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1) 2016 was a GREAT year!

We saw a 10% increase in small group involvement, launched our 5th campus in Hixson, moved into a permanent facility in Chatsworth debt free(!), served our communities through HOPE, and continued to grow in Christ-likeness and faithfulness.

2) The BOLD Initiative continues …

After the Chatsworth building was completed, we began to design the “ministry platforms” (buildings) in Ringgold & Calhoun. The initial cost estimates came back higher than we expected. The Directional Elders “pushed pause” to look at all options for reducing the overall price of these projects. This process continues, but should result in moving forward in wisdom and good stewardship in 2017.

BOLD giving continues to go well. We have brought in 36% of what our church pledged and we are roughly 33% finished with the 3-year period.

Please know how much any gift to BOLD matters and helps us move the ball downfield to connect more people to life in Christ!!

3) 2017 Budget

In all likelihood, we will present the 2017 Budget for members to review and affirm online as we have in years past. Expect a budget in the range of $5.6-$5.7 million, which is roughly an 8-10% increase from 2016’s budget.

4) Our Executive Pastor (XP) search is entering the final phase.

We have reached the final stages of this search where we are connecting and interviewing specific people for this very important role in our church. Please pray for wisdom, discernment, and clarity as we move forward.

5) 2017 …

  • We have a possible opportunity to launch a Rock Bridge campus in Rome, GA/Floyd County! Our initial goals are two-fold: saturate this in prayer and start a small group in Rome within the first few months of 2017.
  • We are doing very intentional outreach to Spanish-only speakers in Whitfield County with a target goal of launching a worship service in Spanish in 2017.
  • Disciple-making, disciple-making, disciple-making.
    • I want to learn more from and become more like Jesus in 2017, and I pray that over all our church members and attenders too!
  • Connect, connect, connect.
    • Would you boldly pray that God would use YOU to connect at least one person to Christ and into church community in 2017?!?
  • THE BEST IS YET TO COME … !!

I Corinthians 2:9 — But as it is written: “What eye did not see and ear did not hear, and what never entered the human mind—God prepared this for those who love Him.”

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The crazy 2016 presidential election is over, and Donald J. Trump is now our President-Elect. I (Matt) have heard so many differing reactions to these results—from fear to elation and everything in between—that we need to wrestle with the question, “How should a Christian respond to Election 2016?”

1) Pray

Whether you voted for Trump or not, whether you like the results or not, as a Christ-follower, you must pray sincerely for our 45th President (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

2) Honor

The Bible also commands us to “take delight in honoring one another” (Romans 12:10b). This means we should honor those who disagree with us, honor those who voted differently than we did, and honor those who are troubled by the election results. And above all, refuse to let pride, fear, or suspicion be your controlling attitude.

Here are practical suggestions for showing honor:

  • Don’t assume the worst about those who voted differently than you did.

Don’t assume that those who voted for Hillary are secularists or pro-abortion.

Don’t assume that those who voted for Trump are insensitive to minorities or race issues. In a two-party system, very rarely will there be one candidate that perfectly espouses your position on the issues or your values. Voting reflects our convictions, our conscience, and the reality of the choices we are given.

For example, I know many Christ-followers who were genuinely troubled by many of Trump’s comments, but who are single-issue voters for the pro-life candidate.

  • Show empathy.
Many of our African-American and Hispanic brothers and sisters are confused and fearful. I have spoken to some who have already been called names and been verbally insulted since the election. We remember that everyone is made in the image of God and we are a church for people “from all walks of life” because that is the reality and hope of the Kingdom of God. However, while awaiting the fullness of that perfect Kingdom, people’s hurts, fears, and worries must be acknowledged, respected, and heard – not minimized or disregarded.

3) Justice

Our commitment is to truth and justice, not to power or party. While we want our President to succeed because we love America, we must never hesitate to speak out with clarity and courage against injustice, no matter who or what party occupies the White House.

4) Unity

As Christ-followers, what unites us in Christ is bigger than what might divide us in our politics. We honor one another; we empathize with one another; we stand up for justice; and we remember we are ONE in Christ, united together eternally in His Kingdom.

5) Hope

Remember our hope is not in who occupies the White House, but in WHO sits eternally on the throne of Heaven. We do not put our hope fully in a man or woman. Do not let any current or future occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue steal or diminish the hope you have in Christ.

People are still looking for hope that does not “disappoint” (Romans 5:5). Donald Trump will disappoint us, and Hillary Clinton would have too. They are not saviors, not God, and not worthy of our hope or worship. As Christ-followers, live and share the best and most secure hope available—hope in King Jesus who reigns forever!

 

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Our Elders have called us as a church to a Day of Prayer & Fasting on Wednesday, November 2nd. We see connections in Scripture between the intense prayer and fasting of God’s people and God’s work among those same people (see Acts 13:1-3).

For many of us, fasting can seem out of reach—only for a few “super” spiritual people. Yet this is a satanic deception and discouragement aimed at preventing God’s people from using one of their great spiritual weapons and from robbing God of the glory He gets when His people grow in their hunger and desire for Him.

So here’s a primer on fasting.

What is fasting?

Fasting is voluntarily going without food—or any other regularly enjoyed gift from God (such as social media or the internet).

We fast from what we can see and taste because we have tasted and seen the goodness of our invisible, infinite, and majestic God. We fast because we want more of God.

How to Fast

1) Expect it to be hard. Whether from your aching belly or simply because it’s new, fasting will not be easy.

2) Start small. Don’t go from ‘never fasted’ to trying a week-long fast. Start with one meal or use a modified fast where you abstain from food, but drink fruit juices and even smoothies. Do not attempt to fast from water for any length of period.

3) Have a plan: fast with your Bible open. Have a plan for what spiritual activity you will engage in during the time you would normally eat. Replace the desire for food (or whatever you are abstaining from) by feeding on God’s Word or listening to worship music or praying.

Remember that the point of fasting is not to just go hungry, but to give up something temporarily to intentionally pursue God.

4) Fast together. This is a church-wide fast called by our Elders so we can support and encourage one another in our fast. In your small group, pray together during a mealtime instead of eating together. Send encouraging texts to one another.

Let’s plead together by fasting together for more of God’s favor, help, strength and wisdom to be on our church.

5) Fast from something other than food. Some health conditions prevent fasting from food. If wisdom for you is to not go without food, consider fasting from television, the computer, social media, a hobby, or some other activity you enjoy … and replace that activity with intentional pursuit of the greatest joy found in Jesus.

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Our elders are calling our church together for a special day of prayer and fasting on Wednesday, November 2nd. The hope is that many of us will commit to coming together for prayer at various times throughout the day, but culminating at our First Wednesday service that night. Additionally, we hope you will consider fasting from food, social media, or something else that involves sacrifice and frees up time for prayer. Many of us hope to fast from Tuesday night at 6:30 pm until the Lord’s Supper during First Wednesday’s service.

     

Why are we doing this?

a) A NEW SEASON: We are preparing to enter the next phase of BOLD and need fresh wisdom and power from the Lord.

b) SPIRITUAL WARFARE IS REAL: Jesus taught that some enemies can only be dealt with through prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21).

c) A DESIRE NOT TO BE AWOL: We recognize that God has ordained prayer as a wartime weapon to affect the accomplishment of His purpose. No AWOL soldiers at Rock Bridge!

d) NOTHINGNESS: We acknowledge that apart from God, we can do nothing!

What specifically will we be praying for on this day?

  • Wisdom for the season we are in as a church
  • Favor from the Lord for salvations and disciple-making
  • The Holy Spirit to empower our church for God’s glory
  • Spiritual protection from deception, unbelief and the schemes of the enemy
  • America as we choose our next president

How do I fast?

We’ll be providing some more resources on this soon. Right now, just begin to pray for this season and how you might seek Him in fresh ways through fasting. If you feel ill-equipped, unqualified, or that you just can’t do it … that’s awesome because weakness is the GOAL of fasting because weakness increases our dependence on the Lord!!!

  • If you have never fasted before, consider fasting over lunch on Wednesday, Nov. 2nd.
  • If you have medical issues and need to eat, consider fasting from something you do every day such as using social media, watching TV, or drinking coffee. The purpose of fasting is not abstaining from food but focusing more intently through sacrifice on the Lord Jesus.
  • If you fast from eating, drink plenty of fluids, including shakes and smoothies!
 

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Below is a summary of the truths, principles, and guidelines Rock Bridge would aspire to as we make disciples of Jesus and act as “salt and light” in the world in which we find ourselves.

     

1) The central issue is the Lordship & Kingship of Jesus Christ.

We must be careful not to make sexuality appear as the central “platform” of Christianity. We must be careful not to create a special category of sins or sinners. At the center of Christianity is a cross and a crown. Jesus bore the cross, and Jesus gets the crown. We cannot align with Jesus only when we agree with Him; if so, we fail to understand the scope of His authority and the breadth of His reign.

 

2) God loves people from “all walks of life.” (This includes the homosexual.)

We can’t define “all walks of life” too narrowly. God loves sinners. Period. No one measures up to God’s holiness. No one bears His image perfectly. No one is beyond His grace and love.

   

3) The Bible is clear on what constitutes sexual sin.

Many people undoubtedly question or deny the authority of the Bible. Others would seek to reinterpret the Bible to justify or excuse certain behaviors. While others debate the Bible’s authority, at Rock Bridge we accept not only the Bible’s authority, but we also seek to interpret it with integrity.

We cannot deny that Jesus strongly affirmed marriage as between one man and one woman. We cannot deny that Paul called homosexual acts sins, and that in Romans 1 his argument against homosexual behavior was based on God’s design in creation.

We cannot deny that the Church for nearly 2000 years has universally viewed homosexual behavior as sinful behavior (only in the last 20 years or so has there been any debate on this issue).

However, we can’t limit the Bible’s sexual ethics to only homosexuality. The Bible teaches a sexual ethic of purity. Purity covers way more than most of us realize. We all must pursue repentance and purity in the area of sexuality, understanding that human sexuality (including gender) is spiritual, sacred, and to be sanctified to Jesus as Lord.

   

4) Our attitude toward others must be humility, not hostility.

Christians speak as those who were “dead in [our] … sins … but made alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-5). Christians speak as those who apart from God can do nothing (John 15:5). Therefore, we must be humble and gracious, compassionate and merciful. There is no place for hostility, condemnation, or alienation.

   

5) Ultimate joy and happiness are ultimately found in Jesus, not in sexuality or sexual experiences.

Our society teaches that a person cannot be happy or fulfilled without sexual satisfaction. We must reject this lie and the confusion and despair it brings to those who believe it. The joy we seek is found in the Person of Christ. Therefore, we cannot say to someone, “Stop what you are doing (sexually)” without saying to them “Here is the One (God in Christ) your heart was made for.”

We cannot overcome sexual urges, temptations, or deceptions unless we have a greater affection for Christ. We are not seeking to convert people from a particular sexual orientation, but to convert people to Christ as Lord, King, Savior, and eternal and infinite Treasure.

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Our Next Staff Position: Executive Pastor (XP)

What? Why? When?

Off and on for several years, our church has contemplated creating the position of Executive Pastor (XP) within our organization. The impulses for this consideration have been driven by two factors: the growing complexities and dynamics of our ministry and the limitations and capacities of our current leadership. Due to the size and scope of our ministry and our team, more attention and energy are required for collaboration, coordination, and implementation. We have learned that we are one of the few churches our size or larger in America that currently does not have an XP.

Increasingly, Matt is being drawn into details and problem solving that—while necessary—pull him away from championing our strategic direction, from prayer, communication, and teaching. In effect, over the past several months, his prayer and study time have diminished substantially; we discern this to be a precarious position for him and the church. Additionally, we are seeing that our staff need more clarity, more communication, more coaching, and more support. We believe that these issues could create an unhealthy climate and culture within our staff where miscommunication, lapses in ministry execution, and lack of accountability exist.

Additionally, our elders foresee that these challenges will only increase as we continue to multiply campuses and expand our discipleship and missional outreach. Our elders foresee the need for an infusion of additional leadership gifts within our church body to help us not only solve our present challenges, but prepare for the future Kingdom opportunities we anticipate by God’s grace and for His glory.

As a result, we see the need for someone in our organization to focus on implementation of vision and ministry priorities, coordination between departments and campuses, supporting our staff by providing coaching and resources, and helping us prepare organizationally for the next season of fruitfulness God will bring to RBCC.
The XP role is designed specifically to focus on these organizational dynamics of robust coordination, clear direction, follow-through, and execution. Additionally, the XP serves the staff by ensuring they have the share of resources they need. The XP can function like the human “nerve center,” ensuring the right things get done the right way so that harmony and faithfulness to our vision and values prevail.

We will be using the ministry search firm, Vanderbloemen Search Group, to help us identify the finalists for this new role on our team. Potential candidates should apply through the link above.

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We are entering a prayerful time of discernment as our elder selection process begins for 2017. Our church has also existed as an Elder-guarded and Elder-guided church. Practically, this means that our elders do the following:

   
  • Guard the mission, vision, doctrine, unity, and resources of the church.
  • Serve as shepherds/overseers guarding our members through care, prayer, and discipleship.
  • Chart the strategic trajectory of our church through their collective discernment, prayers for wisdom, and consensus-based decision-making.
   

At Rock Bridge, we have two subsets of elders: directional elders and campus/congregational elders. All of our elders serve at a local campus where they act as shepherds and discerners. Some of those elders then also serve as directional elders where they help guide the comprehensive, multi-campus direction of RBCC.

 

On a personal note, I thank God over and over for the plurality of eldership we find in the New Testament. God has repeatedly throughout our history protected our church through the wise counsel and Spirit-given discernment from our elders. By God’s grace, we have never had a “power play” or “political move” from any of our elders. Our elders have given me coaching, accountability, and encouragement. They have led us through building campaigns, cases of church discipline, and intense periods of outreach and expansion. They have put the brakes on at times and called us to pray. They have pressed the accelerator at times and moved us to seize God-given opportunities. Through all of this, they have operated in humility, unity, and passion for God’s glory and His church at Rock Bridge.

   

How are elders chosen?

First, elders must have been a member of our church for at least one year. Elders are also expected to tithe and be involved in the ministry of the church. Elders are not expected to be “perfect,” but should be actively demonstrating the characteristics and virtues found in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.

 

Potential elder candidates are first considered confidentially through prayer and private conversations. Next, they are approached to see if God has given them to desire to serve as an elder (see I Timothy 3:1). They are asked a series of questions about their conversion, Christian lifestyle and witness, understanding and ownership of the Rock Bridge vision, support of our belief statement, and financial stewardship.

As these areas continue to affirm the Elder candidate’s call to this role, we present names to the church for prayer. For a period of two weeks, we ask our membership to pray. If a member has a question or concern about a candidate, they are asked to share that privately with a pastor or elder. Any concerns will be addressed and either resolved or cause the candidate to be no longer considered.

 

Finally, the elder is then affirmed by the current elders to serve a three-year term.

If you would like to suggest someone for consideration, first pray and ponder I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Then you may email matt@rockbridge.cc.

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2 Corinthians 5:21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” {NIV}

In part 2 of “You Turn” I referenced Joni Erickson Tada’s description of God the Father making God the Son “to be sin for us”.  After receiving requests for the reference, I am sharing it again here.

From Heaven the Father now rouses himself like a lion disturbed, shakes his mane, and roars against the shriveling remnant of a man hanging on a cross. Never has the Son seen the Father look at him so, never felt even the least of his hot breath. But the roar shakes the unseen world and darkens the visible sky. The Son does not recognize these eyes.

“Son of Man! Why have you behaved so? You have cheated, lusted, stolen, gossiped—murdered, envied, hated, lied. You have cursed, robbed, overspent, overeaten—fornicated, disobeyed, embezzled, and blasphemed. Oh, the duties you have shirked, the children you have abandoned! Who has ever so ignored the poor, so played the coward, so belittled my name? Have you ever held your razor tongue? What a self-righteous, pitiful drunk—you, who molest young boys, peddle killer drugs, travel in cliques, and mock your parents. Who gave you the boldness to rig elections, foment revolutions, torture animals, and worship demons? Does the list never end! Splitting families, raping virgins, acting smugly, playing the pimp—buying pornography, accepting bribes. You have burned down buildings, perfected terrorist tactics, founded false religions, traded in slaves—relishing each morsel and bragging about it all. I hate, loathe these things in you! Disgust for everything about you consumes me! Can you not feel my wrath?”

Of course the Son is innocent. He is the model of blamelessness itself. The Father knows this. But the divine pair have an agreement, and the unthinkable must now take place. Jesus will be treated as if personally responsible for every sin ever committed.The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind for every century explodes in a single direction.

“Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!”

But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot, who will not, reach down or reply.

The Trinity had planned it. The Son endured it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished.

(When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, p.53-54)

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In the last blog post, we discussed how diversity glorifies God and therefore, that pursuing diversity in the church is part of being faithful.

So how can we practically support mission-critical, God-glorifying diversity?

     

1) Keep your ambition for God’s glory high.

We begin our mission statement with the phrase, “To glorify God … We must understand this is the aim of history and should be the ultimate ambition of our hearts. As a church, we are not simply trying to be a big church that grows bigger; we are striving to be a biblically faithful, God-intoxicated church pursuing full faithfulness to Christ. Diversity is part of God’s glory. Diverse churches showcase God’s glory. It’s all about His glory!

Yes, Yahweh, we wait for You

in the path of Your judgments.

Our desire is for Your name and renown.

Isaiah 26:8 {HCSB}

2) Assume there is some degree of racism in you … and fight it with the blood of Jesus, His Spirit, His Word, and the promise of a fully integrated & diverse Heaven!

The roots of racism have a long history in this part of our country and in many of our own families. All of us struggle with self-justification and attempts to feel superior at others’ expense. We resist God’s command to honor others above ourselves (Romans 12:10). Seek true repentance in this area, reminding yourself that the ground at the foot of the cross is level.

3) Build relationships with people who are not like you.

Examine your life and look for opportunities to meet and intentionally build relationships with people who are different than you are. Sit with different people in worship services and at ball games. Seek out new people to meet and practice hospitality.

4) Be willing to adapt.

In church, this might mean singing a song in Spanish or incorporating different worship elements into our services. Don’t turn a personal preference into a principle. Learn to appreciate other cultures and other people.

5) Rock Bridge Español is coming … pray, serve, & invite!

At our Dalton Campus, we will be launching monthly outreach events in Spanish that will run concurrently with our Rock Bridge PM service. These outreach events will meet in the Wink Theatre and share RB Kids Ministry. We pray that in the future, we can have weekly services in Spanish where Pastor Enrique will preach, using the same Bible passage as all other RB worship services. If you are interested in helping serve or being involved in anyway, please contact enrique@rockbridge.cc.

There was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne

Revelation 7:9-10 {HCSB}

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The glory of God. It’s our ultimate ambition and the most important driver of the church. It fuels worship, and it is the goal of missions. It is where all history is headed. At Rock Bridge, it’s woven into our mission statement: To glorify God by connecting people from all walks of life …” Yet have you ever thought of diversity as something that brings God glory? Diversity refers to a wide variety of people coming together from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, socioeconomic groups, and cultures to form the church. Diversity is what we mean by “all walks of life.”

How does diversity in the local church glorify God?
  • Diversity shows the unifying and reconciling power of Christ.
    • He can bring people together who otherwise would not associate and might find it difficult to even get along. Consider the groups Paul highlights in Colossians 3:11In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.
  • Diversity shows Christ is not merely another tribal god or god of one culture’s tradition.
  • Diversity magnifies the praiseworthiness of God.
    • Jesus’ worth is shown through the diversity of His admirers and worshippers. He can elicit praise from anyone!
  • Diversity in worship points to where history is moving.
  • Diversity illustrates the truth that all humanity is created In God’s image.
  • Diversity showcases God’s desire to save all people, not on the basis of their personal merit, but on the basis of His amazing grace.
    • People can easily find merit in their status, their nationality, their possessions, and their race. However, salvation is completely by grace, and diversity shows that God truly loves all people, does not play favorites, and saves because of Who He is.
    • I Timothy 2:4
  • Diversity accelerates discipleship.
    • When we share life with people who are different from us, we are stretched in how we love, learning to appreciate the diversity of God seen through the diversity of His image bearers.
 

The church exists in part to be a colony of Heaven, working for “God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Therefore, not caring about diversity is not an option, and faithfulness demands we pursue diversity just as we pursue evangelism, missions, justice, and discipleship. Furthermore, if God’s glory is our bottom line (which it is) and one of the promised outcomes of history (which it is), then diversity is integral to who we are as the people of God.