Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

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

We were created by God both physical and spiritual. Many have wrongfully believed the physical is bad and only the spiritual matters. Jesus had a physical body. God became flesh and dwelt among us. We’ll celebrate that in a few months. But His physical body was not bad or evil. Although Jesus never sinned, he did struggle with the limitations of his body. He got sick. He experienced pain. He died.

His death was the most beautiful, scandalous moment in human history. We commemorate the day Good Friday because it was his death for us and our sins which made forgiveness and reconciliation with the Father possible. He atoned for our wrongdoings. Jesus paid it all, washing us white as snow with his crimson blood. His body was beaten and pierced…for you and me. It’s a gift we all chose to receive or reject. Have you received the gift?

Some believe Jesus was a ghost, merely a spirit. Some believe he never died. Our faith depends upon his death. If Jesus didn’t die, we’re wasting our time…and our lives. Countless eyewitnesses saw him die a brutal death. They saw him butchered and crucified. His side was pierced in front of them as blood and water poured out. Like us someday, his physical body died.

But praise God that’s not the end of the story! Jesus conquered sin and death and the grave. He rose from the dead, but unlike Lazarus, he came out of the tomb with a new body, a resurrected body. Marketers might call it “new and improved.” Jesus’ resurrected body gives us tremendous insight into the future.

After the resurrection Jesus was still Jesus. He still had flesh. He was not a ghost. He was not a spirit that hovered six inches above the ground. He did not have wings and a harp and his own cloud.

People touched him. He ate food. His resurrected body was compatible with life on this planet as he spent forty days here before ascending into…heaven (Hebrews 4:14). Jesus’ followers saw his physical body at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem ascend into heaven.

One of my professors wrote, “The Bible does not teach that the soul is trapped by the body. (In fact, that is an ancient Greek but not biblical theory.) Jesus’s resurrected body was the transformation of his earthly body, not the eradication or annihilation of that body.” (Scot McKnight,
The Heaven Promise).

Followers of Jesus will receive new bodies like Jesus received. We will eat. We will work. We will see and know one another. It will be like this life…but so much better. Randy Alcorn writes,
“To be in resurrected bodies on a resurrected Earth in resurrected friendships, enjoying a resurrected culture with the resurrected Jesus—now that will be the ultimate party! Everybody will be who God made them to be—and none of us will ever suffer or die again. As a Christian, the day I die will be the best day I’ve ever lived. But it won’t be the best day I ever will live. Resurrection day will be far better.”

Relationships in Heaven

Followers of Jesus will receive new, physical, resurrected bodies. That also means we’ll have relationships. After Jesus received his new body, he ate and drank with his friends. Our future will be filled with rich fellowship and deep friendships, the most wonderful family imaginable. Remember, without sin we’ll have no strife, envy, or hatred. Heaven will be a place of complete peace and reconciliation where everyone will be, as MLK dreamed, “free at last.” We will love God and others in our glorified bodies, feasting (without the need to count calories) and partying with music and joy. Imagine eternity with your best friend(s) in the most incredible place, a place we’ll discuss next Sunday.


Conclusion

There are many great reasons to believe in heaven. No sin. New bodies. And that’s just the beginning!

Next week we’re going to take a deeper look at what the Bible reveals to us about heaven—or heavens—and how it may differ from what you’ve been led to believe by non-biblical sources.

Leading theologian Scot McKnight says, “What many believe about heaven has little (or nothing) to do with Jesus’s resurrection, and as a result they have overactive imaginations that color their thinking about heaven.”

Heaven is where God is, pure and simple. We exist as a church to prepare heaven-dwellers. We are following God’s mission to make disciples in Toledo and beyond, disciples who love God, who follow God, who help others to know and follow God, and who want to spend eternity with God. Will you join me?

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.

Who's the Boss? 4 September 2016

Who’s The Boss?
Colossians 3:23-24

Big Idea

God created us to work…for His glory.

Introduction

Labor Day weekend is summer’s last hurrah, even though we technically have 17 days until autumn begins. In Michigan, schools start after Labor Day, though in Ohio most students have already returned to the classroom.

In the spirit of Labor Day—and being in between our series on Revelation and our upcoming series on the Afterlife—we’re going to look at the subject of labor, of work.

How many of you work?
How many of you are retired?
How many of you wish you were retired?
How many retirees wish you worked?

Most—if not all—of us are influenced by our culture far more than by God’s Word. The Bible is filled with instructions and wisdom regarding finances, family, spirituality, health,…and work.

Do you ever feel overworked, over-regulated, under-leisured, under-benefited? Take heart. This notice was found in the ruins of a London office building. It was dated 1852.

1. This firm has reduced the hours of work, and the clerical staff will now only have to be present between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays.
2. Clothing must be of a sober nature. The clerical staff will not disport themselves in raiment of bright colors, nor will they wear hose unless in good repair.
3. Overshoes and topcoats may not be worn in the office, but neck scarves and headwear may be worn in inclement weather.
4. A stove is provided for the benefit of the clerical staff. Coal and wood must be kept in the locker. It is recommended that each member of the clerical staff bring four pounds of coal each day during the cold weather.
5. No member of the clerical staff may leave the room without permission from the supervisor.
6. No talking is allowed during business hours.
7. The craving for tobacco, wine, or spirits is a human weakness, and as such is forbidden to all members of the clerical staff.
8. Now that the hours of business have been drastically reduced, the partaking of food is allowed between 11:30 and noon, but work will not on any account cease.
9. Members of the clerical staff will provide their own pens. A new sharpener is available on application to the supervisor.
10. The supervisor will nominate a senior clerk to be responsible for the cleanliness of the main office and the private office. All boys and juniors will report to him 40 minutes before prayers and will remain after closing hours for similar work. Brushes, brooms, scrubber, and soap are provided by the owners.
11. The owners recognize the generosity of the new labor laws, but will expect a great rise in output of work to compensate for these near Utopian conditions.

If that’s the rulebook, imagine the boss!

On this Labor Day Eve I want to share with you three thoughts about work.

Work is God’s Idea

Many people of work as a bad thing, a necessary evil. The book of Genesis paints a different picture in Paradise, the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world. Adam was called to be a gardener.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15)

The word “work” here is “avad” in the original Hebrew. It means to serve or to work.

How many of you have ever gardened?
How many of you like to garden?
How many of you find gardening to be a chore?

I like gardening…well, parts of it. I love harvesting vegetables, picking fruit off of plants, and even planting seeds in fresh soil.

I don’t like thorns, bee stings, pruning, sunburns, and most of all weeds. I hate weeds!

We’ll come back to that in a moment. Suffice it to say, there are aspects of most work we may find enjoyable and others we’d rather not do.

Would you enjoy gardening if you could simply plant and pick fresh fruits and vegetables in perfect weather free from bugs and weeds? Perhaps.
Adam had more than just a garden to cultivate. He was also a zookeeper!

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. (Genesis 2:19-20a)

I can only assume the animals were tame and friendly. There was no fear in paradise. There was no death. All was well…until the Fall. Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit and were punished.

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)

Women were given a different kind of work we call labor.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

What once was a God-ordained task of caring for creation suddenly became “painful toil.” Work went from daily activity to the difficult pursuit of sustenance. Work, however, is not a curse. It’s what we were created to do—along with relationships. Obviously work has many practical purposes by God’s design, including provisions. Paul wrote,

The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10b)

Even when work is challenging, its absence can have dire consequences. Many studies have sown people who retire early tend to die early. One Oregon State University study concluded even people who described themselves as unhealthy were found likely to live longer if they kept working.

For those of you who are retired, I urge you to remain active, volunteer here at First Alliance and/or with our home missions partners. I know most of you are already doing so and not only is that a benefit to those you serve, it is surely a benefit to you.

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, wrote, “God created human beings in His own image and part of being ‘in His image’ means that we are workers — like God Himself. That’s where that innate, inner drive for work comes from. Work is part of God’s nature.”

Labor is God’s idea. Humans worked before sin entered the world, and we’ll work in heaven, too, though it will be free from pain and fear, instead fulfilling and filled with purpose.

Follow Your Calling

Many years ago a woman in our church praised me for being a pastor and spoke disparagingly about herself being “only a physical therapist.” I stopped her immediately, knowing her work and its fruit. I said, “Every day you get to be the hands and feet of Jesus, serving the broken and hurting, ministering to the needs, earning money for your family, and generously giving of your income to support the church.” Every day she encountered unchurched people I would never meet as I wrote sermons in my office or served parishioners in our congregation. But she’s not alone in her thinking. In fact, I once thought similarly.

I’ll never forget the day I asked my dad for forgiveness. He was surprised and asked what I did wrong. I said, “For years I thought if you were a REAL Christian you’d be a pastor rather than a businessperson. Now I realize it would be as wrong for you to leave the marketplace for vocational ministry as it would be for me to leave my church job and work in the marketplace.” It’s an issue of calling.

God calls some to be pastors and some to be business people.
God calls some to be overseas missionaries and others to serve in American schools.
God calls some to minister to the wealthy suburbs and others to the urban poor.

God calls all of His children to make disciples.
God calls all of His children to ministry.

One of my favorite moments this year at First Alliance was introducing Phil Eikost for a Missions Moment segment. I think some wondered what was going on, if he was taking a trip overseas or something. Instead he announced he is a missionary at the House of Meats in Toledo. He sees his work as his calling, even when it’s hard and frustrating. He doesn’t always look forward to his long hours at the “office,” but he knows it’s what God has called him to do and looks for ways to love and serve customers and co-workers.

We are all wired uniquely by God. He calls us to do different things in different places. The key is not what we do compared to others, but rather to be faithful to our calling. It is a sacred act of worship.

Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10a)

Which leads us to our attitude toward work. Zig Ziglar said

Attitude, Not Aptitude, Determines Altitude

The better your attitude, the more you will soar in life. What is your attitude toward your work? Your boss? Your co-workers? We all work or have worked in environments we would love to change, yet often the only thing we can change is our attitude. Often our approach to work radically impacts our outputs.

In New Testament times, the Roman Empire ruled with the promise of security, prosperity, and order. Women, children, and slaves were essentially property to the men. They had no rights. Paul wrote multiple letters to early Christians, many (most?) of whom were abused. To those in Colossi he said,

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)

These laborers were not necessarily working for a paycheck but rather food, shelter, life. People became slaves not because of their race but rather because they were debt slaves who were bankrupt or the result of military conquest. Paul wrote similar words to the church in Ephesus:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8)

The context helps explain the verse which follows.

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Ephesians 6:9)

The point is simple: God is watching. He’s the boss! We are ultimately to love, serve, and worship Him. Your human boss may give you a performance review, but God will someday give you a life review. He will right every wrong. He will bring eternal justice. This does not mean we are to be doormats and ignore injustice, but our attitude should always be focused on God and what He thinks. He knows all. One day He will judge and reward all. What will he say about you and your work?

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

Toledo: Get Ready, 28 August 2016

Toledo: Get Ready
7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
Revelation 1:1-8

Series Overview

Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

Message Overview

Toledo is not mentioned in the Bible, but we are a part of the universal Church. How are we like the seven churches in Revelation? What is Jesus saying to us in 2016? Our baptistery has been empty. Who will be an advocate for the lost? The focus will be on hospitality and outreach: pray, serve, share.

Big Idea

Jesus loves Toledo and is alive and active in our city inviting us to join him.

Introduction

Welcome to First Alliance Church. The Bible often refers to the Church as the Bride of Christ. For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at Jesus’ words to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. We examined…


    Each week in the series we’ve tried to apply the messages of these seven ancient churches to our own lives, church, and city…which begs the question,

    “What is God saying to us in Toledo?”

    This series has focused on the second and third chapters of Revelation. Today I want to go to the beginning, back to chapter one. It begins

    The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2)

    As we have often said, First Alliance Church is about Jesus. We do not exist to make a name for our church, for the Christian & Missionary Alliance (our denomination), or even Toledo. We are all about Jesus Christ. He is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King.

    Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

    Do you want be blessed? Read God’s Word. Study it. Read it aloud, it says. Most of all, obey it. Put it into practice. Take to heart what is written in it. This is true not only for the book of Revelation but the entire Bible.

    John,

    To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

    Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Revelation 1:4-5a)


    As we said, Jesus speaks to John who writes the book of Revelation.

    To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5b-6)


    There’s so much here! Jesus has freed us from our sins. Hallelujah!

    Jesus has made us to be a kingdom and priests. We are all called to be ambassadors of Jesus to our city and world.

    “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

    Jesus will return and all will see him. What a day that will be!

    “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

    This is our God. He is Almighty. He transcends time and space. He has always been. He is. He will always be. Our God is truly awesome.

    Revelation 7:9-10

    If we skip ahead several chapters, we get a glimpse of what appears to be the future:

    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)

    We are on God’s mission to make disciples of all nations. What a privilege! What a responsibility! How are doing?

    Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. All of life is about relationships. I like to think of it like a triangle:

    UP: relationship to God
    IN: relationship to one another (the church)
    OUT: relationship to the world

    I’ve been at First Alliance Church for less than a year. I have made a conscious decision to spend this first year listening, learning, and making as few major decisions as possible. People have asked me what my vision is for our church and I’ve said


      Therefore, what I’m about to say is preliminary. This is my sense of what Jesus is saying to First Alliance Church. This is not “thus saith the LORD” and is not to be taken as scripture. Would you like to hear it?

      “To the angel of the church in Toledo write:

      These are the words of the Son of God, who has a throne in front of what looks like a sea of glass.

      Did you catch that, Glass City?!

      I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance. I know you love Me. You are faithful in worship, generous with your money, and eager to serve. You eat together (as evidenced at last week’s picnic) and fellowship together on Sundays and in small groups. Your UP and IN relationships are commendable.

      Nevertheless, I have this against you: Your passion for the lost is weak. Sure, some of you reach OUT, but you went two years without a baptism and there are those right outside your doors desperate for salvation, hope, and healing. Go and make disciples!

      Allow me to elaborate.
      in-out-up2
      UP: relationship to God

      I believe our church truly loves God. Many of you have been faithfully attending on Sunday mornings for years, even decades. For more than twelve decades we have been worshipping in UpTown Toledo, praying, giving financially, and committed to the Word of God.

      One part of our church’s story is the creative arts. God is an artist and we were created in His image. We have had choirs, orchestras, handbells, and bands along with drama, musicals, and even this building which I believe is a work of art. We are geographically on the Avenue of the Arts next to one of the nation’s greatest art museums just blocks for dozens of art galleries. For years we have even trained future artists at our summer arts camp. I’m excited to announce today a new addition to our team to help enhance our worship. Charlie Flack has been hired as our Creative Arts Consultant. His part-time role will include mentoring Hayden Bewley, our outstanding young worship intern, and developing other artistic ministries such as tech and video. Our elders initiated the idea earlier this month after Charlie blessed us as a guest worship leader and we are thrilled to welcome him.

      I might add we have a growing staff, though only two of us—Josh and myself—are full-time. God has blessed us with an incredible staff whose job is NOT to do the ministry, but rather to equip the saints (that’s you!) for the ministry.

      IN: relationship to one another (the church)

      Our church loves one another. Truly! One of my four prayers for us is unity and I’ve experienced a sense of oneness during my months here. Heather and I deeply love being a part of this family…and if you’re new around here, welcome! I might add these gatherings are vital, but the real connections occur in groups: Sunday School, Bible studies, and small groups. If you’re not in one, you’re missing out on possibly the richest dimension of First Alliance. There’s a list of groups at the Information Center in the lobby.

      By the way, I love our groups. I love when they relate UP to God. I love when they relate IN to one another. Today I want to challenge every group to do some kind of OUT activity. Throw a party, serve at Cherry Street Mission, set up a prayer booth,…do anything that will help you build relationships with the unchurched. Do it once a month, once a quarter…once a year!

      Which leads us to

      OUT: relationship to the world

      Making disciples ideally begins in the home, but today in our city so many are growing up with no understanding of God and His love. Our church has chosen to be in the city of Toledo, even when others fled to the suburbs. We are uniquely positioned in UpTown to reach out to not only the underprivileged but also the up-and-coming artists and young professionals who will become our neighbors over the next few years. Would you like a sneak preview of what’s ahead?

      THE NEXT GENERATION

      Sue Trumbull is an exception leader leading an exceptional team of people committed to children’s ministry. Each Sunday they love kids during Sunday School and the worship hour. They produce special events. They have Wednesday night programs for students. And then there’s sports and arts camp.

      For months people told me about sports and arts camp…and then I experienced it. Wow! It was so exciting to see dozens of kids from the neighborhood exposed to faith, hope and love. It may have been the best week of the year for me.

      But then I began to think about the 51 weeks until next summer’s camp. So many of the seeds scattered will surely be snatched up or choked by the weeds and rocks of this world. What can we do to build lasting relationships with these precious children?

      I’m glad you asked! First, the After School Klub (ASK) starts up again in October serving many of these kids two days a week. That’s great! I praise God for everyone involved in Toledo Urban Impact and the After School Klub.

      Recently Charles Carter has had a burden to get these kids here on Sunday mornings. Imagine what a difference it would be to go from one week to 52 Sundays a year. We need two things to make this happen: more children’s ministry workers and van drivers to pick up the kids. Is God calling you to invest in the next generation? They need you!

      We are also in conversations with the local YMCA about ways we can expand our partnership. They assist with sports and arts camp but we could do so much more for these kids if we work together.

      Perhaps the most exciting development is Keep Watch: Praying for the Hearts of Our Children. I don’t know how this is even possible in our day of political correctness, but we’ve been invited to pray in and through Rosa Parks School on Cherry Street once a week. This pre-school through grade eight school has 250 students who test in the lowest 5% of all students in Ohio. The principal, Ms. Richburg, is asking for us to adopt her school, read to students, encourage teachers, and pray…pray in the school! This seems like an incredible opportunity for us, an opportunity that could close in the future if TPS staffing changes.

      Imagine if we had weekly—even semi-weekly—influence on the lives of children in our city? It could literally change our city. Studies show kids are far more likely to follow Jesus than unchurched adults. We have a unique invitation to build relationships with those outside our church family, extending God’s love and hospitality.

      CLARO

      Speaking of relationships and hospitality, we have been working hard to enhance our hospitality—welcoming the stranger, the guest, the newcomer—on Sunday mornings. However, long before I arrived at First Alliance a group of people realized no matter how dynamic our gatherings in this building, many in Toledo will never walk through our doors. We need to go to them. In fact, Jesus 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)

      He said go! He didn’t say, “Ring the bell and watch everyone come to church.” He said to go under his authority into the world and make disciples.

      After some considerable, unavoidable delays, we are weeks—maybe days—from opening CLARO Coffee Bar, our new hospitality ministry in UpTown at Adams and 18
      th. Many have asked how we intend on using this space for ministry and the answer is simple: relationships. We are intentionally creating space for spiritual conversations. This means listening, learning, and loving. Christians are, unfortunately, known for monologue rather than dialog. Whether it’s fair or not, many picture a guy with a megaphone rather than someone truly concerned for their welfare.

      CLARO will be serving amazing coffee and tea. It will be staffed by caring, friendly baristas seeking to develop friendships with guests, not just taking orders from customers. Tables will be open for you to engage with people, listening to their story, and sharing yours. I heard someone talking about putting tracts or leaflets in the bathroom and my first thought was to use them in dialog with a person, not monolog on a sink. We want people building relationships with us, not a toilet!

      Research indicates the longer someone is a follower of Jesus, the fewer unchurched friends they have, which makes sense on one hand but is unfortunate. We are to be salt and light in our dark world. We must always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus…but it begins with relationships.

      How many unchurched people do you know? How many of your neighbors can you name? When is the last time you had a meal with a non-Christian?

      OUT need not be scary or painful. Buy someone a cup of coffee. Go to Rosa Parks school and pray. Throw a Labor Day party and invite your neighbors. Join a local parks and rec team. Become a conversation partner with an international student through Water for Ishmael. Serve with Cherry Street Mission or Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission.

      I’ll make this extremely simple: pray, invite, and listen. Pray for your unchurched friends—or pray FOR unchurched friends—and invite them over for a meal or out for a cup of coffee. And listen. Don’t make them your project. Don’t preach to them. Just love them like a human being. Have fun with them. Be a friend to them. Ask them about their spiritual journey.

      If and when it seems appropriate, invite them to the Alpha Course…or Sunday morning here. This fall we’re doing a six week series entitled, “What happens when you die?” It’s about heaven. We’ll talk about hell, too, but people are fascinated with heaven. Movies have been made about it. Best-selling books talk about it. We all have questions about it, but we’re going to look at what the Bible actually says (and doesn’t say) about heaven. But it all begins with conversations, with friendships, with intentionally reaching OUT.

      Conclusion

      Months ago I sensed God saying two words to me regarding our church: Get Ready. We are equipping leaders, building our staff, and preparing for a great harvest. The cobwebs are off the baptistery and I hope we fill it often. God is blessing us with incredible opportunities to connect with children and our UpTown neighbors. Get ready, church. Get on your knees. Pray and invite…and make disciples for the glory of God.

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

      Laodicea: Lukewarm, 21 August 2016

      Laodicea: Lukewarm
      7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
      Revelation 3:14-22

      Series Overview

      Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

      Big Idea

      The Laodicean church was lukewarm…which made Jesus sick!

      Laodicea

      We are nearing the end of our series on the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Jesus sent letters to some of the first Christian communities, all located in modern-day Turkey. We have examined…


        Today we look at the church in Laodicea.

        Before looking at our text, you must understand a few things about Laodicea.


          It’s important to understand its geography. Southeast of the city was Colosse. It had great water. In fact, it had cold, Alpine-quality water from Mount Cadmus. To the north is Hierapolis. Heather and I spent some time in this area which looks snow-covered but, in fact, it is merely mineral deposits. Hierapolis also contains wonderful hot springs that are still enjoyed today.

          Since the Laodicea lacked good water, aqueducts were built to bring water several miles to the city.

          Revelation 3:14-22

          “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

          These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. (Revelation 3:14)

          This is the only time in the Bible “Amen” is a proper name, the name of Jesus. The word “amen” means “so be it.” Jesus is the Amen. He has the last word. He alone will reveal all and tell all as the faithful and true witness.

          I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (Revelation 3:15)

          Jesus commends many of the other churches for their good works, but not Laodicea. I used to hear people say this means our faith should be cold or hot. We should be really bad or really good. We should serve satan or serve God. But why would Jesus say he wants people to serve satan? The people of Laodicea understood the refreshment of cold water from Colosse. They loved the hot springs in Hierapolis. But the water they received in their city was neither. The cold water became warm as it moved through the aqueduct and the hot water cooled. When I order a drink at Starbucks I either order it hot or cold. Do you like lukewarm coffee or tea?

          So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)

          Jesus is trash-talking. Literally. He’s saying their actions are pathetic. They are sickening. This NIV translation of the Greek is rather tame. Jesus is saying this church makes him want to throw up! Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, says

          You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. (Revelation 3:16, The Message)

          This is not encouragement! And he’s not done!

          You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)

          They are delusional! They’re clueless! They’re pitiful. They are known for healing the eyes yet they’re blind. They are known for their fashion and special wool yet like the emperor with no clothes, they don’t even know they’re naked!

          They are not self-aware! Jesus offers a solution, though.


          I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:18)

          He doesn’t walk away, he offers to provide for them…if they turn back to him.

          Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. (Revelation 3:19)

          He loves them and, therefore, he is rebuking and disciplining them. He doesn’t abandon them. Instead he urges them to repent, to turn around, to do a 180. Repent is to change. It’s to go in the opposite. Jesus is saying, “Come back! You’ve walked away from me but I’m still here. I still love you. Return home!”

          Jesus continues with one of the most famous verses in the Bible.


          Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20)

          He’s saying, “I’m here. I want to enter your world, but I’m not going to break in. I’m not going to force myself upon you. No pressure. But I’m here. I have so much to offer you. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. Will you let me in?”

          Notice he doesn’t just say he wants to come in. He wants to join them at the table. He wants to eat with them. In the culture, eating with another person was a big deal. You didn’t just grab fast food. Meals took hours to enjoy. Eating together was a sign of friendship, in some instances a deep commitment. It declared a special relationship (which explains why Jesus got into so much trouble for eating with sinners). He doesn’t want to just share a meal. He wants to share a life.

          This letter was written not to an individual but to a church. Some have suggested Jesus had been shut out of the church of Laodicea, out of their fellowship. Perhaps they had abandoned his teachings and example. Like many churches today that have Jesus in their name, perhaps Jesus wasn’t alive inside, the center of their worship, their savior, and their Lord.

          To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:21-22)

          Jesus goes even further, expressing his deep love and commitment to those who would follow him.

          So What?

          I think the message to us is obvious. Jesus wants us passionate. He wants us to be devoted to him. He wants us on fire to burn brightly, to be like hot, healing springs in a spa or refreshing like a cold drink in the middle of a hot summer day. Most of all, he wants to be in our church. He wants to be at our table. He wants to do life with us, not just on Sunday mornings but 24/7/365.

          Jesus didn’t come to start a religion. He came to offer us life…every day!

          What would Jesus say to First Alliance Church? What would he say to you? Are you passionate for Jesus? He is passionate for you. He gave everything he had—his very life—for you! He wants nothing less than total surrender, not because he needs you or wants to manipulate you, but because he loves you and his plans and purposes are far greater than anything you could ever imagine. He wants to be savior, yes, but also Lord. Master. King.

          I think his message to Laodicea was this: surrender it all. Not just Sunday mornings. Not just when there’s extra change in your pocket when the offering plate is passed. Not just when it’s popular, comfortable, and convenient. Jesus wants it all. He wants you to be all-in. He wants your life to be refreshing like cold water. He wants it to be a source of life and healing like hot springs. Are you fully surrendered to Jesus?

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

          Sardis: Wake Up! 31 July 2016

          Sardis: Wake Up!
          7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
          Revelation 3:1-6

          Series Overview

          Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

          Big Idea

          A church can do good things yet remain dead without the Holy Spirit.

          Introduction

          Like many of you, I found the last book of the Bible to be confusing, weird, and even a bit scary. We are not doing a series on the entire book (perhaps we’ll talk about wings and beasts and 666 in the future) but we are going to look at the Gospel according to Jesus. Perhaps that’s a new phrase to you. Perhaps you know of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus also wrote a book of the Bible, or at least he spoke much of it. If you have a Bible with the words of Jesus in red, you’ll notice chapters 2 and 3 are all red, all words of Jesus. The book begins:

          The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2)

          Revelation is not about the antichrist (a term which does not appear in the book of Revelation), but about the living Christ. It is not about a rapture out of this world (the word “rapture” is not found in Revelation, either) but about faithful discipleship in this world. As it says, this is the revelation from Jesus. We read Revelation to know Jesus better. It reveals Christ.

          There is some dispute about whether this John is the son of Zebedee, the apostle who wrote the gospel of John and 1, 2, and 3 John or a different person. What matters is not the recipient so much as the sender, the revelator, Jesus Christ.

          The book of Revelation was written around A.D. 95 when Christians were entering a time of persecution. Emperor worship was growing so anyone who held that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord was subject to hostility. Needless to say, following Jesus was not politically correct.

          Chapter 1 describes a scene where John encounters Jesus.

          When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

          “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:17-20)

          Revelation is filled with fantastical symbolism. In this instance, it is clear. The stars are angels of the churches. The lampstands are the churches, the people. Our series is focusing on these seven churches.

          We have looked at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira. We have come now to Sardis. Sardis was the capital of the province of Lydia. It was noted for its wealth. In fact, it is here that the first coins in the world were minted!

          After decades of archaeological digs, there have been three primary discoveries: the Romans road, a synagogue, and a gymnasium. One of the great things about our faith is it’s rooted in history. The Bible is filled with accounts of actual people, event, and places. I’ve visited many of the places, including Sardis.

          Sardis has been around for more than 3000 years! It flourished between the 7th century BD and the 7th century AD. A stream contained alluvial gold which made the Lydians—natives of Sardis—the most powerful and wealthy people in Anatolia (also known as Asia Minor or modern day Turkey). As you can imagine, power and wealth led the people in Sardis to love luxury, comfort, convenience…and moral decadence. Sound familiar?

          The church at Sardis had a reputation of being alive and yet—like so many churches today—it was dead and in need of the Holy Spirit.

          “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

          These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Revelation 3:1)

          Jesus holds the seven stars—churches— and the Spirit of God sent to them. Rather than begin with encouragement, he dives right into his concern. They are dead! They need the spirit of God. Only the Holy Spirit can help us come alive.

          The
          Holy Spirit is the most underrated Person in the Trinity. The Father sent the Son, Jesus, to live on our planet about 2000 years ago. God “moved into the neighborhood and dwelt among us.” He told his disciples

          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)

          They must’ve thought Jesus was crazy! It’s good that you leave us, Jesus? Yes! The presence of God was contained in one person but at Pentecost in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit arrives, dwelling in every believer. God is distributed! When a person is filled with the Holy Spirit they are given gifts and fruit. Gifts include prophecy, serving, teaching, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, and administration (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11, 1 Peter 4:11).

          …the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

          We desperately need the Holy Spirit! The Sardis church did, too. I’m fascinated with their reputation for being alive, yet actually dead. Perhaps they were like a
          façade.

          Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. (Revelation 3:2)

          He’s trying to wake up the dead! They have deeds but they’re unfinished. They seem to think everything’s fine, yet Jesus says they are in trouble.

          Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (Revelation 3:3)

          This is a word of warning. They are to obey and repent. Now!

          Repent. This means to make a u-turn. Confess is when we admit wrong but repentance requires change—180 degree change. This means both moving away from sins you commit and moving away from apathy to action. I said last week there are sins of commission—things we do—and sins of omission—things we don’t do.

          I pray four things for First Alliance: unity, direction, protection, and passion. I pray we would be awake, alive, and passionately loving God and loving others.

          On a side note, Sardis was on the top of a mountain. It had only one entrance…on the south side. On two occasions the guard went to sleep and the city was invaded! Jesus wants them to be alert, awake, and ready for the return of Christ.

          Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. (Revelation 3:4)

          I love this language! But what does this mean? A few remained holy, undefiled by the pagan culture. The church was not completely dead. There is usually a remnant true to God even among compromised churches. White is symbolic of purity and holiness and we often associate it with angels and heavenly beings. Although the church is a community, God recognizes those faithful to Him even amongst dying churches.

          I have a friend who has been active in a church that is drifting from God. They are compromising their beliefs and following the world more than the Word. He told me he’s wrestling with whether or not to simply leave or stay and try to guide them back to God.

          The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. (Revelation 3:5)

          Jesus is victorious. He will be dressed in white along with the faithful, the obedient, the true believers, a reiteration of verse 4. What great news for those enduring a compromised church! To summarize

          1. They will walk with Jesus dressed in white.
          2. Their names will never be blotted out from the book of life. Never.

          In the first century those living in a city were listed in a registry. When they died, their name was erased. Those followers of Jesus will never have their names erased!

          3. Their names will be acknowledged before God the Father and His angels.

          Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:6)

          The Holy Spirit is calling all who will listen to repent and obey. He calls the dead to life. He calls the sleeping to arise.

          So What?

          Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? It begins with confession and surrender to God. Then we are to repent and obey, turn from sin and pursue the way of Jesus with our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are to worship him with our time, talent, and treasures. We are to glorify him with our bodies, our sexuality, our attitudes, our thoughts, and our deeds. It seems so simple yet I need to be reminded every day to get off the throne of my life and let God be God.

          Invitation: if you’ve never surrendered your life to God know that three things happen:

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

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