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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Books of 2009

It was a very good year for reading.  On top of reading the Bible all the way through, I finished Calvin's Institutes, and found time to squeeze in more than a hundred other books (the best I've done since the kids came along).  Praise God!

[And remember, just because I read it, doesn't mean that I recommend it!]

Books Completed in 2009:

1.  Enger, Leif  So Brave, Young, and Handsome (2 Times!)

2.  Graham, L.B.  Father of Dragons

3.  Hockett, Betty  Catching Their Talk in a Box

4.  Graham, L.B.  All My Holy Mountain  

5.  Lewis, C.S.  Prince Caspian    

6.  DeJong, Meindert  The Wheel on the School

7.  Obama, Barack  Dreams From My Father

8.  Lewis, C.S.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

9.  Baker, Betty  Walk the World’s Rim

10.  Obama, Barack  The Audacity of Hope

11.  Mahaney, C.J. (ed)  Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World

12.  Enger, Leif  Peace Like a River

13.  Nichols, Stephen  Jesus Made in America

14.  Clark, Ann Nolan  Secret of the Andes

15.  Sailer, Don  Reclaiming the Two Books of God

16.  Blomberg, Craig & Sung Wook Chung  A Case for Historic Premillennialism

17.  Anyabwile, Thabiti  What Is a Healthy Church Member?

18.  Speare, Elizabeth George  The Sign of the Beaver

19.  Wiersbe, Warren  Be Strong

20.  Hughes, R. Kent  Living on the Cutting Edge

21.  Boice, James Montgomery  Joshua: An Expositional Commentary

22.  Hess, Richard S.  Joshua: An Introduction & Commentary

23.  Howard Jr., David M.  Joshua: The New American Commentary, Vol. 5

24.  Merkle, Benjamin  40 Questions About Elders and Deacons

25.  Lewis, C.S.  The Silver Chair

26.  Herriot, James  James Herriot’s Treasury for Christian

27.  Gannett, Ruth Stiles  My Father’s Dragon

28.  Estes, Eleanor  The Hundred Dresses

29.  Sauer, Julia  The Light at Tern Rock

30.  Davidson, Margaret  Five True Dog Stories

31.  Wells, David  No Place for Truth

32.  Peter, Ellis  The Knocker on Death’s Door

33.  Lewis, C.S.  The Horse and His Boy

34.  Carlson, Natalie Savage  The Family Under the Bridge

35.  Bishop, Claire Huchet  Twenty and Ten

36.  Li, Charlene and Josh Bernoff Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies  [Review.]

37.  Carson, D.A.  Christ and Culture Revisited

38.  Sayers, Dorothy  The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

39.  Peters, Ellis  The Sanctuary Sparrow

40.  Peters, Ellis  The Rose Rent

41.  Peters, Ellis  A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs

42.  Peters, Ellis  The Piper on the Mountain

43.  Morley, Patrick  How to Survive the Economic Meltdown

44.  Meier, Scott T. & Susan R. Davis  The Elements of Counseling

45.  Rosner, Brian  Beyond Greed

46.  James, Steven  Story: Recapture the Mystery

47.  Wells, Rosemary  Mary on Horseback

48.  McIntosh, Gary L.  Beyond the First Visit

49.  Grover, Wayne  Dolphin Treasure

50.  Miller, C. John  The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller

51.  Lofting, Hugh  The Story of Doctor Dolittle

52.  Slone, Jason D.  Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t

53.  Richards, Jay  Money, Greed, and God

54.  Barry, Dave  Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits

55.  Blomberg, Craig  Neither Poverty nor Riches

56.  Yalom, Irvin  Love’s Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy

57.  Powlison, David  Competent to Counsel?

58.  Horn, Dana  All Other Nights

59.  McInerny, Ralph  Rest in Pieces

60.  Crotts, John  Craftsmen

61.  Peters, Ellis  Rainbow’s End

62.  Carter, Stephen  Jericho’s Fall

63.  Peters, Ellis  Ransom for a Dead Man

64.  IcInerny, Ralph  Cardinal Offense

65.  Galea, Ray  Nothing In My Hand I Bring

66.  Horne, Rick  Get Outta My Face

67.  Ohrman, Paul  Living to Serve

68.  Milne, A.A.  The House at Pooh Corner

69.  Baum, L. Frank  The Wizard of Oz

70.  Robinson, Marilynne  Gilead

71.  Miller, Paul & Barbara Juliani  Come Back, Barbara

72.  Peters, Ellis  St. Peter’s Fair

73.  Forbes, Esther  Johnny Tremain

74.  Brauns, Chris  Unpacking Forgiveness

75.  Lewis, C.S.  The Magicians Nephew

76.  Peters, Ellis  The House of Green Turf

77.  Grahame, Kenneth  The Wind in the Willows

78.  Brady, Esther Wood  Tolliver’s Secret

79.  Jenkins, Jerry  Riven

80.  Sayers, Dorothy  Busman’s Honeymoon

81.  Seldon, George  Tucker’s Countryside

82.  Peters, Ellis  The Confession of Brother Haluin

83.  McManus, Patrick  A Fine and Pleasant Misery

84.  Calvin, John  Institutes of the Christian Religion

85.  O’Brian, Patrick  Master and Commander

86.  Latham, Jean Lee  Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

87.  O’Brian, Patrick  Post Captain

88.  Camery-Hoggatt, Jerry  Grapevine

89.  O’Brian, Patrick  H.M.S. Surprise

90.  Spencer, William & Aida and Steve & Celestia Tracy  Marriage at the Crossroads

91.  Strauch, Alexander  Leading with Love

92.  Carson, D.A.  For the Love of God (Vol 1)

93.  Williamson, G.I.  The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes

94.  Miller, Paul  Love Walked Among Us  [Review]

95.  Sayers, Dorothy  Murder Must Advertise

96.  Strauch, Alexander  Love or Die

97.  O’Brian, Patrick  The Mauritius Command

98.  Ensor, John  The Great Work of the Gospel

99.  Keane, Christopher (ed.)  What Some Of You Were

100.  Dever, Mark  The Gospel and Personal Evangelism

101.  Batchelor, Mary  The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories

102.  Abbaté, Michael  Gardening Eden

103.  Whalen Turner, Megan  The Thief

104.  The Holy Bible, ESV  (Robert Murray McCheyne Reading Plan)

Previous Lists:

2008 (first half, second half)

2007 (first half, second half)

2006 (first half, second half)

2005 (first half, second half)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "The Hunt for the Newborn King"

“The Hunt for the Newborn King”
December 27, 2009
Matthew 2:1-23


It’s after Christmas now, and I wanted to preach on what happened after Christmas.  We don’t always hear about what happened after Christmas, but Matthew 2 tells a vital part of the story of what happened after Christmas.

After Christmas, there was a great hunt.

“The Hunt for the Newborn King.”

That’s the story of Matthew chapter 2.

Now, before we begin reading this very familiar text, I want to give you some things to hunt for as we read it.

Here are four themes that I want you to try to track as we go along.

First, ROYALTY.  Jesus is presented in this passage as a king.  A newborn king but a great king, nonetheless.  Watch for how this royalty is presented.

Second, PROTECTION.  This king is going to be hunted – and not just in a good way.  There are evil people who want to take His life.

What’s the name of the worst of them?  Herod.  An evil old man.

But does King Herod get King Jesus?  No way.  You know that already.  Look for how God protects the newborn king.  It’s quite remarkable.

Third, FULFILLMENT.  One of Matthew’s favorite words is “fulfill.”  He uses it again and again in this chapter.  Hunt for where God keeps His promises and fulfills, fills up, the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Hint: We looked at one last week, and it appears right here in verses 5&6.

Fourth, SUFFERING.  Just because the King is protected doesn’t mean that He and those around Him don’t suffer.  There is great evil in this chapter and it leads to great suffering.  So, hunt for that theme as we read it.

Okay?  The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2, verse 1.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’”

Notice that this happened after Christmas. Verse 1 says it happened “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”

We don’t know exactly how long after.  It could be up to 2 years later based on what else happens in this chapter.

It happens during the time that King Herod ruled over Israel.  King Herod was not a Jew.  He had been made the king by the Roman empire.  And he was a very efficient  and productive ruler.  He built the great temple.  He provided excellent famine relief.

And he was very evil.  By the end of his life, he did anything to protect his kingship–including killing anyone that he thought threatened him–including one of his wives and at least two of his own sons.

We know who King Herod was.

But we don’t know much about these “Magi” mentioned in verse 1.

The King James calls them “wise men.”

And they are very mysterious.  They come onto the scene here in Matthew 2 and go off of the scene in Matthew 2, and they aren’t heard from ever again.

Who were those strange men?

We don’t really know.  A couple of centuries earlier, there were a group of Medes who were priests called the Magi and they apparently had some powers to interpret dreams and that sort of thing.  We would have called them “magicians.”

And in fact, we get our English word “magic” from the word “Magi” here.

They are mysterious people who are apparently also astrologers because they have seen some astrological phenomenon, “a star”, and discerned (how, we don’t know!) that a great king worthy of honor and worship[!] has been born in Israel to be King over the Jews.

We don’t know how they knew this!  The Bible doesn’t say.  And anything we come up with is conjecture.

The Bible never promotes astrology.  But God is king over the stars.

And these mysterious men have been led by the stars from “the East” (wherever that is!) to Jerusalem to hunt (v.2) “the one who has been born king of the Jews.”

Were these guys kings themselves?  “We Three Kings?”

The Bible doesn’t call them kings.  But they clearly got Herod’s attention!  Herod is going to pay attention to these guys, so I think they must be royal personages of some kind.  Maybe court astrologers.  Maybe more.   We just don’t know.

How many were there?

We don’t know that either!  Tradition has 3 Magi, but only because they brought three gifts.  There could have a whole camel train of these guys.  Maybe 50, who knows?!

They are almost a complete mystery.  But what they are about is not mysterious.

They are hunting for a king.

Do you see that Royalty theme here?  They are hunting for a king.

And that leads someone else to hunt for a king.  Someone who isn’t happy that He has been born.  V.3

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. [Why?  Because He is king of the Jews!]  When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. [He knew that the people he ruled expected a messianic ruler.  Where?]  ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: [What Prophet?  Micah.  Matthew paraphrases Micah 5:2-5.]  'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'  Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’”

We see the fulfillment theme here.  Micah’s prophecy was fulfilled like we saw last week.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem and will be the shepherd of His people.

But Herod isn’t happy about it, and he’s trying to turn the Magi into his intelligence agents to find the newborn king.

He is careful to find out the exact time the star had appeared?  Why?

He wants to know how old the boy is.

And then he lies through his teeth.  Herod says that he wants to worship the newborn king, too.  V.8

“As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”  You can just about see him rubbing his hands together in evil delight.

Apparently, the Magi don’t yet know enough to distrust Herod and go off to do what he says.  V.9

“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”

Apparently, the star (whatever that is!  Who ever heard of a moving star!  This is a miracle, too!  The star) had vanished and now reappears to these mystery men and leads them right to Bethlehem, and even right to the place where the child was.

This was no ordinary star.

And they became deliriously happy.  The King James says, “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

They had found him!  Their hunt was over.  V.11

“On coming to the house [notice that some time has passed, Jesus’ family is now in a house], they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”

Now, here, I think, is another reason to believe that they were at least tied to royalty, if not kings themselves.  These are gifts of royalty to royalty.

Jesus is a great king.

And He deserves great honor and worship with treasure.

That’s one of the reasons why we take an offering in worship services.

Because we are offering our treasures as a statement of our worship of Jesus.

The royalty theme is here. And so is the protection theme.  V.12

“And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

There are going to be a lot of protective dreams like that.

The Magi are given new marching orders directly from God and they by-pass Herod and go home a different way.

And then they fade off into obscurity. 

What mystery men!  They have achieved their goal, however.  They found the newborn king and they worshiped Him as He deserved.

But that’s just one hunt.  There is another hunt that is still on.

And God is going to protect His newborn King.  V.13

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’  So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”

Now, which of our four themes do you see here?

Is there is royalty?  Yeah.  V.15 calls Jesus, God’s Son. That’s a term of royalty!

Is there protection?  Yessir.  There is one of those protective dreams in verse 13.

Is there fulfillment?  Yes.  V.15 says, “and so was fulfilled” Hosea 11:1 “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”  

How about suffering?  Yes, that’s there, too.

Think about Joseph and Mary fleeing in the night with young Jesus to Egypt, of all places.

Jesus and His family became refugees. 

Think about that!  Our Lord was a refugee.  That might say something to us about God’s love for displaced people.

Suffering.  I believe that the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are what got Joseph’s little family through this ordeal.  They funded the flight to Egypt.

And they just barely escaped!

They had to take off at night because Herod’s SWAT Team was on the way.  V.16

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, [“Those Magi haven’t come back.  What’s going on?”] and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’”

The Hunt for the Newborn King Killed All of the Boys of Bethlehem.

Can you imagine how terrible this was?

The word “suffering” doesn’t do this justice.

Every boy in that town.

How many boys in this room 2 years old and under?


At one point all three of my boys were 2 and under.  There is only 2 and a half years between all three of them.

The King’s soldiers broke in and took their lives.

There is great suffering that comes with being associated with Jesus.

He was protected, yes, but these boys were not.  And Rachel wept.

Did you notice the fulfillment theme in verses 17&18?

Rachel was always associated with Bethlehem. She was buried there.

And Jeremiah prophesied that great mourning would come with great suffering.

And it was fulfilled when these boys lost their lives for Jesus’ sake.

Herod was horribly wicked.

And, eventually, he died and had to face the justice of God.  V.19

“After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life [those hunting for the newborn king] are dead.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. [But not Bethlehem, not again.]  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth [probably his hometown]. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’”

Again, the theme of protection.  Two dreams here (v.19 and v.22) to protect Jesus.

God wants this boy to grow up!

And the theme of fulfillment.  “He will be called a Nazarene.”

That is, He will be despised because He came from nowheresville.

Which is, a kind of suffering, in itself.

Now, that’s what happened after Christmas.

The Hunt for the Newborn King.

We’ve seen royalty ‘the one born king of the Jews” worthy of golden treasure.

We’ve seen protection.  Dreams and midnight escapes to makes sure that this King lives to manhood.

And we’ve seen fulfillment.  Ancient prophecies and typologies being filled up in the life of this boy.

And we’ve seen suffering.  Terrible suffering coming from terrible evil.

Now, how does this apply to us today?

I was struck by three different kinds of people in this story.

#1. SOME WHO HUNTED HIM TO WORSHIP THE KING.

The Magi, of course.

They sought Him out to worship Him.

Then came a great distance.

They spared no expense.

They believed that He was the King.

And they bowed before Him.

While, I don’t think that we’re supposed to learn anything from the stars, these stargazers got it right.

And we’re supposed to follow their example.

Do we seek to worship Jesus?

The bumper-sticker says, “Wise men still seek Him.”

And that’s right.

Wise men hunt for Jesus to worship Him.

They do whatever it takes.
They spare no expense.
They believe that He is the king.
And they bow before Him.

Worship.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live lives of worship and honor for our Great King.

That’s why we’re here this morning!  I wondered how many people would come to church the Sunday after Christmas.  If you’re hear, chances are, you’re hear to worship the King.

That’s why we had our offering today.  It may not be gold, incense, or myrrh. But it’s our treasures, laid out as a gift before Him–to worship Him as our supreme treasure!

That’s how we’re supposed to live our lives.

Quiet devotional times.
Hard decisions.
A lifestyle of worship.

Following Jesus as King!

Because Jesus is worth it.

He’s worth hunting to worship Him as our King.

A second kind of person.

#2.  SOME WHO HUNTED HIM TO KILL THE KING.

Herod’s soldiers, of course, but more despicably, Herod himself.

He hated Jesus.  He pretended to want to worship Him.

[That’s a scary thing.  Don’t pretend to want to worship Jesus if you hate Him inside.]

And Herod might have actually believed that Jesus was the rightful king!

He consulted the prophecies!

But he wanted to kill Him anyway.

He was hunting Him, not worship but to kill.

We’ve seen the theme of protection here.

Herod failed.

But the hate that filled Herod didn’t die with Herod.  Did it?

Eventually, that hate grew and grew, and Jesus finally succumbed to its power.

Eventually, Jesus did die at the hands of the rulers of Israel.

Another Herod was there that day.

And He suffered and bled and died. There was no miraculous escape that day.

Jesus died on the Cross.

But that was not the end!

The evil of those who hunt the King does not triumph in the end!

No matter what it seems like.  No matter if it seems like evil will win in this world.

The Third Reich.
Idi Amin.
Joseph Stalin.

And whatever personal hell you might be going through right now.

Jesus came back from the dead.  And no Herod Earth can stop Him!

And those that believe in Him and worship Him will live with Him forever.

His resurrection took the sting out of sin and death and He will reign forever and ever!

Some who hunted Jesus to worship Him.
And some who hunted Jesus to kill Him.

Those are really the only two sides there are.

But I was struck this week by other group of people that are in this passage, however briefly.  They are in verse 3.

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”

Now, maybe that’s hyperbole, but everybody in Jerusalem is buzzing with the news of these mysterious guys who have appeared from the East and are talking about a king and the chief priests and the teachers of the law name the place as Bethlehem...

And who goes to check it out?

Only the Magi.
       
None of the priests. None of the teachers of the law.

None of the people.

As far as we know.

I was struck by some (many?) #3.  SOME WHO DIDN’T HUNT HIM AT ALL.

They didn’t even bother.

They didn’t even bother to check it out.

And that apathy cost many of them their eternal lives.


Because there is no neutral when it comes to Jesus.

You are either on the Magi’s side or Herod’s.

And if you think you can walk the fence, you’re on Herod’s side.

You might as well kill the babies yourself.

Are you sitting on the fence?

Are you just going through the motions, but you aren’t worshiping Jesus?

Are you just trying to mind your own business and hope that God doesn’t mess with it?

I invite you to get down off of the fence and come bow before the Lord Jesus.

He is the great king.  Worthy of all worship!

And one day, He will come again and all of those who sought Him now and all heaven and nature will sing.

Joy to the World the Lord is Come!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Mitchells



Merry Christmas from our family to yours.

This is a picture taken at our home (notice both chicken and coop) by genius photographer and family friend: Nate Weatherly (used with permission).  And below is a video montage of pictures by Nate of my greatest earthly gift--my family.



But the point of Christmas isn't family--as great a gift as that can be.

The point of Christmas is Jesus Christ.

May you know Him better today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Plodding Succeeds

I reached my reading goals this week (more than a week ahead)!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Valerie Yarbro

Valerie, our friend from college, that I mentioned in last week's message has gone to be with Jesus.

Please pray for her husband Ben. Check out her website, too.

I'm happy for her, but grieving for Ben--and hating the specter of death (Philippians 1, John 11).


[Matt's Messages] "O Little Town of Bethlehem"

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
December 20, 2009
Micah 5:2-5a


Next Sunday, we’re going to study Matthew chapter 2, what happened after Jesus was born.  After Jesus was born, there was a hunt for the newborn king.

The wise men hunted him.  They followed His star.

And Herod hunted him, too.  He sent the wise men to the little town of...where?

Bethlehem.

Why did Herod send them to the little town of Bethlehem that we sang about this morning?

Because the Old Testament said that’s where He would be born.

Does anybody know what book of the Old Testament?

When King Herod had the chief priests and the scribes look up the prophecies about where the Messiah was to be born, where did they find their information?

The book of Micah, chapter 5.

Would you turn there with me?


Keep in mind that as you turn back to it, you’re turning back 700 years.  700 before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Micah wrote these words down from God Himself.

Starting in verse 2 and reading to the first part of verse 5.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.  Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.  He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.  And he will be their peace.”

In Micah 5, the LORD talks directly to Bethlehem.

Now, He was talking to anyone who was listening. This is God’s Word to us.

But He was specifically addressing the town of Bethlehem.

God had a message for Bethlehem.

This message was embedded in a much longer message–I wish I had time to explain all of the book of Micah this morning–Micah was written to a nation that was going downhill fast.

And God had stern words through Micah for the nation of Israel.  But also words of hope.  Embedded in the rebuke and the predictions of coming judgment were also words of restoration and reformation and revival.

Micah 5 verses 2 through 5 are a part of that great hope.

The hope of the nation was bound up in a person, a ruler, who was going to come and bring restoration and security to God’s people.

We call this person–the Messiah. The Christ.

And Micah 5 predicts His advent–His coming.
It comes in the form of a message to the little town of Bethlehem.

God has a message for Bethlehem.

And it’s also a message for us today.

Let me try to sum it up with three lines:

#1.  “O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM, I’M GOING TO SURPRISE YOU.”

Look at verse 2.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

You’ll notice that the verse begins with the word “but.”  It follows on the heels of a chapter about the judgment that God is going to bring on Judah for her idolatry and faithlessness.

In verse 1, God tells Judah to get ready for a beating.

But verse 2 predicts a radically different treatment to eventually come from the Lord.

God is going to send a ruler who will bring blessing.   A ruler who will come FOR God to rule OVER Israel.

But not a ruler like anyone would expect.

He’s going to send the ruler OUT OF...Bethlehem?!

Bethlehem?

Bethlehem is small.

It’s not called “little town” for nothing.

Verse 2 says, “though you are small among the clans of Judah.”

Nobody expects a Messiah to come from Hicksville.

Do you remember how we studied the book of Joshua this year?

Remember all of those tribal allotments?

This tribe got this city.  This tribe got that city?

It went on for chapter after chapter?  Do you remember that?

Bethlehem didn’t even get mentioned in the book of Joshua.

It’s almost like it’s not on the map.

The Messiah is going to come from there?

God is saying, “I’m going to surprise you.”

And that’s exactly what happened, isn’t it?

We’ve been studying the gospel of Luke this year.  This is our second Christmas this year.  Remember, we had one back in September.

We were surprised what God uses.

Mary?  A young girl from nowheresville?  Poor, humble, a great family–sure, but the smallest little insignificant branch on the family tree.

That’s who God uses?

Mary and Joseph?

The shepherds.  God announces the birth of His Son with all of the angel chorus to ...a bunch of dirty, smelly, shifty old sheep-herders?

That’s surprising!

No one would have expected that–except maybe somebody who was paying attention to God’s message to Bethlehem.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Jesus was a surprise.

He didn’t come to the strong, the beautiful, the rich.

He came to the small, the insignificant, the humble, the weak, the needy, the undeserving

He came to Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and...to the little town of Bethlehem.

And He continues to surprise.

He continues to reveal Himself to those Who need Him most but deserve Him least.

Are you surprised by Jesus?

I think we have grown used to Jesus.  We take Jesus for granted.

We tend to domesticate Jesus and twist Him into our own understand and expectations.

But Jesus isn’t tame.

And He is constantly surprising.

One of the greatest surprises is how Jesus saves.

He doesn’t save us by expecting us to be good and then blessing us.

That’s Santa’s approach!

“Be a good boy and you’ll get presents.”

That’s not how Jesus works.

Jesus expects us to be bad.  He knows that’s what we are.

And He gives us Himself anyway.

He calls that “grace.”  And He gives it away for free!

It’s shocking!

Now, that grace, if you accept it, will turn your life around.  You’ll become good because of it.

But you don’t get it by being good.

Surprise!  You get it out of the goodness of Jesus’ heart and His death on your behalf.

God is saying, “I’m going to surprise you.”

#2.  O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM, I’M GOING TO KEEP MY  PROMISES TO YOU.

Look at the last phrase of verse 2.  It talks about the Messiah’s origins.  Where He comes from.

“...whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Now, this may teach that the Messiah will be eternal.  Will come from eternity.  The NIV text note brings that idea out as does the King James Version.

And that’s definitely true.

But I think that something else is getting emphasized here.

I think God is emphasizing His covenant promises.

Now, for as small as Bethlehem was, isn’t true that Bethlehem had never had a ruler come from it before, had it?

What ruler, what king, had come from Bethlehem?

Kind David had, right?

It was small back then. It small in Micah’s time.

But it had produced a great king.  And that king had received some promises, hadn’t he?

Have you ever head of the Davidic Covenant?  2 Samuel 7.

If you are in the Youth Boys Class, we’re going to study that in just a few weeks.

God promised King David an eternal throne and a king on that throne for eternity.

That’s a big promise!

And an old one.  An ancient promise.

A promise that connects with the all of the promises that God had given to His people before that.

A promise from of old, from ancient times.

And that promise is going to be made good in an eternal messiah, a forever King–named Jesus.

When Jesus was born “out back” behind the inn and then placed in a manger, God was keeping an ANCIENT PROMISE.

One that many thought that He had forgotten!

But God always keeps His promises.

In spite of whatever comes in between the promise and the fulfillment–God always keeps His promises.

That’s the point of verse 3.

There is trouble between verse 2–the prediction of the Messiah–and verse 4–the triumph of the Messiah.

Lots of trouble.  V.3

“Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.”

There will be trouble.  Abandonment.  Exile.  Suffering.

It will seem like childbirth it will be so painful.

But there will be a return and a restoration.

God will keep His promises.

The Messiah will come.  And He will fulfill all of God’s plan.

God is saying, “O little town of Bethlehem, I will keep my promises to my people.”

And He’s saying that to you, too.

Are you trusting God’s promises?

Sometimes it take a long time to see their fulfillment.

700 years between Micah 5 and Matthew 2!

And we haven’t yet seen all that God is promising here.

But He will keep His promises to His people.

You can count on it.

And you can live on it.

The promises of God are precious and powerful.  They are the fuel we need to live our lives in faith.

Trust God and obey Him!


Because God always keeps His promises.

And this is what He promises:

#3.  O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM, I WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU.

When the Messiah comes, this is what will happen.  V.4

“He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.  And he will be their peace.”

What glorious words!  What glorious promises!

Shepherd His flock.   What a great word.  The LORD is my Shepherd.
They will live securely.  No danger.  No trial.  No more suffering.  No threats.
He will be their peace.  The prince of peace comes and brings peace to His people.

Yes!

God is saying, “I will take care of you, through my Messiah.”

Notice how He will do it.

“He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.”

This Messiah will be empowered by God Himself.  He will be God Himself in the flesh.

This little baby that we’ve sung about will not stay a baby.

He will stand in the strength of the Lord!

He will come from humble beginnings–little town of Bethlehem.

But look where He ends up–“his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.”

That’s happening right now, isn’t it?

There are people celebrating His birth this week at the ends of the earth.

And what does that mean for us?

It means that He will take care of us.

“And they will live securely.  And He will be their peace.”

This has begun but it’s also something we’re still looking forward to.

God is still saying this to us today.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd.
Jesus is our Security.
Jesus is our Peace.

But one day, He will return–His Second Advent–and He will bring these blessings in full measure.  What a day that will be!

When Heather was pregnant with our first child, we went to see an obstetrician that had been recommended to us.

He was a very strange man–kind of like Kramer from Seinfeld, if you know what I’m talking about.

He would burst into the door, make funny faces, have strange art push-pinned to the wall.

A really weird sense of humor.  I think that “baby-catching” at all hours of the night turns out some strangeness in doctors.

We have might have been tempted to try out a second doctor.

But this doctor took our picture the first day to remember what we looked like, to pray for us, and to hold us in his heart.

And then at the end of our first meeting, he did this.

He said to Heather, “Look at me.  Look at my eyes.”

“I will take care of you.”

I’ll tell you, we would have entrusted ourselves to his care no matter what condition Heather had–and no matter what strangeness he brought into the room.

“I will take care of you.”

Friends, God is saying that to you, too.

He will shepherd you.
He will give you security, in Him.
He will be your peace.

“I will take care of you.”

O Little Town of Bethlehem.
Lanse Free Church
Brothers and Sisters.

God Is Saying,
    “I’m Going to Surprise You.”
    “I’m Going to Keep My Promises to You.”
    “I’m Going to Take Care of You.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lanse Free On YouTube

LEFC has finally entered the world of video (that doesn't mean that I know how to get them to fit on your screen....).

Spencer Folmar of SpencTF Productions has produced two short videos about our church. They are both now on our website and upload to our very own youtube channel.  Enjoy!




Approx. 5 Minutes
Approx 30 Seconds

Happy Birthday, Dan!


Daniel Ledford, pastor, fellow-homeschooling-dad, blogger, gluttony-fighter, reading-buddy, meeter of Presidents, and my very good friend has a birthday today!

Happy Birthday, Man!

Hope you get to sip a cold coke and enjoy your beautiful family today!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Love Walked Among Us


On page 24 [pdf], I've got a book review of one my favorite books: Love Walked Among Us by Paul Miller.

This year, we used LWAU in all of our church's Link Groups.  I wrote a discussion guide for it that is available here.

Audio for Jesus' Followers Are Different

I keep forgetting to link to the new audio as the sermons go up.

Here's Sunday's sermon: Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Four

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hunting Season Is Over

The 2009 PA Rifle season is over.

I'm very thankful to have gotten my first deer--a harvest (see Steve Sorenson's recent article on this terminology).

For the next 12 months, my hunting buddies and I will have to be content with practicing on this website.

[Matt's Messages] "Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Four"

“Jesus’ Followers Are Different: Part Four”
Certain of Jesus:  The Gospel of Luke
December 13, 2009
Luke 6:43-49

I’ll bet you can’t guess the title of this message!

Jesus’ Followers Are...Different!  How did you know?

Maybe because this is part #4, the last message studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in Luke chapter 6.

We’ve divided Jesus’ sermon up into 4 messages so that we can study it deeply, but Jesus delivered it as a whole.

He gave this whole thing in one message standing on a level place and preaching to a big crowd, but especially–His disciples.  His followers.

Verse 20 says that Jesus specifically was looking at His disciples as He gave them these teachings.

This isn’t a message, so much for the world, as it is for us – for Jesus’ Followers.

And if we had to sum it all up, we would say that Jesus demands that His followers be different from the rest of the world.

Jesus’ Followers Are Different.

They act differently.
They believe differently.
They value things differently than others do.
They do different things.

Jesus’ followers belong to a different kingdom.  His kingdom.

And His kingdom is different from the kingdom of this world.

Jesus’ followers should be and must be different.

In verses 43 through 49, Jesus begins to wrap up His sermon.  This is the application section, the “so-what” section where He draws the threads of the message together and applies them to His followers.

It’s the culmination of the whole sermon and calls for action on our part.

Let’s start today with this question.

We’ve been ending with this question for the last four weeks.

Are you different?

Or let’s personalize it.

Am I different?

Do I stand out?

Do I stand out as a follower of Jesus?

Am I different?

Now, by that, I don’t mean am I weird.

We all know the answer to that one.

I am weird.  I admit it.

But am I different from the world?

Am I like Jesus?

Can someone look at my life, at your life, at our lives, and say, “That person is different.  They are like Jesus.”

Not, “Oooh, that person is perfect like Jesus was.”

Or worse, “Who does that person think they are? Jesus?!”

Of course, that’s the not worst thing someone could say about us.

The worst they could say is, “He’s a Christ-follower?  I don’t believe it.  Doesn’t seem like it to me.  She is no different from anybody I know.”

Are you different?

Here’s why I ask.

Jesus says that His followers are different.

And #1.  THEY CAN BE RECOGNIZED BY HOW THEY LIVE.

That’s what Jesus is talking about when he talks about trees and fruit in verses 43-45.

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

Do you see what’s being compared here?

As usual Jesus, the Master Teacher, uses a masterful set of images.

Trees and Fruit.

Fruit is the particular product of a particular kind of tree.

Each kind of fruit is intrinsically tied to a particular kind of tree.

That’s what Jesus is saying in verse 44, “People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.”

Can’t do it.  That’s not how it works.

Apples from apple trees.
Pears from pear trees.
Money from money trees–I wish!

But you don’t get figs from thornbushes.
Or grapes from briers.

Now, Jesus isn’t talking about trees.

What are the trees in Jesus’ illustration?

Trees are people’s hearts.

And what is the fruit?

The fruit is the actions and words that come out of people’s hearts.  V.45
       
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

Jesus’ teaching here is incredibly easy to grasp and yet deeply profound.

Where do bad actions and bad words come from?

From bad hearts, right?

Like bad fruit from a bad tree.

Where do good actions and good words come from?

From good hearts like a good tree.

Our Adult Sunday School Class right called is called “Overflow” from verse 45, and we’ve has been talking about how we live out of hearts–either the good stored up in them or the bad stored up in them.

We can’t blame our bad words (lying, flattering, slamming, gossiping) on anything else than ourselves–our hearts.

And if we use good words – words that build up and not tear down– those come from transformed hearts.  Good hearts made good by the Lord Himself.

If you’ve been around church the last five years or so, you’ve seen pictures like this one: a heart (or root) producing a life (or fruit) like this.  We’ve learned a lot from the folks at CCEF about how we live out of hearts.

They get it from Jesus here in Luke 6.

And Jesus’ main point here is that you can recognize what kind of a tree you are looking at by look at the fruit. V.44 again.

“Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.”

Jesus is saying that His disciples can be recognized, known, picked out by their lives–their actions and their words.

He’s not saying that they run around proclaiming, “I follow Jesus!”  Thought that’s not always a bad thing.

He’s saying that the quality of their actions and the quality of their words show what kind of a heart they truly have.

“Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.”

Are you different?

One of my friends is dying right now.


I got word this week that one my friends from college, a young lady named Valerie Yarbro is in hospice care right now for a deadly cancer that she’s been fighting for the last year and a half.

Valerie and her husband Ben were the first couple that I married.  I got to officiate at their wedding back when I was still a youth pastor.

In May of 2008, Valerie found out that she had fast moving cancer in an advanced stage and there wasn’t anything the doctors could do.

What do you think Valerie has done with herself in these last 18 months?

What would you do if you knew that your time was very short?

Valerie has been living for God.

She created a website that has her last words on it.

She created a presentation called Words for the Journey of things she wants people to know before she goes and after she goes.

She has continued to try to serve her husband, Ben, and be a light to others.

She has produced good fruit.

And it’s recognizable.

Jesus’ followers can be recognized by how they live.

The fruit speaks.

What does your fruit say about you?


You may not be dying of cancer right now.

But you are living right now. What kind of fruit is popping off on your tree?

Can people tell that Jesus has invaded your life?

Real Christians have had their hearts changed by Jesus Christ.

He died on the Cross to pay for our sin and came back to life to give us a new kind of life.  New hearts, good hearts that good things come from.

Now, Jesus knows that from the best of hearts right now still flow some badness.

There is still a wicked heart hanging around inside of all transformed hearts.

But He’s a good wisdom teacher, and He divides everything into two black and white categories so that we can see in stark contrast the two options that lay before us.

Good and bad.
Good trees and bad trees.
Good fruit and bad fruit.

“Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.”

Are you different?

Jesus’ Followers Are Different.

#2.  THEY DO WHAT THEIR LORD SAYS TO DO.  V.46

“Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?”

He just got done saying that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

Now, he turns to those who speak–they say that Jesus is “Lord.”

They repeat themselves, “Lord, Lord.”

But they don’t do what their supposed Lord says to do.

They are hypocrites.

They say one thing (Lord) and do another (disobedience).

Christ-followers are not hypocrites.

They do what their Lord says to do.

In Matthew, where Jesus uses very similar words, He says that if people say, “Lord, Lord” but don’t do what He says, then His words for them are, “I never knew you.  Depart from me.”

Those are some of the scariest words in the Bible!

Jesus’ followers do what their Lord says to do.

Jesus illustrates this with one of the greatest simple illustrations in history.

The story of the two builders.  V.47

“I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.  He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”


How do you like my picture up there of a house built upon the sand without a foundation?

This story tells itself.

What I want to point out is two things.

First, Jesus’ insistence that we build our lives on His words.

Notice how many times in one story He repeats, “My words.”

“I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.  He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock [What’s the rock? His words!]. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation [What’s the missing foundation?  “His words!”]. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Jesus insists that His disciples build their lives upon His words and do them.

Putting His words into practice.

In context, what words are those?

It’s the whole sermon.

It’s the blessings of the beatitudes and the woes of verses 20-26.

It’s the command to love your enemies, loving them like you love yourself in verses 27-36.

It’s the command to be magnanimous and not condemnatory, gracious, discerning, and humble in verses 37-42.

These are the words of our Lord.

And we are His disciples if we practice them.

You aren’t a Christian just because you go to church.
You aren’t a Christian just because you tithe.
You aren’t a Christian just because you say you are.

You are a Christ follower if you live out Christ’s words.
You are Jesus’ follower if you do what your Lord says to do.

Jesus insists on it.

How are we doing with that?

Do we want to claim the name of Jesus but not obey the words of Jesus?

Are we different?

The second thing that we have to see is that storms will come.

Let me ask you:  Which house did the flood strike?

The one with no foundation or the one on the rock?

Which house did the flood strike?

Both houses, right?

I can’t trick you.

Storms will come.

There is no question about that.

We are often surprised when they do, but we shouldn’t be.

Storms will come.  Torrents of rain. Floods.

Problem. Trials.  Difficulties.  Hard things. Suffering.

The question is not whether or not the storms will come, but whether or not our lives will weather the storms.

Because of the foundation upon which we build.

Jesus’ words...or anything else.

When Valerie Yarbro got word of her cancer, I’m sure it was devastating to her.

It’s taking her life and her husband has to watch the life ebb out of her.

I’ve seen pictures.

She has terrible Job-like sores all over her body.

The storm has come.

But her house stands.

The torrent struck but could not shake her because she has built her life on the words of her Lord.

Not just His promises.

But His commands.

Not just “I will be with you.”

But “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

I think that Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain is some of the strangest and hardest teaching in the world.

But if we take it to heart and build our lives on it...we will stand.

Some of you know that last week, I was successful at deer hunting for the first time.

John Kristofits took us out to what’s called Tark Hollow out off of Huckleberry Road.

And we went down past a little quarry there to hunt.  Some of you know where I’m talking about.

They tell me that that quarry is called “House Rocks.”

Because the rocks there were as a big as houses.  The State quarried those huge rocks out of there to lay as the foundation for Interstate 80.

Because of that, I-80 is solid and isn’t going anywhere.

Jesus’ words are bigger rocks than house rocks.

They are LIFE ROCKS, and we can build our lives on them.

By faith, let’s do what Jesus says.

Messages So Far in Certain of Jesus:
Certain of Jesus
The Back-Story of Jesus
The Birth of Jesus
Jesus - A Very Special Child
Preparing the Way for Jesus
Jesus Is the Son of God
Jesus in Galilee
Jesus and the Sinners
Jesus Brings Real Joy and Rest
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part One
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Two
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Three

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hunting Buddies

My hunting buddies tell me that now I have "buck fever" and I'll never be the same.

I think they may be right.

Last week, I saw a buck in the neighbor's yard, and immediately my heart started racing, and I called my hunting buddy--he was out in the woods.  Nothing like calling your hunting buddy and telling him that there is a deer somewhere that he isn't!

My hunting buddy, Jeff, has written this little ditty to go with my first post on deerslaying:


Doe a deer, a female deer
Now, it's sizzles on the grille
Buck, a deer with antlers sharp
Matt, moves in to make the kill

Fa, Buck better start to run
Bang, the firing of the gun
Oof, the dragging has begun
Buck won't ever chase another doe, doe, doe... 


And lastly, when I went to put up my Christmas decorations this year, I got a little carried away...



Not really, but I thought I thought this picture was funny, not gross.  So my transformation has truly begun...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Scanwiches

Okay, here's the strangest blog I subscribe to:  scanwiches.com.

Just makes your mouth water to visit, doesn't it?

[Matt's Messages] "Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Three"

“Jesus’ Followers Are Different: Part Three”
Certain of Jesus:  The Gospel of Luke
December 6, 2009
Luke 6:37-42


We’re in the middle of a mini-series within a bigger series.

The big series is the Gospel of Luke whose goal is that we become “Certain of Jesus.”  Certain about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and here–teaching.

The mini-series is a 4 week look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, chapter 6, verses 17 through 49, which we are calling, “Jesus’ Followers Are Different.”

Jesus’ followers [or another word for it is “disciples”] are different.

They act differently.
They believe differently.
They value things differently than others do.
They do different things.

Jesus’ followers belong to a different kingdom.  His kingdom.

And His kingdom is different from the kingdom of this world.

Jesus’ Followers Are Different.

They should be.
They must be.

Jesus demands that His followers be different.

Today is part three of this mini-series.

In part one, we saw that Jesus’ followers act differently because they know that things are not always what they seem.  The world lies to us, and Jesus helps us to see things clearly.  Things are not always going to be the way they seem.  And all suffering for Christ will be worth it.  So Jesus’ followers act differently.

In part two, we saw that Jesus’ followers LOVE differently.  They love their enemies! Yes, even their enemies!   They love differently because that’s how their Heavenly Father loved them.  Jesus’ followers love differently.

Did you go out last week and love your enemies differently than before?
                                   
Now, today is Part Three. And here, we get more of the same kind of teaching–how Jesus’ followers are going to be different.  And I think we can summarize it in three words: Gracious, Discerning, and Humble.

These are the words of Jesus.

If you have red-letter version of the Bible, you can see that these are all the words of Jesus.

Of course, the whole Bible is the Word of God.  It’s all equally God-breathed.

But these are words are the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.

They are not merely human words. They are not words from which we can pick and choose that which we want to hear or believe or follow.

If we call ourselves followers of Jesus, then these words are from our Lord to us.

And they should define us.

This is what we should be like as followers of Jesus.

#1.  GRACIOUS.  JESUS’ FOLLOWERS ARE GRACIOUS BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT GOD WILL BE GRACIOUS TO THEM.

Let’s use the word “gracious” to summarize verses 37 and 38.

We could use the word “merciful” because that’s the word that introduces this passage from last week’s passage in verse 36.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

And then, Jesus fleshes that out for us in verse 37.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Now, when Jesus says to not judge, He’s not saying that we should never make a judgment. 

The rest of the Bible says that believers must make judgments, evaluations, decisions between one thing and another.

The Bible actually says that Christians are (or at least should be) competent to make judgments in ways that the world is not.

But Jesus is calling for a certain kind of attitude here.  A non-judgmental attitude.  He gets at it closer in the next sentence.  “Do not condemn.”

Jesus’ followers are not in the business of condemnation.

They don’t look down their noses at people.  They are not merciless and proud and harsh and condemnatory.

They are filled with mercy and grace.

He goes on to say, “Forgive” and “Give.”

Jesus’ followers are generous.  They forgive those who sin against them.  They don’t continue to hold it against them. They freely offer grace to others.

And they are generous financially and materially, too.  They are full of grace and are constantly giving.

Jesus’ Followers Are Gracious.

Now, if you are like me, the thing you are thinking is, “No, they are not!”

“I know Christians who are more judgmental than anyone else.”
“I know people who claim to follow Jesus who never forgive, never give, always condemn, and are censorious and condemnatory.”

I know people like that, too, but Jesus’ doesn’t claim them as His followers.

Jesus’ followers are gracious.

Why?

Because they know that God will be gracious with them.

Did you see how Jesus follows up each of His commands?

“Do not judge, [why?] and you will not be judged.”

“Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”

“Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

“Give, and it will be given to you”

Here’s the principle: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Now, some people look at that and they think, “Oh, Jesus wants us to earn our salvation by being nice to people.  If we are nice to people, then God’ll be nice to us.”

But that misses the context of verse 36, what we saw last week.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Be gracious, just as your Father was and is and will be gracious with you.

Jesus’ followers know that God, because of what Jesus did on the Cross, is and will be gracious to them.  And that frees them to be gracious with others.

Because they know that grace is on the way.

How gracious is God?

Ha!  Verse 38 gives us a picture.

“A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.”

The picture is that of measuring grain to sell or give to someone.

The seller fills up his measuring bucket or sack full of the grain.

And then what does he do?

He presses the grain down to make sure it’s packed in there.

And then he shakes it and adds some more.

And then, he pours some on top for “good measure,” right?

And then, he pours it out until it pours onto the lap of the person receiving it.

Overflowing!  That’s how gracious God is.

And we can trust in that.  And what?  GIVE!

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus’ followers are gracious because they know that God will be gracious with them.

The opposite is also true.

Those who are stingy, condemnatory, unforgiving, bitter, judgmental and self-righteous will find that God can be those things, too.

“With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Are you and I gracious?

I want to be known as a personally gracious person.

And I want our church to be known as a loving, grace-giving, merciful church.

You don’t have to abandon truth or compromise with sin to be gracious.

Jesus didn’t.

But you do have to abandon self-righteousness and being holier-than-thou.
                               
Yesterday, I had lunch with Ralph Magill. He had brought Tobi and Linda down to the Ladies’ Christmas Tea, and needed a place for lunch.

Well, we just happened to have some venison steaks on the broiler, and Ralph agreed to come down and share them with the boys and I.

Ralph told me about a friend of his who had been a Baptist preacher and who was now a practicing homosexual–had abandoned his wife and family for another man.

This guy comes into contact with Ralph every so often.

And he’s scared of Ralph. Do you know why?

It’s because Ralph is gracious to him.

At first, he was scared that Ralph was going to be harsh with him. And he had his back up.  But Ralph reached out to him.  When others just cut him off without contact, Ralph had a hug for him.  He said, “This guy didn’t want me to hug him.  I thought that was weird!  A homosexual guy who had a problem receiving a hug from  a man.”

Ralph continues to reach out to him with grace. 

He doesn’t condone his sin.  He doesn’t agree with him.

If this guy tried to join Ralph’s church, he wouldn’t be allowed.

But Ralph is personally gracious with him.  And keeps on giving.

And that scares this guy because he doesn’t know what do with it!

Jesus’ followers are different.  They are gracious because they know that God will be gracious with them.

Are you struggling to be gracious with someone in your life?

Someone you’re bitter about?
Someone who asks for too much?
Maybe it’s that enemy that we talked about last week...

Treat them like you want God to treat you.

Treat them, better, like you expect God to treat you because of Jesus.

#2.  DISCERNING.   JESUS’ FOLLOWERS ARE DISCERNING BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT THEY WILL BECOME LIKE THEIR TEACHER.

Jesus’ followers are discerning, that is, they are careful whom they listen to and whom they follow.  Look at verse 39.

“He also told them this parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?  A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

That’s a striking picture, isn’t it?

A blind man leading a blind man.

Who is leading whom?  They’ll fall into a pit.

Be careful whom you choose to follow.

Can they see clearly?  Do they know where they are going?

Now, in a few verses, Jesus will make it very clear Whom we should follow–Jesus Himself, right?

But we have lots of choices in life about whom we will follow.

Who we follow at work.
Who we listen to on the radio.
Whose ideas we allow to influence us.

Jesus is calling His disciples to be very discerning about whom they listen to.

And the thing to watch is how that person is living.  Do they really see clearly?  Then it will show by their actions.  We’ll see more about that next week.

Here’s why it’s so important for us.  V.40

“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

Whomever you listen to, that’s what you’re going to be like.

Kids, pay attention here.  Who are you following?  Are you following good examples or bad?

Teens, who are your heroes?  You will become like them.

Adults, who are you listening to?  Who is teaching you?  What is the outcome of their faith?  Can these see or are they blind?

Ultimately, we need to follow Jesus. He is our teacher!  We need to become like Him.

But who is helping us to do that and who is getting in our way.

This is why it’s important to be in a good church.

I think this is a good one.  I love it.  But everyone has to figure that out for themselves.

A bad reason to be in a church is that your family goes to it or has always gone to it.

Well, who cares what they teach?  My family goes here.

You will become like your teacher.

This is why it’s important to be careful what programs we have on whether on TV or radio or podcasts or whatever.

“Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

Whom are you listening to?

I know that it’s a scarey thought that you are listening to me today!

“Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

Do you want to be like me?

If not, then don’t listen.  Don’t hang around.

If you look at my life and you don’t like what you see, find somewhere else to be.

Tell me before you go, so that I can be encouraged to change.

I take it very seriously that I could be a blind man and lead people into a pit.

And I fight against it with all of my might.

Because I want to lead you to green grass and quiet waters like our Good Shepherd does for us.

We have to be discerning.  Satan would love to get us off track.

Let’s not let him.

Jesus’ followers are discerning.

#3.  HUMBLE.  JESUS’ FOLLOWERS ARE HUMBLE BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT THEY ARE SINNERS, TOO.

Look at verse 41.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

Now, this is the classic word picture illustration for Jesus!

I love how Jesus teaches with pictures!

One guy has a speck of sawdust in his eye.  He has a problem, a sin, a shortcoming, a fault.  We’ll call him “Curly.”

Another guy (We’ll call him, “Moe.”), says that he wants to help out his brother and get that speck out of his eye.

Thanks!  There is only one problem–Moe has a 30 foot telephone pole sticking out of his eye!

And you can imagine the fun as he tries to get the speck out of Curly’s eye.

Jesus says that’s what it’s like when we don’t humble ourselves and check “our own stuff” first.

Now, Jesus isn’t saying that we never confront anyone with their sin.

He says in verse 42 that we can see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s eye.

But only after we humble ourselves first.

And this is true in marriage, in parenting, in church life, at work, in the neighborhood.

Jesus’ followers humble themselves before they go around sticking their noses into other people’s business.  Even people whose business is their own.

Jesus’ followers are humble.

They know that they are sinners, too.

Do you sense a theme running through these verses?

Verse 37 says to not judge.  Verse 42 says to get the plank out of your eye before you  address someone else’s sin.

Jesus’ followers are different.

This is not the way the world works.

But we are not like the world.

It’s easy to fall into.  It’s easy to judge, to condemn, to be bitter, to be stingy, to be undiscerning, to be self-righteous, to be proud.

But it’s not Jesus’ way.

I was telling my friend bout this sermon that was coming up, and he told me that the last time he was in Pakistan, he was at a supposedly Christian wedding where the wedding party and family showed up drunk and then proceeded to fight with each other.

And he said that he handled it okay on the outside but on the inside, he was mad and disgusted and judgmental about it.

And then the “good” Christians came up to him and kept telling him about who was drunk and who was fighting and the undercurrent was that they were good and they didn’t do things like that.

And my friend got up on Sunday and confessed his judgmental attitude and called up on the families in the church there to humble themselves, too.

It had an effect on them.

And it should have an effect on us.  Because these are the words of Jesus.

Jesus’ followers are different.

Not different in that they never sin!

We do.

But that we know that God has been gracious with us because of Jesus and His Crosswork, so we can be humble and gracious with others, now, too.

Do you need to hear that this morning?

Is there someone that you are disgusted with and you are tempted to look down your nose at and pick out the speck of sawdust in their eye?

Have you dealt with your plank yet?

Jesus’ Followers Are Different.

We are not perfect, but we are gracious, discerning, and humble.

May we grow in generosity, discernment, and humility.

For Jesus’ sake.

Messages So Far in Certain of Jesus:
Certain of Jesus
The Back-Story of Jesus
The Birth of Jesus
Jesus - A Very Special Child
Preparing the Way for Jesus
Jesus Is the Son of God
Jesus in Galilee
Jesus and the Sinners
Jesus Brings Real Joy and Rest
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part One
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Two

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Deerslayer: Joining the Club


Sweet success!  I got my first deer yesterday, a doe.  Ask me, and I'll be glad to tell you the story.  Next year, I'm going for that buck!

I will say this, though, the hard part came after the kill!

I am grateful for all of my friends who have helped me join the ranks of deerslayers-and to my very wife and kids who are very excited that Daddy got one this year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Loud Time

Years ago, I heard David Powlison make the comment that we shouldn't have "quiet times," biblically speaking, we should have "loud times!"

That was extremely helpful to me (a noisy person), and now DP has made that argument in this post.   Read it and get loud with God!

Jack Brooks

One of the reasons I like to read EFCA Pastor Jack Brook's blogs is that he isn't afraid to be himself and to venture an opinion (that is an understatement).

[Matt's Messages] "Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Two"

“Jesus’ Followers Are Different: Part Two”
Certain of Jesus:  The Gospel of Luke
November 29, 2009
Luke 6:27-36


Last week, we started to listen in on Jesus’ message to His disciples, often called the “The Sermon on the Plain.”

The Lord Jesus has hand picked 12 disciples to be His apostles, His authorized representatives, and has brought them down to a level place (6:17) and is preaching to them a message about what His disciples are to be and not to be.

We said last week that you could sum up the entire sermon in this phrase: “Jesus’ Followers Are Different.”

They act differently.
They believe differently.
They value things differently than others do.
They do different things.

Jesus’ followers belong to a different kingdom.  His kingdom.

And His kingdom is different from the kingdom of this world.

Jesus’ Followers Are Different.

They should be.
They must be.

Jesus demands that His followers be different.

We saw that last week in the 4 beatitudes and 4 woes that Jesus pronounced.

You are blessed if you suffer for Jesus.

But woe to you if you do not!

Now in verse 27, Jesus returns to describing what His followers are like.

And it’s very different from how the rest of the world operates.

Jesus’ Followers LOVE Differently.

At the top of my notes on this passage for preparing this sermon, I wrote this down, “More crazy teaching from Jesus!”

These are some of the strongest and hardest to apply words in the whole Bible.

Because Jesus demands that His followers LOVE differently than the rest of the world.

Now, remember who Jesus is talking to.  Who is Jesus talking to?

Verse 17 says that he is talking to His disciples and a great number of other listeners. But verse 20 says specifically that Jesus was looking at whom?  His disciples.

These are commands, demands, that Jesus puts on those who believe in Him and follow Him.

Jesus demands that His followers LOVE differently than the rest of the world.

Number one.  Jesus’ followers are different.

#1.  THEY LOVE LIKE THEIR ENEMIES ARE THEIR FRIENDS.  V.27 again.

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Is that different from the rest of the world?
It sure is!

That doesn’t come naturally, I’ll tell you that!

Jesus’ Followers, by His own command, love their enemies.

Now, you might not think that you have many enemies.  I’m sure that most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as having enemies.

I don’t.  I don’t want to have any enemies!

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who are my enemies!

An enemy is an opponent.

It’s someone who is against me.

An enemy is someone that I’m in some kind of relationship with who is NOT choosing to show love to me.

Are there people in your life that are choosing to NOT show love to you?

Those are your enemies whether you like it or not.

They are those on the other side of your conflict.
They are those who are sinning against you.
They are those whom you are unreconciled with right now.

An enemy is someone that I’m in some kind of relationship with who is NOT choosing to show love to me.

Some people may not be our enemies in any legal sense but at the moment they are acting like our enemies.

When I was working on this sermon this week, I had a fight with my wife.

It was at the lunch table, and I was complaining about Jesus’ difficult words here.  And she very graciously tried to help me understand what Jesus was saying.

But would I listen?

No, sir.

I was hot to convince her that these words here were really hard to understand.

And I began to oppose her at the table.  Enough that I almost drove her to tears in front of our kids.

I have apologized to her. And she has forgiven me.

And I am not her enemy.  But I was sure acting like it at that moment.

What should Heather have done with me who was being brutal to her at that moment?

Jesus says that she should love her enemy. And she did.

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Jesus gives some examples of what htat might look like in verses 29 and 30.

“If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”

Now, these are very extreme examples of this kind of love for enemies.

If they insult you with a slap, don’t retaliate.  Be open to being hurt again.
If they steal from you?  Don’t seek revenge.  Be open to being hurt again.

Love your enemies.

A bunch of our adults have been studying forgiveness this Fall.  We just finished our class last week.

It’s been one of the best and the toughest adult classes we’ve had together in years.

We’ve learned that forgiveness, not being bitter, not seeking revenge, not getting ours back is one of the hardest kinds of love that there is.

Being generous is fairly easy unless it’s being generous our enemies.  That’s hard.

Because they don’t deserve it.  They don’t deserve it!

If someone steals from you or insults you or borrows and doesn’t repay, they don’t deserve more!  They don’t!

And Jesus doesn’t say that they deserve it.  He just says to give it.

Jesus’ followers love differently!

They love their enemies like they love their friends!

They are generous with them.

They love their enemies.

Now, if you are at all like me, you have a bunch of questions that all begin with, “But what about....”

Right?

What about self defense?
What about when someone is trying to take advantage of you?

What about when it wouldn’t be loving to let someone steal from you?
What about taking care of your family?

I have all of those questions for Jesus, too.

And here’s the answer.

Yes, there are lots of biblical qualifications that probably need to be brought in to balance these words out.

Biblical passage where cursing enemies is the right thing to do–like the impreccatory psalms of the Old Testament and the impreccatory prayers of Paul in the New.

Biblical passages that talk about wisdom with money and how to interact with foolish people especially the Proverbs.

A Biblical passages that would show that Jesus is not talking here about how a government should operate or even how parents to should treat their children.

There are a lot of passages in the Bible that rightly qualify Jesus’ statements here.

But the real question is whether these statements speak to our hearts...or not!

Why do we ask our “what about” questions?

Is it because we want wisdom and want to grow in love for our enemies?

Or is it, secretly, because we don’t really want to love our enemies at all?

And we only want to know what we have to do to get by Jesus?

That’s one of the key reasons why Jesus speaks so starkly here.

He wants us to expose us.  He wants us to wriggle under the spotlight of His gaze.

He wants us to see that we don’t naturally love our enemies and wants to expose the passive hate we have for those we’d rather disdain.

And He wants us to rise above that and begin to truly love those who are against us.

Do you love your enemies?

Remember what we learned about love last year?

“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...”

We memorized the whole thing, right?

Do you act that way towards your enemies?

Jesus’ Followers are Different.

Do you want to know if you are a follower of Christ?

Look no further than how you treat those who are against you.

Do you seek revenge?
Do you retaliate?
Do you grow bitter, hateful, spiteful?
Do you return evil for evil?

Or do you love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you?

Jesus’ Followers Love Like Their Enemies Are Their Friends.

#2.  THEY LOVE LIKE THEY WOULD WANT TO BE LOVED.  V.31

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

This is Jesus’ Golden Rule of Thumb.

Do you ever have trouble knowing how to love someone?

I often do.

I ask myself, “What does love do in this situation?”

Paul has a prayer for smart love in Philippians 1.  He says, “[I pray] that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best...”

Because it’s not always obvious.

But here is a very simple principle laid down by our Lord that gives us a rule of thumb to follow when we don’t know what to do.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Now, that sounds natural, but it isn’t.

We naturally love others like we feel like loving others.

This requires thought.
This requires thinking about what someone else would want.

It requires putting ourselves in their situation and feeling what we would feel if we were there.

And then it requires doing something unnatural–loving someone.

Very simple rule of thumb, golden!  But not necessarily easy to do.

Jesus’ Followers Love differently.

They even think about what their enemies would feel before they try to love them.

Do you see how different we are to be than the world?

Jesus presses that home in verses 31 through 34.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full [or perhaps ‘expecting to get a loan from them some day’].”

Christ followers are different from the world.

The world has a kind of love.
Families who love each other.
Friends who love each other.
People in the community who love those in the community who are helping them back.

But that’s not good enough for Jesus’ followers.

Jesus’s followers are different.

Are you different?

The rest of the world operates on a quid pro quo basis.

Quid pro quo is a Latin for: What for What. Or This for That.

It means “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”

That’s, by and large, how the world loves.

But Jesus’ followers, by His demand, love differently.

We are to love without expecting others to repay that love.

And that means that we can love, even our enemies.  V.35

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”

How?

How can Jesus’ disciples do this?

How can I do this?

It’s one thing for Heather to do it for me or me to do it for Heather in the moment–because we know that we’re really, in the long run, for each other.

But how do I do it to someone who has perpetually been against me?
I have often counseled people through divorces.

And I remind them, “Jesus says that you should love your enemy.  And that man you married or that woman you married and has now left you is acting like your enemy.  But you can still love them.  In fact, you have to.”

How can they do that?

How do Christ followers love differently?

#3.  THEY LOVE LIKE THEIR HEAVENLY FATHER LOVED THEM.  V.35 AGAIN.

“Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Here is the gospel.

Jesus is not saying that if you love your enemies, you will become a son of the Most High.  He’s saying that you will show yourself to be a son of the Most Hight because you will be taking on the family resemblance!

This is how God treated you!

God is merciful.  God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

God sent His son, not to this friends but to His what?

His enemies!

He wasn’t even our Father!

He became our Father by showing us His mercy in Christ.

God is the perfect example of love.

And His love empowers our love.

John said it this way, “We love because He first loved us.”

The good news is that we were unlovable, but that didn’t stop God!

We were ungrateful and wicked. 
We were rebels.
We were sinners.

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

That’s the greatest news in the world, and if you believe it, if you put your faith in Christ’s sacrificial death, then you are beloved of God and He is your Father!

And if He has loved you and me like that?  Then we can love anybody.

Anybody!

Anybody!!!

Even our worst enemies.

And when we do, we can expect reward.  Did you see that in verse 35?  It reminds us  of what we learned last week about how everything is going to change and it will all be worth it.

Will it be worth it to be cheated out of something because we belong to Jesus?
Will it be worth it to give to someone who won’t appreciate the gift?
Will it be worth it to be insulted and not to have gotten back at them?
Will it be worth it to be generous and never be personally repayed?

We will be repayed.  Just not by them!

V.35, “Then your reward will be great[!] And you will be sons of the Most High.”

Jesus’ followers love like their Heavenly Father loved them.

Is your love different?