Monday, January 10, 2022

Great Commentaries on the Psalms

The Psalms got me through 2020-2021.

When the pandemic hit, I was finishing up a multi-year study of the Gospel of Matthew and immediately jumped back into the Letter to the Philippians--my go-to book for understanding the essentials of gospel ministry (3rd time through from this pulpit!).

But when we were done with Philippians, I wasn't at all sure where to go next, and a dear saint from our church family suggested we turn to the Psalter, the songbook in the center of our Bibles. After some initial hesitation, it was clear that this was exactly where the Lord wanted me to find Him for the next year.

I ended up preaching 45 messages from the Fortifying Truth of the Psalms, not quite a third of the whole thing, but just about every Sunday for a whole year. I hope it was good for our church. I know it was exactly what I needed--rich songs to express the entire sweep of everything going on my heart--good, bad, ugly, sad, everything.

The soundtrack of my sermon prep nearly every week was the amazing EveryPsalm project from Poor Bishop Hooper. One time, Jesse Roberts even sent me the next song a week early so that I had it in my head and heart for preaching (thanks, Jesse!).

And these guys, through their books, were my constant companions as I studied and wrote each week. Let me say a few words about each of them. I read some others, too, but these were my favorites, and most helpful to me. Though I've only met two of them, they all feel like old friends:

John Stott, Favorite Psalms

I've owned this one the longest. It actually belonged to my Grandma Mitchell, my Dad's mom, and I inherited it when she died in 1999. It has short but substantive exposition of Stott's most favourite (I'm sure the Anglican pastor would have included the British "u" in his original manuscripts) psalms with full color pictures that match each of the inclusions.

I got to meet Dr. Stott at a conference at Elmbrook church in the late 1990's. A wonderful experience. It may be because of how many times I've referenced this book over my pastoral ministry, but I've found that most of his favourite psalms have become my favorite psalms.

Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, Tyndale OTC (vol.14a) & Psalms 73-150, Tyndale OTC (vol.14b)

Of course, Stott's book doesn't cover all of the Psalms. To do that you need bigger longer books. Strangely enough, Derek Kidner covers all of the Psalms in two very short books. As I always say, Kidner is precise, concise, and incisive. I've worn out my copies and bought new ones for Heather to use at home. If you can only have two commentaries on the Psalms, I'd make it these two. I have referenced them the most for the last two decades of ministry.

Tremper Longman, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary: Psalms (vols.15-16)

If Kidner's were the books I have referenced for the Psalms the most over the last two decades, Tremper Longman's was the one I have referenced the most in the last 5 years. He covered the same ground as Kidner with this newer one-volume tome. I'm constantly amazed at his ability to summarize the text, connect it to other places in the Bible (especially the New Testament), and do it without academic jargon. I don't always agree with every single one of his interpretive decisions, but his treatment is the ones I want to read first.

Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus 

Keller's little book isn't a commentary. It's a devotional. He's read commentaries such as Kidner's and then distills the insights into 3 short paragraphs that retain the mood and tone of the psalm and quickly move into highly relevant application for our hearts and lives today. I've read through it several times now, and each time I get numerous new things out of it. Sometime in 2021 I got my hands on Dane Ortlund's In the Lord I Take Refuge: 150 Daily Devotions through the Psalms which is similar and similarly good.

Alec Motyer, Psalms By the Day: A New Devotional Translation

Motyer's book is also not a commentary, per se. It's more of a rich translation based on Motyer's advanced scholarship and knowledge of Hebrew. Even better than the translation, however, are the many footnotes (often going for pages beyond the text!) that explain his translation. And then at the end of each section is a devotional thought that draws it all together. Very satisfying to read carefully while taking notes!

Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life (Psalms 1-12). Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness (Psalms 13-24), and In The Presence of My Enemies (Psalms 25-37)

Here's some good free advice for you if you are a preacher: Read everything that Dale Ralph Davis writes on the Old Testament. His sermons-turned-into-commentaries are some of the bestest things I've read on Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings. And he's also great on the Psalms as these 3 volumes demonstrate. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: His books are perfectly delightful concoction of pungent wordsmithing, scholarly erudition, homespun storytelling, and warm-hearted piety. They are how devotional-level commentaries ought to be written. Did I mention that you should read them?

Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed, Psalms (vol. 5)

And last but not least, I loved using Dr. VanGemeren's big book on the Psalter. In my seminary days, I had Dr. VG as a professor for classes on the Prophetic Books of the Old Testament, and I believe he was working on this updated version of the EBC at the time (it came out about 10 years later). I can hear his soft Dutch accent in my mind as I read his erudite scholarship on each psalm. While it is much more academic than the others I've listed above, it is also very readable and has a surprising amount of practical application sprinkled within its pages. 

In addition to these commentaries, I also found the notes in the CSB Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, NIV Study Bible, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, and the online NET Bible truly helpful, as well.

Year from now, if the Lord gives me length of days, when I look back on the era of COVID-19, I'm certain now that one of the major things I will be certain then is that God used the Psalms in these months to shape and reshape who I am by giving me songs to sing about Who He is.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

“To Bring You To God” [Matt's Messages]

“To Bring You To God”
As Foreigners and Exiles - The Message of 1 Peter
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 2, 2022 :: 1 Peter 3:17-22

We’re going to take at least 2 weeks to study this passage in depth. One reason is that this is–by far–the most difficult passage in all of 1 Peter to interpret. Just about everybody thinks so! The great theologian Martin Luther once said about this paragraph, “This is a strange text and certainly a more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament. I still do not know for sure what the apostle means.”

So, I feel like I’m good in company in needing more time to study it and more time to explain what I think Peter is saying here. 

The other reason we’re going to take so much time on this paragraph is that I want us to really slow down and simply marinate our minds in the truth of verse 18. 

There are some words in verse 18 that I want us to set our minds on as we enter into the year 2022.

But first, let’s recite together our memory verses from chapter 2. They’re on the back of your worship bulletin. All Fall and now all Winter, we have been trying to embed 1 Peter 2:11-12 in our minds and hearts. It’s been a few weeks. Is it still in there? I hope so.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Now, let’s look at our passage for today in chapter 3.

You’ll quickly notice the connection between this passage and our memory verses.

The connection is the idea of doing good.

Peter urges us as a family of foreigners, as God’s elect exiles, to live good lives among our unbelieving neighbors–such good lives that though they want to label us as trouble-makers they have to admit we are not trouble-makers. We are, in fact, good-deed-doers! If we are living as we ought, they will all have to say that on the last day. And some of them will be drawn to the good news of Jesus because of our good deeds in Jesus’ name.


The main thing I want us to dwell on this morning are 5 glorious words nestled in the middle of verse 18 in the NIV. Five glorious words that beautifully express the purpose and result of the suffering of Jesus Christ on our behalf. 

These words are perfect for us to dwell upon on a communion Sunday. 

And they are perfect for us to dwell upon on the first Sunday of the new year.

The main thing I want us to dwell on this morning are the words, “To Bring You To God.” Peter says that is why Jesus suffered and died–“To bring you to God.”

I want us to sit with those words and let them really sink in.

That’s the main thing I want us to dwell upon this morning.

But it’s not main the point of this bigger passage. The main point of this whole passage is to encourage us, as foreigners and exiles, to keep on doing good even in the face of unjust oppression and persecution.

Peter has been banging this drum all along:

“Live such good lives...that they may see your good deeds.” Chapter 2, verse 12. Our memory verse.

Chapter 2, verse 15. “[I]t is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” Greek word, “agathopoiountas.” “Doing good.”

Chapter 2, verse 20. “[I]f you should suffer for doing good [agathopoiountas] and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”

Chapter 3, verse 6. “[D]o what is right [agathopoiountas] and do not give way to fear.”

Chapter 3, verses 13 and 14 that we looked at last time. “Who his going to harm you if are eager to do good [agathou]. But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”

The big point of this passage in front of us–including all of the tricky parts that we’re going to look at more closely next week–is that Peter wants us to keep on doing good...even when it hurts.

Even when people hurt us for doing good.

I wish that were not a thing, but it definitely is a thing. And Peter wants us to know it. And be ready for it. And keep on doing good even when evil is coming at us.  #BlessThemBack, right?

Look at verse 17 and catch Peter’s logic.

“It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

Same word. “agathopoiountas.” “Doing good.”

Sometimes it’s God’s will for us to suffer. Our suffering is never outside of His sovereign control.

I’m thankful for that, though I do wish that it was His will that I never suffer. Someday that will be true. But I’m glad that if I have to suffer these days, it’s always within His sovereign control.

But Peter says that’s it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

On one level, that’s obvious, right? I mean if you suffer for doing evil, then you’ve kind of asked for it.

But on another level, it’s not obvious. I mean, if you’re doing good, how could it be good to suffer for it?

It makes you wonder if you’re really doing it right. And it makes you wonder if it’s really worth it. I mean, at least if you suffer for doing bad, you at least got to enjoy doing bad...

But Peter says that it’s better to suffer for doing good. In fact, he’s just said that if you do, you are “blessed.”

And now he’s going to give the greatest example of this principle that ever was–our Lord Jesus Christ. V.18 “For [it is better...to suffer for doing good...FOR] Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

There’s your example! There’s your proof!

Jesus suffered for doing good, and look where that got Him.

We’ll look at the details more next week, but verse 22 says that not only did Jesus suffer and die, but He rose again and has “gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

There’s your proof that it’s better to suffer for doing good! And there’s your example follow! It IS worth it.

It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It sure does. Those nails hurt. That Cross hurt.

But the end result was victory!
The end result was vindication. 
The end result was glory!

And that’s the main point of this whole passage.

Which should sober us as we enter into 2022. We should ready ourselves for suffering and commit ourselves to doing good no matter what.

In the name of Christ and following the example of Christ.

For the glory of Christ. “All glory be to Christ our King. All glory be to Christ!”

And we’ll see that even more next week.

But right now I want us to slow down and just focus in even more on the words of verse 18.

Because the result of Jesus’ suffering was not just His glory; it was our good.

It wasn’t just His vindication; it was our salvation. V.18

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Let’s think about that for a while.

Peter has been thinking about the suffering of Christ for a long time. Ever since that rooster crowed, I think. Peter’s been thinking about the suffering of Christ.

His thinking here proceeds in three steps.

Number one. Christ died for sins:

#1. ONCE FOR ALL.

“Christ died for sins once for all.” That means here once for all time. Meaning that Jesus Christ’s death was a unique. It was distinctive. It was unrepeatable.

It only had to happen once and it only happened once.

Like it says in the Letter to the Hebrews (chapter 9, verse 28), “Christ was sacrificed once...”

Yes, we are called to suffer (for doing good) as well, but His suffering was also unique. It was special. It was unlike any other suffering that ever was or ever will be.

That’s why we keep singing about it. “Nothing But The Blood of Jesus.”
That’s why we keep memorializing it at the table with the bread and the cup.

It was unique. It was once for all. Everything that needed to happen at that Cross happened at the Cross.

Number two. Christ died for sins...

#2. THE RIGHTEOUS FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS.

He did not deserve it.

Talk about suffering for doing good! Jesus was perfectly righteous. Remember how Peter quoted Isaiah in the last chapter? “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (2:22).

But the righteous One took the place of the unrighteous on that Cross. Jesus substituted Himself for us.

May we never get used to that idea!

“The righteous FOR (in the place of) the unrighteous.”

Put your name in there. “The righteous for the unrighteous __________.”

To put your name in there, you have to admit you are unrighteous. You have to admit that you do deserve this suffering, this death. But when you do, you realize that Jesus has already suffered FOR YOU.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  “The righteous for the unrighteous.”

And here’s the result. Number three.

Christ died for sins...

#3. TO BRING YOU TO GOD.

Just think about that!

You were far from God.
You were His enemy.
You were separated from Him.

And you couldn’t do anything to bring yourself to God.

The distance was too great. The chasm un-crossable.

But Christ died for sins, a sin offering, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous and the result was that you and I get to be with God!

In His presence.
In His love.
In relationship with Him. His child!

In Christ, we have been brought to God.

That’s what I want us to dwell upon this first Sunday of 2022.

And as we do, let me suggest three points of application.

#1. Be brought to God.

If you have not yet already, now is the time to come to God.

Jesus Christ has died for sins once for all the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God. 

Have you come to God? Has the purpose of Christ’s death been applied to your own life?

Repent and put your trust in Jesus. Be brought to God. 

Put your faith in what Jesus did on the Cross on your behalf.

Put yourself in that phrase, maybe for the first time, “the righteous (Jesus) for the unrighteous (you!). Pray, “Lord Jesus, thank you for dying in my place. I trust and receive you. Bring me to God. Bring me to the Father. I believe you are the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through you. Bring me to the Father.”

What a great way that would be to start 2022!

And for all who have, the second application I want to suggest is simply:

#2. Give thanks that you were brought to God.

Thank God that you were brought to God!

That’s what we’re going to do right here at this table in just a minute.

The Bible calls it “the cup of thanksgiving” (1 Corinthians 10:16).

We should thank God every single day for what Jesus did for us.

“Thank you, Lord, for suffering.
Thank you, Lord, for suffering an unrepeatable death.
Thank you, Lord, for suffering in my place.
Thank you, Lord, for bringing me to God.”

And number three and last...and lasting forever:

#3. Enjoy being brought to God.

Enjoy everything that it means to be brought to God.

Think about what that means!
It means peace with God.
It means eternal life with God.
It means heaven with God.
It means hope.

All of what Peter was saying in chapter 1 about that “living hope.”

We have been brought to God, we have everything to look forward to.

The Bible says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

You’ve been brought to God!

I want you to think about how bad 2022 might be for just a second.

Two years ago, as we were heading into 2020, everybody joking about “2020 vision,” and it was a lot easier to say, “This is going to be my year!” and expect great things.

And some of you awesome optimists are doing that for 2022 already. That’s cool! I hope it’s everything you’re feeling right now.

But for many of us, we are looking at 2022, and we can be filled with dread. We can be anxious. We are worried about covid, about cancer, about politics (it’s another election year, did you know that?). We’re worried about finances and supply chains and freedoms and a whole host of things including potential persecution.

Some of you know what you’re facing in 2022, and some of you don’t.

But go ahead right now and imagine the worst.

Now put that up next to this sentence, “I have been brought to God.”

“I have been brought to God.”

Not for judgment. But for atonement.
Not for punishment. But for blessing.
Not for condemnation. But for adoption. For fellowship!

For love.

“I have been brought to God.”

That doesn’t mean that 2022 won’t also be bad.

But it can’t touch the goodness of “I have been brought to God.”

The Bible says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ...  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (or in all of 2022), will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

“I have been brought to God.”

“Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood–
Sealed my pardon with His blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!”


***

Previous Messages in This Series

01. "Elect Exiles" 1 Peter 1:1-2
02. "A Living Hope" 1 Peter 1:3-7
03. "Angels Long To Look Into These Things" 1 Peter 1:8-12
04. "Be Holy In All You Do" 1 Peter 1:13-16
05. "Live Your Lives As Strangers Here In Reverent Fear" 1 Peter 1:17-21
06. "Love Each Other Deeply, From the Heart" 1 Peter 1:22-2:3
07. "But Now You Are..." 1 Peter 2:4-10
08. “As Foreigners And Exiles” 1 Peter 2:11-12
09. "Submit Yourselves For the Lord's Sake 1 Peter 2:13-17
10. "Follow In His Steps" 1 Peter 2:18-25
11. "Do What Is Right And Do Not Give Way To Fear" 1 Peter 3:1-7
12. "Inherit a Blessing" 1 Peter 3:8-12
13. "Even If You Should Suffer For What Is Right"  1 Peter 3:13-16

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Books I Read in 2021

Matt’s Books Completed* in 2021:
1. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
2. Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie
3. The Thirteen Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian
4. The Quintessential Grooming Guide for the Modern Gentleman by Capt. Peabody Fawcett RN.
5. In The Presence of My Enemies by Dale Ralph Davis
6. The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O’Brian
7. The Guardians by John Grisham
8. Jesus the Great Philosopher by Jonathan Pennington
9. Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth by Thaddeus Williams
10. Anxiety: A Student’s Guide by Edward Welch
11. Mayo Clinic Guide to Fibromyalgia by Andy Abril and Barbara Bruce
12. Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley
13. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers
14. The Truelove by Patrick O’Brian
15. The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O’Brian
16. Handle With Care by Lore Ferguson Wilbert
17. The Commodore by Patrick O’Brian
18. The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O’Brian
19. Woe to the Scribes and the Pharisees by Daniel Taylor
20. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers
21. The Hundred Days by Patrick O’Brian
22. Rainbow’s End by Ellis Peters
23. Trinity Psalter Hymnal by the Joint Venture of the OPC & URCNA
24. Embodied by Preston Sprinkle
25. A Question of Belief by Donna Leon
26. Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian
27. 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) About Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin
28. By Its Cover by Donna Leon
29. Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri
30. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
31. 21 by Patrick O’Brian
32. Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers
33. The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks
34. Beastly Things by Donna Leon
35. Trent Intervenes by E.C. Bentley
36. Looking for the King by David C. Downing
37. All That’s Good by Hannah Anderson
38. Political Thought: A Student’s Guide by Hunter Baker
39. The Fibro Manual by Ginevra Liptan
40. Trent’s Own Case by E.C. Bentley & H. Warner Allen
41. A Time for Mercy by John Grisham
42. Simply Trinity by Matthew Barrett
43. Embracing the New Samaria by Alejandro Mandes
44. Britte-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
45. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers
46. Reading the Times by Jeffrey Bilbro
47. Evangelical Convictions, 2nd Edition. EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee
48. Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey
49. Cannabis and the Christian by Todd Miles
50. Edith Pargeter: Ellis Peters by Margaret Lewis
51. And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
52. He Will Be Enough by Katie Faris
53. The Trinity: An Introduction by Scott Swain
54. The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon
55. The Secular Creed by Rebecca McLaughlin
56. Camino Winds by John Grisham
57. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
58. Prayer by John Onwuchekwa
59. Frederick Douglas: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight
60. Is Christmas Unbelievable? by Rebecca McLaughlin
61. Trace Elements by Donna Leon
62. A Promised Land by Barack Obama
63. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
64. The Christian Standard Bible, M’Cheyne Reading Plan 



* As I say every year--these are books I finished reading (or had read to me in Audible) this year, not the ones I started or the ones I didn't get done. That list would be a LOT longer (and kind of depressing)! I read a bunch of them for escapist fun, a few for/with my family, and a lot of them just to learn and grow. They aren't listed (perfectly) in the order I read them. Some of them I am reading for a second or third time (or more!).

And as I also say each and every year--I'm not endorsing these books just because they are listed here.! Some of them are really good and some are really bad. Most are somewhere in between. Read with discernment.

Here's the article where I explain why I post these.


Lists from previous years:

2020
2019
2018
2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008 (first half, second half)
2007 (first half, second half)
2006 (first half, second half)
2005 (first half, second half)

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Rich Reading in 2021

Yesterday, I shared the shortlist of Christian non-fiction books that made the biggest impression upon me in 2021, but they were not the only good books I read nor the only kind of book I profited from this year. As the saying goes, “All Christian non-fiction doctrinal reading makes Matt a dull boy.” (Or something like that.) Today, I want to share some of the other books that, for me, made 2021 such a rich year of reading.

Fiction

My sanity has been retained throughout the pandemic by returning to my favorites in fiction. This year, I finished another sail through Patrick O’Brian’s British navel novels set in the Napoleonic Wars (fourth time?) and another trek through Edith Pargeter’s (i.e. Ellis Peters) detective stories featuring the family of George Felse (third time?). Heather and I also began another (lost-count) loop through the Lord Peter Wimsey canon from Dorothy Sayers. I got to read the latest wry installment from Daniel Taylor’s unlikely detectives Jon and Judy(!) Mote, Woe to the Scribes and the Pharisees. I also discovered E. C. Bentley and his genre-introducing gentleman detective Philip Trent whose delightful twisty first story was entitled, Trent’s Last Case, of course. I also got to read Trent Intervenes and Trent’s Own Case to round out the series.

You might discern from the previous paragraph that I like to escape most of all into the comforting and conclusive world of detective fiction, and you’d be right. But I also enjoy other kinds of storytelling when the storyteller is excellent at his craft. This year I was enchanted with the interwoven tales of Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad Is Untrue, engrossed in the intertwined lives of Anxious People and Britte-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman, and enthralled by the interlaced narratives of Amor Towles’ latest yarn, The Lincoln Highway

Biography and Memoir 

Perhaps the most significant work I read (or had read to me via audiobook actually) this year was the Pulitzer Prize winning Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight, read by Prentice Onayemi. What a work of scholarship! What an amazing life! I will be contemplating the facets of that biographical diamond for many years to come.

I also read two very different memoirs: A Promised Land by former President Barack Obama which chronicles his experiences from the period just before his election up to the death of Osama bin Laden and Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey which tells the complicated story of the fundamentalist legalism and ugly bigotry of his Southern religious upbringing and Yancey’s unlikely discovery of the amazingness of grace. It’s interesting to me, looking back, to realize how much the ongoing fight against racism figured into these three life stories. 

Other Rewarding Reads

For my work, the kind of thing I read the most were commentaries on the Psalms. In a future post, I’ll try to explain which ones I found the most helpful as I preached through almost a third of the Psalter in 2020-2021

Heather Joy has fibromyalgia, and this year I became intent on understanding better both (1) what that is and (2) how to walk with my wife through it. I found the Mayo Clinic Guide to Fibromyalgia by Andy Abril and Barbara Bruce to be helpful for the first and The Fibro Manual by Ginevra Liptan to be best for the second.

The silliest thing I read in 2021 was probably The Quintessential Grooming Guide for the Modern Gentleman by Capt. Peabody Fawcett RN (who I believe to also be entirely fictitious), but it was fun to read in conjunction with sporting the longest (and greyest) beard I have ever grown.

I have the sweet privilege of serving as the book review coordinator for the EFCA Blog which puts me in touch with even more great books and insightful church leaders to review them. This year we published thoughtful reviews of Help! I’m Married to My Pastor by Jani Ortlund, Handle With Care by Lore Ferguson Wilbert, Embodied by Preston Sprinkle, and Reading the Times by Jeffrey Bilbro.

And that’s just scratching the surface. This year I discovered the work of Hannah Anderson (I read All That’s Good and anticipate reading many more), Thaddeus Williams (I read Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth and look forward to hearing him in person at our EFCA Theology Conference in February), and John Onwuchekwa (I read Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church with our church’s elders). I also swallowed Jesus the Great Philosopher by my former classmate Jonathan Pennington almost whole. It was a great year for reading.

Books By Friends

This year I got to read three books written by real-life friends:

In October, Alejandro Mandes published Embracing the New Samaria. I’m glad that Alex finally distilled his thinking into a readable little manifesto for Christians to open our eyes to the multi-ethnic future of both the United States but especially to the church of the eschaton.

Our friend Katie Faris has written He Will Be Enough: How God Takes You by the Hand Through Your Hardest Days (foreword by Joni Eareckson Tada) which is slated to be released in the Spring. This November, I got to read a pre-publication version and offer my official endorsement. Katie’s newest looks to be a beautiful book overflowing with the precious truth of God’s sufficiency. I’ll be handing out copious copies when I get them in my hands.

And lastly, the EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee of which I am a member, has just finished a full revision of Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America. When the conference revised Article 9 of our doctrinal statement in 2019, we set out to not only update the chapter on the Return of Christ (surveying the now broader set of acceptable views on the millennium and emphasizing the glorious character of our Lord’s second coming) but also to improve the whole thing. So this Fall, I got to re-read the work of my fellow committee members and provide (hopefully good) suggestions for bettering the second edition. It’s off to the printer right now, and I look forward to EC2 helping to strengthen another generation of church leaders in the EFCA.

I know that I am blessed to get to do so much reading, and I look forward to what rich things I may be allowed to explore in 2022. Tolle lege!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

My Top Books of 2021

This was a good year for reading, but it didn’t come easily. 

In 2021, I continued to struggle with concentration just as I did during the first year of the pandemic. I ended up reading about a dozen books fewer than I did in 2020, and while I posted snippets from great books along the way, I didn’t write any full length book reviews.

But I did read. And I read some really good books. (I also read at some other similarly excellent books, but I haven’t completed them yet.)

These are the ones* that impressed and taught me the most in 2021:


Todd Miles writes great books for Christians. His book melding super-hero lore with excellent Christology made my list in 2018. This year he deftly tackled a highly-relevant topic (pun intended) with a concise, winsome, even-handed, well-informed, nuanced, readable, thoughtful book. 

Miles avoids easy answers and hasty conclusions but also pulls no punches either. I wish more Christian books were like this.


This year’s list includes two books on the Trinity. I’ve been repairing holes in my understanding of this crucial biblical doctrine for several years now, and reading Barrett’s book finally convinced me that the teaching called “Eternal Functional Subordination” that I had received from some of my (still beloved!) theological mentors was incorrect and ultimately incompatible with Nicene orthodoxy. As the title suggests, Barrett labors to demonstrate the interrelations between the doctrine of divine simplicity and the basic contours of pro-Nicene trinitarianism. I highly recommend it for those who are trying to sort these things out for themselves.


If that last paragraph sounded like goopy word-soup to you, I understand and sympathize. The concepts are a lot to wrap your mind around, and I’m still not good at explaining it all concisely. Thankfully, Scott Swain is. I recommend that more Christians begin with this introduction to the doctrine which proceeds from the same basic position as Barrett’s but in a constructive mode starting with the biblical data and building upwards. Both kinds of books (positive and disputative)  are needed, and I’m glad to have read good examples of both kinds this year.


I think I quoted from this book on social media more than any other that I read in 2021. Jeffrey Bilbro is bent on helping Christians think about how to absorb the news. It’s not a diatribe or even a lament, and the author is no Luddite, either. But he does want to help us be distinctly Christian in our reading of the news. I found it much more encouraging than I had expected–especially because I already was committed in principle to professor Bilbro's basic approach and was already trying to engage in some of the practices he recommends. Reading the Times was both sharpening and affirming.



Rebecca McLaughlin is writing the books the church needs right now. Starting with her award-winning Confronting Christianity (for which I have published a free downloadable small group discussion guide), McLaughlin has been churning out cheerful little volumes that cut through false dichotomies, shine a searchlight on bad arguments, and make a refreshing case for the truth, beauty, and goodness of Christianity. I read three great short books from her this year, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) About Christianity (Get one for the young person in your life!), Is Christmas Unbelievable? (We handed them out like cookies this year at church.), and The Secular Creed which engages 5 contemporary claims with great insight. I love the way she illuminates her sound arguments with scintillating illustrations from pop culture, literature, science, family stories, and Scripture. It’s amazing how much she packs into these little books and how she superbly presents the unexpected and ironical twists of both how Jesus challenges all of our thinking and is also better than anyone could ever imagine.

Here’s her conclusion:

"God's rule over our lives is heresy to modern, self-determining ears. But we must speak the truth with tenderness and not let our sin take the wheel. On all these fronts, we must fight hard with the weapon God has given us: self-sacrificing, unrelenting love. Rather than shouting progressives who seek love and justice down, let's call them in with a Jesus song: his song of good news for the historically oppressed, his song of love across racial and ethnic difference, his song that summons men and women, married and single, young and old, weak and strong, joyful and hurting, rich and destitute, into eternal love with him. Let's fight with love and sing the song with which will one day overcome. Can you hear it?" (Pg. 107).

Yes, I can.


Friday, December 24, 2021

“Rejoice! Rejoice!” [Matt's Messages]

“Rejoice! Rejoice!”
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Christ Candle Lighting :: Christmas Eve
December 24, 2021

“Advent” means “Coming.” Christmas is coming–tomorrow! Jesus has come and is coming again.

For this year’s Advent Season, we as a church have been reflecting on one of the most famous and ancient advent hymns, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

We just sang it.

Anybody want to take a stab at how old this song is? Hint: The lyrics were originally written in Latin. 

This hymn is over 1200 years old in its origins. That’s according to my extensive historical research of a Google Search and a Wikipedia article.  But that’s right. Some of the lyrics of this song were in circulation among followers of Jesus Christ before the year 800AD. The church is old, y’all. We are a part of something very old.

Listen to the first words in Latin and see if they sound familiar.

“Veni, veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio,

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel." 

“Veni, veni Emmanuel.”

You can hear the “adVENT” there can’t you?

The “come.” “Veni!” This song asks Immanuel to come, to arrive, to show up, to visit, to save.

Originally it was plainchanted antiphonally, but then eventually it was paired with a polyphonic tune that has come to bear the same name, “Veni Veni Emmanuel.”

That’s the tune that we know it by.

And it is so plaintive, isn’t it? It’s such a prayer: “Please! Come! Please! We need you!”

It’s written for Christians, but it’s written from an Old Testament perspective from before the Christ came that first Christmas.

The carol draws deeply from Old Testament imagery.

Our hymnal doesn’t have some of the original stanzas.

Here’s one we don’t normally sing:

“O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

The singers want the God who gave the Law to come again in majesty.

Here’s another one that we don’t normally sing, but perhaps you’ve heard it:

“O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Each stanza names the Messiah with a new name. “Adonai” “Key of David.”

And each stanza asks that the Messiah solve His people’s greatest problems in the strength of each name. “Close the path to misery!”

And then the refrain echoes back an assurance that their prayers will be answered.

Emmanuel will come and will rescue his people, called “Israel” in the Old Testament, and we know that those promises extend to us in the New  Covenant.

And so each refrain calls upon us to rejoice. 

“Rejoice! Rejoice!”

[LIGHT FIRST CANDLE.]

On the first Sunday of Advent, Miles and Jennifer lit our first candle and read the first verse which sets the whole song in motion.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.”

That name “Emmanuel” is so important.

It literally means, “God with us.”

The prophet Isaiah promised that God would be with His people so that they should not be afraid no matter what was threatening them. Isaiah prophesied, "The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." 

This mysterious promise established a pattern of God's rescuing presence for His people. 


Amazingly, the Son of God Himself would appear and ransom His people from their sins.

The exile here was physical for the Old Testament people of God, but it is metaphorical and spiritual for you and me.

We are not alone.

God Himself has come. Like we saw on Sunday morning in Isaiah 40.

And God Himself is coming again.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O people of God.

[LIGHT SECOND CANDLE.]

On the second Sunday of Advent, Don and Linda lit the second candle and read out the second verse:

“O come, thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight."

Does the world seem dark to you today?

So many things are bleak in our world these days. Just look at the headlines. And the gloomiest darkness is death. This song is clear-eyed about how depressing life can be.

But it also sings that the Messiah is the “Dayspring.”


And he calls Jesus the “Rising Sun” who will “come to us from heaven.”

Jesus is like the Sunrise! Have you ever watched the sunrise and felt your heart rise with it?

Rejoice! Rejoice!

The sun has come, and the sun will come again. And the darkness will have to run away!

[LIGHT THIRD CANDLE.]

On the Third Sunday of Advent, Brady, Beth, Khandis, and Kelcey lit the third candle and recited the third verse:

“O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show
And cause us in her ways to go."

Again there is such honesty here about how hard things are.

Our world is chaotic and awash in folly. We desperately need wisdom, an understanding of God's ways, and discernment of what is truly good and right. 

Amazingly, the Messiah does not simply bring wisdom–He is wisdom Himself.

The Bible says that in Jesus are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-23)!
He brings stability to our lives and reveals to us the path of knowledge in which to walk.

Of course, we need to listen to Him and read His words to find out what that path is.

I hope you have a plan to read your Bible in 2022. 

Because this is full of wisdom from on high.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

[LIGHT FOURTH CANDLE.]

Just this last Sunday, Keith and Pennie lit the fourth candle and read the fourth verse of the hymn:

“O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease,
Fill all the world with heaven's peace."

Does anybody know where that name for the Messiah is found in the Old Testament?

It’s the prophecy of Haggai. One of the little minor prophets in the back of your Old Testament.

They were minor in size but major in message. The LORD said through Haggai,  "...'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty.” (vv.6-7, NIV84).

Did you know that all of the nations want Jesus?

They don’t realize it either!!!

But that’s what’s going on down deep in their hearts.

All of the peoples of the Earth desperately desire peace and salvation. And we know where that is truly found! One day soon, the Savior will arrive and fulfill all of our deepest longings. Imagine a joyful unified world when all warfare has ended because of the glorious reign of the coming “Prince of Peace.” Where we don’t have to pray for our men and women in uniform missing their families as they serve us overseas!

That’s what was happening that first Christmas, the Desire of Nations was being born.

And He’s coming back again to gloriously finish what He unstoppably started.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

We have every reason to rejoice.

And the great one is our salvation from our sins and our eventual resurrection from the dead.

[LIGHT CHRIST CANDLE.]

Here’s one you don’t hear every day.

“O come, Thou Rod [or some versions] Branch of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.”


The point of this stanza is that Jesus is the Savior, the Rescuer, the Deliverer.

He has come to free His own people from Sin and Satan and Hell and Death.

That little baby that was born in Bethlehem would grow to be a man who lived a sinless life and died a sacrificial death upon a wooden cross.

He tasted the Hell that we deserve on that cross.

And then three days later He rose from the grave Himself.

And that frees us from the same.

So that all who put their faith and trust in Him and become His people, are saved.

Saved from Sin.
Saved from Satan.
Saved from Hell.
Saved from Death.

Have you turned from your sin and put you faith in this Christ?

If you have not, I invite you to do so right here and right now.

And if you have, then rejoice!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to Israel.

And Emmanuel will come to His people again.

Rejoice! Rejoice!


Sunday, December 19, 2021

“Go, Tell It on the Mountain” [Matt's Messages]

“Go, Tell It on the Mountain”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
December 19, 2021 :: Isaiah 40:9-11

Let me tell you why I picked Isaiah 40:9-11 for this Sunday.

I wasn’t sure where to go this week. It’s Christmas, and we’re all together again. Last year this time, we took a month off of meeting in person in this building and all worshiped at home instead.

But we’re together again, and it’s Christmastime, so of course we need to focus on Christmas, but what exactly to say?

And then I thought about this song, “Go, Tell It on the Mountain.”

We’ve sang that song every Sunday this month. You sang it after Pastor Chris Grella reminded us from Philip’s example in Acts 8 to be a witness. “Go, Tell It On the Mountain.”

And then last, week Copper requested that we sing it, and said it was his favorite. And Josh here had his hand up at the same time, and my family told me Josh said, “That was what I was going to say. That’s my favorite.” (Though they also told me that he said that several times last week. Apparently Josh has a lot of favorites. He likes them all.)

And then I thought about how the kids were going to sing it again for us this morning as part of their presentation, and then my mind went to this passage of Scripture which might be the actual one that inspired the Black Christians in the antebellum South to sing these words in their spirituals. 

And then I realized that I would get to preach again from Isaiah 40!


I love Isaiah 40! The very first Sunday I stood in this pulpit as your pastor in 1998, I preached from Isaiah 40. And the next Sunday, I did, too. I have returned to it again and again and again.

Sometimes I call it, “The Gospel of Isaiah” because of how it shines with good news.

You could hear it in verse 9, couldn’t you, “Good tidings!” “Good tidings!” 

“Good news!”

This prophecy just radiates with good news.

It’s much needed news. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah were full of bad news.

With just a few (glorious) exceptions, you could summarize chapters 1 through 39 in one word as “condemnation.” Israel was going to be condemned and sent into exile. And that national condemnation also pointed to all of our looming spiritual condemnation because of our sin.

But starting in chapter 40 with these words (v.1), “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God.” the rest of the book of Isaiah is full of consolation. Consolation.

Isaiah is told to prophecy that their exile will end, and they will be saved.

Because God is going to come.

Isaiah chapter 40 is a prophecy of divine advent.

Isaiah chapter 40 is a prophecy of the advent of God.

What does "advent" mean?

Coming.

Could you hear it in verse 10, “See, the Sovereign LORD comes...”

He’s on His way.

In verses 3 through 5, there is a voice saying that everybody ought to get ready.

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God” (v.3).

He’s coming.

“Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill shall be made lo; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain” (v.4)

The road crews are coming through the fix the potholes for the divine motorcade.

And this voice was fulfilled in John the Baptist saying that the leveling of the ground is our paving the way through our repentance for the coming of God Himself. 

Verse 5 says, “And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind will see it!”

That’s a line in Handel’s Messiah, isn’t it? “And the glory, the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

God is coming.

And it’s certain that He’s coming. Verses 6 through 8 say unlike everything else in life including other people, you can count on this.

“The grass withers (and our lives are like grass, aren’t they?) and the flowers fall, but the word of God stands forever” (v.8).

We just saw that in 1 Peter didn’t we? Peter loved Isaiah 40 as much as I do!

You can count on this. God is coming.

God is coming.
God is coming.
God is coming!

I have just three short points this morning, and that’s the first one.

Go, Tell It On The Mountain that...

#1. GOD IS COMING!

Listen to verse 9 again.

“You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”

It’s not completely clear who, in the first place, is supposed to climb that mountain. Perhaps it was Isaiah himself. I think it’s more likely that Isaiah is instructing another herald to take the message to Zion, to Jerusalem, to the people of God.

But if the first messenger is not really clear, the message itself is crystal clear.

“Here is your God!”

“Behold your God!”

He is coming. He is on the way. Here He is!

Are you ready for this?

Do you see how this is a passage for Christmas?

Because what was happening at that first Christmas in Bethlehem?

God was coming.

This is a prophecy of the incarnation when God came to His people.

“Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
that blessed Christmas morn.”

God Himself came! 

Immanuel. “God with us.”

That’s something worth filling your heart with, isn’t it?

That’s something worth telling others about, isn’t it?

Isaiah says, “You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain.”

How come?

Why a high mountain?

You get better reception up there, don’t you? Better delivery.

You can be heard from farther away.

God wants everybody to hear this.

He wants it posted on social media.
He wants it broadcast on the nightly news.
He wants it plastered on the front page.
He wants it going viral.
He wants us to boost the signal, to turn up the volume, to crank it to 11.

“You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up[!]”

God is coming!

And we, on this side of Christmas, can say, “God has come! And He’s coming again!”

Are you ready?

Have you told somebody?

When was the last time you told somebody that God has come or that God is coming again?

When was the last time you told somebody that God has come in Christ and that Christ is coming again?

If it’s been a long time, how come?


As foreigners and exiles in this world, we are tempted to be afraid to shout, to lift up our voices with the good tidings of the gospel.

But Isaiah says (v.9), “Do not be afraid.”

“...do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”

And then he gives us a glimpse into the glory of the coming of God. Look at verse 10.

“See [behold!], the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See [behold], his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.”

Go, Tell It On The Mountain that...

#2. GOD IS COMING AS A CONQUERING KING!

Do you see all the words that indicate strength and victory?

“See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him [or He rules with a mighty arm]. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.”

He has won the battle and He has all of the spoils of war.

So in many ways this is more of a prophecy of the second coming, the second advent. When Jesus was born, almost all of that power and strength were hidden.

He didn’t ride in, though there was an army of angels to announce His coming.

It was more like a quiet invasion to bring the kingdom to Earth.

And then He fought a great battle, and when it looked He had definitely lost, He had actually won.

Jesus died on the Cross, and then He came back from the dead.

His victorious resurrection!

So that when He comes again, He brings all of the reward and recompense with Him.

You know what that is?

That’s the inheritance we’ve been talking about in 1 Peter every Sunday.


That’s all of the blessings that God has in store for His people WON by Jesus’ triumph on the Cross and the Empty Tomb and coming on the way for us when Jesus Christ is revealed.

“Here is your God!”

Coming as a conquering king.

Now, you know that’s only good news if you are not His enemy, right?

Because, clearly, His enemies have no chance. When He comes to conquer, He will win.

So if you are still His enemy, I suggest that you rethink that stance and repent. Turn from your sin and trust in Jesus and what He did on the Cross for you, and you will pass over from condemnation to consolation. From certain death to eternal life.

And for all of us who do belong to Him, this is the best news in the world, because it means that every promise He’s ever made will come true.

“O the King Is Coming!
The King Is Coming,
I Just Hear the Trumpets Sounding,
And Now His Face I See
O the King Is Coming
The King Is Coming
Praise God, He’s Coming for Me.” (G&B Gaither)

“And the glory, the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

What a day that will be.

But it gets even better.

In verse 11, Isaiah tells us not just that God is coming in power, but that God is coming in love. Look at verse 11. This powerful God, this conquering King..

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

Go, Tell It On The Mountain that...

#3. GOD IS COMING AS A GENTLE SHEPHERD!

I love that God’s arms are in verse 10 and in verse 11.

In verse 10, those arms are ruling with power and might. But in verse 11, those same powerful arms are used to cradle little lambs. All of that great power of verse 10 is used for the purpose of gentle love in verse 11.

“He tends his flock like a shepherd [Psalm 23!]: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

What a beautiful picture of tenderness and powerful meekness!

Shepherds were burly folks with big muscles. They had to be. They had to be rugged to do their work. They were rough because of wolves and bears.

But they weren’t rough with the sheep. They weren’t rough with the little lambs or the expectant ewes.

They were so gentle, so loving.

And so is God!

God didn’t just announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds who “feared and trembled.”

He came as a shepherd!

Who are the lambs in verse 11? It’s God’s people, isn’t it? It’s Zion, it’s Jerusalem, it’s the towns of Judah in Isaiah 40.

And they prefigure you and me. It’s us! We are the lambs. And He’s gentle with us.

How many of you have read Gentle and Lowly yet? If you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and read it this Christmas season. This is a reminder of the heart of Jesus Christ.

He is a Good Shepherd. He is so gentle.

Put yourself in this verse! “He tends [put your name there] like a shepherd: He gathers [put your name there] in his arms and carries [put your name in there] close to his heart...”

Do you know that that’s where you are today? He carries you close to His heart. You are beloved.

“Here is your God!”

Fill up your heart with this vision of the Advent of God.

And it will carry you through your hardest day.

A Conquering King and a Gentle Shepherd.

Which one of those is Jesus?

He is both of those. He is all of this.

He has come and is coming again.

Go tell it on the mountain.

Tell somebody.

The shepherds did.

Remember how after the “angel chorus...hailed our Savior’s birth...” 

Luke tells us, “they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:16-18).

“Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born”


Advent Candle #4: O Come, Desire of Nations

LEFC Family Advent Readings: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Haggai 2:6-7 :: December 19, 2021
Week #4: O Come, Desire of Nations

“Advent” means “coming.” Christmas is coming. Jesus has come and is coming again.

Our Advent Readings this season focus our minds on the titles ascribed to the Messiah in the beloved Christian hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” 

[LIGHT FIRST CANDLE AGAIN.]

Our first candle reflected on the title “Emmanuel” itself. “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” The Messiah would be called “Emmanuel” because God has never abandoned His people. Instead, Jesus came to ransom us from our sins.

[LIGHT SECOND CANDLE AGAIN.]

The second candle focused on the title “Dayspring.” Though our world has been darkened by sin and death, the Messiah will rise like the morning sun to dispel the shadowy gloom and spread the joy of His daylight in our souls.
[LIGHT THE THIRD CANDLE AGAIN.]

Our third candle named the Messiah as the “Wisdom From On High.” All of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are ours in Jesus Christ. He brings order to our chaotic lives and reveals to us the path away from folly and into knowledge.

[LIGHT THE FOURTH CANDLE.]

The fourth verse of the hymn calls the Coming One the “Desire of Nations:”

“O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease,
Fill all the world with heaven's peace.”

The origin of the title “Desire of Nations” is found in the prophecy of Haggai.

[READ HAGGAI 2:6-7.]

Although they may not realize that Jesus is the Deliverer for which they yearn, all of the peoples of the Earth desperately desire peace and salvation. One day soon, the Savior will arrive and fulfill all of our deepest longings.

May this fourth candle give us a vision of a joyful unified world when all warfare has ended because of the glorious reign of the coming “Prince of Peace.”

“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!”

Sunday, December 12, 2021

“Even If You Should Suffer for What Is Right” [Matt's Messagess]

“Even If You Should Suffer for What Is Right”
As Foreigners and Exiles - The Message of 1 Peter
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
December 12, 2021 :: 1 Peter 3:13-16

Before we look at our passage for today let’s recite our memory verses together. These words in 1 Peter 3 flow out of those words in 1 Peter 2. Verses 11 and 12:

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

And what a day that will be!


Even though they had been accusing of us being trouble, we wouldn’t be trouble; we would be fighting against our internal temptations and doing externally good deeds, undeniably good deeds that draw others to Jesus Christ.

Good deeds such as being submissive to human authorities, even the not-so-good ones (chapter 2 verse 13 through chapter 3 verse 7).

Good deeds such as loving our church families with harmony, sympathy, compassion, and humility (chapter 3, verse 8).

And good deeds such as loving even our enemies, returning evil and insult with blessing so that we might “inherit a blessing” (chapter 3 verses 9 through 12).

Which brings us to chapter 3 verses 13 through 16.


Peter starts this section with a question that I wish had a different answer.

Peter starts this section with a question that I wish had a slightly different answer.

He’s just come off of quoting Psalm 34 to his readers so their ears are ringing with the joy of knowing that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (v.12).

And then he asks a rhetorical question. One where the answer is sort of obvious. Look at verse 13.

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?”

Well, I wish the answer was, “Nobody! Nobody is going to harm you, Matt.”

I feel like that’s where the question might obviously take us.

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?”

Nobody! Who would do something like that?! 

Some people even translate the question, “Who is there to harm you...?” Because the Lord’s face is against those who do evil, so who can really hurt you?

Nobody!

But we know that Christians do get hurt by others.

And we do know that some people really enjoy hurting Christians.

We know that Christians can be persecuted for doing good, and in fact, we are told that it isn’t really that strange (1 Peter 4:12).

In fact, we should expect it. We should expect a certain level of unjust suffering.

Not all of time. Sometimes, the world works the way it should, and if you are eager to do good, then good comes to you. As a general rule. I think that’s Peter’s point in verse 13.

Or perhaps he is saying something stronger–that no matter how much you are hurt by others, you can’t be ultimately harmed, because of the eyes, ears, and face of the Lord.

Either way, he’s not saying what I wish he would say–that if I just follow Jesus, I will live a pain free life. And evil will not come after me.

I wish that was what he was saying. I’ll bet you do, too.

But the Apostle Peter is crystal clear on the reality and frequency of persecution, and we know that because of what he says next.

And this sentence, I would not wish to be changed in the slightest. Verse 14.

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”

Those words are so important, I’ve made them the title of today’s message:

“Even If You Should Suffer For What Is Right”

Literally, even if you should suffer for righteousness. 

That’s the not the way the world should work. The righteous should not suffer. Those who are eager to do good, should not receive bad.

But our world is broken, so it routinely happens.

And don’t believe anybody who tells you differently.

Especially those smiling preachers on the screen. 

“If you just do good, you won’t get hurt.”

Tell that to Job.

Tell that to Jesus. 

Tell that to these Christians whom Peter was writing to in Asia Minor.

Things were just beginning to heat up for them, and Peter was teaching them how to live as foreigners and exiles, as citizens of the Kingdom to come in the middle of the dangerous kingdoms that still are.

You’re going to suffer for what is right.

We are going to suffer for righteousness.

Jesus was not immune from unjust suffering, and neither will we be.

Which makes what Peter says next so incredibly sweet.

Did you hear it?

Did you hear where Peter takes this sentence? 

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”

YOU ARE BLESSED!

What a thing to say!

What a counterintuitive thing to say.

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”

It’s really just a continuation of what he’s been saying. We who belong to Jesus are going to “inherit a blessing,” an unbelievable blessing. The inheritance we have on the way (remember chapter 1) “can never perish, spoil or fade.” It’s kept in heaven for us, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this inheritance we greatly rejoice! We are so blessed!

And, somehow, strangely, we are more blessed when we respond to evil and insult with more blessing. Verse 9, “To this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing!”

And nothing can stop this blessing. It is unstoppable. 

Certainly unjust suffering cannot stop it.

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”

Where did Peter get these strange ideas?

He got them from his king. Remember when the Lord Jesus taught about his upside-down, inside-out, already-but-not-yet kingdom? He said in Matthew chapter 5, verses 11 and 12:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven...”

You are blessed. “Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that both sobering and exhilirating.

I wish he was going to tell me that it won’t hurt.

I wish he was going to say that there will be no pain.

But the pain is real. The persecution is real. The ridicule is real. The insults are real. The chains are real. The bullets are real. The prisons are real. They don’t call it “suffering” for nothing.

But he doesn’t call it “blessing” for nothing either.

The blessing is real, as well.

And it is greater than all of the suffering combined.

So then, out of that blessing, out of the orienting reality of unbelievable blessing Peter gives us a series of commands for how we should live even if we should suffer for doing what is right. 

And I want to summarize them with 3 points of application. Here’s number one.

#1. DON’T BE SCARED.

That’s easier said than done, I know.

He just told them that it’s probably going to hurt.

But he’s also told them that they are blessed, no matter what.

So don’t be scared. V.14. Peter quotes from Isaiah chapter 8.

“...you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’”
 
Fill up your mind with the blessing, and don’t be scared of whatever they throw your way.

This last Wednesday at Prayer Meeting, one of you brought up a young lady you know named Chloe who doesn’t live in our community. I think she’s about 16 years old and what we were told was that she is getting called out and given a hard time for being a follower of Jesus in her school.

So we prayed for Chloe. We prayed that she would not be scared of those who were making fun of her. And we prayed that Chloe would know that she is blessed.

And we prayed that Chloe would know that God is with her.

This quote in verse 14, I said, is from the prophecy of Isaiah. It’s actually chapter 8 and it’s part of the prophecy that we think about each year at this time year, the prophecy we call the prophecy of Immanuel. What our Advent Readings are about.

Five verses before this one, Isaiah cried out, “O Immanuel!” God is with us.

If God is with us, why would we be scared?

Even if we should suffer for what is right.

I get scared when I think something good is probably going to be taken from me.

And lots of good things can be taken from us. Our money, our jobs, our health, our freedom, our friends, our family, our very lives.

We might get those taken from us for doing what is right!

But don’t be scared. 

Immanuel! “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”

Here’s what to do instead. Number two:

#2. PUT JESUS FIRST.  Look at verse 15.

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”

Those are very important words. We should do this every single day. Every single hour.

In our hearts, in that inner reality at the core of our beings, we are to “set apart” or to “sanctify” to “make holy” Christ as Lord. The Messiah as our King.

This is so profound. It’s hard to describe. It’s hard to explain.

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”

Don’t let anything else be the Lord for you. Don’t worship anything else.

Put Jesus absolutely first.

Make His place in your heart holy. Separate in a category all His own.

And make sure that that category has the title “Lord” all over it.

I think that Peter is still meditating on Isaiah chapter 8 here. He loves his Old Testament. The very next verse in Isaiah 8 after the one about fear says, “The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread...”

And Peter says, “That LORD is Jesus Christ!”

Make sure you put Him absolutely first in your hearts.

What’s the most important thing in your heart?

Remember, Jesus Himself is the blessing that we are going to inherit.

If we have Him, we have everything, so He should be everything to us.

This may and will require repentance.

What have you let creep in and take His place in your heart?

It’s easy to do, especially when you’re hurting.

Especially when you’re hurting because you were doing the right thing.

It’s easy to let your heart wander. 

But don’t let it.

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”

Even if you should suffer for what is right.

Especially if you are suffering for what is right. Put Jesus far into first place.

And, number three and last:

#3. EXPLAIN YOUR HOPE.

Don’t be scared, put Jesus first, and explain your hope. Look at verse 15 again.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Peter expect his readers to get questions.

If we live the way that Peter tells us to, he expect us to get asked questions about our hope.

That makes sense, doesn’t it?

For example, “Why are you smiling?”

These Christians, some of them at least, were suffering for righteousness.

They were living as foreigners and exiles. 

And it was, at times, very painful!

And here they were smiling.

“Why are you so happy?”
“Why are you different?”
“How can you act this way when your life is so hard right now?”

I think the best ones would be the bewildered persecutors, right?

“I’m hurting you. Why are you smiling? What do you know that I don’t know?”

“I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you how I am blessed. Let me tell you about my hope that is most assuredly on the way.”

Peter says that we need to be ready to explain our hope.

“Always be prepared.” Peter was the first Boy Scout!

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Now that word “answer” is “apologia” in Greek and we get our “apologetics” from it–the art and effort of giving a defense of the Christian faith which is a wonderful thing to do and to grow in your ability to do. Let’s do it!

But Peter is not saying that we have to have a bunch of arguments up our sleeves for every single objection to Christianity that an unbeliever might raise.

He’s saying that if we are setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts and living in hope in our living hope then unbelievers are going to ask us where that comes from.

And we need to be ready to name Jesus as our blessing and our hope.

By the way, speaking of apologetics and giving a defense of the truth of Christianity, we have a stack of these little books by Rebecca McLaughlin out in the foyer, Is Christmas Unbelievable? Four questions everyone should ask about the world’s most famous story.


1. Was Jesus Even a Real Person?
2. Can We Take the Gospels Seriously?
3. How Can You Believe In A Virgin Birth?
4. Why Does It Matter?

I think it’s a great little book to give to somebody who has those questions, especially at this time of year. So if you have someone like that in your life, take one of these and give it to them in the next couple of weeks.

But even more importantly, be ready to explain your own hope.

Notice that he doesn’t say, “Be ready to explain what you believe.” He says be ready to explain why you have this hope. Why you are a hopeful person.

Are you a hopeful person?

When was the last time somebody asked you why you have so much hope?

I’m afraid that many Christians are not known for being hopeful.

Especially when we are suffering unjustly.

On the one hand, we are tempted to be frightened and run away.

On the other hand, we are tempted to be angry and to strike back.

I think that’s why Peter says the next thing in verse 15.

“But do this [explaining] with gentleness and respect...”

Not with arrogance or attack.
Not with grumbling or demanding of our rights.
But with gentleness and respect.

Those things are in short supply in our world right now, aren’t they?

Did anybody log onto social media this week and say, “Why, look at all of this gentleness and respect!”

Did anybody log onto social media this week and add to the gentleness and respect on there?

Are we known for this?

You know it takes great strength to communicate with gentleness and respect. Those are not weak words. Those are strong words. It’s not easy to do, especially when you are suffering for what is right!

But remember, even then, you are blessed.

You are blessed.

So explain your hope with gentleness and respect (v.16), “keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Sounds a lot like our memory verse, doesn’t it?

“...though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (2:12).

Their slander is, one day, proved wrong by your good behavior.

Keep a clear conscience. Walk the walk. Make sure that your suffering IS unjust and not deserved. Don’t be doing the bad stuff that they are accusing you of.

Peter is going to go on to say, “It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” Don’t be doing the evil. “Abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”

Because you are blessed!

I wish I could tell you that from here on out it is plain sailing.

Health, wealth, prosperity, popularity, liberty, and justice and happiness all the live long day.

But that’s not what our Lord or His apostle have told us to expect.

They have told us that there is trouble on the horizon.

Not every day. Sometimes things go as they should, and if you and I are eager to do good, we’ll experience some good back.

But there will be other days, and to not be surprised by them, when evil comes our way when we’ve been doing exactly what we ought to be doing.

But even when we should suffer for what is right, we are blessed.

So don’t be scared. You are blessed! Jesus is Immanuel!

And be ready to explain your hope with gentleness and respect and a clear conscience. You are blessed and you are going to be blessed. Tell somebody about your hope.

And most importantly of all, put Jesus first.

In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.

Because that is Who He is.


***

Previous Messages in This Series

01. "Elect Exiles" 1 Peter 1:1-2
02. "A Living Hope" 1 Peter 1:3-7
03. "Angels Long To Look Into These Things" 1 Peter 1:8-12
04. "Be Holy In All You Do" 1 Peter 1:13-16
05. "Live Your Lives As Strangers Here In Reverent Fear" 1 Peter 1:17-21
06. "Love Each Other Deeply, From the Heart" 1 Peter 1:22-2:3
07. "But Now You Are..." 1 Peter 2:4-10
08. “As Foreigners And Exiles” 1 Peter 2:11-12
09. "Submit Yourselves For the Lord's Sake 1 Peter 2:13-17
10. "Follow In His Steps" 1 Peter 2:18-25
11. "Do What Is Right And Do Not Give Way To Fear" 1 Peter 3:1-7
12. "Inherit a Blessing" 1 Peter 3:8-12