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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Matt's Messages - Angel Ahead

“Angel Ahead”
June 26, 2005
Exodus 23:20-33


We are in the section of the book of Exodus commonly called “The Book of the Covenant.” Chapters 20 through 24.

Two week ago, we studied the Law of the Covenant from Exodus chapter 20, verse 22 through chapter 23, verse 19. We saw that God cares about every aspect of life, God cares about true worship enough to make laws about it, and God cares about people, especially those who are poor, disadvantaged, and oppressed.

The LORD (YHWH) has redeemed His people. He has rescued them from Egypt and brought them by His mighty hand to the mountain of God. He has descended upon the mountain in thunder and lighting and cloud, and smoke and flaming holy fire. And He has laid down the gracious law for His people.

And now in chapter 23, God makes a promise. God makes a promise to His people.

A promise that He would send an angel to go ahead of them. “Angel Ahead.”

God knows that His people need guidance and protection.

And He promises to send an angel, a messenger of God, to go ahead of them and to take care of their needs.

And with that promise comes a demand: worshiping obedience. Trusting obedience. Worshiping YHWH alone. Worshiping Obedience.

Today, I want you to memorize a favorite saying of ours at the Mitchell household. We say this saying all the time, and Exodus chapter 23 is a great example of it.

Let me say it once, and then you say it with me:

WITH OBEDIENCE COMES BLESSING, BUT WITH DISOBEDIENCE COMES DANGER.

If we could get our hearts and minds wrapped around that truth (and not turn it into legalism!), we would be some of the happiest and holiest people on Earth.

If we could get our hearts and minds wrapped around the truth that with obedience comes blessing, but with disobedience comes danger, we would be the happiest and the holiest citizens on Planet Earth.

With obedience comes blessing but with disobedience comes danger.

Now, let me add two words to that saying that defeat legalism–that defeat a performance based obedience that tries to wring blessing out of God’s hand for the sake of the blessing instead of for the sake of God.

WITH WORSHIPING OBEDIENCE COMES BLESSING, BUT WITH IDOLATROUS DISOBEDIENCE COMES DANGER.

The obedience that reaps blessing is a worshiping obedience. It is an obedience that springs from the love of God in the heart.

The disobedience that reaps danger is a idolatrous disobedience. It is a disobedience that comes from loving the gifts of God rather than the Giver.

With Worshiping Obedience Comes Blessing, but with Idolatrous Disobedience Comes Danger.

And of course, the question is...do we want blessing or danger?

With Worshiping Obedience Comes Blessing, but with Idolatrous Disobedience Comes Danger.

Let’s see this now in Exodus chapter 23. YHWH is speaking to Israel through Moses. Starting in verse 20 (NIV).

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. [God is sending a messenger, an angel to go ahead of them to guard them and to bring them into Canaan, the Promised Land. V.21] Pay attention to him [this angel ahead] and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.” Stop there.

Now, who is this angel? We don’t really know. The rest of the Bible doesn’t go into very much detail about how this promise was fulfilled. The angel of God, the angel of YHWH, has been appearing all along in this book. He was at the burning bush. He was at the Red Sea Rescue. And now, He is promised to go with them to the place that God has prepared for them. Notice how closely this angel is linked to YHWH Himself. God says in verse two, “my Name is in him.”

I think that the best way of thinking about it is that this angel is an “extension of YHWH” [Durham’s phrase, quoted in Peter Enns, Page 471]. What He says is what God says. He is a manifestation, an extension of the presence of and authority of YHWH Himself.

Perhaps, this angel is even the pre-incarnate Christ, the second person of the Trinity before His enfleshment. Even if He is not, this angel is something of a foreshadowing of Him. He is an extension of God sent to care for God’s people.

And Israel was to obey Him. V.21 again.

“Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say [notice how closely they are linked!], I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.”

God’s angel will guard.
God’s angel will guide.
God’s angel will command.
God’s angel will fight.

“My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.”

He’s telling them that they have nothing to fear from those who now dwell in their land–because of the angel ahead of them.

But fearing those Canaanites, Hivites, Jebusites, Stalactites, Stalagmites, Outta-sites, and Satellites is not the only temptation that Israel will face. They will also face the temptation to adopt the Canaanite gods. V.24

“Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.”

The LORD demands a worshiping obedience. He will accept no rivals. He wants to be first in His people’s hearts.

“Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing [!] will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way.” Stop there.

With worshiping obedience comes blessing.

For the Israelites, that meant some specific earthly blessings that would be of great value in their conquest of Canaan.

Not only would God’s angel guard, guide, command, and fight.

But God’s angel would provide. Blessing on food and water. Sickness taken away. No miscarriages. No barrenness. Long life.

Terror sent ahead (God’s angel?). Enemies thrown into confusion. The opposition turning their backs and retreating. The “hornet” which might be a literal hornet, or I think better, that creeping terror personified in the image of hornet–driving out the enemies of Israel before them.

This happened; didn’t it? Remember the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho? [Or, as my kids say, “Jekaro?”] Joshua sent in the spies. And they met Rahab the harlot. And what did she say about how the nations felt about Israel? Joshua chapter 2, verse 9. She said, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

The angel has gone ahead. The Canaanites are being driven out.

And He does it gradually. Wisely. So that Israel is wisely cared for. V.29

“But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. [That’s smart.] Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. [And what a land it will be!] I will establish your borders from the Red Sea [on the South] to the Sea of the Philistines [the Mediterranean on the West], and from the desert [Arabia on the East] to the River [Euphrates in the North]. I will hand over to you the people who live in the land and you will drive them out before you.”

It’s debatable whether or not this promise has yet been fully fullfilled. For a very short time under Solomon the borders looked like that. And that makes me think that there is a greater fulfillment still yet to come. God’s word will not fall to the ground.

Do the see the blessing?

God will send an angel.

God’s angel will guard.
God’s angel will guide.
God’s angel will command.
God’s angel will fight.
God’s angel will terrorize enemies.
God’s angel will feed them, care for them, heal them, open wombs and give long life.
God’s angel will expand their borders.
God’s angel will bless them.

He will do all the hard work!

And what does God ask? Loyalty. Love. Worship. Obedience. Covenant with Him alone. Verse 32.

“Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”

God asks for worshiping obedience.

God knows what Israel’s temptations will be.

If they let these pagans continue to live in the land and [not convert to the worship of YHWH], they will gradually lead them astray.

Pretty soon, Israel will be worshiping false gods. Idols.

It’s what actually happened. Israel didn’t clean out Canaan completely and they were ensnared by Canaanite deities.

Do you see that word “snare” in v.33? It means a trap. It means danger.

With Worshiping Obedience Comes Blessing, but with Idolatrous Disobedience Comes Danger.

A snare. A trap. A disaster. A catastrophe. A tragedy. An ambush. A snare.

With idolatrous disobedience comes danger.

When we worship something other than God as our god, it always leads to disobedience to God and it puts us out of the circle of blessing into the region of danger.

For Israel to really learn this lesson, they had to experience the Exile.

Will we learn it?

With Worshiping Obedience Comes Blessing [!], but with Idolatrous Disobedience Comes Danger.

Which do we really want? Blessing or danger?

Now, remember, this is all after the Red Sea Rescue. This is not earning your way into salvation. Can’t be done. God wouldn’t have it that way!

God saves through His own sovereign grace through the Cross of Christ and through no effort of our own.

But He calls us after our rescue unto worshiping obedience of Him alone. And He warns us when we don’t that there will be consequences. A man reaps what He sows. With disobedience comes danger. And He promises us when we do obey, that we will experience His blessing.

And there are ministering angels ahead still, who serve us by God’s will. [Heb 1:14]

And we now have the most direct extension of God’s presence and authority in the incarnate Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and in His Holy Spirit present and indwelling each believer. Extending God’s blessing to each of His precious children.

So which do you want? Blessing or danger?

It seems like such an easy choice when we are right here, doesn’t it?

I’m sure it seemed like such an easy choice when God was burning off the top of Mount Sinai and promising to send a conquering angel ahead of Israel.

It’s a lot harder when we leave this place, isn’t it?

But the promise is still true. The principle is always true.

With Worshiping Obedience Comes Blessing, but with Idolatrous Disobedience Comes Danger.

Question: Who or what are you worshiping? We’re all worshiping something. All the time. Who or what are you worshiping?

The Lord Jesus demands that you worship Him alone.

Another question: Are you obeying?

We have to ask that question a lot of children, don’t we? “Are you obeying?”

We need to ask that question of ourselves. “Am I obeying?”

Am I following God? Am I doing what He says in His Word?

Am I living the way that God wants me to?

Is my life characterized by obedience? If you don’t know, ask a Christian friend. Is my life characterized by obedience?

Who or what are you worshiping?
Are you obeying?

With worshiping obedience comes blessing, but with idolatrous disobedience comes danger. A snare.

I want blessing.

For me. For my kids. For my wife. For our leadership board. For our church. For our community. For our region. For our state. For our nation. For the nations of the world.

I want blessing.

God wants worshiping obedience.

Books

When I get a little money, I buy books.
If any is left, I buy food and clothes.


-Erasmus

My Amazon Wishlist

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Hot Orthodoxy in Song

The best resource I have ever found for worship music that is theologically sound, doctrinally rich and yet also contemporary, powerful, passionate, and singable is the music of Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Whenever I can, I try to introduce SGM music into our worship plans at church. They have produced a complete collection of songs in singable ranges. Many are available for free download (especially lead sheets).

My favorite albums are Songs for the Cross Centered Life (which is a companion to the book) and Upward (which is a collection of rich hymnody with new arrangements and even new music). Upward is a project created by Bob Kauflin who is their "worship guru." Bob writes a regular column, called Worship Matters, that I highly recommend as a resource for thinking about worship-leading that is God-centered.

The most "famous" of the SGM music is I Stand in Awe of You by Mark Altrogge. It's been used around the world.

Heather and I look forward to buying Awesome God for our kids and the upcoming live album Worship God Live.

I pray that God continues to bless this God-centered, church-based ministry and multiplies godly imitators. The church needs "Hot Orthodoxy" in contemporary song.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Matt's Messages - God Cares

"God Cares"
June 12, 2005
Exodus 20:22-23:19


Quick Quiz for you: In Exodus chapter 20, where are the people of Israel? [At Mount Sinai.] In fact, they are at Mount Sinai for the whole second half of the book: chapters 19 through 40. God has descended upon the mountain in thick smoke, darkness, lightning, thunder, and holy fire.

Another question: where is Moses in chapter 20, verse 22? [He’s up in the mountain with the presence God.] And what’s he doing there? [He’s getting the law.]

That’s what the next few chapters are all about–the Law. Israel has already gotten the 10 Commandments. But this next section (often called "The Book of the Covenant") is full of more law, more illustration of the 10 Commandments, more specifics of what Israel should be and do–Law.

This morning, I want us to plow through the whole thing, the whole "Book of the Covenant." I want to read chapter 20, verse 22 through chapter 23, verse 19. That’s a lot of verses!

I have been tempted to just skip this section because, being under the New Covenant, these verses are not directly (and I stress the word "directly") applicable to New Covenant Christians like you and me. These commands were for the Old Covenant people of Israel. We are not to just directly apply them to our lives. So, I’ve been tempted to just skip these chapters. They can be kind of boring.

But I’m resisting that temptation today. Here’s why: They are in Holy Scripture! And all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. All Scripture is God-breathed. All Scripture. Even though some parts of Scripture are more useful than other parts of Scripture, we cannot just pick and choose that which we want to listen to. All Scripture is useful. Including the laws of the Book of the Covenant.

And today, the particular lens that I want to look at this section through to draw out some usefulness from it, is the lens of God’s concerns, God’s focus, God’s cares.

When you see a law, you can extrapolate what the Lawgiver’s cares are. What he cares about. If the law is "Stay off of the grass," then you know what the Lawgiver cares about–his lawn.

The laws of Exodus 20 through 23 are no different. They highlight for us what God cares about.

And while some of the details change when the covenants change, God does not change. And neither do His basic cares.

So, as I read through these chapters and point out a few things to notice as we go along, I want us to look for what God cares about. And then I’ll try to summarize these cares in three points of application at the end. Yes, tons more could be said! There are whole books written on these chapters! [I recommend Very Poythress' The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses as a good read to get you thinking about all of the issues.] But for our purposes, we will read the whole thing and then draw out three points of application.

Let’s pray and then begin reading.

[prayer]

Remember the context. The Fear of God. The people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke and they trembled in fear. And the fear of God led them towards holiness at that time. Holy worship. And that’s what the first laws are about–holy worship. The NIV heading for chapter 20, verses 22 through 26 is "Idols and Altars." Verse 22.

‘Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites this: 'You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. [The first commandment again.] ‘'Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. [These altars would be used until the Temple in Jerusalem would be the center of holy worship.] If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.'"
We don’t know why a tool would defile an altar of dressed stones or in what way their nakedness would be exposed. Perhaps both were the ways that the pagan Canaanites did their worship. Chapter 21.

"‘These are the laws you are to set before them: [Laws about Hebrew Servants.] ‘If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. [A "Sabbath Year"] If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. [He leaves as he came.] If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free. ‘But if the servant declares, 'I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,' then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life. [It’s his choice. V.7] ‘If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money."
Now, we think these laws are really strange. But if you look at them closely, they are very protective of this woman. Yes, there is slavery here. But it’s not the kind that was practiced in the pre-Civil War South. This woman (and her father) have rights that are protected. The owner cannot just do what he wants. He may not mistreat her.

Then God moves to Laws about Personal Injury. V.12

"‘Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen [it’s an accident, they are not enemies], he is to flee to a place I will designate [later, cities of refuge]. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death. [Notice the consequences for bad behavior. V.15] ‘Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death. ‘Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death. ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death. ‘If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff [if he’s going to heal-up]; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed. ‘If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property. ‘If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury [to the woman or the child!], the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."
This is called Lex Talionis or the "Law of Retribution." And it’s not vigilante justice. This is a rule for the judge’s sentencing. These were limits placed upon damages. And here’s the Law of Retribution at work–verse 26.

"‘If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth."

Here are laws about culpable negligence. V.28 "‘If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded. This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. [How about slaves?] If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned. ‘If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss; he must pay its owner, and the dead animal will be his. ‘If a man's bull injures the bull of another and it dies, they are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and the dead animal will be his."

Laws about Property Right. The protection of property. Chapter 22, verse 1. "‘If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. [Payback 5 to 1 and 4 to 1.] ‘If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed. ‘A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft. [That’s a key word there: restitution. Look for that word and the words "pay back."] ‘If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession–whether ox or donkey or sheep–he must pay back double. ‘If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man's field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard. ‘If a fire breaks out and spreads into thornbushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution. ‘If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor's house, the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double [times 2]. But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man's property. In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any other lost property about which somebody says, 'This is mine,' both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to his neighbor. ‘If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the LORD that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person's property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required. [There’s our word again.] But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, he must make restitution to the owner. If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring in the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal."

"‘If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution. But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.

Law of Social Responsibility. Verse 16

"‘If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. [This sex was consensual but it was not right. There are consequences. V.17] If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins. ‘Do not allow a sorceress to live. ‘Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death. ‘Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed."

"‘Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. ‘Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. [Catch this!] My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. ‘If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. [It’s stealing from the poor!] If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate."

"‘Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people. ‘Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. ‘You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day. ‘You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs. [Don’t act like the Canaanites!]

Chapter 23. Laws of Justice and Mercy. Verse 1.

"‘Do not spread false reports [Ninth Commandment here]. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness. ‘Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit. ‘If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you [who hates you!] fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it. ‘Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. ‘Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. ‘Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt [until just months ago!].

Sabbath Laws. V.10

"‘For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. ‘Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed. ‘Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips."

Laws of Worship. Three Annual Feasts.
"‘Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me. ‘Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you [chapter 12]. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. ‘No one is to appear before me empty-handed. ‘Celebrate the Feast of Harvest [or Tabernacles or the Feats of Booths] with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. ‘Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering [or Pentecost] at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. ‘Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD. [And worship me as holy like you should. Not like the pagans. V.18] ‘Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast. ‘The fat of my festival offerings must not be kept until morning. ‘Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God. ‘Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk.’"

Let’s stop there for today.

Having read the laws now, what do we see?

What does God care about?

Well, let me ask you a question. Are these laws mainly spiritual or secular?

Are they mainly spiritual or non-spiritual? Not related to spirituality and to God.

Yes, it’s a trick question. You can’t even say that they are more to do with God than with people or with people than with God. Much less, say that these laws are mainly civil or secular and not have to do with spirituality and worship.

Point #1. GOD CARES ABOUT ALL OF LIFE.

There is no false dichotomy between the spiritual on the one hand and the secular on the other. God rules over all. God has something to say about all of life.

You and I like to fence God over there in the realm we call "spiritual." And God has to do with going to church on Sundays and maybe a quiet time every day.

But God will not stay on His side of the fence!

He has something to say about everything. Laws. Property rights. Social responsibilities. Justice. Restitution. Everything.

God cares about all of life.

That’s one of the reasons that He gave Israel this law.

Did you notice that this law is from God? We often call it, "the Mosaic Law code" because Moses was the mediator that brought it down to the people. But it was God Who gave this Law as gift.

Yes, a gift! This law was not burdensome. It was a blessing. These people had no formal law before this. But YHWH saved them and is now telling them how they are to live. These laws are not a break in the action of the Book of Exodus. For the people of Israel, this was a highpoint in the book of Exodus–what the book has been marching towards! It is a gift to know how God wants us to live!

That’s why David sings songs about the Law of God. Psalm 119 is a great big love song about the Law of God! "Ode to Law!"

Because God cares about all of life, He has something to say about all of life. And when we hear it, it’s a gift to us.

No, we don’t always like that gift. This Law was damning to Israel because of hard hearts. But it was a gift, nonetheless.

Notice again [I’ve said this before, but it’s important], that the Law comes after the Rescue. The Law comes after the Rescue. This is not "legalism" that says "Obey this Law and you will be Saved." This is a Law that says, "I’ve saved you. Now obey my Law. It’s good for you. It’s what I want."

First rescue, then Law. First salvation, then holy living.

But then holy living! This is not an option law. God cares about all of life. And He should be obeyed.

In my reading this week about these many laws, I saw a lot of comparisons between this law and the other ancient Near Eastern laws like Hammarabi and so on. And there are similarities. But there are also differences.

One key difference is that God has given this law. This is not ultimately Moses’ law. It is God’s law. And more than that, to transgress this law is not simply to offend another person. It is to offend God Himself. Because God cares about all of life.

And because of that, there are consequences for our behavior. God has built it into our world. And He certainly built consequences into Old Testament Law.

Because God cares about all of life, there are consequences for our actions.

With obedience comes blessing. With disobedience comes danger. We’ll more of that in chapter 23.

Because God cares about all of life, there are consequences for our actions.

Do you believe that? Most of America lives as if that was not true. It’s one of the major problems our society has with parenting and education and crime.

Because God cares about all of life, there are consequences for our actions.

And we need to live as if that is true [because it is].

Point #2. GOD CARES ABOUT PEOPLE.

Slaves! Women. Owners. Borrowers. Accidental Killers. Innocent Bystanders. Widows. Orphans. Aliens. Neighbors. The Poor. The Accused. Even your enemies!

God cares about people.

Most of these laws are protective. They are protecting some right or blessing or need of some person who could be taken advantage of.

Justice here is not merely the scales of finances being balanced. Justice is personal. It is relational. It is compassionate.

Chapter 22, verses 22.

"Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows[!] and your children fatherless[!].

V.26. "If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate."

I care about people. And so should you.

Chapter 23, verse 9.

"Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt."

I care about people. I cared about you! You should care about them, too.

God’s justice is personal and relational and compassionate.

And it is just, too!

A major key word here is "restitution." [For more on the biblical principles of restitution see the excellent appendix (C) in The Peacemaker by Ken Sande.]

That means paying back in a just way.

Restitution is God’s way of promoting shalom, and deterring people from sin, and restoring harmony and balance.

I don’t know much about the American justice system, but it seems to me like this is an area that needs a lot more emphasis in our courts–restitution. Chuck Colson has talked many times about the need for restorative justice that includes restitution.

It’s actually a relational idea. It restores harmony and balance to the relationships. Instead of the crime being seen as primarily against the state, the crime is seen as primarily against the individual that is offended and hurt. And the appropriate penalization for that involves righting what was wrong. (But not more than appropriate. Just a eye for eye and tooth for tooth. Nothing more for revenge.)

Because God is compassionate.

Because God cares about people.

And so should we. Even our enemies!

In many ways, this passage is all about love. It’s all about loving our neighbors as we would want to be loved.

This is the law of love.

Just like James said in James chapter 2.

He says, "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right...Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom..." (James 2:8,12)

Speak and act as those who live out the law of love.

Because God does. God cares about people.

And point #3. GOD CARES ABOUT WORSHIP.

Intertwined with all of those commands about oxen and sheep and awls through the ears, and bulls goring, and taking oaths, and donkeys [intertwined with all of that] are commands about idols and altars and Sabbaths and feasts and how not worship [sorcery, pagan practices, worship with sexual overtones, etc].

It’s intertwined because there is not false dichotomy between the secular and the spiritual. But God does care about worship! He wants it to be holy and true.

Chapter 22, verse 31. "You are to be my holy people..."

Chapter 23, verse 13. "Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me..."

God cares about worship.

Now, you might think that because we don’t have so many laws that govern worship in the New Testament, that God has stopped caring about worship so much.

But you’d think wrong!

Almost everything is ratcheted up in the New Covenant. How much more should we worship rightly on this side of the Cross?!

Jesus said to the woman at the well, "...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks [Seeks! The Father cares about worship so much that He is seeking worshipers to do it right!]. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

God cares very much about worship.

He does so because He is so dedicated to His own glory.

That’s why He prescribed three yearly worship feasts in chapter 23. And why He prescribes 24/7 worship for us today.

That’s why (chapter 23, verse 18) He doesn’t want yeast (a symbol, often, of sin) in with the blood of the sacrifices. That’s why He wants the firstfruits of the soil (chapter 23, verse 19), and the not the leftovers.

Because God is dedicated to His glory.

Because God cares about worship.

And so should we.

Our lives should be love of others and love of God.

He has shown thee, O man,
what is good and what the Lord requires of thee (Law!)
But to do justly and to love mercy (to care about people)
and to walk humbly with thy God (to care about worship). (Micah 6:8)


That’s what God cares about. All of life lived under the fear of God.
Compassionately, justly loving others.
And rightly, truly, with our spirit’s worship God as He is.

That’s what God cares about.

And so should we.

Friday, June 10, 2005

B.B. Warfield on Hot Orthodoxy

Just this week, I was talking with a friend about the necessity of keeping prayer and Bible study together. Prayer AND Bible study. Not either/or but both/and. Hot [prayerful, passionate, zealous] Orthodoxy [right thinking, truth, Bible study]. And I referred to this item from Warfield.

Today, I ran across the complete quote at The Christian Mind:

Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. "What!" is the appropriate response, "than ten hours over your books, on your knees?" Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed, and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology.

Benjamin B. Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Test and Standard of All Vital Christian Ministry



I just finished reading D.A. Carson's The Cross and Christian Ministry. It came highly recommended by authors whom I have recently come to trust. Having read Dr. Carson's books before and having had him for a professor in seminary, I knew about what to expect, and wasn’t disappointed. Originally, these were talks Dr. Carson gave and have been revised into book form. The chapters are:

1. The Cross and Preaching (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5)
2. The Cross and the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)
3. The Cross and Factionalism (1 Corinthians 3)
4. The Cross and Christian Leadership (1 Corinthians 4)
5. The Cross and the World Christian (1 Corinthians 9:19-27)

Carson writes in the preface, “For too long, many evangelicals have viewed the cross exclusively as the means by which God in Christ Jesus achieved our redemption. Of course, no Christian would want to minimize the centrality of the cross in God’s redemptive purposes. But if we view it as the means of our salvation and nothing more, we shall overlook many of its functions in the New Testament. In particular, so far as this study is concerned, we shall fail to see how the cross stands as the test and the standard of all vital Christian ministry. The cross not only establishes what we are to preach. It prescribes what Christian leaders must be and how Christians must view Christian leaders. It tell us how to serve and draws us onward in discipleship until we understand what it means to be world Christians" (pg.9, emphasis mine).

Then, through solid biblical exposition and winsome illustration, Carson goes on to demonstrate how the Cross does all of that. Reading it was good for my mind and for my soul. It has spurred me on to "know nothing...except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Monday, June 06, 2005

Now, That Was Fun!


Posted by Hello

A Mud Party Moment


The Dirty Threesome (and Isaac looks on). Posted by Hello

Muddy Twirl


Robin takes a twirl right before clean-up time. Posted by Hello

Mud-Boy


Here's my oldest son, Andrew "Drewby" Mitchell, after our older 3 kids romped in the muddy backyard today after a thundershower. What fun! What a mess!  Posted by Hello

Not By Might

Often when I pray before preaching on Sunday mornings, I ask God to work "through me if You can and around me if You must." I do this because of a settled conviction that I cannot effect heart-change--only God the Spirit can. That doesn't mean that I am not responsible and accountable. It just means that I am not powerful!

Here's a quote from Charles Spurgeon that makes that point in typical Spurgeonesque language:

"Look you, sir, you may study your sermon; you may examine the original of your text; you may critically follow it out in all its bearings; you may go and preach it with great correctness of expression; but you cannot quicken a soul by that sermon. You may go up into your pulpit; you may illustrate, explain, and enforce the truth; with mighty rhetoric you may charm your hearers; you may hold them spellbound; but no eloquence of yours can raise the dead. . . . You may organize your societies, you may have excellent methods, you may diligently pursue this course and that; but when you have done all, nothing comes of it if the effort stands by itself. Only as the Spirit of God shall bless men by you, shall they receive a blessing through you. Whatever your ability or experience, it is the Spirit of God, who must bless your labour. Therefore, never go to this service with a boast upon your lip of what you can do, or with the slightest trace of self-confidence; else will you go in a spirit which will prevent the Holy Ghost from working with or through you.

[From "Come From the Four Winds, O Breath!" by Charles H. Spurgeon, preached at Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, May 15, 1890, HT: Albert Mohler]

Min's Dedication


Posted by Hello Minhao Lynn-Yan Belko, his family, Pastor Bobby Bell (middle), and me, at Min's dedication to the Lord at Lanse Evangelical Free Church.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Matt's Messages - Children of God

“Children of God”
June 5, 2005
1 John 3:1-3


[Note to Readers: Today in our worship celebration, we dedicated Minhao Lynn-Yan Belko to the Lord. "Min" is a three year old Chinese boy that Amy Jo Belko just brought into her home. Min has an older brother, Miles, who is Amy Jo's by birth and two other sisters, Meili and Meizhen, who are also adopted from China.]

It is quite a thing that Amy Jo has done, isn’t it? In adopting Min?

Amy Jo has shouldered a great expense. She’s traveled a great distance. She’s committed herself to a great responsibility for this little boy.

She didn’t have to do it. There were no outside forces compelling her to hop a plane to China and bring home this precious little guy. She didn’t have to do it. Nobody was holding a gun to her head!

But there was something inside of Amy Jo that did move her to adopt Min. It was a love. A love, first for God, and then a love for this little boy.

And it moved her to act. To shoulder a great expense, to travel a great distance, and to commit herself to a great responsibility–that will require God’s grace to keep.

Amy Jo’s choice to adopt Min prompted me to take a break from the book of Exodus, this week, and instead to think about the biblical category of adoption–being made a child of God.

Adoption.

Because, to make me His child, God shouldered a great expense, traveled a great distance, and committed Himself to a great responsibility–all for me.

Adoption.

Today, I want us to think about what a great privilege and responsibility it is to be called the “Children of God.”

You understand, don’t you, that we are not, by birth [in Adam!], naturally the “Children of God?” The Bible says, instead, that we are naturally: children of wrath, children of the devil, children of this world.

And God had to choose to do something to make us His children.

The Bible says, “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ...” (Ephesians 1:5).

He didn’t have to do it. There were no outside forces compelling God to do what it took to adopt us. But He did–in love.

And I want us think about what that means for us today–to be “Children of God.”

Our text will be 1 John 3:1-3. Invite you to turn there with me in your Bible. 1 John 3:1-3. Pew Bible Page #1208. 1 John 3:1-3.

1 John 3, verse 1 is very familiar to all of us. We know it from the song. Since beginning to work on this message, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind!

Behold What Manner of Love The Father Has Given Unto Us
Behold What Manner of Love The Father Has Given Unto Us
That We Should Be Called the Sons of God
That We Should Be Called the Sons of God


1 John chapter 3, verse 1.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (NIV)

Point #1 (of 3). CHILDREN OF GOD, REJOICE IN THE LAVISH LOVE OF YOUR ADOPTIVE FATHER. V.1 again.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

It takes the Apostle John’s breath away!

We sang it, “How Great Is Your Love, O Lord!”

The old King James says, “Behold! What a manner of love?!” This is an amazing love. And unheard of love. A love unlike any other.

It’s worth repeating and repeating and thinking about and thinking about.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

What did it take for us to become the “Children of God?”

It took the death of God’s only “natural” Son. His only begotten Son.

It the took the expense of His precious blood. That we will be meditating on in a few moments around the Lord’s Table.

- It took the imputation of my sin to His shoulders.
- It took the Cross.
- It took the crucifixion of the Prince of Glory.

And, at that time, I couldn’t have cared less.

Paul says, “God demonstrates His own love in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

In a few weeks, Lloyd Riehl and Tom Hampton are going to start a study for men in the book of Ephesians during Sunday School. The men are going to be blown away by the lavishness of the love of God in Ephesians chapter 1.

The list of blessings that come with being God’s child is breath-taking.

Let me read them to you:

He] has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession–to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:4-14 (NIV)
And that’s all just “theological shorthand” for the blessings tied up with becoming a child of God!

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

John goes on to say (v.1 still), “And that is what we are!” Exclamation mark!

John rejoices in, relishes, revels in this lavish love God. He almost can’t believe it!

“That’s what we are!” Can you believe that?

That we [you and me!] should be called [should have the status of] the children of God! And that’s what we are! By His grace.

Do you rejoice that you are child of God?

That assumes, of course, that you are one. If you are not yet a child of God, the Bible invites you to put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Rescuer and your Master.

John said in chapter one of his gospel, “to all who received [Christ], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God...” (V.12)

So, if you want to be a child of God, your part is to receive Christ and believe in His name. Believe that He is Who He said He is. Believe that He died on the Cross for your sins and came back to life to give you life and to adopt you as a child of God.

He invites you to put your faith in Him today.

And if you are child of God, do you rejoice in it?

Do you rejoice in this lavish love?

We can get to taking this for granted. And when we do, we need to be reminded of Min (and Meili and Meizhen for that matter!).

That’s what God did for us! He went to all that trouble for us.

[In fact, our adoption goes one step further in that not only does He change our status (like Min became a Belko), but He also changes our nature. He gives us new birth into our adoptive family! That’s truly amazing!]

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

Of course, it doesn’t look it, really.

If I am a son of God, why doesn’t it seem like it? I’m certainly not glorious to look at! Where is the family resemblance?

I don’t yet look like Jesus looks–either in body or soul.

A little bit. I look like my big brother, Jesus, a little bit by His grace. But I’m not there yet. That’s the point of the next few sentences. Still in v.1:

“The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

The first reason that the world does not recognize that we are the Children of God is that they didn’t recognize the real Child of God the first time.

But we are. V.2

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known [or has not yet appeared].” That is to say, we don’t yet look like Jesus in full.

We can’t grasp what that will be like [what will a glorified body be like? What will a sinless nature be like? What will a perfect love of God feel like?].

And we certainly don’t look like that now! V.2

“But we [do] know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

Point #2. CHILDREN OF GOD, ANTICIPATE THE COMING OF YOUR FULL ADOPTION.

Are we the children of God now? Yes, we are. Very truly the Children of God.

But there is coming a day when we will fully come into our inheritance. And the Bible is comfortable with using the word “adoption” for that which has not yet fully come.

Our adoption now is a down-payment on the adoption to come. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter 8:

“[We] received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ [God is our Daddy.] The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory....We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” [Romans 8:15-17, 23-24a].
There is an adoption coming that we are supposed to anticipate.

The full inheritance is coming! V.2 again.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

When we behold Him, we shall become like Him.

Seeing means becoming.

Our adoption will become our glorification.

We will be like Him.

A body like His. A heart like His. A sinless soul like His. A glory like His. We wil be an unbroken mirror of His glory. We will be like sponges that absorb the glory of Christ and soak in it and take up its properties. We will be little-Christs. Still finite. Still creatures. Still small in comparison to His greatness.

But like Him. Because we will see Him.

Do you anticipate that day?

Do you long for that day?

Do you look for its appearing?

We need to live today in view of that Day.

Children of God, Anticipate the Coming of Your Full Adoption!

This not all there is. This isn’t even a fraction of what is coming. Don’t settle for this. Don’t live for this.

As I told the graduates on Thursday night, “Don’t Waste Your Life!”

Live it for then. Live it for Him. Live it for Him whom you will be like.

“For we will see Him as He is.”

And #3. CHILDREN OF GOD, PURIFY YOURSELF IN THE FAMILY RESEMBLANCE. V.3

“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

Everyone who has this hope in him [everyone who is a child of God through faith in Christ Jesus] purifies himself, just as Christ is pure.

If you are going to, one day, look like Christ, then get started today.

Purify Yourself in the Family Resemblance.

Whatever is in you that is not like Christ needs to go.

Whatever is in you that brings shame on the family needs to be rooted out.

Whatever is in your heart that doesn’t look like Jesus’ heart needs to be changed.

Purify Yourself in the Family Resemblance.

We have been adopted through no merit of our own. We have been brought into God’s family and accepted just the way we are.

But we have been adopted to change.
We have been accepted to be altered.
We have been saved to be sanctified.

We have been made a child of God to look like children of God.

We are, one day, going to look like Jesus, and we need to get started right now.

Purify Yourself in the Family Resemblance.

“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

Don’t trample the lavish love of God by deciding to take it for granted and not be conformed to the image of Christ.

Paul says, “[T]hose God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

God went to a lot of trouble to adopt us. And He has a plan for us. To make us like Christ. We need to cooperate with that plan and purify ourselves.

Take a spiritual inventory.

What in your heart and life looks like Christ? Keep that.

What in your heart and life does not look like Christ? You need to go to war (in faith) against that.

Purify Yourself in the Family Resemblance.

One day, I hope that we can see that Min has become like his Mom. That he has developed a heart for those are helpless and without Christ. And that Min will reach out in love like his Mom did in adopting Him.

The same is true for us. Ephesians chapter 5, verse 1 says, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (vv. 1-2).

Purify Yourself in the Family Resemblance and Live and Love Like Christ.

“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

Children of God,
Rejoice in the Lavish Love of Your Adoptive Father.
Anticipate the Coming of Your Full Adoption.
And Purify Yourself in the Family Resemblance.

Be like Christ. “[Who] loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Adoption

I'm preaching on being a "Child of God" tomorrow and thought that this description of "adoption" from the Westminster Confession of Faith was thoroughly rich and worth repeating and rejoicing in.

"All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have his name put upon them; receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness; are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by his as by a father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation." (Chapter XII)
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! - 1 John 3:1

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Feed Bacc

Dear Graduates,

Congratulations on your graduation from the West Branch High School!

This book, Don’t Waste Your Life!, is a free gift for you from the Lanse Evangelical Free Church. It is also our prayer for you: that your life would be lived to the fullest and for the greatest cause on Earth–the glory of Jesus Christ.

If there was something in my Baccalaureate message tonight that you would like to talk about, I would enjoy dialoguing further with you. Feel free to send me an email at feedbacc@lansefree.org or visit my weblog, “Hot Orthodoxy,” online at matt-mitchell.blogspot.com and post a comment.

May God richly bless you as you pass this milestone in your life.

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt Mitchell

Don't Waste Your Life!

“Don’t Waste Your Life!” - Pastor Matt Mitchell
West Branch Area High School Baccalaureate
June 2, 2005
Mark 8:36


It is a distinct honor and great privilege to be invited to address you this evening, the West Branch High School Class of 2005, your parents, other family and friends, West Branch faculty and administration.

I want to thank my colleagues in the West Branch Area Ministerium for affording me the opportunity to give the Baccalaureate sermon to this year’s graduating class.

I have been told that it has been almost thirty years since a pastor of the Lanse Evangelical Free Church has been given this honor–since Pastor Jack Kelly (some of your parents will remember him) back in the 1970's. And that makes my task tonight a very special one, indeed.

In celebration of this honor, I asked our church family to buy a gift for each graduate. As you process out this evening, there will be volunteers at the doors to hand each of you a gift copy of a book by my favorite author Dr. John Piper. The book, like my message tonight, is titled, “Don’t Waste Your Life!” And not only is it our gift to you, class of 2005, it is our prayer for you.

But don’t be confused. I didn’t write the book. I merely stole the title!

Don’t Waste Your Life!

Can I ask you to do something with me that’s a little bit different?

Don’t worry; it’s nothing very difficult–like spell “Baccalaureate” without looking!

What is a Baccalaureate, by the way? I had to look that one up this week.

Webster’s gives it two definitions. The first is “the degree of bachelor conferred by universities and colleges,” and unless Mr. Matchock has a big surprise up his sleeve, I don’t think that definition applies tonight. You aren’t giving out any college degrees tonight, are you? Because I could use an extra one, if you’ve got them. No? I didn’t think so.

The second definition of “Baccalaureate” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is: “(a) a sermon given to a graduating class, and (b) the service at which this sermon is delivered.” So there you have it! A “Baccalaureate” (and I checked the pronunciation!) is a sermon and a worship service for graduates. That still doesn’t mean that I know how to spell it!

But that’s not what I’m going to ask you to do. What I’m going to ask you to do is to take your pulse with me.

Take your pulse.

Put two fingers up at the pulse point on your neck or wrist.

That little bump you feel is blood stopping and starting as it moves through your arteries. Kid’s resting pulses range from 90 to 120 beats per minute. As an adult, your pulse rate slows to an average of 72 beats per minute.

What you feel right now...is your life beating away.

Do you feel your heart beating?

How long is it going to keep doing that?

You don’t know.

Your heart may stop beating before you get home tonight.

My heart may stop beating before I’m done with this message. [By the way, if it does, somebody please step up here and read the rest of this manuscript! It’s going to be dynamite stuff if I die while delivering it!]

You don’t know how many more times your heart will beat.

In an average lifetime, the human heart will beat more than 2.5 billion times. And that sounds like a lot...until you realize that it beats at least 100,000 times every day. And that adds up really fast. 35 million times a year. [HT: Nova]

But you and I don’t know if our heartbeats will be average or longer or shorter.

And even if we get a lot of heartbeats, they will still go by very quickly.

Every heart here will eventually stop beating. The death-rate for human beings is very close to 100%.

And it will go by so fast!

I know you don’t believe me. Most of you feel young and indestructible. But, as a pastor, I talk with a lot of older people all the time. And almost every one of them says that they don’t feel as old as they are (at least inside, where their minds are). And they can’t believe how fast their life has gone.

That’s true for me. I’m only 32. I know that sounds old to you. But not to many of you.

The fact is, that when I was graduating from High School, you were all rug-rats, 3 or 4 years old, hanging onto somebody’s knee. And it’s gone by, for me, so fast!

I always thought I would be much wiser than I am when I was 32.

And I want to give you some wisdom tonight.

Don’t Waste It!

Don’t waste those precious heartbeats.

Don’t Waste Your Life.

In the Bible story I just read to you, the Lord Jesus gave his followers a pop-quiz. [Mark 8:27-38]

I’m sure that you always loved those pop-quizzes!

The Lord Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say I am?”

Well, that was an easy one. There’s lots of right answers.

Some say, “John the Baptist back from the dead.”

Others say, “Elijah come again.”

Some say, “A great prophet.”

Jesus says, “Okay. Question #2. Who do you say I am?”

Class of 2005, that is one of the most important questions you will ever be asked.

Who do you say that Jesus is?

The answer to that question divides all of humanity into two groups.

You have to come to an answer to that question. Who do you say that Jesus is?

Jesus’ disciple Peter gets an A+ on this pop quiz. He says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Way to go, Peter!

And Jesus says, “That’s right. And let me tell you what kind of a Christ, a Messiah, I am going to be: I must suffer many things. And be rejected. And be killed on a Cross–a cruel instrument of Roman torture. Dying for the sins of all who believe in me. And after three days, I will rise again!”

And class of 2005, that’s what’s called the gospel–or the good news. And you must decide if that is something you believe or not. Do you believe the gospel of a crucified Savior? Dying for the sins of His followers? And rising again?

Peter didn’t do so well on this question. He pulled Jesus aside when he heard that and tried to rebuke Him and change His mind. Not a good idea. Rebuking Jesus is never a good idea.

Instead, Jesus rebuked Peter. And told him that he was acting like Satan, trying to get in His way. His mind was on the wrong things.

The way forward for Jesus meant the Cross. And nothing was going to stop Jesus from fulfilling His destiny on the Cross as the Savior of the World. Not even His own followers.

And the way of Cross is the way that His followers must go, as well. Next, “He called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.’”

You lose your life if you try to selfishly keep it.

But you save your life if you give your life to Jesus Christ and to His gospel.

Class of 2005, Don’t Waste Your Life.

The next thing that Jesus says is the one that I want you to remember the most tonight. Jesus asks a rhetorical question. That’s a question that makes a point. It answers itself. He asks this question, and I want you to ask it of yourself tonight:

“What good is it for a [person] to gain the whole world, yet forfeit [their] soul?”

It is no good. It is no good to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your eternal soul.

Don’t waste your life!

It is possible to gain the world but lose your soul.

What could you gain?

You could gain money. You could be the next Bill Gates or George Soros. But no matter how much money you gain, you cannot keep that heart pumping forever. In 150 years, all the money that you have collected will be someone else’s. Guaranteed.

You could gain popularity. You could become the next 50cent or Coldplay or Usher or Carrie Underwood. The next American Idol. But before too long, there will be another flavor of the month. And your popularity will fade away. What then?

You could gain sexual pleasure. Our culture has become incredibly sexually charged and hedonistic. If you try hard enough, you can probably have just about any sexual experience that you can imagine. And don’t get me wrong, sex is a wonderful gift given by God to be enjoyed in the context of the marriage covenant, but the kind of sexual pleasure that this world chases after is not ultimately fulfilling. In the end, is like a drug addiction–promising more and more but delivering less and less until it’s like gravel in your mouth.

You could gain your freedom. I’m sure that freedom from parents, school, teachers, and so on, is what many of you can’t wait to taste. Free to choose whatever you want to do. Free...but then your heart stops beating, and then what?

You could gain power. You could make people do what you want. You could become the next senator or president, or CEO of a large company. You could “have it all.” You could have the world by the tail.

But lose your soul.

Jesus says, “What good would that be?”

“What good is it for a [person] to gain the whole world, yet forfeit [their] soul?”

It would be about as good as a screen-door on a submarine.

Or, you could gain a happy spouse, a couple of kids, a nice job, a pretty house, a new truck, nothing big, just the “American Dream.”

And still lose your soul.

What are you going to live for?

What is that heart beating for?

So many people are going to tell you as you graduate that you can do anything you set your heart on.

I’m asking you, “What are you going to set your heart on that matters? That matters for eternity?”

Don’t Waste Your Life.

Jesus says here that whoever wants to save his life will lose it. That means whoever chases after the world will get the world but lose their life.

But whoever loses his life for me, Jesus says, and for the gospel, the good news of His death and resurrection, will save it.

At the risk of not being asked again to speak here for the next thirty years, I am here to tell you tonight that the only thing worth living for (ultimately) is Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

If you are a follower of Christ, He is asking you tonight to give your life, to dedicate your life day by day and hour by hour to Him and to His grand cause.

He is the only thing, the only Person (ultimately) worth living for.

That doesn’t mean that everyone here must become a pastor or a missionary. No. We are not all called to vocational Christian service. But we are all called, if we name Christ as Lord, to serve Him and His cause in everything that we do.

Whatever job we get. Whatever career we pursue. Whatever schooling we engage in. Whatever relationships we connect with. Whatever purchases we make. Whatever we choose to do in life should be dedicated to the glory of Christ and His glorious gospel.

The only thing worth living for (ultimately) is Jesus Christ and His Good News.

Don’t Waste Your Life.

You have heard the phrase, “Carpe Diem.” It is Latin for “Seize the Day.”

I’m telling you, “Class of 2005, Carpe Christus.” Seize Christ!

You may not yet be a Christian.

Jesus’ invites you tonight to become one.

It’s not very complicated.

You need to have those two questions answered.

(1) Who do you say that Jesus is? Is He really the Christ, the Son of the Living God?

(2) And do you believe His gospel? That He is a Christ Who was crucified for your sins on the Cross, and has come back to life to give you life?

And you need to put your trust in Him and begin to follow Him by faith. You need to tell Him that you will take up your own cross and follow Him by faith alone. Not because of anything you do, but because of what He has done and offers to you as a gift.

Jesus is Himself, the greatest graduation gift, anyone could ever dream of.

If you don’t have Him yet as your Lord and Savior, Jesus invites you tonight to put your trust in Him.

And that is very serious. He says that the stakes are enormous. Jesus says, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in a exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.”

Those are not my words. They are Jesus’ words.

And you have to make up your mind about them.

What are you going to do with your life?

The Bible says that our lives are like a vapor. Here one second and gone the next.

Like when you go outside in the winter and see your breath. [Breath.] And then it’s gone.

What are you going to set your heart upon?

Don’t Waste Your Life.

I have four children. The oldest will be five in July. She’s a girl. The other three are boys. Three and a half. Almost two. Almost one. You do the math. Four in four years. We are very busy. They are a big joy for Heather and me.

We have begun to teach our kids a catechism at night. A series of questions and answers to memorize about the Christian faith so that they are well grounded in what the Bible teaches. We expect them to memorize, in the next year, about 77 questions and their answers. At least the older two will.

The first question in our catechism is: “Who are you?

And my daughter says, “I am Robin Joy Mitchell.”

And my oldest son, Andrew, says, “I am Drewby Charles Mitchell.” We call Andrew, “Drew” or “Drewby” for fun.

And my second son, Peter, [he’s almost two] says, “ME!!!” He’s so cute.

And my third son, fourth child, Isaac, just sits there and drinks his bottle.

The second question in our catechism, and we ask it every night, is this, “Why did God give you life?”

“Why did God give you life?”

And I wish that my little ones were here tonight to give the answer. They have got it down. They repeat it every night:

“God gave me life so that I can live for Him.”

And that’s right.

Class of 2005, why did God give you life?

You don’t know how many heart beats you have left.

What are you going to do with them while you have them?

While You Have a Pulse, Don’t Waste Your Life.

The only thing worth living for (ultimately) is Jesus Christ and His Good News.

Here’s a suggestion. Every morning, when you get up, take your pulse. And if you can feel your heart beating, dedicate it that day to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His Gospel.

You will not be dissatisfied.

In fact, Jesus says, you will save your life.

He is worth it.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Far Too Easily Pleased

"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mudpies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

--C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. Originally preached as a sermon in 1942.