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Sunday, October 27, 2019

"Malignant Religion" [Matt's Messages]

“Malignant Religion”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
October 27, 2019 :: Matthew 23:13-24

We have reached one of the heaviest parts of the Gospel of Matthew.

It’s that last fateful week that we’re calling Crucial Week, the week that Jesus will be crucified, and we’ve reached the last large block of Jesus’ teaching, Matthew chapters 23, 24, and 25.

Jesus has silenced His opponents’ questions with His superior questions, and now He has begun to warn the crowds and His disciples about the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.

We saw in the first 12 verses that Jesus has gotten very serious about how dangerous these religious leaders really were.

They were terrible leaders. Just awful.

They preached but didn’t practice what they preached. They piled on heavy burdens but didn’t lift a finger to help. They loved honor but never humbled themselves.

They were just awful.

And now Jesus is going to pronounce woe upon them.

Woe.

Seven times Jesus will say, “Woe to you.”

“Woe to you.”

And He’ll give 7 reasons why this woe should be pronounced on these men.

It is devastating.

I’m glad I wasn’t there, and I would hate for Jesus to say these words of woe over me.

The word “woe” is word that combines condemnation, denunciation, regret, sorrow, lament, and heavy warning into one little syllable.

“Woe.”

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees.”

“Woe to you.”

These “woes” are the exact opposite of the “blessings” of the beatitudes.

Remember the beatitudes from the first part of the Sermon on the Mount?

They opened the first major block of Jesus’ teaching.  “Makarios.” “Blessed. Good for you. Way to go! Way to be! Good on ya!”

These seven woes now open the last major block of Jesus’ teaching.

“Woe to you. Bad for you. Sad for you. Alas! Terrible way to go. Yuck.”

Do you remember the word that we used to sum up the beatitudes?

It was the beautiful word “flourishing.”

A word of life and joy and thriving.

What is the opposite of “flourishing?”

Because that’s the idea of “woe.”

It’s withering. It’s dying. It’s being destroyed. It’s shriveling up.

It’s cancer.

It’s a malignancy.

These religious leaders were practicing a “Malignant Religion.”

A malignant religiosity. A malignant spirituality.

And Jesus was calling them out for it!

If you want to know what really makes Jesus mad, it’s bad religion.

It’s religiosity.

Jesus hates all sin and death.

But He saves some of His heaviest words for very religious people.

These were the church people!

These were the most cleaned up, buttoned up, church-ed up people.

They might not have seemed bad to us. They were all wearing white hats!

But this is what Jesus had to say them:

“Woe to you.”

He does not take a perverse pleasure in speaking like this. He doesn’t do it to get His kicks or to score rhetorical points with His sick burns.

We’ll see, probably next week, how He ends by just about weeping over them.

But He tells it like it is.

And it is heavy.

And there is no getting around that.

We shouldn’t try to get around this.

This is God’s Word for us.

There are seven woes in Matthew 23. We’re just going to look at the first 4 this morning. Lord-willing, we’ll do the last 3 and finish the chapter next week.

But before we look at the first one, I want us to think a little bit more about how Jesus understood this malignancy of their religion.

Jesus calls them names.

He has two names that He calls them in the first four woes.

He says these things over and over again.

It’s these two: “Hypocrites” and “Blind Guides” (or “blind fools,” “blind men”).

Do you know what a hypocrite is?

It originally meant a “play actor.” An actor on the stage. Somebody who wore a mask and pretended to be someone that they were not.

So we would say, “A Fake.”

A spiritual or religious hypocrite is someone who preaches one thing and practices another. Like Jesus said in verse 3.

It’s someone who pretends to be spiritual, but aren’t really.

It’s not necessarily someone who pretends they are perfect, just that they pretend that they are real when they are not.

They pretend to have something, but they don’t have it.

They are one thing on the outside, but a totally different thing on the inside.

They are not “whole.” They are fake.

And the blindness here is not physical blindness.

There’s nothing shameful about being physically blind. That’s just a malady, a hard thing to live with in our broken world.

No, this blindness in verses 16, 17, 19, and 24 is spiritual blindness.

And that’s not just a malady, that’s a malignancy.

That’s an ignorance. A willful ignorance.

These people are getting called out for their spiritual blindness because they are responsible for it.

And worse than just being culpable for being spiritually blind, these men are blind but leading other people!

I read on Facebook this week, that a hunter got lost in the woods overnight near here.

How scary that must have been!

I heard they found him, praise the Lord.

But what if that guy or someone like him while being completely lost was arrogantly, presumptuously giving other lost people directions? “Oh yeah. Follow me.”

The lost leading the lost.

Here’s word to sum up the blind guides.

They are just plain “wrong.”

They are fake and they are wrong.

And they are the wrong leading the wrong the wrong way.

They don’t know what they are talking about, but they aren’t going to let that stop them.

They are fake, and they are the wrong leading the wrong the wrong way.

Do you see why Jesus gets so serious with these people?

I think it’s important for us to hear these words as words of warning for us.

We do not want to go there.

We do not want Jesus to say these things to us or about us.

I don’t believe He is.

I don’t think this is how He see us. We are not the scribes and the Pharisees. I hope.

But I don’t want ever to get close.

I don’t want a malignant religion.

I don’t want to be fake or wrong or lead other people into wrongness.

These folks were living the opposite of the Sermon on the Mount.

They were building their house on the sand.

And they were in for a big crash.

Woe number one. Verse 13.

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites [you fakes]! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

That’s a picture of malignant religion, is it not?

Do you see the picture?

In this metaphor, there is a great big door to the kingdom of heaven, Jesus’ favorite thing to talk about.

There is this great big door to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Who is the King of the Kingdom of Heaven?

Jesus is King.

[And apparently, Kanye says, “Amen!”]

But in this metaphor, these guys are standing in front of the door to the kingdom of heaven, and they are slamming it in people’s faces.

How do they do that?

They are saying to people, “Don’t follow Jesus. He is not the king.”

“You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

That’s just fake and wrong.

It’s fake that they are pretending to know the way to kingdom of heaven, when it’s obvious they don’t.

And it’s wrong because they are misleading people away from the kingdom of heaven, and towards the kingdom of hell.

Look at verse 15. Second woe.

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”

These people were proselytizing.

But they were not evangelizing.

They were making converts, but not disciples of King Jesus.

They were making disciples of themselves.

They were teaching them a false gospel of a false kingdom.

It was a false gospel of works.

You had to do, do, do and perform, perform, perform to earn your way to God.

But that’s not how it works.

500 years ago Martin Luther rediscovered that that’s not how it works.

And woe to anyone who says that it is.

The false gospel leads to a false kingdom, the kingdom of hell.

Here’s the opposite, and it’s what we should do.

#1. ENTER THE KINGDOM AND INVITE OTHERS TO ENTER THE KINGDOM. 

Follow King Jesus.

Put your faith in King Jesus.

And tell other people about King Jesus.

King Jesus is where the life is!

There are a lot of false gospels circulating out there.

Cults, other world religions, and false teaching about Christianity.

And other stories the world gives us like atheism.

Anything that says that Jesus is not the king, and that we shouldn’t drop everything and follow Him, and that we have to add our good works to earn our way–those kinds of false gospels lead to a false kingdom.

Instead, we need to enter into the real kingdom by faith.

And we need to hold out the kingdom to others.

Come on in!

Have you come to trust in King Jesus as your King and Rescuer?

You need a king.

You need a rescuer.

Don’t listen to the Pharisees. Jesus is the real deal and He’s worth it all.

Let’s listen to the third woe. He breaks out the word “blind” now. V.16

“‘Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools [That’s a strong word. We get our word ‘moron’ from that Greek word!] Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.  And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it.”

You see where He’s going with this?

The Pharisees were blind guides that were looking for loopholes.

In fact, they had come up with a bunch of them.

If you swore by the temple, you didn’t have to keep your vow.

But if you swore by the gold of the temple, then you did.

I don’t pretend to understand the rationale.

Jesus says that it wasn’t a good rationale anyway.

They had come up with this elaborate system to make it sound like they were promising something, but then not actually [because of the fine print, not actually] have to keep their promises.

This sounds like the Sermon the Mount, doesn’t it?

Matthew 23 is the Bizzaro World Sermon on the Mount. It’s what happens when you do the exact opposite of what King Jesus says to do.

King Jesus says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37).

King Jesus says, “Keep your promises.”

#2. KEEP YOUR PROMISES.

Anything else is fake and wrong.

If you feel the need to break a promise, ask to be released from it.

Ask to be released from your obligation.

But don’t say, “I had my fingers crossed the whole time.”

Some promises are conditional.

They are only to be kept if certain conditions are met.

But if those conditions are met, don’t say, ‘Well, we didn’t pinky swear.”

“Yeah, I shook hands on that, but I never signed anything.”

King Jesus kept His promises, and so His followers should, too.

Do you need to hear that?

Sometimes we want to wiggle out of our word.

The Pharisees in their fakery had made it an art form!

I have the privilege of heading up the Search Team for the next Allegheny District Superintendent.

And one of the things I’m trying really hard to do is not to promise anything to anybody in the process that I can’t deliver.

I was involved in a search process for another position about 15 years ago, and I made the mistake of leading someone to believe that they were going to get something that I couldn’t fulfill.

And I had to apologize to this person who was a friend of a friend, and I still feel shame over the situation when I think about it. Her name is a cautionary tale to me.

King Jesus kept His promises, and He pronounces woe on those who try to lie their way out of them and lead others to do the same.

Because King Jesus is listening. Look at what He says in verse 21 again.

“And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it [Who’s that? It’s God!]. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it. [That’s God, too!]”

And Jesus is God, as well.

You open up the Book of Revelation, and you realize that the Lamb is now also seated on the throne, and Jesus is the Lamb.

So when you make a promise as someone who bears the name of Christ, He hears that promise and it reflects on Him if you don’t keep it.

In the fourth woe, Jesus combines both the “hypocrite” and the “blind guides.” v.23

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Both fake and wrong!

They were fakes because they tithed on everything, not just what the had to, but on everything.

But they didn’t care about justice, mercy, and faithfulness!

Remember “Corban?” That was their way of getting out of helping their parents because they had dedicated their money to the temple?

They looked all spiritual and were unloving at the same time!

“Let’s see here. It’s time for church. Let’s get out our tithe. Get the scale. We need to take 10% of this mint that we grew. We need to 10% of this dill we grew. We need to 10% of this cummin.”

“What, should we help this person who has been beaten on the side of the road. No? We’re busy. We’re getting to worship today!”

We call that majoring on the minors.

That’s caring about the wrong things.

Or the right things but caring too much.

And not caring about the big things.

Tithing is fine.

But the question is, do I love justice?

Do I love mercy?

Do I love faithfulness?

Am I real on the inside or am I just keeping up appearances?

These guys were such fakes!

They weren’t real where it counted.

Verse 23 reminds me of Micah 6:

“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? [The Pharisees would say, “Yes!” but Micah says....] He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

#3. MAJOR ON THE MAJORS.

Get your priorities right.

Don’t take your cues from these religious Pharisees.

They were so concerned with their rule making and rule keeping, they missed loving people and loving God.

They had the wrong priorities.

They had the wrong focus.

And they were the wrong leading the wrong in the wrong way.

I love the word play of Jesus in verse 24, but I’d hate for it to be said of me.

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

The picture is ridiculous.

Jesus says that these guys will use a cloth to strain out the tiniest little bug out of their  drink. You wouldn’t want to get a bug in your drink, or if you drink it, you would be unclean.

I don’t want a bug in my drink, do you?

More protein, right guys?

Yuck!

So, there’s nothing wrong with trying to strain out the gnat.

But Jesus says the same guys have let a camel into their cups!

They sweated the small stuff, and they ignored the big stuff.

That’s exactly wrong.

And everybody pays for it.

This is no small mistake.

It brings a word of denunciation and woe.

Don’t major on the minors, and minor on the majors!

That’s malignant religion!

It leads to un-flourishing, withering, hurting people and hurting yourself.

Instead, love and pursue justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

King Jesus did!

And He invites us to follow Him.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun
47. Seed-Sized Faith
48. These Little Ones
49. If Your Brother Sins Against You
50. The Lord of Marriage
51. Drop Everything
52. First and Last
53. The Suffering Serving Son of Man
54. Shouting for the Son of David
55. Expecting Fruit
56. Come to the Wedding Banquet
57. Whose Image?
58. Acing the Test
59. What Do You Think About the Christ?
60. How Not To be A Leader

Sunday, October 20, 2019

“Great Are the Works of the Lord!” [Matt's Messages]

“Great Are the Works of the Lord!”
Celebration Sunday 2019
October 20, 2019 :: Psalm 111

I fully intended to go back to Matthew 23 this morning. That’s what I said we’re were doing last Sunday, and what I studied all week, and what I woke up even yesterday morning still planning to preach on today. 

I had thought that the message of “woe” that Jesus has for the scribes and the Pharisees was a little bit of a strange fit for Celebration Sunday and all that we have planned to praise God for today, but I didn’t have any other idea, and we had just gotten back into Matthew together last week! So I assumed it was Matthew 23.

But yesterday morning, I made my coffee and opened my Bible to read the very next thing in the Psalms. (You know I’ve been studying the Psalms all year long.) And the very next Psalm was Psalm 111. And I read it, and I said, “Thank you, Father. That’s it. Right there. That’s what we’re supposed to look at tomorrow at church.”

So, I switched gears, studied Psalm 111, and got ready to share it with you.

Psalm 111 is hymn of praise to a faithful God Who does great works.

So it’s perfect for us to study together on Celebration Sunday.

When we celebrate the great works God has done in our church over these last 127 years.

You need to know that, in the Hebrew, Psalm 111 is written as an acrostic poem.

That means it follows the Hebrew alphabet.

After the Hallelujah of verse 1, each line for all 22 lines, starts with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Aleph, beth, gimel, daleth, and so forth.

If it was in English, it would be the ABC’s of praising God for His great works.

The author of this song has taken great care to thoughtfully compose it. There is order and intentionality and a lot of careful thought put into this sacred composition.

And behind that insightful author stands the Holy Spirit Who inspired the whole thing and gives to us today a song that we can sing and pray and use to guide our thoughts about the Lord.

Psalm 111 is a gift from God to use to shape our relationship with Him.

In just a few minutes, we’re going to take our annual church family photo,

We’ve been doing that for the last 20 years. You can see them all hanging in the hallway down from the ladies’ room across from the Prayer Room. Check ‘em out!

What’s bittersweet for Heather and me this year is that we have no kids in the one from 1999, and then we basically added one child each year through 2004, and they grew and grew and grew, but now in 2019, we are starting to have pictures with one less kid. We’re down to 3 in this year’s picture because Robin has moved out of state. I wonder how many we’ll have next year?

I love this tradition we have had for the last two decades because it not only reminds us who we are but whose we are. We stop and thank God for what He has done in our midst each year.

I love seeing the new people. If you are new, you are invited up here to get your picture taken with the rest of us. If this is your first Sunday, we want you up here!

On Celebration Sunday, we snap a picture, and we say, “Praise God for His faithfulness to Lanse Free Church for all of these years! He has done great things.”

Well, Psalm 111 is not a snapshot. It’s a song.

But it does the same thing. It’s a song about how the LORD has done great things.

Verse two begins, “Great are the works of the LORD,” and I think that makes a fitting title for the whole Psalm.

“Great Are the Works Of the Lord.”

I want to make three points of application as we work our way down through this Psalm together. Three things that we should do because we’ve read Psalm 111 and got it into our hearts.

#1. PRAISE THE LORD IN PUBLIC!

Listen again to verse 1.

“Praise the LORD. I will extol the LORD with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly.”

We don’t know who wrote this Psalm. It might have been David, but it doesn’t say.

Whoever it was was not afraid or ashamed to get up in the council of the upright and in the assembly and praise the Lord.

“Hallelujah!” he says.

And he declares his intention to “extol the LORD.”

Which means to give thanks to the Lord.

To say how awesome the Lord is.

To recount the ways in which God is worthy.

And he declares that he’s going to do this v.1 “with all my heart.”

He’s not going hold anything back.
He’s not going to worry about respectability.
He’s not going to worry what others think of him.
He’s just going to praise the Lord.

And he’s going to do it in public!

“I will extol the LORD with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly.”

In our age and terms, that means “I’m going to get up and praise the Lord at church.”

Not just in private.
Not just out on his own.
Not just out in the woods somewhere.

But with other people.

He’s going to say, “All glory be to Christ our King.”

And I think this is here as a model prayer for you and me.

We’re not just supposed to say, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m glad to hear that this guy gave praise to God at church.”

We’re supposed to do what he did and give praise to God in public.

The “council of the upright” might be a more intimate group. It might be a Link Group or a Sunday School Class or a Bible Study or a Prayer Meeting.

But “in the assembly?” That’s probably everybody. All of the people of God gathered together in public to praise God.

And this guy says, “I’m going to praise God there!”

Are you willing to praise God in public?

You are here, I know. And that’s a good thing.

Are you praising God in public? Or are you just letting others do it for you?

Are you willing to stand up and to speak up and extol the LORD?

Let me ask you this question...if you are doing it, are you doing it with all of your heart?

What are you holding back?

The Lord wants us to not be afraid or ashamed to praise Him before others.

And here’s what we’re supposed to praise Him for. V.2

“Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them.”

#2. PONDER THE WORKS OF THE LORD.

That means to “study them,” to search them out.

To turn them over and over again in your mind.

To think in your heart about the works of the Lord.

The psalmist says that those who delight in the works of the Lord ponder them.

I don’t think we can do that too much.

I don’t think we can ponder on what God has done too much.

I think, instead we do too little pondering on the works of the Lord.

When was the last time you sat down and made a mental list of all of the things the Lord has done for you recently?

We’re coming up on November and Thanksgiving season. That’s a great time to pause and ponder what God has done. Count your many blessings.

The psalmist says that God’s works, God’s deeds are great.

And he has some more adjectives to describe these words.

Alec Motyer says that this psalm is a “running rhapsody of Yahweh and his works.”

V.3 “Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever.”

They are not just great. They are glorious and majestic.

They are exalted deeds. They are above other deeds.

What has God done that is glorious and majestic?

How about creation? I’ll bet the psalmist was thinking about Genesis 1.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Wow! That’s quite a deed, isn’t it?

That’s glorious and majestic.

Think about everything that has been made. Everything in the known universe, and everything that we’re still discovering!

God made it all.

I think that’s glorious and majestic!

“And his righteousness endures forever.”

That’s a key word in this psalm. “Forever.” It shows up in some form in verse 3, verse 5, verse 8, verse 9, and verse 10.

This is a forever God.

What He does stands firm.

Here it’s His righteousness that is forever.

Friends, that is good news right there.

You do not want a god who is righteous today and potentially unrighteous tomorrow or a thousand years from now.

The only kind of a god who is fully trustworthy is One Whose righteousness is forever.

Ponder that.

That means He never sins.
He never makes mistakes.
He is never imperfect or at a loss.

He never does anything wrong.
He never leads anyone astray.

“There is of shadow of turning in Him.”

Praise God!

Everybody else will fail you.

I will fail you.

Whenever Pastor Appreciation Month rolls around, I feel great appreciation for the church family.

But I often think about my pastoral failures. Where I didn’t match up.

I think about some of the people whose pictures are on the wall across from the Prayer Room and who aren’t here today because I disappointed them in some way.

Everybody else will fail you on some level.

But not God.

“His righteousness endures forever.”

In verse 4, I think the psalmist turns from Genesis to Exodus. V.4

“He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate.”

Those last words are an echo of Exodus 34 when the LORD passed before Moses in the cleft of the rock. Remember that? What did the LORD say?

“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness..”

God does all of these great works, not because we deserve it! But because He is gracious and compassionate.

He shows mercy to us.

That’s why these good gifts come to us.

And they are wonders.

I think the psalmist was probably thinking about the miracles God did when He rescued His people from Egypt.

The plagues, the Red Sea, all of the miracles in the desert. Wonders!

And the psalmist says, “Ponder that!”

Remember that.

Go back over it again and again so that God gets the glory and the credit.

Do you know what is the most repeated command in the Old Testament?

Anybody know?

“Remember.”

Remember.

That’s why we’ve set aside today to celebrate. To remember what God has done.

This church was founded in 1892.

And it was re-founded in 1965 by those 7 members who decided to keep the doors open.

That was almost 55 years ago.

And look at us today. Ponder that.

Remember that.

“He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate.”

One thing I’m especially grateful for this year, looking back, are all of the faithful women of this church throughout its 127 year history.

You might have noticed the display up in the foyer of women from across the EFCA who have had a historic role in shaping who we are and being used by the Lord in mighty ways.

That is a smaller replica of a display that was set up at EFCA One, the national conference, back in June.

Some of those women are familiar to us here.

Especially Elizabeth Anderson who was one of our missionaries for several decades.

We’re going to leave up the display for the next month leading up to the Ladies Tea with Jan Cone.

But the faithful women weren’t just out there, they have also been here all along.

6 of the 7 re-founding members of this church were women!

And I’ve had the privilege of knowing 4 of them.

Yesterday, I went through my files and made a list of faithful women of this church that I have had the honor of leading their funerals over the last two decades.

Here are some of their names:

Mabel Carlson
Marie Benton
Marie Wertz
Betty Pritts
Norma Dobash
Ann Kyler
Ann Neidrick
Dora Hampton
Brenda Plisco
Beatrice Johnson
Carolyn Dobo
Mary Shimmel

That’s just a few of them.

This church has been blessed with wonderful faithful godly women.

And there are many in this room right now.

I won’t embarrass them by calling out their names.

But we do ponder what God has done.

We recognize this as God’s gift to our church.

And we remember.

“He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate.” v.5

“He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.”

Now, we’re moving from Exodus into Numbers.

He’s talking about the manna, isn’t he?

How the Lord provided food for them in the wilderness.

In the desert!

Every morning, there it is. We’re not sure what it is. “Manna” means “What is it?”

But it was good and nourishing. It was daily bread.

This is why we pray before meals and give thanks for our daily bread.

Because this meal is a gift from God.

This meal is one of His works.

Think about that. Ponder that.

Have you ever thought about what it takes to get a meal on the table?

I often say that Heather is a miracle-worker for what she cooks up for us and puts on the table.

But the ultimate miracle-worker is God because that little meal is one of His great works.

Every single little meal is one of God’s great works.

Ponder that. Remember that.

And ponder this. God “remembers his covenant forever.”

There’s our word “forever” again.

A covenant is basically a set of promises.

So this is saying that God is a promise keeper, and He always will be.

God always keeps His promises. Forever!

The psalmist was probably thinking about the Abrahamic Covenant.

But we also know about the New Covenant, don’t we? In Jesus’ blood.

We’re getting close to that in the Gospel of Matthew.

I’m so glad that the LORD remembers His covenant forever, aren’t you?

Ponder that for a second.

What if God forgot?

What if God forgot His promises?

“Oh yeah, I meant to do that. I did say I would. But no, I forgot. Sorry.”

How terrible would that be?!

Do you see what we’re doing here?

We’re just going back over what God has done. Rehearsing it.

And pondering it in our hearts.

So that praise comes out of our mouths. V.6

“He has shown his people the power of his works, giving them the lands of other nations.”

He’s gone from Exodus to Joshua, hasn’t he?

God has promised His people this land, and He gave His people this land.

He remembers His promises and displaces the Canaanites. V.7

“The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.”

So they are not just great, and glorious and majestic and gracious and compassionate and powerful.

They are faithful and just.

And His “precepts” or principles or laws “are trustworthy.”

What the Lord tells us to do is not reckless or guesswork.

It is trustworthy and true.

That’s why the Psalmist in Psalm 1 delights “in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Because everything God tells us to do is trustworthy and true. V.8

“They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness.”

There isn’t not just forever, but for ever and ever!

God’s steadfastness is unchanging, it never gives up, it’s not fickle, it’s not limited.

And the second part of that line says that His precepts are done in faithfulness and uprightness.

Now, that might mean that we are supposed to do them in faithfulness and uprightness, and that would be right and good.

But it might also mean that God keeps His own precepts in faithfulness and uprightness. That’s a concept to ponder, isn’t it?

And verse 9 brings it home. The grandest work of God to ponder. V.9

“He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever–holy and awesome is his name.”

Redemption is freedom for a price.

Freedom for a price.

For the psalmist, that redemption was death of the firstborn and the Red Sea Rescue and the sacrificial system.

But for Christians, we know what the real and true redemption is.

It’s the blood of Jesus Christ.

It’s the Cross of Christ.

That’s where the Abrahamic Covenant was brought to fulfillment.

And that’s where the New Covenant was brought to fulfillment.

The Cross is where the eternal covenant was brought to fulfillment (Hebrews 13:20).

Ponder that!

Ponder what happened at the Cross!

Our church is not about our church.

Our church is about the gospel.
Our church is about the Cross.
Our church is about Jesus Christ.

“Holy and awesome is his name.”

Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your own Lord and Savior?

As your own King and Rescuer?

Jesus has provided the ultimate redemption through His blood.

And He has come back to life to give life to all who will trust in Him.

“Holy and awesome is his name.”

In the last verse of this song, the psalmist urges all of us to do the next logical thing.

If we have truly pondered Who this God is and What great works this God has done, then we will choose to fear and follow Him.

#3. FEAR THE LORD AND FOLLOW HIS PRECEPTS. V.10

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.”

There’s a choice out there.

It’s the choice we learned about back in Psalm 1 at Family Bible Week.

Do we turn right or turn left?

Do we take the path of righteousness or the path of wickedness?

It all comes down to our hearts.

Do we fear the LORD or do we despise Him?

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.

It’s the beginning of living skillfully and rightly in God’s world.

And it’s the beginning of following God’s ways.

There is so much blessing there!

I wish I had time to take you Psalm 112.

Read it this afternoon!

This next Psalm is the sister psalm to Psalm 111.

It begins where our Psalm leaves off.

It’s all about the blessing of being that man or that woman who does verse 10 who fears the Lord and follows His precepts.

Read it this afternoon and see if you don’t want follow the Lord just because you did!

I want that blessing for me.

And I want it for you.

And I want it for all of Lanse Free Church.

Let’s choose today to humble ourselves in the fear of the Lord and follow His precepts.

The psalm ends where it begins and goes from 1 to infinity.

“To him belongs eternal praise.”

Forever praise.

Praise unending.

“Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness
Lord unto me”

“To him belongs eternal praise.”


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Searching for a New Allegheny District Superintendent

It's my privilege to serve as the chairman of the search team for the next Allegheny District Superintendent of the EFCA. 

After months of praying, listening, and preparing, our team has officially begun seeking qualified candidates for the fifth Allegheny District Superintendent.

The full announcement of this search is available on the district website.

We've also posted a four page profile of the opportunity and directions for applying. I'm thankful for the district-wide research and in-depth writing help of NL Moore and Associates in the preparation of this profile. We couldn't have done it without them.

If you know someone who might be a good fit for this important but unique role, I'd love to hear about it.

I look forward to helping to find and welcome my new pastor. Please pray that the Lord would lead us to the right person for the job!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

"How (NOT) to be a Leader" [Matt's Messages]

“How (Not) to Be a Leader”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
October 13, 2019 :: Matthew 23:1-12

The Gospel of Matthew is a theological biography of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For 22 chapters (sixty sermons) now, Matthew has been keeping His eye on the ball and showing us the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

I won’t remind you of all of the things Matthew has shown us about the identity of Jesus. We don’t have time to review them all.

I will remind you that we’ve reached the last big section of the book.

We’ve reached what we are calling “Crucial Week.” Often also called “Holy Week” or “Passion Week.” It’s that fateful crucial last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry before His sacrificial crucifixion and victorious resurrection.

From Sunday when He rode into town to Monday when He cursed the fig tree and cleansed the temple to Tuesday when He clashed with the Jewish Religious Leaders who wanted to know by what authority He was doing all of this.

We’ve been walking with Jesus step by step through Crucial Week.

We’re still on Tuesday.

When we left off last time, Jesus had silenced the Pharisees.

He had answered all of their questions with His superior questions, and then He had asked a question of His own, a riddle.

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”

And the answer was stunning. The Christ is the son of David, but He is also the Lord of David, and even more, He’s the Son of God and the Lord of All!

And it was like Jesus just dropped the mic right there.

The Bible says, “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

Jesus was the last man standing.

I kind of wish that was the end of the book.

I wish everyone said, “Oh, Jesus is the Christ, and He has answered all of his opponents, and He is the son of David, and the Lord of David, and the Son of God, and my Lord, too!”

But that’s not what everybody said.

These folks who can’t answer Him are going to come roaring back by the weekend.

But before all of that happens, Jesus opens His mouth and begins to condemn them.

They are silent, but Jesus is not.

If you have one of those Bibles were the words of Jesus are printed in red, the next 3 chapters just bleed.

Chapters 23, 24, and 25 are the last major block of teaching in the Gospel of Matthew.

We’ve said before that there are five major blocks of teaching:

1. The Sermon on the Mount
2. The Teaching on Missions
3. The Parables of the Kingdom
4. The Teaching on the Way to Jerusalem

And now the fifth and final major teaching on judgment and the return of Christ.

It’s often called the “Olivet Discourse” because a good bit of it was taught while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives.

I have to tell you that the next three chapters are going to get heavy at times.

Jesus speaks of judgment.
Jesus speaks of condemnation.

Jesus uses heavy and sharp words.

He even uses name-calling. Next week, we’ll see that Jesus calls the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, “Blind guides,” (that’s a sick burn), “hypocrites,” and even “snakes.”

Chapter 23 is a powerful chapter full of strong words from the lips of the Lord Jesus.

They are right words.
Good words.
Righteous words.

But heavy and pointed and piercing.

We’ll see in verse 1 that they are aimed at the crowds and at His disciples.

The crowds to warn them of what is to come in Israel because of these leaders who have done such an awful job.

And the disciples to warn them to not follow the example set by the Pharisees.

We’re going to take our time working our way through this section because it is often overlooked and because God gave it to us for good reasons.

One of the reasons is so that we don’t copy their mistakes.

So that we don’t give in to the same errors.

As they say today, “You don’t want to be that guy.”

You don’t want to be like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law that Jesus rips into here.

So here’s the title I picked for this message:

“How (NOT) to be a Leader”

Looking at how these people behaved who were in spiritual leadership in Israel, I think we can learn some valuable lessons about what not to do when we ourselves are in leadership today.

So, in one sense, we’re learning what went wrong in Israel.

And we’re finding out why Jesus says that judgment is coming soon.

But as we hear Jesus explaining all of what they did so wrong, we should be able to flip that over and see how we could be doing things right instead.

Almost everybody is a leader in some area of life.

Matthew 23 definitely applies to pastors and church leaders.

I feel it when I read this. This applies to me. “Don’t be like this, Matt.”

“See how Jesus feels about this sort of thing? Run the other way!”

But just about everybody is a leader in some area of life, even if you aren’t a church leader.

Husbands are supposed to lead their wives.
Moms and Dads are supposed to lead their children.
Teachers, coaches, supervisors, employers all lead people.
Team captains, study group leaders, line-leaders at school.

Just about everybody is a leader in some area of life.

The question is “Are we good leaders...or not?”

These people had been awful leaders.

And Jesus minces no words in saying so.

Matthew chapter 23, verse 1.

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

Here’s number one. What not to do.

#1. PREACH, BUT DON’T PRACTICE.

Be all talk and no walk.

In the old King James Version, Jesus says, “They say and do not.”

“They do not practice what they preach.”

Now Jesus begins by saying that in verse 2 that the “teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.”

That means they sit in the place of authority. And it was their job to interpret the Law of Moses for the people of God.

We might say, “They had the pulpit.”

And Jesus says, “So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.”

Now, He could be sarcastic here.

A lot of good Bible scholars say that Jesus is rolling His eyes here. “Well, they’re in the seat of Moses, so you gotta do everything they say!”

But it’s all wink, wink, nudge, nudge because He’s going to take issue in this chapter with so many things that they say!

That’s possible. Sarcasm is possible.

I think it just means that they are in authority, and when they correctly interpret the Law of Moses, the people need to follow it.

When they are right, they are right.

Just because they get it wrong so often in their own lives doesn’t invalidate the Law of Moses. It was still in place.
But, Jesus also says that we should not do what they do.

Because they preach, but they don’t practice what they preach.

And that’s a bad idea.

Everybody knows that’s a bad idea.

Nobody teaches leaders to say one thing and do another right in front of their followers.

It ruins morale and sends very mixed messages.

Have you ever known a leader who says, “You’ve got to become a good listener.” but they are terrible listeners themselves?

“Calm down!” he yelled. Right?

“Listen to me!” he talks over her. Right?

What areas of your life are tempted to preach one thing and turn around and do another?

You know one of the worst for me has been the times when I have found myself gossiping.

I mean, I’m the guy that wrote the book, right?

And then I hear it coming out of my mouth.

Don’t think about other people and their hypocrisy right now. That’s easy.

What’s yours?

When the kids were little, I was complaining about how they were so rude. They weren’t saying “please and thank you” nearly enough.

And my loving wife said, “The reason is that you almost never say ‘please or thank you’ yourself.”

Ouch. I needed to hear that.

The Pharisees loved to say what everybody ought to do, but then they didn’t do it themselves.

Don’t be that guy.

It’s not wrong to preach. I’m doing it right now!

But it is wrong to say and not do yourself.

One of the things they teach us at seminary is to preach the sermon to yourself first.

And the same is true for parents, coaches, supervisors–whatever area of life you are in charge in.

We must practice what we preach.

Jesus did, right?

Jesus didn’t ask things of His followers that He was unwilling to do Himself.

In fact, He always did more than He expected from them.

Even something as simple as proclaiming out on social media what everybody ought to do, but then not following through and doing it yourself.

Don’t be that guy. Preach, but practice it, too.

In verse 4, Jesus takes it another step further. V.4

“They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

#2. PILE IT ON, BUT DON’T HELP.

Jesus says that these teachers of the law and the Pharisees “tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders.”

I don’t think He means literally.

I think He means all of those extra external traditions that they had come up with.

They piled those on to the backs (so to speak) of the people of Israel.

Remember the hand-washings from chapter 15?

These guys loved their extra and external traditions.

They loved to pile them on.

Jesus is going to get more specific as the chapter rolls out.

They love their rules. They love to pile them on.

But (v.4) “they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

They give you lots of work, but they don’t help.

That’s terrible leadership, and everybody knows it.

Of course, a leader can’t do everything, and followers are supposed to do stuff.

But if a leader isn’t willing to help his followers get the work done, they are not good leaders.

And how much worse is it if the things they are piling on are wrong and bad themselves?!

Is this how Jesus operates?

What a contrast with Matthew 11:28.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (vv.28-30).

He has a yoke.
He has a burden.

And honestly, it sometimes seems heavy.

But it’s not really. It’s easy and it’s light.

And Jesus helps us to carry it!

We are yoked with Him, and He pulls the greater weight.

So this is a great leadership principle.

If you have to pile it on, make sure you are willing to lift a finger.

I love that phrase from Jesus, “lift a finger.” That’s the least you can do.

Moms, Dads, are you lifting a finger? Are you helping with the pile?

Employers, supervisors? Are you helping with the pile? Or are you just piling it on?

That’s how NOT to be a leader.

There’s one more for this morning. It’s number three. What not to do.

#3. PURSUE HONOR, BUT DON’T HUMBLE YOURSELF.

There’s a mistake.

Jesus says that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees loved to be seen and to be honored. V.5

“Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'”

He looks right into their hearts.

Their hearts are proud, and they love the attention.

Verse 5 is the opposite of what Jesus said to do in the Sermon on the Mount right?

He warned us that this was a tendency to avoid. Matthew 6.

He said, “Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Giving. Praying. Fasting.

If you do that so that you will be seen by others as pious and spiritual, you have your reward. That’s it. That’s all you get.

But Jesus said if you do it in secret, “Your heavenly Father Who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Not these guys.

What are phylacteries. Do you know?

In the Torah, the Lord tells the people to put the word of God on their hands and foreheads, so they these guys did it literally.

And some Jews do it still today.

They had little boxes with Scripture verses in them, and they tied them onto their left arm and their foreheads.

Now, I’m not sure that it was ever supposed to be literal.

But these guys make their phylacteries wide.

They get the XXL size Scripture boxes so you can’t miss them.

And the tassels from Numbers 15 that they were supposed to put on the corners of their garment, they get the longest ones they could fine. Dragging on the ground.

The modern equivalent might be carrying around the biggest old Bible you could find.

“Do you see my Bible?”

Or posting on social media how spiritual you are!

To impress people with your piety and spirituality.

“Oh that person must be close to God!”

And just eating up “the likes and shares and favorites and follows.”

Look how they love it.

“[T]hey love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'”

Now, it’s not necessarily wrong to pursue honor.

But these guys want it more than they want God.

In fact, they want to take the place of God. V.8

“But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ.”

I don’t think that Jesus is saying it’s wrong to be called “Rabbi” in every situation. Just like it’s not wrong to call your dad “father” or your teacher “Teacher.”

Or your pastor, “Pastor.”

Notice the logic of each of the prohibitions. In each situation, the person being called by this title is taking the place of the Lord. Do you see that?

“But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' [Hebrew for “Great One”] for you have only one Master...And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is [where?] in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ.”

The point is not necessarily what title but what position those people are taking in other people’s lives.

The Pharisees wanted to usurp the rightful position of God in people’s lives.

They wanted to be the authority.
They wanted to be exalted.
They wanted to be honored.
They wanted to be lifted up.

Grabbing all of the attention so that these disciples were their disciples.

Fame and honor was their goal.

In fact, they would have never said it, but they basically wanted to take the place of God.

God will not stand for it.

He will not share His glory with another. V.11

“The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

God will humble the proud.

That’s one of the reasons why judgment is going to roll down on Jerusalem.

Because of the overweening pride of their spiritual leaders.

They pursued honor, but they did not humble themselves.

So God will see to it that they are humbled.

The same is true for leaders in God’s church today.

If pastors like myself pursue honor but don’t humble ourselves, God will discipline us. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”

If church leaders chase after fame and honor and making a name for ourselves (and it’s a real temptation in the church world), that’s all the reward we’ll get.

“The Reverend Doctor Matthew Mitchell. Oooh. Ahhh.” [ Dr. Fathead is more like it.]

But “whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

It’s not wrong to be exalted.
It’s not wrong to be up there.
It’s wrong to try to put yourself up there.

Climb the ladder.
Send out the press release.
Retweet yourself.
“Check me out!”

So many leaders try to exalt themselves on the back of their followers instead of stooping to serve their followers.

“Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Do you believe that?

Four years ago yesterday, Blair Murray died.

He was a great example of Christian leader who served other people instead of expecting them to serve him.

At his funeral, I preached on Mark 10:43-45.

“[W]hoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Blair was a great servant, and he was following the example of the greatest servant, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!

[and whoever humbles himself will be exalted!]

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

That’s how to be a leader!

Let us follow Him.

***

Previous Messages in This Series:

01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun
47. Seed-Sized Faith
48. These Little Ones
49. If Your Brother Sins Against You
50. The Lord of Marriage
51. Drop Everything
52. First and Last
53. The Suffering Serving Son of Man
54. Shouting for the Son of David
55. Expecting Fruit
56. Come to the Wedding Banquet
57. Whose Image?
58. Acing the Test

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

"Anxiety: Knowing God's Peace" by Paul Tautges [Review]

My friend Paul knows anxiety.

He has lived with crippling anxiety that has at times been debilitating.

Paul also knows Jesus and has met Him in the midst of his anxiousness.

In his new devotional book (just released today!), Paul leads readers on a 31 day journey through (not around) anxiety into peace. His short daily readings are carefully written, encouraging yet realistic, and saturated with Scripture.

Paul offers no silver bullets (rats!) but also no false assurances that will leave readers disappointed. Instead, he gently points anxious people to the Person and promises of God.

I was encouraged to see how much attention Paul gave to the bodily dimension of anxiety. He recognizes the complex interplay between body and spirit, and while focusing on the soul does not discount the physical. He is open to the judicious use of medicine.

The point of the book is to know peace through knowing Christ, and that comes through on every page. It will reward reading and re-reading. Paul Tautges can be a faithful companion on this journey as he has walked the path himself. Recommended.