Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Sermons

Gift of Reconciliation, 10 December 2017

The Gift of Reconciliation
Series—The Gifts of Christmas
1 John 4:7-12

Big Idea: Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father…and one another.

Skit Guys Video

Introduction

An old man who just wants to make things right with his kids. That’s sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? He seems like a nice enough guy. What kind of person would reject love? He’s done everything he can think of so this time...this season...he goes...himself. He gives himself....a new beginning.

We’re in the middle of a series called The Gifts of Christmas. Two weeks ago we talked about the give of expectancy. Advent is about arrival, anticipation, and waiting. Last week we examined the gift of grace, unmerited favor. None of us deserve forgiveness, love, peace, forgiveness, or hope, yet that’s where God’s amazing grace becomes so vital to not only experience but also share. Today we’re talking about the gift of reconciliation, a word that reflects reunion, understanding, and resolution. In a world full of brokenness, reconciliation is desperately needed.

It has surprised me over the years how many good parents are estranged from their children. Don’t good parents produce good kids? How could someone walk away from the love of a father—or mother? Why would a “Christian” family have any division or unresolved conflict? Why are there so many prodigals amongst our First Alliance family? And then I look at the gap in my own family photo. Why? What happened? Can I fix it? If so, how?

Let me state from the beginning relationships require at least two people, and reconciliation requires at least two, also. The holidays are a time when people gather—with family, co-workers, and friends—for parties, meals, and for Christmas. I have nothing but good memories of childhood Christmases, not only tearing open brightly-wrapped presents and stuffing myself with cookies but seeing relatives I dearly loved.

It’s very different for me now. Obviously the wonder of gifts under the tree is different as an adult and I think twice before eating too many cookies, but while I love the family and friends in my life, I’m also reminded at this time of year about those with whom I am not connected. Many of my favorite people will be spending Jesus’ birthday with Him rather than me, which his bittersweet.

What’s more bitter and not at all sweet are those broken relationships. There will be one very empty chair at our table on the 25
th for the second year in a row, and while our relationship with our daughter has taken some baby steps forward, it has a long way to go. How could someone reject the love of a father?

Tragically, it happens every day, and not just with human fathers. Our heavenly Father went to the most extreme of measures to show us His love. We can accept or reject it…it’s our choice. He made the first move. The ball’s in our court.
We’ve looked at our text for today—written by one of Jesus’ best friends, John—before, but it bears repeating. It begins

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)

This sounds so familiar to anyone who has cracked open the Bible, but this is revolutionary among other religions. Love comes from God? Those who love are born of God? Those who love know God?

And what if we don’t love? What does that say about us? The command here—and elsewhere in the Bible—is to love…one another.

What is love? That’s the question! Hollywood will tell you one thing, Hallmark cards another. A man I knew searched the Bible to understand the true definition of love when he came upon this next verse.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

God is love. He’s the definition of love! Love is a person. Love is also a verb. It is action.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

Love is more than words. The verse describes the purpose of Christmas itself. God showed His love by sending Jesus into the world, Emmanuel, God with us, that we might live, the we might experience abundant, satisfying, purpose-filled life.

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)

Jesus came to die for our sins on the cross, to be the perfect sacrifice, to reconnect us with our Creator in a relationship destroyed by our sins, our pride, our rebellion, our offenses against God. Elsewhere in the Bible it says

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

We have received love.
We have received reconciliation.
We have received an invitation to know our Creator—not just know about, but know.

Why would a holy God want to reconcile with sinners like us? Why would a righteous deity want to make the first move in mending a relationship we destroyed? That’s the love of a Father…a good, good Father. He takes the initiative to fix things when life happens. He sets the perfect example for us in our human relationships…our messy human relationships. You know…words get said, feelings get hurt, blame gets assigned, misunderstandings occur. It’s so easy for once-beautiful families and friendships to be strained or even severed. That’s where love comes in.

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)

Let’s take a moment and meditate on those verses. Wow! God so loved us. We are to love one another. If God is love, what does it look like to love one another? It means looking out for the best interest of the other person. We’re naturally selfish, thinking about our own needs, desires, and opinions. Loving another means putting ourselves in their shoes for a moment. It can be so easy when they like us and are like us. Loving someone different…that’s another story! But it’s possible when God’s love is made complete in us.

Prodigals

Sometimes the most difficult people to love are those closest to us because they are capable of not only great love but great pain. You might know the story of the prodigal—or extravagant—son. Jesus tells his audience…

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.  (Luke 15:11-12)

Then the prodigal son takes the extravagant gifts of inheritance from his generous father, takes off for a foreign land, and parties until he’s homeless and hungry. In fact, the text says

He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:16)

That might sound gross to us, but to a Jew, even being near pigs was horrifying, much less eating their food.

I love the beginning of the next verse.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. (Luke 15:17-20a)

The soundtrack for this moment is, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas!”

The son could be home for Christmas if only in his dreams. He showed up ready to beg for a job as a servant. After all, he already played his son card, walking off with half of the father’s wealth, a scandalous thing given an inheritance is received after someone dies. He is ashamed, humiliated…but desperate.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

In 1985, Benny Hester wrote a song called When God Ran, about this verse. He sings:

The only time I ever saw him run/ Was when He ran to me/ He took me in His arms/ Held my head to His chest/ Said "My son's come home again!"/ Lifted my face/ Wiped the tears from my eyes/ With forgiveness in His voice He said/ "Son, do you know I still love You?"/He caught me By surprise, When God ran

That’s reconciliation. That’s grace. That’s love!

The father in the drama leaves his home and goes out to meet his family, just as the prodigal son’s father went out to meet his son.

Seeking Reconciliation

When we seek reconciliation, there are no guarantees. It takes two to tango, but someone needs to make the first move. Perhaps that someone is you. Maybe this Christmas is the one where steps are taken toward the healing of broken relationships. That is certainly the prayer for my family.

One thing I love about our God is there is nothing too difficult for Him. Prayer is powerful. There is no hopeless relationship. Nothing is beyond repair. No relationship is beyond fixing. That includes our relationship with God and our relationship with others.

God saw that the space between us and Him had become too great. So He ran to us. He came down to us at Christmas. Love comes down at Christmas.

So What?

We love God because God first loved us.
We love others because God first loved us.

He has done everything possible to show you His love, to have a relationship with you. It’s your move. What will you do?

Perhaps you’ve done everything possible to show others your love, to have a relationship with them. It’s their move. There might not be anything else you can do other than remain faithful, pray, and wait.

I’m there. Many of you are there. The gift of reconciliation means God took the initiative and has reconciled us to Himself which then allows us to potentially be reconciled to others.

Will you receive the gift of reconciliation with the Father?
Will you extend the gift of reconciliation to someone this Christmas?

Credits: title, drama, and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

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

Gift of Grace, 3 December 2017

The Gift of Grace
Series—The Gifts of Christmas
Ephesians 2:1-10

Big Idea: One of God’s greatest gifts is grace—unmerited favor.

Skit Guys Video

Introduction

Have you ever encountered anyone grumpy at Christmastime? It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can be the most stressful time of year, the most depressing time of the year, the most lonely time of the year.

Have you ever been the grumpy one at Christmastime? Maybe you’ve been upset when people said, “Happy Holidays?” Perhaps you’ve blamed others for the loss of loved ones. Here’s the unpopular truth: hurt people hurt people. Our sinful human nature is prone to want to retaliate, to react when we are hurt or offended.

We have sung about grace. It is truly amazing. It is unmerited favor, an undeserved gift.

Last week we began our Gifts of Christmas series looking at the
gift of expectancy. Advent is about arrival, about coming. Like Black Friday has spread from a day to a season, Christmas has spread from a day to a season of shopping, parties, and vacations.

But Advent is different. In some ways it’s not about the present, but the past and future. We are in between the first arrival of the Messiah and the second arrival, the return of Jesus Christ. We read the Old Testament which looks forward to the birth of Jesus. Essentially we remember the future!

But we also await the arrival, second coming of the Messiah.

The gift of expectancy is precious. Part of the joy of a vacation is the planning, the anticipation. As much as I would love for you to invite Heather and me on an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii next week (we’d find a way to clear our schedules and go!), perhaps even better would be the same invitation for a date further in the future (February would be perfect!) which would allow us to eagerly await the experience.

Today we’re looking at the gift of grace. We recently did a series on the subject,
Grace is Greater. You can read the notes and listen to the podcasts at PastorKirk.com. Grace is a precious gift.

Grace is the name of a girl.
Grace is a prayer before a meal.
Grace is simple elegance or refinement of movement.

Grace is a gift, and true gifts are not earned, but rather unmerited blessings.

Non-profit giving statements often include this statement:

No goods or services were provided in exchange for this contribution.

If that’s really true, it might be considered an act of grace.

I want to turn your attention back to that video of Louis. How does that guy feed himself in that body cast?

Seriously, though, some might say he got what he deserved, a ride on the conveyer belt and painful injuries from his rude, obnoxious behavior. Then again, he got what he did not deserve—a Christmas gift from a person he offended.

I don’t know about you, but I am more troubled by Christians who behave badly than those who do not claim to follow Jesus. I expect people without faith, hope and love to be arrogant, selfish, and mean. But Christians? The word “Christian” means “little Christ.” Whenever I see a speeding car with a fish on the back, a megaphone-toting evangelist yelling at people, or pastors fawning over politicians I think of the old Bon Jovi song, “You Give God a Bad Name!” Okay, that’s not the exact title, but that’s what comes to mind.

Disclaimer: I give God a bad name sometimes. It’s not my intent, but my life does not always look like a “little Jesus.” I can be arrogant, self-righteous, and judgmental—among other things—and it’s in those moments that I especially need God’s gift of grace. I know what I deserve from God: eternal punishment for my countless sins and offenses toward a holy, perfect Creator. Instead, God so loved me and you and every man, woman child of every age, race, nationality, orientation, language, and religion that He sent His only Son, Jesus, into our world as a gift of grace to offer forgiveness, salvation, hope, peace, love, and joy.

But a gift isn’t yours until you take it, until you receive it.

Did Louis receive the gift of grace? Did he truly experience the grace of being right with God and others, or was he bound up in a religious quest?

Maybe the controversy about saying “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas” is not relevant, but what religious attitudes do you possess? Am I the only one guilty of judging non-Christians for not acting like Christians? Am I the only one guilty of trying to be right instead of trying to further a relationship? I find it easy to laugh at the video but the reality is in our post-Christian culture, Christians do not have a good reputation. I wish the first thing people thought of when they heard “Christian” is Jesus, love, generosity, kindness, hospitality, and grace.

Instead, we’re known more for what we’re against than what we’re for. This really frustrates me—and it’s hardly a new phenomenon—but what can we do? What can I do? I believe the only thing I can do is experience God’s grace and share it generously with others.

Jesus came as Emmanuel, God with us. He passed the baton to His disciples, the first Christians, who have passed it to us. You might be the only “little Jesus” people encounter this Christmastime. I don’t know anyone who is searching for religion—rules and regulations—but our world is crying out for relationships, friendship, hope, love, grace.

Our text for today was written by Paul to the church in the city of Ephesus, a very cool city I was privileged to visit last year. It was a once-powerful, influential city in the Roman empire. He wrote to some of the first Christians…

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Even the most righteous, Christ-like person on the planet was once a sinner without hope. Paul—who wrote this—was previously known as Saul, one who persecuted Christians! What a transformation! That’s grace.
 
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Last Sunday during baptism we symbolically placed people into a water grave to die to their sinful past in order to be resurrected as new creations. We have been saved by grace. Paul even says it again.

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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

We receive grace. We can’t earn it. We can’t take credit for it. We can’t boast about being a Christian or having salvation, the forgiveness of sins, the hope of heaven, or a relationship with our Creator. It’s a gift.

Likewise, religion’s quest to be good enough for God is futile, it’s doomed to fail. But grace, the gift of God, is amazing.

Nothing you can do can make God love you more than He does right now.
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than He does right now.

That’s grace!

So What?

If you’ve received grace, if you’ve experienced it, don’t hoard it. Don’t keep it to yourself. Share it…lavishly!

I know it can be difficult to put others first, to listen when you want to speak, to give when you’d rather take, to go after that good parking place when the wind is howling, to bake cookies for that neighbor who drives you crazy, to go out of your way to be kind to the office Grinch…but that’s grace.

And just a reminder: nobody deserves grace! So it doesn’t matter if the person is young or old, a Christian or a Muslim, gay or straight, a Wolverine or a Buckeye…if you’ve received grace it needs to be shared.

Religion is about being right.

Grace is about relationship, about love, about a gift, about Jesus…and that’s who we remember and await. As we live between his first and second arrivals, we celebrate what He has done and look forward to what He will do.

Let’s not be like Louis—proud, loud and arrogant. He ends up in a full body cast, restricted and bound up, a great picture of what religion does. Let’s re-present Jesus well as people giving the gift of grace. I pray when people hear we’re Christians, they think

“You’re the ones who were handing out blankets that night it got so cold downtown.”
“You’re the ones who served coffee to those with whom you ideologically disagree.”
“You’re the ones who took a team over to the country that had the earthquake.”
“You’re the ones who sat by my mother’s bedside when she passed away last year.”

Life is more than being right. God-intended life is about being right with our Creator as well as being right with others…because of the gift of grace, a gift we can both receive and share.

Credits: title and some ideas from The Skit Guys.
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Gift of Expectation, 26 November 2017

The Gift of Expectancy
Series—The Gifts of Christmas
John 3:16-21

Big Idea: The gift of Jesus is worth waiting for…and worth sharing.

Skit Guys Video

Introduction

Do you ever feel like that dad? Thanksgiving’s over and now it’s full throttle until Christmas? It’s quite a transition, dominated, of course, by Black Friday which apparently begins before Friday and continues past Friday. Tomorrow is Cyber Monday followed by Giving Tuesday and…

Do you have rules about Christmas music? When I met Heather, she wouldn’t listen to Christmas music until December 1. I thought that was a bit extreme, but so are those radio stations that begin November 1. For me, Christmas begins when I see Santa in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. What rules do you have in your home about Christmas music and decorations? Often they are passed down from generation to generation. Do you hide a baby Jesus?

Advent. We commonly associate it with Christmas. Years ago our family had Advent calendars and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see Advent calendar gaining popularity. The term “advent” comes from Latin and means “coming” or “arrival.” With any arrival, there is anticipation and expectancy which means waiting.

At this very moment, what are you waiting for? Complete this sentence:

“I can’t wait for _________________.”

Today we begin a five-week Advent series called
The Gifts of Christmas. Do you like gifts? Of course, we all love gifts! They are great to receive and even better to give.

Today we’re looking at the gift of expectancy. Sometimes expectancy doesn’t feel like a gift. In fact, it may feel like torture. As I child, I couldn’t wait for Christmas, to open those colorfully-wrapped boxes…and hopefully find more toys than clothes! But the more anticipation, the greater the reward when the waiting is over and the arrival is experienced.

It’s impossible for us to understand how great the expectancy of the Messiah, Jesus. People waited for hundreds of years for this baby. Announcements were made. Clues were given. Finding baby Jesus was different than looking for a hidden nativity set piece. Dr. Luke described the clues given about two thousand years ago.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

How do you think these shepherds reacted to their angelic encounter? After calming down from the shock, I’m quite sure they said, “That was strange, now let’s get back to shepherding.” No! They probably wanted to run and see this gift from the Heavenly Father which was good news “for all the people.”

Can you imagine good news for all the people today? That would be so great, and yet that’s why we’re here. That’s why we exist…to proclaim the gospel, the good news. Jesus is the greatest news in human history, and we stand at a special time between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus. We look back at Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but we also anticipate His return.

I’ll tell you how the shepherds reacted to the news that the Messiah was coming. A few verses later it says,

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:16)

Jesus’ half-brother wrote,

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

The greatest gift of all is Jesus. Have you received the gift? Do you know Jesus? Many know about Him, but you can know Him personally.

Jesus is the greatest gift, sent from the Father
of the heavenly lights. God created the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars…and they reflect His beauty, genius, and creativity. He is a loving Father who loves to give good gifts to His children. Many tragically think of God as a mean creature with the personality of The Grinch. Instead, He is the most loving Dad. His generosity makes Santa Claus look downright stingy! Jesus said

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

We’ve been given good gifts since the creation of our magnificent world. When we messed it up, God realized we needed help—serious help! Our sins—those things which offend God and His perfection—created a wall between us and God. But since God is all about relationships, He offered a gift to us to knock down the wall, to allow us to know our Creator, have our sins forgiven, experience real joy and purpose, and engage in real life. The most famous verse in the Bible says

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. (John 3:16)

But there’s more!

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:17-21)

The Father of Lights gives good gifts…great gifts…the most excellent gifts! He loves the world. He loves you and me. He demonstrated His love by sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world, saving us from sin and death, mediocre living, evil, and hopelessness. People waited for generations for Jesus’ first arrival even as we await for his second arrival…which could be any day! Even though Jesus is not physically present, make no mistake…he is here! He is transforming people through faith, hope and love. Do you know him?

Which Jesus?

There was a woman named Charlotte who ran a Christian pre- school. She bought a plush Jesus toy. He was happy and smiling and all squishy; the way a cuddly toy should be. Some of the parents objected. They thought it was “inappropriate.”

Charlotte didn’t hesitate. She knew the question she needed to ask. She asked “Which Jesus do you want your kids to know? The breakable Jesus on the high shelf who’s always looking down on them OR the Jesus who’s huggable and sits with them on the
comfy couch, the one they can talk to, the one that comforts them when they’re hurt, the one they tell all their secrets.

Which Jesus are we actually expecting at Advent. The one who plays games with us and brings us life or the one who sits on the shelf until it’s time to go back in the box?

Wise Men Still Seek Him

My prayer for you, regardless of where you find yourself today on your spiritual journey, is that you would look for Jesus. I don’t mean the plastic figure from the nativity set—though you might want to hide him until December 25—but the real Jesus, the one the shepherds pursued, the one who lived a perfect life, died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and promised to return. He came to show us what it means to truly be human. He demonstrated true love, the kind of love that gives until there’s nothing left to give. He said,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Wise men—and women—still seek him. Ask. Seek. Knock. You are invited this advent to know your Creator. This is not about religion. It’s not even about the Bible. It’s about knowing a Person, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the greatest gift.

Will you seek him this season? Will you pursue him? We are awaiting his return, but he has been waiting for some of you to surrender your life to him, to embrace him as the greatest gift.

If you’ve already received the gift, know Jesus is not slow in keeping his promise to return. He hasn’t forgotten you. Rather, he has a mission for you, a mission to proclaim the gospel, the good news, the 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. (John 3:16)

We often think of eternal life as referring to a length of time, but some scholars understand the original Greek to be qualitative, not quantitative. Following Jesus means we can have an amazing, fulfilling, satisfying life now. Don’t just sit around and impatiently wait for his return. Be ready, but use these precious moments to help people discover the missing piece in their Nativity set, the missing Person in their life.

So What?

How can you bring Jesus to Toledo? Maybe you can do it through Christmas caroling, delivering cookies, inviting a neighbor out for coffee, or even inviting a friend to join us next Sunday or any Sunday in December. For the next four weeks we’ll be talking about the gifts of Christmas. This is a season of expectation. If you’ve received the gift, it’s time to share it until He returns.

Credits: title and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

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

Give Thanks, 19 November 2017

Give Thanks
Luke 17:11-19

Big Idea: Gratefulness brings happiness, peace, contentment, and joy.

Introduction

Thanksgiving. It’s almost the forgotten holiday between the two big decoration days, Halloween and Christmas. Sure, turkey and pumpkin pie sales skyrocket, but the economy is not stimulated as it is when people are buying costumes and candy or an endless pile of Christmas gifts. For many, Black Friday is almost a bigger deal than Thursday.

Before you debate the merits or demerits of cranberry sauce, watch football, and check the pile of ads in
The Toledo Blade’s biggest edition of the year, we’re going to give you a head start on giving thanks. Each of us has so much for which to be thankful, yet are we truly grateful?

Today’s text is a story I heard many times over the years but never fully understood.

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. (Luke 17:11)

Jesus is between Galilee and Samaria. To get to Jerusalem, Jews traveled south to Jericho (45 miles) and then turned west to Jerusalem (15 miles). This is a 60-mile journey.

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:12-13)

It’s hard to imagine the devastating effects of leprosy. Although leprosy refers to a variety of conditions, it was essentially a death sentence, at least socially and economically, to say nothing of the physical pain. Lepers were truly untouchable. They had to live isolated from others, which means they probably couldn’t work or even beg except from a great distance (as it says in this verse).

The Jewish law gave clear instructions for dealing with skin diseases.

When anyone has a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to the priest. The priest is to examine them… (Leviticus 13:9-10a)

The priest declared people clean or unclean. I’m so glad I don’t have that responsibility today! Later in Leviticus chapter 13 it says

“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:12-13)

The ten men stay at a distance and respectfully call out to Jesus for help.

It’s interesting how they called Jesus, “Master.” Every English translation of the Bible I examined used the same word, master. They must’ve heard about the healings he performed elsewhere and believed he could heal them. What faith!

When he saw them, he said,
“Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14)

The text does not say Jesus reached out, touched them, and they were immediately healed. Jesus saw them and told them to go to the priests. He’s saying, “Walk 60 miles to see the priests in Jerusalem!” They had to literally take a step of faith and it was on their journey they were cleansed. They had to obey and as they took action, they were healed.

I’ve heard this story countless times but this is the first time I noticed they weren’t instantly healed, but rather found their healing as they obediently headed to the priests, the ones who could and would declare them clean and giving them an entirely new lease on life.

How many times do we want God to zap a miracle into our lives? Perhaps there is action we must take in order for God to do what only God can do. If you want a job, pray…and send out resumes and go on interviews. If you want a great spouse, be a great spouse first. If you are sick, ask for prayer…and possibly consider medical tools such as doctors and therapists.

Sometimes God calls us to go to a new place, to take a step of faith. As part of our trust in God we must start walking, even if we can’t see the destination. The only thing that matters is Who called you. Blessings are linked to faith and our actions demonstrate our faith.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. (Luke 17:15-16)

One says thanks, but notice it’s not just any leper, it’s a Samaritan. They were hated by the Jews for being racial half-breeds. Jesus helping a leper was scandalous. Jesus talking to a Samaritan was radical. Jesus being involved with a Samaritan leper—a double strike—was inconceivable. Many Jews thought such a person was beyond help.

Notice the language Luke uses to describe this man’s appreciation. First, he notices he is healed, a marvelous moment. Then he heads back to Jesus. How far did he go? We don’t know but it could’ve been several miles, perhaps nearly 60 miles! He praises God—in a loud voice—along the way. He couldn’t contain his joy. Can you blame him?

When he finally gets to Jesus, he doesn’t simply shake his hand and say, “Thanks.” He throws himself and the feet of Jesus and thanks him. This man is grateful…and Jesus notices.

Jesus asked,
“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17-19)

When the high priest declares you clean, you must take a ritual bath. You go down one side unclean and exit clea
n from the mikveh. In a way, it’s similar to what we’ll experience next Sunday during baptism. We enter the water grave as sinners, we die to our sinful nature, and come out of the water resurrected with Jesus. This is all symbolic, of course, but perhaps a parallel to the ritual bath of ancient times to announce an unclean person’s status as now clean.

There were ten men. Only one returns. Where are the other nine? That’s what Jesus wants to know! Nevertheless, one man is filled with gratitude and goes out of his way to express it. Some have suggested that though they were all physically healed, this man’s faith has made him well spiritually, he has received salvation.

I want to close with a few thoughts on gratefulness, some from Dr. Gary Burge. First,

1.
Gratefulness is a choice

We all have a mix of good and bad in our lives. I bet I could get each of you to think of three things you’d like to change about your life…and three things for which to be thankful.

A young mom once said, “Sometimes you’ve got to decide which end of the baby you’re going to look at!”

2.
Gratefulness is an act of faith

It requires action. It declares it’s not all about me, but I will go out of my way to show appreciation, even when there remain things we simply don’t understand.

3.
Gratefulness is subversive in a cynical age

It’s easy to complain, especially when surrounded by others who are equally dissatisfied. They say misery loves company. Choosing not to whine and, instead, giving thanks for the good things is radical and sometimes quite attractive. Who wants to be around gloomy, groaning people? Being grateful will impact those around you.

4.
Gratefulness honors God

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)

This doesn’t say give thanks for everything, but in all circumstances. No matter the storm, it can always be worse. I don’t mean ignore reality and be fake, but there are always things for which to give thanks.

5.
Gratefulness will change you

It will expand your heart, shift your perspective, and alter your attitude.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

Someone said, “Gratefulness is an antidote to a small soul living in a house of fear. Gratefulness helps you become a large soul living in a house of faith.”

Gratefulness brings happiness, peace, contentment, and joy.

Exercise: write a thank you note to God

The thing about gratefulness is it only takes a moment to experience, an intentional pause in your life to give thanks. You need not wait until Thursday—or only do it once a year! Every day is a great day to give thanks and be grateful.

Credits: Some ideas from Dr. Gary Burge.

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

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.

Introduction

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?

Legacy

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!

Resources:

Financial Planning
 
www.chamberlain-law.net
www.elderlawanswers.com/

Medical Planning

Advanced Directives Packet (Ohio)
http://medicaid.ohio.gov/
www.medicare.gov/
https://www.cmalliance.org/about/beliefs/perspectives/sanctity-of-life

Funeral Planning

www.walkerfuneralhomes.com/plan-ahead/overview
www.homesteaderslife.com/funeral-planning
www.talkofalifetime.org/
www.nfda.org/for-the-public
www.cremationassociation.org/?page=Consumers
www.efuneral.com/

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

Sent: Preaching & Anointing

Sent: Preaching & Anointing
Series—
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!

Introduction

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
Exponential:

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.

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

Homecoming: Amazed & Faithless, 8 October 2017

Homecoming: Amazed & Faithless
Series—
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.

Introduction

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

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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 https://www.graceisgreaterbook.com/.

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

Introduction

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.

But
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

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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 https://www.graceisgreaterbook.com/.

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

Adoration
Confession
Thanksgiving
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?

Second,

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!!!

Finally,

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.

GRACE!

God’s
Redemption
At
Christ’s
Expense

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.

Grace is Greater than Your Hurts, September 17 2017


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Grace is Greater Than Your Hurts
Series: Grace is Greater
Acts 7:54-60; 2 Timothy 4:14-18; Colossians 1:19-23


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 https://www.graceisgreaterbook.com/.

Big Idea:
We receive freedom from our past wounds when we choose to forgive.

Introduction

We’re in the middle of a three-week series called “Grace Is Greater” based on the outline of Kyle Idleman’s book of the same title. Last week we said grace is unmerited favor, an undeserved gift. Grace is Greater Than Your Mistakes. God’s amazing grace is available to everyone, regardless of their past.

The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace. (Romans 3:23)

God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness (John 4:1-30)

God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets (John 21:15-19)

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 not only good news, that’s incredible news! It’s almost unbelievable.

But receiving grace carries with it an important opportunity…extending grace.

I love to clean. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I love to clean toilets, wash windows, dust furniture, or scrub the floor. I like cleaning the garage, purging junk from my desk, and even getting rid of unnecessary computer files.

Heather and I lived in our childhood homes from birth until college. When we were married, we lived in eight homes during our first eight years of marriage. What a change! The bad news was moving is always a huge hassle. The good news was every year or so we were able to throw out stuff we no longer needed. It was a great feeling to be lean and mean! Then we bought a house and lived in it for 17 years. Imagine the accumulated mess we faced two years ago as we prepared to move to Toledo! Wow!

Like computer hard drives, closets, and car trunks, our hearts need periodic decluttering. Over time, hurts and raw sin can accumulate in the form of anger, bitterness, and rage.

We all love to receive grace, but how easy is it to share? Put another way, we’ve all been forgiven, but how easy is it to forgive others?

In the most famous prayer in history, Jesus taught his disciples to pray

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

You may have prayed, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Have you ever stopped to think about that? The next verse clarifies Jesus’ intention.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14)

That’s good, right? When we forgive, God will forgive us. Then Jesus really gets serious.

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
(Matthew 6:15)

I want grace for me and justice for others. I want God to forgive my sins but I want others to pay when they hurt me and those I love. “Revenge is mine,” says me!

But Jesus says forgive. Last week we talked about Jesus’ friend Peter’s denial and restoration. Here’s another memorable encounter.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)

Jesus answered,
“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:22)

Some translations say seventy times seven. Peter thought he was being generous, saying up to seven times. Jesus essentially says there is no limit. There’s no limit to God’s forgiveness of us and there should be no limit to our forgiveness of others. That’s only fair, right? But oh so hard!

Jesus continues by telling a story about a man forgiven of millions of dollars who refuses to forgive another who owed him a few thousand dollars. Every sin we have committed has offended God. We have all been forgiven of much more than we could imagine, yet how easy is it to refuse to forgive those who have wronged us?

Jesus says forgive…and he never asks us to do something he hasn’t already done.

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34)

I know what you’re thinking. It’s Jesus. He’s God. He used superpowers to forgive. Maybe he wasn’t really in that much pain—dying on a cross!!!

I know some of you have been deeply hurt. People have betrayed you, abandoned you, abused you. Some of you have endured violence, rape, molestation, and neglect. Love was broken, trust was shattered, hope was destroyed. Maybe you’re thinking, “Kirk, you have no idea how they hurt me!” You’re right, but God knows. And he instructs us to forgive.

We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God (Acts 7:54-60)

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Ok, Jesus forgave those who were violently tortured and murdered him, but still, that was Jesus.” Listen to this story of one of the early church leaders.

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:54-56)

In all fairness to the religious leaders, Stephen was rebuking them. He called them out on their self-righteous religion and their murder of Jesus (yes, religious people killed Jesus!). But Stephen was speaking the truth in love.

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:57-58)

Here we get a glimpse at Saul’s persecution of Christians, the man who would encounter Jesus, be renamed Paul, and write much of the New Testament.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)

While they were stoning Stephen, he echoes Jesus’ prayer on the cross, Father forgive them. And then he died (the meaning of “fell asleep”).

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

Notice Jesus and Stephen don’t actually say to their murderers, “I forgive you.” Rather, they release their agony to God, asking God to forgive them. Maybe if you struggle to forgive, begin by asking God to forgive them.

Forgiving others honors God. He instructs us to forgive.

Forgiving others is an undeserved blessing to the offender. Who doesn’t appreciate being forgiven.

But forgiving others changes us…in more ways than one. In yet another example of the Bible being relevant and practical, scientific research has repeatedly shown the harm caused by bitterness. It has been linked to creating or exacerbating ulcers, lupus, skin problems, and sleep issues. It can lead to problems with relationships. Simply, not forgiving can destroy us. Someone once said refusing to forgive another is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Often when we are bitter the other person doesn’t even know! They’re moved on and we’re the ones suffering.

In the words of Elsa, "Let It Go!"


I know, easier said than done. How often do we want to do something yet struggle to do so? We need God. We need God’s grace. The more we experience it, the more we can share it. You can’t give what you don’t have.

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

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It simply means releasing the hurt to God.

Forgiving does not mean trusting. There are dangerous people who are not worthy of trust. We need to establish healthy boundaries. For example, forgiving an abusive spouse does not mean we allow them to continue to abuse. It just means we refuse to be bitter about their past sin.

In addition to release our feelings to God,

We Must Release the Person Who Hurt Us Over to God (2 Timothy 4:14-18)

The aforementioned Paul told his disciple Timothy

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. (2 Timothy 4:14-15)

Alex is dangerous. He is not to be trusted. Paul tells Timothy to establish healthy boundaries with him.

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:16-18)

The Lord stood by Paul’s side. God was present.

Where was God when you were hurt? Right with you. That’s both comforting and frustrating. “Great, God, thanks for just standing there while I was being fired, betrayed, raped, beat up, or abused.” We’ll talk more about this next week but God gives us free will, choices. He doesn’t stop all evil—though one day all evil will be stopped.

God’s grace is greater than anything you’ve ever done…and greater than anything done to you.

But how do we forgive? Consider these four steps:

1. Acknowledge our hurt. It happened. Don’t sugar-coat it. Don’t deny it. Don’t spiritualize it.
2. Release Our Rights. We can be bitter, angry, and seek revenge…but why?
3. Pray for Our Enemies. Jesus did. Stephen did. Did Stephen’s prayer impact Saul?
4. Give it to God. He can be trusted. Let him judge.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:17-19 [Deuteronomy 32:35])

God’s wrath will be greater than any revenge you can imagine!

Finally,

Reconciliation May Not Always Be Possible or Appropriate, but It Can Reflect God’s Grace and Forgiveness Toward Us (Colossians 1:19-23)

As I said, forgiveness does not necessarily mean trusting. Some relationships are permanently severed, but in many cases reconciliation is possible.

Jesus came to reconcile the relationship between us and our heavenly Father severed by our sin.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—  if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23)

Hallelujah! This is the gospel: Jesus is LORD and has reconciled us to God.

We have been reconciled to God and, if possible, we are to be reconciled with others.

On October 2, 2006, the world was stunned to learn of a gunman entering an Amish one-room schoolhouse, shooting ten girls, killing five, and then taking his own life. The gunman’s mother, Terri Roberts, wrote a powerful book called
Forgiven. Listen to the response of one Amish family member toward the parents of the killer:

When my driver Sam took me to the Robertses’ home, I was concerned to see that they were all alone. In contrast, there were thousands by now—media, family, and spectators—gathered at Nickel Mines to be there for the victims’ families. My heart was moved because it seemed to me that Chuck and Terri were suffering just as much as the parents of Roberts’ victims.

When others challenged me as to why I should feel this way, I answered, “What would be worse? Would you rather have lost a child, or have your son have done something like this?”

It is my belief that more good is going to come out of this sad tragedy than bad. After all, what is the most unjust thing that you can think of? The answer is the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet what should be the most wonderful thing you can think of? The best thing that has ever happened? Our crucified Savior Jesus Christ rose again.


Wow! That’s redemption…and God is really good at redemption!

True reconciliation requires both repentance from the offender and forgiveness from the offended. Obviously you cannot reconcile with someone who is deceased or unwilling to reconcile,

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

But God is able to heal even the most broken of relationships, even reconciling a shooter’s victims with his parents. That’s grace!

My Story: Crystal Howald

We could spend hours telling the stories of those who have chosen forgiveness over bitterness, but what about you? Who do you need to forgive? A family member? An enemy? Yourself? Who have you avoided praying for? What broken relationship needs to be reconciled? Maybe you can’t do it, but God can. Grace can. Grace is greater than your hurt.

Maybe it’s time to get rid of that junk in your heart, the bitterness and anger. Take it to the curb and enjoy the freedom and peace of a cleansed soul.

Bonus content: Matthew West, Forgiveness

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.

Great is Greater than Your Mistakes, 10 September 2017

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Grace Is Greater Than Your Mistakes
Series: Grace is Greater
Romans 3:23; John 4:1-30; John 21:15-19
 
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 https://www.graceisgreaterbook.com/.
 
Big Idea: Our sin is ugly, but God’s grace is greater than any past mistake or regret.
 
Introduction
 
I love words. Obviously! I’m fascinated by the use and meanings of words…and the creation of new ones. In his book, Grace is Greater—the source of our title and series outline—Kyle Idleman mentions a few new words.
 
Phonesia
The affliction of dialing a phone number and forgetting whom you were calling just as they answer.
 
Disconfect
To sterilize the piece of candy you dropped on the floor by blowing on it, assuming this will somehow remove all the germs.
 
Blamestorming
meeting intended to determine why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible. 
 
Unlike these words, “grace” is a term we’ve heard countless times. People sing about amazing grace. They say grace before meals. People have named their daughters grace. Businesses often talk about a grace period with payments. But what is grace…and what does it matter? This will be our focus during these three weeks.
  
Grace. It’s a word Jesus never used in the Bible, yet His entire life demonstrated it. The original Greek word is charis (χάρις). It is where we get our word charm. It is simply is unmerited favor. A free gift. It is not deserved. It is not earned. It truly is amazing for those reasons. God’s grace is more beautiful, freeing, and altogether greater than we could ever imagine. I’m no expert on the subject but I know I love it. But before we get to the wonder of grace, we need to begin with a harsh reality…
 
We’re not ok.
 
Let me say it in a way I often say: we’re not perfect. No perfect people are allowed at First Alliance…except Jesus. If you are perfect, you are invited to get up, grab some great Claro coffee in the lobby and head home. There’s not much here for you! But the Bible says that
 
…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
 
See, God is perfect. He is God and we are not. The sooner we grasp this, the better. I’m messed up…really messed up. I’m selfish. I’m prideful. I’m judgmental. The Bible calls it sin. I don’t have time to list all of my sins—past or present—but it’s a long list. And God hates it.
 
The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace. (Romans 3:23)
 
If you’ve got your act together, don’t worry about God. New York City’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg apparently feels he doesn’t need to worry about God. In a New York Times interview, Bloomberg stated, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” He felt his good deeds were greater than his bad deeds so he can waltz into heaven.
 
Here’s the problem: we all sin—even politicians, if you can believe it!—and one sin is enough to keep us from God.
 
Let me reiterate a statement I made several months ago:
 
Heaven is where God is present.
Hell is where God is absent.
 
Let me add: God is absent where sin is present. Period.
 
How much sin? It doesn’t matter. How much cyanide in your water is enough to kill you? A drop will kill you! It doesn’t matter if you place a teaspoon, a tablespoon, or a half-cup of cyanide in your water, you’re dead regardless. You wouldn’t knowingly drink water with any cyanide and God won’t tolerate even a little sin. Maybe you think you’re a better person than the leader of North Korea or Charles Manson or a serial killer but that’s beside the point. Your sin and my sin have offended God enough to separate us from Him.
 
It’s not that God sends us to hell, it’s that our sin separates us from God. Do you see the difference? God wants to be with us. Just like you might want to drink water on a hot day…but you won’t touch it if you know it’s laced with poison. We try to convince ourselves that we’re not that bad, but any bad, any imperfection, any sin is too much for a perfect, holy God.
 
And if you think you’re a really good person, let me remind of what Paul said:
 
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)
 
Paul—he wrote much of the New Testament…what’s on your resume?—announces he’s not only a sinner, he’s the worst of sinners. No, he doesn’t say I was the worst when I persecuted Christians as Saul, he declares to Timothy he is the worst of sinners. That makes me the second worst of sinners since I’m not arguing with Paul. Seriously. I’m the second worst of sinners. I desperately need grace. I want to go back to that verse in Romans 3 which ended with a comma.
 
…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 3:23-24)
 
Grace! Jesus died to reconcile us to God. He died to offer forgiveness of our sins through his blood and broken body. I hate religion—man’s futile quest to be good enough for God—but I love Jesus. He not only showed us what it means to be human, he sacrificed his life for us…not because we’re so good, but because we’re so loved.
 
One of my favorite passages in the Bible two chapters over, says
 
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
 
Jesus died for us because of our sin. He recognized how we are not good, yet his love for us compelled him to make such a sacrifice.
 
Parents understand this in a small way. We make tremendous sacrifices for our kids, beginning with sleepless nights and diaper changings for infants that are so good, so talented, so capable that…all they do is sleep, cry, and fill their diapers! But it’s out of love. Things don’t get any easier when they learn to talk—back—and drive and…well, many of you understand! We invest countless time, money, and energy on our kids often not because they’re so good but because we love them so much. I have often said the day I became a dad was the day I began to truly understand the great love my heavenly Dad has for me…and you…although we can only imagine it.
 
God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness (John 4:1-30)
 
There are two types of people distant from God—those who feel they’re so good they don’t need God and those who feel they’re so bad they can’t have God.
 
If you think you don’t need God because you’re so good, you are more messed up than you can imagine! Pride is killing you…literally.
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
 
I love that quote from Philip Yancey. You can’t do enough good things. You can’t earn your way to heaven. You’re not perfect—which isn’t a license to just intentionally be a jerk and do evil—but all of your good works the Bible calls “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
 
But you may feel like you’re not worthy of God. You’ve done so many awful things. “Kirk, if you only knew what I’ve done.” God knows! And I’ve got wonderful news for you:
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
 
Philip Yancey said that, too. There’s a great story in the fourth chapter of John’s biography of Jesus. I wish we had time to study it in detail. It’s a great personal study. In fact, if you have a Bible, turn to John 4. Jesus—a Jew—goes to Galilee through Samaria, a region no Jew ever entered.
 
When we lived in Ann Arbor I used to joke whenever we drove to Florida we would drive around Ohio! It was just a joke—and I obviously don’t tell it anymore now that I live in Ohio (don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!)—but some people do avoid certain cities or neighborhoods, even today. But back in the day Jews hated Samaritans, but here’s Jesus going through Samaria around noontime and sits by a well.
 
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) (John 4:7-8)
 
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. ) (John 4:9)
 
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
 
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” (John 4:11-12)
 
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
 
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15)
 
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (John 4:16)
 
“I have no husband,” she replied. 
 
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (John 4:17-18)
 
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. (John 4:19)
 
That’s an understatement! He didn’t learn about her past on Facebook! It’s nearly impossible for us in our culture to understand just how radical it is for Jesus to engage this adulterous Samaritan in conversation. She is so sinful, so disgraced, so shamed that she goes alone to the well in the middle of the day to get water. First, you never traveled alone and second you don’t go in the desert heat…unless you’re hoping to avoid being seen. She has messed up her life, yet Jesus responds with grace and love.
 
How do you respond to sinners? It’s a trick question because we’re all sinners! But how do you respond to those “really bad” sinners? Do you avoid people who don’t look like you, act like you, talk like you, or smell like you? I admit there are people that make me uncomfortable and my first thought is usually not to engage them. I want to be safe. I want to mind my own business. I often want to ignore those different from me.
 
But that’s not what Jesus did. He demonstrated grace…and sets an example for us to follow. I’ve said First Alliance is not to be a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners…and we’re all sinners!
 
Jesus engages the woman in conversation and later the text says
 
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. (John 4:28-30)
 
When God’s mercy and grace collide with our guilt and shame it’s messy but it’s beautiful. Jesus knows everything you’ve ever done…but his grace is greater.
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
 
In the words of Kyle Idleman, “The worst thing that could happen is that you spend your life trying to outrun God because you think he’s chasing you to collect what you owe—when he’s really chasing you to give you what you could never afford.”
 
Finally…
 
God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets (John 21:15-19)
 
If you could go back in time, what would you change? Maybe a selfish act, a harmful word, a lack of self-control, the beginning of an addiction? It might be a split second or a decade.
 
I’m pretty sure I know what Peter would do over. He was one of Jesus’ three best friends and despite Jesus even predicting it, Peter denied he even knew Jesus not once, not twice, but three times…all during Jesus’ most desperate hours. Some friend!
 
After Jesus dies and is resurrected, he cooks breakfast for his friends.
 
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” 
 
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” 
 
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
 
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
 
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 
 
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
 
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
 
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” 
 
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19)
 
Peter denied Jesus three times and Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” He knows Peter has great regret about the denials and yet Jesus offers grace. He doesn’t want Peter imprisoned by his regrets. He has a great plan for Peter, a man who will become one of the greatest leaders in the history of the Christian Church. Grace has the power to redeem regret—to save it, to recycle it, you might say. Grace takes our trash and makes it useful, valuable.
 
We all have regrets, and ever since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, we often try to hide our sins, thinking they are unforgiveable. Our regrets should lead to remorse, but God doesn’t leave us in our mess of sin. He doesn’t shame us. God’s grace most often finds us in the midst of our remorse and redeems us, forgives us, restores us.
 
If one of my best friends denied even knowing me three times when I needed him most, I’m not sure I would assign him to be the president of my company, but that’s grace. Remember…
 
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
 
And God doesn’t tolerate you. He loves you. He forgives you. He embraces you. He redeems you.
 
I wish I had time to share all of the times I’ve messed up—well, maybe not! That would be the longest sermon I’ve ever preached! But seriously, God has taken my arrogant, wicked heart and a lifetime of failures and done some things in and through me I could never take credit for. Even standing before you today I feel incredibly inadequate and unworthy. I am continually reminded that when I am weak, He is strong and His grace is enough. It is sufficient.
 
So What?
 
I desperately want you to know and experience God’s grace.
 
If you’re like me, you’re not even aware of how bad you are, how sinful you are. We need grace.
 
Others of you are on the other end of the spectrum, feeling unworthy. You are! That’s grace!
 
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.
 
Don’t let your past mistakes destroy your future. Become a trophy of God’s grace, trust Jesus, and allow him to transform your life.
 
Credits: outline, title, and some ideas from Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman. Other ideas from Philip Yancey.

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

Healing: Woman & Girl, 3 September 2017

Healing: Woman & Girl
Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 5:21-43
 
Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
 
Big Idea: Jesus healed—and still heals—those who believe.
 
Introduction
 
Faith. Do you have it? Sure you do. We all have faith…in something…or someone! The book of Hebrews states
 
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
 
As we continue to look at the life of Jesus through Mark’s biography, we come to two stories of faith…and physical healing.
 
They are very similar. They both involve females. Both of their stories began twelve years prior.
 
They are very different. One female is young, the other old. One is the daughter of an important synagogue officer, the other an anonymous woman. The officer was about to lose a daughter who brought him twelve years of happiness while the woman lost an affliction that brought her twelve years of grief.
 
These are documented, historical incidents but God never changes…and He continues to heal today.
 
Jesus is the Son of God, the way, the truth, and the life.
 
Two weeks ago, we saw his power over the natural world, calming a huge storm.
Last week we saw his power over the supernatural, exorcising demons.
Today we will see his power over sickness and death.
 
PRAY
 
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet.  He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  So Jesus went with him. (Mark 5:21-24a)
 
We’re back in Jewish territory, probably Capernaum. The crowds are back. They religious leaders are back. Instead of being a critic, Jairus is a believer. He’s obviously desperate, willing to lose his religious friends who despise Jesus in his quest to save his twelve-year-old daughter’s life. He has faith that if Jesus only touches his dying girl, she will be healed and live.
 
Note all healing in this life is temporary. Lazarus was raised from the dead but eventually died again. If Jairus’ daughter is healed from her deadly condition, she will eventually die. We are constantly praying for the sick in our church family and beyond, but even the most miraculous healing of diseases or cancers merely prolongs life in these mortal bodies. Of course, each day we are both closer to the death of these temples and to the new bodies that will resemble Jesus’ resurrected form.
 
So crowds surround Jesus, a religious leader begs Jesus to come to his home and touch his daughter, and Jesus goes.
 
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (Mark 5:24b-26)
 
This woman had been suffering with a bleeding condition for twelve years. That means for twelve years she was probably considered unclean. She couldn’t touch people. She couldn’t be around people, yet here she is in a crowd, desperate. She wasn’t passive about healing. She had spent all of her money and likely most of her time seeing doctors…and only got worse. How frustrating. Some of you can relate. Health care is not a new problem!
 
When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:27-29)
 
What faith! She merely wanted to touch Jesus’ clothes. She didn’t need him to touch her. She didn’t need Jesus to pray for her. She didn’t even feel the need to touch Jesus—just his clothes. She was instantly healed. Praise God! But then look what happens next.
 
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30)
 
Jesus knew power had gone out, but even he notices it was not his flesh but rather his clothes that were touched. Then the disciples say what I would’ve said…and if you’re honest, you probably would’ve thought it, too.
 
Jesus once said,
 
Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)
 
Paul tells us in Philippians (2:5-11) that Jesus “made himself nothing” when he came to earth, “taking the very nature of a servant.” The power he had was the Holy Spirit, the same power available to all followers of Jesus.
 
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” (Mark 5:31)
 
Jesus ignores his disciples!
 
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:32-34)
 
She’s caught touching Jesus’ clothes! How embarrassing! She’s trembling with fear and confesses, but instead of a rebuke, she receives a blessing…and healing. What a wonderful gift. What a great story she has for her friends of the healing power of Jesus. He heals her body and soul, granting her peace—
shalom, completeness—and calling her “daughter” while commending her faith.
 
But what about that girl?
 
While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” (Mark 5:35)
 
She’s dead? Jesus, if you weren’t listening to that lady’s story maybe you would’ve been able to save my daughter. You’re too late now. So much for your perfect timing.
 
Jesus missed the death of Lazarus.
Jesus missed the death of Jairus’ daughter.
 
Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mark 5:36)
 
Easy for you to say, Jesus. You don’t even know this girl. And what do you mean, “Just believe?” What good is faith? We were hoping you could just touch her but now she’s dead!
 
Before moving on, I want to focus on those words: don’t be afraid; just believe. That’s faith. Max Lucado wrote,
 
“Faith is trusting what the eye can’t see. Eyes see the prowling lion. Faith sees Daniel’s angel. Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah’s rainbow. Eyes see giants. Faith sees Canaan. Your eyes see your faults. Your faith sees your Savior.”
 
Don’t be afraid; just believe.
 
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. (Mark 5:37-40a)
 
Here we see Jesus’ three best friends—Peter, James and John—receive a special invitation. The crowds aren’t allowed to follow. Perhaps even the other nine disciples were snubbed. They arrive on the scene of this twelve year-old girl’s tragic death. It’s a hot mess of commotion and wailing. It’s interesting to note in the culture professional mourners were often hired to wail at funerals. The Jewish Mishna, completed around 220 AD, quotes Rabbi Judah as saying even the poorest in Israel should hire two or more flutes and one weeping woman for a burial.
 
Then Jesus makes the laughable suggestion that she’s merely asleep…and they laugh…at Jesus. They go from wailing to laughing. Why not? They’re probably there just to “perform” with no real attachment to the girl.
 
Then Jesus gets to work!
 
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). (Mark 5:40b-41)
 
Jesus kicks everyone out—except for his three friends and the parents. Six adults encounter the girl, Jesus touches her and commands her to get up. It’s a private moment for those with considerable faith, not a public spectacle to rile up the fans and critics.
 
Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:42-43)
 
They were completely astonished! Amazing!
 
We have noted before the seemingly random details Mark includes, such as Jesus telling them to grab a granola bar for the girl (or whatever they ate then!). It’s an incredible scene, yet Jesus wants them to keep quiet about it (like that’s going to happen!).
 
When I was in college, I spent a summer in Bolivia with Campus Crusade for Christ—now known as Cru—showing the Jesus film. It is based upon the Good News Translation of the book of Luke, but it is very similar to Mark’s account. My favorite moment in the film—besides the resurrection—is the healing of Jarius’ daughter. I’d like to take a moment and share it with you.
 
https://www.jesusfilm.org/watch.html
 
In the original language Jesus said, “Lamb, get up!” What a tender wake-up call.
 
So What?
 
Jesus spoke to the sea and it calmed.
Jesus spoke to the demons and sent them into the pigs.
Jesus spoke to the girl and she was raised…after healing a woman.
 
Someday Jesus will say, “Wake up” to the dead.
 
Does Jesus still heal today? Yes! How do I know? I have heard countless stories throughout my life…and I’d like you to hear one now!
 
My Story: Kendra Sankovich
 
The fifth chapter of Mark is quite remarkable.
 
Jesus casts out demons.
Jesus heals the woman.
Jesus raises the dead girl.
 
And he’s not done yet!
 
Perhaps you would like healing…for yourself or even for someone else. If Jesus were here, you’d reach out and try to touch his clothes in hopes of being healed. His power and presence are here through the Holy Spirit. Do you believe he can heal? Do you have faith? The woman had faith. Jairus had faith. Jesus still heals.
 
Credits: some ideas from Stephen Leston, Mark Strauss, Ian Fair, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

Exorcism: Demons & Pigs, 27 August 2017

Exorcism: Demons & Pigs
Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 5:1-20
 
Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
 
Big Idea: Jesus has power over the supernatural…and we do, too.
 
Introduction
 
The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses. (Deuteronomy 14:8)
 
Thus begins the context for today’s passage of scripture.
 
Pigs. Aren’t they cute? Not to Jews. Few things are more disgusting, more offensive. God gave the people of Israel dietary laws thousands of years ago, laws still followed today by millions of kosher people. Pigs are so detestable to the Jews that Proverbs says,
 
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. (Proverbs 11:22)
 
Does anyone else find it odd we celebrate the resurrection of the King of the Jews with ham?!
 
We’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark. We’ve seen Jesus’ ministry attract crowds and critics through teachings and miracles. Last week we saw him demonstrate his power over the natural world, calming a furious storm. Today’s text shows his power over the supernatural world, an unforgettable exorcism of demons.
 
 
Jesus has been sleeping in a boat with his disciples. He is awoken by his petrified friends, commands the winds and waves to be still, and seems upset at the fear and lack of faith his disciples possess.  
 
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. (Mark 5:1-5)
 
This scene could’ve inspired the creation of a horror film! Imagine a wild man living in a cemetery so filled with demons that he is given supernatural physical strength. He is a gruesome sight—what with cuts all of over his body—and the sounds are just as bad as he cries night and day. To say he was alone would be an understatement. Nobody dared approach this person who behaved more like an animal.
 
Before we go any farther let me state the importance of getting to know someone’s story before judging them. Our world is filled with people who look, smell, act, and sound different than us. There are people who offend us. There are people who scare us. There are people who hurt us. Why? Do you know their story?
 
I’m not suggesting we are to be best friends with everyone or that we are to naively welcome any stranger into our car or home. But hurt people hurt people. There are often tragic stories behind those people we find threatening. Maybe they were abused as a child, victims of injustice, born with disabilities, dealing with serious illnesses, or just prisoners of their own past mistakes.
 
This man was quite a sight, I’m sure, but he had a story. We don’t know it, but we do know he was a human being created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. And he was loved by God despite being filled with demons. How did that happen? Again, we don’t know. How are people possessed by demons? Can Christians be possessed by demons?
 
These are great questions. I have neither the time nor the expertise to fully address these, but let me offer a few thoughts. These are my thoughts, not necessarily absolute truth. If you disagree, I’d love to hear from you. I have a lot to learn when it comes to the supernatural world. But here’s my best attempt to explain some common questions.
 
1.    The supernatural world is real. There are angels. There are demons, who are often considered fallen angels, cast from heaven along with satan.
 
The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9)
 
2.    Demons are personal beings. They know Jesus is the Son of God (Mk 1:24, 34; 5:6). They can lead people astray (1 Timothy 4:1-6; John 4:1-4). They have emotion and fear Jesus (James 2:19).
3.
    Demons have power. They are dangerous. We need not fear them but we should never treat them casually. Their power is limited but real.
4.
    Demons need an entry point. They don’t just take over someone randomly. Scripture prohibits things like trying to talk to the dead and sexual immorality. I believe witchcraft, illicit drugs, the occult and other sinful activities can be pathways to demonic possession. Evil spirits can use the human body to distort and kill people’s relationship with God…and others.
5.
    Followers of Jesus are given the Holy Spirit and, therefore, cannot be possessed by a demon. They can, however, be oppressed by demons and struggle with temptation and sin.
6.
    Demons can and should be exorcised, resulting in freedom.
7.
    In the west, we acknowledge less positive and negative spiritual activity than in other parts of the world. Africa is especially spiritual. There are countless accounts of demonic and miraculous activity. We tend to be in denial about angels and demons and discount supernatural moments.
8.
    Mental illness and demonic activity are often confused with one another. Both physical and mental sicknesses can be the result of demons, but not necessarily. At First Alliance we offer prayer for all types of illnesses, believing they might be the result of spiritual activity and—regardless of the source—God’s power is greater; it is unlimited. And God still answers prayers and does miracles (more on that next week!).
9.
    Again, I’m not an expert in the supernatural and neither deny the reality of spiritual activity nor look for a demon in every Coke can. I participated—more or less as an observer—in an exorcism in college which was real and powerful.
10.
We need to be aware of the supernatural without being scared of it. Though there are battles, Jesus is the ultimate victor. Love triumphs.
 
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
 
We need not fear satan or demons. God in us—the Holy Spirit—is greater!
 
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
 
This is how we are to relate to God…and satan!
 
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” (Mark 5:6-8)
 
Is it the man or the demon shouting? Yes?
 
Few today would admit they are demon possessed, but so many in our culture live lives screaming at God and God’s Word and values. We can choose to follow God or follow the world, friends. It’s all about God or it’s all about you. Every day—every hour—we choose to follow God or choose to follow the world, the flesh, and the devil.
 
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” 
 
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. (Mark 5:9-10)
 
I have been told demons have names and if you can identify their name you can validate their presence. A legion was the largest group in the Roman army, 3000-6000 soldiers. Notice that final sentence contains both the singular and plural: “he begged…send them out.” It seems the demons are speaking through the man.
 
The demons knew they had no chance against the power of Jesus so they begged him to not send them far away (Luke 8:31 calls it “the Abyss”). He could’ve cast them into hell, but the time for judgment had not yet come.
 
God’s timing is perfect. I wish he’d just throw satan and his friends into the eternal fire today, but for whatever reason it’s not yet time. Jesus once said
 
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)
 
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. (Mark 5:11-13)
 
This was not Jewish land. Pigs were unclean. Jews were not allowed to eat—or even touch—pigs. Graveyards were unclean, too. Of course, the demoniac was
very unclean! Rome was unclean, too, a nation of pigs. And if you recall from last week, the sea was the place of monsters and Rome was the Monster of all monsters.
 
Jesus came announcing God’s kingdom, his rule over the world, bringing healing and justice and freedom to the world—Jews…and Gentiles.
 
The demons begged Jesus to send them to the pigs rather than the abyss. The demons couldn’t destroy the man so they destroyed the pigs.
 
About 2000 pigs! That’s quite a herd! No wonder their owners were upset! Their livelihood was gone.
 
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. (Mark 5:14-17)
 
You would think people would be glad to see Jesus. He did some radical life revitalization in just a few moments. But the pig owners have lost a truckload of pork, ham, bacon and sausage…and everyone else is probably freaked out! What just happened? The wild man? The pigs? The pigs drowning? They were afraid of Jesus’ supernatural power. What would he do next?
 
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark 5:18-20)
 
Jesus often told people to keep quiet about him, but this time he says, “Share the good news of your healing with everyone.” And he did! Just speaking would be a wonderful testimony to people of God’s power. This was also a Gentile region, a pagan area where Jesus was not so well-known and where the Jewish religious leaders would not be trying to kill him. Rather than staying with Jesus, the freed man is commissioned to tell others about Christ and his power. 
 
So What?
 
We are, too! Has Jesus forgiven you? Has he healed you? Has he transformed your life? Has he turned your despair into hope, your mourning into dancing, your bondage into freedom, your anxiety into peace? If so, tell the world! Good news needs to be shared, especially when most of it seems to be bad or fake…or both!
 
Our world is hurting. They need to know hope is available, healing is available through Jesus. If we don’t share Jesus—in word and deed—with others, how will they know?
 
And if you’ve ever felt unqualified or unprepared, look at this once-demonized man. He didn’t go to seminary. He wasn’t a priest or pastor. He never even went to Sunday School! He simply encountered Jesus and shared his story with others. Do you have a story? Don’t keep it to yourself! Nobody can argue with your story. You don’t have to prove scientifically the existence of God through archaeology or scholarship—though many have. You simply need to let others know what Jesus has done—and is doing—in your life.
 
As we think about Jesus and all he has done for us, I’m reminded of these words from N.T. Wright:
 
At the climax of Mark’s story Jesus himself will end up naked, isolated, outside the town among the tombs, shouting incomprehensible things as he is torn apart on the cross by the standard Roman torture, his flesh torn to ribbons by the small stones in the Roman lash. And that, Mark is saying, will be how the demons are dealt with. That is how healing takes place. Jesus is coming to share the plight of the people, to let the enemy do its worst to him, to take the full force of evil on himself and let the others go free.
                  
We live in the space between…Jesus’ first and second comings. We have the Holy Spirit. God is alive and on the move, but the battle rages on. We see it every day on the news, in hospitals, in rehab centers, in bankruptcy and divorce courts, at funeral homes.
 
Demons are real. They seek to indwell mankind. Evil is real. Satan is real. But Jesus is greater!
 
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
 
We have been given power and authority by Jesus who said:
 
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
 
After 72 of Jesus’ followers returned from ministry…
 
He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20)
 
Jesus is alive and he has entrusted his Church to us, his world to us. Let’s go and let the whole world know Jesus loves them and is still bringing deliverance and healing to the hurting and broken willing to surrender to his lordship.
 
 
One more thing: demonic activity is all over the New Testament and I don’t believe it has ceased. If you or someone you know would like deliverance, we’d love to pray for you. That doesn’t mean you are possessed or oppressed or that you’ve done anything wrong, but if you feel defeated by sin, perhaps you need deliverance. The name of Jesus is still driving out demons and making them tremble today. Hallelujah!
  
Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

Power: Winds & Waves, 20 August 2017

Power: Winds & Waves
Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 4:35-41


Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
 
Big Idea: Jesus has command over all things—natural and supernatural.
  
As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we’ve seen Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious. Mark records several of Jesus’ parables but one lingering question remains…who is Jesus?
 
As I often say, this may be the most important question for any human to answer. Who is God and who are you? If you ask people today, “Who is Jesus?” you are likely to get a variety of responses: a good teacher, a prophet, a famous figure in history…
 
In today’s text it’s obvious those closest to Jesus don’t truly realize Jesus is God, Jesus is the Messiah.
  
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. (Mark 4:35-36)
 
Why did Jesus cross the lake? To get to the other side, of course! But seriously, the crowds followed him everywhere and he likely wanted a break, among other things. The departure seems sudden. Perhaps Jesus said, “Let’s get out of here…now!” Jesus is fully human. He is tired. He also has confidence in God that allows him to fall asleep.
 
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:37-38)
 
This body of water is beautiful, surrounded by mountains which make it susceptible to sudden storms. This wasn’t just a common thunderstorm, though, but rather a furious squall.
 
Have you ever been in boat in a storm? It can be pretty scary.
 
The most violent storm I’ve ever experienced on water was on a cruise ship. I know, poor me! We were in the Caribbean with my extended family and this huge ship was really rocking. I found it relaxing, but then again I was inside, safe, and immune to any seasickness so I was not terribly worried.
 
I have, however, been in the middle of some serious turbulence on airplanes. Even though I know the odds of a plane crashing due to weather are almost zero, I still find myself scared sometimes when I feel like I’m on a roller coaster…with no track!
 
These squalls came suddenly so even veteran fishermen could be surprised by them, and there were at least four seasoned fishermen in the group, which makes this story even more significant. They understood the difference between rough weather and deadly storms.
 
Jesus is exhausted, sleeping on the cushion that was usually placed under the steersman’s seat. It’s a great image Mark includes in his biography. He must’ve really been tired to sleep through this squall. No cushion could be that comfortable in such conditions!
 
I find the reaction of the disciples to be startling. They wake up their exhausted leader and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Did they think he would teach his way out of the situation? They probably wanted him to help bail water out of the boat before it sank. They certainly had no idea he would respond as he did.
 
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
 
He uses the same words he spoke to silence the demons. The original Greek might best be translated, “Put the muzzle on and keep it on!”
 
In Jewish thought the ocean represented chaos, the unpredictable place where evil originates. In fact, Genesis 1:2 is commonly translated, “Now the earth was formless and empty” but has also been translated, “The earth was chaos.” Only God had authority over chaos. He seized it and created our beautiful world from it. The disciples likely knew only God could control the sea, the chaos, the storm.
 
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
 
“How can you be such cowards? Don’t you have any faith?”
 
And then what? For all we know, Jesus went back to sleep!
 
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
 
Who is this? Who is Jesus? The answer is obvious: Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. No magician could do this. It wasn’t the result of a knowledgeable teacher. It certainly wasn’t a coincidence. There is no other explanation: they are in the presence of God!
 
You may recall Mark began his book with these words:
 
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)
 
Jesus did things only God can do. I doubt they thought it at the time, but as they reflected upon this miracle, perhaps Psalm 107:29-30 came to mind:
 
He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. (Psalm 107:29-30)
 
Note: other examples of God’s dominion over the waters can be found in Job 26:12-14, Nahum 1:34, Psalm 65:5-7; 74:12-14; 89:8-9; 93:4; 104:5-9.
 
They knew Jesus had power, but they never imagined this type of power could exist.
 
Yet their faith remained weak.
 
You would think it would be enough to see demons exorcised.
You would think it would be enough to see the sick healed.
You would think it would be enough to see storms stopped.
 
People often say, “I would believe in Jesus if I could see him,” but they’re wrong. So many people saw Jesus and witnessed miracles and still dismissed him…or worse.
 
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
 
Who is this? Who is Jesus? I’ve met him, friends! The great song, “My Redeemer Lives,” has this wonderful line which says, “I spoke with him this morning.” Yes! I did. You can. Our faith is not built upon rules and checklists but rather upon a person, a living person, Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God. Through the Holy Spirit he is alive and well on this planet, living inside every one of his followers.
 
Some have ignored the literal nature of this story, finding the miracle too…supernatural! There were, however, many eyewitnesses to this and Jesus’ other miraculous activities. Mark records various details such as “there were other boats with him” (verse 36) which would be unnecessary if he was simply telling a myth or allegory.
 
So What?
 
The most common command in the Bible is…fear not. Fear not. Don’t worry. God is sovereign—he is in control of the supernatural world. He’s also in control of the natural world.
 
I know, if he can control things why doesn’t he wipe out every evil leader, every bad guy, every hater? I can’t say I always understand, other than the simple fact he is in control but gives us freedom. We’re not angels on assignment, but rather people given choice. He allows us to cherish our blessings or waste them away, pursue him or pursue money, sex and power, to be filled with hate or love, to support life or death. We can even choose to be afraid and worry, but Jesus says it’s a waste of time and energy because he has given us power, authority, and his presence. He is with us. The only one we should fear—and ultimately revere—is Him.
 
What storms are in your life today?
 
A stormy marriage? Physical health issues? Depression? You’re not alone.
 
Struggles with addictions to alcohol, porn, or drugs? You’re not alone.
 
Same-sex attraction and gender struggles, greed, envy, pride? You’re not alone.
 
Financial chaos? Job challenges? Broken relationships? You’re not alone.
 
Grief and loss? Uncertainty about the future? Learning disabilities? You’re not alone.
 
I say you’re not alone for two reasons. First, you’re not alone in this room. There are people here in the midst of every storm I mentioned. This is why we have been given the gift of family, the opportunity to do life together, to weep when one weeps and to rejoice when one rejoices. We weren’t made to do this thing called life alone.
 
Second, if you are a follower of Jesus, he is with you. The Holy Spirit is living inside of you and you need only to empty yourself, surrender, confess your sins, and welcome the Spirit to take control of your life. Let go and let God. It may not be an instant cure-all, but raising the white flag is the first step toward truly experiencing the presence and power of God in your life.
 
In Jesus’ famous Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, he sends out his followers to make disciples. But he doesn’t end there. He concludes by saying
 
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
 
He is with us. He can calm the storm. He’s got this…even if his timing may be slower than our timetable.
 
To quote composer Scott Krippayne, “Sometimes he calms the storm and other times he calms his child.”
 
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
 
Jesus may need to say to your storm, “Quiet! Be still!”
 
Jesus may need to say to you, “Quiet! Be still!”
 
Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

Investment: Lamps & Seeds, 13 August 2017

Investment: Lamps & Seeds
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 4:21-34

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

Big Idea: Jesus blesses those who listen to his stories…and pursue him.

Introduction

Stories. We all love stories. We read them, we watch them on television and at the movies, we listen to them on podcasts, we tell them every day. Some are true, some are imaginary, and some are outright lies. Stories can inform, educate, warn, or entertain. They can be as simple as recounting what you ate for breakfast for as complicated as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

As we continue our series on Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus, we have seen Jesus’ early ministry, his rise in popularity among the common people, and the growing envy and hostility toward him among the religious leaders.

This week we will continue to see Mark turn his attention from Jesus’ actions to his teachings, specifically special stories called parables. The original Greek word, parabole, means “putting things side by side.” Jesus is constantly teaching about one thing these people knew nothing about…another world…far, far away…called the kingdom of God. The central message of Jesus’ teachings was the kingdom of God, and he used parables to help his audience understand this new reality, this exciting world about to be born. We’ll look at two stories today, the parables of lamps and seeds.

Before we look at today’s text, it is important to understand the purpose of parables. First, there is always a context. I believe much of the problems people have with the Bible stem from ignoring context.

Jesus is a Jew. His people were oppressed under Roman rule. Israel as a nation had experienced tremendous victories and agonizing defeats. Jesus the storyteller has an important message, but it’s a dangerous message. It is not politically correct. He could—and would—get in so much trouble a contract would be out on his life! Rather than just speak plainly about things, he chooses parables as a literary device to code his teachings.

Imagine, for example, a political cartoon featuring a donkey and an elephant. If you lived in Africa, you might just think of survival of the fittest, the zoo, or even mascots of sports teams without deciphering the message of conflict between Democrats and Republicans.

Likewise, it’s easy for us to miss those messages, the context and symbols Jesus used two thousand years ago. Fortunately, Jesus often explains his stories to those who seek. But not all of the parables are clear to us. Sixteen commentators on a passage may yield sixteen different interpretations—which is not to say the Bible itself is unclear. Much of it needs no explanation—don’t murder, love your neighbor—but Jesus’ parables are deliberately for those who have “ears to hear.” I pray we do!

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:21-23)

In the previous verses, Jesus described the kingdom of God. He is continuing here, saying again, “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” We might say, “Listen up! Pay attention!”

The original Greek text asks, “Does the lamp come for the purpose of being placed under the measure? Does it not come for the purpose of being placed on the lampstand?” It’s as if the lamp is a person…which most believe it is! King David was the lamp of Israel (2 Samuel 21:17; 1 Kings 15:4). Jesus may have been speaking of himself, in which case he’s talking about how his presence is a secret. Since the word “bed” may be a couch, one writer suggest maybe Jesus is saying, “The Messiah has come but he’s been shoved under the couch…until after his death and resurrection when he will be ‘brought out into the open.’”

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mark 4:24-25)

Here again he begins by saying, “Pay attention.”

Back in the day, you couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy a pound of flour off the shelf. You would go to the market and ask the merchant for two measures of flour…or four or however many you wanted. He seems to be telling them to pursue God, and that if they seek, they will find. Again, his audience is mixed. There are critics, curious onlookers, and genuine God-seekers. He’s separating the fair-weather fans from the truly serious.

Our faith is not based upon a to-do list, but rather a person, the person of Jesus Christ, God who came to earth in the flesh. We can’t study people like we study rocks or flowers. People are complex. They can be mysterious. I’ve known my wife for almost 32 years and I’m still pursuing her, getting to know her, dating her, and making discoveries about her. God is even more fascinating. The title of A.W. Tozer’s classic book
The Pursuit of God says it all.

What about you? Are you chasing after God? Do you, like the psalmist, long after God like a deer panting for streams of water? Do you truly want Jesus to be LORD of your life…or is he just an interesting person to study for an hour on Sunday?

He also said,
“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

Again Jesus announces the subject of his metaphors: the kingdom of God. Of the four gospels, only Mark records this parable. What is most provocative is the phrase “all by itself.” The Greek word is “automatos,” the source of our word automatic. We know from last week the seed is the word of God. The sickle most likely refers to judgment day.

If you recall from last week, the Jews are waiting for the Messiah to come and overthrow the Rome, but Jesus is in no hurry. He’s saying the kingdom will emerge slowly. We must be patient. Yes, we long for the return of Jesus and even say, “Maranatha! Come quickly LORD Jesus!” but rushing the kingdom of God is like digging up crops hoping to harvest before they are grown. We are to sow the seed, the word, and trust God’s timing for the harvest.


Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)

The kingdom of God begins small…like a tiny seed. A mustard seed looks like a grain of sand. It’s so small! But it will grow! Many mustard bushes are twelve feet tall!

Similarly, from Jesus to a ragamuffin dozen to billions around the world, the kingdom of God has been growing and advancing. Even in 2017 when we hear bad news about the decline of Christianity in the west, it is exploding in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Hallelujah! It’s also advancing here in the Midwest.

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. (Mark 4:33-34)
 
Years ago, I wrote for a Christian music magazine doing album reviews and feature articles. One of the perks was getting backstage passes, meeting musicians, and seeing how they really behaved out of the limelight. The disciples must’ve felt special to get time alone with Jesus—and they were! Not only did they get to be with him, they were able to hear the explanations for the parables.

The aforementioned A.W. Tozer said:
To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul's paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart…Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.
Jesus spoke in parables not to keep people from understanding the kingdom of God, but rather to see who really wanted truth, who really wanted to know God.

Do you? Are you a God-seeker? If you pursue God, you will find him.

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

Sower: Soils & Spoils, 6 August 2017

Sower: Soils & Spoils
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 4:1-20

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

Big Idea: Not everyone is ready to enter the kingdom of God…are you?

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. (Mark 4:1)

Jesus is so popular he can’t even just stand up and speak. The crowds will mob him so he does his teaching from a boat.

He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. (Mark 4:2-3)

One hundred years ago the most common occupation in the United States was farmer. Today, of course, it is rare to meet a full-time farmer, but everyone in Jesus’ audience knew about farming. If they wanted to eat, they needed to farm—or live near someone who did! Jesus begins by commanding them to listen. Not everyone would. Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. Unlike today’s sophisticated farms, the ordinary Jewish farmer had a small plot of land, used every inch, scattered seed everywhere and then plowed it under along with the thorns, weeds, and anything else on the ground.

As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (Mark 4:4)

Those stinkin’ birds! Okay, some birds are wonderful, but others are annoying. If you scatter seed without caring for it, they will disappear!

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. (Mark 4:5-6)

This is common, too. Plants start to grow but die without strong roots.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. (Mark 4:7)

Here we see another crop killer…thorns.

Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” (Mark 4:8)

Obviously this is what is supposed to happen, though Jesus surprised the crowd with these numbers since an average harvest was only seven or eight times the amount of seed sown and a good harvest would be about ten times.

Then Jesus said,
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9)

He says again, listen! He knows not everyone will hear. Parables reveal the truth to some while concealing it from the rebellious.

Jesus is not giving instructions on agriculture. There’s a much deeper message, but it wasn’t obvious. In fact…

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 

 
“ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:10-12)

They missed it! Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10.

In revelation, God’s people are trained about the requirements of the kingdom.
In concealment, those who oppose God never understand the kingdom.

Much of Jesus’ teachings was about the kingdom of God, a radical contrast to the kingdoms of this world. Jesus was a revolutionary declaring an alternative reality, a different society, casting visions for a counter-cultural life.

His enemies rejected his teaching.
The crowds were interested in his miracles but not his teaching.

Parables allowed those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness would be filled. It separated the curious from the true seekers. Seek and you will find.

By the way, I love how Jesus explained the parable not only to the Twelve but also the others who stuck around to hear the exposition. The only thing that seems to separate those on the inside of Jesus’ explanation and those on the outside is their pursuit of God.

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. 

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to lead us, teach us, and guide us.

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? (Mark 4:13)

I wish I could hear his tone of voice! He was, of course, intentional about how he coded his message but maybe did too good of a job since his closest friends were clueless!

The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. (Mark 4:14-15)

Israel has been in exile and this is a picture of Go sowing Israel again in her own land, restoring their fortunes, making the family farm fruitful again. They expected the Messiah to come and rescue Israel in an explosive way, not slowly like farming.
This is about the word of God, the inauguration of the kingdom. It is coming, but it won’t be as they expect it. It won’t happen instantly, but it will eventually become a reality…and we are in the midst of that today, heaven kissing earth, God’s kingdom coming and his will being done here as it is in heaven. It is not done with power like a military coup, but rather humbly, unobtrusive, and coexisting with evil, an unpopular message with patriotic Jewish seeking revolt.

Satan loves to steal. He is a deceiver. His goal is to keep us from God.

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.
But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (Mark 4:16-17)

Easy come, easy go. I love God until life gets hard and then I blame him for my trials and walk away. This is so tragically common today as it was then.

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-19)

Can you relate? I can’t imagine anyone in our culture tempted by wealth or worries! Ha! The world can be very attractive, yet never truly satisfying. Money will make you happy…for a while. But only following Jesus the Messiah will bring true satisfaction, peace, hope, and joy.

Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
(Mark 4:20)

That’s where I want to sow…into the good soil.
That’s what I want my life to be…good soil.


So What?

First, we must be intentional when we sow. We need to work smart, not just hard. A few weeks ago I mentioned six words to define our mission:

Love God.
Love Others.
Make Disciples.

Making disciples means following Jesus and helping others follow Jesus, passing the baton of faith, mentoring and investing in the lives of others.

If you recall I mentioned how Jesus spent time praying before choosing his twelve disciples. Similarly, we are not to just randomly scatter seed. We are to love everyone, but we are not supposed to invest equally in the lives of everyone we meet. Some people are FAT: faithful, available, and teachable. They are good soil. They will pass the baton of faith to others (2 Timothy 2:2) and reproduce. Other people have no interest in following Jesus. They’re too busy, too selfish, too prideful, too distracted. Two weeks ago I challenged you to ask, “God, who do You want me to disciple?”

Obviously not everyone you devote time and energy to will yield the same results. Some people, like Judas, will not produce good fruit. Others, however, will yield a great harvest.

Second, we must be patient and persevere when we sow. You can’t scatter seed today and expect a harvest tomorrow. Jesus warns the soil must receive attention. Even today farmers water, weed, fertilize, and pray for adequate sunshine in order for the seeds to form deep roots and abundant fruit.

Many of you served at this summer’s Sports & Arts Camp and I want to say our work is not done. It’s just beginning! We sowed seed, but we need to water it, weed it, fertilize it, and persevere until it produces a harvest.

Finally, we must give attention to our own soil. How is your heart? Are the investments of others into you paying off? Are you a good disciple? Are you pursuing God, studying the Bible, devoted to prayer, sharing your faith, serving the poor, living a generous life, and discipling others? Or are you distracted with screens, busy with hobbies, and growing a personal garden of weeds?

It is my prayer for you, myself, and all of us at First Alliance that we would know, share, and experience the kingdom of God and that God would produce a great harvest in and through us in Toledo and beyond for His glory.

The Lord’s Prayer

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

Identity: Family & Foes, 30 July 2017

Identity: Family & Foes
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 3:20-35

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

Big Idea: Jesus’ followers are his true family…and you are welcome to join it!

Earlier this year we did a series entitled Ideal Family. Throughout the series I said there are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families.


As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we are told Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—is growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

As I said, all of our families are messed up. All of them. If you don’t think yours is messed up, yours is REALLY messed up! Jesus is trying to eat, a huge crowd mobs him, and his family think he’s crazy. They want to get him in line! “Make Jesus stop,” they say! Jesus’ family wants Jesus to stop his ministry because they don’t understand what he’s doing.

On the other hand the religious people know what he’s doing…and they’re hostile.

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Mark 3:22)

This must be one of the dumbest statements in the Bible! I’m not saying the Bible is stupid, of course, but the religious leaders accuse Jesus of being demonic…and driving out demons. Huh?

So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables:
“How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. (Mark 3:23-26)

This is just common sense…but Jesus obviously needed to say it. A divided kingdom or house cannot stand. You may have noticed our nation is a bit divided these days. It’s scary to think what could happen if we remain this way. It seems like the options are to be overtaken by another country or find ourselves in civil war…because a house divided cannot stand. This is why unity is one of my top four prayers for First Alliance Church. United we stand, divided we fall (a phrase possibly used first by Aesop in his fable of “The Four Oxen and the Lion”). When we rally around a common mission, vision, strategy, and LORD, there is no limit to our potential. If we experience division, the ballgame is over. And we see this all the time…well-intended Christians arguing over things that often lead to awful results, including church splits and even people losing their faith in God altogether.

Satan knows this. He knows if he can divide us, he can conquer. And again I say we need to always be praying for unity. I pray for direction, protection, passion, and unity. I know unity is a God-honoring prayer because it is Jesus’ prayer for us…right now. In John chapter 17, he says

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

Jesus is praying that we would be one…so that the world may believe!

As if Jesus has not already made his point about division and unity clear, he adds these words:

In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. (Mark 3:27)

It’s easy to miss his message. Satan is like a strong man. Jesus is a stronger man! Jewish listeners may have been reminded of this passage in Isaiah:

Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce?

But this is what the LORD says: 

“Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. (Isaiah 49:24-25)

Jesus also may have been thinking about this text:

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, 
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12)

The Messiah is right before their eyes, yet they are unable to see.

Returning to the verse…


In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.
(Mark 3:27)

We have a real enemy, brothers and sisters. He is a liar, a thief, an accuser, a big fat jerk! He is powerful and destructive…but our God is greater!!! Be encouraged. There are battles, but we will win. Love prevails. Truth reigns. Peace conquers. Jesus rules!

I want to add one more thing about unity…Dave Ramsey’s five enemies of unity. These five destroyers are true in the marketplace, but they can be found in churches and even homes, too.

1. Poor communication
2. Lack of shared purpose/mission/goals
3. Gossip (Ramsey’s employees are warned once and fired if it occurs again)
4. Unresolved disagreements
5. Sanctioned incompetence (John Maxwell), keeping poor performers on the team

That was just for fun! Back to Jesus…

Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter,
but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:28-29)

Throughout my life I’ve heard people talk about these verses. Did I commit the unforgivable sin? If you have to ask, the answer is a resounding no.

Nobody disputed Jesus’ miracles. They were real. The healings were real. The exorcisms were real. The resurrection was real. Since the religious leaders couldn’t deny Jesus’ power, the only way they could discredit him was to attack the source of his power, claiming it is satanic. They knew better, but they were obviously desperate.

Jesus presents a paradox, a self-contradictory statement. He says all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven and then says the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Which is it?

Forgiveness of sins comes only from God. If you claim God is evil, who can forgive your sins?

If you choose to deny God, it’s impossible to receive his forgiveness.

Jesus doesn’t even say these religious leaders have committed the unforgiveable sin, but it’s a stern warning.

He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” (Mark 3:30)

Now we see Jesus’ family again.

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” (Mark 3:31-32)

When is the last time someone said, “Where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you!”? Mary and the boys are outside, unable to get to their popular son and brother. Then Jesus asks a simple question.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. (Mark 3:33)

No wonder they thought Jesus lost his mind! He couldn’t even identify his mom and siblings?

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

Wow! That’s radical! Jesus is starting a new family, a holy people. He’s willing to sacrifice his biological family for a new tribe, club, group. This is shocking!

Growing up in a “good, Christian home,” I always felt close to my sister and parents, my grandparents, and even my aunts, uncles, and cousins. If we were visiting family out of town, we would always attend church with them on Sundays, reinforcing our Christian heritage and bond in Jesus. I married into a family that was…different. Church was generally reserved for Christmas and Easter.

So imagine my surprise at my life in 2017. Two weddings last year led to major division among my Christian family members, while many members of Heather’s family are closer to me than my own flesh and blood. I keep reminding myself all families are messed up…including mine!

I’m beginning to better understand Jesus’ words about family. Perhaps what matters most isn’t your blood but your relationships. I’m certainly not saying family doesn’t matter. Quite the opposite. Family is incredibly important, but to Jesus’ point, relationships matter more than family. Jesus did not abandon his mom and brothers. He merely extended his family to include all God seekers, or more accurately all God followers.

So What?

Are you a part of Jesus’ family? I didn’t ask if you attend this church or believe in God or were born in the USA. I’m asking if you are part of Jesus’ family. Do you do God’s will? Do you obey God? Are you truly a follower of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his teachings. I’m not talking about religion, but rather righteousness and relationship.

Jesus invites you and me to join his family. We are welcome to become sons and daughters of the Most High God, thus becoming the brothers and sisters of Jesus. In fact, if we follow Jesus today, we are closer kin to Jesus than even his mother and brothers! That’s incredible! No matter your family of origin, you can be born again, become a new creation, receive the gift of eternal life…and an abundant life now. I’m so glad I’m a part of God’s family…not because of anything I have done, but rather because of what Jesus did in inviting us to follow him.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

Credits:
some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

The First Followers, 23 July 2017

The First Followers
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 3:7-19

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

Big Idea: The Messiah invites us to follow him…in making disciples.

Introduction

Today’s text contains two paragraphs…two stories. They begin similarly. If you recall last week we looked at the Sabbath, a day of rest, a day to play. Did you have a play day in the past week? Did you rest? There’s so much that can—and will—be said about Sabbath, even from science. It seems like every year I read another major report stating the benefits of sleep, breaks, vacation, recreation…and the danger of working too many hours.

I found it timely that while working on today’s sermon, my daughter, Rachel, wrote a blog post entitled, “Time Out.” She begins

I used to hate it when my parents put me in "time out" as a kid. Sitting and doing nothing felt like torture when all I wanted to do was play. Now, I dream of sitting and doing nothing, even for just a few minutes.

She then talked about the Sabbath she spent with her husband, Mark, driving three hours to a Lake Michigan beach for the day despite plenty of work to be done at home.

Jesus rested. He withdrew. He took time outs. He said…

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

We’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel—or “good news”—of Mark. In chapter 3, Jesus is criticized by the religious leaders who then begin to plot how they might kill him (3:6). Needless to say, Jesus flees the religious leaders and verse seven says…

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. (Mark 3:7)

If you think you’re busy, imagine what it would be like to be Jesus!

I’ve been to this lake. It is beautiful! It’s often called the Sea of Galilee but today’s it’s known as
Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias. It’s about 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, and about 700 feet below sea level, the lowest freshwater lake on Earth.

When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. (Mark 3:8)

The crowds were from the entire area. He was in danger not only from the religious leaders but the mob. He needed bodyguards!

Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. (Mark 3:9)

This was their exit strategy, their safety plan!

For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. (Mark 3:10)

Everyone likes free medical care!

Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. (Mark 3:11-12)

I love these verses! The demons recognized Jesus. They called him the Son of God. But Jesus didn’t want his true identity to be revealed just yet.

Who is Jesus? The demons know. Earlier God the Father declared Jesus to be his son, in whom He is well pleased (Mark 1:11). We’ll see even nature knows. But the people were clueless, the religious leaders were in denial, and even after a death, resurrection, and a global movement of billions of people there are still billions who have never heard of Jesus or deny he is the Messiah.

Why does Jesus tell the impure spirits to keep quiet about his identity? There are many theories, not the least of which is he is obviously a wanted man. The religious are plotting to kill him…and we’re only in chapter 3!

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. Mark 3:13

Jesus retreats again. He withdraws. He must’ve been exhausted after having the crowds not only mobbing him but asking for healing. The mountainside site is significant. It figures prominently in the accounts of Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and Mark will tell us about several important events on a mountain.

Then he chooses his disciples. John recorded these words of Jesus to the twelve:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Jesus called and they followed. The book of Luke tells us before Jesus selected the twelve he “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). You don’t randomly pick your team if you want to change the world. You pray diligently for wisdom. God often chooses the most unlikely people to serve Him.

He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3:14-15)

Why twelve? There were twelve tribes of Israel, even though it had been more than 700 years since those tribes had been visible due to Jewish exile. Everything Jesus did was giving off clues he was the Messiah. And notice what the twelve were called to do: be with him. Yes, they were sent out to preach and drive out demons, but discipleship is caught more than it is taught. Everything the disciples would do began with being with Jesus. John 15 tells us if we abide—if we spend time with Jesus—we will bear fruit. We are human beings, not human doings, so it makes sense Jesus wanted them to be with him.

Here’s his motley crew!

These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Mark 3:16-19)

Jesus did not call the qualified, but qualified the called. His team was not exactly the most impressive group of men voted most likely to succeed in high school. There were four fishermen, a hated tax collector, a member of a radical and violent political party…no formal leader, scholar, or doctor in the bunch!

The same is true today. God works through FAT people: faithful, available, teachable. He’s looking for a few good men, women and children today that will follow, surrender, and serve. It seems like he rarely calls the rich, famous and powerful, but rather the meek, ordinary, and humble.

As I was reflecting on Jesus’ appointed I was reminded of The Alliance General Council four years ago. John Stumbo was nominated for president along with another man. Both gave brief speeches. If memory serves correct, John was wearing a polo shirt, spoke with his usual raspy voice, offered no grand vision or strategy but rather a story about God prompting him to accept the nomination after years of health issues, trials, and struggle. The other man was very impressive, wore a fine suit, had an extensive resume…yet when I was handed a ballot I had no doubt God was calling John Stumbo to the role and he received my vote…and nearly 100% of the vote.

Jesus prayerfully chose his disciples, men who would follow him and disciple others.

So What?

This week I attended my first
Truth at Work meeting. These monthly gatherings bring Christian leaders together for a morning of fellowship, presentations, training, and accountability. It was a great experience. Being the new guy in a room of about a dozen business owners and non-profit directors I was asked to complete a New Member Introduction Form. One of the blanks to fill was “Company Mission Statement.” Since First Alliance does not presently have a formal mission statement, I wrote, “Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples.” I borrowed those six words from Jesus!

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)

Then Jesus came to them and said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Love God.
Love Others.
Make Disciples.

We refer to those words as the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. That’s why we’re here…this church…us…on this planet.

How are we doing? Our “success” as a church hinges on those three statements.

How are you doing? I’ve met many Christians who truly love God. They pray, read the Bible, and attend church gatherings, uh, religiously (sorry for the pun!). If Jesus walked in the room, they would give him a huge hug. They love God.

I’ve met Christians who love others. Like me, they find some people easier to love than others. They are devoted to their friends. They occasionally volunteer to serve the poor. They may even give money to help those in need, forgive those who have wronged them, and pray blessings on their enemies.

But then we come to making disciples. I can hear it now. “That’s the pastor’s job.” Except that nowhere in the Bible does it speak of discipleship being exclusively for clergy, for professional Christians. Jesus said to his followers, “Go and make disciples.” Hundreds—maybe thousands—of people followed Jesus around. We know of at least one group of 72 who Jesus sent out (Luke 10). In today’s text we see the list of the dozen disciples Jesus appointed. He concentrated most of his time and energy on three—Peter, James and John.

So who are your disciples? Who are you investing your life into? Do they know it?! Parents, this is an easy one! You are leading…influencing…mentoring…discipling your children every day. They listen to your words…and watch your actions.

Who are your disciples? Each of us has been blessed with skills, experiences, talents, and gifts. Maybe you are not able to teach the Greek New Testament but you know how to visit someone in the hospital. Perhaps you can’t play a musical instrument but you can invite someone to your home for a meal. You don’t have to be a perfect example, just a living example.

I’ve heard of churches structured in such a way that every person has a mentor and a protégé, someone discipling them and someone they are discipling.

One of the great joys I had in Africa was training youth and pastors about leadership. Most people believe a leader is someone with a title, a position, yet my favorite definition of leadership is influence. I remember attending my first elders meeting here at First Alliance thinking to myself, “I’ve got the title, but I’m not the most influential person in the room.”

Who are you influencing? Who are you investing in? Who are you loving…intentionally?

I love our church. It’s such an honor and privilege to serve you. But sometimes I fear people put me on a pedestal thinking I’m the minister and they’re just the attendees, the parishioners, the congregation. Brothers and sisters, we’re all called to make disciples. We’re all called to love God and others. Making disciples accomplishes both commands!

I want to challenge you with one simple prayer:
God, who do You want me to disciple?

Maybe you’re in high school. Great! Find an elementary or middle school student to serve. Be a big brother or big sister to them.

You might be a new believer in Christ. That’s ok, there are plenty of non-Christians in our city who need to hear your story, feel your love, experience your joy.

Jesus chose twelve but focused on three. What if you just pick one. One person. Ask God for a name. It might be a co-worker, a neighbor, someone sitting next to you right now, or someone you’ll see in the lobby in a few minutes. Pray for them. Take them to Claro this week for coffee. Invite them to your small group or Sunday School class. Send them an encouraging text.

Love God.
Love Others.
Make Disciples.

Jesus did it. He invites us to follow him.

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

Sabbath: Good & Evil, 16 July 2017

Sabbath: Good & Evil
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 2:23-3:6

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

Big Idea: The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused.

Our text for today focuses on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused. If we go way back—to the second book of the Bible, Exodus—we’ll find the Sabbath in God’s Top Ten list, the Ten Commandments.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

The Sabbath is a day of rest. God rested on the seventh day of the week after creation. When we rest, we imitate God.

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:23-24)

The religious police have caught Jesus! The Pharisees developed a list of 39 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath. Sure, God set apart the Sabbath, but these religious leaders took God’s law and expanded it with their traditions and interpretations. Instead of resting and reflecting upon God, they turned Saturday into a day to tiptoe around activities, adhere to checklists, and avoiding technical definitions of work.

Actually, no laws were broken anyhow. They were not harvesting grain, only picking some to eat. The law made provision for eating, just not harvesting on the Sabbath. Farmers were supposed to rest, but these fishermen were not working, only grabbing a snack.

If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain. (Deuteronomy 23:24-25)

God gave the law to serve the people. Note Jesus and the disciples did not harvest with a sickle. The Pharisees were just trying to trap Jesus, but the tables are turned.

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” (Mark 2:25-26)

Jesus did not argue about the Sabbath. He challenges the Pharisees, implying they have never even read the Bible! The letter of the law was not to be imposed when it brought hardship to one of God’s servants. By referring to David, Jesus is implying he is doing God’s business in some way these religious leaders are not.

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

Boom! The law was made for man, not the other way around.

Allow me to add this thought: all of God’s laws are for our benefit. That’s because our heavenly Father loves us. He wants what’s best for us. He didn’t just sit around one day and think, “How can I make life miserable for humans? How can I take away all of their fun?” No, like any good parent, He has more wisdom and understanding than His kids and He provides boundaries for our protection and ultimate satisfaction.

As if Jesus has not already offended these religious leaders, he throws in one more declaration.

So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)

Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath. Jesus is the LORD of all! The Pharisees were clueless. Standing in front of them was the Messiah, God! Yet all they could think about is their own outrage at this man who is gaining popularity and has a comeback for everything they throw at him.

A.W. Tozer said,

“The God of the Pharisee was not an easy God to live with, so his religion became grim and hard and loveless. It had to be so, for our notion of God must always determine the quality of our religion. 
Much Christianity since the days of Christ’s flesh has also been grim and severe. And the cause has been the same – an unworthy or an inadequate view of God.” 

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” (Mark 3:1-3)

The critics were outside in the grainfields. Now they’re in the synagogue.

Was this man planted? Probably. They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.  (Mark 3:4)

I love it when Jesus silences his critics with a question! The answer is obvious, but the Pharisees aren’t looking for truth, but rather a reason to accuse Jesus. Since they didn’t answer his question, he decided to heal the man.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (Mark 3:5)

Jesus got angry! Anger is not sin, though we can sin in our anger. Jesus did not carry a grudge, he just recognized the injustice of the moment and their hard hearts.

The Sabbath was given to Israel as a gift. The religious leaders hijacked it.

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:6)

Don’t miss this: the religious leaders want to kill Jesus. They go out of their way to follow commandment number four about the Sabbath but seem to have no problem with number six…that one about murder! Did they forget? Maybe it was unclear, hard to understand. Here it is:

“You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)

The original Hebrew word,
rasah, means “to murder, kill.”

Oh, and let’s not forget this murder would be premeditated! They even plotted with another group, the Herodians!

Have things changed since then? Not really.

So What?

I want to close with two thoughts.

First, religion is ugly in all of its forms. Legalism. Judgment. Self-righteousness. We might not often think of religion leading to murder, but Mark 3:6 clearly shows us that’s where it can go. And we know their plans were eventually carried out. How can God be linked to such violence? Obviously we see in our own day—and throughout history—blood shed in the name of God and religion. What a tragedy! This has led some to declare organized religion is responsible for the wars of the world, as if communism and other atheistic philosophies have been entirely peaceful! But the point remains, religion can be an adventure in missing the point. The Pharisees were clueless about the Sabbath. They were unable to see God…standing right in front of them!

One need not go far to see religion today…in our culture. It seems every week another pastor or author is poked, prodded, critiqued, and banned because of something said in an interview or online. Yes, we need to be discerning and avoid heresy, but good luck finding someone with whom you agree one hundred percent. And a disagreement does not mean all of their contributions are trash.

I get frustrated with intolerant, close-minded, arrogant people in the world who boycott Claro because it was started by a church. Uh, how’s the coffee?! There are Republicans that refuse to associate with Democrats and vice versa. Seriously? We have far more in common than we have differences. If we would stop and listen to one another rather than constantly pointing fingers of condemnation, we would live in a far better world. We need to build bridges, not walls.

But the same can be said in the church. I want to see diversity…not only ethnically but theologically. There are many things over which we could probably start an argument, but rather than debate, let’s dialog. Let’s seek to understand one another. Let’s truly love one another, explore points of difference, and ask questions. I’m not suggesting this is necessarily occurring here at First Alliance Church, but the Internet is loaded with total strangers heaving verbal bombs at one another, figuratively and sometimes even literally calling for boycotts of individuals and their work. There’s a fine line between criticism and discernment, I admit, but so much of what I see and read is pure Pharisaical religion, people on a witch hunt to attack their so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. No wonder the world is walking away from the church. Who wants to join a dysfunctional family?

As one of my professors, David Fitch, wrote, “
We need Christians that can unravel the antagonisms that drive Christianity in America, not make them worse.”

David Garland writes regarding Mark chapter four:

(1) The question, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (2: 16) is answered with a truism: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2: 17).

(2) The question, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).

(3) The question about why the disciples do what is unlawful on the Sabbath (2: 24) is answered with the proclamation, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” and, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (2: 27– 28).

(4) In the last controversy, Jesus turns the tables on his inquisitors and provokes an engagement.

    Second, let’s get back to our subject: the Sabbath. We need rest. It has been proven in countless studies. We are human beings, not human doings. You need a day off. You need vacation days. Sure, you can survive a week without a Sabbath, but you cannot thrive for long without one. It would be hypocritical for me to get legalistic about the Sabbath, but here’s the bottom line:

    Do you trust God can do more with six days than you can with seven?

    I know, your life is busy. The boss is demanding. The kids are a handful. Deadlines loom. You have to fit in soccer practice, dance lessons, volunteering at Cherry Street Mission, get the car oil changed, grab dinner in a drive-thru…

    I know, it must’ve been easier in Old Testament times. They didn’t have Facebook to check or phone calls to return. No, they had to grow and harvest crops…or die of starvation!

    I was challenging pastors in East Africa to honor the Sabbath. It’s only the fourth commandment…ahead of murder and adultery! The penalty for breaking it was only death! It’s hard for them. Most of them are volunteers. They have a vocation Monday through Friday…or Saturday and then preach on Sunday. Who has time to rest?

    It’s like Stephen Covey says in his classic
    The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, sharpen the saw. A man is cutting down a tree with a dull saw. His friend says, “Stop cutting and sharpen your saw.” He replies, “I don’t have time. I have to get this tree cut down.” His friend counters, “If you take time to sharpen your saw, you will cut the tree down much faster.”

    I know you can’t afford to take a day off…but really you can’t afford NOT to rest. God made the Sabbath for us…to enjoy. Relax. Do only things that fill you. Be unproductive! If you enjoy gardening, garden. If you hate pulling weeds, read a book instead. Often those who do physical labor during the week need to engage in mental activities, and those who exercise their minds for a living may find physical recreation replenishing.

    Sabbath doesn’t just happen. Like a vacation, it requires planning and preparation. Experiment. Don’t overthink it, but find ways to intentionally unplug from busyness and work, from things that deplete you. Psalm 46:10 says

    “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10)

    I challenge you to set aside one day a week for rest, to fill your tank, to be with God, a Sabbath. Will God be exalted in your life? It begins with trust, trusting that God is sovereign and in control. Trusting that God will honor your Sabbath. What the Pharisees used for evil we are invited to use for good. And God’s glory.

    Resource: I found this article by Mark Galli helpful, A Theology of Play.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

    Timing: Old & New, 18 June 2017

    Timing: Old & New
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:18-22

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

    Big Idea: God is always doing new things, even though He never changes.

    My fellow graduates, I want to encourage you to lead. I know you might not consider yourself to be a leader, but my favorite definition of leadership is simply “influence.” Each of us has countless opportunities every day to influence others, whether it be friends, a family member, co-worker, Facebook acquaintance, or even total strangers in public. Follow Jesus and lead/influence others to do the same.

    But for all of the talk of leadership in our day, remember one thing: every leader has followers and opponents. Whether you’re a politician, CEO, store manager, or little league coach, there will be people who support you and people who can’t stand you!

    Just ask Jesus!

    We’re in the middle of a series exploring The Real Jesus from the gospel—or good news—of Mark, a biography of King Jesus.

    Last week we saw Jesus questioned for inviting Levi into a meaningful relationship. “How dare he associate with sinners?” the religious leaders asked. But the criticism is still just beginning.

    Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (Mark 2:18)

    Fasting is an ancient practice which seems to have periodic surges in popularity. I’ve noticed several authors recently writing about the benefits of fasting, especially for weight control. This is not the context of our passage today.

    Fasting was a popular practice in first-century Judaism. Some thought they could ward off demons by fasting. Others thought they could earn God’s favor by fasting, perhaps making their prayers more likely to be answered in a way that pleases them. Still others fasted in hopes of prompting mercy or attaining the forgiveness of sins. The most self-righteous would use fasting as a way to show their piety and gaining the applause and admiration of others.

    This is not to say fasting is a bad thing. Hardly. Jesus fasted for forty days. It was sometimes connected to sorrow for the loss of a loved one. Jesus’ own death likely led to the fasting of the disciples as they grieved.

    But there is an appropriate time and a place for everything.

    There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build, 
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

    There is a time to fast…and a time to feast!

    Jesus answered,
    “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (Mark 2:19-20)

    I love weddings! There’s no celebration like a wedding. Last week Heather and I traveled about 3000 miles to California just to participate in a wedding.

    The day was filled with joy, smiles, laughter, food, and feasting. And why not? Is there any greater party than one focused on love? If there is ever a time to eat, drink, and be merry, it is a wedding.

    Jesus tells the religious leaders now is not the time for his disciples to fast. He is the groom. It’s time to party! There will be a day when he will be taken from them. He’s previewing his death on the cross. There will be no celebration on Good Friday, though Resurrection Sunday will be another story!

    Jesus came to proclaim and practice the kingdom of God. The kingdom is God is not a funeral but a wedding party! You don’t fast at a wedding. You can’t fast at a wedding! It would be offensive to the host. It’s time to feast! Religion and the kingdom of God are completely different.

    Jesus continues

    “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. (Mark 2:21)

    This is a universal truth. I’m no seamstress, but I know garments will tear when they are washed and the patch of new, stronger fabric shrinks. The old and new are incompatible.

    Perhaps you’ve experienced this reality. Replacement parts for old products often fail to fit. When my wife gets new glasses, she gets new lenses and frames because the new lenses won’t fit in new frames. I recently had to explain to someone a DVD will not work in their VCR!

    Jesus is saying the old and new are incompatible. He didn’t come to abolish the law or add to it. He came to do something new.

    Weddings are filled with fancy food, fancy garments, and fancy drinks, too.

    And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)

    This is not a verse about alcohol, per se, but rather about another truth concerning the incompatibility of old and new. Animal skins, often goatskins, were used as containers for fluids. Old, stretched wineskins will burst when new wine is poured in and expands.

    David Garland notes, “The question, ‘How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?’ (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).”

    Jesus came to do a new thing. He will die for the sins of the world, the new garment, the new wineskins. Jesus will not merely reform the old, he will transform it. He announces the end of the old and the birth of the new.

    Religion is like a ball and chain, weighing people down with guilt and shame.

    Jesus showed us how to party, how to experience abundant life, how to soar with joy.

    Why do you do what you do?

    This is an important question for us all. What is behind our behavior? Why are you here this morning? Is it to impress others? To try to score points with God? Or to worship our LORD with others, knowing Jesus and making him known to our city and world?

    It’s hard for us in our day to understand the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, but suffice it to say they were bold, loud, and arrogant. They judged, condemned, scorned, and criticized. They were stuffy, proud, fuddy-duddies!!! And they were no fun at all!

    What about you? Do you live like you’re at a funeral or a wedding? Again, there’s a time and place for everything, but I wonder if more people would follow Jesus if we looked more like him. I wonder if the world sees Christians as boring, gloomy people depressed by Fox News rather than hope dealers filled with joy, peace, and love.

    Jesus rocked their world…and the world of everyone he encountered. He replaced gloom with joy, death with life, despair with hope, and hate with love. This is why I love Jesus! Even if you skipped his death and resurrection—the climax of his ministry—his very attitude was refreshing. He hated organized religion!

    Jesus announced the kingdom of God, saying God was becoming king in an entirely new way. Something powerful and explosive was about to take place…and history has never been the same since! We are invited to participate in the kingdom, the reign and rule of King Jesus.

    Because of Jesus’ teachings, life, death, and resurrection we must think differently, think bigger, live more passionately. God never changes, but he’s always doing new things. Our church history is a great example of this. In 1930, we began a live radio broadcast. In 1966, we started a Christian radio station, WPOS, Proclaim FM. In 1996, church members launched a TV station, WLMB. Today you can download our sermon podcasts online. The message of King Jesus remains the same, but medium changes.

    I can’t imagine what lies ahead for us as a church, but God knows, and it will be exciting. It won’t always look like the old, but it shouldn’t. There are great things in the rear view mirror, but if you look ahead you’ll see even more exciting things. And most exciting of all will be the ultimate party, the ultimate feast, the day when the groom returns for his bride, when Jesus returns for the Church. What a celebration that will be! Are you ready?

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

    Church: Hospital or Museum? 11 June 2017

    Church: Hospital or Museum?
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:13-17

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

    Big Idea: We are to welcome sinners, recognizing we are sinners ourselves.

    Good morning saints! Good morning sinners!

    My name is Kirk and we’re studying Mark’s biography of The Real Jesus. In chapter 2, he has been baptized, begun his preaching ministry, and done some healings. Word is spreading and while he is attracting crowds, he’s also drawing the envy and wrath of religious leaders. This will be a common theme, so significant the religious leaders will eventually kill him.

    Jesus has at least four followers—four fishermen. Now he continues his recruiting trip.

    Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14)

    Levi is also likely called Matthew, though it is possible he was not one of the Twelve, making this invitation even more compelling. He works at a toll booth, but it’s not automated like the ones on the Turnpike. These collectors were known for extortion and dishonesty.

    Levi likely worked for Herod Antipas. His father’s kingdom was divided among his three sons. Tolls suddenly had to be paid to cross from one part of the old kingdom to another. Levi did not have a popular job!

    Jesus comes by, and instead of complaining or swearing at Levi, he says, “Follow me.” What an invitation! Instead of working for a man who thought of himself as king of the Jews, he is invited to follow the true King of the Jews, the Messiah.

    Can you imagine someone walks into your office, says, “Follow me,” and you walk out on your job? Levi takes a huge risk in following Jesus. The fishermen can always return to fishing, but a government job? They’re not always available, especially after suddenly leaving without giving your two weeks notice!

    Jesus’ identity as King was not yet revealed, though. Instead, he was known as a preaching doctor who loved to throw parties…for sinners, outcasts, the marginalized.

    While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. (Mark 2:15)

    Jesus continues to attract crowds, even at dinnertime. But he did not just attract the educated and elite, the righteous and religious. Jesus was a friend of sinners.

    The best scholarship seems to suggest Jesus was the host, throwing a party at Levi’s house. Jesus doesn’t just preach to sinners; he befriends them. He loves them. He offends the religious establishment who have rejected these “sinners.”

    When we are invited to dinner, the polite thing to do is say…yes. Who doesn’t like a free meal, right? But in the first century, table fellowship implied friendship—even approval. If you and I share a meal together, it tells the world we are close friends. Does Jesus approve of these greedy, dishonest tax collectors and sinners? Doesn’t he care about holiness? It makes sense for Levi to gather with fellow sinners, but why is Jesus present?

    When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

    They’re afraid to ask Jesus! They go to his disciples and criticize him.

    Now the Pharisees get a bad rap. It’s deserved, but they were devout. They wanted to honor God by carefully following the Jewish law. They made two mistakes, however. First, they were prideful, also satan’s downfall. Second, they focused on every minute detail of the law without understanding the purpose and spirit of the law. They could no longer see the forest for the trees. They were so concerned about staying clean and pure that they missed opportunities to love their neighbor, to extend forgiveness, and to see reconciliation and repentance. They wanted to exercise control rather than compassion.

    But make no mistake, Jesus did not endorse sin.

    In John chapter 8, a woman is caught in the act of adultery. A group of Pharisees condemns her. Jesus famously says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, the Pharisees walk away, leaving only Jesus and the woman. He says he does not condemn her. He offers grace and compassion. But the story doesn’t end there. He tells her, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

    Jesus welcomed sinners. Jesus loved sinners. But because Jesus loved them, he urged them to repent, to turn, to change…not because he doesn’t want them to have fun, but instead because he knows there’s a better way to live.

    Sin always leads to death. It might not be instant physical death, but it will kill relationships—with others, with God. Sin will destroy our ability to experience the abundant life Jesus taught and modeled. Greed. Pride. Adultery. Envy. Gossip. The list goes on.

    Can people live in sin and survive. Sure! But I’ve discovered following Jesus and his Word are the path to true satisfaction, true peace, and true joy. We need to welcome sinners

    We need to welcome sinners, but we also need to encourage them to experience Jesus, grow in their faith, and love God and their neighbor.
    David Garland notes,

    “to follow Jesus in the full sense of the word requires repentance and obedience. His goal in reaching out to the sick is to bring about healing and transformation in their lives, not to gather them together for a fun time. Instead of sorting people into classifications, holy and unholy, clean and unclean, righteous and sinner, Jesus gathers them under the wings of God’s grace and love.”

    It breaks my heart to see people make poor choices. But what shall I do? It depends upon the relationship. If it’s someone I know and love, tolerance might be the most hateful thing I can do, standing by watching them self-destruct. On the other hand, getting in their face about their behavior may cause our relationship to be destroyed. Obviously, this calls for wisdom…and it matters greatly if the person claims to follow Jesus or not.

    If you are my brother or sister in Christ, I owe it to you to encourage you to pursue Jesus. This doesn’t mean I point out all of your sins, but it does mean I might love you enough to confront.

    This week I received a short e-mail which simply said, “If I'm openly gay, would I be accepted at your church?”

    Would they, church?

    If they are seeking to know God, I hope and pray we would welcome them with open arms. I replied:

    All are welcome at First Alliance Church. We exist to help people know and experience Jesus, our example of what it means to be truly human. I hope to meet you soon.

    When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

    Why was Jesus a friend to tax collectors and sinners?

    On hearing this, Jesus said to them,
    “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

    We are not a museum for saints. There’s a museum next door if you want a museum!

    We are a hospital for sinners. And we’re all sinners! It might get messy. It might get uncomfortable. But the reason we’re still on this planet is because of the
    mission Dei, the mission of God, to seek and save the lost, to call sinners, to heal the sick, to make disciples, to serve the least of these, to love the unlovable. If all you care about is your own comfort, it’s not Jesus you’re following. Jesus lived to die and that’s what he calls his followers to do—die to ourselves and love and serve others.

    You would think after 2000 years we would understand this, but religion persists. Self-righteous people insist on pointing fingers.

    Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about love the sinner, hate your own sin?

    Brothers and sisters, I can summarize this message in three words. Many Christians have had the attitude the if you behave and believe, you can belong.

    Behave – Believe – Belong

    We must reverse it. Jesus did! He said you belong. As you are loved and accepted, belief often follows naturally. And don’t miss this: when you believe in Jesus and make him King and LORD, you are also given the Holy Spirit who gives you power to behave. You can’t just change your behavior because someone tells you to do so. You need power. You can’t just walk up to a guy with a brown bag on the streets and say, “Stop drinking” and expect him to never take another drink. He needs power to quit his addiction.

    And we’re all addicted to sin of one sort or another.

    Belong – Believe - Behave

    You belong here. All of you. Everyone. Young or old. Gay or straight. Black or white. Christian or atheist. Citizen or immigrant. Republican or Democrat. You belong here. You were created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. Jesus died for you. Come as you are.

    But we don’t want you to stay that way. Jesus doesn’t want you to stay as you are. He tells all of us to “go and sin no more,” not because he’s a scolding, condemning God but because he knows sin will always harm us. He wants what’s best for us.

    You belong here. We would love for you to experience Jesus and believe in him, surrendering your life to him. It’s not that we are trying to manipulate you or sell you anything, but we’ve discovered the source of real life, real peace, real joy and it’s not in religion but it’s in a person, Jesus!

    If you welcome Jesus into your life, you will want to change, you will want to follow Him, and you’ll be given the Holy Spirit’s power to do so.

    "God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, we are to love." -Billy Graham

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

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

    Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing, 4 June 2017

    Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:1-12

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

    Big Idea: Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

    A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. (Mark 2:1)

    Jesus’ headquarters moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. If you recall, Jesus healed a leper, told him to keep quiet, and instead the healed man told everyone about Jesus. The crowds loved to see physical healing but cared less about the spiritual messages Jesus preached.

    Jesus left Capernaum…and later returned to Simon Peter’s house. Most homes had 1-4 rooms so it would’ve gotten crowded quickly.

    But wait. Some scholars believe this was probably Jesus’ own house. Have you ever heard that before? That was news to me, and it shifts the story a bit.

    They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. (Mark 2:2)

    Preaching the Word of God was Jesus’ primary ministry. It is powerful. Whether it was his own house or not, he was obviously trapped. I’ve never been the subject of TV news, fortunately, but we’ve all seen private homes overrun with paparazzi when overly-zealous reporters try to get an exclusive interview. It’s chaos. In this case, it’s not media but people. Jesus is preaching to a crowd that gathered without any press release, billboards, or direct mail invitations. Did they want to hear…or just get healed?

    Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
    “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:3-5)

    Five guys show up, can’t get to Jesus, and take things into their own hands!

    It was a thatched roof made of straw, but getting the man on the roof must have been challenging, though many first-century homes had an outside staircase leading to a flat roof made of sod and branches.

    How would you feel if someone put a whole in your roof? Jesus says, “All right, I forgive you!” Of course, this was a deeper forgiveness than just necessitating a home improvement project! But if it is Jesus’ house, it makes his forgiveness a bit more interesting, don’t you think?

    Whose faith? The faith of the men. Their faith led to the man’s sins being forgiven? It’s not their faith that saved him but their faith led to the man meeting Jesus.
    Our city is filled with sick people—physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. We need stretcher bearers, people who will bring people in to hear the gospel.

    Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7)

    Only priests could declare forgiveness, speaking in the name of God. Of course, if that’s what his friends were seeking, they would’ve taken him to the temple in Jerusalem, not to a guy preaching in a home.

    Mark tells us what they were thinking. Only God can forgive sins. They’re right about that, but Jesus is not blaspheming. He’s God. He came to earth to provide salvation. Isaiah the prophet had said the Messiah would forgive sins, restore the broken hearted, and bring healing to the lame (chapters 29; 35; 61).

    The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
    because the LORD has anointed me 
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1)

    Today’s story is a micro version of the entire gospel of Mark: Jesus teaches, heals, is condemned for blasphemy, and vindicated.

    Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,
    “Why are you thinking these things? (Mark 2:8)

    He knew what they were thinking. They were speechless!

    Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? (Mark 2:9)

    Only God can do either one! Jesus will do both.

    But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:10)

    This is the first time in Mark where Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” This is the key sentence in today’s text. Daniel 7 said “one like a son of man” would be the representative of God’s true people. He would be opposed by evil, vindicated and rescued by God, proved right, and given authority to dispense God’s judgment.

    “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

    Jesus has authority, even the authority to forgive sins.

    Mark 2:10 also points to Jesus’ answer to Caiaphas in chapter fourteen:

    Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

    “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

    Jesus declares himself to be the Son of Man. He also forgives, the most powerful thing in the world.

    So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:11)

    The paralyzed man obeys. Incredible!

    He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:12)

    I love how this story ends with people praising God.

    So What?

    We are called to be stretcher-bearers for others. The man had great friends!

    The greatest healing is spiritual, not physical. Even healed bodies will eventually decay, but the soul is eternal. Jesus addressed the paralyzed man’s spiritual brokenness before addressing his body.

    God is not done healing souls. He offers forgiveness for all of your sins. All of them!
    God is not done healing bodies. His timing is perfect, even when it is slower than ours.

    Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

    We can receive forgiveness and healing.
    We can proclaim forgiveness and healing.
    We can bring people to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

    Ministry: Private & Public, 28 May 2017

    Ministry: Private & Public
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:35-45

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

    Big Idea: Jesus used his private time to prepare for his public ministry.

    Today we’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus based upon Mark’s biography of the Messiah. His gospel—or good news—is short and sweet. In the final verses of chapter one, we see aspects of Jesus’ private and public life and ministry.

    Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

    Note this is the morning after a busy Sabbath! The day before he was healing, preaching, and exorcising demons.

    Again, I love Mark’s details in the midst of his headlines. It wasn’t just morning, it wasn’t just early morning, it wasn’t just very early morning, it was very early in the morning while it was still dark! So Jesus seeks solitude before everyone awakes to pray. The Greek word for “solitary” (eremos) is used to speak of the wilderness, the place where the Jews wandered for forty years, where John the Baptist was calling people to repentance, and where Jesus was tempted.

    God uses the wilderness. It’s not a comfortable place, but it is in those bleak and hopeless places in our lives that God does some of His best work.

    This isn’t a desert, but it is deserted. It is a great place for Jesus to pray. Why did Jesus pray? The same reason we pray…to talk with the Father. To submit. To listen. To be filled with the Holy Spirit.

    I believe Jesus sets an example for us to follow. Some of you saw the movie War Room. Jesus didn’t have a dedicated place, but he sacrificed sleep to surrender, to be with the Father.

    Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:36-37)

    I’m guessing they did not get up early and look for Jesus in the dark. It’s even more unlikely that the crowds were looking for Jesus very early in the morning. Jesus devoted serious time to prayer, most likely several hours. Based upon the text, Jesus has four followers at this point. They aren’t even called disciples yet, but mere companions. They aren’t listening to Jesus, they frantically talking to him. The original Greek conveys the idea that they were hunting for Jesus. I can just hear them. “There you are! The crowds are looking for you! Come on! You can pray later!”

    Jesus replied,
    “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:38-39)

    Jesus is a man on the run…or walk! He tells them he came to preach, which he does…and drives out demons. He didn’t come to heal, he came to preach. Healing gave him credibility and authority, but it wasn’t his primary purpose. He came to call people to repentance, to change, to follow him. He didn’t come to do magic tricks. He came to preach. This is the last time Jesus’ preaching is mentioned in the gospel of Mark. He will later send the twelve apostles to “proclaim” or “preach” the message.

    What did he preach? We saw a few weeks ago in verse 15:

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    Returning to verse 38…

    Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:38-39)

    Jesus has little success in his hometown of Nazareth or here in Capernaum. Later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus will denounce Capernaum.

    And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.  For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. (Matthew 11:23)

    Yikes! So Jesus and the four fishermen travel, preach, and drive out demons.

    A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)

    He doesn’t ask to be physically healed, but rather to be made clean, a spiritual and social change. This word “leprosy” was used for as many as 72 different skin conditions. I made the mistake—or not—of doing a Google Image search for “leper.” It was so shocking and tragic. Here’s what the law prescribed for lepers:

    “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

    In several Old Testament stories, people were punished by God with leprosy, so imagine what people thought of lepers.

    - They were physically sick
    - They were considered unclean, unholy
    - They had to live alone and stay 50 paces away from others

    Both the medical disease and the spiritual impurity were considered contagious. Lepers couldn’t work so they had to beg. It was catastrophic in many ways—physical, spiritual, social, financial. The man asks to be clean rather than healed because social and spiritual restoration mattered more than his physical body.

    Lepers were untouchables…literally. Can you image never being touched by another human?

    Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man.
    “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:41-42)

    Obviously, the man got within 50 paces of Jesus since Jesus touched him. That touch must have been incredible! Anyone in sight would’ve thought Jesus was crazy to contaminate himself with a leper. Instead, Jesus transmits wholeness and holiness to the leper. He has authority. He has power. And he has given it to us through the Holy Spirit.

    Why was Jesus indignant and angry? Some translations say he was moved with compassion, others that he was filled with pity. Compassion makes the most logical sense, but if he was actually angry, it probably wasn’t because the man broke the 50-pace barrier. Anger doesn’t seem to fit the interruption. Most scholars suggest he was angry at the evil forces who claimed the leper as their victim. That would be holy, righteous anger. We need to be angry at sin, at injustice, at evil.

    Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 
    “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:43-44)

    Jesus sends the leper away. The word to describe Jesus’ strong warning is used to describe a horse snorting! He is serious! Perhaps he risked attracting people who only wanted to see magic tricks rather than listen to his preaching.

    Was this reverse psychology on the part of Jesus? Keep your healing a secret. Is that even fair?! People aren’t going to notice the leper is healed? But Jesus seems to be saying to the man, “Don’t blow my cover!”

    The priest was to determine whether or not a person had leprosy and whether they were cured. I’m grateful that’s not in my job description! You can read more about the treatment of lepers in Leviticus 13 and 14. The cleaning is an eight-day process with sacrifices. Of course, without the priest’s approval, the man cannot re-enter society.

    Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:45)

    He disobeyed Jesus’ strong warning! He proclaims the news. The publicity leads to audiences rather than congregations, fans rather than followers. Donovan notes four ironies:

    1) A disobedient man is one of the first to preach the good news about Jesus
    2) Jesus’ popular hurts rather than helps his ministry
    3) The leper begins outside of society and is restored to it. Jesus begins in public and has to live outside. The two men trade places!
    4) Jesus’ power to heal becomes the reason he cannot move about

    But he didn’t have to move. The people came to him!

    So What?

    I want to end by going back to the beginning. Before Jesus heals the leper, he spent time alone with God.

    Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

    This is where he sacrificed. This is where he prepared. This is where he worked.

    This week is the beginning of the NBA Finals. For the first time in NBA history, the same teams—Cleveland and Golden State—will face each other for the third year in a row. Millions will watch the marquis matchups including LeBron James and Stephen Curry. The players will give their all for 60 minutes. But the real work is done before the games. In the weight room. During practice. Making good choices at mealtime. In mental preparation.

    NBA players don’t spend every day lounging around watching Netflix, drive to the arena, play for an hour, and then go to bed and do it all the next day. They train. Most of the work is done off the court.

    This is true for Jesus. He didn’t just show up for work, preach and heal. He prepared when no one was looking. His private life made his public life possible.

    Many want to play in the NBA, but few are willing to do the hard work off the court to be ready at game time.

    Many want to do miracles, but few are willing to do the hard work on their knees to be ready.

    What about you? How committed are you to following Jesus? What have you sacrificed? Sleep? Time? Money? Energy? Dreams?

    Are you willing to pay the price to radically follow Jesus…or are you just a fan?

    N.T. Wright writes,

    As we Christians pray today, especially when this prayer is costly and sacrificial, not merely a perfunctory few minutes now and then, the presence of this same Jesus is promised, by his Spirit, to guide and encourage us. Part of this guidance will be the discernment to know when to speak and when to be silent, when what we are called to do should be kept secret and when it should be celebrated publicly. Sometimes, in some countries and in certain situations, some Christians will know, in prayer, that it is better not to attract too much attention to themselves. This isn’t cowardice; it’s wisdom. But if, as in Jesus’ case, word leaks out anyway, we can remain confident, especially through prayer, that this same Jesus is with us as we face the cost of being kingdom-people, bringing the news and power of Jesus’ healing love to the world.

    Memorial Day

    Memorial Day is our country’s most hallowed and somber holiday. It’s not a day to honor our military—that’s veteran’s day—but to remember those who paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom. I’m grateful for their sacrifice and would like to pause for a moment of silence to remember them.

    I’m also grateful for the true heroes of the faith—men, women and children who paid the ultimate price to follow Jesus. History is filled with martyrs. You can learn about them at
    www.persecution.com.

    The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates 90,000 Christians were murdered for their faith last year. That’s like filling 5/3 Field nine times! At least 29 died Friday in Egypt, including children.

    What would possess a person to die for their faith? Passion, commitment, and quality time with God in prayer. I freely admit I’m a spiritual wimp. I need more quality time with the LORD…not because I’m a pastor, but because I claim to follow Jesus. That requires action. It involves preparation. It necessitates sacrifice.

    Conclusion

    As we continue to look at the life of Jesus, it’s easy to be awed by his miracles and teachings. But his public ministry was only possible because of his private preparation. He invites us to follow his example.

    Credits:
    some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and Richard Niell Donovan.

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

    Supernatural: Exorcism & Healings

    Supernatural: Exorcism & Healings
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:21-34

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

    Big Idea: The supernatural world is real, and so is the Holy Spirit.

    Who is Jesus? This is the question we’re asking in our series on the gospel—or good news—of Mark.

    In the first verse of the book we see Jesus introduced as the Messiah and Son of God. Then we examined John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for His arrival. Next we discussed Jesus’ preparation for public ministry through baptism and temptation. Last week we looked at an invitation from Jesus, an invitation He is still making to us thousands of years later, to follow him.

    I want to make a brief addendum to last week’s message.

    I’ve become frustrated by those who communicate the gospel is about praying a prayer to avoid hell and go to heaven when you die.

    The gospel is Jesus. The gospel is Jesus is LORD. Christ is not his last name. He is the Jesus the Messiah. He is King Jesus.

    I mentioned John 3:16.

    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. (John 3:16, NIV)

    I listened to Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Roots Podcast last week and he did a fascinating interview with Matthew Bates, author of Salvation by Allegiance (KR 51).

    The question is,
    “Who are you believing in?”

    If Jesus is Savior, then faith means trust in his saving work or trust in him who can save
    If Jesus is LORD, then faith means submit or to bow down to
    If Jesus is King, then faith means a declaration of allegiance and loyalty to serve that king and to serve in that king’s army

    What does it mean when you say you believe in Jesus? You believe in the historical figure and that he died and rose again…or he is your LORD and King and you submit to him and declare your allegiance to serve him?

    Remember, believing that there is a God is no big deal. Even the demons believe that, we’re told in James 2:19!

    We are to submit, serve, and declare our allegiance to King Jesus.

    The Supernatural. Does it excite you? Does it scare you? Why? In our passage for today, we get a front-row seat to see the authority and power of Jesus.

    He has just asked two pairs of brothers to follow him.

    They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. (Mark 1:21)

    What did he teach? We’re not sure. How did teach? With authority! With power!

    The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:22)

    This is Mark’s first hint that Jesus will face opposition—opposition that will claim his life. He would be crucified because of the envy of religious leaders.

    Mark continues…

    Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:23-24)

    He was possessed by an impure spirit. What do we make of this? A man cries out in the synagogue, identifies Jesus, speaks in the plural, and is obviously threatened. The “us” is a reference to all the demonic forces. This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus would have conflict with demons.

    I’ve preached hundreds of sermons. I’ve been interrupted, but never like this!

    Mark clearly shows us the world of the supernatural is real. And it submits to Jesus.

    “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. (Mark 1:25-26)

    What is this? The people asked the same thing!

    The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”  News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1:27-28)

    Many of you have read this story, but imagine you know nothing about Jesus, you attend synagogue, his teaching amazes you, and then he exorcises an impure spirit before your very eyes.

    No wonder news traveled fast about Jesus…and they didn’t even have CNN! This was the first miracle Mark mentions. Jesus had authority and backed it up with power. But there’s more!

    As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. (Mark 1:29-31)

    Jesus heals the Peter’s wife’s mother. Notice we don’t even know her name, but she has a fever—which was actually a very big deal back then, more than a symptom but a serious condition. Notice Mark’s details. Jesus goes to her, takes her hand, helps her out of bed, and it says the fever left her. Did he pray? Exactly when did the fever leave her? When he touched her? When she stood up? We don’t know.

    We do know she went straight to the kitchen, made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and served them with glasses of cold milk. Ok, we don’t have those details, but Jesus actually benefits in small way from healing her. I’m sure that wasn’t his motivation, of course.

    Jesus teaches with authority.
    Jesus casts out impure spirits with authority.
    Jesus heals with authority.

    What a day! And he wasn’t done.

    That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. (Mark 1:32-34)

    If you were with Jesus and didn’t believe in the supernatural in the morning, you surely did by the time you went to bed.

    The demons knew Jesus. Do they know you?

    So What?

    I know some of you are looking for simple answers and resolve everything. I’ve got to be honest and say this text actually raises several questions for me.

    Why are exorcisms common in the New Testament and we rarely see or hear about them today, unless it’s Halloween? Where did all the demons go? No, mental illness is not a sure sign of demons.

    Should we be performing exorcisms? I actually participate in one in college. It was low-key but very cool. I would love for our church to do whatever it takes to help people experience joy, freedom, peace, and life. If that means exorcisms, let’s do it—carefully. The supernatural is not something you mess around with, but it is a reality we must accept an experience. We have been given authority from Jesus. We often forget the beginning of the famous Great Commission text:

    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

    Why doesn’t God heal today? Oh wait, he does! There is power in the name of Jesus.

    Conclusion

    Jesus had authority and power. All authority—in heaven and on earth! The exciting news is he said it was good that he ascended so the Holy Spirit to come. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit arrived! Jesus said,

    Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

    The supernatural world is real. We can engage it, but we must do so wisely. Demons are real and powerful. But God is greater. The Holy Spirit is available to each of you, but you must surrender. You must repent and believe, as we noted last Sunday. You must let go and let God…be your Lord and King.

    Jesus had power and authority. We have been given authority. Let’s use it…wisely.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

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

    Invitation: Repent & Believe, 14 May 2017

    Invitation: Repent & Believe
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:14-20

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

    Big Idea: Jesus invites us to repent, believe, and follow Him.

    Invitation

    What’s the greatest invitation you’ve ever received?


      It’s usually nice to receive an invitation, though some are better than others. My Facebook account is often filled with invitations from people I barely know for events I know next to nothing about. Contrast that with an elegant, “snail-mail” wedding invitation. Yes, some people still use paper!

      Often we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into when we accept an invitation. Agreeing to stand up in that wedding means I have to shell out a hundred bucks for a tuxedo rental? Joining that board requires ten hours a week of volunteer team outside of the monthly meetings? Taking the job involves several weeks a year of travel? Marrying that person means…?!?!?!

      We’re in the middle of a series from the gospel or “good news” of Mark in our pursuit of knowing “The Real Jesus.” In the first verse of the book we see Jesus introduced as the Messiah and Son of God. Then we examined John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for His arrival. Last week we discussed Jesus’ preparation for public ministry through baptism and temptation. Today we look at an invitation from Jesus, an invitation He is still making to us thousands of years later.

      After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. (Mark 1:14)

      Mark is our “headline” gospel. He gets right to the point. John’s in prison. Jesus is in Galilee.

      Why was John put in prison? See John 1:19-4:54.

      What is the good news of God? It’s the gospel. What’s the gospel? In a word, Jesus. In three words, Jesus is LORD.

      The gospel is not you’re bad, Jesus is good, He died, pray a prayer, and go to heaven when you die. That might be a part of the gospel, but the gospel is so much more than life after death.

      It’s about life before death.
      It’s about faith, hope and love.
      It’s about loving God and neighbor.
      It’s about knowing and being known by your Creator.
      It’s about being a part of an eternal family.
      It’s about coming home.

      Can I preach for just a moment?

      There are too many people loved by God that don’t know it because they aren’t being loved by us.

      “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

      This verse summarizes the teaching of Jesus. God’s kingdom is near. What is the kingdom of God? This was the focus of Jesus’ proclamation. It wasn’t about dying and going to heaven, it was about heaven coming down to earth, heaven kissing earth, God’s kingdom coming near. First-century Jews would have understood the kingdom of God to mean “the day of the Lord.”

      To enter the kingdom, we must repent and believe. This is easier said than done. It means laying down our lives and picking up the cross.

      Repent is from the Greek metanoia. Like metamorphisis, it means to change…one’s mind. Repent is not about condemnation or shame, just a change of mind and heart that results in a change of behavior and lifestyle. All of our actions begin in our mind. Repent means to change, to do a 180. It’s not optional for followers of Jesus. We are to turn from our selfish, sinful ways and turn to God’s generous, perfect ways.

      Repentance does not mean we change. It simply means to change one’s mind. Then the fun begins!

      Jesus said repent and believe.

      The most famous verse in the Bible is…John 3:16. It says

      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. (John 3:16, NIV)

      The Greek word for believe is “pisteuo.” The English translation, believe, frustrates me because many “believe” if they agree with the historical notion Jesus died and rose again they are, therefore, going to heaven when they die and can continue in their sinful, God-dishonoring ways. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      Believe is a verb. The noun form means faith. Believe means to commit or to trust. That’s action. In this context it means to trust in Jesus, to commit to the charge of Jesus. It means to surrender and follow Jesus. Here’s how one writer put it:

      It is the act whereby a person lays hold of God's resources, becomes obedient to what He has prescribed and putting aside all self interest and self-reliance, trusts Him completely. It is an unqualified surrender of the whole of one's being in dependence upon Him. It is wholly trusting and relying upon Him for all things. It is not just mental assent to the facts and realities of truth, it must come from a deep inner conviction.

      Believing that there is a God is no big deal. Even the demons believe that, we’re told in James 2:19!

      This kind of belief is trust. Surrender. Dying to yourself and becoming a new creation, resurrected with Jesus. This is the image of baptism we’ll all witness shortly.

      “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

      Repent and believe.
      Turn and follow.

      This is how we change to become like Jesus.
      This is how we grow in our faith.
      This is discipleship.

      People have wrongly said repentance is about changing your outer behavior and belief is something that is inward and private. Jesus says to transform the inside first and then the outside follows.

      I want to introduce you to the Learning Circle, one of the most valuable tools I’ve encountered in following Jesus.

      LifeShape: circle video, https://vimeo.com/101761387

      “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

      The Learning Circle is based upon this verse. We can’t change alone. We need others to help us observe, reflect, and act as we repent. We need others to help us plan, account, and act in order to truly become like Jesus.

      The Learning Circle shows us:

      •what it means to live a lifestyle of learning as a disciple of Christ;
      •how to recognize important events as opportunities for growth; and
      •how to process these events.

      The Learning Circle—which is just a tool you can use with others—is based on two questions:

      What is God saying to me?
      (This will help change the inner parts of me)
      What am I going to do about it? (The inner change has to produce an action)

      Now we turn to two sets of brothers who chose to repent and believe.

      As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 
      “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)

      The gospel of John tells us this is not their first encounter with Jesus. Notice He didn’t say join a cult or help Him start a religion. He offered an invitation of relationship. They responded. He didn’t say, “Follow God.” He said, “Follow me,” which was the same thing.

      These brothers are fishermen. They were not religious scholars, gifted speakers, or special leaders. They were ordinary people like you and me. They may have been to poor to afford a boat, casting their nets from shore. Jesus does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called. His invitation is simple: follow Me.

      When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.  (Mark 1:19-20)

      Simon and Andrew were fishing brothers. James and John were, too.

      They left their nets. They left their boat. They even left their father to follow Jesus.

      What do you need to leave behind to follow Jesus? What will it cost you?

      Following Jesus…

      It’s more than a prayer you pray.
      It’s more than knowledge you believe.
      It’s more than sin you avoid.
      It requires trust and action.

      What is God saying to you?
      What are you going to do about it?

      Credits: some ideas from Mike Breen, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

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

      Preparation: Baptism & Temptation, 7 May 2017

      Preparation: Baptism & Temptation
      Series—
      Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus\
      Mark 1:9-13

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

      Big Idea: Baptism and temptation prepared Jesus for the ministry that would follow.

      Preparation

      One of the most rewarding parts of my childhood was Boy Scouts. As a scout, I learned about nature, how to tie knots, rappelling, wilderness survival, and so much more. The Boy Scout motto is short yet powerful: Be prepared.

      Preparation. It’s one key to success in life. Anything worth doing is probably worth preparation which is why doctors devote more than a decade of their lives to education before performing their first surgery. It’s why an athlete will train for four years before entering Olympic competition. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden famously said, “When the opportunity arises, it is too late to prepare.”

      What kind of preparation would be necessary to revolutionize the world? No human has had a greater impact on our planet than Jesus Christ did in the three years of His public ministry. We know almost nothing about the first three decades of His life, but Mark tells us about two significant events in Jesus’ preparation—baptism and temptation. And it leads to one truth that will blow your mind!

      We’re in week three of an extensive series on The Real Jesus based upon the gospel or good news of Mark. This biography of Christ is short and sweet, the headlines, so to speak, of the life of Jesus.

      In week one, we saw Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies, the Son of God, one of three Persons of the Holy Trinity, yet fully human.

      Last Sunday we looked at the messenger, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for Christ. Today we see Jesus encountering John—and satan.

      At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. (Mark 1:9)

      John Mark, the writer of Mark, finally brings Jesus to the stage. His message is short and sweet. Jesus comes from an obscure village in Galilee and gets baptized.

      Last week we said baptism had several possible purposes in the first century. It was used for cleansing the body, publicly demonstrating one’s faith, or perhaps symbolically purifying one as they turn away from their sins. It can also represent turning toward God, not just away from evil.

      Baptism doesn’t remove sin. Jesus had no sin to remove. John had been baptizing in the Jordan River in the wilderness drawing crowds from the countryside and the city of Jerusalem, preparing the way for Jesus of Nazareth who finally arrives in Mark’s narrative, baptized by His cousin, John.

      Today, baptism is a ceremony we do for people who want to go public with their faith in Jesus. They enter the water and are dunked in what is symbolically a water grave, dying to their own selfish will and desires before emerging out of the water resurrected as a new creation, seeking to devote their lives to following Jesus.


      Jesus is dunked by John, and the original Greek clearly puts John in the background. The spotlight is on Jesus.

      Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (Mark 1:10)

      Notice the details here. First, Jesus saw heaven being torn or ripped open as He was coming out of the water. The verb for “torn open” will be used again by Mark when he describes the temple veil being torn in two from the top to the bottom. What is opened can be closed, but what is torn is more permanent. Both episodes give us a glimpse into God’s kingdom. Remember, heaven is where God is. In the Bible, it often means God’s dimension behind ordinary reality. All heaven breaks loose when Jesus is baptized! The hope of Isaiah has come to pass: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you” (Isaiah 64:1).

      The Holy Spirit is then introduced, descending on Jesus “like” a dove. Can you think of any doves in the Bible? One brought an olive branch after the flood (Genesis 8). This doesn’t say a dove landed on Jesus, though. It says the Spirit descended on like a dove. It is as if the Spirit came upon Jesus, perhaps entering Him. We clearly see God the Son and God the Spirit together. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1 now descends on Jesus as a sign that new creation has begun.

      The dove never came back: he was looking for some place to land. He tried to land on Noah, but Noah got drunk. He tried to land on Abraham…Moses…David…Solomon…Isaiah…Jeremiah…landed on Jesus.

      And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

      The voice of God the Father is heard. It will later be heard at the transfiguration when He says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him! (Mark 9:7). As one might expect, Jesus’ baptism was special. Heaven was torn open, the Holy Spirit came on Him like a dove, and the Father spoke, announcing Jesus as His Son.

      The Trinity

      One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is the Trinity, one God in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They exist in community.

      When we say, “God is love,” it’s not abstract. God is the community of love. The Father, Son, and Spirit interact as one. God rooted God’s communal identity in the core of our being as humans. We were made by community, for community. (Ruth Padilla Deborst)

      I can’t emphasize this enough— we struggle in our individualistic culture to understand and appreciate the community of love that is the Trinity.

      Artists have long depicted the Trinity with visual art. Some see a dismembered relationship between the three Persons while others see Them as a family, a community, relating to one another (Rublev).

      (art examples)

      How do we understand one God in three Persons? It is a mystery. No metaphor is adequate to describe God, but I like to think about an egg. The yolk, whites, and shell are all equally egg, yet distinct. We pray to the Father in the Name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.

      Modalism

      There is a sect of Christianity which denies the Trinity. It’s called modalism. They believe in one God in one Person who changes modes, one moment being the Father and then shifting to become the Son and then suddenly appearing as the Holy Spirit. I can’t begin to tell you how troubling this belief can be, especially when considering this text. How can God be in the water, in heaven, and a dove at the same time? Although the word “trinity” does not appear in the English translations of the Bible, the concept is vivid, especially here. It’s why we sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy” last week instead of “Holy.”

      The doctrine or belief in the Trinity is a beautiful picture of community, cooperation, and complementary collaboration.

      John the Baptist introduces Jesus.
      The Father identifies Him.
      The temptation will initiate Him.

      Temptation

      At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:12-13)

      There’s no mention of a baptism celebration, but rather the Holy Spirit sends Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. That’s a long time, friends. The wilderness is a harsh, rocky desert region. The wilderness was a place of testing for the people of Israel, and they often failed. Jesus never fails.

      Forty is a special number in the Bible. It rained forty days and forty nights during the great flood (Genesis 7:12). The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses spent forty days and nights on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28). Elijah spent forty days and nights journeying to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).

      Jesus has been prepared for ministry by baptism and now it’s time for testing, for a face to face encounter with satan. Have you ever encountered satan? I doubt it. He has bigger fish to fry than you and me, I believe. He does, however, have an army of demons—fallen angels—who tempt and wreak havoc on our lives and world. The Greek word peirazo can mean tempt or test. In Hebrew, satan means adversary or enemy.

      And what about the wild animals? Some see them as satan’s allies in contrast to the angels that attend to Jesus. Some see an allusion to Psalm 91:11-13.

      For he will command his angels concerning you 
      to guard you in all your ways;
      they will lift you up in their hands,
      so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
      You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
      you will trample the great lion and the serpent. (Psalm 91:11-13)

      I like animals, but not necessarily “wild” animals. They don’t usually make good pets!

      Matthew and Luke tell us more about the temptation but Mark simply gives us an image of Jesus and satan, angels and wild animals, good and evil. It will be a constant theme in the book…and all of human history.

      Jesus has been baptized and tested. He’s prepared and next week we’ll see Jesus’ ministry begin.

      One More Thing

      Occasionally I come across as reading so profound it’s not worth paraphrasing; it simply needs to be read. Listen to N.T. Wright:

      It happens all the time, in families, businesses, all over. Many children grow up in our world who have never had a father say to them (either in words, in looks, or in hugs), ‘You are my dear child’, let alone, ‘I’m pleased with you.’ In the Western world, even those fathers who think this in their hearts are often too tongue-tied or embarrassed to tell their children how delighted they are with them. Many, alas, go by the completely opposite route: angry voices, bitter rejection, the slamming of doors. 

      The whole Christian gospel could be summed up in this point: that when the living God looks at us, at every baptized and believing Christian
      , he says to us what he said to Jesus on that day. He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ. It sometimes seems impossible, especially to people who have never had this kind of support from their earthly parents, but it’s true: God looks at us, and says, ‘You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you.’ Try reading that sentence slowly, with your own name at the start, and reflect quietly on God saying that to you, both at your baptism and every day since.

      How does this come about? It will take the whole story, particularly Jesus’ death and resurrection, to explain. But this is what the Christian gospel is all about.

      It is true for one simple but very profound reason: Jesus is the Messiah, and 
      the Messiah represents his people. What is true of him is true of them. The word ‘Messiah’ means ‘the anointed one’; and this story tells how Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, marked out as God’s son. The Messiah is called ‘God’s son’ in a few biblical passages, including the one that the heavenly voice seems to be echoing here (Psalm 2.7). Though the early Christians realized quite quickly that Jesus was God’s son in an even deeper sense, they clung on to his messiahship for dear life. It was because Jesus was and is Messiah that God said to them, as he does to us today, what he said to Jesus at his baptism. And without that word from God all we often hear, in our mind’s ear, is doors being slammed.

      -
      N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) Westminster John Knox Press; bold are my highlights

      Your Team

      How can that be? Let me tell you a story about two men named Chris—Coghlan and Bryant. Last fall, they both played for the Chicago Cubs who finally won the World Series. Kris Bryant is arguably the best player on the team. He hit two home runs during the World Series and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Chris Coghlan batted three times in the World Series, struck out twice, and never made it to first base. There’s a tradition in baseball where every player on the championship team gets a diamond-covered ring worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every player gets the same ring, whether they are superstars or bench-warmers.

      That’s how I like to think about what it means for us to be “in Christ,” a phrase used more than a dozen times in the book of Ephesians to describe followers of Jesus. We are on His team, we wear His uniform. The Chicago Cubs are World Champions which means every player on the team is equally a World Champion. When we are in Christ, everything the Father says about Jesus He says about us.

      Author Bob Goff said,
      "On the day of your worst screw-up, Jesus sees you and still calls you 'Beloved'!"

      That’s good news, friends. That’s great news!


      His baptism and temptation were preparation for a greater test…and a greater victory. Today is a great day to reflect upon your own journey, your own baptism if you’ve followed Jesus’ command to go public with your faith, something you can do next Sunday if you haven’t. It’s a great day to reflect upon your own temptations—those you overcame and those tests you failed. Jesus’ body was pierced and broken on the cross, His blood was poured out to offer forgiveness of your sins; past, present, and future. Hallelujah! Because of Jesus, the Father says, “You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you."

      Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

      Messenger: John the Baptist, 30 April 2017

      Messenger: John the Baptist
      Series—
      Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
      Mark 1:1-8

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

      Big Idea: John prepared the way for Jesus’ coming…and so can we.

      Holy Spirit

      Last night I returned from the Missio Alliance conference near Washington DC. It was a great opportunity to connect with new and old friends, hear from world-renown theologians, and be reminded of the most misunderstood member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

      If you are a follower of Jesus, you were given the Holy Spirit. God dwells within you. What an amazing reality, one we often forget. I have much to say at a later date about the Holy Spirit, but for now I simply want to welcome and acknowledge the Spirit’s presence here.

      Would you please take a moment of silence and pray, inviting the Holy Spirit to open your heart to the Word of God and to give me words to speak?

      Introduction

      Many years ago, I heard about this new rock group that allegedly had one or more Christians in it named Bourgeois Tagg. They were the opening act for singer Robert Palmer’s concert at Pine Knob, now DTE Music Theatre in metro Detroit. Some friends of mine asked if I wanted to go to the show, not to see the headliner, but to check out the opening act. We all liked their performance, and before I knew it we were backstage meeting the band! It was surreal for a teenager to be backstage with rock stars! They were excited to have fans thousands of miles from their Sacramento home. It was a memorable night for all of us.

      Over the years I’ve spent enough time talking with touring musicians to know being an opening act can be a tough gig. You usually stand between the fans and the headliner. It can be great exposure for a new artist, but it can also be a struggle.

      Have you ever been an opening act? Maybe you played on the junior varsity team before the varsity team took the court or field. Perhaps you introduced a keynote speaker at a big event, aware that people did not come to see you!

      Today we’re going to look at Jesus’ opening act, his cousin John.

      Messengers

      In Jesus’ day, a messenger would precede the arrival of any important person. Today, the media lets us know if a rock star, celebrity, or politician is coming to town. Imagine a world without the Internet, TV, radio, or even newspapers. Messengers would ensure the roads were in good repair (good luck in Toledo!), make arrangements for food and lodging, and announce the arrival of the dignitary. This is what John did for Jesus.

      Last week we looked at the first verse of the book of Mark in our quest to discover the real Jesus. Charles Carter told me if we take one verse each week we’ll be studying the book for more than ten years! Today we’ll tackle seven more verses, but first, let’s review verse one:

      The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)

      Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He is God. Jesus is 100% and 100% human. This book is the gospel—or good news—of Mark. Jesus is the gospel. The gospel is Jesus is LORD.

      The comma at the end of the verse is not a typo. The sentence continues in verse 2:

      as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: 
      “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
      who will prepare your way” — 
      “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
      ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
      make straight paths for him.’ ” (Mark 1:2-3)

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the reasons I trust Jesus is the hundreds of prophecies he fulfilled. This is actually a collection of three different Old Testament books—Exodus (23:20), Malachi (3:1), and Isaiah (40:3). These writings said hundreds of years before the birth of Christ a messenger would come before Jesus. John the Baptist is that messenger.

      And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)

      Were there baptism before Christian baptism? Yes!

      In first-century Judaism, people would cleanse themselves according to the book of Leviticus when they were impure from things such as touching a leper or a corpse. Later, when Gentiles converted to Judaism, the meaning of baptism was extended as a sign of the covenant given to Abraham.

      This does not fully explain John’s “baptism of repentance.” One group at Qumran, the people known for creating the Dead Sea scrolls, believed a person could not become clean if they disobeyed God’s commandments. Their manual stated,

      "For it is through the spirit of God's true counsel concerning the ways of man that all his sins be expiated, and when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water, it shall be made clean by the humble submission of his soul to all the precepts of God."

      To enter their community, one would need to “go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, ‘Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a path for our God.” The wilderness is key in Jewish history, the place where they were tested, where they rebelled against God, and where they sinned and repented.

      John preached repentance, urging people to turn away from their sins. To repent is to turn away, to do a 180. The Greek word is “metanoia” and means a change of mind or direction. John was preaching of the need for people to change, to get off the throne of their lives and surrender to God. He was obviously very effective.

      The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:5)

      People traveled to see this preacher. It had been more than 300 years since a prophet was active in Israel. They were convicted of their sins, confessed them, and were immersed in water, in the Jordan River.

      Water is a powerful image throughout the Bible. It begins at creation, as God separates the waters from the earth. It covers the earth during the days of Noah. God miraculously parts the sea through Moses, allowing the people to walk on dry ground with water on either side. Huge crowds of people (the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem; not literally, of course!) were visiting John. He must’ve been quite popular. As opening acts go, he was developing his own fan base, perhaps partly because of his appearance.

      John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:6)

      Just think about that for a moment! Notice the detail. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four, a book of headlines. When you vivid descriptions, don’t miss them. John is quite the fashion statement! There’s more than meets the eye. This description is similar to that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). His unusual diet was part of the prophetic tradition. Locusts were kosher. But remember, he had a greater mission, to prepare the way of the LORD. He was a messenger.

      It’s interesting to note there were other messengers announcing Jesus’ arrival. Old Testament prophets predicted it. The angel Gabriel told Mary. Now John is the messenger.

      Let’s not forget John had a messenger, too. The angel Gabriel first appeared to John’s father, Zechariah, to announce his birth. This was a big deal since John’s parents were elderly, surprised, and somewhat doubtful about having a son. We have messengers all over the stories of John and his six-month younger cousin, Jesus.

      And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. Mark 1:7

      John knows he’s just the opening act. He’s preparing the way. He’s getting people ready for the coming of the Messiah. Despite his popularity as the first prophet in 300 years, he humbly acknowledges his role as messenger and the arrival of someone much greater.

      I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

      Baptize means to immerse, to overwhelm, to submerge. This is what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives. As John prepares the way for Jesus, Jesus prepares the way for the Holy Spirit. Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus said

      But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

      Have you ever wished Jesus was here? Me too! Jesus said it was good for Him to leave, though, to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us—all of us. Do you trust Jesus? He prepared the way for the Holy Spirit, a wonderful gift available to all of us who surrender to the Spirit.

      Now catch this! Jesus said

      Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

      I want to give you an assignment for this series. As we go through the book of Mark, think about what it would mean for us to do what Jesus is doing in the text.

      Let’s review:

      Gabriel announces the births of John and Jesus
      John prepares the way for Jesus first coming
      Jesus prepares the way for the Holy Spirit
      The Holy Spirit fills us.
      We are invited to prepare the way for Jesus’ second coming
      We are called to be messengers. We are to prepare the way for the return of the King. We are to announce His arrival.

      I know the idea of being a messenger for Jesus may sound scary or weird. What do we do, go door-to-door and tell everyone to get ready for Jesus? That’s one way to do it! Perhaps another way is to stop, be still, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the name of a person, pray for them, and ask the Spirit for an opportunity to talk with them about Jesus. Here are a few simple starter questions:

      Do you believe in God? Why or why not?
      Who is Jesus?
      Who is Jesus to you?
      Where are you at on your spiritual journey?
      When have you felt the most loved?

      When it comes to proclaiming the truth of Jesus, it should never feel forced. We’re not sales people for Jesus, getting others to sign up for church membership or fire insurance. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit to guide us, to lead us, to allow us to re-present God in word and deed to our world. It’s not about us. We’re just the opening act. We’re only the messengers preparing the way for the coming of the King of kings, Jesus Christ. We are privileged to let the whole world see our risen King!

      Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

      On Your Mark, 23 April 2017

      On Your Mark—An Intro to the Gospel of Mark
      Series—
      Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
      Mark 1:1

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

      Big Idea: Mark wrote a stunning biography of Jesus, our Messiah and God.

      Introduction

      He is still risen! He is still risen indeed!

      Welcome back! My name is Kirk and last Sunday we had a fantastic celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But listen to these profound words from N.T. Wright:
      But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

      …Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

      …we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins…

      …if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again—well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative…. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.”

      As I said, last Sunday we had a fantastic celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. He is alive! But who is Jesus, really?

      If you ask ten people who Jesus is, you may end up with ten different answers. But how can we know for sure? I submit to you two things:

      - The Bible provides us with four biographies of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
      - Jesus is alive and knowable—personally—through prayer and the Bible

      One of my greatest frustrations as a pastor is reading about “biblical scholars” who are atheists. It seems like every Eastertime they get busy promoting another book, another theory, hoping to make a buck off some naïve shopper in line at the grocery store with tabloid headlines about another new discovery, a new theory, a secret revealed. With all due respect to intellectuals who study the Biblical texts, the atheists among them miss the point. Jesus is a living Person. He wants us to know Him. He wants to know us. The first thing I want to know about a Bible scholar is if they know the Author…of the Bible, of life. Our faith is completely dependent upon the cross and the empty tomb. If you know the Bible but don’t know Jesus, it’s as useless as analyzing the penmanship of a love letter, missing its message.

      The Bible is, in fact, a love letter. It is not written to us, exactly, but for us. Today we’re going to look at the background of the Gospel—or good news—of Mark and the most important question in life.

      Why Four Gospels?

      Matthew: Hebrew, religious audience, “Son of David,” advertising and announcements
      Mark: Roman, strong, rulers, power, emphasizes Jesus the suffering Servant, headlines
      Luke: also wrote Acts, Gentile author, historian, “Son of Man,” special features
      John: emphasizes deity of Christ, Savior, “Son of God,” editorials/columns

      This biography of Jesus will inspire, inform, and hopefully transform you and me to become more like Jesus.


      Before we dive into the Gospel of Mark, I want to give you some background.

      It’s the first gospel written, one of the first NT books to be written

      It was written by John Mark. He was not an apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, but he was an important figure in the early Church

      He appears in the book of Acts

      When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. (Acts 12:12)

      He was a cousin of Barnabus.

      My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) (Colossians 4:10)

      He was the spiritual son of Simon Peter.

      She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. (1 Peter 5:13)

      This has long been considered Simon Peter’s gospel. John Mark traveled with Paul and later Barnabus.

      Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. (Acts 15:37-40)

      John Mark made good. Paul later called for him in his letter to Timothy.

      Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11)

      Mark learned about Jesus from Peter and Paul. Mark was also an eyewitness to the events in the life of Christ.

      Mark emphasizes Christ as the suffering Servant, the One who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. Mark likely wrote this book in Rome. A servant needs references, not a birth certificate (no genealogy as in Matthew).

      Here’s J. Vernon McGee’s outline of the book:

      John introduces the Servant
      God the Father identifies the Servant
      The temptation initiates the Servant
      Works and words illustrate the Servant

      It’s filled with more miracles than the other gospels.

      Healing: Physical
      Nature: Natural
      Casting out of demons: spiritual
      Raised from the dead: supernatural

      Mark 1

      The book begins with what might be the most important verse in the entire book. It answers what might be the most important question in all of life:

      Who is Jesus?

      John Mark’s gospel or “good news” begins…

      The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1 (NIV)
      The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1, NASB)

      The purpose of the book of Mark is not history. It’s not merely a biography of Jesus. In fact, Jesus’ birth and childhood are omitted. The book begins with Jesus around age 30. No manger. No puberty. No teenage years! Mark begins with the gospel or “good news.” His purpose is “good news.”

      The original Greek word for gospel,
      euaggelion, was often used in a military context. The army would send a message back to the city and proclaim, “A victory has been won. We are not going to die! We are going to live!”

      That’s what Mark does. He tells us Jesus is alive and, therefore, a victory has been won for you and me. Life is available for us. Not just survival, but abundant life (John 10:10).

      He also tells us two things about Jesus’ identity. First, Christ is not Jesus’ last name! The word means “an anointed, royal figure” in Greek. In Hebrew, it is translated, “the Messiah.” A victory has been won for us by Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed, royal figure proclaimed for generations. Some English translations of this verse replace “Christ” with “The Messiah.”

      The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1, NIV 2011)

      Second, Jesus is the Son of God. He’s not just the Messiah, He’s God!

      Jesus is Messiah and God. This statement is a dividing line of faith. You can accept or reject the claim. If you believe Jesus is God, the miracles and teachings and resurrection are not difficult to accept. If you don’t believe Jesus is God, the rest of the book of Mark—the rest of the New Testament—will not make much sense.

      If you don’t believe Jesus is God, there’s no shame. You belong here. Keep seeking. Keep asking.

      Some contemporary Jews believe Jesus is not the Messiah because He did not bring the Kingdom to Israel. He was a failed Messiah. There have been hundreds, maybe thousands of people who claimed to be the Messiah. You’ve probably never heard of any of them.

      If Jesus is just another failed Messiah, how would you explain His influence two thousand years later? His Church is still growing, His Name is being worshipped in every part of the world.

      What if Mark was correct? Let’s assume Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God. Let’s assume He really died and rose again. Why do I believe that and others don’t?

      When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)

      They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)

      “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

      Who do you say Jesus is?

      Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

      Look at how Jesus replies.

      Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)

      If you believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, it was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by God the Father. It’s not because of your intellect or morality or a great argument. It’s because your Heavenly Father revealed it. The original Greek word for “revealed” here means “to take the cover off of something.”

      Simon Peter is blessed by God.

      Believers in Jesus Christ are blessed by God. The truth has been revealed.

      The greatest longing in any heart may be to receive the blessing of their father and mother.

      If you believe Jesus is the Christ, it’s because God the Father blessed you. Followers of Jesus are blessed sons and daughters of the King of kings.

      Who is Jesus?

      This is the question we will be answering each week in this series as we examine the gospel of Mark.

      Listen to Jesus' answer to the question from the gospel of John:

      Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

      Jesus is the way…to truth, to life, to the Father.
      Jesus is the truth.
      Jesus is life. He is alive. He conquered death. He offers you and me eternal life. He offers us abundant life.

      The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1, NIV 2011)

      Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the LORD of all.

      Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

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

      Because He Lives, 16 April 2017

      Because He Lives
      Series: A Love That Never Dies
      Matthew 28:1-10

      Series Big Idea:
      Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

      Big Idea: Because He lives, all fear is gone.

      Welcome to Resurrection Sunday! This is the greatest day of the year, the day we celebrate our living Savior, LORD, and King, Jesus Christ! Today we conclude our series, “A Love That Never Dies.” Even though Jesus died, his love for us never dies.

      Fear. We all experience it.

      We are afraid of failure.
      We are afraid of success.

      The most common command in the Bible is not love, but rather, “Fear not.”

      We are afraid of the betrayal of friends.
      We are afraid of the attack of zombies!

      What’s your greatest fear?

      We are afraid of death.
      We are afraid of life.

      Fear has been a part of the human condition from the beginning. I can’t imagine the fear on Good Friday. The gospel—or good news—of Matthew says,

      From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land (Matthew 27:45)

      For three hours in the middle of the day as Jesus is suffering on the cross, the whole land turned dark. That would freak me out! I know we have a lot of cloudy days in Toledo, but it doesn’t get dark at noon! A few verses later we read…

      Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:50-53, NLT)

      The moment Jesus dies, this huge curtain separating people from the most sacred place on the planet, the holy of holies, is torn from top to bottom. That’s weird! It was wonderful, by the way, because that meant Jesus’ death provided reconciliation between us and our Creator God.

      But that’s not all. The earth shook. Have you ever experienced an earthquake? Freaky!

      Rocks split apart. What? Have you ever seen that?

      And then maybe my favorite part…tombs opened. The dead were raised. It says bodies left the cemetery after the resurrection, went into the city, and appeared to many people. Grandma?!?!

      The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

      Do you get the picture? The crucifixion scene was awful. It was scary. Jesus dies. Nature freaks out. People are weeping. The smell of death is in the air. Roman soldiers are everywhere. Is it any wonder people were afraid?

      But that was Friday. People are afraid of death, but today is a day of life, right? Let’s look at our text for today, a verse verses ahead.

      After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1)

      These women go to the tomb. They probably had two sleepless nights. They were tired. They were overcome with grief and stress, watching an execution right before their eyes. Mary saw her son’s life drained in front of her. If she did sleep, I’m sure it was filled with nightmares.

      This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was such a good boy! He was darn-near perfect. Actually, he was perfect. Why would anyone want to kill him? A week ago a parade welcomed him in to the city of Jerusalem, and now he’s dead!

      There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.  (Matthew 28:2-4)

      It’s Sunday. Another earthquake? A violent one. An angel rolls back the stone. Talk about freaking out, the guards shake and become like dead men.

      These are the powerful warriors the women expect to be guarding the tomb. Instead, the women are terrified by someone else.

      The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

      First, the angel terrifies the guards. Now he terrifies the women. Can you blame them for being afraid?

      So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:8)

      Fear. Hope. Joy. Fear. Hope. Joy. They were surely an emotional mess! Jesus is alive?

      Suddenly Jesus met them.
      “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9-10)

      Why does Jesus say, “Do not be afraid?” Because they’re afraid! They’re overcome with emotion. Is this really happening? Have we finally fallen asleep and we’re dreaming? Dead people do not say, “Greetings!”

      Yet this is the account. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses. He ate with them. He talked with them. He showed them his pierced hands and feet. And for about 2000 years men, women and children have been experiencing a relationship with Jesus, a relationship possible only because Jesus is alive!

      He is risen! He is risen indeed!

      Followers of Jesus base everything on the resurrection. Everything!

      Paul, once an enemy of Jesus and his followers, remarked

      And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

      Friends, either the resurrection happened or it didn’t. If it didn’t—if Jesus is dead or never died—our faith is useless. Paul says “we are of all people most to be pitied.” We are hopeless. We have every reason to fear death, to fear life.

      But if Jesus is alive, we have hope. We have forgiveness. We can have the promise of eternity with God…and the assurance of salvation. We can experience peace, love, joy, and purpose.

      What are you afraid of? Death? Many people are afraid of death. You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. If you were to die tonight and stand before God and he asked you why you deserved to spend eternity in heaven, what would you say?

      I would say, “I don’t deserve to spend eternity in heaven. I deserve to go to hell because of my sins, my evil, my rebellion, my failures. But Jesus died for me. He confronted evil in all its forms and went into the darkness to take its full weight upon himself. And Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered sin and death.”

      As I said recently at the International Student Easter Dinner, the difference between our faith and that of religion is how they’re spelled.

      Religion is spelled
      D-O, what we do to try to make God like us.

      The message of Jesus is spelled
      D-O-N-E, it’s what he has done for us, dying and rising from the dead.

      What are you afraid of? Life? Many people are afraid of life. Tragedy, loneliness, sickness, terrorism. This world is messed up because of sin. But we need not fear because Jesus is alive. He experienced loneliness, temptation, pain, betrayal, and even death. He understands what you and I face every day. He sent the Holy Spirit to be present with us, to guide us, to comfort us, to encourage us, to empower us. He also gave us one another, a family to belong to, brothers and sisters to journey with.

      We are all afraid of being vulnerable, of trusting someone only to have them abandon us. It has happened to me and probably to you.

      Let me just state I’m sorry…sorry for the pain and disappointment you’ve experienced in life. I’m especially sorry for the behavior of so-called Christians who acted nothing like Jesus. I’m ashamed to say my life does not always look like Jesus—but that’s my desire. I want nothing to do with organized religion…and everything to do with Jesus.

      Because of Jesus—and because he lives—I have experienced peace, joy, satisfaction, hope, love, and purpose…and confidence about this life and the next.

      We’re going to close with a song that talks about the result of the resurrection. Because he lives, all fear is gone. The Bible says perfect love casts out fear. Jesus loves you. He died for you. He rose for you. He’s alive today and wants to calm your fears. He wants to be your Savior. He wants to be your LORD and King.

      Because He lives
      I can face tomorrow
      Because He lives
      Every fear is gone
      I know He holds my life, my future in His hands

      Because He Lives (Amen)

      Fear not!

      Credits: Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

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

      Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017

      Palm Sunday
      Series: A Love That Never Dies
      Matthew 21:1-11

      Series Big Idea:
      Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

      Big Idea: We can shout, "Crucify," "Save us now," or praises.

      Scripture:
      Matthew 21:8-11

      Today is Palm Sunday, the remembrance of an interesting parade in Jerusalem, a procession planned centuries earlier. The prophet Zechariah wrote

      Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
      Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
      See, your king comes to you,
      righteous and victorious,
      lowly and riding on a donkey,
      on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

      (Zechariah 9:9)

      What was the meaning of this assembly? What’s the big deal with Palm Sunday?

      Have you ever been to a parade? There’s something exciting about marching bands, floats, waving celebrities…and candy. Don’t forget candy. I think that was my favorite part, as a kid, racing to pick up candy off the ground!

      This parade was not announced with TV ads and Facebook invitations. It wasn’t an annual festival like the 4
      th of July or Memorial Day. The setting was the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was attracting crowds, teaching the scriptures like no other rabbi, infuriating the religious people, and healing the sick. His name was a lightning rod of controversy, perhaps not unlike Trump, Obama, or Putin today. You loved him or you hated him. Rumors spread about his friend, Lazarus, being raised from the dead (John 12:17-19), and the crowd was hoping to see this dead man walking. Wouldn’t you? Matthew chapter 21 begins…

      As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” (Matthew 21:1-3)

      I love this! In our day, it might be, “Hank and Ryan, go to the Ford dealer up the street, tell the owner you’re borrowing a Mustang for the Lord, and drive it here.”

      This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

      “Say to Daughter Zion,‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” (Matthew 21:4-5)

      Don’t miss this! One of the reasons we can fully trust Jesus and the Bible is prophecy. Jesus himself fulfilled over three hundred Old Testament prophecies stated centuries before his birth. Here’s one. Zechariah prophesied Palm Sunday.

      The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Matthew 21:6-8)

      The people made way for this processional. There was no police escort or blocked-off streets, but the crowd made their own path to welcome Jesus into the city.

      King Solomon rode into Jerusalem on a donkey centuries earlier, lowly transport for a king. Jesus was even more powerful than Solomon, yet the ultimate demonstration of humility.

      Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)

      This is our God. This is our King. Jesus loved the people of Jerusalem with an everlasting love, a love that would not die. He looked into their eyes. He heard their cries.

      The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, 

      “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
      “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 
      “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)

      This was likely not the crowd who would yell, “Crucify him!” This group seems to be spontaneously assembled, more like those Jesus called “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” They were desperate. “Hosanna” meant “save now,” a plea for help, salvation, and rescue, though it seems to have an element of praise and adoration in this scene.

      The road would have been rough and rocky. Even today it is anything but smooth. Jesus was a celebrity, riding on a donkey, jostling from one side to the other.

      Jesus knew the road ahead, not just the path of the people but the path to the cross, the instrument of death he would face days later. Yet Jesus did not weep for himself. He was sad for the city, for Jerusalem, for its people, it children. He knew the crowds were looking for freedom, deliverance from Rome. They were probably less aware of the oppression of their sins, but they sought a savior from tyranny.

      When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:10)

      The whole city was stirred. Children were especially noisy and excited. Perhaps they heard of Jesus’ great love for kids in a world where only men were given respect and honor. We know the religious leaders were greatly disturbed by the cheering of the children, maybe aware of how kids often bring their parents to faith.

      I want to camp out for a moment on the city’s question, “Who is this?”

      The people did not have access to 24/7 news channels, billboards, newspapers, or websites. Even if they did, photography had not yet been invented! It was natural for them to wonder who was drawing such attention.

      Who is this? This may be the most important question in human history.

      The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:11)

      Who is Jesus? A prophet? A teacher? God? Human? Messiah? King? Savior? Lord?
      Who is Jesus? That’s what you and I must answer.

      Last week we read about a sign placed above his head, “King of the Jews.” Is he your king?

      Just as his donkey stumbled on the rough road, he knows our road can be difficult. It can be rocky. There can be unexpected surprises, both good and bad. There are joys and sorrows, victories and disappointments. Where is he when things get tough? He is with us, Emmanuel, God with us. I realize this is bittersweet—comforting to know he is present but frustrating when he doesn’t intervene and fix everything broken in our world. “If you’re here, prove it!”

      I don’t have easy answers. I don’t understand a lot of things in this world—death, loss, pain…but he does. Jesus is not a fairy tale character. He’s not a superhero who flew above the storms of life. He experienced temptation and trials. On purpose! He chose to suffer. He went from the streets of Jerusalem to the way of the cross, from palms to passion, from agony to death…and then from death to resurrection. But that’s next Sunday.

      So What?

      The crowds had expectations for Jesus. They wanted him to rescue them from Roman rule. They wanted him to heal their sick. They had plans for him!

      What about you? What expectations do you have for Jesus? A pain-free life? Happiness? Financial prosperity? Instant answers to all of your prayers?

      Jesus knew the hearts of the crowds who shouted, “Hosanna! Save us now!” He knew the hearts of the crowds who would shout, “Crucify him!” He knows your heart and mine, our selfish impulses, our hopes, our dreams, and our secret sins. Yet he loves us. He forgives us for our misguided motives. He washes our sins white as snow. And that gives us reason to sing, reason to rejoice. Today we praise Jesus because he is worthy. He is alive. He demonstrated his love for us. He offers forgiveness and reconciliation. He heals diseases and broken relationships. He provides peace, hope, and joy. We love him because he first loved us.

      Credits: Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

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

      Irony, 2 April 2017

      Irony
      Series: A Love That Never Dies
      Luke 23:39-43

      Series Big Idea:
      Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

      Big Idea: Jesus’ death was filled with irony…and hope for all sinners.

      Irony.

      The bald guy’s name is Curly.
      The huge weightlifter is called Tiny.
      The psychic’s presentation is cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
      The name
      Judas means praise.

      Irony involves a contrast between appearance and reality, between expectation and occurrence.


      My name is Kirk and we’re in the middle of Lent, the season leading to our remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This series is entitled, “A Love That Never Dies” and to demonstrate a love that will never die, Jesus died. He died a gory, horrific death…because He loves you and me.

      There are so many ironies in the crucifixion account. Dennis sang about many of them.

      Why did a friend betray Jesus?
      Why did he use a kiss?
      Why did King Jesus have to wear a crown of thorns?
      Why did the only perfect human die on a cross like a thief?

      Here are some others:

      The Romans usually nailed each criminal’s charges to his cross. They wanted everyone to know what they did…and the fate of those who try to do the same thing. Crucifixion was meant to be a deterrent. The message was, “If you steal, this will happen to you. If you murder, this will happen to you.”

      Jesus’ charge? First, it was written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Tri-lingual! Latin for the Romans, Greek for those in commerce. Hebrew for the Jews. And the charge said, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The irony is the charge was true. He is the King of the Jews. He’s also the King of the Romans, King of the Gentiles, He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. And the King of all hung dying for those who rebelled against his rule and that of His Father.

      He wants to be king over you and me, too. He’s not an insecure ruler seeking power and control. Instead, He rules benevolently, with love and grace, mercy and forgiveness. He is a good King. The best King!

      Our text today from Luke 23 begins at verse 39

      One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

      Yes, Jesus is the Messiah.
      Yes, Jesus is the Savior.
      Yes, at the very moment he was in the midst of saving every man, woman and child who would choose to follow him as LORD.

      This passage reminds me again of the layers of suffering Jesus endured.

      He wasn’t just stripped naked.
      He wasn’t just beaten.
      He wasn’t just pierced with nails.
      He wasn’t just betrayed by one of his closest friends.
      He wasn’t just tired from a night of prayer while his disciples were sleeping.

      He gets insulted by a criminal hanging beside him. I can only imagine the tone. Most of communication is non-verbal.

      “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

      On the other side of Jesus was a criminal with a completely different attitude.

      But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

      Do you feel the irony? The criminals were punished justly, but Jesus had done nothing wrong. Obviously this criminal had faith. He feared God. We don’t know exactly what he did to deserve execution, but people have faith have been known to make mistakes…and even commit crimes.

      Some of the most vibrant followers of Jesus live behind bars. Their sins, like those of the criminals on Calvary, are known. They are branded—child abuser, thief, drug dealer. They don’t have the option of putting on a fancy suit and parading around on Sunday mornings pretending to have the perfect life, the perfect spouse, the perfect kids. They are humble. They are broken. They are desperate for redemption.

      Oh how I wish that were the posture of every Christian. We all need a Savior, a Redeemer, a King. Just because my sins haven’t put me on death row doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus. Just because many of my sins are “acceptable” sins like worry and anger doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus. Just because my sins are not always visible like pride, judgmentalism, jealousy, and impatience doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus.

      Jesus was without sin so He could pay for the sins of the world.

      God became a human so He could pay for the sins of humanity.

      Both criminals heard Jesus’ first words on the cross, a prayer for the very ones who nailed Him there:

      Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:34)

      They should’ve been the ones seeking forgiveness. They knew what they were doing—obeying Pilate’s orders and securing the empire against insurrection and rebellion. They were executing a blasphemer, a troublemaker, a radical.

      But only Jesus truly knew what he was doing: providing a path of forgiveness and salvation for anyone who would repent and surrender their lives to him, to the King.

      The faith-filled criminal beside Jesus realized forgiveness was possible for those who nailed him to the cross. That gave him hope, despite his own sins. He said

      Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

      What a request. What faith!

      Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

      If Jesus could forgive this criminal—this person who probably never went to church, read the Bible, gave money to the poor, or went on a mission trip—he can forgive you and me. If Jesus wanted those who pounded the nails to be forgiven, you and I have hope.

      Another irony comes from the crowds who taunted and shouted

      “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. (Matthew 27:40-42)

      The religious people got involved. Jesus didn’t just die for criminals. He died for the self-righteous, for the proud. They said, “If you are the Son of God.” That’s what Satan hurled at Jesus when he was tempted in the wilderness.

      …“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3)

      “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: 
      “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
      and they will lift you up in their hands,
      so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6)

      The so-called people of God were mouthing Satan’s temptations!

      They urged Jesus to save himself at the very moment he was dying to save them!

      To save us, Jesus could not save himself. In a love that could not die, Jesus died. His love kept him on the cross. Love for you. Love for me.

      So What?

      Some of you see yourself like the criminal, paralyzed by guilt and shame. You blew it this week. You lashed out at your kids. You indulged in porn. You drank yourself silly. You lied to your boss.

      You need forgiveness. You need grace—unmerited favor. You need Jesus.

      Some of you are on the opposite extreme. You’re religious, self-righteous, and a really good person. Your reputation is so stellar you think you’re almost perfect. You’re here every Sunday, always put money in the offering plate, and have even memorized parts of the Bible.

      You need forgiveness. You need grace—unmerited favor. You need Jesus.

      I’m a recovering Pharisee. Pride is arguably the worst of all sins, the root of them all. It’s subtle because it’s usually unseen…and rarely punished. But it kills relationships. It separates us from others…and God. I need Jesus.

      Perhaps the greatest irony of the crucifixion is God’s love for sinners. As we recently saw

      You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

      He didn’t die because we were good.
      He died because we were bad. We were sinners. We are sinners.

      I believe some of you still struggle with God’s ability to forgive you and truly love you. I struggle to fully comprehend God’s grace. But whether you believe it or not does not make it true or false. I have discovered the Bible can be trusted. It has been tested. It works.

      The good news, the gospel, the message of our faith is Jesus is LORD. He is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. His love never fails. His arms are reaching out to embrace you…but He won’t force Himself upon you. He simply invites you to follow Him. I accepted the invitation decades ago and I’ve never regretted it for a second.

      Credits: Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

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

      Is It I, LORD? 26 March 2017

      Is It I, LORD?
      Series: A Love That Never Dies
      Matthew 26:21-25

      Series Big Idea:
      Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

      Big Idea: Lent reminds us of our need for forgiveness…and its availability.

      Betrayal. Have you ever experienced it? Have you ever had a friend turn against you? That’s not what friends are supposed to do!

      My name is Kirk and we’re continuing our Lent sermon series, “A Love That Never Dies.” Every day should be a day to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, but this season leading up to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is an especially good time to focus on Holy Week, including the cross and empty tomb. We contemplate our sins which caused Jesus to endure a horrific death…and remember the love of God can never die.

      Death. It’s the one subject most USAmericans hate to discuss. It makes us uncomfortable, even fearful. Sure, many Christians say they’re ready to die, but that doesn’t remove the uncertainty of when…or how.

      For some of us it will be soon. But we don’t know.

      For some of us it will be quick and easy, while others will agonize for years.

      Are you uncomfortable yet?

      There are so many unbelievable aspects of Jesus’ death. We’re all aware of the physical anguish of being beaten, wearing a crown of thorns, carrying a cross, and the nails. Those three spikes.

      Most of us pay less attention to the emotional and mental anguish Jesus endured…because he loved us so.

      First, Jesus spent thousands of years preparing to die. He knew before the foundation of the world we would exist…and need a Savior (Ephesians 1:4). That means before he spoke the universe into existence, he knew about the plan to enter our world and die.

      Have you ever anticipated pain? It can be worse than the pain itself! At this very moment I’m anticipating the pain of the vaccinations I need to travel to Africa this summer to train pastors (I’ll share more about that soon). I don’t like shots. I’m dreading the needle. If you just randomly walked up to me and gave me the shot, I wouldn’t have any anxiety (though I’d be startled and momentarily quite upset with you!).

      Imagine anticipating pain…forever. Imagine spending 33 years on this planet knowing you would willingly die. We’re all going to die—the odds are 100%—but Jesus died intentionally. He died to demonstrate his love for us…not because we’re good, but because we’re desperate. We saw two weeks ago…

      But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

      In today’s text, Jesus is celebrating Passover, the pinnacle of Jewish festivals. Thirteen men gather around food and drink to commemorate the exodus from Egypt of their ancestors. It was a huge deal.

      And then Jesus drops a bomb.

      And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (Matthew 26:21)

      What? That’s not party talk! Betrayal? How did Jesus know? Can he predict the future?
      Who would possibly betray a friend, much less Jesus? And why?!?!?!

      They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22)

      “Is it I, LORD?”

      In case you need a definition, one dictionary described betrayal as

      1: to give over to an enemy by treason or treachery
      2: to be unfaithful
      3: to tell in violation of a trust


      Is it possible to “accidentally” betray someone? The betrayer knew. So did Jesus.

      Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:23-24)

      That’s an understatement, though it was all part of God’s plan.

      Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” 

      Jesus answered,
      “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:25)

      “Is it I, LORD?”

      “Yes, Judas.”

      Betrayal

      Is there any emotional pain greater than betrayal? It takes years to establish trust, to develop a deep friendship…and an instant to lose it.

      Judas betrayed Jesus shortly thereafter…with a kiss. That simple gesture we reserve for loved ones became the signal that would begin the series of events leading to the gory execution of the only perfect human in history. Judas sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver, about four months’ wages for a common laborer.

      What was Judas thinking?!

      What must he have been thinking when the mob cried out, “Crucify him!”? (Matthew 27:23)

      When they said to Pilate, “His blood is on us and on our children,” he knew the blood of Jesus was on his hands. (Matthew 27:25)

      Imagine how Jesus’ words must have echoed in the mind of Judas.

      But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24)

      We all want to make a difference in this world. You want your life to matter, right? Imagine hearing God—not an ignorant fool, but GOD—saying your life was wasted.

      Is it any wonder Judas committed suicide?

      I don’t think Judas was a lost cause. Jesus’ words reflected his own sorrow and pain more than a personal statement toward his friend, Judas.

      Jesus loved Judas. Jesus’ love never dies. He says to Judas and to me and to you

      “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
      Jesus would have forgiven Judas, just as he forgave Peter when he denied Christ three times. And he forgives you and me.

      In the book of Romans, we read

      Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
      As it is written: 

      “For your sake we face death all day long;
      we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  (Romans 8:35-36)

      No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

      I want to close with one simple verse I love to quote.

      If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

      So What?

      I want to give you an opportunity to respond today. We’ve all sinned. We’ve all offended God. We’ve all disobeyed. Maybe you have not denied Christ or betrayed him—or maybe you have—but Jesus died to forgive you of your sins—past, present, and future. It says, “If we confess.”

      The altar is open every Sunday, but occasionally we draw particular attention to it. To close today, I simply want to invite you to come forward and offer personal prayers of confession. You can do so in your seat, if desired. You are also free to quietly exit the sanctuary. Just know if you are a follower of Jesus, you are forgiven. That’s why Jesus died. That’s what Lent is all about. That’s why we possess and share good news. Hallelujah!

      Questions for individual or group reflection

      1. What examples of betrayal can you cite from recent movies, books, or current events What makes betrayal such a disgusting, shameful act in almost every era, every culture?
      2. Why do you believe Jesus chose Judas to be one of the disciples?
      3. The name Judas means “praised one.” How does this add to the irony of Judas’s life story?
      4. Compare John 13:18 with Psalm 41:9. Based on these verses, what do you deduce about the meaning of eating together in the culture of both Old and New Testament times?
      5. Who initiated Judas’s act of betrayal? We can only guess, but what motives might have been behind this? (See Matthew 26:14–16 and John 12:4–6.)
      6. Compare Matthew 27:1–8 and Acts 1:18–20. What do you think lay behind Judas’s suicide?
      7. Together with everyone in your group, brainstorm these two questions:
      8. - In what ways were Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:69–75) and Judas’s betrayal alike?
      9. - In what ways were they different?
      10. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:48–50 and his warning in Mark 3:29. Would Jesus have forgiven Judas as he later forgave Peter? How does this make Judas’s death even more tragic?
      11. Where in the events we have been considering do you see Jesus’ love, a love that never dies?
      1. Based on all this, what would you say to someone who might say to you, “I’m so ashamed. What I’ve done is unforgivable”?
      1. What one key point will you carry away when you leave today? Explain.
      2. What will you ask Jesus to do in and through you in response to what you’ve heard?
      Credits: Questions and some sermon ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

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

      Sin Knows No Strangers, 12 March 2017

      Sin Knows No Strangers
      Series: A Love That Never Dies
      Romans 5:6-11

      Series Big Idea:
      Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

      Big Idea: Because of Jesus, we can be friends of God rather than enemies.

      I believe the two most important questions in life are

      -
      Who am I?
      - Who is God?

      Our text today addresses some powerful issues of identity we must all ponder carefully in order to answer those two questions.

      What words describe you?
      What words describe God?

      A Love That Never Dies. Ever so briefly yet dramatically, these words describe our Lord’s love for us, and they serve as our overarching theme in these weeks leading up to Easter. God’s love for us is a love that never dies, and that’s a good thing! For “sin knows no strangers.” Sin is pervasive, powerful, and persuasive. In both its global and most intimate forms, sin seeks to draw us away God.
      Listen for those truths in today’s text:

      Paul, once known as Saul of Tarsus, is in the midst of writing to the first Christians in Rome. He offers them rich insight into their identity.

      You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

      For whom did Christ die? The ungodly.

      When did Christ die? When we were still powerless.

      Why did Paul mention “we” and then “ungodly?” You’re a good person, right? You’re in church. Most of you haven’t murdered anyone or robbed a bank. Jesus died on the cross because we’re good people, we are loveable, and he loves us.

      I think most people think they’ll go to heaven when they die because they’re good people. They pay their taxes. They vote. They brush their teeth!

      Jesus died for the ungodly. That’s me!

      Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. (Romans 5:7)

      Let that sink in for a moment. Would you die for someone? Your child? Your best friend? Your spouse? What about LeBron James? President Trump? Putin?

      But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

      This is stunning. I’ve heard it 100 times, but it is truly remarkable.

      Jesus died for the powerless and feeble (v. 6)
      Jesus died for the ungodly (v. 6)
      Jesus died for sinners (v. 8)
      Jesus died for his enemies (as we will see in verse 10)
      Jesus died for you and me.

      Drop the mic! That’s incredible!

      You don’t have to hope God loves you.
      You don’t have to wonder if God loves you.
      God loves you. He demonstrated it. He proved it. His actions speak as loud as his words.

      He loved you and me while we were unrepentant sinners.

      Isn’t this good news? Isn’t this great news?

      We celebrate the death of Jesus last Sunday. It’s called Good Friday because Jesus dying for us—hopeless, helpless sinners—provided a pathway for forgiveness, reconciliation with our Heavenly Father, peace, joy, and hope.

      But it gets better…and worse.

      God’s Wrath

      When you mentioned words to describe God, how many said, “Wrath?”

      God is love.
      God is kind.
      God is forgiving and gracious and merciful.

      Yes. But God is also just. And justice includes wrath.

      Does God hate people? Absolutely not…but He hates sin. He hates sin! And we are sinners. You know this. Earlier in chapter three, Paul states the obvious:

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

      That’s one of the most depressing verses in the Bible.

      Have you ever felt short?

      God is perfect. 100% pure. He has a zero tolerance policy for sin. Zero! So when we sin—and we all sin—where does that leave us? Separated from God.

      That’s the bad news. But the good news is Jesus’ death covered all of our sin.

      Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

      We have been justified. That means God approves of us because of Jesus, an acquittal that sets of free from the penalty of our sin. Justification happens now. On judgment day we will be saved from God’s wrath. It will be awe-inspiring to see and be spared of God’s wrath.

      Because God is just, He must judge. He must be fair. We will all get what we deserve…unless we follow Jesus and receive grace—unmerited, undeserved favor.

      Have you ever thought of yourself as an enemy of God? Paul says that’s what we were, enemies of God.

      You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

      But Paul says we’re reconciled. That’s becoming one of my favorite words. We don’t hear it often because it doesn’t happen often. It’s easier to remain bitter, angry, or even silent. Reconcile means

      - Restore friendly relations between
      - Cause to coexist in harmony; make or show to be compatible or consistent
      - To compose or settle (a quarrel, dispute)

      It’s as if we wore white t-shirts, our sin stained them with dirt, and Jesus wraps a white robe around us, allowing us to stand before God perfect and pure. Jesus does the heavy lifting. We just open our arms and say yes.

      Hallelujah!

      To summarize…

      Sin has made us enemies of God.

      God’s grace, mercy, and never-ending love have rescued us.

      Through Jesus, we can be friends of God.

      I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

      And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”  and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:23)

      This is a truly amazing reality. We weren’t always friends of God. We were enemies, yet through Jesus we can be reconciled. We can know God…not just about God, but truly know God.

      Are you a friend of God?

      Credits

      Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

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

      Vision Sunday, 5 March 2017

      Vision Sunday
      Matthew 28:18-20

      Big Idea: God has an exciting mission for us to (continue to) pursue.

      Those words, often called the Great Commission, are our mission. They are why we exist as a church. They are our mandate, our calling…make disciples.

      My name is Kirk and about eighteen months ago I was invited to move to Toledo and serve as your lead pastor. It was a humbling opportunity. Heather and I continue to thank God for calling us here.

      Several people have asked about our future, our vision. I dedicated my first year to listening—to you, our city, and most of all our Senior Pastor, Jesus. I came with no agenda. I came with little understanding of Toledo or First Alliance and its rich history.

      I’m excited to say things are beginning to get clear. I’m starting to get the pulse of our church and neighborhood. I don’t have a 20-year strategic plan to share with you today or announcements of ten new initiatives, but after many discussions with our staff and elders, I believe things are slowly coming into focus and I want to share with you glimpses of our future.

      Before we talk about First Alliance, I want to reflect upon our scripture text for today. To set the scene, we need to back up a bit. Matthew tells us about the resurrection of Jesus at the beginning of chapter 28. This, of course, is the great climax of Lent, arguably the greatest day in the history of the world.

      By the way, I want to encourage all of you to join me in this season of Lent, the journey toward the Cross…and resurrection. It’s not just a Catholic thing! These forty days remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We still have some devotionals if you didn’t get one last week, available at the Information Center in the lobby. Next week we begin a Lent series called, “A Love That Never Dies” to help us prepare for Holy Week.

      Matthew, one of four biographers of Jesus Christ, tells us the resurrection and then says…

      Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

      These are Matthew’s final words in his gospel or “good news.” The mission—the commission—is simple:
      make disciples. Great! What’s a disciple? A simple definition would be a student or apprentice of another person. The goal of a disciple is to become like their master. When Jesus says make disciples, he is telling his followers to invest in followers who will become Christ-like.

      A disciple is not someone who just has the knowledge of the master.
      A disciple is someone who acts like the master.

      You may be a master chef and spend years showing me how to cook, but the test of my discipleship is not what’s in my head, but rather what I put on the dinner plate.

      You may be a master plumber and spend years showing me how to fix a leaky faucet, but the test of my discipleship is not what I know about plumbing, it’s whether or not I know how to keep the floor dry!

      Tragically, the focus of many churches has been attendance, getting people to go to a church service or small group. For some it is information, stuffing people with Bible knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t truly measure discipleship.

      The measure of discipleship is how much you look and act like Jesus. He said, “Follow me.”

      I have heard countless times people respect Jesus but they don’t like the church. That’s a discipleship issue, friends. If you are a Christian—or “little Christ”—your life should resemble Jesus. Obviously, none of us have arrived—we’re all imperfect sinners—but our goal, our example should be Jesus. If you need a more specific description of a disciple of Jesus, consider the fruit of the Spirit:

      But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

      How do you make disciples? First, be a disciple. Are you a disciple of Jesus? How does your life reflect the fruit of the Spirit?

      It should be noted Jesus never commanded us to start churches, go on mission trips, engage in Bible studies, attend prayer meetings, or even listen to a sermon every Sunday. Again, none of those are bad, but they are not the goal. Our mission is to make disciples, people who look like Jesus, people who love God and others. Make disciples is the Great Commission. Jesus also gave the great commandments:

      One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28)

      “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

      Have you heard this before? You’ll hear it again, I promise, because at the end of the day, Jesus told us the entire Bible is summed up in two commandments:

      Love God
      Love your neighbor

      And he has given us one mission

      Make Disciples

      Simple? Yes.
      Easy? No.

      The reality is, we can’t love God and our neighbor and make disciples on our own. We need the Holy Spirit. Thomas George spoke about the Holy Spirit a few weeks ago. If you weren’t here, you can download the message for free on iTunes or our smartphone app. In a sentence, he said we need to let go and let God, surrendering ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us in order for us to bear fruit.

      So make disciples. But how? Actually, the command is go and make disciples. What does it mean to love God and love others? Let’s take a look at our church’s mission statement. It says

      The mission – make disciples - fully devoted followers of Christ. We define discipleship at First Alliance as someone who is: Connecting to God (worship), others (growing in community), and the world (missions – here and around the world)

      As our logo says, we’re about connecting to God, others, and the world.

      Are you still with me?

      The elders have been working on bringing more clarity to our mission. It’s biblical, but very broad. Any church could/should help people connect to God, others, and the world. I don’t have a revised mission statement for you—though we’ve been discussing one—but I want to suggest two details I cannot avoid:

      1. Toledo

      I know, this isn’t exactly rocket science, but Toledo is our “Jerusalem,” our home mission field. I’m sure there was a day when Toledo was filled with followers of Jesus, but like most any city in the west, it is becoming increasingly secular or non-Christian. We probably have more atheists, agnostics, and people of other faiths in our city than ever before, to say nothing of lukewarm Christians.

      If God called you to be a missionary in west Africa as he did last week’s guests Doug and Karen Conkle, you would live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus, right?

      Most of you have been called by God to be missionaries in Toledo. This is our mission field. We need to live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus.

      Let me briefly share a few reasons why I believe we need to focus on Toledo:

      1. We’re here!
      2. We’ve been here for 129 years
      3. We chose to stay here when the old building burned down
      4. Toledo has many needs we can address
      5. We’ve been given some wonderful opportunities to pursue
      6. We can be a part of the city’s growth and renaissance
      7. God is on the move in Toledo, not only at First Alliance but in the dozens of churches who are praying, serving, and worshiping together

      This morning I want to declare my personal commitment to this city. For as long as God has me here at First Alliance, I want to live, work, shop, and play in Toledo. Heather and I really have done better in Toledo and we’re excited about the future.

      2. The Next Generation

      No, I’m not talking about Star Trek. Actually, the next generation can be interpreted in a number of different ways—the next generation in US history (the Millennials) or the one that follows (GenZ), the next generation of members at First Alliance, the next generation of followers of Jesus…but it’s not me. It’s not many of you. Obviously we’re not going to go crazy, hang a disco ball from the ceiling, and sing Lady Gaga songs, but many of us have had our day. People served and sacrificed so we could encounter Jesus. We must make space for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. If you know Jesus, it’s critical to help the next generation know him. You saw some of them earlier waving ribbons. Others spoke last Sunday about their trip to the Avalanche youth retreat. They are our future…they are our present!

      We’ve always been about the next generation. We were involved in starting Toledo Christian Schools. We have an After School Klub. We run an annual sports and arts camp. We have possibly the best children’s director in the state of Ohio (Sue Trumbull) who is leading one hundred volunteer workers!

      Jesus told this great parable (story) in the 13
      th chapter of Matthew. He said seed was scattered in soil. Some was eaten by birds. Some fell on rocky ground and died. Some was choked by thorns. Some fell on good soil and produced a great crop. Jesus explained the story by saying…

      When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
      The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:19-22)

      But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
      (Matthew 13:23)

      After being so impressed by my first year at sports and arts camp last summer, I told Sue we did a great job scattering seed for a week, but what about the next 51 weeks? We need to cultivate the seeds, making sure they receive sun, rain, and fertilizer, keeping away the thorns, rocks, and birds.

      We are starting to do just that, through Toledo Urban Impact, the new van pickup each Sunday, new students from the neighborhood coming on Wednesday nights to girls club, boys club, and youth group, and our growing relationship with Rosa Parks Elementary School two miles away. We’re certainly not done, but we’re in the process of developing a birth to college pipeline of discipleship.

      Our involvement at Rosa Parks began largely through an invitation from Dr. Durant, the TPS superintendent, to be present in the school with the students and staff—before, during, and after school! He is a God-fearing man who is unashamed of his faith and we accepted his invitation. I wrote him this past week to say I was thrilled to read his contract was extended three years. Rosa Parks Elementary is a huge part of our mission field, people we are called to love, serve, and bless.

      Do you want to know my dream? It is to put Dan Rogers at Cherry Street Mission out of a job! Seriously! He would love that!

      He would love to see homelessness end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to experience graduation, a career, and most of all Jesus Christ.

      He would love to see poverty end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to develop a career.

      He would love to see crime and teen pregnancy end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to encounter Jesus Christ.

      We’re not giving up on adults, but something like 80% of Christians trust Christ before they turn 18. We can share the gospel with adults, but it’s a lot harder. We can rehabilitate the 55 year-old addict, but it’s a lot harder.

      And do I need to tell you the kids of Toledo need hope? They need help? They need Jesus.

      Last week Toledo’s 9
      th teen was shot dead.

      The current graduation rate for TPS is less than 65%.

      Teen moms are not just 16 and 17. Some are 12 and 13 years old in junior high.

      So What?

      Toledo needs Jesus. Not religion. Not programs. Jesus.

      The next generation needs Jesus.

      Where is Jesus on earth? We are to be his hands and feet, loving and serving and inviting people to come and see the one who loves them, who died for them, who never shames or pressures or manipulates, but simply says, “Follow me.”

      Discipleship is praying for our city and next generation.
      Discipleship is serving our city and next generation.
      Discipleship is loving our city and next generation.

      Will you join me?

      • You can listen to messages at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

      Messiah Mess, 19 February 2017

      Messiah Mess
      Series: Ideal Family
      Luke 2:41-46

      Series Big Idea:
      All families are messed up, including biblical families.

      Big Idea: The Messiah lived in a messed-up family, too, and was even “left behind.”

      Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a family; at least one. Ever since God said it was not good for man to be alone, humans have lived with others…for better or worse. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a biological father and a biological mother. Most people have siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are a vital part of life for many of us. Family is God’s design. It was His idea.

      There are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses. The drama pretty much summed it up, didn’t it?!

      The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families. This even includes Jesus’ family as we’ll see today!

      I love to travel. I was blessed to travel to dozens of states during childhood vacations (perhaps my favorite being the celebration of my February birthday at Sea World in San Diego, California…while it was snowing at home in Michigan!). In my undergraduate years, I studied international business and spent a summer in Bolivia. It has been a thrill for me to experience many different countries and cultures, filling my passport with stamps from around the world.

      One thing I don’t particularly enjoy about travel is flying. I absolutely love flying itself. I would love to get my pilot’s license if it ever made sense to do so. I love soaring above the clouds, moving quickly through the skies, and thrill of landing. But like many of you, I could do without the meat-market experience of being herded onto a small plane, cramming into a tiny seat, only to have the person in front of me recline his seat into my lap!

      When I fly alone, it’s not uncommon for me to be among the last to board the plane. My philosophy is I’m going to be packed into that seat long enough, so I savor every moment of space, whether it’s standing, walking, or even stretching out in a seat near the gate. I typically have a backpack I place under the seat in front of me so I have no need to rush for overhead compartment space. I leisurely walk to my seat, the cabin door is shut, and we prepare for takeoff. Simple and sweet!

      There was, however, one time when my lingering in the terminal nearly became a serious mistake. I was in the airport talking to my wife on the telephone when I heard my name called on the PA system. They were preparing to close the door and noticed my name on the “not-yet-boarded” list. As you can imagine, I quickly said goodbye to my bride and raced to enter the plane before I was left behind.

      Have you ever been left behind?

      I’ve heard stories of people missing flights, trains, and buses but perhaps my favorite “left behind’ story involves Jesus. It is told in six, simple verses:

      Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (Luke 2:41-46) 

      There are so many things I find troubling about this text! How about you? I know, it was a different time, a different culture…but seriously!

      Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

      This is an annual event. We know they did it at least a dozen times because…

      When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. (Luke 2:42)

      Some of you have annual trips. You go to the cottage up north. The family makes a pilgrimage to the same campground each year. You celebrate the 4th of July in a particular town. There’s a bike trip you do every summer. In the case of Mary and Joseph, it was their faith tradition which prompted them to travel to Jerusalem for Passover.

      After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. (Luke 2:43)

      This was not thirty year-old Jesus. He was twelve. I love the phrase “the boy Jesus.” Did he know his parents were leaving? How many children did they have to wrangle as they headed back to Nazareth? It’s about 90 miles from Jerusalem. These journeys were done in a group to guard against robbers, though we don’t know how many were in their caravan.

      Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. (Luke 2:44)

      “Thinking” he was in their company. That’s what we call an assumption, friends! Can you imagine the conversation? “Where’s Jesus?” “Is he with you?” “No!” “I thought he was with you!”
       
      When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. (Luke 2:45)

      This has to be one of the most obvious verses in the Bible! I would hope they would go back and look for their lost boy…the boy they left behind! Can you imagine what Child Protective Services would say to Mary and Joseph?!?!?

      After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (Luke 2:46)

      I can’t imagine looking for a lost child for three days! I can remember times when I’d lose one of my kids for a few seconds in a story and be on the verge of panic. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t worried. It never says he even knew he was lost! We’ve often spiritualized this entire story by pointing out how devoted Jesus was to studying the scriptures, which is true.

      But what happened? How did he miss the flight—err, the journey—back to Nazareth? What kind of communication breakdown caused his absence to be unnoticed for an entire day? Why did it take them three days to look for Jesus in the temple courts when they were in Jerusalem for a religious festival?

      Jesus’ Not-So-Perfect Family

      Perhaps no other story shows us how Jesus did not come from an Ideal Family. He was sinless, but his parents were not perfect. His siblings weren’t perfect. In fact, it wasn’t until years later that his half-brother, James, acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah…and they lived together! How did James miss the clues:

      • - The family dog died…until Jesus brought it back to life!
      • - Mary ran out of bread…until Jesus multiplied the loaves until there were leftovers
      • - Wine was served at every meal…even when they only had water to drink!
      • - Jesus won the Fantasy Football league every year!
      • - His brother seemed to have a Messiah complex and thought he was perfect!

      I’m being facetious, just playing a bit, but seriously, Jesus’ family wasn’t perfect. Like ours, they surely had struggles, conflicts, and parental mistakes.

      Perfect Parents

      I used to think perfect kids came from perfect parents.
      I used to think “bad” kids came from “bad” parents.
      I used to think some crazy thoughts!

      The truth is parenting matters, but there are no guarantees. Some of the most godly people I know came from seriously broken homes…and some of the most godly homes have produced some seriously wayward children. Despite the flaws of Mary and Joseph, I’d say Jesus turned out pretty good!

      So What?

      As we close out this series, there are a few things I want you to remember…

      1. 1. You and your family are messed up.
      2. 2. You are not alone. We’re all messed up.
      3. 3. We need God’s amazing grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness.
      4. 4. God loves to extend that grace to us. We don’t deserve it.
      5. 5. We need to encourage one another to follow Jesus, every day. As Thomas George said a few weeks ago, we need to be sanctified…daily filled with the Holy Spirit to become more like Jesus. The true test of our growth is not biblical knowledge or church attendance but how well we love…God and others.
      6. 6. Loving others begins with our family. It’s often easier to love strangers than those gathered around the dinner table.
      7. 7. Finally, we are all family. We are members of both a biological family and a spiritual family. Look around. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have spiritual siblings. If God is your Father, He has given you brothers and sisters…for better or for worse!

      Jesus said the world will know we are His disciples by the love we have for one another.

      As members of God’s family, we fail and sin, but our Dad is perfect. He perfectly calibrates discipline, work, and play. He provides us with tough and tender love. Daddy knows best.

      Throughout this series, I hope you’ve been encouraged regarding your own family. I hope you’ve been challenged regarding your own family. How can we avoid the tragic mistakes of others? How can we bask in the forgiveness and grace—unmerited favor—when we mess up? How can we fully embrace our roles as moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins?

      Families can be messy…but they also provide us with the greatest opportunities to learn, grow, serve, and experience joy.

      As your brother in Christ, I’m grateful for you. I love your encouragement, appreciate your constructive criticism, and need your prayers. Together we are seeking to know and love God and His children…and welcome new spiritual siblings into the family.

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

      King's Chaos, 12 February 2017

      King’s Chaos
      Series: Ideal Family
      Psalm 3

      Series Big Idea:
      All families are messed up, including biblical families.

      Big Idea: The “man after God’s own heart” was punished for his great sins yet experienced amazing grace.

      Good morning! My name is Kirk and today we’re continuing our series entitled, “Ideal Family.” Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a family; at least one. Ever since God said it was not good for man to be alone, humans have lived with others…for better or worse. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a biological father and a biological mother. Most people have siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are a vital part of life for many of us. Family is God’s design. It was His idea.

      There are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

      The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families. We all need help…so let’s pray!

      PRAY

      Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been a collector of baseball cards. I never cared much for the gum that Topps used to include with their cards, but it continues to be a thrill for me to open a pack and see which players are inside. I’m much too young to see Babe Ruth’s face or Mickey Mantle’s eyes looking back at me, but I love to get players from the Philadelphia Phillies or Detroit Tigers—my two favorite teams—or rookie cards or superstars. My favorite cards in my collection include Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, and even a Michael Jordan from the year he tried to play baseball.

      I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have Bible character cards. “Hey, I’ll trade you a Noah for a John the Baptist!” “What’s more valuable, the card of Abram or Abraham?” “I’ve got a rookie card of Jesus…in the manger!”

      Obviously Jesus is the most important figure in the Bible—in human history—but if I were to collect cards of other biblical characters, I’d probably be most excited about David. First and foremost for me, he was a musician and songwriter. The psalms are my favorite book of the Bible, and he wrote most of them. As a boy, he killed a lion and a bear…and then Goliath the giant (1 Samuel 17). His music was so powerful, it would bring relief to the tormented king, even causing an evil spirit to flee (1 Samuel 16:23). David became so popular, the crowds would celebrate him over and above King Saul, the man whose thrown he would later possess (1 Samuel 18:7; 21:11; 29:5). David was a mighty warrior, a powerful king, and best of all a man after God’s own heart.

      Now there was that whole Bathsheba incident that led to David committing adultery, murder, and likely rape. Oh, if only that never happened! Then again, as we’ve noted in this series, all of our biblical heroes besides Jesus are flawed. They sinned against God—and others. Like us, they needed the amazing grace offered by Jesus who died to provide forgiveness, salvation, and reconciliation.

      But let’s not get bogged down with David’s dark chapter. He had a son named Solomon who built the Temple and was blessed with wisdom, wealth, and women.

      Royal transition is always exciting. Queen Elizabeth just celebrated a record 65 years on the throne in England. Someday soon her heir, Prince Charles, will most likely reign as king.

      Near the end of his life, King David assembled all the officials of Israel and said,

      Of all my sons—and the LORD has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel. (1 Chronicles 28:5)

      So David blesses Solomon, he becomes king, and everyone lives happily ever after. Right? Hardly.

      David said he many sons. Remember Cain and Abel, sibling rivalry? Imagine many sons with different mothers!

      These were the sons of David born to him in Hebron:
      The firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel;
      the second, Daniel the son of Abigail of Carmel; 
      the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
      the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; 
      the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
      and the sixth, Ithream, by his wife Eglah. 
      These six were born to David in Hebron, where he reigned seven years and six months. 

      David reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years, and these were the children born to him there:
      Shammua, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. These four were by Bathsheba  daughter of Ammiel. There were also Ibhar, Elishua, Eliphelet, 
      Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet—nine in all. 
      All these were the sons of David, besides his sons by his concubines. And
      Tamar was their sister. (1 Chronicles 3:1-9)

      That’s quite a clan!

      Now here’s how David’s story ends:

      David son of Jesse was king over all Israel. He ruled over Israel forty years—seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. He died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honor. His son Solomon succeeded him as king. (1 Chronicles 29:26-28)

      But let’s back up. Last week we noted how sins can be passed from one generation to the next. Blessings work that way. Curses work that way. We often become like our parents, and our children follow our example. Jacob was deceitful like his father Isaac who was deceitful like his father Abram.

      David’s sexual sin with Bathsheba may have some connection to a horrific event that would occur among his children. David’s firstborn son, Amnon, fell in love with his half sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13:4) and raped her (2 Samuel 13:14) causing chaos in David’s family.

      When King David heard all this, he was furious. And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar. (2 Samuel 13:21-22)

      Understandable, right?

      Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.” So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled. (2 Samuel 13:28-29)

      Do you see why I entitled this message, “King’s Chaos?”

      We simply don’t have time to cover all of the stories of David and his family, but if you turn to 2 Samuel chapter 15, we see Absalom wreaking more havoc on his family. He decides he wants to customer service for the king’s subjects!

      Reading from the
      New Living Translation

      After this, Absalom bought a chariot and horses, and he hired fifty bodyguards to run ahead of him. He got up early every morning and went out to the gate of the city. When people brought a case to the king for judgment, Absalom would ask where in Israel they were from, and they would tell him their tribe. Then Absalom would say, “You’ve really got a strong case here! It’s too bad the king doesn’t have anyone to hear it. I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!”

      When people tried to bow before him, Absalom wouldn’t let them. Instead, he took them by the hand and kissed them. Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel. (2 Samuel 15:1-6, NLT)

      You see where this is going, right? David’s son, Absalom, tries to seize control

      A messenger soon arrived in Jerusalem to tell David, “All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!” (2 Samuel 15:13, NLT)

      “Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.” (2 Samuel 15:14, NLT)

      “We are with you,” his advisers replied. “Do what you think is best.” (2 Samuel 15:15, NLT)

      So the king and all his household set out at once. He left no one behind except ten of his concubines to look after the palace. (2 Samuel 15:16, NLT)

      It is in this context that we read Psalm 3

      A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.
        
      LORD, how many are my foes!
      How many rise up against me! 
      Many are saying of me,
      “God will not deliver him.”
      But you, LORD, are a shield around me,
      my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
      I call out to the LORD,
      and he answers me from his holy mountain.

      I lie down and sleep;
      I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. 
      I will not fear though tens of thousands 
      assail me on every side.
      Arise, LORD!
      Deliver me, my God!
      Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
      break the teeth of the wicked. 
      From the LORD comes deliverance.
      May your blessing be on your people. (Psalm 3)

      David flees his son and in 2 Samuel chapter 18, we read

      During the battle, Absalom happened to come upon some of David’s men. He tried to escape on his mule, but as he rode beneath the thick branches of a great tree, his hair got caught in the tree. His mule kept going and left him dangling in the air. One of David’s men saw what had happened and told Joab, “I saw Absalom dangling from a great tree.” (2 Samuel 18:9-10, NLT)

      “What?” Joab demanded. “You saw him there and didn’t kill him? I would have rewarded you with ten pieces of silver and a hero’s belt!” (2 Samuel 18:11, NLT)

      “I would not kill the king’s son for even a thousand pieces of silver,” the man replied to Joab. “We all heard the king say to you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake, please spare young Absalom.’ And if I had betrayed the king by killing his son—and the king would certainly find out who did it—you yourself would be the first to abandon me.” (2 Samuel 18:12-13, NLT)

      “Enough of this nonsense,” Joab said. Then he took three daggers and plunged them into Absalom’s heart as he dangled, still alive, in the great tree. Ten of Joab’s young armor bearers then surrounded Absalom and killed him. (2 Samuel 18:14-15, NLT)

      This is great news, right? Not to David.

      Then the man from Ethiopia arrived and said, “I have good news for my lord the king. Today the LORD has rescued you from all those who rebelled against you.” (2 Samuel 18:31, NLT)

      “What about young Absalom?” the king demanded. “Is he all right?” 

      And the Ethiopian replied, “May all of your enemies, my lord the king, both now and in the future, share the fate of that young man!” (2 Samuel 18:32, NLT)

      The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.” (2 Samuel 18:33, NLT)

      So What?

      I’ve heard stories of some dysfunctional families, but David’s is one of the most bizarre. Incest, rape, murder, adultery…yet the patriarch, David, is called a man after God’s own heart.

      After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ (Acts 13:22)

      But what does this have to do with us thousands of years later?

      1. David’s passion is endless. Sure, it is misdirected when seeing Bathsheba bathe, but he has a deep love for God. Read the Psalms. He loves his family, even when they go off the deep end. When his son Absalom—who is trying to destroy David and his men—is killed, rather than rejoicing at the death of his enemy, he weeps at the loss of his son.

      The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.” (2 Samuel 18:33, NLT)

      Parents love their kids, through thick and thin (even teenagers!!!). It’s a special bond. They say love is blind, and while that usually refers to romance, it can sometimes apply to parenting. David loved his kids. Our heavenly Father loves HIs kids, too. Always.

      2. One spouse is enough! I don’t want to make light of this, but so much of David’s chaos came from multiple wives bearing multiple children and a family tree that looked more like spaghetti than an oak. One man marrying one woman and creating children mirrors the Trinity of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all One, doing life together, each serving a unique, complementary function.

      3. Sin always has consequences, whether immediate or over time. We can only imagine David’s legacy had he (and Solomon) avoided sexual sins (there’s so much we don’t have time to cover here).

      4. God’s grace (unmerited favor) is sufficient. Despite his flaws, God used David…and his family, both then and thousands of years later.

      Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. (2 Timothy 2:8)

      His amazing grace is available to you and me today.

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

      Atrocious Abe, 5 February 2017

      Atrocious Abe
      Series: Ideal Family
      Genesis 12:10-13

      Series Big Idea:
      All families are messed up, including biblical families.

      Big Idea: Jesus, not Abraham, is the ultimate example of a godly husband.

      Today we’re resuming our series entitled, “Ideal Family.” Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a family; at least one. Ever since God said it was not good for man to be alone, humans have lived with others…for better or worse. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a biological father and a biological mother. Most people have siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are a vital part of life for many of us. Family is God’s design. It was His idea.

      There are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

      The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families. And the mess begins with the marriage. We all need help!

      Abraham is one of the most important figures in human history. Some have called him, “Father Abraham.” When I was a child, we used to sing a song about him.

      “Father Abraham had many sons/many sons had Father Abraham/I am one of them/And so are you/So let’s just praise the LORD.”

      I think the reason it was so popular is it had motions that accompanied the music. Nevertheless, it taught me a bit about Abe. I like to say Abe not merely to make him sound a bit more hip and cool, but because it applies to both of his names. You see, Abraham used to be Abram, much like Paul used to be Saul.

      A few weeks ago, we talked about righteous Noah and how at the end of his biblical story he is drunk and naked, not the most noble place to be! One of the lessons from Noah is even the godliest people are imperfect, and your good deeds in the middle of your life are no guarantee that your ending will be as positive. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes years to earn trust and seconds to lose it. Perhaps that is one reason Jesus said,

      Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

      He did not say, “Pick up your cross and you’ll be set for life.” He said to truly be his disciple requires daily surrender. We can never rest on our past accomplishments.

      Abe’s story ends well.

      Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. (Genesis 25:7-8)

      But let’s back up.

      The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)

      Imagine God says, “Go to the airport, board this airplane, and begin a new life wherever the plane lands.” Would you do it? Would you go? Would you leave your home, friends, family, and even your country to follow the LORD?

      For centuries, people have been doing this very thing. Some of you have been led by God overseas. You’ve sacrificed, studied new languages, and said goodbye to everything you’ve known in this life to obey God. That’s faith!

      If God calls you to relocate, you had better be sure you’re hearing from God and that it’s not bad lunch! I can think of two occasions when our family followed God’s prompting to move. The first was moving to Ann Arbor in 1998 to plant a church, launching a brand-new ministry from scratch. God was so good and faithful to us despite our humble beginning as a church of three in our living room!

      The second big relocation felt like an international move for us. As a Michiganian, I always considered Ohio a foreign country and when God called us to Toledo we were so surprised! Now, of course, we love Toledo!

      But I don’t say that to pat ourselves on the back for our great faith. Instead, it was God’s vision and clear direction which made both moves no-brainers for us. I’m sure Abe could relate. Listen to what God promises him:

      “I will make you into a great nation,
      and I will bless you;
      I will make your name great,
      and you will be a blessing.
      I will bless those who bless you,
      and whoever curses you I will curse;
      and all peoples on earth 
      will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

      That sounds good, right? Would you go to Michigan or Ohio if He promised that to you? What about Canada? Mexico? Africa?

      So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. (Genesis 12:4-5)

      Obviously, he didn’t board a plane. This was a land journey of about 400 miles…without motorized transportation…with his family…

      Have you ever traveled 400 miles with your family…WITH motorized transportation?! That’s about from here to Knoxville, Tennessee.

      Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:6-7)

      That’s a special moment! Look at this land, Abe. It’s not yours, but your offspring will get it someday. But don’t stop now! We’re not there yet!

      From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8)

      Abram is obviously devoted to God. He must be quite the altar builder!

      Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev. (Genesis 12:9)

      So far, so good. Then we get to this unusual story.

      Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. (Genesis 12:10)

      Remember, God promised to make Abram into a great nation. That means he will become a dad…eventually. In a sense, he was invincible. He
      couldn’t die! God always keeps His promises. Always.

      We’ve never experienced a famine, but I can imagine it would be scary. We all need to eat. But we don’t see Abe consulting God about what to do. Maybe God was going to miraculously feed Abe manna and quail. Perhaps God wanted this couple to travel to a place other than Egypt. We don’t know, but there’s no indication that Abe followed God into Egypt.

      Have you ever faced a challenge and ignored God? Have you ever taken matters into your own hands rather than consulting the Creator? I confess I have. We often talk about making Jesus the LORD of our lives. That means He’s the boss. He’s in charge. He is always consulted before making important life decisions. Always.

      But let’s suppose God told Abram to go to Egypt (which
      is possible).

      As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:11-13)

      Do you see anything wrong with this picture?

      First, Abram is worried about himself. He’s sure his wife Sarai will be fine. The plan isn’t even for Abe to lie, but for his wife to do his dirty work! She’s supposed to lie for him! Now I’m sure if she loved her husband, she would obviously be concerned for his welfare, too. But Abe’s plan is hardly going to benefit her.

      When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. (Genesis 12:14-16)

      Let’s give credit to Abram. He was right. The Egyptians found his sister—err—wife to be beautiful. She was taken into Pharaoh’s palace. What would Pharaoh want with a strange woman in his palace?!

      But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had. (Genesis 12:17-20)

      Abe’s plan worked. His life was spared. But what an ordeal. Can you imagine how Sarai must’ve felt during this whole experience? Abram receives grace—unmerited favor—despite his selfish, deceitful behavior. He became a biblical hero and the father of many nations, but this episode did not cause him to win Husband of the Year!

      So What?

      Abraham lied about his wife being his sister. Twice! It happened again in Genesis chapter 20. Look it up!

      Parents—and grandparents—it’s important to remember the next generation(s) is watching you. Whether it’s interpersonal conflicts as we saw in the drama or habitual sins like dishonesty, children often become like their parents.

      Abraham’s son, Isaac, lied about his wife being his sister! It’s in Genesis chapter 26. You can’t make this stuff up! I know the Bible’s true, if only because nobody would fabricate these embarrassing stories and call them sacred scripture!

      One thing we continue to see in this series is the imperfections of the heroes of the Bible. I find this encouraging, knowing I’m not alone in my weak faith, selfishness, pride, and sinfulness. Obviously, the message is not, “Husbands, lie about your wives because it’s the biblical thing to do,” but rather a message of what NOT to do…and hope when we fail.

      Jesus

      Jesus, ironically, sets the perfect example for husbands to follow…love and sacrifice, not selfishness and lies. Where Abram failed in the desert, for Jesus, the desert was the site of one of his finest hours, resisting temptation despite forty days of fasting. Paul famously wrote to the church in Ephesus

      Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

      Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

      Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:25-30)

      That’s what real marriage looks like—true love that’s not based on feelings, but rather on commitment, even when it’s costly.

      Jesus loved us, the Church, to the point of laying down his very life.

      Jesus has entered into your suffering and into your disgraces and into your depressions and into your shames and into your pains. The cross is not just a redemptive place for the follower of Jesus. The cross is also the solidarity place where God joined us in our deepest death. Perhaps you’ve lost a friend who got drunk and then had a fatal car accident, or perhaps you’ve lost the joy of family togetherness because of divorce, or perhaps you’ve seen a friend waste away from some disease, or perhaps you’ve got a tattoo on your body that evokes bad memories. The cross is about that, too.

      At the cross Jesus enters into our pain, into our tragedies, into our injustices, and into the systemic evil we have created and into the sins we have ourselves committed. But his solidarity with us is also an act of redemption.

      -
      Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow

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

      Nake Noah, 15 January 2017

      Naked Noah
      Series: Ideal Family
      Genesis 9:20-25

      Series Big Idea:
      All families are messed up, including biblical families.

      Big Idea: Even the best parents are human and make mistakes.

      Today we’re continuing our new series entitled, “Ideal Family.” Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a family; at least one. Ever since God said it was not good for man to be alone, humans have lived with others…for better or worse. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a biological father and a biological mother. Most people have siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are a vital part of life for many of us. Family is God’s design. It was His idea.

      There are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

      The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families. This even includes Jesus’ family! We all need help…so let’s pray!

      Last week we began our series with a look at the First Family, Adam and Eve and their sons Cain and Abel. Today we’re looking at one of the greatest heroes of the Bible, Noah. You know Noah, the guy with the ark and the animals. Many people think his wife’s name was Joan (of Ark)! Let’s take a look at Noah’s highlight reel. If you turn to Genesis 5, he is mentioned for the first time in verse 29.

      When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah  and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.” After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:28-31)

      Noah’s dad was 182 years old when he was born! Wow! You thought Abraham was old at 100. But Lamech was just a kid compared to Noah the dad!

      After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Genesis 5:32)

      Let’s take a moment for reflection. Imagine Noah coming to First Alliance Church to dedicate his newborn son and happens to mention he was born in 1517! Sure, people lived longer back then, but 500 years? And that’s when he became a dad!

      When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:1-3)

      That settles the old-man issue!

      A few verses later it says

      The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:6-7)

      Let that sink in for a minute. God regretted making humans. No wonder He sent a flood.

      But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Genesis 6:8)

      The sentiment is repeated in the next verse…

      Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. (Genesis 6:9b)

      So God tells Noah to build an ark (6:14) because, as He said

      I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. (Genesis 6:17)

      Of course God had Noah and his family enter the ark along with pairs of animals, and…

      Noah did everything just as God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22)

      God gave Noah further instructions…

      And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him. (Genesis 7:5)

      And if you’re keeping score…

      Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. (Genesis 7:6)

      There are so many details to these Bible stories we simply miss in Sunday School flannel board presentations!

      So we have the flood.

      The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days. (Genesis 7:24)

      But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. (Genesis 8:1)

      Later it says,

      By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

      Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. (Genesis 8:13-16)

      God loved Noah and his family. He was a righteous man. He obeyed God. His obedience essentially saved living creatures from extinction.

      And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:12-16)

      So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (Genesis 9:17)

      The writer of Genesis mentions again Noah’s three sons and then tell us

      Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. (Genesis 9:20)

      Great. Who doesn’t love grapes? Grape juice. Raisins! Noah’s dad was a farmer so planting made complete sense. But…

      When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. (Genesis 9:21)

      Wait a minute! What is happening? Noah is drunk and naked?! The two often go together, by the way! The Japanese have a proverb which says: “First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes the man.” Fortunately, he’s inside his tent where nobody can see him. But this is Noah! Righteous Noah!

      God created a garden, Adam and Eve at forbidden fruit, and found themselves naked.

      Noah planted a garden, ate—or drank—too much fruit, and ended up naked.

      In both cases their sin was shown in their nakedness. They disobeyed God. Sins are felt by the following generations.

      Did we need to include this in the Bible? Can’t we just call Noah a superhero and stop after the rainbow? Actually, no! First, we are all descendants of Noah and his sons. Second, we get to see how even the most righteous people in the Bible were not perfect. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We’ll see this throughout this series.

      We also see how sin affects others…families.

      Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. (Genesis 9:22)

      Was that necessary? Why did Ham enter the tent in the first place? Seeing your dad naked is…well, it’s never good! He could’ve covered his dad and left quietly, but he tells his brothers. He disrespected his father, leaving Shem and Japheth to intervene.

      But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. (Genesis 9:23)

      Love is looking out for the best interest of another person. It doesn’t condone sin. It doesn’t cleanse sin (only Jesus’ blood can do that). But love does cover sin (1 Peter 4:8). Did you see what I did there?!

      The relationship between a father and son is special. The video earlier showed an “ideal” relationship and then a real one. That’s not to say we should be flippant about things such as borrowing/loaning money from relatives, but sometimes relationships can be complicated. Nevertheless, we are to honor our parents. This is one of God’s Top Ten (Exodus 20:12). Honor your father and your mother. Shem and Japheth honored their dad. Ham did not.

      So Noah gets drunk and naked, his youngest son, Ham, saw him naked, his brothers to cover him, and…

      When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, 

      “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” (
      Genesis 9:24-25)

      This passage has been wrongfully used to support racial prejudice and even slavery. Ham saw his dad and his son Canaan gets the curse? Actually, this is best understood as a prophecy describing what will happen to Ham’s descendants, not necessarily a curse from Noah to his grandson. Later in Jewish law children could not be punished for the sins of their fathers (Deut. 24:16; Jer. 31:29-30; Ezek. 18:1-4). What we do know is the Canaanites were conquered by the Israelites (Genesis 14:8-12; Exodus 3:8; Numbers 13:29; Joshua 3:10).

      He also said, 
      “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Shem!
      May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
      May God extend Japheth’s territory;
      may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
      and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.” (Genesis 9:26-27)

      The chapter ends by telling us

      After the flood Noah lived 350 years. Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died. (Genesis 9:28-29)

      What a life! What an ending!

      So What?

      I realize this is an odd passage. The point is…don’t plant a vineyard! Actually, that’s not the point, though alcohol can lead to a host of problems.

      Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18)

      Genesis 19 tells an even more bizarre story where two girls got their dad drunk and slept with him in hopes of getting pregnant! Ewww!

      I think one takeaway from today’s text is even the best parents are human and make mistakes. Noah made the faith hall of fame.

      By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. (Hebrews 11:7)

      Noah was a righteous man, but his story didn’t exactly end on a high note.

      How will your story end? Your past righteousness is valuable, but today is the first day of the rest of your life. How will you live it? Every day we hear stories of people behaving badly. But by the grace of God so go I. We’re all susceptible to sin, as we saw last week, especially when we are
      HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, tired. I pray you will honor your parents and/or be honored by your children. If you drink, I hope you are of age and do so responsibly. Consuming alcohol is not forbidden in the Bible, but drunkenness is clearly a sin…and can lead to other sins. I hope and your pray your most righteous days are ahead.

      Credits

      Some ideas from Be Basic by Warren Wiersbe.

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

      First Family, 8 January 2017

      First Family
      Series: Ideal Family
      Genesis 4:2-8

      Series Big Idea:
      All families are messed up, including biblical families.

      Big Idea: Sibling rivalry is nothing new…and can be fatal!

      We’re beginning a new series entitled, “Ideal Family.” Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a family; at least one. Ever since God said it was not good for man to be alone, humans have lived with others…for better or worse. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a biological father and a biological mother. Most people have siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are a vital part of life for many of us. Family is God’s design. It was His idea.

      There are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

      The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families. This even includes Jesus’ family! We all need help.

      We begin our series with a look at the First Family. I’m not talking about the Obamas, but rather Adam and Eve. The story of creation in Genesis is well known, as is their sinful eating of the one tree in the Garden that was forbidden. Everything changed at that moment. Thousands of years later we still bear the consequences of their sin.

      The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)

      The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

      After they ate from the tree in what is called “The Fall,” God issued His punishment:

      To the woman he said, 

      “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
      with painful labor you will give birth to children.
      Your desire will be for your husband,
      and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

      All moms are familiar with the pains of childbearing (even if they’ve had a C-section). But notice the relational curse. Some suggest it is more accurate to translate the Hebrew this way: “Your desire was for your husband.” She would now be mastered by him, ruled by him. Note this is not God’s design. Generations later Paul would instruct the early church by saying to spouses…

      Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

      The idea of ruling over another person is the result of sin. Much could be said of the marital wars that result from pride and power oppressing a spouse who is to be loved. Jesus would later address our temptation to rule over others to his disciples.

      Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

      There’s a recipe for healthy, God-honoring relationships: serve one another.

      Cain & Abel

      Unfortunately, family problems are not limited to marriages. Parenting brings its own share of joy…and heartache. Rarely do siblings rush to serve their parents together as we saw in the “ideal” video! Parenting one child is a tremendous challenge. A second child introduces an entirely new dynamic: sibling rivalry.

      How many of you have a sibling? How many parents have more than one child?

      Sibling rivalry dates back to…the very first siblings. The first kids joined in on the conflict and dysfunction started by Adam and Eve. Genesis chapter four begins

      Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.  She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. (Genesis 4:1)

      Cain is the leading character in this story. He’s mentioned sixteen times. He’s the older brother. His birth is celebrated by him mom.

      Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. (Genesis 4:2-5)

      On its own, this passage isn’t clear. Is God a carnivore? Is He allergic to fruit? Hardly! The simple answer is we don’t know. Some have suggested the necessity of a blood sacrifice, but the text doesn’t say, nor do we know Abel’s sacrifice contained blood. Abel brought the firstborn of his flock—his very best—but we don’t know if Cain brought his best or not. We just know Cain was very angry because his brother’s offering was acceptable and his was rejected. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Cain wasn’t rejected because of his offering, but his offering was rejected because of Cain: His heart wasn’t right with God. It was ‘by faith’ that Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain (Hebrews 11:4), which means that he had faith in God and was right with God.”

      By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. (Hebrews 11:4)

      This event with the offerings is the beginning of recorded sibling rivalry, but hardly the end. Ishmael persecuted Isaac. Jacob fled his brother Esau fearing his life. Joseph’s brothers nearly killed him, instead opting to sell him as a slave. The very person/persons we are closest to often cause the greatest hostility. If anyone should have your back it should be your brother or sister.

      Let me add this is true spiritually, too. Often our greatest critics are not distant strangers, but rather the people who sit beside us on Sunday mornings or those in our small group. May it never be! We are called to love one another! Always!

      Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

      Cain obviously disobeyed God. God encourages Cain to do what is right. He is warned that sin is near, personified as a crouching demon waiting to strike.

      Heather and I had some interesting conversations this past week about satan, demons, and temptation. I can’t say either of us are experts on the subject, but I am certain angels and demons are both real. God and satan are both real. We are in the middle of a spiritual battle between good and evil.

      There are moments when we are especially vulnerable to temptation. For many of us, it is when we are

      Hungry
      Angry
      Lonely
      Tired

      HALT!

      Jesus faced these temptations—essentially all temptations—during forty days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness as recorded in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. Fortunately, he was prepared and able to resist satan’s most deceptive lures.

      Unfortunately Cain opened the door. He succumbed to temptation. What sin is lurking at your door? Do you carry grudges? Are you bitter? What about lust? Gossip? Worry? Gluttony? Paul instructs

      “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

      If only Cain had been so wise. His sacrifice was rejected, but the story gets worse. Much worse.

      Have you ever been jealous of a sister or brother? Maybe they got straight A’s while you struggled to pass the class. Perhaps they were Olympic-bound while you were the last one to cross the finish line on Field Day. Envy is ugly. Sibling rivalry is real. Comparing ourselves to others is dangerous…even deadly!

      Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8)

      This may have been the first human death. Here’s the summary:

      - Abel obeys God
      - Cain disobeys God
      - Cain is envious and adds to his disobedience and sins by killing his brother

      Our relationship with God and our relationship with our brothers and sisters cannot be separated. We love God by loving our neighbor and we love our neighbor by loving God.

      Most of us will not be murdered by a sibling! At least I hope not! Yet many are emotionally destroyed by the actions of a jealous sibling.

      Because he is a better musician, I’m going to…
      Because she got married before me, I’m going to…
      Because she’s the first one to have a baby, I’m going to…

      Cain disobeys God by bringing the wrong sacrifice.
      Cain disobeys God by killing his brother.
      Cain disobeys God by lying about the murder.

      Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” 

      “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

      God does everything He can to prompt repentance. He’s always seeking to save the lost, the broken, the criminal, the sinner.

      Martin Luther’s definition of sin was “man curved in upon himself.” Sin is always focusing on yourself, always choosing yourself over God or others, placing yourself at the center. Sin means even when we do good things (help the poor, attend church gatherings, etc.), it’s always about us, about furthering our agenda, about giving us the self-image we want to have, about engaging so long as it makes us feel good. Sin is so insidious that when we look like we’re serving others, we’re really serving ourselves.

      Repentance undoes sin. That was God’s desire for Cain and us. Repentance. Change.

      God had questions for Adam and Eve, too, not because He was clueless, but rather to draw out a confession. In both instances, God calls them out.

      The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:10-12)

      A passage that began with a blessing ends with a curse.

      Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:13-14)

      But the LORD said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the LORD’S presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:15-16)

      Cain’s not sorry for his sin, but only for his punishment. Like so many sins, one led to another and then another. Perhaps the most tragic statement of all is that “Cain went out from the LORD’s presence.” I never want to be there. And it began with jealousy and sibling rivalry. By the way, in church many have visited the “land of Nod,” but today we don’t know exactly where it was!

      So What?

      There are two types of people in this world: those who honor God and those who dishonor God. We don’t know the details, but the contrast between Cain and Abel is obvious.

      There are so many applications to this passage.

      - Obey God
      - Love your siblings—biological and spiritual
      - If you’re jealous Let it go. Give it up. Life’s too short.
      - Know your weaknesses and areas of vulnerability to temptation
      - Repent when you sin. Don’t cover it up. God knows. He sees it all.

      If you are in the midst of a broken relationship of any kind, seek reconciliation. We talked about this last Sunday.

      If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

      If it’s not possible, stay on your knees. Cry out to God. Your story’s not over yet. Change is possible. God is faithful.

      Credits

      Some ideas from Be Basic by Warren Wiersbe.

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

      Fresh Start, 1 January 2017

      Fresh Start
      Psalm 90

      Big Idea: Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

      Life is full of milestones. Defining moments. Some are unexpected. We don’t usually know when we’ll meet our spouse or best friend. It’s often months or years later when we look back and realize that day was special.

      Other milestones we can anticipate.

      When I was about eight years old I opened a Christmas gift from my aunt and uncle. They knew I was a big sports fan so it made sense they bought me a football jersey. However, the color didn’t represent any of my favorite teams. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but it seemed somewhat random…until they mentioned the number. 86. Why was that significant? They told me it was the year of my high school graduation! From that moment on, I anticipated the year 1986!

      Have you been anticipating 2017? Some of you know this will be the year you will graduate—from high school or college. I know a few of you have wedding planned this year. This year will be the birth year of new First Alliance babies! And maybe this will be the year that you—get that dream job, get engaged, or finally win your fantasy football league!

      Others of you are anticipating 2017 for a different reason. You’re just glad 2016 is over. You couldn’t wait to turn the page and have a fresh start. 2016 was a year of pain, disappointment, struggle, or loss. The 2016 election exposed the great tensions of our nation. The entertainment world lost so many stars, a GoFundMe account was established to raise $10,000 to protect Betty White from 2016!

      Regardless of whether 2016 was fantastic or forgettable, I have great news for you: Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

      Life is a gift. Musician Randy Stonehill penned these words:

      I'm gonna celebrate this heartbeat
      Cause it just might be my last
      Everyday is a gift from the Lord on high
      And they all go by so fast
      Amen! Actually, a quick note to parents of young children: the years go by fast, even though the days often seem like they last forever! Diapers, crying, pediatrician visits, packing for trips, …

      But every day is a gift. Our days are numbered, but none of us knows how many we get. Moses famously wrote,

      Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

      Many of us take life for granted—until it’s snatched away suddenly. We simply don’t know our expiration date. It could be today. It could be years from now. Are you ready? They say you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die.

      On a more cheery note, how will you use this fresh start? It may or may not include written resolutions, but how do you want to live 2017? How do you want to grow? Where do you want to find yourself 365 days from now as 2018 begins?

      I’m reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous Serenity Prayer

      God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
      Courage to change the things I can,
      And wisdom to know the difference.

      Oh that we would all have that wisdom!

      Psalm 90

      Most of the psalms were written by…David. One was written by Moses: Psalm 90. It
      begins

      A prayer of Moses the man of God. 

      Lord, you have been our dwelling place
      throughout all generations. (Psalm 90:1)

      This is such a comforting thought. Yesterday we remember the life of Bob Carson, an incredible member of this church for decades. God was his dwelling place and will be to his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

      Before the mountains were born
      or you brought forth the whole world,
      from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2)

      From everlasting to everlasting He is God. Hallelujah! Think about that for a moment. He was present before the mountains—before this planet! Our God spoke our universe into existence! And He loves you and me! Sometimes we forget these simple yet truly awesome truths.

      You turn people back to dust,
      saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” (Psalm 90:3)

      That’s our God! Sometimes we’ve worked so hard to make God personal, we think He’s just like us. We’re created in His image, and some of us have returned the favor! God is awesome. We are but dust. 2016 provided us with many reminders that one day all of us will die—including Prince and Princess…Leah!

      A thousand years in your sight 
      are like a day that has just gone by,
      or like a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:4)

      This verse has been quoted often to speak of the return of Jesus. He said he would return soon, yet 2000 years does not seem soon to us…though it may only be two days to God. Peter wrote

      But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
      (2 Peter 3:8-9)

      Moses continues

      Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
      they are like the new grass of the morning:
      In the morning it springs up new,
      but by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:5-6)

      Now the reality of our sin moves into focus:

      We are consumed by your anger 
      and terrified by your indignation.
      You have set our iniquities before you,
      our secret sins in the light of your presence.
      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. (Psalm 90:7-11)

      We don’t like to talk about God’s wrath, sin, death, or judgment…but a holy God demands perfection, which is why we desperately need Jesus. His perfect life made his death on the cross for us the perfect and acceptable sacrifice, payment for our sins.

      Teach us to number our days,
      that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

      Here’s one of the most popular verses in the Bible. In the context of life and death it is deeply profound. Wisdom comes from God…and from understanding our lives are fragile. What is your expiration date? It could be today. It could be sometime this year.

      Relent, LORD! How long will it be?
      Have compassion on your servants.
      Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
      that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
      Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
      for as many years as we have seen trouble. (Psalm 90:13-15)

      Remember, this is Moses. Pleading with Pharaoh. 40 years leading complainers in the desert. He knows trouble.
       
      May your deeds be shown to your servants,
      your splendor to their children.
      May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
      establish the work of our hands for us—
      yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:16-17)

      I love Moses’ conclusion. He doesn’t merely say, “Bless us, LORD. Make us rich. Keep us from sickness.” He gets involved. He wants to do life with God. He wants to partner. He’s willing to work, but realizes he needs God’s favor as he works.

      So What?

      Today is the first day of the rest of your life. How will you live it?

      Today is a fresh start. We’ve all made mistakes in 2016…and we will in 2017, too. But today is a new beginning. It’s a great time to reflect upon what’s truly important; how we want to live; who we want to become.

      Some of you have dreams you’ve buried. Maybe 2017 is the year to revive them, to take baby steps toward their fulfillment.
      Without burdening you a list of new year’s resolutions, consider a few things:


        When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

        In a few moments, we’ll celebrate communion communally, together. We remember Jesus died, his body broken, his scarlet blood shed to make us as pure as wool.

        “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
        says the LORD.
        “Though your sins are like scarlet,
        they shall be as white as snow;
        though they are red as crimson,
        they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

        Leave behind the guilt and shame of 2016. It’s a new day. It’s a new year!

        One of the great struggles for followers of Jesus is satan’s lies. He’s the accuser, and he loves to keep you shackled in your past failures rather than released to pursue God’s future plans. It is often said when satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future!

        Seriously, though, if you have trusted Jesus Christ as your LORD and Savior, he has forgiven you of all of your sins. All of them! Yes, even that one!

        The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
        slow to anger, abounding in love. 
        He will not always accuse,
        nor will he harbor his anger forever;
        he does not treat us as our sins deserve
        or repay us according to our iniquities. 
        For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is his love for those who fear him;
        as far as the east is from the west,
        so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)

        That’s good news. That’s great news!



          Jesus boiled the entire Bible down to two commands: love God and love others. One way we love God is by loving others. As 2017 begins, you need to get right with God. Receive His love and forgiveness. It’s there for the taking. Surrender everything—time, talents, treasures—to Him.

          You also need to get right with others. Jesus said…


          “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister  will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

          “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24)

          My interpretation is, “Get right with others.” Don’t drag bitterness into 2017. Forgive. Let it go. Let go and let God. Seriously. We’ve all been wronged…and we’ve all wronged others.

          Relationships can be messy. I learned that in a whole new way in 2016…unfortunately. There are two people with whom I have unsuccessfully tried to reconcile. Actually, I’ve struggled trying to figure out what I did to deserve the brokenness of the relationship. I’ve asked. I’ve done my best to humble myself. I have been encouraged by these words in the book of Romans…

          If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

          Despite our best efforts, we may not be able to live at peace with everyone, but “if it is possible” we are to do so.

          They don’t deserve forgiveness. Neither do you! That’s why grace—unmerited favor—is so amazing! Paul wrote to the church in Corinth

          For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

          So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)

          Today is the first day of the rest of your life. How will you live it?

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

          God is Good…All the Time, 31 December 2016

          A Year To Be All In
          Tabernacle of Praise – First Alliance Church
          Psalm 25:1-5

          Big Idea: God is good…all the time. He is true, present, and faithful. God was faithful in 2016. Will we be faithful in 2017?

          Welcome to the end of 2016!

          Life is full of endings and beginnings, have you noticed? The stores have clearance sales on summer clothes while introducing winter fashions. The end of college basketball occurs on or around baseball’s opening day. Heather and I once attended her grandmother’s funeral with news of our pregnancy and an upcoming baby.

          Sometimes it’s hard to let go. We want to hold onto the past, but we can never move forward if we’re stuck in park.

          Tonight, I have a simple message for you. You may have heard it before. Are you ready?

          God is good…all the time.
          All the time…God is good.

          God’s been good…in 2016.
          God’s gonna be good…in 2017.

          How do I know? God’s character does not change. He’s always doing new things, but His character does not change.

          What can we say about God’s character, His being, His essence? How much time to we have?!

          I want to look at three aspects of God’s character tonight: true, present, faithful.

          God is true.

          King David, perhaps the most powerful man in the world in his day, wrote these words:

          In you, LORD my God, I put my trust. (Psalm 25:1)

          He didn’t say he put his trust in his power or his army or his wealth. His trust was in the LORD, his God. Can that be said you…really? Sure, we talk about trusting God. We nod when the preacher says God’s trustworthy, but do we really live like it?

          Pastor Craig Groeschel recently wrote a book called
          The Christian Atheist. He says many so-called Christians have biblical knowledge, but we practically live as if God doesn’t exist. Let me give you an example. A few weeks ago I decided to address an ongoing problem in our house—a leaky toilet. For the uninitiated, if a toilet leaks from the bottom, it usually means the wax ring between the toilet and floor is failing. It’s a $4 part to replace, but requires a bit of work to remove the toilet, clean out the old wax, and reset the toilet with the new wax ring. Seeing that I’m not Mr. Handyman, I watched a YouTube video which showed how the $4 part could be installed in about thirty minutes.

          Have you heard of Murphy’s Law? Let me recite it to you. It says, “A $4, thirty minute home improvement project will surely cost at least $100 and take a week or more to complete.” Actually, Murphy’s Law states if anything can go wrong, it will…and it did! (Do you know the corollary to Murphy’s Law? Murphy was an optimist!).

          The point really isn’t my toilet installation, but rather how I ignored God in the process. I was waist deep in—well, never mind that—I was in the middle of the project when it occurred to me to pray about this situation. It was far more complicated—and costly—than I expected and I needed help…divine help. Until I prayed, I was living as a practical atheist.

          King David continues…


          I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. (
          Psalm 25:2-3)

          He says it again, he trusts in God. And he needs to trust in God. He has real enemies. His enemies aren’t a mean school teacher who grades hard, gossipers on Facebook, or even an angry boss. People want to kill him. People want his kingdom. Armies have been formed to defeat him.

          Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. (
          Psalm 25:4-5)

          I don’t know about you, but I want that to be my prayer. I want God to show me His ways. I want Him to teach me His paths. I want Him to guide me in truth. The more I know God—not just about God, but knowing God—the more I experience peace, joy, and contentment. It’s so cliché but it’s true:

          Know God. Know Peace.
          No God. No Peace.

          The recent celebration of Christmas is a celebration of Jesus, God’s son who is fully God but also fully human, a wonderful mystery. Jesus said

          “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6b)

          He is the truth. Speaking of Jesus,

          God is present.

          The word “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” John 1:14 says

          The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

          That’s a fine translation from the Greek, but I really like the way Eugene Peterson translates it in
          The Message:

          The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14, The Message)

          God moved into the neighborhood. He came here. He didn’t remain in heaven, feeling sorry for the mess we’ve made of this world. He sent Jesus to be born in a cave or some primitive shelter likely made for animals. Jesus spent about thirty years doing normal life out of the spotlight. Then for three years he taught and healed, lived and died for us, rose again, ascended into heaven, and now he’s awaiting the Father’s signal to return. Maranatha! Come quickly, LORD Jesus! Maybe he will return in 2017. Are you ready?

          Even though Jesus is not physically walking the earth today, God is here. God is present in this place. The Holy Spirit is a gift given to every follower of Jesus. God no longer lives in fancy tabernacles or cathedrals. He lives in me. Is he living in you? This means God is present. He is still Emmanuel, God with us. You can’t see him, but he’s still present. You can’t see the WiFi in this building, but it’s still real. Some of the most powerful realities of life are invisible, yet present—love, the wind, radio waves, thoughts…God is present.

          Finally,
          God is faithful.

          My favorite hymn is
          Great is Thy Faithfulness. It has been the theme song of our marriage for more than 26 years. Our family—like many of yours—has endured job loss, deaths, mental illness, a sick child for nearly a decade requiring treatments in five different states, childish rebellion, strained and even broken relationships, …but God has been faithful. Even when it feels like He’s distant, He’s still present. He’s still active. He still hears our prayers. Sometimes our will aligns with His and other times He has a higher purpose, a better plan, perfect timing.

          Let me link some ideas together. How many of you have prayed a prayer and God didn’t answer the way you wanted? All of us experience this regularly. Did you know Jesus did, too?

          The night before Jesus was arrested, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a real place, in Jerusalem. I’ve been there. Jesus knew he would be crucified and die for you and me, but he wanted Plan B. He prayed…

          “Abba , Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)

          That’s a tough prayer to pray—God, this is what I want, but I will trust You if Your will is different. I’ll obey You. You are good and faithful, even if it doesn’t feel like it in this moment.

          Can I get an amen?!

          That’s faith. It’s easy to trust God when the sun’s shining, the bills are paid, the family’s getting along, and there are leftover Christmas cookies to eat! Praise God!

          But can you praise Him in the storm? Is He any less faithful at the hospital, the attorney’s office, the police station, or the frustrating job site? He’s really not.

          The prophet Jeremiah had a pretty rough life. God told him to proclaim unwanted news to the people of Jerusalem, and warned Jeremiah he would be rejected! Wow! His life was so challenging, he wrote a book of laments—words of deep grief and sorry—called Lamentations. He said this:

          I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. (Lamentations 3:19-20)

          You might as well call him Eeyore! But he wasn’t necessarily complaining, just being honest with God. You can be honest with God, too. He can handle it!

          Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (
          Lamentations 3:21-23)

          Let me turn again to The Message:

          But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
           

          GOD’S loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:21-23, The Message)

          Listen to what follows:

          I’m sticking with GOD (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.

          GOD proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. (
          Lamentations 3:24-25, The Message)

          I love that! I’m sticking with God! He’s all I’ve got left.

          Maybe you feel that tonight. 2016 has left you in a tough place and you hope 2017 will be better.

          Perhaps 2016 was a banner year and you’re nervous 2017 won’t be as good.

          Regardless of how you feel in this moment, God is still God. King Jesus is on the throne. He’s not a little baby any longer. He’s preparing to return to us soon. He is true. He is here. He is faithful.

          God is good…all the time.
          All the time…God is good.

          He is true, present, and faithful. God was faithful in 2016.
          Will we be faithful in 2017?

          Angels, 25 December 2016

          Angels
          Series: First Christmas
          Luke 2:1-14

          Series Big Idea:
          Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

          Big Idea: We need not fear angels…or anything but God.

          Merry CHRISTmas! My name is Kirk and I’m thrilled to be able to celebrate Jesus’ birthday with you!

          Throughout Advent—this season of waiting—we’ve been looking at the Christmas story through the eyes of various characters present at the First Christmas. We looked at the Wise Men, Elizabeth, the Innkeeper, Joseph, and today it’s the angels.

          Have you ever met or seen an angel? Our minds picture a person dressed in white with wings and a halo, but angels are real creatures. In fact, they’re mentioned nearly three hundred times in the Bible! Unless they suddenly became an endangered species, they are just as real and important today.

          We don’t have time to do a thorough study of angels today, but I want to look at two words they spoke: fear not.

          In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3)

          So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (
          Luke 2:4-7)

          And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (
          Luke 2:8-9)

          STOP!

          Why were they terrified? They saw and angel. They saw the glory of the Lord.

          It seems like often when angels appear, people are afraid. That makes sense, right?

          The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. (Matthew 28:5)

          But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. (Luke 1:13)

          But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)

          Sometimes people are already afraid and angels are sent to bring comfort and peace.

          God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. (Genesis 21:17)

          But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20)

          And we have the example in today’s text.

          But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Luke 2:10

          I have loved Charlie Brown for as long as I can remember. Being a musician, I should’ve identified most with Schroeder, but whenever I would read the Peanuts comics or watch the television specials I always connected with Charlie Brown.

          Charles Schultz, the creator of Charlie Brown, told so many wonderful stories, but the best story he ever told was not his, but taken from the Bible.

          Perhaps you’ve seen the Facebook post by Jason Soroski. I’m so grateful to Crystal who sent it to me. I nearly cried reading it…and I want to share it with you today.

          Last year, A Charlie Brown Christmas aired on national prime time television for the 50th time. In a world where the latest greatest technology is outdated in a matter of months, and social media trends come and go in a matter of days, 50 years of anything becomes quite meaningful.

          I am a fan of all things nostalgic and all things Christmas, and so when the two are combined I am hooked, and the Charlie Brown Christmas special falls squarely into that category.

          I was in the first grade back when they still performed Christmas pageants in schools (less than 50 years, but still a very long time ago), and our class performed a version of the Charlie Brown Christmas. Since I was kind of a bookworm and already had a blue blanket, I was chosen to play the part of Linus. As Linus, I memorized
          Luke 2:8-14, and that Scripture has been hidden in my heart ever since.

          But while working so diligently to learn those lines, there is one important thing I didn’t notice then, and didn’t notice until now.

          Right in the middle of speaking, Linus drops the blanket.

          Charlie Brown is best known for his uniquely striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all work to no avail to separate Linus from his blanket. And even though his security blanket remains a major source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he simply refuses to give it up.

          Until this moment. When he simply drops it.

          In that climactic scene when Linus shares “what Christmas is all about,” he drops his security blanket, and I am now convinced that this is intentional. Most telling is the specific moment he drops it: when he utters the words, “fear not.”

          Looking at it now, it is pretty clear what Charles Schultz was saying, and it’s so simple it’s brilliant.

          The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears.

          The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves.

          The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead.

          The world of 2016 can be a scary place, and most of us find ourselves grasping to something temporal for security, whatever that thing may be. Essentially, 2016 is a world in which it is very difficult for us to “fear not.”

          But in the midst of fear and insecurity, this simple cartoon image from 1965 continues to live on as an inspiration for us to seek true peace and true security in the one place it has always been and can always still be found.

          I couldn’t have said it better myself!

          What are you afraid of? I know that’s an odd question to ask on Christmas Day, but what are you afraid of?

          The dark?
          Your credit card bill next month after Christmas shopping?
          Loneliness?
          Your health?
          Fruitcake?

          God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1John 4:16-18)

          We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

          Fear not!

          The angels said it.

          It’s the most common command in the Bible.

          If we recognize the love and presence and power and wisdom and wonder and mystery of God, our other fears will diminish.

          Technically, the Bible doesn’t say the angels sang. It says they praised God.

          Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 

          “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (
          Luke 2:13-14)

          We can praise with words, but music has a special way of enhancing the worship.

          “Angels We Have Heard On High” has possibly the longest word in any piece of music! The 18-syllable word is "Gloria." Gloria, in excelsis Deo means simply, “Glory to God in the highest.”

          Fear Not

          The message of Christmas is Immanuel, God is with us.

          Fear not…God is with us.
          Fear not…the Prince of Peace is here.
          Fear not…you are not alone.
          Fear not…the baby will return soon as King Jesus.

          Happy birthday, Jesus! Merry CHRISTmas! God bless you!

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

          Joseph, 18 December 2016

          Joseph
          Series: First Christmas
          Matthew 1:18-25

          Series Big Idea:
          Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

          Big Idea: God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.
          Introduction

          The thing I can't figure out is why He chose me. Have you ever thought that? Why did He choose for you to live here? To work here? To serve here?

          I had a great phone conversation with one of our church’s outstanding leaders. She was feeling out of her comfort zone, inadequate, and unqualified. I reminded her God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

          Why did He choose Mary?
          Why did He choose Joseph?
          Why did He choose you?

          Scariest, most difficult, confusing, puzzling, mystifying, amazing, glorious, inexplicable, exciting, gripping, intoxicating, powerful, petrifying, terrifying, most wonderful day.

          Parents, does that describe your child’s birthday? No day changed my life more than May 21, 1992. That was the day our first child, Kailey, was born. I’ve never been the same since.

          Joseph

          There are two important biblical characters named Joseph. The first was Jacob’s son, the boy given the coat of many colors who became the second most powerful person in Egypt under Pharaoh. The other is Jesus’ step dad, Mary’s husband. A humble carpenter.

          We don’t know much about Joseph. Mary is quoted, present throughout the life of her son, and a prominent figure. But Joseph…he almost looks like one of the shepherds in many nativity scenes!

          Does he complain? Hardly. Well, actually, we don’t know, but let’s assume the drama was accurate. It’s a privilege to be the stepfather of the Messiah. In fact, it is a tremendous gift and responsibility.

          What’s the greatest thing that has ever been entrusted to your care? For many kids it’s a dog. I know of at least one child who wants a dog for Christmas. But dogs require care—well, live dogs require care. I’m not talking about a stuffed animal. Dogs need food, water, treats, trips to the vet, and everyone’s favorite chore…cleaning up the back yard!

          Several years ago a friend of mine at our church was loaned a yellow Lambourghini, a car worth hundreds of thousands of dollars! He was so nervous knowing he possessed—at least temporarily—a treasure. He drove it so carefully, not wanting to risk even a small scratch on it.

          Parents, you certainly remember the first time you held your child in your arms, aware of the tremendous blessings—and responsibility—you were holding.

          Birth parents have a role in the gift they produce. I won’t get into a detailed explanation of that today (!), but in Joseph’s case he not only became a dad, he was chosen—by God—to raise the promised Messiah. It’s hard for us, sometimes, to understand just how significant this child was to the Jewish people. There were prophecies for hundreds (thousands?) of years concerning the Messiah…and then silence. There were about four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, between the prophecies and the arrival of Jesus. Four hundred years—of silence. Imagine silence since 1616! And then God announces you’ll parent God’s son!

          This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:18-19)

          These two verses tell us quite a bit about Joseph. He was faithful to the law. This means he was a righteous man. He obeyed God, which involved loving others. In this case, he wanted to protect the girl/woman he loved. Quietly divorcing (calling off the wedding) Mary would’ve been far less shameful for a teen mom than exposing her for “sleeping around.” Joseph was a good man. We know Mary was righteous, and she would surely not be engaged to a loser!

          Yet on the surface, Joseph must’ve surely thought he made a mistake by proposing to this teenage girl with bun-in-the-oven. Imagine how he felt. His love is pregnant…and he’s a virgin. He cannot be the father of this child, which means…who is it? Sure, Mary, the Holy Spirit. Who’s the Holy Spirit? I know people who think they’re holy, but Spirit is a strange last night for a guy, don’t you think?!

          As is so often the case with Bible passages, we know the rest of the story. We know what’s going to happen. We’ve seen the end of the movie! But Joseph had no clue. I can’t imagine the disappointment, the heartbreak, and the embarrassment. Make no mistake, people knew about his pregnant fiancée…or they would. It’s not like you could fly to another state or country and take on a new identity. Unwed mothers were not the norm as they tragically are today in so many communities. Joseph’s bride-to-be was a disgrace. Even associating with her would affect his reputation…and it did.

          But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (
          Matthew 1:20-21)

          I wonder how long it took Joseph to fall asleep. You don’t just get life-changing news, call off a wedding, and snooze when your head hits the pillow. He may have laid in bed for hours before finally drifting off into la-la land. And then he has a dream!

          The dream confirms what Mary said. Wait, is this a dream or a hallucination? Am I just making this up? So Mary is carrying the Messiah? The Savior?

          All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (
          Matthew 1:22-23)

          Even though all of this news was surely shocking to Joseph, it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. He knew the ancient scriptures. He was faithful to the law. As a Jew, he knew about the prophecies of the coming Messiah.

          Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:13-14)

          The book of Matthew quotes the Old Testament at least 47 times, most of them Messianic, dealing with Jesus. Matthew begins his gospel—good news—with a genealogy of Jesus. He wrote,

          This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

          Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, …Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. 

          David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam…and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

          After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

          Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. (Matthew 1:1-17)

          Joseph knew the prophecy of the Messiah, but couldn’t have imagined he would play a part in the most important—and famous—birth in human history.

          Immanuel: God with us. God will be with Mary. God will be with Joseph. God will be with us. What a dream!

          When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (
          Matthew 1:24-25)

          He did not divorce her. He did not abandon her. He chose to travel this remarkable—and often painful—journey with her. He married her. I have to add, contrary to some traditions, Mary and Joseph
          did consummate their marriage…after the birth of Christ. They had other children, too (so much for the “perpetual virgin” notion!).

          Conclusion

          Although we don’t know much about Joseph, we know he was righteous, obedient, and faithful. I’m sure he felt unworthy of the gift and responsibility placed into his care, but he said, “Yes.”

          God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

          What is God calling you to do? Sure, you won’t be entrusted to raise God’s son, but He’s calling you. Maybe He’s calling you to quit playing religion and truly surrender your life to Him. Quit playing games and let God truly be LORD in your life.

          Maybe God is calling you to step out in faith, to take a big risk. Perhaps it’s to write a ridiculously generous check, trusting Him to provide for your needs.

          I believe God is calling some of you to step into new positions of leadership. It may begin with apprenticing under a small group leader, eventually leading to caring for your own group. Leading a small group is a tremendous gift and responsibility. The eternities of men, women, and children are at stake.

          Some of you have been resisting an investment in the next generation. Our children, our youth need you. God might want you to disciple students. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, only that you obey God’s call.

          If you feel inadequate, join the club!

          I was recently talking with Thomas George, our District Superintendent. He asked how things were in Toledo and I said, “Fantastic! I love First Alliance Church. I’m so grateful God called us to Toledo, though I feel unworthy of serving such a great congregation.” He looked me in the eye and said, “If you ever feel worthy, call me and I will remove you.” He was serious. I was appreciative. When we feel like we can do it, we no longer need God.

          God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called. When we ask, “Why,” He often responds, “Why not?”

          “We all have to embrace the fact that God wants to use us. He’s given us talents, passions, gifts; He’s given us a community of people to do life with. If we focus and have intentionality, He will absolutely use us to make a difference in the world.” – Chris Marlow

          It’s my desire for God to call many of you into new opportunities, new challenges. You can make excuses, but some of you know it’s time. It’s time to get out of the boat and experience the thrill of being used by God to accomplish great things. And when you are faithful in small things, He will entrust even greater things to your care. And remember, you are never alone. We are here…and so is He. The message of Immanuel is “God is with us.”

          • Credits
          Some ideas from SkitGuys.com.

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

          Innkeeper, 11 December 2016

          Innkeeper
          Series: First Christmas
          Matthew 1:18-25

          Series Big Idea:
          Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

          Big Idea: Advent is about making room for Jesus.

          Introduction

          You always make room…especially when it comes to God. Or do you? Do you?

          Today we’re talking about space. I don’t mean Mars and Jupiter. I mean room, capacity. It’s been said no matter how much space you have, you always fill it.

          This is true of memory on your cell phone or computer.
          It’s true of your closet.
          It’s true of your garage.
          It’s true of your calendar.
          It’s true of your heart.

          My name is Kirk and during this season of Advent—this season of waiting—we are looking at the First Christmas through the eyes of various characters in the story. We’ve looked at the Wise Men and Elizabeth. Today we turn to the Innkeeper.

          Before we discuss the innkeeper, we need to set a few things straight. Our understanding of Christmas has been plagued by many myths.

          For example, we noted two weeks ago how we don’t know how many magi visited Jesus. Maybe three. Maybe twelve. We have no idea. The Bible never says anything about them being kings. Even though they came with our nativity scene, they likely arrived on the scene a year or two after Jesus was born.

          Now about the inn. As a kid watching Christmas pageants I was led to believe Mary and Joseph journeyed on a donkey to an ancient version of a Holiday Inn, all of the rooms were booked, and they hung out in a nearby barn filled with hay, animals, and a wooden manger where Jesus laid comfortably…no crying he made (“Away in a Manger”).

          Actually, there was no space (room) in the "upper room" of a private house because other family members had arrived there first. This was not a motel or public dwelling. Look at the text of Luke chapter two:

          So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. (Luke 2:4)

          You may recall Caesar Augustus called for a census. In our nation, we have a census every ten years, a form every citizen is required to complete in order to know about the people in our country.

          Two thousand years ago they didn’t have the Internet, FedEx, or even the Post Office to deliver mail, so people had to travel to their own register. Joseph’s ancestral home was Bethlehem. He was a descendant of King David, and David was born in Bethlehem.

          He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  (Luke 2:5-7)

          In case you were wondering, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles as the crow flies. Of course Mary and Joseph were not crows, so they probably walked more than 90 miles—likely four or five days on foot. Maybe they had a donkey…maybe not. There’s no donkey mentioned in the biblical account.

          What’s the longest you’ve ever walked in a day? How many steps, FitBit owners?!

          Moms, can you imagine walking to The Palace of Auburn Hills, north of Detroit…nine months pregnant?

          One of the challenges with the Christmas story is it’s too familiar. We’ve sanitized its harsh realities into cute figurines we put near the fireplace or kids dressed in bathrobes performing Christmas pageants.

          The “holy night when Christ was born” was not the only night of the journey. It simply represented what was likely their first night in Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthday. What did they do the other days?

          Good Jews were expected to offer hospitality to travelers. It was common for people to have a guest room in their home for such occasions. Animals would live on the ground level and people would live upstairs. Perhaps Joseph and Mary camped during their journey. They may have traveled with others in a group for safety from lions, bears, or bandits. This was not an uncommon journey. In fact, later in Luke chapter two we are told


          Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

          But let’s return to our text.

          While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  (Luke 2:6-7)

          She gave birth to her firstborn. There would be other children.

          There was no guest room available for them. Most ancient Jewish homes had a common area on the main level, including a manger where animals ate and slept at night, and an upper room where everyone slept. The upstairs was full. It’s possible there was a separate barn, but this would often be attached to the house directly. They were unable to find private quarters for the birth since no guest room was available in a home. Tradition says Jesus was actually born not in a barn, but rather in a cave nearby.

          Here’s a photo of the traditional place in Bethlehem where Jesus may have been born. Heather took this last month when she was in Israel. It hardly looks like our nativity set!

          We assume there was an innkeeper…more accurately a homeowner—likely a relative— who had no room in his guest room for Joseph and Mary. At least they found shelter in a cave.

          Sometimes the innkeeper gets a bad rap, but imagine you have a packed house and a friend calls last-minute and asks to crash on your couch. What do you do? If there’s no room, maybe you tell them they can set up your camping tent in the backyard!

          Then again, if you knew how significant these travelers were, you would’ve done anything for them! Hindsight is 20/20, right?

          If I had known the iPhone would change the world, I would’ve bought Apple stocks when everyone was saying they were headed toward bankruptcy.

          If I had known he was really that drunk I would have taken his keys.

          If I had known those jalapenos were that hot, I wouldn’t have ordered that burrito!

          If I had known she was carrying the Christ child, I would have given them my own bed.

          Instead, Joseph and Mary slept on the ground floor with the animals, under the sleeping quarters of their relatives, under the upper room. The Greek word here (
          kataluma) is the same as the place where Jesus celebrated Passover and had his Last Supper with his disciples before he was crucified.

          So why do we think there was a stable, a barn, or even a cave? The only hint of such a thing is that Jesus was born in a
          manger, a food trough for animals. We often depict mangers as wooden beds with hay, but ancient mangers were probably made with something like concrete. In my research, I discovered,

          “Guest rooms were typically in the front of houses and the animal shelters were in the back of the house or the lower level (in a cave). In the family shelter, the family animals were fed and protected at night from the cold, thieves, and predators. So Joseph and Mary were lodged on the lower level or in the back of the house—the animal shelter. Most likely, the animals were removed while the couple lodged there. (There is no mention of animals in Luke’s or Matthew’s account. St. Francis is credited with building the first manger scene complete with live animals.)”

          So What?

          Advent is about making room for Jesus.

          Did Joseph’s relative make room in his house for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. No. Space was made below in the area animals would typically spend the night. They received the leftovers rather than the finest hospitality.

          What about you? Are you making room for Jesus?
          Some people ignore God 167 hours a week and think an hour on Sunday will be sufficient.

          Some people spend all of their money—and then some—on stuff for themselves and feel good if they drop a ten or twenty in the offering plate.

          Some people like the parts of the Bible which talk about blessings and rewards but make no room for the challenging teachings of surrender and sacrifice.

          Some people are fans of Jesus, but they’re not truly followers.

          Let me get very practical. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We often call church buildings “houses of God,” but really we are the houses, the places where God dwells. Have you allowed God into all of your house?

          What about the study or library of your house? That’s where you think. Do your thoughts bring glory to God?

          The living room is where we hang out with friends. Is there room in your relationships for God, or do you keep Him out of your friendships?

          The dining room is where we feed our desires. Is there room for God in the things you consume?

          The bedroom is where intimacy is experienced. Have you surrendered your sexuality to God or is he locked out?

          The rec room is where we watch movies, listen to music, read books, and play games. Have you made room for God in your hobbies and entertainment?

          The attic is where we hide things, things we don’t want others to see, things we hoard and can’t get rid of like bitterness and envy. God would love for you to let Him there.

          The workroom is where…we work! God wants you to make room for Him on your commute, in the cubicle, at school, at the job site.

          Conclusion

          I’m glad you made room for Jesus this morning. I really am. There are many things you could be doing now besides listening to God’s Word. The innkeeper—if there was such a person—Joseph’s relative made a little room for Jesus’ family, but it certainly wasn’t his best. They got the scraps, the leftovers.

          God’s glad you gave Him this hour, but He wants all of you. It’s only fair. He gave His very best for us—His only Son, Jesus. Jesus made room in his life for us. He stepped away from heaven and came down to live with us, to be God with us, Emmanuel.

          You always make room…especially when it comes to God. Where do you need to make room? Where do you need to surrender?

          I Surrender All

          • Credits
          Some ideas from SkitGuys.com.

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

          Elizabeth, 4 December 2016

          Elizabeth
          Series: First Christmas
          Luke 1:46-55

          Series Big Idea:
          Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

          Big Idea: God is making life out of the barren places.

          Introduction

          God is making life out of the barren places.

          It happened to Isaac’s parents, Abram and Sarai.
          It happened to Samson’s parents, Manoah and his wife.
          It happened to Samuel’s parents, Elkanah and Hannah.
          It happened to John the Baptist’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

          It is still happening today.


          My name is Kirk and during this season of Advent—this season of waiting—we are looking at the First Christmas through the eyes of various characters in the story. Last week we examined the wise men who traveled likely hundreds of miles to meet the Messiah, possibly years after his birth.

          Today’s character is Elizabeth. If you open your Bibles to Luke chapter one you’ll discover the story of Elizabeth. She may be one of the most underrated figures in the Bible. She not only was the mother of John the Baptist, she was old and barren.

          Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:6-7)

          They weren’t just old…both Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old!

          Very old people are usually called grandparents or great grandparents, not mom and dad! How could this be?

          God is making life out of the barren places.

          God, did you see the news this week? The tragedy at Ohio State?
          God is making life out of the barren places.

          God, how are we going to pay off the Visa bill after Christmas?
          God is making life out of the barren places.

          God, my marriage is a disaster and I feel trapped in misery.
          God is making life out of the barren places.

          God, I don’t know what to do about these out-of-control children.
          God is making life out of the barren places.

          God, I really want a baby but the doctor says it’ll never happen.
          God is making life out of the barren places.

          Barren

          What do you think of when you hear the word barren? A desert, right?

          Fortunately, we no longer use it to describe women unable to have children. But Elizabeth heard it. She heard it for years. It was likely her label. Barren. “That woman over there…she’s barren. I wonder what she did to make God curse her. What secret sin did she commit?”

          In the culture, the more children, the more worth you had, the more God loved you. But Elizabeth was barren…for decades. Imagine the shame. Imagine the stares. The whispers. But notice Elizabeth is not an evil woman.

          Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:6-7)

          There’s a great story in the Bible that occurs in a barren desert. Actually, the people of Israel spent forty years in the wilderness, a region which contained deserts. On at least two occasions the people complained about having no water to drink.

          Now I think that’s a valid concern, don’t you? “Moses, we’re starving in the desert. We’re going to die out here!” At least twice God provides water for the people. It doesn’t rain. It doesn’t come from a well. No food trucks arrive on the scene with water bottles. In the book of Numbers, it says

          So Moses took the staff from the LORD’S presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. (Numbers 20:9-11)

          The original Hebrew word for “gushed” is “rabbim.” It means great and abundant. God didn’t just provide a little bit of water. He gave an abundance.

          One of my favorite verses in the Bible quotes Jesus as saying

          The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

          Jesus came to give abundant, full life. Greater life. Extraordinary life. More.

          Can you think of a time when God provided in abundance?

          For Heather and I, First Alliance Church has been an example of God providing for us abundantly. We could never have imagined a year and a half ago we would be serving alongside so many incredible men, women and children in Glass City. My prayers have been filled with gratitude for His abundant provisions.

          But back to Elizabeth and Zechariah!

          Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. (Luke 1:8-10)

          Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:11-17)

          Zechariah and Elizabeth knew all about Abram and Sarai and their miracle baby, Isaac, born to a 90 year-old mom and a dad who was one hundred years old. So obviously, they were filled with faith and excitement about finally becoming parents, right? No!

          Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

          The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

          That’s one way to keep a priest from preaching long sermons!

          When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:23-25)

          Better late than never, right? Elizabeth’s going to have a baby…but not just any baby. Jesus said of this child

          Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11a)

          Abundance.

          God is making life out of the barren places.

          You might wonder what Elizabeth and John the Baptist have to do with Advent and Jesus.

          In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:26-28)

          Sound familiar? Mary is excited and can’t wait, right?

          Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:29-33)

          “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

          Is this a good question? Absolutely! It’s an honest question. Although the word “but” is not here in the English translation, that’s Mary’s response. “But how can a virgin have a baby?”

          God is making life out of the barren places.

          The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:35-37)

          Here we have two miracle moms. Two miracle babies. Two examples of God making life out of the barren places. Mary appropriately says

          “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)

          Then Mary goes to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home, John the Baptists leaps in the womb when he hears Mary’s voice, and Elizabeth celebrates Mary’s news, leading Mary to say (or sing?)

          And Mary said: 

          “My soul glorifies the Lord
          and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
          for he has been mindful 
          of the humble state of his servant.
          From now on all generations will call me blessed,
          for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
          holy is his name.
          His mercy extends to those who fear him,
          from generation to generation.
          He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
          he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
          He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
          but has lifted up the humble.
          He has filled the hungry with good things
          but has sent the rich away empty. 
          He has helped his servant Israel,
          remembering to be merciful
          to Abraham and his descendants forever,
          just as he promised our ancestors.” (
          Luke 1:46-55)

          So What?

          God is making life out of the barren places.

          I’m not saying every woman unable to conceive will have a baby in nine months.

          I’m not promising your student loans will be miraculously forgiven next week.

          I can’t even say your troubled marriage is guaranteed to thrive in the new year or that this will be the best Christmas ever.

          But I can say God is making life out of barren places. But it might take time.

          Waiting
          How well do you wait? Waiting is hard in an on-demand world. The microwave can’t cook quickly enough. The fast food order can’t arrive fast enough. The crazy red light can’t turn green soon enough. If my package takes more than two days to arrive at my doorstep…!!!

          Imagine waiting your entire life for something. We do, right? That driver’s license? High school diploma? Spouse? House? Kids?

          Kids. Elizabeth and Zechariah waited decades.

          Could it be that the very things we desire today
          will become reality tomorrow…just not today?

          I’ve prayed for many sick people and seen them healed, but not always instantly.

          I’ve prayed for many broken relationships and seen them healed, but rarely instantly.

          I’ve watch friends overcome addiction and abuse and tragedy, but it took time and work.

          “Here’s the formula for waiting: buckle up, don’t grow weary, do good, don’t give up.”

            God IS making life in the barren places. All the time.

            Communion
            There’s one empty, barren place I love. Nobody is certain exactly where it is, but it’s in the Middle East, in Israel. It’s a barren tomb. It once contained a dead body. A body that was placed in the tomb after a brutal death, a death we remember today.

            We celebrate the empty, barren tomb because Jesus is alive! He is risen! He will hear us in three weeks when we sing, “Happy birthday” to him! He is with us know through the Holy Spirit. Best of all, he’s coming back to earth soon. When he does, he will permanently make life out of the barren places of our lives. And until then, we declare Jesus Christ is LORD, Messiah, and King.


            Credits

            Some ideas from SkitGuys.com.

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

            Wise Men, 27 November 2016

            Wise Man
            Series: First Christmas
            Matthew 2:1-12

            Series Big Idea:
            Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

            Big Idea: The wise men waited, listened, and journeyed to follow Jesus, setting an example for us to follow.

            Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-2; 9-12

            Introduction

            For years, people have been warning us, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” Is it me or has it taken people a decade or so to finally realize that applies to Facebook? There are so many bogus new reports, urban legends, and flat out lies about people proliferating.

            Perhaps one reason so many people believe lies is they don’t take time to listen.

            (silence) Do you hear what I hear?

            As the Peanuts song declares, “Christmastime is here.” It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the most stressful time of the year. For many it’s the most depressing time of the year. For merchants it’s the most profitable time of the year. And for many Christians it’s the most offensive time of the year as their religious holiday is hijacked by Santa and sales at the mall.

            But let’s set all of that aside. Christmas is our celebration of Christ’s birth, but it’s more than a day. It truly is a season. It’s a season we call Advent.

            Advent is a time of waiting. It’s a time of anticipation. It’s a time of preparation, watching, and listening. Advent is here. Each week we will look at the First Christmas through the eyes of a different character in the story. Today that is the wise man.

            Hide and seek.

            Did you ever play hide and seek when you were a kid? Of course! The best players played hide and go listen. Listen for the sounds of the hiders under the bed, in the closet, or behind the curtain. Listen for the giggles and whispers.

            Listening is a lost art. Unless you’re a psychologist paid to listen, most of us struggle with keeping quiet, being fully present, and hearing what another is communicating.

            Our understanding of the First Christmas has been terribly distorted over the years. Like Facebook myths, there are myths surrounding the wise man (not “the wise guy!”):

            - There were three of them. The Bible never says how many. It says there were three gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Eastern tradition says there were twelve!

            - The camels. They’re in my nativity set. Are they in yours? They may have been present at the First Christmas, but they’re not mentioned in the Bible, either.

            - They had names. Well, of course they did have names, but we don’t know their names. Tradition says they were named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, but the Bible does not tell us their names.

            - They were kings. Do you remember that song “We three kings of Orient are/bearing gifts we traverse afar/field and fountain/moor and mountain/following yonder star…oh, star of wonder, star of might/star with royal beauty might/westward leading/still proceeding/guide us to thy perfect light.” It’s a great song, written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., but he took some liberties in calling the wise men kings, or telling us there were exactly three. Magi were not kings, but rather religious advisers.

            Listen…to what the Bible says about the wise men, also known as Magi:

            After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

            We could do an entire message on the star. Who would travel after seeing a star in the sky? One must remember the skies were brighter and clearer. There were no skyscrapers, car headlights, or even streetlights. When the sun went down, the only lights were candles. Star gazing was a big deal, and it was believed the heavens and the earth were intricately connected. Halley’s Comet appeared in 12-11 BC, but that was a little early for the First Christmas. It may have been the planets Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction with each other. N.T. Wright notes

            Since Jupiter was the ‘royal’ or kingly planet, and Saturn was sometimes thought to represent the Jews, the conclusion was obvious: a new king of the Jews was about to be born.

            We’re not really sure about the star. It may have been a natural phenomenon, a comet, planets, a supernatural astral light, or even an angel. We do know astronomers and astrologers often went together in the ancient world. These men made a journey to Jerusalem.
            This word “Magi” can refer not only to wise men but also magicians, astrologers, or experts in interpreting dreams. Today we would probably call them “spiritual” men.

            And who did they ask in Jerusalem? The mayor? The chief of police? The director of the Chamber of Commerce?

            Three decades later Pilate’s soldiers will call Jesus, “King of the Jews.” His crown will be made of thorns. His throne will be a cross. A bright star will be replaced by midday darkness. But that’s a story for another time.

            When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: (
            Matthew 2:3-5)

            “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
            are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
            for out of you will come a ruler 
            who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (
            Matthew 2:6)

            Herod was listening. He had heard the prophecies of a king, a king of the Jews. Of course Herod was disturbed. He was the king of the Jews. He ruled over Jews and Gentiles. He wasn’t ready to have his kingdom divided. The Messiah came not only for the Jews, but also the Gentiles. The rule and reign of King Jesus will ultimately extend to every nation, tribe, and tongue.

            Jerusalem is disturbed, too. This may mean the actual residents of the city or the Jewish leadership aligned with Herod. The religious people may have been threatened by Jesus from the very beginning, the one they will crucify many years later.

            Note the prophet Micah gave this prophecy seven centuries earlier.

            Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

            Obviously Herod was not serious. What king goes to worship a child? What king worships another king? He wanted to snuff out the competition! He feared no attack from the west because that was the heart of the Roman Empire. He was more afraid of attacks from the east. It should be noted as he became older, Herod became increasingly paranoid as his ten wives had many children who competed for his throne.

            Is Jesus a baby? We’re not certain, but it could be up to two years after his birth. We do know after he was born and presented in the temple, he was raised in Bethlehem, a city six miles south/southwest of Jerusalem.

            (Heather was there earlier this month, yet another reminder that our faith is not based upon fantasy or dreams, but rather upon historical events, real people, and real places).


            After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (
            Matthew 2:9-12)

            The Magi followed a moving star! Maybe it
            was an angel guiding them? A supernatural message delivered a life-saving message to them in a dream.

            These gifts were standard items to honor a king or god in the ancient world. In fact, it is recorded that these three were offered to the god Apollo in 243 BC by King Seleucus II Callinicus. They were also very prophetic. Gold is, of course, a precious metal. It represents the kingship of the Messiah. Frankincense is a perfume or incense, a symbol of Christ’s priestly role (also possibly used as an arthritis remedy). Myrrh is anointing oil often used to embalm the dead, a prophetic image of the crucifixion.

            No names.
            No camels.
            No kings.
            No stable.

            But they had been listening.
            They had been watching.
            They had been waiting.

            So What?

            I want to challenge you to pay close attention throughout this series to what is said—and not said—in the text.

            The Magi traveled with gifts to honor Jesus. Although they may have been wealthy, their journey was surely a sacrifice. Although they may or may not have ridden on camels, they certainly didn’t take Delta Airlines, Amtrak, or even the interstate. Their route may have been nine hundred miles, taking several months!

            What about you? Today we must be listening—and reading the Word of God. We must be watching—for signs, for his activity in our world. We must be waiting.

            The Jewish people waited thousands of years for the Messiah. The prophecies of his first arrival to our planet were well known, even among Gentiles. Can you imagine waiting thousands of years for Jesus? Yes we can! The Messiah is coming…again! Soon.

            Are you ready? Are you willing to come to Jesus? He traveled a great distance to come to us. Are you willing to offer your best gifts to him? He gave everything to us, even his very life.

            The Magi came to worship Jesus.
            We have come today to worship Jesus—with singing, the study of God’s Word, and the giving of our tithes and offerings.

            Wise men—and women—still listen…they still look…they still seek the Messiah as they await his return.

            Prayer

            “God of Light and Love we know You are speaking. Help us to have ears that hear. Help us listen for your Voice. Help us listen to each other. Help us to hear the pain in the words that aren’t spoken. Help us be Your listening ear so that we may lead others to You. Amen.”

            Credits

            Some ideas from SkitGuys.com, The NIV Application Commentary, and Matthew for Everyone by N.T. Wright.

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

            Attitude of Gratitude, 20 November 2016

            Attitude of Gratitude
            Colossians 3:15-17

            Big Idea

            Thanksgiving should be celebrated every day of the year, cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

            Introduction

            What is your favorite holiday?

            Growing up as a kid Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It may still be my favorite holiday. My friend, Scott, describes Thanksgiving this way:

            Thanksgiving is all about friends, family and friendship.
            It's about putting aside our difference and reconciling our hearts to one another and God.
            It's about remembering and praising God for the blessings in our lives.
            It's about focusing on the most important things in life.
            It's about turkey, cheesy potatoes, and apple pie.
            It's about inviting and accepting people as they are. No obligations to buy gifts for people simply because it's required. Your presence is the present (See what I did there?)
            It hasn't been hijacked by American consumerism.
            And last, but not least...Football!
            These and many other reasons are why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

            My name is Kirk and today we’re going to talk about the heart behind this Thursday’s holiday…and why it should be celebrated every day.

            Thanksgiving. A day to eat, watch football, be with “framily”…and give thanks. But thanksgiving is more than an annual event. It should be a daily practice. I love the words of our passage today.

            Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

            This is not a suggestion. It’s a command.

            But let’s back up a moment. Twice Paul uses the word “peace” in the first sentence. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Our world struggles with peace. It has always struggled with peace. We have an enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy. Where’s the peace in that? It should come as no surprise the contrast between the world and Jesus. One of the most famous Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus states

            For to us a child is born,
            to us a son is given,
            and the government will be on his shoulders.
            And he will be called 
            Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
            Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (
            Isaiah 9:6)

            Jesus is the Prince of “shalom,” a word which means not only peace but also welfare and completeness. Honestly, the English word “peace” hardly does it justice. Jesus is the Prince of that which is whole, complete, and peaceful.

            Jesus is what our world needs.
            Jesus is what our nation needs.
            Jesus is what Toledo needs.

            Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

            Paul says we are called to peace. We are called to be ambassadors of shalom. And we are to be thankful.

            I discovered the Greek word for thankful is “eucharistos.” It means grateful, pleasing, mindful of benefits, thankful. Perhaps you’ve heard the word “Eucharist.” We often call Eucharist “communion,” a time when Jesus gave thanks while breaking bread at Passover during the Last Supper.

            You didn’t know you would get a Hebrew and Greek lesson today! Aren’t you thankful?!

            The Scientific Benefits of Gratitude

            I know, it’s almost cliché’ to say “be thankful” four days before Thanksgiving, but there’s a reason the Bible tells us to be thankful. In fact, science has confirmed the benefits.

            Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

            One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

            (http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude)

            The Bible was so far ahead of its time! I mean that sincerely. It seems like every week I read another report which supports the ancient wisdom of our faith and teachings.

            Gratitude is an Attitude

            You can’t always change your circumstances, but we all choose our attitudes. We’ve all heard about the glass behind half full or half empty. What do you see?

            No matter who you are, you can choose to be thankful. Gratitude is an attitude.

            Right now, think of three things for which you are grateful. Tell someone.

            The author of Colossians, Paul, also wrote a letter to a church in the city of Philippi. In it, he said,

            Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (
            Philippians 4:8)

            Focus on the positive. This doesn’t mean ignore reality. It doesn’t mean if you think happy thoughts, everything will be rainbows and lollipops. It does mean cultivating an attitude of gratitude will change you. It will change your perspective. It will enhance your prayer life. It will make you a more attractive person. It will improve your health.

            This isn’t self-help psychotherapy. It’s biblical truth! Be thankful.

            Paul continues in Colossians…

            Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16)

            There’s that word “gratitude.” We could do an entire sermon on this one verse! It says to sing to God with gratitude. We have done that today.

            Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

            By the way, that’s scripture! It’s an exact quote from 1 Chronicles 16:34…and Psalm 106:1…and Psalm 107:1…and Psalm 118:1 and 29…and Psalm 136:1!

            The passage concludes…

            And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

            We are to give thanks to God the Father…whatever we do!

            This doesn’t mean we are necessarily thankful
            for everything, but rather thankful in our circumstances. No matter where you are on your life journey,

            God is in control.
            God is faithful.
            God is good.

            I know, it doesn’t always feel like it, but I promise you it’s true.

            We are blessed with freedom in this nation.
            We are blessed with prosperity most of this world can only imagine.
            We are blessed with health to be here this morning.
            We are blessed with education to be able to read.

            The greatest blessing of all is Jesus. He came. He lived. He died. He rose again. He’s coming back. Hallelujah!


            Let’s review…

            Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

            Give thanks…every day. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. How? Here are some practical ideas:

              A Adoration
              C Confession
              T Thanksgiving
              S Supplication (requests)

              Let me challenge you to never ask God for something before you’ve given thanks for something. Many of you give thanks before you eat a meal—which is great—but any time you talk with God (and you can be as honest and real as you want, including doubts and anger and questions), begin with praise, confession, and thanks. Thank Him for listening, for the weather, for life, for clothes, for whatever you desire.

              Don’t you appreciate it when someone is thankful for a gift, a favor, a kind word, or just for being you? God does, too. He deserves our worship for who He is and our thanks for what He does.

              Finally,

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

              Did you catch that? Present your requests to God…with thanksgiving. If we could all apply this one verse daily in our lives, we would experience so much more peace and joy. I must admit though I love this verse, I struggle to avoid anxiety. I worry about money. I worry about the health of my family. And then I sometimes remember to tell God about my concerns!

              Conclusion

              Thanksgiving should be more than an annual holiday. It should be a way of life. No matter who you are or where you find yourself, you have much for which to be thankful.

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

              King Jesus, 13 November 2016

              King Jesus
              Romans 13:1-7

              Note: these are the original sermon notes. The actual sermon is quite different and available here.

              Big Idea

              We have elected a new president…but King Jesus is Lord!

              Introduction

              Good morning, church! My name is Kirk and I want to personally welcome you to First Alliance Church—not the building, but the family, the community of people in this room and beyond. We are a part of a larger family, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. One of the things I love about The Alliance is its diversity. Approximately ten percent of Alliance members live in the United States. About ninety percent of our family is scattered all over the globe.

              Speaking of the globe, our world was taken by surprise this past week. For a variety of reasons—largely due to the decreasing use of landline telephones for pollsters—most, if not all, of us woke up to surprising news on Wednesday morning. Some of you were concerned or even scared at the election results. Others were relieved or even celebrating.

              “For some people the savior has come, for others the sky is falling, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle.” So said someone after election day…in 2008.

              Regardless of your political persuasion, I have some encouraging news for you. No more campaign ads for four years! Actually, there is reason for great hope…and it has nothing to do with Washington or Columbus. God is on the move!

              Jesus Is LORD

              In Jesus’ day, religion was extremely popular. The Jews practiced their faith amongst the polytheistic Roman and Greek gods. Temples to these gods were common. Governmental leaders were even thrown in the mix, some treated as deity and others demanding such attention. It may sound odd to our ears, but a popular declaration was “Caesar is Lord.” To refuse to honor these gods was akin to sabotage. Some early Christians were blamed for famine, plagues, and earthquakes because they refused to worship the various gods.

              At age eighty-six, Polycarp, the second-century bishop of Smyrna and disciple of the apostle John, was brought to the Roman authorities and ordered to confess that Caesar is lord. By refusing, he was murdered, inspiring others to remain faithful.

              Just as “King of the Jews” was viewed by some as threatening to the establishment, so also “Jesus is Lord” was considered by many to be a revolutionary declaration. In fact, “Jesus is Lord” is the shortest credal affirmation found in the New Testament, a statement of faith for those regarding Jesus as fully God and fully man. Today it is the motto of the World Council of Churches.

              How did you feel on Wednesday morning when you heard the election results?

              If you felt anxiety or fear, King Jesus is Lord.
              If you felt joy and relief, King Jesus is Lord.

              The role of church and state has been debated for centuries. How are followers of Jesus supposed to relate to human leaders? Written in the midst of the Roman Empire, the book of Romans says…

              Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)

              Let’s take a moment and unpack this.

              Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

              Twice in one verse it says God has established governing authorities. He has established rule and order. He established positions of power such as kings, presidents, and judges. It was never His plan for humans to narcissistically run around and pursue their own agendas in anarchy. Everything God does is carefully designed. He is the Author of systems, whether it is the solar system or your digestive system. Even the most outspoken atheists admit the universe has an order to it, making life on this planet incredibly unique.

              Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. (Romans 13:2-3)

              Obey the law. Although there are exceptions—especially among our African-American brothers and sisters, tragically—you usually only need to fear authority if you do what is wrong. If you’re going the speed limit on I-75, you need not slam on the brakes if you see a police car hidden behind a bridge.

              By the way, if you routinely speed, you might want to take the fish off of your rear bumper! Christians are supposed to obey the law. Is speeding a sin? Yes. Is cheating on your taxes a sin? Yes. Obey the law and you won’t find yourself in jail.

              For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:4-5)

              There’s a lot in these two verses. First, the authorities are God’s servants—for our good. I know, I don’t like to drive under 70 on the expressway, either, but our authority thinks it’s for our good! And have you ever thought about our mayor, governor, or president as being God’s servants? That’s what it says!

              Throughout the Bible, leaders are responsible for their followers. This is true in the home, in the church, and in society. We all will stand before God someday and give an account of how we lived our lives, but leaders must also answer for the way they influenced others. So when you believe an authority figure is misguided, remember they will be judged for their behavior.

              This is not, of course, to say we should never break the law when doing so breaks God’s law. No single sermon could adequately address the nuances of such a response. Clearly Daniel was honored for praying to God against the decree of King Darius. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the image of gold established by King Nebuchadnezzar and are commended.

              Personally, I’ve been deeply impacted by movies such as
              Selma and The Butler which depict the non-violent civil disobedience of African Americans in their quest for equality and civil rights. It sickens me that such oppressive laws—to say nothing of slavery itself and our violence against Native Americans—ever existed in this land.

              Yet today it’s against the law to talk about Jesus in the streets—and even homes—of Russia. You can be arrested for possessing a Bible in North Korea. You can go to jail in many countries for praying in the name of Jesus. And while persecution of Christians may be on the rise in the west, very few of the 70 million plus martyrs have been in the United States.

              We must pray for our brothers and sisters in other nations.
              We must pray for our brothers and sisters in this nation, too.

              This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:6-7)

              I admit, that first sentence is difficult for me to swallow! We pay taxes because God’s servants give their full time to campaigning—I mean, governing! For all of the complaining we can do—and I do!—I’m grateful for men and women who protect us (police and firefighters, stand up). I appreciate our mayor and city council who must balance the budget and make policies to guard against hunger and violence. I’m glad roads are paved, our food and water are safe, and we have freedoms of speech and religion, among other things.

              When asked about paying the imperial tax to Caesar, Jesus said

              “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21b)

              Despite threats to move to Canada every four years, this is still a great place to live. Would anyone like to move to Iraq or Sudan?

              The Kingdom of God

              While the scriptures tell us to pay taxes and submit to authorities, our ultimate allegiance is not to a nation or to a flag, but to a King.

              In Greg
              Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation, Boyd contrasts Caesar's kingdom with Jesus' Kingdom, the Kingdom of God/heaven. Caesar's kingdom is based on the 'power over' model, which uses force, coercion, and social pressure to ensure conformity. Jesus' Kingdom by contrast uses 'power under', which is based on the example of love and sacrifice.

              Jesus says "
              Whosoever will, let them come..." He does not demand, overpower, threaten, coerce, or manipulate. He doesn’t use guilt or shame. He doesn’t hate, scream, or disrespect. He simply displays and invites us to follow him.

              It’s important to realize, too, the Kingdom of God is not about individuals. It’s about community. We are a family. Peter said,

              But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

              He continues

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

              Our lives are to glorify God.

              Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

              Respect everyone.
              Love one another.
              Fear and reverence God.
              Honor the emperor. The mayor. The governor. Yes, the president.

              Good News

              Brothers and sisters, when George Washington became our first president, King Jesus was Lord.

              When Abraham Lincoln led our nation, King Jesus was Lord.

              When JFK was elected, King Jesus was Lord.

              When Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were inaugurated, King Jesus was Lord.

              And when Donald Trump becomes president next year, King Jesus will still be Lord.

              Hope in Jesus

              The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From his throne he observes all who live on the earth. He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do. The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory— for all its strength, it cannot save you. But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone. (Psalms 33:13-22, NLT)

              I’m glad I have a USA passport,

              But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

              Paul wrote to Timothy…

              I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

              Prayer for city, state, and nation.

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

              Judgment and Rewards, 23 October 2016

              Judgment and Rewards
              What Happens to You When You Die?
              Revelation 22:12-16

              Series Overview

              Heaven is for real and the Bible says more about it than we might recognize.

              Big Idea

              One day we will all stand before a holy God and give an account for our lives. Are you ready?

              Introduction

              For the past several weeks we’ve been studying heaven. Heaven is where God is, plain and simple. There is no sickness, death, or sin in heaven. It is truly paradise, Eden before the Fall, and so much more. Heaven is for real.

              Unfortunately for many, hell is for real, too. The Bible is full of references to it, and Jesus himself had much to say on the subject. Hell is where God is absent.

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

              The purpose of this series could be summed in two verses from the book of Colossians:

              Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2)

              God commands us to set our hearts—and minds—on Heaven.”

              This does not mean we should be so heavenly minded we become no earthly good. In fact,
              C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

              The scriptures make it clear that heaven is for real and hell is for real. Heaven is where God is present. Hell is where God is absent.

              Your name. It’s important. It allows you to talk with the customer service agent on the phone (so long as you also know those special digits, the last four of your Social Security number!). Perhaps you heard your name when the teacher distributed the graded papers. Your name is used when you sign a contract for a house or purchase a car. Your name identifies you on Facebook, unique from the billion or so other users. Your name—at least your last name—connects you to parents and children of different generations. It has been said the most important words to your ear are your name.

              Often names are placed on lists. For years my wife has posted cast lists after theatrical auditions, causing great excitement among students eager for a part in the school musical. In seventh grade I was heartbroken to see my name absent from the basketball team roster only to have the experience repeated in eighth grade following tryouts.

              In one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, Luke 10, Jesus sends out seventy-two people to health the sick and announce the kingdom of God is near. When they return to him, they are told

              I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19-20)

              This passage in Luke is one of many which describes a list of names, a book of names…the book of life. Is your name in it? Speaking of heaven…

              Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

              Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

              Follow Jesus now…and forever in heaven.
              Reject Jesus now…and he will honor your choice for eternity.

              As C.S. Lewis famously said,
              “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

              Judgment Day

              One day we will all stand before Almighty God and have to give an account of our lives. If you’ve ever wanted to see someone get justice, that will be the day. Jesus said,

              “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 22:12-13)

              “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 22:14-15)

              “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16)

              One day, God will judge you and me—according to what we have done. He will declare us guilty of sin. Someone has to pay. It will be us…unless we’ve received the gift of Jesus who died on the cross for us. Jesus died to save us from eternal damnation, separation from God. The image of baptism is so appropriate—a water grave where we die to ourselves, our agenda, our way and become new creations, resurrected in Jesus.

              Heaven

              The final three chapters in the Bible, Revelation 20-22 contain so many beautiful images of heaven—and dreadful images of hell. It is said of 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.” (Revelation 21:4)

              I don’t know about you, but if we could spend eternity here on earth without death, mourning, crying, or pain that would be amazing! But there’s so much more.

              He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)

              He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:6-7)


              The greatest thing about heaven is God! Eternity with God.

              The passage continues by presenting the horrifying alternative, eternity without God.


              But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

              I know it’s not politically correct to say this, but everything I understand about the Bible states our destiny as heaven or hell.

              I desperately want all of you to spend eternity with Jesus in paradise, but it begins now. It begins with surrendering your heart, soul, mind and strength to him in this life.

              Jesus didn’t die to make bad people good.
              Jesus died to make dead people come to life.

              He wants to be with you now…and forever. If you haven’t done so I urge you to simply confess your sins to God, turn from selfish living, and make Jesus the LORD of your life. There’s nothing greater you can ever do in this life…and the rewards are eternal.

              Jonathan Edwards said when saints enter Heaven, “They shall see in God everything that gratifies love…They shall see in him all that love desires. Love desires the love of the beloved. So the saints in glory shall see God’s transcendent love to them; God will make ineffable manifestations of his love to them… They shall see as much love in God towards them as they desire; they neither will nor can crave any more.”

              Heaven will be amazing, but the greatest reward of all is Jesus!

              Credits

              Some ideas from
              The Heaven Promise by Scot McKnight and Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

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

              Hell is for Real, 16 October 2016

              What About Hell?
              What Happens to You When You Die?
              Mark 9:43-48

              Series Overview

              Heaven is for real and the Bible says more about it than we might recognize.

              Big Idea

              Hell is for real…and to be avoided at all costs!

              Introduction

              Three guys discussed what they wanted said at their funeral.

              I was a brilliant doctor who saved many lives.
              I was a devoted family man
              Really? I want people to say, “Look, he’s moving!”

              The Bible is full of references to hell, and Jesus himself had much to say on the subject, much more than we have time to cover today. You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. The death rate is 100%! 3 people die every second. The psalmist wrote

              “Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. (Psalm 39:4-5)

              If you forget about streets of gold, burning flames, harps on a cloud, or torment, understand these two simple truths:

              Heaven is where God is present.
              Hell is where God is absent.

              What’s remarkable is we get to determine our destination.

              We can follow Jesus in this life and the next…or
              We can reject Jesus in this life and the next. God honors our choice. We have been given free will.

              If you’re looking for me to guilt you into a praying a prayer, shaming and disgracing you for being imperfect, or a lecture on brimstone, you’ll be disappointed. Actually, what is brimstone? (It’s an alternative name for sulfur).

              This is not exactly a fun topic. In fact, although I’ve spoken about hell many times, I’m not sure I’ve ever devoted an entire message to the subject. But I believe hell is for real. Maybe I’m in the minority. One recent study concluded 120 believe they are going to heaven for every person who believes they are going to hell.

              Let’s go back…way back…before the beginning! God created angels. One particular angel, Light-bearer or “morning star,” was more beautiful and talented than the others. He was musical and appointed by God to be special. But God gave the angels free will and Lucifer, as he is known in Latin, became arrogant and thought he could rule better than God.

              How you have fallen from heaven,
              morning star, son of the dawn!
              You have been cast down to the earth,
              you who once laid low the nations! (Isaiah 14:12)

              (see also Ezekiel 28 and Revelation 12)

              He took one-third of the angels with him and they have been wreaking havoc on our planet through temptation and accusation ever since. They eternally chose to reject God.

              God is everywhere in heaven. God created a place for Lucifer and his angels, a place called hell. God is just. He is ultimately fair, though at times in this life we see injustice and fairness. A good God would have to make things right. How could God show the remaining 2/3 of the angels the consequences? God created again…in the beginning. He spoke into existence our incredible universe. He made a great light for us, called the sun. And then Adam and Eve sinned against God, lured into evil by satan, formerly known as Lucifer.

              We live between heaven and hell.
              Many think hell is an eternal punishment for finite sins.

              We are not temporal creatures given eternal consequences.
              We are eternal creatures given temporal chance after chance to choose God.

              Every day you and I choose to follow Jesus or the world.
              Every day you and I choose to follow Jesus or ourselves.

              Heaven is where God is present.
              Hell is where God is absent.

              Jesus on Hell

              Jesus spoke of separation from God.

              If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where

              “ ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:43-48)

              That’s quite a warning! Did you know people have done those things? People have plucked out their eyes to avoid lust, for example. I’m not sure Jesus was commanding people to mutilate their bodies, but the caution is real. There is an afterlife. There is a heaven where God is, and there is a hell where God is absent.

              I wish there were no hell. I wish there were no judgment. Yet Jesus told a sobering story in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, a biography of Jesus.

              “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33)

              This speaks of judgment day. One day we will all day and have to give an account for our lives.

              “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

              Kairos volunteers, listen up!

              “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ (Matthew 25:37-39)

              “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

              “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ (Matthew 25:41-43)

              It says the eternal fire was prepared for the devil and his angels. That makes sense. They should be destroyed for their evil, but it seems clear to me people will be there, too. It doesn’t even say people who murdered and abused children, but rather those who were too concerned about their own comfort and convenience to serve those in need. There are sins we do—commission—and sins of omission, not doing God-honoring things. Not serving others. Not loving God. Not loving our neighbor.

              “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ (Matthew 25:44)

              “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:45)

              “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)

              What Is Hell Like?

              I’ve never been to hell. Jesus has. Perhaps the most famous creed, a summary of our faith, is The Apostle’s Creed. It says Jesus descended into hell. The term “hell” roughly translates to “the realm of the dead.” There are biblical images of darkness, and even fire. Some of our understanding of hell may come more from Dante’s Inferno than the Bible, yet the Bible is filled with references to an afterlife apart from God for the wicked.

              “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29)

              Of all of Jesus’ words on heaven and hell, perhaps the most troubling are these:

              “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

              Is Hell Forever?

              The subject of hell has generated many questions through the ages.

              I don’t want to debate whether or not hell contains actual flames or not.
              I don’t want to debate whether people or destroyed or suffer for eternity.
              I don’t want to debate whether or not people get a second chance at death.

              I just want to declare hell is for real and I don’t want anyone there!

              The problem is this, friends.

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

              He’s perfect. We’re not. We all deserve separation from God. We all deserve hell.

              This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:19-21)

              The question isn’t how could a loving God send anyone to hell.
              The question is how could a perfect and holy God allow anyone in heaven.

              “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

              C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

              The Good News

              Hell is for real…but God doesn’t want anyone there.

              The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

              For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. Romans 3:23-26 (NLT)

              This is why we’re so big on Jesus here at First Alliance. We’re all about Jesus! Jesus lived a perfect life because we don’t. Jesus died so we don’t have to experience eternal death. Jesus offers everyone an opportunity to not only avoid hell, but spend eternity in heaven with him.

              And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

              I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13)

              Moments before Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished” which means “paid in full.” His death satisfied all of the requirements of our Holy God.

              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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)

              Conclusion

              Randy Alcorn wrote, “The best of life on Earth is a glimpse of Heaven; the worst of life is a glimpse of Hell. For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven.”

              Where will you spend eternity?

              Credits

              Some ideas from
              The Heaven Promise by Scot McKnight and Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

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

              Benefits of Heaven, 9 October 2016

              The Benefits of Heaven
              What Happens to You When You Die?
              Revelation 22:1-5

              Series Overview

              Heaven is for real and the Bible says more—and less—about it than we might recognize.

              Big Idea

              Heaven is for real…and you won’t want to miss a thing!

              Introduction

              In this series we’ve been looking at the end of Revelation, asking the question
              “What Happens to You When You Die?” This is a timeless question that seems to be particularly popular at the moment. Our culture is fascinated with life after death. Books like “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven Is For Real” have been best-sellers describing near-death experiences. Movies and even TV shows are frequently exploring the subject. And the world of comedy is full of references to heaven and hell. For example…

              Heaven Humor

              Two Christians have lived very good, and also very healthy lives. They die, and go to heaven.       
              As they are walking along, marveling at the paradise around them, one turns to the other and says "Wow. I never knew heaven was going to be as good as this!"
                    
              "Yeah", says the other. "And just think, if we hadn't eaten all that oat bran we could have got here ten years sooner."

              For the past two weeks we’ve been talking about heaven. To review, we began talking about how followers of Christ will one day get new bodies. The resurrection of Jesus may be the greatest window into the future. He had a physical body, but his post-resurrection physical body was new and improved—glorious—as ours will be.


              We said first and foremost Heaven is the place where God dwells. It is presently not here on earth, but one day it will move to the new earth. There seems to be an intermediate heaven where Jesus is—seated next to the Father—and a relocation of that heaven to a new earth sometime in the future.

              Who wants to go to heaven? It seems everyone wants to go to heaven…but nobody wants to die.

              Last week I shared this quote from author John Piper:

              “The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have Heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with Heaven, if Christ was not there?” – John Piper, “God Is the Gospel”

              I want to look at some of the biblical descriptions of heaven. It won’t be a bunch of people with wings playing harps on a cloud! It won’t be boring, that’s for sure! It will be the most incredible place, most of all because heaven is where Jesus lives.

              Do you love Jesus? If you do, you’ll love heaven since you’ll be with Jesus for eternity there.

              If you don’t love Jesus, you won’t have to spend eternity with him. So much of this life is a preview of the next. Our lives now certainly shape the next life. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

              Jesus said to his friends

              “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)

              The ancient Greek word for “rooms’ is “monai” which is not a final resting place but a temporary stop on a journey that will lead you somewhere else. Last week we said the present heaven is like an airport layover, a place to stay for a while but not the ultimate destination.

              The resurrected body of Jesus was physical, yet new and improved as ours will be someday.

              The new earth will be a new and improved version of our present home.

              The new Jerusalem will be a new and improved version of the city in Israel today.

              Jesus continued,

              You know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:4

              Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” John 14:5

              Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

              None of us deserves heaven. None! God is perfect and holy. Only because of Jesus can we be forgiven and reconciled with our heavenly Father. He is the way. He’s the only one who loved you enough to die for you. If you get to heaven by being good, he was stupid for letting Roman soldiers nail him to a tree!

              This past week I asked a friend, “If you died tonight and stood before God and God asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?” My friend said, “I’d say I have accepted Jesus Christ.” He realized although he’s a great guy, he’s not good enough. Neither am I.

              Most people say they deserve heaven because they’re good, their good deeds outweigh the bad. The Bible clearly states all of us have sinned and fall short of God’s perfect standard, the mark, the glory of God. You cannot get to heaven by being good, trying hard, going to church, giving to the United Way, or memorizing the Bible. There are only two ways—perfection and Jesus. So unless you’re perfect, you must know Jesus. You must follow Jesus. That’s why he came, died, and rose from the dead—for you!!! That’s grace, unmerited favor. You can’t buy it. You can’t earn it. It’s a gift you can receive or reject. The result of your choice is following Jesus forever in heaven or rejecting Jesus forever. We are all given the choice.

              We’re going to talk about hell next week. I have heard people ask, “How can a loving God send someone to hell?” The real question is why would a loving God allow sinners to enter heaven? Jesus died for every man, woman, and child…but you must receive Christ. No gift is yours until you receive it.

              Speaking of Jesus, one of his best friends wrote,

              Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)

              Have you received Jesus? It’s more than believing in your head. True faith requires action. It requires surrender and sacrifice. It’s not always safe or comfortable, but it’s the only way I’ve found to experience true peace, contentment, and joy. Many want Jesus to be Savior—forgiving them and giving them a ticket to heaven—but not LORD. LORD or Master or King is part of the package. He wants us to follow him daily. It can be hard to let go—and let God—but he can be trusted. Your life will be filled with satisfaction and hope, regardless of your present circumstances.

              But what is heaven like?
              Here’s a glimpse:

              Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)

              Incredible! Crystal-clear water, a throne, fruit trees, freedom, light, and most of all the presence of God! Scot McKnight wrote,

              Our pleasurable experience of God now is an ultrasound image compared to the living, interactive reality we will experience in Heaven. Our communing with God now, even in our best moments, is but a black-and-white, static image of the ecstatic union we will experience in Heaven. I really must pause for a reminder. Heaven is God’s promise that, on the basis of Jesus’s bodily resurrection, we will be raised to a new kind of heavenly, embodied, ecstasy-seeking life. Once we make the resurrection of Jesus central to our view of Heaven, Heaven becomes a world of intense, ecstatic, embodied entirely holy pleasure and deep joy.

              Near-Death Experiences

              Much of the current fascination with heaven and the afterlife stems from the accounts of those who have died and have come back. These are most often called Near Death Experiences. They are obviously controversial since they are impossible to confirm. In some ways, they are like dreams.

              Pastor John Burke did extensive research on about one thousand people who had near death experiences. If that sounds like a lot, one in 25 Americans (13 million people) have had a near-death experience, including at least one person here at First Alliance. The apostle Paul may have recorded one in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (look it up!). Stephen may have had one in the seventh chapter of Acts.

              I’m as skeptical as the next person about these accounts, but one I found especially interesting. Don Piper is a pastor who was dead for ninety minutes following a horrific car accident. His book,
              90 Minutes in Heaven, describes his experience.

              As I always say, our authority is not one’s experience or dream or vision but the Bible. I don’t value NDEs for what they communicate about an event, but for what they confirm about the Bible. Piper wrote, “My most vivid memory of heaven is what I heard. I can only describe it as a holy swoosh of wings. But I’d have to magnify that thousands of times to explain the effect of the sound in heaven. It was the most beautiful and pleasant sound I’ve ever heard, and it didn’t stop. It was like a song that goes on forever. I felt awestruck, wanting only to listen…The praise was unending, but the most remarkable thing to me was that hundreds of songs were being sung at the same time—all of them worshiping God. As I approached the large, magnificent gate, I heard them from every direction and realized that each voice praised God…Hymns of praise, modern-sounding choruses, and ancient chants filled my ears and brought not only a deep peace but the greatest feeling of joy I’ve ever experienced.”

              And this is just the intermediate heaven he’s describing! As a musician, I get so excited reading those words, not because of what Don Piper wrote, but because of how they mirror what is written in the book of Revelation.

              New Testament scholar Scot McKnight says it this way:

              “Near-death experiences are glimpses of an afterlife. I believe not only in an afterlife but in Heaven. I don’t believe in Heaven on the basis that people have been there and come back. I believe in Heaven because God promised Heaven and because Jesus was raised from the dead.”

              There’s an incredible scene in chapter seven where Jesus’ friend John records…

              After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

              “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

              All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

              “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelation 7:11-12)

              Conclusion

              Heaven is going to sound amazing.
              Heaven is going to look amazing.
              Heaven is going to feel amazing.
              Heaven is where God is. Do you want to go? You can!

              A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."       
              "Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart."
                    
              "That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points!"
                    
              "Three points?" he says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service."
                    
              "Terrific!" says St. Peter, "that's certainly worth a point."
                    
              "One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."
                    
              "Fantastic, that's good for two more points," he says.
                   
              "TWO POINTS!!" the man cries, "At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!"
                    
              "Come on in!"

              We can’t earn our way to heaven, but we can get their because of Jesus, because of his grace, unmerited favor. It’s the best deal ever! Follow Jesus today, and follow him forever in heaven.

              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. (John 3:16)

              Credits

              Some ideas from
              The Heaven Promise by Scot McKnight and Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

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

              Two Heavens? 2 October 2016

              Two Heavens?
              What Happens To You When You Die?
              Revelation 21:22-27

              Series Overview

              Heaven is for real and the Bible says more—and less—about it than we might recognize.

              Big Idea

              Heaven is for real…and there's more than one!

              Introduction

              After years of avoiding it, I recently finished a sermon series on the book of Revelation. Actually, we only covered the beginning of Revelation, Jesus’ letters to the seven churches. I learned a lot about the historical roots of our faith and life 2000 years ago.

              In our new series “What Happens to You When You Die?” we’re jumping to the end of the book. Last Sunday we talked about how we’ll have new bodies in the next life, bodies like that of Jesus after the resurrection. The Bible seems clear we will have physical bodies, recognize one another, be able to hug each other, and eat. We will not become ghosts, but rather live forever in new and improved bodies. I can’t wait!

              Heaven is a big deal. The Bible mentions “heaven” or “heavens’ over six hundred times! But before we dive into the Bible’s descriptions of heaven, let’s look at some creative ideas of heaven from the world of humor.

              Humor

              A pastor found himself wondering whether there were any golf courses in Heaven. He even began to ask the question in his prayers. One day, in answer to his prayers, he received a direct answer from on high.

              "Yes," said the Heavenly messenger, "There are many excellent golf courses in Heaven. The greens are always in first class condition, the weather is always perfect and you always get to play with the very nicest people."       
              "Oh, thank you," said the cleric, "That really is marvelous news."

              "Yes, isn't it?" replied the messenger, "And we've got you down for a foursome next Saturday."

              C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in.’ Aim at earth and you will get neither.” You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Heaven is where God is. If you love spending time with God now, you’ll love eternity. If you reject God now, He’ll honor your choice for eternity. Our greatest desire should not be for new bodies or a cool mansion but for God. Do you desire God?

              One of my favorite books is A.W. Tozer’s classic
              The Pursuit of God. In it he wrote,

              “Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token homage to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who or what is ABOVE, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However, the man may protest, the proof is in the choice he makes day after day throughout his life.”

              Do you desire God? I hesitate to talk about heaven because I’m afraid you might find heaven acceptable if God wasn’t there, basking in its beauty with little regard for its Creator.

              This is true for many of us today, as Tozer noted. God created this beautiful planet for us to enjoy, but some have worshipped nature rather than God, the creation rather than the Creator.

              “The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have Heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with Heaven, if Christ was not there?” – John Piper, “God Is the Gospel”

              Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2)

              As Randy Alcorn puts it, “We cannot set our eyes on Christ without setting our eyes on Heaven, and we cannot set our eyes on Heaven without setting our eyes on Christ.

              The Bible

              The Bible is our authority. I do my best to preach it, but regardless of what I say, the Bible is our final authority. The problem, of course, is it’s a large book. Actually, it’s 66 books from multiple writers in several countries over hundreds of years…yet it’s one, consistent story of God…of love. Nevertheless, mysteries remain. Sometimes our understanding is flawed.

              For example, the Jewish people read the Old Testament and expected the Messiah to come, rule, and reign over the earth. Imagine their disappointment when he entered Jerusalem not on a white horse but a donkey. They shouted, “Save us now” in hopes he would free them from the oppression of the Roman Empire. When he allowed himself to be crucified without barely saying a word in his defense they became even more convinced a mistake had been made. Surely this can’t be the prophesied One!

              What they failed to understand was Messianic prophecy involved two different visits to our planet. He came the first time as the Lamb of God to die for us on the cross. His next visit will be radically different. The Lion of Judah will rule and reign for eternity. Hallelujah!

              But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Suffice it to say sometimes we read a word in the Bible and think it has one meaning when, in fact, it might refer to different circumstances. Such may be the case with heaven.

              We all have questions about heaven, and some of them are clearly answered in the Bible. That’s our focus for this series. For a variety of reasons, I used to think heaven was a place up in the sky (which would actually be down if I lived in Australia!). I would leave this planet and go up to heaven and live forever, playing a harp on a cloud or whatever.

              That reminds me, when I was a young boy I remember lying in my bed, unable to sleep. I finally went downstairs where my mom was in the study and said, “I don’t want to go to heaven.” Needless to say, she was surprised! “I don’t want to go to hell, but heaven is forever. I can’t comprehend forever.” Mom wisely asked, “What are we doing Friday?” I replied, “Going to grandma’s.” “And what are we doing next winter?” “Going to Disney World!” I added. She concluded, “Heaven will be like that, full of exciting things we’ll enjoy forever.” I’m totally convinced you will not want to leave heaven. It will not be boring!


              Where is Heaven?

              Heaven is the special dwelling place. But it will change. It will be relocated. If this is news to you, it was news to me when I researched this topic. Two heavens? Simply, heaven is where God is now, the place where Jesus ascended to, the intermediate heaven. The Holy Spirit lives here on earth in the hearts of followers of Jesus, but they physical Jesus and God the Father are in the intermediate or first heaven.

              After the return of Christ—which he said would be soon—and the resurrection of the dead, followers of Jesus will live in the eternal heaven called the New Earth. There’s a lot of controversy about whether or not there will be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on the old Earth, but we do know there will be a New Earth.

              New Testament scholar N.T. Wright wrote, “Heaven is not a place in our space-time continuum, but a different sphere of reality that overlaps and interlocks with our sphere…One day the curtain will be pulled back.” (
              Surprised by Scripture)

              Jesus is in the first heaven, but there will be a new heaven, the final kingdom of God. We cannot see the first heaven now, but the final or new heaven will be on a renewed, new earth.

              But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)

              One question I received is, “Where is my deceased loved one who followed Jesus?” Jesus said to the believing thief on the cross,

              “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43b)

              This is not soul sleep. The man was taken to the intermediate heaven to be with Jesus. That’s where the saints of days gone by are…in the intermediate heaven.

              Perhaps one way to think of it is like an airport layover. Last year I was a part of a team that traveled to the Dominican Republic to partner with our sister churches in Santiago. We flew from Detroit to Miami. We spent several hours in Miami before boarding our flight to the island. Miami was part of our journey, but not our final destination. It was a place to wait. My understanding of the intermediate heaven is a great place when we die…but not our final home.

              Scot McKnight compares and contrasts the three phases of our existence:

              Life Now (Present): Earthly tent, in body; Away from the Lord

              First heaven (at death):
              Unclothed; With the Lord in heaven

              Final Heaven (resurrection): Eternal house, clothed, physical; With the Lord in new Heavens, new earth

              For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

              Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

              Paul wrote to the church in Philippi,

              But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

              Last Sunday we said we’ll get new bodies like Jesus’ resurrected body. But our citizenship is in heaven. We are citizens of a place we’ve never been! We are homesick for Eden.

              Heaven is where God is. Heaven is where Jesus is. Right now, that’s not here. It’s the intermediate heaven. It’s where believers go where they die…but they won’t stay there. There will be a new earth, a resurrected earth, a new and improved version of earth as we know it.

              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, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:1-3)

              Randy Alcorn notes, “God never gave up on His original plan for human beings to dwell on earth. In fact, the climax of history will be the creation of new heavens and a new earth, a resurrected universe inhabited by resurrected people living with the resurrected Jesus.” (Rev. 21:1-4)

              Imagine this:

              I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (Revelation 21:22-27, NLT)

              Are You Ready?

              Heaven will be amazing, but its most amazing feature will be the presence of God. If you passionately pursue Jesus now, you’ll enjoy him forever. If he’s just your “get out of hell free” card, you might be surprised on Judgment Day.

              “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

              Communion

              The good news—the great news—is that Jesus is LORD. He died to offer himself as a gift, as a sacrifice, as the Lamb of God to take away your sins and mine—if we will confess our sins and make Jesus our Savior and LORD. You can’t earn salvation. You’re not good enough (you have to be perfect). You can, however, surrender your life to Jesus, welcome him into your life, and pursue him and his will for your life. It’s radical. It’s not politically correct. It can get you in trouble. It might even cost you your life…but you’ll have eternity to reap the benefits of the presence of God.

              Today we celebrate communion. We remember the sacrifice Jesus made, putting action behind God’s words of love.

              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)

              He died so you might live. He lives so you might live with him forever.

              Credits

              Some ideas from
              The Heaven Promise by Scot McKnight and Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

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

              Evidence of the Afterlife, 25 September 2016

              Evidence of the Afterlife
              What Happens To You When You Die?
              Romans 8:22-25

              Series Overview

              Heaven is for real and the Bible says more—and less—about it than we might recognize.

              Big Idea

              Heaven is for real…and followers of Jesus will experience sin-free life in our new bodies.

              Introduction

              After years of avoiding it, I recently finished a sermon series on the book of Revelation. Actually, we only covered the beginning of Revelation, Jesus’ letters to the seven churches. I learned a lot about the historical roots of our faith and life 2000 years ago.

              Today we begin a new series that’s going to look at the end of Revelation. It’s entitled, “What Happens to You When You Die?” This is a timeless question that seems to be particularly popular at the moment. Our culture is fascinated with life after death. Books like “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven Is for Real” have been best-sellers describing near-death experiences. Movies are constantly exploring the subject. This past week a new prime-time television show, “The Good Place,” offered a rather interesting (not biblical) take on it.

              Someone said you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. That may sound morbid, but it’s true. Of course, a small minority of people don’t believe in an afterlife, but for thousands of years many if not most cultures have believed there’s more than this life.

              For the next several weeks we’re going to heaven—or heavens. We’ll examine the alternative, and see what the Bible—not Left Behind novels or church tradition—says about the afterlife.

              This series will hopefully answer some of your questions. It will undoubtedly raise some new questions. When we’re done, I’m quite sure you will be frustrated by my inability to provide certainty about every details concerning the future. My boyhood pastor used to say, “The Bible is silent about some things and we should be, too.” There’s simply so much we don’t know about the afterlife—but we know a lot!

              The Hope of Heaven

              Why should we discuss heaven? After all, it has been said that some Christians are so heavenly minded, they’re not earthly good! Shouldn’t we focus on the here and now instead of daydreaming about an uncertain future?

              C.S. Lewis wrote in
              Mere Christianity, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

              Heaven provides us with hope. If this world is all there is, what’s the point? Mick Jagger has had everything the world says brings happiness, yet he famously sings, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Is it any wonder the suicide rate is so high in our nation? The more we deny the existence of an afterlife, the more miserable this one becomes. But followers of Jesus have a real hope that this world is preparation for something so much more.

              Jerry Walls said, “A good God would not create us with the kind of aspirations we have and then leave those aspirations unsatisfied.”

              The reality is this world is messed up. Sure, God created it good, but satan has been at work stealing, killing, and destroying it since the third chapter of the Bible (Genesis 3).

              Think about this world, this earth, these bodies…without sin. No broken relationships, betrayal, theft, lies, or anxiety. No graffiti, poverty, injustice, hatred, or violence. No envy or jealousy. No divorce, abuse, bankruptcy, politics…or at least corrupt politics!!! That sounds like heaven to me.

              The author of the book of Romans wrote,

              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)

              Doesn’t that sound wonderful? There’s great hope in those three verses alone. Are you suffering today? We all are, in one way or another. Sometimes it seems like this world is just one storm after another, striving to celebrate those precious moments of sunshine.

              Heaven is for real…and it provides us with great hope knowing the best is yet to come. Wrongs will be made right. Justice will come for all. Peace and reconciliation will be everywhere. Love will win.

              In
              The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote that “a book on suffering which says nothing of heaven, is leaving out almost the whole of one side of the account. Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the sufferings of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain which does not do so can be called a Christian one”

              I want to encourage you through this series. This world is hard…but I promise you if you are a follower of Jesus, it will be worth it. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

              Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16b-18)

              If you’re unfamiliar with Paul’s “light momentary affliction,” here’s an excerpt:

              Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)

              Paul continues to offer glimpses of the future to the people in Corinth:

              For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

              As we get into passages from the book of Revelation, remember it was written to the early church, many or most of whom faced ISIS-like persecution for their faith, including impaling, burning, and being fed to lions in the Coliseum. Virtually all of us have it relatively easy compared to the millions of our brothers and sisters who have been martyred.

              Let’s go back to Romans (our scripture-reading text):

              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)

              I said this life would be great if we could just get rid of sin, but there’s more. There’s so much more to come. We will get new bodies. Are you ready for that? I am!

              About two months ago my jogging routine was interrupted after I messed up my right quad water skiing. For many weeks it was difficult to walk, sit, or even lie down. I finally resumed jogging on Friday…and every day that passes I long for “the redemption of my body!” I want one without an expiration date!

              The Resurrection

              Followers of Jesus, someday you will receive a new body…like Jesus.

              Throughout my life I’ve loved Easter. As a kid, I loved looking for my Easter basket and biting the heads off the chocolate bunnies. I looked forward to singing joyful songs like, “Christ the LORD is Risen Today” and celebrating the empty tomb. I rejoiced at the risen Christ who died for my sins and rose again and is alive. But I missed an important element of the resurrection—Jesus’ resurrected body.

              Everybody wants to go to heaven…but nobody wants to die!

              The truth is our present bodies will die. The death rate in our nation—and world—is 100% (there have been at least a couple of exceptions, but they were thousands of years ago). Remember, you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you?

              The Physical