Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Matters of Life & Death, 12 November 2017

Matters of Life & Death
Psalm 90:9-12

Big Idea: You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die…spiritually and otherwise.


Death and taxes. It has been said they are the only sure things in this life. We’re not going to talk about taxes this morning. Given this is the Sunday after an election we’ve all heard enough about taxes and government and politicians! But we are talking about death. What a cheery subject! But here’s the truth:

You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you ready?

The odds are very good that someday you’re going to die. Yes, there will be a generation of followers of Jesus who will be alive when Christ returns, but billions of people have been waiting thousands of years for that day and have all…died! People ask me all the time if I think such and such event is a sign that Jesus will return in our lifetime and my answer is always the same: we’re one day closer than we were yesterday.

If we set aside the statistically unlikely possibility we will be living when Christ returns, we must face the reality we will someday die. Perhaps the most difficult thing is we don’t know when. We all have an unknown expiration date!

The media reminds us constantly how our death could come suddenly. We might die of old age like my dear friend Harold whose life we celebrated yesterday, but we could die this morning unexpectedly as dozens did last Sunday morning in Texas. Jesus told a fantastic parable in Luke 12:

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ (Luke 12:16-17)

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ (Luke 12:18-19)

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ (Luke 12:20)

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…but it could also be the last day of your life!

We’re talking today about matters of life and death. I promise there is some encouragement at the end, but it’s so important we are prepared to die. Most of you are aware of the large number of funerals we’ve already done this year, some very unexpected. Some were ready, others not so much.

Here’s a rather poignant photo taken not long ago with two of our sisters who are now in the presence of Almighty God.

All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalms 90:9-12)

You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die.

I know many of you are thinking, “I’m ready. I can’t wait to die and meet Jesus!” But what about those who are left behind? What will your loved ones experience as they grieve your loss? A blessed inheritance? Wishes for your funeral? Keepsake letters of wisdom? Or a mess?

Financial Preparation

When people think of preparing for their death, the first thing they usually think about is their…will. Do you have one? Or do you have a Revocable Living Trust, which has additional benefits? Are beneficiaries named on your assets? What about passwords? Is there a place people can access your login information for bank accounts, bills, and other websites? Is there a list of your assets, including insurance policies, properties, and investments? Proverbs says

A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous. (Proverbs 13:22)

My dad died several years ago of Alzheimer’s. We had years to prepare…and mom did. His transition to the next life was smooth and easy.

My mother-in-law also died several years ago…unexpectedly. When we took her to the hospital, we never imagined she would never come home. She had assets without beneficiaries, an under-water apartment, boxes of papers, and we spent needless time and money in probate court. It was a stressful mess.

If you died today, will your loved ones be grateful or grumbling about your estate? I’m not merely saying leave millions of dollars behind for your kids. Even if your assets are modest, are they organized? Are your plans written in a legal document? Will your possessions easily transfer? I might add have you considered charities in your directives as well as individuals? Do you have a “cheat sheet” with passwords for those left behind to settle your affairs? Are your financial wishes clear?

Medical Preparation

Preparation for death does not always involve death itself. Do you have a living will? A health care power of attorney? Who will make medical decisions if you are unable to do so?

Recently a member of our church family was knocking at death’s door. When his medical records were examined, he listed First Alliance Church as next of kin! Needless to say, the phone call to the church office was quite challenging. Fortunately, he survived and signed papers designating a person to make decisions should he again be incapacitated.

It is imperative that you communicate with loved ones your wishes regarding medical care, especially in regard to prolonging your life. Don’t burden others with decisions you can make today.

Are your medical wishes clear?

Funeral Preparation

Financial and medical preparation are vitally important. Communicating your desires need not be complicated, but must be done…before it’s too late

What about your body? Do you want to be buried? Cremated? A funeral or memorial service? Who do you want to officiate your ceremony? Do you have special songs you want sung, a favorite Bible passage read? Some of us will have months to consider such decisions, but there may be no better time than the present to sketch out some ideas of how you want to be remembered. Are your funeral wishes clear?


Obviously, none of us has complete control over how we will be remembered. Even if we plan the most memorable funeral, we will have no say in how others remember us once we’re gone.

The most important thing you can pass down to your loved ones is not money or even a well-planned memorial service but your legacy, your story, your wisdom, your life. I’ve attended countless funerals and the legacy of the deceased is always apparent.

What do you want on your tombstone? He worked hard and made a lot of money? She was devoted to her hobbies and loved to shop? They generously invested their lives in the next generation, mentoring and tutoring? Their life resembled Jesus and they helped others to know Christ, too?

This is where things get personal in a hurry. Your legacy will not be established during your final breaths. It is established now, today, on an ordinary day, over the course of ordinary days, months, years, decades.

While you’re at it, write notes to your loved ones. Videotape stories of your childhood. Preserve your memories for future generations.

What will people say at your funeral?

Are You Ready?

We’ve talked about ensuring your loved ones are ready for your death, but what about you? You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you ready? I know many of you are, but many of you are not. You hope you’ll make it to heaven when you die, but are you sure? How can you know for sure?

First, contrary to popular belief, we don’t get to heaven by being good…because God’s standard is perfection. If you’re not perfect, you’re out of luck! Going to church and giving money to the poor, and volunteering at Cherry Street Mission will not erase the sins you’ve committed…those sins we’ve all committed. The book of Romans is quite clear:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)

You, me, Billy Graham, we’ve all sinned and fall short of God’s glory, His perfection. On our own, we deserve eternal punishment for our sins, our mistakes, our rebellion against the Almighty. But this is where Jesus comes in. People often take Romans 3:23 out of context, ignoring the fact it completes a sentence…and ends with a comma! Here’s the complete sentence.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)

What this means, simply, is Jesus came, lived, and died to pay for our sins. The next verses say

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

Some translations use this word “propitiation,” a word meaning appeasement or satisfaction. Throughout history, people have tried to appease God by offering gifts, sacrifices, and doing certain practices. The problem is God requires perfection, and Jesus lived a perfect life so his death on the cross was able to satisfy, appease, and wash away our sins.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10, NIV)

Another translation uses that word “propitiation.”

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10, ESV)

The difference between Christianity and other religions is how they are spelled. Religion is spelled D-O…what we do to appease God. Our faith can be spelled D-O-N-E…it’s about what Jesus has done on the cross. You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. You can only accept it as a gift of grace…unmerited favor.

You may wonder what you have to do. Simple: surrender.

We often look at Ephesians 2:8-9 because it’s such a powerful text:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Grace is a gift…the greatest gift.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you ready?

It my hope and prayer that you surrender your life to Jesus today if you haven’t already. He died for you. He gave everything he had to show God’s love. He wants to be your Savior—forgiving you of all of your sins—and LORD—becoming the leader of your life. It’s not that he wants to manipulate you, God simply loves you and wants what’s best for you. The Bible shows us how to live the most exciting, satisfying life imaginable…while preparing us for the next life.

Death is morbid to many, yet for followers of Jesus it can be an anticipated reunion with our Creator.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants. (Psalms 116:15)

Paul wrote to a church…

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

So What?

Get your finances in order: will, passwords

Get your medical directives in order: living will, power of attorney

Get your funeral wishes in order

Get your spiritual life in order: do you know Jesus or just about him?

A message like this can be a downer, but it need not be depressing. Actually, planning for your death can be a tremendous blessing to your loved ones and even to you. As followers of Jesus, we have hope that we truly are going to a better place. Jesus said

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

Heaven is where Jesus is, and those who know Jesus as LORD will be with him…forever!
"We're afraid to die because we've actually been afraid to live." - Erwin McManus
"The only proof of life after death is life before death." - Erwin McManus
Now go live like you’re dying…because you are!


Financial Planning

Medical Planning

Advanced Directives Packet (Ohio)

Funeral Planning

Sent: Preaching & Anointing

Sent: Preaching & Anointing
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 6:6-29

Series Big Idea:
The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Following Jesus is radical and dangerous…but worth it!


Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. According to the Declaration of Independence, these are our unalienable Rights endowed to us by our Creator. Despite its countless flaws, I love the United States, but Thomas Jefferson’s words are not taken from the Bible. In fact, following Jesus may result in the loss of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…but it will be worth it.

Today we continue our look at Jesus from Mark’s biography of him. Last week we saw Jesus’ amazement at the lack of faith among those in his hometown of Nazareth. The text continues…

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. (Mark 6:6)

I want to pause and analyze Jesus’ leadership. Contrary to popular belief, leadership is more than a title or position. At its core, leadership is influence. We all have some influence on others. The best leaders do not merely have followers, but rather they develop leaders. Perhaps my favorite verse describing this comes to Timothy from his mentor Paul:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2)

Four generations are found in one verse: Paul, Timothy, reliable people who teach others.

Here’s Jesus’ model as outlined by Dave Ferguson in his book

1. I do. You watch. Jesus was teaching and healing and the disciples observed.

2. I do. You help. At some point Jesus told them he had a purpose for them beyond companionship. He wanted them involved, helping.

3. You do. I help. We talk.
This is the point of action. The baton is being passed; not thrown, but passed. Debriefing is important, too. Feedback can be so valuable, especially when we are doing something new.

4. You do. I watch. We talk.
Not the leader does not assist except to coach afterward.

5. You do. Someone else watched.
Now the student becomes the teacher, the apprentice is the leader. Things have come full circle.

This process works if you are teaching your kids how to load the dishwasher, training your apprentice small group leader, or equipping a new employee at the office.

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus who is preparing his twelve disciples to transform the world…without cable tv, Twitter, or even the newspaper.

Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. (Mark 6:7)

It sounds like Noah’s ark, doesn’t it, two by two? It’s not good for man to be alone, God said after creating Adam. There’s strength in numbers. A partner helps protect against the dangers of temptation and attack. Who does two by two well? The Mormans and JW’s! They have it mastered, undoubtedly drawing their inspiration for this verse. If only the entire Bible was followed as carefully by them. Notice Jesus gave them authority. He equipped them. He didn’t shove them out the door and say, “Good luck!”

These were his instructions:
“Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. (Mark 6:8-9)

They are to travel light. They can’t even run to the ATM and get some cash! He wants them focused on the mission and dependent upon God for daily bread. Personal comforts are not a priority for Jesus. Now this is not meant to be a universal plan for missions work. Today we raise money to provide for ministries around the world, but this particular mission was dependent upon the hospitality of others.

Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.
(Mark 6:10)

I want to suggest perhaps Jesus is saying, “Get to know the people. Build relationships. Don’t rush off. Preach repentance. Drive out demons. Heal the sick. You’ve seen me do it. Now it’s your turn.”

And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
(Mark 6:11)

This is an odd instruction in our culture, but he’s saying if they ignore you, let them know the consequences. Let them know judgment would eventually fall on them…they’ve been warned. The disciples were commissioned to preach repentance, to urge people to turn from their selfish desires and follow God. Repent means to turn, to do a 180. Not everyone is eager stop what they’re doing and surrender to Jesus. This is obviously just as true today. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but to make dead people come alive…but first they must die…to themselves. This is where I struggle with Thomas Jefferson. I’m not against life, liberty or happiness—nor is God—but those are not God’s highest values for us. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, submit to Jesus as LORD, and pick up our cross and follow him. It is not always easy, fun, or comfortable.

I get worried when I see Christianity sold to USAmericans as just another self-help alternative. Pray this prayer and God will make you happy. Have enough faith and you’ll be rich. The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. UGH! What garbage!

Jesus gave up everything—including his own life—and he asks us to do the same…because it will be worth it in the end. He doesn’t promise is safety and comfort and pleasure now. We have work to do. We are in the middle of a war…between good and evil. So many so-called Christians are lounging by the pool unaware there’s a battle on the other side of the gate. Look around, friends.

Heroin. Sex trafficking. Racism. Hunger. Homelessness. Violence. Hatred. Injustice.

Jesus didn’t come and die so we could sit in comfy seats for an hour a week with our nice leather-bound Bibles and fancy clothes…and I’m not against any of those things. But following Jesus must take precedent over life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Kingdoms collide.

One final thought on this verse: we are not to coerce, threaten, entice, or pressure people to follow Jesus. The command for the twelve was to preach repentance, to invite people to turn from their pleasure to seek God’s kingdom. And if they don’t listen, move on.

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:12-13)

They did it. They obeyed Jesus. The miracles authenticated their message. I wish I had a recording of their conversation with Jesus afterward. The stories must’ve been amazing! God obviously provided despite their lack of provisions. Ministry was accomplished. Lives were changed. The twelve began to get a glimpse of what it truly meant to proclaim truth and follow God.

And then Mark inserts a bizarre flashback, a story that reminds us the risks of obeying God.

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Mark 6:14)

Herod hears rumors about Jesus and begins to think perhaps John the Baptist was back, resurrected.

Others said, “He is Elijah.” 

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” (Mark 6:15-16)

Remember, the central question in our series is, “Who is Jesus?” Herod thinks the only one who can preach with authority and heal is John, whom he beheaded! He killed John but has enough faith to believe in the resurrection, even though John was still dead! Yet he does nothing to pursue Jesus.

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:17-20)

Herod liked John the Baptist even though John spoke out against the king’s marriage. He married Herodias, his niece, who is already the wife of his half brother, according to scholars. It’s rather confusing because Herod was a family name, not one man’s name. This was not Herod the Great. This was his son, Herod Antipas. He was banished to southern France by AD 39 and his kingdom was given to Herodias’ brother Agrippa. Mark calling him “King” Herod was ironic and sly.

Let me be radical and politically incorrect and say despite what some say, our culture does not believe any two people in love should be able to marry. What if one is a minor? What if one is a relative (eww!)? What about polygamy? Then again, it may just be a matter of time.

Herodias hates John because he criticized her marriage, likely a plot of hers to gain power by marrying Herod.

Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. (Mark 6:21-22a)

This was not some Chuck E. Cheese birthday party. Jews saw birthdays as pagan celebrations, and this occasion was filled with paganism: dancing girls at a stag party, a drunken king, …you get the idea. Most likely the amoral Herodias sent her teen daughter to perform erotically for her uncle and these other powerful men.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” (Mark 6:22b-23)

This must’ve been quite a dance! Herod actually can’t give half of the kingdom away because he’s merely a puppet of Rome. Jesus, however, gives his disciples the power of the kingdom of God which brings healing and salvation.

She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” 

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered. (Mark 6:24)

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Mark 6:25)

I’ve played that genie game many times, the one where you ask, “If you could have three wishes, what would they be?” I’ve never heard someone mention a person’s head on a platter!

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:26-29)

What an incredible story.

So What?

What do we do with it? Be careful what you ask for!

It might seem odd, but look what Mark says next.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

This is the only time Mark calls the twelve “apostles.” They are sent ones who have completed a commission. It seems like Mark is connecting the dots between John, Jesus, and the disciples. Their mission to preach repentance is the same. Their fate as martyrs is the same. They are hated like the prophets of old. David Garland notes that “what happened to John the Baptizer presages what will also happen to any who preach the same message of repentance in a hostile world. They too will be handed over. They too will have to stand before kings. While Jesus’ ministry began after John’s imprisonment, the disciples’ preaching begins after John’s death.”

Paradoxically, this is how the kingdom of God has grown for thousands of years. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Kierkegaard stated, “The tyrant dies and his rule ends, the martyr dies and his rule begins.” Mark shows us a cowardly man, Herod, with wealth and no character. He also shows us brave men with character and no wealth. One enjoys life now, the others for eternity.

A choice must be made. Following Jesus is risky business. Sure, we’re blessed with tremendous freedoms in this nation today, but tomorrow offers us no such guarantees. One report I read this past week said a Christian was killed every six minutes last year for their faith. Over 90,000 of our brothers and sisters, slaughtered for following Jesus. That doesn’t include those arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.

It’s a radical thought, but might God be preparing you for a life of suffering, of radical living, of dangerous adventure for the sake of eternity? Jesus never promised us a successful career, good health, or a stocked 401k. He never said obedience would result in popularity, comfort and pleasure. Jesus taught and modeled the denial of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the glory of God, for the kingdom of God.

Credits: some ideas from Stephen Leston, Mark Strauss, Ian Fair, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

Homecoming: Amazed & Faithless, 8 October 2017

Homecoming: Amazed & Faithless
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 6:1-6

Series Big Idea:
The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Faith is a precious gift from God we must exercise.


And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

We talked about love last week. God’s grace enables us to love one another. Today we are looking at faith. In many ways, it is what brings us together. We are a family of faith, a community of faith. There are “faith healers” who say with enough faith the sick can be healed and the poor can become rich. There are doubters and skeptics who may struggle with notions of faith. Faith is linked to trust, yet it is different. Faith is a precious gift from God we must exercise.

Where does faith originate? How can we grow our faith? What even is faith, and what difference does it make? My name is Kirk and as we resume our series on the book of Mark, a biography of Jesus, we’re going to examine faith and, I pray, strengthen yours.

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. (Mark 6:1-2a)

Several weeks ago, we finished the fifth chapter of Mark where Jesus had healed a bleeding woman on the way to raising a dead girl to life. Then he goes to Nazareth, his hometown, and amazes those in the synagogue with his teaching.

Jesus was a remarkable teacher. Last Sunday we looked at the Golden Rule, words quoted thousands of years later, even by non-Christians who think it’s a good idea to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:2b-3)

Imagine showing up to your high school reunion in a fancy sports car with a gorgeous spouse on your arm, a Rolex watch on your wrist, and the finest of clothes. Many of your colleagues will be…jealous. After all, they came from the same town, attended the same school, and their lives looked like that?! I can just imagine the commotion:

“Jesus never spoke like that in high school speech class.”
“ I remembering praying with him for his sick dog in seventh grade and it was healed, but now he’s raising the dead?”
“He made me a nice kitchen table a few years back, but when I went to buy matching the matching chairs they said he moved away.”

Nobody knows you like family and close friends. There’s an old expression that an expert is someone with a briefcase who is more than 50 miles from home. It’s easy t fool strangers but hard to fool your neighbors and kinfolk.

People change, of course, but our roots and family of origin matter and often influence us throughout our lives. These people couldn’t believe their hometown carpenter had become a teacher, a healer…a celebrity.

Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (Mark 6:4)

They were skeptical, perhaps understandably. I’ve heard stories of people who grew up in a church as children who struggle to get respect as adults because everyone remembers “little George” or “little Mary.” But honor wasn’t the only thing Jesus failed to receive. The people lacked faith.

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:5-6a)

This is an incredible text. First, Mark nonchalantly says Jesus only healed a few sick people. That’s more than I’ve done today…this week…this month…this year? But his lack of power seems to be connected to their lack of faith, something which amazed Jesus.

I would love to amaze Jesus…but not because of my lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. (Mark 6:6b)

Jesus hit the road in search of people with faith.

So What?

What does this mean? If I have enough faith I can heal or be healed, but without faith I’m hopeless and helpless?

What is faith?

The faith chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, famously begins…

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith is a gift. We are saved through faith…by grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

This is a perfect bridge to our previous series on grace. We are not saved by our good works. We can’t be good enough. Every other religion emphasizes trying hard to be good enough for a holy God, but none of us is perfect so without grace, we’re all hopeless. We are saved not by works but by grace through faith, putting our trust and faith in Jesus Christ, trusting in his sacrifice on the cross, believing in his resurrection, and making him LORD of our lives, surrendering our will and desires to his.

Faith matters. But love is the greatest of all.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

This addresses another issue from last Sunday, the propensity of many to love God but not their neighbor, to believe the right things in their head but fail with their mouth, heart, and hands.

But how do we obtain faith, especially if it’s a gift? Romans says in regards to the proclamation of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ,

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Our faith grows as we study God’s Word, the Bible, as we pray and see God’s activity in our broken world, as we are encouraged by others who are encountering God, and as we trust Him for our daily bread.

Claro Update

One of the seven core values of The Alliance states,

Achieving God’s purposes means taking faith-filled risks. This always involves change. Hebrews 11:6

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Do not be anxious about…anything! My wife put these words in our bathroom:

Worry about nothing. Pray for everything.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

God is clearly on the move and we’re just getting started! I can’t wait to hear and share more stories in the coming days of God’s goodness not only financially but also with transformed lives. May we have increasing faith in our faithful God! The best is yet to come.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Grace is Greater than Yourself, 1 October 2017


Grace Is Greater Than Yourself
Series: Grace is Greater
John 13:33-35

Series Big Idea: No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. This 3-week series, based on the book Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, explores what the Bible teaches about grace, developing a deep understanding of the life-changing power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For more resources and information on the book, visit

Big Idea: We receive grace every day…and need to share it every day, loving one another.


A pastor recently sent me an e-mail which contained this question:

“Why is it that so many Christians make such lousy human beings?”
In other words, why are so many of us judgmental, defensive, unapproachable, and touchy?”

This might not apply to you, but I have met some Christians who are…not graceful.
We receive grace every day from God…and need to share it every day, too.

We’re concluding our series,
Grace is Greater. To review, grace is unmerited favor, a free gift, an undeserved blessing. It’s not fair! We all want to receive grace but often struggle to extend it to others for whom we naturally want justice.

In week one, we said
grace is greater than your mistakes.

The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace.

God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness.

God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets.

And quoting author Philip Yancey,

Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.

That’s amazing! That’s grace!

Then we said
grace is greater than your hurts.

We must release our feelings of anger, bitterness, and rage over to God.

We must release the person who hurt us over to God.

Reconciliation may not always be possible or appropriate, but It can reflect God’s grace and forgiveness toward us.

Last week we saw how
grace is greater than your circumstances.

Thankfulness helps us trust God and acknowledge His grace in our lives.

We’re able to receive God’s grace only to the extent we’re able to recognize our need for It.

We must trust God’s goodness, even when life Is difficult.

Since life is filled with storms, I want to remind you of two resources. First, we have a list of Christian counselors available at the information kiosk and in the
FAC Focus e-newsletter each week. My family has benefitted greatly from Christian counseling and you may, too. Second, we are excited about launching Celebrate Recovery soon. See Dennis Belkofer, last Sunday’s “my story” presenter, for details.

Grace is greater than your mistakes.
Grace is greater than your hurts.
Grace is greater than your circumstances.

I want to suggest to you that
grace is greater than yourself. That’s right, sometimes we get in the way of God’s grace. Like a dam holding back rushing water, our own sin, pride, selfishness, condemnation, and insecurities can keep others from experiencing the flow of God’s grace. Listen to these words from Jesus:

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:33-35)

The world will know we are followers of Jesus if we…

have our theology correct?
attend Sunday School every week?
volunteer in the church nursery?
wear Jesus t-shirts?
are for the poor?
pray and read the Bible daily?

No. The true sign of the Christ-follower is if we
love one another. He says it twice in these three verses. The message is restated several times later in the New Testament, including

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22)

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

I think we can all agree it’s a good idea to love one another. I’ve never heard anyone around here argue against love. After all, Toledo loves love.

But what is love? It’s not always nice. It’s not necessarily about sex. The Golden Rule is a start:

Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

We can make excuses all day long—I don’t feel well, I’ve had a bad day, my mom was not nurturing enough, that was a stupid question, you caught me at a bad time, it was a full moon last night—but Jesus doesn’t leave us any loopholes:
love one another.

Before I continue, I must say I am speaking to a wonderful group of people. Heather and I are so glad God called us to First Alliance Church. You are family, we have been loved deeply, and we love you deeply. Many of you extend grace generously, giving others the benefit of the doubt, asking clarifying questions when uncertain about something, and offering
constructive criticism when appropriate.

occasionally I’ve heard unkind words spoken, harsh tones expressed, and fingers pointed. How we treat one another matters. Jesus said so. And it not only impacts us, it announces things to the world.

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Imagine if Gandhi had become a follower of Jesus.

Steve Jobs had a similar impression of Christians. He told biographer Walter Isaacson,
“The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it.” Imagine if Steve Jobs had become a follower of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, people are watching us, and if we can’t even love one another, why would anyone want to join us? Years ago I was attending a conference and the speaker said, “The greatest obstacle to people coming to know Jesus is the Church.” I wanted to scream, “Foul” but he may have been right.

Is your life attractive?
Are you known for your love?
Do people ask the reason for the hope you have?
Is our reputation in the community one of love for one another?

We all know actions speak louder than words. It’s not enough to agree with the idea of loving one another. We must do it! So just do it! Love!

Putting this message together, I was tempted to offer a few choice words, such as

Don’t be mean.
Stop being so critical.
Shaming is not godly.
Get the log out of your own eye.
Turn that frown upside down.
Who made you God?
Or my favorite…edify stupid!

Then I realized none of those would be all that graceful!

Love one another. It sounds so simple, yet it can be so challenging. Our lack of love can be expressed in so many ways:

- Complaining about the music being too traditional or modern, loud or soft
- Posting divisive thoughts on Facebook
- Offering gossip disguised as prayer requests
- Rolling our eyes or other non-verbal expressions of disgust
- Behaving selfishly rather than putting others first
- Jumping to conclusions rather than graciously giving others the benefit of the doubt

Here’s one of my favorite passages for weddings…and for our church family:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Humility is a rare commodity these days. What if we took the lead? People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

We all agree we need to love, but let’s go back to that original question:

“Why is it that so many Christians make such lousy human beings?”

Here’s Pastor Pete Scazzero’s response:

A large part of the reason is a faulty, compartmentalized understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were passionate about holiness and purity in their relationship with God. They memorized books of Scripture, fasted twice a week, gave generously, evangelized, prayed three times a day, attended worship without fail, and kept Sabbath.

The problem was that in their zeal to love God, they were not equally zealous to love people. This put them on a collision course with Jesus.

A Pharisee in Jesus’ day would say, “First, complete your worship to God, and then be reconciled to your brother. God is more important than humans.” Jesus said, “Leave your gift at the altar. Go first and get right with your brother or sister” (Matthew 5:23-24).
- A Pharisee would say, “Obey the commandments and do not murder people.” Jesus said that even angry and dismissive words towards another person are equivalent to murder. We may think calling someone idiot
 or stupid doesn’t matter. Jesus argues it is a hell-deserving crime (Matt. 5:21-22).
- A Pharisee might say: “It is important to forgive.” Jesus says forgiveness is so indispensable that if we don’t forgive, our heavenly Father will
 not forgive our sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).
- A Pharisee would say, “Be holy by separating from sinners.” Jesus, quoting Hosea 6:6 said, “Discipleship is about being merciful and kind to people, especially our enemies. That is the heart of what it means to follow me” (Matt. 8:13).
- A Pharisee might say, “You will be evaluated at the Final Judgment on your faith evidenced by acts of holiness before God.” Jesus says, “You will be evaluated at the Final Judgment on your faith evidenced by your love for the people the world discards” (Matt 25:31-46).

Jesus summarized the entire Bible as an unbreakable union of loving God and loving people (Matt. 22:37-40). This was a difficult teaching in the first century and it remains a difficult teaching today.

You cannot love like Jesus if you don’t know Jesus.
You cannot love like Jesus without the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment…

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Sometimes it’s much easier to love a God we cannot see than a brother or sister right in front of us who may say something we disagree with, act in a way which offends us, look different than we look, or simply has different preferences. We are to love our enemy. We are to love our neighbor. But most of all we are to love one another. We’re going to spend a lot of time together—eternity—so we might as well get used to one another, and that means extending grace.

Jesus never talked about grace, he simply modeled it.
Many Christians talk about grace but fail to model it.

I confess this is me. I fail to love. I fail to extend grace. I jump to conclusions when I should say, “Help me understand.” I speak when I should be listening. I have agendas and want to be in control when I should discern and submit.

Who do you need to love more graciously?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Grace is Greater than Your Circumstances, 24 September 2017


Grace Is Greater Than Your Circumstances
Series: Grace is Greater
I Thessalonians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 11:21-23, 12:7-10; Romans 8:18-30

Series Big Idea: No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. This 3-week series, based on the book Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, explores what the Bible teaches about grace, developing a deep understanding of the life-changing power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For more resources and information on the book, visit

Big Idea: Circumstances and obstacles will attempt to drown out God’s grace in our lives; we must trust in him anyway.

Life is hard. God is good.
That’s all I want to say. Life is hard. God is good.

We’re continuing our series Grace is Greater, including some ideas borrowed from Kyle Idleman’s book of the same name. We said grace is unmerited favor, a free gift, an undeserved blessing. As a review, in week one we said grace is greater than your mistakes.

The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace.

God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness.

God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets.

And quoting author Philip Yancey,

Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.

That’s amazing! That’s grace!

Last week we said
grace is greater than your hurts.

We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God.

We Must Release the Person Who Hurt Us Over to God.

Reconciliation May Not Always Be Possible or Appropriate, but It Can Reflect God’s Grace and Forgiveness Toward Us.

In other words, if we’ve received grace and forgiveness, we must extend grace and forgiveness.

Today we’re talking about circumstances…trials and suffering. Grace is greater. This hits close to home for all of us because we live in a broken, messed-up world infested with sin. We are a long way from the paradise of the Garden of Eden. But God is with us…and God is good…all the time…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Some of you are in the midst of brutal
storms. Like the barrage of earthquakes and hurricanes south of us, your life is shaking. Your body may be failing. Your relationships might be eroding. Your finances might be draining. Your addictions and temptations might be overwhelming. Whatever storm you’re experiencing, grace is greater…really.

Like many things in life, our approach to life’s storms are a matter of perspective. Take snow storms, for example. As a kid, we all loved snow days, right? I may complain of slow traffic, treacherous driving, and the necessity of shoveling but my grumbling will do nothing to change the circumstance. What I may perceive as a hassle is a gift to every student, tow truck operator, ski resort, and snow blower dealer. And no matter how miserable you may feel, it can always be worse. The only thing you can control in life is your attitude.

Thankfulness Helps Us Trust God and Acknowledge His Grace in Our Lives.

I’ve heard so many people inquire about God’s will for their lives. Would you like to know it?

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

It doesn’t say give thank for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. If we took time to list all of our complaints and concerns we’d be here all day, but no matter what storm you’re facing, there is much for which to be thankful.

But there’s a slight problem with my mention of this verse…the context…the dots! Here’s the rest of the sentence.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Paul is writing to the church in the city of Thessaloniki. Here’s Gods’ will:

Rejoice always
Pray continually
Give thanks in all circumstances

Idleman writes, “God takes complaining personally, because complaining overlooks the greatness of the grace we have received.” A recent study revealed the more people complain, the more they find things about which to complain. Thankfulness destroys complaining, negativity, and ungratefulness.

The Bible tells us to “give thanks” dozens of times. Thankfulness can shift your focus and actually change the way you think and behave.

Do you know anyone who constantly complains? Would you like to vacation with them?
Do you know anyone who is thankful and positive? Do you like to be around them?

God is God. He wants us to be honest. We can be real with our struggles and cares, but we must set those in the context of God’s grace and faithfulness. One of my favorite prayer tools is ACTS

Supplication (requests)

When I align my prayers with ACTS, often by the time I finish thanksgiving my requests seem so small, so easy for God.

Are you thankful?


We’re Able to Receive God’s Grace Only to the Extent We’re Able to Recognize Our Need for It

I believe the single greatest reason for the decline of the movement of Jesus in the western world is we don’t need God…or we don’t think we need God. Think about your prayer life. When was it most vibrant? Probably in crisis. It’s funny how we pray when storms come and often quit when the coast is clear. This has even been true during the past few weeks. People who never mention God have been suddenly asking people to pray when a hurricane is headed their way.

Friends, we need God, and the sooner we recognize that and act like it, the sooner we will experience the joy of a true relationship with God.

Our youngest daughter went through nine years of nasty storms that included chronic pain, blindness, an eating disorder, lymphedema, and a leg amputation. She spent a lot of time crying out to God…and so did her parents! I remember vividly one moment when I prayed, “LORD, thank You for calming the storms in her life. Thank You for the remission of pain, the restoration of her sight, the control of her diet, and a prosthetic leg. I want to replace my petitions with praises. I don’t want to get up off my knees. I never want to forget your grace. Great is Thy faithfulness.”

Being desperate for God is the most wonderful place to be, even when it’s the most uncomfortable. Sore knees lead to soothed souls. Paul, who wrote to Thessaloniki, also wrote to the church in Corinth. He said,

in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

We don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was—some say a physical pain, a birth defect, an addiction, …we don’t know. We do know he begged God three times to calm the storm in his life and God said no. He said His grace was sufficient. God knew as long as Paul relied on God, Christ’s power would be celebrated rather than Paul’s gifts.

I’ve experienced this countless times in my preaching. There are some weeks when I drive onto our campus excited about my message, prepared and ready to go. Sure, it’s God’s Word and the Holy Spirit who have given me the ideas and words, but I’m tempted to take the credit for a job well done as I shake hands in the lobby afterward. I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I am strong, my flesh wants to be recognized and applauded. That’s the ugliness of pride.

There are other Sundays, however, when I’ve done my very best to prepare but am woefully aware of my inadequacies. Maybe the week was filled with unexpected interruptions or I’m not feeling well or I’m personally so challenged by the topic I can’t imagine offering much to others. Whatever the reason, I simply cry out to God, begging Him to speak through me knowing I have little to offer on my own. Is it any surprise those are the Sundays that generate the most positive feedback? I really don’t want you to hear from me. I want you to hear from God!

The more we are able to acknowledge our weakness, the more we can experience God’s strength, presence and power. And today I feel very weak after a packed week launching Act 2 Productions, so if you benefit from this morning, praise God!!!


We Must Trust God’s Goodness, Even When Life Is Difficult

The early church experienced harsh persecution. Think North Korea. Think death and martyrdom. In fact, most of our brothers and sisters around the world today face suffering for their faith much greater than anything we will encounter. Paul wrote to the first Christians:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

For Paul, it’s all about perspective. Today’s suffering will produce tomorrow’s glory. Olympic athletes experience this every day. No pain, no…gain.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)

Creation has been groaning. Sin impacts our planet and all of its inhabitants, but there’s hope for tomorrow.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. . (Romans 8:26-27)

I love this passage. Have you ever tried to pray and you were so distraught, so weak, so desperate you didn’t know what to say? I have, and in those moments I’ve often cried out, “Holy Spirit, please groan!” I wish we had time to unpack this more fully, but finally we turn to one of the most used and abused verses in the Bible.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. . (Romans 8:28-30)

This does not say all thing work together for good. It says God works for the good of those who love him. That’s called redemption. No matter what you’re experiencing today, God can use it for his glory. He can turn ashes into beauty. Even better than recycling, he can turn your trash into a treasure.

I love our friends at Cherry Street Mission. They recently gave a title to many or all of their staff: ministers of redemption. I love that! They partner with God to see lives revitalized.

I don’t want to make light of any hardship you are facing today, but I want to encourage you to persevere.
Your story is not over. This chapter might be messy, but turn the page! The world is full of cheap inspirational sayings, but I especially liked Michael Jr.’s quote from the Global Leadership Summit Instagram account this week:

“Like a slingshot, the further you’ve been set back, the further you can go.”

We Must Trust God’s Goodness, Even When Life Is Difficult

God is in control. He has a plan. He has a purpose. He is the God of redemption.

Tony Campolo has a great sermon he made famous years ago about Holy Week, the death and resurrection of Jesus. I love the title: It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming! There is no greater example of God’s redemption. God’s grace is greater than your circumstances. Today might feel like death and crucifixion but tomorrow may be the day everything changes…for His glory.



So What?

We must trust that God is good, even when life is hard. This isn’t easy, but this is where we need one another. We don’t need cheesy cliché’s, but encouragement.

I am with you. You are not alone.
I’ll bring over dinner.
We can watch the kids for you.
I’m on my way.
Here’s a small gift.

God is good…all the time…and he works through his people. Yes, we need to pray for one another, but what else can you do?

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

Grace is greater than your circumstances. We need to receive grace, experience it, and share it. Life is hard. God is good.

Credits: outline, title, and some ideas from Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.