Friday, April 23, 2010

[Matt's Messages] Special Edition - "One Thing" Allegheny District Conference

“One Thing” Allegheny District Conference
April 23, 2010
Luke 10:38-42


Are you busy?

I don’t mean right now.  I know that you’ve got nothing better to do than to spend the next half hour listening to me!

Or maybe you do have something better to do, but you’re stuck with me right now.

I mean in life right now.  Are you busy?

My guess is that most of us here would be quick to say, “Yes, I’m busy.”

Life is busy right now.

Busy is the buzzword of our generation.

Even though we have so many labor-saving devices at our fingertips, we are more busy than we have ever been.

Maybe because we have so many labor-saving devices at our fingertips, we are more busy than we have ever been.

Did you know that scientists have now invented a microwave fireplace?

A microwave fireplace!

You can now have an entire relaxing evening in front of the fire in only 8 minutes.

Are you busy?

I know you are.

I know you are because you’re in ministry, and that means busy-ness.

I’m a solo pastor of a medium-sized local church.  And there is so much to do!

Preach, teach, counsel, administrate, visit, equip, make calls, run programs, provide vision, raise up elders, lead worship, disciple young leaders, and the list goes on...and on...and on.

And that’s before volunteering for district ministries like regional pastors’ groups, constitutions and credentials board, and so on.  And trying to work on a doctorate.  And raise a family.

As if I needed something extra to do, this week I joined Facebook, and now I have a bunch of “friends” to manage!

I am busy.  Are you busy?

You church planters have even more responsibility.  Including sweeping the bowling lanes!

Are you busy?

And as busy as pastors and church planters are, how much more busy are you non-staff church leaders?  Lay leaders.

I mean, being busy in ministry is my job.  But you--you have full time jobs, and then you do your ministry on top of that!

My hat goes off to you.

I’m sure that you are busy.

And thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to come to the District Conference.

I’m paid by our church to be here, but you are not, and I applaud you for being here and making our family of churches one of your priorities.

We are busy people.

In fact, as I talk about it, I’ll bet that your mind has immediately gone to your TO-DO list.

Whenever I’m away at a conference, my TO-DO list grows like mushrooms in the dark.

Is your blood pressure going up as I talk?

Are you busy?

How do you set your priorities?

How do you figure out how to use your time?

Because we are all given just the same 168 hours per week.  The same 8,736 hours per year.  That’s it. 

We are a limited resource.

As a busy person, how do you figure out what to do with your time?

Wouldn’t it be great if there were was ONE THING that was a such a tremendous priority that it set all of the other busy-ness things in their rightful place?


One EXTRA BIG ROCK to go first into the jar of priorities?

One thing.

You and I both know that there is.

ONE THING that does all of that.

We know about that ONE THING.

But that doesn’t mean we always choose it.

Would you turn in your Bibles with me to the Gospel of Luke chapter 10?

Our church family at Lanse is studying through the Gospel of Luke this year.  And we’ve just made it through chapter 10.

There is a 5 verse story at the end of chapter 10 that reminds us what that ONE THING is that should set the agenda for all of our busy lives.

It starts in verse 38 of Luke 10, and it’s what I call, “Tale of Two Sisters: Mary and Martha.”

I’m sure it’s a familiar story to everyone here.

One sister has her priorities right. And the other sister needs her priorities adjusted.

We all know this story.

I’m not going to say anything new tonight.

What could I say to a bunch of ministry people that would be new about Mary and Martha?

But I want to “stir you up by means of a reminder.”

I want to persuasively remind you of what you already know.

We need to choose the ONE THING.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’  ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” [NIV].

I don’t know if Mary and Martha fought very often.

Do sisters fight?

This is the only story in the Bible where Mary and Martha disagree with one another.

But on this day, they had their differences.

Martha was mad.

Isn’t that clear in verse 40?  Can’t you hear it in her voice?  “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”

Martha was miffed.

In her eyes, Mary was falling down on the job.

Verse 38 tells us that 13 hungry men had dropped in on the home of these two sisters. Jesus and his twelve disciples were “on their way,” and they came “to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”

And Martha got busy with the preparations. 

She got to cleaning, baking, cooking, organizing, sending someone to the market for a missed item, polishing the silverware, getting everything ready to please the Master.  Busy, busy, busy. ....

In ministry! Service to Jesus!  This is ministry. Martha was busy in ministry.

But Mary, probably Martha’s little sister, just...sat there.  Verse 39.

“She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”

That was somewhat unusual for a woman to sit learning at a rabbi’s feet.

But this was an unusual rabbi!

And Mary just...sat there.

This steamed Martha.  “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”

Can you identify with Martha?

Serving is really important!  Isn’t it?  Yes, it is.  The Bible tell us to do it!
You are all here because you are servants of Jesus and want to serve Him faithfully.

But notice that Jesus does not agree with Martha at this point.

He doesn’t say here, “You’re right, Martha.  Mary, get up and get to work.  Off with you now.”

No, He very tenderly and very lovingly rebukes Martha.  V.41

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Jesus is talking about priorities.

He’s talking about the number one priority that out rules all others.

“Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

In this context, what is that one thing? ....  Sitting at Jesus’ Feet.

What does that mean?  And what does that look like for us in ministry today?

My wife says that I can take something simple and make it complex.

So, I’m going to take that One Thing and split it into three things this evening to help us to grasp it better and apply it to our lives.

Sitting at Jesus’ Feet means:


If you are taking notes tonight, that’s point #1.  Listening to Jesus.

And it’s obvious from verse 39 itself.  “Mary...sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”  Literally, “listening to His word.”

Mary was hanging on every word that came from Jesus’ mouth.

This sitting at Jesus’ feet was taking the posture of a disciple, a learner.

Mary was focused with all of her attention on what Jesus had to say, what Jesus was teaching.

Can you imagine being in that class?

To listen with your own ears to Jesus’ wisdom and knowledge.  To start to see the dawning of the Kingdom of God in His words, the authority with which He spoke, and the tenderness in His voice as He shared words of grace and mercy and truth.

Mary sat enthralled by the Master’s teaching.

She prioritized listening to Jesus over everything else.

Listening to Jesus.

Now, this does not mean that Mary never served.  It doesn’t mean that Mary abdicated her obligations.

I’m 100% sure that when Jesus was done teaching, Mary would have gladly gotten busy with the serving herself.  Probably Jesus would have helped Himself!

But Mary recognized that serving was not the priority here.  The Rabbi of Rabbis was teaching. The Teacher of Teachers was speaking. The Wisdom of God was in the living room. 

Mary was not going to be lost in the kitchen.

“Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”

Now, the chief way that you and I do that today is by Bible intake.

The Bible is Jesus’ teaching.  It is how we listen to Jesus today.

The Bible is Jesus’ Word.

So, if we’re going to be like Mary and sit at Jesus’ feet, we must prioritize our own time in His word.

“Only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

How are you doing at listening to Jesus?

How are you doing at listening to Jesus in His Word?

I’ve noticed that a lot of people try to have a relationship with Jesus without listening.

They think that praying is enough.  I talk with people who say that they pray, but they feel far away from God.  And they don’t understand why they don’t hear from Him.

But all relationships are two-way, aren’t they?

There is talking, and there is also listening.

And the chief way that we hear from Jesus now is hearing Him in the Bible.

So, are you reading your Bible?

Do you set aside time to read your Bible?

Not for lesson prep.
Not for a class that you are teaching.

But for you.

Just you and the Holy Spirit reading the Bible together for the good of your own soul?

Sitting at Jesus’ Feet.

Are you studying your Bible?

Do you work at trying to figure out what it means?
Do you meditate on what you find in there?

Do you mull it over and think about it and make it a part of your day and your conversations and your journaling?

Are you memorizing the Bible?  “I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

The EFCA is known for being a family of churches built on the Bible.

We say, “Where stands it written?!”  “Keep your finger on the text!”

We believe in inerrancy!

But...if we don’t read it and study it for ourselves, and listen to Jesus in its pages, our  doctrinal statement isn’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.

How are you doing at listening to Jesus?

Mary listened to Jesus.  She prioritized it above everything else–including even serving Jesus!

Sometimes those of us in Christian leadership can make the mistake that Martha did.

Martha made the mistake of thinking that serving Jesus was more important that listening to Him!

And no wonder we get worried and distracted about ministry! 

This month, I realized as I was preparing this message that I was worried and distracted about my district conference message about being worried and distracted!!!

Because I was not focused on Jesus.  I wasn’t listening to Him.

He wasn’t my ONE THING.

Jesus said to me, “Matthew, Matthew, you are worried and upset about many things, but only ONE THING is needed.  There is nothing more important than sitting at my feet.”

What practical steps do you need to take to prioritize listening to Jesus?

Some of us here in this room need to re-establish a quiet time.

Or I like to call them a “noisy time.”  I’m a noisy fellow.  And the Psalms are noisy-not quiet.  But what I mean is a time for serious Bible intake.

I’ve recently adjusted how I do my Bible reading because I had found that it was getting de-prioritized. 

It was still getting done, but on the side.  Not front and center.

So I moved where my reading-Bible sits, and I changed my habits about when it gets read.  It now gets read ahead of my novels, ahead of my books for class, ahead of my books for sermon-prep.  It’s now first.  Front and center.

What do you need to do to get the Bible into you?  To listen to Jesus?

A few years ago my beautiful wife did a complete media fast.  No books, no magazines, no radio, no T.V, no internet. 

Nothing but her Bible for several months.

And it profoundly changed her relationship with Jesus.

She cut out all kinds of mental-clutter, mental busy-ness.

What do you need to do to prioritize listening to Jesus?

I’m not telling you something amazingly new, but I’m asking you if there is something you need to do to re-prioritize listening to Jesus?

If so, write it down right now and then do it!

Because there is nothing more important. 

One thing is needed–sitting at Jesus’ feet.

And that means listening to Jesus.

It also means #2. LINGERING WITH JESUS.

And by that, I mean that this is not just an academic pursuit.  It’s not just teaching for teaching’s sake.  It’s not studying the Bible for studying the Bible’s sake.

It’s not theology for theology’s sake.  This is personal.

This is Jesus’ teaching.  Mary wanted to be with Jesus.

She drew near to Jesus.  Not just to theology or to truth or even to the Bible, but to Jesus Himself.

Martha was right, you know, about one thing.  Mary had “left her” to be with Jesus.

Mary had left the kitchen and she was sitting with Jesus.  I don’t know what kind of a chair He might have sat in, but she was there lingering in His presence.

She was focused on Jesus.  This is personal!

Mary sat at the Lord’s feet. [SIT] She was right there with Jesus at His feet.

How are you doing at lingering with Jesus?

Being in Jesus’ presence?

Of course, we’re always in Jesus’ presence.  Through His deity and the Holy Spirit, Jesus is omni-present, so we can’t get away.

But this is the language of relationship here–“drawing near,” “being with,” “sitting at His feet.”

How are you and I doing at that?

Here’s where I do think about our prayer life.

A prayer life that is focused on Jesus.  Attentive to Jesus.  Not like Martha who is worried and upset and (v.40), “distracted.”
Yes, Martha talks to Jesus, but it’s out of desperation and distraction. She’s stressed out.  She is not at peace. She’s not resting. She’s not sitting. She’s not trusting.

She’s demanding things from Jesus.  That’s not prayer.

Martha is not focusing on Jesus.

What is your prayer life like right now?

Can I recommend a book to you this evening?

I love to recommend good books, and this is a great one.

This book is called “A Praying Life,” and it’s by Paul Miller, one of my favorite authors.

Like you, I’ve read a number of books on prayer, and I can easily say that this is the best book I’ve ever read on prayer.  And Heather would agree.

The advertising for the book says that it’s a book for “Badly Praying Christians, which is about 95% of us.”  Can you identify?

Most books on prayer make me feel tired when I read them.  “Oh, I have to do that?”

This book got me praying as I read it!

I believe in this book so much that I ordered 40 of them to bring along and sell this weekend at the district conference.

It’s back on the district table in the foyer.  I brought them here at no cost to the district and no profit to me.  In fact, if you buy one, you are buying directly from Paul Miller’s ministry:, and you can make out your checks to SeeJesus or even use a credit card to buy one.

They are only $12 a copy and 9 bucks if you buy 10 copies to take back to your church.

I highly recommend “A Praying Life.”  And I’m even going to offer a 0% discount for the first 40 takers.

Why am I selling this book so strongly?

The subtitle of “A Praying Life” is “Connecting with God in a Distracting World.”

And there’s the tie-in with Martha and with our busy-selves. 

Martha was distracted.  She was worried and upset.  King James says she was “careful and troubled.”  Full of cares and full of troubles.

In ministry!

Are you full of cares and full of troubles in ministry?

What Martha needed was to linger with Jesus.

She needed to rest at His feet.

She needed to give over her burdens to Him and listen to Him.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen [to linger with me], and it will not be taken away from her.”

What are you worried and upset about right now?

What has you distracted?

Linger with Jesus. 

The ONE THING that is needed is time with Jesus.

“But, but, but, but I have all this work to do!”

Yes, you do.  But that’s not the ONE THING that is important.

Jesus is.

And lingering with Jesus will give you what you need to do your ministry for Jesus.

We who are in ministry need to go twice as often to the Living Well, or we will have nothing to serve to our people.

Your church needs you to choose the ONE THING needed!

Your church needs you to sit at Jesus’ feet before you go trying to serve them.

If you don’t, you will run dry, and so will most of them!

Listening to Jesus.
Lingering with Jesus.


Just plain-old loving Jesus.

Because that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it?

V.42, “Mary has CHOSEN what is better.”

What has she chosen?

Jesus Himself.

She has loved Him. She has valued Him. She had adored Him.

She has worshiped Him.  He is her ONE THING.

Sitting at Jesus’ feet is treasuring Jesus above everything else. And that’s what we call “worship.”

And it’s what we call “love.”

Loving Jesus.

Martha may have been trying to love Jesus by serving Him.

But it’s clear that her focus was not on Jesus Himself.

It’s clear because she got so miffed at Mary and even at Jesus!

“Lord, don’t you care?”  “Tell her to help me!”

Which is using Jesus, not worshiping Him.

And it’s certainly not enjoying Him.

Mary had it right.

Mary had chosen what is better.  V.42.  Literally, “The better portion.”

What the Psalms are talking about when they talk about God being “our portion.”

Jesus Himself is our portion.

And it will not be taken away from her.

Sitting at Jesus’ feet was loving Jesus.

Treasuring Him above all other things.

Mary did that again, didn’t she?

In John chapter 12, this same Mary took a “pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Can you imagine?

John says that Judas objected, saying, “Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages.”

A year’s wages?!  I don’t how much money you make, but that’s extravagant worship.

But Jesus said, “Leave [Mary] alone.  It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”

Perhaps Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, had understood what the other disciples had not.

Perhaps Mary had understood the gospel!  That Jesus was going to die for our sins.  And she was anointing Him, preparing Him for burial.

She was pouring out all of her treasure on Him because He was worth so much to her.

She was, in costly worship, loving Jesus.

How are you and I doing at loving Jesus?

Do we chose Him above everything else?

Are we choosing Jesus as our portion, our One Thing?

If we do, it will not be taken away from us.

It CANNOT BE taken away from us!

Nothing will be able to take it away from us.

If Jesus says that He won’t take it away from us, then nothing can!

In February, my favorite mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Abdominal cancer of a rare and deadly type.

She went in for an emergency appendectomy, and the doctor took a few things out of her and then sewed her up and didn’t expect her to live through recovery.

It was a total shock to the family. She is just 59, and they are giving her about a year to live.

As you can imagine, this diagnosis has totally changed her busy-ness.

She is still busy, but she has a new focus now.  Her priorities and the priorities of her family, including my loving wife, have had to change.

But it hasn’t ruined or destroyed her no matter how distressing it is (and it IS distressing).  But it hasn’t destroyed her.

You know why?

Because she already had ONE THING driving her life.

The Lord Jesus Christ.

He was already her portion.  Her ONE THING.

And nothing can take that away from her.

She had already chosen (and is continuing to chose) what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

One Thing.


Looking forward to reading your message on Thursday. Day's too packed tomorrow.