Tuesday, January 25, 2022

LEFC Worship Ministries 2021 Report

Worship Ministries Report
(Part of the 2021 Annual Report for Lanse Evangelical Free Church)

"We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;”
He chastens and hastens his will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.” 
(Anonymous 17th century hymn from the Netherlands. Translated from the Dutch original by Theodore Baker.) 

In 2021, our church family came together more and more to seek and to celebrate the blessings of our Lord. As we entered a second year of worship amidst the challenges of a global pandemic, we remained undaunted in our efforts to gather to praise our God while simultaneously endeavoring to protect each other from a dangerous disease. 

Gathering together well in 2021 required even more creativity, flexibility, diligence, and faithful service.

Coming Together Outside

In January, we added a new tool to our worship toolbox that greatly increased our options and brought us closer together–FM transmission. On Sunday mornings, in addition to worshiping inside at 8:00, 9:30, or 11:00, under the tent borrowed from Troop 46, or at home utilizing our online resources, families could now also choose, in all weather, to participate in worship from their vehicles listening to 89.5 “WLFC” in the parking lot. It was initially weird but also wonderful to hear people “honk” their “amens” to remind us that we are all together as one worshiping family.

Coming together to worship outdoors was one of the chief highlights of 2021. On Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday, we all gathered at one time to commemorate the atoning death and victorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Our hearts soared as the sun rose over all of our vehicles, and our voices soared together across our big parking lot as we sang, “Christ the Lord is risen today! Alleluia!” 

We all worshiped outside together on the last Sunday of each month throughout the late spring and early autumn, including Graduation Sunday, Family Bible Week Finale, and Back-2-School Sunday. Our series of total outdoor worship gatherings culminated in a beautiful Celebration Sunday in September featuring an engaging MMR “Message from the Mount” and wonderful outdoor baptisms.

Matt & Jenni Cox of Miracle Mountain Ranch

Proclaiming Our Faith!

Joyful baptisms!


Coming Together Inside

As the year unfolded, we began to come together indoors increasingly, as well. In April and May, as pandemic restrictions began to recede across Pennsylvania, we removed constricting barriers inside of the building. In June, we consolidated to two worship times, 9:00 and 10:30, and restarted the prayer corners ministry. In July, we celebrated the end of statewide restrictions and added a half hour of coffee and sweet fellowship between worship times. There were more and more handshakes, hugs, and folks standing nearer to each other as we sang. Then in August, we returned to one worship gathering at our old familiar time of 10:00am! 

Having a single worship time once more provided us with the opportunity to add back in a number of things we had very much missed during the previous year. Throughout the autumn, we again enjoyed special music offerings, presentations from visiting missionaries, “worship at work” interviews, longer sermons, and, especially, the routine observance of the Lord’s Supper. On Christmas Eve, we once again came together in candlelight to rejoice that Emmanuel has come and shall come again.

Coming Together Yet Still Spread-Out

As the year began to wane and winter approached once more, it became increasingly obvious that surging variants of the original virus were still not going to make it easy to return to the way things used to be, so we continued to focus on providing creative options for worship while still gathering together. 

In November, we took advantage of the church’s original loudspeaker system and replaced the outdoor worship tent with small “spread-out” indoor seating areas sprinkled throughout our facility. Inside and outside on Sunday mornings there is a place on our campus for anyone and everyone to gather in safety and comfort to worship Christ the Lord.

“Sing Praises to His Name”

In 2021, we sang mostly older songs that have stood the test of time as we are being tested in our time. We did learn one new song that has a timeless message, “Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me.” We continued to incorporate classic statements of truth drawn from creeds, confessions, and catechisms to emphasize our unity with the whole church throughout the world and throughout the ages. And we memorized and recited Scripture together: Philippians 4:4-8, Psalm 100, and 1 Peter 2:11-12.

Coming Together Through Faithful Service

I am incredibly grateful for everyone who helped make our worship gatherings possible in 2021. Amy Jo, Anita, Misty, and Darla all took turns at the keyboard in lots of varying circumstances–sometimes under a canopy in misty rain or blazing sun and other times at three different services on the same Sunday! Our talented Tech Team did the same, often running cables in multiple directions indoors and outdoors. The Clean Team sanitized and straightened when we had multiple services. Guys showed up early and stayed late to open the tent, wheel out chairs, and then wheel them back and close it up again. Our growing team of greeters made people feel welcome as we all came together to worship. 

Joe and Cody stepped up to the microphone multiple times to lead us all in singing. Numerous faithful ladies sang melodies and harmonies in the worship choir while several different folks strummed accompanying guitars. At least six different men did the announcements over the course of the year. (And while the Lord “forgets not his own,” I have probably missed some key people in this list.) Our whole church can be thankful for every single person who blessed our church family with their faithful service in gathered worship. 

Coming Together to Worship Jesus Christ

Because it was such a pivotal year, this report has focused on the different ways we worshiped in 2021. But, of course, who we worshipped in 2021 is much more important than how we worshiped in 2021. And while we progressed through many changes as we came together in worship, thankfully, we were worshiping an unchanging Savior:

“What gift of grace is Jesus my redeemer
There is no more for heaven now to give
He is my joy, my righteousness, and freedom
My steadfast love, my deep and boundless peace

To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus
For my life is wholly bound to His
Oh how strange and divine, I can sing, ‘All is mine’
Yet not I, but through Christ in me”

Whatever may come in 2022 and beyond, may we hold fast to Him!

-Pastor Matt

Sunday, January 23, 2022

“To Suffer for Doing Good” [Matt's Messages]

“To Suffer for Doing Good”
As Foreigners and Exiles - The Message of 1 Peter
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 23, 2022 :: 1 Peter 3:17-22

This is the exact same passage as we looked at last time I got to preach, and I said back then that this is hardest passage in all of 1 Peter to interpret and it’s one of the hardest passages in the whole Bible to understand.

The great theologian Martin Luther once said about it, “This is a strange text and certainly a more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament. I still do not know for sure what the apostle means.”

If every paragraph in the Bible was this difficult to interpret, I would probably give up trying to understand it at all. Thankfully, most of the Bible is not this tricky. Most of the Bible is much more clear and straightforward.

At the same time, even the tricky parts are the Word of God. Even the parts of the Bible that make us scratch our heads were given to us by the Holy Spirit. And we are blessed if we study them and apply them to our lives.

So I’m not going to have all of the answers to all of the questions, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get what God wants to say to us today.

It does mean that we are not going to focus so much on the part that is hard to understand but on the part that is actually hard to do.

The title for this message is taken right out of verse 17, talking about what is sometimes the will of God for our lives as followers of Christ: 

“To Suffer For Doing Good.”

That is not hard to interpret, but it is hard to live, isn’t it? Nobody in their right mind likes to suffer. But it’s even harder to suffer for doing good.

Yet that’s been what Peter has been beating the drum about all along, hasn’t he?

That’s what Peter wants us to do because we’ve read his letter.

To do good...even if it means we suffer for it.

What’s our key memory verse? 

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12, NIV 2011).


And we are supposed to abstain from sinful desires and live good lives doing good deeds even though the people around us accuse us of doing bad. We live that reputation down, and we do good deeds instead.

Peter keeps using this one word over and over again. We learned it last time, “agathopoiuntas” – good-deed-doing.

He used it in chapter 2, verse 15. “[I]t is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

He used it in chapter 2, verse 20. “[I]f you should suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” 

He used it in chapter 3, verse 6. “[D]o what is right [agathopoiountas] and do not give way to fear.”

And he said in chapter 3, verses 13 and 14, “Who his going to harm you if are eager to do good [agathou]. But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”

And now chapter 3, verse 17, “It is better if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good [agathopoiountas] than for doing evil [kakopoiountas – doing bad].”

The point of this whole passage, 3:17-22, is that God wants us to do good even when it hurts.

Even when people want to hurt us because we are doing good.

Now, I wish that wasn’t a thing, but it most certainly is.

In fact, Peter says that it is sometimes God’s will. It’s part of God’s plan not only that some of us get covid or cancer or in a car wreck, but that some of us get persecuted and oppressed and treated unjustly even for doing good.

I think this morning of our sisters and brothers that serve at the Pregnancy Resource Clinic. I’m guessing– correct me if I’m wrong–but not everybody in State College loves what you’re doing, am I right? You’re doing good work in Jesus’ name, but I’ll bet you get some pushback from some people in the community.

The Apostle Peter says keep up the good work.

What kind of good deeds does Peter envision for you and me? In chapter 2 and the first part of chapter 3, he talked about submission to human authorities and respecting human authorities even though they are often bad themselves. 

How are we doing at that? What have we been posting about on social media? And how have we been posting? Are we following chapter 2, verse 17 with every push of the share button? “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” Share.

In chapter 3, Peter talked about repaying evil with good and insult with blessing, bearing up under unjust suffering. #BlessThemBack. How are we doing at that? 

Peter says that we should be ready to share the reason why we are hopeful even when people are furious at us. Even when they hate us, as Christians, we have hope. How are we doing at that as we are now almost a month into 2022?

How are we doing at living as foreigners and exiles, citizens of the kingdom to come as we live in the kingdom of right now? Waiting for the kingdom to come.

I’ll tell you right now that, most of the time, we are not going feel like it. Most of the time, we will not feel like doing good if it means suffering as a result. That’s not natural. That’s not normal.

We will naturally want it to get easier. We will feel like quitting.

Sometimes we don’t feel like doing good even when it does not hurt. Right? We often feel like doing bad. We have evil desires within us that we need to fight! “Abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul.”

But when it gets hard, then we really don’t feel like doing good. And that’s why Peter is writing to these elect exiles, to this beloved family of foreigners. 

He wants to encourage them to keeping on doing the right things even when they suffer for doing good.

And his argument proceeds in three big steps. Here’s number one.

#1. TO SUFFER FOR DOING GOOD IS BETTER THAN SUFFERING FOR DOING BAD. 

Look again at verse 17.

“It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

Everybody is going to suffer some in this life, and Peter says that it is much better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

We said last time that on one level, that’s obvious. If you suffer for doing evil, then you’ve kind of asked for it. “Do bad, get bad.” But on another level, it’s not obvious. If you’re doing good, how could it be good to suffer for it? “

"Do good, get bad?” It kind of makes you wonder if you’re really doing it right. And it makes you wonder if it’s really worth it. I mean, at least if you suffer for doing bad, you at least got to enjoy doing bad first.

But Peter says that it’s better to suffer for doing good. In fact, he’s just said in 3:14 that if you do, you are “blessed.”

How is that for a thought?! That is a distinctively Christian thought. You don’t get that in other philosophies in the world.

You are blessed if you suffer for doing good.


“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me [Our Lord said]. 
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:3-12).

Oh yes, it is much better to suffer for doing good!

And we know that especially because it’s the way that Jesus lived.

#2. TO SUFFER FOR DOING GOOD IS EXACTLY HOW JESUS SAVED US.

Look at verse 18.

“It is better...to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. [v.18] For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

That’s what we focused on last time. Remember? The greatest blessing that ever came to us came from the worst injustice, the greatest miscarriage of justice ever.

Jesus Christ the Holy One died for sins once for all the RIGHTEOUS for the unrighteous.

Talk about unjust suffering?! Talk about suffering for doing good?!

And doing good through suffering.  This is how we were saved.

Now, here’s where it gets a little weird. Second half of verse 18.

“He [Christ] was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

Here’s where it gets really tricky. Every phrase here has trickiness to it.

The biggest questions are:

1. Who are these spirits in prison?
2. When did Christ go preach “to the spirits in prison?”
3. And what did Christ preach “to the spirits in prison?”

There are 3 major interpretations in the history of the church, and I’m really not sure which one of them is right, if any off them.

There about 40 variations on those 3 major interpretations. And one scholar has calculated there are actually 180 different combinations of various details coming together here.

I don’t know what you have been taught. I can see all three of the major interpretations being right, and I can also see all three of them being wrong.

Passages like this are good at keeping us humble.

One leading interpretation with a lot going for it says that the spirits are fallen angels that sinned before the flood in the book of Genesis and that Jesus Christ, after His resurrection, went to where they are forever held in prison and preached to them His victory over sin, death, and their boss Satan.

The words in verse 19 translated, “through whom” can actually also be translated, “after which.” So after the resurrection, Jesus would have proclaimed to these disobedient demonic spirits their ultimate demise.

People who adopt that interpretation point out historical parallels in the extra-biblical book 1 Enoch which the Apostle Peter quotes directly in his second letter, 2 Peter.

I won’t get into the weeds of this, but let me point out to you how this interpretation fits Peter’s bigger point.

Jesus was put to death in the body, yes, suffering–unimaginable suffering–for doing good and doing good through His suffering, but that was not the end.

Jesus was defeating death and demons on the Cross and when made alive by (or in) the Spirit, He got to proclaim it over all of the demons!

To suffer for doing good is exactly how Jesus won and saved us.

A second major interpretation says that these spirits are human spirits of disobedient humans from the days of Noah kept in prison in “Sheol,” Hebrew for the place of the dead, also sometimes called “Hades” in Greek. And in this interpretation, Jesus Christ–between His death and His resurrection (so basically on the Holy Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, our Lord)–descended to the place of the dead and preached the good news of His victory to those sinful humans.

Now, that doesn’t mean He was giving them a second chance. Just like in the first interpretation with the permanently fallen angels, Jesus would be proclaiming His vindication and victory to those who had irrevocably rejected Him. And there are a lot of passages like that in the book of Revelation. This is the interpretation that jives the most with John’s Revelation.

And it also fits with the phrase in the Apostle’s Creed, “He descended to the dead.”

Not to suffer there but to announce His victory and the reversal of the great injustice.

You see how this interpretation fits with Peter’s main point? 

The un-justice will be un-done. And we will be saved!

To suffer for doing good is exactly how Jesus won His victory and saved us!

The third major interpretation is also quite ancient, but it’s a little different from the other two. This is the one I came to adopt twenty years ago when I preached 1 Peter the first time. I’m probably a little less confident in it these days, but it still makes sense to me. Let me share it with you. See what you think.

In this interpretation, the spirits are also human spirits the ones who disobeyed back in the days of Noah, Genesis chapter 6.

But the time when Christ preached to them was back then in Genesis chapter 6. Christ preached to them by the Holy Spirit. See how you could get that in verses 18 and 19?

“He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom [the Spirit] also he went and preached to the spirits [who are now] in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

So they are in prison now because they disobeyed then, but Christ was preaching to them then BY THE SPIRIT through Noah when Noah was preaching to them about the judgment to come.

Do you see how that would work?

It kind of sounds like chapter 1, verse 11 that we read this fall. When it said that the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking through the Old Testament prophets. And it draws on what Peter says about Noah in his second letter, when he calls him “a preacher [same word for “preaching”] of righteousness [doing right]” (2 Peter 2:5).

Christ was preaching by the Spirit through Noah in the days of Noah while God was being so incredibly patient. And he was preaching the judgment to come on sin and salvation to all who would come into the ark with him and be rescued.

Now this interpretation has problems, too, but think about the parallels between Noah’s situation and the situation of the readers of Peter’s letter:

Noah was trying to do good, and he was suffering for it. The people around Noah were evil and ungodly, and they weren’t listening. And I’m sure that Noah often felt like giving up. I’m sure he felt alone. Noah and his family were such a small minority in a great big sea of ungodliness.

They were “foreigners and exiles,” so to speak. They were probably persecuted. They were probably laughed at and insulted for trusting God and building a mammoth boat. The Christians to whom Peter was writing were receiving insult and evil and perhaps ridicule, as well. I’m sure they often felt like giving up.

And I’m sure that Noah often felt like giving up.

But he kept on doing good, and he was saved. V.20

“In it [the ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water..." Noah, Mrs. Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japehth, and Mrs. Shem, Mrs. Ham and Mrs. Japheth. Just 8 people were saved.

But eight people were saved through water. They made it by coming into the ark.

Now, see where Peter goes next. He is intent on connecting this to our salvation. V.21

“...and this water [of judgment] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.”

This verse is also difficult to interpret. [Not nearly as difficult as verses 19 and 20!] But try to follow his train of thought.

“and this water [of death that was safely traversed by the people in the ark] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also...”

He’s saying that the waters which Noah’s ark went through were symbolic. I think he means like foreshadowing or typology. They pointed to something greater that was somehow like them.

The waters were like baptism. We know that that is also a symbol of salvation. But it is such a symbol that you can use the symbol itself to refer to the actual thing.

I think that’s what Peter means when he says that “baptism now saves you.” He doesn’t mean that getting dunked confers salvation like some kind of magic trick. He means that baptism pictures that salvation so perfectly that you can use it as shorthand for your salvation itself.

That’s why he immediately explains his statement to eliminate the wrong ideas about it. V.21, “baptism that now saves you–NOT the removal of dirt from the body.” Not an external washing. Not the physical rite itself. Don’t get the wrong idea. “But the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” Or [the Greek here is hard to translate, it could also be translated...] “The prayer for a good conscience from God.”

Water baptism therefore is a heart thing. It ultimately points to the heart of the one being baptized. Either it says, “In my baptism I now thank You for my salvation and I pledge to live out of it with a good conscience, doing good.” or it’s says, “In my baptism I now picture my asking You for salvation, a cleansing of my conscience, forgiveness of my sins.” Either way, baptism is a heart thing symbolized by going down into the waters of death in Christ and coming back out safe in Christ.

You see how that’s like the ark? Everybody went into the water in Genesis 6. But only 8 people came out of it alive. Only those who had come into the Ark were saved.

And that’s a picture of what baptism pictures.

Everyone dies, but only those who are dead in Christ will come out of it truly alive!

Now, don’t miss the big forest for the tricky trees. Do you see how this advances Peter’s main point?

To suffer for doing good is exactly how Jesus saved us. He was put to death in the body, and that brought us safely to God. Like the ark. His suffering saved us. If you are saved at all, this is how you were saved.

Are you saved? We are saved by grace through our faith in Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the Cross. Verse 18 again. “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Have you been brought to God?

If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your own Savior, I invite you to do so right now. He was put to death in the body for your sins. He suffered for doing good and by suffering He was doing good. He was saving you. And that’s what baptism pictures.

Have you been baptized? Some people treat baptism as optional, something only some people do if they really feel like it. That’s the exact opposite of how the Bible treats it. The Bible says that baptism is commanded by our Lord of all of His disciples. The Bible assumes baptism of all believers.

It’s super important! It’s not magic. There’s nothing in the water that cleanses us. Peter says, it’s not the  removal of dirt from the body. It’s not the rite or the ritual.

It’s what baptism pictures that saves us. It’s a symbol of what God has done and is doing in our hearts. But what a powerful symbol and what a symbol of power! Because it’s not just the suffering and death of Christ that is pictured, it is also the resurrection! Coming back out of the water. Coming back up to life. Go back to verse 21. 

“It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ[!]”

Not by what you or I have done or will do, but by what Jesus has done for us in dying and rising again. Now that is power!

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...” (1 Peter 1:3).

You see what that means for suffering for doing good?

It means that it’s all worth it. It was worth it for Jesus, and it will be worth it for you and me forever.

#3. TO SUFFER FOR DOING GOOD IS WORTH IT FOREVER.

And Jesus has shown us the way.

I’m sure that Jesus did not feel like doing good and suffering on the Cross.

Just like Noah didn’t feel like it.
Just like Peter’s readers didn’t feel like it.
Just like you and I often don’t feel like doing good and suffering for it.

But Jesus saw where it was all going.

Jesus saw how His suffering would bring us to God.
Jesus saw how His suffering would not be the end.
Jesus saw how His suffering would actually win the victory over sin, death, and Satan and his minions.

And Jesus saw that He would, on the third day, rise again.

And then be exalted forever. V.22.

“[Christ] has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

He won! He was vindicated. He triumphed. He stands in the place of ultimate blessing.

He is exalted above all, at God’s right hand (just like Psalm 110 predicted that we read the last summer) with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him.

Jesus submitted to evil rulers and even died at their hands.

But now every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Suffering is the path to glory.

Especially suffering for doing good.

We don’t like it. 
We don’t have to like it.
We aren’t called to enjoy suffering.
We are called to do good. And to keep on doing good.
And sometimes to endure suffering for doing good.

But it is worth it, brothers and sisters.

Jesus knew it. It was predicted in the Old Testament. The Spirit of Christ was predicting “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:11).

The glories of being in heaven at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to Him. Crowned with every crown.

It was worth it for Jesus, and He says that it will be worth it for us, as well.

So let’s keep on doing good no matter what.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "Elect Exiles" 1 Peter 1:1-2
02. "A Living Hope" 1 Peter 1:3-7
03. "Angels Long To Look Into These Things" 1 Peter 1:8-12
04. "Be Holy In All You Do" 1 Peter 1:13-16
05. "Live Your Lives As Strangers Here In Reverent Fear" 1 Peter 1:17-21
06. "Love Each Other Deeply, From the Heart" 1 Peter 1:22-2:3
07. "But Now You Are..." 1 Peter 2:4-10
08. “As Foreigners And Exiles” 1 Peter 2:11-12
09. "Submit Yourselves For the Lord's Sake 1 Peter 2:13-17
10. "Follow In His Steps" 1 Peter 2:18-25
11. "Do What Is Right And Do Not Give Way To Fear" 1 Peter 3:1-7
12. "Inherit a Blessing" 1 Peter 3:8-12
13. "Even If You Should Suffer For What Is Right" 1 Peter 3:13-16
14. "To Bring You To God" 1 Peter 3:17-22 (esp. 18)

Monday, January 10, 2022

Great Commentaries on the Psalms

The Psalms got me through 2020-2021.

When the pandemic hit, I was finishing up a multi-year study of the Gospel of Matthew and immediately jumped back into the Letter to the Philippians--my go-to book for understanding the essentials of gospel ministry (3rd time through from this pulpit!).

But when we were done with Philippians, I wasn't at all sure where to go next, and a dear saint from our church family suggested we turn to the Psalter, the songbook in the center of our Bibles. After some initial hesitation, it was clear that this was exactly where the Lord wanted me to find Him for the next year.

I ended up preaching 45 messages from the Fortifying Truth of the Psalms, not quite a third of the whole thing, but just about every Sunday for a whole year. I hope it was good for our church. I know it was exactly what I needed--rich songs to express the entire sweep of everything going on my heart--good, bad, ugly, sad, everything.

The soundtrack of my sermon prep nearly every week was the amazing EveryPsalm project from Poor Bishop Hooper. One time, Jesse Roberts even sent me the next song a week early so that I had it in my head and heart for preaching (thanks, Jesse!).

And these guys, through their books, were my constant companions as I studied and wrote each week. Let me say a few words about each of them. I read some others, too, but these were my favorites, and most helpful to me. Though I've only met two of them, they all feel like old friends:

John Stott, Favorite Psalms

I've owned this one the longest. It actually belonged to my Grandma Mitchell, my Dad's mom, and I inherited it when she died in 1999. It has short but substantive exposition of Stott's most favourite (I'm sure the Anglican pastor would have included the British "u" in his original manuscripts) psalms with full color pictures that match each of the inclusions.

I got to meet Dr. Stott at a conference at Elmbrook church in the late 1990's. A wonderful experience. It may be because of how many times I've referenced this book over my pastoral ministry, but I've found that most of his favourite psalms have become my favorite psalms.

Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, Tyndale OTC (vol.14a) & Psalms 73-150, Tyndale OTC (vol.14b)

Of course, Stott's book doesn't cover all of the Psalms. To do that you need bigger longer books. Strangely enough, Derek Kidner covers all of the Psalms in two very short books. As I always say, Kidner is precise, concise, and incisive. I've worn out my copies and bought new ones for Heather to use at home. If you can only have two commentaries on the Psalms, I'd make it these two. I have referenced them the most for the last two decades of ministry.

Tremper Longman, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary: Psalms (vols.15-16)

If Kidner's were the books I have referenced for the Psalms the most over the last two decades, Tremper Longman's was the one I have referenced the most in the last 5 years. He covered the same ground as Kidner with this newer one-volume tome. I'm constantly amazed at his ability to summarize the text, connect it to other places in the Bible (especially the New Testament), and do it without academic jargon. I don't always agree with every single one of his interpretive decisions, but his treatment is the ones I want to read first.

Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus 

Keller's little book isn't a commentary. It's a devotional. He's read commentaries such as Kidner's and then distills the insights into 3 short paragraphs that retain the mood and tone of the psalm and quickly move into highly relevant application for our hearts and lives today. I've read through it several times now, and each time I get numerous new things out of it. Sometime in 2021 I got my hands on Dane Ortlund's In the Lord I Take Refuge: 150 Daily Devotions through the Psalms which is similar and similarly good.

Alec Motyer, Psalms By the Day: A New Devotional Translation

Motyer's book is also not a commentary, per se. It's more of a rich translation based on Motyer's advanced scholarship and knowledge of Hebrew. Even better than the translation, however, are the many footnotes (often going for pages beyond the text!) that explain his translation. And then at the end of each section is a devotional thought that draws it all together. Very satisfying to read carefully while taking notes!

Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life (Psalms 1-12). Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness (Psalms 13-24), and In The Presence of My Enemies (Psalms 25-37)

Here's some good free advice for you if you are a preacher: Read everything that Dale Ralph Davis writes on the Old Testament. His sermons-turned-into-commentaries are some of the bestest things I've read on Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings. And he's also great on the Psalms as these 3 volumes demonstrate. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: His books are perfectly delightful concoction of pungent wordsmithing, scholarly erudition, homespun storytelling, and warm-hearted piety. They are how devotional-level commentaries ought to be written. Did I mention that you should read them?

Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed, Psalms (vol. 5)

And last but not least, I loved using Dr. VanGemeren's big book on the Psalter. In my seminary days, I had Dr. VG as a professor for classes on the Prophetic Books of the Old Testament, and I believe he was working on this updated version of the EBC at the time (it came out about 10 years later). I can hear his soft Dutch accent in my mind as I read his erudite scholarship on each psalm. While it is much more academic than the others I've listed above, it is also very readable and has a surprising amount of practical application sprinkled within its pages. 

In addition to these commentaries, I also found the notes in the CSB Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, NIV Study Bible, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, and the online NET Bible truly helpful, as well.

Year from now, if the Lord gives me length of days, when I look back on the era of COVID-19, I'm certain now that one of the major things I will be certain then is that God used the Psalms in these months to shape and reshape who I am by giving me songs to sing about Who He is.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

“To Bring You To God” [Matt's Messages]

“To Bring You To God”
As Foreigners and Exiles - The Message of 1 Peter
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 2, 2022 :: 1 Peter 3:17-22

We’re going to take at least 2 weeks to study this passage in depth. One reason is that this is–by far–the most difficult passage in all of 1 Peter to interpret. Just about everybody thinks so! The great theologian Martin Luther once said about this paragraph, “This is a strange text and certainly a more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament. I still do not know for sure what the apostle means.”

So, I feel like I’m good in company in needing more time to study it and more time to explain what I think Peter is saying here. 

The other reason we’re going to take so much time on this paragraph is that I want us to really slow down and simply marinate our minds in the truth of verse 18. 

There are some words in verse 18 that I want us to set our minds on as we enter into the year 2022.

But first, let’s recite together our memory verses from chapter 2. They’re on the back of your worship bulletin. All Fall and now all Winter, we have been trying to embed 1 Peter 2:11-12 in our minds and hearts. It’s been a few weeks. Is it still in there? I hope so.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Now, let’s look at our passage for today in chapter 3.

You’ll quickly notice the connection between this passage and our memory verses.

The connection is the idea of doing good.

Peter urges us as a family of foreigners, as God’s elect exiles, to live good lives among our unbelieving neighbors–such good lives that though they want to label us as trouble-makers they have to admit we are not trouble-makers. We are, in fact, good-deed-doers! If we are living as we ought, they will all have to say that on the last day. And some of them will be drawn to the good news of Jesus because of our good deeds in Jesus’ name.


The main thing I want us to dwell on this morning are 5 glorious words nestled in the middle of verse 18 in the NIV. Five glorious words that beautifully express the purpose and result of the suffering of Jesus Christ on our behalf. 

These words are perfect for us to dwell upon on a communion Sunday. 

And they are perfect for us to dwell upon on the first Sunday of the new year.

The main thing I want us to dwell on this morning are the words, “To Bring You To God.” Peter says that is why Jesus suffered and died–“To bring you to God.”

I want us to sit with those words and let them really sink in.

That’s the main thing I want us to dwell upon this morning.

But it’s not main the point of this bigger passage. The main point of this whole passage is to encourage us, as foreigners and exiles, to keep on doing good even in the face of unjust oppression and persecution.

Peter has been banging this drum all along:

“Live such good lives...that they may see your good deeds.” Chapter 2, verse 12. Our memory verse.

Chapter 2, verse 15. “[I]t is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” Greek word, “agathopoiountas.” “Doing good.”

Chapter 2, verse 20. “[I]f you should suffer for doing good [agathopoiountas] and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”

Chapter 3, verse 6. “[D]o what is right [agathopoiountas] and do not give way to fear.”

Chapter 3, verses 13 and 14 that we looked at last time. “Who his going to harm you if are eager to do good [agathou]. But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”

The big point of this passage in front of us–including all of the tricky parts that we’re going to look at more closely next week–is that Peter wants us to keep on doing good...even when it hurts.

Even when people hurt us for doing good.

I wish that were not a thing, but it definitely is a thing. And Peter wants us to know it. And be ready for it. And keep on doing good even when evil is coming at us.  #BlessThemBack, right?

Look at verse 17 and catch Peter’s logic.

“It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

Same word. “agathopoiountas.” “Doing good.”

Sometimes it’s God’s will for us to suffer. Our suffering is never outside of His sovereign control.

I’m thankful for that, though I do wish that it was His will that I never suffer. Someday that will be true. But I’m glad that if I have to suffer these days, it’s always within His sovereign control.

But Peter says that’s it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

On one level, that’s obvious, right? I mean if you suffer for doing evil, then you’ve kind of asked for it.

But on another level, it’s not obvious. I mean, if you’re doing good, how could it be good to suffer for it?

It makes you wonder if you’re really doing it right. And it makes you wonder if it’s really worth it. I mean, at least if you suffer for doing bad, you at least got to enjoy doing bad...

But Peter says that it’s better to suffer for doing good. In fact, he’s just said that if you do, you are “blessed.”

And now he’s going to give the greatest example of this principle that ever was–our Lord Jesus Christ. V.18 “For [it is better...to suffer for doing good...FOR] Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

There’s your example! There’s your proof!

Jesus suffered for doing good, and look where that got Him.

We’ll look at the details more next week, but verse 22 says that not only did Jesus suffer and die, but He rose again and has “gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

There’s your proof that it’s better to suffer for doing good! And there’s your example follow! It IS worth it.

It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It sure does. Those nails hurt. That Cross hurt.

But the end result was victory!
The end result was vindication. 
The end result was glory!

And that’s the main point of this whole passage.

Which should sober us as we enter into 2022. We should ready ourselves for suffering and commit ourselves to doing good no matter what.

In the name of Christ and following the example of Christ.

For the glory of Christ. “All glory be to Christ our King. All glory be to Christ!”

And we’ll see that even more next week.

But right now I want us to slow down and just focus in even more on the words of verse 18.

Because the result of Jesus’ suffering was not just His glory; it was our good.

It wasn’t just His vindication; it was our salvation. V.18

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Let’s think about that for a while.

Peter has been thinking about the suffering of Christ for a long time. Ever since that rooster crowed, I think. Peter’s been thinking about the suffering of Christ.

His thinking here proceeds in three steps.

Number one. Christ died for sins:

#1. ONCE FOR ALL.

“Christ died for sins once for all.” That means here once for all time. Meaning that Jesus Christ’s death was a unique. It was distinctive. It was unrepeatable.

It only had to happen once and it only happened once.

Like it says in the Letter to the Hebrews (chapter 9, verse 28), “Christ was sacrificed once...”

Yes, we are called to suffer (for doing good) as well, but His suffering was also unique. It was special. It was unlike any other suffering that ever was or ever will be.

That’s why we keep singing about it. “Nothing But The Blood of Jesus.”
That’s why we keep memorializing it at the table with the bread and the cup.

It was unique. It was once for all. Everything that needed to happen at that Cross happened at the Cross.

Number two. Christ died for sins...

#2. THE RIGHTEOUS FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS.

He did not deserve it.

Talk about suffering for doing good! Jesus was perfectly righteous. Remember how Peter quoted Isaiah in the last chapter? “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (2:22).

But the righteous One took the place of the unrighteous on that Cross. Jesus substituted Himself for us.

May we never get used to that idea!

“The righteous FOR (in the place of) the unrighteous.”

Put your name in there. “The righteous for the unrighteous __________.”

To put your name in there, you have to admit you are unrighteous. You have to admit that you do deserve this suffering, this death. But when you do, you realize that Jesus has already suffered FOR YOU.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  “The righteous for the unrighteous.”

And here’s the result. Number three.

Christ died for sins...

#3. TO BRING YOU TO GOD.

Just think about that!

You were far from God.
You were His enemy.
You were separated from Him.

And you couldn’t do anything to bring yourself to God.

The distance was too great. The chasm un-crossable.

But Christ died for sins, a sin offering, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous and the result was that you and I get to be with God!

In His presence.
In His love.
In relationship with Him. His child!

In Christ, we have been brought to God.

That’s what I want us to dwell upon this first Sunday of 2022.

And as we do, let me suggest three points of application.

#1. Be brought to God.

If you have not yet already, now is the time to come to God.

Jesus Christ has died for sins once for all the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God. 

Have you come to God? Has the purpose of Christ’s death been applied to your own life?

Repent and put your trust in Jesus. Be brought to God. 

Put your faith in what Jesus did on the Cross on your behalf.

Put yourself in that phrase, maybe for the first time, “the righteous (Jesus) for the unrighteous (you!). Pray, “Lord Jesus, thank you for dying in my place. I trust and receive you. Bring me to God. Bring me to the Father. I believe you are the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through you. Bring me to the Father.”

What a great way that would be to start 2022!

And for all who have, the second application I want to suggest is simply:

#2. Give thanks that you were brought to God.

Thank God that you were brought to God!

That’s what we’re going to do right here at this table in just a minute.

The Bible calls it “the cup of thanksgiving” (1 Corinthians 10:16).

We should thank God every single day for what Jesus did for us.

“Thank you, Lord, for suffering.
Thank you, Lord, for suffering an unrepeatable death.
Thank you, Lord, for suffering in my place.
Thank you, Lord, for bringing me to God.”

And number three and last...and lasting forever:

#3. Enjoy being brought to God.

Enjoy everything that it means to be brought to God.

Think about what that means!
It means peace with God.
It means eternal life with God.
It means heaven with God.
It means hope.

All of what Peter was saying in chapter 1 about that “living hope.”

We have been brought to God, we have everything to look forward to.

The Bible says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

You’ve been brought to God!

I want you to think about how bad 2022 might be for just a second.

Two years ago, as we were heading into 2020, everybody joking about “2020 vision,” and it was a lot easier to say, “This is going to be my year!” and expect great things.

And some of you awesome optimists are doing that for 2022 already. That’s cool! I hope it’s everything you’re feeling right now.

But for many of us, we are looking at 2022, and we can be filled with dread. We can be anxious. We are worried about covid, about cancer, about politics (it’s another election year, did you know that?). We’re worried about finances and supply chains and freedoms and a whole host of things including potential persecution.

Some of you know what you’re facing in 2022, and some of you don’t.

But go ahead right now and imagine the worst.

Now put that up next to this sentence, “I have been brought to God.”

“I have been brought to God.”

Not for judgment. But for atonement.
Not for punishment. But for blessing.
Not for condemnation. But for adoption. For fellowship!

For love.

“I have been brought to God.”

That doesn’t mean that 2022 won’t also be bad.

But it can’t touch the goodness of “I have been brought to God.”

The Bible says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ...  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (or in all of 2022), will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

“I have been brought to God.”

“Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood–
Sealed my pardon with His blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!”


***

Previous Messages in This Series

01. "Elect Exiles" 1 Peter 1:1-2
02. "A Living Hope" 1 Peter 1:3-7
03. "Angels Long To Look Into These Things" 1 Peter 1:8-12
04. "Be Holy In All You Do" 1 Peter 1:13-16
05. "Live Your Lives As Strangers Here In Reverent Fear" 1 Peter 1:17-21
06. "Love Each Other Deeply, From the Heart" 1 Peter 1:22-2:3
07. "But Now You Are..." 1 Peter 2:4-10
08. “As Foreigners And Exiles” 1 Peter 2:11-12
09. "Submit Yourselves For the Lord's Sake 1 Peter 2:13-17
10. "Follow In His Steps" 1 Peter 2:18-25
11. "Do What Is Right And Do Not Give Way To Fear" 1 Peter 3:1-7
12. "Inherit a Blessing" 1 Peter 3:8-12
13. "Even If You Should Suffer For What Is Right"  1 Peter 3:13-16