Saturday, October 31, 2020

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Learn HOW to Counsel Married Couples and Troubled Families from Bob Kellemen

I wish I had these two books two decades ago. I'm glad I have them now.

When first became a pastor, I quickly learned how much I didn't know about counseling, especially couples in conflict. I remember many heavy hours of agonizing over what to say and do in those situations and wishing there were better practical resources available to me.

Back then, in the providence of God, I found my way to the biblical counseling movement as a rich repository of wisdom on how the Bible speaks to the problems of everyday life. I have eaten up every helpful thing I could find from that sector, eventually doing my doctorate in this field at Westminster Theological Seminary under the faculty of CCEF.

What's often missing in any system or approach is the down-to-earth, practical nuts-and-bolts training of what to actually say and do. 

My friend Bob Kellemen, a leader in the biblical counseling movement, has tried to fill that gap with a set of books that he calls "equipping guides" and "'work-books,' or 'working-books,' or 'workout-books.'” They are very practical (while not at all stilted) and aim to give training to readers in the nitty-gritty reality of counseling couples and families.

I am slowly working through them right now myself, and lightbulbs are going on for me left and right. "Oh, that's a good idea." "I can see myself doing that next time." "That would have helped me with so-and-so."

The only thing better would be to sit with Bob and watch him do this and then have Bob sit with you watching you do it, too, with his feedback. But most of us won't have that opportunity. As a next-best-thing, this is pretty good. Recommended.

Bob has given me permission to include this short essay on why he wrote these manuals and how they are designed.


Why I Wrote 
Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling and Gospel-Centered Family Counseling

In September 2020, Baker Books released my new two-book series on equipping biblical counselors for marriage counseling and for family counseling:

Marriage Counseling and Family Counseling Are Hard! 

As an equipper of pastors and counselors, I hear all the time how intimidating marriage and family counseling are. Recently, an experienced pastor shared with me: 
“Marriage counseling? I’m clueless. I feel like I’m standing in traffic on an expressway with cars going both ways, half of them the wrong way, most of them swerving out of control. I have no idea how to move from my good theology of marriage, to actually helping the troubled couple sitting in front of me. 
Family counseling? Don’t even get me started on that. By the time family members get to me, they’re so angry that they aren’t listening to each other. And half the time, they don’t even want to listen to me!” 
Here Are Your Step-by-Step Training Manuals 

The contemporary Christian world churns out books—great books—on marriage and the family. Theory of marriage and family? Tons of books. Books for couples? Scores of books. Books on the family and parenting? Boatloads. 

However, even in our biblical counseling world, we have few books focused on the procedures—the “how-to”—of counseling hurting couples and families. 

As pastors, counselors, and lay leaders, we desperately need help in relating our theology to marital messes and family chaos. We need training manuals on the nuts-and-bolts of the procedures and processes of helping the couple or family sitting in front of us.

Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling and Gospel-Centered Family Counseling step into this void. This two-book how-to training manual provides practical, user-friendly equipping for folks like us—pastors, counselors, lay leaders, educators, and students.

Not Your Father’s or Mother’s Counseling Books

These two books walk you as a reader through a step-by-step training manual for developing your skills and competences in marriage and family counseling. In fact, “reader” is the wrong word. “Participant” is better.   

Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling and Gospel-Centered Family Counseling are work-books, or “working-books,” or “workout-books.” 

Thus the subtitle: An Equipping Guide for Pastors and Counselors. Chapter-by-chapter, skill-by-skill, as a participant you’ll use the questions, exercises, role play directions, sample dialogues, and much more to develop your competency and increase your confidence as a biblical marriage and family counselor. 

I Wrote These Books for You

I’m picturing you—a pastor—who perhaps had one class on counseling, and possibly zero classes on a gospel-centered, how-to approach to marriage and family counseling. 

I’m picturing you—a trained biblical counselor—who likely had one class on marriage and family counseling theory/theology. But you probably had no lab class specifically on training you how to provide effective biblical marriage and family counseling. 

I’m picturing you—a “lay person” (not a vocational pastor, a non-professional counselor)—who loves people and marriages. But you feel overwhelmed when trying to help a brokenhearted couple or a distressed family.

I’m picturing you—educators—who teach pastors and counselors in a Christian college or seminary setting. When you search the evangelical publishing landscape, you can find hundreds of books about marriage and the family. Yet, even with your level of academic awareness, you’re likely at a loss to identify Christian books that equip your students with a biblical, practical, step-by-step process for learning how to help struggling marriages and families. 

Gospel-Centered Equipping in Marriage and Family Counseling

In the secular publishing landscape, we can find many books focused on hands-on training in marital and family therapy. But we’re not interested in a worldly way to help Christian marriages and families. 

There’s a central reason I included the phrase Gospel-Centered in the title of each book. This is not a secular marital therapy manual. In writing these books, I’ve examined Scripture asking myself: 
“What would a model of biblical marriage and family counseling look like that was built solely upon Christ’s gospel of grace?” 
What motivated me to write Gospel-Centered Marriage Counseling and Gospel-Centered Family Counseling? My motivation to write is the same as your motivation to read these books. 

We each want to glorify God by growing as biblical marriage and family counselors who apply Christ’s gospel of grace to help hurting and hurtful spouses, parents, and children to become Christlike and Christ-honoring spouses, parents, and children.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

"Our Fortress" [Matt's Messages]

“Our Fortress”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
October 25, 2020 :: Psalm 46

Our sermon series this Fall is entitled “Fortifying Truth” because we’re studying the Book of Psalms together to receive eternal truth from these godly songs to strengthen us to survive and even thrive through tumultuous times.

And today’s psalm, Psalm 46, is about the fortifying truth of “Our Fortress.”

This psalm uses the powerful imagery of an impregnable fortress, the safest place to run to in a conflict, to describe our God.

Psalm 46 is a beautiful song with a glorious refrain, and it’s no wonder that it inspired Martin Luther to write the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

Because that’s exactly what He is.

Listen to verse 1.

“For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Psalm 46 is another track in the album by the Sons of Korah that worship leading family in ancient Israel, just like we saw last time in Psalms 42 and 43.

This song is also for the director of music, probably set for public worship, and is according to “alamoth,” which is apparently an musical notation that we’re not sure exactly what it means. It might mean for the young ladies. So this one might have been written by the Sons of Korah for the Daughters of Korah, a "girl band" to sing. Perhaps it was the ladies’ job to sing the refrain of verse 7 and verse 11 when the worshippers got there. We don’t know. We do know it’s a song.

And the song says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

I could preach a whole message just on that lyric from this song:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Don’t you just love that word “refuge?”

It’s a different word than the word for “fortress” in verse 7 and verse 11, but it’s related.

A refuge is a safe place to run to. It’s castle or a fort or a tower that when you are threatened, you can retreat to.

A refuge is a place to run and be safe.

Where do you run when you’re in trouble?

When kids are playing a game of tag, there is always a place that is “base,” right? And if you run to that place, nobody can touch you. You’re safe.

Where do you run when to feel safe?

One of my mentors in ministry used to say that many many of the psalms are about addictions, because we run to our addictions as a refuge.

The psalms of refuge address our addictions. They point out to us where we run when we feel challenged, stressed, and unsafe.

What is your typical refuge?

For many years, I have retreated into food. Gluttony has been a major temptation for me especially in times of stress and strain. We call it “Comfort Food” for a reason!

What is your typical refuge when things get hard?

People turn to alcohol, or drugs, or work, or games, or relationships.

What is your typical refuge?

Psalm 46 presents as glorious and satisfying alternative: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

I love that “ever-present” help. He is not here one second and gone the next. He is not in an unreachable fortress. 

He is always here. And in Him, we are always safe.

So before we go any further, let me give you the first of 3 points of application:


Psalm 46 tell us the fortifying truth of our fortress, He is always safe, and always strengthening, and always near, so run to Him.

For some of you, that will mean, first off, repentance.

You have to turn from the direction you have been running and start running to the Lord.

Whatever false thing you’ve been finding refuge in will not save you and will n ot satisfy. Only the Lord will. 

Run to Him.

My battle with gluttony is not over and won’t be until I’m with the Lord, but in the last year or so, I have made major strides to stop running to food as my refuge. I have been able to lose more than 50 pounds in part because I’m getting better at running to the Lord.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

And here’s what happens when you know the Lord in this way:

You don’t have to be scared! V.2

“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah”

Which probably means, “Stop there, and just think about that!”

What is the most stable object you can think of?

Well, we often think of the earth itself. And certainly a mountain.

Mount Hermon, right? The last two messages in the Psalms have talked about this great big mountain range.

But what if the earth gave way? An earthquake.

And what if the mountain on the horizon fell into the sea?

Remember, the sea represents chaos to the Hebrew mind. We saw that in Psalm 42 and Psalm 93 especially.

What if the most stable thing in the world fell into the most unstable thing in the world?

What if the creation got uncreated?

What if the bottom fell out on your world?

He’s talking about what feels like the end of the world.

I don’t know about you, but a few times this last year I felt like we are now living in a dystopian novel set on the brink of the end of the world. And while I don’t know that is what is happening, I do know that this psalm prepares me for those times when it seems like MY world is ending. When all hell breaking loose.

When I feel the most vulnerable and under attack. What do I sing then?

I sing Psalm 46 when it feels like the world is ending.

And I sing, “We will not fear.”

That’s application point number two.

Run to Him, and...


Is your personal world going through upheaval?

It doesn’t have to be COVID-19.

It could be this election-cycle that we’re in. It’s got you afraid that “the other side” whatever that side is for you, is going to win and ruin everything.

Or it could be a diagnosis you recently received.

Or a conflict you’re having with your spouse or your parent or your child or you sibling or your neighbor or your boss.

There are a lot of things out there to make you scared.

I know that I get scared on a regular basis. I’m really good at it! (What a terrible thing to be good at.)

I often feel vulnerable, because I am vulnerable.

But God is not!

God is invulnerable. 

And He is our fortress.

Run to Him, and Do Not Fear.

In verse 4, the song changes from crazy chaos to joyful peace. Verse 4.

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.”

Instead of the crashing sea, here is a picture of a refreshing river which would nourish a city so that it flourishes. And if a city was under siege, it would help it to hold out for a long time.

The psalm seems to be talking about Zion, about the city of Jerusalem which was not just the literal capital of Israel but symbolically stood for the earthly headquarters of heaven.

We saw this a few weeks ago in Psalm 133.

Zion is where the temple was which was, symbolically, the spiritual “location” of the Lord.

“The holy place where the Most High [God] dwells.”

So what river is Psalm 46 singing about it?

Do you know what river runs through Jerusalem?

It’s a trick question. There is no literal river in Jerusalem; so this must be a figure of speech. [Though see Revelation 22:1 for some awesome future fulfillment of this image!]

I think the river stands for God Himself, or for God’s blessing and God’s grace.

Because God lives among His people, they are fed by a river of His grace.

Listen to verse 4 again. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.”

Verse 5. “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.”

For the Israelites, that was a promise that Jerusalem would not fall as long as God was living among them.

There are lots of stories in the Old Testament that illustrate this. One of the best is in 2 Kings 19. Take some time this afternoon to read 2 Kings 19 and see when this literally happened.

The city was under siege, and there didn’t seem to be any hope, but God was with His people in the city, and everything changed at daybreak!

Now, of course, the Israelites often became presumptuous, and assumed that just because they had the temple, that they were undefeatable. The book of Jeremiah addresses that foolishness.

The point was not the temple of God, but the God of the temple.

The point was not the city of God, but the God of the city.

The point was that (v.5) God was within her.

He is our fortress.

Even when all hell breaks loose. Verse 6

“Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. [Refrain] The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”

Just stop and think about that!

The psalm talks about tumult and uproar.

War is happening all around, and kingdoms are falling. Same word for “fall” as the mountains in verse 2. But all it takes is for God to raise His voice, and everything changes. The voice that spoke creation into being can stop all of its wars with a word.

“He lifts his voice, the earth melts.”  The trouble is over.

Martin Luther wrote, “One little word will fell [the devil.]”

This is why we do not have to fear.

Yes, we have to take caution and be wary. We have enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

But we don’t just have enemies. We have our fortress. 

V.7 which gets repeated again in verse 11. I think God wants us to get this.

“The LORD Almighty [Yahweh of hosts, the LORD of armies, “LORD Sabaoth His name/ from age to age the same”] is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

The Apostle Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Do not fear.

In verse 8, the Sons of Korah invite us to look into the future and the see the world as it one day will be. This song becomes eschatological and prophetic. Verse 8.

“Come and see the works of the LORD [Yahweh], the desolations he has brought on the earth. [Remember, when He speaks, the earth melts.] He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.”

Do you see it?

Yes, it’s kind of an apocalyptic vision of the future. Where the tanks are burning and the fighter jets are sticking out of the ground.

But it means that there is no more war. There is nothing but universal peace.

And it’s because of the certain triumph of Yahweh over every one of His enemies.

For Israel, that was the nations around them that wanted them dead and gone.

For us, it’s the world, the flesh, and the devil finally defeated in every way.

This is a picture of total salvation for God’s people.

The total destruction of our enemies so that we have total peace.

This is where the Book of Revelation is going with the victory of the Lamb.

This song reminds us that God will win.

Martin Luther wrote, the Lord “must win the battle,” and “His kingdom is forever!”

The Sons of Korah wrote, “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth...”

And then God Himself speaks.

God has been silent in this psalm as it sings about Him.

Now God sings in this song, and He has a message for us. V.10

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

This is how it’s going to be!

This is where everything is headed, no matter how hard it is right now.

The LORD will win. He will be vindicated. He will be exalted.

And there is no doubt about it.

You can know that. You can bank on it.

And, can be still.

That’s our third and last point of application today.


Run to Him.
Do Not Fear.
And Be Still.

Now, I always thought that this was a nice sweet thing to be still.

But I think, at least at first, like the Lord is saying, “Cut it out.” “Quiet down.” I’ve heard this translated as, “Cease striving.” It’s more like, “Stop fighting!” “Shhh.” 

Like when Jesus spoke to wind and the waves, “Peace. Be still.”

It’s comforting when you finally get there, but it’s a bit of a rebuke.

“Be still.”

Rest your heart on the fact that the Lord will be exalted.

No. Matter. What.

And what is our response to that word from the Lord? We sing verse 11 back to Him and to ourselves.

“The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah”

Just think about that.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

"Gifts To Help Us Grow Up" by Pastor Kerry Doyal [LEFC Sermon Notes]

"Gifts To Help Us Grow Up"
Moving towards Maturity in Love and Unity - from Eph. 4:7-16
Kerry Doyal, Allegheny District Superintendent

It’s Pastor Appreciation Month!  Please let Matt, Heather and their Crew know you’re thankful for them. Get this: the Bible says he is a gift from God.  When you get a gift, it is nice to know its purpose.  So, if I may, why did God give Matt to Lanse EFC?  Ephesians 4:7-16 addresses that very theme. Notice the Pastor’s role and ours. 

7 “Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 For it says:
When he ascended on high,
he took the captives captive;
he gave gifts to people.   (cf. Ps 68:18)

9 But what does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower parts of the earth? 10 The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, to fill all things. 11 And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. 14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ. 16 From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself up in love by the proper working of each individual part.”  (Eph. 4:7-16 - CSB) 

Here is my summary of this rich text: 

The Ascended and Seated Savior sent us a Surprise!
He Gave us Servants, Spiritual Leaders 
They are to Strengthen and Supply us Saints to be able to serve, 
so that His Body is built up – in quantity and quality! 

We are all to be engaged in ministry until we are all mature: 
United in the faith
Knowing Jesus better and better 
Becoming more like Jesus 

We are not to stay spiritual kids – easily swayed, or deceived 
But, we are to grow up in all ways in Him, to be like Him
All of us are to work together in our unique roles 
so we can grow and bolster each other in love. 

Last time I was here we looked at Ephesians 4:1-6. To help us fulfill our calling, God has given us gifts. Among them are Spiritual Leaders who help ready us to serve, so we can help Christ’s body become mature, more like Jesus (vs. 7-16). 

>      Matt’s Role, as a Pastor / Teacher, is to Equip you, help get you in the game
He is Not an Entertainer and you Spectators 
Not merely an Educator, though an excellent teacher
He is an Equipper, to Help Repair and Prepare you so you can serve
> Your Role, as repaired and prepared ones, is to minister and build up the body; doing acts of service that lead to a healthier Body of Christ. (vs 12)
This is not just a job for the paid pros. Read Titus! 
How long are we to do this, you ask? 

> What does Maturity Look like and include?  Vs. 13 
Being united in the faith  (see John 17 – an obsession of Jesus)
Knowing Jesus better and better (Phil. 3 - That I may know Him!)  
Becoming more like Jesus (fully taught disciples are like their Master) 

> God wants His re-born people are to move to maturity, to grow up in Christ; in all ways. Luke 2:52 – Jesus grew in wisdom, and stature, in favor with God, and man.

> Spiritual Children are easily swayed, fooled, manipulated: (vs. 14) 
They believe every new voice that comes along
They read things and never question if it is Biblical
They fall for conspiracies, heresies, and destructive, divisive teachings 

> As we lovingly speak truth to each other, we all become more like Jesus (15)

> His whole body is to help each other grow, as we all play our active, unifying part, lovingly building each other up (16)

Applying this Passage: 

First, share your thanks to God for Matt.  AND to Matt directly. Don’t let it “go without saying”;  encourage the Old Guy, and Heather and their kids 

Get busy serving!  No one is ever fully ready to do everything – not even Matt.  But you can do something!  Get after it! How can you make Lanse EFC a better place? What needs can you meet?  See Eph. 2:10  

Serve so as to build up the Body. Help it grow in quantity through evangelism, and in quality by helping others grow in Christ. Be purposeful. 

Contribute to the Body’s Maturity (Grow Up). Help maintain unity (review Eph. 4:1-6); help deepen yours and others knowledge of, and love for Jesus.  

Watch after spiritual babies. Warn them if you see them following bad teachers or influencers. Provide good examples, and materials. Be a loving truth speaker

What is the best gift you can give Pastor Matt, or any Pastor, for Pastor Appreciation?  Step up and Grow up!   
Great news, as you help others, you mature as well. Then they are able to help others grow up. 
What a great gift to give to the great gift that Matt is.

Monday, October 12, 2020

McDougall Editorial

My friend and master editor, Diane McDougall, has recently launched her own editorial service which I highly recommend for anyone who needs help with their words.

To give you a sense of just how good Diane is, I've copied a letter I sent her a few years ago when she transitioned from being the editor for the EFCA's publications. She's had a profound influence on my writing life.



I want to thank you—not just for your excellent story-surfacing and story-telling service to the EFCA in general—but for your life-giving ministry of opportunity-giving in particular to me.

We’ve been collaborating now for almost two decades. And by “collaborating” I mean you’ve been graciously taking chances on me. Our first interaction was (appropriately enough) an email interview about the use of new media technology in the Allegheny District. Our little rural church in the woods of Pennsylvania had just launched our first website (the first church website in our county!), and I was also becoming the first moderator of a listserv email for district church leaders to spark conversations with one another. Those first back-and-forth emails from my AOL account to your email address at Journey Group started a volley that has been repeated many thousands of times since.

Once I had a taste of getting something published, I definitely wanted more. I began banging on your door. In the summer of 2001, our church had put on a large-scale outreach event that brought 10 times as many visitors to our campus as we normally had on a Sunday. You asked me to write about our Wild West Day, and I sent you a sprawling document with nearly twice as many words as you wanted. This would mark the beginning of my apologies for the weakness of my writing and relentless requests for you to work your magic to edit my feeble attempts. My email begged, “Please be ruthless with the editing. I’d rather it be good and helpful than it be distinctively mine. It is also 491 words according to my word-processor so you’ve got a job ahead of you slimming it down to size. Thanks for the stretching opportunity and your patience with this rookie reporter!”

Not long after that (September 2004), I sent you a pesky email asking if you would consider taking me on as a “stringer” for the Beacon. Instead of a kind rebuff, you graciously replied with several ideas of things I could contribute and an offer for me to help with more brainstorming in the future. You’re really good at that—encouraging people to participate and find their voice (even when I’m sure it would be easier for you to just do it yourself). Out of that interaction came an article about using the national conference as a resource for local ministry, “Taking the Treasure Home With You: Using the EFCA National Conference in Your Local Church.” A stringer was born! Over the next 15 years, I would write more than a dozen similar articles about church and denominational ministry.

More than just tolerating or utilizing me, you also constantly pushed me and stretched me. You encouraged me to try my hand at journalism and gave me assignments where I had to interview people and weave together their insights into articles. One of those was about the 2008 national conference where we revised our Statement of Faith. My article was to be about everything that happened at the conference that wasn’t about the big vote. The other major article was about what districts were doing to counter the plague of pornography that was infecting our pastors. These journalistic opportunities had at least two good effects on me. The allowed me to play out unfulfilled ambitions of mine (I had, for a short time, been a journalism student in college) and clearly showed me the limits of my gifts (I learned that I had chosen rightly to drop that major! I am definitely not a journalist and shouldn’t quit my day job). Without your encouragement, I might have always wondered what could have been.

If not a journalist, then what? A pastor and a book lover. Yes, that is what I was. I kept sending book reviews your way, and you couldn’t run them all. You needed to spread the wealth. But instead of turning me away, you put me to work. You picked my brain about what books would be good to review and who would be good to review them. Before I knew it, you had turned me from “stringer” into “volunteer book review coordinator,” and we had worked together with aspiring reviewers writing “on spec” to produce nearly 40 book reviews for EFCA Today and EFCA Now.

And then I wrote my own book, Resisting Gossip, and you helped me with that, too. You read the entire manuscript, provided me with invaluable advice on its contents, wrote an encouraging endorsement blurb, and gave me a chance to write an article about my topic for EFCA Now.

The theme of this story is that you have given me a chance, then given me a new chance, and then when that was over, you gave me yet another chance—each time developing my gifts and giving me more responsibility. You didn’t just let me write but made me a partner. You didn’t just teach me how to write but how to recognize good writing. You didn’t just edit me, you showed me how to be an editor. And all along you were patient with my many words and my incessant opinions.

Diane, what I’m trying to say is thank you for believing in me and giving me all of these opportunities. The Lord has used you in mighty ways in my life.

And yes, I know this ostensibly short note is actually rambling and verbose, but there was no way I could send it to my favorite editor to get it fixed.

— Matt Mitchell


Sunday, October 11, 2020

"A Dying Thirst for the Living God" [Matt's Messages]

“A Dying Thirst for the Living God”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
October 11, 2020 :: Psalm 42
Our series this Fall is called “Fortifying Truth.” We are receiving from the Psalms the fortifying truth that strengthens us for the tumultuous days in which we are living.

God has given us a songbook in the very center of our Bibles to provide us with songs for our hearts to sing for each and every situation in which we find ourselves.

And I want you to consider this fortifying truth today:

Often, it is good spiritually to feel bad emotionally.

Let me say that again.

Often, it is good spiritually to feel bad emotionally. And to sing about it!

There are a lot of songs in this divinely authorized songbook that are set in a minor key.
The last several weeks, the psalms we’ve considered have been celebratory, more in a major key. Psalm 23 with our good shepherd (but don’t forget the shadowy valley). Psalm 103 with all of the blessings we shouldn’t forget (but also remember that we are like dust). And Psalm 133 with the rare and holy blessing of unity. How good and pleasant it is!

But many of the psalms are set in a more minor key. The psalmist sings about how hard things are, how difficult, how painful.

We call them “psalms of lament,” and they, too, are songs from God for us to sing from our hearts.

Because often, it is right and good spiritually to feel bad emotionally and to sing about it, to others, to ourselves, and to our Lord.

That’s what Psalm 42 is like.

Psalm 42 about a Israelite worship leader who feels just terrible. He’s in a tough spot with no obvious time-line for getting out of it. And he feels really rough.

Do you feel really rough today? Has 2020 got you down?

This is a psalm with jagged edges to it. The author feels ragged and jagged. And God led him to write a song about it for us to pray and sing ourselves when we feel like this.

Isn’t that good?! We may not feel good, but it is good to have something right to pray when we feel this way.

Here’s how bad the psalmist feels. He almost feels like he’s going to die.

Psalm 42, verse 1.

“For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Years ago, Heather and I were talking about this psalm, and she said, out of the blue, that the psalmist had “A Dying Thirst for the Living God,” and I thought then and I think now that perfectly captures these first two verses.

“A Dying Thirst for the Living God”

Do you see the deer in your head?

It’s thirsty.

Perhaps there has been a drought and there is very little water to be found.

Or maybe the deer has been chased by hunters like my son Peter who got his first archery harvest this week out in the woods.

And the deer hasn’t been able to stop and pause get a drink.

It’s yearning, longing, panting, dying for a drink.

Can you feel its thirst?

“Thirst” is one of those words that when you say it, you begin to feel it.

The author says that his soul is thirsty for God.

Now, we don’t know that much about the author. The superscription says that this song was written for the director of music. It’s a “maskil” (which we’re not sure exactly what that means, but it was probably something like “a teaching poem”) “of the Sons of Korah” which was a long line of worship leaders for the people of Israel first in the tabernacle and then eventually in the temple.

And the next 8 psalms are all a part of their collection. It’s like a 8 psalm album of these Sons of Korah guys.

And it seems like it’s one of those worship leaders who is describing his thirst.

And it’s like a dying thirst for water, but it is actually a deep thirst for experiencing God.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Now, of course, this psalmist is talking to God already. He knows that God is everywhere.

But there was a special place when he was living that God lived in a special way. In Jerusalem. On Mt. Zion. In the tabernacle or the temple. In the holy of holies.

And it seems that the psalmist was far far away from that home. And he was desperate to get back. Desperate! Thirsty for the full and joyful fellowship that came with temple worship.

My best guess is that he is in captivity. That he was captured by an enemy and is being held against his will.

He wants to be in worship with God’s people in Jerusalem, but he is not able right now. ... And he doesn’t know when he will be.

See how he feels? Verse 3.

“My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

Have you ever felt like that? Tears are your total diet?

It’s been 5 years this week since Blair Murray died. I remember coming home from being with Ruth that night and just bawling in our living room.

The only time I sobbed more was when we had a stillbirth back in 1999. When our daughter Charis died back in 1999, I lost dozens of pounds in a few weeks because of grief.

This guy can’t eat because he’s so sad. And there are men right there taunting him all day long, “Where is your God? Why doesn’t he show up?”

That’s why I think he’s in a kind of prison.

He’s far from God’s earthly home, and he feels alone with his enemies.

He can’t go up to Jerusalem and sing the songs of ascent like we learned about last week.

He’s stuck right here. And even his joyful memories make him sad! V.4

“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.”

I remember how good it was!

How tov” and pleasant it was to worship in unity.

But now I don’t have that.

I think that many of us can relate in a new way in 2020 to how this psalmist felt  when he was kept from God’s presence in gathered worship. For three months this Spring we didn’t gather in person on campus for worship as a church. And though we’ve been meeting again since June, we’ve still been separated in significant ways. And many are not yet ready and able to come.

“When can I go and meet with God?”

This psalmist was not going through a dry spell in his relationship with God.

Not on purpose. He wanted more of God than he could get!

And so it hurt.

Do you feel his dying thirst for the living God?

Now, notice, that’s a bad feeling to feel, but it’s a good feeling to feel. Right? Do you see how it is good spiritually to feel bad emotionally?

It would be so much worse if he didn’t care! If he was ambivalent or apathetic.

No. He feels thirst. He feels anguish. He feels distress.

His spiritual lungs are heaving back and forth longing for the waters of the living God.

So I have two diagnostic questions for us to all ask ourselves as we learn from this “maskil” psalm of lament. Here’s the first one:


Because that’s a very good thing to feel even if it doesn’t feel very good.

Does my soul thirst for the living God?

Now, we live in a different day and age than Psalm 42. There is no temple for us in Jerusalem. And this building is not a temple. Jesus has come and replaced the temple, and He has ascended into heaven to the place that was the template of the temple.

So, I think the question becomes do we long to be with Him?

Do we long to be with Jesus and experience Him with fullness of joy freed from our enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil? Do we have a dying thirst for the living God?

And that will come out, of course, in whether or not we have daily fellowship with Him and long for weekly worship with His people, a happy foretaste of heaven.

If we don’t have that, we have very little reason to believe we have the other.

Ask yourself. Does my soul thirst for the living God?

Do I feel any desperation for the Lord’s active presence in my life?

Or am I “good?” “I’ve got enough, thanks. I’ve got plenty of God, thank you very much.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

But what if you don’t thirst?

Then it’s bad to feel good.

Do I have a dying thirst for the living God?

Now, the psalmist knows it is often good spiritually to feel bad emotionally and to sing about it.

But! There are limits. You can take that too far. And you can stay with it, too long.

Most of the laments in the psalms do not stop with lament.

Some of them do. The worse the pain, the longer the legitimate lament.

But the psalmist knows that the pain is not all there is. There is more to this story because of God.

So as right as lament is, there is also hope.

And Psalm 42 shows us how to perfectly intermingle and balance the two. Look at verse 5.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and  my God.”

Now, here’s where I often go wrong.

The psalmist is not slapping himself back for verses 1 through 4. He’s not saying that he’s been doing it all wrong. But he is stopping himself from going too far.

My wife Heather says that he is “checking himself from going down the spiral of despair.” He knows that he is tempted to go further with his feelings and to wallow in them. 

So he talks to himself about it.

Just like King David does in Psalm 103, he talks to his soul.

Read this gently. This is a gentle self-rebuke. V.5

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”

He knows why! He just said why! He’s not saying that he’s got no reason.

He’s just saying to himself, “Don’t forget the bigger picture.”

“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Hope has the final word.

Hope is faith directed into the future.
Hope is waiting for God to do His thing.
Hope is expecting God to keep His promises. Every single one.

So the psalmist says, “Don’t get stuck down there. Yes, I know it hurts. And it’s right to say it and even sing it. But don’t get stuck there. Don’t forget God.”

“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and  my God.”

He’s going to say this again in verse 11.

And he says it again Psalm 43, verse 5! Most scholars think that Psalm 43 is simply the second part of this song. 

“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
“I will yet praise him.” That’s a declaration of faith.

He praises God today because he fully expects God to rescue Him some day soon.

And he will get to worship in Jerusalem once more.

Second diagnostic question, a little different from the first:

The first was, “Does my soul thirst for the living God?” If so, that’s good, you want that on this side of heaven.

The second is, “Is my soul downcast within me?”


If so, it is good to know it and say it.

But it is dangerous to just stick with it.

If your soul is downcast within you, tell it to put your hope in God.

Remember that how you feel today will not last forever.

What will last forever is God keeping His promises to you.

Turn your face towards God and put your faith in Him.

It doesn’t stop the pain. It doesn’t necessarily make you feel all better. Not yet.

But it reorients your heart towards what is forever.

It is fortifying truth for tumultuous days.

What I love about verse 6 is that just because he has declared his faith, it doesn’t mean that he has solved his problems. They are still there. He’s still in captivity. He’s still far from home. He’s still far from God’s earthly home.

In fact, his soul is still downcast. V.6

“Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” [Verse 6] My soul is downcast within me [yes, that’s where I honestly am]; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

You see how the psalmist oscillates from lament to hope, from lament to hope?

He is brutally honest. He is depressed, and it isn’t going away.

But he is still going to remember God.

Even far from home. It seems from verse 6 that he’s in the far northern regions of Israel, remember tall Mount Hermon from last week’s psalm 133? He’s either up there or beyond there. We aren’t sure which peak is Mount Mizar, but it sounds like it’s near the headwaters of the Jordan river. And the water is just pounding!

Roaring, deep roaring, chaos and tumult and crashing waves, crashing over him.

It sounds like Psalm 93 doesn’t it? That we saw a few weeks ago. “The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.”

He’s gone from not enough water as a deer wanting flowing streams to too much water and getting pounded by it.

And he knows that these waters are God’s! He knows that God is sovereign even over these overwhelming things.

It’s too much! It’s just. too. much.

Have you felt that way recently? Overwhelmed and overcome.

I think the Prophet Jonah quotes this psalm in his song in Jonah chapter 2. That’s someone who was overwhelmed!

I love how honest the Bible is. I love how honest the psalms are about how hard it is to live in this broken world as broken people.

It is good to sing about how bad it can be!

And then he says another word of faith. V.8

“By day the LORD [Yahweh] directs his love [sends it this way], at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.”

Isn’t that interesting? 

He knows that God is with him, even if he isn’t with God at the temple.

All day long. He knows that God’s hesed, his steadfast covenant love is directed at him, and all night long, the Lord’s song is with him.

And he sings it back to God.

It’s a song of faith even if it’s a song of pain.

Here’s what he says. Verse 9.

“I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’ My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’”

Question: Is that a good prayer?

Yes, it is. It’s a lament. Those questions (why, why, why?) are not unbelief. They are what pain says in faith to your Rock when you feel those questions in your body and your soul.

And it when the pain doesn’t stop. You say, “When, Lord? When will it stop?”

When will these enemies leave me alone? 

I’m dying here.

And I feel all alone.

When it feels like that, you sing about it.

You tell the Lord exactly how it feels.
You sing it with the rest of the worship team.
With your whole church family.

A prayer to the God of your life.

It is spiritually good to sing about it when you feel emotionally bad.

But then check yourself. Don’t let yourself slip into despair or wallow in your circumstances. Verse 11.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

I love that this psalm ends with no resolution of this guy’s problems.

Because that’s how real life often is!

And when you pick up Part Two in Psalm 43, he’s still struggling!

But I also love how this psalm ends with repetition of verse 5 in verse 11 (and it does again in verse 5 of Psalm 43!).

Don’t let your downcast heart have the last of the last words! Make sure the last word is a last word of hope and praise.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”


Fortifying Truth - Fall 2020

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103

Sunday, October 04, 2020

"The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" Psalm 133 [Matt's Messages]

“The Blessing of Aaron’s Oily Beard”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
October 4, 2020 :: Psalm 133

Psalm 133 is one of my all-time favorite Psalms in the whole Bible. It’s really short, really beautiful, and really weird. It’s got these strange (to us) images that just make you go “What?” when you read it. But when you get what it’s saying, it really sings! 

Psalm 133 is one of the “psalms of ascent” that the Israelites sang together as they traveled in family groupings up to Jerusalem to worship at the major feasts of Israel. 

Back in seminary, my Hebrew professor would have us sing the first line of this song together at the beginning of our class-times, in Hebrew.

I won’t try to do it for you today, but I imagine it was so beautiful to hear those Israelites singing it together as brothers as they went up, up, up to Zion.

Now, here’s why I picked it for today.

Because Psalm 133 is a praise song about unity.

It’s a paean of praise for unity among brothers.

And I am so grateful to God for the unity that we are experiencing as a church family these days.

Last week was so encouraging! It was so delightful to gather together as one church family, at least 169 of us. It’s hard to count people when they are in their cars. We might have missed some, but we counted at least 169 of us all together in the same place at the same time worshiping the same LORD.

Unity. Togetherness. Spiritual fellowship and oneness. That’s what this song is about.

Psalm 133 is a praise song about unity.

Let me read it to you, and just let these lovely words wash over you. And then I want to point out 4 things about unity that the psalm gives us and press them home to our hearts.

I first preached Psalm 133 after a “little event” we had on our campus here called “Wild West Day.” I’m just joking about it being little. We actually had 1200 people on our campus that Saturday in July 2001. (Back when there was no such thing as social distancing! Those were the days.)

Our little church banded together to put on a one-day western-themed outreach for our whole community, and it was huge.

But what was really amazing was how unified we were as a church family in putting it on.

There was no complaining, no jostling, no struggling with one another, no conflict.

Just total teamwork.

And I sensed the same thing last week from set-up to tear down for Celebration Sunday 2020. I said on Facebook, “I might be a tad biased, but I think our church has the best servants on the planet.” And it just continued as we all worshiped together.

And that’s why I picked Psalm 133 to just sing about how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters in Christ live together in unity.

And I want to give this sermon the same title as the one I did back in 2001, “The Blessing of Aaron’s Oily Beard.”

Four things. Here’s number one:


Hidden in your NIV is a little Hebrew word that is more visible in other translations such as the King James Version or the ESV. It’s the Hebrew word “hinneh,” and it’s often translated, “Behold!” which isn’t a word that we tend to use today.

You could say, “Look!” or “Check this out!” I think the NIV tries to accomplish the idea of this word with the HOW and the front coupled with an exclamation mark at the end of verse 1.

“Whoa, look at that!”

The point is that unity is a rare thing. Unity must be remarked upon. Unity must be noticed. It’s not seen all the time, so when unity crops up, attention must be drawn to it.

Behold! See what’s here! Look, unity!

Sadly, unity is sorely lacking in our world today.

Do I have to prove that to you? Do I need to give you examples? I know that I don’t.

Disunity, division, and fracturing is common. That’s what’s usual.

And that includes among Christians and churches.

I know that a lot of churches are struggling with one another over how to “do church” during this coronavirus pandemic.

And it’s not easy to know how to do it, and do it well.

Here at Lanse Free Church, we’ve tried hard to listen to everybody and to find creative ways of ministering to everybody the last 6 months, but I know it’s been frustrating at times for all of us.

And yet our church has been amazingly unified all along so far.

Yes, we’ve had to be physically apart, but we have been spiritually together.

Praying for one another.
Checking on one another.
Worshiping together.
Considering one another.
Respecting one another.

Last week was just the wonderful capstone of six months of unity.

We have been unified all along.

We decided as a church family to go ahead with 3 costly facilities improvement projects during a pandemic when we weren’t even meeting together at the same time! And we had an overwhelmingly positive vote for those projects with more members voting than I have ever seen in my 22 years here as your pastor. That’s a sign of unity.

We have like 6 separate seating sections on Sunday mornings plus Zoom on Sunday nights and others worshipping from home using the worship at home guide and sermon videos.

And yet we’re together. We’re unified.

That’s  rare. And it’s wonderful.

King David says, “[Behold! Look!] How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”


That word “good” there in verse 1 is the Hebrew word “tov” which takes us back to the creation of the world in Genesis 1 when God said that everything He made was “tov.” It was “good.” 

That is, it’s the way things ought to be.

It’s working. It’s right. It’s complete. It’s going according to plan.

It’s good. “How [tov] it is when brothers live together in unity.”

But it’s more than just “good.” It’s holy. Unity is so good it’s holy!

I think that’s the point of the first really weird word picture in verse 2.

And I love this. I actually wrote about it in Resisting Gossip because I love this really weird picture. Verse 2.

“It [the goodness of unity] is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes.”

What in the world is going on here?

Believe it or not, this is psalm singing here about holiness.

Remember, precious oil is a symbol in the Bible of the anointing, consecrating, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. 

And David is drawing his imagery from the consecration of the Levitical priesthood, when Moses’s brother Aaron was consecrated as the first high priest.

You can read about it, without the singing part, in Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8 and 21.

Do you remember that part of the Bible’s story? The Israelites did! They know exactly what David is referencing.

When Moses poured oil over Aaron’s head, he was consecrating Aaron and symbolizing Aaron’s being set apart for priestly work by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

And Psalm 133 tells us that it was a total consecration. You get the picture of this fragrant, perfumey slick stuff sliding down Aaron’s head and into his beard (he’d never get the smell out of it!) and down upon the collar of his robes. He was completely immersed in oily goo.

Do you hear the “down, down, down” in the song?

That’s Aaron being completely covered in precious oil!

Now, that sounds gross to our foreign and modern ears, but try to put yourself in Israelite shoes. Here is a poetic description of one of the most completely consecrated people, visibly holy by the marking of oil. 

And, catch this, David is saying that unity is like that. When brothers and sisters live together with rare unity, holiness is present.

So last week when we were together. Or today when we are together even if yet apart, there is something holy going on.

Not just good. But holy.

Something from another world.

Now, of course, if we are not being unified, then that signifies the opposite, doesn’t it? Unholy and wicked. That’s what sinful divisiveness is.

And we need to avoid that at all costs.

Because unity is rare, and it is good.


Back up to verse 1, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”

It’s not just good. It feels good!
It’s joy-giving. It’s pleasant.

We all know how unpleasant conflict is. Stress. Strain. Pressure. Tension. Pain.

I’m sure that we could all tell stories about unpleasant conflict in our lives from the last seven days. 

And if you don’t have enough conflict in your life, just scroll down through your newsfeed, and you’ll experience plenty of unpleasantness.

Conflict does not feel good.

But true unity sure does.

Remember how nice the weather was last Sunday? Just perfect for outdoor worship.

I wish it was like that every week outside. We could just figure out a way of having worship like that every Sunday!

It was so pleasant.

Well, David uses weather like that to explain just how pleasant unity is in verse 3.

“It [spiritual unity] is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.”

Now, who is this Hermon guy?

This Hermon is not a guy. It’s actually a mountain. And so is Zion.

So there are two mountains and one dew.

I don’t know if this is where we get Mountain Dew from? Is that pleasant? I’m not so sure on that one.

But David says that the unity of brothers and sisters in the Lord is as if the dew of Mount Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.

Which if you know what that weird word picture means, it’s a beautiful description!

Do you know anything about these two mountains?

Mount Hermon was (is!) huge.

Mount Hermon is actually a mountain range that rises 9,200 feet above sea level, and extends some 16 to 20 miles from North to South. A little bigger than Sandy Ridge or Bald Eagle!

Mount Zion, on the other hand, was relatively small.  More like a little hill upon which the city of Jerusalem was built. It’s only 2,500 feet above sea level.

You get the picture? Big Hermon. Little Zion. 

How much dew on Hermon? A lot. A lot more than Zion.

So what happens if the dew of Hermon falls on Zion?

In verse 3, King David uses that same Hebrew word for “descending” from verse 2 (down, down, down), and he says “Imagine the dew of Hermon falling, descending, really–flooding upon Mount Zion.”

Imagine the deluge of water, the wetness carrying life-giving sustenance to a drier, more weary land! I read this week that sometimes Jerusalem Mt. Zion doesn’t even  get dew because it’s so dry.

So what happens if the dew of Hermon falls on Zion?

It would spring to life! All of that water would refresh Zion.

David is saying, imagine how green and fertile and rich and refreshed Mount Zion would be if Hermon’s dew covered it!

Now, apply that picture in your mind to unity because this song does. 

Unity is refreshing, restoring, reinvigorating, life-giving. It’s not just pleasant–it is completely refreshing.

Do remember how hot it was this summer, and it never rained?

And you remember what it was like to walk into air-conditioning? Or now that it’s cold outside what it’s like to take a hot shower, or eat a hot bowl of soup after coming inside?
Unity is that kind of pleasant.

Do you see why I love this psalm?

It makes one more major point.


And by that I mean it’s a gift from God. From the LORD. Capital L-O-R-D. From Yahweh. V.3 again.

“It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there [Mt. Zion?] the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Unity is pictured as coming out of Mt. Zion which in the Old Testament was the earthly symbol of the presence of God with man.  Unity is pictured as coming from God’s presence mediated at Jerusalem, specifically at the temple in the Old Testament, and coming out to us as a part of the blessing of “life forevermore.”

And it’s the gift of God.

The LORD bestows this blessing.

Psalm 133 is a praise song about unity, but it is not praising us.

It is not praising Israel.

It is not praising Lanse Free Church for being so unified.

Who gets the glory?

God does!

Unity is not something we can do on our own. I didn’t pick this song to pat ourselves on the back.

I did it to give thanks to the LORD for his gracious blessing on us.

Because unity is a gift from God.

We sure don’t deserve it, but we sure do benefit from it when He gives it to us.

Psalm 133 does not tell us how to maintain unity. The rest of the Bible has a lot to say about that.

On Wednesday nights, our on-campus prayer meeting is studying what love is from 1 Corinthians 13. We do have a responsibility to do our part to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

And I exhort us all to keep up all of our efforts to be unified.

Keep loving each other!

It is not normal. 

What is normal is not good and not pleasant. And the world is full of it.

We are called to be a counter-culture community that is different from the world.

And it’s not just automatic. It involves patience and forgiveness and respect and humility and kindness and forbearance and consideration of others.

Maintaining unity is a lot of work.

But it is worth it. It is so worth it!

And, ultimately, it doesn’t come from our hard work.

It comes from the LORD.

Only He is rare enough, good enough, holy enough, pleasant enough to bestow the life-giving blessing of unity.

Praise the LORD!