Sunday, February 21, 2021

"My Feet Had Almost Slipped" Psalm 73 [Matt's Messages]

“My Feet Had Almost Slipped”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
February 21, 2021 :: Psalm 73

Psalm 73 is a song that tells a story. 

It’s a good story with a happy ending.

But it’s a scary story. It’s a cautionary tale.

Psalm 73 is a song that tells the story of a man who almost slipped and fell hard.

He almost did. In the end, he regained his balance, but he almost went down and took others with him.

We sure have had a lot of snow and ice around here, haven’t we? A couple weeks ago right before Prayer Meeting, I took a fall out on the ice.

I was, ironically, out spreading coal ashes so that our vehicles could get in and out over the ice. So I had this big bucket of ashes, and I was walking around dumping them in a wide arc, and then all of a sudden, I had that feeling that I was going to fall.

And I thought I had it, but then...wham! Down I went on this shoulder over here. Still hurts a bit when I put on my coat. But nothing was broken, and I was able to get up and even spread some more ashes and make it to Prayer Meeting on time.

But that wasn’t the last time I felt like I was going to slip. There’s more ice out there right now.

And often I worry that I’m going to reach out to Heather Joy on one of our walks down Viaduct Road and pull her down with me!

Well, that feeling, that reality, of almost going down and almost taking others with you is metaphorically what this songwriter, a Israeli worship leader named “Asaph,” was feeling when he wrote Psalm 73.

Let me read to you the first three verses of Psalm 73.

“A psalm of Asaph. Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”


Asaph wrote a bunch of the psalms, but I don’t think we’ve looked at any of his yet in the two dozen we’ve studied so far in this series.

This is the first psalm of the third book of the Psalms. 

In Psalm 73, Asaph wrote a testimony song about his own experience of almost slipping that he uses to teach the wisdom that he’s gained from that experience to you and me.

He starts at the end of the story in verse 1. Just to make sure you know that it’s going to have a happy ending.

“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.”

That’s true! And that’s where he’s going to end his story in verse 28 with the goodness of God to those who love Him and are near Him.

God is truly good to His covenant people.

But! This song is about a scary time in Asaph’s life. A near disaster. A crisis of faith in Asaph’s heart. A time when his heart was not pure, and he wasn’t at all sure that God was actually good. Verse 2 again.

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.”

I just about went down!

And here’s where I got tripped up (v.3).

“For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

I only have two major points of application to make in this message (one covering verses 1 through 15, and the other drawn from verses 16 through 28), and here’s the first big one:

#1. DON’T SLIP BY ENVYING WHAT THE WICKED HAVE.

Asaph was nearly taken down by his own envy of the arrogant when he saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Asaph discerned a pattern that contradicted what he thought should be.

He perceived that the wicked, the evil, the bad guys in this world were often experiencing prosperity.

Good things were happening to bad people.

Often we feel and articulate the problem of evil as “Why do bad things happen to good people?” 

But Aspah was feeling the question, “Why do good things happen to bad people?”

“And if that’s how it actually works, why not be a bit of a bad person myself?”

Now, it’s possible that Asaph’s envy was blinding him to some of the realities of how things actually are. Often, the wicked do not prosper even in this life. And the Lord often does bless His people even in this life.

But you have to admit that Asaph had a point.

When you look out there on the world, we do see a lot of good things coming to bad people, right?

Do I need to convince you of that?

In his song, Asaph gives us some examples. Verse 4.

“They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.”

He sounds envious, doesn’t he?

These guys have it all. They are free from “disease and disaster” (John Stott’s phrase).

They look great on Instagram. They have a 3 million followers on YouTube.

They are carefree and rolling in dough.

And they are proud of it! Verse 6.

“Therefore pride is their necklace [flaunted on display!]; they clothe themselves with violence. [Getting away with anything.] From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits [big boundless dreams and unlimited plans]. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression [others will get hurt and have no say in it]. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.”

Literally, “Their tongues strut through the earth.”

That just reeks of arrogance! They are successful. They are prosperous. And they let everybody know it.

And people just love them for it! Verse 10.

“Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. [That’s a hard verse to translate from the Hebrew, but I think the NIV gets it basically right. People lap this stuff up! Folks like this are surrounded by a posse of sycophants who “accept everything they say without question” (Tremper Longman).] And they dare to question God Himself. Verse 11.] They say, ‘How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?’”

That’s the height of arrogance, right there, my friends.

They mock and defy God Himself. They say that if He exists (and He probably doesn’t), then He sure seems to be falling down on the job.

Asaph envied the arrogant. You can tell. Verse 12.

“This is what the wicked are like–always carefree, they increase in wealth. [And I wish I could get a piece of that! Verse 13.] Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.  All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.”

Asaph was suffering. He had been a “good little boy,” and yet he was suffering. We don’t know with what, but it was dogging his heels. “Every morning.” His trials, like God’s mercies, were new every morning. It felt like daily plague and daily punishment.

So what good did it to do to keep his hands clean? What good did it do to keep his nose clean?

Apparently, being “good” didn’t pay. But being “bad” sure seemed to.

“I thought Psalm 1 said that if I was in the Word every day that I would prosper in every way.

Well, I tried it, and it didn’t work. And those guys didn’t try it, and look at them! They’re getting away with it! There is no justice.”

He’s that close to a fall.

Now, one of the things I love about the Psalms is how raw and real they are, don’t you?

If you have ever felt this way (and who hasn’t?), there is a song for you to sing that feeling out in the Bible!

It’s so refreshing to read this honesty from this psalmist.

Don’t be afraid to tell God how you really feel.

Now, obviously, that doesn’t mean that your feelings are all right, all correct. Asaph was feeling the wrong thing and almost slipped, but he doesn’t have to hide that from God. And, in fact, he doesn’t even have to hide it from us. He sings about it for us. He tells us his experience so that we can learn from it, too.

Asaph was about to slip by envying the wicked for what they had, which seemed to be just about everything.

And, even worse, Asaph almost took others down with him. Verse 15.

“If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children.”

If worship leader Asaph had then officially taught what he had been thinking and feeling, he would have not only gone down himself, but also led some of the precious children of Israel astray.

And he almost did!

He could not sort it all out. And it made him miserable. Verse 16.

“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”

This is the turning point of the song and the turning point of the story.

Asaph experienced a moment of truth that changed his whole perspective. What was it? Verse 17 again.

“[I]t was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God...” 

Asaph went into the tabernacle or temple. Whichever one it was at that point.

And he met God in worship.

We don’t know what happened in there!

We don’t know exactly what Asaph experienced.

I tend to think it was just the regular old trip to the temple and looking around at what goes on there.

Sacrifices. Blood on the altar. The bread and the candles that marked the presence of God, the veil of the Holy of Holies. The great reminders of the majesty and splendor and holiness of God.

Whatever it was exactly, Asaph entered the sanctuary of God and came out with a new perspective on everything.

Especially on where everything is headed.

“...I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”

After his encounter with God, Asaph saw that things are not as they might seem.

After his encounter with God, Asaph saw that things are not as they are going to be!

I think Asaph got a view of eternity.

He saw not just what the wicked have now, but what was coming to them.

And it wasn’t something to envy. Verse 18.

“Surely [same word as verse 1. "Surely"] you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. [They are the ones who are going to slip!] How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.”

Now, that’s scary! Asaph sings that when the time comes, when the time is ripe, the Lord will like wake up and shrug off the wicked like a bad dream. Their present pleasures are going to fall off like the phantasms they are. And they are going down, down, down.

What scary words, “O Lord, you will despise them.” When that happens, no one in the universe will envy them then.

I’m sure that plenty of onlookers envied the rich travelers that boarded the Titanic on April 10, 1912. But no one was envying them on April 16th!

Don’t slip into envying the wicked for what they have.

In the sanctuary of God, Asaph got a glimpse of where the wicked were headed.

And he was reminded of what he really had.

That’s the second big point of application from Psalm 73 today:

#2. DON’T FORGET THAT YOU HAVE EVERYTHING!

You won’t slip if you see and savor everything you have because, in having God, you have everything.

Asaph almost slipped and lost everything. And he felt it deep in his psyche. Verse 21.

“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.”

Notice that he’s saying that while his envious feelings were natural, they were still totally wrong. He was beastly and mindless and sub-human in his thinking.

Because he was forgetting what he had in God!

His feet had almost slipped, but God had not let him go down. V.23

“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.”

These last six verses of Psalm 73 are just magnificent. They just sing of the glorious goodness of knowing God! This is what we call around here, “A life-changing relationship with the Lord.”

He says, “I am always with you.”

Now, he could have said (like Psalm 139 we read last month) that God is always with him.

But he says it the other way around to mean the same thing, but to emphasize how safe it makes him feel.

“I’m with Him! I’m always with Him.”

In fact, he holds me by my right hand.

I am that secure.

Like a little kid, “Daddy’s got me by my right hand.”

How good it is!

He says, “You guide me with your counsel.” God’s own counsel. God’s own guidance.

“And afterward you will take me into glory.”
That word “afterward” is the same root word translated “final destiny” in verse 17.

Asaph knows not just where the wicked will be going, but by God’s grace, he knows where he will end up, as well.

“You will take me into glory.”

Wow. Amazing what a little bit of true worship can do in your life?!

That changes things, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t answer every theological question about why good things happen to bad people. Why God allows the wicked to prosper for a time.

Or why there is so much suffering of God’s people for a time.

But it does show that everything is not as it seems.

And everything is not as it is will be.

And it also shows us that if we have God, we have everything. Verse 25.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? [Nobody; but what else do I need?] And earth has nothing I desire besides you. [If I have You, I have everything!] My flesh and my heart may fail [I may fall apart and die!], but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

That word “strength” is literally, “Rock.”

God is the rock of my heart.

The stability and strength of my heart.

If God is the stabilizing rock of your heart, you will not slip and fall!

He is your “portion” forever.

That’s like your inheritance.

Your piece of the pie. God is your piece of the pie.

Is that enough? That’s everything!

Don’t forget that you have everything.

Do you realize you have everything?

Unless, of course, you don’t.

The song ends with a choice to make.

It’s a pretty obvious choice when you put it like Asaph does, but things don’t always feel like this out there in real life.

We need songs like Psalm 73 to bring the reality home to us. Listen to verse 27 as Asaph brings it all home.

“Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.”

Far from God. The wicked are far from God.

They might have all the VIP trappings now, but they are soon headed for total destruction. 

And that includes those who claim to know God but don’t really. “All who are unfaithful” like the adulterous apostasy that Asaph was flirting with.

“[Y]ou destroy all who are unfaithful to you.”

That’s one side. Here’s the other. Verse 28.

“But as for me [here’s the happy ending to the scary story of this song! But as for me], it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”

It is so good to be near God. If you have Him, you will not slip, and you will have everything! Come near to God. Repent and put your faith and hope in Jesus Christ and His blood.

You’ll be safe from all alarms, “I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.”

And instead of slipping and taking other people down, you’ll speak out and take other people up with you to glory.

“I will tell of all your deeds.”

Like right now, right here, giving testimony to the goodness of God.

Come near and go tell others that, in God, they can have everything that truly matters forever!

***

Fortifying Truth - Psalms - Fall 2020 / Winter 2021

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126
12. "His Love Endures Forever" - Psalm 136
13. "How Many Are Your Works, O LORD!" - Psalm 104
14. "My Soul Waits for the Lord" - Psalm 130
15. "Remember David" - Psalm 132
16. "My Son" - Psalm 2
17. "Search Me" - Psalm 139
18. "Cleanse Me" - Psalm 51
19. "A New Song" - Psalm 96
20. "Hear My Prayer, O LORD." - Psalm 86
21. "May All the Peoples Praise" - Psalm 67

Sunday, February 14, 2021

“A Wedding Song” Psalm 45 [Matt's Messages]

“A Wedding Song”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
February 14, 2021 :: Psalm 45

I chose Psalm 45 for this Sunday because this Sunday is Valentine’s Day, February 14th. And here we are in the middle of a sermon series on the Psalms! And I don’t know when a better occasion would ever arise to preach Psalm 45. I’ve never preached Psalm 45. I don’t think I’ve even ever heard a sermon preached by anyone on Psalm 45!

Because Psalm 45 is a little different. It’s not quite like any of the other psalms in the Psalter. It’s not really a praise song. It’s not really a prayer song. It’s more of a prophetic song and even more of a royal song, but it’s not quite like any of the other prophetic or royal psalms either because Psalm 45 is a wedding song.

If anything, it’s more like the Song of Songs than any of the other psalms. But it’s not that much like the Song of Solomon either because it’s not love poems from the guy to the gal and back again. It’s a song composed by a court poet, one of the Sons of Korah (from whom we’ve heard some of their other songs in this series) written about and to the royal couple for the occasion of a royal wedding.

A song written about and to the royal couple for the occasion of a royal wedding.

There’s just nothing else like it in the Book of Psalms.

And, really, there’s nothing else like this wedding. You and I have never seen a wedding like this one in Psalm 45. It is so absolutely brilliant and beautiful, lavish and dazzling and supercharged.

And the language of Psalm 45 is so heightened and exalted and supercharged as well that it has to be talking about more than just this one stunning royal wedding. That’s why I say that it’s prophetic, as well.

Have I you piqued your curiosity?

As we read Psalm 45, you’ll see that it totally belongs in the Book of Psalms even though it is different from all the others because, in the end, it’s not just about this one resplendent couple, it’s ultimately about our Lord.

Let’s get into it. Here is the superscription. Psalm 45, verse 1.

“For the director of music. To the tune of ‘Lilies.’ [I wonder what that sounded like. I’m sure it was grand and expansive and beautiful!] Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil. A wedding song.”


So here we have a wedding song that was composed to be sung about and even to the royal couple at their royal wedding.

The king of Israel is getting married. A son of David is taking a bride to be his wife. That’s a big honking deal occasion! And so a wedding song has been commissioned.

Perhaps this was for Solomon. He certainly understood the role of brilliant pomp and opulent ceremony.

And I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that this song had been sung at every Davidic King’s wedding from Solomon on.

Because I think that this psalm is aspirational and anticipational

This song describes what the royal couple ought to be and one day certainly will.

It’s clear that the wedding song writer was aware that he was writing something big. Look at the second half of verse 1.

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.”

That’s different, isn’t it? In the Psalms, we don’t normally get the songwriter telling us how he feels as he sits down to put pen to parchment.

But this son of Korah is obviously feeling it. His heart is stirred. His tongue is writing with great skill. He is feeling the inspiration, and he just knows that something big and noble and good is going to flow right out of him.

And it’s going to be about the king.

Verses 2 through 9 are addressed directly to the Royal Groom. 

Verses 10 through 15 are going to directly address the Royal Bride.

And then in verse 16, the song will return to the Royal Groom, speaking really to both of them about their Royal Princes, the Royal Heirs.

And then in verse 17, the songwriter will talk about himself and what he’s doing with this song one more time to round things off.

Every true wedding has a Bride and a Groom.

And this songs starts with the Groom for he is the king. Verse 2. Listen for the exalted language. Again, this is aspirational and anticipational. This is how the king should be and how he certainly one day will be. Verse 2.

“You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.”

Do you see how exalted this is, right from the git-go?!

It’s the king’s wedding day, and this song praises him. He is the most excellent of men, and his speech is excellent, as well. His mouth is full of graciously anointed words, blessed by God forever! It says, “forever!”

Two things here. The first thing to note is how much God cares about gracious speech. He cares about how we talk. About what we say. This is where the psalmist begins to praise the character of this king, the king’s speech, his words.

The other thing to note is that probably this king didn’t quite live up to this song lyric.

He should have! Maybe he did to a degree that no one else had yet. We don’t know.

But it’s probably more aspirational than actual. It was sung about him on his wedding day with the hopes that it would come to pass.

This was his calling. That’s certainly true in verses 3 through 5.

“Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one; clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds. Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king's enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet.”

There’s a reason why this psalm is not sung at most of our weddings.

It surely wasn’t sung at Heather's and mine. 

Because this is not what every husband is supposed to be and do. 

Every husband should have lips anointed with grace. But we aren’t all supposed to suit up in splendor and majesty and run out to war.

The ancient king of Israel was supposed to do that. He was supposed to have his sharp arrows pierce the hearts of his enemies and have the nations fall beneath his feet.

Here the nations are not glad like we saw last week in Psalm 67. These are not repentant and newly worshiping peoples. These are the unrepentant enemies of Israel and her king such as we saw back in Psalm 2.

And this king is called to fight and to beat them. He is called to win. To ride forth victoriously and to win.

And yet notice on whose behalf he rides in verse 4.

It’s not for his own aggrandizement. It’s on “behalf of truth, humility, and righteousness.”

Humility?! Fighting on behalf of humility and meekness. That’s surprising.

And that’s a tall order! It takes a truly great king to defend humility.

Now, verse 6 is the verse that rockets this psalm to the highest level of just about any psalm in the book.

Apparently still addressing the Royal Groom, the King of Israel, the psalmist sings about his throne and his scepter, those powerful symbols of his rule, and he appears to call him, “God.” Look at verse 6.

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.”

Now, that’s pretty unique. Most of the time, humans are not called quote-unquote “God” in the Bible unless they are actually also God Himself.

So I would normally think that this was simply a change of address. That the psalmist was turning up to God in prayer in verse 6 before turning back to the king in verse 7.

Or perhaps I would go with a perfectly good alternative translation that says something like, “Your godly throne, or the throne of God from which you rule will last forever and ever.”

But the author to the letter to the Hebrews in our New Testament quotes this verse of Psalm 45 in Hebrews chapter 1 verses 8 and 9 and says that they are about God the Son. Listen to Hebrews 1, “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.’”

So Psalm 45, verse 6 is, at least, about the Son of God.

And so this song apparently is actually addressing the king of Israel and calling him “God.”

Now, of course, Solomon was not actually God. And neither were any of the sons of David in the Old Testament.

But remember Psalm 2 says that they were in some sense the “Son” of God. God had promised David that He Himself would be a father to David’s sons and they would be as God’s sons (see 2 Samuel 7:14).

And so in that sense as “sons” of God, they could even, as they sit on this very throne, be called quote-unquote “God.”

How much more, of course, could One Who sat on that very throne be called “God” because He actually metaphysically eternally was God?!

This psalm is clearly prophetic. It anticipates the Messianic King Who is actually factually divine.

And it’s also aspirational. This king on his wedding day is being called rule with justice.

Don’t miss that word “justice” in verse 6 when you see that word “God.” Don’t get hung up on “God” and miss the word “justice.”

The king’s scepter is the scepter of justice. Unbiased, perfectly fair, righteous and just in every single way.

O how we long for justice!

The Psalms and the Prophets are full of calls for justice and predictions of the day when justice will be done and be seen to be done.

The songwriter says that the Royal Groom will rule with justice.

In fact, he says that he’s been set above all of the others in the kingdom because he loves justice. Verse 7.

“You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

Now, notice something interesting there. Here the king is not called “God.” He has a God. “God, your God, has set you above your companions.”

This king has been exalted by God.

So, now, which is it? Is he God or does he have a God?

I’m sure that this was a mystery to the first listeners to this song. Scratching their heads.

Maybe a mystery even to the songwriter himself. “Why did I write it like that?”

Answer: The original king of Psalm 45 was only a quote-unquote “God,” and he had a God.

But the One that this Psalm points us to, the One this Psalm anticipates is God and is with God, has a God. Sound familiar? Check out the Gospel of John chapter 1, verse 1.

Now, it’s easy to get caught up in the exalted language and forget that this is the king’s wedding day.

This is all lead up to the Royal Wedding.

The Royal Groom has been anointed with the oil of joy, but he’s anointed with much more. Verse 8.

“All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad. Daughters of kings are among your honored women; at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir.”

The Royal Groom is all decked out and ready to get married!

He is layered with sumptuous luxuriant fragrances. Remember, they don’t have any deodorants! And these scents are expensive and extravagant for this unique imperial occasion.

The music is just right. It’s swelling and bouncing off of the priceless ivory in the palace and making the Groom’s heart glad.

And it’s an international affair of state. Highborn daughters of other kings in all of their foreign finery are present. 

And there she is!

Wearing a gorgeous gown embroidered with the most precious gold in the Bible, the gold of Ophir, is the Royal Bride!

And there, the song begins to sing to and about her. Verse 10

“Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear: Forget your people and your father's house. [Not totally of course, but change your primary allegiance. That’s what marriage is. You transfer your primary allegiance now to your spouse. And them to you. V.11] The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord. [You can see them looking at each other as this is sung.] The Daughter of Tyre will come with a gift, men of wealth will seek your favor. [Again, this is an international affair of state. The Royal Bride will receive gifts and honored requests from heads of state. She, too, will be exalted. And she too is glorious. V.13] All glorious is the princess within her chamber; her gown is interwoven with gold.

[And here’s the actual wedding procession. You can hear Pacabel’s Canon in D. You can hear “The Wedding March.”] In embroidered garments she is led to the king; her virgin companions [her bridesmaids] follow her and are brought to you. They are led in with joy and gladness; they enter the palace of the king.”

What a holy moment!

This is the best part of just about any wedding, right?

There’s the “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” And that’s joyful and awesome.

But there’s that holy moment when the Groom sees the Bride, and she comes to him in all of her beauty.

And the two come together, and they are married!

And the psalmist says that their union will be blessed with children. 

In verse 16, he switches back to singing to the king. The Hebrew is masculine here. V.16

“Your sons will take the place of your fathers; you will make them princes throughout the land. [Davidic succession as promised. And then the song writer tells us why he’s so excited to have gotten to write this psalm. V.17] I will perpetuate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever.”

He knew that he was writing one for the ages!

And here we are in Pennsylvania fulfilling it on Valentines Day 2021!!! We are perpetuating the memory of this king by reading this wedding song 3,000 years after it debuted at that particular royal wedding.
So how do we apply this psalm to our lives in 2021?

It’s really different from the other psalms, so our application has to probably be a little different, as well.

I think we could legitimately draw some applications for weddings and marriages from Psalm 45. We could use the Royal Groom and the Royal Bride as models for being godly husbands and wives.

Husbands with godly speech. Husbands that defend truth, humility, and righteousness. Husbands of justice that hate wickedness. Husbands that are enthralled by their wives’ beauty (and their beauty alone).

Wives that transfer their primary allegiances to their husbands and submit to their husbands’ headship.

I think we could draw some principles for good and godly weddings. There needs to be a Groom and a Bride. There are not two grooms or two brides. Or three of anything. (It’s amazing to me that I have to say that, but I do.)

We could draw the application of holding weddings and going big with them to mark them as the special occasion that they are. How sex should saved until that wedding day when the bride comes to her groom. How beautiful music and fine clothes are appropriate for a wedding. How good it is to have God-glorifying wedding songs.

Those are probably legitimate applications to some degree, but I don’t think they are main ones that we should take from Psalm 45.

Because the language of Psalm 45 keeps bursting the bonds of that original wedding to point to something much greater. And Someone much greater!

This psalm is not just aspirational about what the kings and queens of Israel were supposed to be and do. This wedding song is anticipational of what the ultimate king of Israel would be and do.

We get our cues from the book of Hebrews that says that this Psalm prophesies of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and God the Son.

So if you and I are in this psalm at all, we are all prefigured in the person of the Royal Bride. 

Not each of us, but all of us together corporately are the Bride of Christ.

So we can hear the call of verse 10 to “forget” and leave as a call to sanctification and dedication to our Lord Jesus above all others.

And we can look forward to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb foretold in the Book of Revelation chapter 19 where John the Revelator says, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)” (19:6-8, NIV).

That’s us, brothers and sisters.

This psalm calls us to get ourselves ready for that great day of joy and gladness when many sons are brought to glory (see Hebrews 2:10 in juxtaposition to Psalm 45:16).

But the truest center and focus of this psalm isn’t us, is it? It isn’t the Bride as glorious as she is made to be.

The center and focus of this royal psalm is the Royal Groom because He is the king.

And it anticipates the King of Kings. 

Every time there was a new king in Israel, and probably every time one of them got married, everybody hoped that this new king would fulfill all of Psalm 45.

But none of them did. Some of them did it more than others, but none of them did it perfectly. None of them did it fully.

Who could live up to this song?!

We know Who!

This psalm sings us to Jesus.

Who came and battled on behalf of truth and righteousness and did it from a position of deep humility.

He died on the Cross to win our salvation! He humbled Himself to the point of death.

And in doing that, he pierced the hearts of His enemies so that they all fall before His feet.

Jesus’ throne will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of His kingdom. God has blessed Him forever and ever.

Here’s the application:

Love King Jesus.
Long for King Jesus.
And praise King Jesus forever and ever.


***

Fortifying Truth - Psalms - Fall 2020 / Winter 2021

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126
12. "His Love Endures Forever" - Psalm 136
13. "How Many Are Your Works, O LORD!" - Psalm 104
14. "My Soul Waits for the Lord" - Psalm 130
15. "Remember David" - Psalm 132
16. "My Son" - Psalm 2
17. "Search Me" - Psalm 139
18. "Cleanse Me" - Psalm 51
19. "A New Song" - Psalm 96
20. "Hear My Prayer, O LORD." - Psalm 86
21. "May All the Peoples Praise" - Psalm 67

Saturday, February 13, 2021

EveryPsalm #45 from Poor Bishop Hooper

Beautiful capturing of the message of Psalm 45 from Poor Bishop Hooper.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

"May All the Peoples Praise You" Psalm 67 [Matt's Messages]

“May All the Peoples Praise You”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
February 7, 2021 :: Psalm 67

Psalm 67 is a radiantly-beautiful, carefully-constructed prayer song that passionately asks God to bless His people so that all of the peoples of the earth will come to praise Him.

Do you ever worry that it might be wrong to ask God to bless you?

I talk to people regularly who do not want to ask God for things for themselves in their prayer times. They want to focus on other people. “Other people have it so bad. I feel bad asking God for myself. Much less to ask Him to ‘bless me.’"

And you know there’s something good about that. Because too often many of us only ask things for ourselves. We can pray selfishly. No doubt.

But Psalm 67 shows us that it is good and right and godly to ask God to bless us.

But when we do, we are to do it so that others receive the blessing through us, as well. In fact, we are to pray that God blesses us so that all of the peoples of the earth will blessed, too.

Let me show you what I mean in Psalm 67. I said that Psalm 67 is radiantly-beautiful and carefully-constructed. You can tell from the word choice and the symmetry of the psalm. 

In just 7 verses there is all kinds of structure and repetition and symmetry. It starts out with a big prayer request, builds to a central declaration with matching praise phrases on either side of it, and then bookends with a repeat of some of the opening themes.

We don’t know who wrote it, but we know they wrote it good!

Let me read the whole thing for you. And listen for these words and how they land:

“Bless,” “nations,” “peoples,” “praise,” and “all.” A-L-L. Ready? Here we go.


Does the prayer of verse 1 sound really familiar to you? I hope it does.

The psalmist sticks a “selah” at the end of verse 1 even before he completes his opening thought.

I think he put a note to pause and ponder there to make sure that we all recognize the hypertext reference to Numbers chapter 6, verse 24 through 26.

When the LORD established the Levitical priesthood first led by Moses’ brother Aaron the high priest, he gave Aaron a blessing to pray over the people of Israel.

I use it several times a week when praying for my boys at night.


Numbers chapter 6 says, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you [shalom] peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’”

Sound familiar? Well, the writer of Psalm 67 was clearly thinking about that Aaronic blessing when he wrote this song for the director of temple music to put to stringed instruments and then have everyone sing together in worship.

But here in verse 1 it’s not the priest saying it over the people.

It is the people praying it up to God. Verse 1.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, Selah”

Just think about that. Pause and ponder. Selah.

Not only is it good and right, but it is authorized and godly to ask God to bless you.

Israel is asking God to pour out His blessings on them.

Perhaps this was sung at harvest time. Verse 6 will lend some evidence in that direction.

Perhaps the psalmist just heard the priest pronounce that blessing over him after he had brought an offering to the temple, and he’s adding his voice in supplication for that blessing. We don’t know.

But we do know that the song is asking God for His blessing on His people.

Not that they deserve it!

“May God be gracious to us.” That means to give us what we don’t deserve and to not give us what we do deserve! “Be gracious.”

And bless us. Be good to us. Give us blessings.

“And make his face shine upon us.” That’s the greatest blessing there is! The radiance of God’s personal presence. His face! These are words of intimacy and personal relationship. For true personal knowledge of God through His shining favor.

These words are so good, it is hard to find other words to capture and restate them  with!

This is a good thing for us to pray.

So have you prayed like this recently? Have you asked God to bless you?

To be gracious to you, to bless you, to make His face shine upon you?

Don’t be afraid to! 

Be afraid not to–because this should be our guide.

Ask God to bless you, to bless your family, to bless your church, to bless your community, to bless your workplace, to bless your nation.

Not that we deserve it! Sometimes we pray, “God bless America,” and it comes out sounding like we’re saying, “We’re so good, God’s gotta be good to us. God bless America.”

But the song “America the Beautiful” pleads, “God shed His GRACE on thee.” Because we are not good, so we need Him to be good to us in spite of us.

But we ask for it. Verse 1. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, Selah”

Yes, do that! 

But catch this. Follow the train of thought.

We ask for this blessing on us, but it’s not just blessing for us. Verse 2.

“...that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”

That’s the purpose in verse 2 of the prayer of verse 1.

Israel was to sing and pray for God to bless them so that God’s ways would be known beyond borders of Israel, so that God’s salvation would be known among ALL nations.

So there’s obviously another hypertext here in the mind of the psalmist.

He isn’t just thinking about Numbers chapter 6. He’s also thinking about Genesis chapter 12.

Do you remember when we studied Genesis together and we learned about a little thing often called the “Abrahamic Covenant?” A set of promises that God made to Father Abraham? 

Summarized in three words: Offspring, Land, and...Blessing?

In Genesis chapter 12, God promised to bless Abraham and to make him a blessing for all the peoples on earth. He said (Genesis 12:2&3): “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Remember that? The songwriter of Psalm 67 sure does.

His song asks God to bless them so that every other people group on earth is blessed along the way.

In many ways, this is an Old Testament song about missions.

Did you know that missions is in the Old Testament?

Most of the time when the word “nations” occurs in the Psalms, it’s a negative reference. Because the “nations” are often the enemies of Israel. We saw that back at Christmastime when we studied Psalm 2 and the nations were unsuccessfully conspiring against the LORD and against His Anointed One. 

But here the nations are receiving salvation.

And we saw in Psalm 2 that they were invited to that salvation, to take refuge in Israel’s promised Messiah.

But here the people are praying for God’s blessing so that the nations will know His saving power.

Do you see how this works?

Israel was to pray that they would be blessed so that they would become a blessing.

This raises the question, “What do you do with your blessings?”

When you are blessed, what happens next?

Because in God’s economy, in God’s system, we are blessed to be a blessing.

We are not supposed to be “cul-de-sacs” of God’s blessings. We are supposed to be conduits of God’s blessings. Channels of God’s blessings.

Sometimes we get to thinking that we are supposed to be the “roach motels” of God’s blessings. They come in to us, but they don’t go out. 

Often we act like a dead-end street. “Thank you, Lord, for blessing me.” And that’s it.

But when the Lord blesses us, we are supposed to be passing that blessing along.

Because there is plenty of God’s blessing to go around.

What do you do with your blessings?

We are supposed to pray for them to come in, but we should not stop there.

Ask God to bless you to bless the nations.
Ask God to bless your family to bless the nations.
Ask God to bless your church to bless the nations.
Ask God to bless your community to bless the nations.
Ask God to bless your workplace to bless the nations.
Ask God to bless your nation to bless the nations.

I’m so glad that Israel sang this song and prayed this prayer.

They didn’t do it perfectly. In fact, they didn’t do it enough in the Old Testament.

Old crankypants Jonah didn’t pray this prayer and was miffed when God was fixing to bless the city of Nineveh through his preaching!

But the faithful remnant always sang this song and prayed this prayer. And many individuals from the surrounding nations came to faith in the God of Israel in the Old Testament.

And then in the New Testament, it gets ramped up 1,000%!

And the Lord Jesus sends out His blessed people with the blessed message of the blessed gospel to bless all of the nations, fulfilling this psalm!

And answering this prayer.

“...that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”

They weren’t just praying blessing for themselves but blessing on themselves that attracted the nations, taught the nations God’s ways (God’s laws, God’s paths), and even made His salvation known among all peoples.

Verse 3 shows that the end goal of this prayer request is joyful praise among all peoples. Verse 3.

“May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.”

Not just Israel. But all the peoples.

That’s really important. It shows the missionary heart of God and what should be the missionary heart of our prayers.

Is this your prayer? That all of the peoples would praise the Lord?


This week, I want to point to another wall of pictures in our church building and that’s this wall of pictures of our missionary families.

The precious servants who have answered the call to go to the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We partner with them. We send them. And we pray for them.

Are you praying for these folks? Are you praying for the peoples they are trying to reach with the gospel?

“May all the peoples praise you!”

You can see that there is a couple of blank spots here.

For the last several months, our Missions Ministry Team has been working closely with ReachGlobal, the missions arm of our association of churches to discover who our next set of missionaries to partner with will be.

We are getting close to having names and stories and countries to tell you about. We’re excited. Please pray!

We pray that “all the peoples” would praise the Lord.

All. I love it that the EFCA actually has a ministry called “The All People’s Initiative.” We have a dedicated team of people to help us minister to, and understand, and partner with people who are very different from us, Ethnically, racially, culturally.

This is Black History Month in the United States, and that’s a great opportunity each year for us in the church to learn some of the history of Black people in the United States including some of the terrible ways that they have been treated by professing Christians. Professing Christians who did not pass on their blessings to the nations but hoarded them for themselves. And on the flipside to learn about the contributions to the church by Black Christians. 

This Black History Month, I’m listening to the audiobook of David Blight’s excellent biography of Frederick Douglass who had been enslaved and was our brother in Christ. What a life! What a contribution he made to our nation!

“All the peoples.”

“May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.”

And think about this. This really hit me when I was preparing this message. Think  about this: We are an answer to this prayer request!

Because from the perspective of Psalm 67, we are the peoples! We are the nations!

None of us here are Hebrew, right?
None of us here are Israeli, right?
None of us here are ethnically Jewish, right?

So they were praying for us!

When they prayed Psalm 67 in faith, they were praying for the peoples including the Gentiles that live today in Central Pennsylvania! V.4

“May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. Selah”

We fulfill that song every time we gather to worship and rejoice that we know this God!

And what we know about Him is amazing. We already said that He’s gracious. Here we find out that He is just and righteous.

He rules the peoples–or that might actually be a prophecy for the future that he will rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth.

He will set all to right.
He make all things right.
He rules righteously.

And don’t we all long for justice to come and for it come perfectly?

That’s what kind of a God we know!

So verse 5 is the exact same words as verse 3.

“May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.”

It’s repeated because it’s so important!

Is this your prayer? Do you repeat this prayer to the Lord regularly?

I remember one time a few years ago playing basketball with a group of guys and then at half-time we had a little Bible study and devotion and somebody raised a prayer request for the people in another country that were experiencing internal troubles.

And one of the young men I was with said to me, “Those people don’t deserve our prayers or our help. I say we help the people around here and don’t worry about them. They don’t deserve it.”

And I couldn’t believe my ears. And I’ve learned since then that that’s a popular notion even among professing Christians.

I’m so thankful for missionary Christians who brought the gospel to these shores. Who brought the gospel to these ears. That they didn’t keep the blessings to themselves.

I want to pray like this. I fail at it all of the time.

But I want this to be my model of a prayerful heart for the nations.

To love ALL people. 

And to want ALL people know the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I want to pray for the fulfillment of the vision of Revelation chapter 7 when John say before him “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

That’s an fulfillment of Psalm 67, verse 5. “May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.”

And you know what happens when we pray like that? The Lord blesses us some more. V.6

“Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.”

Israel saw that their fruitful crops were physical blessings and signs of God’s grace.

We know that the blessings of God go much deeper than the soil. They get all the way down to the salvation of our souls.

Because the grace of this God and the justice of this God met and kissed at the Cross of Jesus Christ.

So that His righteous wrath was satisfied and He poured out His love on His people  and on all of the nations so that all of the ends of the earth will fear him even in Clearfield County Pennsylvania!

Because the ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, the ultimate offspring of Abraham was named Jesus Christ, and He is the ultimate blessing for all the peoples on the earth, as well.

Psalm 67 turns our gaze upward and outward. We learn to pray missionary prayers that the nations would be glad and sing for joy.

Psalm 67 is a radiantly-beautiful, carefully-constructed prayer song that passionately asks God to bless His people so that all of the peoples of the earth will come to praise Him.

May we sing this song and pray this prayer and may His kingdom come so that ALL the peoples will praise Him.


***

Fortifying Truth - Psalms - Fall 2020 / Winter 2021

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126
12. "His Love Endures Forever" - Psalm 136
13. "How Many Are Your Works, O LORD!" - Psalm 104
14. "My Soul Waits for the Lord" - Psalm 130
15. "Remember David" - Psalm 132
16. "My Son" - Psalm 2
17. "Search Me" - Psalm 139
18. "Cleanse Me" - Psalm 51
19. "A New Song" - Psalm 96

Monday, February 01, 2021

"Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom" by David Blight, read by Prentice Onayemi

In my ears right now. What an amazing life!

David Blight is my favorite historian of the Civil War era (I've listened to Yale lectures 3 times now). He has a tremendous grasp of the facts and a wonderful way with words. This book is very deserving of its Pulitzer. And Prentice Onayemi's voice is perfect for listening to it. 

I just got to the part where Douglass is converted to personal faith in Jesus Christ. 

It's more important to read Douglass's own narrative in his own words if you haven't already, but after you do, this is a great way to get a sense of the bigger picture and the entirety of his life and work.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

“Be the Church” [Matt's Messages]

“Be the Church”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 31, 2021 :: 1 Timothy 3:14-16

When I was little tyke going to Sunday School in the preschool room of Trinity Church in Shelby, Ohio, we used to sing this sweet little Christian song all of the time, and at a very young age it really shaped my theology:
“The Church Is Not a Building
The Church Is Not a Steeple
The Church Is Not a Resting Place
The Church Is a People.

I Am the Church.
You Are the Church.
We Are the Church Together.
All Who Follow Jesus, All Around the World,
Yes! We’re the Church Together.”

As you can tell that really stuck with me which I hope is an encouragement to every Christian parent and every children’s ministry worker. They are listening. They are learning.

“The church is not a building." "The church is a people.”

I think one of the things the Lord has been trying to teach us over the last year is to not put too much emphasis on church buildings. 

Buildings are wonderful tools for ministry–and we’ve got a great one for which I am very grateful especially when it’s below freezing outside!–but buildings are not the church and are not even necessary for the church to be the church.

We all do it. I do it all the time. I call this building “the church.” 

“Hey, where are you going? 

Well, I’m headed up to church to go work on the sermon.”

As if these walls were the church.

I’ll show you what the church is. These pictures on the wall here are pictures of the church. The last 22 years of church family photos from 1999 to the weirdest one ever in 2020. That’s the church! “The church is a people.”

The church is not even something you go to.

Like we say, “Where do you go to church.” “Or we really went to church today.”

We all know what we mean, and it’s okay to say it, but don’t let it cloud your vision for what the church really is.

Think about this: In the Bible, no one. ever. goes to church. No one ever goes to church in the Bible. Old or New Testament. That is to say, the Bible never uses that language of “going” to church. And, in fact, there are no church buildings in the Bible!

But the Bible does talk a lot about the church as a people.

And, it actually likens the people to a building!

That’s what Paul does in our passage for today, 1 Timothy chapter 3, verses 14 through 16. Let’s parachute into the middle of Paul’s letter to Timothy and look at this paragraph together. It’s the heart of the letter explaining why Paul wrote it to Timothy in the first place. 1 Timothy 3:14.

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”


Did you see how Paul likens the people of the church to a building?

In verse 14, Paul explains that he’s hoping to visit Timothy soon, but he’s sent this letter ahead just in case with instructions for the people to know how to behave themselves in God’s household. Or that could actually translated, “house.” It can be used both ways.

For folks to know how to conduct themselves in God’s house.

But NOT like when your Momma says, “No running in church, young man. You will behave yourself in God’s house.”

No, the “house” here is a metaphor for the household or the family. Like we say the “House of Windsor” to describe the royal family of Windsor not Buckingham Palace.

This is talking about “the family of God.” See how he goes on to define it in verse 15?

“God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

And that word “church” or “assembly” is the Greek word “ekklesia” which is never used in the New Testament to describe a building and always used to describe a group of people.

Paul wrote Timothy to teach people how to be the church not go to church. How to behave as a part of the church of the living God.

So as I was thinking about what I would say as vision to put forward for our church family in 2021, I really struggled.

I mean if we’ve learned anything from the last year, it’s that it’s foolish to pretend that we know the future, amiright?!

“If the Lord wills...”

But we do know what the Lord wants us to do, don’t we, from the Scriptures? We may not know the exact strategies we’ll employ, but we know the outline and main thrust of the Lord’s stated will for the church, and we know our marching orders.

So that’s what I decided to focus on for our 2021 vision: “Be the Church.”

Church, be the church.

Don’t just go to church. (In fact, some of you still shouldn’t “go” to church right now with COVID raging as it is.)

But be the church. Be everything the church is supposed to be.

Now, what is that? What is the church and what should the people of the church be doing?

Well, we don’t have time to study all of 1 Timothy this morning to see all of what Paul wrote Timothy for them to do. And there’s more teaching on church in the Bible than 1 Timothy! But I did want to draw our attention to our church’s purpose statement which the congregation adopted decades ago as a shorthand summary of what things we are called to do as a body.

You might have it memorized. Or you might need a refresher. Or it might be new to you.

When I teach through it at membership seminars, I always say to people, “This is what our church is trying to do to you! If you ever wonder what we’re trying to do to you, this is what we’re trying to do to you.”

“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.”

I hope that sounds familiar to most of you. It’s what we’re trying to do.

And that mission has not been stopped by COVID-19. We’re still doing it. We don’t need a building to do it. We will use a building to do it and regularly do. But it does not require a building. If this building burned up or flew away in a tornado tomorrow, it would not change our mission one little bit.

And if you read the annual report, you can get a taste how we tried to accomplish that mission as a church last year. In and out of the building. And we’re get stay at it in 2021.

So if that’s our mission corporately, all together as a church family, then I think it’s also good for every individual in our church family to regularly ask ourselves if we are doing these things ourselves.

Let’s go down through our purpose statement and let me encourage you to do a quick internal audit of yourself. Ask yourself if you are “being the church” in these ways.

“Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God...”

Are you living for the glory of God?

Verse 15 says that this family of Christians is the church “of the living God.”

Not some dead god. Not some lifeless idol. But the living God, the God Who is full of life! The God we’ve been learning about in the Psalms!

That’s whom the whole church belongs to, and that’s whom every part of the church belongs to. We belong to Him. Are we living for Him and for His glory? 

Who is the most important Person in your life? Does it show?

The next phrase of our purpose statement says the main way that we as a church glorify the Lord is:

“...by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ...”

Another name for that is “disciple-making,” making followers of Jesus.

That’s what our church as a whole exists to do. And we should all be doing it as well.

Are you bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ?

Starting with yourself?

Are you following Jesus?
And are you making followers of Jesus?

Be the church.

And then at the end of our purpose statement we listed 5 main tools in our toolbox for being and making disciples, 5 summary categories drawn from all over the Bible.

"...through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.”                

How are you doing on those?

WORSHIP. Are you engaged in daily personal worship of Jesus and at least weekly corporate worship? I know it’s really hard right now. But we’re trying as church leaders to provide lots of options and ways to engage in worship.

I’ve been so encouraged by many of the young families our church who have been  figuring out how to get it done during this weird time. And doing whatever it takes to get their kids engaged in Christian worship:

Some are gathering the family in the living room and using the worship at home resources.

Some are masking up and occupying the end of a pew on campus. And if little kids can do it?

Others are bringing the kids in the mini-van and running the heater for 45 minutes and singing with the radio in the parking lot. WLFC 89.5 FM!

It’s not the same. It’s not as good. I hope we get to be all together again in one room at one time in 2021 without masks. But, regardless, we all need to worship. Don’t stop worship. Be the church.

INSTRUCTION. Are you reading your Bible? Are your studying your Bible? Are you reading books about your faith? Are you teaching others about the faith?

Are you a learner? That’s part of what it means to be the church.

Verse 15 says that the church of the living God is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” Do you know the truth? 

This week is “Stay Sharp,” our district theology conference, and since it’s virtual this year, even more of us can participate. Let me know if you are interested, and I’ll get you the link so that you can log on to the national EFCA Theology Conference and be instructed more deeply in the theology of the Psalms.

Worship, Instruction...

FELLOWSHIP. That’s been the hardest one for us all since COVID hit, hasn’t it? How do you maintain close fellowship when you are distancing from others out of love for them?

I can’t hardly wait to return to handshakes and hugs and holding babies in the worship auditorium! And eating together in the “Fellowship Hall.” This would be a Sunday for deviled eggs and taco salads and soup and sandwiches and Texas Sheetcake!

I can’t hardly wait. But even while we do wait, we still need fellowship. We need each other.

So get out you directory again.
Get out your phone.
Get on Messenger.
Pull on your mask and pull into someone’s driveway.
When you can, if you’re willing, get your vaccination. When I get mine and you get yours, I’ll come right over to visit you!
Get on Zoom.

We need each other.

Don’t just think, “I’m good. I can be isolated and still be the church.”

No. You need others. And maybe more importantly, others need you.

Worship, Instruction, Fellowship...

EVANGELISM. That was the big one I wanted us to focus on last year. And we didn’t get to do it the way I had envisioned. We didn’t have our big evangelistic events: Wild Game Dinner, Good News Cruise, etc.

But you don’t have to have a big event to share the gospel!

You just have to have the gospel and then share it with an unbeliever.

When was the last time you told someone about Jesus?
When was the last time you gave your testimony?
When was the last time you raised the subject?

Be the church.

Pastor Kerry Doyal has chosen a theme for our district churches to rally around in 2021 from Colossians 1:28. It’s very simple, “We Proclaim Him.”

We don’t proclaim ourselves or some worldly leader.
We don’t even mainly invite people to come “to our church.”
We invite people to come to our Savior.

“We Proclaim Him.”

That’s evangelism. More on that in a second.

The last word in our purpose statement is:

SERVICE. Using our gifts to serve the church in its mission.

And that’s not something that just some of us do. That’s for everybody.

Everybody has a role (or roles) to play in ministry.

What is your ministry?

See how this isn’t just for some Christians?

This is for everybody. Worship, Instruction, Fellowship, Evangelism, and Service.

From little kids to senior citizens, married and single, new and old, men and women every one of us is called to be the church of the living God.

And to be the (v.15 again) “pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Now, that might sound a little wrong. Isn’t the truth the foundation of the church? Isn’t the church built on the truth? 

Yes, it is. But we then are the pillar and foundation of the truth to the world.

You see how he likens us to a building again?

We are the pillar and the foundation of the truth to the world.

We hold up the truth and show it to the world.

And it’s the truth of the gospel. V.16.

“Beyond all question [undeniably, we can all agree!], the mystery of godliness is great [that means the great revelation of the gospel, what was mysteriously hidden about godliness is now revealed in Jesus Christ...] He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

That’s probably an early Christian worship song that celebrates the great news about what Jesus did for us.

And it’s what we call “the main thing.”

Around here we always say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And the main thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We proclaim Him!

We hold Him up and hold Him out, telling the world what He has done for us by appearing in the flesh (and dying on the Cross) in His resurrection (vindicated by the Spirit and seen by angels). In His ascension and return (taken up in glory).

We preach Him among the nations so that He is believed on in the world.

We proclaim Him.

“I Am the Church.
You Are the Church.
We Are the Church Together.
All Who Follow Jesus, All Around the World,
Yes! We’re the Church Together.” 

Church, let’s be the church in 2021.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

My 2021 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 2020 Church Family
Drone Photo by Dalton Kristofits
The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2020

Dear Church Family,

I do not have adequate words to describe the last year of ministry at Lanse Evangelical Free Church. Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was uniquely challenging for LEFC in numerous ways so that it is impossible to capture the year in a short pastoral report. In fact, as we begin this new year of ministry together, almost all of those challenges are still pressing on us without resolution. No question–it’s been a hard year.

And yet, the LORD reigns, and He is good to His people. The story of 2020 for LEFC was a story not just of difficulty but of blessing. Our Lord has been steadfastly faithful to us at every tumultuous turn, and we must give Him thanks.

Last year in my pastoral report, I wrote, “Staying faithful does not mean becoming stagnant or stuck in our ways. Faithfulness actually requires change to meet new challenges as we accomplish our unchanging mission.” I could never have foreseen  how true that would become for us in the year to follow! In 2020, we made many changes to meet the unexpected challenges of ministry during COVID-19, especially in the area of gathered worship. Read what our leaders have written in the pages of this annual report to see what kind of difficulties we faced and how the Lord has been faithful to see us through them every step of the way.

I believe that the Lord has been trying to teach us many things these last twelve months. One major lesson would be to hold onto our own plans loosely and not assume that we know what the next day holds. Trusting in His good plan, we need to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). Our open palms can then be raised in worship.

Another major lesson we’re being taught is how to lament–to express our sadness, pain, and grief to the Lord. The Bible, especially in the Psalms, is full of godly lament and shows us how to pour out our sorrows to our compassionate King.
 
Laments of 2020

In the middle of March, COVID-19 disrupted everything in society including the normal functioning of our church. I think we all have deeply felt these disruptions and deprivations:

- Cancelling. We only met together in person on campus 37 Sundays in 2020. To help slow the spread of COVID-19, we chose not to meet in person for 15 Sundays (11 in the Spring, 1 in the Fall, and 3 at Christmastime). We made the painful decision to cancel major special church events like the Wild Game Dinner, Good News Cruise, and Christmas Eve Candlelight  Worship. And we canceled numerous smaller gatherings such as Link groups, prayer meetings, Kids for Christ classes, and Sunday School. We rightfully miss these things, lament their loss, and long for their return.

- Distancing. Even when we began to gather together again, it just wasn’t the same. We have asked people to wear uncomfortable protective face-gear. We’ve asked people to physically keep their distance from each other. We’ve asked people to  spread out over three separate worship times. For a few months, we even asked people to reserve a weekly spot for worship. Church is supposed to bring people together, but the most loving thing this year was to stay apart, and that was (and still is!) hard. 

- Waiting. All year long, we didn’t know how long these cumbersome disruptions and deprivations would last. We still don’t. One of the things I miss the most is celebrating the Lord’s Supper together as a congregation. The Elders prayerfully decided in March to wait until we could all be with one another (see 1 Corinthians 11:18-34), and it was really precious to partake together on Celebration Sunday. I still don’t know when we will do it next–which I think is both the right thing for now and also something hard to wait for. When will things return to “normal”?

- Suffering. One of the hardest things of all has been watching our people suffer through the whole ordeal including some getting sick themselves. I’m thankful that though several of our church family have been infected, many of their symptoms have been mild and quickly passing. Other cases in our church family, however, have been more worrisome and dangerous including one death so far. And the stress and strain of the pandemic is only one of the many difficult things facing our congregation. Life goes on and so do life’s problems in a fallen world. This is hard.

I’m so grateful that our Savior is a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. He understands what 2020 has been like for us and invites us to follow Him in pouring out our lament and praying for the Lord to restore all things.

Blessings of 2020 

At the very same time, we have seen the Lord’s gracious hand in everything that has happened last year, and He has given us even more blessings to celebrate:

- Amazing Unity! In 2020, we were blessed with wonderful unity. Even though, in many ways, we had to spread apart, we stayed together where it really counts. For example, in spite of the fact that we couldn’t all safely gather for congregational meetings, we still agreed together to do three major facilities improvement projects and even borrow money if necessary! Together, we also approved a new operating budget, elected officers, and changed a word in our doctrinal statement in the church constitution to emphasize that the return of Jesus Christ will be glorious.

And we really supported each other in 2020! We all had our own opinions about how to “do church” during the pandemic, but instead of insisting on our own way or judging others, we put others ahead of ourselves (Philippians 2:1-11). I saw many instances of patience, kindness, and prayerful support. One of the biggest encouragements to me, as your pastor, was to regularly hear people praying for each other to weather the storms of 2020.

- Ministry Innovation! Necessity is the mother of invention. We had to do things  differently last year, and I have been encouraged to see our church family embrace new ways of staying connected, engaging in worship, and serving one another. We began to utilize email, video, and social media in new ways and to take advantage of video conferencing. Our weekly Family Fellowship Meeting on Zoom brought new meaning to the words, “Link Group!” I’m so thankful that the pandemic hit us at a time when these technologies were readily available to most of us.

It wasn’t just “high-tech” innovation, however. We also added in a huge tent, folding chairs, outdoor sound systems, different print versions of the bulletin, new ministry teams, and new systems of rotations for ministry volunteers. We figured out new ways of using the postal service, dropping things off on doorsteps, and safe-distance visitation. We had to come up with innovative approaches to ministry–which can be hard for a church of our size and age–but we did it! 

- Dogged Persistence! Our church family has been blessed with resilience. We did not give up or give in during 2020. We stuck with it. As your pastor, I was very encouraged to see how so many of our people did what they needed to do to stay connected, to get involved in worship, and to find a path to participation even with all of the obstacles in their way.

I was especially blessed to watch what the parents of smaller children did to make sure their kids were involved in Christian worship and discipleship including but not limited to: gathering their family in their living room and using the worship at home resources, jumping on Zoom to interact with missionaries around the world, masking up the little ones and occupying the end of a pew, bundling everybody up and sitting under a tent in the cold, and whatever else it took. Our church never “closed” in 2020 even when we weren’t meeting in person.

- Great Participation! Accurately quantifying last year’s attendance is difficult because there is no good way of tracking how many people were actually using the worship at home resources on any given week. But for such an unusual year with so many limitations, we have had very good participation. Our average on-campus Sunday attendance was about 100 people, which is about 73% of where we were last year. That’s pretty good for a year when we had been paradoxically encouraging many people to stay home instead! The lowest attended Sunday was one of the most exciting–the first Sunday back on campus–June 7th with 54 people present. The highest attended was the highlight of the year–Celebration Sunday on September 27th with 169 people sprawled out across our field.

We were blessed to have a number of new families start attending on campus during 2020. I’m looking forward to the newer people getting to know the rest of the church family when we are all able to re-gather! And the videos we’ve produced have been watched thousands of times, hopefully by people who need to hear the truth about Jesus in the Word.

- Generous Giving! Our church was blessed with financial stability during 2020. Because of the Lord’s provision through the generous giving of the church family, we never struggled to pay our staff and our bills or to support our missionary partners around the world. And because of generous giving and strategic saving, we haven’t even had to borrow for the major facilities improvement projects. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

- Wise Leadership! In 2020, the Lord blessed our church with good leaders. The Church Elders’ team–Bob Gisewhite (Chairman), Keith Folmar, Cody Crumrine, Todd Dobo, Joel Michaels, and myself–ended up holding many extra meetings to navigate the rapidly changing whitewater of 2020. This was Todd’s first year as an Elder (what a year to get your feet wet!), and we were all thankful to have a medical professional join our team. In fact, we had a lot of helpful diversity of perspectives yet total unity in all decision-making all year long. In the spring, we developed eleven guiding principles for leading the church family through COVID-19 that helped us to make the difficult decisions in front of us. And we prayed and prayed for wisdom, love, and blessing for the whole church family.

All of the LEFC leaders and staff have done an excellent job during a difficult year. Cindy kept the church spotless in a time when we were all worried about germs. The Facilities Team installed genuinely high-speed internet to make our high-tech ministry possible. The Deaconesses provided assistance to families financially impacted by the virus. The Hospitality Team still found ways to bless the church family with goodies. The Missions Ministry Team kept us in touch with all of our missionary partners. The Financial Team kept the bills paid. Everybody had a job to do, and they did it well.

Marilynn Kristofits deserves a medal for her ministry to the church family in 2020. She went above and beyond the call of duty marshaling all of the administrative details that kept us on the same page all year long. Not only did she create copious mailings, worship guides, and emails, but she also tracked all of the incoming data about the virus as well as the developing local, state, and national guidance that helped us to make safe and effective ministry plans. Marilynn’s ministry was invaluable, and I thank God for blessing our church with her.

I am also grateful for the leadership our church experienced from the district and national levels of the EFCA, our association of churches. In the Spring of 2020, we received a new Allegheny District Superintendent, Kerry Doyal. Pastor Kerry has been a constant source of encouragement, edification, and inspiration for me.

We have many losses to grieve, but we clearly have many more blessings to celebrate than lamentations to look back upon in 2020.

Pastoral Ministry

For the last 23 years as your pastor, I have understood the main responsibilities of my role as preaching the Word, equipping the saints, and shepherding the flock under my care (2 Timothy 4:1-5, Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Peter 5:1-4). Last year, the pandemic drastically transformed how I carried out each of those responsibilities.

Preach the Word

I certainly never planned to be a multi-service, multi-venue, and video-broadcast preacher, but all of those things actually happened in 2020! In the spring, I had to quickly learn how to produce adequate-quality video messages so that our folks worshiping from home could all be fed God’s Word and be on the same page together. Then in the summer, I learned how to preach the same message several times in the same morning. For most of the year, I recorded the sermons outdoors and also preached outdoors at the 11:00am worship time all through the fall.

I hope all of that is temporary. I look forward to writing longer sermons again with more time to develop the biblical teaching that glorifies the Lord and changes our hearts and lives. I also eagerly anticipate the day when I can once again preach the message just one time on a Sunday to the whole church family at once indoors. Regardless, it was a great privilege to minister God’s Word to our church in 2020, and I would do it all over again.
Parking Lot Preacher


What did not change was our focus on and commitment to the holy Scriptures. In 2020, we completed our 80 message series, “Following Jesus,” on the Gospel of Matthew a theological biography of the most compelling Person Who has ever lived. Then we worked through (for the third time in my pastorate here) Paul’s letter to the Philippians which was exactly what we needed all spring and summer. We ended the year by diving deeply into the fortifying truth of the Psalms.
We were also ably served in the pulpit last year by guest preachers Donnie Rosie and Kerry Doyal and by our own David Catanzaro and Joel Michaels. These men were a big encouragement and relief to me as I preached more times in 2020 than I have in any other year of my ministry so far. Thankfully, I find preaching the Bible to be energizing and a tremendous joy. It is my life’s calling.

Equip the Saints

My ministry of preparing “God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up” looked vastly different in 2020 than in previous years. I had to find creative ways of meeting with leaders and help them to re-envision their ministries to meet the challenges of the pandemic. I also had to help some of them make the hard decisions to postpone, cancel, or pause their ministries because they just couldn’t be done effectively in this season.

My biggest encouragement in this arena in 2020 was seeing the fruit of previous years of investing in our emerging leaders. I look forward to seeing what they can accomplish when the restrictions and limitations are lifted!

Shepherd the Flock

The hardest part of my job in 2020 was trying to shepherd my flock from afar. I love to be present with you all in homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals, nursing facilities, funeral homes, gymnasiums, playing fields, theaters, and restaurants. That all pretty much ground to a halt when COVID hit.

So I switched tactics and started calling everybody on the phone and barraging everyone with texts and messages. I wore out several copies of the updated church directory. I stood on porches and talked through screen doors. I set up drive-thru visitation hours and counseling appointments on Zoom. I walked thousands of miles up and down the neighborhood chatting with you on my bluetooth-connected phone or praying over the requests you sent to me.

It wasn’t enough. I feel disconnected from so many of you. There are several people in our church family whom I haven’t seen in almost a year now, and it grieves me greatly. But I am thankful for every pastoral interaction I had with you all in 2020, and you are in my heart.

The distance between us makes everything harder but also makes everything more precious. In 2020 we celebrated the births of two healthy baby boys. We witnessed the joyful weddings of Zach and Haylee Simler and Matt and Amy Modzel. And we also grieved the deaths of loved ones. I had the solemn privilege of leading funerals for Johnalee Smeal, Marion Lace, Ruby Narehood, and Bill Morlock and of ministering to the family of Jolena Hampton.

I believe that even after we emerge from the shadow of COVID-19, the traumas of  2020 will linger for years to come. This has been a hard year in more ways than one, and while we are resilient, we are not made of rubber and won’t just snap back into place. As your pastor, I am committed to walking alongside you as we all process what we have gone through.  

A Personal Note:

Last year took a toll on me, as well, especially mentally and emotionally. Thankfully, I am in better shape physically than I have been in a long time, and I have good disciplines in place to maintain my mental and spiritual health, as well. But I’ve struggled to process all of the change and am very aware of my limitations.

Some of you have expressed concern for me in leading three worship times every Sunday morning. I do long to get it back to one again, but I find Sunday mornings to be mostly energizing. What’s more wearying for me is attempting to stay connected to you whom I don’t see regularly. For all my trying, I can’t keep track of everyone in my head. Thank you for being patient with me and for continuing to pray for me.

Our daughter Robin Joy recently moved back in with us after a successful 15 month experience living and working in the Pacific Northwest. It’s wonderful to have her around again. Our oldest son Andrew graduated from high school and began working full time as a backyard blacksmith. It won’t be long until Peter and then Isaac are also done with school. Heather Joy is taking good care of us all. Thank you for loving and supporting our little family.

Being your pastor has never been harder nor a greater privilege than it was this last year. Thank you for entrusting me with these responsibilities and following me through the minefield that was 2020. 

2021 Vision - Be the Church

As I wrote at the beginning of this rather long pastoral report, if we learned anything from the previous year, we learned that it is foolish to act like we know the future. Last January, I predicted a big year of being bold in our evangelism. I hope we were more bold in some ways, but it didn’t turn out anything like what I envisioned.

We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know Who holds the future. And we know the main thrust of what He wants us to do–to be His church.

I hope we also have learned some from 2020 to not put too much emphasis on church buildings. Buildings are wonderful tools for ministry, but they are not the church themselves nor are they even necessary for the church to be the church.

The church itself is the Lord Jesus’ worshiping family of gospel-centered disciplemakers. Jesus said that He Himself is creating the church and that nothing can stop it (Matthew 16:18). That includes COVID, cancer, conflicts, politics, and even the gates of Hades. As we live out the calling of the church, we are part of an unstoppable effort of God to bring glory to His name (Ephesians 3:1-21).

So, dear church family, let’s keep going in 2021. As we always say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” The main thing is not for us get things back to “normal.” The main thing for the church is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We proclaim Him (Colossians 1:28). Let’s make sure we stay focused on being the pillar and foundation of His truth (1 Timothy 3:14-16).

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt

I hope next year I can post close-up photos of these precious people!