Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pastoral Report 2010

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2009

Dear Church Family,

Another year has passed!  It’s not easy to believe that we’ve concluded 11½ years together in gospel ministry.  What a joy it is to serve alongside you.

2009 was another good year of ministry.  It had its ups and downs, but God was faithful, and we saw lots of signs of His blessing.  Many new families began to attend, some became faithful.  People were led to the Lord.  Men, women, and children grew as disciples.  We experienced God at work in our worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.  Last year, we set a goal of growing in our love for God, each other, and our community in 2009.  While there is always room for improvement, I feel that we did just that.

I’m extremely thankful for the Pastoral Prayer Team which has undergirded our efforts in ministry this year.  About half-way through the year, I began to write prayer updates for this team to pray specifically about things going on in my ministry week.  What a difference it has made, as we’ve seen God work through these prayers!

It is a privilege to work with our church’s leaders.  In 2009, we began functionalizing the new leadership structure.  The new elder team (Keith Folmar, George Leathers, Blair Murray, Jeff Schiefer, Bob Gisewhite) worked hard all year long to provide oversight of all of the ministries, the staff, the finances, and especially the souls of our church.  I am blessed to work closely with these men.  This year, they each took responsibility for an area of ministry, and I felt some burdens lifted off of my shoulders–and the ministry improved, too!  Along with that, our new Facilities Team led our church through a major facilities and equipment upgrade.  I love the new ministry tools that we have in the video projector, sound system, and staff computers.  It’s exciting to see what we can accomplish when we work together.

In 2009, we had to say goodbye to Holly Lockwood in our office.  Her loving personality, ministry mindset, and family are very missed.  However, our office didn’t suffer, as Stacey Fisch moved back from Chicago and took over without missing a beat!  She’s been here 9 months already, and helps tremendously to grease the wheels of ministry. Cindy Green continues to clean up after us, and I’m thankful for our both her and Stacey and our staff teamwork.

Our attendance at worship held steady and even grew a bit in 2009.  The average attendance on Sunday mornings was 131 (1 person more than last year, a 1% increase).  Our highest attended service was Resurrection Sunday with 221 people, and our lowest was December 13th (the day of the ice-storm) with only 69.  I think that’s the lowest I’ve ever seen, and yet we had enough members here for a quorum at our Annual Church Family Meeting!  That shows the real dedication of our committed members.

We added 3 members to that committed group this year: Terry & Nancy Sheetz and Nancy Morlock.  We baptized two: Tanya and Alea Harned.  We also saw a number of kids born to church families: Danko, Beck, Hamilton, and Creek.  We had to say goodbye to a number of folks we love, too, including Marie Wertz, Tommy Neidrick, Bob Owens, and Tom Wertz.  A committed group of readers took up the Pastor’s Pancake Challenge and read the entire Bible in 2009–some for the first time ever!

Preach the Word

I love the ministry of the Word!   In 2009, we had 3 major sermon series.  Joshua: Possessing the Promises which took us all the way through the next major book in our long trek through the Old Testament.  In God We Trust: What the Bible Says About Money which gave us a practical and systematic theology of money (hint: “Money is profoundly spiritual.”).
And we started Certain of Jesus: The Gospel of Luke which will take us well into 2010.

When I was out of the pulpit, we were ably served by guest preachers including: Roy Schwarcz, Tim McGill, Ralph Magill, Bruce Weatherly, Super Jeff Powell, Paul Durocher, and John Forcey.

Equip the Saints

It was great to see our new leadership structure in action.  I enjoyed coming alongside each of our elders and seeing the ministries develop under each of them.

For example, Jeff Schiefer (Worship) helped develop our greeter program more fully and recruited Bob Lutz to coordinate it.  Bob Gisewhite (Instruction) helped us to develop our men’s ministries, and oversaw a great Family Bible Week and Kids for Christ launch in the Fall.  Blair Murray (Fellowship) helped us to make the important decision to de-commission the Connection Team (it wasn’t really working well and needed to end).  George Leathers (Evangelism & Prayer) helped us plan and implement a successful outreach with the Durocher Family in the Fall.  And Keith Folmar (Service) helped us navigate the bumps in the new structure and see us successfully perform 4 major facilities and equipment projects at virtually the same time.  Teamwork!

I continue to meet regularly with all of our leaders, trying to equip them to do the work of the ministry.  I still do “too much” of the ministry leadership myself, but I’m learning to delegate and build leaders.

You have graciously loaned me to other churches for equipping ministry, as well.  I got to serve our Altoona EFCA Church Plant with a seminar and sermon series called, “Real Church 101.”  I continued to lead the district Constitutions and Credentials Board and a Regional Pastors meeting.  I attended both the District and National Leadership Conferences, and I wrote articles for EFCA Today: “Underestimated Danger,”Groundswell" [pg.22 of the pdf], and “Love Walked Among Us.”  In the Fall, I became the Book Review Coordinator for  EFCA Today.  I get to help the editorial team choose good books to review for the magazine.  I enjoy the interdependence of our family of churches!

Shepherd the Flock

Relating to people is my favorite part of my job.  I love getting to pray with you and for you, visit you in the hospital or in your home, counsel you through major decisions or problems, and be a loving support.  It’s hard to keep up with everyone in our church, but I love the challenge of trying to be a shepherd in your lives.

2009 was a very good year for counseling.  I found my opportunities grow to offer wisdom for people’s lives and saw some real transformation in a number of my counseling contacts.  It has been incredibly helpful to take doctoral classes from the folks at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation and Westminister Theological Seminary.  In 2009, I finished the on-campus classwork for the degree.  I am now in the test-taking and research phase of the program. Unbelievably useful!

Vision for 2010

As we begin a new year together, our elders have been impressed with the need for more interdependence and participation from everyone.

God has gifted everyone in the body for loving service to the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-30).  No one is not-gifted!  Everyone has a part to play!  Everyone is important to the proper functioning of the body.

We are all different.  Not everyone is an eye.  Not everyone is a leader.  Not everyone is a hand.  We don’t all have the same gifts. But we all need each other–everyone.

We are praying and working towards a growing interdependence in our local expression of the Body of Christ–more people participating in worship (not as spectators!), more people involving themselves in instruction (teaching, not just learning!), fellowship (everyone caring for everyone, not just waiting for others to do it!), evangelism (everyone win one!), and service (each person using their gift in ministry).

We are looking forward to ministry to men, women, youth, and children, to a big Wild Game Dinner, a significant Family Bible Week, sending a group of youth the EFCA Challenge Conference, and more outreaches, prayer times, Link Groups, and classes. But our leaders can’t do it alone.  We will all grow up into the “Head, that is Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” [Ephesians 4:15-16].

In His Grip,

Pastor Matt

[Matt's Messages] "Loving Jesus Much"

“Loving Jesus Much”
Certain of Jesus:  The Gospel of Luke
January 31, 2010
Luke 7:36-50

This is a story about “Loving Jesus Much.”
Not loving Jesus a little.  Not tolerating Jesus.  And not (as Chris Van Brocklin said last week) merely admiring Jesus.  Not just liking Jesus.

But loving Jesus–much.  Loving Jesus a lot.

So a good question to ask ourselves before we read this passage is DO I LOVE JESUS MUCH?

In a few minutes, we’re going to have our Annual Reports Meeting where we go over the effectiveness of our church’s ministries over the course of 2009.

We say that the whole point of our church is bringing people into a love relationship with Jesus Christ.  That means being loved by Jesus so that we know it and loving Jesus much so that He knows it!

How are we doing at bringing people (like you and me) into that love relationship with Jesus Christ?

Now, when I say “love relationship” don’t think that I’m talking about something that’s merely sentimental or somehow romantic.

I’m a guy.  I don’t love Jesus like I love my wife!  And vice versa.

But I do love Him.  I love Him with a biblical kind of love.

Do I love Him much?

Do you?

In this story, there are two people who interact with Jesus.

One is respectable, religious, and scarey for his lack of love.

The other is disrespectable, disturbed, and...comes to deeply love Jesus.

The contrast couldn’t be much greater.

And neither could the love.

Luke 6:36.  “Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.”

Now, this is unusual to begin with.  There aren’t many stories about Jesus eating with Pharisees. The Pharisees were the good church-going folk of New Testament times. They were outwardly very holy.  They kept the rules.  They were respectable religious leaders in their communities.

And one them (we find out in verse 44 that his name is “Simon”) invited Jesus over for dinner.  And Jesus went.  Maybe it’s a trap.  Maybe Simon is interested in Jesus but not yet convinced.  We don’t really know.

But Jesus went.   And He reclined at the table.  What does that mean?

In the Ancient Near East, the people ate banquets at a low center table with mats or couches jutting out from the table like spokes in a wheel.  They tended to lay on one side with their feet pointing out.  That becomes important in the next few verses.

Some of these homes were like circular compounds with many entrances to a central garden eating area.  Perhaps Simon’s house was like that.

It appears to be a public dinner, maybe somewhat in honor of Jesus the Teacher and His visit to their town. We don’t know.

But obviously, people other than the guests were allowed to enter and perhaps listen in to the conversation at the table.  And, maybe, get a snatch of food from the table if they were poor.

There was one woman present who was definitely uninvited.  And she did something startling.  V.37

“When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”

This was highly unusual.

First, that a woman like this would be in the home of a Pharisee.

We don’t know how she got in there.

She was known for being a sinner.

We don’t know what she did, but we can guess.

Everyone knew.  Everyone knew what she was. least they thought they did.

She heard that Jesus was eating at Simon’s house.  She had had prior contact with Jesus.  She knew about Jesus and had come to love Him.

And she came to demonstrate her love.

Verse 38 gives us the details.

She brings an expensive alabaster jar of perfume.  We can only guess how she earned that.

And she stands at Jesus’ feet, behind him and she is crying.  She is weeping.

She is filled with emotion.  In fact, she’s bawling.  The Greek word here for weeping can also be used for a rainstorm.

It’s coming down from her eyes in buckets.

Can you see the picture?  Have you ever seen a woman cry her eyes out?

That’s what’s going on here.  And the tears are getting on Jesus’ feet.  So, she lets down her hair–not the most socially appropriate actions but her hair is all she has to wipe the tears.

And she wipes them and wipes them and wipes them.  And then she kisses His feet.  Respect, love, gratitude, worship, honor, thankfulness, joy. And she pours the perfume on them.

It’s an anointing.

We don’t do anointings much in our culture, so we have a hard time understanding what’s going on here from our experience.

But I think the picture is pretty clear.  This woman loves Jesus much!

She has total affection for Him.

She’s not a pretty sight.  Her hair is probably limp and tangly from being used as a rag.  Her eyes are probably red from crying.  She’s probably shaking with emotion.

But it’s beautiful emotion to Jesus.

She loves Jesus much with emotion and devotion.


How does this demonstration of emotion and devotion make you feel?

Does it make you squirm a little?

I mean, take aside the fact that she was a notorious sinner.  We’ll get to that in a second.

But what do you think about all of this emotion and devotion?  Is it a little over the top?

Well, if it’s fake, it’s no good.
And if it’s just worked up, emotionalism, that’s no good either.

But Jesus loves us to love Him with our emotions and our devotion.

He loves lavish displays of our affection.

Do you know, that’s one of the reasons why we sing on Sunday mornings.

Because Jesus is worth singing to.

He’s worth shouting to.

He’s worth our hearts being engaged.  Our emotions being charged.  Our souls being passionate about Who He really is.

Jesus loves our emotion and devotion to Him.

Now, you and I are probably not going to look just like this lady.  For one thing, we don’t have His feet here.

And for another, we may not express our emotion and devotion to Jesus with sheets of tears.

But we should, at least on occasion, be carried away in worship.

But we should, at least on occasion, cry about our love for Jesus.

But we should, at least on occasion, sing with our whole hearts, shout with our whole voices, declare our love with our whole souls.

Because that’s how worthy Jesus is.

You can tell if someone really loves Jesus or not by how they act.

Not always.  Not every time.  And sometimes Jesus’ people go through dark times where there is no spark.

But generally speaking, and always at some point, you can tell if someone really loves Jesus or not by how they act.

Can anyone tell if you love Jesus because of your emotion and devotion?

I think that many Christ-followers are scared that people will think they are some kind of religious nut or Jesus freak if they show any emotion or devotion to Jesus.

Well, let them!

Jesus is worth it.

Now, I’m not saying try to work up some emotion.  Get the juices going!  No.

And don’t fake it.  Be real.

But if you are real, you’ll feel it sometimes.  And you’ll let it out sometimes.

And you will do things, devotional things, with your life that other people may shake their heads at! But don’t worry about them.

Worship Jesus with emotion and devotion.

She poured that perfume out on His feet.

Can you imagine the aromatic smell that must have saturated that room?

Well, it sure made Simon uncomfortable.  And it led Simon to make an erroneous judgment about Jesus.  V.39

“When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this [display of affection], he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.’”

There’s a lot of irony in that verse, isn’t there?

Is Jesus a prophet? Yes, a more than.
Does Jesus know what kind of a woman is touching Him?  Yes, He sure does.
Does Simon know what kind of a man he himself is?  No, he doesn’t get it.
Does Jesus know what Simon is thinking?  Yes, He does.  V.40

“Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’ ‘Tell me, teacher,’ he said.  ‘Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?’  Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.’ ‘You have judged correctly,’ Jesus said.”  Stop there for a second.

Jesus tells a surprising story.  He catches Simon off guard.

There are two men who both owe money to a moneylender.  Who do you think is the moneylender in the story?  It’s God, right?

And the debt stands for sin.

One owed 500 denarii (500 days wages). The other owed one tenth of that–50 denarii–50 days wages. 

Who is the 500 denarii sinner?  The woman is.  Notice, by the way, that this woman cries but she never speaks.  Never.  We don’t know her name.  She never says anything. She just loves Jesus!

Who is the 50 denarii sinner?  Simon is.  But he doesn’t recognize it yet.

The surprising thing about this story is that the moneylender CANCELS the debts.

Who ever heard of that?  The debt is not paid by either of the two men.  In fact, verse 42 makes it clear that NEITHER COULD PAY THEIR DEBT!

So the moneylender forgives the debt!  We call that “GRACE.”

Now, here’s Jesus’ question: “Which of them will love him more?”

Simon is stuck.  He answers correctly but stiffly because he knows that he’s caught.

“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.  V.44

“Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet [common courtesy], but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss [a token of honor to a guest], but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head [to show respect and welcome], but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’”


Jesus is not saying that her sins are forgiven because she had a lot of love.  As if her love was the cause and her forgiveness the effect.

He’s saying in verse 47 something like, “It is raining for the windows are wet.”  Not that the wetness on the windows causes the rain but shows the effect. [See Darrell Bock’s commentary on this, pgs. 704-705.]

This woman has experienced forgiveness of her many sins.

And that has transformed her love so that she loves Jesus much.

Grace changes us into those who love Jesus much.  We love because He first loved us!

Simon doesn’t really see himself as much of a sinner.  And, I don’t think he’s forgiven yet either.  I hope he is now.

But the point that Jesus is making is that Simon shows very little signs of even respect for Jesus much less love.   He’s not been changed by the power of forgiveness.

Simon thought that this woman was shameful and that Jesus’ accepting of her emotion and devotion was shameful.

He would have rather Jesus kicked her!

But Jesus says that Simon could take a lesson from this woman. 

Isn’t that beautiful?

And it’s all because she’s forgiven much.

Now, the point is not to run out an sin some more so that grace may abound.

“If we sin a much, then we’ll be forgiven much, so that we love much.”

No, that’s nonsense.

The point is have a deep awareness of our sin and a deep awareness of Jesus’ forgiveness.

That’s why Jesus turns to the woman and says the words that she knows to be true.  V.48

“Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’”


What a thing to hear!  “Your sins are forgiven.”

Has Jesus said that to you?  “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other folks at this party couldn’t believe He said it.  V.49

“The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’”

Who does He think He is?

He’s the Savior!

He’s God incarnate.

He’s the One who go to the Cross to PAY FOR all of those sins.

Because God doesn’t just cancel the debt.  He pays the debt with the blood of His own Son!

And if that isn’t worth crying about, what is?!!

“Your sins are forgiven.”

That’s what Jesus says to those who put their trust in Him.

From those who turn from sin and trust in Him.

Repenting and receiving Jesus.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Not deferred for a later payment.
Not covered by your insurance policy.
Not by works so that no one can boast.

But by faith.  V.50

“Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”

“Your faith in Me.”

“Your sins are forgiven.”

You are saved!

Love Jesus Much!

So often, we stand in judgment like Simon the Pharisee.

We see those people who are so much worse than we are.

And when we do that, we lose sight of the fact that (v.42) “neither of them had the money to pay him back!”

Whatever we have done, whatever we have worshiped, whatever we have committed–if we belong to Jesus, it’s all paid for.  It’s all canceled.  It’s all free and clear.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Love Jesus Much!

Messages So Far In this Series:

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
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Four
Amazing Jesus
Disappointed with Jesus

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Death and Birth(s)

What a week!

My Grandma Skeldon went to be with Jesus this week.  She died surrounded by her kids and with a smile on her face--the first in many months. She is in heaven.  I get to talk about heaven at her funeral on Tuesday.

My nephew and niece were born this week.  Emma Joy and Nathan Matthew Mitchell have stepped into this world.  I'm so glad that their parents love the Lord and will do everything they can to help them to know Him.

Life and death are in the hands of our Lord.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Post It!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

[Matt's Messages] "Disappointed with Jesus"

“Disappointed with Jesus”
Certain of Jesus:  The Gospel of Luke
January 17, 2009
Luke 7:17-35

I want to ask you a trick question.

You ready?
Here’s the trick the question: Are you greater than John the Baptist?

What do you want to say to that question?

Probably, “No,” Right?

But you know it’s a trick question.  So, you answer, “Yes.”

And “Yes” it is if you are a part of Jesus’ kingdom. 

Jesus Himself says that you are greater than John the Baptist.

We’re going to see that this morning.

Here’s what else we’re going to see.

We’re going to see two different kinds of people who are (at least for the moment) disappointed with Jesus.  “Disappointed with Jesus.”
And strangely enough, one of them is John the Baptist.

Here’s a question for you that’s not a trick question.

Are you disappointed with Jesus?

Have you ever been?

Are you finding Jesus to be all that you expected?

Or are you wondering if maybe you’re missing something when it comes to Jesus?

That’s actually how John the Baptist was feeling.

Last week, Jesus was amazing.  He healed the centurion’s servant without even looking at him, without even going to him.  He was healed just by Jesus’ amazing authority.

And He brought back from the dead[!] the son of the widow of Nain–and just with a compassionate look and an authoritative word–completely amazing!

And word about Jesus’ amazing activities begins to spread.  Chapter 7, verse 17.

“This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.  John's [which John is that?  John the Baptist’s] disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’” Let’s stop there for a second.

John the Baptist sends a pretty negative question with his messengers, doesn’t he?

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Why do you think that John asked this question?

I mean, he’s just heard some stories about healings and even resurrection!

But John seems somewhat disappointed.

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

There was a time when John thought he knew the answer.

Jesus was the One to Come!

John baptized Him!  And heard the voice of God!

John pointed Him out to his disciples and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

But at this moment, John is still believing but struggling to believe.

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Why do you think that John asked this question?

Well, for starters, where is John right now?  Anybody remember what learned about John in chapter 3?

John is in prison.  He was probably in the gloomiest prison in Israel called the Machaerus, a desert fortress “perched on a desolate high ridge by the Dead Sea, where today the remains of the castle’s dungeons can still be seen, complete with iron hooks” (Kent Hughes, “Luke Vol 1," pg. 267).

And according to Jesus’ own words in chapter 4, what was supposed to happen to the captives when the Messiah came?   “Freedom for the prisoners? I don’t see that happening,” John could say.

More than that.  Jesus has been doing His thing now for a little bit of time, and what has happened to Rome?

Nothing.  A Roman centurion’s servant was healed.  But nothing more.  Rome has not been overthrown.  Israel has not taken its place as the head of the nations.  Not yet.

More than that.  What did John say that the Messiah would do?

Remember chapter 3?  John’s call to repentance?

John said, “I baptize you with water.  But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” [3:16-17].

Where’s the fire, Jesus?

Where’s the judgment?

Is it coming?

I’ve been preaching repentance and righteousness and judgment!  And I’m in jail for it.

Where’s the fire?

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

I know that you’re special.  I know the story about your birth.  I did your baptism.

But “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Can you identify with John’s disappointment?

In today’s passage there are two kinds of disappointment with Jesus.

One is okay as long as it is experienced in faith and is temporary.

The other is not okay.

John’s is the first kind. And we’ll call it this:


I expected something different, and I’m struggling with that.

I’m disappointed.  I thought that Jesus would do this.  Or that.

And He keeps doing this, and I don’t know what to do with it.

Jesus is not what I expected.

That’s how John the Baptist was feeling.

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  To do all the rest of the things that we expected the Messiah to do?

Have you felt that way yourself?

Last week, I was talking to an old acquaintance who has followed the Lord pretty faithfully over the years, but his children are not following the Lord right now.

In fact, his daughter doesn’t even want to be associated with the Lord or with the church right now.  Won’t even get her picture taken for the church directory, you know what I mean?

Here’s her problem.  She’s seen how her father has tried to follow Jesus, but she doesn’t see the blessing that she expected.

He’s had health problems.
He’s lost his job.
Their church wen through a major conflict.

And she says, “I don’t see where your following Jesus has gotten you anything but more trouble.”

My friend is puzzled by those things, too. But He knows that following Jesus is not always what we expect it to be.

How many missionaries were in Haiti this week when the earthquake hit?

How many died?  We don’t know yet.

I think we can understand how someone would be struggling with disappointment with Jesus in that situation.

Jesus is not always what we expect.
Are you going through a hard time right now and struggling with disappointment with Jesus?

A relationship?
A marriage?
A cancer?
A heart problem?
A physical ailment?
A family breakdown?
A difficulty on the job?
A financial crisis?
A crisis pregnancy?

Are you finding yourself saying, “Maybe I missed something.”

Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

This is not what I expected!

Maybe you’ve been sinned against in a major way, and you find yourself asking with John, “Where is the fire, Lord?!”

Notice that John doesn’t give up on Jesus.  He believes, he’s just struggling to believe.  He doesn’t understand so he goes to Jesus with his question.

Of course, he can’t go to Jesus, so he sends his question.  And they ask it.  V.20

“When the men came to Jesus, they said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'  At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.  So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.’”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t just dismiss John.

“John has questions? John has doubts? John has disappointments?  Well, goodbye John and good riddance.”  No. Uh uh.

Jesus knows that John believes but is struggling with disappointment.

And so He sends back a faith-building answer.

First, He does a bunch of miracles.  Then, He says, “Tell John about these miracles.

I’m not just a prophet. These are messianic miracles.  These are the things that are supposed to happen when the Messiah comes.

I may not be doing everything you expect right now (though you don’t know everything I’m up to), but these things are proof that I am the One Who Was to Come.”

And He ends with this beatitude: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

Hang in there.
Trust me.
Don’t stumble over me.

I know that I’m not what you expect, but I am what you need.

“Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

I am the Messiah.  I am fulfilling the promises.

I am doing it my way.  And on my timetable.

I know that I’m not what you expect, but I am what you need.

“Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

Do you need to hear that this morning?

If you are trusting the Lord and following Him by faith, you are not missing something if you are going through a trial.

There is not some better way out there–some other way that you are missing.

This is just how Jesus is doing it.

I know that’s it not what you expected.  But He’s worth it to hold on.

Jesus is saying, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.

I know that I’m not what you expect, but I am exactly what you need.”

Hang in there.

Now, after John’s messengers took this answer back to the Baptist, Jesus turns to the crowd and praises John.

Isn’t that interesting?

Just in case we were tempted to dismiss John as missing the boat or somehow a defective follower of Jesus for having some doubts, Jesus sings his praises.  V.24

“After John's messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? [No!  John is no reed!]  If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. [Look at that fox Herod if you want that!]  But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  This is the one about whom it is written [in Malachi 3]: ‘'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'”

John is more than a prophet!  V.28

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John [but catch this]; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Oh, oh, oh!

Here’s the answer to that trick question:

“I tell you, among those born of women [what other kind are there?] there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Now, this is not saying that John wasn’t in the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ point has to do with what time it is.

The time is changing.

Verse 28 says that no one born of women is greater than John.

That means Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David were all lesser than John.

Not in every way!  But in what way?

How close they were to Jesus’s coming, Jesus’ cross, Jesus’ resurrection, and Jesus’ Kingdom.

John was a bridge between the Old Covenant and the New.

And He was a prophet–but more than that–he got to be THE prophet who said, “This is it!  Jesus IS the Messiah.  Jesus IS the Lamb of God.  He’s here!”

And so he got a greater position than all who came before Him.

But you and I have a better position now than even he had!

We are on this side of the Cross, this side of the Empty Tomb, this side of the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost, this side of the Kingdom being inaugurated and coming in a slow and steady and often invisible but undeniable way!

We are in the Kingdom of God!  And the least of us is greater than John the Baptist.


Does that do something for your disappointments?

It should.

It should be thrilling for us.  And humbling.  And faith-building.

That’s what it did for those who believe in Jesus in verse 29.

“(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John.  But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)”

Two kinds of people there, right?

Those who received and those who rejected.

Those who were baptized by John and those who had not.

Now, the point wasn’t the water–it never really is.

What was the point of John’s baptism?  It was a baptism of what?


There were some who received Jesus because they were repentant.

And there were others who rejected Jesus and refused to repent.

How does verse 30 say it, “[They] rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized [for repentance] by John.”

Wow.  What a thing to say, “[They] rejected God’s purpose for themselves.”

Don’t let your disappointments take you there.

These folks are the examples of the second kind of disappointments with Jesus.

An unacceptable kind of disappointment.

We’ll call it this:  


Jesus doesn’t do what I want, so I’m not going to follow Him.

That’s the problem, Jesus says, in verse 31.

“To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation [the people who won’t repent, the people who won’t follow, who won’t believe]? What are they like?  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.' For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.'  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’  But wisdom is proved right by all her children.’”

I love how Jesus uses word pictures to teach.

Here he’s got a little story that contrasts two kinds of children.

Bratty children and wise children.

The brats demand that Jesus (and John) play by their rules.

“Hey, John!  How about a little dancing here!  You’re a little somber.
Hey, Jesus!  How about a little crying here!  You’re a little too happy.
We’re playing the music!  Dance to our tune!  Let’s go!”

And then they pout when they don’t get their own way.

There is no pleasing them.  So they are disappointed.

Why?  Because John and [especially!] Jesus don’t dance to their tune.

Jesus is not what I demand.

“But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

If you want to be wisdom’s child, you have to submit to Jesus.

You have to do things, His way.

You have to repent.  And you have to surrender.  You have to give up your rights.

And dance to His tune.

There are many many people in the world who are disappointed that Jesus doesn’t do things the way they want.

And there is hell to pay for that kind of an attitude.

Don’t go to Hell!

Turn around and trust in Jesus.

Be wisdom’s child and repent while you can.

Because for all eternity, there will be nothing disappointing about Jesus!

Messages So Far In this Series:

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
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Four
Amazing Jesus

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pick-Up Basketball


I started playing pick-up basketball again this week.  I am so sore.

I agree with Owen Strachan about a lot of things--and how to play the best pick-up basketball is one of them.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Blog Design

Laurel Eriksen of Eriksen Web Design (my cousin) has redesigned my blog with some terrific photos from Nate Weatherly Photography.

Wow!  With friends and family like that, I sure am spoiled!

Thank you, Laurel & Nate!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

[Matt's Messages] "Amazing Jesus"

“Amazing Jesus”
Certain of Jesus:  The Gospel of Luke
January 10, 2010
Luke 7:1-16

It’s great to be back with you this New Year!  When Heather and I got back from our vacation, we found your Christmas gift in our box–thank you so much for your generosity.  I wanted to tell you today what we bought with it this year.  This is going to be a special year for our family.  In the month of July, we are going to travel to Heather’s parents and grandparents in the Canadian Rockies and on the West Coast.

And we’re going to do it by train.  Our little family is going to drive to Chicago and then hop a Amtrak train at Union Station and travel 31 hours to Glacier National Park where we’ll meet Heather’s folks and travel the rest of the way in their Suburban out to the West Coast where her two sets of grandparents and aunts and cousins live.  And then we’ll end up back on the Canadian prairie where her parents and brother and sister live and then travel by train again to Chicago and drive home.

And this week, because of your generosity and some other money we have been saving, we were able to buy the 6 tickets for this big trip.  The last time we all went out West, Heather was 7 months pregnant with Isaac who is now 5 and half–so we’re excited to be able to do this.

Thank you for the time off and for the gift–we really appreciate it!

Have you found Luke chapter 7?

Since school started this Fall, we’ve been studying the Gospel of Luke to become Certain of Jesus.  Certain of Who He is, certain what He wants from us, and certain what He has done for us.

We’ve reached chapter 7 which immediately follows the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus’ teaching about how His followers are to be different from the rest of the world.

And in chapter 7, we get a glimpse of some amazing stuff.

We’re going to call this message, “Amazing Jesus.”

There are two amazing stories we’re going to study, one takes place in Capernaum and the other in Nain. Both are towns in Galilee where Jesus’ ministry is focused right now.

And in these stories Jesus is both amazed and amazing.

Luke 7, verse 1.

“When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people [The Sermon on the Plain], he entered Capernaum.  There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.”

You get the picture?

Jesus has finished teaching and entered a different city and there is a Roman soldier, a commander of 100 soldiers, a centurion, who has a trustworthy and valued servant who is dying.  His life is hanging by a thread.  That’s the situation.  V.3

“The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.  When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’”

Somehow, this Roman centurion had heard of Jesus.  His fame was growing throughout the countryside.  And he sent some friends to ask Jesus to heal his servant.  He believed that Jesus could do that.

And these friends, strangely enough, were Jewish elders.  And they believed that this Roman soldier was worthy of this healing miracle.  He loved the Jews and had built a synagogue.

Now, we don’t know if this man was a proselyte to Judaism, a convert, or if he had just been friendly and philanthropic and had kept up friendly relations with Jews.

But he wasn’t a hated Roman. He was a beloved Roman, if you can believe that!

And the Jews pleaded that this man deserved this miracle.

But that’s not what he thought.  V.6

“So Jesus went with them. [Jesus is willing.] He was not far from the house when the centurion sent [more!] friends to say to him: ‘Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.’”

Hmm.  This man has humility.  This man senses his unworthiness compared to Jesus.

Humility is a rare thing. 

And even more rare is what he demonstrates in verses 7 and 8.

“I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it.’  When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’ Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”


You know what’s the most amazing thing in this story?

The most amazing thing is that Jesus is amazed!

Did you see that in verse 9?

“[Jesus] was amazed at [the centurion].”

The King James says that Jesus “marveled.”

Jesus was astonished, surprised, impressed, pleased–amazed at what?

At the faith of the centurion.

Notice how he turns to the crowd, He wants them to catch this, and He says, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”


The centurion demonstrates amazing faith.

What’s so amazing about this man’s faith?

A number of things.

First off, he’s a Gentile.  He wasn’t steeped in the Bible. He wouldn’t have naturally known about the God of the Bible or believed in a coming Messiah who would come in the power of God.  But he does believe!

And second, he takes Jesus at His word.  He tells Jesus that He wouldn’t have to even show up to do this miracle.  He just had to (v.7) “say the word” and his servant would be healed.

That’s amazing!  We don’t know how this centurion had come to understand Who Jesus was and what He could do, but he definitely believed.  And he exercised his faith.

“Just say the word,” Jesus, and it will happen.

Do you want to amaze Jesus?

All you have to do is believe Him.

All you have to do is take Him at His word.

And that pleases Jesus so much!

Jesus is always on the lookout for faith.

“Will I find faith on the Earth?” is one of His biggest questions.

Do you want to amaze Jesus?

All you have to do is believe Him.

What are you praying for right now?

Are you praying in faith?

I’ve just finished reading an excellent book by Paul Miller on prayer called A Praying Life.  It’s really the follow-up book to Love Walked Among Us but it’s on prayer.

And Paul Miller says that one of the reasons why we don’t keep track of our prayer requests in a prayer journal or on prayer cards is that we don’t really believe that God will answer us.

We don’t really say in our hearts, “If you but say the word, Lord Jesus, then this request will be answered.”

This year, I’ve begun a new prayer experiment of keeping track of prayer requests and people I’m praying for on 3x5 cards.

I’m going to be making out a card for nearly everyone in my life and praying specific things for each of them.  I’ll be getting requests from all of you, if you’ll entrust them to me.

And every time I get out my prayer cards, I want to say with faith, “simply say the word, Lord Jesus, and this request will be answered.”

That’s the kind of faith that amazes Jesus.

Do you know that there are only 3 times that this word for “amazing” is used of Jesus?

There are only 3 times when Jesus was amazed like this.  Really only 2 because one of them is Matthew’s version of this same story.

The other time, Jesus is amazed at how much Jewish people should have trust Him but didn’t.

This is the only time when the Bible says that Jesus was amazed because of how someone exercised faith.

I want to amaze Jesus.

It’s not just faith in His ability to answer prayer.

It’s any time that we take Him at His word.

Has God told you something in the pages of His word and you’ve not believed Him.

We say that we believe, but we show that we believe by what we do.

In this case, the centurion acted on His faith by sending a delegation with a message.

But you or I might show that we believe by obeying some command of Scripture.

What is God asking you to do right now that it will take faith to accomplish?

Take Him at His word!  He’ll help you to do it.

The third reason that this centurion’s faith amazed Jesus was that He recognized Jesus’ amazing authority.


This guy understood authority.

He knew that He was under authority and He knew what it was like to have people under His authority.

The chain of command.

If this centurion said, “Jump,” his officers said, “How high?” on their way up.

V.8 “I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

And somehow this man can see that it’s the same way with Jesus!

Jesus is in God’s chain of command.

In fact, Jesus speaks for God! 

Just like when the centurion speaks, he speaks for Rome.

When Jesus speaks, Jesus speaks for God!

And disease has to obey.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Somehow this man had penetrated into seeing something of Jesus’ relationship with God.  And He believed in His amazing authority.

“Say the word, Lord. Say the word!”

And that’s exactly the kind of authority Jesus actually has.

The servant was healed.

Jesus had authority over distance.

He had authority over disease.

And as we’ll see in a second, He even has authority over death.

That’s amazing authority!

Let’s look at this next story and see that authority in action.  V.11
“Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.  As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out–the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.”

Can you get the picture in your mind?

Jesus, his disciples, a large crowd going one direction into town.

A funeral procession coming in the other direction going out of town.

And one of the saddest funerals you can have–a young son, the only son, the only begotten son of a widowed mother.

She is utterly destitute.  No husband, and now no son.

She’s crying.  The other mourners are crying, perhaps wailing.  He probably died that day. They tried to have their funerals as soon as they were sure the person was dead they would begin getting them ready for burial.

And his “coffin” would haven been a big wooden plank and sheet draped or wrapped over him.

And then, all of a sudden, the two crowds meet.  The widow with her son and the townspeople run into Jesus.  V.13

“When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don't cry.’  Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’  The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’”

Great Authority!

Authority even over death!

Notice what it took?  It didn’t take a lot of hocus-pocus and mumbo jumbo.

He just said the word.  “Young man, I say to you, get up!”

You know, if it was anyone else, that would be ludicrous.

You don’t talk to the dead person.  You don’t tell them to get up.

You cry.  You wail.  You stay silent.  But you don’t command a dead boy to get up.

Unless you have this kind of authority!

Amazing Authority!

The Gospel of Luke is about helping people to be certain of Who Is Jesus.

Here’s one thing to be certain of: Jesus has Amazing Authority.

Authority over sickness, yes, but even more authority over death itself.

Now, this man was raised only to die again.

But Jesus had the authority to take up His life again after He died and then to never die again.

And it’s that kind of resurrection that He offers to you and me if we will repent of our sins and receive Him as our own Lord and Savior.

This was just a foretaste of the resurrection to come.

Jesus said in John 10,“I lay down my life–only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

And He has the authority to give new life, resurrection life, to all of His people

Paul says in Philippians, “[W]e eagerly await a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Have you asked Him to exercise that authority on your behalf and save you from your sins and promise you a resurrection body like His?

Jesus and Jesus alone has the authority to do that.

Amazing Authority!

When Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” this young man HAD TO DO IT!  He sat right up and began to talk.

Can you imagine? 

That’s how powerful our Lord really is.

But it’s not just raw power.  Raw authority.  It is amazing authority combined with  amazing compassion.


Did you see the compassion in Jesus?

V.13 says that Jesus looked at the widow in her grief and “his heart went out to her.”

When He says, “Don’t cry.” it’s not stoicism and keep a stiff upper lip.

It’s comfort.  It’s care for her.  “O, don’t cry. I’ll do something about it.”

It was her only begotten son.  Jesus knows what it’s like to be in a family with a dying only begotten son.

His authority was coupled with His compassion.

And it led to this young son’s resurrection.

Jesus is full of compassion.  He knows how we feel.  He cares.

He comforts.

Sometimes He heals, and sometimes He doesn’t–because in His wisdom He knows when is the best time to use His amazing authority.

But He’s always full of compassion for the last, the least, and the lost–and especially for His children.

Amazing Compassion.

Do you need to hear that today?

Do you need to hear that Jesus cares?

Jesus cares.  He cares amazingly.

The people of Israel where beginning to get the picture.  V.16

“They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’”

Well, Jesus was more than a prophet, but not less.

And He was great.

He was amazing.

He was full of God’s own authority and compassion.

God had come to help His people.

And He’s here today to do the same.  Immanuel.

Messages So Far In this Series:

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
Jesus' Followers Are Different: Part Four

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Radical Church Planting

My friend Marty has a new website. Great for church planters. Check it out.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Monday, January 04, 2010

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Co-Reader in 2010

Like her father, Robin Joy is going to keep track of all of the books she reads in 2010.  We've started a joint file, and she has me beat 2 books to 1 so far.

It's fun to read together.

[Photo by Nate Weatherly and used with permission.]