Matt Knight

My thoughts on faith, books, and life in general

Category Archives: church

The Joy of the Lord is our strength

“…This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law…“Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:9-10 (ESV)

Today I preached on the book of Nehemiah (our congregation is going through The Story–a 31-week journey through the Bible). Out of all the material to cover, I focused on Chapters 8 & 9.

This morning, I awoke to a dreary fog. My own mood was similar. I didn’t really want to get out of bed, go to church, or preach.

It’s true, it happens to preachers too.

However, after I got to the chapel, I was pointed to the scriptures. I read Psalm 47. It begins, “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God all with loud songs of joy! For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.”

It’s a command to praise God, and through this scripture God spoke to my heart.

In Nehemiah 8, the people are weeping and mourning, but their leaders command them to rejoice and be happy. How, I wondered, could they be expected to change from weeping to rejoicing?

This morning, I experienced it. You see, the rejoicing comes, not necessarily out of happy feelings, but rather, the recognition of who God is and what He has done. Scripture directs us to praise Him, even if we don’t feel like it.

The thing is–God can change our hearts through worship. Who He is is greater than how I feel. God is worthy of praise. The Bible is full of praise for His great attributes and shows a long track record of His blessings and kindness toward people. When I focus on God, instead of myself, my feelings can change. The joy of the Lord (joy of who He is and the joy that He gives) is my strength. It can change my attitude from malaise or sadness to one of praise and gladness.

When we life out this truth, it can change our attitudes and our lives.


Everyone Needs Mentors

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith:Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” 1 Tim 1:1-2

Paul was a mentor to Timothy. He was like a father in the faith. All of us need spiritual mothers and fathers – mentors. Paul may not have led Timothy to faith in Christ (it may have been Timothy’s mother and grandmother – cf. 2 Tim 1:5).

Just this week I was encouraged by spending time with several other ministers. I had a great time with my contemporaries and some dear friends, but I also got to connect with some elder ministers. I am always glad when I get to glean wisdom from older ministers and men of faith. These are men who have walked with God for many years and have gained wisdom and experience that can be of great value to me.

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Book Review: The Liturgical Year

The Liturgical Year by Sister Joan Chittister is part of Thomas Nelson’s Ancient Practices Series. This book caught my interest because I’ve wanted to know more about the Christian calendar and have been curious about the liturgical year, and many Christian holy days for some time.

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An Incredibly Humbling Experience

Rarely do I post on Sunday, but something happened today that I have to share.

Today our church did our annual patriotic salute service (many churches in America do similar services, ours was probably not that different). Several friends had asked me if I was going to be wearing my Air Force uniform, and convinced me that I should. So I showed up to church this morning wearing my Air Force Service Dress.

It was a good morning, I accepted several compliments from friends and church members on my uniform and my service. It always humbles me when people thank me for my service. Being a young chaplain and a reservist, I often feel like I haven’t done much yet. Still, I remember that when I wear that Air Force uniform, I represent not only myself, but many many other brave Airmen who have served and continue to serve our country. I accept thanks on behalf of them.

After the church services were over, and we had heard personal testimony from Lt Col Brian Birdwell, USA (Ret.), we were planning to go to lunch a few folks from the singles class I teach. It turned out that none of the folks we had invited were able to come to lunch with us, so Kelly and I made a new plan and went off to lunch.

While sitting at the restaurant, having just ordered, an older couple came by our table. They had finished their meal and this retired Lt Colonel and his wife stopped by to thank us and to let us know that our bill had been paid.

I didn’t know what to say, but I managed to say, “thank you.”

A few moments later the waiter came by (himself an air force vet, we learned) and told us that our bill had been paid, and (mistakenly) pointed out another couple. Incidentally we learned from this second couple that they had offered to buy our meal moments after the first couple (who had been sitting at the next table) had paid for us.

All this floored me. I couldn’t believe how generous these folks were, and to us. Again, I recognize that I have the privilege and responsibility whenever I wear that Air Force uniform of representing others who serve in far worse conditions that I do, and with greater valor than I may ever be called upon to show. Words cannot fully express the sense of humility that I feel at receiving the undeserved honor and favor of a few patriotic men and women.

When we gave thanks to God, I must admit that I thanked Him with a fresh conviction and a sense of thanksgiving which I have rarely had before. Times like these remind me of the undeserved favor that God shows each of us, and also of the sacrifices of the men and women who serve our country.

To those who serve, I salute you. I thank each of you for your service, great or small as it may be. I pray today that God would place His hand of protection upon those in harm’s way, that He would heal and comfort those who are hurting, and that He would bring those serving away from their families safely home. In the midst of all this I ask that God would make His presence manifest around those who serve, that they might recognize it and turn to Him.

Once Again, I must say “Thank You.”

NAMB unveils new church care plan for chaplains

This week at the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Louisville, the North American Mission Board is revealing a new plan that seeks to minister to Church Staff members who are serving as military chaplains and their congregations. The plan involves some new resources for the Pastors and congregations to prepare for when Reserve or Guard chaplains deploy.

As a reserve chaplain and a member of a church staff, this seems like a really neat idea. Here’sthe story and here is the page with the new resources. I expect these can be some very helpful resources for churches and pastors as they deal with the difficulties that come from long absences, increased stress, and readjustment at the end of a deployment.

Program-Driven is Yesterday’s Paradigm

A friend just recently sent me a copy of a Lifeway survey entitled, “Our Ministry to Families.” It is a diagnostic tool for churches to see how well they are ministering to families. Here’s what’s on the diagnostic: On the one side are categories of plans and ministries (read programs) that churches might offer, and then there are some spaces for rating whether the church currently has this program, intends to have it, how they rate their program, and how well the congregation knows about it.

I appreciate Lifeway, and the many services that they provide us as Southern Baptists. However, it seems like the paradigm that this tool was built upon was clearly a program-based church ministry. Program-based ministry simply doesn’t work in the long run. (I imagine Dr Rainer — author of Simple Church — didn’t sign off on this one).

Program-driven ministry doesn’t work because it assumes that church activities are the same as spiritual health. The fact is that this simply is not so. While we have traditionally thought that those who were in the church “every time the doors were open,” were the most spiritually healthy, lately more and more churches are recognizing that spiritual maturity doesn’t (indeed can’t) get accomplished simply through programs at a church. Individuals must have personal growth as well, and this means far more than simply doing stuff at a church.

To learn more you can check out some of these resources:
Simple Church
Purpose Driven Church
Seven Practices of Effective Ministry

What do you think?

Book Review: UnChristian

I just recently finished reading UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. You can check out the website for a free preview of the book.
David Kinnaman is the president of the Barna Group. They do a lot of surveys and polling for churches. This book includes a lot of the statistical and anecdotal information that they’ve gathered over the last few years.
The book endeavors to explore and explain some of the ideas that people outside the Christian church have about Christians and the church. The authors assert that many of these ideas that these “outsiders” have about Christians stem from the unChristian activity of people who call themselves Christians.
For many readers young readers in the church, a lot of these concepts and solutions may not be groundbreaking, however the authors do a great job at articulating important solutions. If you’ve wondered why so many young Americans are turned off by church, this is a great book to read. The authors list a handful of criticisms that “outsiders” have of Christians, and how we might respond to these criticisms. In fact, most of these criticisms have some validity. Many people don’t like the church or Christianity because they see a lot of “church folks” living differently from how Jesus would live. The solution, then, involves Christians replacing these “unChristian” actions, views, and behaviors with Christ-like ones.

I really like how Kinnaman and Lyons talk through these issues. I like how they articulate both the criticisms of Christianity, and some proposed solutions. I do recommend this book, and give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Tragedy of Church Talk

Anne Jackson just put up a post about things people feel like they can’t say in church. The responses to her post were certainly eye opening. It’s true, isn’t it, that too often we tend to discourage plain talk at church in favor of “church talk.”

While we could certainly say that there are things which have no business being spoken anytime or anyplace, but why do we feel like we have to have a special language in church? I’ll tell you what I think it is. We create an environment in our churches where we encourage fake-ness. Oh, we say we want people to be real, but I’m not convinced that we always are ready to hear what might come out of their mouths if they were real.

People have got real issues, and are dealing with things that they don’t talk about at church. How do we encourage honesty and openness? Well someone has to be open and honest — it may (and should) have to start with leaders. We’ve got to admit we’re not perfect (a fact most people already know), and stop acting like we don’t have any faults or flaws — maybe at some point people expected their pastors to be perfect, but today they’ve seen enough to know that even pastors and church leaders aren’t without faults.

Another thing we’ve got to do is to show that we’re willing to love (and maybe even accept) people, even knowing that they’ve got problems. One of the major criticisms that people have about church is that we don’t love people like Jesus did.

But just wait, there’s more. I believe that as a church we should be willing to love and accept anyone. ANYONE. (yikes – just wait–God’s going to make live that out now. It’s easier said than done, because some people are really difficult, and hard to love). Don’t stop here, this is where it gets harder. Jesus did love everyone, and showed love especially to sinners and outcasts, but He didn’t just accept them — that wasn’t the end of it. He loved them too much to leave them where He found them. You see, Jesus demanded that people change. He accepted them, but then He told them to stop sinning.

As Church people, too often we want to accept people after they’ve changed and gotten it all together — hence the facade of “I’m ok, you’re ok.” That’s not how we should be.

As sinners, too often we want people to love us and accept us unconditionally, and let us do what we want. We don’t want to hear that we need to change. That’s not how we should be.

Love is hard, it takes work. So does life change. As a church we’ve got to be real, but we’ve got to help people make the necessary changes in their lives — and that means a big commitment.

A trip to NAMB

I just got back from a trip to Atlanta and interviews at the North American Mission Board. It was quite a blessing and I really appreciate the folks at NAMB. I was blessed by the opportunities to see first-hand what they do and how they are using our Cooperative Program money to advance the Gospel.

My interview went well and I look forward to the opportunities I will have to serve in the future as a military chaplain. Also,I have been encouraged to give more and give better to missions, and to encourage others to be a part of the work of advancing the Gospel in North America. There are a staggering number of people living in North America (esp. Canada, US, and island territories) who have not been evangelized. I’ve been challenged once more to pray harder and look for more ways to be a part of the work of spreading the Gospel.

Fireproof – Pleasantly Surprised

This week one of our church members bought out a showing of the movie Fireproof at a local theater. Our church made the tickets available, so my wife and I went to see the movie, along with many other church members, last night.

This movie is the third movie produced by Sherwood Pictures, a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA. Their previous release, Facing the Giants, was a big hit among the faith community and church crowd, but I never saw it. As a rule I’m pretty cynical about media that claims to be “Christian.” I think that there are a lot of low quality products hawked to church-goers under the guise of being a “Christian” book, album, movie, etc.

Still, when we got the chance to see Fireproof for free, we thought “why not?” And, let me tell, I am glad we did! I’d heard a little from others who warned me that the acting was mostly amateur, and that the production was not quite Hollywood Blockbuster quality, so my expectations were not too high. Having said all of that, I really enjoyed the movie. When others told me “the story makes up for everything else,” I thought it was like saying – “he/she’s ugly, but they’ve got a great personality.” You know what I mean?

The fact is that Fireproof is no “ugly duckling.” The story is quite compelling, and as a young husband and Christian I really enjoyed it. I felt at times during the movie convicted, encouraged, sad, excited, frustrated and full of mirth (you know, I laughed, I cried). I’ve always enjoyed most the movies that make me feel things, and this story certainly does that. There are great moments of tension, action, and some funny moments in addition to some very tender times.

What I love the most is that there is a certain realism to the movie. This is something that so many Christian products lack. The gospel is told in the movie, but it doesn’t seem forced upon the story. The movie deals with some of the very real issues within marriage, love, and relationships. It was also nice to hear some actors and actresses with real southern accents (not fake Hollywood ones). There were many moments where I found myself thinking — “this is how real people talk/act” –as opposed to how movie people talk and act.

On the whole, I left the movie last night, not only pleasantly surprised, but impressed with Fireproof. Sherwood Pictures certainly shows that they know how to make a movie, and that Christian movies can have quality too.