Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

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.

            Thyatira: Sexual Sin, 24 July 2016

            Thyatira: Sexual Sin in the Church
            7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
            Revelation 2:18-29

            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

            Jesus is serious about sexual sin in the church…and holiness.

            Introduction

            Like many of you, I found the last book of the Bible to be confusing, weird, and even a bit scary. This series is focusing on the messages of Jesus to seven churches in modern-day Turkey. We looked at his words to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum. This week’s church is Thyatira. Thyatira is another inland locale like Pergamum, the least important of the seven cities. It was built for defense and known for its textile and wood industries. It also had trade guilds of artisans who worked in copper and bronze.

            There are few ruins today, just one block. Perhaps the most famous person from Thyatira was Lydia, a woman mentioned in Acts 16 as a dealer in purple cloth, a worshiper of God. Other than our text for today and the brief Acts mention there are no other references to Thyatira in the Bible. This does not, however, diminish the importance of Jesus’ message to their church.

            Revelation 2

            “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

            These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (Revelation 2:18)

            These words are powerful, holy, and speak of judgment. They also describe feet like burnished bronze, a common element among Thyatira artists. Local coins featured the deity of the bronze trade, Apollo Tyrimnaus.

            I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. (Revelation 2:19)

            Faith without works is dead. We are saved by faith but good works should result. They are also filled with love, something the church in Ephesus lost. There are actually six things for which Jesus commends the Thyatira church:

            Deeds
            Love
            Faith
            Service
            Perseverance
            Improvement

            That’s a great list! They have faith and deeds. They love one another and serve others. They have persevered amidst the hostility of the Roman empire. I love the idea of continuous improvement…of growth…of sanctification. I would love for Jesus to commend us for such things! But…

            Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (Revelation 2:20)

            Jezebel may be an actual person or symbolic for the Old Testament woman who brought paganism to the people of God. King Ahab’s wife Jezebel promoted Baal worship (1 Kings 16-21; 2 Kings 9). We’ve been reading in our One Story Bible reading plan about the good and bad kings of Israel and Judah. Some were led astray by people like Jezebel. One common problem then and now is people who claim to speak for God who are actually false prophets. How can we discern the difference?


              False prophets were real…and they are still real today. The Thyatira church wandered from the truth. The voice of the world became louder than the voice of God. They pursued happiness rather than holiness, pleasure rather than purity, sin rather than sanctification. Last week we read Jesus’ critique of the Pergamum church:

              Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:14)

              Some there embraced false teaching about sexual immorality and meat sacrificed to idols. Similar language is used in Jesus’ critique of Thyatira.

              Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (Revelation 2:20)

              As I mentioned last Sunday, in the Roman empire there were temples for and worship of false gods. People often ate meat sold in the public markets ritually slaughtered and dedicated to these Roman gods. This was not mere nourishment, but often led to sharing in the pagan festivals of the unbelievers of the day, which often included sexual immorality. If you wanted to find a prostitute, the pagan temple area would’ve been a great place to look. Many believed the spirit was all that mattered so the body was unimportant. Our bodies matter, friends. We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and body. It’s unpopular to say but our bodies belong to God…and our spouse, if married.

              Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

              Jezebel led many in the Thyatira church to engage in immoral acts of various times, including the sexual. Jesus says to stay away from pagan practices of all kinds. Jezebel will appear again in Revelation chapters 17-19 as the recipient of great judgment.

              Sexual Immorality

              Let me be clear: God loves sex. He created it…for a purpose. Several, actually, but always to be in the context of marriage. Our culture is so confused and broken over sexuality. It’s tragic how something so beautiful has become so distorted and the source of so much pain.

              When it comes to sex, the world scoffs at the “traditional” view, yet it has worked for thousands of years and is God’s design. In fact, while the world cheapens sex, God’s Word views it as sacred, holy, and special. It’s not that God doesn’t care about sex, it’s that He cares about it so much. That’s why He instructs us to have boundaries, to treat it with respect, and to maintain purity. Here’s just a small sample of the texts dealing with sexual immorality. Let’s start with Jesus’ words:

              For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:19)

              The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (1 Corinthians 6:13b)

              The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; (Galatians 5:19)

              Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

              It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; (1Thessalonians 4:3)

              In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)

              Perhaps the most ominous verse is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth:

              Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)

              Sexual sins have dire—and sometimes deadly—consequences. I wish we had time to fully unpack this subject, but suffice it to say God made you, knows you, and wants what’s best for you. Really. He’s not a killjoy. He’s not about stopping your fun. He wants you to flourish and avoid the heartache of disease, regret, shame, unwanted pregnancy, embarrassment, and guilt by engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. This includes pornography, lust, infidelity, fornication, and adultery.

              Temptation

              What tempts you? Most—if not all of us—are tempted in the area of our sexuality. Are there ways to avoid it? Jesus taught us to pray

              And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ’ (Matthew 6:13)

              Prayer is one way to avoid temptation, but often other actions are required. Temptation is NOT sin. We only sin when we inappropriately respond to temptation. Jesus was tempted. The book of Hebrews contains one of my favorite verses:

              For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

              Some people feel guilty when tempted. It’s only when we sin that we should feel guilty, confess, repent—which means to turn 180 degrees—receive the forgiveness Jesus offers us through His death on the cross, and follow Christ. If you hear nothing else today, know that God forgives. No matter what you’ve done, how you’ve sinned, you can receive forgiveness by surrendering your life to Jesus Christ, making him your Savior and Lord.

              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)

              Hallelujah!

              Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:20-23)

              Jesus says he will cast Jezebel on a bed of suffering, perhaps a double entendre since she used her bed immorally. Sin leads to suffering and often even death. But we can repent. We can turn away from our sins. We can change…with the help of God and others. You can’t do it alone, though. Don't buy into one of the lies of the enemy that you can be holy without help.

              This past week I had two front-row seats to see the pain of sin and the hope of healing. The first was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I attended with my daughter Rachel…for her class at the University of Toledo. We heard stories of anguish and brokenness…amidst a devoted group of people present to support and encourage.

              On Friday afternoon I was with two different groups at the Cherry Street Mission Life Revitalization Center. Both were filled with people who hit bottom and finally recognized their need for help. The work at Cherry Street was so exciting to see first-hand as men and women are truly becoming revitalized one day at a time.

              Perhaps today you need to repent. First you need to confess and agree with God you have sinned. That’s the easy part. The hard part is doing the hard work of change. That’s where the church is so valuable. You can’t do it alone. You need friends, a small group, a Bible study, a Sunday School class. It all begins with that first step of agree with God that you have sinned and sharing it with someone else.

              The good news: there’s no perfect people allowed here so anyone you tell will have their own sins to confess.

              The better news: our sins can be forgiven because of Jesus’ death on the cross.


              Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ (Revelation 2:24-25)

              Satan may have secrets but God’s truth is revealed openly through His Word and the Holy Spirit. The church was short-lived.

              To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 2:26-29)

              In a passage filled with bad news for the sinners, there’s encouragement for the saints, those who obey. The works of Jesus are contrasted with the works of Jezebel. The faithful will be given authority. They will be given the morning star, the hope of the Church. Here the morning star is likely the planet Venus at its pre-dawn brightest, a sign of the dawning of the day when Jesus rules and reigns forever. Jesus’ birth was announced by a star, a symbol of authority and royalty, and this description has echoes of Psalm 2. The great reward is Jesus Himself.

              The Church is to be holy, heaven’s representative, God’s holy people. We cannot tolerate sin of any kind, especially sexual sins which can harm us with devastating consequences.

              Paul wrote this to the church in Ephesus:

              But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:3)

              The word “holy” means devoted to God, special, separate from common usage. It means to be devoted to God and therefore separate from evil, satan, and sin.

              Theologian Scot McKnight says, ““Holiness is the inevitable outcome of a person who loves God heart, soul, mind and strength. Holiness is whatever is an inevitable outcome of a person who loves his or her neighbor as themselves.”

              The people of God are to look different, act different, be different than the world. Every day we choose to follow God or follow our own selfish, worldly desires. It’s hard. It’s a battle. But following God is always worth it.

              Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

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

              Pergamum: False Teaching, 17 July 2016

              Pergamum: False Teaching
              7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
              Revelation 2:12-17

              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 church at Pergamum was tolerating false teaching in the church rather than uniting under the truth of God’s Word.

              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 studying 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. Many 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.
              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. This week’s church is Pergamum or Pergamon, a city in modern-day Turkey near Bergama. Heather and I were blessed to have been able to visit it earlier this year. It’s truly a city on a hill.

              It featured massive temples to Dionysius and Athena, a stadium, a theatre, a huge forum and an amphitheater along with a shrine to Asclepius, the god of healing. Its library was second in the world only to Alexandria. Mark Anthony gave the library to his girlfriend Cleopatra. Its wealth was so great that many of the library’s 200,000 volumes were written on costly sheepskin—parchment (this is centuries before the printing press) rather than papyrus.

              The city was also known for its vast medical knowledge. It was the religious center. It was the most illustrious city in Asia Minor. Some say it was the one city deserving of being a royal city.

              The ancient city today is reached by cable car. It is a fascinating place. It features a beautiful valley. It’s not a coastal city like Ephesus and Smyrna but it was built to withstand the enemy. The acropolis—city or settlement on a hill or elevated ground— dominated the entire region.

              Revelation 2

              “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

              These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. (Revelation 2:12)

              Pergamum was symbolized by a sword. The city was given the unusual independent authority to execute capital punishment.

              Jesus says he has the sharp, double-edged sword, the Word. The book of Hebrews says

              For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

              God’s word is powerful! The Roman empire would eventually come to an end, but Jesus will rule forever! The Word of God is the answer to man’s sin and man’s need. In this instance it was the answer to religion.

              I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. (Revelation 2:13a)

              Can you imagine living where satan has his throne? This was not the Bible belt! Scholars are unsure why Jesus mentions satan’s throne. It could be a reference to the emperor’s cult, the great altar for Zeus, the temple of Asclepius (the god of healing; they used medicine, psychology, etc. for 700 years it was a hospital that attracted people from around the world), or the acropolis with temples to other gods and goddesses. Whatever the reason, the Pergamum church lived in the midst of tremendous evil and idolatry.

              Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
              (Revelation 2:13b)

              Last week we talked about the persecution in Smyrna including the martyr (which is Greek for “witness”) Polycarp. Antipas—whose name means “against all”—was killed in Pergamum. This church remained true. They were faithful. They endured…and were commended for it.

              I pray we would remain faithful to the name of Jesus. It’s not always a popular word to declare—unless it’s used as profanity. It’s fine to talk about God

              Satan is not in hell…yet! At this time his headquarters were in Pergamum. Where is it today?! The heathen temples were imposing.

              Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Revelation 2:14-15)

              Jesus does not say “but” or “yet,” instead saying, “Nevertheless.” This church has some issues. First, there is division. Some followed the faithful example of Antipas while others followed the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans (both names mean “Victor or Destroyer of the People”).

              Unity

              Unity is so essential to a vibrant, healthy church. It is one of my four prayers for First Alliance Church, that we would be united. I pray for unity—not uniformity, but unity. We are united at the foot of the cross. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. Jesus said,

              “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. (Luke 11:17b)

              One of my favorite prayers in the Bible was prayed by Jesus…for us!

              “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

              Jesus prayed for unity. When we pray for unity, we are agreeing with Christ. We know it’s his will!

              Yet there are more than 30,000 Christian denominations! Imagine if Jesus didn’t pray for us!!!

              How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

              Unity is so important, yet it must be unity around truth, not false teaching.

              I have said before and will say again our authority as a church is not in my words or even the president of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, Dr. John Stumbo. The Bible—the Word of God—is our authority. It’s obviously a big book and there are controversial issues, but we cannot do anything which contradicts the Bible. We need wisdom and discernment, especially in the difficult scriptures. Fortunately there are many clear, foundational doctrines with which millions of followers of Jesus can embrace. Here’s one example:

              Apostle’s Creed video

              Returning to our text for today, there was false teaching about sexual immorality and meat sacrificed to idols. The first is common in our day, the latter seems foreign to us, but people often ate meat sold in the public markets ritually slaughtered and dedicated to the Roman gods. This was not mere nourishment, but often led to sharing in the pagan festivals of the unbelievers of the day which often included sexual immorality.

              Have we been influenced by the unbelievers of our day? Do we embrace sinful practices? It’s easy to compromise our faith when the culture is screaming political correctness 24/7 through every screen and media outlet.

              The people of Pergamum compromised the Word of God. You cannot simultaneously love Jesus and the world. You cannot honor God and sin.

              The world came into the Church during this period. The Ephesus church hated the Nicolaitans teachings, but the Pergamum church embraced it. Perhaps it was a religious spirit. Whatever it was, it did not honor God.

              How do we know what honors God? How do we know the scriptures? How do we know the truth? We must read the Bible. We must listen to the Bible. We must study the Bible.

              Never before have there been so many ways to access the sacred scriptures. It’s on my phone, my laptop, and my iPad. I have multiple Bibles, commentaries, and study guides. The Internet is packed with blogs, websites, podcasts, and videos. We must know the truth…in a world of lies.

              Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:16)

              The only cure was repentance. The Word of God was the answer. If they did not repent, Jesus was going to fight
              against them! He would do it not to harm them, but rather to purify them.

              Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)

              Our text concludes with a message not only for those in Pergamum but whoever has ears, all who respond to the Spirit’s voice. Jesus promises two things to the victorious, to the overcomer who trusts in Jesus: hidden manna and a white stone.

              Manna was God’s miraculous provision for the people of Israel during their 40-year journey in the wilderness. To those who refused the food of idolatrous pagan festivals Jesus would provide a special gift. Jesus is the Bread of Life. He will strengthen them.

              White stones were used by jurors to free an alleged criminal. They were also used as entrance tickets to banquets and plays. It is possible Jesus is saying believers are forgiven of their sins, they are free from the condemnation we deserve. Jesus died to set us free. He took our punishment. We are given a white stone with a new name known only to us. We become new creations. We are made new. We are born again. We are declared righteous. We receive a new identity—in Christ. Hallelujah!

              So What?

              It’s easy to jump ahead, assuming we get manna, the Bread of Life, forgiveness, salvation, and a new identity since we attend church and call ourselves Christians. But don’t forget, this entire passage is directed at a church. Some were found faithful, others followers of false teachings. In our day, there are many spiritual people who can draw a crowd, but do they love Jesus Christ? Do they know and follow his teachings, his Word? Do you?

              Perhaps you believe you deserve to go to heaven because you’re a good person, but you’re not. I’m not. All of us sin. All of us fall short of God’s perfect standard, and therefore none of us deserve to go to heaven. It’s only because of Jesus—his death on our behalf—which allows us to be forgiven, free, and reconciled to our heavenly Father. You don’t deserve it. You can’t earn it. All you can do is surrender your life to the One who surrendered his for you. Jesus wants to be not only your Savior, but also your Lord, your King. Following him may be costly, but you’ll never regret it.

              My prayer for First Alliance Church is that God would give us protection, direction, passion…and unity, united under our Senior Pastor, Jesus Christ. United in the Word of God, the holy scriptures of the Bible. I pray we would be faithful to sound doctrine and never be lured by false teaching. I pray we would remain faithful to Christ, our Cornerstone. It’s all about Jesus!

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

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