Pastor Matt Dennings

Old News is Good News

Mark 1:1-13

Mark begins his gospel reminding us that the good news occurs in the midst of a grand narrative that has been in the works long before his time. The announcement of a coming Messiah has been prophesied for hundreds of years. God has been at work redeeming his people and Jesus is the climax of that rescue. Mark expresses the importance of remembering how God has worked with the nation of Israel so that we may fully understand the significance of Jesus’ actions.

The Exile

Mark begins his gospel by pointing back to the Prophet Isaiah. Prophets in the Old Testament were responsible for pushing Israel back into the covenant/commitment with God. Prophets were meant to help drive people back into right relationship with God when they began to fall astray. The first section of Isaiah reveals a time when Israel was falling away from their covenant with God to the point that they were becoming spiritually dead leading to their exile. Exile is a term referring to a physical manifestation of the spiritually dead state in which Israel finds themselves. God pushes Israel away from his presence and out of the land promised to them because of their decision to move away from their commitment to God. But, there is good news in the second part of Isaiah which foretells the pinnacle point of God’s grace in a coming Messiah. Our sin places us into a place of exile, but God promises to send one who will lead us out of exile permanently.

“Repentance is not just the turning away from death it is turning to life.”

A New Exodus

Mark continues his gospel with the baptism of Jesus. The imagery of water and sin are constantly placed together in scripture. Whenever we see sin in the Bible we see water soon after because it is a symbol for God cleansing the world. During Noah’s time, God cleanses the world of sin in the waters of judgment. In Egypt, we see the Israelites passed over by the blood of a lamb while the Egyptians are later engulfed in water. These symbols are key elements in Jesus’ baptism. Now that the righteous one has entered the judgment waters and the Heavens have opened up in peace we may be certain that if we enter the grave in Christ we will rise again with Christ. Jesus is the promised one who gives us the new exodus out of the exile brought by our sin.

“Christianity is not just a better moral code or sentimental sweet nothings. It is a new identity as a beloved child of God.”

The Wilderness

Jesus leads us through a new exodus and into the wilderness. When we read about wilderness and temptation we often assume that it is a punishment because God is displeased with us. But what if it is a sign that God is at work within us? Unlike Israel's time in the wilderness where God’s people continued to rebel, Jesus is sent in the wilderness but continues in obedience towards God. Surprisingly, scripture also describes the wilderness as an intimate time between God and his people. Wilderness is where people are stripped of their strength, dependencies and idols turning their attention towards God. Although there are certainly times where we place ourselves into an unpleasant wilderness due to our actions, we cannot immediately assume that wilderness is a result of God’s displeasure; rather, it is God’s refinement so that we find pleasure in Him.

“As Christians we are always in one of three phases. You are either entering a season of wilderness, in a season of wilderness, or exiting a season of wilderness. But be encouraged because what it means is that your Heavenly Father is refining you.”

Links: Youtube-Full Sermon Transcript


Gospel Rhythms

1 Timothy 4:6-10

What is in the Way?

Disciples are those who learn and follow the way of Jesus’ life. But, what does it mean to follow Jesus or to grow as a disciple? How do you start? It can be easy to become quickly overwhelmed by our daily schedules while simultaneously trying to figure out how discipleship fits into the ebbs and flows of life.  Paul seems to say that two common outcomes of people trying to jumpstart their discipleship is either going with the cultural flow of non biblical ideas hoping for just a piece of life that we are searching for or just giving up. Paul gives encouragement to people who are trying to fake it until they make it or those have just given up. Often times we end up feeling burnt out on discipleship when in reality we never truly practiced authentic discipleship because we were grasping for it in the wrong places.


Reorientation around the Gospel

In order for healthy discipleship to occur we must have a reorientation around the gospel. We see what it looks like to be godly through the life of Jesus Christ. In order to be godly we must look at the gospel of Christ because it is only through the gospel that we come to know and gravitate towards Christ. Therefore, if we want to know what it means to train in godliness we must reorient our lives around the aspects of the gospel.

Aspects of the Gospel:

  1. Cross: the historical facts of what happened at the cross and Christ’s resurrection

  2. Kingdom: Jesus is on the throne of the true kingdom and it is coming in its fullness

  3. Grace: While we were sinners Christ died for us by God’s grace and we extend that grace to others

  4. Glory: The glorious demonstration of God’s very heart and love to redeem all creation

The Rhythms of life which are the outcome of Gospel Aspects:

  1. Study: the cross

  2. Serve: the king

  3. Share: his grace

  4. Seek: his glory

“True life isn’t about orienting my life around church things or whatever happens to be popular right now. True life in Jesus Christ is about reorienting our lives and the church around the whole gospel.”

The Plan for Growing in Godliness

1. We start with our identity:

We don’t want to start with the outcome of what we hope to achieve. But, we start with the fact that our identity is in Christ meaning we are a new creation within a new kingdom. We are called to strive because of who we are in Jesus.

As Christians, we live our lives in two contexts. The first is the gathering which is where we are formed and rehearse the gospel. The second is scattering which is wherever God has placed our sphere of influence and the relationships we have with the people around us.  

“Grace isn’t opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning”

-Dallas Willard

2. The Process

Aspect: Cross Kingdom Grace Glory

Rhythm: Study: The Cross Serve: The King Share: His Grace Seek: His Glory

Gather: Rehearse the truth Stewardship Come & See God’s Glory in Worship

Scatter: Live the truth Serve Others Go & Be God’s Glory in Prayer

3. Start Small

It is important to understand which practices we are already implementing in our daily lives and those that we need to start including in our routines.  Remember that transformation is a journey that takes time so start small with one rhythm and then slowly stack on more rhythms and more time in each rhythm.  If you struggle with studying God’s word consider just reading for five minutes at the start of your day. Find where you struggle, begin to incorporate the practices to strengthen that struggle, and give yourself time/grace as you begin your journey in discipleship to Jesus Christ.

“While bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”


Links: Youtube-Full Sermon Transcript


Gospel Renewal

Romans 3:21-26

Once we are in Christ we begin a continuous process of renewal. Gospel renewal means that the work of God continues after we are saved. God is not done with us. It is apparent that humans were created to worship something. We will either worship ourselves, creation, our desires or God. When we give ourselves to Christ we are telling the world that we are seeking to worship God alone. Thus the process begins in which God will renew the desires we once had for the flesh into desires that bring about His glory into the world. We are being renewed day by day into the image of our creator.

But what is the meaning of Gospel Renewal?

We have been saved from the penalty of sin

We were made to reflect God’s glory, but time and again we choose to disregard love for God and replace it with lesser loves. We look to our jobs to fulfill our identity or we look for the achievements of our lives to give us significance. We constantly look for places other than the worship of God to find satisfaction. It is because we are inclined to reject God’s love and substitute it for worldly desires that Paul points out in Romans that there is not one who is righteous. We have turned to find glory in creation or ourselves rather than accepting the glory of God. This is a crucial point because without an understanding of the bitterness of our sin we cannot be ready to accept the sweetness of Jesus Christ.

God does not want to give us some quick fix for our tendencies towards hatred over love, lust over fidelity, abuse over tenderness, but He wants to completely renew our inclinations to mimic His glory, goodness, and beauty by experiencing the fullness of His presence which is only made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God does not just simply sweep our sin under the rug, but he actively deals with it so that we may become renewed creations through the grace that is given to us by the blood of Jesus. We do not need to work to overcome our shame or guilt because God has placed the wrath we deserve on Jesus so that we may be given a renewed life.

“The best thing that could ever be created is the world

God created for us to live in.”

We are being saved from the power of sin

Salvation by grace alone creates an opportunity for cheap grace. Cheap grace occurs when we use the renewed life that God has given us in order to excuse our sinful acts. Paul declares that those who are baptized in Christ have been buried with Christ in death so that we may walk in the newness of life. Once we have accepted the renewed life given to us by God we can no longer actively seek to continue in our sinful nature. If we have been baptized in Christ we have been held under the waters of judgement and we have been raised to newness of life. We now have the glory and spirit of God living within us which means our lives are fundamentally different. We must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. Renewal in the gospel is not just about one moment of forgiveness, but it means that we walk within this renewed life daily.

God’s means for renewal and freedom from the power of sin:

1) Identity in Christ

God looks upon us with delight and he is pleased with us because of our identity in Jesus Christ. God does not pour shame upon our mistakes but washes his judgement over Jesus so that we are resurrected alongside him in newness of life.

2) We have power in the Spirit of God

We have been given a renewed desire within the holy character of God through his Spirit. It cultivates a desire of holiness, obedience, and guides us as we seek life in Him. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to overcome our fleshly desires so that we can serve God in wholeness.

“Gospel renewal does not come from feeling more guilty or demanding more of ourselves. Gospel renewal comes by God’s means”

We will be saved from the presence of sin

One day God will make all things new bringing back the glory that existed before the fall. We are pilgrimaging towards the day that death and sin will no longer exist. The promise that we will be saved from the very presence of sin guarantees complete renewal of all of creation. We have confidence that all things will come together for the good of those who are in Jesus since the outcome of the new Jerusalem is assured through God’s promise that he will make it a reality himself. This promise gives us a hope that allows us to endure the trials, tribulations, and temptations that come our way because we know the truth that God will end the tension that we face. God promises that one day we will be free from the presence of our fleshly desires and will live in a redeemed glorified state where we will no longer have to fight the tension of living for him.


Links: Youtube-Full Sermon Transcript


Gospel Conversion

Matthew 28:16-20

Conversion has become a major taboo in our culture today. Converting people is something that we do not often hear in civilized conversation because of the negative connotations that are often affiliated with it. In order to understand the importance of conversion we need to come to an understanding of what conversion means. The most basic definition of conversion is the process of changing or causing something to change from one form to another. It is a complete transformation. Conversion means that you become something that you weren’t before. Rather than conversion being a manipulative tool or a way to control the behaviors that we find unsavory, conversion is the transformation from death in our sin to being alive in Jesus Christ.

Why would we want anyone to be Converted?

A major theme in the gospel of Matthew is that God has been at work to redeem the world throughout history. A common question that exists in the midst of humanity’s shortcomings is how will God remove the broken intentions and desires that exist in our world? How will God reconcile his creation to himself? The answer is that one will come who will bridge the gap between Heaven and Earth who is Jesus Christ. Every human being has been seeking satisfaction in earthly appetites which always leaves them grasping at straws. Every human longing, want, and desire was ultimately desiring Jesus Christ and now he has come. We want to convert people because every longing that they have can be fulfilled in Jesus whether they know it or not. Everything else in this world will pass away except the promises of Jesus who vehemently states that he will be with us forever.

“Why would we want anyone to experience this new birth, eyes opened to see Jesus? It’s because it is everything they have ever desired, whether they realize it or not.”

Three Distorted Approaches to Making Disciples

When we approach people with the proposition of conversion we must remember that we are not the ones who are transforming them because God is the only one who has that power. In one of the last conversations Jesus had with his disciples he warned them that there would be many who would claim to know Christ but would end up leading people astray. We must be aware of how we are representing Christ so that we do not unintentionally lead others away from truth.

1. The Parrot Approach

The Parrot approach focuses on converting the mind. Proper conversion is not about getting other people to think like us or mimic our jargon. The pitfall in this approach is that we often begin to think that people are born again if they just say the right religious phrases or have the correct theological answers. One could be saying all the right things or repeating what we have told them, but could still be dead inside. Following Christ is about more than mere information, it is about complete transformation. The outcome of the Parrot Approach is not disciples of Christ, but disciples of us.

2. The Puppet Approach

The Puppet approach focuses on colonizing the will of others. Jesus explains that disciples will come from every tongue, tribe, and nation. Jesus will renew humanity right in the culture that they are in. This emphasizes the fact that people do not have to look exactly like us to be followers of Christ. Too often we make conversion about acting exactly like us. In this approach, people live bound in the strings of our expectations rather than living in the freedom of their own transformed worship to Christ.

3. The Party Approach

The Party approach focuses on emotional highs for conversion. Jesus promises to be with us to the end of the age which is eternal rather than a moment or a season. Regardless of how we feel in a moment of our lives, God’s word still rings true. We often think that conversion is about experiencing a series of emotionally charged moments so that others will finally want to give their lives to Christ. Jesus wants to transform the inside not leave us endlessly searching for another high.

“We are commissioned to go after more than just right thinking, right actions, or right feelings. Jesus wants the whole person.”


The Key to True Conversion

The key to conversion is to understand that we are commissioned and God converts. It is not in our own power that conversion happens because in those circumstances we end up manipulating minds, wills, and emotions. When we allow God to convert others it leads to true transformation of the whole person. Conversion must be rooted in the power of Jesus Christ not rooted in our own power, personality, or persuasion. If we allow God to get their heart the rest will follow.

Then what is our task in the conversion process?

1. Proclaim the gospel

The best way to learn how to share the gospel is to allow God to do a work through the gospel in our own lives. People need to see that there is one who is true and on high in our lives rather than hearing people who preach from a pedestal. We need to share how Jesus has given us the newness of life which is offered to all.

2. Pray

Everyone around us is seeking to know the Lord. Sometimes we take the weight of conversion on our backs by believing we must persuade people into conversion, but it is only in God’s power. Once they are converted it is our job to bring them into the fold and teach them how to live a Christ centered life. So, ask God to change the hearts of the people around you. Ask God to give you the opportunity to share how Jesus has changed your life forever.

“What the heart most wants, the mind finds reasonable, the will finds doable, and the emotions find desirable.”

-Timothy Keller


Links: Youtube-Full Sermon Transcript

Sharing our riches in Christ

Philippians 4:14-23

What is Stewardship?

At the end of his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul reiterates his appreciation for their partnership in his ministry. The Philippians have constantly been partners with Paul in his ministry of the gospel and they have shared in his troubles. As we steward the time, talents, and treasures that God has given us to the ministry of the gospel we become partners of the gospel. We have all been given various talents that we can use for furthering the gospel in the world around us. It is by being good stewards of what we have that we actually participate in what God is doing through the church.  Good stewardship is what aligns our hearts and desires with the eternal kingdom of God. It is how we are trained to value, prioritize, and love the things within God’s work of redemption.

“Stewardship is how we learn to invest our very lives in what matters.”

Paul gives the church insight on the crucial principles of good stewardship. As we incorporate these principles into our own lives we can become partners in the work of God’s goodness.

Principles of Stewardship

  1. Practicing generosity rather than presuming generosity

    We must understand that everything that we are given is a gift of mercy from God. Good stewardship requires a generosity with no strings attached. We do not give our time or talents to God and others with an expectation that we will receive back what we have given.

  2. Focused on partnering with people rather than the purchasing of products

    The Kingdom of God is about people not products. Therefore, good stewardship isn’t focusing on the service or product that is given. We are partners with God and other people as we seek out His redeeming work. We must be more focused on the people we serve rather than a commodity.

  3. Long Term rather than Short term commitment

    The Kingdom of God is about people not products. Therefore, good stewardship isn’t focusing on the service or product that is given. We are partners with God and other people as we seek out His redeeming work. We must be more focused on the people we serve rather than a commodity.

The Motivation of Stewardship

  1. Overflowing fruitfulness rather than obligatory gifts

    Giving our finances, time, and talents must come from an overflowing fruitfulness within us. Just as God has given us the gift of salvation without obligation we must be willing to give what we have without expecting anything in return. We live in world with a “I scratch your back you scratch mine” mentality. However, Paul expresses that good stewardship gives without thought of reimbursement.

  2. Pleasing God rather than placating God

    God has made each and every one of us a unique individual. God has given all of us unique and beautiful talents. Within these giftings God has given us the desire to offer up all that we have to Him. As we give all of our resources we fan the flame that preaches the gospel in our lives. When we spend our lives offering the beautiful and unique offerings that only we, with our giftings, can present to the God of the universe, our lives emphasize the beautiful grace that we’ve been given in Jesus.

“And so, stewardship isn’t motivated by an overwhelming sense of guilt, but an overflow of grace. So, why steward? Because, it is an expression of the gospel, that God has fully paid the price of our redemption, and therefore we give not to placate God, but to please God.”

The Riches of Stewardship

If we’re honest, it can be incredibly difficult to give our resources. We can be consumed with the fear that giving up our riches means losing everything we have. But, Paul emphasizes that it is through the stewardship of our resources that we actually discover true riches. Stewardship actually frees us from constantly aiming for riches that will not last and points us in the direction of what is truly eternal: people entering into fellowship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to redeem eternal souls. True riches that last forever comes when we invest in the eternal lives of other people. When we see the fruit of eternal souls being reconciled with their loving Father through the saving grace of Jesus Christ we forget to worry about hoarding what we have. As good stewards, we see the intense beauty of redeemed people and push everything that we have towards partnering with God in redeeming a fallen world. All material possessions become insignificant in light of bringing eternal souls to the glory of Jesus Christ.

“True riches, tangibly, is most found when we see others see Jesus. When we see others grow and know Christ.”


Links: Youtube-Full Sermon Transcription-Lent Guide


Guarded in Christ

Philippians 4:2-9

Throughout the Philippian epistle, Paul is reminding the church that they are living in the reality that Jesus Christ is transforming all things in order to make them new. Paul encourages us to keep our eyes focused on the reality that we are citizens of Heaven, however, the one thing that will take our eyes off that reality is the conflict of how we live out the reality of Christ’s reign. Rather than being united under the saving grace of Christ we are often divided over how to live out Jesus’ reign. Paul says that Satan loves to use that diversion of our focus to steal our hope, and to completely zap us of all our passion for the gospel. We become filled with seething anger at one another causing anxiety for all involved rather than a church united under one hope.

In the midst of this dilemma, how do we guard against fighting over the how’s of following Jesus?

Why “the how” takes over “the what”

Throughout history the church has had problems with strong leaders who begin to quibble and fight over how they should lead their congregation in following Christ. When this happens it is often the congregation that suffers the consequences of such debates. It would be understandable if these issues occurred in churches that did not have a strong theology, but the problem is we can often find this kind of bickering in churches that are strong theologically and have high biblical convictions. These argumentative obstacles occur when convictions of seeking God’s way shifts into seeking our own way.  We can become obsessed with our method of worship, our way of doing ministry, our way of preaching, our methods of following Christ become the only method to follow Christ. It is within this atmosphere that we can begin to look down on other groups with a sense of spiritual superiority. If other churches do not follow Christ our way then we can immediately separate ourselves from them. The method we use, or how, we worship becomes far more important than who we worship.   

In a healthy church, strong convictions breed healthy disciples. In discipleship we begin to mimic the person that we are following which means we become more like Christ. But, if we become obsessed with our methodology rather than the one we worship, strong convictions act as a poison in the church which slowly spreads from the leadership to the congregation. Paul knows that Philippi has strong convictions for the gospel, but somewhere along the way two leaders are becoming obsessed with their own way which is threatening to tear the church apart. We must be sure that we are not becoming calloused to what Jesus has done, in favor of burning with a passion for the opinions of what we should be doing.  

“When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

It is important to recognize that it is not wrong to be passionate about how we follow Jesus. However, it becomes a problem when our love for Jesus becomes overshadowed by our way of following him. It is also crucial to realize that this is not something only leaders of the church should be watching out for. We are all called to be ambassadors for Christ which means it is a heart issue that we must all watch out for because we are all called to lead and serve the church forward with the gifts that God has given us. Methodology is vastly important because it should unite us as we live our lives as disciples of Christ, but it becomes an issue when it becomes the focus.   

“If we leave Jesus behind, what is the point of being the church?”

Paul’s Habits to keep us focused on “the what”

If we want to be a people who know Christ, then we must be a people with habits that saturate our hearts in what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

Habit 1: Thanksgiving before the Father

The first habit that Paul encourages us to practice is to rejoice in every aspect of our lives. This can be incredibly difficult for us to grasp because our lives are complex. There is a plethora of events which we could say do not evoke a spirit of rejoicing. Yet, Paul encourages us to rejoice in all things because of what Christ has done. Regardless of what happens in our lives, either positive or negative, we can rest assured that we are reconciled to our loving Heavenly Father thanks to what Jesus has done for us. We can draw near to God and He draws near to us. If we make it a habit of pushing away from God, then our lives will be full of anxiety, fear, and worry. Then we will expect other people to fill the void only God can fill which leads to fighting over the best method of overcoming our obstacles.

Habit 2: Hospitality towards others

Paul says that we must literally practice the “what” of Jesus’ kingdom because every day we are going through the motions of what the world says is true, just, pure, and noble. We must strengthen our muscles of discipleship towards Christ and what it looks like to be part of his kingdom by forming habits that mimic those truths. Paul is saying that in order to be a people who properly sees what Jesus has done, we need practices that captures the picture of the truth of Jesus. Hospitality is a habit that keeps our focus in check.

Hospitality is simply welcoming others as Christ has welcomed us. It creates a grace filled space where a friend or stranger can enter and experience the welcoming spirit of Christ. It is a way to express love for others in the way that Jesus loved us even when we were sinners. It challenges our assumptions of other people and pushes away our biases towards others by reminding us of the welcoming grace that we have received in Jesus. As we sacrificially welcome others into our lives our hearts begin to open to the understanding that we all are welcomed into the adopted family of God which keeps us focused on the what so that the how’s can take care of themselves.

Links: Youtube-Full Sermon Transcription-Lent Guide