Good morning, church. How are we? My name is Josh Patterson. I serve as one of the pastors here on staff. I’m excited to be with you this morning. I’m glad you guys are here with us. I know it may have been a little bit crazy to get in, but I’m grateful you’re here.
I had the privilege of taking the end of December off, which was awesome. Thank you for that. I don’t know that you knew you gave that to me, but you did. Thank you. For the last two weeks of December, I got to literally do nothing but be home, which was great. I read books, hung out, watched TV, stayed up late, prayed that the Lord would let our children sleep in. That was the prayer.
Parents, if you have young kids, you know there is a rule that governs the universe. If you stay up late, then one of your children… You don’t know which one, but one of them will wake up two hours before the sun, and you will pay that price for staying up late. So that’s what we did. We just begged the Lord, “Let them sleep till 8:00.” Sometimes he did. We kept him up till 1:00 a.m., but anyway.
So that’s what I did. It was a great break, but I found myself at the end of it feeling and really longing to get back into a rhythm and routine. Toward the new year I was feeling a little sluggish, feeling a little dull, not quite as sharp. The lack of productivity was starting to get to me, so I was eager to get back into a rhythm and routine and thinking a rhythm and routine would be helpful for my family as well. I don’t know if you’re like me, but that’s where I found myself.
In the life of our church we also have a rhythm and a routine. It’s good to break from it. It’s good to take a break. It’s good to do nothing. It’s good to kick back and relax and really not have an agenda. That’s soul stirring. But that’s not life, so you enter back into a rhythm and a routine. In the life of our church we have that. We take breaks in the summer. If you’re a Home Group leader or involved in a Home Group here, you know that in the month of July we encourage you to take the month of July off just to take a break, but then we jump back into the rhythm and the routine.
In the life of our church, specifically right around August (I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this), we launch into a new series. Just about every August we kick off a new fall series, and that fall series usually lasts about 12 weeks. Last year we did City on a Hill, where we walked through the Sermon on the Mount. This year we walked through Recovering Redemption, where we did 12 weeks looking at our Recovery material and how people change.
Then we move from the fall series (it typically ends right around Thanksgiving) into a season of Advent. The season of Advent is a time where we center our hearts and are reminded and remember the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Advent means coming. We remember that Jesus came and that he incarnated himself here and that he lived a perfect, sinless life and eventually died upon a cross. We begin to be reminded that Christmas is about his first coming, and we long for his second coming. It’s a rhythm in the life of the church. It’s purposeful. It’s established for a reason.
Then when Advent ends, at the end of the year, we move into a season of prayer. We do this year after year after year. January for us serves as the beginning of a month-long season of prayer, where we are intentionally and corporately gathering around together to pray about some really specific things. Again, as we’re talking about rhythm and routine, we pray about the same thing every single January. Again, I don’t know if you’ve picked up on it. Hopefully you have. Some of you certainly have.
We’re praying about the same things. We’re not wondering as we jump into January, “What are we going to pray about this year?” We pray about the same three things. We don’t take the rest of the year off from prayer. It’s not that we fast from prayer February through December and just pick up prayer in January as a church. The month of January instead serves as this adrenaline shot into the heart.
It begins to serve as a catalyst to revive our hearts to be reminded about the importance of prayer, to give us this vigor and resolve to carry us through the year to be a prayerful people and a prayerful church. So in the month of January, we’re going to start praying again anew and with a new resolve about three specific things, the same three things we pray about year after year.
The first one is this (we’ll start praying about this next week; Matt will preach on it and really begin to unpack it): We pray about the sanctity of human life. The reason we pray about the sanctity of life is that we believe the Scriptures, and what the Scriptures say about life is that God is the author of life, all life, and he deems life important, specifically your life and my life and any human life that has ever existed.
That’s a really big deal. When God created in the created order, he created humanity differently than everything else. The one specific difference with humanity is when God created humanity, he endowed humanity with something unique that no other created thing received. It was the image of God. Humanity is created in the image of God. From the inception of a little embryo that’s in a mother’s womb, all the way to the last breath of a dying man or a dying woman, that person matters.
Because that person matters, because life matters, we want to be a church, we want to be a people, that heralds to our culture, a culture that is strongly devaluing life, to be a clarion call into the wind saying that we esteem life. Life has worth and meaning. People matter. Whether it’s a system of sex trafficking that enslaves or a system that breathes a culture of death, we want to be a church that has the courage to step into the fray and ask God to boldly move against and push back what is dark. So we’ll pray about the sanctity of human life.
We’ll also pray about racial reconciliation. Listen to what Mark Noll says in his book God and Race in American Politics. He says, “Together, race and religion make up not only the nation’s deepest and most enduring moral problem, but also its broadest and most enduring political influence.” We think about racial tension, racial prejudices, and racial division and how they still permeate our nation, our churches, and sadly, even some of our own hearts.
What we want to do this month is yet again flush up and ask God to do what only God can do, because we believe with all conviction that one of the profound implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that he gives us the ability to love one another, that he gives us the ability to have eyes that see a color deeper than skin, that the blood of Jesus Christ becomes the one color we cherish and are able to be united under. One of the profound mysteries in the New Testament is what God is doing as he’s weaving together and unifying that which is diverse.
We want to be a church that celebrates the diversity found in God. We want to be a church that celebrates the implication of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that those who are fractured and frayed can actually come together. We want to be a church that walks into the complexity of an issue. We want to be a church that has the courage and the empathy to feel and to sense some of our past transgressions, some of our current prejudices, and ask God to do what only God can do: to mend, to heal, to fix, to unite.
Finally, we want to pray about God’s call to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. We want to be serious about what Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 28, where he put before his people… He says, “You’re going to go to the ends of the earth, literally to the ends of the earth. My people will take my message all the way to the ends of the earth, believing that this message is a universal message for everyone to hear, that those who believe and love and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved to eternal life.”
It’s the reason we celebrate families like David and Keri Campbell who, with their three little kids, just got on an airplane this week and moved their lives to Germany to invest in church planting, to see a movement of God in Eastern Europe. It’s why we have families who are in Sudan, in South Africa, in East Africa, Central Africa. It’s why we partner with churches in Guatemala. It’s why we have missionaries literally all over the world.
When you walk outside these doors, you see the missionary wall right there. It’s why we send money and send people and are asking God to raise up others among us to go. Why? Because somebody told you. Somebody shared with you, and there’s somebody out there who doesn’t know because nobody has told them. It’s why people are raised up to go. They’re going to tell. This is a message we take and tell others about.
So we’re serious and prayerful in asking God to stir up a movement of missions among us. We’re asking God to swell a revival in our church or any church, that the gospel might go forward to the nations. If you look at our annual church budget as it continues to grow, the most exciting part of that budget is what continues to grow faster than any other piece: the budget of money going out of this church to church planting, to church planting partnerships, to the nations, to the cooperative program, to missionaries, to the work of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
This will be a significant month for us in the life of this church as we rekindle yet again the fire in our hearts to care about the things God cares about, to put stakes in the ground and say that these aren’t transient issues for us, that racial reconciliation isn’t something that’s simply trending today and gone tomorrow. We care about it. It matters to us. That the sanctity of human life, although complex, hot button, political, and messy… We want to be a voice for the voiceless. We want to be an advocate for the ones who cannot advocate for themselves.
So as we enter into a season of prayer, I want to walk through a text and talk about prayer. If you have a Bible, turn to Matthew, chapter 7. If you don’t have a Bible, there is one in the seat back in front of you. We’ll start in verse 7. Let me give you a little bit of background on Matthew 7, specifically the whole book of Matthew. What’s going on in Matthew is really built around what are called five key discourses.
These five key discourses in the book of Matthew really serve to create a discipleship manual. Discipleship means how you and I follow the Lord. Discipleship means how you and I are changed to look more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ. The book of Matthew contains the most instructional ministry from the lips of Jesus, more than any other book. That’s profound. That’s a big deal. So in the book of Matthew we have this manual of discipleship. We have these five key discourses.
The first key discourse in the book of Matthew is what you and I know as the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is about this: Jesus is announcing that he is the Messiah and that he has authority. He’s announcing his authoritative message and announcing that he is in fact the Messiah. You pick it up in language like this, where Jesus says, “Hey, you’ve heard that it’s said this, but I say to you… You may have heard it taught this, but I say to you…”
What Jesus is doing in this is turning the locus of authority away from this tradition, away from this teaching, away from this centralized, political, religious sector of the Jewish society, and he’s going to say, “No, no. It’s not here; it’s me. You’ve heard it said this way, but I tell you this.” You feel this transition in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus begins to assume the authority that he has inherently, because he is indeed the Son of God.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is going to lay out all of these kingdom life principles. He’s going to lay out what it means for you and me, those who love and trust the Lord Jesus Christ, to walk with him day in and day out. What does it look like to operate within the kingdom? In chapter 5 he’s going to lay out all of these kingdom principles. If you want to know about those, go listen to the City on a Hill series we did last fall, where we laid out the principles of the kingdom, what Jesus does in chapter 5.
Then in chapter 6 he brings it down from the principles right down to the practices. He starts laying out, “This is what believers do. This is what life looks like on the ground.” The principles are up high, but the practices are down on the ground. That’s chapter 6. Then he begins to take chapter 6 right into chapter 7. He has already talked about prayer one time. Now he’s going to come back and talk about prayer a second time, and prayer being a central practice in the life of a believer.
I’m going to let the cat out of the bag right now. Here’s what this sermon is about. Matthew 7:7-11, the central point, the trunk of the tree, the anchor that holds the ship, whatever metaphor you want to use, this is what this is about. Jesus is teaching in these four verses that prayer to a loving Father is effective.
Now you might hear that and it might not wow you. You might hear that and think, “I feel like I knew that.” I don’t know how it hits you, but the more we begin to unpack this, the more we begin to understand this, the more you and I begin to relate to this and meditate on this and really begin to consider what this means, the implications are profound. It becomes a warm blanket to your soul and to your heart.
Chock-full in that one little phrase are things like the certainty of God’s work on your behalf, the character and the nature of the One you are praying to, the loving essence and nature of the Father. It might not wow you now, but it’ll stop you dead in your tracks at some point in your life when you come to that realization that he loves you. That’s big. That’s really big. You’ve heard he loves the world. You get that, right? It’s a game changer when it finally hits your heart and you realize that no, he loves you.
In the first couple of verses in Matthew 7, we’re going to see this (I’m just going to tell you what we’ll see, and then we’re going to look at it). You’re going to see how we approach prayer. Then in verses 9-11 you’re going to see how we approach prayer is affected by who we approach in prayer. So it’s going to start off with how we approach and then who we approach. But keep this in mind: prayer to a loving Father is effective. Let’s read this.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Let’s think about this. Right out of the gate, Jesus is going to lay out these three verbs, these three triplets: ask, seek, and knock. This is how we approach prayer. Jesus is saying in our approach to prayer, we’re to approach it in terms of asking, seeking, and knocking. Asking, seeking, and knocking speak to our posture in prayer, our pursuit in prayer, and our persistence in prayer. Let me unpack it a little bit.
Our asking in prayer. Just the very fact that you and I are asking declares something about us, that we have a need, that we do not know, that we lack some wisdom, clarity, information, insight, perspective. We’re asking because there’s a need we can’t fill. It’s contradictory to come to prayer self-sufficient. Prayer is a declaration of dependence.
Prayer is an opportunity to lay my life down and say, “I cannot; you can.” The posture of prayer, the very position of prayer that Jesus lays out in the first verb, ask… Included in that is a genuine understanding of humility, that I can’t. “I’m positioning myself underneath you. I’m asking for something because I don’t have it. I just don’t have it.”
He’s going to move from asking, from this posture, to talk about the pursuit in prayer. He’s going to talk about seeking. In the seeking, what’s happening in this kind of essence, or this approach to prayer, is what I’m seeking is, “I want to know your heart, God. I want to know your will in this.” You think about what Jesus has already taught in the Sermon on the Mount here, where he teaches us how to pray. “Not my will but your will be done.” The pursuit of prayer.
The believer as he positions himself low before the Father, as she takes herself down low, recognizing that she is (Matthew 5:3) poor in spirit, like all of us… The posture of humility. The believer, the seeker comes, seeking to know the heart of the Father. Prayer is different if you and I come demanding with entitlement versus eager with expectation. Prayer is different when it’s a declaration of dependence rather than a demand from a genie. Prayer is different when you and I understand it to be, “I’m coming to have my heart yielded to the Father’s heart rather than the Father’s heart yielded to my heart.”
Oftentimes we’ll take a verse like Psalm 37:4... “God is going to give me the desires of my heart, so whatever I’m asking for, no matter how wicked, self-centered, or perverse it may be, or how shrouded in good intentions it may be, God owes it to me because it’s a desire of my heart.” Again, we have to keep the context in mind here. Jesus is saying the asking and the seeking and the knocking…
It’s in this season of prayer where our hearts are actually transformed, not God’s heart. God’s heart is not yielding to my desires. God is taking my desires and lovingly crafting them in such a way that I begin to see his desires are actually better, that his heart is actually kinder, that his heart longs for better things than my own heart longs for for my own self.
Then, the knocking. The knocking of prayer is the persistence of prayer. It’s not just that we’re asking one time and we’re done, but there is a continual coming back to the Lord. We’re continuing to come to him, continuing to seek him, asking, “Lord, what is your will in this? How will you solve this situation, God? How will you transform and yield my heart to your heart in this?” There’s a continual coming back to the Lord in prayer.
I’ll say this. Asking, seeking, and knocking can be really awesome or really awful. It all depends on who’s on the other side of that door when we knock. If he’s tyrannical we’re in trouble. If he’s miserly, capricious, irritable… Think about this. How do you view him? How do you think about him? Do you see him as stingy, reluctant, aloof?
Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t leave that to our speculation. Jesus is going to use an analogy that all of us are familiar with, all of us can relate to, and he’s going to use this analogy to teach us who’s on the other side of that door. In our asking, seeking, and knocking, you and I get to take great comfort that on the other side of that door is One who is loving, gracious, kind, and good, who eagerly longs to give good gifts to his children. Do you believe that?
If you’re like me, you’ve had those moments, seasons, or years of doubt when you’ve longed for a certain aspect of healing. There has been a nagging depression in your life or in your home, a broken marriage, a difficult situation, a seeming lack of provision, a marriage that longs to be restored from one end or the other, a prodigal son, daughter, friend, mom, dad, cousin, or coworker you have come and prayed and prayed about, a season of singleness that continues to extend well beyond what you expected, a longing for a child that hasn’t seemed to come yet. What then? How do we feel then?
This is why it’s vital. This is why it’s essential. This is why this is such profound good news. That’s why that statement, “Prayer to a loving Father is effective” means something really significant. When we’re in those dark seasons, when we’re in those seasons of doubt and despair, when we’re looking to give up or begin to question who’s on the other side of that door, Jesus takes us right here to this example in verse 9.
“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
This example here is one you and I can relate to. We just walked through a Christmas season. We walked through a season of gift giving. I doubt that any one of you if your kid asked for a Furby gave him a box of scorpions; that if your child asked for a new game on the Wii you wrapped up some rattlesnakes and thought, “This is going to be awesome.” None of you have done that. I haven’t done that.
What Jesus is saying here is you and I are broken, tainted with sin. He uses the word evil. “If you then, being evil, know the joy of giving good gifts…” And you do. You know what it’s like to give a good gift. You know what it’s like as a parent, or you can extrapolate what it’s like as a friend if you’re not a parent, as a person who gives a gift. There’s something right in the very act of giving. There’s something good in it. There’s something wholesome in it, something righteous in it.
Jesus is saying, “Hey, look around. You guys know how to do that. You’re getting this right. You know the feeling. You know the sensation. You know the heart you have toward your little ones. Now how much more the heart of the Father that is not tainted with sin? How much more the One who is completely, totally righteous? How much more the One who forever finally and fully is for you?
There is no perverted self-interest. There is no miserly capriciousness in this One. He’s purely righteous, purely good, loving, gracious, and generous. How much more?” Jesus already used this “how much more” logic in the Sermon on the Mount, where he says, “Hey, do you want to know what you’re going to eat? Look at the birds of the air. God feeds them, doesn’t he? How much more you, then?”
Or he says, “Hey, do you wonder what you’re going to wear? How about you look at the lilies of the field who are robed in more splendor than Solomon in all of his glory. You look at these lilies of the field, here today and gone tomorrow. How much more will he take care of you?” He uses the same logic here. “If you know how to give good gifts, then how much more will God graciously give good things to you?”
Listen to this quote by John Broadus. He says, “One may be a truly industrious man, and yet poor in temporal things; but one cannot be a truly praying man, and yet poor in spiritual things.” What Broadus is saying here (and what Jesus is saying, more importantly) is that God gives good gifts, and the good gifts are the gifts of the kingdom. If you and I love righteousness, love purity, love holiness, love the glory of God, love brotherly affection…
If these are the things you and I love, God just heaps them out to us. He generously gives these things to us. But if our asking, seeking, and knocking are about “Benjamins” and bills and big houses and expansive lots, that’s a different understanding. That’s a health/wealth/prosperity view, which is a perverted view of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What God is saying he is giving is the good gifts of the kingdom, which means sometimes we pray this and he gives this. What is such great news is that the One who gives… Jesus says he doesn’t just give good things; he gives the best things. He literally gives what is best.
Just before the 9:00 service this morning I had a lady come up to me who was here last night and heard the message. She said, “I walked through a season where my husband came down with cancer, when we asked, we sought, and we knocked, and my husband passed away. We didn’t get what we were asking, seeking, and knocking for.” You can take that example and lay it over a thousand different situations and stories in here.
But she said, “On the other end of our asking, seeking, and knocking was a good, gracious, loving Father. Although I never would have chosen what he gave us, I trust that what he’s giving us is for our ultimate good.” That’s perspective. It’s a kingdom perspective. It’s not a perspective we’re maybe familiar with or even comfortable with, but it is a biblical perspective. On the other end of that door is One who is loving, good, gracious, and generous. Do you believe that? Do you believe he loves you? Do you believe he has your best at heart?
A.W. Tozer has this quote where he says what you think about when you think about God is the most important thing about you because it determines everything you do. The way you and I understand him has implications in every aspect of our lives. How you and I see him, view him, matters. Is he a good, generous, gracious God, or is he stingy and reluctant?
This is where you and I begin to wrestle in our hearts and begin to ask ourselves really tough questions. A quote that brings me great comfort is one from Tim Keller, who is a pastor of a church in New York City. Keller says something like, “If you and I knew everything God knows, we would answer our prayers the exact same way he did.” That’s profound. It just speaks to our limitation. It speaks to how little perspective you and I have. That’s why we’re coming and asking in the first place.
The great news is that on the other end of that door is a good, loving, gracious Father. D.A. Carson puts it like this: “What is fundamentally at stake is man’s picture of God. God must not be thought of as a reluctant stranger who can be cajoled or bullied into bestowing his gifts [Matthew 6], or as a malicious tyrant who takes vicious glee in the tricks he plays [like giving stones instead of bread in verses 9-10], or even an indulgent grandfather who provides everything requested of him. He is the heavenly Father, the God of the kingdom, who graciously and willingly bestows the good gifts of the kingdom in answer to prayer.”
Church, we’re entering into a season of prayer. We’re entering into a month of corporate prayer, where we’re asking the Lord to do some things. We’re seeking the Lord in this. But above all, what we want is him. In our seeking and in our persistent knocking, what we’re doing is yielding our hearts and saying, “We trust you in the good times and in the bad times, in the difficult situations and in the times of abundant seeming blessing. We trust you because you are good and kind.” As we walk into corporate prayer, I just want to nuance the difference between corporate prayer and individual prayer.
Individual prayer is me and my needs and my thoughts and my wants and my desires. Corporate prayer is when I begin to look up and think about your needs, your wants, your desires. Where I think about my brokenness, I’m now looking out at your brokenness. When I’m thinking about my lost friends and family members, I begin to think about your lost friends and family members. We are corporately coming together and unifying our hearts together in a corporate sense, where we’re thinking about one another intentionally in a way we might not usually do.
Mark Dever, the pastor of a church in Washington, DC, says it like this: “Participating regularly in corporate prayer begins to take out the individualistic assumption that Christianity is only about me and my relationship with God, and it begins to resituate us as individual Christians in the congregation so that we become aware of this person who’s sick, this person who’s just had a baby, this person who’s unemployed, this person who’s just become a Christian.
Participating in corporate prayer helps us discover that our lives as followers of Christ are tied up with one another’s. It helps us discover how God cares about the congregation as an entity––that it should be marked by the fruit of the Spirit and the love of John 13:34-35. That’s not how Christians in America normally talk. You hear about ’my own spiritual desires and demands’; you don’t really hear about the local congregation’s desires and demands. But regularly participating in corporate prayer reintroduces these ideas and reorients our thinking.”
I love what Dever says there. It begins to reorient my thinking to consider your thinking. It begins to lift my eyes up in such a way that I begin to look out and care about what you care about, feel concerned about what you feel concerned about, be empathetic about what you may be broken about, and really begin to sense and to feel. Throughout the Scriptures, believers, the people of God, the church, have gathered corporately to pray for a few different things.
One of them is that the church has gathered to pray because they believe God can change the course of events. They gather corporately to pray because they believe God can reintroduce circumstances, that God can turn hearts. You see this in Acts, chapter 12, when Peter is in prison. The church gathers to pray, and they’re praying and asking God to do something. Sure enough, the chains fall off. Peter walks out of prison.
Several years ago I got a call about 5:00 in the morning from my mom. My mom lives alone in an apartment in Dallas. She called me frantic on the phone and said, “Josh, there’s somebody at my door apparently trying to come in.” I said, “Mom, hang up the phone and call 9-1-1.” She said, “I’ve done that. They said they’ll be here in 20 minutes.” (Which is not timely.)
I’m helpless, hopeless. There’s literally nothing I can do at this point. My mom is vulnerable, defenseless, in a sense. I just said, “Mom, let’s ask the Lord to do something.” I’m praying. My heart is racing. I’m terrified. I said, “Lord, just protect her. Defend her. You’re her defender. You be an advocate for her. You stand in the gap. Lord, would you build a wall?”
Just about right as I said “Amen,” my mom lets out the most bloodcurdling scream you hope to never hear. That guy walked in her apartment. She had forgotten to lock her door. He walks in wielding a knife. I hear somebody on the other end of the phone say, “Hang up, and I won’t hurt you,” and my mom hung up on me. So now I’m sitting in my house terrified, helpless, hopeless, unable to do anything. I have one lifeline, but on the other end of the lifeline is a God who hears and cares, so I asked the Lord to build a wall.
Long story short, what happened is that guy walked in knife in hand and just stopped. There was like a perimeter, kind of like a wall that he didn’t go past. He stayed there. He waited there for 20 minutes until the Dallas Police Department showed up finally and arrested him. It was crazy. The Lord built a wall. See, the Lord intervened into an event. The Lord did something miraculous there. It’s profound.
I shared that story several years ago. Some guy heard it on a podcast and took it to his church. They rejoiced about what God had done through answered prayer. They began to testify that God answers prayers, that we as a church can be certain God hears us and responds to his people. They celebrate that. Shortly after that, he’s driving home and gets a call from his wife. His wife says, “There’s somebody in our house, and they’re ransacking the house. We’re in the closet.” She was in the closet with her young special‑needs son.
Do you know what he said? “I can’t do anything. I’m helpless, hopeless, defenseless. The only thing I know to do is go to the Lord in prayer. I’m going to go to the Lord in prayer and ask God to do something, to change the course of events, to intervene.” So he asked the Lord to build a wall. He gets home. Every room in his house was ransacked. Every closet had been gone through except for one. He opens it, and his wife and child are in there.
That family then relocates and moves to Dallas. They join The Village Church and become members. I preach at the Dallas Campus. I finish preaching. He walks down to me with tears in his eyes and says, “You’re never going to believe this. We’ve never met, but I have to tell you this.” He just relays that whole story to me. We just began to weep and cry. Do you think we started patting ourselves on the back and going, “Man, we are prayer warriors”? No. Just desperate dudes in need of a God to do something.
Here’s the reality. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. Sometimes he doesn’t, and I don’t know why. But I know on the other end is a God who graciously longs to give good gifts to his kids. Several years ago, Paul Matthies (who used to be on our staff) and I were going to do a hospital visit. The hospital visit was for one of our members whose uncle had slipped into a coma. He was a nonbeliever, and they were asking us to come and pray for the family.
Paul and I are driving to the hospital, and Paul says, “Let’s just pray and ask that the Lord would wake this guy up.” Okay. I’m thinking we’re just going to go and comfort the family and love them well. Let me just be honest. I’m not thinking this guy is going to wake up. Are you? I mean, I want to want that. It’s more like I want to want to want to want to want that. I’m like six degrees of wanting that away from really wanting that, but I want it.
So we drive there, we get there, and we get into the hospital room. Sure enough, this guy is out cold. We circle up. We’re praying. Paul says, “God, I just ask that you would give one of us in here the gift of faith to believe that you wake this guy up.” I’m looking. “I hope, God, you give one of us this.” I want it to be me. I’m just desperate. Then I start feeling this tension. Do you wrestle with that? I do. I want it, but I don’t really think it’s going to happen.
We get home that night and get a call from this girl who says, “You’re never going to believe this. My uncle woke up. He’s completely lucid. For the first time in weeks we were able to have a conversation with him, share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him, and for the first time in his life he confessed the Lord Jesus as Savior.” Praise the Lord. Then he slips back into the coma and dies hours later. He goes to glory. That’s stupid. I mean, in a good way, in a righteous stupid way. I felt like an idiot and I wanted to rejoice.
It’s all wrapped up in there that he is a good God. He doesn’t always do it like that, but he can and he does. Sometimes he withholds because that’s the best gift. Sometimes he says no because it’s the better gift. Not better through our lenses or our perspective, but always for our ultimate good. Church, do we believe that? That’s where we have to anchor our hearts and be.
They have gathered to repent of their collective sin and the sin of their people. You see this in Daniel, chapter 9, where Daniel stands up and repents on behalf of Israel. Daniel was a great dude. He was righteous. It wasn’t his issue. He was seeking the Lord. But it was his issue because it was his people’s issue. He felt it. He didn’t create a separation from his people, but he entered in.
As we walk through this month, you’d better believe there are things we as a congregation and as a nation need to repent for. As we walk into the sanctity of human life, there are issues in our nation we need to own and repent of before the Lord, that we have become a nation that this, this, this, and that. “Lord, forgive us. Heal us. Do a good and mighty work in us, through us.”
Maybe some of us need to repent of apathy. “It’s just so complex. It’s just so politicized. It’s just so blah, blah, blah. My vote doesn’t matter. My voice doesn’t matter. I just don’t even care.” God cares. God cares about people even if we don’t. That’s great news. So maybe he’s going to call us to repent about some apathy.
Maybe as we get into the weekend where we’re going to talk and focus on racial reconciliation there are some things God is going to stir up in us that we need to repent of. Maybe it’s apathy. Maybe it’s a lack of concern. Maybe it’s an attitude that’s kind of cavalier about it. We think, “Oh, let bygones be bygones, and let’s move on,” rather than having the courage to enter into a conversation that is both complex and difficult, wrought with pain and hurt and suffering, where we as a nation have repressed a people.
We should own that and feel that and know the remnants of that still exist, that it is not done and gone, but to feel the pain our brothers and sisters still feel and to give credence to it and to believe it and to feel it and to own it and to repent where we need to repent, to extend a brotherly hand, an invitation for those who don’t look like us, who weren’t raised like us, who have different backgrounds from us, to walk into what is uncomfortable. Who knows what the Lord has for us this month, but maybe it’s collective and corporate repentance around some things.
We think about the nations, the call to go. Maybe what God is going to reveal we need to repent of in our hearts is a collective and corporate comfort idol, where we’re willing to trade what is better for what is comfortable, that we’re willing to trade what God is asking us to do… No doubt there are some in here whose hearts God is stirring in to get up and go, to leave and to link arms with a church plant, to leave and to link arms with a missionary, or to flat out go ourselves, but what’s holding us back in this moment is a longing for comfort. We all get it, but what God might be calling us to this month is to repent for it.
God’s people gather because they’re asking him to embolden us with faith to evangelize. You see this in Acts, chapter 4, where the church gathers and says, “Fill our hearts, Holy Spirit, that we may boldly proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Maybe it looks like here. Maybe our evangelism here doesn’t look like, “Hey, you should really hear about this life-changing reality of Jesus Christ. Let me take you to this church where this really great preacher can tell you all about it.”
Instead, it’s a message that we can’t contain within our own hearts. We’re longing to share it with a neighbor, a friend, a coworker, a child. We’re recognizing God has placed us where he has placed us for good and strategic reasons, according to Acts 17, not by accident. Every appointment is a divine appointment. We courageously walk into sharing our faith, teaching, preaching, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to be Matt. You just have to be a believer. “This is what I was, and this is who I am. That’s it. All of this has happened because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Then God’s people gather corporately to pray back the promises of God to him. “You said. You promised this.” This month we will collectively and corporately repeat back to him over and over and over again his promises to us, to remind ourselves of what we can stake our lives on and ask God to fix, heal, redeem, restore, mend. We just begin to pray back the promises of God to him.
I want to put one more thing before you as a church. Eleven years ago when Matt was walking through the interview process, one of the things he did… There’s a restaurant here in town, and he was meeting with the personnel committee and drew out on the table (because you could draw on the table) a circle. That circle represented the Highland Village First Baptist Church, or The Village Church. Then he started drawing lines coming out, emanating from that circle, and then just started drawing other circles.
He said, “Here’s my hope and heart for what we’re going to be about. I really want to be about church planting and multiplication. I want this church to be a church that’s investing and starting and launching and funding other church plants.” Eleven years ago we had no idea what was before us as a congregation. We just didn’t. But God began to reveal some of his plan to us bits at a time.
When I think about big, significant, milestone moments in the life of our church, it has always been around prayer. God has done something in us through a season of prayer. How many of you guys were here during the Greenhouse Effect? A horrible name but a wonderful season. Nine of you. Okay. I wish the rest of you were here. It was awesome. It was like 2004.
We were walking through a season in 2004 and 2005 where we were desperately in need. Out of space, out of solutions, out of ideas, out of money. We never really had money to begin with, so we weren’t really out of it; we just never had it. There came an opportunity just west of here in Flower Mound at Lusk Lane and 1171. The opportunity there was for 54 acres. We thought, “Maybe we could buy this 54 acres,” because all the projections were telling us we needed about 27 acres of parking. We needed all this parking to park all of these people who were coming to the church.
So we’re asking the Lord. “Lord, we need you. We need you to do something. We need you to provide. We need you to come through. We’re asking for this 54 acres. We’re asking for $2.2 million.” We asked and we prayed and we gathered and we asked and we prayed and we gathered, and the Lord said, “No.” It became really clear when we raised a million and that was it, which is awesome. I mean, I’d love to have a million bucks. A million bucks is a lot of money except when you need $2.2 million. Then it’s not a lot of money.
So we’re stymied. Here’s what was great. God withheld something good and was waiting to usher out something better. Do you believe that about him in your life? A few short years later we walked through a season called Venture in 2007. Who was here for Venture? A few more of you. I wish you guys were here. It was awesome.
It was a similar situation: wit’s end, didn’t know what we were going to do, confused. We needed God to do something, so we prayed a kingdom prayer. Not a pat-ourselves-on-the-back kind of prayer, but we said, “God, we want more of you. We need you, and we want more of you. So would you do something only you could take credit for?” Right smack in the middle of that season of prayer, God gives to us the Denton Campus.
The Denton Campus, just north of here… That’s how we got into multisite. We didn’t have a strategy for it. We didn’t have a plan for it. We didn’t have a philosophy about it. None of that. All of a sudden we’re praying, asking God to do something, and God gives us a church, a people that said, “We want to join you and become you.” So we walked into this season of what we called marinating together and learning what it means. Then we really walked into the foray of multisite.
In that same Venture season, we had an opportunity to purchase a building, an old Albertson’s building. One of the chairman of our elders, Dell Steele, who has gone to be with the Lord, used to say, “I’m praying that God would just take that business under and we could buy that building.” A righteous praying that that business would go under. We hope Albertson’s thrives in other locations. Sure enough, it went down. We had an opportunity. And guess what? Look around. We’re in this. This is a testimony of God’s provision to us, his people.
The same thing happened with the Dallas Campus. There were a people of God that just said, “We want to join and gift this to you.” It has been phenomenal. What I want to put before you is what I couldn’t put before the church last night, and there are reasons for it. We really wanted to honor some folks today in not talking about it last night and talking about it today.
In the life of our church, we want to extend an invitation to you. So what I’m about to talk about is an invitation to prayer. It is not an announcement of a decision. Do you understand the difference? Is this an announcement of a decision? No. This is an invitation to prayer. Several years ago, Beau Hughes, who’s the campus pastor of the Denton Campus… Beau has been the first campus pastor we’ve ever had as a church, and he is phenomenal. He is a stud. I love him. I don’t know what else to say.
A couple of years ago we started having this conversation where I would ask Beau… Beau and I meet every week from 6:00 to 11:00 a.m. every Tuesday. Beau and I have this conversation where I’m asking Beau, “Do you ever get the sense, Beau, that you’re ready and the Denton Campus may be ready to potentially transition off and become your own congregation?” Resolutely and resoundingly Beau would always say, “No.” Then Matt is having the same conversation with Beau.
It’s not every week, but we’re just sensing that Beau is growing in his leadership, growing in his convictions, growing in his ability to preach, growing in his ability to lead, and that the Denton Campus is growing in their conviction, growing in their maturity. It’s a good thing. About a year ago, the tenor of the conversation began to shift from “no” to “maybe” to “yes.”
What we want to put before you as a church to pray about is this: We’re extending an invitation to the church to join us to pray about possibly transitioning the Denton Campus off to become its own autonomous church. That’s huge. Matt is in Denton right now preaching this message to Denton. This is the first time the Denton Campus has heard this, but let me tell you how this came about.
That conversation with Beau… When it finally turned from a “no” to a “maybe” to a “yes,” then the conversation began to take shape in the elder room. The conversation in the elder room early was, “No,” but over the last year and a half (this has been a conversation some of us have had for over two and a half years) the conversation eventually turned to where we all felt like the Holy Spirit was leading us to do this, to widen the conversation.
So in October we had a unanimous vote in the elder room to extend the conversation to the church staff. We took it to the church staff, to the Denton staff first. The Denton staff received it, the church staff received it, with a little trepidation and a lot of excitement. What we were looking for were green lights from them to widen the circle, affirmation that the Spirit is in this.
What we don’t want to do is just do something we think would be a really great idea. What we want to do is walk in a season where the Lord is affirming this is where we need to go. We took it from the Denton staff to The Village Church staff, then from the Denton staff to the Denton leadership, the Denton deacons and lay leadership of the Denton Campus. We gave them a month to process, pray, and ask questions about it, then came back together, took a vote in there, and the vote was a sure and steady green light to take this to the Home Group leaders of the Denton Campus.
We took it to the Home Group leaders of the Denton Campus in mid-December and are now, with all of those green lights, bringing it before the church. In Denton, Dallas, Fort Worth, and here we’re announcing it today. The reason we didn’t want to talk about it last night was we wanted to honor the Denton Campus so they would hear it first. We recognize with social media anything can happen, and we wanted to share this and shepherd this information well.
So I want to put this before you. Let me say this. This is what this does not mean. This does not mean we don’t plan on launching new campuses. We do. We absolutely do and are eagerly pursuing it. What it does mean is that we recognize with multisite we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to bring in and gather and establish and strengthen a campus to eventually, whenever it seems right to us and the Holy Spirit (no timeline on that), to transition that campus off to become its own autonomous church.
We believe the Denton Campus is ready for this. We believe that the man and the leadership and hopefully the membership are ready for this. I trust that Beau is, I know the leadership is, and we’ll see how the membership feels about it. But that’s what we’re putting before you. So on Friday night at Prestonwood it’s important. It’s important that we’re there. It’s important that we’re there to gather and to pray about this.
This is a seismic shift in the life of our church. It’s a big deal. It affects how we do a lot of things, and it affects a lot of people. I’ll say this. It doesn’t affect you as much as it affects Denton, but if we’re entering into a season of corporate prayer, what Dever just said is that we begin to sense and feel one another’s feelings and senses.
This comes with some potential sadness. This comes with some gospel goodbyes. This comes with a change of what is normal and normative. With any change, change is difficult. I don’t care who you are. So I want us to be sensitive about them and mindful about how they’re hearing that today and receiving that today. I would ask you to lay off Twitter, because the 5:00 service tonight and the 7:15 service tonight don’t know about this yet, and the way they need to find out about this is through Matt and through their campus pastor, Beau Hughes.
Tomorrow on the website we will put out this document and a video. The video is Matt’s sermon today in Denton, what he’s preaching right now, and then this handout. It’s important that you read this handout. This handout is going to cover a ton of questions I simply don’t have time to cover. It’s going to talk about timelines. It’s going to talk about what we sense is the gain here, why we would move this direction, what we think the opportunity is, what the financial commitment would be. I mean, all of it.
As a member of this church, you have a responsibility to prayerfully read that, consider that, and know that. That’s why I think it’s really important that we gather on Friday night to pray about it, to gather our hearts together and to pray and ask the Lord to be mighty in this. It’s a big deal. It’s an awesome deal.
You look at the apostle Paul. The apostle Paul would leave Antioch, and he would go on these missionary journeys and start these churches. He would strengthen them and gather them and establish leadership in them, and then he’d go and do the same thing somewhere else. Then he’d come back through. He’d check in on them. He’d establish them and strengthen them, and do you know what he’d start doing? He wouldn’t go there anymore, because he’d go start another one.
We’re serious about multiplication, and we see this as a potential really prudent form of church planting, where we have the opportunity to have a campus, to leverage Matt’s gift of gathering, to strengthen a body, to create a leadership base, to give a runway of development for a staff and a team and a core. Then when it seems right and good to us and the Holy Spirit, to potentially transition a campus off. It’s a growing conviction within us that we sense is good and right. But it needs to be our conviction. That’s what we want to pray about. We want to see if the Lord is in it. I know I’ve gone long. Thanks for your patience. Let me pray.
Lord, thank you so much for your goodness and grace to us. In all of it, what we’re reminded about beyond our prayer points, beyond campus transitions, beyond all of that, is that on the other end of that door is a good, loving, gracious, willing Father. I pray for our hearts that we would be strengthened in that. I pray for our hearts that we would be buoyed in that.
I’m going to pray for the Denton Campus right now as many for the very first time are processing some really significant news. I ask, God, that you would comfort their hearts, that beyond anything the fact that we can have this conversation is good. It’s healthy. We’re not doing this out of division. We’re not trying to get rid of anybody, but we’re sensing in this that you’re moving us away as a church. So we pray for that affirmation. We thank you for all of it. In Christ’s name, amen.
Church, we’re going to enter into a time of Communion. I’ll just briefly talk about Communion. We started today’s message with the idea of reminders and remembrance and routine. One of the reminders and rhythms and remembrances and routines in the life of the church is the Lord’s Supper. We do it week after week after week.
What we are being reminded of and what we are remembering here is the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We think about what God has done on our behalf, that he has sent what the apostle Paul calls his indescribable or inexpressible gift, and that he has given us his best to deal with our worst. As you hold the bread and as you hold the cup, be reminded that God has sent his Son to make a way for your sins to be forgiven.
If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, we invite you to take it, so long as you’re joining us, if you’re a guest, in good standing from another church, or if you’re a member or a regular attender of this church. If you’re not a believer, obviously this doesn’t make a ton of sense for you, so we would just ask that you would abstain. But we certainly are glad you’re here, and you’re welcome any time. I’m going to pray. Bleecker is going to lead us and close us.
Father, you’re good. We love you. We’re grateful. I thank you for our church. We just love our church, and I thank you for that. I thank you for these people. I thank you for these stories. I thank you for these testimonies that are just sitting here. I pray you’d encourage their hearts. As we enter into a season of corporate prayer, God, unite our hearts to fear your name. We pray for a mighty movement of your Spirit among us. In Christ’s name, amen.