Thursday, September 17, 2020

Small Group Discussion Guide for "Confronting Christianity" by Rebecca McLaughlin

Recently, several of our small groups from church read together Confronting Christianity:12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin to great enjoyment and profit. McLaughlin's refreshing approach to Christian apologetics seems to me to be exactly what is needed in our day. She doesn't shrink from the hard questions but instead shows how each one is also actually an opportunity for Christianity to shine.

I looked around for a discussion guide but couldn't find one, so I created our own. Feel free to use what follows as the basis for your own group's conversation around this incredibly helpful book. 

[A free PDF version is also available for download here.]

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Small Group Discussion Questions 

Confronting Christianity: 
12 Hard Questions for the 
World’s Largest Religion


Discussion Guide Prepared by Matthew C. Mitchell

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 1: Aren’t We Better Off Without Religion?

1. What signs in our culture would indicate that many people are asking the question, “Aren’t We Better Off Without Religion?” What evidence might they cite for the answer, “Yes?”

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. What is Rebecca McLaughlin’s answer to the title question? How does she arrive at it? What did you find surprising about her approach?

4. Re-read the Scripture passages McLaughlin references in the second half of the chapter (Acts 20:35, 1 Tim 6:10, Colossians 3:22-24, Philippians 4:12-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Hebrews 12:1-2, Luke 11:4). What did each one contribute to her argument?

5. What questions did this chapter raise that you would like to think about more and discuss?


Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 2: Doesn’t Christianity Crush Diversity?

1. Why might detractors of Christianity ask the title question of chapter 2? Why might Christianity be assumed to be a “Western religion?” What sort of bad things have been done in history that would feed the narrative that Christianity crushes diversity?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. What is Rebecca McLaughlin’s answer to the title question? How does she arrive at it? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. What does the Bible say about diversity? Review passages that McLaughlin references including Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 2:5-11, Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, James 2:8-9, Acts 8:26-40, and Revelation 7:9-10. 

5. What are the benefits of diversity? What are the weaknesses or limitations of diversity? How can we be more biblical in our approaches to diversity? How can we show skeptics the beauty of biblical diversity? What questions does the chapter raise for you that you’d like to explore further?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 3: How Can You Say There’s Only One True Faith?

1. Why do people feel the title question of chapter 3?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. To answer the big question of chapter 3, McLaughlin retells the old story about the blind men describing the elephant. She says it corrects our arrogance and encourages humility but also creates at least seven problems. What are they and what points did she make about each one? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. Why do you think there isn’t as much Scripture quoted in chapter 3 as the previous two chapters. What did the author draw from Mark 2:1-12, John 11:25-26, and Matthew 28:18-20.

5. Do you feel ready to answer this question next time it comes up? What questions does the chapter raise for you that you’d like to explore further?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 4: Doesn’t Religion Hinder Morality?

1. The title question of chapter 4 seems counterintuitive to many of us who have been shaped by  Christianity. Why are people genuinely asking it today?
2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What argument would you make?

3. What is McLaughlin’s argument to answer the question in the negative? What do you make of her points? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. McLaughlin does not quote Scripture in chapter 4. What Scripture do you think relates to subject at hand?

5. Do you feel ready now to address this question with skeptics? If not, what else do you feel you need to be ready?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 5: Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?

1. What did Bertrand Russell believe about the “dragon of religion?” What are some of the “famous and forgotten instances of religiously motivated violence” McLaughlin reviews that would give rise to the title question for chapter 5?

2. Before reading chapter 5, how would you answer its daunting question? What argument(s) would you make? In what ways is this chapter similar to the previous one?

3. How does McLaughlin approach the question herself? How does she understand, analyze, and evaluate the Crusades, Buddhism, Communism, and then Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust? What does each part of the chapter contribute to the whole? How do thinkers such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King figure into the story? Why does she discuss democracy in this chapter? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her arguments?

4. In chapter 5, McLaughlin references Matthew 5:39, Luke 22:50-51, Matthew 5:44, Luke 23:34, Luke 4:18, Acts 4:32-35, Matthew 25:41-45, and 1 John 1:8. What do these Scriptures say that applies directly to the discussion at hand?

5. McLaughlin ends this chapter by considering the violence of the Cross of Christ. What truth does Jesus’s dreadful crucifixion and victorious resurrection speak to the title question? Are you ready to talk about it with others?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 6: How Can You Take the Bible Literally?

1. Has anyone ever asked you, “How can you take the Bible literally?” Why do you think they wondered? A big part of the question is the definition of “literal.” What do you think it means?
2. Before reading this chapter, how would you (or did you) answer the title question? What arguments would you advance?

3. How does McLaughlin answer the title question? How does figurative language figure in? What do you think about her thoughts on (a) contradictions, (b) non-canonical “gospels,” and (c) the trustworthiness of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? What did you find surprising, helpful, and/or difficult about her approach?

4. Because it’s about how to interpret the Bible, this chapter references many passages of Scripture. Which ones were the most interesting to you? Why? What Scriptures would you direct someone to for understanding how literally (or not literally) to take the Bible?

5. Now if someone asks you, “How can you take the Bible literally?” what are you planning to say?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 7: Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?

1. What are some reasons science and Christianity are perceived as enemies?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What tack would you take with a questioner?

3. How does McLaughlin go about answering the title question? What did you find surprising, helpful, interesting, and/or difficult about her approach? What is science good for? For what is science inadequate? What is the true history of Christianity and science? What do you think is the future of that relationship? 

4. Aside from Genesis 3:19 (pg. 120), chapter 7 does not have any Scripture quoted in it. What Scripture do you think relates to subject at hand? 

5. Do you feel ready now to address this question with skeptics? If not, what else do you feel you need to be prepared?

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 8: Doesn’t Christianity Denigrate Women?
1. Unlike with many of her others, McLaughlin does not start this chapter by directly raising the title question or helping readers to feel the weight of it. Instead, she begins with an illustration from Harry Potter. Why do you think she made that authorial choice? What might her starting point teach us about apologetics?

2. Before reading this chapter, how would you answer the title question? What approach would you take with a skeptical conversation partner?

3. McLaughlin’s approach begins with an overview of gender in the Scriptures, following the overarching storyline of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Israel, Christ, Church, New Creation (pgs. 132-145). At each step she highlights God’s often counter-intuitive messages about women. She then turns to social science data and interacts with our current cultural context (pgs. 146-149). The chapter culminates with some relevant thoughts on abortion (pgs. 149-152). What did you learn from her exploration of these topics?

4. This chapter is replete with Scripture. What did you receive from reading passages such as Isaiah 49:15, Genesis 2:18-24, Genesis 3:16, Isaiah 54:5, Luke 7:36-50, Luke 10:38-42, Ephesians 5:22-31,  Revelation 19:7-9, Revelation 21:1-2? What other Scripture might you include as particularly relevant to the conversation?

5. What is your “readiness quotient” for talking about this with a skeptical friend? How can we bring more light than heat to this important discussion? McLaughlin’s biological and biographical profile makes her a unique conversation partner and gives her certain advantages. What advantages does your unique God-given background provide you for having productive conversations with unbelieving friends?
      
 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 9: Isn’t Christianity Homophobic?
1. McLaughlin says that “this chapter may be the most controversial yet” (pg. 154). Why is that? In what ways have you felt the burden of the title question in your lifetime and in engagement with your particular cultural context? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered its central question?

2. As with the previous chapter on gender, McLaughlin’s biographical profile makes her a unique conversation partner and gives her certain advantages in talking with hostile skeptics on this issue. How can we leverage people’s testimonies as we engage in these important conversations?

3. McLaughlin takes the discussion in directions that may have been unexpected. What did she argue that was surprising or provocative to you? What was the most helpful?

4. This chapter engaged with the Scriptures you might predict (ex. Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Matthew 19:3-12, 1 Timothy 1:9-16, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:26-27) but also many Scriptures that you might not have picked out (ex. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 12:12, 12:26, 1 Thessalonians 2:7, John 15:13, Matthew 22:30). How do both of these sets of Scripture, properly situated in their contexts, contribute to our understanding of the main question? What other Scripture passages might you include in as particularly relevant to the conversation?

5. This is clearly not just a controversial subject but also a complicated one. Are you prepared to talk about this with someone who asks you the title question? Why or why not? What do you still need to think out for yourself? How can we help each other be ready to discuss this with others?
    
 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 10: Doesn’t Christianity Condone Slavery?
1. Why is this chapter in this book? Why does the issue of slavery call for a chapter-length discussion in a book about hard questions facing the Christian faith today? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered the title question?

2. How did McLaughlin answer the question? What nuances does she bring to the discussion? What part(s) of the question did she treat as simple, and what did she treat as complex? What ironies did she surface? We have often seen her steer a topic in unexpected directions. Did she surprise you? How so?

3. The Bible has a lot to say about slavery in both the Old and New Testaments. How did Scripture inform McLaughlin’s answer to the title question? What was the most helpful and/or challenging thing you learned from surveying the biblical data? Are there additional Scripture passages you think should be included in the discussion?

4. What is the role of history in McLaughlin’s answer? Are there any missing important historical considerations that need added into the conversation?

5. Could you give an “elevator speech” (a concise speech deliverable in a short time on the essence of a matter) answer to this question now that you’ve read the chapter? Why or why not?
    
 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 11: How Could a Loving God Allow So Much Suffering?
1. The need for this chapter is obvious to all but the most blindly optimistic. McLaughlin calls it, “the question that haunts us all at one time or another” and points out that, “For many, this question torpedoes the Christian faith.” What has been your own story of wrestling with the relationship between Christianity and the existence of suffering? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered the title question?

2. Yet, again, McLaughlin turns the discussion in potentially unexpected directions. Without discounting the awfulness of suffering or offering facile solutions, she agrees with her friend whose son was brain damaged in a sports accident, “People often think that the reality of suffering is an embarrassment to the Christian faith. But I think suffering is the greatest apologetic for Christianity there is.” How does McLaughlin get to this surprising conclusion? Through what stops along the path does she progress to reach that destination? 

3. McLaughlin emphasizes the difference between Christianity’s ideas on this subject and the comparative ideas of other world religions (esp. Buddhism) and other world views (esp. atheism). How do these comparisons help us to evaluate answers to the question at hand?

4. Woven throughout this chapter is the story of the raising of Lazarus in John chapter 11. How does this story contribute to our understanding of the relation between Christianity and suffering (and even death)? What other Scripture might inform our answers to the main question?

5. What might you say now to a skeptical friend when they confront you with this question? Would your approach be different if they were currently going through a painful experience than if they were just asking it in the abstract? Why or why not?  

 
Confronting Christianity
Small Group Discussion Questions
Chapter 12: How Could a Loving God Send People to Hell?
1. Why is it that “We twenty-first century Westerners hate judgment” (pg. 209)? If we hate the very idea of judgment, we will find the reality of hell, “the most difficult thing Christians are called to believe” (pg. 210). What thoughts and feelings does the title question raise within you? Before reading this chapter, how would you have answered its central question? Why does McLaughlin believe this is the “hardest question in the this book” (pg. 210)?

2. By this point in our reading of Confronting Christianity, we have probably come to expect the unexpected. How does McLaughlin go about answering the key question of this chapter? How does she make her case that judgment could be good and even great? How does she interact with science, reason, philosophy, and current events to reach counterintuitive conclusions? What are the most compelling and thought-provoking  ideas she shares in this chapter? What leaves you still scratching your head?

3. What is the role of Scripture in this chapter? McLaughlin weaves into this chapter the story of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus’ feelings about the “cup” of God’s wrath (Luke 22:42-44, and see footnote 16 on page 216), God’s name as revealed to Hagar (Genesis 16:13), and the paradoxical combination of the Lamb who has wrath (Revelation 6:16-17). What does each Scripture employed contribute to the picture of God that McLaughlin is painting for us? What other Scripture might you want to bring into the discussion?

4. In this final chapter, McLaughlin pulls various threads together from throughout the rest of the book. How does this chapter serve to unify and cap the argument of Confronting Christianity? What questions did this chapter raise that you would like to think about more and discuss?

5. Do you feel more prepared to engage with skeptics on these crucial questions? Why or why not?


Sunday, September 13, 2020

“The LORD On High Is Mighty” [Matt's Messages]

“The LORD On High Is Mighty”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
September 13, 2020 :: Psalm 93

On Tuesday night at our Elders’ meeting, we studied Psalm 93 together as an Elders Team, and I was just so encouraged that I came home saying, “I’ve got to preach on that this Sunday!”

I want to read to you all of Psalm 93 straight through, and as I read it, I want you to really hear and feel the poetry.

The Psalms are songs, poetic worship songs, songs with a message about God.

And this one, Psalm 93, is very short and very beautiful and very powerful.

And it achieves its short, beautiful, powerfulness mainly by concise repetition.

In just a few short verses, Psalm 93 repeats itself again and again.
In just a few short verses, Psalm 93 repeats itself again and again.

And it repeats itself to emphasize.
It repeats itself to emphasize.
It repeats itself to emphasize its glorious message.

[You see what I did there? I thought so.]

The psalmist [we don’t know which one it was, the song writer] wants to emphasize the fortifying truth that the LORD (capital L-O-R-D, Yahweh, the Creator and Covenant God of Israel, the LORD) Who reigns on high is mighty.

He says it verse 4: “The LORD on High Is Mighty”

Psalm 93 is a kingship psalm. 

It’s a song about how the LORD is the king of everything.

There are a number of kingship psalms, and a bunch of them are right here in the fourth book of the psalter, from Psalm 93 through Psalm 100.

The Hebrews loved to sing about the royal magnificence of their God.

We sometimes don’t understand or immediately feel these songs because we don’t have a monarchy here in the U.S. We aren’t used to kings and royalty. So sometimes we have to meditate a little while on the images to really receive them.

And yet we do all understand magnificence and have a instinctive sense of greatness and glory. We all long for (even when we don’t realize it, we all long for) transcendence and majesty.

Psalm 93 is like Psalm 8 and Psalm 90 that we’ve studied the last 2 weeks in that it is full of Big God Theology.  

But there is one noticeable difference. In Psalm 8 and Psalm 90, we got a picture of a Big God and little old us.



But here’s what’s different in Psalm 93:

We aren’t in Psalm 93.

Psalm 93 isn’t about you and me at all. It’s just about God Himself.

The only place we have in it is singing it ourselves.

Psalm 93 is about the LORD Himself, and that’s a great thing.

Because He is the greatest thing, the greatest being.



Did you hear the repetition?

Majesty, majesty.
Established, established.
Lifted up, lifted up, lifted up.
Mightier, Mightier, Mighty.

This is a great worship song with a truly great message!

“The LORD on high is mighty.”

I think the psalm divides nicely into 3 parts. The first part is verses 1 and 2 which we might summarize by saying:

#1. THE LORD’S ROYAL REIGN IS UNSHAKABLE.

The psalmist says it so much better (v.1): “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength.” 

Yahweh, the Creator and Covenant God, is the king over everything.

He reigns. He is sovereign. He rules.

And as the sovereign ruler, He is utterly majestic. 

The song says that He is robed in majesty. That’s a metaphor to gesture at His glory. He is dressed for the part. He is the King over all, and it shows.

And on his sword belt is His own strength. God doesn’t need another weapon. God’s own strength is all the weapon He needs.

The LORD reigns. The LORD is king, and no one else is. The LORD is king over all, and that is good news.

That means that there is a ruler at the helm of this world.

And this praise song names Him; Psalm 93 says that the King of the World is Yahweh.

Yahweh reigns. 

And so how firm is that reign? How established is Yahweh’s throne?

It is unshakable.

Yahweh made the world, and is not going anywhere. V.1 again.

“The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.”

That’s not talking about geo-centrism, that the Earth does not move on its axis or around the sun. It means that the world God made is stable. It is measured and regulated and reliable. It is firm and secure.

There are stable laws that govern the world because it was made by this Lawgiver.

The only way that this world will go somewhere is if the Lord says that it should go somewhere.

In other words, the world is not out of God’s control.

The world is established because the Lord’s throne is established. V.2

“Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.”

Sounds like Psalm 90, doesn’t it?

God is eternal. And His throne is eternal.

God is the eternal ruler of all.

God has always been the king. Always.

And this means that the Lord’s royal rule is unshakable.

Isn’t that good news?

This throne will not budge.

We have a hard time conceiving of eternity because we live in time. But if you can wrap your mind around a God who is eternal, wrap your mind around a throne that is just as eternal.

A throne that has always been and always will be.

A throne that will not budge.

I think we need to hear this message. This throne will not budge.

Never.

Sometimes it seems like our world is falling apart and flying apart.

9/11
COVID
Forest Fires
Wars
Racism
Rioting

None of those things will budge this throne.
Joel said at our elders’ meeting on Tuesday that the world will end some day but none of these things will end the world. Only God will end the world.

The world is not out of God’s control. Amen?

Now, I’m beginning to pick up from my social media and from some yard-signs that there is apparently an election of some kind coming up? Has anybody else noticed this that we are in an election year? 

(It seems like it’s always an election year these days.)

And it is important to educate yourself about the various candidates and their platforms and if a candidate or a platform earns your vote, to be a good citizen and in our great democratic system cast your vote for the candidates and the platforms you think would be the best for our country.

But, however, the position of King of the Universe is not up for vote this year or any year!

Whoever might end up being the President of the United States, Yahweh is King. 

The LORD reigns.

And nothing will stop Him. This throne will not budge.

That doesn’t mean that evil will not try.

The rule of God is contested.

I know that this talk about God’s sovereignty raises questions about bad things happening.

If God is sovereign over, all why are there bad things?

And that’s a real question that the Bible gives great and nuanced and complex and sometimes surprising answers for. We’ll hit it a number of times in the Psalms this Fall.

Because clearly bad things happen.

They truly exist.

And Psalm 93 doesn’t pretend that they don’t.

It’s no secret. Psalm 93 isn’t hiding anything just like Psalm 90 didn’t hide anything last week.

The bad things are here, unleashed in the world.

But the message of Psalm 93 is that those bad things will never win.

And it’s not even close. 

The LORD’s royal reign is unshakable.

Because (Part #2):

#2. THE LORD’S ROYAL MIGHT IS UNSURPASSABLE.

Listen again to verse 3. Listen to the repetition. 

“The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.”

It sounds like the seashore doesn’t it?

The crashing, crashing relentless fury of the waves pounding the shore.

How did the Hebrews feel about the seas?

Are there any stories in the Bible about happy trips of the ancient Hebrew mariners?

No. They were not a seafaring people.

Think about Jonah. He went to sea, and look what happened to him. He was just about buried at sea.

The seas often (if not always) represented chaos and evil symbolically to Israel.

These seas with their growing growing thundering roar represent turmoil and tumult and trouble.

Anybody having a hard year?

2020! Turns out nobody had 2020 vision.

And it feels like we’re getting pounded by the chaos.

“The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.”

But!

This throne don’t budge. V.4

“Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea–the LORD on high is mighty.”

Bob said on Tuesday night that when he was in the US Navy, he was on a ship in the North Sea that was going up and down and up and down, and water coming over the front of the ship. I can’t imagine how scary that would be!

Have you ever felt like that is happening in your life?

“Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea–the LORD on high is mighty.”

His royal might is unsurpassable.

Do you need to hear that today? I know I do.

Keith pointed out on Tuesday that this God on this throne is our Father.

If you belong to Jesus Christ, if you have put your faith in God the Son and what He did for you on the Cross, then this God on this throne is your Father! So no matter if the seas lift up their voices on you, your God is mightier than the thunders of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea.

The LORD on high is mighty.

So much so that when the LORD on high makes a rule, or sets a standard, or gives a directive, that statute stands firm, as well.

It’s not just the world that stands firm, it’s God’s Word that stands firm, too. V.5

“Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O LORD.”

Part #3 of Psalm 93:

#3. THE LORD’S ROYAL HOLINESS IS UNENDING.

“Your statutes stand firm.” Your Law is not wishy-washy.

The Scripture is not broken or even breakable.

Cody pointed out on Tuesday night that if God’s throne is so established, then His word is completely trustworthy.

His word does not budge. And therefore, we should not fudge. (Cody didn’t say that part. I did.)

If the LORD is on high like this, exalted above everything, then what He says should carry the ultimate weight with us.

And we should live a holy life.

Because that’s the only thing that’s appropriate around this God.

“Holiness adorns your house (the temple and heaven) for endless days, O LORD.”

That phrase, “endless days” in Hebrew is the very same words that end Psalm 23 which I’m planning to preach next Sunday, Lord-willing. “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the [holy] house of the LORD ‘for endless days.’”

So if we want to live in that house, we need to be holy, too.

So this psalm gets scary if you are not holy.

That’s why we need to be in Jesus.

That’s why we need what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

Paying for our sins and giving us His righteous holiness.

And why we need to make that holiness ours more and more each day.

Because without holiness noone will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

Because the LORD is holy forever and ever.

He has always been eternal, always been mighty, and always been holy, holy, holy.

So, what is the application of this psalm to our lives today in 2020?

Because, remember, we’re not in this Psalm. This Psalm is not about us. It’s about God.

So what is the application for us?

I have just one word.

If the LORD is king like this (and He is), then we should:

BOW.

We should bow:

We should bow before this King in reverent worship and awe.

We should sing this song with our lives.

“The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength.”

Bow!

And we should bow before this King in faithful obedience and submission.

We should find out what God’s Word says and do it.

Repent wherever needed and be holy. Do not fudge.

Bow!

And we should bow before this King in resting trust and expectant hope.

Because His throne won’t budge. It cannot be moved. 

He has always been king, is king, and always will be king.

And He is our Father.

Mightier than any relentless roaring wave of chaos that might threaten to take us under.

It turns out that the LORD is not just our Father.

The LORD is also Jesus.

This King is Jesus.

And remember what Jesus did to the waves of the sea?

“The LORD on High is Mighty!”


***

Fortifying Truth - Fall 2020

Sunday, September 06, 2020

“All Our Days” [Matt's Messages]

“All Our Days”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
September 6, 2020 :: Psalm 90

The superscription of Psalm 90 tells us that it was written by “Moses, the man of God.” Psalm 90 is the only psalm that we know that Moses wrote, and it’s a richly profound psalm.

In some ways, it’s like last week’s psalm by King David, Psalm 8, because it juxtaposes God’s greatness and our not-so-greatness. 

Psalm 90 gives us more of that much needed (God/Us) perspective. But Moses, the man of God, takes his psalm in some different directions than David did in Psalm 8.

At first, I looked at Psalm 90 for this Sunday because it was Labor Day weekend, and I love to pray the prayer of verse 17 over our church family every Labor Day weekend. The Psalm ends, “Establish the work of our hands for us–yes, establish the work of our hands.”

But how Moses gets to that prayer request might surprise you. I was surprised again as I studied it this week, because it’s almost the last thing you might expect to ask for at the end of this particular psalm. The poetic logic is wild!

I was also surprised at how appropriate Psalm 90 would be for us as we consider the anniversary this week of the deadly terrorist attacks of September 11th.

Moses is reflecting on human frailty and mortality.

I looked back through my notes, and realized that I had preached on Psalm 90 once before. It was actually September 2, 2001. Just over a week before 9/11. I didn’t know what was going to come. Nearly 3,000 Americans died in one day.

And of course, now we are living in the era of COVID-19, a world-wide pandemic that also reminds us of our frailty and mortality.

26.7 million reported cases world-wide and more than 876,000 deaths attributed to this new virus in less than a year. [John Hopkins University, accessed 9/5/20]

And, of course, Psalm 90 is always appropriate, no matter what era you are living in.

Because it’s been true ever since Moses wrote it. The human mortality rate is 100%.

Moses knew about frailty and mortality.

Remember Moses led the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt and through the wilderness of Sinai to the very brink of the Promised Land.

But they did not enter the Promised Land with Moses because of their unbelieving disobedience and hardness of heart. Instead, God disciplined them in His wrath and that entire generation died over a 40 year period. 

Scholars estimate conservatively (using the most conservative numbers) that Moses must have seen at least 41 adult deaths per day among the wandering people of Israel for each of those 40 years.

That’s a lot of funerals.

And some time in the middle of those depressing days, Moses sat down and wrote out this prayer song, Psalm 90.

Psalm 90 gives us the straight stuff. The way things really are. How to think about these days we are living in, and how to pray during these days we are living in.

Do you want some new ways to pray? The second half of this psalm has some wonderfully fresh things to pray to the God it tells us about in the first half of the Psalm.

How do you pray when you realize how brief and hard and painful life truly is? Psalm 90 gives us some great direction.

I’ve taken the sermon title from a little phrase that Moses repeats a couple times in Psalm 90. He talks about “All Our Days” both how hard all our days are and how good God is in them.


Look with me at Psalm 90, verse 1.

“A prayer of Moses the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

What glorious words!

Moses opens his song with a big boast about the Lord to the Lord.

He sings it right to God, His majestic heavenly King: 

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” 

That’s a song of faith. That’s a hymnic declaration of the goodness of God all our days.

I want to summarize Psalm 90 in three steps, and here’s number one.

#1. GOD IS ETERNAL AND SAFE.

Safe. I love that word “dwelling place” there in verse 1.

It means what is sounds like. It means a home. A shelter, a refuge, a place of security, a place of protection, a place of sanctuary, a place you can lay down your head and you feel safe.

At least you should be able to.

This is my dwelling place. This is where I come back to and when I’m away, the place I long to be at. We had just cleared the land for it to break ground for this dwelling place when I preached Psalm 90 back in 2001. Now we’ve lived there almost 19 years.

Moses and the Israelites didn’t have permanent homes at point. They were living in tents and wandering around the desert for forty years. But Moses said that they had a home in God. And they always had.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” 

All our days! We have been safe in You.

Notice, he doesn’t say, “You have dwelt with us throughout all generations.” That would be true, too. But he says that God has actually been their dwelling place.

If they are in Him, they are safe.
If they are in Him, nothing can separate them from the love of God.

If we live in God, there is a refuge, a place of safety, and abode of shelter from the awful ravages of the universe.

Do you see why I picked this one? Do you feel it?

I think right now, most of us feel attacked in some way.

We always have enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–but in this particular season right now, we are all feeling it in strong ways.

And Psalms tell us and show us and sing for us what to do and where to go when we’re feeling attacked.

We go home...if our home is God.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” 

Can you say that for yourself?

Are you home safe in God?
Only those who are trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior and King are truly safe in God because, as we’ll see in just a minute, if you are outside of Him, then God is anything but safe to you.

God is a safe and secure dwelling place for those who belong to Jesus.


Emphasis on “eternal.”

Verse 1 is from our perspective. “All generations,” all our days.
Verse 2 is from God’s perspective. “From everlasting to everlasting.”

God is eternal. He is over time.

“Before the mountains were born [there’s an image!] or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

I’m so thankful that God is not God for just a short amount of time, aren’t you?

How terrible it would be if God were finite and timebound and mortal Himself.

He is unchanging, immortal, eternal, infinite.

What did we say today in our Worship in Unity from the New City Catechism?

“God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth.” 

That’s a God that deserves our worship, all our days!
He is eternal, but we, in this life, certainly are not. Look verse 3.

“You turn men back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, O sons of men.’ [Or “sons of Adam.” He’s singing about Genesis 3, isn’t he? David sung last week about Genesis 1. Moses is singing about Genesis 3:17, ‘for dust you are and to dust you will return.’ When God says you go back to dust, you go back to dust. Because He’s eternal. V.4] For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”

Do you feel small again?

It’s not bad to feel small when you’re comparing yourself to God.

God is eternal!

And that means He’s not going anywhere. You can count on Him.

But you and I are going somewhere. We are going to our graves. V.5

“You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning–6 though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.”

Wow. Do you feel that?

Here’s the second step in our study of Psalm 90.

#1. God is eternal and safe.

But conversely:

#2. OUR LIVES ARE SHORT AND BRUTAL.

“All our days.” Did you hear that in verse 9?

“All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.” It was true of Israel as the bodies fell in the wilderness, and it is true for all of us living in this day, as well.

The world is cursed by God.

Death is here, and it is coming for every one of us.

(Except for the generation alive when Jesus returns! And that might be us, but we don’t know. What we do know is that our lives are short and brutal.)

By "brutal," I don’t mean that they are all as bad as they could be.

But they all have plenty of bad in them. Look at verse 10.

“The length of our days is seventy years–or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”

Seventy or eighty feels like a lot until you’re getting up there [CALL OUT]. But they sure feel short compared to “everlasting to everlasting.” “They quickly pass.”

And what are they like?

“Trouble and sorrow”

Moses sounds like Ecclesiastes, doesn’t he? Or maybe like Job.

This is really honest. Moses is really honest here. Really raw and honest.

Life is hard.

There is no getting around that.

We don’t like it, but it’s the way it is.

Life is really hard.

And then you die.

And it’s like this, because of our sin. The world is broken because we broke it.

And the world is not the way it’s supposed to be because we are not the way we are supposed to be. Look at verse 8 again.

“You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.”

I love the “light of [his] presence,” but it doesn’t love my sin. And none of it is hidden from him. Look at verse 11.

“Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.”

God is mad at sin, and that is why there is death in the world.

Sin was why the Israelites were dropping like flies.

And sin is why anybody dies in the first place.

And why life is so brutally hard.

A lot of people in our church family are hurting right now. You know who you are, and you know what you’re going through. And this Psalm says that your suffering is real. This is not the way things ought to be, but it is the way things are. Life is hard and then you die.

It’s okay to hate it. It’s okay to be honest and raw about how brutal it is. There are lots of Psalms that teach us how to lament and grieve the way the world is. All our days. Trouble and sorrow. Because of sin in the world.

Which makes the last move that Moses takes in Psalm 90 such a surprise!

Because Moses puts the frailty and brutality and mortality of all our days TOGETHER with the eternality and safety and goodness of God, and spins out these beautiful prayer requests!

I would have never come up with this.

1. God is eternal and safe.
2. Our lives are short and brutal.

Therefore:

#3. WE ASK FOR WISDOM AND GRACE.

All our days.

Moses looks at the eternality of God and the mortality of man, and says (v.12):

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

What a great prayer request!

Help us to count our days, Lord, so that all of our days really count for You.

If you have a smartphone in your pocket, I invite you to pull it out and do a Google search right now.

Put this into your phone, “How many days since _______?” And then say your birthday. Mine is May 4, 1973.


I don’t know what yours says. But I do know that if you ask Google how many days you have left, it won’t be able to tell you. But Psalm 90 says that it will pass quickly.

And so you better make it count.

That’s what a “heart of wisdom” means. It means a heart that knows the right way to live. The right way to make the most of the days you have left, however many they are.

We pray for wisdom. And we pray for grace.

Because it’s totally amazing where Moses goes next. Verse 13.

“Relent, O LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.”

Moses asks for grace. For mercy. For compassion when they don’t deserve it.

Moses asks God to undo what He has been doing, to relent and give them a reprieve and relief.

How can he ask that of God?

Well, Moses knows what God is like. He knows that God is gracious. He knows that God is his dwelling place, his safety, his refuge, his home.

I think Moses actually expects God to answer many of these prayers with a “Yes!”

Look at what he asks in verse 14!

“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

There it is! “All our days!”

My wife, Heather, prays verse 14 over me just about every night.

We pray together last thing before sleep every night, and this is her go-to-verse when she prays for me.

“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

Do we deserve that? No, we do not!

But we know Who God is! And we know what He has done in Jesus at the Cross and the Empty Tomb!

We know about His unfailing love. In Hebrew that’s “hesed.” Steadfast love. Loyal love. Unfailing love.

Which is so satisfying that we can sing about it and rejoice all our days.

All of our brutal, painful, death-filled days!

And Moses doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t just ask for joy and gladness, he asks for double joy and gladness. V.15

“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.”

We deserve all of the affliction and the trouble, but God you don’t have to just give us that. You can grace us with double joy and double gladness!

He knows what God’s like!

He knows that what God is up to.

And we know it even more. We know that “our light and momentary troubles [as heavy and long as they may seem!] are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17).

Jesus’ resurrection takes the sting out of the curse and even out of death.

So that our short and brutal lives–for those who are in Christ–issue into everlasting and blessed life with God in eternity. So Moses prays that we would see God do it. Verse 16.

“May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.”

Show up, Lord! Do it! Do it! We don't deserve it, but do it anyway for your glory! And can you see how crazy it is that he prays verse 17?

“May the favor [the beautiful grace] of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us–yes, establish the work of our hands.”

Use us in all of our days, all of our short and brutal days, to do something eternal and blessed!

Make our days count, Lord. Make our days count for the kingdom, for eternity.

Yes, Eternal God, help us to count all our days, and by your grace, to make all our days count for eternity.

“...yes, establish the work of our hands.”

Amen.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

"Majestic & Mindful" [Matt's Messages]

“Majestic and Mindful”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
August 30, 2020 :: Psalm 8:1-9

One of the things that I love about Psalm 8 is how it puts me in my place in all the right ways.

Psalm 8 is about God. It’s an amazing song about our amazing God.

It starts and ends with magnificent praise to God’ and the middle is full of worship, too.

And while King David is leading us in worshipful praise of our magnificent God, he is also, at the same time, masterfully putting us in our place in all the right ways.

I don’t know about you, but I often need to be to put in my place.

I need to be told where I belong, where I fit in the grand scheme of things. So that I don’t get to big for my britches. (Or too small for them either.)

Psalm 8, while praising God, puts us in our place in all the right ways.

Let me show you what I mean. 


Psalm 8, verse 1. “For the director of music. According to gittith. A psalm of David. 

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”

Here’s my place:

#1. LOOKING UP AT OUR LORD’S MAJESTY.

King David wrote this song “according to gittith.” We don’t know what that means. Maybe it’s a song for people from Gath or maybe a “gittith” is a musical instrument or musical style. We don’t know. But David wrote it and gave it to the director of music for the temple for God’s people to sing their hearts out.

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”

You can just feel the praise pulsing through the psalm!

David is joyfully overwhelmed with the glory of God.

He names God here. He uses God’s covenant name: YHWH.

Whenever you see that capital L-O-R-D in your English Bible, the covenant name for God revealed most gloriously at the burning bush is standing behind it.

Yahweh

“O YHWH, our Lord,” our sovereign.

King David is singing about His Heavenly King and claiming Him as his.

You see that little word “our;” that’s a relationship word, isn’t it?

He isn’t just saying, “God you are majestic.”

He is saying, “Our God is majestic.”

The one we belong to. The one we are in relationship with.

"O Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Do you feel it?

That word “majestic” means “awesome, magnificent, splendid, beautiful, grand, exalted.”

King David is enthralled by how dazzling, awe-inspiring, sensational, and glorious God is!

His name (His reputation, His glory, His name) is majestic, not just here but everywhere, “in all the earth.”

Wherever you go, God’s glory fills the earth.

And above! “You have set your glory above the heavens.”

All creation (in heaven and earth) is a testimony to the glory of God.

All things point to the majesty of the name of the LORD.

God is transcendent over all.

That puts us in our place, doesn’t it?

Looking up at the majesty of our God.

He is worthy of our worship.

That’s one reason why we need to set aside time every day and especially every week just to worship.

We come together whether at home or as a congregation to worship, to declare the majesty of the name of Yahweh.

His name deserves our praise. His name deserves our singing!

He is transcendent and glorious over all. Amen?

And then verse 2 is a real surprise to me.

It calls for praise, but the people praising are a surprise. Verse 2.

“From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but I never see those kids coming in this psalm.

The Lord’s name is majestic over everything, and He has ordained praise from the lips of children and infants. 

From the smallest and weakest. 

I guess he’s putting us in our place. He doesn’t start with the great and the strong. He starts with the humble and weak. When the humble and the weak praise God, there is strength.

That word for “praise” there in verse 2 is literally, “strength.” Strength of praise is the general idea, I think.

And when the weakest lift up the name of the LORD, they shame the supposedly strong. They silence the foe and the avenger, the enemies of God.

Remember when Jesus quoted this verse? We saw it about a year ago in the Gospel of Matthew. On the Palm Sunday when Jesus came into town riding on a donkey, the little children praised Him. And it enraged the Pharisees, but Jesus said, in a mic-drop moment, “Haven’t you read Psalm 8? That’s what the little kids are supposed to do.”

God loves to humble the proud by using the praises of the humble.

Because He deserves it.

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

How are you doing at looking up at the majesty of our God?

Are you worshiping the Lord every day? Are you seeing how majestic He is in all of the earth? Not just on Sundays when we’re singing, but on Mondays when you’re slogging it out at work?

It helps to get out into creation.

A month ago, Heather and I were in Cook Forest, and we did a lot of sitting by the river and watching it go by. And we saw bald eagles and hawks in the sky and fish jumping and ducks and geese floating by.

And at night time, stars.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I love to lay in the field up at Ridge Camp in Cook Forest and marvel at the Milky Way. So many stars.

I think that David probably wrote this song at nighttime reflecting on sleepless nights on guard duty as a shepherd on the hillside looking up at the night sky filled with stars and thinking, “My God made those.”

Which is very humbling, but also very exhilarating, isn’t it?

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

And then verse 3 is surprising, too. 

In fact, even David is surprised by it! Look at verse 3.

“When I consider your heavens [YOUR heavens], the work of your fingers [handiwork, like my wife’s knitting], the moon and the stars [it’s nighttime], which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

Do you see David’s question?

The Lord is not just majestic. He is mindful!

He is mindful of David and other human beings. That’s what “son of man” means here, it means humanity, humankind, probably represented by the first man, Adam.

When I look up at the Milky Way, I think, how is it that that majestic God would even have one thought about me? Little old me.

Do you feel the amazement? Do you get a sense of the wonder that David is singing about?

This song really puts us in our place.

It humbles us, but in a thrilling way.

And then it humbles us again by telling us that we are not just insignificant.

Yes, we are small, but we are not insignificant.

You would think that we are less than a speck.

When you think about God and Who God is in all of His majesty and splendor and beauty and glory and magnificence.

And then you think about who you are...

And then you think, God thinks about who I am?

I’m in God’s mind? God cares for me?

What dignity! What significance! What meaning that gives to our lives!

The world will not tell you this.

The world will either tell you that you are the greatest, you are a good, you deserve all of your wildest dreams to come true.

Or the world will tell you that you are worthless, a nothing, a meaningless speck, a cog in the machine, here today and gone tomorrow.

Neither are true, because of Who God is.

God is majestic over all creation, and God is mindful of His special creation, humankind.

And even more mindful, if you can say it that way, of His own children, those belong to Jesus Christ.

Remember when Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

This majestic God is mindful of you.

Do you need to hear that today?

God’s mind is on you.
He sees you.
He knows you.
He knows what’s on your mind.
He knows what’s on your plate.
He knows what’s coming this week.

And you matter to Him.

Not because you’re so grand. He’s so grand!

But because you’re His.

And because He made you to represent Him.

That’s where David goes next in verse 5. He goes back to the creation account in Genesis 1 and sings about that. Verse 5.

“You made him [Adam, the Son of Man] a little lower than the heavenly beings [or literally, “a little lower than God”] and crowned him with glory and honor.”

The majestic and mindful King of the World made us...little kings of the world.

Remember what God said in Genesis 1?

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. [Rule.] So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Image and rulership go hand in hand.

God made us to represent Him and rule the world as His image-bearers.
He put a crown on our heads!

How’s that for putting us in our place?

The shepherd boy who became a king knew that He was tiny and made out of dust and yet was also made to wear a crown and rule the world for God!

Did you know that you were made to wear a crown?

Verse 6.

“You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.”

We were made to rule all of that.

Just think about everything in those categories.

Here’s your place: Looking Up at Our Majestic God.

But also:

#2. LOOKING OVER THE REST OF CREATION.

As one of our God’s faithful representative rulers.

Humans were meant to be a kind of royalty.

If you’ve ever read the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis was a master at creatively communicating that truth. King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy learn of their royalty that comes as a gift of the Christ-mirroring Aslan and the Emperor Over the Sea.

And they learn to rule as representatives.

How are you doing at representing God in this world?
You may not rule over very much right now.

I have a little 5 acres and 3 vehicles and a little family that has gotten really big with kids that will soon all no longer be under my authority.

I don’t rule over very much.

But how am I doing at representing the God in whose image I am supposed to rule?

What do you rule over?

I was over this week to visit the Long family. Bill and Shasta and 10 Year Old Carter and Princess Jocelyn and the ever-grinning Chance. The first time I’ve seen them all in person since March! What a joy to be with them again!

10 Year Old Carter showed me his pet turtle Poseidon. He obviously takes good care of Poseidon.

I’m not exactly sure how you can tell, but I know he’s a happy turtle.

What do you rule over?

And how are you doing at representing God there?

Maybe in a workplace?
Maybe in a household?
Maybe in a community?

What’s your dominion?

We were made to look up to the majesty of God, and (amazingly) in the mindfulness of God, we are also made to look over the rest of creation and represent our Lord to it as responsible rulers.

And of course, as an entire race, we are not doing a very good job it.

The image of God has been defaced and marred and broken and cracked, and our rule over the world God made has been despotic and disappointing and disastrous.

That’s why we have wars and violence and rioting and racial injustice and even hurricanes and raging forest fires and raging pandemics.

Because as the human race we have dropped the ball.

Only one human has ever lived up to promise of Psalm 8.

And it sure wasn’t David.

He could see it, and he could sing it, but he couldn’t live out it the way it should be.

Do you know where this Psalm gets sung again in the New Testament?

It’s the book of Hebrews chapter 2. Listen to this:

“But there is a place where someone has testified: ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.’ In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. [Things are not the way they are supposed to be.] But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (6-9, NIV84).

Psalm 8 puts us in our place. Here’s our place:

#3. LOOKING FORWARD TO JESUS.

Looking forward to Jesus, because of His death and resurrection, putting everything back to the way it was always supposed to be.

“We see Jesus...now crowned with glory and honor.”

Fulfilling Psalm 8, being everything we were always supposed to be.

And one day making everything new.

Majestic, Mindful, Messiah.

No wonder, David returns in the last line to the first:

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”


***

My favorite rendition of Psalm 8 set to music (I must have listened to this 125x preparing for this sermon) is by Poor Bishop Hooper:


Sunday, August 23, 2020

“Greet All the Saints in Christ Jesus” [Matt's Messages]

“Greet All the Saints in Christ Jesus”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
August 23, 2020 :: Philippians 4:21-23

The Letter to the Philippians has been a wonderful gift to our church family in 2020.

Paul’s joyful missionary letter to his joy and his crown, his beloved church friends at Philippi has been one of God’s great blessings to us during this tumultuous time of COVID-19.

What a joy it has been! I have loved studying Philippians and doling it out in little doses each weekend to speak to our hearts, orient our minds, and order our steps. I’m going to miss it!

I have preached through Philippians 3 times now in my 22 years here, and I still can’t get enough of this short little joyful gospel-packed letter.

This is our last sermon in this series, and it’s on the last 3 verses in the letter where Paul is basically signing off.

We’ve got to the “goodbyes,” and it’s easy to overlook the spiritual depth and riches here.

But Paul never throws away his words. He’s always thoughtful and intentional with what he says, and these words are inspired by the Holy Spirit, so we should slow down and not just run our eyes over them.

And what Paul focuses on in these last fleeting words of this missionary letter from 2000 years ago, can be summed up with the first sentence in verse 21 which I have taken as the title of this message: “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.”

 “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.”


You can see how that might get overlooked and missed along the way.

When my eyes hit those words, they are already bouncing over to Colossians.

But Paul ends all of his letters with this sort thing. He believes that greetings are very important. And they are!

“Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.”

I want to teach this passage under 3 major headings which are 3 G’s.

So, I don’t know anything about cellular technology, but this is a 3G powered message.

1. The Power of Greetings in Christ Jesus
2. The Power of the Gospel of Christ Jesus
3. The Power of the Grace of Jesus Christ

Greetings, Gospel, and Grace in Jesus Christ.

Let’s begin with G1: Greetings.

Paul says to the Philippians, “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.”

Now, let’s start with the hard word in verse 21, and that is “saints.” Paul is not talking about super-Christians from the Middle Ages. Paul is not talking about the New Orleans football team.

Paul is talking about all of the genuine Christians at Philippi. “Saints” or literally “holy-ones” is Paul’s favorite name to describe all genuine Christians. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are a saint. You have been made holy by the blood of Jesus Christ. 

You are what Paul calls, “in Christ,” and Christ is holy, so you if you are in Christ, you are holy. You are a holy one. And that means that you and I should live as holy ones.

“Saint” is name that both describes us and gives us something to shoot for.

So that when the song says that “the saints go marching in,” it’s talking about when we enter the kingdom. How I want to be in that number!

You and I are the saints if we are in Christ Jesus.

Are you in Christ Jesus?

You and I are the saints if we are in Christ Jesus.

So that the 2011 version of the NIV actually translates this as “Greet all God’s people.”

Paul is sending his personal greetings to all of God’s people at Philippi.

He wants them to pass his greetings on to every single Christian in the church.

Don’t miss that important little word “all.” “Greet ALL the saints in Christ Jesus.”

The English Standard Version makes it clear by translating it “every.” “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” Don’t miss a one of them.

Isn’t that interesting?

Paul doesn’t want any Christian to go un-greeted at Philippi.

He loves every single one of them and wants them all to know it.

I don’t think we realize what an important thing greetings are [Some of the following insights are drawn from the teaching of John Piper in "Why Do Greetings Matter" at DesiringGod].

Greetings say, “I see you. I know you. I’m glad you are there. You matter.”

They are a tiny little way of saying, in effect, “I love you.”

“Hey there.”
“Welcome!”
“Hello!”
“Hi!”
“I know you.”
“Good morning.”
“Good night.”
“See you later.”
“You matter.”
“I see you there.”
“I’m glad you’re here.”

That’s why the greeting ministry in a local church is so important.

When we went back to on-campus in-person ministry here, one of the first things we knew we had to get in place was a greeting ministry.

And even if we can’t shake hands or hand out hugs at the doors, we can still smile in through a mask, and call people by name and welcome and greet them in Christ Jesus.

We’re looking for more people to join the greeting team, because it is an incredibly important ministry on Sunday mornings. And we have 3 worship times that need folks to serve!

Nobody should come church and not be greeted.

Church should not be impersonal where you just slide in and listen and then slide out.

Church is relational. 

It’s hard to do right now. Greetings are hard in a COVID world.

But it was hard for Paul. He was separated by hundreds of miles and by prison bars.

And yet he sends his personal greetings in this letter.

“Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.”

Now, I’m not sure if Paul means all of the saints who are in Christ Jesus as in, “Greet all of the Christians” or if he means to greet them in the name of Christ Jesus so 

“Greet all of the Christians with a Christian greeting.”

It amounts to the same thing, but do not miss the words “in Christ Jesus.”

Because Paul is all about Christ Jesus.
This letter is all about Christ Jesus.
And the saints, the people of God, are all about Christ Jesus.

Every single one of them.

I think that one of the reasons why Paul emphasizes “all” here is because, as we’ve seen, the Philippians were struggling with one another. Remember Euodia and Synteche in chapter 4? Remember Paul’s instructions in chapter 2 about how to put others ahead of yourself the same attitude as Christ Jesus?

Paul doesn’t greet just one side of the church.
Paul greets all of the saints in Christ Jesus.

And he wants us to, as well.

Paul is trying to avoid division and show no favoritism.

Greeting is a ministry of unity.

Is there somebody you don’t like to greet on Sunday mornings?

Do you only greet your friends and your tribe?

The word of God says, “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.”

It’s not just something that official greeters do, though that helps a lot.

It’s something we all are called to do. The whole church is supposed to greet the whole church. “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.”

Greetings are small but powerful things.

I was talking to a friend on Friday who said that her old boss if you passed him in the hallway, would pretend you weren’t there. And just go by. Not even a nod.

Why was the TV show “Cheers” so popular?

“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re all glad you came.”

That’s the bar being like what the church is supposed to be.

“Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.”

Of course you can fake this, and that’s not good.

It’s not just about being friendly or nicey-nice.

It’s “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus.” With genuine Christian love.

But it’s also not an option. It’s a command. This is what Christians do. Christians greet one another. They send each other their love in hospitable recognition.

“Greetings!”

Paul obviously practiced what he preached. If you read the end of Colossians or Romans, there are whole chapters where he greets everybody that he can think of by name.

And here he tells the Philippians who all are greeting them in this letter. Look at verse 21 again.

“Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings.”

That would include Timothy like we saw back in chapter 2. It would include Ephaphroditus, but he’s probably delivering the letter and giving his greetings in person. I love how this shows these were REAL people in the real world! V.22

“All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household.”

That’s interesting, huh?

“All of the saints send you greetings,” and you should greet all of the saints.

That’s everybody. Nobody left out. Nobody left behind. Nobody left un-greeted, un-loved, un-included.

And look at this “especially” clause in verse 22.

“especially those who belong to Caesar's household.”

Now, this is the second G for this morning. 

G1 was the power of greetings in Christ Jesus.
G2 is the power of the gospel of Christ Jesus.

“...especially those who belong to Caesar's household?”

Paul says that there are Christians in Caesar’s household!

That doesn’t necessarily mean Caesar’s royal family. The household is the system of  the whole palace. The whole business of Caesar’s palatial system.  

That would include the staff, the servants, the court, the workers, even I think the prison guards in what Paul called in chapter 1, “the whole palace guard.”

But pick up what Paul is laying down!

He says that the gospel has taken root in Caesar’s household.

Just a little hint, but Paul is saying that the gospel is powerful.

He might be chained up for preaching the gospel, but the gospel is unchained.


And we saw there that Paul thought of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, as an unstoppable force.

“...that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

COVID-19 will not stop the gospel.

In fact, I’m sure that God will use COVID-19 to further the gospel.

Paul was in chains in Caesar’s household.

Now, members of Caasar’s household are sending their Christian greetings to the church in Philippi!

People they’ve never met are greeting them as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

Because of the power of the gospel of Christ Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder again that nothing is going to stop the progress of the gospel.

Which should not only encourage us but inspire us to share the gospel with those who need to hear it.

The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.

And we need to believe in that power and then unleash it.

Whom do you need to share the gospel with this week?

There are certain people whom I tend to think of as “tough nuts to crack,” and I shy away from sharing with them.

But if there was ever a tough nut to crack, it was Paul himself. He used to kill Christians for kicks.

But look at him now! In prison and preaching the gospel so that people in Caesar’s own household are sending their Christian greetings to the Philippians.

What’s our excuse?

Here’s what it takes, the last G.

(1) The power of greetings, (2) the power of the gospel, and (#3) the power of grace. V.23

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”

That’s how Paul always signs off his letters, praying that his readers would experience the grace of Jesus Christ.

And here he says, “with your spirit.” Not just externally, but internally.

Paul prays that the Philippians would be fortified from the inside at their very core with the unearned favor of God which comes from what Jesus Christ did for us on the Cross.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s all about Him.

This whole letter has been all about Him.

Preaching the Gospel of Jesus (chapter 1).
Loving like Jesus loved us (chapter 2).
Knowing Jesus, there is no greater thing (chapter 3).
And Rejoicing in Jesus (chapter 4) no matter what.

Rejoice in the Lord, always. I’ll say it again: “Rejoice!”

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”


***

Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "I Always Pray with Joy"
02. "Because Of This I Will Rejoice"
03. "I Will Continue To Rejoice"
04. "Whatever Happens"
05. "Make My Joy Complete"
06. "Your Attitude"
07. "I Am Glad and Rejoice With All Of You"
08. "With Great Joy"
09. "Rejoice in the Lord!"
10. "I Want To Know Christ"
11. "I Press On"
12. "My Joy and Crown"
13. "I Will Say It Again: Rejoice!"
14. "The Peace of God"
15. "The God of Peace"
16. "I Rejoice Greatly In the Lord"
17. "Giving and Receiving"

Sunday, August 16, 2020

"Giving and Receiving" [Matt's Messages]

“Giving and Receiving”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
August 16, 2020 :: Philippians 4:14-20

I always feel a little funny teaching you on the topic of Christian giving, giving to the work of the gospel, especially encouraging you to be generous.

I feel a little funny because I am often on the receiving end of the “giving and receiving” relationship.

You’re often giving, and (as a vocational gospel worker) I’m often receiving.

It’s not hard for me to say "thank you" for your giving. I am very grateful, and like Paul said last week in verse 10, “I rejoice greatly in the Lord” for your generosity. I know that’s from God, and as a frequent recipient, I am very thankful.

But it’s much more...awkward to encourage you to keep giving, to grow in your Christian generosity. It’s harder to encourage you to give and to give more.

Well, I think that the Apostle Paul was feeling much the same awkwardness as he wrote the end of this missionary letter to his joy and his crown, his beloved church friends at Phillipi.

Paul wants to thank them for their gift, and he wants them to keep on giving to the work of the gospel.

But he wants them to do it for the right reasons and from the right heart.

And he doesn’t want them to think he’s just angling for another gift for him personally.

And I think that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul handles it all deftly, incredibly well.

So that when you’ve read verses 14 through 20, you both feel like giving more to the work of the gospel [and for all of the right reasons!] and you feel confident that the Lord will take good care of you as you give.

It’s a beautiful, sublime piece of writing.

I took the title of this message from verse 15 where Paul references the matter of “giving and receiving” by which he’s talking about a financial relationship between to two parties.

A system of debits and credits. Philippians is full of that kind of economic, accounting language, debits and credits. Remember that from chapter 3?

Paul and the Philippians had a kind of financial relationship where they were doing the giving and he was doing the receiving because they were supporting him in his gospel work.

But Paul is quick to point out in this passage that he was not only one who should expect to receive something. The Philippians, even as they were giving, would also be receiving. “Giving and Receiving.”


Last time, we studied verses 10 through 13 where Paul rejoiced that the Philippians’ gift of support had reached him through the life-risking ministry of Epaphroditus.

And Paul was quick to make it clear that he wasn’t angling for another gift. He was “good” whether he got their gift or not. He knows the secret of contentment.

Remember what the secret was?

It’s Jesus.
If you have Jesus, you have everything even if you have nothing else.
If you have Jesus, you can do anything including lose everything.

Because Jesus Himself enough. That’s the secret.

But that doesn’t mean Paul isn’t thankful that their gift has gotten to him. He is! Look at verse 14.

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.”

Giving is good! Remember, Paul is in prison for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And their gift will help meet his needs while he’s stuck there.

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.”

In fact, Paul says, we’ve had a long history of this kind of thing, haven’t we? Verse 15.

“Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”

They have been at this together for a long time.

Just like you guys have been supporting me now for twenty two and a half years. We have a long history of giving and receiving.

Paul is talking about his second missionary journey. You can read about it the book of Acts, especially chapters 16 and 17.

Paul says that back then the Philippian Church was the only one that supported him. Even soon after he left them and went to Thessalonica, that’s about 95 miles away, they sent him help (notice this!) “again and again when I was in need.”

Remember. There is no Western Union. There is no Paypal or Venmo. There are no blue USPS box on the corner to drop that support check into and expect it to arrive the next day 95 miles away. For the Philippians to have supported Paul again and again, they would have had to send one of them 95 miles each way again and again to help him with his needs.

There’s a word for that: Sacrifice.

There’s another word for that: Partnership.

Did you catch that Paul uses the word “share” in verse 14 and in verse 15? Both of those in the Greek are variations on the word “koinonia” or “fellowship” that we learned about back in chapter 1.

Do you remember that first sermon I did on video on the first Sunday that we didn’t meet in person back in March? I said that this word is hard to translate because to us “fellowship” means coffee and donuts and chit-chat.

And “partnership” is better, but it’s a colder word.

This word is about a deep connection between people as they share the most important things including the very mission of the gospel.

I suggested “in-it-togetherness.” Paul and the Philippians were in-it-together, and they had been for a long time. That kind of deep connection is a great reason to give to the work of the gospel.

When you give your time and talents and treasure to a missionary or to a pastor or to another gospel worker, you get connected to them on a deeper level. You become a blessing to them and you share in what they go through, including the hard things.

On top of our own giving to our local church, Heather and I have a number of missionaries that we support in our gospel giving. We love getting their prayer letters and hearing about their lives and ministries, both the joys and the sorrows, the triumphs and the trials.

That’s one of the great things that has happened this year with our Zoom meetings. They have brought us closer to all of our missionary partners, so we know what we are up to in-it-together.

You can tell just how thankful Paul is for the Philippians. He just loves them! And with good reason; they have faithfully loved him.

So Paul is worried that all of this talk about their giving will make them think that he’s angling for another gift.

He does want them to give more! But not for himself. He’s actually concerned for them.

Because when you give, you receive. Verse 17.

“Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.”

Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking out for me here. I’m looking out for you.

Because when you give to the Lord’s work, you receive from the Lord.

Remember chapter 2, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Well, you’ve been looking out for me. I’m looking out for you. I want you to give so that you will receive.

Now, this “what may be credited to your account” is also hard to translate. It’s literally, “the fruit that increases to your account.”

So that might be money in your bank account that the Lord drops in there when you give.

Some versions actually have the word “profit” in there or in the footnotes.

I think he’s probably talking about spiritual fruit. When you sacrifice, when you give out of a generous heart, you grow spiritually.

You receive grace and sanctification.
When you bless others, you are blessed yourself.
When you make an investment in the kingdom by faith, your faith grows!

My guess is that he’s talking about that kind of fruit.

Paul wants them to give more, so they grow more.

And I want that for you.

I know that’s worked for me. When Heather and I were first married, I wasn’t too excited about giving to the work of the gospel. I thought that when we had enough, then we could start giving. But when you are just starting out, you don’t have very much.

I mean I was a lowly youth pastor who was going to seminary.

But Heather insisted that we give off of the top of every paycheck no matter how small.

And, let me tell you, that was stretching of my faith. So that as we gave by faith, I grew in faith.

It was not just an investment in the kingdom, it was an investment that yielded spiritual dividends in my own heart.

Are you giving to the work of the gospel?
Are you giving enough to the work of the gospel?
Is, perhaps, the Lord calling you give more?

I’m not asking for myself. You have taken great care of me. I said that last week, and I say it again today. 

I’m not looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.

King Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Where’s your heart?
Where’s your treasure?

Again, Paul says in verse 18 that he doesn’t personally need another gift. V.18

“I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

He just took it up a notch, didn’t he?

Paul is saying that when we give, it’s not just fellowship, it’s worship.

It’s not just giving to the work of the gospel, it is giving our hearts to the Lord in worship.

Paul uses Old Testament sacrificial system language here. “Fragrant offering, acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Our gifts put a smile on God’s face (so to speak).

We don’t kill bulls and goats lambs and then burn them up on the altar any longer.

But we do sacrifice. We take out of our hard earned money, our limited funds, and we give to the work of the gospel.

And when we do, we are worshiping.

Whether we put it in an offering plate, or we use the bank’s P2P system, we are worshiping.

If we do it in faith, of course. This is only true for those who are in Christ and are giving out of their faith in Christ.

It’s not automatic. It’s not legalistic. It’s not mechanical.

Give your money and turn God’s frown upside down.

No. God accepts us in Christ and Christ alone.

In chapter 3, Paul said we don’t have a righteousness of our own “that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (v.9). And it’s out of that righteousness and out of that faith in Christ that we give, and when we do it. is. worship.

God-pleasing worship.

That’s a reason to give, isn’t it?

So let me ask again. 

Are you giving to the work of the gospel?
Are you giving enough to the work of the gospel?
Is, perhaps, the Lord calling you give more?

Out of heart of worship.

You might be worried that if you give, you will run out.

I know I was back when we were first married.

The math didn’t seem to work for me.

And the Philippians might have been worried, too, about the exact same thing.

So Paul drops on them verse 19, and it’s a glorious promise. V.19

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Notice that that promise is for givers.

Those who give to the needs of gospel workers can expect that their own needs will also be met.

Those who give will receive.

And you can’t out-give God!

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s own God.

I love that. “My God.” The one Paul keeps talking about. 

He will personally see to it that all of the Philippians needs are cared for.

Not all of their wants, of course.
And not all of the things they think they need.

But every single genuine need, God will meet.

And He won’t do it (notice this) FROM His glorious riches, but ACCORDING TO.

Not just a little bit that he can spare but in accordance with, in correspondence with, in proportion to his glorious riches.

In other words, God can afford to take care of you. And to take care of you in His style. In a fashion that befits Him.

Both now and ESPECIALLY forever.

You can’t out-give God.

God will not be in your debt.

He gave it to you in the first place, and He will repay it all with compounding interest forever.

He is debtor to none.

He is actually never receiving. He is always giving. Even when He’s giving through you to others or back to you. God is never in debt.

So that He can be, not only the God of peace like we saw back in July, but the God of provision like we saw last week and today.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

So don’t be afraid to give.

And to give some more.

A few of you may need to be encouraged to give less. To save more. To be prudent with your funds. That’s between you and the Lord.

But my guess is that the vast majority of us need the other challenge. We need to be challenged to sacrificially give more to the work of the gospel so that we grow and that we worship and the kingdom grows and the Lord is pleased.

And so that we receive. So that we don’t have to worry.

That’s what I found out back when were first married. The Lord kept providing and providing and providing. Even if my math didn’t work, the Lord’s math did. And it still does!

I know that God used the gifts of others for that to happen. But I also know that God was ultimately behind it all providing and providing and providing for all of my needs according to His glorious[!] riches in Christ Jesus.

And I know who should get the ultimate glory. Verse 20.

“To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

No awkwardness there!

May we be increasingly giving to the work of the gospel, and expectantly receiving God’s provision, and may God get the glory for ever and ever. Amen.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "I Always Pray with Joy"
02. "Because Of This I Will Rejoice"
03. "I Will Continue To Rejoice"
04. "Whatever Happens"
05. "Make My Joy Complete"
06. "Your Attitude"
07. "I Am Glad and Rejoice With All Of You"
08. "With Great Joy"
09. "Rejoice in the Lord!"
10. "I Want To Know Christ"
11. "I Press On"
12. "My Joy and Crown"
13. "I Will Say It Again: Rejoice!"
14. "The Peace of God"
15. "The God of Peace"