Sunday, January 29, 2023

“Go to the Recabite Family” [Matt's Messages]

“Go to the Recabite Family”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 29, 2023 :: Jeremiah 34:1-35:19

Here’s the main application of these two chapters in one simple sentence. Ready?

Start to obey the Lord, and don’t stop.

Now, that’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do. And I’m glad that God has given us these two chapters of His Holy Word to build it into us as we get into them.

For the last month and half, we have been in the sweetest part of the Book of Jeremiah. Chapters 29 through 33 are often called “The Book of Hope” or “The Book of Comfort” or the “Book of Promises,” because in those chapters we got wonderful promises like 29:11, “A hope and a future.” True prosperity. A great restoration. Promises of an everlasting love. We get the promises of the New Covenant. A better, unbreakable covenant that makes new people–on the inside–a covenant that makes people new! A New Covenant! Those chapters are so sweet as they tell us the great and unsearchable things that God has in store for His people. 

Well, in chapter 34, we’ve turned the page from the “Book of Hope” to something that could be called “The Book of Failures” (Michael Wilcock).

For from chapter 34 to at least 39 and probably all the way to 45, we return to the bleak sad doom of Jeremiah. There are several stories, many of them Jeremiah interacting with the last two major kings of Judah: Jehoiakim (who hated his guts) and Zedekiah who hated his message (and put Jeremiah in prison). And these guys were thumbs-down kings. They failed to lead Judah in righteousness and instead led it straight into the besieging arms of Babylonian exile.

These chapters would never play on K-LOVE. They are not “positive and encouraging.”

But they are God’s Word. And they were written for us today. The Bible says that these chapters of Jeremiah are “God-breathed and...useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that [we might] be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

These chapters are more on the rebuking side of things. And the warning side of things. They are written here so that we learn the lessons that Judah failed to learn.

Such as: Start to obey the Lord, and don't stop.

And in typical Jeremiah style, he teaches these lessons through strange prophetic illustrations. Just like he like had to wear that wooden yoke, right? Remember that? And then the iron one? And that strange sash thing? And how he had to go to the Potter’s house?

Well, in today’s story, Jeremiah goes on another prophetic trip. This time to visit the Recabite Family.

Do you know about this Recabite Family? Probably most of us opened our bulletins today and thought that Misty had some kind of a typo there. The Whatsit Family? “Recabite?” What is that? And that family was stranger than its name. They were weird!  This is the only chapter in the whole Bible about them. And it’s a weird story.

But that’s chapter 35. In chapter 34, the LORD sends Jeremiah to someone else first. He sends him to King Zedekiah. Look with me at verse 1.

“While Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms and peoples in the empire he ruled were fighting against Jerusalem and all its surrounding towns, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Go to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, 'This is what the LORD says: I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down. You will not escape from his grasp but will surely be captured and handed over to him. You will see the king of Babylon with your own eyes, and he will speak with you face to face. And you will go to Babylon” (vv.1-3). 

This prophecy apparently came around the same time as the last two chapters. Babylon is at the door. Jeremiah seems to have a little bit more freedom of movement, or maybe he just had access to Zedekiah.

The LORD sends him with a message. And the LORD makes sure that we all know that it was from the LORD. Three times in just two verses! “This is what the LORD says...” 

And His message is not positive or encouraging, but it is true. Zedekiah’s kingdom will fall, and Zedekiah will see the king of Babylon with his own eyes and end up in Babylon to die there. Nebuchadnezzar is actually one of the last things he’ll ever see. Because he’s going to have his eyes cut out of his head.

Now, it’s not as bad as it could be. He is not going to get a bullet to the head, too. In God’s mercy, Zedekiah will die of natural cause–in prison, in exile–but not of violence. V.4

“'Yet hear the promise of the LORD, O Zedekiah king of Judah. This is what the LORD says concerning you: You will not die by the sword; you will die peacefully [in shalom]. As people made a funeral fire in honor of your fathers, the former kings who preceded you, so they will make a fire in your honor and lament, ‘Alas, O master!’ I myself make this promise, declares the LORD.' Then Jeremiah the prophet told all this to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, while the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah that were still holding out–Lachish and Azekah. These were the only fortified cities left in Judah” (vv.4-7).

It’s interesting, archeologists have found letters from Lachish from that exact time. They are currently in the British Museum, and they tell the same story about holding out against Babylon to the very end. One of them says that they can no longer see the lights of Azekah. They have gone down. Eventually they all went down, including Jerusalem.


Well, by now we know because Jeremiah has been a broken record about the broken covenant. They are going down because they had one job and they failed to do it. They disobeyed the Lord. They did not do what He said to do. Judah did not obey.

And the next section gives an illustration of that from the last days of Jerusalem. Look at verse 8.

“The word came to Jeremiah from the LORD after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves. Everyone was to free his Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold a fellow Jew in bondage. So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free” (vv.8-10).

That sounds good, doesn’t it? Yes, it does! We don’t know exactly why Zedekiah did this, but it was a good thing. He got the people of Jerusalem to agree to emancipate their fellow Israelites. 

I’m not sure why the people agreed to do that. Perhaps they thought they could then get away with not feeding them. Or perhaps they thought that they would be more likely to fight the Babylonians if they were free. 

Or maybe it was an attempt to obey, at the last second, the Law of the LORD. Because they were not supposed to hold their countrymen in slavery for more than 6 years, right? This kind of slavery was not based on race or kidnaping or conquest but was a safety net for Israelites so that Hebrews families could get out of debt. And each slave was supposed to be freed by the sabbatical year (the seventh year) or freed with everyone no matter how many years it had been when the Year of Jubilee came around, every 50 years.

But, apparently, they haven’t been doing that. They have just been holding in slavery in perpetuity. And that’s the opposite of how this was designed. That’s disobedience.

But here and now, they have chosen obedience. And that’s good!


And it’s better late than never. Find out what the LORD says we ought to do, and start doing it right away. Most of the time, that will require some repentance. Some turning. Here, the people began to obey in the area of biblical social justice. Because God loves the poor and watches out for them, we should too. We should never take advantage of the poor, and we should always seek what is just and right for them. Solomon said, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov. 14:31 NIVO). Start to obey the Lord.

This goes for any area of life because every area of life is under the lordship of Christ. So, the Lord says to refrain from “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place” (Eph. 5:4 NIVO). Are you obeying that? What does your social media say? How do you talk in the breakroom at work? What would happen if we projected your text messages up on this screen? Obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking? Start to obey the Lord.

The LORD says “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13 NIVO). That’s not always easy to do. It was hard to give up their slaves! (Too hard, they apparently thought, as we shall soon see.) Repentance is hard. But it’s good. Start to obey the Lord. It’s not too late. Late is better than never. Turn!

Start to obey the Lord. Whatever He says. Start to obey Him. And then, don’t stop.


Which, of course, is exactly what the people of Jerusalem did. Look at verse 11. “They agreed, and set them free. But afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again.”

Rats! It had looked like they were maybe doing something right for a change. It looks like this was the moment when Nebuchadnezzar thought that Egypt was rising up to be a threat, and he gave Jerusalem a little break. He pulled his guys off of the siege of Jerusalem briefly to make sure that Egypt didn’t pose a problem for him. And so probably at that point, the people of Jerusalem, “You know I could really use those slaves now. Let’s get ‘em back.” We’re not 100% sure why they broke their promises to liberate them, but we are 100% sure that they did go back on their word. 

And the LORD had something to say about that!

Verse 12. “Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your forefathers when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. [Remember that? Remember Exodus? All of your ancestors were slaves. And I hate perpetual slavery. I set them free! V.14] I said, 'Every seventh year each of you must free any fellow Hebrew who has sold himself to you. After he has served you six years, you must let him go free.' [Read it in Exodus 21. Read it in Deuteronomy 15.] Your fathers, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me. [They had their fingers in their ears. They kept their brothers and sisters in slavery. V.15]

Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to his countrymen. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name.

But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again” (vv.12-16).

That’s where they went wrong.

They did the first part. They repented and started to obey the Lord, but they didn’t do the second part. They stopped, and they turned back. He uses that favorite word there again, “Shuv.” Remember “Shuv?” It means to turn or to repent or to go back.

He uses it in verse 15 for something good. “Recently you [shuved] repented and did what is right in my sight.”

But then they shuvved the shuv! Verse 16, “But now you have [shuved] turned around and profaned my name.”

They repented of their repentance. Don’t do that. Don’t repent of your repentance! Start to obey the Lord, and don’t turn back.

I’m guessing that some of us (maybe all of us) are tempted to repent of our repentance these days. It’s hard to live a repentant life. It’s often a lot easier to do things the world’s way than it is to things the Lord’s way. 

Sometimes, it seems downright crazy to obey, doesn’t it? “Buy the field!” right? It’s hard to forgive and to keep bitterness at bay. It’s hard to put away lust or greed or gluttony or rage. Especially when the world says that’s the way blessing lies. It’s hard to not give up on obedience and repent of your repentance.

But that way lies death. Look at verse 17.

“‘Therefore, this is what the LORD says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom for your fellow countrymen. So I now proclaim 'freedom' for you, declares the LORD–'freedom' to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. The men who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces.

The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, I will hand over to their enemies who seek their lives. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. I will hand Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials over to their enemies who seek their lives, to the army of the king of Babylon, which has withdrawn from you. I am going to give the order, declares the LORD, and I will bring them back to this city. They will fight against it, take it and burn it down. And I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there.” (vv 17-22).

Why does God care so much about this?

One commentator calls this the “Emancipation Revocation” (Phillip Ryken). They took back the freedom they had promised in God’s name. Right there. It tells you something. They had made these promises in God’s holy name. They had made a solemn covenant. They had cut a calf in two pieces and walked through it saying, “If I break this covenant, may this happen to me, so help me, Yahweh!” And then they just went back on their promises! When you and I make promises, we are involving the Lord because we bear His name. So when we break our promises, we are implicating the Lord in that, too. Of course He cares! 

And more than that, the LORD loves freedom. He loves setting people free. That’s what the Cross does right? That’s what Jesus did when He redeemed us from our slavery to sin. So, of course, He cares. And He hates that they have, once again, broken His covenant because whether or not they made a covenant together about this, they were already supposed to be doing it. And they weren’t. Once again, they had stopped obeying the Lord and were going to pay for it.

Which brings us, at long last, to the Recabite Family, chapter 35. Look at verse 1.

“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD during the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah: ‘Go to the Recabite family and invite them to come to one of the side rooms of the house of the LORD and give them wine to drink.’”

Now, this is actually a flashback to an earlier time. Probably a decade or so before the events of chapter 34. This is during the reign of wicked king Jehoiakim son of Josiah. It’s probably around 600BC. He reigned from 609-598. 

But even though it happened before chapter 34, I think it’s placed here in Jeremiah’s book to provide a comparison and contrast with it. Chapter 34 was about a fickle group people who started to obey but then stopped. And chapter 35 is about a faithful group of people who started to obey and then never stopped.

They were a weird family named after their great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather Recab. Recab had a son named Jonadab who is mentioned once before in 2 Kings chapter 10 (vv.15-17). He was a right hand man to Jehu who was a violent rebel against evil king Ahab. He’s the one who, humanly speaking, took down wicked King Ahab and his wife Jezebel and killed all of the prophets of Baal at that time. He was zealous! And so, apparently was his right hand man Jonadab son of Recab. 

And, also apparently, Jonadab son of Recab had a strong influence over his family which was passed down from generation to generation for more than (get this!) 200 years. Jonadab gave his family instructions on how they were supposed to live. He had like “5 Rules for the Recabite Family.”

And they followed them for over 200 years!

And one of them was...well, let’s just see what happens. The LORD sends Jeremiah to find this family and invite them to the temple and to provide them with wine to drink. So he does. I don’t know how he pulls it off. He doesn’t have authority over the temple. King Jehoiakim hates his guts. But he does it. Look at verse 3.

“So I went to get Jaazaniah son of Jeremiah [different Jeremiah], the son of Habazziniah, and his brothers and all his sons–the whole family of the Recabites. I brought them into the house of the LORD, into the room of the sons of Hanan son of Igdaliah the man of God. It was next to the room of the officials, which was over that of Maaseiah son of Shallum the doorkeeper. Then I set bowls full of wine and some cups before the men of the Recabite family and said to them, ‘Drink some wine.’”

Do you see it?

He’s got like punch bowls full of good wine. And cups to dip it in. And they’re at the Temple. And it’s the men of God offering them this hospitality. Deeply honoring. Everybody is watching. And they are all there. The whole weird exotic family. There must not have been that many of them because they can all fit in that one room in the temple. But they all have a cup, and they are all invited to drink.

And they all refused. Every single one of them.

Verse 6. “But they replied, ‘We do not drink wine, because our forefather Jonadab son of Recab gave us this command: 'Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine. Also you must never build houses, sow seed or plant vineyards; you must never have any of these things, but must always live in tents. Then you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads.' 

We have obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab son of Recab commanded us. Neither we nor our wives nor our sons and daughters have ever drunk wine or built houses to live in or had vineyards, fields or crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab commanded us. But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded this land, we said, 'Come, we must go to Jerusalem to escape the Babylonian and Aramean armies.' So we have remained in Jerusalem’” (vv.6-11).

Do you see how weird they were? They weren’t just teetotalers. They were like nomads. They didn’t have houses. And they never farmed. They always lived under tents. They lived a very “intense” life, right? {That was a pun.} The only reason why they were in Jerusalem right then was that Nebuchadnezzar had pushed them in. Their tents were set up inside the city walls. I’ll bet everybody loved that. Don’t you love it when you see a little tent city spring up in your town? Everybody had their eyes on these folks.

They were different! They were kind of like the Amish but not peaceful (Jonadab sure wasn’t) and not farmers, more like nomadic Nazirites. Or kind of like the Roma people who wander from place to place in Europe. Or the Fulani. Or hippies. They lived an alternative lifestyle. 

And it did not include the fruit of the vine. For going on 250 years, nobody in that family had had a drop of wine. 

So Jeremiah has sought them out, brought them to the temple, poured out a vast quantities of wine, in front of everybody. The whole nation is going to hear about this!

And they all to a man say, “Thank you for offering this wine. It’s very generous. But we can’t drink it because Grandpa Jonadab commanded us not to.”

That’s the story. That’s all that happened.

My guess is that Jeremiah replied, “Thank you, guys, for coming. That’s what I thought you would say. No problem. We are not offended. We weren’t trying to trick you or trap you. Instead, the LORD brought you here so you could show us how it’s done. You Recabites showed us how to obey somebody and keep obeying them even under pressure. Well done!”

And the LORD says the same thing. Look at verse 12.

“Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go and tell the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem, 'Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?' declares the LORD. [Notice the emphasis there on HIS words.]

‘Jonadab son of Recab ordered his sons not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather's command. 

But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me.

Again and again I sent all my servants the prophets to you. They said, ‘Each of you must turn from your wicked ways and reform your actions; do not follow other gods to serve them. Then you will live in the land I have given to you and your fathers.’ But you have not paid attention or listened to me” (vv.12-15).

Now, let’s be clear.

The LORD is not saying that everybody ought to do the same things as the Recabite Family.  He isn’t saying that nobody should ever drink wine. Jesus made the best wine ever! He isn’t saying that believers should never build houses or never plant seeds or never have a vineyard or always live in tents. He’s not saying that at all. The LORD has promised some of those things as the blessing of shalom and prosperity on God’s people! He’s not even saying that the Recabites all have to live that exact way forever, like Grandpa said.

He’s saying that the people of Judah should be like the Recabite Family in this one key way: they should start obeying and not stop. The Recabite Family is one great big object lesson in relentless obedience.

Here’s the logic. If this little family can go 250 years in obeying their forefather who was just a man at best, then how much more should and could the people of God obey and keep obeying their Heavenly Father who is God Himself?! 

Shame on Judah for re-enslaving their brothers and sisters! They couldn’t go a few weeks without repenting of their repentance when it got a little hard. Instead, they should been like the Recabite Family instead and stayed obedient to their Lord no matter what. No matter how funny it made them look.

You know, increasingly, we Christians are going to be looked at as ridiculous. The things we believe. The things we cannot go along with.  We are going to going to get laughed at, which is often harder to live with than straight up persecution. At least it feels like it sometimes. We need to decide in advance that we’re going to keep on obeying our Lord even if the world laughs at us.

Lanse Free Church, let’s decide now to obey the LORD in 2023 and not stop obeying the LORD in 2023 if times get rough. Let’s stick it out. Let’s do the things we know the Lord wants us to do. And let’s not “become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9 NIVO)

Because with obedience comes blessing. Look at verse 16.

“The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab have carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not obeyed me.' ‘Therefore, this is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.'

Then Jeremiah said to the family of the Recabites, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'You have obeyed the command of your forefather Jonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered.' [Good job! Great example!] Therefore, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Jonadab son of Recab will never fail to have a man to serve me.'”

Start to obey the Lord, and don’t stop, and you will be blessed.

Just like the Recabite Family.


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
07. "Is There No Balm in Gilead?" - Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
08. "Boast About This" - Jeremiah 9:23-24
09. "Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch" - Jeremiah 9:25-10:25
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21
14. "I the LORD Search the Heart" - Jeremiah 17:1-27
15. "Go Down to the Potter's House" - Jeremiah 18:1-19:15
16. “Insult and Reproach All Day Long” - Jeremiah 20:1-18
17. "Woe to the Shepherds" - Jeremiah 21:1-23:8
18. "I Did Not Send These Prophets" - Jeremiah 23:9-40
19. "“My Eyes Will Watch Over Them For Their Good” - Jeremiah 24:1-25:38
20. "This Man Should Be Sentenced to Death" - Jeremiah 26:1-24
21. “Under the Yoke” - Jeremiah 27:1-28:17
22. “I Know the Plans I Have for You” - Jeremiah 29:1-32
23. "I Will Surely Save You Out of a Distant Land" - Jeremiah 30:1-24
24. “I Have Loved You With An Everlasting Love” - Jeremiah 31:1-26
25. "A New Covenant" - Jeremiah 31:27-40
26. "Buy the Field" - Jeremiah 32:1-44

Saturday, January 28, 2023

My 2023 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 2022

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2022

Dear Church Family,

I feel incredibly blessed to have served as your pastor now for nearly a quarter of a century. In January of 1998, I first heard about Lanse Evangelical Free Church and your search for your next shepherd and you first learned about me. None of us could have ever guessed what the next twenty five years would have involved! It’s been a joy and a privilege to travel through these many years with you.

We started last year wondering who our next administrative assistant would be, how much covid would continue to disrupt the regular flow of church life, and what children, youth, and adult ministry might look like in a new era. We didn’t know what the future held, but we knew Who held the future and that He is faithful.

A Good Year Indeed

In my last annual report I wrote, “My hope and prayer for the year ahead of us is simply that it will be GOOD.” I laid out three areas where I was hoping that God’s goodness would shine through: good deeds, good news, and good plans. 

I’m pleased to report that 2022 was indeed a good year. It was certainly not as a affected by the presence of covid (though the virus is still with us!). More and more, ministry is more like it used to be–including witnessing indoor baptisms (four!), passing the communion plates (resumed in April), sending a group to an in-person Stay Sharp conference, and finally holding the Wild Game Dinner with Kim Cone which we had to postpone for two whole years!

In His goodness, the Lord provided Misty Michaels as our new Administrative Assistant. After Marilynn Kristofits trained her, Misty took over the church office in March. I am grateful for Misty’s servant attitude and steady ability to keep us all on the same page. Along with Cindy Green as our hard-working custodian, we have a great staff.

The Lord continues to give us good church leaders. I’m grateful to have served with the 2022 Elder Team–Keith Folmar (chairman), Cody Crumrine (vice-chairman), Joel Michaels, and Abraham Skacel–and all of the other elected officers. Read the annual reports in these pages to get a glimpse of how the Lord has blessed all of our ministries in this year and led us in new directions–including some good things we never would had guessed such as the need for and provision of a new boiler system! 

2022 was an especially good year for missions ministry as we had visits from two of our missionary families whom we had not yet met in person–Fred & Cindy Cressman ministering in Malawi and Caleb Lucien who serves in Haiti.

In His goodness, the Lord has grown our fellowship in 2022! Our average attendance on Sundays grew 11.4% to 127 people per Sunday (4% more than the average in the second half of 2021 when we were able to return to having only one worship time). It seems that more people are becoming more regular in their attendance, though we still seem to have a different group from week to week. Our church family is much bigger than it may seem on any given Sunday! The lowest attended worship gathering was June 26th with 82 people. The highest attended was Resurrection Sunday with 204 people counted.

Perhaps a better way of recognizing the growth is to learn that we had to find mailboxes for 7 more families in October! And while we had 7 members depart or die, we also added 9 new members–Emigh Modzel, Peter Mitchell, Randy & Vicky Albert, Brady & Bethann English, Trey & Jenni English, and Judy Owens. We have much to celebrate.

This year we celebrated our 130th anniversary as a church. We had birthday cake on the actual anniversary Sunday in February and also set aside a special weekend in October to mark the big milestone. Greg Strand came from the EFCA National Office to preach God’s Word and to teach a short seminar on theology and church history, and we had greetings from both EFCA President Kevin Kompelien (via video) and our Allegheny District Superintendent Kerry Doyal (see his letter elsewhere in this report). The Lord has been good to us.

Pastoral Ministry 

Twenty-five years ago, when I came to be the candidate for your next pastor, I taught a Sunday School class on what a pastor does according to the Bible, and I focused the class on the three main areas of ministry which I still utilize today.

Preach the Word - 2 Timothy 4:2

As your pastor for the last twenty-five years, I have had the great privilege of studying God’s Word in-depth each week to share it with you in-depth on Sunday mornings.

In 2022, we completed our second major trek through Peter’s first letter (the last time was 20 year earlier in 2001-02!), punctuating the truth that we are not home yet. We are foreigners and exiles in this world living here as citizens of the world to come. When we finished 1 Peter, we concentrated on the Cross and the Empty Tomb in John 19 and 20, and then we began, “Uprooted,” an extended sermon series in the Prophecy of Jeremiah. Studying Jeremiah has been engrossing and challenging for me, but it has been good for me, and I believe it is bearing fruit in our hearts and lives.

When I was out of the pulpit, we were ably served by good guest preachers: Donnie Rosie, Kim Cone, Joel Michaels, Fred Cressman, Abraham Skacel, Kerry Doyal, Greg Strand, and Caleb Lucien.

Equip the Saints - Ephesians 4:12

As your pastor for the last twenty-five years, I have had the great responsibility of preparing you to do the work of the ministry. A significant portion of my work week is spent in meetings, on the phone, sending messages, and planning out ministry with our church leaders and helpers.

This year, I had the privilege of directly overseeing the area of children’s ministry and leading the Family Discipleship Vision Team as they developed recommendations and plans for ministry to children, youth, and parents. You can read more about it more fully in the Family Ministries Report elsewhere in this document. This was undoubtably the most consuming aspect of my pastoral work in 2022, but I believe it was a pivotal investment which I hope will yield dividends in the years to come. 

I also enjoyed getting to return to offering training for Elders, and had the privilege  of leading Keith Hurley and Abe Skacel all the way through that training in 2022.

In addition to equipping our local church, you have graciously freed me up to serve other churches in our association and beyond. This year, I continued to lead the Allegheny District Constitutions and Credentials Board, coordinate the book reviews for the EFCA Blog, and participate in the EFCA’s Spiritual Heritage Committee. I also sat on the ordination council for Pastor Matt Brown of First Baptist Church in Clearfield, spoke to the Sons of God Motorcycle Club, and taught at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship.

My book, Resisting Gossip, turned nine years old in September and continues to be used around the country and the world. In March, I was invited to the EFCA Central District Conference to teach on resisting gossip. Also, in an unexpected twist, I was approached by two different missions organizations about translating and publishing a small group discussion guide which I had created to go with Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin. I originally wrote the discussion guides for our church’s Link Groups, and now they are also being used in Europe in German and French!

Shepherd the Flock - 1 Peter 5:2

As your pastor for the last twenty-five years, I have had the great privilege of walking alongside you through the joys and sorrows of the Christian life.

Last year, I expressed my frustration at how disconnected I often felt from all of you through 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Thankfully, I felt much more connected and close to you in 2022. It’s still very challenging to stay current, especially with erratic attendance patterns, work schedules, and the ongoing presence of covid and other illnesses that often keep us apart, but it was much better this year!

In 2022, I got to visit with you in your homes, workplaces, hospital rooms, and in restaurants. I purchased a West Branch season pass to sit with parents and watch their kids playing soccer, volleyball, softball, basketball, baseball, football and other sports. I also enjoyed attending band and choir concerts and watching drama presentations. We have some pretty talented kids in our church family!

Shepherding also means being with the flock when they are hurting. I visited many of you in the hospital or nursing home. In my office, I listened and tried to offer wise counsel as some of you went through hard things or had to make hard decisions. I also had the solemn privilege of walking alongside grieving people. In 2022, I led memorial services or funerals for Shannon Allen, Harry Finkbeiner, Edith Lansberry, Gloria “Jeannie” Walter, Bob Lutz, Jim Evans, and Jeff “Needle” Hummel. And I  ministered to the families of Rosella (Araway) DeyArmin and Dave Wertz when the Lord took them home.

Shepherding also means being with the flock when they are rejoicing. Our whole church celebrated the birth of Wilson in October and the baptisms of Ryen, Jordan, Leo, and Johnathan! 

“The LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

A Personal Note

Thank you for praying for and supporting my family for the last twenty-five years. Heather and I had no kids yet when we came in 1998, and now all four of them are all grown and headed in various directions. We are all grateful for your faithful intercession and generous care of the Mitchells for a quarter of a century! 
Thank you, also, for strongly supporting the Allegheny District and providing for my pastor. Kerry is a good shepherd and a constant source of encouragement and wise counsel. Pastors need pastors too, and I have one of the best.

I am tremendously grateful for your decision to grant me a three month sabbatical this spring and summer. Heather and I are looking forward to traveling to Great Britain to see some things we’ve always longed to see with our eyes, to make some new friends, and to truly rest. I don’t know if I deserve the time off, but I sure feel like I can use it. I am tired. Thank you for the gift of true rest to mark our twenty-fifth anniversary of ministry together as shepherd and flock. Through you, “God's been good, good to my soul!”

2023 Vision - “Plans to Prosper You”

I am praying for the Lord to “shalom” us in 2023. I marvel at the good the Lord has given our church family in the last year, and I long for Him to prosper us more. 

Recently, we have all been memorizing the wonderful promise of Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” We learned that the word rendered “prosper” is the Hebrew word “shalom” which is often translated “peace” but means so much more. “Shalom” means wholeness, completeness, well-being, prosperity. It is a kind of fullness of blessing and comprehensive peacefulness where everything is as it should be.

The LORD promised to restore shalom to His people who were about to go into exile, and He promises ultimate prosperity to all of His people forever (read Revelation 21-22!). I’m praying 2023 is marked more and more by the experience of shalom in our congregation. I am hoping for a year of prosperity, as defined by our Lord.

I think we’re going to be stretched this year. When I’m away on sabbatical, many people–especially the Elders–will have to step in to cover my essential roles. We are going to keep experimenting with new ideas for family ministries. We are still trying to get to know each other again after the disconnection of the pandemic, and we have a lot of new people to deeply enfold into our fellowship. Some of the newer people are stepping up to leadership, and that will mean change, as well. We are gearing up to send a team to Malawi on a missions trip. We are going to reach out through another Wild Game Dinner, Family Bible Week, and Good News Cruise. We are fixing to remodel the men’s restroom and eventually build a pavilion for outdoor fellowship. I’m praying that the Lord, in His wisdom, would prosper all of these efforts.

Prosperity doesn’t always mean financial or physical blessing. The uprooted exiles of Judah did not always see or feel the shalom the LORD was promising while they were stuck in Babylon. We, too, are not home yet. But we can experience overriding and underlying peace in the midst of any situation, assured that the Lord knows His good plans for our future. No harm will ultimately harm us (Psalm 121). That is our sure and certain hope.

As we pass the full 25-year-mile-marker together as pastor and flock, it is important that we do not take our foot off of the gas. While I am looking forward to a brief time of rest, this is not a time to coast, but a time to keep our eyes fixed on the road ahead of us. We are not home yet, but we soon will be.

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21 NIV84).

In His Peace-filled Grip,
- Pastor Matt

P.S. I believe Heather and I will experience “shalom” on our “shabbath.” (The word “sabbatical” comes from the Hebrew word that names the day of rest.) Thank you, again, for giving us that time to rest, renew, reflect, and recharge in 2023!

Friday, January 27, 2023

2022 Family Ministries Report

Family Ministries Report
(Part of the 2022 Annual Report for Lanse Evangelical Free Church. Submitted by Pastor Matt with contributions from Keith Hurley and Holly Crumrine.)

Undoubtably, 2022 was a pivotal year for our ministry to the children and youth of our church and community. As the year began and we started to more fully emerge from the era of pandemic disruptions, we convened a “Custom Rebuild Team” as a temporary task force to re-think, re-imagine, and re-tool our ministries to the next generation. And we called upon the whole church family to pray for their work.

I had the privilege to serve as the leader of that team and as the interim Coordinator of Children’s Ministries in 2022. Leading and developing these ministries was a significant portion of my work as your pastor last year, and I’m grateful for the strong progress we made together. We have come so far!

The task force was made up of a diverse group of volunteers including several parents of younger children, a few parents of older children and teens, some teachers, and folks who have served in child discipleship ministry for many years. They invested a substantial amount of time, meeting in person and participating in a steady flow of electronic messages in between meetings. Early in the year, Cody Crumrine, the elder overseeing children’s ministries, stepped up as a co-leader to facilitate many of the brainstorming sessions and to spearhead some of the initiatives.

While the basic intent of the team was to review our ministries and make recommendations, this group was also itching to try out new things and get things started. They didn’t want to just focus on structures, systems, and programs, so the group also functioned as a planning and leadership team for the many strategies we experimented with in 2022.

In the first part of the year, we focused on (1) the rich history of our church’s ministries to children and youth (2) the many assets and strengths our church has for this kind of ministry, (3) the trends and problems we’ve encountered in recent years, and (4) the challenges facing families in today’s cultural moment.

Parents are Key!

Very early in the process, the Lord impressed upon our team the importance of parents in the equation. Parents are called to be the primary discipling influence on the children in their homes. We came to the conviction that the central focus of all of our discipling ministries should be to come alongside the parents (and those, such as grandparents, who sometimes step in to serve in the parental role) to support them in their efforts to make disciples of their children. This ministry is about the whole family growing in their followership of Christ.
To clearly reflect that central focus and new emphasis, we renamed our task force “The Family Discipleship Vision Team,” and included ministry to and through parents in all the things we worked on for the rest of the year. I preached a special message about it, “Impress Them On Your Children.” The FDVT also began to survey LEFC parents to understand their needs, desires, interests, ideas, and concerns. We discovered that we were regularly serving at least 29 families with 54 children (newborn to age 18) in our congregation.

Starting Small / Dreaming Big

We knew that, no matter how much we wanted to, we couldn’t do everything and that we didn’t currently have the means and leadership to create a large-scale ongoing whole-church program. So, instead, at each meeting, in addition to working on our overarching recommendations, the FDVT tackled little parts of the problem and tried small, sustainable experiments in ministry to the whole family: children, youth, and parents.

- Ark Park Meet ‘n Play

For example, we created a weekly gathering at the Ark Park geared towards moms and their little ones. Jordyn Skacel and other leaders showed up to visit with any mothers and their tykes who were free every Wednesday morning all summer for a play-date on the playground. The church provided restrooms, juice bags, and some new toddler play equipment, and moms enjoyed many good conversations.

- Family Fellowship Events

Discipleship happens best in community. Several of the parents suggested in the surveys that we get families together for fellowship, especially after the disconnection of covid. So one of the first things the FDVT organized was a families’ outing to an Altoona Curve game. Then, in the autumn, we planned a Harvest Party for LEFC Families that attracted around 50 kids and adults.

- Outreach to Families at West Branch

Most of the families in our area are vitally connected to the West Branch School, and the school’s administration has invited us to partner with them and have more of a presence at their events. In June, we sent a family ministry team to participate in the West Branch Jubilee for their summer kick-off. Our team did face-painting, handed out water bottles and flyers for Family Bible Week, and invited folks to take a spiritual interest survey. At the Jubilee, one of the kids told me, “You are the pastor from the Church at the Ark Park!” In October, we sent 800 glo-sticks as gifts for the safe trick-or-treat event on campus reminding the WB kids that they are loved and that Jesus is the light of the world.

- Family Bible Week 2022

I wasn’t sure if we were going to have a Family Bible Week this year. I approached seven different leaders to see if any were interested in serving as the FBW director, and they all said that they would be glad to help but didn’t feel able to lead the whole thing this year. So I volunteered to do it myself, and the Elders (and Heather!) approved the use of my time for directing it this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the process. We have a wonderful army of joyful volunteers (12 people just on the teaching team, not counting all of the folks who help with the food, decorations, music, games and everything else!), and we had a terrific year. The theme centered on creativity with Mary Beth Moslak as our FBW Artistic Director. Together we experienced a little taste of the creativeness that God has instilled in all of us as His living artwork!

- New Nursery Coordinator

This year, Becky Schiefer agreed to assume leadership of our Nursery Ministry (birth through age 2) and held a meeting to re-organize and refresh that vital ministry of loving babies and toddlers while their parents are listening to the Sunday message. Thank you to all who serve in that critical ministry!

- New Worldview Training Class for Youth

Keith Hurley came to FDVT meetings with a burden for teaching teens about a Christian worldview. We helped him develop his idea and launch the “Ideas Have Consequences” Worldview Training Class in the Fall with a small team of volunteers (Heather Hurley, Laura Michaels, Joan Page, and myself). Here is the central idea in Keith’s own words:
On September 11, 2022 Youth Group began meeting regularly again for the first time since March 2020. Due the curriculum being my own creation and my work schedule, the time for Youth has been moved from Wednesday to Sunday nights every other week.

Over the course of the fall, we covered what a worldview is. Our subjects have been, Truth, God, the Bible, and Jesus. I have attempted to give two "Whys" for every "What".  For each subject, we discussed who/what the subject material is (What is truth? Who is God?), why we as Christians believe in said subject, and why it matters in this day and age. We have looked at some of the evidence for each subject such as the philosophical reasons to believe that God exists and the historical reasons to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

This spring, we will be covering how to share our beliefs with others, by studying Gregory Koukl's “Tactics” video series. My hopes for this whole year of Youth Group has been to demonstrate to the youth that there are rational reasons to believe in a Christian world view and to show the youth how to engage those around them in discussion about those beliefs.
The class continues in 2023, every other Sunday evening. Parents are always welcome!

- Expanding Children’s Church

Over the last few years, Children’s Church has become our central Bible-teaching ministry for kids. Because more students were coming, we decided in the spring to once again divide the one class into two. We now have “Little Learners” (age 3 through kindergarten) and “Bible Explorers” (grades 1 through 3) that meet during the Sunday sermon time. To serve the two classes well, we also doubled the number of teachers and helpers (and picked up a regular substitute teacher)! We now have 17 teachers and helpers regularly in rotation for that ministry.

- “This Week in Children’s Church” 

Our Children's Church ministry uses The Gospel Project as our Bible study curriculum. The Gospel Project is really excellent. It takes our young students chronologically through the whole Bible over the course of three years while always focusing on Jesus as the center of the big story. 

Parents can use The Gospel Project, too! This year, we added a section in the bulletin each Sunday that introduces this week’s lesson and refers parents to more discipleship resources that we provide (Big Picture Story Cards and Take-Home Sheets) to reinforce the gospel truths the students are learning in class.

- The Gospel Project At Home

We also gained access to “The Gospel Project At Home” which is a free online family devotional guide centered around the same lesson all of the kids are studying in Children’s Church. Each devotional guide includes Scripture to discuss with a recap video of the Bible story, memory verses, a song to sing together, prayer prompts, and family activities that correspond to the lesson. I think this resource can be especially helpful if a child has to miss a week of Children’s Church, and I’m hoping that our families increasingly take advantage of it.

- “The Family Table” Email Newsletter

To increase communication directly with parents, we created “The Family Table” email newsletter which goes out every Sunday at noon. This email contains the weekly link to the Gospel Project at Home, short reminders of items of note for families, and one big recommendation of things for parents and kids to read, listen to, or watch to set the table for great family discipleship conversations in their homes.

Thank you, Holly Crumrine, for designing the snazzy TFT logo! Grandparents, guardians, care-givers and other adults who want to make disciples of the next generation are also invited to sign up to receive “The Family Table.” We’re hoping that this new resource serves to feed the faith of our LEFC Families. 

- Christmas Caroling and Christmas Sunday Presentation

For the second year in a row, I organized a Christmas Caroling ministry team for LEFC families to visit and encourage the homebound and older folks in our church family. We had 10 different families participate this year (more younger families than ever before) making 12 different stops over three hours! It’s encouraging to see families serve together. On Christmas Sunday, Emigh Modzel taught a special lesson on how candy canes can tell us what is really important about Jesus’ birth.  

Six Big Recommendations 

In August, the Family Discipleship Vision Team presented six formal recommendations for the Elders and church family to prayerfully consider. These included grouping the church’s various ministries to children, youth, and parents together under the name, “Family Ministries,” adopting a a new purpose statement for LEFC Family Ministries, reorganizing the leadership structure for family ministry, and asking a new Family Ministries Team to continue the work of evaluating all of our family ministries, policies, and procedures for effectiveness while developing new ministry ideas for the future. We’re in the process of implementing these recommendations over time.

Among the FDVT’s bigger recommendations was to employ a Director of Family Ministry, a part-time paid staff position hired to lead LEFC Families ministries. This person would potentially carry on and extend the work that I had been doing all last year. While we have many willing volunteers among our members, we do not currently have many people who feel able to lead the leaders and develop the whole big picture. In December, the church family discussed the desirability, possibility, and feasibility of this idea and then unanimously decided to prayerfully consider it for three months and revisit it at our next quarterly meeting. 

Difficult but Rewarding

The process of developing family ministry this year has been challenging. One of the hardest parts has been to decide together to not restart beloved ministries which had been effective in the past such as Children’s Sunday School, Family Bible Night, ABC Kids, Kids for Christ, and MOPS.  I miss those programs and am grateful for their long-term impact.

But the process has also been very rewarding. I’m encouraged to see so many things come together and be developed, and I’m hopeful for the future. Thank you for praying for this ministry all year long and for freeing me to invest my time and attention to the work.

Vision for 2023

The Family Discipleship Vision Team was disbanded at the end of 2022. Thank you to all who served on that temporary task force! 

Holly Crumrine has agreed to serve as the last elected Children’s Ministries Coordinator and help us transition to the new approach in 2023. In January, she led a well-attended planning meeting that has gotten a number of terrific new things in the works already. They may be small, but they are significant, and they build on last year’s efforts.

New Ministries

It looks like the next new family ministry will be an after-church sermon-interaction time on Sundays called "Snack and Yack" designed for older kids in grades 3-7 (perhaps too mature for children’s church and not quite ready for the youth class). More on that soon!  

New Leaders

Vicky Albert will assume the role of Children’s Church Coordinator in March. See her if you want to get involved. We are always looking to develop new teachers and helpers for that key ministry. 

Holly has agreed to direct the 2023 Family Bible Week, and people are already signing up to help organize it. See her to add your name to the growing list.

New Purpose

At the first planning meeting for family ministries in 2023, Holly reminded the group of our new purpose statement: Helping Families Thrive in Christ. LEFC Family Ministries exist to bring families into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ through ministries to the children, youth, and parents of our church and community.

May the Lord fulfill that purpose in us in small and big ways this year and beyond!

Creating art together!

Thursday, January 26, 2023

2022 Adult Ministries Report

2022 Adult Ministries Report
(Part of the 2022 Annual Report for Lanse Evangelical Free Church. Submitted by Pastor Matt, Judy Carlson, and Abraham Skacel)

In 2022, we continued to offer a variety of ministries to make disciples of adults in our church family and also to develop and deploy a few new strategies.

Continuing Ministries

On a weekly basis we continued to offer a Prayer Meeting on Wednesday nights primarily led by Joel Michaels and Pastor Matt. We also continued to supply “Explore the Bible” study guides for adults to utilize at home and a growing collection of helpful discipleship resources in the church library.

During Family Bible Week Dave Catanzaro taught an adult class that corresponded with the 2022 FBW theme of being the artwork of God (Ephesians 2:10). We also provided a copy of Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney as this year’s LEFC Book Club.

New Ministries

Ladies’ Fellowship Hour – Judy Carlson

This year in October was the first meeting of the Ladies Fellowship Hour. The purpose is for the women of our church to get to know one another and to share their needs and concerns. The women encourage and pray for one another.  They also have a time of sharing God's Word. We are averaging about 10 ladies each week, and they say that they are really enjoying getting to know one another and being comfortable sharing with others and the support they receive. The response has been much better than Ruth Murray and I anticipated when we thought of the idea. We thought that many weeks it might be just the two or three of us praying together, which would have been good as well. To see so many who are faithfully attending and so happy to be a part of the group is wonderful. Interestingly, among those regularly attending five of us have been attending LEFC for 40 years and three have attended for less than 3 years!

Pop Up Classes – Abraham Skacel

In 2022, we tried something new for adult discipleship. Rather than ongoing Sunday School classes, we introduced intermittent "pop-up" classes. The goal was to offer low commitment, high quality classes focused on practical equipping for discipleship and ministry. We had a three week class in August on evangelism. In October, Greg Strand taught on the history of the EFCA. In November, Caleb Lucien shared about the state of ministry in Haiti with VOHM. At the very beginning of 2023, we had a one week class on praying Scripture. 

Looking ahead into 2023, we hope to offer more classes on a variety of topics that will be beneficial to the spiritual needs of our congregation (let Abe know if you have ideas!). In addition to offering more pop-up classes, we hope to tap into the giftings of other members of the church family to help teach. With God's leading and blessing, we pray that this ministry will serve to "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ," (Ephesians 4:12).

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

LEFC Worship Ministries 2022 Report

Worship Ministries Report
(Part of the 2022 Annual Report for Lanse Evangelical Free Church)

“All my life, all I know
God's been good, good to my soul
Mountain high, valley low
I'm gonna sing wherever I go”
(We The Kingdom)
In 2022, God’s unchanging goodness once again led us to sing His praises Sunday after Sunday as a joyful church family.

Praise God for the return of the LEFC Celebration Choir! Amy Jo Belko and her erstwhile band of singers lifted up their voices for us once again on Resurrection Sunday, Celebration Sunday, and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It was so encouraging to have the choir resume after a few years off due to the pandemic.

Cody leading the kids in worship at FBW!
Praise God for coming closer together in worship! In 2022, we continued to offer outside and spread-out seating options on Sunday mornings, but as the year progressed, we saw more and more people choose to be inside worshiping shoulder to shoulder. We also got to worship together indoors for Resurrection Sunday and Celebration Sunday for the first time in a few years. I’m glad we continue to have the outside options to accommodate people who are ill, exposed, or remaining cautious (I used them a few times myself when our family was touched with covid in 2022!), but I’m really encouraged that people feel increasingly comfortable being close to one another once again. As much as we’re able, we need to worship together (Psalm 122, 133).

Praise God for people getting involved in leading and serving! This year Randy Albert began helping to lead the hymns on Sunday mornings. Cody Crumrine and Joe Quick continued to help to lead the worship team. Ben Schiefer and Rick Sipe returned to the worship band after living away, and lots of others shared special music, picked up an instrument, and stepped up on the platform to make a contribution especially for our Christmas Eve candlelight worship service. Our Tech Team continues to grow as they project and record the sound and video for us each week. I’m very grateful that we have so many people serving on these ministry teams!

Praise God for continuing emphasis on older forms of worship! In 2022, we sang many of our beloved favorites songs from throughout church history and proclaimed in unison what we believe in creeds, confessions, catechisms, and our own EFCA Statement of Faith. We also memorized Scripture together throughtout the course of the year: 1 Peter 2:11-12, Isaiah 40:10-11, Ephesians 2:10, Jeremiah 17:7-8, and Jeremiah 29:11.

Praise God for new music! One of the biggest highlights of worship ministry in 2022 was how many new songs we learned together as a church family. In the previous year, we only were able to learn one song, but in 2022 we learned seven! The worship team held many rehearsals this year and were then able to teach the church family new songs with rich theology and diverse styles: “Almost Home,” “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death,” “The Lord Is My Salvation,” “Gotta Know the Books,” “Sing Wherever I Go,” “Every Step,” and “Sing We the Song of Emmanuel.” 

I love that our church weaves all of these diverse elements together into a rich tapestry of worship. Our Lord deserves it!

“O sing hallelujah!  
Our hope springs eternal;  
O sing hallelujah!  
Now and ever we confess  
Christ our hope in life and death.”
(Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Papa)

As 2023 stretches ahead of us, I hope all of these good trends continue and increase–especially the development of new leadership as during my sabbatical people will need to assume some of the roles I’ve been filling.

We know that God will continue to be good, good to our souls, so we will continue to sing His praises wherever He takes us.

In His Grip,

-Pastor Matt

Sunday, January 22, 2023

“Great and Unsearchable Things” [Matt's Messages]

“Great and Unsearchable Things”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
January 22, 2023 :: Jeremiah 33:1-26

Would you like to hear a good secret? A secret about something good? Of course you would! Everybody does! 

We all want to be let in on a good secret, especially a secret about something good.  There isn’t enough good news going around, and we’re all thirsty for it.

Solomon says that good news from a distant land is like cold water to a weary soul (Prov. 25:25 NIVO). We are all thirsty for good news. Especially for good news that we did not know before.

Well, in chapter 33, the LORD has secrets that He wants to share with Jeremiah. Things that Jeremiah hasn’t heard before and can’t hardly imagine. And they are not just good. They are great! He calls them (in verse 3), “Great and Unsearchable Things.”

Let’s start at verse 1. This story takes place at the same time and place as the story in the last chapter–when Jeremiah was offered the chance to “buy the field,” to buy that less-than-worthless field of Cousin Hanamel’s in Anathoth. It was less-than-worthless because, at the time, it was probably crawling with Babylonians who were besieging the city of Jerusalem and about to take the people into exile!

So if Jeremiah was going to buy that field, his decision would have to be based on some inside-knowledge of the future. To buy it, he’s got to know a secret that nobody else knows to value that land! Because on the face of it, it looked crazy.

And on top of that, Jeremiah was imprisoned at the time. Look at verse 1.

“While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the LORD came to him a second time: ‘This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it–the LORD is his name: 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know'” (vv.1-3). 

We learned last week that Jeremiah was under house arrest in 588 BC because King Zedekiah did not like what Jeremiah had say about him, and he didn’t want Jeremiah’s message to spread. Of course, that wasn’t really stopping him from sharing the LORD’s messages, and it obviously didn’t stop the LORD from giving Jeremiah messages like He does here.

Did you notice that LORD uses His own name three times in verse 2? He wants us all to know that this message comes from Him and nobody else.

“This is what the LORD [Yahweh] says [the powerful Creator God], he who made the earth, the LORD [Yahweh] who formed it and established it–the LORD [Yahweh] is his name [here’s the message]: 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.'”

What an invitation! The LORD invites Jeremiah to pray and ask God to share with him even more of His amazing plans. He has told us that He knows the plans He has for us, amen?

What kind of plans are they?

They are plans to prosper (Hebrew “shalom”) His people.
They are NOT plans to harm His people.
And they are plans for a hope and a future.

But here the LORD says, more than that, they are plans for great and unsearchable things.

The LORD has extraordinary plans. They are great. They are marvelous. They are wonderful. And He says that they are “unsearchable.” Anybody have the old King James Version with you this morning? What does it say? “Great and mighty!” 

The Hebrew word there was often used for fortifications. It’s the word for making a wall strong so that nobody could break in. These great things that the LORD is willing to tell Jeremiah are behind the firewall. They are encrypted. They are safely locked in the blackbox unless the LORD hands you the encryption key. 
Nobody knows these things on their own. They are unsearchable.Because they are the future. And nobody knows the future but God. Unless He tells us. And they are unsearchble because they are too great to be grasped!

We would never guess these things. I think that’s the basic sense of it. “Jeremiah, you would never guess what I’m going to do. It’s too mighty for your little mind to truly comprehend.”

But just ask me, and I’ll tell you.

And then He tells him. Look at verse 4. It starts with some really ugly bad news. Verse 4.

“For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword in the fight with the Babylonians: 'They will be filled with the dead bodies of the men I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness” (vv.4-5).

That’s not a secret at this point. Jeremiah has been saying that this is coming for 40 years. And it’s about to happen. Apparently, the people of Jerusalem have been tearing down their houses and even their royal palaces to try to fortify the wall against the Babylonian invaders. But they will fail.

They will fail. And those houses will instead be filled with corpses. Because the LORD through the Babylonians is bringing judgment upon Judah’s sin. Instead of turning His face toward them and giving them peace (Numbers 6), He is hiding His face from them and bringing them to justice.

But here’s the secret: That’s not going to be the end of the story!

It seems like their wound is incurable (Jer 30:12), but the LORD is the Great Physician. Look at verse 6. “'Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.'” (vv.6-9).

Want to hear a good secret?


The Lord is going to turn everything around. He’s going to fix everything. He’s going to heal His people. He’s going to bring them back from exile. He’s going to rebuild the city. It has even fallen yet–it’s about to but it hasn’t happened–but right here before it goes down, the LORD says that He’s going to bring it back!

He does that play on the word “shuv” again. That word that means to return or to repent or to turn. He says that He is going to “turn the turnings” for them. He’s going to “reverse the reversals.” He’s going to fix everything so that it’s how it was supposed to be in the first place.

Which requires that their sins be forgiven. How great and unsearchable is that?! 

And what emotion will you feel if your sins are forgiven, but joy?

Joy will return.

The LORD says that He will experience joy. Look at verse 9 again, “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.'” (vv.6-9).

It’s almost too good to be true! The nations will go “Wow! Would you look at that!”

And joy will return to the people of God. Look at verse 10. “‘This is what the LORD says: 'You say about this place, ‘It is a desolate waste, without men or animals.’ Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither men nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD, saying, ‘Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever.’ For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,' says the LORD.”

Joy will return.

Weddings will happen again.
Worship services will happen once more.
They will sing Psalm 100 and Psalm 136 once again.

That’s the lyrics there in verse 11.

“Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever.”

They will be singing it in the streets of Jerusalem.

It doesn’t feel like it. None of this seems true or even likely or even possible. These folks are headed into the worst thing that has ever happened to them. Soon the bodies will pile up, and everyone will weep their eyes out. Trauma in every direction.

But joy will return.

Do you need to hear that this morning? Joy will return. It might not seem like it. Your situation right now might seem like you’re going to be stuck in gloom forever. But the LORD promises to restore everything. This restoration that is coming for Jerusalem is just a foretaste of the Great Restoration that God is planning for the whole world! To be enjoyed by His own restored people!

In the New Jerusalem. Let me read to you again where this is all going. Revelation 21, the fullest fulfillment of Jeremiah 33. John the Revelator writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Rev. 21:1-5 NIVO).

That’s a great and unsearchable thing! Believe it. Joy will return.

In the last book of the Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, the character Sam Gamgee wakes up at the very end of the story. He thought he was going to die and he thought all of his friends had died, too. But he was alive, so were his friends. (I hope that’s not a spoiler for anybody.) The wizard Gandalf is there when he wakes up, and Sam says to him, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

I love that. Because that’s what’s going to happen at the end of the story we’re living in. Everything sad is going to come untrue. Joy will return and return forever.

And here’s why. Because the LORD is going to send the Messiah. The Christ. Let’s look at verse 12. “‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In this place, desolate and without men or animals–in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks. In the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah, flocks will again pass under the hand of the one who counts them,' says the LORD” (vv.12-13).

That’s the shepherd counting his flock. One, two, three, four. All night long.

The presence of shepherds once again means that this place has been restored. The exile is over. There are “pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks.”

What does that remind you of? We just came through it a few weeks ago. Luke chapter 2, verse? “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Lk. 2:8 NIVO).

I think that Jeremiah 33:12 is at least one of the reasons why the angels came first to the shepherds! Because they were out there counting sheep, and the LORD was fulfilling His promise to send the Christ to them. Verse 14. Listen for those familiar words. Last time Jeremiah uses them in his book. 

“'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness'” (vv.14-16).

Sounds a lot like the passage we focused on during Advent doesn’t it? And Christmas Eve? 

“The days are coming.” They aren’t here yet, but they are surely on the way. The days are coming, when the LORD will provide a righteous king. He calls him a Righteous Branch sprouting from David’s line. Remember, the kings of Judah were all from David’s line. King Zedekiah who has David imprisoned right now is from David’s line. And Jeremiah has said that he’s never going to have a child sit on this throne!

It looks like Zedekiah is the end of the line. The great tree of David’s family is being chopped down right now before our eyes. “Timber!”

But out of the stump, a shoot is going to rise up. And it’s going to have a Branch on it that lives. And that Branch won’t be like any of these wicked sons of David. He will be righteous. Verse 15 says that He will do “what is just and right in the land.” We had a candle about that back in Advent when we studied chapter 23. A candle of righteousness.

This king will be a good one. A righteous one. Chapter 23 said that His name would be “The LORD is Our Righteousness.” And here in chapter 33, it says that He gives us His righteousness so much that the city becomes called by that name! He is that righteous!

Do you want to hear a good secret?


When the Messiah comes, so will righteousness. That means that everything will be made right again. Everything will not just be joyful. It will be right! Everything will be right and righteous. Including you and me. Do you feel how wrong the world is right now? The world is broken. It’s beautiful, but it’s broken. And so are we. Fundamentally. Inside. We sin because we’re sinners. We do unrighteousness because we are unrighteous.

But Jesus has given us His righteousness at the Cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 NIVO).

And He’s going to give us a new world that is all righteousness all the time. I can hardly wait. The Apostle Peter says in his second letter, “ keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13 NIVO).

When we sing, “Almost Home,” we’re singing that we’re almost where we will be right with God in a world that is right with God. That’s a great and unsearchable thing! Believe it. Righteousness will reign. Forever!

Because Jesus will reign forever. Look at verse 17. “For this is what the LORD says: 'David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel...”

He’s promising what seems impossible right then and there. King Jeconiah is in exile in Babylon, going to die there. King Zedekiah is going to soon be in exile in Babylon, going to die there.

How can this be? Well, this afternoon, maybe take a gander at the genealogy in Matthew chapter 1. Jeconiah had six sons, and at least one of them lived.  His name was “Shealtiel” (Matt. 1:12 NIVO). He had a son named “Zerubbabel” whom some of you know “rebuilt the rub-able.”  And He had a son and he had a had a son.  And eventually, a son was born named Jesus.

And He was crucified and then came back to life! So now He lives in the power of an indestructible life! Jesus lives forever, and so this promise will be fulfilled forever. And righteousness will reign forever. 

And it’s more than just a forever kingship. There is also a permanent priesthood. Look at verse 18. “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel nor will the priests, who are Levites, ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.” 

There’s going to be a priesthood forever. Verse 19. “The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘This is what the LORD says: 'If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant–and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me–can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne.

I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore'” (vv.19-22). Stop there for a second and let’s think about this promise. 

That’s a big promise! Notice how He takes the language of the Abrahamic covenant and adds it to the Davidic Covenant. He says that He’s going to make the offspring of David as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore! That is great and unsearchable!

And he says the same thing for the Levites! What’s going on here? I think that He’s pushing the boundaries here so that our minds get blown, and we have to think beyond the categories of the sixth century BC. We have to think beyond the categories of the Old Testament. And we have think about the mind-blowing categories of the New Testament. My best guess is that those descendants of David are the children of God through faith in David’s Son Jesus. And the permanent priesthood is the royal priesthood that we learned about in 1 Peter 2 and is referenced in Revelation 1. Spiritual children of David and royal priests to our God.

All because of the gift of His righteousness. John the Revelator says, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Rev. 1:5-6 NIVO).

The New Covenant picks up the promises and themes of all of the ongoing covenants that came before it and weaves them together and transposes them into an unimaginably more wonderful key that is great and unsearchable!

And unbreakable. All of these promises, which sound too good to be true, are completely trustworthy and unbreakable forever. 

Want to hear a good secret?


Every one of these promises will be kept. You can be certain of it. Did you see how sure these promise are, according to Yahweh? How He brings in his covenant with the day and his covenant with the night in verse 20?

“If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, os that the day and night no longer come at their appointed time...” then all of these other covenants are in danger.

Let’s take a quick poll. How many times has the night failed to come? Sleep may fail to come, but the night always comes, right? How many times has the day failed to come? It might stay dark gloomy, but the earth keeps going around and around, right? “Bet your bottom dollar.” Look at verse 23.

“The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘Have you not noticed that these people are saying, 'The LORD has rejected the two kingdoms he chose'? So they despise my people and no longer regard them as a nation” (vv.23-24).

There’s a reason for that. The LORD has sent Israel into exile, and He’s about to do the same thing to Judah. None of these good secrets seem likely. They hardly seem possible. Buying that field in Anathoth seems crazy. It doesn’t seem like the LORD has good plans for us. It seems, sometimes, like His plans are to harm us. But even the harm He lets come our way will not harm us.

Faithfulness will remain. The LORD will keep every single one of His promises. “Bet your bottom dollar!” Verse 25.

“This is what the LORD says: 'If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them'” (vv.25-26).

That’s a great and unsearchable thing! The LORD is going to keep every single one of His promises forever. He’s doing it right now. 

He’s in the process of bringing back joy for His people. 
He’s in the process of establishing a kingdom of righteousness.
He’s keeping every one of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David.

And you and me in the New, unbreakable, Covenant. And He’s going to do it forever. 

Want to know a good secret? Everything sad is going to come untrue. Forever.

That’s a great and unsearchable thing.


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
07. "Is There No Balm in Gilead?" - Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
08. "Boast About This" - Jeremiah 9:23-24
09. "Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch" - Jeremiah 9:25-10:25
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21
14. "I the LORD Search the Heart" - Jeremiah 17:1-27
15. "Go Down to the Potter's House" - Jeremiah 18:1-19:15
16. “Insult and Reproach All Day Long” - Jeremiah 20:1-18
17. "Woe to the Shepherds" - Jeremiah 21:1-23:8
18. "I Did Not Send These Prophets" - Jeremiah 23:9-40
19. "“My Eyes Will Watch Over Them For Their Good” - Jeremiah 24:1-25:38
20. "This Man Should Be Sentenced to Death" - Jeremiah 26:1-24
21. “Under the Yoke” - Jeremiah 27:1-28:17
22. “I Know the Plans I Have for You” - Jeremiah 29:1-32
23. "I Will Surely Save You Out of a Distant Land" - Jeremiah 30:1-24
24. “I Have Loved You With An Everlasting Love” - Jeremiah 31:1-26
25. "A New Covenant" - Jeremiah 31:27-40