Saturday, January 28, 2023

My 2023 Annual Report for Lanse Free Church

Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God
by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ
through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

Celebration Sunday 2022

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2022

Dear Church Family,

I feel incredibly blessed to have served as your pastor now for nearly a quarter of a century. In January of 1998, I first heard about Lanse Evangelical Free Church and your search for your next shepherd and you first learned about me. None of us could have ever guessed what the next twenty five years would have involved! It’s been a joy and a privilege to travel through these many years with you.

We started last year wondering who our next administrative assistant would be, how much covid would continue to disrupt the regular flow of church life, and what children, youth, and adult ministry might look like in a new era. We didn’t know what the future held, but we knew Who held the future and that He is faithful.

A Good Year Indeed

In my last annual report I wrote, “My hope and prayer for the year ahead of us is simply that it will be GOOD.” I laid out three areas where I was hoping that God’s goodness would shine through: good deeds, good news, and good plans. 

I’m pleased to report that 2022 was indeed a good year. It was certainly not as a affected by the presence of covid (though the virus is still with us!). More and more, ministry is more like it used to be–including witnessing indoor baptisms (four!), passing the communion plates (resumed in April), sending a group to an in-person Stay Sharp conference, and finally holding the Wild Game Dinner with Kim Cone which we had to postpone for two whole years!

In His goodness, the Lord provided Misty Michaels as our new Administrative Assistant. After Marilynn Kristofits trained her, Misty took over the church office in March. I am grateful for Misty’s servant attitude and steady ability to keep us all on the same page. Along with Cindy Green as our hard-working custodian, we have a great staff.

The Lord continues to give us good church leaders. I’m grateful to have served with the 2022 Elder Team–Keith Folmar (chairman), Cody Crumrine (vice-chairman), Joel Michaels, and Abraham Skacel–and all of the other elected officers. Read the annual reports in these pages to get a glimpse of how the Lord has blessed all of our ministries in this year and led us in new directions–including some good things we never would had guessed such as the need for and provision of a new boiler system! 

2022 was an especially good year for missions ministry as we had visits from two of our missionary families whom we had not yet met in person–Fred & Cindy Cressman ministering in Malawi and Caleb Lucien who serves in Haiti.

In His goodness, the Lord has grown our fellowship in 2022! Our average attendance on Sundays grew 11.4% to 127 people per Sunday (4% more than the average in the second half of 2021 when we were able to return to having only one worship time). It seems that more people are becoming more regular in their attendance, though we still seem to have a different group from week to week. Our church family is much bigger than it may seem on any given Sunday! The lowest attended worship gathering was June 26th with 82 people. The highest attended was Resurrection Sunday with 204 people counted.

Perhaps a better way of recognizing the growth is to learn that we had to find mailboxes for 7 more families in October! And while we had 7 members depart or die, we also added 9 new members–Emigh Modzel, Peter Mitchell, Randy & Vicky Albert, Brady & Bethann English, Trey & Jenni English, and Judy Owens. We have much to celebrate.

This year we celebrated our 130th anniversary as a church. We had birthday cake on the actual anniversary Sunday in February and also set aside a special weekend in October to mark the big milestone. Greg Strand came from the EFCA National Office to preach God’s Word and to teach a short seminar on theology and church history, and we had greetings from both EFCA President Kevin Kompelien (via video) and our Allegheny District Superintendent Kerry Doyal (see his letter elsewhere in this report). The Lord has been good to us.

Pastoral Ministry 

Twenty-five years ago, when I came to be the candidate for your next pastor, I taught a Sunday School class on what a pastor does according to the Bible, and I focused the class on the three main areas of ministry which I still utilize today.

Preach the Word - 2 Timothy 4:2

As your pastor for the last twenty-five years, I have had the great privilege of studying God’s Word in-depth each week to share it with you in-depth on Sunday mornings.

In 2022, we completed our second major trek through Peter’s first letter (the last time was 20 year earlier in 2001-02!), punctuating the truth that we are not home yet. We are foreigners and exiles in this world living here as citizens of the world to come. When we finished 1 Peter, we concentrated on the Cross and the Empty Tomb in John 19 and 20, and then we began, “Uprooted,” an extended sermon series in the Prophecy of Jeremiah. Studying Jeremiah has been engrossing and challenging for me, but it has been good for me, and I believe it is bearing fruit in our hearts and lives.

When I was out of the pulpit, we were ably served by good guest preachers: Donnie Rosie, Kim Cone, Joel Michaels, Fred Cressman, Abraham Skacel, Kerry Doyal, Greg Strand, and Caleb Lucien.

Equip the Saints - Ephesians 4:12

As your pastor for the last twenty-five years, I have had the great responsibility of preparing you to do the work of the ministry. A significant portion of my work week is spent in meetings, on the phone, sending messages, and planning out ministry with our church leaders and helpers.

This year, I had the privilege of directly overseeing the area of children’s ministry and leading the Family Discipleship Vision Team as they developed recommendations and plans for ministry to children, youth, and parents. You can read more about it more fully in the Family Ministries Report elsewhere in this document. This was undoubtably the most consuming aspect of my pastoral work in 2022, but I believe it was a pivotal investment which I hope will yield dividends in the years to come. 

I also enjoyed getting to return to offering training for Elders, and had the privilege  of leading Keith Hurley and Abe Skacel all the way through that training in 2022.

In addition to equipping our local church, you have graciously freed me up to serve other churches in our association and beyond. This year, I continued to lead the Allegheny District Constitutions and Credentials Board, coordinate the book reviews for the EFCA Blog, and participate in the EFCA’s Spiritual Heritage Committee. I also sat on the ordination council for Pastor Matt Brown of First Baptist Church in Clearfield, spoke to the Sons of God Motorcycle Club, and taught at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship.

My book, Resisting Gossip, turned nine years old in September and continues to be used around the country and the world. In March, I was invited to the EFCA Central District Conference to teach on resisting gossip. Also, in an unexpected twist, I was approached by two different missions organizations about translating and publishing a small group discussion guide which I had created to go with Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin. I originally wrote the discussion guides for our church’s Link Groups, and now they are also being used in Europe in German and French!

Shepherd the Flock - 1 Peter 5:2

As your pastor for the last twenty-five years, I have had the great privilege of walking alongside you through the joys and sorrows of the Christian life.

Last year, I expressed my frustration at how disconnected I often felt from all of you through 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Thankfully, I felt much more connected and close to you in 2022. It’s still very challenging to stay current, especially with erratic attendance patterns, work schedules, and the ongoing presence of covid and other illnesses that often keep us apart, but it was much better this year!

In 2022, I got to visit with you in your homes, workplaces, hospital rooms, and in restaurants. I purchased a West Branch season pass to sit with parents and watch their kids playing soccer, volleyball, softball, basketball, baseball, football and other sports. I also enjoyed attending band and choir concerts and watching drama presentations. We have some pretty talented kids in our church family!

Shepherding also means being with the flock when they are hurting. I visited many of you in the hospital or nursing home. In my office, I listened and tried to offer wise counsel as some of you went through hard things or had to make hard decisions. I also had the solemn privilege of walking alongside grieving people. In 2022, I led memorial services or funerals for Shannon Allen, Harry Finkbeiner, Edith Lansberry, Gloria “Jeannie” Walter, Bob Lutz, Jim Evans, and Jeff “Needle” Hummel. And I  ministered to the families of Rosella (Araway) DeyArmin and Dave Wertz when the Lord took them home.

Shepherding also means being with the flock when they are rejoicing. Our whole church celebrated the birth of Wilson in October and the baptisms of Ryen, Jordan, Leo, and Johnathan! 

“The LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

A Personal Note

Thank you for praying for and supporting my family for the last twenty-five years. Heather and I had no kids yet when we came in 1998, and now all four of them are all grown and headed in various directions. We are all grateful for your faithful intercession and generous care of the Mitchells for a quarter of a century! 
 
Thank you, also, for strongly supporting the Allegheny District and providing for my pastor. Kerry is a good shepherd and a constant source of encouragement and wise counsel. Pastors need pastors too, and I have one of the best.

I am tremendously grateful for your decision to grant me a three month sabbatical this spring and summer. Heather and I are looking forward to traveling to Great Britain to see some things we’ve always longed to see with our eyes, to make some new friends, and to truly rest. I don’t know if I deserve the time off, but I sure feel like I can use it. I am tired. Thank you for the gift of true rest to mark our twenty-fifth anniversary of ministry together as shepherd and flock. Through you, “God's been good, good to my soul!”


2023 Vision - “Plans to Prosper You”

I am praying for the Lord to “shalom” us in 2023. I marvel at the good the Lord has given our church family in the last year, and I long for Him to prosper us more. 

Recently, we have all been memorizing the wonderful promise of Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” We learned that the word rendered “prosper” is the Hebrew word “shalom” which is often translated “peace” but means so much more. “Shalom” means wholeness, completeness, well-being, prosperity. It is a kind of fullness of blessing and comprehensive peacefulness where everything is as it should be.

The LORD promised to restore shalom to His people who were about to go into exile, and He promises ultimate prosperity to all of His people forever (read Revelation 21-22!). I’m praying 2023 is marked more and more by the experience of shalom in our congregation. I am hoping for a year of prosperity, as defined by our Lord.

I think we’re going to be stretched this year. When I’m away on sabbatical, many people–especially the Elders–will have to step in to cover my essential roles. We are going to keep experimenting with new ideas for family ministries. We are still trying to get to know each other again after the disconnection of the pandemic, and we have a lot of new people to deeply enfold into our fellowship. Some of the newer people are stepping up to leadership, and that will mean change, as well. We are gearing up to send a team to Malawi on a missions trip. We are going to reach out through another Wild Game Dinner, Family Bible Week, and Good News Cruise. We are fixing to remodel the men’s restroom and eventually build a pavilion for outdoor fellowship. I’m praying that the Lord, in His wisdom, would prosper all of these efforts.

Prosperity doesn’t always mean financial or physical blessing. The uprooted exiles of Judah did not always see or feel the shalom the LORD was promising while they were stuck in Babylon. We, too, are not home yet. But we can experience overriding and underlying peace in the midst of any situation, assured that the Lord knows His good plans for our future. No harm will ultimately harm us (Psalm 121). That is our sure and certain hope.

As we pass the full 25-year-mile-marker together as pastor and flock, it is important that we do not take our foot off of the gas. While I am looking forward to a brief time of rest, this is not a time to coast, but a time to keep our eyes fixed on the road ahead of us. We are not home yet, but we soon will be.

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21 NIV84).

In His Peace-filled Grip,
- Pastor Matt

P.S. I believe Heather and I will experience “shalom” on our “shabbath.” (The word “sabbatical” comes from the Hebrew word that names the day of rest.) Thank you, again, for giving us that time to rest, renew, reflect, and recharge in 2023!

Friday, January 27, 2023

2022 Family Ministries Report

Family Ministries Report
(Part of the 2022 Annual Report for Lanse Evangelical Free Church. Submitted by Pastor Matt with contributions from Keith Hurley and Holly Crumrine.)

Undoubtably, 2022 was a pivotal year for our ministry to the children and youth of our church and community. As the year began and we started to more fully emerge from the era of pandemic disruptions, we convened a “Custom Rebuild Team” as a temporary task force to re-think, re-imagine, and re-tool our ministries to the next generation. And we called upon the whole church family to pray for their work.

I had the privilege to serve as the leader of that team and as the interim Coordinator of Children’s Ministries in 2022. Leading and developing these ministries was a significant portion of my work as your pastor last year, and I’m grateful for the strong progress we made together. We have come so far!

The task force was made up of a diverse group of volunteers including several parents of younger children, a few parents of older children and teens, some teachers, and folks who have served in child discipleship ministry for many years. They invested a substantial amount of time, meeting in person and participating in a steady flow of electronic messages in between meetings. Early in the year, Cody Crumrine, the elder overseeing children’s ministries, stepped up as a co-leader to facilitate many of the brainstorming sessions and to spearhead some of the initiatives.

While the basic intent of the team was to review our ministries and make recommendations, this group was also itching to try out new things and get things started. They didn’t want to just focus on structures, systems, and programs, so the group also functioned as a planning and leadership team for the many strategies we experimented with in 2022.

In the first part of the year, we focused on (1) the rich history of our church’s ministries to children and youth (2) the many assets and strengths our church has for this kind of ministry, (3) the trends and problems we’ve encountered in recent years, and (4) the challenges facing families in today’s cultural moment.

Parents are Key!

Very early in the process, the Lord impressed upon our team the importance of parents in the equation. Parents are called to be the primary discipling influence on the children in their homes. We came to the conviction that the central focus of all of our discipling ministries should be to come alongside the parents (and those, such as grandparents, who sometimes step in to serve in the parental role) to support them in their efforts to make disciples of their children. This ministry is about the whole family growing in their followership of Christ.
To clearly reflect that central focus and new emphasis, we renamed our task force “The Family Discipleship Vision Team,” and included ministry to and through parents in all the things we worked on for the rest of the year. I preached a special message about it, “Impress Them On Your Children.” The FDVT also began to survey LEFC parents to understand their needs, desires, interests, ideas, and concerns. We discovered that we were regularly serving at least 29 families with 54 children (newborn to age 18) in our congregation.

Starting Small / Dreaming Big

We knew that, no matter how much we wanted to, we couldn’t do everything and that we didn’t currently have the means and leadership to create a large-scale ongoing whole-church program. So, instead, at each meeting, in addition to working on our overarching recommendations, the FDVT tackled little parts of the problem and tried small, sustainable experiments in ministry to the whole family: children, youth, and parents.

- Ark Park Meet ‘n Play

For example, we created a weekly gathering at the Ark Park geared towards moms and their little ones. Jordyn Skacel and other leaders showed up to visit with any mothers and their tykes who were free every Wednesday morning all summer for a play-date on the playground. The church provided restrooms, juice bags, and some new toddler play equipment, and moms enjoyed many good conversations.

- Family Fellowship Events

Discipleship happens best in community. Several of the parents suggested in the surveys that we get families together for fellowship, especially after the disconnection of covid. So one of the first things the FDVT organized was a families’ outing to an Altoona Curve game. Then, in the autumn, we planned a Harvest Party for LEFC Families that attracted around 50 kids and adults.

- Outreach to Families at West Branch

Most of the families in our area are vitally connected to the West Branch School, and the school’s administration has invited us to partner with them and have more of a presence at their events. In June, we sent a family ministry team to participate in the West Branch Jubilee for their summer kick-off. Our team did face-painting, handed out water bottles and flyers for Family Bible Week, and invited folks to take a spiritual interest survey. At the Jubilee, one of the kids told me, “You are the pastor from the Church at the Ark Park!” In October, we sent 800 glo-sticks as gifts for the safe trick-or-treat event on campus reminding the WB kids that they are loved and that Jesus is the light of the world.

- Family Bible Week 2022

I wasn’t sure if we were going to have a Family Bible Week this year. I approached seven different leaders to see if any were interested in serving as the FBW director, and they all said that they would be glad to help but didn’t feel able to lead the whole thing this year. So I volunteered to do it myself, and the Elders (and Heather!) approved the use of my time for directing it this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the process. We have a wonderful army of joyful volunteers (12 people just on the teaching team, not counting all of the folks who help with the food, decorations, music, games and everything else!), and we had a terrific year. The theme centered on creativity with Mary Beth Moslak as our FBW Artistic Director. Together we experienced a little taste of the creativeness that God has instilled in all of us as His living artwork!

- New Nursery Coordinator

This year, Becky Schiefer agreed to assume leadership of our Nursery Ministry (birth through age 2) and held a meeting to re-organize and refresh that vital ministry of loving babies and toddlers while their parents are listening to the Sunday message. Thank you to all who serve in that critical ministry!

- New Worldview Training Class for Youth

Keith Hurley came to FDVT meetings with a burden for teaching teens about a Christian worldview. We helped him develop his idea and launch the “Ideas Have Consequences” Worldview Training Class in the Fall with a small team of volunteers (Heather Hurley, Laura Michaels, Joan Page, and myself). Here is the central idea in Keith’s own words:
On September 11, 2022 Youth Group began meeting regularly again for the first time since March 2020. Due the curriculum being my own creation and my work schedule, the time for Youth has been moved from Wednesday to Sunday nights every other week.

Over the course of the fall, we covered what a worldview is. Our subjects have been, Truth, God, the Bible, and Jesus. I have attempted to give two "Whys" for every "What".  For each subject, we discussed who/what the subject material is (What is truth? Who is God?), why we as Christians believe in said subject, and why it matters in this day and age. We have looked at some of the evidence for each subject such as the philosophical reasons to believe that God exists and the historical reasons to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

This spring, we will be covering how to share our beliefs with others, by studying Gregory Koukl's “Tactics” video series. My hopes for this whole year of Youth Group has been to demonstrate to the youth that there are rational reasons to believe in a Christian world view and to show the youth how to engage those around them in discussion about those beliefs.
The class continues in 2023, every other Sunday evening. Parents are always welcome!

- Expanding Children’s Church

Over the last few years, Children’s Church has become our central Bible-teaching ministry for kids. Because more students were coming, we decided in the spring to once again divide the one class into two. We now have “Little Learners” (age 3 through kindergarten) and “Bible Explorers” (grades 1 through 3) that meet during the Sunday sermon time. To serve the two classes well, we also doubled the number of teachers and helpers (and picked up a regular substitute teacher)! We now have 17 teachers and helpers regularly in rotation for that ministry.

- “This Week in Children’s Church” 

Our Children's Church ministry uses The Gospel Project as our Bible study curriculum. The Gospel Project is really excellent. It takes our young students chronologically through the whole Bible over the course of three years while always focusing on Jesus as the center of the big story. 

Parents can use The Gospel Project, too! This year, we added a section in the bulletin each Sunday that introduces this week’s lesson and refers parents to more discipleship resources that we provide (Big Picture Story Cards and Take-Home Sheets) to reinforce the gospel truths the students are learning in class.

- The Gospel Project At Home

We also gained access to “The Gospel Project At Home” which is a free online family devotional guide centered around the same lesson all of the kids are studying in Children’s Church. Each devotional guide includes Scripture to discuss with a recap video of the Bible story, memory verses, a song to sing together, prayer prompts, and family activities that correspond to the lesson. I think this resource can be especially helpful if a child has to miss a week of Children’s Church, and I’m hoping that our families increasingly take advantage of it.

- “The Family Table” Email Newsletter

To increase communication directly with parents, we created “The Family Table” email newsletter which goes out every Sunday at noon. This email contains the weekly link to the Gospel Project at Home, short reminders of items of note for families, and one big recommendation of things for parents and kids to read, listen to, or watch to set the table for great family discipleship conversations in their homes.

Thank you, Holly Crumrine, for designing the snazzy TFT logo! Grandparents, guardians, care-givers and other adults who want to make disciples of the next generation are also invited to sign up to receive “The Family Table.” We’re hoping that this new resource serves to feed the faith of our LEFC Families. 

- Christmas Caroling and Christmas Sunday Presentation

For the second year in a row, I organized a Christmas Caroling ministry team for LEFC families to visit and encourage the homebound and older folks in our church family. We had 10 different families participate this year (more younger families than ever before) making 12 different stops over three hours! It’s encouraging to see families serve together. On Christmas Sunday, Emigh Modzel taught a special lesson on how candy canes can tell us what is really important about Jesus’ birth.  

Six Big Recommendations 

In August, the Family Discipleship Vision Team presented six formal recommendations for the Elders and church family to prayerfully consider. These included grouping the church’s various ministries to children, youth, and parents together under the name, “Family Ministries,” adopting a a new purpose statement for LEFC Family Ministries, reorganizing the leadership structure for family ministry, and asking a new Family Ministries Team to continue the work of evaluating all of our family ministries, policies, and procedures for effectiveness while developing new ministry ideas for the future. We’re in the process of implementing these recommendations over time.

Among the FDVT’s bigger recommendations was to employ a Director of Family Ministry, a part-time paid staff position hired to lead LEFC Families ministries. This person would potentially carry on and extend the work that I had been doing all last year. While we have many willing volunteers among our members, we do not currently have many people who feel able to lead the leaders and develop the whole big picture. In December, the church family discussed the desirability, possibility, and feasibility of this idea and then unanimously decided to prayerfully consider it for three months and revisit it at our next quarterly meeting. 

Difficult but Rewarding

The process of developing family ministry this year has been challenging. One of the hardest parts has been to decide together to not restart beloved ministries which had been effective in the past such as Children’s Sunday School, Family Bible Night, ABC Kids, Kids for Christ, and MOPS.  I miss those programs and am grateful for their long-term impact.

But the process has also been very rewarding. I’m encouraged to see so many things come together and be developed, and I’m hopeful for the future. Thank you for praying for this ministry all year long and for freeing me to invest my time and attention to the work.

Vision for 2023

The Family Discipleship Vision Team was disbanded at the end of 2022. Thank you to all who served on that temporary task force! 

Holly Crumrine has agreed to serve as the last elected Children’s Ministries Coordinator and help us transition to the new approach in 2023. In January, she led a well-attended planning meeting that has gotten a number of terrific new things in the works already. They may be small, but they are significant, and they build on last year’s efforts.

New Ministries

It looks like the next new family ministry will be an after-church sermon-interaction time on Sundays called "Snack and Yack" designed for older kids in grades 3-7 (perhaps too mature for children’s church and not quite ready for the youth class). More on that soon!  

New Leaders

Vicky Albert will assume the role of Children’s Church Coordinator in March. See her if you want to get involved. We are always looking to develop new teachers and helpers for that key ministry. 

Holly has agreed to direct the 2023 Family Bible Week, and people are already signing up to help organize it. See her to add your name to the growing list.

New Purpose

At the first planning meeting for family ministries in 2023, Holly reminded the group of our new purpose statement: Helping Families Thrive in Christ. LEFC Family Ministries exist to bring families into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ through ministries to the children, youth, and parents of our church and community.

May the Lord fulfill that purpose in us in small and big ways this year and beyond!

Creating art together!


Thursday, January 26, 2023

2022 Adult Ministries Report

2022 Adult Ministries Report
(Part of the 2022 Annual Report for Lanse Evangelical Free Church. Submitted by Pastor Matt, Judy Carlson, and Abraham Skacel)

In 2022, we continued to offer a variety of ministries to make disciples of adults in our church family and also to develop and deploy a few new strategies.

Continuing Ministries

On a weekly basis we continued to offer a Prayer Meeting on Wednesday nights primarily led by Joel Michaels and Pastor Matt. We also continued to supply “Explore the Bible” study guides for adults to utilize at home and a growing collection of helpful discipleship resources in the church library.

During Family Bible Week Dave Catanzaro taught an adult class that corresponded with the 2022 FBW theme of being the artwork of God (Ephesians 2:10). We also provided a copy of Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney as this year’s LEFC Book Club.

New Ministries

Ladies’ Fellowship Hour – Judy Carlson

This year in October was the first meeting of the Ladies Fellowship Hour. The purpose is for the women of our church to get to know one another and to share their needs and concerns. The women encourage and pray for one another.  They also have a time of sharing God's Word. We are averaging about 10 ladies each week, and they say that they are really enjoying getting to know one another and being comfortable sharing with others and the support they receive. The response has been much better than Ruth Murray and I anticipated when we thought of the idea. We thought that many weeks it might be just the two or three of us praying together, which would have been good as well. To see so many who are faithfully attending and so happy to be a part of the group is wonderful. Interestingly, among those regularly attending five of us have been attending LEFC for 40 years and three have attended for less than 3 years!

Pop Up Classes – Abraham Skacel

In 2022, we tried something new for adult discipleship. Rather than ongoing Sunday School classes, we introduced intermittent "pop-up" classes. The goal was to offer low commitment, high quality classes focused on practical equipping for discipleship and ministry. We had a three week class in August on evangelism. In October, Greg Strand taught on the history of the EFCA. In November, Caleb Lucien shared about the state of ministry in Haiti with VOHM. At the very beginning of 2023, we had a one week class on praying Scripture. 

Looking ahead into 2023, we hope to offer more classes on a variety of topics that will be beneficial to the spiritual needs of our congregation (let Abe know if you have ideas!). In addition to offering more pop-up classes, we hope to tap into the giftings of other members of the church family to help teach. With God's leading and blessing, we pray that this ministry will serve to "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ," (Ephesians 4:12).

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

LEFC Worship Ministries 2022 Report

Worship Ministries Report
(Part of the 2022 Annual Report for Lanse Evangelical Free Church)


“All my life, all I know
God's been good, good to my soul
Mountain high, valley low
I'm gonna sing wherever I go”
(We The Kingdom)
In 2022, God’s unchanging goodness once again led us to sing His praises Sunday after Sunday as a joyful church family.

Praise God for the return of the LEFC Celebration Choir! Amy Jo Belko and her erstwhile band of singers lifted up their voices for us once again on Resurrection Sunday, Celebration Sunday, and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It was so encouraging to have the choir resume after a few years off due to the pandemic.

Cody leading the kids in worship at FBW!
Praise God for coming closer together in worship! In 2022, we continued to offer outside and spread-out seating options on Sunday mornings, but as the year progressed, we saw more and more people choose to be inside worshiping shoulder to shoulder. We also got to worship together indoors for Resurrection Sunday and Celebration Sunday for the first time in a few years. I’m glad we continue to have the outside options to accommodate people who are ill, exposed, or remaining cautious (I used them a few times myself when our family was touched with covid in 2022!), but I’m really encouraged that people feel increasingly comfortable being close to one another once again. As much as we’re able, we need to worship together (Psalm 122, 133).

Praise God for people getting involved in leading and serving! This year Randy Albert began helping to lead the hymns on Sunday mornings. Cody Crumrine and Joe Quick continued to help to lead the worship team. Ben Schiefer and Rick Sipe returned to the worship band after living away, and lots of others shared special music, picked up an instrument, and stepped up on the platform to make a contribution especially for our Christmas Eve candlelight worship service. Our Tech Team continues to grow as they project and record the sound and video for us each week. I’m very grateful that we have so many people serving on these ministry teams!

Praise God for continuing emphasis on older forms of worship! In 2022, we sang many of our beloved favorites songs from throughout church history and proclaimed in unison what we believe in creeds, confessions, catechisms, and our own EFCA Statement of Faith. We also memorized Scripture together throughtout the course of the year: 1 Peter 2:11-12, Isaiah 40:10-11, Ephesians 2:10, Jeremiah 17:7-8, and Jeremiah 29:11.

Praise God for new music! One of the biggest highlights of worship ministry in 2022 was how many new songs we learned together as a church family. In the previous year, we only were able to learn one song, but in 2022 we learned seven! The worship team held many rehearsals this year and were then able to teach the church family new songs with rich theology and diverse styles: “Almost Home,” “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death,” “The Lord Is My Salvation,” “Gotta Know the Books,” “Sing Wherever I Go,” “Every Step,” and “Sing We the Song of Emmanuel.” 

I love that our church weaves all of these diverse elements together into a rich tapestry of worship. Our Lord deserves it!

“O sing hallelujah!  
Our hope springs eternal;  
O sing hallelujah!  
Now and ever we confess  
Christ our hope in life and death.”
(Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Papa)

As 2023 stretches ahead of us, I hope all of these good trends continue and increase–especially the development of new leadership as during my sabbatical people will need to assume some of the roles I’ve been filling.

We know that God will continue to be good, good to our souls, so we will continue to sing His praises wherever He takes us.

In His Grip,

-Pastor Matt

Sunday, January 22, 2023

“Great and Unsearchable Things” [Matt's Messages]

“Great and Unsearchable Things”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 22, 2023 :: Jeremiah 33:1-26

Would you like to hear a good secret? A secret about something good? Of course you would! Everybody does! 

We all want to be let in on a good secret, especially a secret about something good.  There isn’t enough good news going around, and we’re all thirsty for it.

Solomon says that good news from a distant land is like cold water to a weary soul (Prov. 25:25 NIVO). We are all thirsty for good news. Especially for good news that we did not know before.

Well, in chapter 33, the LORD has secrets that He wants to share with Jeremiah. Things that Jeremiah hasn’t heard before and can’t hardly imagine. And they are not just good. They are great! He calls them (in verse 3), “Great and Unsearchable Things.”


Let’s start at verse 1. This story takes place at the same time and place as the story in the last chapter–when Jeremiah was offered the chance to “buy the field,” to buy that less-than-worthless field of Cousin Hanamel’s in Anathoth. It was less-than-worthless because, at the time, it was probably crawling with Babylonians who were besieging the city of Jerusalem and about to take the people into exile!

So if Jeremiah was going to buy that field, his decision would have to be based on some inside-knowledge of the future. To buy it, he’s got to know a secret that nobody else knows to value that land! Because on the face of it, it looked crazy.

And on top of that, Jeremiah was imprisoned at the time. Look at verse 1.

“While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the LORD came to him a second time: ‘This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it–the LORD is his name: 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know'” (vv.1-3). 

We learned last week that Jeremiah was under house arrest in 588 BC because King Zedekiah did not like what Jeremiah had say about him, and he didn’t want Jeremiah’s message to spread. Of course, that wasn’t really stopping him from sharing the LORD’s messages, and it obviously didn’t stop the LORD from giving Jeremiah messages like He does here.

Did you notice that LORD uses His own name three times in verse 2? He wants us all to know that this message comes from Him and nobody else.

“This is what the LORD [Yahweh] says [the powerful Creator God], he who made the earth, the LORD [Yahweh] who formed it and established it–the LORD [Yahweh] is his name [here’s the message]: 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.'”

What an invitation! The LORD invites Jeremiah to pray and ask God to share with him even more of His amazing plans. He has told us that He knows the plans He has for us, amen?

What kind of plans are they?

They are plans to prosper (Hebrew “shalom”) His people.
They are NOT plans to harm His people.
And they are plans for a hope and a future.

But here the LORD says, more than that, they are plans for great and unsearchable things.

The LORD has extraordinary plans. They are great. They are marvelous. They are wonderful. And He says that they are “unsearchable.” Anybody have the old King James Version with you this morning? What does it say? “Great and mighty!” 

The Hebrew word there was often used for fortifications. It’s the word for making a wall strong so that nobody could break in. These great things that the LORD is willing to tell Jeremiah are behind the firewall. They are encrypted. They are safely locked in the blackbox unless the LORD hands you the encryption key. 
 
Nobody knows these things on their own. They are unsearchable.Because they are the future. And nobody knows the future but God. Unless He tells us. And they are unsearchble because they are too great to be grasped!

We would never guess these things. I think that’s the basic sense of it. “Jeremiah, you would never guess what I’m going to do. It’s too mighty for your little mind to truly comprehend.”

But just ask me, and I’ll tell you.

And then He tells him. Look at verse 4. It starts with some really ugly bad news. Verse 4.

“For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword in the fight with the Babylonians: 'They will be filled with the dead bodies of the men I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness” (vv.4-5).

That’s not a secret at this point. Jeremiah has been saying that this is coming for 40 years. And it’s about to happen. Apparently, the people of Jerusalem have been tearing down their houses and even their royal palaces to try to fortify the wall against the Babylonian invaders. But they will fail.

They will fail. And those houses will instead be filled with corpses. Because the LORD through the Babylonians is bringing judgment upon Judah’s sin. Instead of turning His face toward them and giving them peace (Numbers 6), He is hiding His face from them and bringing them to justice.

But here’s the secret: That’s not going to be the end of the story!

It seems like their wound is incurable (Jer 30:12), but the LORD is the Great Physician. Look at verse 6. “'Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.'” (vv.6-9).

Want to hear a good secret?

#1. JOY WILL RETURN.

The Lord is going to turn everything around. He’s going to fix everything. He’s going to heal His people. He’s going to bring them back from exile. He’s going to rebuild the city. It has even fallen yet–it’s about to but it hasn’t happened–but right here before it goes down, the LORD says that He’s going to bring it back!

He does that play on the word “shuv” again. That word that means to return or to repent or to turn. He says that He is going to “turn the turnings” for them. He’s going to “reverse the reversals.” He’s going to fix everything so that it’s how it was supposed to be in the first place.

Which requires that their sins be forgiven. How great and unsearchable is that?! 

And what emotion will you feel if your sins are forgiven, but joy?

Joy will return.

The LORD says that He will experience joy. Look at verse 9 again, “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.'” (vv.6-9).

It’s almost too good to be true! The nations will go “Wow! Would you look at that!”

And joy will return to the people of God. Look at verse 10. “‘This is what the LORD says: 'You say about this place, ‘It is a desolate waste, without men or animals.’ Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither men nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD, saying, ‘Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever.’ For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,' says the LORD.”

Joy will return.

Weddings will happen again.
Worship services will happen once more.
They will sing Psalm 100 and Psalm 136 once again.

That’s the lyrics there in verse 11.

“Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever.”

They will be singing it in the streets of Jerusalem.

It doesn’t feel like it. None of this seems true or even likely or even possible. These folks are headed into the worst thing that has ever happened to them. Soon the bodies will pile up, and everyone will weep their eyes out. Trauma in every direction.

But joy will return.

Do you need to hear that this morning? Joy will return. It might not seem like it. Your situation right now might seem like you’re going to be stuck in gloom forever. But the LORD promises to restore everything. This restoration that is coming for Jerusalem is just a foretaste of the Great Restoration that God is planning for the whole world! To be enjoyed by His own restored people!

In the New Jerusalem. Let me read to you again where this is all going. Revelation 21, the fullest fulfillment of Jeremiah 33. John the Revelator writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Rev. 21:1-5 NIVO).

That’s a great and unsearchable thing! Believe it. Joy will return.

In the last book of the Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, the character Sam Gamgee wakes up at the very end of the story. He thought he was going to die and he thought all of his friends had died, too. But he was alive, so were his friends. (I hope that’s not a spoiler for anybody.) The wizard Gandalf is there when he wakes up, and Sam says to him, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

I love that. Because that’s what’s going to happen at the end of the story we’re living in. Everything sad is going to come untrue. Joy will return and return forever.

And here’s why. Because the LORD is going to send the Messiah. The Christ. Let’s look at verse 12. “‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In this place, desolate and without men or animals–in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks. In the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah, flocks will again pass under the hand of the one who counts them,' says the LORD” (vv.12-13).

That’s the shepherd counting his flock. One, two, three, four. All night long.

The presence of shepherds once again means that this place has been restored. The exile is over. There are “pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks.”

What does that remind you of? We just came through it a few weeks ago. Luke chapter 2, verse? “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Lk. 2:8 NIVO).

I think that Jeremiah 33:12 is at least one of the reasons why the angels came first to the shepherds! Because they were out there counting sheep, and the LORD was fulfilling His promise to send the Christ to them. Verse 14. Listen for those familiar words. Last time Jeremiah uses them in his book. 

“'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness'” (vv.14-16).

Sounds a lot like the passage we focused on during Advent doesn’t it? And Christmas Eve? 

“The days are coming.” They aren’t here yet, but they are surely on the way. The days are coming, when the LORD will provide a righteous king. He calls him a Righteous Branch sprouting from David’s line. Remember, the kings of Judah were all from David’s line. King Zedekiah who has David imprisoned right now is from David’s line. And Jeremiah has said that he’s never going to have a child sit on this throne!

It looks like Zedekiah is the end of the line. The great tree of David’s family is being chopped down right now before our eyes. “Timber!”

But out of the stump, a shoot is going to rise up. And it’s going to have a Branch on it that lives. And that Branch won’t be like any of these wicked sons of David. He will be righteous. Verse 15 says that He will do “what is just and right in the land.” We had a candle about that back in Advent when we studied chapter 23. A candle of righteousness.

This king will be a good one. A righteous one. Chapter 23 said that His name would be “The LORD is Our Righteousness.” And here in chapter 33, it says that He gives us His righteousness so much that the city becomes called by that name! He is that righteous!

Do you want to hear a good secret?

#2. RIGHTEOUSNESS WILL REIGN.

When the Messiah comes, so will righteousness. That means that everything will be made right again. Everything will not just be joyful. It will be right! Everything will be right and righteous. Including you and me. Do you feel how wrong the world is right now? The world is broken. It’s beautiful, but it’s broken. And so are we. Fundamentally. Inside. We sin because we’re sinners. We do unrighteousness because we are unrighteous.

But Jesus has given us His righteousness at the Cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 NIVO).

And He’s going to give us a new world that is all righteousness all the time. I can hardly wait. The Apostle Peter says in his second letter, “...in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13 NIVO).

When we sing, “Almost Home,” we’re singing that we’re almost where we will be right with God in a world that is right with God. That’s a great and unsearchable thing! Believe it. Righteousness will reign. Forever!

Because Jesus will reign forever. Look at verse 17. “For this is what the LORD says: 'David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel...”

He’s promising what seems impossible right then and there. King Jeconiah is in exile in Babylon, going to die there. King Zedekiah is going to soon be in exile in Babylon, going to die there.

How can this be? Well, this afternoon, maybe take a gander at the genealogy in Matthew chapter 1. Jeconiah had six sons, and at least one of them lived.  His name was “Shealtiel” (Matt. 1:12 NIVO). He had a son named “Zerubbabel” whom some of you know “rebuilt the rub-able.”  And He had a son and he had a had a son.  And eventually, a son was born named Jesus.

And He was crucified and then came back to life! So now He lives in the power of an indestructible life! Jesus lives forever, and so this promise will be fulfilled forever. And righteousness will reign forever. 

And it’s more than just a forever kingship. There is also a permanent priesthood. Look at verse 18. “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel nor will the priests, who are Levites, ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.” 

There’s going to be a priesthood forever. Verse 19. “The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘This is what the LORD says: 'If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant–and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me–can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne.

I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore'” (vv.19-22). Stop there for a second and let’s think about this promise. 

That’s a big promise! Notice how He takes the language of the Abrahamic covenant and adds it to the Davidic Covenant. He says that He’s going to make the offspring of David as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore! That is great and unsearchable!

And he says the same thing for the Levites! What’s going on here? I think that He’s pushing the boundaries here so that our minds get blown, and we have to think beyond the categories of the sixth century BC. We have to think beyond the categories of the Old Testament. And we have think about the mind-blowing categories of the New Testament. My best guess is that those descendants of David are the children of God through faith in David’s Son Jesus. And the permanent priesthood is the royal priesthood that we learned about in 1 Peter 2 and is referenced in Revelation 1. Spiritual children of David and royal priests to our God.

All because of the gift of His righteousness. John the Revelator says, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Rev. 1:5-6 NIVO).

The New Covenant picks up the promises and themes of all of the ongoing covenants that came before it and weaves them together and transposes them into an unimaginably more wonderful key that is great and unsearchable!

And unbreakable. All of these promises, which sound too good to be true, are completely trustworthy and unbreakable forever. 

Want to hear a good secret?

#3. FAITHFULNESS WILL REMAIN.

Every one of these promises will be kept. You can be certain of it. Did you see how sure these promise are, according to Yahweh? How He brings in his covenant with the day and his covenant with the night in verse 20?

“If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, os that the day and night no longer come at their appointed time...” then all of these other covenants are in danger.

Let’s take a quick poll. How many times has the night failed to come? Sleep may fail to come, but the night always comes, right? How many times has the day failed to come? It might stay dark gloomy, but the earth keeps going around and around, right? “Bet your bottom dollar.” Look at verse 23.

“The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘Have you not noticed that these people are saying, 'The LORD has rejected the two kingdoms he chose'? So they despise my people and no longer regard them as a nation” (vv.23-24).

There’s a reason for that. The LORD has sent Israel into exile, and He’s about to do the same thing to Judah. None of these good secrets seem likely. They hardly seem possible. Buying that field in Anathoth seems crazy. It doesn’t seem like the LORD has good plans for us. It seems, sometimes, like His plans are to harm us. But even the harm He lets come our way will not harm us.

Faithfulness will remain. The LORD will keep every single one of His promises. “Bet your bottom dollar!” Verse 25.

“This is what the LORD says: 'If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them'” (vv.25-26).

That’s a great and unsearchable thing! The LORD is going to keep every single one of His promises forever. He’s doing it right now. 

He’s in the process of bringing back joy for His people. 
He’s in the process of establishing a kingdom of righteousness.
He’s keeping every one of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David.

And you and me in the New, unbreakable, Covenant. And He’s going to do it forever. 

Want to know a good secret? Everything sad is going to come untrue. Forever.

That’s a great and unsearchable thing.


***


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
07. "Is There No Balm in Gilead?" - Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
08. "Boast About This" - Jeremiah 9:23-24
09. "Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch" - Jeremiah 9:25-10:25
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21
14. "I the LORD Search the Heart" - Jeremiah 17:1-27
15. "Go Down to the Potter's House" - Jeremiah 18:1-19:15
16. “Insult and Reproach All Day Long” - Jeremiah 20:1-18
17. "Woe to the Shepherds" - Jeremiah 21:1-23:8
18. "I Did Not Send These Prophets" - Jeremiah 23:9-40
19. "“My Eyes Will Watch Over Them For Their Good” - Jeremiah 24:1-25:38
20. "This Man Should Be Sentenced to Death" - Jeremiah 26:1-24
21. “Under the Yoke” - Jeremiah 27:1-28:17
22. “I Know the Plans I Have for You” - Jeremiah 29:1-32
23. "I Will Surely Save You Out of a Distant Land" - Jeremiah 30:1-24
24. “I Have Loved You With An Everlasting Love” - Jeremiah 31:1-26
25. "A New Covenant" - Jeremiah 31:27-40

Sunday, January 15, 2023

“Buy the Field” [Matt's Messages]

“Buy the Field”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 15, 2023 :: Jeremiah 32:1-44

We’re in that bright section of Jeremiah that is often called the “Book of Hope” or the “Book of Comfort.” Chapters 30 through 33, where Jeremiah gets to share the good news for a change. The good news of the New Covenant. The good news of the restoration that is coming for the people of God who are right now headed into exile.

In this section, Jeremiah gets to explain more of the good plans that the LORD has in store for His people which He alluded to in our memory verse, Jeremiah 29:11. 

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jer. 29:11 NIVO). 

Hope and a future! That’s what this section is all about. And in chapter 32, Jeremiah gets to put his money where his mouth is. He gets to make a crazy real estate deal.

The LORD tells Jeremiah to “Buy the Field.”


What’s the craziest thing that the Lord has ever asked you to do?

The thing that was maybe the hardest to do. Or the thing that everybody around you thought that you were so stupid to do. It was just absurd. They couldn’t see the point. It was just ridiculous.

For example, that time when Jesus asked you to forgive that person who had hurt you so badly. Everybody around you was like, “Why would you do that? They don’t deserve that. That’s crazy.”

What’s the craziest thing that the Lord has ever asked you to do?

In chapter 32, the Lord asks Jeremiah to do something that seemed absolutely absurd.

Of course, by this time in his life, Jeremiah should be used to it. We’ve seen again and again how the Lord gave Jeremiah some really weird marching orders. Jeremiah was a walking symbol. He wasn’t allowed to marry. He wasn’t allowed to go to parties. He had to wear funny clothes and bury funny clothes. He had to smash pottery.

Well, this one might just take the cake. In chapter 32, the LORD tells Jeremiah to buy a less-than-worthless piece of land. Verse 1 has the setup for the story. Verse 1.

“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah” (vv.1-2).

Verse 1 sets this story in the year 587 BC. This is like the last several months before the exile. The tenth year of the last king of Judah, Zedekiah. The eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. 

Nebuchadnezzar’s army has surrounded Jerusalem and is holding it in siege. It’s just a matter of time until the walls fall. And the temple falls. And the city is overrun by Babylonians. And the people will all go into exile.

This is what Jeremiah has been saying all along. It’s finally here. We’ve flashed forward to the end of the story. The part at the very end of 2 Kings.

And Jeremiah is in prison. Did you see that? He’s “confined to the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.” We’re going to read more about how that came about later in the book. Chapter 37. But the king has Jeremiah under a kind of house-arrest. He can move around, but he can’t leave. 

Verses 3 through 5 explain why he’s in prison. V.3

“Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, ‘Why do you prophesy as you do? You say, 'This is what the LORD says: I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will capture it. Zedekiah king of Judah will not escape out of the hands of the Babylonians but will certainly be handed over to the king of Babylon, and will speak with him face to face and see him with his own eyes. He will take Zedekiah to Babylon, where he will remain until I deal with him, declares the LORD. If you fight against the Babylonians, you will not succeed.'” (vv.3-5).

“Why do you talk like that? That sounds treasonous. Predicting that I’m going to lose and go into exile.” As if Jeremiah had any other choice as a true prophet of God to preach any other future!

Do you see the situation? Jeremiah is stuck in prison. The Babylonians are at the gate? Do you hear “hope and a future?”  It doesn’t feel like they have any hope. It doesn’t seem like they have any future! Everything bad is coming true. Everything that Jeremiah had predicted and Zedekiah hated to hear about is being fulfilled. Read chapter 52 to see it all come to pass.

These are the darkest days.

And it’s in those dark days that the LORD asks Jeremiah to buy the field.

Look at verse 6. “Jeremiah said, ‘The word of the LORD came to me [how many times has he said that, these forty years?! The word of the LORD came to me saying: ‘Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, 'Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.'” Now, stop there for a second.

Do you get the picture? The LORD tells Jeremiah in advance that his cousin Hanamel is coming to visit him in prison. But he’s not coming to console Jeremiah or offer his support. He’s coming to try to pry some money out of him. Hanamel has a real-estate deal in mind for Jeremiah. He wants Jeremiah to buy one of his fields in their hometown of Anathoth.
Cousin Hanamel has probably gotten into financial trouble. He’s probably up to his ears in debt. He needs cahs, and he’s about to lose the family farm. And “Jeremiah, have I got a deal for you! You are the Kinsman Redeemer” for our family. Remember that idea from Leviticus chapter 25 and the Book of Ruth?

If a property was in danger of leaving the family, a Kinsman Redeemer would have the right and duty to get the family out of debt buy purchasing it. But this time, there’s no wonderful Ruth in the bargain. This deal is “Ruth-less!”

But you see what’s happened? Jeremiah is probably the oldest member of the family, and they are turning to him to bail them out of trouble by buying this farm.

Now, what should Jeremiah say to this deal? Humanly speaking, now. Remember a kinsman-reedemer can refuse if the deal is too bad.

This is a terrible deal. It’s really dumb. 

Think about it. Jeremiah is in prison. He can’t use that field. He can’t farm it. And he’s married. He has no kids to pass the field on to in the next generation. And, at that very moment, that field probably has Babylonians camped all over it!

“You want me to what?! You want me to buy what?! That’s crazy.” This field is less-than-worthless.

So, should Jeremiah buy the field?

Yes, he should. Here’s why. It’s point number one of three. 

Buy the field...

#1. BECAUSE THE LORD SAYS SO.

The LORD got Jeremiah ready for greedy Cousin Hanamel’s visit because He didn’t want Jeremiah to laugh in Hanamel’s face. He wanted him to take the deal. And even if He explained why, Jeremiah should take the deal just because the LORD said so. Look at verse 8.

“‘Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, 'Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.' ‘I knew that this was the word of the LORD...”

It’s crazy! But it’s from the LORD, so I better do it. And I did. V.9

“...so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. [One, two, three....seventeen. It’s like burning “Benjamins.”] I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. I took the deed of purchase–the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed [reference] copy–and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard. ‘In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: 'This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time.” (vv.9-15).

This is the first time but not the last time that we’re told about Jeremiahs’ friend and administrative assistant Baruch. His name means “Blessing.” So he’s “Mr.  Blessing.”

Jeremiah does everything it takes to make this deal as legal and formal and public as it possibly could.  Hanamel was probably shocked out of his socks that Jeremiah took him up on the deal. And he’s happy to sign all of the papers. Everything is done according to Hoyle, and the documents are placed Mr. Blessing somewhere more safe than the courthouse.

Jeremiah makes the most ridiculous land deal there ever was. Jeremiah buys the field. Why?

Well, just because the LORD said so. That’s enough, right?

If the LORD tells you to love and forgive your enemy, that’s all the reason you really need.

If the LORD tells you to give money to the poor, that’s all the reason you really need.

If the LORD tells you to do something that seems crazy, and you know that it’s the LORD’s will because He said so in His word, then you should do it, no matter what it is. That’s all the reason you really need.

But the LORD is even more gracious than that. He loves to provide more reasons to obey Him. And Jeremiah knew at least part of why He wanted this one. Because of God’s plans. Plans for hope and a future. Look at verse 15. 

“Take these documents...put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.'” (vv.14-15).

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you [to ‘shalom’ you] and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” 

“Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” Hmm. Maybe it’s not the dumbest land deal there ever was. Maybe there’s a future for that land. And Jeremiah buying it is saying that he believes in that future with his whole heart and his whole wallet! You know you believe in it when it gets down to your wallet!

For so many years, they didn’t believe Jeremiah that judgment was coming. And now judgment has come. And now that judgment has come, Jeremiah is saying that there is a future after the judgment. There is hope on the way. And he believes it with his whole heart and his whole wallet. So he obeys. He buys the field!

And yet, he still has to wonder. He still has to feel like this is crazy. And so what do you do when you feel like what the LORD wants you to do is crazy? You pray, right? You talk to the LORD about it. And that’s exactly what Jeremiah does. Look at verse 16.

“‘After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah, I prayed to the LORD: ‘Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

Let’s make that point number two. Buy the field...

#2. BECAUSE THE LORD IS ALL POWERFUL.

“When the sky was starless in the void of the night...
He spoke into the darkness and created the light.
Our God is an awesome God.” (Rich Mullins)

Jeremiah starts his prayer by praising God for being the Omnipotent Creator of all.

‘Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you."

Nothing!
Nothing!
Absolutely nothing. (cf. Don Moen)

Nothing is too difficult for Yahweh. 

The word for “hard” in verse 17 could be translated “wonderful” or “extraordinary.” Nothing is too out of the way for God to pull off. And that includes returning the exiles from their captivity, reversing the reversals that are happening the nation, restoring the people of God to the promised land.

“Nothing is too hard for you!”

Do you need to hear that this morning? Nothing is too difficult for the LORD.

Jeremiah has a list. He start with Genesis and works his way through the whole Old Testament showing just how powerful the LORD’s outstretched arm. Verse 18.

“You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers' sins into the laps of their children after them. [That’s quoting Exodus 34.] O great and powerful God, whose name is the LORD Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to all the ways of men; you reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve.

You performed miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, both in Israel and among all mankind, and have gained the renown that is still yours. You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror. [We’ve been learning about that on Wednesday nights at Prayer Meeting. The Book of Exodus. V.22]

You gave them this land you had sworn to give their forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey [That’s the book of Joshua.]. They came in and took possession of it, but they did not obey you or follow your law; they did not do what you commanded them to do. So you brought all this disaster upon them. [That’s the rest of the Old Testament. Judges through 2 Kings!]

‘See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see. And though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, you, O Sovereign LORD, say to me, 'Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed'” (vv.18-25).

That’s where we get our sermon title. Right there. Verse 25. “Buy the field.”

“You, O Sovereign LORD, say to me, ‘Buy the field.’” Do the crazy thing that LORD asks you to do because He is all powerful. He has all the power it takes to do everything He said He would do. So you can take it to the bank.

He can make us.
He can save us.
He can rescue us.
He can discipline us.
He can restore us.

Nothing is too difficult for Him.

Personally, I think that Jeremiah is struggling with doubt here. He knows this. He believes this. But it’s hard to see. All he sees is his own prison and siege-ramps at the walls of his beloved city. And he can see that it’s going to get harder before it gets better.

He knows that there’s death at the door.

And destruction.
And exile.
And it’s deserved.

But he also knows that the LORD is all powerful. Wonderfully powerful. And that He is also all faithful and amazingly gracious. That’s point number three and last.

Buy the field...

#3. BECAUSE THE LORD IS ALL FAITHFUL.

Because the LORD is faithful to all His promises and amazingly gracious in what He promises. Look at how the LORD answers back to Jeremiah’s prayer. Verse 26.

“Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (vv.26-27).

“You’re right, Jeremiah. I am Yahweh. I am the God who made and is over all humankind. And let me ask you a rhetorical question, ‘Is anything too ‘wonderful, extraordinary, difficult, hard for me?’ No, sir, it is not.’”

"I can do anything I say that I will. And you can count on the fact that I will do anything I have said I will do and  everything I have said I will do. The LORD is all faithful."

Do you need to hear that this morning? I know I do! Nothing is too hard for Him. No promise He has made is too difficult for Him to pull off. And neither is any threat. That’s what He starts with, His promises to bring judgment. Look at verse 28.

“Therefore, this is what the LORD says: I am about to hand this city over to the Babylonians and to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who will capture it. The Babylonians who are attacking this city will come in and set it on fire; they will burn it down, along with the houses where the people provoked me to anger by burning incense on the roofs to Baal and by pouring out drink offerings to other gods.

‘The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; indeed, the people of Israel have done nothing but provoke me with what their hands have made, declares the LORD. [Idols.]  From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight. The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done–they, their kings and officials, their priests and prophets, the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem. They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. They set up their abominable idols in the house that bears my Name and defiled it.

They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”

The LORD has promised to bring judgment, and He most assuredly will.

It is hard, but not too hard for Him to tear down His own temple.
It is hard, but not too hard for Him to overrun His own capitol city with Babylonians.
It is hard, but not too hard for Him to send His own people into exile.

He has promised to do so, and He is all faithful.

But He also made other promises which are even more wonderful! These are promises we’ve been learning about for the last month or so. The promises of the New Covenant.

Look at verse 36.

“‘You [Jeremiah] are [rightly] saying about this city, 'By the sword, famine and plague it will be handed over to the king of Babylon' [just like I promised]; but this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God.”

Sound familiar? That word translated “but” in verse 36 is literally the word for “therefore.” There’s some wild divine logic going on there! If God is faithful to bring His promised judgment then how much more faithful will He therefore be to bring His promised salvation?

He’s going to bring them back! Even though they broke the covenant! He’s going to make with them a new covenant.  And this one is going to be different, better, un-breakable. V.39

“They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. [New hearts! New creation! Like we talked about last week. ‘Singleness of heart and action. Always fearing Him. Knowing Him at the heart level. This is the power of the new covenant. V.40] I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul” (vv.38-41).

Isn’t that wonderful?!!!

Do you see how wonderful the New Covenant is? It’s unbreakable. He calls it “an everlasting covenant.” All of those words that emphasize the everlastingness. “Never stop...never turn away. Never, never, never, never.” That’s the hope and future of the New Covenant.

Put your name in there if you belong to Jesus. Because the New Covenant was inaugurated in Jesus’ blood. “I will never stop doing good to ______.” If you belong to Jesus, you can put your name in there. If you don’t belong to Jesus yet, then come to Jesus. You want to be “in Christ.” You want to be in the New Covenant. He bought His people with His blood.

And He will never stop doing good to them. The LORD is all faithful, all the time, and forever. And He is amazingly gracious. His heart just overflows with love for His people. Do you see that in verse 41?

“I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.”

“Yes, they are going to be uprooted, but then I’m going to plant them again.”

And imagine what it’s going to be like when we are planted for eternity in the New Creation which is the final fulfillment of all of these New Covenant promises! 

The LORD is all faithful. He is faithful to bring about all of His promises of judgment  and just as faithful to bring about all of His promises of salvation. Verse 42.

“‘This is what the LORD says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them. Once more fields will be bought in this land of which you say, 'It is a desolate waste, without men or animals, for it has been handed over to the Babylonians.' Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the LORD.’”

You can count on it. You can take it to the bank. So buy the field.

Fields will be bought again. So, Jeremiah, go ahead a buy this one now. It might seem totally crazy to all of your neighbors. Ignore them. I say, “Buy the field because nothing is too difficult for me, and I will keep every one of my promises.”

Buy the field.

What does that mean for you and me today?

It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about real estate–though in some of our cases, it might. It means to do the seemingly crazy things that LORD tells us to do in His word.

For example, to pray. You know how crazy prayer seems to the world? You go into a room and talk to God? You invest time just talking to this invisible Person? And asking Him to do things, to give you things, to help you. That’s crazy! Unless God is all powerful and all faithful and amazingly gracious. 
Buy the field.

It means to give. You know how crazy generosity seems to the world? Why wouldn’t you use your money on yourself and your friends and your family? Why would you give to the work of missions? People far away from you? Why would you give to the poor? Well, because the LORD says so. And because He’s all powerful and all faithful and amazingly gracious. Buy the field.

It means to forgive as the Lord forgave you. It means to love “your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:27-28 NIVO). That’s crazy. By the world’s standards, that’s absurd, ridiculous, stupid, dumb, and brainless. Do it anyway. Buy the field.

Resist the lure of pornography. Stick it out in a difficult marriage. Stand up against racism. Spend your Sunday mornings with your church family. Submit to the governing authorities. Share the gospel in a hostile culture.

Do all the seemingly crazy things that LORD tells us to do in His word.

Buy the field.

Remember, when Jeremiah buys this field, he’s in prison and the Babylonians are  going to knock down the walls of his city. And nothing changes when he buys the field. He’s still in prison and the Babylonians are still going to knock down the walls of his city. Just because we buy the field now doesn’t mean that everything is going to turn out just hunky dory in the short run.

But, we Christians don’t just think about the short run. We believe in the long run. The longest run!

And think about this: That deed might still be in that same clay jar buried in a field in Israel right now. I’m not saying it is. It doesn’t have to be. It was a symbolic act of hope. But the Dead Sea Scrolls were put in jar a lot like the one that Mr. Blessing put this deed in, and they stayed intact for 2000 years before being discovered in the 20th century. It’s possible that one day, this clay jar will also be discovered, and the Lord will say to a resurrected Jeremiah. “Oh yeah, that field is yours.” And the Prophet Jeremiah will get to live on a farm there in the New Creation. Who knows?

Nothing is too hard for the LORD.

So do the craziest things the Lord ever asks you to do.

Buy the field.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
07. "Is There No Balm in Gilead?" - Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
08. "Boast About This" - Jeremiah 9:23-24
09. "Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch" - Jeremiah 9:25-10:25
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21
14. "I the LORD Search the Heart" - Jeremiah 17:1-27
15. "Go Down to the Potter's House" - Jeremiah 18:1-19:15
16. “Insult and Reproach All Day Long” - Jeremiah 20:1-18
17. "Woe to the Shepherds" - Jeremiah 21:1-23:8
18. "I Did Not Send These Prophets" - Jeremiah 23:9-40
19. "“My Eyes Will Watch Over Them For Their Good” - Jeremiah 24:1-25:38
20. "This Man Should Be Sentenced to Death" - Jeremiah 26:1-24
21. “Under the Yoke” - Jeremiah 27:1-28:17
22. “I Know the Plans I Have for You” - Jeremiah 29:1-32
23. "I Will Surely Save You Out of a Distant Land" - Jeremiah 30:1-24
24. “I Have Loved You With An Everlasting Love” - Jeremiah 31:1-26