none” as their religious affiliation. It may sound ignorant considering our racial divisions, the redefinition of marriage by the Supreme Court, and threats of terrorism that exist in our current reality.

Optimism seems in short supply.

But I think these conditions are ripe with possibilities for the church and for us as Christ-followers. Rather than curse the darkness around us, we can truly light a candle of hope and truth that blesses a burdened world. The world is hungry for a vision that inspires hope instead of fear, and it’s longing for a connection to a great cause and a loving community. And this is exactly the news Jesus told His followers to share, saying, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The Kingdom from heaven has come near!’” (Matthew 10:7)

This weekend we’re going to share the vision of Rock Bridge Community Church and the “why” of our existence.

This weekend we’ll share why it’s a great time to be alive, be the church, and be sent by Jesus into the world.

This weekend we’ll remind ourselves why God started this church 15 years ago and why our boldest moments are our best moments.

This weekend we’ll celebrate the progress of our BOLD Initiative (it’s halftime!) and, in faith, anticipate that the best is yet to come.

That makes this weekend a great time to attend one of our worship services and bring a guest with you. Who do you know … that needs hope? Is looking for a church home? Is longing for a cause to live for? Bring them to Rock Bridge with you this weekend!

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One of our prayers at Rock Bridge is to connect 10,000 people to life in Christ: 10,000 people in relationships and environments where they are being discipled to Jesus. We realize that while God gives the growth, He does call us to pray, to discern, and to act in cooperation with His grace and power. Or as the Bible says in Proverbs 21:31,

A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory comes from the Lord.

We are preparing the horse for the victories we pray God will bring for His Name. This comprehensive preparation is what we have called the BOLD Initiative. It includes several components.

Ministry Space

Most prominently, it’s the addition and renovation of physical space that will increase our seating capacity. Many of us are giving generously and sacrificially to make this a reality. This is preparing the horse and cooperating with the fact that God wants His church to have victory in disciple-making.

New Campuses

Most notably, it was the launch of our Hixson Campus last fall. Preparations are also underway to begin a worship service in Spanish in Dalton. Additionally, we are seeking to start small groups in Rome to seed a potential campus launch. This is preparing the horse, realizing that God desires Gospel-expansion and Gospel-unity to occur geographically, ethnically, and socioeconomically.

Discipleship

Ultimately, our fundamental mission is to make students of Jesus from all walks of life. Over the past year, we have changed our leadership structure for small groups to be more focused and intentional. This includes moving Alfred Turley from the role of Dalton Campus Pastor to be the Discipleship Pastor for all RBCC. This is preparing the horse for battle, and we are already seeing some fruits of God-given victory. We have 250 more people (or a 14% increase) in small group participation from one year ago!

Evangelism & Outreach

Currently, we are discerning ways to equip more of our church to share their faith, tell their story, and bless people intentionally to showcase Jesus. In the future, we hope to see many Rock Bridgers equipped to be disciples who make disciples. This is preparing the horse because for the Gospel to save, it first has to be seen and shared.

Overall Leadership

Consistently in scripture, we see the importance of adding leadership capacity and creating efficient leadership structures to maximize ministry (see Acts 6:1-7 and Exodus 18). This is why we added Ryan Stigile to our team as our Executive Pastor. Additionally, we have increased our number of elders to ensure we have more shepherds for our people and discerners to help guide our church.

New Dalton Campus Pastor: Recently, our Elders have named Tony Helton to be our new Dalton Campus Pastor. Tony has previously been an elder and a small groups pastor, and currently serves as our Dalton Children’s Minister. After a season of prayer and interviews, the Elders strongly affirm Tony’s heart, gifts, and fit for this role. This move is important because it gives a dedicated champion and leader to the Dalton Campus. For the past year, Matt and a team of pastors have been leading this campus in effect by committee but with no one fully championing and owning the overall health and direction of the Dalton Campus.

We pray these leadership moves will ensure the best possible deployment of our staff and leaders based on the spiritual needs of our people, the leadership needs of our teams, and the gifts God has placed within each of us. Like Acts 13:1-3, the Spirit-directed, strategic positioning of leaders is preparing the horse for battle. However, we admit that without God there can be no victory and trust Him to send it as the Gospel is declared and demonstrated so more disciples—perhaps 10,000—are made.

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A divisive presidential election. A protested inauguration. The Women’s March. Democrat vs. Republican. Liberal vs. Conservative. Rural vs. Urban. Blue states vs. Red States. Pro-life vs. Pro-choice. Rich, poor. Black, White, Hispanic.

People are divided… politically, economically, geographically, spirituality, by gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. As Christ-followers, it is easy to begin to see the world and other people in the “us vs. them” paradigm. Without much effort, we begin to relate to others based on our differences with them. When we relate to others based on our differences, we tend to be defensive, focus more on being right than kind, or gravitate toward isolation and association only with people “like” us.

While “us vs. them” feels necessary, is it biblical? How then do we live in a nation divided into so many different identities and ideologies?

1) We must not be surprised when the “world” does not act like “us” as Christ-followers, and we must remember what we were like before Christ.

Do not be surprised that people do not recognize truth (Romans 1:18), prefer feel good teaching over truth (2 Timothy 4:3), and fail to see God in creation, Scripture, or the gospel.

We all should read and reread Titus 3:3. Because of who we were pre-Jesus and what He did for us (Romans 5:8), Christ-followers should be the most humble, gentle, patient, and merciful people on the planet. It is not “us vs. them”, it is “us” in humble compassion and grace toward “them.”

2) We must get judgment right.

We are called to judge sin IN the church—the sin of Christians or of those who claim to be (I Corinthians 5:13). This means our posture is “us” versus the sin we found in ourselves and each other in the church. Paul commands the church to live so that those outside the church can’t criticize (Philippians 2:14-15) and instructs church leaders to have good reputations among non-believers (I Timothy 3:7). For example, are we more concerned about what the Supreme Court says about marriage or about how the people in our small group are actually doing in their marriage?

Why is this important? So that our testimony of Christ can be heard without distraction or creating disgust, and we are reminded that this testimony is how God is for people in Jesus, not against them (John 3:17). In other words, we are not tools of condemnation for “them”; instead we are ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19-20) and “salt and light” to “them” (Matthew 6:13-16).

3) We must manage the tension between truth and love with wisdom.

By relativizing truth to individuals, one’s ideological preference, or one’s dominant identity, all we need is love, right? The world only wants to hear about acceptance, tolerance, and equality guised under the category of “love.” However, there is such a thing as absolute, objective truth. To ignore or dismiss truth does not make it less true; however, to hide truth is potentially unloving. However, we do not share truth in pride or condemnation or to be right or to win an “us vs. them” battle. As Tim Keller said in a sermon, “truth without love is imperious self-righteousness. Love without truth is cowardly self-indulgence.” As human beings, we all need truth, and we all need love. We need truth expressed with love and love that aims at truth.

4) We must go deeper into the gospel to live effectively in the world today.

The gospel humbles us with the difficult truth about ourselves, yet displays our worth through the radical love of God. The gospel tells us the ground at the foot of the cross is level, and that we are all fellow pilgrims searching for the truth that will free us and the love that will not disappoint us. In the gospel, it is not “us vs. them.”  It is all of us in need of the One Who became one of us: to die for us, to die instead of us, and to rise from the dead to give life to any of us who would place our faith in Him.

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In Acts 1:15-26, Matthias was chosen to be the new and 12th apostle. In Acts 6:1-7, new leaders were added to the church. In Acts 11:25-26, Barnabas went to get Paul and add him to Antioch’s leadership. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Timothy is instructed to raise up more teachers in the Ephesus church. In Titus 1:5, Paul tells Titus to finish the uncompleted work of adding elders to the church in Crete.

What do we “see” from these examples?

1) God adds leaders through prayer and providence.

God uses circumstances—even problems—to bring about the need for additional leadership in the church. Additionally, prayer is a critical component of New Testament leadership selection.

2) Leaders are added to fuel momentum.

The church has a mission, and it’s not maintenance of the status quo. Matthias was added so that the apostolic witness would be complete and the command to be witnesses of the resurrected Christ could go forward into the world. Seven servants were added to minister more effectively to widows and to ensure the apostles could teach and pray with focus. The result? More disciples (see Acts 6:7)! Paul helped teach in a church that later became the springboard that launched Christianity from a regional to a global movement (Acts 13:1-2). Teachers and elders were added in Ephesus and Crete because when the Gospel advances, lives are touched, changed, and incorporated into the church.

This is why we celebrate our staff. When we hired them, they were an answer to prayer; they still are. The vibrant presence of staff means God is moving, God is faithful, and we are cooperating with the grace He is giving to us. Personally, few things give me more pleasure in ministry than the staff partnerships we have at RBCC. Corporately, our church is blessed by the dedication and presence of Christ working in and through our staff.

This is why I’m excited to announce that Ryan Stigile will be our new Executive Pastor (see the post, “XP: What & Why?”). He’s originally from Virginia and his wife, Emily, is from the Marietta/Atlanta area. They attended Lee University in Cleveland and have recently been ministering in Ohio. He has visited Rock Bridge twice, and gone through several interviews and conversations with our staff, elders, and church members.

Ryan emerged as our leading choice after months of elder meetings, staff conversations, and hours of prayer. He shares our vision to connect disconnected people to Christ and loves to develop systems to support big visions. The elders and I believe God has brought Ryan and Emily to Rock Bridge, and we look forward to adding another team member and ministry partner to the Rock Bridge family!

God is at work at Rock Bridge to position us for MORE … so believing that the best is yet to come, please pray for our staff, for Ryan and Emily, and for fresh zeal for God’s glory!

Matt

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The Annual Rock Bridge Budget: 2017

Each year Rock Bridge members have an opportunity to review and adopt our annual

budget. The budget is a combination of wise stewardship, faith for the future, and fiscal

restraints that strategically advance our mission and reflect our most recent priorities,

while protecting the financial integrity of the church.

 

The budget is only one part of how we “strive for excellence” in financial integrity.

Additionally, we receive an annual audit and have recently received church

accreditation from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Our Stewardship

Team also meets monthly to review our financial statements and provide oversight of

our financial practices.

 

How is the Budget Created?

Rock Bridge establishes funding for our mission and various ministries through a

process that includes drafting multiple versions of a budget before a final draft is

submitted to the congregation. Staff members begin the process with a preliminary

draft. Our Pastor of Operations, David Park, works with the staff and interfaces with the

Stewardship Team to review and adjust this preliminary document.

A subset of Directional Elders then reviews the budget draft, continuing to refine the

budget towards it final form.

After review by the Elders, the budget is submitted and recommended to the

membership for adoption.

 

The bottom line is that our annual budget goes through a process that sees our ministry

funding proposals pass through several “sieves” in order to produce the final draft.

 

What is in the Annual Budget?

Our budget is organized around a few broad categories. The categories loosely

correspond to how we describe life in Christ: love God, love others and live sent:

Love God, Love Others: Preaching & Worship; Discipleship; Care

Live Sent: Local and Global missions

Ministry Support: administration; operations; facilities

If you have additional questions about our Annual Budget, feel free to contact our

Pastor of Operations, David Park: david@rockbridge.cc or our Church Administrator,

Brenda McClure: brenda@rockbridge.cc, or at 706-279- 3175.

 

**If you are a Rock Bridge member, please click here to review the budget and

participate in the approval process.