Sunday, July 29, 2007

Matt's Messages - Zealous

Life in the Wilderness
July 29, 2007
Numbers 25:1-18

It is so good to be back in this place opening this Word to you this morning!

I have thoroughly enjoyed and profited from my mini-sabbatical. Thank you for allowing it and for praying for me through it.

I was able to thoroughly clean out my office and rearrange my systems for doing my work.

I got rid of 252 books, almost two 30 gallon trash-cans full of paper and old files, and more than 2.2 megabites of files on my computer’s hard drive.

And I also ditched my beard! I’m feeling free!

And excited to get back into “full-tilt ministry.”

And few things are important or exciting in ministry than opening God’s Holy, Inspired, Inerrant, Infallible Word with God’s people. And here we are right back where we left off in Numbers chapter 25.

The theme of Numbers chapter 25 could be summed up in one word: “Zealous.” And I pray that God will birth and build zeal in our hearts through it.

Before we read the story, let’s remember what we’ve seen so far.

Pop Quiz!

Where is Israel right now?

Are they in the Promised Land?

No, not yet.

Are they still in the Sinai Pennisula?

No, not any more. They have gone around Edom and around Moab and are parked across the Jordan from Jericho in a place that is called in verse 1, “Shittim.”

They have conquered the area north of them which is called the Transjordan Area (“Across the Jordan” Area). And they are waiting for God’s direction to head into the Promised Land.

And for the last 3 chapters, they have been the subject of some severe plotting.

Their enemies, Moab and Midian, led by an evil man named Balak have tried to destroy them.

What weapon did they try to use? Do you remember? I know that it’s been more than a month since we read it about.

They tried to use magic! They brought in a pagan magician prophet named...?

Balaam! [Part One, Part Two]

And they tried to pay him to curse Israel. Did it work?

Not a chance. God said that these people were blessed and Balaam was unable to curse them.

However, Moab wasn’t finished with them. And neither was Balaam.

In our chapter for today, Numbers 25, Moab tried a different weapon and got seriously different results.

The new weapon? Sex. Immoral, illegitimate, illicit sex. V.1

“While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods.”

Where magic didn’t work, seduction did.

We’ll find out in Numbers 31 that this was also Balaam’s idea. He knew that he could not bring cursing on Israel from the outside. But he figured out a way for Israel to bring disaster upon itself.

Balaam talked Balak into sending in some loose Moabite women who sweet talked Israelite men into their bedrooms and then into their shrines.

And this sneak-attack worked.

Many of the Israelite men gave in to their seductions and then, even worse, they gave in to idolatry.

“The people ate and bowed down before these gods.” V.3

“So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger burned against them.”

In some ways, this is just as bad as the Retreat of Unbelief that kept them out of the Promised Land. It’s almost worse. Like the Golden Calf episode when Israel broke their covenant with the LORD.

That’s really what they are beginning to do right here.

They are (v.3) “joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.” The King James gets the sense of the Hebrew here by saying instead of “joined”–“yoked.” They are tying themselves to the Baal–the false God of Moab located at Peor instead of the LORD!

No wonder the LORD is angry! V.4

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel.’

This is serious stuff. Sexual sin is serious. But even more so, idolatry is very serious.

It’s like cancer. If it is not cut out, it will kill the body.

God demands justice. V.5

“So Moses said to Israel's judges, ‘Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.’”

And then the most amazing and scandalous thing happens. V.6

“Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.”

This is a flagrant and brazen act showing complete contempt for the LORD.

Right after the LORD told Moses to put people to death that do this sort of thing...

Right after Moses told the judges to put men to death for this sort of thing...

Right before the eyes of Moses and the people who are weeping over the state of their

Right there near or at the Tent of Meeting...

Right then, this man has the gall to bring a Midianite woman right up to his family.

And I think the implication here is that this man is going to have intercourse with this woman where he wants to, even at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

Some scholars believe that this man was initiating forbidden sex that was probably a part of the fertility cult worship of the Tabernacle itself!

And even if it wasn’t in the tabernacle–it was clearly (v.6) “right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.”

This was as wrong as wrong can be.

Enter Phinehas. V.7

“When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them–through the Israelite and into the woman's body [they were probably embracing]. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.”

Phinehas was not a vigilante or a rogue avenger.

He was a Levite and the son of the High Priest.

What are Levites supposed to do?

One of the things they are supposed to do is to guard the holiness of the Tabernacle.

Remember that from earlier this year? The concentric circles around the Tent of Meeting? And the Levites were to guard the Tabernacle and the people from the Tabernacle.

Phinehas did the right thing. The righteous thing. The zealous thing. V.10

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for [here it is!] he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.’”

Zeal is a powerful passion for something.

It is caring about something so much that it burns inside of you.

It is being passionate about something so much that it drives you to action.

Phinehas had zeal. He was, according to God (v.13), “zealous for the honor of his God.”

That’s why he did what he did. V.14

“The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family. [A name that goes down in infamy.] And the name of the Midianite woman who was put to death was Cozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family.”

So brazenly bringing her to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting was the first and perverse "Cozbi show!" [Sorry, I couldn’t help that one–I thought about it all week long! ]

It’s really not funny. Her name was Cozbi and she was dead of a spear wound through her stomach. And this is what happened to her people because God takes sin seriously. V.16

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them, because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of Peor.’”

Okay, that’s the story. What’s the application?

This is the question that kept coming back to me this week.


Are we passionate about God’s glory?

Are we disturbed when we see sin, especially in our or other Christians’ lives?

Do we have a fire in our belly about the honor of God, so much so that we are moved to do something, even something that seems radical?

Are we zealous for the honor of God?

Are you zealous for God’s honor?

And am I?

We certainly can be zealous about some things.

Have you ever watched a football game?

Guys painting their faces and wearing things on their heads that I wouldn’t be caught dead in! Whooping and hollering!

I can’t go to a sporting event myself on Saturdays or I don’t have voice to preach on Sundays. And I don’t care that much about sports!

What are you passionate about?

Phinehas was passionate, zealous, for the honor of God.

Notice: He saw, he felt, he acted.

He saw what Zimri and Cozbi were up to.
He felt how wrong it was. He had zeal.
And he did something about it.

Would you and I do what Phinehas did?

How do you feel about Phinehas?

Are you a little embarrassed?

Do think he was just a wild-eyed loose cannon?

Do you think maybe he went just a little overboard?

God says, “Phinehas? He’s the man! I’m making him and his line the high priest from here on out. He gets it! He is zealous for my honor. And there’s nothing worth more in all the universe than my honor!”

Are we zealous for the honor of God?

Do we see, feel, and act?

I’d like to apply this question to three areas of our life that I think that zeal for the honor of God would show up in.

You could apply this question to a bunch of different areas, but I think these three would be good for us to think about today.

#1. Are we zealous for the honor of God IN OUR CONFRONTATIONS WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS.

This is the closest application to the intent of this passage.

Here were fellow brother Israelites (at least Zimri was) sinning with a high hand.

The covenant people of God acting like they were the covenant people of Baal.

Phinehas saw this, he felt this, and he couldn’t help but act about it.

Now, in the New Covenant, we don’t carry spears. We aren’t a theocracy, God doesn’t ask us to run people through. That’s Old Covenant.

But when we see fellow Christians that are running along a dangerous and sinful path, in the New Covenant, we are still called to confront them.

We are to do in love. We are to do it carefully lest we also be tempted.

But we are to confront wayward Christians.

Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently...”

James 5:19 “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

Matthew 18 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

One of the chief reasons for this kind of confrontation between Christians is the honor and glory of God.

If we truly care about other Christians and we truly care about the glory of God, then we will love them enough to confront them with their sin.

And if they don’t listen (and they will often not want to listen), the church needs to practice what is called “church discipline.”

What Jesus called, “treating them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”–treating someone who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t live at all like one, like a non-Christian.

If we are zealous for the honor God, we will do this.

We won’t necessarily like it. It won’t be fun. But we will be faithful to do it because the glory of God is at stake.

Sometimes people object to church discipline because the person who is being pursued may never repent and may never return (thought they do much more often than people think!).

But the biggest reason for church discipline is not restoration (even though that’s always the goal). The biggest reason is the purity of the church reflecting the holy glory of God! And if we are zealous for the honor of God, we will do it.

Now, again, we don’t run anyone through with a spear.

This is not a call to blow up abortion clinics!

But if we are zealous for the honor of our God, we will be faithful to confront sin.

Make this personal. Is there someone you are close to that is persisting in unrepentant sin?

Yes, you need to be patient and be loving and be gentle.

But you also are being called to be zealous.

Are you willing to do that?

See it, feel it, do something. Not out of hate, but out of zeal.

The second area is closer to home, a step removed from the direct application of the text.

#2. Are we zealous for the honor of our God IN OUR OWN LIFESTYLE CHOICES?

Because for some, it’s a lot easier to pick on “those other people!”

“They’re bad. They are unholy. They’ve really got it wrong.”

But Jesus calls us to get the telephone pole out of our own eyes before we try to get the molecule of dirt out of theirs.

If we are zealous for the honor of our God, we will see sin in our own lives, feel it, confess it, turn from it, and try to walk in a new direction.

I have confessed many times from this pulpit, my personal struggles with gluttony.

And there have also been many times that I have not tried to live repentantly about my gluttony.

This Summer, I hit a new high for my weight which marked a new low for my battle with food idolatry.

And I’ve come to believe that if I am really zealous for the honor of my God, I’m going to see it as sin, feel it as sin, and do something about it.

Over my Sabbatical, I lost five pounds. I am praying and working towards losing one pound a week for the next year. A goal of about 50 pounds to lose.

And I want to do it, not so that I can say, “Look at me.” But through right-worship.

Because I am zealous that nothing get the glory in my life over God Himself.

I’d appreciate your prayers for this.

I believe that if I lose, everyone gains.

And that God will gain the glory if I am seriously zealous for Him.

What is it for you?

Is there a stronghold in your life that needs to be broken?

Perhaps it is lust or gossip or worry or a bad relationship or another addiction.

If we are zealous for the honor of God, it will show in our own lifestyle choices.

Let’s be Phinehas’ and cut out the flesh and go to war on our indwelling sin.

The third area I want to apply this question to is the area of witnessing. It’s the furthest away from the direct application but I think it makes a lot of sense.

Are we zealous for the honor of our God IN OUR GOSPEL-SHARING WITH UNBELIEVERS?

Because God has, in the New Covenant, tied His honor to the fame of His Son and the spreading of His Gospel.

God has tied His honor to the fame of His Son and the spreading of His Gospel.

So if you and I are zealous, eager, passionate to see God honored, we will be passionate and eager and zealous to share the Gospel of His Son.

Does that make sense?

I think that our zeal for God can often be measured by how much we care about the lost and want them to know the Gospel.

I was so happy to listen to the messages this last month on the harvest.

And to see that we focused so strongly on missions–not just across the world but across the street.

There are 7,700 people in the West Branch Area. And I’m not even talking about Philipsburg today. There’s lots of lost people there.

There are 7,700 people in the West Branch Area. I’m guessing that maybe a thousand of them are in church this morning.

That’s leaves more than 6,000 people in a ten mile radius of this church that are probably not savingly connected to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

How does that make you feel?

Does it bring up any zeal?

Does that move you to action?

That neighbor across the fence. That co-worker. That family member.

They need the Gospel. And we need to be zealous to share it.

Why? Why be zealous for the honor of God?

Two reasons. The first is much much much bigger than the second.

#1. BECAUSE GOD IS! Look at v.11 again. Look at it closely.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them.”

God is the most zealous for His glory. He will not give it to another!

He is a jealous God. Jealous for the affections of His people. Zealous.

Zealous for the glory due His name.

He was zealous enough to send a plague upon Israel to wipe them out.

Phinehas was as zealous as God was! And he turned away God’s anger. V.13 says that he made “atonement” for the Israelites with his zealous action.

That’s how zealous we should be.

Even if people think we’re “Jesus Freaks!”

Here’s how zealous God is for His honor–He was willing to put spear, not only in His enemies’ side, but in the side of His own Son.

Jesus’ death on the Cross was a vindication of the honor of God.

Let that blow your mind for a second.

Jesus’ death on the Cross was a vindication of the honor of God.

He brought atonement–lasting atonement for all who will turn and put their faith and trust in Him.

God is unswervingly zealous for the honor of His name.

And we should be, too.

And secondly, we should be zealous BECAUSE IT IS THE PATH OF BLESSING.

It’s not the easy path. The easy path is to follow the Moabite whores down to visit Baal. But that way leads to death. Midian and Moab are going to get it.

Zeal is the path that God blesses. You can hear it in what God says to Phinehas (v.12:

“[T]ell him that I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

That’s a divine “attaboy!”

It doesn’t get better than this.

Zeal is rewarded by the Zealous One!

So, let me ask the question again.

Are we zealous for the honor of our God?

Where would you put yourself?

Are you cold or hot?

Do you see it, feel it, and do something about it?

In Loving Confrontations with Other Christians?
In Your Own Lifestyle Choices for Holiness?
In Your Gospel-Sharing with Unbelievers?

Are you zealous for honor of our God?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Thanks to God for Raymond C. Ortlund Sr.

Ray Ortlund Sr went to be with the Lord on Sunday.

I never met Pastor Ortlund, but I was deeply influenced by his son, RCO Jr. (his family calls him "Bud" but we students never dared!) in seminary.

And I loved listening to him as the radio teacher on Haven. I always said that "Haven with Ray Ortlund is Christian radio like it should be!"

RCO Jr. has reflection on his dad on his family blog and John Piper writes, "Thanks to God for Ray Ortlund."

[HT: JT]

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fresh Faced

At the end of my mini-sabbatical, as something of a lark and something of a visual representation of how free I feel after cleaning out my office, I shaved off my beard.

It turns out that this is what I look like under there.

Now, the question is who do I most look like?

My brother?

Or this guy?

You decide.

Thanks for Praying for My Mini-Sabbatical

Thank you to everyone who prayed for my mini-sabbatical.

It was refreshing and strategic time for me and my family.

I was able to totally reorganize my office and systems for personal productivity (I've posted pictures of my office on my blog.).

I was also able to be home with my family almost every night for 3 weeks (that never happens!).

And I was able to give my wife a few breathers, including a 24 hour personal retreat and a planning day for Fall homeschooling.

Please continue to pray for me as I transition back into full-tilt work. I still have those "writing projects" that I had wanted to get done lingering around and plenty of work to help our church prepare for the Fall. It's hard sometimes to know what to prioritize. I want to do it all!

Again, thank you, I really appreciate everyone's prayers and support.

New Blog to Check Out

I've been reading Pastor Matt Frey's Climb Ridges for the last few months.

Matt always has some good thoughts.

Today's post is on why to go to the shore.

Guest Blogger - Pastor Russell Muilenburg

In a few months, I'm hoping that my pastor buddy Russell Muilenburg will be posting his sermons online so that I can link to them.

I've been reading them for the last 9 years, and it's good stuff! Russell has just started his pastorate at Hope Reformed Church in Spencer, Iowa. And he's off to a roaring good start!

Until he's online, Russell has given me permission to post his sermons on my blog.

Here's the first one on Amos 8:11-14 titled, "Why Preaching?"




Ministry Passion

In my first few months of preaching here at Hope I’m trying to preach on things that I am passionate about. I want you to have the opportunity to see what gets your new pastor’s heart beating fast. I want you get an idea of what I’m about.

And so, my first series of sermons was about our BIG God. My great passion is helping people see how great God is. He’s a God that we can fully invest our lives in, because He won’t let us down.

Now, I’d like to spend a few weeks on my other great ministry passion: Preaching.

I believe that preaching is an exceedingly important part of the Christian life. I know I might be a little biased, since this is what I do, but I believe God has given us preaching as way to strengthen our faith and keep us connected to Him.

And yet, even though a lot of us are in church nearly every week and we’ve been listening to sermons for most of our lives, we rarely talk about why we do it.

You have to admit that what we do here on Sundays is pretty unusual—there aren’t a whole lot of other venues in life where we gather in rows to have the same person talk at us week after week. It probably wasn’t until I got to seminary that I received a good explanation of why preaching is important. And even while I was trained in how to give a good sermon, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard good training on how to listen to one.

And so, I’ve decided we’d do a five week series on How to Listen to a Sermon. For the next five weeks, we’re going to talk about this thing that takes up a half-hour of every Sunday and make sure that we’re getting the most out of it that we can.

You Wouldn’t Skip a Meal, Would You?

Now, some of you may be thinking, "If preaching is as important as this guy says it is, then why don't I remember more of the sermons I have heard?" Some of you are probably thinking, "I've gone to church all my life, and if I'm lucky, I can probably tell you about 4 or 5 sermons I've heard."

Well, I don't know if any of you were actually thinking that, but I was. I'm 35 years old now, and I've been going to church my whole life. Figure one sermon a week for about 1800 weeks, and I've heard approximately 1800 sermons.

Of course some weeks I didn't go to church and you can't really say I heard any sermons during the first 5 years of my life, and for the last 10 I’ve been doing the preaching, but there were still a lot of weeks where I went to two services and with all the sermons I listen to as a part of my study, we'll say 1800 is about right.

Now, out of those 1800 sermons I’ve heard, I’d say I can remember about 10 with any semblance of detail. Moreover, I've preached about 500 sermons of my own, and I doubt I could tell you much about half of them.

I found the following story concerning a letter sent to the editor of the magazine The British Weekly:

The letter read:
Dear Sir: I notice that ministers seem to set a great deal of importance on their sermons and spend a great deal of time in preparing them. I have been attending services quite regularly for the past thirty years and during that time, if I estimate correctly, I have listened to no less than 3,000 sermons, but, to my consternation, I discover I cannot remember a single one of them. I wonder if a minister's time might be more profitably spent on something else? Sincerely....
Well, the letter triggered an avalanche of angry responses for weeks. Some people agreed and wrote letters ripping sermons. Others wrote in defense of preaching. But eventually a single letter closed the debate:
My dear Sir: I have been married for thirty years. During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals--mostly of my wife's cooking. Suddenly I have discovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet, I received nourishment from every one of them. I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death long ago. Sincerely....
There, I think, is an apt analogy for seeing the significance of preaching. Just like we need a regular intake of food in order to fuel our physical lives, so also we need a regular intake of God’s word in order to fuel our spiritual lives. Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)

So, even if we don't remember every sermon we hear, the regular hearing of God's word preached is a vital part of our spiritual diet. The experience of hearing God's word, of being touched in our hearts and minds and wills, provides important spiritual nourishment in our lives. No more than a human being can go without a regular intake of food can a Christian go without a regular intake of God's word.

This is probably nowhere better demonstrated for us than in the book of Amos. Amos 8:11-14:
'The days are coming,' declares the Sovereign LORD, 'when I will send a famine through the land--not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it. In that day the lovely young women and strong young men will faint because of thirst. They who swear by the shame of Samaria, or say, "As surely as your god lives, O Dan," or, "As surely as the god of Beersheba lives"--they will fall, never to rise again.'
Amos was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel around 750 years before Christ. He was a humble man whose regular line of work was that of a shepherd.

The central theme of his prophecy was the covenant between God and His people. God is faithful to his part of the covenant, but the people haven’t been faithful to theirs.

So by the time we get to chapter 8, Amos is relaying a series of visions warning of Israel’s coming destruction. The people are compared to a basket of ripe fruit, who are ripe for God's judgment. "The day is coming," God says through Amos, "when Israel will pay for its sins."

And verse 11 tells us what this judgment will consist of:
'The days are coming,' declares the Sovereign LORD, 'when I will send a famine through the land--not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
God is going to end the preaching of His Word in Israel.

The implication is clear: as bad as "a famine of food or a thirst for water" would be, being deprived of God's Word would be even worse. The point, again, is that the regular hearing of God’s Word preached is a vital part of our spiritual diet.

What follows, then, is a listing of three calamities that will befall the people who do not hear God's word. This is really a pretty negative passage. It tells us what will happen when the preaching of God’s word is left out of our diet.

But at the same time, we can make this a very positive passage. Because if we can learn what is missing when God’s word is not heard, then we can also discover what benefits come our way when we are regularly attending the preaching of God’s word.

“Compass Check”

I. Let’s start with verse 12. Amos tells us:
"Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it."
Here’s the negative: when there is a famine of hearing God's Word, people stagger. I understand this to mean that when God’s word is not heard, people lose their way. They lose their direction.

The picture Amos gives is a picture of men wandering aimlessly. Not moving north to south in a straight line, but moving north for a while and then moving east for a while--like people who have no idea where they are going.

When Beth and I lived in Illinois, anytime we wanted to come back to Iowa we had to take Highway 20 from Rockford to Dubuque, and that meant we had to go through Galena.

Now, a lot of people tell me that the area around Galena is pretty because it has a lot of hills and pretty views, but I hate it. As far as I'm concerned the hills just mean you have to go in directions you don't want to go. When I look at a map of Highway 20 in the area east of Galena, all I see is that you make a big loop south and then north again before you actually get there, and to me that's a lot of wasted miles.

So one day Beth and I were driving back to Iowa, and trying to get there in a hurry. I looked at the map, and saw wasted time. So I decided I would keep going west when Highway 20 went south, and I'd just drive on county roads and gravel straight to Galena.

Well, I'm used to the roads in NW Iowa which go straight. But when you get up in those hills those roads start to go all over. Before I knew what had happened I was wandering around like the men in verse 12, north to east to south to west to north again. We spent about an hour out in those hills until we finally "staggered" back out on Highway 20 about 7 miles from where we had left it. As you can imagine, Beth was very impressed by my shortcut.

That is what happens to people when they no longer hear God's word, they lose their way. Nations, communities, and churches which suffer from a famine of hearing God's word lose direction, they wander aimlessly without purpose or objective. There is no foundational truth and thus no foundation from which to build.

And so, as we ask why preaching is important, I think it is safe to say from this verse that when God’s word is preached, people find their direction. If in the absence of hearing God's Word the people stagger and wander without purpose, then we can conclude that when the people hear God's Word they are provided with direction.

Preaching is one of the ways God uses to keep His people on the same page. It’s a rallying point for the church, week after week, for us to be reminded of how great God is, how amazing His grace is, and how good his plan is for our lives. It reminds us of why we worship, of why we serve, of why we belong to one another.

Preaching is one of the ways that God helps us to take the focus off ourselves. If we tried to do Christianity on our own, our vision of the world would get pretty narrow. We’d be worried about our personal concerns, and maybe those of our family. But preaching helps us see God’s larger purposes, to remember that it’s not all about us.

Every Sunday morning then is like a "compass check" for the Christian. Hearing the Word of God--listening to good, Biblical preaching--is an opportunity to check the course of our lives and to keep them in the direction they are supposed to be.

Preaching is important, because it helps us find our direction.

Living Water

II. Let’s move on to verse 13:
In that day the lovely young women and strong young men will faint because of thirst.
Here’s the second calamity that comes when there is a famine of hearing God’s word: when people no longer hear God's word they "faint." I understand that to mean they will lose their vitality, their energy. In other words, when we lose out on hearing God’s word, we lose our strength.

It is noteworthy that the people who Amos says will faint are the "lovely young women and the strong young men." In a literal famine or a literal drought it is the young people whom you would expect to fair the best. The pretty young girls and the strong young boys are the most vital and vigorous of the people. They are the ones who have the energy to hunt down food or dig for water. By saying that they will be the ones to "faint" from thirst, then, God is saying something about the extent and the severity of the spiritual famine He will send.

But more than that, He is making a statement about the loss of the nation's very vitality. If a nation loses its youth, it loses its strength. And for Israel, its strength had always been the blessing of God.

Now think about that: what if God takes his blessing way?

This is a horrible thing to contemplate for the Church, and yet it is not too difficult to survey the American religious landscape and see denominations that have lost the blessing of God. Many of the old mainline churches of North America are in a steady decline of membership. Churches are being closed on a regular basis.

It is not too surprising that many of these same denominations are denominations which have given up the solid, confident preaching of the Bible. They have turned their backs on God's Word and--either because of their own choice or because of God's will, I would suggest it is a case of both--there has been a famine of hearing God's word in their churches. As a result, they have lost their vitality, they have lost their strength. They have fainted.

And so, again, as we search for the significance of preaching, I think it is safe to say that when God’s word is preached, people find life. If in the absence of hearing God's Word people faint and lose their vitality, then I think we can conclude that where God's Word is heard there is strength and life.

Preaching is where we hear the gospel. Preaching is where we are reminded of God’s grace to us.
in John 4, Jesus calls himself “Living Water” and says that everyone who drinks the water He offers will never thirst again. He says that the water He offers will lead to eternal life. (John 4:14) Listening to preaching is one of the ways that we come to the well to drink again and again.

We cannot simply conclude that just because God’s Word is faithfully preached there will automatically be blessing in a church; but I think we can be certain that there will not be blessing where God's Word is not heard.

Preaching is important, because it brings our souls living water. Preaching brings life to a church, and to a Christian.

Turn Back

III. Third, let’s look at verse 14:
They who swear by the shame of Samaria, or say, "As surely as your god lives, O Dan," or, "As surely as the god of Beersheba lives"--they will fall, never to rise again.
I understand this verse to be saying that when there is a famine of hearing God’s Word, people will be abandoned to their sins. "They will fall, never to rise again."

Samaria, Dan and Beersheba were all centers of idol worship in ancient Israel. They housed shrines to local gods and provided alternative sites for worship for those who didn’t want to make the trip to the temple in Jerusalem.

But as far as God was concerned, people who visited those shrines were two-timing Him. It’s like they were carrying on an extra-marital affair. And He doesn’t like it. Remember, He calls Himself a “jealous” God in the Ten Commandments. This idol worship is one of the reasons Amos is announcing judgment in the first place.

So now he says that those who swear by these false gods, those who make oaths by saying, "As surely as your god lives, O Dan" or "As surely as the god of Beersheba lives"--these people, these idol worshippers, are going to fall never to rise again.

And it seems to me that God is saying: "O.K., if you prefer to worship these idols, then I will leave you to them. I will let you have your false gods. And then we'll see what they can do for you. We'll see if they really live or not. Because they don't, and when I abandon you to them you will fall, you will have no help, and you will never rise again."

In other words, the people who no longer hear God's Word will be abandoned to their sins. And once they are abandoned to their sins, they will be abandoned to the consequences of those sins. Consequences which can only be utter self-destruction.

And so, again, as we search for the significance of preaching, I think it is safe to say that when God’s word is preached, people are called out of darkness. If in the absence of hearing God's Word people are abandoned to sin and its consequences, then I think we can conclude that where God's Word is heard there is warning and caution against sin.

Where God's Word is preached clearly and unashamedly there cannot help but be bold and uncompromising language against sin. God's holy Word calls us to holiness. God's Word convicts.

I don’t want to be a hellfire and brimstone kind of preacher. I don’t think any of us want to be in a church that’s only known for what it’s against. There are too many stereotypes of preachers who can only yell at people and tell them what they’re doing wrong.

And yet, God’s word is clear, there are some activities God just won’t tolerate. He hates idolatry. He despises selfishness. He detests injustice. I tremble to think what would happen if God just abandoned us to our sins.

And so, sometimes we need God’s word to come and nail us to the pew, as it were. We need sin to be called sin. We need to be called out of darkness, back into the light.

Action Steps

So when we talk about why we have preaching, I think it is clear from these verses in Amos that hearing God's word is as spiritually significant as eating and drinking is physically significant. Without hearing God's word we are lost, we are weak, and we are left to our sins. The regular hearing of God’s Word preached is a vital part of our spiritual diet.

So what should we do? What action should you take on account of this sermon? Briefly, I have three action steps that we can all take.

1. First, make regular reading of the scripture a habit. The reason preaching is important, of course, is because we are talking about the proclamation of God’s Word. It is the Bible—the holy, inspired, infallible word of God—that gives us direction and life and calls us out of darkness. So it is important that every Christian is finding a way to regularly take God’s word in—to chew on it, if you will.

And this works best when you make regular reading of the scripture a habit. Make it a part of your regular routine. 15 minutes a day. A chapter or two a day. Use a devotional book, like Words of Hope. Whatever works for you.

Some days, you’ll spend that 15 minutes and not much will happen. You’ll forget what you read as soon as you move on to the next thing in your schedule. But sometimes, God will grab you and get your attention, and you’ll get something that can carry you through your whole day. But, whatever happens, just like you wouldn’t skip a meal, make a point of reading your Bible on a regular basis.

2. Second action step: Make attendance at church on Sunday a priority. There is something about sitting in the community of believers and hearing God’s Word proclaimed that is especially nutritious for our souls. It’s like Sunday dinner with your family—the family of God.

Now, obviously, I’m prejudiced. I’m the preacher, of course I would want you to be here on Sundays. But setting that aside, I really do think regular attendance at worship is an important spiritual discipline. We’ve seen in Amos what happens when there is a famine of hearing God’s word. You wouldn’t choose to live in famine conditions when it comes to your physical diet, why would you choose a spiritual famine?

And not just here, if you find yourself out of town or on vacation, I still think it’s important to find a church to attend. Who knows, maybe you’ll get some ideas for how preaching should go that you can come back and share with me.

3. Then, third and finally, Be an active, engaged listener. If you are going to benefit from a sermon, then you have to pay attention.

Believe me, I know how easy it is to be in church and to zone out during the sermon. When I was a kid, I was great day dreamer. Sunday mornings were when I used to imagine what would happen if the Russians attacked. (I grew up in the 80s, at the height of the cold war). I would day dream about being some sort of freedom fighter, just like in the movie Red Dawn. And every Sunday morning, when the sermon started, was when I would mentally check out.

But I was cheating myself. And it wasn’t the preacher’s fault that I wasn’t paying attention.

Communication is a two way street, kind of like playing catch with a ball. Not only do you have to have someone speaking—or throwing the ball—but for communication to really happen you also have to have someone listening—or catching the ball. And just like catching a ball is an active process, so is listening. It’s something you have to work at.

So be an active listener. Follow along in the text. Ask question in your mind like: why did he say that? Is that really true? Take notes, if that helps you stay engaged.

We may not remember every sermon we hear, but if we listen actively and attentively—and if the preacher does his job--we are fed and nourished each time we go to church.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Powlison on Depression

My favorite author in the realm of soul care, psychology, and biblical counseling, David Powlison, was recently on a radio show talking about depression. Good stuff!

HT: Christian Mind

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gap-Toothed Little Beauty

Robin Joy Mitchell - Age 7

Big Boy Bed

Our youngest, Isaac, turned 3 this week. His big birthday present was his own big boy bed!

Birthday Goggles

All ready for swimming lessons!

Thanks, Auntie Sharon!

Birthday Bash

For Heather (30something), Robin (7), Peter (4), and Isaac (3)!

Tons of kids, food, and fun!

Bonfire Birthday Cake!

This bonfire was edible.

More than edible. It was delicious!

Heather is very creative.

Clean and Dressed and In Its Right Mind

That's how my office feels now!

After getting rid of more than a 30 gallon bag of files and paper!

The Office - Before & After (The Mini-Sabbatical)

My office never felt better!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mini-Sabbatical - Prayer Requests for Week 3

Thank you so much for praying for me during my mini-sabbatical!

The 2nd week went very well. I cleaned out all of the files that have been laying and lurking around my office.

I actually threw away more than a 30 gallon trash-can full of paper! I'm feeling a little less bogged down, that's for sure.

I'm hoping to post pictures of my office clean-up project (before and after) this week.

And I've also been home every evening, enjoyed my family attended a wedding without having to rush home to the sermon, and a lot of other restful sorts of stuff!

Here are my prayer requests for week #3--coming down the homestretch.

#1. Awareness of the Holy Spirit's work in and through me.

#2. This is "optimize the computer" week. I have more than 5,000 emails that I want to delete (I'm actually not sure how many there are that need to go, at least 5,000). My computer has slowed down to a crawl, too, and I need to figure out how to get it back up to speed. My motto this week is: "Clean It Up, Back It Up, Speed It Up!"

#3. And if I get that done, I'd like to start 8 different "writing projects" that I've been wanting to do (like planning the Fall sermon series). If I could get 1 hour on each one, I'd have made a lot of progress.

#4. Please also pray for the development of priorities for AFTER my mini-sabbatical. I'm sure that transitioning back into full-tilt work will have it's difficulties.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Pastor Dan preaches on 4 pieces of "let us" from Hebrews 10 (and he got some potato chips, Hershey bars, candy, and cookies in there, too).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

All Squeezy

That's how my newest niece makes me feel.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mini-Sabbatical - Prayer Requests for Week 2

Thank you for praying for my mini-sabbatical!

I had a very good first week. I weeded out over 250 books from my library and organized what was left!

Josh Perry took 70 of them home with him! There are about 100 on a table in the foyer for people to graze and take what they'd like.

And I'm feel much better. My cold seems to have finally gone away.

Here are my requests for this week:

1. Prayerfulness, peacefulness, and joy in Christ.

2. This is "filing cabinet week." Pray for effectiveness in tossing what I don't need and organizing what I do.

3. Please pray for wisdom and I try to make decisions about what to do with myself AFTER my mini-sabbatical. I need to balance rest and work, come up with good priorities, and make good decisions--not just return to my patterns from before.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Not in Part But the Whole

My sin has been nailed to the Cross and I bear it no more!

Praise the Lord, O My Soul!

-Pastor Dan's sermon this week: Paid in Full.

Friday, July 06, 2007


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Soaking in Psalm 51

How much can you get out of one psalm?

Paul Tripp has been meditating on Psalm 51 for months and months and he shows no signs of stopping.

Excellent and searching stuff.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Half A Year of Books 2007

Time again for my semi-annual list of books I've completed so far this year. Remember, making this list is not an endorsement of the book. Read with discernment.

No time to do the work of linking each of the books. I'm sure that you can find them at your favorite bookseller on your own!

There is a preponderance of escapist mystery novels (more than usual). I'm hoping to balance that out in the second half of the year.

James, P.D. Shroud for a Nightingale

Ramsey, Dave The Total Money Makeover

James, P.D. Unnatural Causes

James, P.D. An Unsuitable Job for A Woman

James, P.D. The Black Tower

Alcorn, Randy The Law of Rewards

Leavitt, Steven & Stephen Dubner Freakonomics

Younts, John A. Everyday Talk

Osteen, Joel Your Best Life Now

Allen, David Getting Things Done

James, P.D. Death of an Expert Witness

James, P.D. The Skull That Lies Beneath

Schultz, Bob Boyhood and Beyond

Ricucci, Gary & Betsy Love That Lasts

Mahaney, C.J. Humility: True Greatness

Austen, Jane Sense and Sensibility

Henry, Marguerite Misty of Chincoteague

Sayers, Dorothy L. Strong Poison

Hybels, Bill Just Walk Across the Room

Alcorn, Randy Deception

Stout, Rex Fer-De-Lance

James, P.D. Devices and Desires

Stout, Rex A Right to Die

Osborne, Larry The Unity Factor

Stanley, Andy How Good Is Good Enough?

McCullough, David W. (ed.) Great Detectives

McCullough, David 1776

Lencioni, Patrick The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Buckingham, Marcus and Donald Clifton Now, Discover Your Strengths

Thompson, Rick E3: Effective, Empowering Elders

Proud Uncle

We have not one, but two new nieces!

Heather's brother and sister in law, David & Yvonne Lundeen just welcomed Piper Quinn into their family last week.

And my brother and sister in law, Andy & Amy Mitchell got to hold Cora Faith for the first time yesterday!

I'm one proud uncle!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mini-Sabbatical - Prayer Requests for Day 1

As I officially start my mini-sabbatical Tuesday, I would appreciate prayer for these things:

1. A God-centeredness in my mind, heart, and priorities.

2. Increased health and rest. I have come down with a "Summer cold" and a sinus infection. I'm now on antibiotics, but it's not a fun way to get started with my sabbatical. I have a number of things I'm trying to accomplish during my sabbatical, and I don't want to over-do myself either. A good mix of rest and work is what I'm shooting for.

3. This week is "library-week." I am hoping to sort through my 1,000+ book library and get rid of around 200 books, sorting the rest into (1) what I hope to read (and putting those in a queue), what I will use or loan to others profitably, and (3) what I want to keep for my kids. Everything else MUST GO! Please pray for diligence in this task.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Shadow Knows

Pastor Dan's message from this morning.

And we were there! We got to worship at Curwensville Presbyterian Church. My wife said, "That was a means of grace to me this morning!"

I'm out of the pulpit for the next 4 weeks, as I enjoy a mini-sabbatical. So there will be no "Matt's Messages" until the last week of July.

But I do hope to blog a little bit more than usual during my sabbatical. So, there will be (hopefully) an increase in my reflections here.