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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Closing the Books on 2008

This has been a great year for reading!

Being the designated read-aloud reader for our homeschool puts a great variety into the list, as did being sick for a lot of last Winter so I had to stock up on mystery novels, and so did having to read several books for my CCEF classes!

All in all, I got to read almost 100 books in 2008. That's the best I've done since the kids came along.

Books Completed in the Second Half of 2008 (First Half)

Llorente, Pilar Molina The Apprentice

Colson, Charles The Faith

Kramer, Peter Listening to Prozac

Welch, Edward Blame It on the Brain? [My Review]

Peterson, Eugene Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

Bolsinger, Tod It Take a Church to Raise a Christian

Miller, Paul Love Walked Among Us

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Life Together [My Response]

Olsen, David Integrative Family Therapy [My Response]

Ingalls Wilder, Laura These Happy Golden Years

Thomas, Gary Sacred Marriage [My Response]

Sayers, Dorothy Whose Body?

Gottman, John The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work [My Response]

Vernick, Leslie How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong [My Response]

Gilbreath, Edward Reconciliation Blues

Dorsett, Lyle A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A.W. Tozer

Clements, Andrew The School Story

du Bois, William Pene The Twenty-One Balloons

Henry, Marguerite White Stallion of Lipizza

Shemin, Margaretha The Little Riders

Carroll R., M. Daniel Christians at the Border

Jamison, Kay Redfield An Unquiet Mind

Sayers, Dorothy The Documents in the Case

Peters, Ellis One Corpse Too Many

McInerny, Ralph Lying Three

Peters, Ellis Flight of a Witch

McInerny, Ralph A Loss of Patients

Thomas, Donald The Execution of Sherlock Holmes

McElwee Miller, William Tales of Persia

Burnett, Frances Hodgson A Little Princess

Carter, Stephen Palace Council

Tripp, Tedd & Margy Instructing a Child’s Heart

Montgomery, Rutherford Kildee House

Robinson, Marilynne Home

Ingalls Wilder, Laura The First Four Years

Garasha, Tom Vital Signs: An EKG of the Pastor’s Heart

Sayers, Dorothy Clouds of Witness

Altrogge, Stephen Game Day for the Glory of God [More Resources on This Here]

McInerny, Ralph Four on the Floor: A Father Dowling Mystery Quartet

Shelter, Joanne And the Word Came with Power

McCall Smith, Alexander The Kalahari Typing School for Men

Storms, Sam Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election

Meade, Starr Keeping Holiday

Harvey, Dave When Sinners Say ‘I Do’

Graham, L.B. Beyond the Summerland

Vincent, Milton A Gospel Primer for Christians

Benge, Janet & Geoff Gladys Aylward

Edwards, Jonathan Charity and Its Fruits [Online Version]

Graham, L.B. Bringer of Storms

Watterson, Bill The Calvin & Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book

Graham, L.B. Shadow of the Deep

Philbrick, Frank & Stephen The Backyard Lumberjack
Don't forget: Read the Bible more than any other book, and not all of these books are recommended! Some are quite the opposite!

This is part of a long standing tradition (I have my lists saved from 1999 on).

Previous Lists:

2008 (first half)

2007 (first half, second half)

2006 (first half, second half)

2005 (first half, second half)

Recommended Reading: New Year's Reflections

John Piper: I Love Jesus Christ

An excerpt: Would you pray with me that in 2009 we would love Jesus Christ more than we ever have? And may our Lord Jesus grant that from time to time we would deliver quietly and naturally a thunderclap into the hearts of others with the simple words, “I love Jesus Christ.”

Ray Ortlund: Going into 2009

An excerpt: 1. The gospel is being rediscovered and rejoiced over and ransacked in a fresh way, as evidenced by Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, Acts 29, etc. God seems to be creating new conditions for revival in the future. I hope I see some of it in my lifetime.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The First Syllable in Crisis is Cry

So says Jack Brooks in Sun-Dried in the Desert, a meditation on Psalm 107.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent 2008: Christmas Eve Candlelighting Message

“To Us a Child Is Born”
Christmas Eve Candlelighting
December 24, 2008
Isaiah 9:6-7

“Advent” means “coming.” Christmas is coming. Jesus has come and is coming again.

This Advent season, we have been celebrating the arrival of the Messiah foretold 800 years before His birth, in Isaiah chapter 9, verses 6 and 7.

This is one of those famous passages of Scripture that gets into your head and cycles around every Christmastime.

George Frideric Handel thought these words were exceedingly beautiful and incorporated them into one of the most famous pieces of music in all of Western Civilization: Handel’s Messiah.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it in my head this whole Advent Season, especially as each family has done their Advent Reading.

Isaiah 9:6-7 is a prophecy of the Messiah of Israel–the promised ruler who would make all things right once more.

Verses 1 through 5 of Isaiah 9 talk of people walking in darkness who have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

We’re at the darkest time of the year right now. Each day is short, each night is long.

These people were walking, living in darkness. But a light had now dawned.

And that light is the joyful reversal of the curse on the world and the end of all war!

And that light comes in the form of a child. Isaiah chapter 9, verse 6 and 7.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

This is what Christmas is all about.

Isaiah wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit about 800 years before the first Christmas. Before the birth of Jesus Christ.

He didn’t know Jesus’ name. But He could see the day when Jesus would come.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given...”

God was promising to send a Messianic Ruler, born as a little human baby–born full of hope and promise.

And this little child would be a gift. A gift, Isaiah says, “to us.”

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given...”

Now, originally that “us” was Israel. But John tells us that God so loved “the world” that He gave His One and Only Son to the world.

So this child was born to all of us. And He changes all of our lives.

Verse 6 says that He would have several great names.

These names are titles that would be appropriate for this coming child.

It’s not that they would be the name that His mother would give him.

She didn’t yell out the kitchen window, “Hey, Wonderful Counselor Mighty God Everlasting Father Prince of Peace, come in for dinner!”

No, these four titles would accurately express who this child would become and what He would accomplish when He began His righteous rule.

During this Advent Season we have been meditating on each one.

[Light First Candle]

Bob & Eleanor Lutz lit our first candle to signify that the Child born to us would be a WONDERFUL COUNSELOR.

Now, when we use the word “counselor,” we tend to think of a dapper fellow in a cardigan sweater who carefully listens to our personal problems and then helps us to solve them with his soothing voice dispensing advice.

But the kind of counselors we know weren’t around in the 8th century before Christ.

The kind of counselors everyone listened to then were what we would call “Military Advisors” or “Military Strategists.”

These were men who understood the enemy and understood battle tactics.

They were rough and tumble men who had what it takes to give you a plan to win a war.

Isaiah says that the Messiah would be a “Wonderful Counselor.”

His plans, His strategies, His advice, His counsel would be like nothing ever seen before!

It would be “wonderful!” Full of wonders.

And therefore, anyone who took His counsel would not fail.

The apostle Paul said that all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Jesus Christ.

He is the child born to us and He is full of wonderful counsel.

His advice is like no other:

You have give up your life to save it.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
You can’t earn your salvation, you must receive it.
It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Those kind of statements aren’t natural wisdom!

But they are wonderful!

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. And those who follow His strategies never fail.

I think the application of this title for us this Christmas is to marvel at Jesus’ wisdom and to seek it out.

Are you seeking the wisdom of Christ?

Or are you trying to do things your own way? Or the world’s way?

Often, Jesus’ wisdom seems foolish to us.

People come to me with problems, and I try to give them Jesus’ wisdom–often it sounds like craziness to them and they don’t give it more than a half-hearted try.

Counseling can be a pretty frustrating thing.

But Jesus’ wisdom is wonderful! It’s full of wonder!

And when we do things His way, the world may scratch their heads, but in the end, we will all marvel at the result!

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor.

[Light Candle #2]

Andy and Bonnie Dobash lit our second candle to symbolize that the Child born to us would be the MIGHTY GOD. V.6

“He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God...”

This child to be born would appropriately[!] bear the title “Mighty God.”

Now, I wonder what Isaiah must have thought when the Spirit led Him to put those words down on paper!

A baby was going to be born, a son, and He would be called “What?” Lord, you want me to write what?

“Mighty God!”

That’s unbelievable! There are truly no real words to describe this!

Mighty God has become a baby boy!

A baby boy is Mighty God!

That’s mind-blowing stuff.

We’re too used to it because we sing the Christmas Carols every year.

And we’ve gotten used to Christmas pageants and Christmas Cards.

But this mind-blowing stuff. Our brains should be cooking just thinking about it!

Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, and He was and is Mighty God!

The application of that title is simply to worship Him!

To worship Jesus in His power and His glory.

Every day, to get down on our knees and worship Him.

To center our lives around Jesus.

To make Jesus the focus of our faith.

A lot of people seem to believe in God. But the Bible says that that is not good enough.

It’s not enough to “believe in God!”

We must worship Jesus, the God-Man.

He is glorious and all-powerful deity. Deserving all of our praise and worship.

Veiled in Flesh the Godhead See
Hail (Worship!) The Incarnate Deity
Pleased As Man With Men to Dwell
Jesus, Our Immanuel!

Jesus is Mighty God!

[Light Candle #3]

The Hurley family lit our third candle. And they told us that the Child born to us would be called “EVERLASTING FATHER.”

“He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father...”

Now, Jesus is not God the Father. This is not a reference to His oneness with God the Father.

And humanly speaking, Jesus never married or had any children as a human father.

But that’s not the kind of Father that this is talking about.

This is more like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or John Adams.

People we call the “Fathers of our nation.”

They were the foundational leaders of our nation who led and guided it.

And the Messiah was to be a Father to His people.

Now, not everyone has had a great father.

But that word “Father” is supposed to conjure up connotations of care and wisdom and authority and strong leadership.

This is the ideal Father that everyone longs for and all good earthly fathers aspire to be like: loving, sacrificial, and strong.

Verse 6 said that the “government will be on his shoulders.”

He would shoulder the government! That’s a big responsibility, calling for very big shoulders.

As a Dad, I understand what it means to have the weight of a family rest on your shoulders.

Well, the weight of the world would rest on the shoulders of this child!

That’s what it would mean for Him to be “Father” for His people.

But He wouldn’t just be Father. He’s be Everlasting Father!

This does point to His deity!

His Fatherhood, His loving leadership would be a never-ending-never-stopping-always-coming-through kind of leadership!

Where earthly fathers (all of them, all of us) will fail, this One never will!

The application of this title is simply to trust and to obey Jesus.

“To follow the Father” and to trust and obey Jesus as our loving leader.

He is so wise! Wonderfully wise!
And His so powerful! Mighty God!
And He is such a loving leader! Everlasting Father.

We can trust Him. And we can do what He says.

Are you going through a hard time right now?

Jesus is a Father. Like a Shepherd, you can trust Him, and you can do what He says, and He will take care of you.

To us a child is born, and He is an Everlasting Father. Trust Him and obey Him.

[Light Candle #4]

On Sunday, Terry and Nancy Sheetz lit our fourth candle and proclaimed his fourth title here: PRINCE OF PEACE.

“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The Messiah’s rule will be characterized, not just by the absence of war (though that will be amazing!) but by the presence of harmony, justice, righteousness, and peace.

Shalom. And Shalom forever! Listen to verse 7.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. [It will just get better and better and better!] He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

This peace has come, but it has not come fully yet.

The Kingdom has been inaugurated but has not been fully consummated.

When Jesus was born, the angels sang, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.”

Because the Son had come!

And when He comes again, He will establish this Kingdom that will never end.

So, I think the application here is to rejoice in Jesus’ peace and long for Him to bring the kingdom of peace forever.

Jesus has brought peace with God.

If we trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, banking on what He did for us on the Cross, we have peace with God!

And we can begin to have peace on Earth, as well. As we embrace His principles for peacemaking.

But one day, coming soon, the whole world will be filled with peace.

Justice and righteousness will flow like mighty waters.

And of the increase of his government (resting on His almighty shoulders) and His peace–there will be no end.

While we work at that now, we long for that day!

Verse 5 paints a picture of that day when “every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.”

If the boots and the uniforms are being tossed into the fire, where do you think the weapons are?

There will be no more war!

There will only be peace!

Because of the Prince of Peace!

Do you long for that day?

Is it in your blood? Is it in your heart to long for the return of the Prince of Peace–for that Kingdom to be established and to grow without end?

How will this happen?

How can we know that this kingdom will, in fact, come?

Sometimes it seems like it never will!

And we could never do it.

[Light the Christ Candle]

Our fifth and last candle is a Candle of the LORD’S ZEAL. Isaiah 9:7

“The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

Friends, we can count on it!

God is jealous to see His glory manifested in the New Creation!

He has committed Himself to this, and He will not fail to bring it about!

“The zeal of the LORD Almighty WILL accomplish this.”

We can count on that!

God is passionate about it. He is zealous. It will not fail to occur.

And all because a child has been born–to us.

Given to us.

All we have to do is to receive Him.

Have you received this Child?

Have you received the gift of His life?

To you a child has been born. To you a Son has been given.

And He will be called:

Wonderful Counselor. Marvel at Jesus’ Wisdom and Seek It Out.

Mighty God. Worship Jesus for His Power and His Glory!

Everlasting Father. Trust and Obey Jesus’ Loving Leadership.

Prince of Peace. Rejoice in Jesus’ Peace and Long for Him to Bring the Kingdom of Peace Forever.

How do we know it will happen?

“The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

Upside Down Christmas

Check out this short film from CreativePastors.com.

It's the Christmas Story Upside Down (Hint: Watch all the way through.)

[HT: VK]

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hip, Hip, CCEF Hooray!

In a big Christmas present surprise, I got my grades back from my CCEF Classes today (I didn't expect them until mid-January).

From the looks of the papers and my professor's very encouraging comments, it appears that I got 4 A's, one for each class!

Praise the Lord!

Thank you to all of you who made it possible and prayed me through the process.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 2008: Week 4

LEFC Family Advent Readings
Advent Week #4: To Us a Child Is Born
“Prince of Peace” - Isaiah 9:6-7
December 21, 2008

"Advent” means “coming.” Christmas is coming. Jesus has come and is coming again.

This Advent season, we are celebrating the arrival of the Messiah foretold 800 years before His birth, in Isaiah chapter 9, verses 6 and 7:

[READ ISAIAH 9:6-7]

[LIGHT CANDLE #1 AGAIN]

Our first candle was a candle of Jesus’ wisdom. He is the Wonderful Counselor.

[LIGHT CANDLE #2 AGAIN]

Our second candle was a candle of worship. Jesus is the Mighty God.

[LIGHT CANDLE #3]

Our third candle was a candle of trust and obedience. Jesus is Everlasting Father.

[LIGHT CANDLE #4]

Our fourth candle is a candle of peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah predicted that the Messiah’s rule would be characterized, not just by the absence of war, but by the presence of harmony, justice, righteousness, and peace.

He writes, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

When Jesus was born, the angels sang, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.” The Prince of Peace has come!

Peace with God is now possible because of Jesus.

Peace with others is now possible because of Jesus.

We can enjoy His peace now, in part. And one day, the whole world will be filled with His peace.

The Kingdom of the Messiah will come, and it will never end.

This candle calls us to live in the peace that the Prince of Peace has brought and will bring forever.

Advent Bible Study for Families

1. Read Isaiah 9:1-7 one last time. What title of the Child to be born has been the most meaningful to you this Advent season?

2. What is peace? Is it more than just the absence of war? How would you describe it? What’s so good about peace (Hebrew: shalom)?

3. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. In what ways has His peace come? In what ways are we still waiting for His peace to fully come?

4. Re-read verse 5. What is the significance of the boots and uniforms being tossed into the fire?

5. What difference does Jesus being the Prince of Peace make for our family this Christmas? How can we live in His peace? How can we share it with others?

6. As a family, sing Joy to the World, the Christmas Carol by Isaac Watts. Joy to the World is actually more about Jesus’ second advent than His first, and it reminds us that His peace-filled kingdom will never end.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy. No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Matt's Messages "Love Has Come"

“Love Has Come”
Learning to Love
December 21, 2008
Matthew 1:18-25, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, Romans 8:35-39

I want to encourage all of you to make a plan now to read through your Bible in 2009. 2009 will be here in just 10 days, and so now is the time to make your plan to read through the Bible in the New Year.

The bulletin indicates that there are new reading plans in the back on the Bible resource table. This year, there are two main ones. Both a printed on purple paper.

The thicker one is one that we’ve put out on the table for several years. If you use that one, you actually go through the whole Bible once and the New Testament and Psalm twice. So it’s more than one time through the Bible and it’s divided up into 4 daily readings. It goes along with the companion books “For the Love of God” that also out there on the table. I highly recommend them.

The thinner plan is a great plan, too. It goes through the Bible once in a year, but I like how it’s laid out. It plans in time each week for reflection and catching-up. So, there’s built-in time in the plan for getting a little behind and then being able to still catch up. I highly recommend that plan, too. It’s called the “Book at a Time Bible Reading Plan.”

There is also One-Year Bibles out there that divide the Bible up into readings for you. And a book by Gordon Addington that helps you Discover the Bible as well.

Now, I say this every year at this time and we make these reading plans available.

This year, I want to up the ante and issue a challenge to encourage everyone here to read through their Bible in 2009.

I’m offering a pancake breakfast to everyone here who reads through the Bible in 2009.

In January 2010, Heather and I will make a pancake breakfast for anyone and everyone who brings me one of those purple reading plans with all of the boxes checked that you have read them. A completed purple reading plan will be your ticket.

How’s that? I know that January 2010 is a long way off, but now’s the time to get ready for it by planning to read your Bible.

The Bible is God’s own Word to us. What a gift! Let’s read it together in 2009!

Have you found Matthew chapter 1?

This is a very familiar passage. Let’s read it. Starting in verse 18.

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’--which means, ‘God with us.’ When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

“Love Has Come.”

Today’s message is the last in the long series that we’ve been in all Fall.

Since September, we’ve been “Learning to Love.”

We’ve been in the “School of Love” with God as our Teacher and 1 Corinthians 13 as our textbook.

We’ve learned what love looks like when it’s in action. What love looks like when love is “doing its thing.”

We’ve learned that love is a wonderful, powerful thing–hard to do but awesome and effective when it’s truly practiced.

Today, as we celebrate Christmas together, we go one step further.

We rejoice in the fact that love has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Not just that we should love others but that God has loved us.

The Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son.

Jesus is God’s love-gift, His Christmas present, love-in-the-flesh, for you and for me.

There is so much in Matthew chapter 1.

I’d love to spend time on the genealogy with you. Or talk about Joseph and Mary and their surprise at Mary’s holy pregnancy.

But what I want to focus on today in this passage is what the Angel of the Lord told Joseph to name the baby boy.

One name is “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” V.23

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’–which means ‘God with us.’”

What have we learned about God and love? 1 John 4:8? “God IS love.”

So if God is now with us? Then Love Has Come.

#1. Love Has Come TO SAVE US FROM OUR SINS.

I get that from the other name that the angel told Joseph to give to the baby boy.

Look at verse 21:

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Now, we are familiar with that name “Jesus.” But we don’t always think about what it actually means. If you have the NIV, you’ll notice a footnote for verse 21 that says, “Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means the LORD saves.”

We’re going to be learning a lot about the Old Testament Joshua in 2009. 2009 is a odd numbered year where we take up the next chronological book in the Big Story of the Old Testament. We’ve done Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers. In 2009, we’ll pick up Joshua.

Joshua’s name reminds us of deliverance. Rescue. Salvation.

“The LORD saves.”

And Jesus is the Greek form of that name.

Jesus’ name means “the LORD Saves.” The angel said (v.21), “Joe, give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Love has come to save us from our sins.

We’ve all heard that before. We say it every week. But it’s truly amazing–especially when we realize how sinful our sin really is.

You and I are, by nature, sinners. We’re rebels against a holy God.

And God would be just to send us to Hell forever.

We’ve sinned against God! He’s perfect and holy and lovely and beautiful and glorious and creator and sustainer and awesome in every way.

But we’ve all turned away from Him and turned against Him.

But the good news is, the gospel is, that Jesus is God with us to save us from our sins.

Love has come to save us from our sins.

He did it by means of the Cross.

The baby in Bethlehem grew up to be the man of sorrows crucified on a Roman cross.

Taking our sin, our shame, our guilt, our punishment, our place.

He died for our sins, the just for the unjust to bring us to God.

That’s how much He loves His people!

Do you know Him as Savior today?

Do you know Him as your Rescuer?

Does Jesus mean “the LORD has saved” you?

If you are not yet a faith-follower of Jesus Christ, saved by His grace and His work on the cross on your behalf, we invite you today to trust Him and be saved.

You need rescuing! We all do.

You are, by nature, in the burning building of God’s wrath.

But Love Has Come to the rescue!

Like a great firefighter bursting through the flames, God has sent His Son Jesus to die in your place and grab you out of sin and into His arms.

I invite you turn from your sins and trust in the Savior today.

Love Has Come to Save Us From Our Sins.

If you are saved today, what a great time of year it is to celebrate our Savior!

Joe and I sang this morning:

We Once Were Slaves in Misery
Till You Appeared and Set Us Free!
Alleluia! Hope Has Come.

Love Has Come to Save Us From Our Sins!

#2. Love Has Come TO SHOW US HOW IT’S DONE.

Jesus is God’s love come to us.

And one of the reasons why He came was to show us how to love.

To show us how it’s done.

Nobody ever loved like Jesus!

When Jesus wept over Lazarus’ death, the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

They were amazed at His love.

And the more we get to know Jesus, the more we’ll be amazed at how He loved others.

Now, first and foremost, He came to love us by dying in our place.

But His love is also an example for us.

How many times this Fall, have I said, “Can you imagine Jesus envying?” or “Can you imagine Jesus being “self-seeking?” Or “Can you imagine Jesus delighting in evil?”

Of course not. Jesus was the prime and perfect example of love.

In fact, let’s do this.

Let’s say our memory work today (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) and subtitute in Jesus’ name for love. And “He” instead of “it.”

Okay?

“Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. He is not rude, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.”

Love has come to show us how it’s done.

Do you remember how Jesus washed His disciple’s feet?

It was the night before the crucifixion and the gospel of John tells us that Jesus had loved His disciples, but now He was going to show them the full extent of His love.

He loved them to the fullest.

And wrapped a towel around his waist and bent down and did the most menial of all tasks–He washed their feet.

And when He was done, He said, “Do you understand what I have done for you? ... Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you...[And He also said] Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men wil know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”

Love Has Come to Show Us How It’s Done

So that we will love, too!

Is there someone that you are struggling to love?

Is there someone in your life right now that you know that God is calling you to love, and maybe it’s difficult.

We’ve talked about love all Fall.

In all of our relationships–we, as Christ’s followers, are to be characterized by biblical, Christ-like love.

Patient, Kind, Content, Encouraging, Humble, Respectful, Others-Focused, Joyful, Gracious, and Holy, and Tenacious.

Jesus shows us how it’s done so that we will turn around and do it for others.

Can I suggest a resource to help in our ongoing education?

This book is called “Love Walked Among Us” and I read it this Summer for my CCEF classes. It is excellent. It was one of if not the best book that I read this Summer. In fact, it was one of the chief reasons that I picked this theme for our Fall sermon series.

All of our Link Groups are going to be reading and discussing “Love Walked Among Us” this Winter. They’ll all do it on their own pace in their own way, but it’s going to be the main book that folks will be reading in our church.

If you’re in a Link Group already, there should be a copy of the book in your box in the foyer.

But we want everyone to get into a Link Group, so there are more books on the table in the back. Grab one today and join a group.

Right now, we have 3 groups: I lead one, Blair leads one, and Bob Gisewhite leads one. Talk with one of us about joining a group.

If you can’t join a group, talk with me about starting one. I’d love to train you in how to do that.

Or if you can’t do that at this time, I still recommend that you get a book. They are free if you’re in a Link Group. They;re only $7.00 if you’re not.

And if 7 bucks is a problem, let me know, and we’ll get you scholarship for one.

Here’s why we’re reading this book next:

It picks up where 1 Corinthians 13 has left off.

It is a study of the person of Jesus and how Jesus loved others.

It’s a study of the Gospels and how Jesus loved people. And we’re going to learn, as we read it, how to love other people like Jesus did.

Sound good? It is. Get a book. Join a group.

Because Love Has Come To Show Us How It’s Done.

Here at Christmas time, God is calling us to love other people.

Not just to have a warm fuzzy feeling about people.

But to love people in our relationships like Jesus loved people.

Love Has Come to Show Us How It’s Done.

#3. Love Has Come TO STAY WITH US FOREVER.

Love Has Come to Save Us From Our Sins
Love Has Come to Show Us How It’s Done
And Love Has Come to Stay With Us Forever.

Turn in your Bibles with me to the book of Romans chapter 8. The last few verses.

In this awesome passage, the Apostle Paul connects again the love of God with Jesus Christ.

And his main point is this: if we are in Christ, we will never be separated from the love God.

Let’s read it. Romans 8:35. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Love Has Come and Has Come to Stay!

Paul says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”

You might think that those things would prove that we are separated from the love of Christ.

Are you going through any of those yourself this Christmas Season?

Christmas can be really tough time for people.

“Trouble or hardship or [the economy or relational difficulties or worries about work or about family or about your health? Or] persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword...”

Can true believers go through those?

You bet. Paul expects it. He quotes Psalm 44. “As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’”

But do trials at Christmas separate from God’s love?

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, [or in case you can come up with something not in those categories!] nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Love has come to stay with us forever.

I would imagine that some of us need to hear that today.

You might feel abandoned.

Maybe like verse 38 says, “death” has threatened. Or death has shown up.

Many of us grieve loved ones who have died during the holiday season.

Or maybe you’re depressed. Christmas is a time when many get the holiday blues.

You need hope.

Jesus is the hope you need.

And He is not going anywhere.

Love has come and has come to stay.

Love will never leave you nor forsake you.

It may feel like it sometimes!

But this is what is true.

“Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The little baby born in Bethlehem is the inseparable, insuperable love of God for you and me.

Love Has Come!

Love Has Come to Save Us From Our Sins.
I invite you to trust Jesus as Your Savior. The LORD saves you.

Love Has Come to Show Us How It’s Done.
Love other people like Jesus! Jesus is patient. Jesus is kind. So can you be.

Love Has Come to Stay With Us Forever.
Jesus is our Great Hope! And He’s here to stay. Trust in Him.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oh, What Will Heaven Really Be Like?!!!

From Jonathan Edward's Charity and Its Fruits:
The joy of heavenly love shall never be interrupted or damped by jealousy.

Heavenly lovers will have no doubt of the love of each other. They shall have no fear that the declarations and professions of love are hypocritical; but shall be perfectly satisfied of the sincerity and strength of each other's affection, as much as if there were a window in every breast, so that everything in the heart could be seen. There shall be no such thing as flattery or dissimulation in heaven, but there perfect sincerity shall reign through all, and in all. Every one will be just what he seems to be, and will really have all the love that he seems to have. It will not be as in this world, where comparatively few things are what they seem to be, and where professions are often made lightly, and without meaning ; but there every expression of love shall come from the bottom of the heart, and all that is professed shall be really and truly felt.

The saints shall know that God loves them, and they shall never doubt the greatness of his love, and they shall have no doubt of the love of all their fellow-inhabitants in heaven. And they shall not be jealous of the constancy of each other's love. They shall have no suspicion that the love which others have felt toward them is abated, or in any degree withdrawn from themselves for the sake of some rival, or by reason of anything in themselves which they suspect is disagreeable to others, or through any inconstancy in their own hearts or the hearts of others. Nor will they be in the least afraid that the love of any will ever be abated toward them. There shall be no such thing as inconstancy and unfaithfulness in heaven, to molest and disturb the friendship of that blessed society. The saints shall have no fear that the love of God will ever abate towards them, or that Christ will not continue always to love them with unabated tenderness and affection. And they shall have no jealousy one of another, but shall know that by divine grace the mutual love that exists between them, shall never decay or change. [pg. 340-341 in the Banner of Truth edition]
Can you imagine?

Longing for that day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent 2008: Week 3

LEFC Family Advent Readings
Advent Week #3: To Us a Child Is Born
“Everlasting Father” - Isaiah 9:6-7
December 14, 2008

“Advent” means “coming.” Christmas is coming. Jesus has come and is coming again.

This Advent season, we are celebrating the arrival of the Messiah foretold 800 years before His birth, in Isaiah chapter 9, verses 6 and 7:

[READ ISAIAH 9:6-7]

[LIGHT CANDLE #1 AGAIN]

Our first candle was a candle of Jesus’ wisdom. He is the Wonderful Counselor.

[LIGHT CANDLE #2 AGAIN]

Our second candle was a candle of worship. Jesus is the Mighty God!

[LIGHT CANDLE #3.]

Our third candle is a candle of trust and obedience. Jesus is Everlasting Father.

Isaiah is not saying that Jesus is God the Father or that He would have human children.

Instead, Isaiah is predicting that Jesus would be a Father to His people like the founding fathers of a nation–the foundational leader of a people. He says that the “government will be on his shoulders.”

The weight of the world would rest on the loving, wise, authoritative, and strong shoulders of this baby boy. He would be a “Father” to His people.

An Everlasting Father! His loving leadership of His people will never end.

This candle reminds us to trust Him and obey Him as the Everlasting Father that He is.

Advent Bible Study for Families

1. As a family, re-read Isaiah 9:6-7. Review what you’ve learned so far. Jesus was to be Wonderful , Mighty , and Everlasting . What do each of those titles mean?

2. What are the characteristics of the ideal Father?

3. Today, we learned that Isaiah is not teaching that Jesus is God the Father or that He would have human children. What does it mean for Jesus to be the Father of His people? Why is it important that He is everlasting?

4. If you are the Father of your family, talk about what it means to have the weight of the family on your shoulders and compare that with what Isaiah says will be on the shoulders of the Messiah.

5. How can our family grow in trust and obedience of our Everlasting Father, Jesus?

6. As a family, sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of nightAnd death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Matt's Messages "Love Never Fails"

“Love Never Fails”
Learning to Love
December 14, 2008
1 Corinthians 13:8a

Dawn Boyd told me last Sunday that one day the previous week, out of the blue, she was asked by a co-worker if she knew the “Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13!

And Dawn said, “Well, believe it or not, I do!” And she was able to quote it for her.

Let’s all do it together.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Amen!

One of you wrote me an encouraging email this week that said this (I thought it was so good), “This current sermon series has been...honest, encouraging, meaningful, guided, thought-provoking...[and] a struggle. I thought I had my ‘version’ of Christian love down pretty good. Wow. I have a LOT of work to do.”

Can I get an Amen for that one, too?

Me, too! Amen. I think that this sermon series has been one of the most challenging to prepare and even more challenging to live out.

I am definitely not “Doctor Love.” I don’t have a Ph.D. in Christian love.
In fact, I realized while I was hunting the last two weeks how far from the ideal I really fall short.

I’ve found out this year that hunting can really show you your heart!

I’m NOT patient. Love may be patient, but I am not!

Sitting in the woods, waiting for a deer–maybe a deer who isn’t going to come!

I just kept fidgeting! I couldn’t sit still.

I am envious.

Love does not envy, but I found myself envying.

The first day of deer season, there you are in the woods–and about 7 o’clock you begin to hear, what?

Guns going off! And you don’t think, “Oh good. I’m so glad those guys were successful!”

No, you think, “Where’s mine?!”

I’m not boastful. I don’t have anything to boast about.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not proud.

I hope I wasn’t rude. But I know that a couple of times I was easily angered.

You know, the second day of deer, I went out to park where I had the day before, and there was a truck parked there taking up 2 spots. And I was immediately filled with rage!

I’ve forgiven him, though, I’m not keeping a record of wrongs.

Hunting has a way of showing your heart....if you’re paying attention.

I was not successful this year at bagging a buck or tagging a doe. But it’s just 50 more weeks until hunting season again! Maybe next year.

I failed this year. But verse 8 tells us that, “Love never fails.” And that’s what we want to think about this morning.

“Love never fails.”

That’s the cap that Paul puts on this compact little powder-keg of a passage.

“Love never fails.”

There is a major contrast between verse 7 with the repetition of always, always, always, always. And then verse 8 with “never.” Notice that?

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

But love NEVER fails.

“Love never fails.”

Let’s think about that. What does that mean?

It certainly DOESN’T mean that we never fail to love.

You and I often fail to love. That’s one thing that we’ve been learning this Fall.

“Love don’t come easy.” It’s not easy to love, and we often fail at it and require forgiveness and grace.

And it doesn’t mean that others won’t fail to love us.

They will. If we expect our loved ones to love us back unfailingly, we will be sorely disappointed.

Sinners fail to love. And it hurts. It really hurts.

It also doesn’t mean that every loving thing we do will accomplish what we intend for it to do.

So, if we do something loving, for an enemy, for example, that “love never fails” doesn’t mean that they will automatically become our friend.

Love does not always attain automatic or predictable results.

However, love never fails.

That’s the truth. It’s right there in your Bible. What does it mean?

Let me suggest three things this morning.

#1. LOVE IS EFFECTIVE.

“Love never fails” means that love is effective.

Love does have an effect on those who are loved.

In other words, love works.

The Greek word here for “fails” is “pipto.” It literally means to fall.

Love never falls. It doesn’t stumble and have no effect.

When we practice it in truth, love accomplishes something in our relationships.

We’ve all experienced this.

What happens inside of you when someone is patient with you?

Well, if we notice it, it often makes us realize that we’re being a problem, doesn’t it?

Love has an effect on us.

What about when others are kind to us? Does that effect us?

You bet it does.

Remember a couple of months ago when I asked for testimonies of seeing patience and kindness in your week?

A number of you gave testimonies of how encouraged you were by someone else’s patience or kindness. It had an effect on you.

Love never fails. Love is effective.

Now, that’s LOVE that is effective, not manipulation!

Sometimes, we get to thinking that if we act in an outwardly loving way (or if we’re nicey nice) then we’ll change someone else.

Well, first of all, we can can’t change anyone else.

But second of all, it takes real love to help someone change–not just the outward veneer of it.

But true love itself IS effective.

I got a note last week from one of you telling a victory story about how you’ve grown at love in one particular relationship in your life.

And, even better, that relationship has improved! There has been both a give and a take on both sides of this relationships. Love never fails.

Now, again, it doesn’t always look like we expect.
It doesn’t always happen on our time-table.

Sometimes, it doesn’t look remotely like what we had hoped for.

And it’s not a trick.

But love never fails. It is effective.

I think one of the reasons why Paul puts this last in the list is to encourage us to keep at it.

As we’ve seen, this is a beautiful description of love in action, but it can seem almost crushing with the weight of it when you try to measure yourself against it.

And verse 7 encouraged us to keep at it. Don’t stop. Be tenacious in love.

And then verse 8 tells us, not only to keep at it, but that it will have an effect.

Love never fails.

Don’t stop now. Love will be effective.

Love will be victorious.

Love will be triumphant.

Love will have an effect.

Do you need to hear that today?

Do you need to hear that at the end of this sermon series?

Don’t give up on love.

Don’t give up on that relationship.

With your spouse, with your kids, with your parents, with your co-workers, with your neighbors, with your church members, with your classmates, with your roommates.

Keep on loving.

Now again, that doesn’t mean that those relationships will not change. Or that you shouldn’t do some things to change those relationships.

But don’t stop loving in those relationship.

Don’t stop being Patient, Kind, Content, Encouraging, Humble, Respectful, Others-Focused, Joyful, Gracious, and Holy. in your love for them.

Don’t stop loving. Because it will be effective.

Expect effect.

Love never fails.

Take that as a promise and keep on loving–even though it’s hard, especially because it’s hard.

Expect effect.

Love never fails means that love is effective.

#2. LOVE IS ETERNAL.

That “love never fails” means that love is eternal.

This little phrase is a bridge between verses 4 through 7 and verses 8 through 13.

And it’s part of Paul’s larger argument in 1 Corinthians.

Remember, Paul is fixing problems at the church in Corinth.

They had a spiritual gift problem. Not that they didn’t have them, but that they loved them too much. They thought too much of their spiritual gifts.

And chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians deals with spiritual gifts and chapter 14 deals with spiritual gifts.

Chapter 13 does, too. And one of the chief things that it says about spiritual gifts is that they don’t last. Spiritual gifts aren’t that important because they don’t last.

In chapter 12, Paul has been saying that spiritual gifts are good and from God but that now in chapter 13, he’s going to show us something much more important–the more excellent way: Love.

And then in verses 1-3, he contrasts love with the exercise of amazing spiritual gift without love–and he concludes that spiritual gifts (no matter how amazing) without love are worthless.

And then he gives us our textbook on love (verses 4-7), “Love is patient” ending with “Love never fails.”

And then, he talks about spiritual gifts again, doesn’t he? V.8

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease [King James: “they shall fail”]; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes (at the return of Christ!) the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain [forever!]: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” [1 Corinthians 13:8-13].

Love is eternal!

Love goes into eternity even though spiritual gifts do not!

The English Standard Version translates verse 8: “Love never ends.”

Gifts are temporary.
Love is permanent.

Love is eternal.

So, do you know what Heaven is going to be like?

Heaven is going to be a “world of love.”

That’s a phrase from Jonathan Edward’s great book on the “Love Chapter” called “Charity and Its Fruits.”

I’ve been reading it as I prepare for these messages.

Edwards calls heaven a “World of Holy Love.”

And his last chapter is a long meditation on what it means that heaven will be a great home of love.

Heaven will be a place where everybody loves everybody and everybody knows the love of God!

Doesn’t that sound marvelous?

Love is eternal.

This is another reason to practice love.

Because love lasts.

It isn’t just here today and gone tomorrow.

Love (and what is done in love) lasts forever and ever and ever and ever and ever.

Love lasts. It’s permanent.

It’s a permanent fixture in the universe!

And when you and I practice Christian love, we experience a foretaste of the world to come.

Let me say that again.

When you and I practice Christian love, we experience a foretaste of the world to come.

When we practice Christian love, we are practicing for Heaven.

“Love never fails.”

So, husbands and wives:

When you are patient with each other.
When you keep no record of wrongs.
When you are kind.
When you are not easily angered...

You are getting ready for Heaven.

Parents:

When you lead a family into humble confession (I’m sorry).
When you lead a family into humble forgiveness (I forgive you)...

Your home becomes a place like Heaven.

Kids:

When you don’t envy and you don’t boast about toys, sports, and privileges..

...you are passing out a little taste of Heaven!

Teens:

When you refuse to rejoice in evil at West Branch or Philipsburg or Clearfield but instead delight with the truth...

...you are opening the door a crack onto what it’s like on the other side!

Church!

When we go from here into the fellowship hall and have our annual Christmas dinner, and we defer to one another and are kind to one another–remember mothers with small children and our older worshippers should go straight to the head of the line–and the rest of us should love them as they go there...

...when we are kind to one another, we, as a church, are getting a foretaste of what Heaven is like!

Love is eternal.

Love never fails. Never, ever, ever, ever.

Do you need another reason to love?

One more.

That “love never fails” means that “love is effective” and that “love is eternal.”

It also means that:

#3. LOVE IS DIVINE.

How is that love never fails?

How is that possible?

How is that love is effectual and that we can expect effect from our love?

How is that love is eternal and that it will exist forever and ever and ever ad infinitum?

It must be that love comes from and is empowered by God Himself.

More than that! God Himself is love.

The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

That’s how love can be unfailingly effective and everlastingly eternal.

Love is divine.

It’s an attribute of deity.

It’s a glorious part of who God is.

Love is divine.

Now, that’s another reason to love other people, because when we do it, we’re acting like God Himself.

But what I want to end with is what we need to remember and rejoice in every single day of our Christian lives: the love of God for us.

Love is divine, and the Divine (God!) has shown His love for us in Jesus Christ.

More than two thousand years ago, God sent His own Son to us as a little baby born in Bethlehem and laid in a lowly manger.

The divine love came near.

We’re going to talk about that next Sunday. The sermon title for next week is “Love Has Come,” and (by the way) you don’t have to memorize that!

But we do need to rejoice in it!

God Himself has loved us with an unfailing love!

And it’s bound up in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, leaving His throne and coming to Earth to be a little baby, then a young man, then a man who taught like no one else, who lived like no one else, and then who died like no one else.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest expression of the greatest love in the universe.

God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

If you have the Son, you have life!

If you do not have the Son, you do not have life.

And you don’t have love.

If you are outside of Christ today, we invite you to come inside.

We invite you to put your faith and trust and hope in Jesus Christ and experience the love of God for you.

He died to pay the penalty for sin.
He came back to life to give us life.

You are invited to begin a love relationship with Him today.

You are invited to know the divine love of God in Jesus Christ.

And if you already know Him, then rejoice!

Rejoice that you know the unfailing love of God.

Love never fails.

Love is effective. Expect effect!
Love is eternal. Let’s love for Heaven’s Sake!
And love is divine. It’s God’s love.

And it never, ever fails.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Heaven Is a World of Love

"In the concluding chapter of Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards describes heaven as 'a world of holy love' and 'the paradise of love.' Heaven will be a home filled with love because God is there and 'God is love' (1 John 4:8).

When Christians love one another as Jesus did, the local church family prefigures the glories of our future loving, heavenly existence."

-Alexander Strauch, Leading with Love, pg. 86

Friday, December 12, 2008

Next Up: Joshua

We've almost reached the end of the Learning to Love series. Hard to believe--I still can remember the exact moment it was conceived...in class!

But it's time to turn my attention to reading and preparing for the next major series: The book of Joshua.

In January, I'm planning a short series on resolutions for the new year, and then we dive into the 4th book in our long trek through the Old Testament on odd numbered years (Genesis 2003, Exodus 2005, and Numbers 2007).

I've ordered David Howard's commentary (I had him as a professor at TEDS), Hess, JM Boice, and Wiersbe. I already had Kent Hughes and Woudstra (NICOT) on hand.

Happy hunting for spiritual truth from the ancient near east for modern western Pennsylvania!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Podcasting

We're finally leaving the 90's and podcasting our Matt's Messages sermons.

It's just starting to get up, but you should be able to find the most recent Matt's Messages in audio version here.

And you can subscribe to our podcast by adding this link to your RSS reader.

Here are the 3 most recent messages that have been posted:

Content Management System by Ekklesia360

Bella Babies

I can't watch the movie Bella without crying (see my previous posts on this).

Today, I cried again, and I wasn't even watching the movie.

I was reading this story about babies who have lived because of the movie.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Advent 2008: Week 2

LEFC Family Advent Readings
Advent Week #2: To Us a Child Is Born
“Mighty God” - Isaiah 9:6-7
December 7, 2008

“Advent” means “coming.” Christmas is coming. Jesus has come and is coming again.

This Advent season, we are celebrating the arrival of the Messiah foretold 800 years before His birth, in Isaiah chapter 9, verses 6 and 7:

[READ ISAIAH 9:6-7]

[LIGHT CANDLE #1 AGAIN]

Our first candle was a candle of Jesus’ wisdom. He is the Wonderful Counselor.

[LIGHT CANDLE #2]

Our second candle is a candle of worship. Jesus is the Mighty God!

The most astounding thing happened when Jesus was born in Bethlehem–God became a man.

Almighty God became a human like we are–flesh and blood.

Jesus is not just another man, a good teacher, a prophet–He is Mighty God in the flesh–worthy of our eternal worship.

This candle calls us to worship Jesus, the Mighty God, as the Christmas carol says:

Christ, by Highest Heav'n Adored;
Christ the Everlasting Lord;
Late in Time, Behold Him Come,
Offspring of a Virgin's Womb.
Veiled in Flesh the Godhead See;
Hail Th'Incarnate Deity,
Pleased with Us in Flesh to Dwell,
Jesus Our Emmanuel.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,
"Glory to the Newborn King!"

Amen.


“To Us a Child Is Born”
Advent Bible Study for Families

1. As a family, read Isaiah 9:6-7 again. Do you notice anything new this week? George Frideric Handel thought these words to be exceedingly beautiful and incorporated them into the one of the most famous pieces of music in all of history: Handel’s Messiah. What makes this passage of Scripture so powerful?

2. The child born to us is the Mighty God. This is astonishing and should cause us to marvel and worship. Jesus is both fully God and fully Man. As a family, make a list of the attributes of God and the attributes of humanity that Jesus embodies. Why is it so important that Jesus be both God and Man? Why is it important for us think about Jesus as Mighty?

3. What does it mean to worship Jesus as Mighty God? How can we, as a family, live that out together?

4. As a family, sing Hark, the Herald Angels Sing:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th'angelic host proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ, by highest Heav'n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;Hail th'incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris'n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
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Matt's Messages “Love Always Protects, Always Trusts, Always Hopes, Always Perseveres”

“Love Always Protects, Always Trusts, Always Hopes, Always Perseveres”
Learning to Love
December 7, 2008
1 Corinthians 13:7

“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

What do you think is the key word in that verse? The repetition might give it away.

What’s the key word?

ALWAYS.

If you have the King James Version, it translates the word, “all things.” All things. All things. All things. All things.

In other words, “all the time.” Always.

Let me put it this way: CHRISTIAN LOVE IS TENACIOUS.

It doesn’t stop.

Like the Energizer Bunny, Christian love just keeps going and going and going.

Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Love is tenacious.

It’s a bulldog with it’s teeth in a bone.

It’s unyielding, adamant, inexorable, pertinacious.

Christian love keeps going and going and going.

Have you grown in your love this Fall? I hope so.

One of the chief goals for this “Learning to Love” series has been to improve all of our relationships: marriage, family, parenting, siblings, church, school, work, neighborhood–whatever we’ve got going.

Hasn’t it been good to apply what we’ve learned each week to a vast array of different kinds of relationships? Love covers them all.

As Christ Followers, our side of each relationship we’re in should be marked by biblical love:

Patient. Kind. Content. Encouraging. Humble. Respectful. Others-Focused. Joyful. Gracious. Holy.

And now we learn–tenacious.

It’s all of what we’ve learned so far, and it’s keeping on going at loving that way.

Have you grown at love in your relationships this Fall? ... Don’t stop now.

Keep going.

Love is tenacious.

Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Love doesn’t give up. ...

Isn’t love a powerful thing?

Sometimes we get to thinking that loving someone means being “weak.”

“Oh, they’re a loving person.”

Oh poor them! Saying it as if they were a doormat or a victim of a bad cold.

Love is not weak at all.

It’s unloving people who are weak. Because they have given up.

Love is tenacious.

Paul gives us four areas in which love is tenacious.

Let’s take those one at a time.

FIRST, LOVE IS TENACIOUS AT PROTECTING.

“It always protects.”

Now, if you have the King James, it translates this verb as “bearing.” It always bears up under difficulty. And that’s a highly likely translation of the Greek verb here. It would underline the need to persevere and endure.

But the NIV takes the same verb as “it always protects,” that is, love always “covers over” someone else’s sins, someone else’s faults or shortcomings or weaknesses.

Look “looks out” for someone else.

Do you know someone who is always looking out for others? A Big Brother sort of guy?

My son Drew turned 7 yesterday, and last night at bedtime we all spent a little time encouraging him with things about him that encourage us.

One that we ended on is that Drew looks out for others–especially those weaker than himself. He’s protective and covering and gentle with little ones. He’d like to be a shepherd someday. I don’t know if there is much call for that these days, but he’d be good at it.

Love always protects.

And that protective approach doesn’t fade away. It always protects.

It doesn’t play favorites. It always protects.

It doesn’t protect for a while and then give up in desperation. It always protects.

Now, that looks differently in different situations, different relationships.

This is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.

But the principle holds through all relationships. Love always protects.

SECOND, LOVE IS TENACIOUS AT TRUSTING.

V.7 “It always trusts.”

Love is determined to trust others in relationships.

Now, this does not mean that love is gullible!

Truly loving people are not ignorant and gullible. They are not taken in by someone’s smooth talking lies and deception.

They are not Charlie Brown trusting Lucy again to hold that place-kick!

But as far as is reasonable, loving people have a bias towards believing, towards trusting, towards placing confidence in other people.

We’ve certainly seen the opposite, haven’t we?

Do you know folks who don’t trust anyone? And they second guess the motives of anyone and their actions?

Here’s a great phrase to talk about what our default mode should be with others: “charitable judgments.”

A charitable judgment is a loving judgment of someone else.

Ken Sande says, making a charitable judgment means striving “to believe the best about others until you have facts to prove otherwise.” [From Ken Sande’s booklet “Judging Others.”]

The opposite is critical judgments–what is sometimes call “censoriousness”–assuming the worst of people.

Which one do you lean towards? Charitable Judgments or Censoriousness?

Love always trusts.

Now, again, that’s within reason. Love is not gullible.

If your teenager isn’t trustworthy, you don’t just give them the keys to the car and think of yourself as a loving person!

No. But, you want to trust them.

The inclination of your heart is a desire to trust them.

And if it’s reasonable, then you do, even if it means some risk.

D.A. Carson puts it this way: this “does not mean it is gullible, but that it prefers to be generous in its openness and acceptance rather than suspicious or cynical.” [Showing the Spirit, pg. 63]

Alexander Strauch picks up on Carson’s language and goes further: “In dealing with loved ones, love is not suspicious or cynical, but open and favorable disposed toward them. It seeks to understand each person in the best light with an understanding of life’s complexities. It believes people can change and improve. It sees their worth, potential, and future possibilities...It is not afraid of being proved wrong or being embarrassed by others.” [Leading with Love, pg. 82]

And it doesn’t stop trusting. Love always trusts.

Does that describe you?

The best example of this that I know is my parents. They have a consistent track-record of thinking the best of people–and I hope that I’ve picked up on it along the way.

By the way, the only way that we can love like this, with ongoing tenacious trusting–is if we trust in God more than we trust in people.

Because people will disappoint us.

But God, ultimately, will never disappoint us.

Love always trusts.

THIRD, LOVE IS TENACIOUS AT HOPING.

“It always hopes.”

Love always hopes for the best even through terrible disappoints.

You know that people will disappoint you, right?

The saddest stories about relationships are the ones that are marked by personal disappointments and abuse.

Not that someone got cancer but that someone committed adultery.
Not that someone was in an accident but that someone walked out on a commitment.

Those are the saddest stories about relationships.

But love...always hopes.

Love always hopes for the best for that other person and hopes for a turn around in the relationship.

Will that turnaround always happen? No.

Sometimes these hopes will not be fulfilled as we have hoped them.

But a loving person doesn’t stop hoping.

Love is tenacious at hoping.

I’ve lived a blessed life with few terrible raging conflicts in it so far.

But I have had, since becoming a pastor, a number of relationship that have gone South that are, as of yet, unreconciled.

Folks who have left the church for this reason or that or have stopped being my friend for this reason or that, too.

I’ve tried to walk with some folks through some painful family conflicts, and divorces, and what not, and sometimes have gotten a little burnt by them.

But you know what? I don’t stop loving them.

And I don’t stop hoping for full and complete reconciliation.

I know God can do it, and I hope in Him more than I hope in anyone else, but I hope that He does something with those situations to turn them around for His glory and our good.

Has someone let you down in a big way? Or even in a small way?

We know that love keeps no record of wrongs.

But more than that, love always hopes.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the relationship can be just like it was. Things change, circumstances change, consequences happen.

But we keep hoping. We know that God can turn things around.

In one church that my wife and I were a part of, one of the leaders of the church decided that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body and left his wife for a sex-change operation. You think that stuff is only on Oprah, but it shows up in real-life, too.

And for years, that man (and he is man whether or not he thinks he is or undergoes any operations because that’s how God made him–that man) ran from God and wouldn’t listen to anyone.

But his pastor was tenacious in loving him.

And so was, unbelievably, his ex-wife.

And he ran and ran and ran for years.

And then God saw fit to grant him repentance.

That man lives as a man again. He is married again to his wife.

And they are in a church where he actually teaches Bible studies now. He’s been restored to that level of usefulness in the Kingdom.

Love always hopes.

Would it have been wrong for her to re-marry someone else? No, I don’t think so.

But she would hoped for a reconciliation with him. And that’s exactly what she actually got!

Love is tenacious at hoping.

Did you notice the connection between faith (trust), hope, and love? That’s one of Paul’s favorite triads of things to mention. It’ll show up again at the end of the chapter (v.13).

And did you notice so far how positive this verse has been?

After love is patient and love is kind, it was negative for eight more qualities.

But this verse is all positive. Love is positive. Love is tenacious.

Tenacious at protecting.
Tenacious at trusting.
Tenacious at hoping.

AND FOURTHLY, LOVE IS TENACIOUS AT PERSEVERING.

It’s tenacious at being tenacious!

V.7 Love “always perseveres.”

Love hangs on. It endures.

It doesn’t close up shop, hang up, and give up.

Love “always perseveres.”

I had a successful hunt this week on Monday and Tuesday, because I came home in one piece and happy both days!

But I didn’t get a deer.

I saw a couple doe, and as I get better at this, I’ll probably be able to get one some time.

But I came home happy and in one piece, and I think this was a sign of success, I keep thinking about how I can get back out there and try again.

I’ve noticed that perseverance is a sign of a good hunter.

A number of you have shown me that over the last 10 years. Try and try again.

Don’t give up.

I’m planning to go back out tomorrow morning on my day off.

I’m going to (within reason) persevere.

We need to do that in our relationships, too.

Don’t give up and give in.

Love always perseveres.

King James, love “endureth all things.”

Love is not for pansies. It’s tough. And it’s powerful.

Love is tenacious.

Is there a relationship you’ve considered giving up on?

I don’t mean “changing your stance towards”–often that’s really wise.

Love looks differently in different relationships.

Love for an enemy looks different than love for a friend.

Love for an business rival looks different than love for a business partner.

Love for a rebellious teenager looks different than love for a faithful teenager.

But. We don’t stop loving.

We don’t give up on loving.

We don’t throw in the towel on loving.

Love always, always, always perseveres.

Right?

Maybe there is some repentance needed in your life right now.

You’ve given up loving someone. You decided that it was just too hard, too difficult, too time-consuming, too painful.

Now, I’m not telling you that you need to have the old relationship with them, or pretend that it’s there.

But I am saying that you are not allowed to just give up loving them.

Love always perseveres.

Aren’t you glad that’s how Christ loved you?

I sure am.

Love is tenacious about being tenacious.

Love is tenacious in protecting.
Love is tenacious in trusting.
Love is tenacious in hoping.
And love is tenacious in persevering.

Now, right at this point, I would imagine that some of us are despairing.

Some of us are feeling terrible.

You’re feeling this, “I can’t do that.”

“I can’t.”

This is too much. I can’t love like that.

I think it was last week, our family was reciting 1 Corinthians 13 together, and my oldest son, Drew, pointed out that it was really long and really hard to do.

“There’s a lot in there.” Love is patient, love is kind, and so on...and so on.

And now, we learn that love doesn’t give up at being all of those things.

That’s a lot.

I can’t do that.

I fail at that.

I’m a failure at loving like that.

I’ve had some successes, but I can’t do this, “always, always, always, always” stuff.

I can’t!

I told Drew that it was great that he saw that in 1 Corinthians. And if we didn’t learn anything else this Fall, just learning that love was more than just a warm fuzzy feeling, it was a powerful and full thing that is hard to do–love don’t come easy–then we’ve learned a lot about love.

We can’t love like this. We are failures.

And that’s why we need what this table represents...

That’s why we need the gospel.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for our failures to love.

On the Cross, He took the punishment that our failure to love had earned.

But more than that, at the Cross, He exchanged our unloving record for His perfectly loving record!

He never failed to love like this. He loved to the very end. He was tenacious to the nth degree!

He always protected, always trusted, always hoped, always persevered.

And that love gets put on our account!

My sin on Him. His righteousness on me. The Great Exchange.

That’s what this Table represents.

His death and His life for you and for me.

His love poured out and placed upon us.

And if we belong to Him, then He will work this love into us as we trust in Him.

He will work protecting into us.
He will work trusting into us.
He will work hoping into us.
He will work persevering into us.

He will make us tenacious lovers of others.

Imperfectly, with fits and starts and ups and downs, yes.

But truly. And authentically.

And tenaciously.