Saturday, June 30, 2018

Going Deeper: Good Books on the Problem of Suffering

These are some of the books I'd recommend for people who are wrestling with the problem of pain and suffering:

When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty by Joni Earekson Tada and Steven Estes

The best book I’ve ever read on suffering by someone who has truly suffered. Joni shares from her experience as a quadriplegic after a tragic accident. Estes is her theological mentor and an EFCA pastor. Together they emphasize the compatibility of God’s wise sovereignty and His loving care.

Why Does God Allow Evil? Compelling Answers For Life’s Toughest Questions by Clay Jones

Jones is a professor of apologetics at Biola University. In this very readable book, he emphasizes the concept of free-will.

The Problem of Pain: The Intellectual Problem Raised by Human Suffering, Examined with Sympathy and Realism by C.S. Lewis.

A 20th century classic. Lewis approaches the problem on a more academic level but shows great compassion.

How Long, O LORD? Reflections on Suffering and Evil by D.A. Carson

Carson is the president of The Gospel Coalition and has taught for decades at the Trinity. His deeply insightful book is also on a higher level but is brimming with Scripture not just philosophy.

The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity by Mark Clark

Pastor Clark’s short chapter on suffering and evil is worth the price of the book. He suggests that the problem of pain is just as problematic to atheists and proponents of other religions and world views. Easy to read and thoughtful.

A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament by Michael Card

A beautiful elegy to tear-filled faith. The award-winning singer/songwriter reintroduces us to the rich biblical writings that express our sadness, especially the psalms of lament (like Psalm 13).

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love by Ed Welch

How do we relate to people who are suffering? Life is hard, and we need each other. Welch gives us the do’s and don’ts of walking alongside folks who are hurting.

How Long, O LORD?

How long, O LORD?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes,
or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

- For the director of music. A psalm of David. (NIV 1984)

Monday, June 25, 2018

"A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles (Book Review)

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Full of delights with a surprisingly satisfying ending.

The playful prose is what hooks you.

Consider this:

"In his room, he unloaded the linens and then went down the hall to get a second mattress from one of the abandoned rooms.

This had seemed an excellent idea to the Count when it had struck him, but the mattress was decidedly against it. When he bent over to lift the mattress from the bedsprings, it crossed its arms, held its breadth, and refused to budge. When he managed to get it upright, it immediately flopped over his head, nearly knocking him off his feet. And when he'd finally dragged it down the hall and flumped it in his room, it spread out its limbs, claiming every spare inch of the floor" (pg. 251)
Or this:
"As the Count turned to go, an American who had commandeered the piano began performing a jaunty little number that celebrated a lack of bananas, a lack of bananas today. A moment later, all the journalists were singing along. On another night, the Count might have lingered to observe the festitivities, but he had his own celebration to attend to. So with his precious cargo in hand, he navigated through the crowd of elbows, being careful not to spill a drop" (pg. 217).
And especially this:
"Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov stirred at half past eight to the sound of rain on the eaves. With a half-opened eye, he pulled back his covers and climbed from the bed. He donned his robe and slipped on his slippers. he took up the tin from the bureau, spooned a spoonful of beans into the Apparatus, and began to crank the crank.

Even as he turned the little handle round and round, the room remained under the tenuous authority of sleep. As yet unchallenged, somnolence continued to cast its shadow over sights and sensations, over forms and formulations, over what has been said and what must be done, lending each the insubstantiality of its domain. But when the Count opened the small wooden drawer of the grinder, the world and all it contained were transformed by that envy of the alchemists--the aroma of freshly ground coffee” (pg. 171).
But the fascinating cast of characters intertwining their lives of both joy and sorrow in surprising ways is what keeps you reading.

And before you know it, you are carried away in a tide of beautiful storytelling to the gratifying conclusion.

For the first two thirds of A Gentleman in Moscow I was worried that an American like Amor Towles couldn’t truly write a novel about Russia or Russians. I’ve read some of the great Russian authors like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (and delicious yet lesser lights such as Boris Akunin), and you just can’t fake being Russian.

But Towles doesn’t try to be Russian. He threads the needle of being an American who loves Russia and Russians. He captures the essence without pretense of embodying it. And so his characters seem authentic–so real, in fact, that I wept at several points, especially as the story overflowed to its apotheosis.

I won’t try to explain the book. It defies a boxed-in description. That’s one of the things I love about it. And I can’t defend all of the morality of the tale (though thankfully the very occasional immorality is more suggested than described). But I can recommend the book with both of my thumbs pointed upwards.

Coffee is not the only envy of the alchemists. They would be rightly jealous of how this author turns words into gold.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Preparing for Challenge 2018

One week from today our group of 17 teens and adults from Lanse Free Church will be arriving in Kansas, Missouri for the 30th annual Challenge Conference hosted by ReachStudents of the EFCA.

I’ve been preparing for the last six months.


Since January, I’ve been trying to walk 2 to 6 miles per day to try to get my body in shape for Challenge. For a guy like me who is halfway to 90, Challenge is physically demanding. It’s an student ministry aimed at young people, so you are active from early morning to midnight each day moving from meals to large group gatherings for worship and teaching to equipping labs to interactive relational huddles to recreational time to immersive missions experiences and even service projects dotted all around the city. Whew, I get tired (and energized) just thinking about it!

One thing I love about Challenge is that it’s created for the whole person and for all different kinds of students. When I went for the first time in 2014, I assumed it would be a “Rah, Rah, Jesus!” kind of event aimed at worship and teaching and that maybe there would be sports-type recreation. But the folks who plan Challenge are wise youthworker types. They know that students are also artistic, love video games, get intrigued by drama, love to create, and need spaces for just hanging out. Challenge has all of that and more. I picture Shane Stacey and his team scheming together in the advance planning each year saying, “What if you could have a conference for youth that does it all? What would that look like?” and then making it happen. Of course, that also means that if you have a group that “does it all,” the old pastor guy tagging along is going to get worn out. So, I’ve been trying to get in shape. Last time, in 2016, the elevators were perpetually full, and we were staying on the 7th floor. My Pacer app logged a lot of miles just in steps. Pray for me!


I’ve been asked by the leaders at Challenge to facilitate two equipping labs–90 minute workshops where I interact with a roomful of teens on thorny topics, helping them to think about what the Bible says and apply it directly to their lives. One of the topics is near and dear to me–resisting gossip. I’ve spoken about that before a few times. The other topic is more tender and sober but no less important–a biblical theology of suffering.
Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue
“Did you hear what she did on Saturday night?” “I heard they were breaking up!” “Wait till you hear the latest!” Do you “swipe left” when gossip comes your way, or do you help it go viral? What do you do when people text about you behind your back? This lab will help you to cut sinful gossip out of your personal conversations and social media accounts through the promises of God.
Why, God?
If God is good, then why is there still suffering, evil and bad things happening in our world? This lab will equip you to think biblically about the problem of pain and help you to keep trusting the Lord when life really hurts.
I’m still preparing for these (in fact, I’m cramming for them now!), and I appreciate all of the prayer I can get. I’d especially appreciate prayer during the actual times I’m teaching because it’s interactive so a lot depends on what the students bring and how well I respond to their ideas and questions. Please pray on Tuesday and Wednesday at 3pm for the lab on suffering and Friday at 1pm and again at 3pm for the lab on gossip. Thank you!


I love that I get to go to Challenge with our biggest group ever from Lanse Free Church. I’m especially glad to go with all four of my children, Robin (nearly 18), Drew (16), Peter (nearly 15), and Isaac (nearly 14). This may be the only time all four are able to attend at the same time. The rest of the group are most of their friends from around here, so it’s a very tight-knit group, and I expect everybody to grow even closer.

I’m praying for some quality time to relate to each other and help each other to grow in Christ. Another thing that’s fun for me is that even though I am their pastor and an adult leader in the group, I am not the leader of the group. Cody and Holly Crumrine coordinate our youth ministry, and so I’m just along for the ride. Watching this young couple lovingly work together to direct our time together was one of the highlights of the conference for me in 2014–they are a wonderful influence on the teens in our church family. And the other adult leader is a young lady named Mikalah who holds the record at our church for attending the most Challenge Conferences. She has grown through them and now helps lead our group to them!


I’ve been preparing my heart to receive the teaching at Challenge 2018. Amazingly (to me), it’s been the winsome, memorable, practical, deep, rich, biblical theology that is the thing I’ve been the most impressed by at each Challenge Conference I’ve attended. In 2014, the speakers took us through the entire unfolding storyline of the Bible over the course of the week. Four years later, I can still name each of the talks and what was covered. In 2016, they gave us a Trinitarian framework for understanding our missional identity. I can’t wait to find out what “Bold Moves” truly means for us this year.

Would you pray that our hearts would be open to ingest the biblical teaching and make it a living, breathing everyday part of our lives coming home?

One more week to prepare and then we make our Bold Moves!

Challenge 2018 Trailer – Bold Moves from EFCA on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "Generous"

Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
June 24, 2018 :: Matthew 7:1-12 

It’s been a few weeks since we were in the Gospel of Matthew together. Last week, Donnie Rosie preached on being “heavenly minded” about our Heavenly Father. And the week before that we celebrated our 20th anniversary together as pastor and flock.  So, you might not remember what we’ve recently learned in the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s review.

We’re studying the theological biography of Jesus Christ named the Gospel of Matthew, and we’ve gotten to the first big chunk of Jesus’ astonishingly authoritative teaching often called the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve actually been dwelling together in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount since February, and we’ve seen some awesome things.

King Jesus has been teaching us about His upside-down and inside-out kingdom.

Do you remember this?

Upside-down because we would have never come up with this stuff on our own.

It doesn’t seem right or normal to us.

But that’s because we are neither right nor normal. We and our world are fundamentally broken, so that we see everything askew.

But Jesus is making all things new. His kingdom has drawn near, and that means that we must change to fit within it. We must repent and follow our King and live as citizens of the kingdom that is nearly here.

In other words, we are being turned right-side-up.

And Jesus’ kingdom is also inside-out.

That is that Jesus is focused on our hearts.

He is not satisfied with external obedience alone, such as that practiced by the scribes and the Pharisees.

King Jesus wants something greater.

King Jesus is not satisfied with just having our outsides.

King Jesus wants our insides. He wants our hearts.

And Jesus wants us to follow Him from the inside out to every single corner of our lives. To be perfect.

To be whole.

And as we live as whole citizens of this upside-down and inside-out kingdom, we will flourish. We will be rewarded. We will receive. We will be blessed. And we will be a blessing to others. Jesus says that we will be a blessing to the world.

And last time, we got up to the end of Matthew chapter 6 where King Jesus sets out our prevailing kingdom priorities for us.

We are not to prioritize worry about food, drink, clothing, or the future.

Instead we are to follow our Hide the Word verse which says?

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

What a wonderful promise!

What do you think it means to seek this kingdom and this righteousness first and foremost?

Well, I’m sure it’s everything that has come before it in the Sermon on the Mount. Everything we just said.

But I also think it’s everything that comes after it.

Chapter 7 flows right out of chapter 6. Remember, Matthew didn’t put any chapter breaks in here when he wrote it. And Jesus taught it all at one time.

So chapter 7 is, at least in part, an explanation of what it means to seek first the Father’s kingdom and the Father’s righteousness.

And I’d like total up verses 1 through 12 of chapter 7 with one summary word: “Generous.”

This next section, verses 1 through 12, is notoriously hard to recognize how it all fits together.

When I studied it the last couple of weeks, I thought I could preach this in 4 separate messages with 4 separate big ideas. And I could.

But it was harder to see how it all fit together.

I think there are a couple of threads that run all the way through, but as I was on a long walk this week with Jordan during our “staycation,” and as we were talking about this passage, Jordan helped me to see that the theme of generosity or graciousness kind of tied it all together.

There is a lot here to chew on, but I want to summarize it with just two points, both about generosity.

Here’s number one:


And I don’t mean primarily with money.

I mean with the basic ways you treat someone.

How you relate to them. Relate to other people with graciousness and generosity of spirit.

Our Lord Jesus begins with a prohibition. V.1

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

Here’s how to seek first the Father’s kingdom and His righteousness–refrain from sinful judging.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

A lot of people like that verse. But I don’t think they really understand it.

I don’t think that Jesus is forbidding all judgment.

I don’t think that Jesus is saying that we should not analyze and evaluate the actions and intentions of other people. He is not saying that there is no right or wrong. He is not saying that we should make any judgments whatsoever.

Jesus Himself makes judgments, and in just the next few verses, will both make more judgments and command us to make a few judgments ourselves.

Jesus is not saying we should not be practicing discernment.

He is saying that we should not be judgmental.

We should not be condemnatory.

We should not be accusatory (or the old word for it is “censorious”).

We should not judge too harshly, or unfairly, or hypocritically, or lovelessly.

As the kids say today, Jesus doesn’t want us to be all “judgy.”

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time or place for judging. There is.

But there is also is a time and place and a way to not be judging.

Jesus says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

And then He elaborates. V.2

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

That could be that others will judge or measure you by the standards you use (that sometimes happens and it can be painful), but I think He’s saying that God will which is a much more scary proposition!

Jesus draws from the world of carpentry. His adopted father was a carpenter, so He probably knew all about measuring.

Jordan here is a carpenter by trade.

Jordan, do you use a different measuring stick to figure out what the opening is than the one you use to figure out where to cut the two by four? Of course not.

Do you use a foot ruler for one and then a metric ruler for the other? Of course not.

Whatever tool you use to measure for the piece you need is the same tool you should use to cut the piece you need.

Using different measures can yield different results. And unfair ones. Where the buyer gets less than they paid for, right?

Jesus says, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

So, the question is. How do you want to be judged?

How do you want to be measured?

I’m going to say today that we all want to be measured graciously.

We all want to be judged generously.

Don’t we?

I want to be measured with love.

I don’t just want to be measured by justice.

I want to be measured by grace.

I want to be judged by kindness.

How do you want to be judged?

Well, at least no less than justice, right?

And, if possible, a little grace?

Well, Jesus says, that’s how you should treat others, especially other Christians. V.3

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? [I love this illustration!] How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”

I always think of the Three Stooges whenever I read this. It just reads like a comedy routine. Imagine the mayhem!

Again from the carpenter’s shop.

You think you see something wrong with your brother. He’s got a little piece of sawdust in his eye. And you’re going to help him out.

You are judging him, and you’re telling him what’s wrong.

But! You’ve got a big old telephone pole sticking out of your eye!

Jesus is hilarious!

“Let me get that for you.”

How’s that going to work out? Bonk!

Now, notice, Jesus is not saying that your brother has no speck.

And He’s not even saying that it would be unloving to point out the speck or help someone dig it out.

There is a time and place for discernment, making a judgment, making an evaluation, helping someone to see where they’ve gone wrong.

But there’s some self-judgment that needs to come first.

Some self-evaluation. V.5

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

Often, the problem is that we can’t see our own planks.

Or, we don’t even want to see them.

Jesus says to find those planks first. Seek first the kingdom by rooting out your planks before you go sticking your finger in someone else’s eye.

Do you see that word “hypocrite” in verse 5?

He’s not afraid to make a judgment, is He?!

“Hypocrite” has been an important word in the Sermon on the Mount, hasn’t it?

It means someone who is not living inside-out. Where the insides match the outsides.

Here the idea is that on the outside you’re a great moral judge. You see clearly what is wrong with others!

But really you are a hypocrite. You can’t even see what is wrong with you.

That’s what the Pharisees were like. Everybody else was always wrong, but not them.

There was a different standard for them. A different measurement.

How are you doing at this?

I think that this one of the greatest temptations for followers of Jesus Christ.

We love to make judgments about other people.

And we are quick to judge and to judge harshly.

And not be generous! And not be gracious with others.

Even though that’s exactly how we want to be treated and, in fact, how we have been treated by God through Christ!

I think that’s why Jesus put it right after telling us to seek the Father’s kingdom and His righteousness.

How are you doing with being gracious with other people?

How are you doing at this on social media?

I know that not everybody is on social media, but if you are, how are you doing?

Are you posting about others as you would want them to post about you?

That’s what Jesus says in verse 12. Skip down there for a second where he brings all of this to a conclusion.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Remember that Jesus said that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets? The first 2/3 of your Bible?

Well, here He says that you can sum up the moral teaching of the first 2/3 of your Bible by simply doing to others what you would have them do to you if you were in their situation.

Are you doing that online?

Are you posting about the Democrats the way you would want them to post about you?

Or other way around. Are you posting about the Republicans or the Trump Supporters in the way you would want them to post about you if the shoe was on the other foot?

Or your neighbors. Are you saying things about or doing things to your neighbors as you would have them do to you?

Or your co-workers?
Or your spouse?
Or your kids?
Or your parents?
Or your boss?
Or that person that cut you off in traffic or in the checkout line?
Or people who identify as LGBT?
Or Muslims?
Or immigrants?

How are you doing at judging others?

Because Jesus is calling us to be generous.

I think that’s how we want to be judged.

Anything else is hypocrisy.

So we need to change. We need to repent. We need to be turned right-side up because the kingdom of heaven is near.

Now, I’m not saying that we don’t call sin “sin.”

We certainly do. We don’t pretend that it isn’t.

But we address our own sin before we address anybody else’s.

And however we address that sin needs to be using the very same tape measure that we would want them to use on us.

It’s kind of ironic but the kind of people that I am most prone to be judgy about are angry judgy people.

I see angry judgy people on Facebook, and I say, “I’m glad I’m not like that!” And then I tell my wife about the way “those people” are acting, and what have I just done?

I tell myself, “Oh, I would never do that.” And in the saying it, I’ve done it.

President George W. Bush once said, “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples - while judging ourselves by our best intentions.” That’s hypocrisy.

“[F]irst take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

I don’t know about you, but I love generous people.

People that are truly gracious and kind and caring and open-handed and open-hearted with others. Even when they don’t deserve it. Especially when they don’t deserve it.

Don’t you just love a person who has a generous spirit?

Don’t you just want to be that person?

Now, in verse 6, Jesus kind of says, “on the other hand.”

He says that there is a kind of generosity that can actually go too far. Look at verse 6.

"Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

This is one of the hardest verses in the Sermon on the Mount to interpret, and there are a lot of interpretive options.

I think it’s most likely that the thing that is “sacred” and the “pearls” are both referring the precious gospel message. One is like the sacred meat from the temple and the other is like a treasured necklace. You don’t give the sacrificial meat to the wild scavenger dogs in the street (that’s totally inappropriate) or give your pearls to the wild boars who would mistake them for kernels of corn and then get mad because they aren’t.

They don’t know how to treat those things! And in fact, they hate them. They don’t appreciate what they have. They have utter contempt for them.

And will attack you if you try to give it to them!

I think that the dogs and pigs are those people whom we try to share the good things of the gospel with but they utterly reject them.

Not just once in a small way but outright and totally.

And Jesus is saying that it’s a waste of time and a degradation of the gospel to try to force it on them.

Eventually, you just walk away and shake the dust off your sandals.

The limit to gospel generosity is when it’s absolutely rejected.

I think that’s what He means here.

And it takes great discernment to know when or when not to do that.

You see why I say that Jesus does not condemn judging outright?

He actually calls us to discern, to judge, if someone is acting like a dog or a pig!

If they are, then don’t be pushing this valuable teaching onto them. It’s wasteful.

But if they are at all open, then keep going. Be generous with them.

Because you know what?


"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Those are precious promises about prayer.

Ask. Seek. Knock.

And keep doing it.

It could be translated, “Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking.”

Because God answers persistent prayers.

Now, of course, this does not mean that Christians get everything they want.

What things do you think Jesus is assuming that we’ll pray for?

A Ford Mustang GT Fastback? Maybe.

I think He’s assuming that we’re going to pray for the ability to not be judgmental.

He’s thinking that we’ll pray for the ability to discern whether or not to give someone the sacred and the pearls.

He’s thinking that we will be praying for the kingdom.

Because we’re seeking it first!

Same word in verse 7 for “seeking” as the word in Matthew 6:33.

Seeking the kingdom!

What did Jesus tell us to pray for?

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts...
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

V.8  Everyone who asks for that stuff receives; he who seeks the kingdom finds it; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

He’s assuming that we’re going to pray that we would live out the beatitudes. And that we would be salt and light. And that we would pray that we would have a greater righteousness that issues into love instead of murder and hate, faithfulness instead of adultery and impure thoughts, integrity instead of dodging the truth, and generosity instead of vindictiveness. Generous love even for our enemies.

That’s what Jesus is assuming we’re asking, seeking, and knocking for.

And everyone who asks for that stuff receives; he who seeks the kingdom finds it; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.


Not because we deserve it.

But because God our Father is generous. V.9

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? [None of you will do that. That’s not normal. That’s not the way it works.]  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

How generous is our Father?!

Don’t miss how amazing it is that Jesus uses that word “Father” to describe God.

We are so used to it, but it is astonishing when you think about it.


That we can call God our Father because that’s how He relates to us who belong to His Son.

Assuming you are His child.

This whole thing is only true for those who have received Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

To those who believed in His name, the Lord gave the right to become children of God.

I hope that’s all of you. Everyone here.

If not, I call on you now to trust Jesus as your Savior and put your faith in what He did for you on the Cross.

Because if you don’t, God is not your Father.

But if you do, then He is.

He who has the Son has life.
He who does not have the Son does not have life.
If you believe in the name of the Son of God then you may know that you have eternal life.

And you can call God “Father.”

And you can expect good gifts.

You know how give good gifts and you’re flawed by sin and evil.

“[H]ow much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

So ask!

Because your Father is so generous!

And, of course, again, that means that we need to be generous, too. V.12

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

It doesn’t say, “Do what others have done to you.”

No, they aren’t setting the standard.

And it doesn’t say, “Do this SO THAT others will do it for you.”

No, you do this without any promises of reciprocity.

Jesus says, “Do to others WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU.”

What you would want if the shoe was on the other foot.

He’s saying to love them! We call it the “Golden Rule,” but it’s basically just loving people like the Old Testament taught. The Law and the Prophets.

And the New Testament agrees. The Apostle Paul said in Galatians, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal 5:14).

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

Because that’s what we’d want, right? We’d want to be loved.

We want people to be patient with us.
To be kind to us.
To not treat us with envy.
To not boast to us.
To not act out of pride.
To not be rude to us.
To not be self-seeking around us.
To not be easily angered by us.
To not keep a record of our wrongs.
To not delight in our evil but to rejoice with the truth.
To protect us, trust us, hope for us, persevere and not fail for us.

That’s what I want. Don’t you?

“[D]o to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

And it’s what Jesus did for us, and it’s how God treats His children every single day.


Previous Messages in This Series:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

My Son the Blacksmith

For over a year now, my oldest son, Andrew, has been learning the nearly forgotten art of blacksmithing.

Armed with an apparently insatiable appetite for self-education, a few books, a plethora of instructional YouTube videos, and the generous support of family and friends, Drew has built himself a forge (out a brake-drum and hairdryer!), bought a couple anvils, sought out tools at auctions (and made a few of his own!), found a supplier for coal, and housed the whole enterprise in a wooden "smithy" with an extra tall chimney (designed and constructed in partnership with his grandfather).

And he's constantly making things, quite literally going at it hammer and tongs!  

(In case you can't tell, I'm a little proud of his work.)

Drew has also opened his own business. He is selling his hand-forged items both locally and online. He's just getting started, but he already has four standard items for sale in his Etsy Shop.

1. Wall Hanging Hook
2. Fire Poker
3. S-Hook
4. Simple Back Scratcher

Wall Hanging Hook

Fire Poker


Simple Back Scratcher

It's going to be neat to see where Drew goes with all of this. He's doing custom work as, well. Just this week neighbor asked him if he could forge some "log dogs" for a building he wants to construct. I didn't even know what a "log dog" was, but Drew caught on fast and even was already aware of a YouTuber that makes them. Drew forged the hanging brackets for this birdfeeder to the customer's specifications (photo to the right).

Drew calls his business "Anuron Ironworks" named after the elvish version of his first name from Tolkien's classic books.  [By the way, many of these excellent pictures are taken by Drew's friend Ben Schiefer who is a talented landscape and portrait photographer. Check out his work and hire him for your project today.]

Drew has created a website devoted to spreading the word about his blacksmithing. The photo gallery has shots of his workshop and some of his projects.

But the best way to really get what he's doing is to watch him work. On his Anuron Ironworks YouTube channel, Drew shows you how he makes the various items he sells and other projects he's working on.

(He also chronicles some of his other exploits, such as tall-tree climbing which makes his old dad gulp.)

Here are some videos from his channel and some pictures of his anvil, tools, workshop, and some of the things he has made:

Drew's newest anvil.
With the old one for comparison.
Blacksmith Leg Vice
Finished Wall Hooks
More Wall Hooks
Hand Forged Tomahawk

Hand Forged Draw Knife
Hand Forged Tongs

Drew's Own Hand Forged Tongs Holding a Railroad Spike
Handmade "Hardy Tools" for Use on the Anvil

Handmade "Hardy Tool" At Use on the Anvil
Hand Forged Knife in Progress

Final Product

Handmade Knife
The Anuron Ironworks "Touchmark." Kind of a like brand or logo that he chisels into his work.
The blacksmith in repose after work. Photo by Ben Schiefer.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "Twenty Years Together"

“Twenty Years Together”
Philippians 1:3-6
June 10, 2018

We’re going to take a short break from our study in the Gospel of Matthew and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount today to stop and celebrate a significant milestone.

I have to congratulate you this morning.

Because, as of this coming Wednesday, you have now put up with me as your pastor for 20 whole years!

Sunday June 14th, 1998 was my official start date as the Pastor of Lanse Evangelical Free Church, and it was the first Sunday that I preached from this pulpit as your pastor.

I had preached a candidating sermon on Habakkuk 3 back in April of 1998, and we had already worshipped with you the previous Sunday, June 7, 1998, after we moved into our little house in Bigler. But June 14, 1998 was my first official Sunday preaching as your pastor.

Raise your hand if you think you were here on that Sunday. Praise God!

This is the worship bulletin from that Sunday. I kept two copies.

The order of worship says that we had the Welcome and then the “Opportunities for Ministry” (what we now call the “Church Family News”) and then we sang, “Great Is the Lord” “Our God Is An Awesome God” (and the lyrics for that one are typed into the bulletin because we didn’t have this video projector way back then). And we sang, “Majesty.”

Then we had “Worship in Giving” and an offertory by a Choir, which I think was led by Blair Murray.

And then we sang, “Amazing Grazce” (Hymn #202), and we dismissed the kids for children’s church which Nesta Kephart was leading and Donna Weatherly was in the nursery.

And then I got up to preach from Isaiah chapter 40, a message entitled, “Incomparably Awesome God.”

And then we had communion together, and Blair Murray led us in, “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” and closed the service in prayer.

And we were off and running!

Twenty years ago this week, we began our ministry together.

This isn’t just my “work anniversary,” this is our anniversary of partnering in the gospel–church and pastor together.


And thank you.

Thank you for–not just putting up with me, not just enduring me, but for loving me and caring for me and supporting me and paying me and appreciating me, and listening to me and following me and praying for me and forgiving me and for caring for my family.

It’s been a wonderful score of years together, and I am very grateful to the Lord for our partnership.

I feel like Paul did about the Philippian church.

See what he says here in his letter to them? Philippians chapter 1, verse 3.

This is how I feel about you.

“I thank my God every time I remember you, Lanse Free Church. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day (June 14, 1998) until now (June 10, 2018), being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:4-6, NIV84).

That word “partnership” in verse 5 is the Greek word “koinonia.”

Have you heard that word before?

“Koinonia” was the winning word in the national spelling bee this year.

A young fellow named Karthik Nemmani won the national spelling bee by spelling “koinonia.”

I could have done that one!

I probably couldn’t have done most of the ones leading up to it, but that’s one I know.

Koinonia is the word that we often translate “fellowship” because it means to have something in common. Joining people together by having something in common.

So “partnership” is also a good word for it.

What is it that Paul had in common with the Philippians? What does he say?

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

They had the gospel in common.

And so do we.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is what binds us together from the first day until now.

It’s our “main thing,” right?

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

And the main thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That’s our koinonia.

And it brings me great joy.

It’s a joy to be your pastor.

I was trying to think of what specifically to talk about this Sunday to mark our double decade anniversary.

Ten years ago, when we had finished our first decade together, I preached a three week series called, “Ten Things.” Anybody remember that?

The three messages were:

10 Things I Have Learned In the First 10 Years
10 Things I Have Been I’ve Been Teaching in the First 10 Years
10 Things I’m Hoping for in the Next 10 Years

I re-read those this week, and they filled my heart with all kinds of feelings.

Especially that first one because it looks back over the first decade on how the Lord brought us here and how I started to learn to be a pastor and how then He knit our hearts together.

And then the last one was what I was hoping would happen these last 10 years! So it was really interesting to read it again and try to look back and evaluate to see if those things I was desiring then came true. And to some degree, they did. I was encouraged. We definitely made some progress.

A lot sure has changed since then.

We still didn’t have this video projector. I put my notes up on a overhead transparency just a decade ago.

We hadn’t started the Good News Cruise yet.

We hadn’t sent short term teams to Serbia, Oaxaca, Pittsburgh, Louisiana.

We didn’t have MOPS.

The Forceys were still in Mexico.

We had the old pulpit. We had no family bathroom. The upstairs was a big junk drawer in the sky. The library didn’t look like it does.

Amy Jo hadn’t restarted the choir.

Ten years ago, I had not yet taken my first doctoral class much less dreamed of writing a book on resisting gossip!

And there was almost nobody on social media. Just a few college students and a few others were just getting into that new thing called Facebook.

And we didn’t know that Robin had Celiac Disease, that Heather had Fibromyalgia, or that I would have major surgery for diverticulitis and a perforated colon.

And we have lost a lot of people that we love in those last ten years.

When I posted the 10 Things message on my blog, a sweet woman named Linda Lundeen left a comment after she read it, “Thank you Matthew. I have been blessed. Your favorite Mother-in-law.” It’s still up there on my blog.

I’ve done around 50 funerals since then and hers was one of them.

Twenty years together.

What to talk about to sum up 20 years?

I joked in the third 10 Things message that in June of 2018 I would probably preach a 20 point message!

But I think I’ve learned a thing or two since then, and that’s just not a good idea!

Instead I have a 3 point message for you.

And it’s about what this partnership looks like on a day-in-day-out weekly basis.

Have you ever wondered what a pastor does?

Like what is my job description?

I have friends that tell me that I have a great job because I only work one day a week.

I say, “Yeah, and that’s just for the morning! I get the rest of Sundays off!”

Well, I think most people know that’s not true.

But what does a pastor do?

I almost titled this message with a nod to Richard Scarry, “What Do Pastors Do All Day?”

Well, twenty years ago when I was candidating as your pastor I taught a Sunday School class on that very topic. Right back there in the back of the auditorium.

And I had three points. From three different scripture verses that together sum up my basic philosophy of pastoral ministry.

And those three points are like my job description.

They are really the job description of any elder in a local church but especially that of a vocational elder in the local church, what we often call a “pastor.”

And every month, I put those three things, three commands from scripture, across the top of my monthly report that I give to the other elders. I think I’ve turn in about 240 monthly reports with these 3 points right across the top of each one.

And then every year when I do my annual report, I organize it around these 3 points. And I’ve done 20 of those.

So, this is what I perceive to be my job.

I probably do a bunch of other things, too, but these 3 things are the core of all that I do as your pastor.

And for each one of them, there is a corresponding response from the flock, from you.

So this is a description of our partnership over the last twenty years together.

Are you ready?

Here’s number one. I hope they are not a surprise!


Turn with me to 2 Timothy chapter 4.

We just looked at this passage back in February when Billy Graham graduated to glory. Paul is writing to Timothy who was serving as a kind of pastor in Ephesus.

Paul was pretty sure he himself was about to die, and so he left Timothy these instructions. 2 Timothy 4, verse 1.

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Preach the Word.

That’s the first item on my job description.

Preach the Word.

I’m not supposed to preach anything else.

I’m not supposed to preach my opinions. I’m not supposed to go off on what I think.

I’m supposed to read, explain, and press home this book right here.

The Word of God.

When I feel like it and when I don’t.

When it’s convenient and when it’s not.

“In season and out of season,” I’m supposed to “correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.”

I hope I’ve done that.

Have you been corrected by my preaching? I hope so.
Have you been rebuked? I hope so.
Have you been encouraged? I sure hope so.

Because that’s my job.

I’m supposed to preach the Word.

I’ve been trying to preach the gospel because that’s the main thing.

And I’ve been trying to preach the whole counsel of God. Not just the parts I like the best.

That’s why we’ve gone over all kinds places in your Bible.

In twenty years, I’ve preached every single verse of: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, Hosea, Jonah, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (twice–that was my first book I preached all the way through with you, Philippians), Colossians, 1 Timothy, Titus, James, 1 Peter, 1 John. And lots of Psalms and Proverbs along the way!

And if the Lord gives me days, I hope to preach all of the parts I haven’t preached yet.

Starting with finishing the Gospel of Matthew!

It’s my job. My duty. My very high privilege to preach the Word of God.

Because this book is like no other book.

This book is God-breathed. It’s inspired.

That’s what Paul just told Timothy in chapter 3.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

My job is to give you this book.

What’s your job?


Turn with me, if you will, to James chapter 1, verse 21.

If the pastors of the church are supposed to preach the Word, what does the church do? Verse 21.

“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.”

Receive the Word. Accept it and then do it.

That’s what you’ve been doing for the last twenty years.

You’re a fantastic congregation for reading and heeding the Word of God.

I know that you haven’t just endured my preaching for 20 years, you’ve been taking it in and letting it grow. And not just looking in the mirror and then walking away, but making the changes the mirror tells you you need to make!

When we come together on Sunday, and we open the Word, it’s supposed to be a feast.

I’ve worked to prepare the meal, like a chef, and we all sit down and ingest it together and let it go to work on our insides.

Now, of course, it doesn’t have to be me. You all can preach the Word, too. We are all supposed to share it with others in the right contexts. And we all need to learn to feed ourselves, too.

But I have a special calling to preach the Word right here.

Increasingly, the world will not like this.

Paul said that a “time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

But I’m not allowed to do that.

You will make sure of that, right? You will be noble Bereans who ask the question, “Where Stands It Written?” And you will hold me accountable to doing my job.

That’s why one of the most beautiful sounds in the world to me is the sound of pages turning on Sunday mornings.

I know there’s less of it now because some of swipe to the passage in your Bibles. Maybe we need to get an app that makes the page turning sound when you’re swiping to the passage I’m preaching!

The point is to receive the Word.

How are you doing at that right now?

I know that I have room to grow as a preacher. When I listed the parts of the Bible that I have preached, I noticed that I have shied away from the prophets. Aside from Hosea and Jonah and from dipping in at times, I have not spent much time preaching the prophets to you. I need to work on that.

One downside of that is that I’ve probably missed opportunities to preach on biblical justice. Justice is one of the major themes of the prophets. Seeing people get what is  due them and going what is right. I need to work on that in my preaching.

What do you need to work on in your receiving?

Are you merely listening and not doing what the Bible says?

Is your heart the hard soil where the seed of the Word just bounces right out?

Or is your heart rich soil producing a crop “thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown?”

Here’s number two. Preach the Word.


Turn with me to Ephesians chapter 4.

Paul is talking about how we’re supposed to live out the grace that God has given us. Look at verse 11.

He says, “It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, [why?] to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (vv.11-13).

Do you get the picture?

Jesus gives these people as gifts to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers (those are actually probably one thing together). And He gives them for a reason. What’s the reason?

“To prepare God’s people for works of service.”

The New American Standard Bible translates it, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service...”

To get the saints ready to serve.

That’s one big part of my job.

Now, when it says the “saints,” it’s talking about you. That’s why the NIV translate it’s “God’s people.” It means “holy ones” those whom God has made holy through the blood of Christ.

So, who is supposed to do the work of the ministry?

God’s people.

Us. Together. Not just me.

I’m supposed to be like a coach.

Does James Franklin run out on the field and throw the passes?

Does he receive the passes?

Does Coach Franklin give out the hits on the defensive line?

Does he take the hits on the offensive line?  (That’s the right way to say it, right?)

No, Coach Franklin gets the players ready to play the game. He might call some of the plays. And, I’m sure he does some of the work, but he doesn’t do all of the work. Not even close.

It’s a partnership, right?

What’s your side? To be equipped and to do the work of the ministry! V.12 again.

Pastors are given “ prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

That’s when we’re done. When we’ve hit that goal. Then I can stop equipping, and you can stop serving.

What a day that will be. V.14

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ [Not me! Jesus!]. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament [that’s each of us], grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”


Now, again, this is an awesome church for that.

We have a wonderful church family for people volunteering and doing their part.

Some churches have an “80/20 rule.”  Eighty percent of the work gets done by twenty percent of the people.

But this church has a much better percentage of people doing their part.

Last year, I preached a whole message on how good this church family is about everyone figuring out what your gifts are and using them in ministry.

We’ve got lots of room for improvement, but we’ve been doing this together for twenty years.

I know that I still take on too much for myself. Sometimes it’s just easier to do it myself.

And sometimes there doesn’t seem to be someone ready yet to take something on.

I need to grow in constantly giving away the ministry. I think I’ve gotten a lot better at it over the years. And love seeing all of the leaders that we’ve developed over the years.

That’s one of the things I said 10 years ago that we needed to work on. We needed younger leaders to be brought along and empowered throughout our church and ministries. And we’re seeing that.

But how about you in particular?

Are you doing your part of the work? Do you need to be equipped?

That’s what I’m here for you. To prepare God’s people for works of service.

Family Bible Week is coming in just over a month, and Misty needs people to serve. She just told us about what is need.

What are you going to do about it?

“Coach Mitchell” is calling you to get into the game.

Last one. And in many ways it sums it all up.


Turn to 1 Peter chapter 5.

Peter, talking as one of us says, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

Peter tells elders like me to shepherd God’s flock.

He makes it really clear that it is not my flock, but God’s flock.

I’m just an undershepherd. I am a steward, not an owner.

It’s God’s flock under my care. What a responsibility!

And I have to do it with the right motives. Not just out of duty, not in it for the money, not as a boss lording it over people. But out of willingness and eagerness and as an example to the flock.

I need to shepherd you.

Now, I think that includes the idea of leading. You see that word “overseer” in verse 2.

The elders, especially the vocational elders, according to Paul are supposed to “direct the affairs of the church” (1 Timothy 5:17). They do serve as leaders.

But it’s more than just leading. It’s shepherding.

It’s caring for the flock. Feeding the flock. Tending to the flock and, especially, their spiritual needs.

This is the category that I put all of my people-ministry into.

Visiting folks at the hospital, at your home, at the nursing home.

Phone calls. Emails. Text messages. Meeting with someone in my office.

Praying for you. Praying with you.

Counseling. Listening. Discerning. Challenging where needed.

A shepherd is in the lives of his flock and trying gently but firmly to move them towards where they need to go.

This is where our lives intersect.

It’s not my job to just preach at you or put you to work in ministry.

It’s my job to walk alongside you. To know you. And to try to provide care for you.

To comfort you when you are hurting.
To confront you when you are sinning.

And, again, I can’t do all of that. We all need to do that for each other.

And we have a whole team of elders to do it, too.

Peter says this to the elders, not just to one elder.

But I am a vocational elder called and set aside to give my full time to this kind of shepherding.

And I consider it a great privilege.

This week, I sat beside a hospital bed of a hurting sheep.
I sat beside a bed at a nursing home of a lost sheep.
I sat in my office in a counseling appointment with a sheep who was looking for some direction in solving a conflict.
Heather and I did pre-marital coaching with Sheila and her fiancé Ben who are getting married next month.

By the way, I can’t believe Sheila is old enough to get married! She was like 1 year old in 1998 when we came! And here she is getting married.

And it’s my privilege to shepherd that couple to the altar.

I know that I’ve made many mistakes in the shepherding arena over the last twenty years.

I’ve hurt people’s feelings.
I’ve misinterpreted things.
I’ve disappointed folks.
I’ve given bad advice.
I’ve said hurtful words.
I’ve dropped the ball at times.
I’ve forgotten people. They dropped off my radar.

Most of my regrets over the last two decades are missed opportunities to shepherd people well.

Especially when I didn’t confront them with their sin when I should have.

I like people to like me.

But a shepherd should be more concerned for the well-being of the sheep than if they sheep is happy with them.

And I need to grow in that area. I know it.

Thank you for forgiving me and being patient with me.

And for teaching me.

Many of you have shown me how to pastor by shepherding others and shepherding me.

Blair Murray was one of my pastors.

What’s your job?


The book of Hebrews says in chapter 13, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.”

That’s your side of it.

To submit to shepherding. Not to slavishly do whatever the elders say. That’s ridiculous.

But to listen to them, to consider what they have to say, to pray about it and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and then where appropriate follow them.

It is my job to keep watch over you as someone who must give an account.

You see the Great Shepherd is coming back.

And I’m going to have to tell Him what I did with you. What I did with HIS flock.

That’s a big responsibility.

So pray for me. Not just submit to shepherding but pray for the shepherd!

Because I want to be found faithful.

I don’t know if I’ll still be the pastor here in two more decades.

Perhaps the Lord will return, or He’ll move me on, or He’ll take me to Himself before then.

But if I’m here, I want to be found faithful.

I want to have “a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.”

And (v.4), “when the Chief Shepherd appears,” I want to, “receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

And I believe that, regardless of whether I go or remain, you will also will receive a glorious reward (1 Peter 1:7-9).

Because like Paul to the church at Philippi, “I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Because He is the Good Shepherd of the Sheep!