Follow Along

Get new posts by email:

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The State of the Church 2007

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2006

Dear Church Family,

It’s an honor to report to you as your pastor. Thank you for your loving support and care for me and my family in 2006. I feel like Paul did in Philemon 7 when he said, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, [LEFC], have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” It is a joy to be your pastor.

My favorite moment of ministry in 2006 was the memorial of Craig “Tiny” Older. Our church building was full of people who aren’t exactly like us–Tiny was a part of a bikers’ club, and there were sights, sounds, and smells that most of us aren’t used to. But this church family didn’t miss a beat! You reached out to all of Tiny’s “other family” with the love of Christ in true hospitality, affectionate care, and biblical truth. I couldn’t be prouder.

Thanks are in order to the 2006 Leadership Board: Wally Kephart (chair), George Leathers (vice chair), Blair Murray (elder), Keith Folmar (deacon), Tom Hampton (deacon), Charlie Weaver (deacon), and to all of the other elected officers and ministry leaders whose names appear throughout this Annual Report. We have a unified leadership that loves the Lord Jesus and wants to give Him our all. It’s fun to serve alongside you.

Thanks also go to our church staff. Cindy Green is like a smiling Energizer Bunny–she keeps going and going and going. Donna Wolfmeyer and Holly Lockwood kept us connected to each other and kept me out from under a pile of paperwork. Stacey and Tom Fisch both served in 2006 as temporary ministry staff. Stacey did a first-class job with the Challenge Conference, youth and women’s ministries. The Family Bible Week Tom directed this year was tremendous. I love working alongside this staff.

2006 was a tumultuous year for attendance and membership. We had a number of people leave church for various reasons and a number of people start coming for the first time. The average weekly attendance for the year was 128 people per week. That’s down four people per week on average from 2004 (the last year for which we have accurate records). But the average attendance for the last quarter of 2006 (October through December) was 140 people per week. We received 8 new members: Ernie DeGrasse, Bob & Sylvia Gisewhite, Lloyd Hampton, Rick & Edie Sipe, and Dan & Jen Kerlin. We are clearly growing right now, and it’s exciting to see.

NEW AND DIFFERENT IN 2006

2006 was unique in a number of ways:

In January, we held a movie night, showing the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor on the 50 year anniversary of the martyrs Jim Elliot and the other 4 missionaries in Ecuador.

In conjunction with a doctoral class I took in March on the theology and practice of prayer, I began a series of pastoral prayer retreats where I pray for each of our families by name and specific prayer requests when I can get them. This has been rich and rewarding for connecting me better with both you and God.

In April, my weblog, “Hot Orthodoxy” turned 1 year old. This has been a good outlet for my creative writing urges and another way of resourcing both our church and others. You are invited to join the discussion at matt-mitchell.blogspot.com.

In both April and June, the topic of discussion at the district and national leadership conferences was the proposed revision to the EFCA Statement of Faith. Our national leadership believes that it is time revisit our doctrinal statement, refresh it, update it, and make some strengthening changes. I have been able to be a part of the discussion, and think that it’s a healthy process for our movement of Free Churches.

In August, we ventured out of our four walls and participated in the first ever West Branch Community Days. I loved watching our people interact with the community, handing out free food and reading materials, and praising the Lord (even when no one else showed up!). August was a big month for us in outreach, as we also sent a ministry team to West Virginia to help Pastor Josh Perry and Crew Community Church get off the ground.

In October, we celebrated the first year of the new Pastor Prayer Team–a group of you who volunteer to pray for me and my family at least five days a week. You are a precious group of people to the Mitchells! We had a health concern with Heather’s heart in 2006, but thanks to your prayers and God’s care, nothing dreadful has shown up in tests. Thank you for praying. Also in October, Brian and Holly Lockwood attended a Family Fitness Retreat near Beaver Falls. That may be something we see pop up among us here.

And in the last two months of 2006, our church website: lansefree.org was refurbished and reloaded. Check it out.

PASTORAL MINISTRY IN 2006

I like to describe my pastoral ministry in terms of my three primary pastoral functions:

1. Preach the Word.

We tried to stay gospel-centered in 2006. The three major sermon series were the Gospel of Mark (with a focus on discipleship), the Book of Hosea (with a focus on the good news of God’s redeeming love and amazing grace), and Home Improvement: Building Our Families on the Gospel. The series on the family was received especially well, and hundreds of free CDs of those messages have been given out.

I was only out of the pulpit 7 times in 2006, but when I was, we were ably served by Kevin Howard, Tim McGill, Leroy Glover, Bruce Weatherly, Ralph Magill, Phil Alessi, and Kim Cone.

In 2007, we are going to trek with Israel into Numbers: Life in the Wilderness. Pray for me as I prepare biblical meals for our church family and try to dish them out on Sunday mornings for our spiritual nourishment.

2. Equip the Saints.

A big part of my job is meeting with ministries, committees, and leaders to help them achieve our purpose as a church. I enjoy it, and am happy to see what has been accomplished in the other reports throughout this Annual Report.

3. Shepherd the Flock

I had the privilege, honor, and responsibility of walking with many of you through big events in 2006. We had a number of births, sicknesses, deaths, and other big events in families, and it is a privilege to be involved in your lives. Heather and I enjoy an active hospitality, counseling, and visitation ministry. If you would like to connect with us, we’d be glad to!

PROGRESS ON GOALS FOR 2006

At our last Annual Reports Meeting, we set out some directions we thought the Lord might be leading us in for 2006.

The first and foremost was a continuing emphasis on intentional disciple-making. We can’t lose that focus–that’s what we are all about. We are called, as a church, to make disciples that make disciples that make disciples to the glory of God.

In 2006, your Leadership Board worked to develop a disciplemaking strategy for our church. I think that we are closer to that than we were a year ago, but a completely comprehensive strategy is still elusive.

We also talked about a church plant in the Philipsburg area and an Associate Pastor of Family Ministries. Neither of those initiatives have moved much further than last year, but we’re still looking for God to do something along both of those lines in His perfect timing.

The other goal was to grow as a praying church, and I think God did that! We have seen a lot of prayer happen around our church, both planned and spontaneous. As part of my prayer class, I noted 14 current prayer ministries, and then our board came up with a list of suggestions for “total prayer permeation” which we have begun to implement. It’s very exciting to be a part of a praying church!

VISON FOR 2007

Our Leadership Board has identified four areas for which we need to REACH in 2007:

#1. IN-REACH.

A new ministry in 2007 will the be the Connection Team whose focus will be to enhance fellowship connections between participants in Lanse Free Church. Connection Team members will provide a personal touch to a group of people (both established families and families needing assimilated) and pass on vital information to the leadership (Ephesians 4:16). The Connection Team will be like a “nervous system” for the Body of Christ at LEFC.

We also want to expand our Link Group Ministry and evaluate all of our ministries in light of our purpose to see how they fit in our comprehensive disciplemaking strategy.

One key goal for 2007, for the Leadership Board is to come to a resolution and direction concerning some suggested changes to our leadership structure. We have been talking stream-lining some things and creating some new lines of oversight since before August of 2005, and we hope to have something to present to you this year (or to abandon the project!).

All of this is part of growing healthy disciples within our ministry.

#2. OUT-REACH

“Evangelical is Our Middle Name,” and we know that we need to grow in our witness and outreach. The good news (evangel) of Jesus Christ must be at the forefront and center of our ministry!

One new emphasis we are coming to, is an a focus on OUTreach, reaching OUT beyond our four walls. The most effective evangelism is our personally loving our neighbors, friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers and enemies with the gospel. We hope to facilitate more outreach beyond the walls of our building.

Personally, I have made 5 new “evangel-sharing” commitments. Perhaps you’ll join me in adopting these:

#1. I'm going to try to see people as eternal souls.
#2. I'm going to try to find opportunities to serve the lost around me.
#3. I'm going to try to always have a gospel tract on hand.
#4. I'm going to try to just take the plunge and say something.
#5, I'm going to try to pray that God would give me a heart for the lost.

We’ve invited former pastor Jack Kelly in August for a special series of meetings that we hope will also be part of reaching out to our community with the gospel.

And don’t forget to pray for the lost in Philipsburg and for a church to be birthed there!

#3. DOWN-REACH.

Without it becoming our “focus,” we want to emphasize debt-reduction in 2007 so that we are free to attack new ministry projects in the future. I believe that if we all reach down into our pockets and give cheerfully (over and above our normal gift to the church), we will be able to significantly pay down our indebtedness and prepare for what God has for us in the future (an associate pastor, an expanded fellowship hall, a video projector system, a renovated sanctuary, who knows?).

This church has a fine history of giving, and as usual, as we give, God will give to us and we’ll be blessed (Philippians 4:10-19).

#4. UP-REACH.

Prayer must remain our lifeblood. We need to trust God and faithfully continue to keep the main thing the main thing. It’s the Lord Jesus who builds His church (Matthew 16:18)!

Here are some ministries/ministers that I’d like to see us pray for in 2007:

- Young Adults Link Group/Leader (Singles, Graduates-Young Adults, College/Career)
- Young Marrieds Link Group/Leader (Couples in their 20's, pre-kids and babies)
- Youth Leaders to Take More Responsibility for Uth Ministries (Preferrably Parents)
- “Empty Nest” Link Group/Leader (Have Grown Kids)
- Philipsburg Church Plant Core Group (People with a heart for Philipsburg)
- Associate Pastor of Family Ministries

These (among others) are needs I see among us, and I am praying for God to fill them in His time. He knows what is best and can do more than we ask or imagine. Let’s “up-reach” towards Him!

“Let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found...Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:6,11).

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Matt's Messages - Count the Levites

“Count the Levites”
Numbers: Life in the Wilderness
January 21, 2007
Numbers 3:1-4:49

The title of this morning’s message is what happens in Numbers 3&4, Moses is told to “Count the Levites.”

Last week, we studied chapters 1 and 2, where Moses was commanded to take a census of all of the fighting men of Israel.

And we thought that it might as exciting as reading the Verizon Yellow Pages!

Maybe something you do to try to fall asleep at night instead of counting sheep.

But we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was exciting! Israel is getting ready to go to war and mustering the troops to march into the Promised Land.

And the entire army and people of God are now camped by their tribes in a circle around the Tent of Meeting, the Royal Tent, Command Central.

But there was one tribe that wasn’t included in the first census.

One tribe that isn’t counted as part of the army.

The tribe of Levi.

And this tribe, the Levites, have a special job to do.

They are the tribe of the priests and the priests’ support staff.

And chapters 3 and 4 are all about them.

Now, you may be wondering, “How is Pastor Matt going to make this interesting?”

And the answer is: It’s not my job to make this interesting. Numbers is already interesting! It’s my job to discover how interesting it is and to help you see it, too.

This is God’s Holy Word. It is God’s revelation of Himself!

And as we worshipfully open its pages, and “crunch the numbers” by faith, we will see things about God, and He will reveal Himself to us in ways that change us forever.

So let’s pray and then dive into Numbers chapter 3.

[prayer]

Let’s read verses 1 through 4.

“This is the account of the family of Aaron and Moses at the time the LORD talked with Moses on Mount Sinai. The names of the sons of Aaron were Nadab the firstborn and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. Those were the names of Aaron's sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests. Nadab and Abihu, however, fell dead before the LORD when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai. They had no sons; so only Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests during the lifetime of their father Aaron.”

Aaron and Moses [notice the order here] are from the tribe of Levi themselves. And this is the story of their family.

Aaron’s family was to be the family that the priests came from.

For a long time, I didn’t understand that not all of the Levites were priests. All of the Levites were all part of the support staff of the priests, but only those who were Aaron’s sons were to be the priests themselves.

How many sons did Aaron have?

Four. And how many ended up as priests? Only 2. Why?

Because two of Aaron’s sons were killed by the LORD. Look at verse 4.

“Nadab and Abihu, however, fell dead before the LORD when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai. They had no sons; so only Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests during the lifetime of their father Aaron.”

What happened?

The full story is found in Leviticus chapter 10 (verses 1-3).

“Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire [KJV: strange fire] before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: ‘'Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.'’ Aaron remained silent.”

What a sad day for Aaron.

He was the high priest, and his four sons were to be priests of God.

But two of them got ideas in their heads of how they would want the worship of the LORD to be conducted. And they introduced some kind of innovation–perhaps not even that different that what they were commanded to do.

But different than what they were commanded to do. The Bible says, “unauthorized fire...contrary to [the LORD’s] command.”

And Nadab and Abihu were burnt to a crisp.

Nearly every time they are mentioned in the Bible it says that the LORD killed them.

And neither one of them had sons, so they left no descendants to be priests after them.

Now, what does this show us about God?

This shows us #1. GOD’S HOLINESS AND JUDGMENT.

God has come to dwell with His people. He is present in the midst of His people.

But He is still holy. He is not tame. He is not safe!

God is holy.

And Nadab and Abihu learned that the hard way.

Last week, we saw that the Levites were to camp around the Tent of Meeting, to guard it.

Or actually, to guard the people from getting too close to it so that God’s wrath would not break out against them. Which was God’s mercy to protect them.

God is holy, and those who transgress His holiness will meet His judgment.

This whole chapter and the next are full of details that point to God’s holiness.

We’ll see them as we move along.

But right here and now, we are called to apply what we’ve read.

Take God Seriously!

Nadab and Abihu didn’t take God seriously enough.

They thought they could bend God’s rules.
They thought they could get away with a little playing around with holy things.
They thought they could cut the corners.

But they were wrong.

God was not impressed by their unauthorized fire.

Take God Seriously.

A lot of people act like God is a joke.

Or if not a joke, least that God doesn’t matter very much.

After all, He’s just a big old softie, a grandpa in the sky.

But our God is a consuming fire! The Bible says that it is a “dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

Take God seriously.

The reason why abortion is legal and that more than 40 million American babies have been killed in the womb, is that America as a whole has not taken God seriously.

But God is holy, and God is just, and He will not mocked.

Take God seriously.

But you say, Pastor Matt, “Nadab and Abihu were Old Testament priests. What they were doing was really important. I’m just me!”

And I say, raise your hand if you are a New Testament priest.

1 Peter 2:9 says this about you: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

In the New Testament, all of God’s people are priests.

And we all need to take God seriously.

Because He’s holy.

Now, we’ve been introduced to the priests. What about the rest of the Levites? V.5

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Bring the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him. They are to perform duties for him and for the whole community at the Tent of Meeting by doing the work of the tabernacle. They are to take care of all the furnishings of the Tent of Meeting, fulfilling the obligations of the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle. Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him. Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death.’” [Like Nadab and Abihu.]

Again, notice here that all of the Levites are not the priests. The Levites are (v.9) “given” to the priests as “support-staff” (for lack of a better term).

They take care of all of the things around and in the tabernacle, but they don’t serve as priests themselves.

And they don’t serve in the army, either.

They have a special role within Israel.

And special to the LORD. Verse 11.

“The LORD also said to Moses, ‘I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. They are to be mine. I am the LORD.’”

This is the most important section of our text for today. We’re going to come back to this in a minute.

But to fully understand it, we first have to count the Levites. V.14

“The LORD said to Moses in the Desert of Sinai, ‘Count the Levites by their families and clans. Count every male a month old or more.’ So Moses counted them, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD. These were the names of the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath and Merari.”

Now, notice that we’re counting something different here. We’re not counting fighting men any more, we’re just counting males 4 weeks old and up.

Why? Pay special attention to this count. It’s going to point to something important about God.

There are three family groupings within the tribe of Levi: named after Levi’s three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

Verses 18-38 divide the the Levites up by these 3 family groupings and their clans and tell us where they were to camp. Here’s a picture of it.

Verses 21-26 tell us that the Gershonites camped to the West and that there were 7,500 males. They were responsible for the care of and transportation of the 3 major curtains of the tabernacle.

Verses 27-31 tell us about the Kohathites who were parked to the South of the Tent of Meeting and responsible for the care and transportation of the holy things inside of the tabernacle. Verse 32 says that Aaron’s son Eleazar was in charge of them.

Verses 33-37 tell us about the Merarites who camped to the North of the Tent of Meeting and took care of all of the frames and other structural equipment for the tabernacle. There was 6,200 of them.

And in v.38 we read, “Moses and Aaron and his sons were to camp to the east of the tabernacle, toward the sunrise, in front of the Tent of Meeting [the most important spot]. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary on behalf of the Israelites. Anyone else who approached the sanctuary was to be put to death.”

So here, we have the priests and Moses.

Now, what’s the total and what’s the big deal? V.39

“The total number of Levites counted at the LORD's command by Moses and Aaron according to their clans, including every male a month old or more, was 22,000. The LORD said to Moses, ‘Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names. [Not fighting men, firstborn males.] Take the Levites for me in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites. I am the LORD.’ So Moses counted all the firstborn of the Israelites, as the LORD commanded him.

How many do you think there are?

“The total number of firstborn males a month old or more, listed by name, was 22,273.”

What’s the difference? 273 males.

So what?

Here we have a picture of #2. GOD’S GRACE AND REDEMPTION. V.44

“The LORD also said to Moses, ‘Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the LORD. To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons.’ So Moses collected the redemption money from those who exceeded the number redeemed by the Levites. From the firstborn of the Israelites he collected silver weighing 1,365 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel. Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD.”

Now, all of that has always been almost gibberish to me until I studied it intently this week.

What happened here?

Do you remember the Passover? What happened to the firstborn sons of Egypt when the angel of the LORD passed through at the 10 plague?

Every firstborn son died.

What happened to the firstborn sons of Israel in the land of Goshen?

If they had painted the blood of a unblemished lamb on their doorposts, what happened?

Pass-OVER. They lived!

Who owns those firstborn sons?

The LORD does! Remember the consecration of the firstborn in Exodus chapter 13?

They are owned in a special way by the LORD.

How many firstborn’s? 22,273. How many Levites? 22,000.

The LORD says, “I’ll trade you.”

And you can pay some money to redeem the other 273.

Now go back to verse 11.

“The LORD also said to Moses, ‘I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. They are to be mine. I am the LORD.’”

God is not only holy and just. He is also gracious and redeeming!

He provided a Passover so that His people would be spared.

It required a blood sacrifice–a spotless lamb.

But He saved His people.

And He made them His own by paying for them.

Grace and redemption.

Do you see where these numbers are heading?

They are heading to the Cross. The Levites are picture for us of a people who are saved and paid for and special to the LORD.

1 Peter chapter 1, verses 18 and 19.

“You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

You are bought. You are purchased. You are redeemed.

Application? Rejoice, and Think of Yourself as God’s!

Rejoice that you are saved!

Rejoice that you are bought with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without with blemish or defect!

Unless you are not saved. Not yet.

To be saved, you must turn from your sins and trust in the Savior, Jesus Christ.

He died on the Cross for the sins of all who believe in Him.

The precious blood of Christ, a lamb without with blemish or defect. Sacrificed for you.

Have you put your faith in Him alone?

If you have, you are redeemed.

If you have not, you are headed to Hell.

Turn now, while you still can.

Put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His precious blood and you will be redeemed.

And if you are redeemed, then you belong to Him!

See yourself as God’s.

What is the key word in those verses 11-23?

“MINE.”

“I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. They are to be mine. I am the LORD.’”

Do you think of yourself as a possession?

Do you think of yourself as owned?

You are God’s twice!

You are God’s by creation, but also by redemption.

You are doubly His if you are a Christ-follower.

Do you act like it?

My friend Dan Ledford sent me a quote last week by Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon says, “‘Ye are Christ’s.’ You are his by donation, for the Father gave you to the Son; his by his bloody purchase, for he counted down the price for your redemption; his by dedication, for you have consecrated yourself to him; his by relation, for you are named by his name, and made one of his brethren and joint-heirs. Labour practically to show the world that you are the servant, the friend, the bride of Jesus. When tempted to sin, reply, ‘I cannot do this great wickedness, for I am Christ’s.’ Immortal principles forbid the friend of Christ to sin. When wealth is before you to be won by sin, say that you are Christ’s, and touch it not. Are you exposed to difficulties and dangers? Stand fast in the evil day, remembering that you are Christ’s. Are you placed where others are sitting down idly, doing nothing? Rise to the work with all your powers; and when the sweat stands upon your brow, and you are tempted to loiter, cry, ‘No, I cannot stop, for I am Christ’s. If I were not purchased by blood, I might be like Issachar, crouching between two burdens; but I am Christ’s, and cannot loiter.’ When the siren song of pleasure would tempt you from the path of right, reply, ‘Thy music cannot charm me; I am Christ’s.’ When the cause of God invites thee, give thy goods and thyself away, for thou art Christ’s. Never belie thy profession. Be thou ever one of those whose manners are Christian, whose speech is like the Nazarene, whose conduct and conversation are so redolent of heaven, that all who see you may know that you are the Saviour’s, recognizing in you his features of love and his countenance of holiness. ‘I am a Roman!’ was of old a reason for integrity; far more, then, let it be your argument for holiness, ‘I am Christ’s!’”

How would your life be different if you thought of yourself as being someone else’s possession?

How many Christian women would not have had abortions (and there are Christian women who abortions) if they thought of their bodies as Christ’s?

How many Christian men would not have pressured the women in their life to have abortions if they had thought of themselves as Christ’s?

Numbers 3 is a picture of redemption. Bought with blood and specially owned.

Rejoice and see yourself as God’s.

And if, like the Levites, you are God’s, then you are saved to serve.

Chapter 4 is a description of the work of the Levites.

It begins with yet another census. Chapter 4, verse 1.

“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: ‘Take a census of the Kohathite branch of the Levites by their clans and families. Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work in the Tent of Meeting.”

Notice whose being counted here. It’s the men who are on active duty 30-50 years of age. Active Levitical duty.

Their job is to take care of and move the holy things inside of the Tent of Meeting. V.4

“‘This is the work of the Kohathites in the Tent of Meeting: the care of the most holy things. When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and cover the ark of the Testimony with it. Then they are to cover this with hides of sea cows, spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place. ‘Over the table of the Presence they are to spread a blue cloth and put on it the plates, dishes and bowls, and the jars for drink offerings; the bread that is continually there is to remain on it. Over these they are to spread a scarlet cloth, cover that with hides of sea cows and put its poles in place. They are to take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand that is for light, together with its lamps, its wick trimmers and trays, and all its jars for the oil used to supply it. Then they are to wrap it and all its accessories in a covering of hides of sea cows and put it on a carrying frame. Over the gold altar they are to spread a blue cloth and cover that with hides of sea cows and put its poles in place. They are to take all the articles used for ministering in the sanctuary, wrap them in a blue cloth, cover that with hides of sea cows and put them on a carrying frame. They are to remove the ashes from the bronze altar and spread a purple cloth over it. Then they are to place on it all the utensils used for ministering at the altar, including the firepans, meat forks, shovels and sprinkling bowls. Over it they are to spread a covering of hides of sea cows and put its poles in place.”

Now, who was supposed to do that? The Kohathites? Nope. Aaron and the priests. V.15

“After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the Tent of Meeting.

Wow. The Kohathites are just to carry. They aren’t allowed to touch.

That reminds us again of God’s holiness.

Verse 20 tell us that they aren’t even allowed to look at the holy things unless they are wrapped up for transporting or they will die.

Think about how intricate and beautiful this must have been.

When it was time for this camp to move [And it will soon be time for this camp to move!], they had to pack the whole thing up in all of these colorful wrappings.

What does that show us?

#3 (and last). GOD’S BEAUTY, WISDOM, AND ORDER.

Remember all of things that went into building the Tabernacle? Half of the book of Exodus described the process of building this tabernacle. It was an amazing tent with intricate, ornate, colorful, smellful, beautiful design.

And it was all portable!

And when it was time to march, they had to wrap the whole thing up and then then the Kohathites would carry the holy things. That’s quite a job.

Eleazar was to oversee it.

Verses 21-28 tell us that the Gershonites were to do pretty much the same thing with the curtains and the outer coverings.

And verses 29-33 tell us that the Merarites were to do pretty much the same thing with the joints and posts and other structural parts of the Tabernacle.

This was important work. That’s why it gets recorded in God’s word.

And verses 34-45 tell us that Moses actually did the counting that he was supposed to.

Kohathites (v.36) 2,750, Gershonites (v.40) 2,630, Merarites (v.44) 3,200

Total? Verse 46

“So Moses, Aaron and the leaders of Israel counted all the Levites by their clans and families. All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to do the work of serving and carrying the Tent of Meeting numbered 8,580. At the LORD's command through Moses, each was assigned his work and told what to carry. Thus they were counted, as the LORD commanded Moses.”

Now, I’ve gone over this really quickly, because we don’t have time today to spell it all out.

And you might be tempted to not care.

But if you were an Israelite living in Moses’ day, these numbers and these descriptions of the Levites’ work would be fascinating to you.

Because the Levites were serving the Lord!

They were special to the Lord, saved to serve.

V.39 “At the LORD's command through Moses, each was assigned his work and told what to carry.”

We Are Saved to Serve!

Are you serving the Lord?

Last night, we had a special speaker talk to the men about bowhunting the white tailed deer.

Not being a hunter, I don’t know if he gave us good advice or not.

But he also talked about giving over your whole life to doing whatever God calls you to do.

That you are saved to serve. Like the Levites.

It might not have been very glamorous. They didn’t get to fight. They didn’t get to even look at the holy things that they were to carry!

But they were doing the Lord’s service.

They were obeying. They were serving.

Are you serving?

On Thursday night, our living room was packed with 16 people who are taking up the ministry of the Connection Team. I’ll be telling you more about that next week.

But I was so encouraged to see 16 people come out on Thursday night to dedicate themselves to serve.

We had a ton of men serve yesterday. Our ladies have gotten a meal ready to serve us today.

And we’re going to listen to the Annual Report about how many of you have served the Lord over the last 12 months.

What is God calling you to do for Him now? Today? This week? This month?

Nadab and Abihu went their own way and they met the holiness and judgment of the Lord.

But the rest of the Levites were set apart as special to the Lord and redeemed, substituting for the firstborn of Israel. They experienced the Lord’s grace and redemption.

And they were saved to serve. And so should we.

Friday, January 19, 2007

SnowKids

Finally, we got enough snow to get the suits on and get out there to play!

Posted by Picasa

Worship Matters

One of my favorite blogs is Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin.

Bob always has something helpful, edifying, and (often) provacative to say about the subject of worship.

His current post is about the priorities we need to keep in mind when picking out a list of songs to sing at gathered worship. [Hint: It's not which song is the "coolest" right now.] Very helpful.

My friends Dan Ledford and Bill Kriner are both talking about worship right now on their blogs, too.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Matt's Messages - Take a Census

“Take a Census”
Numbers: Life in the Wilderness
January 14, 2007
Numbers 1:1-2:34

Last week, we started a new series for 2007 on the Book of Numbers which I have entitled, “Life in the Wilderness.”

The people of God are camped in the wilderness at the base of Mount Sinai. They have been rescued by God from the Egyptians and for one year have lived here, receiving the Law and building the Tabernacle.

And in chapter 1, the Book of Numbers has its exciting kick-off! The LORD tells Moses to...take a census!

Wow. It doesn’t get more exciting than that, does it?!

I don’t know about you, but I always feel like I’m reading the Verizon Yellow Pages when I when get to this part of the Bible.

My eyes begin to glaze over, my head cocks to the right, a bead of drool forms on my beard, and if I don’t do something quick, I begin to doze right there between Numbers chapter 1 and chapter 2.

But...as we said last week, this is holy Scripture. It is God-breathed. And God doesn’t waste His breath. These are important words.

And they would have been very important to the Israelites who first heard and read them!

You see, facts and numbers are important to people when they realize what they stand for.

There are two pages in the newspaper full of numbers that I don’t understand and that don’t mean much of anything to me.

The sports page talks about RBI’s and ERA’s and rushing yards and third down completions and box scores. And while I know what they are, I just can’t get myself to care very much.

And the financial page talks about the Dow Jones Index and the S&P 500. [By the way, I am indebted to Iain Duguid for both the idea of this section and these particular illustrations. Very helpful!] The Wall Street Journal has just pages of numbers listed on it, and they don’t mean a blessed thing to me.

But both of those sets of numbers are important to many many people.

Numbers get to be important to people when they realize what they really stand for and mean to them.

So, as we [yawn], take a census with Moses, let’s ask ourselves what theses census numbers point to. What they mean. What they stand for. What they show–specifically about God and His people.

Numbers chapter 1, verse 1: “The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said: ‘Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each the head of his family, is to help you. These are the names of the men who are to assist you: from Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur; from Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai; from Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab; from Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar; from Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon; from the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur; from Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni; from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai; from Asher, Pagiel son of Ocran; from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel; from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan.’ These were the men appointed from the community, the leaders of their ancestral tribes. They were the heads of the clans of Israel. Moses and Aaron took these men whose names had been given, and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month [same day]. The people indicated their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one, as the LORD commanded Moses. And so he counted them in the Desert of Sinai:”

Okay, let’s see what’s here.

God tells them to take a census of the people–which people? You can tell what the purpose of a census is by who is counted.

Who is to be counted? [All of the men 20 years old or older who are able to fight.]

What kind of a census is this?

It’s a military census for mustering up an army.

Each tribe [how many tribes are there? Who’s missing from the list? Levi, we’ll see why in a little bit. Why are there still 12 tribes if Levi is missing? Joseph’s two son each get a portion.] Each tribe is represented by a leader who is to assist Moses in the counting.

Let’s do a census according to these rules right now right here.

Let’s pretend that we are all in the tribe of Simeon and Shelumiel son of Zurishadai is counting our men. All of the men 20 years old or older who could fight if they had to, please stand up.

Can we get a count? [Count] Thank you, you may sit down.

Imagine the seriousness of this census when it was originally taken. The dignity, solemnity, even beauty of all of these men standing up and being counted. And all of the family and clan honor that was being communicated.

And the excitement! Have you ever seen a war movie, when massive forces on either side of the battle ride up on a hillside and face each other with their horses snorting and their banners waving in the air?

This roll call must have made people excited!

Where do you think this army was headed?

This army, with all of the people attached to it, was headed for the Promised Land. The first 10 chapters of Numbers are about God’s people getting ready to march into the Promised Land and make it theirs.

And is it a small army or a big one?

Let’s look at the actual census. Verse 20.

“From the descendants of Reuben the firstborn son of Israel: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, one by one, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Reuben was 46,500. From the descendants of Simeon: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were counted and listed by name, one by one, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Simeon was 59,300. From the descendants of Gad: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Gad was 45,650. From the descendants of Judah...74,600. From the descendants of Issachar...54,400. From the descendants of Zebulun...57,400. From the sons of Joseph: From the descendants of Ephraim: 40,500. From the descendants of Manasseh: 32,200. From the descendants of Benjamin...35,400. From the descendants of Dan...62,700. From the descendants of Asher....41,500. From the descendants of Naphtali...53,400. [Time to tally it up. V.44] These were the men counted by Moses and Aaron and the twelve leaders of Israel, each one representing his family. All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel's army were counted according to their families. The total number was 603,550.”

603,550.

Big army or little one?

Very big!

Even if these numbers are exaggerated to meet Ancient Near Eastern standards for numerical reports to emphasize God’s amazing power at work in them [as some very good scholars believe], they still point to an awesome sized army and people with them.

How many people here at Lanse Free Church today?

How many did our census say?

If there are 603,550 fighting men in Israel, there are probably more than 2 million Israelites camped at the base of Mount Sinai!

Those are some important numbers, aren’t they?

Now, we find out what happened to the Levites. Look at verse 47.

“The families of the tribe of Levi, however, were not counted along with the others. The LORD had said to Moses: ‘You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony–over all its furnishings and everything belonging to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they are to take care of it and encamp around it. Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who goes near it shall be put to death. The Israelites are to set up their tents by divisions, each man in his own camp under his own standard. The Levites, however, are to set up their tents around the tabernacle of the Testimony so that wrath will not fall on the Israelite community. The Levites are to be responsible for the care of the tabernacle of the Testimony.’ The Israelites did all this just as the LORD commanded Moses.”

We’ll learn a lot more about the Levites next week in chapters 3 and 4. For now, it’s important to see that the Levites were not to be counted as part of the army; they have a special job–taking care of and guarding the tabernacle. Notice, however, that they are actually guarding the people from the tabernacle! V.53

“The Levites...are to set up their tents around the tabernacle of the Testimony so that wrath will not fall on the Israelite community.”

There’s a reminder that God is holy!

Now, we’re getting into the organization of the camp itself.

According to chapter 1, the Levites are to camp around the tabernacle.

Where are all the other tribes supposed to camp? Chapter 2.

“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: ‘The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family.’ On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard. The leader of the people of Judah is Nahshon son of Amminadab. His division numbers 74,600. The tribe of Issachar will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Issachar is Nethanel son of Zuar. His division numbers 54,400. The tribe of Zebulun will be next. The leader of the people of Zebulun is Eliab son of Helon. [These are all the same names and numbers as appeared in chapter 1. They must be important to get repeated like this.] His division numbers 57,400. All the men assigned to the camp of Judah, according to their divisions, number 186,400. They will set out first. [Notice what’s going on; each of the tribes have been assigned to a lead-camp made of 3 tribes. The first was Judah on the East. V.10] On the south will be the divisions of the camp of Reuben under their standard. The leader of the people of Reuben is Elizur son of Shedeur. His division numbers 46,500. The tribe of Simeon will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Simeon is Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. His division numbers 59,300. The tribe of Gad will be next. The leader of the people of Gad is Eliasaph son of Deuel. His division numbers 45,650. All the men assigned to the camp of Reuben, according to their divisions, number 151,450. They will set out second.”

“Then the Tent of Meeting and the camp of the Levites will set out in the middle of the camps. They will set out in the same order as they encamp, each in his own place under his standard. [We’ll learn more about that next week.]”

“On the west will be the divisions of the camp of Ephraim under their standard. The leader of the people of Ephraim is Elishama son of Ammihud. His division numbers 40,500. The tribe of Manasseh will be next to them. The leader of the people of Manasseh is Gamaliel son of Pedahzur. His division numbers 32,200. The tribe of Benjamin will be next. The leader of the people of Benjamin is Abidan son of Gideoni. His division numbers 35,400. All the men assigned to the camp of Ephraim, according to their divisions, number 108,100. They will set out third.”

And last, “On the north will be the divisions of the camp of Dan, under their standard. The leader of the people of Dan is Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai. His division numbers 62,700. The tribe of Asher will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Asher is Pagiel son of Ocran. His division numbers 41,500. The tribe of Naphtali will be next. The leader of the people of Naphtali is Ahira son of Enan. His division numbers 53,400. All the men assigned to the camp of Dan number 157,600. They will set out last, under their standards.”

“These are the Israelites, counted according to their families. All those in the camps, by their divisions, number 603,550. The Levites, however, were not counted along with the other Israelites, as the LORD commanded Moses. So the Israelites did everything the LORD commanded Moses; that is the way they encamped under their standards, and that is the way they set out, each with his clan and family.”

Here’s a picture of chapter 2. [Chart]

Notice the lead tribes of Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan.

The East is the most important of the directions (not North) because the tabernacle faced East.

Notice who has the most important spot. It isn’t Jacob’s firstborn, is it?

Judah. Remember Jacob’s prophecy about Judah in Genesis 39? It’s come true. And it will come true even more.

And Ephraim. Wasn’t he the younger son of Joseph? God doesn’t always do it the way we think He will, does He? Remember Jacob telling Joseph that Ephraim will be over Manasseh at the end of Genesis? Guess what? His prophecy came, true, too.

Now, let’s crunch the numbers!

What do we have here in Numbers chapters 1 and 2?
What do we see that’s important?
What do these census numbers show us?

I have 3 points this morning. And they all apply to our lives.

#1. GOD’S PEOPLE BLESSED AS PROMISED.

This census shows us God’s people blessed as promised.

Pop Quiz: What are the three main promises of the Abrahamic Covenant?

[Land, Offspring, Blessing.] That’s what God has promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

We said last week that they don’t have the land, but it looks like it’s coming soon.

What about offspring?

603,550 fighting men in Israel! Probably 2 million people in Israel.

How many went down into Egypt? 70, right?

From one man, Jacob/Israel to 2 million.

Blessed as promised.

This census shows us that God always keeps His promises.

That’s an important reason to take a census, isn’t it?

Remember, these are real people with real names.

And they were registering to fight for their share of the Promised Land.

Israel had experienced the blessing of God.

God’s people blessed as promised.

Here’s the application: trust Him!

Even when His promises seem so impossible to fulfill, trust Him, He knows what He is doing.

For some of you, that means trust Him for the first time.

Put your faith in God for salvation.

Jesus Christ died on the Cross for the sins of all who believe in Him.

And it might seem impossible for you to be forgiven and to get eternal life.

But that’s exactly what He offers if you will turn from your sins and trust in Him.

If God can make a nation out of one single solitary man, He can save you from your sins.

Trust Him.

For many of us, that’s a familiar phrase that we’ve said again and again: Trust Him.

But this week will present new challenges.

We live “in the wilderness” – rescued but not quite in the Promised Land.

So, we’re going to have to trust Him again and again.

What are you facing right now that is tempting you to not trust God?

This census shows us that God can be trusted to keep His promises.

And He’ll do it for you, too.

Do you know His promises? Do you know what He has promised all of His children?

Dive into this book and take hold of every great and precious promise.

Each one is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ for the good of each of God’s children.

Trust Him.

#2. GOD’S PEOPLE STANDING UP TO BE COUNTED.

Now, it’s not always going to be true of Israel in this book, but in the first four chapters, Israel is highly obedient!

Look at chapter 1, verse 18: “The people indicated their anceestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one, as the LORD commanded Moses.”

Look at verse 54: “The Israelites did all this just as the LORD commanded Moses.”

Look at chapter 2, verse 34. “So the Israelites did everything the LORD commanded Moses; that is the way they encamped under their standards, and that is the way they set out, each with his clan and family.”

These are two chapters that picture an obedient nation standing up to be counted and arranging themselves in marching order.

No one here is a census evader.
No one here is a draft dodger.

Everyone is either in or out.

They are grouped together by families (which we saw all Fall are very important to the Lord).

They do not lose their individuality but, at the same time, know how they are connected to the larger group.

And they are all standing up to be counted for the Lord’s army.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch for us to us to apply this to ourselves.

Are we standing up to be counted as the Lord’s?

Do our lives cry out that we belong to the Lord and are available to His cause?

Or are we hiding in the background? Hoping to be included, but not wanting to be counted?

Are you standing up in your family?
Are you standing up at work?
Are you standing up in the community?

I’m not asking do you make yourself offensive to people in the Lord’s name and shove it down people’s throats.

But I am asking if our allegiances are clear.

If people know that we are Christians and that we belong to a great Rescuer and King who is offering them amnesty for their sins if they will trust in Him and follow Him by faith.

Are we standing up and being counted for Christ?

My boys like to sing this little ditty:

I May Never March in the Infantry,
Ride in the Cavalry, Shoot the Artillery
I May Never Zoom O’er the Enemy
But I’m in the Lord’s Army, Yes Sir!

I’m in the Lord’s Army, Yes Sir!
I’m in the Lord’s Army, Yes Sir!

I May Never March in the Infantry,
Ride in the Cavalry, Shoot the Artillery
I May Never Zoom O’er the Enemy
But I’m in the Lord’s Army!

You know what? That’s not optional.

God doesn’t have an alternative membership plan for us to check off.

If we belong to Him, we need to stand up and be counted as His.

This census calls us to stand up for Jesus.

Is there a situation in your life right now where God is calling you to take stand?

Maybe it’s time to raise the flag with your co-workers.

Maybe it’s time to have that conversation about the gospel with your friend or family member.

Maybe it’s time to make a radical decision as part of following Christ in discipleship.

Whatever it its, trust God and do it!

Stand up and be counted!

And #3. GOD’S PEOPLE CENTERED ON GOD’S PRESENCE.

This census shows us not just God’s people blessed as promised and standing up to be counted, but it also shows us God’s people centered on God’s presence.

Did you notice (I didn’t draw attention to it), where the Tent of Meeting stands in relation to all of the tribes? [Chart again.]

Smack dab in the middle.

That’s no accident.

Nothing in the first two chapters of Numbers is here by accident.

These chapters are a model of organization and symmetry and everything in its place.

And God’s place is right at the center of His people.

Remember that God showed up on the top of the mountain?

And then He was showing up at the edge of the camp?

Now He’s taken up residence in His tabernacle (both symbolically and somehow in actuality) in the very center of His people.

It’s not hard to imagine the application of that:

Center Your Life on Him!

In the ancient world, the royal tent was oftten in the center of the army as it marched.

The King took His position among His people. As one of them–but also as the focus of them all.

This census shows us God’s people centered on God’s presence.

Center your life on Him.

It’s really the same idea as the Biggest Rock from our illustration two weeks ago. Is Jesus Christ the Biggest Rock in your jar?

Is He the controlling center of your life?

That’s another way of talking about worship.

Worship isn’t just singing songs into the air on Sunday mornings.

Worship is orienting your life around the Lord.

This census calls us to take stock of our priorities again, and ask ourselves the hard questions.

Does my life shout that I am centered on the Lord Jesus?

Or has something else crept in?

What would happen if Simeon decided that he wanted to be in the middle?

The Levites would cut him down! Or the wrath of God would break out on him.

Only the Lord deserves to be in that center spot.

What changes do you and I need to make to make sure that He is?

Is it a sin needing confessed and held accountable to?
Is it a new level of focus given to Bible study and prayer?
Is it a relationship that needs mended?
Is it a priority that needs adjusted?
Is it a fresh initiative to seek the Lord in a new way?

Whatever it takes, we need to center our lives on Him.

God’s People Blessed As Promised. Trust Him!
God’s People Standing Up to Be Counted. Stand Up for Him!
God’s People Centered On God’s Presence. Center Your Life on Him!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Loveable



Kids!

Which One Is Silly-er?



It's him!

RainbowKids



Peter & Robin and fun with a colorful afgan.

Hephzibah



Hephzibah means "My Delight Is In Her"

Sweet Isaac



Smiling for the camera!

Sir Peter



(He got a suit of armor, too, for Christmas)

Sir Drewby



Suiting Up



This present was a hit!

Opening Presents



What's that in the box?

Drew's 5th Birthday - Dec 6th



I said it was a backlog!

Picture Backlog

For those of you who only read Hot Orthodoxy to get to the pictures, I have good news:

I have a backlog of family pictures to post, and I plan to start right away.

Enjoy!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Preaching by the Numbers

The four commentaries that are my companions this year for preaching through Numbers:

Gordon Wenham (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries)

Wenham is short, sweet and to the point. And he knows his stuff.

Ronald Allen (Expositors Bible Commentary)

Allen writes with clarity, charity, and a helpful turn of the phrase.

Dennis Cole (New American Commentary)

Cole is scholarly and the most up-to-date of the commentaries I'm reading.

Iain Duguid (Preach the Word)

Duguid has preached the book and the chapters are adapted from the manuscripts. Very helpful for ideas on preaching.

A New Look for Lansefree.org

Our church's website has gone through a major renovation over the last month.

Check us out at lansefree.org.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Resolutions

My pastor and blogging buddy Dan Ledford has published his 2007 New Year's Resolutions (he revealed them as 12 gifts to his wife, Jen, as the 12 Days of Christmas). Good stuff!

"Your Prayers Are Keeping Us Sane"

Got an email today from a missionary friend half a world away. She ends by saying, "Your prayers are keeping us sane." What a statement!

How often do I pray for this family? And they count on my prayers and reckon them as their sanity-stabilizer?

What a goad to pray even more.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Resolved

Dan Ledford has begun a new year with a new sermon series from the book of Hebrews.

Matt's Messages - Why Numbers?

“Why Numbers?”
The Book of Numbers: Life in the Wilderness
January 7, 2007
Numbers 1:1

We have a new year, and we have a new project–studying our way through the Old Testament Book of Numbers.

Let me begin by making this statement: The Book of Numbers will probably be the strangest book of the Bible that we have ever studied together all the way through.

Numbers is a strange little complex book–not quite like anything else in the Bible. It is full of all kinds of different types of writing: lists of names, genealogies, censuses (hence the name Numbers), cryptic rites of purification and sacrifice, a travelog of places visited by the Israelites, poetry, prophecy, blessings, manifestations of God, law codes, stories about personality and leadership conflicts, stories about spies and heroes and daring feats of faith, stories about destruction and judgment. And a whole bunch of other things in a format that, at least initially, isn’t very clear how it fits together.

Some day, we’ll work our way through Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and one day Revelation, but until we do, Numbers will probably be the strangest book that we have ever studied together–it will take some real work to understand.

Maybe you’ve had this experience, too. Many people have tried to read the Bible from cover to cover the first time and they make it through Genesis and Exodus and maybe Leviticus, but by the time they reach Numbers, they know they’re in trouble. It’s a very complex book.

So, I want to start our series this morning by answering the question: “Why Numbers?” If the Book of Numbers is so difficult to interpret, why study it together this year? Why not do something easier? Why Numbers?

I have three answers:

#1. NUMBERS IS HOLY SCRIPTURE.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is 2 Timothy chapter 3, verses 16 and 17.

Do you have that one memorized? You should.

It says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

It says, “All Scripture.”

What do you think Paul was talking about there? Well, by extension, it does refer to the New Testament and all of the Holy Writings about Jesus and His Gospel. But when Paul wrote 2 Timothy, they didn’t have very much New Testament yet.

They mostly had the Old Testament. And the most famous part of the Old Testament was the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Numbers is Holy Scripture.

You could paraphrase that passage to say, “The Book of Numbers is God-breathed and [the Book of Numbers] is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the [Lanse Free Church and all of its people] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Romans 15:4 says, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Because Numbers is holy Scripture, we can expect to be taught, to be encouraged, and to be given hope as we study and apply it to our lives.

We’re going to watch as Israel fails God again and again, but also as God is faithful to Israel again and again.

And you and I are very much like Israel. Israel is in our Bibles to teach us what we often act like and how we need to change.

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul writes, “These things [the stuff that happens in the Book of Numbers] happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (V.11).

So, we can be sure that Numbers is a book of application–even if we need to do some work to discover it.

Numbers is Holy Scripture.

It is God’s gift to us. And we need to unwrap it.

#2. PREACHING NUMBERS IS MY GIFT TO YOU.

I have decided to preach through the Old Testament’s key books one at a time, in order, in odd numbered years.

In 2003, we preached through the Book of Genesis. How many were here for that? How many were not?

In 2005, we preached through the Book of Exodus. How many were here for that? How many were not?

Now, it’s 2007, and we are going to go through the Book of Numbers.

Now, you might be wondering why not the Book of Leviticus? That’s Holy Scripture, too, isn’t it? It sure is.

Someday, we will study Leviticus together, too. But Leviticus is kind of mainly a handbook for the priests to correctly operate the sacrificial system that was introduced in Exodus and is practiced in Numbers. So, it’s more like a companion book to the others and doesn’t move the Big Story along very much.

I was taught in Bible school that there are 11 key books of the Old Testament that tell the Big Story of what God is doing in His World: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. If you come to Sunday School next Sunday, I’m planning to explain the Big Story of the Whole Bible in 45 minutes.

So, at this point, I’m planning to take the next key book each year. 2009 will be Joshua. 2011 will be Judges. 2013 will be 1 Samuel. And so on. I may change some of this as we go, of course.

But here’s the point. I’m trying to do this as a gift to you.

A big part of my job is to teach you the Bible, and help you apply it to your life.

And I want to give you the whole Bible–not just the easy parts.

And I want to give you the Big Picture of the Big Story, not just the trees but the forest.

I want to do the hard work of studying the difficult parts of the Bible and give them to you to work into your life–as a gift.

I didn’t grow up with that kind of systematic biblical preaching. I had a taste of it from time to time in churches and ministries that our family would visit.

But when I got a steady diet of biblical preaching like that my first year of college, it totally transformed my life, and I recognize it for what it was–a gift.

And I want to give that gift to you.

My vision is that in the year 2023, when we finish Nehemiah (if the Lord wills that we stay on this schedule), our church will be so much stronger.

There will be 21 year olds like my son Peter that will have the Big Picture of the Big Story firmly embedded in their minds.

And we will have all been carried along in the sweep of redemptive history–all leading to Jesus Christ.

Will that be hard work? I expect so. And sometimes, look at a book like Numbers, I think it would be a lot easier to just preach the New Testament letters.

But I think it’s worth it, and I want to give it to you as a gift.

Something you can do for me is pray for me as I prepare these messages. As an under-shepherd of the Great Shepherd, I want to lead you into green grasses that restore your soul. I’d appreciate your prayers as I try to unwrap God’s gift to you.

Here’s #3. JESUS IS HERE IN NUMBERS.

You don’t have to wait until the year 2023 to get to Jesus. As we saw in Genesis and in Exodus, we’re going to see that Numbers points to Jesus again and again and again.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me!”

Numbers testifies about Jesus.

Like we said last week, Jesus is the Biggest Rock in our jar. And therefore, we need to make the connections from the strange little Old Testament book of Numbers to the God-Man who came that first Christmas.

Jesus is Here in Numbers.

And so will we be.

Let me give you an introduction to our adventure by looking at verse 1 of chapter 1. Just one verse today. The first one.

Numbers chapter 1, verse 1.

“The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.”

Now, there is a lot of information here that gets us oriented to what’s going on.

The first thing to point out is something you can’t see, but it’s there in Hebrew.

The verse actually begins with a word that we often translate, “And” or “Then.”

The beginning of Numbers actually picks up right where Exodus leaves off. There is only one month between Exodus 40 and Numbers 1. And later on, we’ll see that there is more overlap than that.

Numbers doesn’t appear out of nowhere, it continues the story that was started in Genesis and continued in Exodus.

Let me see what you remember about Genesis. Time for a pop quiz!

Question #1. Who was the Main Character of the Book of Genesis? [God]

I’ll give you 3 guesses (and two don’t count!) as to Who is the Main Character of the Book of Numbers....[God is, too.]

Notice Who is introduced first in this passage!

“The LORD spoke to Moses”

In Genesis, God was revealed as a Creator God, a Holy God, a Faithful God, a Gracious God, and a Sovereign God (in 50 chapters).

In Exodus, we found out that God is a Rescuing God and a God who is present with His People.

That same God is revealed on every page of the Book of Numbers. As we study it, we’re going to keep asking ourselves, “What do we learn here about Who God is?”

Genesis Pop Quiz Question #2. Who was the “Best Supporting Actor” of the Book of Genesis? [Abraham]

That’s right. A wandering nomad from Southern Iraq took center stage in Genesis chapters 12 through 24.

Who was the Best Supporting Actor in the Book of Exodus? His name was Moses, and he’s still the Best Supporting Actor in this book, too.

Look at verse 1 again.

“The LORD spoke to...Moses”

We’re going to learn more about Moses both good and not so good.

There are other key characters like Aaron, Miriam, Korah, Balaam, and all of the children of Israel, but Moses stands out.

Genesis Pop Quiz Question #3. God made some promises to Abraham in the book of Genesis. What are the Three Main Promises of the Abrahamic covenant? [Land. Offspring. Blessing.]

Good. Now, after Exodus, starting in Numbers, how are the promises doing?

Let’s start with Land. Do they have the Promised Land? No. They do not. The Book of Genesis ended with Israel in Egypt. They did not posses any of the land of Canaan except a burial plot at the Cave of Machpelah.

Then in Exodus, they left Egypt. How far did they get? Mt. Sinai.

It took them 3 months to get there and then they’ve been there for a year. Camping at the base of Mount Sinai. They got the Law. They built the Tabernacle. Exodus 39 says that God moved into the Tabernacle “on the first day of the first month in the second year” (39:17).

What does this say? Numbers 1:1

“The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.”

Numbers begins one month later.

How long will it take for them to get the Promised Land?

We’re going to learn that it’s going to take 40 years.

Numbers is the story of why that is.

It’s a book that completely takes place in the “in-between,” in-between rescue from Egypt and receiving the Promised Land.

It’s a book that completely takes place (v.1) “in the desert.” Or another translation would be “In the Wilderness.”

Not quite the Sahara, but not the glorious land that they were supposed to have moved into.

The Hebrew Bible doesn’t use the word “Numbers” as the title for this book. It uses that phrase from verse, “In the Wilderness.” And I think that’s a better title for this book than Numbers (as good as that is).

I’ve entitled this sermon series, “Life in the Wilderness.”

And what about offspring? We’re going to see next week when they take the census that God has indeed been keeping that promise!

And what about blessing? It’s all over the place in this book. Often, directly tied to obedience, but not always.

Genesis Pop Quiz Question #4. What was Abraham the Father of? [Faith.]

The key question that presents itself to two generations of Israelites in the Book of Numbers is what is going to characterize their life in wilderness? Faith or Unbelief?

The book of Numbers is a call to trust God even when you can’t see it, especially when you can’t see it.

Do you need that lesson? I know that I do.

When we are stuck in the wilderness, we need to be reminded to trust God.

Genesis Pop Quiz Question #5. What spiritual reality was Jacob’s life all about? [Grace.]

Not getting what we deserve and getting what we do not deserve.

In Exodus, we learned that God’s grace is great and demonstrates itself in mighty acts of salvation. God is a gracious God.

We’re going to see that again and again in Numbers as the people complain and grumble and rebel and reject God–and yet He still loves them and cares for them and leads them where they need to go.

He’s holy! We’ll see that, too. But He’s gracious, amazingly gracious!

Genesis Pop Quiz Question #6. What spiritual reality was Joseph’s life all about? [Sovereignty.] Or providence. God rules this world. This world is God’s world.

That’s obvious in Numbers, too, even though Israel keeps forgetting.

Question #7. What is the theme of the book of Genesis? Does anybody remember?
[God Always Keeps His Promises.]

And that’s the theme of the whole Pentateuch and the Book of Numbers included.

God makes promises.
God keeps His promises.

And even when we are living “in the wilderness,” we need to trust Him to do so.

Why?

Two reasons:

#1. God is present.

Notice in verse 1 that God talked to Moses...where? In the “Tent of Meeting” or the Tabernacle.

Remember that the Tent of Meeting was a place of worship, but even more than that, it was a place that said “God is here.”

God has come to live with His people.

He has taken up residence. He has pitched a tent in the center of His people.

You can trust Him...even in the Wilderness.

And we know that God is present with us in Jesus.

Two weeks ago, we heard about the angel telling Joseph, “They will call Mary’s son, ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God is With Us.’”

John put it this way: “The Word became flesh and [tabernacled] among us.”

God is present. And we can trust Him even in the wilderness.

And #2. God has saved us.

Look again at verse 1. “The LORD spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the [Wilderness] of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.”

There’s a reminder there in the first verse of the Red Sea Rescue.

The Passover, the blood on the doorposts, the death of the Firstborn, the chase to the Red Sea, the powerful tsunami of God that wiped out Pharaoh’s army–the Red Sea Rescue!

Worship at the Lord’s Table

Which we learned then was just a picture of the greater Rescue that was to come–the Cross of Christ.

Which is what this table represents.

Two thousand years ago, when God’s Son became Man in the person of Jesus Christ, God was accomplishing the Greatest Rescue ever.

God was out to save fickle, rebellious, grumbling sinners like you and me, and He did it by giving His own Son to die as a ransom for our sins.

Everyone and anyone who turns from their sins and trusts in the Rescuer will be saved.

Have you been rescued?

If not, we invite you, today, to trust Jesus Christ as your Rescuer.

Tell Him that you need Him, that you want Him, and that you trust Him to save you from your sins. And He will!

This table represents His body and blood sacrificed for sinners.

If you have been rescued (and only if you have been rescued), you are invited to eat and drink from this table with us today.

We who are Christ-followers need to use this time to say, “Jesus, Thank You.”

And to commit ourselves again to trust Him.

He is present. And He has saved us.

It doesn’t always feel like it.

It feels like we are living in the wilderness.

But make no mistake.

God is present: Immanuel.
God has saved us: Jesus.

We can trust Him.

My wife and I had “one of those weeks.” I’m sure that you’ve had them yourself.

Nothing seemed to go right.

Ask us sometime, and we can give you the list.

But we were strengthened this week by this fact: God is present. Tent of Meeting.

And God has saved us “out of Egypt.”

We can trust Him.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Book Buying Flowchart

A stultifying flowchart that all bibliophiles should examine (though few will heed, right Dan L.?!).

[HT: JT]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hospitality & The Gospel

9Marks offers some compelling testimonies and a book review on the subject.