Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Elizabeth, 4 December 2016

Elizabeth
Series: First Christmas
Luke 1:46-55

Series Big Idea:
Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

Big Idea: God is making life out of the barren places.

Introduction

God is making life out of the barren places.

It happened to Isaac’s parents, Abram and Sarai.
It happened to Samson’s parents, Manoah and his wife.
It happened to Samuel’s parents, Elkanah and Hannah.
It happened to John the Baptist’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

It is still happening today.


My name is Kirk and during this season of Advent—this season of waiting—we are looking at the First Christmas through the eyes of various characters in the story. Last week we examined the wise men who traveled likely hundreds of miles to meet the Messiah, possibly years after his birth.

Today’s character is Elizabeth. If you open your Bibles to Luke chapter one you’ll discover the story of Elizabeth. She may be one of the most underrated figures in the Bible. She not only was the mother of John the Baptist, she was old and barren.

Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:6-7)

They weren’t just old…both Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old!

Very old people are usually called grandparents or great grandparents, not mom and dad! How could this be?

God is making life out of the barren places.

God, did you see the news this week? The tragedy at Ohio State?
God is making life out of the barren places.

God, how are we going to pay off the Visa bill after Christmas?
God is making life out of the barren places.

God, my marriage is a disaster and I feel trapped in misery.
God is making life out of the barren places.

God, I don’t know what to do about these out-of-control children.
God is making life out of the barren places.

God, I really want a baby but the doctor says it’ll never happen.
God is making life out of the barren places.

Barren

What do you think of when you hear the word barren? A desert, right?

Fortunately, we no longer use it to describe women unable to have children. But Elizabeth heard it. She heard it for years. It was likely her label. Barren. “That woman over there…she’s barren. I wonder what she did to make God curse her. What secret sin did she commit?”

In the culture, the more children, the more worth you had, the more God loved you. But Elizabeth was barren…for decades. Imagine the shame. Imagine the stares. The whispers. But notice Elizabeth is not an evil woman.

Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:6-7)

There’s a great story in the Bible that occurs in a barren desert. Actually, the people of Israel spent forty years in the wilderness, a region which contained deserts. On at least two occasions the people complained about having no water to drink.

Now I think that’s a valid concern, don’t you? “Moses, we’re starving in the desert. We’re going to die out here!” At least twice God provides water for the people. It doesn’t rain. It doesn’t come from a well. No food trucks arrive on the scene with water bottles. In the book of Numbers, it says

So Moses took the staff from the LORD’S presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. (Numbers 20:9-11)

The original Hebrew word for “gushed” is “rabbim.” It means great and abundant. God didn’t just provide a little bit of water. He gave an abundance.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible quotes Jesus as saying

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Jesus came to give abundant, full life. Greater life. Extraordinary life. More.

Can you think of a time when God provided in abundance?

For Heather and I, First Alliance Church has been an example of God providing for us abundantly. We could never have imagined a year and a half ago we would be serving alongside so many incredible men, women and children in Glass City. My prayers have been filled with gratitude for His abundant provisions.

But back to Elizabeth and Zechariah!

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. (Luke 1:8-10)

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:11-17)

Zechariah and Elizabeth knew all about Abram and Sarai and their miracle baby, Isaac, born to a 90 year-old mom and a dad who was one hundred years old. So obviously, they were filled with faith and excitement about finally becoming parents, right? No!

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

That’s one way to keep a priest from preaching long sermons!

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:23-25)

Better late than never, right? Elizabeth’s going to have a baby…but not just any baby. Jesus said of this child

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11a)

Abundance.

God is making life out of the barren places.

You might wonder what Elizabeth and John the Baptist have to do with Advent and Jesus.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:26-28)

Sound familiar? Mary is excited and can’t wait, right?

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:29-33)

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

Is this a good question? Absolutely! It’s an honest question. Although the word “but” is not here in the English translation, that’s Mary’s response. “But how can a virgin have a baby?”

God is making life out of the barren places.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:35-37)

Here we have two miracle moms. Two miracle babies. Two examples of God making life out of the barren places. Mary appropriately says

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)

Then Mary goes to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home, John the Baptists leaps in the womb when he hears Mary’s voice, and Elizabeth celebrates Mary’s news, leading Mary to say (or sing?)

And Mary said: 

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful 
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (
Luke 1:46-55)

So What?

God is making life out of the barren places.

I’m not saying every woman unable to conceive will have a baby in nine months.

I’m not promising your student loans will be miraculously forgiven next week.

I can’t even say your troubled marriage is guaranteed to thrive in the new year or that this will be the best Christmas ever.

But I can say God is making life out of barren places. But it might take time.

Waiting
How well do you wait? Waiting is hard in an on-demand world. The microwave can’t cook quickly enough. The fast food order can’t arrive fast enough. The crazy red light can’t turn green soon enough. If my package takes more than two days to arrive at my doorstep…!!!

Imagine waiting your entire life for something. We do, right? That driver’s license? High school diploma? Spouse? House? Kids?

Kids. Elizabeth and Zechariah waited decades.

Could it be that the very things we desire today
will become reality tomorrow…just not today?

I’ve prayed for many sick people and seen them healed, but not always instantly.

I’ve prayed for many broken relationships and seen them healed, but rarely instantly.

I’ve watch friends overcome addiction and abuse and tragedy, but it took time and work.

“Here’s the formula for waiting: buckle up, don’t grow weary, do good, don’t give up.”

    God IS making life in the barren places. All the time.

    Communion
    There’s one empty, barren place I love. Nobody is certain exactly where it is, but it’s in the Middle East, in Israel. It’s a barren tomb. It once contained a dead body. A body that was placed in the tomb after a brutal death, a death we remember today.

    We celebrate the empty, barren tomb because Jesus is alive! He is risen! He will hear us in three weeks when we sing, “Happy birthday” to him! He is with us know through the Holy Spirit. Best of all, he’s coming back to earth soon. When he does, he will permanently make life out of the barren places of our lives. And until then, we declare Jesus Christ is LORD, Messiah, and King.


    Credits

    Some ideas from SkitGuys.com.

    Wise Men, 27 November 2016

    Wise Man
    Series: First Christmas
    Matthew 2:1-12

    Series Big Idea:
    Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

    Big Idea: The wise men waited, listened, and journeyed to follow Jesus, setting an example for us to follow.

    Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-2; 9-12

    Introduction

    For years, people have been warning us, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” Is it me or has it taken people a decade or so to finally realize that applies to Facebook? There are so many bogus new reports, urban legends, and flat out lies about people proliferating.

    Perhaps one reason so many people believe lies is they don’t take time to listen.

    (silence) Do you hear what I hear?

    As the Peanuts song declares, “Christmastime is here.” It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the most stressful time of the year. For many it’s the most depressing time of the year. For merchants it’s the most profitable time of the year. And for many Christians it’s the most offensive time of the year as their religious holiday is hijacked by Santa and sales at the mall.

    But let’s set all of that aside. Christmas is our celebration of Christ’s birth, but it’s more than a day. It truly is a season. It’s a season we call Advent.

    Advent is a time of waiting. It’s a time of anticipation. It’s a time of preparation, watching, and listening. Advent is here. Each week we will look at the First Christmas through the eyes of a different character in the story. Today that is the wise man.

    Hide and seek.

    Did you ever play hide and seek when you were a kid? Of course! The best players played hide and go listen. Listen for the sounds of the hiders under the bed, in the closet, or behind the curtain. Listen for the giggles and whispers.

    Listening is a lost art. Unless you’re a psychologist paid to listen, most of us struggle with keeping quiet, being fully present, and hearing what another is communicating.

    Our understanding of the First Christmas has been terribly distorted over the years. Like Facebook myths, there are myths surrounding the wise man (not “the wise guy!”):

    - There were three of them. The Bible never says how many. It says there were three gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Eastern tradition says there were twelve!

    - The camels. They’re in my nativity set. Are they in yours? They may have been present at the First Christmas, but they’re not mentioned in the Bible, either.

    - They had names. Well, of course they did have names, but we don’t know their names. Tradition says they were named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, but the Bible does not tell us their names.

    - They were kings. Do you remember that song “We three kings of Orient are/bearing gifts we traverse afar/field and fountain/moor and mountain/following yonder star…oh, star of wonder, star of might/star with royal beauty might/westward leading/still proceeding/guide us to thy perfect light.” It’s a great song, written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., but he took some liberties in calling the wise men kings, or telling us there were exactly three. Magi were not kings, but rather religious advisers.

    Listen…to what the Bible says about the wise men, also known as Magi:

    After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

    We could do an entire message on the star. Who would travel after seeing a star in the sky? One must remember the skies were brighter and clearer. There were no skyscrapers, car headlights, or even streetlights. When the sun went down, the only lights were candles. Star gazing was a big deal, and it was believed the heavens and the earth were intricately connected. Halley’s Comet appeared in 12-11 BC, but that was a little early for the First Christmas. It may have been the planets Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction with each other. N.T. Wright notes

    Since Jupiter was the ‘royal’ or kingly planet, and Saturn was sometimes thought to represent the Jews, the conclusion was obvious: a new king of the Jews was about to be born.

    We’re not really sure about the star. It may have been a natural phenomenon, a comet, planets, a supernatural astral light, or even an angel. We do know astronomers and astrologers often went together in the ancient world. These men made a journey to Jerusalem.
    This word “Magi” can refer not only to wise men but also magicians, astrologers, or experts in interpreting dreams. Today we would probably call them “spiritual” men.

    And who did they ask in Jerusalem? The mayor? The chief of police? The director of the Chamber of Commerce?

    Three decades later Pilate’s soldiers will call Jesus, “King of the Jews.” His crown will be made of thorns. His throne will be a cross. A bright star will be replaced by midday darkness. But that’s a story for another time.

    When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: (
    Matthew 2:3-5)

    “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
    for out of you will come a ruler 
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (
    Matthew 2:6)

    Herod was listening. He had heard the prophecies of a king, a king of the Jews. Of course Herod was disturbed. He was the king of the Jews. He ruled over Jews and Gentiles. He wasn’t ready to have his kingdom divided. The Messiah came not only for the Jews, but also the Gentiles. The rule and reign of King Jesus will ultimately extend to every nation, tribe, and tongue.

    Jerusalem is disturbed, too. This may mean the actual residents of the city or the Jewish leadership aligned with Herod. The religious people may have been threatened by Jesus from the very beginning, the one they will crucify many years later.

    Note the prophet Micah gave this prophecy seven centuries earlier.

    Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

    Obviously Herod was not serious. What king goes to worship a child? What king worships another king? He wanted to snuff out the competition! He feared no attack from the west because that was the heart of the Roman Empire. He was more afraid of attacks from the east. It should be noted as he became older, Herod became increasingly paranoid as his ten wives had many children who competed for his throne.

    Is Jesus a baby? We’re not certain, but it could be up to two years after his birth. We do know after he was born and presented in the temple, he was raised in Bethlehem, a city six miles south/southwest of Jerusalem.

    (Heather was there earlier this month, yet another reminder that our faith is not based upon fantasy or dreams, but rather upon historical events, real people, and real places).


    After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (
    Matthew 2:9-12)

    The Magi followed a moving star! Maybe it
    was an angel guiding them? A supernatural message delivered a life-saving message to them in a dream.

    These gifts were standard items to honor a king or god in the ancient world. In fact, it is recorded that these three were offered to the god Apollo in 243 BC by King Seleucus II Callinicus. They were also very prophetic. Gold is, of course, a precious metal. It represents the kingship of the Messiah. Frankincense is a perfume or incense, a symbol of Christ’s priestly role (also possibly used as an arthritis remedy). Myrrh is anointing oil often used to embalm the dead, a prophetic image of the crucifixion.

    No names.
    No camels.
    No kings.
    No stable.

    But they had been listening.
    They had been watching.
    They had been waiting.

    So What?

    I want to challenge you to pay close attention throughout this series to what is said—and not said—in the text.

    The Magi traveled with gifts to honor Jesus. Although they may have been wealthy, their journey was surely a sacrifice. Although they may or may not have ridden on camels, they certainly didn’t take Delta Airlines, Amtrak, or even the interstate. Their route may have been nine hundred miles, taking several months!

    What about you? Today we must be listening—and reading the Word of God. We must be watching—for signs, for his activity in our world. We must be waiting.

    The Jewish people waited thousands of years for the Messiah. The prophecies of his first arrival to our planet were well known, even among Gentiles. Can you imagine waiting thousands of years for Jesus? Yes we can! The Messiah is coming…again! Soon.

    Are you ready? Are you willing to come to Jesus? He traveled a great distance to come to us. Are you willing to offer your best gifts to him? He gave everything to us, even his very life.

    The Magi came to worship Jesus.
    We have come today to worship Jesus—with singing, the study of God’s Word, and the giving of our tithes and offerings.

    Wise men—and women—still listen…they still look…they still seek the Messiah as they await his return.

    Prayer

    “God of Light and Love we know You are speaking. Help us to have ears that hear. Help us listen for your Voice. Help us listen to each other. Help us to hear the pain in the words that aren’t spoken. Help us be Your listening ear so that we may lead others to You. Amen.”

    Credits

    Some ideas from SkitGuys.com, The NIV Application Commentary, and Matthew for Everyone by N.T. Wright.

    Attitude of Gratitude, 20 November 2016

    Attitude of Gratitude
    Colossians 3:15-17

    Big Idea

    Thanksgiving should be celebrated every day of the year, cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

    Introduction

    What is your favorite holiday?

    Growing up as a kid Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It may still be my favorite holiday. My friend, Scott, describes Thanksgiving this way:

    Thanksgiving is all about friends, family and friendship.
    It's about putting aside our difference and reconciling our hearts to one another and God.
    It's about remembering and praising God for the blessings in our lives.
    It's about focusing on the most important things in life.
    It's about turkey, cheesy potatoes, and apple pie.
    It's about inviting and accepting people as they are. No obligations to buy gifts for people simply because it's required. Your presence is the present (See what I did there?)
    It hasn't been hijacked by American consumerism.
    And last, but not least...Football!
    These and many other reasons are why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

    My name is Kirk and today we’re going to talk about the heart behind this Thursday’s holiday…and why it should be celebrated every day.

    Thanksgiving. A day to eat, watch football, be with “framily”…and give thanks. But thanksgiving is more than an annual event. It should be a daily practice. I love the words of our passage today.

    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

    This is not a suggestion. It’s a command.

    But let’s back up a moment. Twice Paul uses the word “peace” in the first sentence. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Our world struggles with peace. It has always struggled with peace. We have an enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy. Where’s the peace in that? It should come as no surprise the contrast between the world and Jesus. One of the most famous Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus states

    For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called 
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (
    Isaiah 9:6)

    Jesus is the Prince of “shalom,” a word which means not only peace but also welfare and completeness. Honestly, the English word “peace” hardly does it justice. Jesus is the Prince of that which is whole, complete, and peaceful.

    Jesus is what our world needs.
    Jesus is what our nation needs.
    Jesus is what Toledo needs.

    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

    Paul says we are called to peace. We are called to be ambassadors of shalom. And we are to be thankful.

    I discovered the Greek word for thankful is “eucharistos.” It means grateful, pleasing, mindful of benefits, thankful. Perhaps you’ve heard the word “Eucharist.” We often call Eucharist “communion,” a time when Jesus gave thanks while breaking bread at Passover during the Last Supper.

    You didn’t know you would get a Hebrew and Greek lesson today! Aren’t you thankful?!

    The Scientific Benefits of Gratitude

    I know, it’s almost cliché’ to say “be thankful” four days before Thanksgiving, but there’s a reason the Bible tells us to be thankful. In fact, science has confirmed the benefits.

    Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

    One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

    (http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude)

    The Bible was so far ahead of its time! I mean that sincerely. It seems like every week I read another report which supports the ancient wisdom of our faith and teachings.

    Gratitude is an Attitude

    You can’t always change your circumstances, but we all choose our attitudes. We’ve all heard about the glass behind half full or half empty. What do you see?

    No matter who you are, you can choose to be thankful. Gratitude is an attitude.

    Right now, think of three things for which you are grateful. Tell someone.

    The author of Colossians, Paul, also wrote a letter to a church in the city of Philippi. In it, he said,

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

    Focus on the positive. This doesn’t mean ignore reality. It doesn’t mean if you think happy thoughts, everything will be rainbows and lollipops. It does mean cultivating an attitude of gratitude will change you. It will change your perspective. It will enhance your prayer life. It will make you a more attractive person. It will improve your health.

    This isn’t self-help psychotherapy. It’s biblical truth! Be thankful.

    Paul continues in Colossians…

    Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16)

    There’s that word “gratitude.” We could do an entire sermon on this one verse! It says to sing to God with gratitude. We have done that today.

    Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

    By the way, that’s scripture! It’s an exact quote from 1 Chronicles 16:34…and Psalm 106:1…and Psalm 107:1…and Psalm 118:1 and 29…and Psalm 136:1!

    The passage concludes…

    And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

    We are to give thanks to God the Father…whatever we do!

    This doesn’t mean we are necessarily thankful
    for everything, but rather thankful in our circumstances. No matter where you are on your life journey,

    God is in control.
    God is faithful.
    God is good.

    I know, it doesn’t always feel like it, but I promise you it’s true.

    We are blessed with freedom in this nation.
    We are blessed with prosperity most of this world can only imagine.
    We are blessed with health to be here this morning.
    We are blessed with education to be able to read.

    The greatest blessing of all is Jesus. He came. He lived. He died. He rose again. He’s coming back. Hallelujah!


    Let’s review…

    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

    Give thanks…every day. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. How? Here are some practical ideas:

      A Adoration
      C Confession
      T Thanksgiving
      S Supplication (requests)

      Let me challenge you to never ask God for something before you’ve given thanks for something. Many of you give thanks before you eat a meal—which is great—but any time you talk with God (and you can be as honest and real as you want, including doubts and anger and questions), begin with praise, confession, and thanks. Thank Him for listening, for the weather, for life, for clothes, for whatever you desire.

      Don’t you appreciate it when someone is thankful for a gift, a favor, a kind word, or just for being you? God does, too. He deserves our worship for who He is and our thanks for what He does.

      Finally,

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

      Did you catch that? Present your requests to God…with thanksgiving. If we could all apply this one verse daily in our lives, we would experience so much more peace and joy. I must admit though I love this verse, I struggle to avoid anxiety. I worry about money. I worry about the health of my family. And then I sometimes remember to tell God about my concerns!

      Conclusion

      Thanksgiving should be more than an annual holiday. It should be a way of life. No matter who you are or where you find yourself, you have much for which to be thankful.

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

      King Jesus, 13 November 2016

      King Jesus
      Romans 13:1-7

      Note: these are the original sermon notes. The actual sermon is quite different and available here.

      Big Idea

      We have elected a new president…but King Jesus is Lord!

      Introduction

      Good morning, church! My name is Kirk and I want to personally welcome you to First Alliance Church—not the building, but the family, the community of people in this room and beyond. We are a part of a larger family, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. One of the things I love about The Alliance is its diversity. Approximately ten percent of Alliance members live in the United States. About ninety percent of our family is scattered all over the globe.

      Speaking of the globe, our world was taken by surprise this past week. For a variety of reasons—largely due to the decreasing use of landline telephones for pollsters—most, if not all, of us woke up to surprising news on Wednesday morning. Some of you were concerned or even scared at the election results. Others were relieved or even celebrating.

      “For some people the savior has come, for others the sky is falling, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle.” So said someone after election day…in 2008.

      Regardless of your political persuasion, I have some encouraging news for you. No more campaign ads for four years! Actually, there is reason for great hope…and it has nothing to do with Washington or Columbus. God is on the move!

      Jesus Is LORD

      In Jesus’ day, religion was extremely popular. The Jews practiced their faith amongst the polytheistic Roman and Greek gods. Temples to these gods were common. Governmental leaders were even thrown in the mix, some treated as deity and others demanding such attention. It may sound odd to our ears, but a popular declaration was “Caesar is Lord.” To refuse to honor these gods was akin to sabotage. Some early Christians were blamed for famine, plagues, and earthquakes because they refused to worship the various gods.

      At age eighty-six, Polycarp, the second-century bishop of Smyrna and disciple of the apostle John, was brought to the Roman authorities and ordered to confess that Caesar is lord. By refusing, he was murdered, inspiring others to remain faithful.

      Just as “King of the Jews” was viewed by some as threatening to the establishment, so also “Jesus is Lord” was considered by many to be a revolutionary declaration. In fact, “Jesus is Lord” is the shortest credal affirmation found in the New Testament, a statement of faith for those regarding Jesus as fully God and fully man. Today it is the motto of the World Council of Churches.

      How did you feel on Wednesday morning when you heard the election results?

      If you felt anxiety or fear, King Jesus is Lord.
      If you felt joy and relief, King Jesus is Lord.

      The role of church and state has been debated for centuries. How are followers of Jesus supposed to relate to human leaders? Written in the midst of the Roman Empire, the book of Romans says…

      Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)

      Let’s take a moment and unpack this.

      Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

      Twice in one verse it says God has established governing authorities. He has established rule and order. He established positions of power such as kings, presidents, and judges. It was never His plan for humans to narcissistically run around and pursue their own agendas in anarchy. Everything God does is carefully designed. He is the Author of systems, whether it is the solar system or your digestive system. Even the most outspoken atheists admit the universe has an order to it, making life on this planet incredibly unique.

      Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. (Romans 13:2-3)

      Obey the law. Although there are exceptions—especially among our African-American brothers and sisters, tragically—you usually only need to fear authority if you do what is wrong. If you’re going the speed limit on I-75, you need not slam on the brakes if you see a police car hidden behind a bridge.

      By the way, if you routinely speed, you might want to take the fish off of your rear bumper! Christians are supposed to obey the law. Is speeding a sin? Yes. Is cheating on your taxes a sin? Yes. Obey the law and you won’t find yourself in jail.

      For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:4-5)

      There’s a lot in these two verses. First, the authorities are God’s servants—for our good. I know, I don’t like to drive under 70 on the expressway, either, but our authority thinks it’s for our good! And have you ever thought about our mayor, governor, or president as being God’s servants? That’s what it says!

      Throughout the Bible, leaders are responsible for their followers. This is true in the home, in the church, and in society. We all will stand before God someday and give an account of how we lived our lives, but leaders must also answer for the way they influenced others. So when you believe an authority figure is misguided, remember they will be judged for their behavior.

      This is not, of course, to say we should never break the law when doing so breaks God’s law. No single sermon could adequately address the nuances of such a response. Clearly Daniel was honored for praying to God against the decree of King Darius. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the image of gold established by King Nebuchadnezzar and are commended.

      Personally, I’ve been deeply impacted by movies such as
      Selma and The Butler which depict the non-violent civil disobedience of African Americans in their quest for equality and civil rights. It sickens me that such oppressive laws—to say nothing of slavery itself and our violence against Native Americans—ever existed in this land.

      Yet today it’s against the law to talk about Jesus in the streets—and even homes—of Russia. You can be arrested for possessing a Bible in North Korea. You can go to jail in many countries for praying in the name of Jesus. And while persecution of Christians may be on the rise in the west, very few of the 70 million plus martyrs have been in the United States.

      We must pray for our brothers and sisters in other nations.
      We must pray for our brothers and sisters in this nation, too.

      This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:6-7)

      I admit, that first sentence is difficult for me to swallow! We pay taxes because God’s servants give their full time to campaigning—I mean, governing! For all of the complaining we can do—and I do!—I’m grateful for men and women who protect us (police and firefighters, stand up). I appreciate our mayor and city council who must balance the budget and make policies to guard against hunger and violence. I’m glad roads are paved, our food and water are safe, and we have freedoms of speech and religion, among other things.

      When asked about paying the imperial tax to Caesar, Jesus said

      “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21b)

      Despite threats to move to Canada every four years, this is still a great place to live. Would anyone like to move to Iraq or Sudan?

      The Kingdom of God

      While the scriptures tell us to pay taxes and submit to authorities, our ultimate allegiance is not to a nation or to a flag, but to a King.

      In Greg
      Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation, Boyd contrasts Caesar's kingdom with Jesus' Kingdom, the Kingdom of God/heaven. Caesar's kingdom is based on the 'power over' model, which uses force, coercion, and social pressure to ensure conformity. Jesus' Kingdom by contrast uses 'power under', which is based on the example of love and sacrifice.

      Jesus says "
      Whosoever will, let them come..." He does not demand, overpower, threaten, coerce, or manipulate. He doesn’t use guilt or shame. He doesn’t hate, scream, or disrespect. He simply displays and invites us to follow him.

      It’s important to realize, too, the Kingdom of God is not about individuals. It’s about community. We are a family. Peter said,

      But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

      He continues

      Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

      Our lives are to glorify God.

      Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

      Respect everyone.
      Love one another.
      Fear and reverence God.
      Honor the emperor. The mayor. The governor. Yes, the president.

      Good News

      Brothers and sisters, when George Washington became our first president, King Jesus was Lord.

      When Abraham Lincoln led our nation, King Jesus was Lord.

      When JFK was elected, King Jesus was Lord.

      When Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were inaugurated, King Jesus was Lord.

      And when Donald Trump becomes president next year, King Jesus will still be Lord.

      Hope in Jesus

      The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From his throne he observes all who live on the earth. He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do. The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory— for all its strength, it cannot save you. But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone. (Psalms 33:13-22, NLT)

      I’m glad I have a USA passport,

      But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

      Paul wrote to Timothy…

      I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

      Prayer for city, state, and nation.

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

      Judgment and Rewards, 23 October 2016

      Judgment and Rewards
      What Happens to You When You Die?
      Revelation 22:12-16

      Series Overview

      Heaven is for real and the Bible says more about it than we might recognize.

      Big Idea

      One day we will all stand before a holy God and give an account for our lives. Are you ready?

      Introduction

      For the past several weeks we’ve been studying heaven. Heaven is where God is, plain and simple. There is no sickness, death, or sin in heaven. It is truly paradise, Eden before the Fall, and so much more. Heaven is for real.

      Unfortunately for many, hell is for real, too. The Bible is full of references to it, and Jesus himself had much to say on the subject. Hell is where God is absent.

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

      The purpose of this series could be summed in two verses from the book of Colossians:

      Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2)

      God commands us to set our hearts—and minds—on Heaven.”

      This does not mean we should be so heavenly minded we become no earthly good. In fact,
      C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

      The scriptures make it clear that heaven is for real and hell is for real. Heaven is where God is present. Hell is where God is absent.

      Your name. It’s important. It allows you to talk with the customer service agent on the phone (so long as you also know those special digits, the last four of your Social Security number!). Perhaps you heard your name when the teacher distributed the graded papers. Your name is used when you sign a contract for a house or purchase a car. Your name identifies you on Facebook, unique from the billion or so other users. Your name—at least your last name—connects you to parents and children of different generations. It has been said the most important words to your ear are your name.

      Often names are placed on lists. For years my wife has posted cast lists after theatrical auditions, causing great excitement among students eager for a part in the school musical. In seventh grade I was heartbroken to see my name absent from the basketball team roster only to have the experience repeated in eighth grade following tryouts.

      In one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, Luke 10, Jesus sends out seventy-two people to health the sick and announce the kingdom of God is near. When they return to him, they are told

      I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19-20)

      This passage in Luke is one of many which describes a list of names, a book of names…the book of life. Is your name in it? Speaking of heaven…

      Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

      Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

      Follow Jesus now…and forever in heaven.
      Reject Jesus now…and he will honor your choice for eternity.

      As C.S. Lewis famously said,
      “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

      Judgment Day

      One day we will all stand before Almighty God and have to give an account of our lives. If you’ve ever wanted to see someone get justice, that will be the day. Jesus said,

      “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 22:12-13)

      “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 22:14-15)

      “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16)

      One day, God will judge you and me—according to what we have done. He will declare us guilty of sin. Someone has to pay. It will be us…unless we’ve received the gift of Jesus who died on the cross for us. Jesus died to save us from eternal damnation, separation from God. The image of baptism is so appropriate—a water grave where we die to ourselves, our agenda, our way and become new creations, resurrected in Jesus.

      Heaven

      The final three chapters in the Bible, Revelation 20-22 contain so many beautiful images of heaven—and dreadful images of hell. It is said of God,

      ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

      I don’t know about you, but if we could spend eternity here on earth without death, mourning, crying, or pain that would be amazing! But there’s so much more.

      He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)

      He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:6-7)


      The greatest thing about heaven is God! Eternity with God.

      The passage continues by presenting the horrifying alternative, eternity without God.


      But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

      I know it’s not politically correct to say this, but everything I understand about the Bible states our destiny as heaven or hell.

      I desperately want all of you to spend eternity with Jesus in paradise, but it begins now. It begins with surrendering your heart, soul, mind and strength to him in this life.

      Jesus didn’t die to make bad people good.
      Jesus died to make dead people come to life.

      He wants to be with you now…and forever. If you haven’t done so I urge you to simply confess your sins to God, turn from selfish living, and make Jesus the LORD of your life. There’s nothing greater you can ever do in this life…and the rewards are eternal.

      Jonathan Edwards said when saints enter Heaven, “They shall see in God everything that gratifies love…They shall see in him all that love desires. Love desires the love of the beloved. So the saints in glory shall see God’s transcendent love to them; God will make ineffable manifestations of his love to them… They shall see as much love in God towards them as they desire; they neither will nor can crave any more.”

      Heaven will be amazing, but the greatest reward of all is Jesus!

      Credits

      Some ideas from
      The Heaven Promise by Scot McKnight and Heaven by Randy Alcorn.

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

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