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!