Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Community

Journey Through The Wall, 24 April 2016

Journey Through The Wall
Series: Go Deeper
Genesis 22:1-14

Series Theme
“Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

The Big Idea: The third pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is journey through the wall and know it’s all about Jesus.

Introduction

This morning I’d like to take you on a journey. It’s a familiar journey for some of you. It goes like this:

We're goin' on a bear hunt,
We're going to catch a big one,
I'm not scared
What a beautiful day!
Oh look! It's some long, wavy grass!
Can't go over it,
Can't go under it,
Can't go around it,
Got to go through it!

We’re not actually hunting bears today, but we are talking about encountering a wall we cannot go over, under, or around. We must journey through the wall.

There are many types of walls but they all usually lead to one question:
Why?

Today we continue our series Go Deeper: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. We have said our lives are like an iceberg. There is more beneath the surface than we allow others to see…or sometimes even acknowledge ourselves. We’re all messed up because we live in a fallen, sin-filled world. You are messed up. I’m messed up. In fact, if you don’t think you’re messed up, you’re the most messed up!

Tragically, many people live their lives in denial…of their weaknesses, their family of origin, pain from their past, or their own emotions. God created us with both thoughts and feelings. We have both a mind and a heart. To live in denial is to prevent growth and change. To get real about our stuff is the first step toward healing and wholeness.

Let me say again we all have stuff. For some reason there are acceptable and unacceptable things in the church. For instance, addiction to alcohol is bad, but addiction to applause and compliments is generally acceptable, perhaps because it’s often hidden. Cursing is bad, but gossiping through prayer requests is not only acceptable, it is encouraged in some circles. A family with a history of divorce is bad, but generations of religious, self-righteous people is sometimes admired, even though Jesus directed most of His criticism at the religious leaders of His day who stood in judgment of the “sinners.”

I mentioned the propensity of some to wear masks. We may wear holiness masks so others will think we’re more spiritual than we really are. Another thing some mask is their emotions. I remember a certain Christian DJ who seemed to talk about tragedy in her life and then dismiss it with something like “all things work together for good so I’m just happy! Praise the Lord.” She was not real.

Let me just say it: life is hard. It was hard for Jesus. It’s hard for us.

Where did we get the idea we should be happy, happy, happy? Jesus said

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (
John 16:33b)

The Wall

The Wall appears through a crisis. When we hit the Wall, we cry out “God – Where are You?”

It’s ok to ask God questions. It’s ok to have doubts. It’s ok to ask, “Why?” God can handle it!

David cried out to God for years when Saul and his men pursued him, and he was forced to hide in caves (see Psalms 69, 70, 71 and others).

Consider Job. Satan challenged God to take away Job’s wealth, animals, children, and good health, all as a way to see if Job would continue to be upright. At first, Job cries out to God, but God does not answer right away (Job 13: 20-26). Eventually, God speaks up and Job repents and relents (Job 42:1-6).

Abraham: Genesis 22:1-15

After looking at Saul and David, today’s character is Abraham.

Abraham had his share of Walls in his life. He was asked to leave his family and travel to an unknown land. He arrived and encountered a famine, had a conflict with his nephew Lot, his wife was unable to have children, he bounced off that wall and had a son with his wife’s servant.

At age 110 he hit another wall. His promised son was finally born and then God asks him to do the unthinkable.

Genesis 22...

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

God does not tempt, but tests Abraham to confirm his faith and prove his commitment.

This seems so bizarre to us, yet in that day child sacrifices were commonly offered to pagan gods.

Tragically, 1/3 of my generation has been killed, but that’s another issue for another time.

Mount Moriah is now the covered with the Dome of the Rock in Israel, a Muslim structure.

Abraham faces a Wall, a test that he causes a crisis of faith.


Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Imagine that journey!

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Good question!

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:1-14)

God tested Abraham.
God allowed Job to be tested.
God often allows trials and testing in our lives…for two purposes

1. His glory
2. Our growth

This past week I was at the C&MA Great Lakes District Conference and Rev. Thomas George, our District Superintendent, reminded us of three things:

1. We were made by God
2. We were made for God
3. We were made for God’s glory


Our consumeristic culture says it’s all about us.

The Bible says it’s all about God. This is a very difficult message for us to grasp. Just to prove this, one of our worship songs was critiqued. It says, “The God of angel armies is always on my side.” While there may be a way to understand this correctly, our natural response is to be comforted knowing God is always on our side…but He’s not! He never makes that promise. He promises to love us, but it’s not about Him being on our side. He asks us to be on His side. It’s about His will, not ours. It’s about His plan, not ours. It’s about His glory, not ours.

Sometimes this means we find ourselves in very difficult places, asked to sacrifice a child, fleeing those who are supposed to be supporting us, suffering for doing good, or experiencing horrific pain despite seeking to follow Jesus.

Rachel Video

You can find Rachel's blog at
https://myelephantsintheroom.wordpress.com

Get Real!

I urge you, family, to be real. There’s no shame in suffering. There’s no shame in feeling. There’s no shame in discouragement, depression, disappointment…or even doubting God. It’s His clear will for us to do life together. We need one another, especially when we face the wall. We need prayer, encouragement, and often tangible assistance from others. We’re often too proud to admit it but all need help sometimes, if not always!

One of the most sobering verses in the Bible is found in Hebrews 11. After commending many great characters such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, it says

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

Conclusion

Like you, when I face the wall my flesh wants to go over it, under it, or around it. The only way God gets glory and we grow is when we go through it, not alone but with His strength and the help of others.

One of the best tools we have at First Alliance is prayer. We have prayer in small groups, Bible studies, and Sunday School. We also have men’s prayer here on Tuesdays at 8:30 AM and Wednesdays at 7 PM. We have women’s prayer Wednesdays at 6 PM. We have open prayer Thursdays at 7 PM.

There’s power in prayer. There’s freedom in sharing your Wall with others. There’s joy in bearing the burdens of others. We weren’t made to do this alone. We were created to journey with one another and with God…for His glory. He is here, whether it feels like it or not. He can be trusted, even when life doesn’t make sense. He loves you—really—and He is a mighty fortress.

Questions for Discussion

Are you “stuck” at the Wall? Have you been at the Wall some time before? Has someone you know and love been at the Wall?

What is it like?

What have you learned? What have you rejected?

Has it been difficult connecting with God and seeing His purposes for you?

How can we help people who are struggling at the Wall?

What does this text tell us about God?

What does this text tell us about ourselves?

Credits and Stuff

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

Series outline and ideas from
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

Some study questions from Lyman Coleman (
The Serendipity Bible and The Serendipity Student Bible). Used with permission from the author.

Other study questions from
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Workbook by Peter Scazzero (Center for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 2007).

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

Harmony, 15 November 2015

Note: This message is similar to one preached at Scio Community Church, September 20, 2015.
Harmony: Christian Togetherness
Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
1 Peter 1:22-2:10

Series Overview:
God’s grace is present in the midst of suffering.

Big Idea: When persecuted, we have not only hope and a call to holy living but also a harmonious family of God we are to love.

Introduction

This morning we continue our series on 1 Peter, “What in The World is Going On?” This short letter to the early, suffering church is a powerful message not only to an ancient people but is increasing relevant to modern Christians as we face persecution. We may never face the horrors of ISIS victims, but nevertheless we can—and perhaps should—feel in the minority as followers of Jesus in a world consumed with money, sex and power. The theme of this book may well be called hope and grace in the midst of suffering.

The book of 1 Peter was never written as a book. It’s a short letter, often called an epistle. As we noted two weeks ago it was written by Peter—one of Jesus’ three closest friends— to early Christian exiles scattered in five provinces. If you read through 1 Peter, you may find it lacking order. I was relieved to read one writer who said,

Once again, Peter’s style here—weaving in and out of topics, exhorting and then stating the foundation for the exhortation, and digressing to cover important ideas— prevents many readers from finding any logical sequence. (Scot McKnight)

If you like a neat, organized, three-point sermon with each point beginning with the same letter or forming an acrostic, you will not find it today or probably in any sermon in this series. You’ve been warned! But don’t take that to mean this letter is disorganized or unimportant. The messages are timeless, timely for us today, and a true treasure.

Two weeks ago the focus was hope. Last week the key word was holy, being and living different, set apart lives reflecting Jesus. Today’s word is
harmony.

As a musician, I love harmony. On the piano, I take it for granted since I can play several notes at once, but when I began playing
the trumpet I realized only one note can be played at a time. An unaccompanied trumpet sounds okay, but when additional instruments are added, the result is exponentially more beautiful.

I have great memories of my grandparents playing their trumpets together in church, my grandpa playing the melody line and my grandma playing the harmony, blending together so beautifully.

As we dive into today’s text in 1 Peter, bear in mind we were not created to live our lives as solo individuals. We were made for community, for relationship—with God and with one another. The only thing God said was not good during creation was a single man (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). This letter we’re studying is not written to an individual but rather a church, a community, a people.

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. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1:22-23)

Children of God have been born again (John 3). We have been born again through the word of God. We’re all related…by blood. Notice Peter connects obedience and loving one another. As we’re going to see, following Jesus is more than an individual journey. We are a part of a family. We have not only a Father and a Big Brother, Jesus, but also spiritual brothers and sisters we are to love…deeply…from the heart.

If we could just do this one thing—love one another deeply—we’d be almost done! The two greatest commands are love God and love others…and we love God by loving others.

The word “deeply” cannot be overstated. We use the word “love” in English to describe so many things, yet this is a radical commitment, fervency, constancy, and effort. We are to share both phileo love—brotherly love—and agape love which is godly sacrificial love. Loving deeply is not tolerance; it may be the opposite of tolerance!

When we are adopted into God’s family we experience a new birth, receive a new family, and are given an unconditional love we are to share with others.

When we were born naturally, we were given bodies that will die. When we are born again, we are given the eternal Word of God. Some modern Christians call the Bible the Word of God—and it is—but the same word, logos, is used in John 1 to describe Jesus Himself.

Remember, Peter’s readers did not have YouVersion on their iPhone or a leather-bound NIV Study Bible! He quotes Isaiah 40:6-8.

For,

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”


And this is the word that was preached to you. (1:24-25)

We’re like the grass. We will eventually die. No matter how strong, smart, cool, or talented you are, you’re going to die. God and His word are eternal. That’s why we need to read it. We need to let it read us! We need to study it.

Therefore, …(2:1a)

What’s the therefore there for?

Because this world is temporary and God’s Word is eternal…
Because born people will die but born again people will live forever…
Because we are not merely children of our parents but children of God…

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (2:1-3)

We need to get rid of sin. Last week we said, “Be holy.” Be set apart.

There are several lists of sins in the Bible. Perhaps the most famous one, the Ten Commandments, talks about murder and stealing and adultery. Peter lists some rather common sins.

Malice is congealed anger; an unforgiving spirit. Are you bitter? Is there someone you need to forgive. They don’t deserve to be forgiven, but neither do you! That’s grace. That’s agape love from God. Get rid of malice. Give it up. Surrender it to God. Replace it with God’s grace.

Deceit is guile. Ananias and Sapphira were deceitful (Acts 5). The devil is a deceiver. We are to be filled with the truth.

Do we need to talk about
hypocrisy? One of the greatest criticisms of Christians by non-Christians is we’re hypocrites. We say one thing on Sunday and do something different on Monday. None of us is perfect, but when children of God screw up, they confess and make it right.

Envy. This is one of those somewhat acceptable sins, perhaps because it’s easy to hide. Look around. Whose job do you want? Whose paycheck? Whose car? Whose family? Whose body? I believe the opposite of envy is gratefulness and contentment. God has showered all of us with a vast array of gifts, beginning with Jesus and continuing to our freedom to worship today.

Slander…of every kind. Gossip. Behind-the-back criticism. If you wouldn’t say it in their presence, don’t say it in their absence!

We need to get rid of all sin in our lives…but it’s not enough to just say, “Stop it!” We need to replace sin with Jesus, with the fruit of the Spirit, with character and godliness…because we’re God’s kids, children of the King! We need to confess our sins and invite the Holy Spirit to fill us with God’s presence and power.

I love Peter’s metaphor of spiritual milk. Babies crave milk. They long for it. They are passionate for it. They cry for it! Many of us have tasted and seen that the LORD is good! We used to crave sin and now we are to crave prayer, obedience, serving others, sharing Jesus…God. We can fill our lives with vices or virtues.

The psalmist famously wrote in Psalm 42:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. (Psalm 42:1)

The LORD is good! He’s so good! He’s greater, smarter, stronger, more present, more loving, more kind, more compassionate, more powerful…than anyone or anything.

One reason we gather is to be reminded we are children of a mighty God!

This week you may have faced criticism, bills, broken cars, broken bodies, bad news, sickness, addictions, temptations, fear, anxiety…but God is greater! The LORD is good! We must run to Him. We must flee sin and run into the arms of our Daddy who loves us unconditionally!

We are to desire the word of God, spiritual milk. We need to grow and will discover the goodness of the LORD. We need to worship. We also need to get into the word of God!

I often pray the prayer of a father who exclaimed to Jesus,

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Does your passion for God grow when you’re with other believers?
Does your passion for God grow when you’re in God’s Word?
Does your passion for God grow when you worship?

LORD, I want to want You! Give me a passion for You such that knowing You is truly the greatest thing in my life!

Now Peter shifts gears.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (2:4-5)

Precious is an interesting word, especially for a fisherman, but Peter used it liberally. Jesus said He would build His church. Peter was a little stone like us. God is building a living temple. A better translation is “build yourselves.” Take action. We are to come together as living stones connected to the living Stone to form one spiritual house where—like the old temple—God dwells.

The foundation is salvation. You come to the living Stone broken.

For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.” (2:6)

Jesus is this stone.

  Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”

  and,

“A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”


They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. (2:7-8)

Here Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14.

These aren’t rolling stones but stable rocks.

We all choose to accept or reject Jesus. He’s a stepping stone or a stumbling stone.

We live in a world that rejects Jesus. Peter’s audience was rejected by the world. We may be rejected, too, but the world’s rejection pails in comparison to the Father’s acceptance. The story is still being written. Vindication is coming.

Now we come to our focus today.


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. (2:9)


We are a chosen people/generation. An elect race. These people are a scattered diaspora but they’ve been chosen like the people of Israel. We choose Jesus because He’s chosen us. We love Him because He first loved us.

We are a royal priesthood. In the Old Testament God chose the nation of Israel to be priests. They sinned so God-fearing Jews and Gentiles were chosen to become priests. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a priest. We are royalty. In Peter’s day, royalty was inherited, but we have been adopted as sons and daughters to be not only children but priests who serve God.

Dr. Scot McKnight says, “To become a Christian is to be raised to the ultimate height in status because we suddenly become children of the God of the universe, and we have direct access to him because we are his children.” Hallelujah!

We are a holy nation. We’ve never been fully holy in conduct but we are holy in our relationship with God. Jesus is our righteousness.

Our purpose is to declare God’s praises. We are to announce good tidings of peace and joy. We are to show the light to our dark world. Some will accept and some will reject.

We are special people, a peculiar people, people of His own, a special possession. We are a ragamuffin collection of broken sinners who have found salvation in Jesus. We are God’s. We belong to HIm. He invites us to not only be with Him but also to love the people of this world and one another.

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. (2:10)

God is rich in mercy. He has made us a people, a family filled with mercy.

So What?

God has not created us to know Him in isolation.
God has not created us to live in isolation.

God exists in community—Father, Son and Spirit—and created us to do life together, to be a family, a nation, a people, a group of priests that know God…and make Him known.

We are a family. We are a body. We are various stones that together form a house.

We need one another.
We are to complement one another…and compliment one another!
You need me and I need you.

One of the great lies of our culture is individualism. Just me and Jesus. Or just me and me! We were created to be interdependent and depend on one another and God.

First Alliance, many of you are not connected to the body. Perhaps you’re new—like me—or you’ve just been a spectator, but you’ve not experienced real community, relationships, like together. I urge you to get connected.

Participate in a Sunday School class at 9 AM. There’s a list in the bulletin.
Visit some of our small groups. There’s a list in the bulletin.
Join a ministry team. There’s a list in the bulletin!

I know we live scattered around NW Ohio, but when we come together—Sunday mornings as well as Monday through Saturday—we can experience the deeper meaning and joy of community, of oikos, the Greek word for extended family…on God’s mission together.

No matter what trials we face, we are to be a united, harmonious family, faithful to Jesus. We are God’s people. We are a priesthood, a nation, a people. Nobody serves alone. Nobody plays alone. We were created for
harmony. We the people! Let’s live like it!!!

Credits

Some ideas from

Be Hopeful (1 Peter): How to Make the Best of Times Out of Your Worst of Times (The BE Series Commentary) by Warren

Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

Serve Together, Family Rules, 08 February 2015

Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to cast a vision for a healthy church family, noting particular strengths and weaknesses of Scio in the process.

Big Idea:
A healthy church family serves together.

Introduction

I’m going to go out on a limb and say something so radical it may cause great shock, so I’m glad you’re sitting down! Are you ready…

Our culture is different than the various cultures of the Bible.

Whoa! So scandalous!

I state the obvious because there are many ways to treat the Bible. An atheist might say it’s a collection of fairy tales (by the way, last week Yahoo News reported newly discovered tablets that they say, “Is a remarkable confirmation of the historical reliability of the Biblical text.”). Some mainline or liberal Christians might say the Bible is a good book with some truth and wisdom. Adherents to Liberation Theology interpret Scripture through the plight of the poor.

The Christian & Missionary Alliance statement on scripture says

The
Old and New Testaments, inerrant as originally given, were verbally inspired by God and are a complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men. They constitute the divine and only rule of Christian faith and practice.

Simply put, the Bible is our authority. It is the only rule of faith and practice for us. But how do we read understand the Bible? In the past I have introduced three steps:

  1. Discern what the text originally meant.
  2. Discern what the text means for us today.
  3. Apply.

Too often people skip the first two steps and, instead, read a verse and try to apply it. God doesn’t change, but culture changes…and Jesus changed many things through His life, death, and resurrection.

Last week Jonathan mentioned the difference between families during biblical days and families today. Joseph Hellerman notes three central social values of the ancient Mediterranean world:

  1. In the New Testament world the group took priority over the individual.

The Bible never makes mention of a personal Savior. Community was everything. In many cultures today, it still is, but in order to understand the language of the Bible, it is essential to recognize the group came first, not the individual. In fact people did not make major life decisions on their own. Hellerman writes, “Faced with decisions that people were never meant to make in isolation, we self-destruct emotionally and relationally, we never grow up, and we turn to therapy or medication to prop us up against a world that is just too much for us to handle on our own.” He adds, “The great majority of people on this planet never needed therapy until society began to dump the responsibility for making life's major decisions squarely upon the lonely shoulders of the individual.”

  1. In the New Testament world a person’s most important group was his family.

Most of us would agree today, except with so many broken and fragmented families—as well as families that live thousands of miles apart from one another—it’s not uncommon for one’s closest relationships to come from church, work, neighborhoods, schools…or Facebook.

  1. In the New Testament world the closest family bond was the bond between siblings.

The closest family tie was not the contractual relationship between husband and wife. It was the blood relationship between siblings. Brother or sister was their most important relationship.

When we speak of family, it’s more than a cute way of talking about one another. It wasn’t a negative term describing dysfunctional relationships. It was the primary language used in the early church to speak of deep commitment to others related by blood…Jesus’ blood.

In
Love in Hard Places, D.A. Carson suggests that ideally the church is not comprised of natural “friends” but rather “natural enemies.”

“What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says – and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”

Family Rules

We’re past the midway point of our series Family Rules. In case you missed some of the rules…

Today we come to one of the most challenging of all for us as a Scio family: serve together.

Serve together. That’s simple, right. In fact, it’s imbedded in our mission statement:

We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 
• serving our communities
• sharing our story
• sending disciples to bless the nations

so that God is glorified.

Serving our communities. I see two great challenges facing us with regard to serving our communities:

1. Serving. Being a servant is not the most popular role in our culture. In fact, it’s probably the least desired title. Servant. It goes against everything within us that yearns for power and prestige. Who wants to be a servant? Evidently Paul. This educated scholar begins the book of Romans writing these words:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— (Romans 1:1)

Evidently Jesus. This is how Paul described Jesus…and instructs others:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

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. (Philippians 2:5-7)

The next verse is even more ludicrous!

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)

We could spend hours reading verses about serving in the Bible. Most of us know serving is what we’re “supposed” to do, whether we like it or not! We have some fantastic servants in our Scio family. But there’s another issue we face as a family.

2. Serving together. It’s no secret that few of us leave near one another. Geography makes being a family on mission together difficult. Vulnerability require proximity. If we don’t even see each other, it’s hard to imagine serving together, right?

A few years ago I saw a video about a church in Tacoma, Washington. It seized my imagination for a church doing life together as a family on mission.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lc4tsw3kCok&spfreload=10

It’s not always fun and comfortable, but they are living out their faith every day…together. They are serving together. They are eating and loving and growing together. They look to me like the early church, a close-knit, extended family.

They also live near one another. We don’t. For four years I’ve been challenged by this. I’ve prayed and read and conversed and done everything I know to do in order to address this issue of serving together. I’ve come up with a few thoughts.

  1. Serve with your Life Group.

When we made The Flip a year ago we wanted to do more than just change the name of Sunday School to Life Groups. We wanted to create small groups that would not only gather for an hour on Sunday but also be given the mandate to serve together monthly. Some Life Groups have been more effective than others, but the mandate remains. Serve together on Sunday. Serve together midweek. Just serve together!

On February 21, our young adult Life Group is going to serve at the Scio Township recycling day from 8 AM to noon. You’re all welcome to join us (just wear warm clothes!). So far it is the only need I’ve been able to extract from the Scio Township office.

Our two midweek Life Groups are uniquely setup to serve together as their gathering are not restricted to an hour on Sunday.

2. Serve with your neighbors.

Gather those that do live nearby, whether they attend Scio or not, and bless the community.

3. Serve with your biological family.

Some of you have a small group living under your roof! Serve together.

4. Serve on Sundays.

One of my desires for Scio is that nobody serves alone. Whether that’s setting up coffee, playing on the music team, ushering, or leading a Life Group, serve with others.

I’m delighted to say even I don’t serve alone. That’s not to say I’m surrounded by people 24/7, but I am not the sole leader, the sole decision-maker, the benevolent dictator of Scio! I am one of eight elders who guide the spiritual direction of Scio under our Senior Pastor, King Jesus. I also serve alongside our five deacons who do so many things behind-the-scenes with everything from facility maintenance and communion preparation to benevolence and potlucks.

In a healthy natural family, the parents usually set the course, prioritizing the health of the family and the needs (and even sometimes wants) of everyone else above their own. That’s what the elders and deacons seek to do, looking out for the best interests of the family.

One of the great things about being a family is we all have different strengths and weaknesses that can complement one another. Paul wrote:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

He then uses one of my favorite metaphors in the entire Bible, the human body.

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (1 Corinthians 1:12-20)

When we serve together, we not only experience the joy of friendships, we also learn and grow from one another and experience synergy, more together than the sum of the parts. Or to borrow a famous acronym, TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More!

I recently heard someone say
it’s not what you do, it’s who you do it with.

My sister proved this to me when we were children. Our least favorite job every summer was…pulling weeds! We whined and ached and complained about working under the hot sun seemingly every day! One day Tami returned from her friend’s house, clearly delighted about her visit. I asked, “What did you do that was so fun?” She said, “We pulled weeds together!”

As a family, we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We are to serve one another and serve our communities. Of course, serving together means relationships which means the potential for conflict and compromise. That gives us opportunities to become more like Jesus as we listen, humbly submit to one another, and love each other.

So What?

Serve together. I’ve come up with a few thoughts, but I need your help. We need your help! If you’ve got an idea, share it with me. Share it with one of the other elders. Share it on our white board in the hallway. Send me an e-mail and I’ll post it in the
Scio Soul. It’s not enough for us to be a safe, comfy family. We are to be a family on mission, God’s mission to seek and save the lost, to make disciples, and to serve together.

For Further Study

When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus' Vision for Authentic Christian Community by Joseph H. Hellerman

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Loneliness, 8 June 2014

Big Idea: We are never alone, must embrace that reality, and ensure others are loved and connected.

There are droves of lonely people in the church, and that includes senior pastors and priests. The isolation comes from a lack of identification and identification comes through open communication. When we can be vulnerable and honest with one another, we understand each other in a profound way.

A lonely person may walk in to a church alone and leave alone each Sunday. Although they appreciate the free coffee and donuts the fellowship hall offers, what they really want is fellowship. Taking time to get to know the people around you and then reaching out to them outside of the church will allow for a greater, more stable community.

Of course, every church is different and while one church may be stronger in one area, it may be weaker in others. These are just a few issues that we as the Church Body need to be willing to address. And as we talk about them, we must remember to address them with humility, understanding and grace, keeping in mind our role as fellow hospital patients, not museum curators.

(from
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/5-uncomfortable-issues-church-needs-start-talking-about)

Introduction

What is the one factor that produces
happiness in people? According to a recent study it is the presence of rich, deep, meaningful relationships.

This should come as no surprise. Let’s go back—way back.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26)

God exists in community.
God said let us make man in our image. Although we worship one God—unlike many polytheistic religions of the world—God exists in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and the often neglected God the Holy Spirit. One of our most precious hymns vibrantly declares this theological truth:

“God in three Persons/Blessed Trinity” (
Holy, Holy, Holy)

God exists in community. I can’t entirely explain it, but there God
is community. God is all about relationships.

If you don’t believe me, turn a page or two to day six of the creation account in Genesis 2.

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)

The only thing that was not good during creation was a single man. It is not good for man to be alone! It is not good for woman to be alone.

Is it any wonder that loneliness can be so devastating?

“Ah look at all the lonely people.” -
Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles

Recent Studies on Loneliness

If I had time, I could cite a barrage of research that indicates the negative effects of loneliness. It can affect our overall well-being. Disconnected, lonely people are more prone to an early death.

Elderly people without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely as those with friends.

The increased mortality risk is similar to that of smoking and twice as dangerous as obesity.

http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000316

While loneliness is hardly new in our culture, it is growing. In the 1980’s about 20% of USAmericans were categorized as lonely.

One study of those 45 and older revealed 37% of men and 34% of women were lonely, though the older one got the less lonely they felt.

The percentage of lonely people has nearly doubled since the 80’s.

http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/loneliness_2010.pdf

How can this be when we are connected with cell phones, text, e-mail, video chat, and, of course, Facebook? After all, I have over one thousand Facebook friends so I couldn’t possibly ever experience loneliness. Right?!
A recent study of Facebook users found the more time you spend on Facebook, the less happy you feel throughout the day.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0069841#s2

Are you lonely?

The Loneliness Quiz (based upon the UCLA Loneliness Scale;
http://psychcentral.com/quizzes/loneliness.htm)

Even if you scored low, there is no guarantee you will never feel lonely. Let’s face it, there are seasons of life during which we feel more lonely than others. I have certainly felt more lonely since my relationship with my dad began to erode with his terminal dementia.

One study said 90% of men don’t have a true friend. That’s far more than a season. I must confess other than my wife, my best friend has lived in Delaware for more than twenty years. I cherish my relationship with him and we’ve been together at least once every single year, yet sometimes I wonder why I’ve been unable to establish such a relationship with someone local in more than two decades.

If you’re feeling lonely, you’re in good company with me, King David, and probably every person that has ever breathed air—including Jesus.

In our remaining time together I want to present three things:

  1. Jesus understands loneliness
  2. Jesus is with us in the midst of our loneliness
  3. As followers of Jesus, we are called to wipe out loneliness

Jesus understands loneliness

If you are lonely today, Jesus understands. Really.

  • - man of sorrows

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

  • - homeless

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58)

  • - betrayed by one of His disciples, Judas
  • - one of His closest friends, Peter, denied Him three times
  • - His best friends deserted Him in the hour of His greatest need in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His arrest (Matthew 26; Mark 14)
  • - He was tempted in every way and this included isolation (Hebrews 4:15)

No matter how lonely you have felt, none of us have experienced the ultimate loneliness Jesus experienced on the cross—for us. Not only was He alone above the crowds (except for the two thieves hanging beside Him), He encountered the most horrific of all loneliness: separation from God.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” — which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; this was a quote of Psalm 22:1)

Hell is eternal separation from God and others. It is ground zero for loneliness.

Jesus suffered my hell for me that I might one day enjoy His heaven with Him.

Jesus knows loneliness.

Jesus is with us in the midst of our loneliness

The final words of Jesus recorded by Matthew as Christ ascends into heaven are

…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

God said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b; see Deuteronomy 31:6)

I realize it’s very possible to be lonely even though you
know God is with you, but let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge something you can’t see.
For example, right now there are dozens and possibly hundreds of messages being sent to you and me. Can you hear them? Can you see them? Perhaps not, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t here. You can deny such waves exist, but that doesn’t make them go away. What we need, in fact, is a receiver to fully appreciate these messages. Any
radio or television will allow us to tune in to these invisible waves.

If Jesus walked into this room or any room in which you find yourself lonely, would you be less lonely? Of course!

Jesus said something interesting when He left our planet.

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

Jesus is not here in this room in the flesh, but God is here. The Holy Spirit of God was unleashed on our planet about two thousand years ago and dwells within all believers. When we receive Jesus, we get the Holy Spirit, too.

If you are a Christ-follower, declare God’s truth over the lies of the enemy. Satan wants us lonely, depressed, and discouraged. We can’t threaten his agenda of death and destruction when we are consumed with our own sadness.

I’m not saying fake it and put on a happy face, but I am saying we need to know and speak the truth. If God is for us, who can be against us? We need to claim the authority we have in Jesus and the promises of God and acknowledge the presence of God with us. The Bible is like our radio or television, helping us see the reality of Emmanuel, God with us.

But if God was enough, there was no need to create Eve. Adam had God in the Garden of Eden, yet God said it was not good.

We need one another.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to wipe out loneliness

Look around the room. This is your family. I know, some of us are strange, but we’re all related by blood, the blood of Jesus. God has given us two simple yet daunting commands:

  • - love Him
  • - love others

If we truly devoted ourselves to one another, I wonder how often we would be lonely. If we got beyond ourselves and intentionally reached out to one another, would it even be possible to be lonely?!

Perhaps the problem isn’t the people in this room but it’s you. Maybe you’ve refused the invitations of others into deeper fellowship. When did you stop trusting people? Many have been so hurt by others that they build walls to protect themselves from being hurt again. Does that describe you? I’m not saying it’s easy, but I urge you to be vulnerable. Be honest. Open up. Trust. It may not be the entire church, but what would happen if you took a risk and shared something with your Life Group or even one or two people? Last Sunday David Hobson courageously shared with our entire church his struggles, and doing so encourages us to respond to him with our story.

“You can only be loved to the extent that you're known.” That’s intimacy. I believe many are lonely because they’ve not let anyone in. I urge you to try…again. You might want to begin with a professional, biblical counselor. Family Counseling and Samaritan Counseling are two local centers that I’ve experienced. Their contact information:

Family Counseling 734.477.9999 (quality Biblical counseling)
Samaritan Counseling 734.677.0609 (quality Biblical counseling)
Eileen Aveni, ema@ndzh.com (quality Biblical counseling)

Another great loneliness killer is serving others. Volunteer at Hope Clinic or another area non-profit. Serving others takes the focus off of ourselves and our pain and frequently opens new relationships to us.

A Challenge

Scio Community Church, I want to urge you to intentionally welcome the stranger(s) among us. As followers of Jesus, we are called to wipe out loneliness. How can we love our neighbor if we ignore them. I’m not suggesting we harass them (!), but as we have said in recent days, people aren’t looking for a friendly church. They are looking for friends. As we have guests, we must do more than shake their hand and smile, though that’s a good start. The only way we are going to see new people join our family is if we get out of our comfort zones and seek relationships with them. Here are a few simple things you can do any Sunday:

  1. Invite them to Life Group following our worship gathering
  2. Invite them to lunch after Life Group
  3. Invite them to coffee this week
  4. Get their phone or e-mail, if appropriate, and contact them
  5. Invite them to your home for a meal or party

Scio, we offer one of the greatest things people today are seeking—relationships! Our annual theme is
connect and we’ve been called by God to connect people up to Him, in to one another, and out to our world.

The Bible is filled with exhortations regarding hospitality which is welcoming the stranger. Why? Because God is all about relationships. Are we?

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Confess Sins To One Another, 6 February 2011

Big Idea:

We are created to live in community. Confession is good for the soul...and the body.

Scriptures:

“…confess your sins to each other…” - James 5:16

…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
- Romans 3:23

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

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 103:11-12

“Come now, let us reason together,” 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

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men — the testimony given in its proper time. -1 Timothy 2:5-6

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. - James 5:13-16

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. - 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. - 1 Corinthians 11:28-30

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

Notes:

There is something very powerful about hearing the words, “You are forgiven.” I believe that is one component of this passage in James. As we confess one to another, we are reminded of the reality of our forgiveness.

Confession is acknowledgment. Repentance is change.

The first step in repentance is conviction. We feel bad for our actions, either because the Holy Spirit convicts us, a police officer pulls up behind us, or a friend confronts us.

The second step is confession, agreeing that we have sinned. This is where we admit our sins to God and possibly a pastor, friend, spouse, or family member. This must be specific, not just, “Sorry God for sinning today.”

Repentance is then changing, literally doing a 180 turn away from our sin and toward God. It is choosing to pursue God rather than our selfish desires.

Repentance is an ongoing lifestyle that continues until death, not merely a one-time prayer and then do-what-you-want.

Martin Luther, one of the founders of the Protestant movement, said as part of his protest of the Catholic Church, “All of a Christian’s life is one of repentance.”

Confession and repentance can have profound effects in our lives. They can restore relationships with one another. They can reconcile our relationship with God. They can result in physical healing. They can even result in the transformation of societies.

Context matters in any form of communication. We have to embrace all of the Bible, not just the parts that we like. We also need to recognize the different types of literature that are contained in the 66 books. The stories in Genesis are not to be read in the same manner as the poetic Psalms, instructive letters of Paul, or the end-times apocalyptic writings of Revelation.

In studying the Bible we must first discern what it says, then assess what it meant to the original recipients, seek to understand its meaning for us today, and then apply it.

Confession releases the angst of secret sins.

Confession notifies others about how they can pray for you.

Confession destroys barriers of pride and anger that separate people.

If we struggle with a sin, we must confess it to those who can provide support. Loving your neighbor as yourself includes praying for them. It also reminds us that we are all sinners saved by grace. We journey together.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Forgive One Another, 30 January 2011

Big Idea:

We are created to live in community. Part of being a family is forgiving one another.

Scriptures:

Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the lord forgave you. - Colossians 3:13

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

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

- Romans 12:19-21

Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the lord forgave you. - Colossians 3:13

“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

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

- Matthew 6:14-15

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:2

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

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. - Colossians 3:13-14

He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” - Luke 11:2-4

Notes:

Forgiveness is NOT forfeiting justice but it is appealing to a higher court.

Forgiveness is NOT something you do when you feel like it but a decision.

Forgiveness is NOT weakness but the ultimate portal to power.

Forgiveness is to release someone of a debt that they owe you because of the pain they caused you.

The forgiven forgive! We don’t forgive because it is deserved. We forgive because we have been forgiven.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Love One Another, 23 January 2011

Big Idea: We are created to live in community. Jesus gives us a command to love one another.

Scriptures:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. - John 13:34-35

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. - Romans 13:8

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. - 1 Peter 1:22

This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. - 1 John 3:11

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. - 1 John 3:23

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
- 1 John 3:16

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, 13

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. - 1 John 4:7-8

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. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 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.

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
- 1 John 4:9-13

We love because he first loved us. - 1 John 4:19

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. - 1 John 4:20-21

You can listen to the podcast here.

E13U796O04I5BEO0