Sunday, May 21, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "Going Public"

“Going Public”* 
A Baptismal Message for Jamie Johnston
May 21, 2017  ::  2 Corinthians 5:17

In just a few moments, Jamie Johnston is going to go public with her faith in Jesus Christ.

Because that’s one of the things that baptism means and does.

Baptism is a public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ, a statement to the world that the one being baptized believes in Jesus and has been saved from their sins by Jesus and what Jesus did for them on the Cross. And they are now publicly identifying themselves as a follower of Jesus.

Going public.

It’s kind of like when an athlete signs onto a team. You know what I’m saying? They have one of those signing ceremonies? College athletes. Professional athletes.

They sit behind that desk and they sign on the dotted line. Everybody’s smiling.

And then maybe they get a team jersey and they hold it up for the camera.

It’s a press conference.

And that’s the moment when they publicly join the team.

The military does something like that, too. They take an oath.

There’s a ceremony. They raise their right hand.

And they join up. They, too, get an uniform.

Or like a wedding ceremony.

The bride and groom stand before witnesses and they exchange promises and, n our culture, they exchange rings.

They go public with their covenant with one another.

Everybody might have known already that they loved one another and were committed to one another, but this ceremony makes it official.

And water baptism, for the Christian, has a very similar effect.

Baptism is the God-ordained way of going public with your faith.

Baptism is the God-ordained way of identifying yourself with Jesus Christ.

And that’s what Jamie is doing this morning and our church family is pleased to be a part of.

Now, there are other good ways of going public with your faith.

You can walk an aisle at an evangelistic meeting.
You can post something on your social media account about your love for Jesus.
You can stick a bumper sticker on your car or take out a billboard!

But water baptism is not just a good way of going public with your faith, it’s God’s good way of going public with your faith.

Read the book of Acts. The pattern is clear. The gospel gets preached. People believe and get saved. And then they get baptized.

The gospel gets preached. People believe and get saved. And then they get baptized.

Over and over again.

Followers of Jesus Christ go public with their faith through water baptism.

Now, water baptism is just a picture. It is an outward symbol of an inner reality.

I often liken it to a wedding ring. This gold band on my finger does not make me married to Heather Joy. Our public ceremony didn’t make me married to Heather Joy.

My covenantal relationship with Heather Joy makes me married to her (Praise the Lord!), and this ring symbolizes our marriage to the watching world.

It says, “I am hers. And she is mine. We are on the same team. We are the team. Exclusively.”

Water baptism is a public symbol, as well.

It doesn’t DO anything by itself (it’s not magic), but it SAYS lots of things.

And I think that this little verse shows us at least two.

2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Now, you can tell from the word “therefore” that this verse is part of a larger context, a larger argument. Paul is actually talking about ministry in this section. And this verse fits into that larger argument as an explanation of how Paul goes about his apostolic ministry.

But we don’t have time this morning to develop the larger argument. We’ve got a dunking to do here!

So we’ll save that for another day. Here we’re just going to look at this one sentence and see what it tells us about being a Christian (and therefore what Christian baptism signifies, what it says to the world).

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

#1. BAPTISM IS GOING PUBLIC ABOUT BEING “IN CHRIST.”

“In Christ.”

“In Christ” is the Apostle Paul’s favorite phrase to describe what it means to be a Christian. At least 80 times in Paul’s letters, Paul uses the phrase, “in Christ.”

“In Christ” is the Apostle Paul’s shorthand description of being identified with Christ.  Our position in Christ, the benefits and blessings of being in Christ, the inclusion we have in Christ’s righteousness, Christ’s standing with the Father, Christ’s holiness, and so on.

“In Christ” is Paul’s way of signifying our UNION WITH CHRIST in His death and resurrection. Our vital, living union with Christ.

Remember Romans 6 when Paul says, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Baptism signifies being “In Christ.”

Are you in Christ? Have you been joined to Jesus Christ by faith? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins and the gaining of eternal life?

Are you in vital union with Jesus Christ? Are you “in Christ?”

There is no more important question to have answered!

Jamie has answered that question. In a few moments, she will share the story she shared in her baptism interview. That she has come to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is now “in Christ.” And going public about it in baptism.

How about you?  Are you “in Christ?”

There is no more important question to have answered!

You are either in Christ or OUTSIDE of Christ.

And that is the scariest place to be in the whole universe.

If you are in Christ, have you gone public with your faith through water baptism?

That’s what water baptism portrays, being in Christ.

Going down in the water symbolizes your union with Christ in His death and burial.  Coming up out of the water symbolizes your union with Christ in His resurrection.

Baptism is a God-given picture that signifies to the world that you are in Christ.

And 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

#2. BAPTISM IS GOING PUBLIC ABOUT BEING “A NEW CREATION.”

In all real Christians, God has done a new work of creation!

And just as God created everything we see and feel and touch and smell in this creation, He has also done a work of New Creation–He has brought about a decisive change inside of the new Christian.

We often call that new work of creation: regeneration. Being “born again.” Being given new spiritual life, a new heart, a new life–fit for the world to come.

Water baptism symbolizes a “New Creation.”

“The old has gone, the new has come!”

Now, that almost sounds like a new Christian is not at all like they used to be. They are perfect, they never sin, they have arrived, the old has gone[!], the new has come[!].  If that’s true, then Jamie is not ready yet to be baptized because she is not perfect yet. And neither is her pastor!

But I don’t think that’s what he’s saying. Paul knows that Christians have not yet arrived. He says that very thing about himself in multiple places.

What Paul is saying is that something new has happened that is decisive for this person.

Being “in Christ” means that God has started something dramatic and unstoppable in this person’s heart and made them a New Creation. And the Old Slave-Driver of Sin and the Old Required Allegiance to the Prince of this World are out in their penalty and position and power in our lives. And the new master of righteousness and allegiance to the true Lord of the universe has begun.

That’s what Christian baptism signifies.

I like how the New Living Translation puts it. It paraphrases v.17 like this, “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!”

And that’s why people should get baptized sooner rather than later in their Christian life. Baptism is not for mature Christians. It’s for new Christians.

Christians that have become a New Creation.

Christian baptism is going public about being In Christ and being a New Creation.

And this is God’s work.  V.18 begins, “All this is from God.”

God is the One who includes us IN CHRIST through our faith.

God is the One who creates a NEW CREATION in us that says good-bye to the old and in with the new.

And our response to God’s work is to live it out.

We are to believe that we are “In Christ” with all of the blessings and benefits and privileges that go along with that.

And we are to live as New Creations. We are to live new lives.

In the first few centuries of the Christian Church, baptismal candidates did this very dramatically.

Here’s what the book The Mark of the Jesus says about baptism in the early church:
When...the time for baptism...arrived, the candidate would be called upon to renounce the Devil and all his pomp. Facing westward, the direction in which the sun went down, he would exclaim, ‘I renounce thee, O Satan, and all they works!’Then he would deliberately spit three times in the direction of darkness, signifying a complete break with the power of evil and all their former claim on his life. Next, turning towards the sunrise, he would say, ‘And I embrace Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ!’ This would be followed by immersion... (The Mark of Jesus, pg. 33-34).
The old has gone, the new has come!

That’s going public!

That’s what Jamie is about to do. She is spitting in Satan’s face and symbolizing through her baptism that she is in Christ a, new Creation.

Again, Jamie’s baptism does not make her a Christian.

I see lots of people wearing black and gold jerseys. That does not make them a Pittsburgh Steeler, right?

Just putting on the jersey doesn’t put you on the team.

But if you are on the team, you put on the jersey.

If you are married, you put on the ring.

If you are a Christian, you go public with Christianity and tell the world that you identify with Jesus.

“I am His and He is mine.

He has saved me through His death and resurrection.

And now I’m telling the world by getting baptized.”

There is a little word in the Greek of verse 17 that doesn’t get translated into the English of the NIV. I think it’s there in the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence.

But the old King James has an English word for it and the English Standard Version has it, too.

It’s the word, “Behold.”

Behold.

Look!

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, [LOOK!] the new has come!”

It’s right there to see.
It’s real.
It’s public.

Look what God has done.


****

* The title of this message reflects my great debt to Bobby Jamieson's book Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership which I found really helpful for thinking about the ordinance of baptism. While ultimately unpersuaded by his thesis in regards to baptism and membership (and sticking to an EFCA approach to this practice), I was significantly sharpened in my theology and practice of baptism. I highly recommend it and will use this language of "going public" from here on.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

How Does Sanctification Work?

David Powlison has had an enormous influence on me.

He's one of those teachers (in articles and books as well as live in class) who get counted on one hand as having an outsized impact on my thinking about how the Bible relates to life.

There are 52 items on my blog that I've tagged with his name, but most of the rest of my posts could legitimately have the same marking--since I first read the Journal of Biblical Counseling, David has been shaping the way I read my Bible, counsel others, and grow in Christ myself.

So when one of my favoritist teachers writes a book on his topic of expertise, I get my hands on a copy immediately!

In How Does Sanctification Work?, David uses his characteristic wisdom to unravel the various biblical strands that form the rope of sanctification (promises, commands, influences, etc.). The table of contents shows the questions he answers along the way (ex. "Is There One Key to Sanctification?") and how he ends with several chapters of case studies to show, not just tell, what he has to teach.

I've heard David lecture on these things before, and over the years, I've been greatly influenced by the teaching in chapter 3, "Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced" where he gives this core premise, "Ministry 'unbalances' truth of the sake of relevance; theology 'rebalances' truth for the sake of comprehensiveness." Give the chapter a read to see what he means by that, but I can testify that it's really helpful for orienting your preaching, counseling, and discipling ministry.

In other words, this is a great book by a great teacher, and if you want to understand the biblical doctrine of sanctification better, you should read it.

Here are a few videos on this topic from CCEF:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"Death Comes for the Deconstructionist" Book Review

Death Comes for the DeconstructionistDeath Comes for the Deconstructionist by Daniel Taylor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved reading this novel.

Death Comes to the Deconstructionist combines all kinds of things I love: detective fiction, first-person narratives of a complex inner life, page-turning stories written in a minor-key, the clash of big ideas, subtleties, literary allusions, unexpected juxtapositions, and the beautiful craftsmanship of good wordsmithing.

Daniel Taylor's writing is kind of like Flannery O'Conner meets Dorothy Sayers meets Leif Enger with a touch of Lewis's Surprised by Joy. Or something. It's hard to describe--which is often a mark of a book I really love.

This book is not for everyone (there are some very dark parts, though carefully executed), but I'm glad that I followed  John Piper's recommendation in this article and borrowed a copy through our wonderful inter-library loan. I'm thinking about buying my own copy so that I can re-read it whenever I want.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "Songs of Joy"

“Songs of Joy”
Mother's Day
May 14, 2017
Psalm 126

Psalm 126 is one of my favorites. It’s one of the Psalms of Ascent, the songs that the Israelite pilgrims would sing as they made their way up to Jerusalem for the high holy days of Jewish worship in Old Testament times.

It’s really beautiful, and it instills hope in anyone who reads it with a heart of faith.

One of my Old Testament professors from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School says, “If we dwell thoughtfully in the atmosphere of Psalm 126 for long, we cannot remain disheartened. We will find in it a tonic for our tired arms, legs, and souls, for that is why God put this psalm in his Bible” (Ray Ortlund, When God Comes to Church, pg. 125).

Doesn’t that sound good?  Not as good as this psalm sounds!

The language of Psalm 126 is just so stunningly beautiful and spiritually refreshing.

One of the things I love the most about this psalm is that it looks both backwards and forwards. It looks back on what God has done and it looks forward to what God will do.

And I think that followers of Jesus Christ need to have that kind of a perspective, both always looking backward and always looking forward. Because God has always been faithful in the past and always will be in the future, forever.

And that’s one of the reasons why I picked this psalm for this Mother’s Day.

Because Christian mothers need to have that same perspective, too.

I know that whenever I talk with my Heather about what I should say to Moms on Mother’s Day, her answer is always some variation of, “Keep on going! You can do it, Mom. Don’t quit. Don’t slow down. Keep going. God is faithful. There’s a harvest coming.”

And that’s the message of Psalm 126.

The phrase that psalmist repeats again and again is “songs of joy,” “songs of joy,” “songs of joy.”

The English Standard Version has an even stronger translation. It says, “Shouts of joy!” “Shouts of joy!” “Shouts of joy!”

The idea is unbridled exclamations of gladness.

Kind of like some of you when your team does something tremendous on the field or on the court or on the track.

Woohoo! 

It’s an awesome feeling that must be made verbal.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!

Oh!

Songs of joy.  I know that doesn’t even capture it.

I remember the feelings Heather and I had when she gave birth to each of our children here today. Those were “songs of joy” days.

And I see the joyful looks on the faces of these two couples today. Briana and Jeremy, Mary Beth and Jim. Big ear-to-ear grins.

And songs of joy.

Life can be like that as God blesses.

But life is not always like that. Is it?

Life is not always a bed of pink roses.

Life is not always continuous songs of joy on constant repeat.

Not if we are being honest.

And the Bible is always honest with us.

Sometimes life is really hard. And painful. And difficult and uncomfortable. And it’s sad. And it hurts.

That’s true for everybody, and it’s definitely true for mothers.

Mothers live with heartache. It’s just part of the job.

And it’s true for all of us. Life can be really tough.

And Psalm 126 gives us a pattern for our prayers during those hard times.

It falls neatly into two parts, verses 1 through 3 which I think look backwards and verses 4 through 6 which look forward.

And both parts talk about “songs of joy.”

#1. THANK GOD FOR SONGS OF JOY IN THE PAST.

Look again at verse 1.

“When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Now, we don’t know what situation the psalmist is referring to in verse 1, but we do know that it was a really good thing.

The old NIV translates it, “when the LORD brought back the captives to Zion.” So it could be describing a return from exile. Maybe even the return from the Babylonian exile.

But the new NIV (2011), translates the words in verse 1 the same way both of them translate the words in verse 4, “when the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion.” And that’s how the ESV translates it as well.

The point is that there was this massive reversal of the situation for good.

It doesn’t mean fortune as in luck. It means the situation, the state of affairs, the position.

When God brought the amazing turnaround, “we were like men who dreamed.”

I love that. It seemed to good to be true. We were deliriously happy (cf. Derek Kidner).

We just woke up and our dreams had come true!

That’s how good it was.

When this turnaround happened to these Israelites, they thought they must have been dreaming. And it made them so incredibly happy. V.2

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”

It doesn’t just say, “They laughed.” Or “They sang.”

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”

Shouts of joy.

We were so incredibly happy we had to make some noise about it.

Have you ever been so happy, you just had to make noise?

I’ll bet you have.

And they were so joyful the world had to take notice. V.2 again.

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’”

Others, outsiders, the world, had to admit that God had been good to them.

It was undeniable.

And the psalmist says. V.3

Yes! “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

We are so glad because we are so blessed.

You see how the psalmist looks backwards?

We’re going to see in just the next verse that this is not how things are right now.

Things are not happy for the nation of Israel when the psalmist writes this.

But he remembers!

He remembers how good God has been to them, and he gives thanks.

I love how we don’t know exactly what this psalm was about in history because it makes it easy to translate it right into our lives today.

What great things has God done for you that you can remember and thank Him for?

For some of you, it was the awesome mother that God gave to you. And the upbringing and nurture that she provided.

For some of you, it was the children that God gave to you. And the minutes and hours and days and years that you have shared with them.

For the Christians in this room, the greatest thing is our salvation.

Don’t just think about physical blessings and material turnarounds.

Think about the reversal of fortune, the change in your circumstances that God effected when He rescued you from the dominion of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Col 1:12)!

Think about how you felt when you got saved. And the songs of joy.

Victory in Jesus my Savior forever!

And so many other ways that God has blessed you and me.

Think about them.
Remember them.
And thank God for them!

He has made me glad.
He has made me glad.
I will rejoice for He has made glad!

“The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

Except so often we aren’t.

So often we look around and we see the things that are bad and feel the things that hurt. And we long for things to change.

Maybe you have lost your Mom.

Or maybe you never had a good relationship with her.

Maybe you wanted to have kids, but the Lord never gave them to you.

Maybe your children are wayward or estranged from you.

Or whatever difficult situation you face right now.

Whatever difficult situation you face right now!

We don’t know exactly what the problem was for Israel when the psalmist wrote Psalm 126, but we know that he longed for things to be the way they used to be. V.4

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”

He’s saying, “Do it again.”

Have you thrown a little child into the air and caught them?

It’s so much fun. Jeremy and Jim, you are in for a treat.

Because they just get this big eyed look on their face and giggle.

And then your arms get tired, and you put them down, and what happens?

They raise up their arms, and said, “Again, Daddy! Do it again!”

That’s what the psalmist is saying to the LORD in verse 4.

“Do it again!”

“You did it before. I know you can do it once more.”

“Do it again!”

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”

The Negev is a arid wilderness in the Southern part of Israel. It’s a very dry and desert like.  But maybe once a year, maybe at Springtime, it will get a hard rain and spring to life.

Just out of nowhere.

“Do it again!”

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”

Turn this “parched life” (cf. Leslie Allen) into a garden.

Bring your life-giving grace into our situation.

You can do it. Suddenly rush in with your rain and restore us to blessing.

Please!

#2. TRUST GOD FOR SONGS OF JOY IN THE FUTURE.

And that begins with asking.

“Lord, do it again. Bring the great turnaround.”

And that could be something physical or more importantly something spiritual.

“Bring me personal revival, Lord.
Revive us again.”

It’s because the psalmist is thankful for the songs of joy in the past that he can ask and expect songs of joy in the future.

And he does expect it.  Look at how confident he is. V.5.

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will [most certainly] return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

He doesn’t just ask, he expects God to act.

He doesn’t just assume that all of God’s blessings are back there in the past.

He knows with a heart of faith that the best is yet to come.

He’s certain, he’s trusting, because that’s how his God is and that’s how his God works.

The metaphor in verses 5 and 6 is an agrarian metaphor, a figure of speech from the world of agriculture and farming.

First you sow, then later you reap.

What’s interesting here is that the psalmist is sure that the reaping will come.

In the world of agriculture, that’s not always guaranteed.

But the psalmist trusts God and expects God to provide for the Israelites songs of joy.

Just as sure as God brings the seasons, springtime and harvest.

There will be a reaping of songs of joy.

But there will also be tears.

Did you see that in verses 5 and 6?

The sorrow?

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

This is not some slappy-dappy Polyanna happy, happy, happy here.

There will be tears.

But do it anyway.

The point of verses 5 and 6 is that because you expect God to work, to answer your prayers, you keep on going. You keep on sowing.

My Hebrew professor puts it this way, “The idea built into the Hebrew [of verse 6] is difficult to translate neatly into English, but the idea is something like this: ‘The one who faithfully, persistently, diligently, goes forth into the field weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall with infallible necessity come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. The continual going out with tears is matched by the certainty of an abundant harvest coming back in” (Ray Ortlund, When God Comes to Church, pg. 141).

Don’t stop. Keep going. Even through the tears.

My wife has told me that a good number of our family dinners have been seasoned by her tears. They drop off of her face into the soup.

She doesn’t feel like making dinner. She’s sad about whatever.

But she keeps on going. She keeps putting one foot in front of the other.

She keeps on sowing.

And she expects a big harvest.

“Songs of joy.”

Little tiny seeds turn into great big sheaves.

Big honking bundles of blessings.

Trust God for those future songs of joy and keep on sowing until they come.

My friend Blair Murray always saw evangelism in verses 5 and 6.

Because we sow the word, right?

In Jesus’ parable, the seed is the Word of God, and we’re supposed to sow it, sow it, sow it.

And therefore we expect to come home with converts, with new disciples.

I think that’s a legitimate application of these verses.

That’s one thing that we can be faithfully sowing into the fields of the world.

But it’s just one of the ways that we sow spiritually.

This is talking about everyday faithfulness.

Everyday, ordinary, obedience.

Doing the next thing.

It applies to mothers.

Motherhood is hard and often sad.

Sow anyway. Sow in tears!

Do the next thing. Cook, clean, feed, train, wipe, teach, forgive, dress, undress, spank, coach, coax, lift, push, pull, and carry. And then REPEAT!

Keep sowing. Sow in tears if you have to. Prayers, parent-teacher conferences, little league games, soccer tournaments, doctors appointments, bills, bills, bills.

Do the next thing. Keep going.

Carry your seed out there and sow it.

Even through your tears.

And expect God to work.

Expect there to be songs of joy to come.

Sheaves!

But this is not just for mothers. It’s for all of us.

In few weeks, we’ll see it again in Galatians 6:9 which says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

It might feel a little bit like death.

When our Lord Jesus did it, He sowed himself. He Himself was the seed going into the ground, but He came back up with a new glorious body, and we are His sheaves!

It’s worth it, friends.

Trust God for the songs of joy in your future.

Keep going, even through the tears.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m not saying that every prayer of our hearts will be answered in the way we want it.

Not every wayward child, for example, will come home.

God has not promised that.

But He has promised good for His children.

He has promised a bountiful harvest for those who trust Him and keep on sowing their seeds of faith and obedience.

“He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sunday, May 07, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "Where Stands It Written?"

“Where Stands It Written?”
Gospel Roots (1892-2017)
May 7, 2017 :: Acts 17:11

Today’s message is the next message in our Gospel Roots sermon series which looks back over the foundational values and practices and principles that undergird and nourish who we are today. The root system that our church has grown up out of.

This is the fifth message. It looks like we’re going to do one each month this year. In The first and most foundational was the gospel itself: Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the reason we are here.

The second was about singing the gospel together. Worship.

The third was about sharing the gospel with lost people. Evangelism.

The fourth message was about being a praying church. Devoting ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

And today’s message is about building our church on the Word of God, the Bible.

Here’s the title for today’s message:

“Var står det skrivet?”

Wait a second. Maybe you can’t read that.

Let’s use Google Translate and see what that Swedish phrase means in English:

“Where Stands It Written?”

Has anybody ever heard that phrase?

That was one of the watchwords of the founding of the Free Church movement in Europe and in the United States.

“Where Stands It Written?”

What do the Scriptures say?

That’s what it means.

Do you know very much about the history of the Free Church even before Lanse Free Church?

Our forebears in the faith came from Scandinavia, the countries which had followed Martin Luther in the Reformation, especially for us here, Sweden.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther nailed up his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenburg.

He was called to account for his teachings which were a rediscovery of the gospel of grace. We’ll talk about that more in the coming months as we dive into the book of Galatians.

When Luther was called before the leaders at Worms, he was asked to recant his teaching, but he had come to believe that he was teaching the gospel in accordance with the Scriptures.

And even though everybody in authority at that time disagreed with him and it was dangerous to preach what he was preaching he said this in what has become known as his “Here I Stand” speech:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason–for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves–I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.
He took his stand on the Scriptures.

And the Protestant Reformation exploded all over Europe. And one of their rallying cries was, “Sola Scriptura.”

Scripture alone is the supreme authority for Christians.

And the Scandinavian countries adopted Lutheranism.

However, they did not let everybody read the Bible for themselves. I know; it’s hard to imagine. But they didn’t want everybody to make their own choices about the Bible. They wanted to maintain state control of the churches and have the pastors teach an authorized version of the Bible and keep everybody together on the same page.

But some of the believers started to read the Bible for themselves and gather to read the Bible for themselves together. A network of small Bible studies sprang up in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They were the Lay Bible Readers Movement. And they experienced revival and they grew.

And this was their watchword: “Var står det skrivet?”

Where stands it written? Where did you get that? Show me that in the Bible.

And then those Swedes immigrated to America. Our church was founded by immigrants. And they didn’t speak English.

They spoke Swedish, at least at first.

And some of those old Swedes settled in Lanse, Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines.

And a few of them gathered together and formed a church.

The history that Bea Johnson wrote for us says, “Most of the services were conducted in the homes of A.J. Palmquist. There was no permanent pastor, but the various members of the fellowship conducted the services. The records tell us that Alexander Gustafson was a gifted speaker, and he did a great deal of the ‘preaching.’”

Preaching the Word of God.

Here’s our artifact for today. It’s probably the oldest thing in the room.

One of the oldest things in the building.

It’s a Bible owned by the church in Swedish dated January, 1911. It’s 106 years old.

It’s a really cool thing to hold it.

And our forefathers in this church put their finger on the pages of this book, and said to one another, “Var står det skrivet?” “Show me where it’s written.”

And for the first 60 years of our church, the preaching was in the Swedish.

Some people get mad that immigrants take their time to learn the central language of their new country. Well, I’m sure that many of our forefathers learned some English to communicate with their neighbors, but when they went to church for the first 60 years, the preaching was in Swedish, the language of their hearts.

The Bible down there on the Communion Table was given to the church in 1952, that’s the year that the preaching switched consistently to English, 65 years ago.

It was given in memory of Mrs. Jennie Swanson, and it is a King James Version in the Old English, 1611. How many here cut your teeth on the King James Version of the Bible? Amen!

Many of you have copious amounts of Scripture memorized in the King James Version.“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Right?

And there are a lot more Bibles here in this room. The Pew Bibles were bought about 18 years ago. They are in the version that I cut my teeth on, the New International Version, copyright 1984.

And there’s a lot of those in this room. That’s what I tend to preach from every week.

But there are a lot of versions in this room.

What other versions do we have.

NASB?  I think that was the favorite of Pastor Curry, my predecessor. We learned at district conference that a lot of the pastors in our district use that one every week.

ESV. That’s my wife’s favorite. It’s really good. I like the ESV Study Bible.

The updated NIV 2011 version. That’s another good one. We tend to give that one away to our high school graduates.

Any others?

I remember Marie Wertz used to carry the NEB.

There’s a new one out called the CSB. The Christian Standard Bible. And they have a new Study Bible. I want to get it. It looks really good, too.

And some of you have your Bible on your phones, right?

It’s not just turn in your Bible. Turn on your Bible. And there are so many versions that you can access through your phone, now.

The point is not to get everyone to use the same translation.

The point is to get everyone looking at the Scriptures.

And saying, “Where Stands It Written?”

Because that question doesn’t come first from Lanse, and it doesn’t come first from Sweden, and it doesn’t come first from Martin Luther.

It’s a Bible question. It’s a question they were asking in Bible times, and rightly so.

It was the question that the Bereans were asking in our passage for today.

Acts chapter 17.  The apostle Paul and his team had just been to Thessalonica where they had founded a church to whom Paul would later write the letters of 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

But their preaching was stirring up trouble, so Paul had to leave town. Let’s start in verse 10.

“As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

You see where I’m going with this, right?

The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians. Not because they were better people or more holy, but they were excited and careful about receiving the word.

They asked the question, “Where Stands It Written?”

These folks were Bible people through and through.

I’ve only got two points this morning, and they are very simple, but they are for all of us:

#1. RECEIVE THE MESSAGE WITH GREAT EAGERNESS.

Receive the message (literally, the Word) with great eagerness.

That’s what the Bereans did. They were so happy to hear God’s word.

They were hungry for it.

Are you hungry for the Word?

One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 15:16. It says, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.”

Is that how we take in God’s Word?

I had the hardest time writing this message because I care so deeply about this. This is my life. This is what I’ve staked my life on and is my life’s work–studying and preaching and teaching and counseling out of God’s Word.

For 19 years now, I’ve been studying this book during the week to share it with you on Sundays.

And I believe every single word of it.

Top to bottom.

I don’t understand every single word of it. But I believe it. Every jot and tittle.

I believe that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that [we] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

I’ve preached all the way through Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel2 Samuel, The Books of Kings, Hosea, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Ephesians, Philippians (twice! That was the first one I preached through in 1998 and then did it again in 2004), Colossians, 1 Timothy, Titus, James, 1 Peter, 1 John.

And I’ve preached messages from many of the rest of them.

I hope to preach every single verse of the Bible in my pastoral ministry here at some point, if the Lord gives me the opportunity.

Because this is a church that is eager for the Word.

That is our history and our heritage and I hope it’s our heart today.

How many of you started coming here in large part because of the preaching ministry and the dedication to God’s Word? Whether it was Jack Kelly or me or whomever?

I remember after I preached my candidating message in April of 1998, we had a church family meal back that hallway.

Anybody remember what my sermon was on that candidating weekend? Extra points if you do.

It was the book of Habbakuk in the Old Testament.

I picked that one because it was probably my best one at the time, but I also wanted to know if you guys really wanted the Bible or just jokes and inspirational stories.

I figured I’d give you a Minor Prophet and see what happens.

And I remember sitting with a young family at a table back there in the Fellowship Hall and the dad said to me, “You’ve got to come here and teach us that. The rest of that. What happened next? That’s what we need.”

He was receiving the message with great eagerness.

And I just wanted to come and give this church the Word of God.

This is a church that is dedicated to the Bible.

We have Family Bible Week.
We have Family Bible Night.
We have Link Group Bible studies.
We have Bible at our Prayer Meeting.
We have Sunday School Classes that study the Bible.

Our current classes are going through the whole story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in 3 years. And then we’ll probably start over again!

Our children’s church teaches the little ones the Bible.

We give away “Our Daily Bread”–Bible.

We have Bibles out there on the table. We buy them and sell them at cost so that everybody has one.

We do the “Hide the Word” Bible memory verses as a church.

The B-I-B-L-E is the book for us!

And the point is not to have a Bible and have it just sit there or even to memorize it.

The Muslims memorize their Qurans and they revere them, but they don’t have them translated into heart languages and they don’t try that hard to understand them. At least the normal everyday Muslims. They leave that to the professionals. The imans, the scholars.

But not in Christianity. In Christianity, the point is not the physical book but the words and the truth that they convey.

The Bible is for everybody.  The Christians Scriptures are for everybody to receive with eagerness and to teach each other.

Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.”

Not just the professional leaders. Not just the pastors. One another.

Are we receiving the Word with great eagerness?

One of the highlights of my year is teaching the Adult Bible Class at Family Bible Week.

Because what I like to teach is not just the Bible but how to study the Bible for yourself.

And the students come so eager to learn.

So we’ve learned that the Bible is a library, not just a book, with different kinds of books inside of it. We’ve learned about Proverbs, and Psalms, and Narratives, and Gospels, and Epistles, and Law, and this last year even Apocalyptic Literature!

There is so much to learn in these pages.

This is where the power is.

Wally Kephart likes to say, “God didn’t promise to bless our words. He promised to bless His word.”

That’s right. And there is so much blessing here!

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).

Receive the message with great eagerness.

Verse 12 tells us that many of them became believers at that point.

“Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”

Praise the Lord! They received the message of the gospel and it changed their lives forever.

Do you need to receive the message for the very first time?

The most basic and central message of the Bible is that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Have you received that message with great eagerness?

Because those that receive Him, those that believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God (John 1:12)!

I invite you to receive Him right now.

Are we hungry for the Word of God?

Are we reading our Bibles?

Remember the sermon on King Josiah back in February, when they found the Book of Law that had been lost?

We said, Read Your Bible, Heed Your Bible, Bleed Your Bible.

Are you doing that?

When was the last time you did something because your Bible told you to?

I wonder how many sermons have been preached from the Bible here at Lanse Free Church?

I’m sure it’s over 7,000 when you add up Sunday mornings and Sunday nights and special occasions.

I have preached a least 800 sermons here myself over the last 19 years. (I have posted almost 600 just since 2005 on my blog!)

What difference is it making?

Are we in our Bibles and are our Bibles in us?

Here’s number two and last.

#2. EXAMINE THE SCRIPTURES EVERY DAY.

To see for yourself.
To double check.

Look at verse 11 again.

“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

I love that.

If they had to do that with Paul, how much more should you be checking up on me?

“Where Stands It Written, Pastor Matt?”

Show me.

That’s why I preach the way I do.

Did you ever notice how I’m always trying to get you to open your Bibles and I’m always trying to tell you what to look at in them?

What are some of my favorite sounds at church?

The sounds of babies crying.
And the sounds of the whole church singing, especially voices only.
And the sound of pages turning in your Bibles.

“Turn in your Bibles with me please to the book of Acts chapter 17. Pew Bible page #1097. Look at verse 11. Look at verse 11.”

I don’t want you to believe things just because Pastor Matt says to.

I want you to examine the Scriptures every day to see if what Pastor Matt said was true.

“Where stands it written?”

“Show me in the Bible, and I’ll change my mind.”

I almost didn’t preach this message today because Daniel Stanley did it last week.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The first initials of that is where they got the word AWANA"Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed.” And our church had an AWANA program, too.

We’ve all got to study the Bible for ourselves and continually ask the question, “Where stands it written?”

And that means that sometimes we’re going to disagree.

We’re going to come to different conclusions.

Because we’re fallen and limited and come from different starting places.

And that’s frustrating when that happens.

But the Free Church has had a good approach to that problem, too.

One of key leaders in the middle of the 20th century was called Arnold Theodore Olson. The chapel at Trinity is named after him. I never got to meet him, but I saw him there before he died.

Dr. Olson coined a phrase called, “The Significance of Silence,” and the point of that is that there will be times when we disagree with each other on secondary matters.

As long as we agree on the essentials of the gospel, then we speak together with one voice. But on a number of secondary matters, we have silence. Not that we don’t talk about those things together and even argue about them and debate them and sharpen one another. But we are silent on the matter as a whole association of churches. We don’t speak with one voice about those secondary things.

The best way I’ve heard it described is that in the Free Church we “Major on the Majors and Minor on the Minors” instead of “Majoring on the Minors.”

And Dr. Olson in his book talked about differences among Free Church people in the areas like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, and the finer points of eschatology.

We have our views and we keep talking about them and we keep comparing them from Scripture to Scripture asking, “Where Stands It Written,” but we don’t fight over them or divide over them. We stick together standing on the gospel.

I love THAT about our family of churches, as well.

We have a sense of biblical priorities and proportions.

We don’t just keep examining the Scriptures and receiving them with great eagerness, we also glean from them what is most important and what is secondary or even tertiary or even fairly insignificant.

If I preach something up here that you disagree with, I’m good with that if you are getting your disagreement from the Bible itself.

I don’t want a cult of little Matt Mitchell clones running around town, parroting what I say whether they know where it comes from or not.

I want a church family of men and women and boys and girls that know their Bibles.

They examine them every single day!

And they think for themselves about what they see there.

What is the most recent thing that you have discovered from your own reading of the Bible?

What is the thing that you have learned most recently from the Word of God that has made a difference in your heart and life?

You won’t be changed if you don’t read it or memorize it or listen to it.

Examine the Scriptures every day.

And you’ll be a Berean.

And you'll be a Lanse Free Church person.

And you’ll see more and more of Jesus and Him Crucified.

Because Jesus said when he was fighting with the Pharisees:

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.”

Jesus is the whole point of the Bible.

He is where the Old Testament is going and what the New Testament is proclaiming.

And He is what we celebrate at this Table together. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.


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Previous Messages in This Series:

01. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified
02. Sing!
03. Lost and Found
04. The Church That Prays Together


Saturday, May 06, 2017

Saturday, April 29, 2017