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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Resisting Gossip at EFCA One

Heather and I are in New Orleans for EFCA One, the national conference for our extended family of churches.  Today, we will worship at an local EFCA church and then do some sight-seeing around town and down the Gulf.

Tomorrow morning, I will be sharing some of what I've learned about Resisting Gossip in a seminar called "Becoming a Gossip-Resistant Leader."  I'd appreciate prayer as I've never shared this information with a group like this--mature church leaders. I want to really serve these folks!



Saturday, June 29, 2013

Friday, June 28, 2013

Natasha Miller on Resisting Gossip

Natasha Miller is a member of the Evangelical Free Church of Hershey and lives in Hershey, Pennsylvania with her husband Andrew and pet rabbit Richard. She works as a registered nurse in the Neonatal ICU at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. She enjoys spending time with friends and family, the outdoors, travel, and running. She is passionate about loving others tangibly and finding ways for uninsured individuals to access healthcare.

Natasha served as a Critical Reader for me during the development stage of Resisting Gossip. I was connected to her through her father-in-law, Paul Miller.

She had lots of great input and advice for improving the book, and I'm pleased to have her endorsement:
The topic of gossip is one not often discussed but so relevant and a great reminder of one way we can clearly follow the example of Christ with unbelievers. Matthew Mitchell made the text relevant to a variety of different perspectives: persons who find themselves gossiping, those affected by gossip, and ministry leaders, among others. – Natasha Miller

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stephen Altrogge on "Killing People on Facebook"

Stephen Altrogge posted today on "Are You Killing People on Facebook?"
My words have the power to impart life to someone or to kill them. Death and life are in the power of the tongue and the status update and the photo and the text message. Every word I speak or type carries enormous life-giving or life-stealing potential. Words aren’t neutral. Status updates aren’t innocent. The words we speak and type and text today reverberate into eternity.
I don't think that Christians think enough about this. Stephen says:
Imagine how careful I would be if every time I spoke a small burst of flame came out of my mouth! I would speak ever so carefully. But often I’m not careful about the words I post. I don’t see them as explosive. Consuming. Flaming. 
Stephen closes with some great questions to ask ourselves before we push "POST," including this question that touches on gossip:
Will what I’m saying have a damaging effect on someone else’s reputation in a way that is unfair to them and doesn’t give them the chance to represent themselves?
 Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Jeff Powell on Resisting Gossip

Jeff Powell is the District Superintendent of the Allegheny District of the EFCA. He's also MY pastor. (And he does such a super job at it, that my kids and I call him "Super Jeff." He's pictured her with Super-Kim whose even more terrific than him.)

Jeff has a difficult job--watching over our fledgling little family of churches, and battling sinful gossip has only made it more difficult.

So, I was very encouraged when he had a chance to read and endorse Resisting Gossip:

“I thoroughly enjoyed and was challenged by Matt’s biblical approach to gossip. As a District Superintendent with the EFCA, I too often experience the fruit of gossip in churches. I believe Matt's work has great opportunities for individuals as well as groups to learn to biblically deal with gossip. I especially like the questions at the end of each chapter and believe this makes the material very applicable for small groups. I believe this subject must be addressed in the church today.” – Jeff Powell


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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Resisting Gossip at ICRS13

This book thing is getting to be fun!

The International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) is happening this week in St. Louis, Missouri.  ICRS is the largest annual gathering of booksellers in the world. Publishers, authors, editors, agents--all kinds of publishing people gather for a week of finding out what is new and of interest to readers.  

Dave Almack, the director of CLC Publications, and his team are present in St. Louis and have set up a table to present CLC books including Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue to interested retailers.
CLC Publications Booth

(To get a sense of how big this event is, go to this link to see the map of the convention center, then put in CLC Publications in the search box to see where our booth is located.)




See the book and the new author picture (by Schenley Pilgram!) in the top left-hand corner? How cool is that?!
Steve, the buyer from Christian Book Distributors (CBD.com) holding a copy of Resisting Gossip with Dave Almack.


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Monday, June 24, 2013

What I Love About Biblical Counseling --- At the Biblical Counseling Coalition


Today at the Biblical Counseling Coalition, they have posted a short article by me about What I Love About Biblical Counseling.
When I discovered the biblical counseling movement, I felt like I had found the mother-lode of wisdom ore for pastoral ministry. I still feel that way, and know there is much more to drill down into. Let me tell you what I love so much about biblical counseling (when it’s at its best).
Read the whole thing.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Stand Your Ground"

“Stand Your Ground”
Family Bible Week Finale
June 23, 2013 ::  Ephesians 6:10-20

This passage has been the center of the Bible teaching all this week at Family Bible Week.

Our theme, as you can tell by now has been “BOOT Camp. Biblical Outlook and Outreach Training.”  We are in the Lord’s Army. Yessir!

And the central passage about being in the Lord’s Army is Ephesians 6, starting in verse 10.

Christ-followers, I have some bad news for you.

Christ-followers, it may not always seem like it, but you are in a war.

There is a battle raging in this world.  And there are only two sides.  The stakes are higher than life and death.  The stakes are eternal life and eternal death.

The battle rages all around. And no one is neutral. There are no non-combatants. There are is no neutrality. No “Switzerland” in this war.

The kids have learned this week that if you are a Christ-follower, you are in a war.

Not to scare you, but your enemy is fearsome.

Your enemy is one of the most powerful created beings in all of the universe.

He is smarter than you.
He is more dangerous than you.
He is more experienced at combat than you are.
He is stronger than you.

And He hates you with a vengeance on a scale that you cannot imagine.

Your enemy wants to utterly destroy you.  He wants to rip you to shreds. He wants to devour you.

You are in a war.

That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news:

There are resources available to every follower of Christ that will enable us to withstand the onslaught of this fearsome enemy.

The good news is that there are resources available IN GOD to every follower of Christ that will enable you to “STAND YOUR GROUND” when this enemy attacks.

That’s the point of Ephesians 6:10-20.

There are resources available IN GOD to every Christian that will enable us to STAND OUR GROUND when this enemy attacks.

The Apostle Paul is saying in this passage that we possess the armor God–the resources necessary to withstand the onslaught of Satan and his warhost.

And Paul is saying that God wants us to engage in spiritual warfare (this is not just for some special class of believers) for every Christ-follower to engage in spiritual warfare TAKING UP and PUTTING TO USE the resources of God Himself to fight spiritual battles.

Isn’t that good news?  Let’s see how Paul describes the battle.  Look at vv.10&11.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.”

In other words, “Get ready for a fight.”

Paul says, “Get your strength up because you are going to need it.”

You are going to have to take your stand against the schemes of the devil.

I’m sure you are aware that Satan has schemes, battle-plans, tricks, plans of attack for taking you down.  What he doesn’t have already, he’s drawing up right now!  Paul says, “Soldier, get ready for a fight with Satan’s schemes.”  Get your strength up because you are going to need it.

But notice.  (And this is all-important.)  Where does it say to get your strength?

It doesn’t say to pump iron.  It doesn’t say to look deep within yourself.  It doesn’t say to beef up your moral resolve and your will-power for defeating the enemy.

On your own, you haven’t got what it takes!  You are going up against the most powerful weapons of mass-soul-destruction in the universe––where are you going to get strength to withstand the spiritual equivalent of the atom bomb?

What’s he say?  V.10

“Be strong...IN THE LORD and IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.”

Get ready for a fight.  But don’t think that you’ve got what it takes to stand up to Satan.  You don’t.

But as we learned this winter in the book of 1 John, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”  (1 John 4:4!)

There is a fuel supply, a spiritual armory that is more than able to successfully repel the attacks of the evil one.

It’s God Himself.  And God Himself has committed His own resources to fight your battles in this world.

Christ-follower, stand your ground by drawing strength from God.

V.12 makes it clear who the enemy is.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

We often think of our enemies as being other humans.  Flesh and blood.  And sometimes, in some senses, they are: child abusers, murderers, thieves, rapists, hostile nations and so on.  But, standing behind them and below them is a darker evil.

We sometimes think that our enemies are movie producers, pornographers, liberal theologians, dangerous politicians, magazine publishers, internet enemies.  But standing behind them and below them is a darker evil.  They are but puppets in the hands of these enemies: rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, spiritual forces of evil.

We need to be aware that Satan has a huge network of secret-agents.  There are demons on every level with orders to attack, a “spiritual Mafia.”  Behind the scenes, on different levels, joined together for a dark and dangerous purpose–the tearing down of human souls.

That’s whom we battle. And where are they?  Last phrase of v.12:

“...in the heavenly realms.”  That means the unseen realm.  The world that is more real, more concrete, more substantial than this one.  But the world that is, for right now, unseen by human eyes.

Your enemy is fearsome, in control of a huge army of fallen angels who are joined together to destroy you.  And your human eyes cannot even see them coming.

So, Paul says, get ready right now by drawing on God’s power.

That’s what the “armor of God” is.  The armor of God is the powerful resources of God to fight every spiritual battle we will ever face in this life.

So, Paul says (now v.13), “Therefore...”

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

What do you think is this “day of evil?”  I don’t think it means just one particular day.  I think it means the times when Satan seems to be really be on the attack.

Sometimes, he pulls away and retreats and re-groups and looks for an opening.  He did that with Jesus. Do you remember that?  Satan left Jesus after the temptation in the wilderness–not for good–but to wait for an opportune time to strike again.

So sometimes, Satan and his minions aren’t on “full attack mode.”  But that doesn’t mean the war is over.  It means, “get ready because he’ll be back with a vengeance.”  I think that’s what the “day of evil” means.  Those times when Satan seems to be coming on strongest.

Maybe you are in the midst of the “day of evil” right now.

Maybe in the midst of a trial.  A loss.  A relational problem.

Or maybe in the midst of a temptation.  Some sin that keeps dogging your heels.

Or maybe in an accusation.  Some sin you have been forgiven of that He keeps pounding on you. [We sing, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within!”]

Or maybe even some kind of a supernatural manifestation of Satan’s power.  A paralyzing fear, or a demonic oppression, or something like that.

“The day of evil.”

But God has something for you on that day, in those times, to (v.13) “be able to stand your ground.”

Do you believe that this morning?

Do you believe that you can stand your ground?
Do you believe that God has something for your every spiritual need?

It’s what we saw last week in Isaiah 40. Spiritually weak people who hope in the LORD will get spiritual strength from God Himself.

Do you believe that God has purchased resources by the death and resurrection of Jesus that will help you to not fall when “the battle presses in hard?”

That’s what this passage says.

We don’t do it on our own.  We don’t have to muster up the courage.  We don’t have to arm ourselves.  We don’t have to find it in ourselves to live the Christian life and to fight the daily battles with the Tempter, with the Accuser, and with his agents of darkness.

God will do it for us.  God has done it for us.  We have a Mighty Mighty Savior!  And He has made it all possible (through His Holy Spirit) for us take full advantage of His mighty power for living.

That’s what it means to “take up” the full armor of God.  I love that phrase, “full armor” of God.  There are other words for “armor” in the Greek language.  But this one means everything you need for success in battle.

So that when it’s strapped on, you’ve got everything you need to stand your ground.

And that’s exactly what Paul tells us to do in vv.14-18.  We don’t have to retreat from Satan. And we don’t have to fear.  We just have to, “Stand firm.” he says.  God has an armor for you.  Put it on.  And stand firm.  Put it on.

Vv.14-18 are a description of the armor of God and a call to put it on.  To appropriate (by faith) the mighty, powerful resources of God.

There are 7 armor pieces (or weapons) here.  Lots of imagery that is easy to remember.  Our kids studied each piece this week in their classes.

Let’s look at them one at a time.

First, the belt of truth.  V.14.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.”

The belt of truth.

Truth is pictured as a great belt tied around your mid-section.  And remember this is God’s armor that He is giving to you.  Paul is saying, “Tie God’s truth around your waist.”

Let me give you a definition of biblical truth because there are a lot of misunderstandings about truth out there.

Truth is a description of what really is.  Did you get that?  Truth is a real description of what really is. An accurate description of reality.

When you go into battle, you want to know the true state of things.  You want to know how bad the fighting is going to be. You want to know how strong your side is.  You want to know if your weapons will do any good. You want to know if your armor will withstand the attacks of the evil one.

And you don’t want to be deceived about it.  You want the truth.

I think that the reason truth is pictured here as a belt is because everything else on your armor is attached to it.

The belt for the Roman Soldier did more than just keep up his pants.

On a Roman soldier (by the way Paul might, have a firsthand idea of what a Roman soldier wears. He might be writing this chained to one! Check out v.20.)  On a Roman soldier, the belt kind of hung everything together.  It was the first thing you put on to get yourself ready to fight.

So the question is, do you know the truth of God?

Satan is coming to attack you. He might be doing it right now as I speak.  And if you are deceived and don’t know the truth of God–what really is–how are you going to stand?

1 John 4:4 (that verse I quoted a couple of minutes ago). That’s the truth.  “Greater is He that is in you than he that is the world.”  That’s truth.  It won’t feel like that on the day of evil! That’s why you’ve got to put on truth to be ready for the fight.

Put on the belt of truth.

Second, the breastplate of righteousness.  V.14 again.

“Stand firm...with the breastplate of righteousness in place.”

Or we might say today the “body armor of righteousness.”

Holiness must be close to your heart.

God has provided righteousness, purity, holiness to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We need to put that on daily, practicing holiness, to be able to stand in the day of evil.

Satan is going to tempt you.  And it’s going to be powerful.  You are going to want to go his way, not God’s.  But all the resources you need to say, “NO!” including holiness, purity, and righteousness, are available from God.

Did you know that you no longer need to sin?

Yes, you still have indwelling sin living inside of you.  It will be an internal struggle all of this life.  But sin’s authority over your life has been broken. You don’t have to sin any more!  God’s righteousness is right at hand for you.  And you can put it on anytime.

It won’t feel like that on the day of evil!  When Satan is attacking, it seems (sometimes) like sin is your only choice.  But God has a breastplate, close to your heart that you can put on, anytime, anywhere.

The breastplate of righteousness.

Third, the boots of readiness.  See what Paul says in v.15.

“And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

The picture here is a soldier binding his feet up with leather boots or sandals so that his feet don’t twist and turn and lose their sure-footing.  No teetering and losing your balance.  Your feet are being “readied” for battle.

Have you ever seen all the trouble that professional athletes go to to make sure that their ankles don’t pop out from under them?  There, the stakes are just winning and losing a game.  Imagine going into war without sure-footing!

And readiness (the surefootedness) for spiritual battle comes from the “gospel of peace.”  That is, the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners like you and me.

Peace with God is possible because of Jesus.

You need to know that when Satan comes knocking!  You need to know that no matter what accusation he tries to push you over with, you are accepted by God through the blood of Jesus, and the gospel makes you untoppable.

We sing, “When Satan tempts me to despair...upward I look and see him there that made an end to all my sin!”

It won’t feel that way on the day of evil.  If you aren’t prepared, it will feel like you have no place with God when Satan attacks.  He’ll accuse you of being the worst sinner imaginable.  Unworthy.  Unacceptable.  Wretched.  And he’ll be half-right!

You are an unworthy, unacceptable, wretched sinner!

But God has made you worthy, acceptable, and beloved in Jesus.  You have peace with God if you have come to believe the gospel.  And that will keep you from tottering on the day of evil.

Stand your ground with the boots of readiness.

Fourth, the shield of faith. V.16

“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

Do you see the picture here?  Satan is attacking you from a distance.  He is dipping the tips of dangerous arrows in pitch and then lighting them on fire. And the he’s aiming them your way.

He has red-hot missiles of temptation, trial, and accusation flying through the air–with you in the cross-hairs. You are the bullseye for Satan’s fiery attacks.

But God has a shield for you.  It’s called FAITH. Take it up, and stand your ground.

Faith is trusting the promises of God to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.

The Roman shields were about four feet by two feet and often covered with leather. The Roman soldiers, afraid of these kinds of blazing attacks, would often soak their shields in water before battle.

So get the picture. You are in a fight.  It has gotten hairy.  The enemy is shooting the arrows at you. When they land, flames shoot up everywhere.  But when they land on your shield .

That’s what faith does. God has a faith for you to use in spiritual warfare.  Every one of His promises is true.

What if the flame is a temptation?  “No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man.  There is a way of escape.”

What if the flame is a trial?  “Consider it joy when you encounter various trials because the testing of your faith will lead to maturity in Christ.”

What if the flame is an accusation?  “There is now NO condemnation to those who in Christ Jesus.”

What if the flame is hardship?  “And my God will meet all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.”

What if the flame is demonic oppression?  “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

Soldier, raise up the shield of faith.  Trust God’s promises! And the arrows will go out. They will seem powerful on the day of evil.  But not against the armor God has for you.  Don’t fear!  Trust God!  He is powerful to save.

Fifth, the helmet of salvation. V.17

“Take up the helmet of salvation.”

No solider goes to battle without his helmet. This helmet in v.17 is the reminder of the salvation that is to come. Elsewhere, Paul calls it the helmet of the HOPE of salvation (1 Thess. 5:8).

That’s because victory is certain for the children of God!

When Satan attacks, put your hope in God’s salvation which is ready for you, prepared for you by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The helmet of salvation.

Let me give you an idea of how that works.  When you are in the midst of the war, it seems like the war will never end.

But you need to remind yourself DAILY that this war is already won!

It’s a real Battle.  Satan is a real enemy.

But Satan is a defeated enemy.  The Cross took the fangs out of Satan. He tries to convince himself that that isn’t true.  He is still fighting.  But the decisive blow has been struck.

And as long God has some rescue missions to accomplish, we still have to fight with Satan. But he is a defeated enemy.  As Martin Luther’s song says, “Lo! His doom is sure.”

And the “helmet of salvation” is our reminder to ourselves each day as he comes at us, that we have the victory, we just have to wait for it.

Did you know that?  You don’t have to win the spiritual battle!

It’s already been won.

You just have to stand your ground for Satan’s last ditch attempts to gain an upper hand in your life.  Put on the helmet of salvation and remind yourself every day of the victory which is God’s for you.

Sixth, the sword of the Spirit.  V.17 again.

“Take up...the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Family BIBLE Week.

Sixty six books.  And notice that this is your ONLY offensive weapon.

Learn this.  Know this.  Use this.  The Spirit of God Himself has written it, preserved it, and put it in your hands in your own language.  Get to know it.  Whip it out and slash it at Satan.  It’s powerful!

The word for “sword” here in v.17 is for the short-handled sword that Roman soldiers used for hand-to-hand combat. This sword is for the times when Satan and his soldiers get right up in your face.  You can’t flee!  You’ll want to. But there is no back to this armor.  Don’t retreat.  God calls you to stand your ground.  James 4:7, “Resist the devil {slash back with the word of God}, and he will flee from you!”

Are you strong enough to make Satan flee? No. But the word of God is.

This is what Jesus uses in the wilderness.  He kept says, “It is written...It is written...Be gone, Satan for it is written.”  Jab.  Jab.  Jab.  And the devil actually has to run.

Take up the sword of the Spirit.

Get to know your Bible.

I would be a danger to myself with a metal sword and not a danger to an enemy.

I haven’t spent enough time with one to be able to defend myself.

Are you a danger to your enemy with the Sword of the Spirit or only a danger to yourself because you haven’t spent enough time with your weapon?

Take up the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God to stand your ground.

Seventh, and last, the walkie-talkie of prayer.

Okay.  The words, “walkie-talkie” don’t appear in v.18.  But Paul is still talking about spiritual warfare here.  And if we were writing it today, it would be a “walkie-talkie” or some kind of military communications device.  V.18

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions (whenever Satan is attacking and all the rest of the time!) with all kinds of prayers and requests (praise, adoration, intercession, confession, thanksgiving).  With this in mind (this war), be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

You are not in this war alone. If you are a Christ-follower, you have fellow-soldiers, comrades-in-arms who need “air-support.”  Call it down!  That’s what prayer is.  It is asking God to come and to win the battle for you!

And He wants to. He is ready to.  He has provided everything that you need for success.  A full-armor and all the air-support through prayer that you need.

He even wants to help you pray!  It says, “Pray in the Spirit.”  That means in the power of the Spirit.  He’ll help you do it if you lean on Him!

That’s why we are enlisting prayer warriors for the kids going to Miracle Mountain Ranch. It’s because we believe that prayer is an effective weapon in the battle against Satan.  And we need to pray, not just for ourselves, but for others.

Take up the walk-talkie of prayer.

Call on the Lord.  Trust Him.  Take up and put on His provision for your battles.

“So that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.”

I don’t know what your battle looks like right now.

But I know that if you are a follower of Christ, you are in a real Battle with a real enemy.

But I also know that you don’t have to lose it. It’s already been won!

You just need to take up the Holy Spirit’s resources for you and stand your ground.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ask Me About My Book (No, Really!!!)

It came!

Rejoice with me! Today, I got an "Advance Reader Copy" of Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue in the mail.

Strangely enough, it finally feels "real" that I wrote a book.





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Friday, June 21, 2013

Shooting the Trailer for "Resisting Gossip" with Spencer Folmar

It's a great joy to have award winning film director Spencer Folmar visiting his hometown this weekend and shooting footage for a book trailer for Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue.

Do you have any suggestions for how to make a great book trailer?  Leave a comment today because we're going to start movie-making this weekend!

After the trailer comes out, I think I'm going to hire these guys to make it go viral...(or maybe not).


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Diane McDougall on "Resisting Gossip"

For the last dozen years Diane McDougall has been teaching me about the art of writing and editing. One of her many roles is serving as the editor of EFCA Today magazine for which I am a regular contributor and the volunteer book review coordinator.

Diane has a nose for a good story and has a secret stash of "magic editor dust" that she sprinkles on some of the clunky stuff I send her that turns it into sparkling prose. 

I was blessed to have her editorial eye during the development stage of Resisting Gossip, and I'm pleased to have her endorsement for the book:
“Matt Mitchell did not casually put this book together but asked lots of questions, explored lots of complicated situations and aimed for biblical wisdom that truly applies to all. Great for the home groups at my church to consider walking through together.” – Diane McDougall is editorial director at Journey Group — a custom-content firm in Charlottesville, Va., that helps tell the stories of organizations that do good work. When she's not editing her way out of a cool story, she might be found walking her dog, swing dancing or trying a new recipe.


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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Torn About “Torn” 2 - Three Things that Disturbed Me Most

It’s been over a month since my last post on Torn by Justin Lee. Life seems to keep interfering with my ability to interact publicly with this important book.

But now that the official editing phase for Resisting Gossip has been completed, I want to try to turn my attention back to Torn and share some of my concerns about its message. Originally, I had envisioned a multi-week series laying out my disagreements one at a time. But now I think it would best to simply share the thoughts I consider the most important all at once.  (Who knows when I would get back to finish a longer series?)

As I’ve said before, I really wanted to like Torn because it came highly recommended to me and because its subtitle promised to rescue the gospel–some had said that it was the “game changer” that we all need. There were things that I appreciated about the book.

But in the end, I was disappointed with Torn and, more than that, disturbed by it. I wrote a note to myself inside the front cover to remind me of my final evaluation of the book. It said, “Dangerous and destructive. A Trojan horse. I think I heard Satan’s voice.”

I know those are strong words, but they are what I thought and felt after I’d read Torn.

Let me share with you the three major areas that disturbed me most:

#1. Torn Offers No Hope for Change.

The most disheartening word in the book is not “gay” but “orientation.”

Justin Lee has come to the conclusion that “gay” is the way someone simply is, they are “oriented that way” and there is almost no chance of someone who is gay becoming “straight” (see pgs. 234-237). This conclusion comes from Justin’s own story. It resonates with his experience of repeatedly trying to change and failing. And it fits with the stories many other people have told him.

Justin is agnostic about the origin of this orientation though he guesses that biology plays a significant role (pgs. 68-69). But the fact of orientation is something of which he is certain and the whole book rests upon it.  A key chapter is titled “Why are people gay?”  And while wrestling with that question, the question itself assumes that “gay” is something you ARE.

The word “orientation” tells a powerful, controlling story. A story of identity. A story that is fixed.  This story of orientation has captured the minds and hearts of this generation, but I’m not at all sure that it’s a true story.

What is sexual attraction, exactly?  Is sexual attraction something that is fixed and permanent? Or is it fluid and changeable?  I don’t believe that this question has yet been definitively answered.

Even if homosexuality has, as some evidence begins to point towards, a strong biological component, that still doesn’t mean that “gay is something you just are.”  Perhaps it would be better to say, “Same sex attraction is something you have” as in “I have attractions to people of my own gender” or “I have homosexual desires.”

And maybe that’s all that Justin means by his words “gay orientation,” but that’s not the story that I hear when I read his book. When I read Torn, I hear that there is no hope for someone in this situation to change.

But the whole point of this series of blog posts was to offer hope to Christians who have felt trapped in homosexuality and to share some stories of people who have experienced personal transformation. [People like Jackie, Christopher, Allan, Sam, Vaughn, Tim, Christy, and Rosaria.]

I am still convinced that 1 Corinthians 6 teaches that Christ-followers can overcome the sin of homosexuality (1 Cor 6:9-11).  That may not mean that they now have consistent opposite-sex attraction or even that they no longer have any same-sex attraction, but it would mean that they could escape from homosexual lust and actions.

I understand that not everyone wants hope for change in this way. Many will resonate with Justin’s word “orientation” and his conclusion that change is not possible. They believe that they are or can be happy in their present condition. But I find it fatalistic and depressing.

#2. Torn Tells Only Half of the Biblical Story.

The most disturbing chapter in Torn was called “Back to the Bible.”

In this chapter, Lee tells the story of re-reading with new eyes what he considered to be the most important passages in the Bible on homosexuality.

He retells the stories: of Sodom in Genesis 19 and Ezekiel 16, of the prohibition of a man lying with a man in Leviticus, of exchanging the natural for the unnatural in Romans 1, and of the identity of the arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6. In each case, he offers an alternative interpretation that cast doubts on the traditional interpretation. In at least some of those cases, his alternatives might be reasonable.

Justin’s conclusion is that nothing is conclusive.

Here’s the problem: Lee seems even-handed. I believe that he’s trying to be even-handed!  But he’s left out some of the most important biblical data in understanding God’s design for human sexuality.

He’s left out what Jesus said.

When asked a tricky question about divorce, Jesus answered by referencing Genesis 1 & 2:

“‘Haven't you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’” (Matthew 19:4-6).

That is our Lord Jesus’ sexual ethic, and it’s not up for debate.

Sexual expression is made for marriage, and marriage is made for a man and woman (complementary sexual partners created by God as male and female) to leave their parents and then be united into one flesh.

Jesus’ sexual ethic is more than just heterosexuality (or “straightness”) but holy matrimony between a man and a woman.

Jesus wasn't silent on homosexuality [contra funny-man Stephen Colbert]. Jesus was clear on holy sexuality.

The Apostle Paul takes this even further in Ephesians 5 where he also quotes Genesis and connects the ultimate purpose of marriage to pointing towards Christ and the Church.

“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church’” (Ephesians 5:30-31).

Where does complementarity between the created sexes go if we allow for same-sex sexual relationships? [See this excellent article in the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on this very question.]

Justin Lee has a chapter alluding to Genesis 2, “That the Man Should Be Alone” where he does say that God gave Eve to Adam, but he apparently sees nothing programatic about this pattern for the rest of humanity throughout the ages (as I believe both Jesus and Paul do).

So, Lee only tells half of the biblical story, and therefore, doesn’t tell the true story.

Even if Lee’s alternative interpretations of Genesis 19, Leviticus 19, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6 held a lot of water, they would only prove that certain kinds of homosexuality were proscribed, not that homosexuality was holy. I don’t think you can.

And I don’t think most of his exegetical points on those texts are valid, either. See Christopher Yuan’s gracious but truth-telling review of Torn, my old friend Dan Sullivan’s interactions, and Robert Gagnon’s magnum opus The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics for the other, more compelling side of those stories, too.

Lee ends his chapter on the Bible feeling like he can’t choose between the cup in front of him and the cup in front of his opponent, but I’m not even tempted by one of those cups.

Instead, all of his attempts to make a new interpretation seem tempting felt to me like the serpent in Genesis 3 asking Eve “Did God really say” that?

Now, hear me clearly, I’m not saying that Justin Lee is the devil’s advocate. But I do feel like he’s been listening to him without realizing it.

#3. Torn Suggests the Wrong Way Forward.

The best thing about Torn is that it teaches that Christians need to love others.

Justin Lee has seen the church repeatedly fail to love people with same-sex attraction. In fact, he’s seen that professing Christians have hated people with same-sex attraction, vilified them and demonized them. And in the name of hating-the-sin-yet-loving-the-sinner, Christians have also said a lot of goofy things that are misinformed (for example, that all homosexuals simply choose their desires, not just their behaviors).

And Lee is right to sound a clarion call for loving others. As I said before, I appreciate his emphasis on respect. I applaud Lee's call to listen to people with whom we disagree.

However, love does more than just respect and listen. Love also warns and challenges. Love calls people who are running in the wrong direction to turn around (repent) and change.  It is not love to affirm someone’s sin.

Love wants what is best for someone, and God has revealed what is best for us in His design for sexuality. Love will always want God’s best for someone and will not be content stand idly by while they hurt themselves.

In my estimation, Justin Lee does not call for enough love.  The kind of love that he is calling for does not go far enough.

I say that Torn is like a Trojan Horse because it sounds good, like an acceptable compromise, but in my opinion that compromise goes too far and lets enemy troops inside our walls.

It seems to me that Lee is too worried about Christianity’s P.R. problem. He is concerned that the rest of the world will tune out Christianity because of its rigid stance on sexuality.

And I agree that we have too often fallen into the ditch of hate and distancing ourselves from people with same-sex attraction–often because of sinful fear or unloving disgust. And when we have done that–we have marred the name of Christ and hampered our witness.

But the answer is not to career over the road into the ditch of compromise. The answer is to receive the rebuke we deserve, to correct our course, and to stick to the middle of the road–not to capitulate.

I can’t be responsible for what the world thinks of me or of Christianity. The world will often hate Christianity just for being Christianity.  I need to simply be true to Christ, and let the world form its own conclusions.

I think that Lee is wrong about what the way forward should be.

The way forward is to continue to truly love the sinner while hating the sin. Many of us haven’t really tried that yet.  As G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

While I learned a lot from listening to Justin Lee, and I think I could learn more, I don’t plan to follow him. I think he’s headed in the wrong direction.



***

I think I have one more post in this series on Torn (and probably the last major post in this ongoing series). While laying out my major concerns above, I haven't really interacted with Justin Lee's notions of using the rubric of self-giving love to break through the impasse between those who condemn homosexual relationships and those who affirm them. This is very important to Lee's argument, so I hope to write something about it in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Dearheart, from Your Happy Husband of 19 Years



The Happy Husband

Oft, oft, methinks, the while with thee
I breathe, as from the heart, thy dear
And dedicated name, I hear
A promise and a mystery,
A pledge of more than passing life,
Yea, in that very name of wife!

A pulse of love that ne'er can sleep!
A feeling that upbraids the heart
With happiness beyond desert,
That gladness half requests to weep!
Nor bless I not the keener sense
And unalarming turbulence.

Of transient joys, that ask no sting
From jealous fears, or coy denying;
But born beneath Love's brooding wing,
And into tenderness soon dying.
Wheel out their giddy moment, then
Resign the soul to love again;

A more precipitated vein
Of notes that eddy in the flow
Of smoothest song, they come, they go,
And leave their sweeter understrain
Its own sweet self-a love of thee
That seems, yet cannot greater be! 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge [poemhunter.com]

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dan & Jen Ledford on "Resisting Gossip"

Dan and Jen Ledford have been some of our best friends for the last decade. Among many points of affinity, Dan is a fellow pastor and Jen-ergy is an amazing homeschooling mom. Our kids are similar ages and we have had a lot of fun together over the years. [And once, George W. and Laura Bush got to meet them!]

Both Dan and Jen read Resisting Gossip in its development stages and had great constructive criticism to improve it. The church they serve, Westminster Church (PCA) in Butler, PA has scheduled the Resisting Gossip Live Seminar for November 8th and 9th.

I am very encouraged by their endorsements:

“This book provides a great balance between exposing and articulating the heart problem of gossip and revealing and articulating the gospel’s answer.  The book applied several well-known passages of scripture to the topic of gossip that I had not previously seen applied in that manner.  Many other lesser-known scriptures came alive by the application to gossip. I already am recommending this book – and quoting it.” – Dan Ledford

“As a pastor’s wife, this book was timely and encouraging to me. It encouraged me how to love others with grace, how to leave my concerns at the cross with full confidence that Jesus is in charge and I am not. It reminded me to work at guarding my own heart and continue to work at honoring Him.  I would recommend this book to those who find gossip a temptation and to those who are hurt by gossip.” – Jen Ledford


***

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

[Matt's Messages] "Hope in the LORD"

Image by RGB Stock Photos
“Hope in the LORD”
June 16, 2013
Isaiah 40

I picked Isaiah 40 for today for several reasons.

One is that Isaiah 40:30-31 is our Hide the Word Memory Verse for June and July this Summer.

Say it with me:

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

And you can see where we get our title for today’s message, “Hope in the LORD.”

A second reason that I picked Isaiah 40 is because this is Father’s Day, and Isaiah 40 is a favorite Bible verse of many men.  Today, we have candy bars for all of the men in the church with special wrappers on them with Isaiah 40:30-31 on it. We’ll let all of the guys decide if they are a man or not.  It’s not just for Dads but for all men.  Make sure you grab your candy bar on the way out today.

And third reason that I picked Isaiah 40 is that it ties back in with our last sermon series on the Tongue of the Wise because it’s all about praising God which is something that is always a good thing to do with your tongue!  And thank you, Steph, for capping off our series on the tongue with that special song today.

And a fourth reason that I picked Isaiah 40 is that starting tomorrow the adult class at Family Bible Week will be learning how to read, understand, and apply the Old Testament prophets to our lives today. So, I thought I’d start the week with a taste of what we’re going to learn each night in the adult class at Family Bible Week.

And there is fifth reason that I picked Isaiah 40 for today and that is that this weekend marks our 15th anniversary of pastoral ministry here at Lanse Free Church.

It was June 14th, 1998 that I first stood in this pulpit and looked out upon you as your pastor and brought the Word of God.

These are my notes from that day.

And my first sermon (first two sermons, actually) came from Isaiah chapter 40.

We didn’t have these pew Bible then, but if we did, I would have said, “Turn with me, please, to the book of Isaiah chapter 40, Pew Bible page #714.”

I wanted to start my ministry with as beautiful a picture of the glory of God as I possible could.  Because I didn’t want my ministry to be anything but God-centered.

So, we went to Isaiah 40. How many of you believe that you were here on June 14, 1998?

We’ve been on this journey together now for a long time.

15 years.

A lot has changed in 15 years.

Gas was .89/gallon at the Kwik Fill when we moved here in 1998.

I typed my messages on a little green-screen computer and saved them onto floppy disks.

Heather was beautiful but not as beautiful as she is now.

And we have no children. Now, they are almost 13, 11, almost 10, and almost 9.

I was just a rookie pastor, young and dumb and wet behind the ears.  Now, I’m an old pastor, old and dumb and dry behind the ears.

Those of you who did not raise your hands have joined our fellowship since then. We have grown as a church. We were around 90 people on Sundays when I came, and God has blessed us to average nearly twice that this year.

A lot has changed in 15 years. But our LORD has not!

And what God has said about Himself in the Isaiah 40 has not changed.  Not one bit.

Our LORD is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

And because of that, we can “Hope in the LORD.”

Isaiah 40.

My first Sunday here, I joked with you that my first sermon was the second in a 4 part series.  Because as a new preacher, I had no idea how to preach the whole chapter at once. I only made it from verse 12 to verse 17 that first week. Then the second week, which was Father’s Day 1998, I preached verses 18-26.  And then, a few years later, I preached verses 27-31. And then a few years after that, I finally got around to preaching verses 1 through 11.

But today, I feel like trying to preach the whole thing. We’ll see if the “seasoned veteran” can do the whole thing in one shot!

Isaiah 40, verse 1-5 to start with.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

I have only 3 points this morning and all three have deep application for our lives.

Here’s number one.

#1. THE LORD IS COMING.

Therefore, hope in Him.

The LORD is coming.

Isaiah 40 marks a turning point in the book of Isaiah. For 39 chapters, Isaiah has focused condemnation for the people of Israel because they had forsaken their God and chased after idols. And they were then sent into exile. 39 chapters mostly of doom and gloom with a few bright spots shining through.

But starting in chapter 40, Isaiah turns a corner and beings to focus on consolation for God’s people. Consolation.

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.  Starting here.

Consolation is the flavor from chapter 40 on.

Israel’s exile will soon be over. God promises it.

And more is coming than just the end of the exile.

God is coming.  The LORD Himself is coming. V.3-5 promise that God is coming and call the people of God to get ready for it.

They are to build a highway in their hearts.  Knocking down the mountains and fillin up the valleys so that the King can ride straight in style.

And when is this coming?

Well, the first fulfillment is probably the end of the exile itself but that wasn’t as glorious as they might have expected.

Where do you see this language picked up elsewhere in the Bible?

John the Baptist right?

The gospels quote this as fulfilled in the forerunner of Jesus. He’s the one in the desert saying “Repent! The King is coming.”

And we sing verse 5 as part of Handel’s Messiah because it’s proclaiming the coming of the LORD – in human form!  In a tiny baby in Bethlehem.

The LORD is coming, but not as might have been expected.

And we know that His first coming was not His full coming.

We know that we still look forward to the full fulfillment of this promise.

So, if we’re still waiting, how certain can this promise be?  V.6

“A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I [Isaiah] said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.’”

The LORD is coming, and it is sure. It is certain. It is inevitable. His coming is unstoppable.

You and I are like grass. We have lots of grass right now. But come winter, it will fall.

We are transitory, small, flimsy.

But God’s Word is like a sequoia compared to us.

It is that sure and certain and strong.

That’s why my sermons have been directly from God’s Word every Sunday that I’ve preached for the last 15 years.

Because the words of Pastor Matt are like grass. Here today and gone tomorrow.

But God’s Word is eternal and strong and unshakable.

And when He says, “The LORD is coming,” then we can hope in that promise.

We can take it to the bank.

Do you need comfort today?

Do feel abandoned, imprisoned, alone?

God’s word to you today, is “Comfort, comfort my people” because I am coming to them.

So, Isaiah says, “Go tell it on the mountain.” v.9

“You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ [And how does He come? He comes in both power and gentleness. V.10] See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. [But also] He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

This is what our God is like. He is both powerful and gentle at the same time.

When the LORD comes, He comes with all of His power. He is the LORD!

But that power is bent to the good of His people, and He is tender and gentle and compassionate and caring and gracious with us.

He is both a powerful King and a tender shepherd.

That’s whose coming!

Hope in the LORD.

Now, in verses 12 through 26, Isaiah shifts gears.  He thinks that Israel is going to have a tough time believing the comfort of verses 1 through 11.

They are going to be in exile and their circumstances are not going to feel very spiritually strong, spiritually confident.

It won’t seem like God is doing anything.
It won’t seem like God is keeping His promises.
It won’t seem like things are okay and that God is in control.

Can you relate?

Does it seem like God is not doing anything?
Does it seem like God is not keeping His promises?
Does it seem like things are not okay and that God is not in control?

#2. THE LORD IS AWESOME.

In verses 12 through 26, Isaiah paints word picture after word picture to remind the people of God who their God is.

And that God is not intimidated by anything.
And that God is not mastered by anyone.

That God is incomparably awesome.

That was the title of my first sermon here. “Incomparably Awesome God.” v.12

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?”

That first Sunday, my first point was, “Our God is the Biggest.”

The “waters” here in verse 12 mean all of the waters on the planet.

All of the 7 seas on this Blue Planet fit into the hollow of God’s hand so to speak.

And that’s nothing. He looks at the heavens. The universe, everything in it, and He says, “Yeah that fits about here.” in a span.

After sweeping the Earth, he gathers up the dust in his basket, and puts all of the mountains of the world on a balance. Yep, that’s what I thought.

Do you see the perspective?

That’s Who our God is.

Hope in Him.  V.13

“Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?”

What is the answer to those rhetorical questions?  Nobody. Noone.

Point #2 in that first sermon was that “Our God is the smartest.”

He knows everything. No one is smarter than God. He has never needed a teacher or a counselor or a guide.

Sometimes, we act like we’re smarter than God.  I know that I have done that way more times that I would like to admit.

But no one is smarter than our LORD. And so, if He says something, we know that it’s the best. He is incomparably smarter than anyone else. Incomparably wise!

And so He should be the foremost authority in our lives.

Hope in the LORD. V.15.

“Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.”

This is what I said about those verses 15-17 in that first sermon, “Our God is the Toughest.”

God is not intimidated by anyone.

The “nations” of verse 15 were very intimidating to Israel. They were always threatened by the other nations (and ethnic Israel still is today!).

And the “nations” (notably Assyria and Babylon) were going to conquer and take captive the people of Israel.

But that did not intimidate the LORD.

Those nations don’t scare Him a bit.  They are just a drop in bucket.

How much is a drop. [plop]

They are dust on the scales.  That means that they are insignificant.

This is how awesome God is!  Lebanon (v.16) was like Pennsylvania, it was known for its woods.

But Isaiah says that if you gathered up all of the wood in Lebanon and used it as kindling for a fire to make a giant sacrifice of burnt offering, you would run out of wood long before you had made a fire big enough to be worthy of the LORD!

“Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.”

That means that they do not intimidate Him. Nobody gets in His way.

It doesn’t mean that He doesn’t care for the nations. It means that as enemies, they are like a Smurf fighting the Incredible Hulk. No contest. Not even in the same league.

You can’t even see that league from here.

The LORD is the toughest, so hope in Him.

But what about idols?  Idols are God-substitutes and they had always ensnared the attention and focus of Israel. V.18

“To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to? As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.”

Why is Isaiah saying this? Is he giving lessons in how to make an idol?

No, he’s pointing out how ludicrous idols are.

They are not awesome. They have to be manufactured!

And if you don’t make them right, they fall over!

What kind of idols have a foothold in our lives today? What God-substitutes have we given our time and money and attention to?

Our God is awesomely superior to every idol.

Hope in Him. Not in anyone else. V.21

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.”

Isaiah is a little ticked off with the people of Israel.

This stuff about how awesome God is should be blatantly obvious to them by now.

Don’t you know this stuff?  You should know this by now!

Our God is awesomely superior to every earthly power.

Everything on Earth comes under His purview. He is the awesome divine King Who is sovereign over every nation on Earth.

We are like grasshoppers to Him.

Why would we ever worry about anything?

If that’s our God, if our God is that awesome, then why would we ever worry about anything?

We all have enemies.  We all have enemies who are against us.

It’s true.  But substitute in your most powerful enemies for the powerful princes in verse 23 and how do they compare?

They are like weeds that are here today and gone tomorrow.

Our God is awesome! Hope in Him.

In verse 25, Isaiah steps out of the way and God Himself speaks. The poem switches to the first person, and God takes on all comers.

He says, in effect, that He is awesomely superior to every other thing in the universe. V.25

“‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

That’s how awesome our Lord is.

He created each of the stars. And not only are they numbered by Him, He has a name for them all that He doesn’t forget, and because of His power and strength, not one of them goes missing.

We should have a superiority complex about our God.

How Great is Our God!

He is incomparably awesome.

Nothing is too difficult for Him.

If God can handle the stars, He can handle our problems today. Right?

Hope in the LORD.

Because for those who hope in the LORD God will give them strength.

#3. THE LORD GIVES STRENGTH.

It may not seem like it, but our God cares and for those who put their trust in Him, He will give them amazing spiritual strength. V.27

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God’?”

Why are you talking like that?

I know that it seems bad right now, but that is unbelief speaking. You need rebuked.

Don’t talk like that. Remember how awesome our God is! V.28

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

Everything we’ve just seen in verses 12-26 is true! And you know it!

“The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

God has promised good for His people, and He won’t get to the end of His strength and say, “I can’t go on. I’m sorry I just can’t go on.” And He won’t say, “I want to do it but don’t know how.”

Now, wisdom, power, and love our God is an awesome God. An everlasting God.

And He gives strength to those who need it most. V.29

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. [And that’s all of us.]  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

The LORD will give you the spiritual strength you need, not just to survive but to thrive. To soar!

If you hope in Him.

That word translated “hope” in the NIV and “wait” in the King James and ESV is “QVH” in Hebrew.

And it is a really cool word.

When I was in seminary, one of my professors made us do a Word-Study of this word.  I still have it.  He made us look up every occurrence of "QVH"  and it occurs 33 times in the Hebrew Old Testament.

So I looked up, in Hebrew, all 33 uses of QVH.

And here is what I found.  This kind of hope is a Resolute, Expectant Longing.

It's cool the way the word is used.  Let me give you a couple of instances.

In Job chapter 7, it says "Like a slave longing for the evening shadows or a hired man waiting eagerly for his wages..."

Both of those are this same Hebrew word.  A slave is working real hard in the heat of the day, sun beating down on his back, sweat is making is eyes sting.  And he can see tree over there.  And he just knows that there is a cool breeze under it.  And if he could just go sit over there, when the sun goes--ohh how nice that would be.  Can you feel his longing?

How about the hired man waiting eagerly for his wages?  It's been two weeks, and he's out of money.  He knows that today at 4:30 is pay-day and he's already spending that money in his mind.  He can't hardly wait–he longs for it.  But he has to hang on a little longer until he gets it.  Can you feel his expectancy?

Change the situation, same word:  Psalm 56:5-6, David writes about his enemies "They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, eager to take my life."  Behind those English words is our word–QVH.  You can just picture how David feels–his enemies are waiting around the corner, hoping to pounce on him, they expect to destroy David.  You can feel how they feel as they are waiting.  Haha.  Any second now, he'll be ours.  Do you feel how intense their longing is?

I call this longing “resolute,” expectant longing because the word originally meant to be wound as in a rope, the cords wound together to make a tight, firm rope.  Something that held and was strong. Even when stretched, it held tightly.  Resolute.  It is the idea of faith, and trust, and persevering in that faith.  Enduring.

One more place where that word is used (if you want the whole list, I'll make a copy of my study for you--it would make a great study this week in your QT's).  In Psalm 130:6, The psalmist cries "My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.  More than watchmen wait for the morning."  –  Same word.

If you were a night-watchman in Israel, you couldn't wait for morning to come!  Your job was to stand in that tower and watch over the city until daybreak.  Your shift ended at dawn.  So imagine it, you are standing there. You haven't slept all night.  Everything is quiet.  You have been on your guard.  But you're watching, waiting, longing for the sun to come up.

You know that it will.

The sun has never failed, but it seems like it will never come.  It's always darkest before the dawn you remind yourself.  You think that you see the beginnings of shoots of light breaking over the horizon, but it isn't the sun yet.  You hope, you wait, you long, you expect, you stand resolute in your expectation.
You stare at the Eastern horizon waiting, waiting, waiting.  You trust that the sun will come and until it does you wait in hope.

Those who do not run stumbling on their own, but instead resolutely, expectantly, long for the Lord, will renew their strength and SOAR!!

I love this picture.  People in their own strength, trying to live, they run and they stumble and fall.

But the trusting ones.   The hoping ones.  Out of their backs spring wings (so to speak)! And they mount up and they fly!  They get God’s inexhaustible spiritual energy.  The God of verse 28, pours His inexhaustible strength into those who hope in Him.

These people are the hope-filled.  And they run without wearying and they walk without fainting.

And it is among them that I want to be.  God as my cool shade in the evening.  God as my wages after waiting and working so long.  God as the prey that I wait around the corner to nab.  God as the coming of the sun at the end of my watch.

I want to hope in the Lord.  Patiently, actively, expectantly, resolutely trusting in what he has promised.  Trusting in our incomparably awesome God and everything that He is.

And I want that for Lanse Free Church.

I want us to SOAR.

Soar! Even when it doesn't feel like it, the LORD has promised good to us and He will keep His promises. The LORD is coming. The LORD has come and is coming again.  And He is incomparably awesome and awesomely superior to everything else in the whole world!

Do you feel weak and lost and needy and weary?

Hope in the LORD.

Hope in the LORD.

Hope in the LORD.

And you will soar.

Happy Father's Day, Chuck Mitchell

My Dad is intelligent, funny, caring, creative, prayerful, supportive, wise. He's one of my best friends in the whole world.

Dad, thanks for being there for me, especially these last few months.  I don't know what I would have done without you.

I'm more thankful for your fatherhood today than I've ever been.  Hope you get to enjoy the Clarion today!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

Praising God for 15 Years


Dear church family,

Happy anniversary!

Today marks the completion of fifteen full years of pastoral ministry at Lanse Evangelical Free Church. It was June 14, 1998 that I preached my first official message as the shepherd of this delightful group of people.

At the ten year mark, I preached a series of message of what I've learned, taught, and am hoping through the years at LEFC, and they are all still true today:

10 Things I’ve Learned in the First 10 Years

10 Things I’ve Been Teaching in the First 10 Years

10 Things I'm Hoping for in the Next 10 Years (I can't believe that 5 of those are already up!)

I praise God for all of the ministry to, through, and from the LEFC church family these 15 years.  Looking forward to the next 15 years if God will grant them!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Church Whisperer and "The Everlasting Gossip Stopper"

I've been reading Heaven Help Our Church! by Brian Thorstad.  Brian calls himself the "Church Whisperer" because he serves as a "Redevelopment Interim Pastor" to help churches without pastors to grow in health before they call their next shepherd.

Heaven Help Our Church! is unique in that it is written for ordinary church members whose churches are are going through troubled times. The subtitle is "A Step by Step Survival Guide for Christians in Troubled Churches." I think that's great because most books about conflict are written for vocational leaders but miss the most important folks in the church--the normal people!

In chapter 8, "Take Careful Action," Brian writes about resisting gossip including a top 10 list of excuses that we are tempted use to get away gossiping.

And then he offers what he calls "The Everlasting Gossip-Stopper:"
Here is the “everlasting gossip-stopper.” It’s not magic, it’s just a formula that can help you to gently help your friends to not gossip. Here’s how it works: Your friend begins to gossip. You raise both of your hands to the level of your chest and move them forward slightly while saying, “Whoa,” like you’re trying to stop a horse. Then, while moving your hands back and forth – like you’re erasing a chalk board with two erasers – you say, “Wait a minute.” Then, perhaps while pointing to your gossiping friend (depending on the severity of the situation) you say, “You need to talk to _________ (name of the person being gossiped about) about that.” An option at this juncture is to point in the general vicinity of the individual being gossiped about. This should be done very gently with the young believer in Christ and much more vigorously with the veteran Christian whom you have reason to believe knows better. I’m not kidding about doing this; it really works. I train churches in doing this. Everybody laughs when we practice, but many put it into practice within a few weeks. Remember to smile, but try it. When it becomes well known in a church it can actually become the “normal” way of stopping gossip before it starts.
I really enjoyed Brian's description--including what hand motions to make!  I don't think that this is the only way to resist gossip, but I can see how, especially when done well in love, "The Everlasting Gossip-Stopper" could be really effective.

I recently corresponded with Brian and asked if I could share his E.G.S. technique on this blog, and he said, "Quote away. Tell them to they should each buy several copies, so I can go see my grandsons more often."

I think that might be some good advice.

Thanks, Church-Whisperer!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What To Do with Hate Mail

David Murray offers a helpful post on hate mail entitled "Haters Gonna Hate: How to Deal with 3 Kinds of Hate Mail" at the Gospel Coalition website.

Murray makes a helpful distinction between appropriate criticism and hate mail and also between signed and anonymous hate mail (toss it!). Then he gives wise counsel on what to after you've read it.

I appreciated his questions to think through before responding:

  • Is it true? Is it even slightly true? Try to find a grain of truth in it if you can and acknowledge that in any reply.
  • Is it proportionate? Is the writer blowing a small matter into a huge issue? Is this making a mountain out of a molehill?
  • Is it specific? Is it addressing one issue or is it shooting buckshot at everything?
  • Is it a godly Christian? If it is a mature and faithful Christian, then you will pay much more attention to it than to someone who is not a Christian, or who is an immature or unstable Christian.
  • Is there something else behind the criticism? Could there be stress or trouble at home or at work that's making someone lash out
I am happy to have not received very much hate mail in the last 15 years, but all leaders have to receive some criticism, and some of it can be really painful. Jesus was the perfect leader, and He received more criticism than any!

We also know that a lot of criticism can go on, not in a letter but, behind our backs (gossip), so it's important to keep our Lord's teaching on loving our enemies in the forefront of our minds. Murray concludes:
Pray for your haters, ask God to help you love them, and take every opportunity to do them good. Don't avoid them and don't take sneaky swipes at them from the pulpit. One of the wonders of the gospel is that God can make the worst of enemies the best of friends. View this as a massive opportunity to display the power of the gospel.
And even if the person remains hostile, we still have opportunity to enter into the sufferings of Christ (John 15:18-25) and to demonstrate the love of Christ (1 Peter 2:20-23). Let your haters drive you to the Lover.
Amen. Read the whole thing.