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Sunday, January 31, 2021

“Be the Church” [Matt's Messages]

“Be the Church”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 31, 2021 :: 1 Timothy 3:14-16

When I was little tyke going to Sunday School in the preschool room of Trinity Church in Shelby, Ohio, we used to sing this sweet little Christian song all of the time, and at a very young age it really shaped my theology:
“The Church Is Not a Building
The Church Is Not a Steeple
The Church Is Not a Resting Place
The Church Is a People.

I Am the Church.
You Are the Church.
We Are the Church Together.
All Who Follow Jesus, All Around the World,
Yes! We’re the Church Together.”

As you can tell that really stuck with me which I hope is an encouragement to every Christian parent and every children’s ministry worker. They are listening. They are learning.

“The church is not a building." "The church is a people.”

I think one of the things the Lord has been trying to teach us over the last year is to not put too much emphasis on church buildings. 

Buildings are wonderful tools for ministry–and we’ve got a great one for which I am very grateful especially when it’s below freezing outside!–but buildings are not the church and are not even necessary for the church to be the church.

We all do it. I do it all the time. I call this building “the church.” 

“Hey, where are you going? 

Well, I’m headed up to church to go work on the sermon.”

As if these walls were the church.

I’ll show you what the church is. These pictures on the wall here are pictures of the church. The last 22 years of church family photos from 1999 to the weirdest one ever in 2020. That’s the church! “The church is a people.”

The church is not even something you go to.

Like we say, “Where do you go to church.” “Or we really went to church today.”

We all know what we mean, and it’s okay to say it, but don’t let it cloud your vision for what the church really is.

Think about this: In the Bible, no one. ever. goes to church. No one ever goes to church in the Bible. Old or New Testament. That is to say, the Bible never uses that language of “going” to church. And, in fact, there are no church buildings in the Bible!

But the Bible does talk a lot about the church as a people.

And, it actually likens the people to a building!

That’s what Paul does in our passage for today, 1 Timothy chapter 3, verses 14 through 16. Let’s parachute into the middle of Paul’s letter to Timothy and look at this paragraph together. It’s the heart of the letter explaining why Paul wrote it to Timothy in the first place. 1 Timothy 3:14.

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”


Did you see how Paul likens the people of the church to a building?

In verse 14, Paul explains that he’s hoping to visit Timothy soon, but he’s sent this letter ahead just in case with instructions for the people to know how to behave themselves in God’s household. Or that could actually translated, “house.” It can be used both ways.

For folks to know how to conduct themselves in God’s house.

But NOT like when your Momma says, “No running in church, young man. You will behave yourself in God’s house.”

No, the “house” here is a metaphor for the household or the family. Like we say the “House of Windsor” to describe the royal family of Windsor not Buckingham Palace.

This is talking about “the family of God.” See how he goes on to define it in verse 15?

“God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

And that word “church” or “assembly” is the Greek word “ekklesia” which is never used in the New Testament to describe a building and always used to describe a group of people.

Paul wrote Timothy to teach people how to be the church not go to church. How to behave as a part of the church of the living God.

So as I was thinking about what I would say as vision to put forward for our church family in 2021, I really struggled.

I mean if we’ve learned anything from the last year, it’s that it’s foolish to pretend that we know the future, amiright?!

“If the Lord wills...”

But we do know what the Lord wants us to do, don’t we, from the Scriptures? We may not know the exact strategies we’ll employ, but we know the outline and main thrust of the Lord’s stated will for the church, and we know our marching orders.

So that’s what I decided to focus on for our 2021 vision: “Be the Church.”

Church, be the church.

Don’t just go to church. (In fact, some of you still shouldn’t “go” to church right now with COVID raging as it is.)

But be the church. Be everything the church is supposed to be.

Now, what is that? What is the church and what should the people of the church be doing?

Well, we don’t have time to study all of 1 Timothy this morning to see all of what Paul wrote Timothy for them to do. And there’s more teaching on church in the Bible than 1 Timothy! But I did want to draw our attention to our church’s purpose statement which the congregation adopted decades ago as a shorthand summary of what things we are called to do as a body.

You might have it memorized. Or you might need a refresher. Or it might be new to you.

When I teach through it at membership seminars, I always say to people, “This is what our church is trying to do to you! If you ever wonder what we’re trying to do to you, this is what we’re trying to do to you.”

“Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.”

I hope that sounds familiar to most of you. It’s what we’re trying to do.

And that mission has not been stopped by COVID-19. We’re still doing it. We don’t need a building to do it. We will use a building to do it and regularly do. But it does not require a building. If this building burned up or flew away in a tornado tomorrow, it would not change our mission one little bit.

And if you read the annual report, you can get a taste how we tried to accomplish that mission as a church last year. In and out of the building. And we’re get stay at it in 2021.

So if that’s our mission corporately, all together as a church family, then I think it’s also good for every individual in our church family to regularly ask ourselves if we are doing these things ourselves.

Let’s go down through our purpose statement and let me encourage you to do a quick internal audit of yourself. Ask yourself if you are “being the church” in these ways.

“Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God...”

Are you living for the glory of God?

Verse 15 says that this family of Christians is the church “of the living God.”

Not some dead god. Not some lifeless idol. But the living God, the God Who is full of life! The God we’ve been learning about in the Psalms!

That’s whom the whole church belongs to, and that’s whom every part of the church belongs to. We belong to Him. Are we living for Him and for His glory? 

Who is the most important Person in your life? Does it show?

The next phrase of our purpose statement says the main way that we as a church glorify the Lord is:

“...by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ...”

Another name for that is “disciple-making,” making followers of Jesus.

That’s what our church as a whole exists to do. And we should all be doing it as well.

Are you bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ?

Starting with yourself?

Are you following Jesus?
And are you making followers of Jesus?

Be the church.

And then at the end of our purpose statement we listed 5 main tools in our toolbox for being and making disciples, 5 summary categories drawn from all over the Bible.

"...through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.”                

How are you doing on those?

WORSHIP. Are you engaged in daily personal worship of Jesus and at least weekly corporate worship? I know it’s really hard right now. But we’re trying as church leaders to provide lots of options and ways to engage in worship.

I’ve been so encouraged by many of the young families our church who have been  figuring out how to get it done during this weird time. And doing whatever it takes to get their kids engaged in Christian worship:

Some are gathering the family in the living room and using the worship at home resources.

Some are masking up and occupying the end of a pew on campus. And if little kids can do it?

Others are bringing the kids in the mini-van and running the heater for 45 minutes and singing with the radio in the parking lot. WLFC 89.5 FM!

It’s not the same. It’s not as good. I hope we get to be all together again in one room at one time in 2021 without masks. But, regardless, we all need to worship. Don’t stop worship. Be the church.

INSTRUCTION. Are you reading your Bible? Are your studying your Bible? Are you reading books about your faith? Are you teaching others about the faith?

Are you a learner? That’s part of what it means to be the church.

Verse 15 says that the church of the living God is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” Do you know the truth? 

This week is “Stay Sharp,” our district theology conference, and since it’s virtual this year, even more of us can participate. Let me know if you are interested, and I’ll get you the link so that you can log on to the national EFCA Theology Conference and be instructed more deeply in the theology of the Psalms.

Worship, Instruction...

FELLOWSHIP. That’s been the hardest one for us all since COVID hit, hasn’t it? How do you maintain close fellowship when you are distancing from others out of love for them?

I can’t hardly wait to return to handshakes and hugs and holding babies in the worship auditorium! And eating together in the “Fellowship Hall.” This would be a Sunday for deviled eggs and taco salads and soup and sandwiches and Texas Sheetcake!

I can’t hardly wait. But even while we do wait, we still need fellowship. We need each other.

So get out you directory again.
Get out your phone.
Get on Messenger.
Pull on your mask and pull into someone’s driveway.
When you can, if you’re willing, get your vaccination. When I get mine and you get yours, I’ll come right over to visit you!
Get on Zoom.

We need each other.

Don’t just think, “I’m good. I can be isolated and still be the church.”

No. You need others. And maybe more importantly, others need you.

Worship, Instruction, Fellowship...

EVANGELISM. That was the big one I wanted us to focus on last year. And we didn’t get to do it the way I had envisioned. We didn’t have our big evangelistic events: Wild Game Dinner, Good News Cruise, etc.

But you don’t have to have a big event to share the gospel!

You just have to have the gospel and then share it with an unbeliever.

When was the last time you told someone about Jesus?
When was the last time you gave your testimony?
When was the last time you raised the subject?

Be the church.

Pastor Kerry Doyal has chosen a theme for our district churches to rally around in 2021 from Colossians 1:28. It’s very simple, “We Proclaim Him.”

We don’t proclaim ourselves or some worldly leader.
We don’t even mainly invite people to come “to our church.”
We invite people to come to our Savior.

“We Proclaim Him.”

That’s evangelism. More on that in a second.

The last word in our purpose statement is:

SERVICE. Using our gifts to serve the church in its mission.

And that’s not something that just some of us do. That’s for everybody.

Everybody has a role (or roles) to play in ministry.

What is your ministry?

See how this isn’t just for some Christians?

This is for everybody. Worship, Instruction, Fellowship, Evangelism, and Service.

From little kids to senior citizens, married and single, new and old, men and women every one of us is called to be the church of the living God.

And to be the (v.15 again) “pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Now, that might sound a little wrong. Isn’t the truth the foundation of the church? Isn’t the church built on the truth? 

Yes, it is. But we then are the pillar and foundation of the truth to the world.

You see how he likens us to a building again?

We are the pillar and the foundation of the truth to the world.

We hold up the truth and show it to the world.

And it’s the truth of the gospel. V.16.

“Beyond all question [undeniably, we can all agree!], the mystery of godliness is great [that means the great revelation of the gospel, what was mysteriously hidden about godliness is now revealed in Jesus Christ...] He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

That’s probably an early Christian worship song that celebrates the great news about what Jesus did for us.

And it’s what we call “the main thing.”

Around here we always say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And the main thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We proclaim Him!

We hold Him up and hold Him out, telling the world what He has done for us by appearing in the flesh (and dying on the Cross) in His resurrection (vindicated by the Spirit and seen by angels). In His ascension and return (taken up in glory).

We preach Him among the nations so that He is believed on in the world.

We proclaim Him.

“I Am the Church.
You Are the Church.
We Are the Church Together.
All Who Follow Jesus, All Around the World,
Yes! We’re the Church Together.” 

Church, let’s be the church in 2021.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

My 2021 Annual Report for Lanse Free Church

Lanse Evangelical Free Church exists to glorify God
by bringing people into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ
through worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service.

Celebration Sunday 2020 Church Family
Drone Photo by Dalton Kristofits
The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2020

Dear Church Family,

I do not have adequate words to describe the last year of ministry at Lanse Evangelical Free Church. Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was uniquely challenging for LEFC in numerous ways so that it is impossible to capture the year in a short pastoral report. In fact, as we begin this new year of ministry together, almost all of those challenges are still pressing on us without resolution. No question–it’s been a hard year.

And yet, the LORD reigns, and He is good to His people. The story of 2020 for LEFC was a story not just of difficulty but of blessing. Our Lord has been steadfastly faithful to us at every tumultuous turn, and we must give Him thanks.

Last year in my pastoral report, I wrote, “Staying faithful does not mean becoming stagnant or stuck in our ways. Faithfulness actually requires change to meet new challenges as we accomplish our unchanging mission.” I could never have foreseen  how true that would become for us in the year to follow! In 2020, we made many changes to meet the unexpected challenges of ministry during COVID-19, especially in the area of gathered worship. Read what our leaders have written in the pages of this annual report to see what kind of difficulties we faced and how the Lord has been faithful to see us through them every step of the way.

I believe that the Lord has been trying to teach us many things these last twelve months. One major lesson would be to hold onto our own plans loosely and not assume that we know what the next day holds. Trusting in His good plan, we need to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). Our open palms can then be raised in worship.

Another major lesson we’re being taught is how to lament–to express our sadness, pain, and grief to the Lord. The Bible, especially in the Psalms, is full of godly lament and shows us how to pour out our sorrows to our compassionate King.
 
Laments of 2020

In the middle of March, COVID-19 disrupted everything in society including the normal functioning of our church. I think we all have deeply felt these disruptions and deprivations:

- Cancelling. We only met together in person on campus 37 Sundays in 2020. To help slow the spread of COVID-19, we chose not to meet in person for 15 Sundays (11 in the Spring, 1 in the Fall, and 3 at Christmastime). We made the painful decision to cancel major special church events like the Wild Game Dinner, Good News Cruise, and Christmas Eve Candlelight  Worship. And we canceled numerous smaller gatherings such as Link groups, prayer meetings, Kids for Christ classes, and Sunday School. We rightfully miss these things, lament their loss, and long for their return.

- Distancing. Even when we began to gather together again, it just wasn’t the same. We have asked people to wear uncomfortable protective face-gear. We’ve asked people to physically keep their distance from each other. We’ve asked people to  spread out over three separate worship times. For a few months, we even asked people to reserve a weekly spot for worship. Church is supposed to bring people together, but the most loving thing this year was to stay apart, and that was (and still is!) hard. 

- Waiting. All year long, we didn’t know how long these cumbersome disruptions and deprivations would last. We still don’t. One of the things I miss the most is celebrating the Lord’s Supper together as a congregation. The Elders prayerfully decided in March to wait until we could all be with one another (see 1 Corinthians 11:18-34), and it was really precious to partake together on Celebration Sunday. I still don’t know when we will do it next–which I think is both the right thing for now and also something hard to wait for. When will things return to “normal”?

- Suffering. One of the hardest things of all has been watching our people suffer through the whole ordeal including some getting sick themselves. I’m thankful that though several of our church family have been infected, many of their symptoms have been mild and quickly passing. Other cases in our church family, however, have been more worrisome and dangerous including one death so far. And the stress and strain of the pandemic is only one of the many difficult things facing our congregation. Life goes on and so do life’s problems in a fallen world. This is hard.

I’m so grateful that our Savior is a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. He understands what 2020 has been like for us and invites us to follow Him in pouring out our lament and praying for the Lord to restore all things.

Blessings of 2020 

At the very same time, we have seen the Lord’s gracious hand in everything that has happened last year, and He has given us even more blessings to celebrate:

- Amazing Unity! In 2020, we were blessed with wonderful unity. Even though, in many ways, we had to spread apart, we stayed together where it really counts. For example, in spite of the fact that we couldn’t all safely gather for congregational meetings, we still agreed together to do three major facilities improvement projects and even borrow money if necessary! Together, we also approved a new operating budget, elected officers, and changed a word in our doctrinal statement in the church constitution to emphasize that the return of Jesus Christ will be glorious.

And we really supported each other in 2020! We all had our own opinions about how to “do church” during the pandemic, but instead of insisting on our own way or judging others, we put others ahead of ourselves (Philippians 2:1-11). I saw many instances of patience, kindness, and prayerful support. One of the biggest encouragements to me, as your pastor, was to regularly hear people praying for each other to weather the storms of 2020.

- Ministry Innovation! Necessity is the mother of invention. We had to do things  differently last year, and I have been encouraged to see our church family embrace new ways of staying connected, engaging in worship, and serving one another. We began to utilize email, video, and social media in new ways and to take advantage of video conferencing. Our weekly Family Fellowship Meeting on Zoom brought new meaning to the words, “Link Group!” I’m so thankful that the pandemic hit us at a time when these technologies were readily available to most of us.

It wasn’t just “high-tech” innovation, however. We also added in a huge tent, folding chairs, outdoor sound systems, different print versions of the bulletin, new ministry teams, and new systems of rotations for ministry volunteers. We figured out new ways of using the postal service, dropping things off on doorsteps, and safe-distance visitation. We had to come up with innovative approaches to ministry–which can be hard for a church of our size and age–but we did it! 

- Dogged Persistence! Our church family has been blessed with resilience. We did not give up or give in during 2020. We stuck with it. As your pastor, I was very encouraged to see how so many of our people did what they needed to do to stay connected, to get involved in worship, and to find a path to participation even with all of the obstacles in their way.

I was especially blessed to watch what the parents of smaller children did to make sure their kids were involved in Christian worship and discipleship including but not limited to: gathering their family in their living room and using the worship at home resources, jumping on Zoom to interact with missionaries around the world, masking up the little ones and occupying the end of a pew, bundling everybody up and sitting under a tent in the cold, and whatever else it took. Our church never “closed” in 2020 even when we weren’t meeting in person.

- Great Participation! Accurately quantifying last year’s attendance is difficult because there is no good way of tracking how many people were actually using the worship at home resources on any given week. But for such an unusual year with so many limitations, we have had very good participation. Our average on-campus Sunday attendance was about 100 people, which is about 73% of where we were last year. That’s pretty good for a year when we had been paradoxically encouraging many people to stay home instead! The lowest attended Sunday was one of the most exciting–the first Sunday back on campus–June 7th with 54 people present. The highest attended was the highlight of the year–Celebration Sunday on September 27th with 169 people sprawled out across our field.

We were blessed to have a number of new families start attending on campus during 2020. I’m looking forward to the newer people getting to know the rest of the church family when we are all able to re-gather! And the videos we’ve produced have been watched thousands of times, hopefully by people who need to hear the truth about Jesus in the Word.

- Generous Giving! Our church was blessed with financial stability during 2020. Because of the Lord’s provision through the generous giving of the church family, we never struggled to pay our staff and our bills or to support our missionary partners around the world. And because of generous giving and strategic saving, we haven’t even had to borrow for the major facilities improvement projects. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

- Wise Leadership! In 2020, the Lord blessed our church with good leaders. The Church Elders’ team–Bob Gisewhite (Chairman), Keith Folmar, Cody Crumrine, Todd Dobo, Joel Michaels, and myself–ended up holding many extra meetings to navigate the rapidly changing whitewater of 2020. This was Todd’s first year as an Elder (what a year to get your feet wet!), and we were all thankful to have a medical professional join our team. In fact, we had a lot of helpful diversity of perspectives yet total unity in all decision-making all year long. In the spring, we developed eleven guiding principles for leading the church family through COVID-19 that helped us to make the difficult decisions in front of us. And we prayed and prayed for wisdom, love, and blessing for the whole church family.

All of the LEFC leaders and staff have done an excellent job during a difficult year. Cindy kept the church spotless in a time when we were all worried about germs. The Facilities Team installed genuinely high-speed internet to make our high-tech ministry possible. The Deaconesses provided assistance to families financially impacted by the virus. The Hospitality Team still found ways to bless the church family with goodies. The Missions Ministry Team kept us in touch with all of our missionary partners. The Financial Team kept the bills paid. Everybody had a job to do, and they did it well.

Marilynn Kristofits deserves a medal for her ministry to the church family in 2020. She went above and beyond the call of duty marshaling all of the administrative details that kept us on the same page all year long. Not only did she create copious mailings, worship guides, and emails, but she also tracked all of the incoming data about the virus as well as the developing local, state, and national guidance that helped us to make safe and effective ministry plans. Marilynn’s ministry was invaluable, and I thank God for blessing our church with her.

I am also grateful for the leadership our church experienced from the district and national levels of the EFCA, our association of churches. In the Spring of 2020, we received a new Allegheny District Superintendent, Kerry Doyal. Pastor Kerry has been a constant source of encouragement, edification, and inspiration for me.

We have many losses to grieve, but we clearly have many more blessings to celebrate than lamentations to look back upon in 2020.

Pastoral Ministry

For the last 23 years as your pastor, I have understood the main responsibilities of my role as preaching the Word, equipping the saints, and shepherding the flock under my care (2 Timothy 4:1-5, Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Peter 5:1-4). Last year, the pandemic drastically transformed how I carried out each of those responsibilities.

Preach the Word

I certainly never planned to be a multi-service, multi-venue, and video-broadcast preacher, but all of those things actually happened in 2020! In the spring, I had to quickly learn how to produce adequate-quality video messages so that our folks worshiping from home could all be fed God’s Word and be on the same page together. Then in the summer, I learned how to preach the same message several times in the same morning. For most of the year, I recorded the sermons outdoors and also preached outdoors at the 11:00am worship time all through the fall.

I hope all of that is temporary. I look forward to writing longer sermons again with more time to develop the biblical teaching that glorifies the Lord and changes our hearts and lives. I also eagerly anticipate the day when I can once again preach the message just one time on a Sunday to the whole church family at once indoors. Regardless, it was a great privilege to minister God’s Word to our church in 2020, and I would do it all over again.
Parking Lot Preacher


What did not change was our focus on and commitment to the holy Scriptures. In 2020, we completed our 80 message series, “Following Jesus,” on the Gospel of Matthew a theological biography of the most compelling Person Who has ever lived. Then we worked through (for the third time in my pastorate here) Paul’s letter to the Philippians which was exactly what we needed all spring and summer. We ended the year by diving deeply into the fortifying truth of the Psalms.
We were also ably served in the pulpit last year by guest preachers Donnie Rosie and Kerry Doyal and by our own David Catanzaro and Joel Michaels. These men were a big encouragement and relief to me as I preached more times in 2020 than I have in any other year of my ministry so far. Thankfully, I find preaching the Bible to be energizing and a tremendous joy. It is my life’s calling.

Equip the Saints

My ministry of preparing “God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up” looked vastly different in 2020 than in previous years. I had to find creative ways of meeting with leaders and help them to re-envision their ministries to meet the challenges of the pandemic. I also had to help some of them make the hard decisions to postpone, cancel, or pause their ministries because they just couldn’t be done effectively in this season.

My biggest encouragement in this arena in 2020 was seeing the fruit of previous years of investing in our emerging leaders. I look forward to seeing what they can accomplish when the restrictions and limitations are lifted!

Shepherd the Flock

The hardest part of my job in 2020 was trying to shepherd my flock from afar. I love to be present with you all in homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals, nursing facilities, funeral homes, gymnasiums, playing fields, theaters, and restaurants. That all pretty much ground to a halt when COVID hit.

So I switched tactics and started calling everybody on the phone and barraging everyone with texts and messages. I wore out several copies of the updated church directory. I stood on porches and talked through screen doors. I set up drive-thru visitation hours and counseling appointments on Zoom. I walked thousands of miles up and down the neighborhood chatting with you on my bluetooth-connected phone or praying over the requests you sent to me.

It wasn’t enough. I feel disconnected from so many of you. There are several people in our church family whom I haven’t seen in almost a year now, and it grieves me greatly. But I am thankful for every pastoral interaction I had with you all in 2020, and you are in my heart.

The distance between us makes everything harder but also makes everything more precious. In 2020 we celebrated the births of two healthy baby boys. We witnessed the joyful weddings of Zach and Haylee Simler and Matt and Amy Modzel. And we also grieved the deaths of loved ones. I had the solemn privilege of leading funerals for Johnalee Smeal, Marion Lace, Ruby Narehood, and Bill Morlock and of ministering to the family of Jolena Hampton.

I believe that even after we emerge from the shadow of COVID-19, the traumas of  2020 will linger for years to come. This has been a hard year in more ways than one, and while we are resilient, we are not made of rubber and won’t just snap back into place. As your pastor, I am committed to walking alongside you as we all process what we have gone through.  

A Personal Note:

Last year took a toll on me, as well, especially mentally and emotionally. Thankfully, I am in better shape physically than I have been in a long time, and I have good disciplines in place to maintain my mental and spiritual health, as well. But I’ve struggled to process all of the change and am very aware of my limitations.

Some of you have expressed concern for me in leading three worship times every Sunday morning. I do long to get it back to one again, but I find Sunday mornings to be mostly energizing. What’s more wearying for me is attempting to stay connected to you whom I don’t see regularly. For all my trying, I can’t keep track of everyone in my head. Thank you for being patient with me and for continuing to pray for me.

Our daughter Robin Joy recently moved back in with us after a successful 15 month experience living and working in the Pacific Northwest. It’s wonderful to have her around again. Our oldest son Andrew graduated from high school and began working full time as a backyard blacksmith. It won’t be long until Peter and then Isaac are also done with school. Heather Joy is taking good care of us all. Thank you for loving and supporting our little family.

Being your pastor has never been harder nor a greater privilege than it was this last year. Thank you for entrusting me with these responsibilities and following me through the minefield that was 2020. 

2021 Vision - Be the Church

As I wrote at the beginning of this rather long pastoral report, if we learned anything from the previous year, we learned that it is foolish to act like we know the future. Last January, I predicted a big year of being bold in our evangelism. I hope we were more bold in some ways, but it didn’t turn out anything like what I envisioned.

We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know Who holds the future. And we know the main thrust of what He wants us to do–to be His church.

I hope we also have learned some from 2020 to not put too much emphasis on church buildings. Buildings are wonderful tools for ministry, but they are not the church themselves nor are they even necessary for the church to be the church.

The church itself is the Lord Jesus’ worshiping family of gospel-centered disciplemakers. Jesus said that He Himself is creating the church and that nothing can stop it (Matthew 16:18). That includes COVID, cancer, conflicts, politics, and even the gates of Hades. As we live out the calling of the church, we are part of an unstoppable effort of God to bring glory to His name (Ephesians 3:1-21).

So, dear church family, let’s keep going in 2021. As we always say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” The main thing is not for us get things back to “normal.” The main thing for the church is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We proclaim Him (Colossians 1:28). Let’s make sure we stay focused on being the pillar and foundation of His truth (1 Timothy 3:14-16).

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt

I hope next year I can post close-up photos of these precious people!


Thursday, January 28, 2021

LEFC Worship Ministries 2020 Report

Worship Ministries Report
(Part of the 2020 Annual Report for Lanse Evangelical Free Church)

In 2020, our church worshiped like we never have before.

That’s not an understatement. According to our historians, in 128 years, our congregation had never gone two weeks in a row without gathering together in one place to worship Jesus. Bad weather has canceled the occasional worship gathering but never for more than one Sunday at a time. In March of 2020, COVID-19 interrupted that predictable succession of gathered Sunday worship.

So we quickly learned how to worship like we never have before. Starting on Sunday March 22, we began producing a Guide to Worship at Home sent via email and the post office (we produced 41 such guides in 2020). On Resurrection Sunday, for the first time ever, we all worshiped the Risen Savior from our own homes instead of in our auditorium. 

In fact, we went 11 Sundays in a row without holding a worship gathering on our campus. I think we all felt, like never before, how precious gathered worship truly is. And then on June 7, we resumed in-person worship with two new and shorter worship times (8:00, 9:30) and new health protocols to slow the spread of the virus and to protect the most vulnerable among us. On July 12, we expanded to three worship times, adding an 11:00am service. 

Ready for Outdoor Worship Sunday November 8, 2020
And it was definitely worship like never before! For the summer months, we asked everyone to reserve their seating in advance so that we were certain we had a safe place for everyone. We began to learn how to worship in masks and face shields and sitting six feet from the nearest family. Several of us began to worship out of doors–under the tent loaned to us by the Scouts, in all kinds of weather: sun, rain, wind, cold, even snow.

All of that upheaval certainly made worship harder, but it also made it hardier and heartier. As the pastor, I have been very encouraged to see the tenacity and passion with which our church family has stayed committed to worshiping the Lord Jesus in the most difficult circumstances our congregation has faced so far. Nothing stops worship for Lanse Free Church!

The highlight for gathered worship in 2020 was Celebration Sunday when we held a special outdoor worship time in the field on our campus. Most of the church family  was able to gather and praise the Lord with all our souls for His faithful blessings on us, and we celebrated the Lord’s Supper together for the first and only time since March. 

While we long for the return of normal things like handshakes, hugs, holding babies, unfettered singing, and closeness in worship, we can also be thankful for some of the newer things we incorporated into our worship in 2020. We began to emphasize lament, expressing sadness in worship as the Psalms do so well. Better utilizing creeds, confessions, and catechisms, we also emphasized our unity with the whole church throughout the world and throughout the ages.

We mostly sang older songs in 2020 as it was important in an unsettled time to focus on timeless truths in familiar ways. The only new song we learned as a church, however, was very appropriate–Jesus, Strong and Kind. He is just the sort of Lord and Savior that we need!

We only memorized two passages for “Hide the Word” in 2020, but they were both very significant. Matthew 28:18-20 summarizes the church’s marching orders from our King and Philippians 4:4-8 tells us how and when to rejoice, how and what to pray, and how and what to focus our minds upon.

I am grateful for the ministry of our steadfast keyboardists: Anita, Amy Jo, and Misty for faithfully playing through 3 services each Sunday and for Joe, Cody, Jeff, Ben, and Dalton for stepping up to help me lead worship in singing in such a different format. We’ve had many wonderful folks jump in and serve as greeters, musicians, announcers, sound operators, and on the new “Clean Team,” as well as opening and closing up the tent on Sundays. As usual, the servants of our church have outdone themselves by humbly doing what needs done. 

In October, we stayed home again one Sunday to follow our COVID-19 safety policy. Then, at end of the year, we made the prayerful and painful decision to suspend worship gatherings for the entire holiday season, bringing the total Sundays we all worshiped at home to 15 in 2020. 

We all are ready for things to get back to “normal,” and hopefully that will come soon in 2021. My prayer is that, as the Lord leads, we can worship like ever before. 

Because Jesus is ever worthy:

“For the Lord is good and faithful
He will keep us day and night
We can always run to Jesus
Jesus, strong and kind”

- Pastor Matt 

Guiding Principles for Leading LEFC with Wisdom and Love During COVID-19

Guiding Principles for Leading LEFC with Wisdom and Love During COVID-19

Developed by the LEFC Elders Team, Spring 2020


Trust in the Lord with All Our Hearts.
Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 20:7-8, Genesis 50:20, Psalm 23, Hebrews 13:8, John 16:33

Bathe Every Decision in Prayer.
James 5:13-18, James 4:13-15

Have Equal Concern for Every Part of the Body.
1 Cor 12:1-13:13

Model Submission to Earthly Authorities.
Romans 13:1-10, Titus 3:1

Practice Prudence.
Proverbs 22:3

Reject Fear, Worry, Anxiousness, and Panic.
Philippians 4:4-9, 2 Tim 1:7, Lamentations 3:23

Shepherd the Flock.
1 Peter 5:1-4, Acts 20:28

Lead with God’s Wisdom Not Our Opinions.
James 1:5-8, James 3:13-18

Clothe Ourselves with Love.
Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 10:27, Leviticus 19:18

Keep the Unity of the Spirit Through the Bond of Peace.
Ephesians 4:3-6

Seek First the Kingdom.
Matthew 6:33, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Colossians 3:23-24

Sunday, January 24, 2021

“Hear My Prayer, O LORD” Psalm 86 [Matt's Messages]

“Hear My Prayer, O LORD”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 24, 2021 :: Psalm 86

Yesterday, I said to Heather Joy, “Psalm 86 does not want to be preached. It just wants to be prayed.”

Psalm 86 is not easily captured in a sermon. It does not follow a logical progression of thought, a series of rational propositions: A, B, C, 1, 2, 3.

No, Psalm 86 follows an emotional progression of thought. It is meant to be sung and especially prayed directly to the Lord.

Psalm 86 is a favorite of Heather Joy’s and mine. Nearly thirty years ago, we picked Psalm 86 to be “our psalm.” Not that it’s particularly romantic or anything. We just wanted to have a psalm that we, as a couple, could and would return to again and again and again. A psalm that we owned and that owns us. Heather and I have probably read it several thousand times together, especially at bedtime.

Psalm 86 is a personal prayer of King David. It’s the only prayer by David in the third book of the Psalter, and it’s highly personal.

When you read it, it’s like tuning in to the personal prayer time of another person.

Have you ever listened to somebody pray in private? They are pouring out their heart to the Lord, and you are just a fly on the wall?

That’s kind of what Psalm 86 is like. Like we’re sitting out in the surveillance van listening in to a bug that was planted to eavesdrop on a man’s personal prayers.

But this man published his personal prayers for us to pray, too.

And King David wrote and prayed this prayer in one of those (many) times when he was in trouble. We’re going to see that David is under attack. He’s gotten himself (again) into a spot of trouble.

Where do you typically turn when you get in trouble?

There are all kinds of options:

Ourselves. Self-reliance.
Family.
Friends.
Worry.
Escapism. Running away from our problems.
Our saving accounts.
Our social media accounts.
Our government.

Where do you typically turn when you get in trouble?

Well, King David turned to the Lord in prayer.

He just pours out his heart to the Lord, and he asks for a lot! We’re going to see that he asks for a lot of things. In just 17 verses, King David asks for a long list of things. Though many of them amount to the same thing, different ways of asking for the Lord to help him and save to him from these enemies. There are a lot of psalms like this!

I took the title of this message from verse 6 where David just comes out and says it: “Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.”

“Hear my prayer, O LORD.”

That doesn’t mean that David thinks that Yahweh hasn’t been listening.

David is asking the LORD to not just hear his prayers, but to seriously consider his requests. To pay special attention, turning His divine ear to what David is asking for in the day of his trouble.

And David fully expects to be heard.

[

There is so much here in Psalm 86. We will only begin to scratch the surface. I know! I’ve read it thousands of times.

Let’s take the first seven verses together, and I want you listen as I read it for two big things.

First, for the urgency in his voice. The plaintive cry for help. David is in trouble, and you can hear it in his voice. And the other main thing I want you to listen for is why David expects to be heard. Why? 

“A prayer of David. Hear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long. Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.”

Do you hear the urgency in his voice?

How many times does he ask basically the same thing?

“Hear me.
Answer me.
Guard my life.
Save me.
Have mercy on me.
Bring me joy. [That’s an interesting one, isn’t it? Not just rescue but rejoicing.]
Hear my prayer.
Listen to my cry.
Answer me.”

Would you be ashamed to pray that way? Maybe a little sheepish, to repeat yourself like that?

Don’t be. This is in the Bible to show us how to pray.

And David prays and prays and prays.
He asks and asks and asks.

“Hear my prayer, O LORD!”

What did you catch about why David expects to be heard?

I’m going to say it this way. First of three points this morning of how we can pray like David. Three summary prayers of this prayer:

#1. O LORD, HELP ME BECAUSE I AM NEEDY AND I AM YOURS.

You can feel how needy he is. And he says it in verse 1, “Hear O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”

"I can’t do it on my own."

David recognizes that he doesn’t have the resources to deal with his problems on his own. He’s in trouble, and he’s coming up short.

But! He belongs to the LORD. Look again at verse 2.

“Guard my life, for I am devoted to you.”

That is not saying that David has earned his salvation by being devoted as if he’s achieved something.

No. He’s saying that he belongs to the LORD. He is faithful, devoted, committed to Yahweh. The Hebrew comes from the same root word as “hesedthat word to describe God’s loyal love for us that we’ve seen again and again in the Psalms.

He’s emphasizing that he belongs to the LORD. Next phrase in verse 2. “You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you.”

That language of “your servant” runs through this psalm: verse 2, verse 4, verse 16.

He’s not trying to say that he deserves God’s help. He’s saying that he and God are in a covenantal relationship so that David has committed himself to God and God has committed Himself to David[!]so that David’s problems are God’s problems, too.

Isn’t that amazing?!

That’s why he keeps praying, and why he keeps expecting God to answer.

Now, that does not mean that David believes that God must give him exactly what he asks when he asks it. That’s not how prayer works. God has not committed Himself to David like that.

But He has committed Himself to David, and He is a gracious God.

Did you catch that in verse 5? It’s not just that David is needy, but God is good. V.5

“You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.”

That’s Whom we pray to!

How much more should you and I pray today when we know how deep is the Father’s love for us?!  How we are joined to Him through God the Holy Spirit?! And how gracious He has been to us through the death of God the Son?!

We are needy, and we are His.

I think that verse 5 gives us a hint that David knows that he is, at least, at some fault for the predicament he finds himself in this day.

This trouble may not be of his own doing, but he may have done something to contribute to it. That’s why he needs God to be forgiving and good. That’s why he needs mercy.

That good for us, too, isn’t it? I mean, sometimes, I fail to pray for my problems, because I know on some level I caused them.

I got myself into this trouble, and I think I have to dig myself out.

But David says, “You are forgiving and good...in the day of my trouble I will call to you for you will answer me.” 

Not because I am so great, but because He is.

That’s where David goes next in verse 8.

“Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.”


That’s what David does right here in verses 8 through 10.

He gets his eyes off of his problems (as scary and unresolved as they were), and he gets his eyes onto the Lord.

He says that the Lord is incomparable and greater than all of the gods out there. [Small “g,” pagan gods which we know are really principalities and powers and demons. They can’t hold a candle to the real God.]

And David predicts a day when all of the nations, every tribe and tongue and people group gather before the Lord and worship Him.

Interestingly, the book of Revelation quotes Psalm 86 verse 9 in Revelation chapter 15, verse 4.

This is a picture of the end times, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess. David could see it coming.

Because He could see how worthy the Lord is of worship. V.10

“For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.” Capital “G.”  “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

Here is our second summary prayer:

#2. O LORD, BE GLORIFIED ABOVE ALL AND IN ALL MY HEART.

Because that’s where David goes next. Not just glorified above all gods and before all nations, but in all of David’s heart. Look at verse 11.

“Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.”

If I was going to put forward a new Hide the Word verse for 2021, that’s what it would be.

“Be glorified in all of my heart.”

In the midst of all of his troubles, [His troubles are still there! They have not gone away. In the midst of all of his troubles,] David focuses his prayer on his own heart.

David doesn’t just want to be saved from his enemies out there. He wants to make sure that he is not taken down by his enemy in here.

“Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth”

That’s a great prayer. “Show me Your path. The course you want me to take, and I will truly walk it.”

“[G]ive me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

It could actually translated, “Unite my heart.”

Bring all of the divided things in my heart together so that I fear You–which is the beginning of wisdom.

I don’t know about you, but I need this prayer. My heart can be so divided. Not with rebellious high-handed sin. But just distracted. Double-minded. Part of my heart going this way and part of my heart going that way.

I want to be wholehearted in my worship. Don’t you?

“[G]ive me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

“Even if you don’t take away my problems (though please take away my problems! But even if you don’t...) unite my heart to bring you glory.

Verse 12. “I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.”

David knows that he has been saved. Time and time again. He has been.

He could be expecting it now once more. That’s possible. But I tend to think he’s just being thankful for having been rescued from death again and again.

And you and I have been rescued from eternal death because of the Cross and the empty Tomb. What great love! How much more should we glorify His name forever?!

Do you see how this psalm just wants to be prayed?

In the last section (verse 14-17), nothing has changed. The problem is still there, but so is David’s prayer and so is David’s God. Verse 14.

“The arrogant are attacking me, O God; a band of ruthless men seeks my life–men without regard for you. [I’m under attack here, Lord, from a gang of ferocious thugs who act as if you don’t exist. But I know you do! V.15] But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Does that sound familiar?

I hope it does by now. David is quoting God Himself in Exodus 34. That time when He passed by Moses and declared His holy name? 

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

Just like in verse 5, this is Who God is. This is Whom we pray to!

If this is our God, then no wonder we expect good answers to our prayers. V.16

“Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant your strength to your servant and save the son of your maidservant [My Mom loved and served and belonged to you, too.] Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.”

Last summary prayer request:

#3. O LORD, RESCUE ME BECAUSE OF YOUR GRACE AND FOR YOUR GLORY.

That “sign” that he asks for in verse 17 might be just another way of saying, “Rescue me from the bad guys. That will show your goodness.”

But I tend to think he’s asking for a little preview of coming attractions. A little glimpse of how the Lord is going to work things out for David’s good.

I don’t think that most of the time we ought to ask for a sign for guidance. Should I turn right or left, Lord? Should I pick the orange or the green, Lord? Give me a sign!

But this asking God for a sign of His goodness.

I think that’s a request for a reminder that God is good. That God is Who He said He was in Exodus 34 and Psalm 86:15.

Lord, give me a little taste of your goodness so that I know that you will be bringing yourself glory.

My enemies are your enemies.

They have (v.14) no regard for you.

So, please turn things around so that they are put to shame and you get the glory.

Are you ready to pray like that?

I don’t know what your trouble is right now.

Maybe you don’t have any trouble right now.

If so, get ready, because that day of trouble will come soon enough.

And get ready to pray to this God above all gods who alone is God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Ask this God to give you an undivided heart to fear His name.

And to rescue you by His grace and for His glory.

Because you are needy and because you belong to Him.

Ask Him, “Hear my prayer, O LORD.”


***

Fortifying Truth - Psalms - Fall 2020 / Winter 2021

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
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126
12. "His Love Endures Forever" - Psalm 136
13. "How Many Are Your Works, O LORD!" - Psalm 104
14. "My Soul Waits for the Lord" - Psalm 130
15. "Remember David" - Psalm 132
16. "My Son" - Psalm 2
17. "Search Me" - Psalm 139
18. "Cleanse Me" - Psalm 51
19. "A New Song" - Psalm 96

Sunday, January 17, 2021

“A New Song” Psalm 96 [Matt's Messages]

“A New Song”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 17, 2021 :: Psalm 96

“Sing to the LORD a new song!”

Those are the opening words of Psalm 96.

“Sing to the LORD a new song!”

The psalmist (we don’t know who exactly it was though 1 Chronicles 16 tells us that these exact words were sung when King David brought the ark into Jerusalem so it might have been David or somebody who was writing psalms before David, the psalmist) summons his listeners to sing.

To sing to the LORD. Capital L-O-R-D which stands for Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel.

To sing to the LORD a. new. song.

What’s so new about this “new song?”

I’m glad you asked.

It’s new because it’s fresh. It doesn’t mean that you have to compose a completely different set of music and lyrics about the LORD–though that is a really good way to do it. I’m glad that there are brand new songs being written all of the time like the one we started singing together this weekend, “Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me.”

But there are lots of ways of singing a new song. Of being creative. Of being innovative. Of putting your praise in new, fresh ways.

Fresh words. Fresh tempos. New keys. New registers. New instruments.

Even more importantly, new intentions. Meaning it again in a new way. A deeper way. It could be the same exact words but now they truly mean something to you in a newly real way.

“Sing to the LORD a new song!”

I asked Heather Joy what that meant to her, and she said that we sing a new song that because God is infinitely worthy of our worship there is always something new in Him worth celebrating.

And we can always discover something new in Him worth celebrating.

This phrase, “A new song” comes up several times in the Bible especially here in the Psalms but also in the book of Revelation. And it’s almost always used when there has been some kind of a victory won which needs celebrating in a new way.

The LORD has won a new victory. Sing a new song!
There is new state of affairs in the world. Sing a new song!
The LORD has rescued His people. Sing. a. new. song!

Now, this does not mean that we should not also sing old songs. Of course we should. This Psalm 96 is an old song! And we should be singing it. 

2020 was a year to go back and sing the old songs we all remember. To cling to old truths, but in a new day and in a new way.

What we should not do is sing stale songs and pale songs and anemic songs.

The LORD is infinitely worthy of our fresh worship.

“Sing to the LORD a new song!”

Not just with your mouth, but with your heart, and with your life.


Listen as I read verses 1 through 3, and listen for the building repetition.

This Psalm is a lot like Psalm 93 that we studied back in September.

It has these repetitions to make you feel what it is trying to get across.

It’s exciting, and it builds to a crescendo. You can feel the enthusiasm grow, and grow, and grow.

It starts with a triplet of commands to sing. “Sing, sing, sing.” Verse 1.

“Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”

You hear it?

Sing, sing, sing.
Proclaim! Declare!

And do you see how global it is?

This isn’t just a song for Israel. This is a song for the whole wide world.

“sing to the LORD, all the earth.”

This isn’t just for one nationality. This is for all of the nations, all of the people groups.

This is really a missions psalm. Telling us to tell the world how glorious our God is and what He has done in rescuing His people.

“Proclaim His salvation day after day.”

Now, for the Israelites that was their rescue from Egypt and all of the marvelous things God did for them afterwards.

But for you and me it’s not just that, it’s Jesus Christ and His life, and His miracles, and His teaching, and His death, and His resurrection, and His ascension, and His pouring out of His Spirit.

“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”

Sing a new song!

Do you sing?

Do you sing to the LORD in worship?
Do you sing to the LORD here at church?
Do you sing to the LORD on your own?

When you’re alone with Him?

If not, why not?

Let me say this: If you never sing to the LORD, you are being disobedient.

This is the Bible, and it says to you to sing.

You don’t have to sing like me. Loud and off key and often losing my place and forgetting the words.

You don’t have to sing loud enough for others to hear most of the time–though the New Testament does call us to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19).

But if you never worship in song at least in your heart if you have had your voicebox surgically removed then I believe you’re being disobedient to God.

Don’t you think the LORD is worthy of your singing?

Now, don’t think for a second that you can sing worthy of the LORD.

Nobody can.

No human could but Jesus.

Don’t think for a second that you can sing perfectly worthy of the LORD.

But don’t you think the LORD is worthy of your feeble attempt at singing?

When we sing, when we truly sing a new song, something happens inside of us. The Lord gets the glory due Him, but it’s good for us, too.

It reorients our hearts to what is true, and beautiful, and good, and right, and excellent, and praiseworthy.

And He is infinitely worth it.

I see three main reasons in Psalm 96 WHY the LORD is worthy of our singing new songs to Him.

Here’s the first one. Sing to the LORD a new song because:

#1. HE IS THE GREAT CREATOR. Verse 4.

“For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.”

The songwriter sets up a contrast here between the gods of the nations and Yahweh, the LORD.

He says that the LORD is great and is most worthy of praise, but these other “gods” (small “g”) are not worthy of praise.

The LORD should be feared–which is an reverent, awe-filled, humble worship–“above all gods.”

Because they are just “idols.” And the word for “idol” here is not the generic word for “idol.” It actually means “worthless things.”
But it’s a play on words. It sounds like the word for God which is “Elohim,” but it’s actually the word “elilim” which means “worthless, useless, empty” idols. The ESV Study Bible says that this would be close to saying in English, “These mighty beings are mighty useless!” (ESV Study Bible notes on Psalm 96:4-5).

How do you get an idol? Where do they come from?

You make it, right? Idols are man-made gods. You have to make them.

But (v.5) says, “the LORD made the heavens.” The heavens!

He is the Maker! He is the great creator. Sing a new song to Him!

I’ve been getting up really early and going for a 4 mile walk before breakfast, and it’s just beautiful when it’s still dark. Especially after a fresh snow like we got on Saturday.

The stars shining. The moon was so big a few weeks ago! And I got to see the moon set. The moonfall. 
The other day I saw a coyote run through Lanse at top speed.

Everything we see was made by the LORD.

He is the great Creator. 

Why would we make our own gods?

In verse 6, the psalmist begins another crescendo of calls to praise. And in verse 7 there is another triplet, this time with the word “ascribe” which means to attribute something to someone else. And that’s exactly what he’s doing. Verse 6.

“Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.”

Wow! If you don’t feel something there, there’s something wrong with you.

The songwriter wants us to recognize how majestic Yahweh is and to tell everyone about it.

He’s calling everyone everywhere, the families of nations, to recognize and attribute the proper glory to this ultimate Being.

To worship Him with a sacrifice (from the heart, like we saw last week). 

To worship Him in the splendor of His holiness.

Which means “in the splendid presence of the Holy One” (ESV Study Bible notes).

It means “in the full reality of His holy nature!” (Motyer).

We will never do that to the degree that He is worthy of.

But that’s not reason not to try.

Sing to the LORD a new song.

“Tremble before him, all the earth.”

Why?  Because:

#2. HE IS THE UNSHAKABLE KING. Verse 10.

“Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns.’ The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”

Remember that was the message of Psalm 93? That picture of His unshakeable throne?

Psalm 93 began, “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity” (vv.1-2).

Psalm 96 says, “Yep. Nothing’s changed. The LORD reigns. Yahweh is King.”

“The LORD Reigns. Tell the nations.”

I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that.

I’ve been pretty depressed this week. I have had so many strong feelings trying to process what’s going on in our country. I’ve been tempted to anxious thoughts, to fear, to anger, and outrage and even despair. I have even found myself this week sobbing more than once. I’ll just be honest with you.

I’m guessing that some (many?) of you are feeling similar things.

So, I need verse 10. “The LORD reigns.”

I need to be reminded, “The LORD reigns.”

His throne does not budge.

The answer for anxious thoughts, fear, anger, outrage, and despair is worship. True worship.

Sing a new song because the LORD reigns. He is the unshakable King. The immovable Ruler. And nothing will stop His kingdom from coming.

The words I’ve said to myself over and over again this week are, “Raise Your Gaze.”

“Raise Your Gaze.” Look up and see Who is actually reigning over this world.

“Raise Your Gaze.” “The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved...”

It feels sometimes like the world is coming apart, but it won’t come apart unless and until the LORD tells it to come apart.

We can’t move the world because we can’t move the throne.

The LORD reigns.

And that is good, good news.

The psalmist finishes that thought about the firm establishment of the LORD’s kingdom by saying, “he will judge the people with equity.”

That means that justice is the firm foundation of His throne.

He is not just the King. He is the Just King.

Which is the third and last big reason that Psalm 96 gives us to sing a new song. BECAUSE:

#3. HE IS THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE.

In verse 11, all heaven breaks loose! And all of the earth breaks loose, too, in joyful praise. Verse 11.

“Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.”

It’s lot like Psalm 98, isn’t it? The one that we focused on during Advent and Christmas Eve, the one that inspired Isaac Watts write “Joy to the World.”

“Fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy. Repeat the sounding joy!”

All of creation gets into the act.
Everything worships.
Everything sings. Even the trees sing!

I don’t know if that’s literal. It’s probably just poetic language, personification.

But what if it is literal? What if the trees someday actually sing?!

What if they already are, we just can’t recognize the tune?!

This is in the future tense. The psalmist says that this will happen when the LORD comes.

This is eschatology. This is talking about the return of Christ. It’s talking about the kingdom.

It doesn’t say when. We should be used to that by now. Jesus wouldn’t tell us when. We can’t expect the Psalm to.

But it does say that’s it’s going to happen, and it will be glorious!

And why does all of heaven and nature sing? (V.13 again)

“[T]hey will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.”

At first that sounds scary.

And if you are outside of Jesus Christ, it should scare you. Come in to Christ. Come in and put your trust in Jesus and what He did for you on the Cross.

But for all of us who are in Christ, this is very very very good news.

Because it means that Jesus is going to set everything right again.

That’s what judging the world in righteousness means.

It means that everything is going to be made right.

Hear me. Listen to me:

It’s not just that everything is going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay.

But it’s more that.

It means that everything, everything is going to be right.

Three points of application:

Because the LORD is the Great Creator, the Unshakeable King, and the Righteous Judge, sing a new song.

#1. Sing it to the LORD. 

He deserves it. Worship in the splendor of His holiness. If you don’t, you’re disobedient.

#2. Sing it to the nations.

Tell the world that Yahweh reigns. Go out in missions and do evangelism.

Tell the nations that the LORD reigns.

#3. Sing it to your own heart.

Remind yourself anew, afresh, every day, that the LORD reigns, and the Lord is coming to make all things right.

You know that button on your computer that looks like a circle with an arrow on it for reloading a webpage?

Sometimes it’s called the “refresh” button.

“Refresh, refresh, refresh.”

Do that to your soul by singing to the LORD a fresh new song.


***

Fortifying Truth - Psalms - Fall 2020 / Winter 2021

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
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126
12. "His Love Endures Forever" - Psalm 136
13. "How Many Are Your Works, O LORD!" - Psalm 104
14. "My Soul Waits for the Lord" - Psalm 130
15. "Remember David" - Psalm 132
16. "My Son" - Psalm 2
17. "Search Me" - Psalm 139
18. "Cleanse Me" - Psalm 51

Friday, January 15, 2021

Consider Trying Out a Different Worship Time?



Dear Church Family,

I’m looking forward to worshiping with many of you on-campus this weekend, but I do have a request for some of you to consider:

As your pastor, I’d like to see some of the families that have been attending the 9:30 worship service to consider moving over to worshiping at the 11:00am service.

The 9:30am service had over 60 people at it last Sunday (January 10), and a number of people who have been participating at that time then were not present. We were at about 70% of our safe capacity for this COVID-19 season. It might not feel like a lot of people, but it really is for our size room right now.
                        
If we keep growing (and I hope we will), we’ll need to place people in overflow seating or ask them to worship from the parking lot on 89.5 FM.

I know that many of you have liked the 9:30am service not primarily because it’s convenient or for your kids to take part in the children’s church ministry but because that’s where the most people are. It’s a great feeling to be together with a group!

So if 4-5 families all moved over (and there is room for you), we could experience that same group feeling at the 11:00am worship gathering as at the 9:30am. If we had 10 more people, 4 or 5 families try that out, that would be great and helpful.

There’s also room at the 8:00am service for anyone who wants to get up a little earlier and be a little more cautious. And you get out earlier too and have the rest of your Sunday to do whatever.

I’d hate to turn anyone away or go back to the reservation system, so please consider if a different service might work well for your family.

By the way, for those worshiping in the parking on 89.5 FM, we have a special vehicle version of the bulletin sitting in the breezeway. Drive through and pick one up or wave at one of us, and we’ll bring you one. It has everything in it, including the hymns. You don’t have to bring it back and turn it back in.

We’re going to be studying Psalm 96 together this Sunday. I can’t wait to share with you.

See you Sunday!

-Pastor Matt

P.S. I also still want to encourage some of you to consider continuing to worship at home. We continue to be in the middle of major COVID surge in Pennsylvania. If you are in an at-risk situation and are not yet immunized, it may still be a time for you to keep your distance. We will miss you, but we'll also be glad to know you're staying safe!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

"Cleanse Me" -- Psalm 51 [Matt's Messages]

“Cleanse Me”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 10, 2021 :: Psalm 51

Unlike many of the other psalms that we have been studying together these days, we know why Psalm 51 was written.

We don’t know what was going on when many of these other psalms were composed. Sometimes we have big hints. Sometimes we have almost nothing to go on. And we’ve seen how that can be good–because those psalms can often have an immediate application.

But other psalms have a little superscription up at the top that tells us not only who wrote it but when and why that particular psalm was written.

And this one has a doozy. Psalm 51, verse 1. From the top:

“For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”

This psalm is serious from the git-go.

It’s by David, and it’s talking about that time in David’s life when he abused his privilege as king and took what he wanted. He wanted another man’s wife, and so he took her. You can read the shameful story of sexual predation in 2 Samuel 11. And after he took Bathsheba, and got her pregnant, David arranged for the death of her husband. And for some time he was unremorseful and unrepentant.

And then one day the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin.

Psalm 51 is a song that David composed about that moment, about that event!

Psalm 51 is David’s lyrical response to the prophetic confrontation of Nathan.

And how did he take it? 

Up until that point, not very well. Not very well indeed. And we shall see that he was suffering the painful consequences of his dis-repentance.

But Psalm 51 records the right response to righteous rebuke.

In Psalm 51, David is repentant, and he asks God for mercy and forgiveness.

In fact, he asks the Lord to cleanse him.


We said that a great prayer for the beginning of a new year (really, any time) is to ask the Lord (Who knows us, Who has us, Who made us, to ask the Lord) to examine us and put His finger on anything in us that doesn’t belong there, David said, “See if there is any offensive way in me...” Search me. Point it out. (Same David!) “Search me.”

Did you do that this week? Did you do that today? Did you ask the Lord examine you and show you any “offensive way” in you?

The events that happened at the Capitol this week have caused me to search my own heart and to evaluate my own life and ministry. Have I been doing enough as a pastor, as a Christian, to make disciples of Jesus Christ that believe the truth and not lies and who live lives that exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in public? I’ve been asking the Lord to make it clear to me what changes I need to make to be a more faithful pastor in these days. “Search me.”

And Lord has said to me that I have not been bold enough. I have been too silent at times especially when what I should say would not be popular among people I want to like me. I need to change. I need to speak up more.

How about you? You may not have taken someone else’s spouse or arranged for their murder or stormed the Capitol. I haven’t either.

But have you asked the Lord to show you where you have been wrong? To put His finger on any offensive way in you?

And once you’ve heard from Him, what are going to do with it?

David shows here in Psalm 51 why he’s called a man after God’s own heart.

Not because he never sinned, but because he humbled himself and repented and asked for cleansing.

“Cleanse Me.”

[EMBEDD HERE]

Listen to verse 1.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

Notice how David makes no excuses. Notice how David owns his sin.

You can see it in his pronouns. “My transgression...my iniquity, my sin.” He goes on in verse 3, “my transgressions...my sin.”

There is no blame-shifting, no trying to fob it off as someone else’s fault. No pointing the finger at the other guy. No saying that he’s the real victim here. David owns his sins as his, and he pleads for mercy and forgiveness.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that because David’s speech is direct, that it’s a demand. “Hey, have mercy on me, O God, blot out my transgressions, wash away all my iniquity. Here, get this spot out, you.”

No. That’s not the right tune for this song.

Here’s how it’s sung. This is a penitential lament. His head is hung in shame.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

David not only uses multiple words for his sin; he uses multiple words for forgiveness.

“Have mercy...” “Blot out my transgressions.” That means erase them. Wipe them off the page.

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

He pictures sin as a terrible stain.

Have you ever gotten a stain on you clothes?

I do this all of the time. My wife likes me to wear an apron when we’re eating any kind of sauce. Oops. I got it on me. And I got it on my clothes. And it’s hard to get out. We’re always running to the sink to apply some water.

But this stain is much worse. It’s not a mistake. It’s a transgression. It’s a rebellion.

And that’s hard to get out, especially when you are dealing with a holy God. Verse 3.

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. [He feels the guilt. His sin confronts him every time he looks in the mirror. V.4] Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.”

Now, of course, David knows that he sinned against more than just God.

He sinned against Bathsheba. He sinned against Uriah. He sinned against Israel.

But most of all so that those others, terrible as they are, pale in comparison to sinning against God.

And there is no excuse. There is no defense.

David does not deserve clemency or mercy or pardon.

Notice this. David does not ask for forgiveness because of anything inside of him.

He is "guilty as charged, Your Honor.”

In fact, he knows that his guilt goes all the way down and comes out of who he is as member of the rebellious human race. Verse 5.

“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”

He’s saying that he knows that he is thoroughly sinful. He is tainted by the original sin and this particular sin is not a one time surprise mistake. It comes from deep within where God desires truth and teaches wisdom–inside!

But David has sinned from his inside. 

He is sinful not just from birth but from the heart.

And he does not deserve cleansing.

So why does David think that he might get it?

Did you notice the reason why David asks?

It’s because He knows God’s heart.
It’s because He knows God’s character.
He knows He knows Who God is.

Look back at verse 1.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love [according to your hesed, His steadfast love, like we learned about in Psalm 136, His loyal love for His disloyal people v.1]; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

David hopes to be forgive because He knows that God is a forgiving God.

He is a holy God. But He is also a merciful God.

Remember Who He told Moses He was in Exodus 34? “[Yahweh, Yahweh], the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” 

That’s why David has the audacity to ask for cleansing. Verse 7.

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

I have three points from this psalm. Three short prayers that I hope provide application of this song to our lives today.

#1. CLEANSE ME.

Ask the Lord, like David does, after you see your sin to cleanse you. To wash you. To take the stain of your sin out so that you heart is whiter than snow. Not your skin, but your heart.

Say to God, “Cleanse me.”

Now, hyssop was a generic word for a number of plants in the ancient world but especially a family of plants that had hanging leaves that absorbed moisture. They were kind of like plant version of a sponge.

And in the Old Testament (you can read about this in Numbers 19 and Leviticus 14), hyssop was used to sprinkle water and even blood on unclean people and things to make them ceremonially clean.

And, in fact, it was with the hyssop plant that the Israelites painted the blood on the doorframes of their homes in Egypt so that the Angel of Death would pass over them and not take the life of their firstborns.

David is using that image to ask God to similarly pass over him. To forgive him. To wipe out the stain of his sin. To expunge his sin from the record. To give him a good soul-scrubbing. To cleanse him so that his soul is whiter than snow.

We’ve gotten some snow recently, haven’t we? It’s so pretty. So bright when the sun shines on it. And it lifts your heart. Not like the snow a few weeks later that’s all melty and dirty. Like a fresh new snow.

Only God can do that.

What David was asking for was big. The sin was against God. The forgiveness must come from God, too. And so must the cleansing.

David pleas with God. Verse 8.

“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. [He’s been feeling it. He may not have shown it on the outside, but he was hurtin’ on the inside. In fact, the nation was hurting because he was hiding. David asks for God to undo all of that and turn it all around, providing joy again. V.9] Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.”

“Cleanse me.”

Have you prayed that recently? That’s a great prayer to begin a new year. And also a new day. And to end a day with, as well.

“Lord, cleanse me.”

But David doesn’t stop there. David asks for even more. Because he knows he needs it.

He asks the Lord, number two.

#2. CHANGE ME. V.10

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

David knows that he doesn’t just need forgiveness. He needs a renewal of his heart.

He needs not just a restoration of relationship with the Lord, but a desire to please God, a burning desire to obey.

He asks God to not just forgive him for the past but to empower him for the future.

Not just a clean-slate, but a whole new chalkboard. V.10

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

That word translated “create” is the word for “create!” as in God creating the heavens and earth. It’s a miracle.

This is something that only God can do.

David asks God to breathe a new and steadfast spirit within him. To change his heart so that he wants the right things and does the right things.

God’s gotta do it or it won’t happen.

And the opposite is unthinkable. V.11 

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”

King David has seen what it’s like when the Spirit is taken from the king. It happened with his father-in-law.

God took his Spirit from King Saul. You can read about it in 1 Samuel 16.

How scary for the anointed king to lose his anointing!

David is asking for the exact opposite. He’s asking for God’s Holy Spirit to invade and control his life. And to change his own spirit. V.12

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation [of your rescue of me!] and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

Change me.

Have you prayed that prayer this year?

Most of us, most of the time, do not want to change.

“This is the way I am. Take me or leave me.”

“You do you. I’ll do me.”

But David says to the Lord, “Change me. Give me a steadfast spirit. Give me a willing spirit. Give me an eagerness to be the person you want me to be.”

That’s a dangerous prayer. But it’s a really good one.

In verse 13, David changes the song up a little bit.

He is still asking for forgiveness, but now he tells God what he (David) will do if and when he is forgiven.

Now, let’s be clear: he’s not bargaining with the Lord.

He’s not saying like, “Have I got a deal for you. You forgive me, and here’s what you’ll get in return!”

But he is saying that he’s serious. That he’s committed to change. That if the Lord does forgive, then it will change everything for David.

You see how this is a model of repentance for us today? Verse 13.

“Then [when I’m forgiven] I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.”

I will teach other sinners how to repent! And some of them will!

Here’s an amazing thought. He’s doing it right now as we study Psalm 51:13! V.14

“Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.”

He’ll give testimony. He’ll sing his testimony. He’ll tell others how amazingly gracious the Lord is!

And he’s doing it. Right now. Right here as we read his song.

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

Here’s my third and last point, number three.

#3. I WILL WORSHIP YOU.

Cleanse me.
Change me.
And I will worship You.

I will live my life as worship of You.

Have you prayed that prayer yet this year?

You’ve got to do it from the heart. Verse 16 says that it can’t be just an outward show. Verse 16.

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Now, David doesn’t mean that God didn’t ask for sacrifices. Of course, He did. 

But David knew that the blood of bulls and goats wouldn’t do anything for forgiving him if he didn’t also bring a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart to the Lord.

It’s gotta be real.

But if it is real, then God will forgive and even give blessing. Verse 18.

“In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem [strengthen God’s people]. Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you [because they’re brought with the right heart!]; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

King David says, “Cleanse me. Change me. And I will worship you, and so will all of Israel. There will be true worship, and we will experience your hand of blessing once again.”

Yes, David expects to be forgiven.

And the Bible tells us that he was.

Not because he was so great or even because he was so humble.

But his repentance was real, and God’s grace was greater than all his sin.

Of course, you and I no longer worship with whole burnt offerings or bulls on an altar. We have a greater sacrifice that has been made on our behalf.

When we are repentant, like David in Psalm 51, we know that our cleansing comes from the blood of Jesus Christ.

1 John 1... “the blood of Jesus, [God’s] Son, purifies us from all sin...If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (vv.7b &9).

Have you been cleansed by the blood of Christ?

No sin is too big. One of the reasons why I’m glad we know why this psalm was written is because we see how serious David’s sin was, and yet he was forgiven.

If you have never trusted Jesus as your Savior and Lord, your Rescuer and King, I invite you to do so now.

His blood is more precious and powerful than any sin that you have committed.

Own your sin. Turn from your sin. And trust in Him.

Ask Him to cleanse you.

And if you are already a follower of Christ and the Lord is putting his finger on an “offensive way” in you, turn from that sin right now, as well.

Ask Him to cleanse you.
Ask Him to change you.
And promise now to worship Him with your very life.

Because there are still worship sacrifices that you and I make today:
Romans 12:1, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Hebrews 13:15, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name.” 


***

Fortifying Truth - Psalms - Fall 2020 / Winter 2021

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
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126
12. "His Love Endures Forever" - Psalm 136
13. "How Many Are Your Works, O LORD!" - Psalm 104
14. "My Soul Waits for the Lord" - Psalm 130
15. "Remember David" - Psalm 132
16. "My Son" - Psalm 2