Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Facts About Furnaces, 31 January 2016

Facts About Furnaces
Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
1 Peter 4:12-19

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

Big Idea: Suffering sharpens us and prepares us for glory.

Introduction

Earlier this month I spent a week in Chicagoland working on my doctorate. One of our assignments prior to the class was to prepare a brief autobiography that describes our ethnicity and understanding of nationality. Each of us was given a few minutes to share a bit about our family of origin.

I was especially struck by the story of one of my colleagues. Jonathan was born and raised in Ontario, Canada. He is a Canadian citizen. He has never lived outside of Canada. Yet his family is Italian. Many speak Italian, they eat Italian foods, they cheer for Italy in the World Cup and other international competitions. It’s almost as if he has dual citizenship—Canada and Italy. Were they to go head-to-head in the Olympics, who would he want to win?

Most of us have a similar struggle. As followers of Jesus, we are citizens of heaven, yet we live in the United States. We want our identity to come from being children of God, yet we are easily influenced by our culture. If we’re honest, most of us live more like our non-Christian neighbors than our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. This is especially true when it comes to politics…but don’t worry, we’re not going there today!

Instead, I want to talk about suffering (perhaps politics
is suffering!). See, it’s un-American to talk about suffering. We like to be happy-happy-happy, safe in our La-Z-Boy chair with the remote control, enjoying a hot cup of coffee (made with clean water!) near full cupboards of food and a car or two parked safely in the driveway or garage. Right? We value comfort, choice, convenience, and safety.

I’m not saying any of those things are necessarily bad, but USAmericans like us often fail to understand suffering. When we encounter it, we are inclined to ask, “What in the World is Going On?” Our study of Peter’s first epistle or short letter to some of the first Christians is written to people who understood suffering. Many of them faced life-threatening circumstances as many do today from ISIS, Boko Haram, and other groups. The theme of this book may well be called hope and grace in the midst of suffering.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Suffering is normal. It’s part of the human condition. It stems largely from sin, beginning in the Garden of Eden. Paradise has been lost, and though we have the hope of heaven, our present reality is far from perfect.

Yet people are surprised when they suffer.

In my time overseas, my perception is suffering is expected. It seems abnormal to many in the United States. Perhaps it’s the barrage of marketing messages we hear every day about how we deserve this and should demand that, you owe it to yourself to live in luxury and everyone around you is experiencing pleasure and happiness.

Facebook doesn’t help! It’s tempting to compare our worst days with the best days of others. After all, who announces to the word, “Today was an average day” or “watch this video of me getting fired” or “here’s an Instagram photo of me being served divorce papers.”

Peter says don’t be surprised at suffering. The NIV version of the Bible says “fiery ordeal” which is to “test you.” Gold is refined in a fire. God tests us to make us holy…and wholly. He’s not out to harm us, but sometimes the process of growth and maturity does hurt.

The older I get, the more I believe one of the secrets to life is expectations. If you expect perfection, you’ll be disappointed. If you have a realistic view of living in a fallen world filled with both joys and sorrows, you’ll be less stressed and upset.

I found the results of a survey sent to recent customers of
Thomas Cook Vacations and the Association of British Travel Agents. Listen to these complaints and think about their expectations:

1. "On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don't like spicy food."

4. "We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price."

5. "The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room."

8. "No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared."

11. "The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun."

12. "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair."

13. "I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends' three-bedroom and ours was significantly smaller."

15. "When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners."

Expectations are amazing!

Peter says don’t be surprised at testing and suffering…

But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)

The Bible is filled with counter-cultural statements.

The first shall be last.
If you want to save your life you must lose it.
Rejoice when you suffer.

Crazy, right?

Jesus’ half-brother, James, begins his letter to the early Church:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (James 1:2)

Is he out of his mind? No. He understands the paradox of testing.

because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:3
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:3-4)

Peter says

But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)

We don’t rejoice in the pain but in the results. One poet wrote

God hath not promised
Sun without rain
Joy without sorrow
Peace without pain
But God hath promised
Strength from above
Unfailing sympathy
Undying love

Following Jesus means entering into suffering. It means dying…in order to live. Jesus suffered and died for you and me, despite His perfection and righteousness. He chose to enter our world and give up everything out of love for us. He never asks us to do anything He didn’t demonstrate. He said plainly to His disciples

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

Many USAmericans have this distorted view of God. They believe His job is to ensure our happiness. Thomas Jefferson penned the phrase, “the pursuit of happiness,” not God. It’s not that God wants us miserable, but He is more concerned about our holiness than our happiness.

There are many kinds of suffering. Some is self-inflicted and ever since Adam and Eve, we’ve been quick to blame others for our suffering, even if we were the responsible party.

Some suffering is unavoidable. We can’t control the weather, other drivers on the road, our genetic predisposition toward diseases or the economy.

But some suffering comes
because we follow Jesus. If you were told following Jesus will make your life safe, comfortable and problem-free, you’ve been lied to! You will suffer because of following Jesus…but it’s worth it. And there’s a purpose behind it. The book of Romans says

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17)

Paul put it this way:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

To truly know Christ, we must die. We must suffer. He did.

He experienced resurrection. We will, too. We will share in His glory.

Jesus invites us to a banquet table of salvation but it’s not a picnic.

Paul suffered.
Peter suffered.
Jesus suffered.

Suffering shapes us.

Suffering draws us together.

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:14)

You’re a child of God if you endure suffering for Christ. I’m afraid, again, this is so foreign to many of us raised in the good ol’ USA, God bless America, in God we trust. I love this country, but it is historically unique. Many lament the loss of power and control Christians have in this nation, but Jesus never said His mission was to seize power and control. He never promised us the majority. He said

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. (John 15:18-21)

We are blessed when we suffer for Christ.

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. (1 Peter 4:15)

Nothing is more damaging to the glory of God and the movement of Jesus than the sins of his people. God never tests us with sin and evil. If you suffer because of your sins, there’s no reward in that. Notice here murder is mentioned in the same breath as gossip!

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16)

Peter and his audience lived in an honor-shame culture. You can ignore criticism, but shame damages one’s social standing. It can even be fatal.

I remember a fellow student in college who converted from Islam to Christianity. He was preparing for his family to conduct a funeral for him, literally considering him dead to them…simply because of his allegiance to Jesus.

Have you suffered as a Christian, because of your faith? Do your words and actions even show you belong to Jesus? I realize it’s easy to say in this environment, but let’s all commit to standing up for Jesus, the One who hung up for us.

In the midst of speaking about the present sufferings Peter shifts to the future.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)

Judgment Day is coming, friends. All will stand before the Almighty and give an account for their lives. Are you ready? Christians will be judged! First! (see 2 Corinthians 5:10)

Now Peter quotes Proverbs 11:31

And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18)

There’s only one Way—Jesus. He’s our only hope. The reality is none of us deserves to share in God’s glory, none of us deserves heaven, none of us deserves grace or mercy or forgiveness…but thanks be to God we follow a Messiah who died for us and conquered sin and death.

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:19)

This is a fitting way to conclude our time together. The trust of these suffering Christians is shown through good works. Peter tells them to live honorably in the midst of suffering. Goppelt wrote

“This ‘handing over’ of one’s own ‘I’ to the Creator, which liberates a person from fear, takes place, amid the danger of losing one’s life, through prayer and through action arising from hopeful faith.”

In other words, as we suffer for Christ, we are able to identify with Christ’s suffering, we demonstrate our faith to the world, we proclaim there is more than this life, and we bring glory to God.

James said,

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

When—not if—we suffer, let’s suffer for Jesus, not our own stupidity. Let’s encourage one another as we face persecution for our faith. We are not alone. We’ve been blessed with brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity. Some are in prison now. Others may not survive the end of this day. Still others are in the midst of torture for proclaiming the name of Jesus. One day it will be worth it all.

Credits

Some ideas from

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

Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

Learning from Noah, 17 January 2016

Learning from Noah
Series: What in the World is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
1 Peter 3:18-22

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

Big Idea:
Noah was saved in the ark, the waters of baptism symbolize death and resurrection, and Jesus understands suffering and is now in heaven praying for us until He returns.

Introduction

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

One of the advantages of going verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible is we are able to hopefully get a glimpse of the context. We also avoid the temptation to skip difficult passages. Today’s text is one of the most challenging in the New Testament to understand. If you’ve been with us in the series you know Peter presents a variety of topics to his readers, sometimes in what may appear to be random order. We do know Peter is trying to encourage who are experiencing difficult days.

Peter begins by reminding them again of the sufferings of Jesus.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)

Jesus was and is the perfect example. He not only died for our sins and reconciled us to God, He showed us how to live, how to glorify God, how to surrender, how to let go, and even how to die. He came to die for the unjust, the unrighteous, the sinners…us! He did was not punished for what He did, He was punished for what we did, for what we do. He did nothing wrong.

Jesus is what we’re about at First Alliance. Not organized religion. Not programs and church services. Not even the Bible as literature. We’re about a Person, about Jesus. My greatest desire for our church is we would follow Jesus…24/7. I pray people would confuse us with Jesus! It’s amazing how many people have left the Church but respect Jesus. There are countless people who will never walk into our building who are curious about Jesus. The same Holy Spirit that was alive in Jesus is available to us.

But we must choose to intentionally follow Jesus, to do life differently than our neighbors, to spend our time differently, to spend our money differently, to surrender our safety and convenience and comfort, perhaps.

Peter’s message here to early Christians who were suffering is Jesus understands, Jesus knows suffering, Jesus suffered for THEM…and for us!

Jesus suffered without sinning. He did not complain.

He came to bring us to God, a technical term that means “gain audience at court.” We can be reconciled with our good, good Father because of what Jesus—the Man of sorrows—did on the cross for us. We can enter the holy of holies, the throne of the Almighty. This is a very big deal! We can also experience the presence of God, the power of God, the mercy and grace of God each day.

We are accepted by the Father. We don’t need the world’s acceptance.

The righteous Jesus died for us unrighteous…to bring us to God. We can know the Almighty. We can know our Father, our Daddy. God wants to know us. God wants to love us. The Father sent Jesus who came, lived, died, and rose from the dead for us.

Do you know Jesus? I don’t mean do you know about Jesus like you know about George Washington or LeBron James. Do you know Jesus, like you know your best friend? I admit it’s different knowing someone you can’t see, but He speaks primarily through the Bible and we can speak with Him through prayer—anytime. He’s alive. He’s with us through the Spirit.

Now we come to a rather interesting section.

After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, (1Pet. 3:19-20)

The body of Jesus died.
The spirit of Jesus died when He was made sin.

Who were these spirits? What did He proclaim to them?

Who were these spirits? Humans are never called spirits. If the reference was to lost sinners in Hell, they would probably be called souls.

We are never told Jesus went to Hell. He went to hades, the realm of the unbelieving dead, a temporary place where they wait for the resurrection (Acts 2:31).

Hell is the final, permanent place of judgment for unrepentant sinners. Hades is a temporary place.

When followers of Jesus die, they go to heaven to be with Jesus (Phil. 1:20-24)

Jesus likely visited fallen angels—imprisoned spirits—who existed before the flood. We don’t know what Jesus proclaimed to them, but since angels cannot be saved, it was probably a declaration of victory over satan and his hosts (Col. 2:15; 1 Peter 3:22).

These spirits may be “the sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4. Many things were different prior to the flood.

What is clear in the midst of this difficult passage is God saving humanity through Noah and his family in the ark. Eight people survived the flood. Noah became quite the hero. Granted, he built a huge boat on dry land which had never experienced rain! We are told

“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” (Genesis 6:22)

In the very next chapter of Genesis it says…

And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him. (Genesis 7:5)

And let’s not forget this one small detail:

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. (Genesis 7:6)

That is not a typo! He was 600 years old when he finished building the ark and the rain began.

Noah is mentioned in Genesis, of course, but also in the books of Numbers, Joshua, 1 Chronicles, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Matthew, Luke, Hebrews, 2 Peter, and of course here in 1 Peter.

But he wasn’t perfect. After the flood he gets drunk and naked! One thing I love about the Bible is it’s so real. Even the heroes have flaws. Nearly every biblical character is presented as a screw-up…like me!

But the point is eight people were saved from water in the ark and then Peter speaks of a different water…

and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21)

Death occurs when the spirit leaves the body (James 2:26).

Resurrection occurs when the spirit returns to the body (Luke 8:55).

So much of our faith is based upon the resurrection of Jesus. We have a “living hope.” Jesus proved He is God. Salvation has been accomplished for us. Death has been conquered.

A dead God cannot save.
A dead God cannot heal.
A dead God cannot forgive, love, serve, bless, guide, encourage, or challenge.

We just celebrated Jesus’ birthday—which is great— but in my opinion it’s nothing compared to Resurrection Sunday!

I mentioned last week how baptism is symbolic of our death in a water grave, dying to ourselves, and coming up out of the water, resurrected in new life in Christ.

Our text concludes speaking of Jesus…

who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Peter 3:22)

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, the place of exaltation (Ps. 110:1; Acts 2:34–36; Phil. 2:5–11; Heb. 12:1–3).

Jesus is in heaven at God’s right hand. He has angels, authorities and powers at His command.

Listen to what Warren Wiersbe concludes:

Believers are seated with Him in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:4–6), and through Him we are able to “reign in life” (Rom. 5:17). He is ministering to the church as High Priest (Heb. 4:14–16; 7:25) and Advocate (1 John 1:9–2:2). He is preparing a place for His people (John 14:1–6) and will one day come to receive them to Himself. But the main point Peter wanted to emphasize was Christ’s complete victory over all “angels and authorities and powers” (1 Peter 3:22), referring to the evil hosts of Satan (Eph. 6:10–12; Col. 2:15). The unfallen angels were always subject to Him. As Christians, we do not fight for victory, but from victory—the mighty victory that our Lord Jesus Christ won for us in His death, resurrection, and ascension.

So What?

Noah was saved in the ark, the waters of baptism symbolize death and resurrection, and Jesus is in heaven. So what?

There’s a message of vindication here. As Peter writes to the persecuted, he reminds them of Jesus’ suffering, of Jesus’ position in heaven, and implies Jesus’ return. He promised to return…soon!

When you suffer, you can empathize with Jesus who suffered…for you and me.

One of my professors, Scot McKnight, has said of Peter…

He knows how difficult it is to fight off pressures for acceptance and conformity; he knows that Christians seek to live holy and good lives and so refrain from sinful behaviors; and he knows that you will need to have special faith and courage to endure. My contention is that Peter wants you to focus on the final day when God will bring about ultimate justice. He wants you to say: (1) I will not conform to the sinful habits of my peers and friends; (2) I will remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus by living faithfully and obediently; (3) I will endure lonely nights and few friends; (4) I will find my friends in those who seek, with me, to be obedient; and (5) I will look forward to the day when God shows that faithfulness rather than acceptance is the truer virtue.

We need to learn, with Jesus, to be just; we need to listen to Peter and seek to be obedient. And we especially need to get our eyes off the problems of acceptance and get them focused squarely on God’s final day of vindication, when all will be made right and all true virtues will appear for what they are: the will of God, now done on earth as it is heaven.

Credits

Some ideas from

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

1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

Preparing for the Best, 10 January 2016

Preparing for the Best!
Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
1 Peter 3:8-17

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

Big Idea: Love one another and prepare your story for the best is yet to come.

Introduction

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

Our church’s mission is…to make disciples.

Great! So how do we make disciples? How do we become disciples? Today’s passage offers a clue.

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. (3:8)

If I had one challenge for us, First Alliance, one verse upon which to meditate and practice it could very well be this one.

First, he says to be
like-minded.

I have been praying four things for us as a church family:


    Peter tells us to be united. He doesn’t promote uniformity but unity. We are different—by design—but we are to work together. We are to love and serve one another.

    We may not always agree on how to do things, but we should always be united regarding what to do and why. That’s the mission. That’s the Great Commandment. That’s the Great Commission.

    D.L. Moody was once criticized for his evangelism methods. He responded, “Well, I’m always ready for improvement. What are your methods?” The man had no answer so Moody said, “Then I’ll stick to my own.”

    Unity, not uniformity. Like-minded, not always exactly alike.

    Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. (3:8)

    Peter says to be sympathetic, compassionate and humble. We all love to be around people who possess these qualities. It seems obvious, but it’s godly instruction.

    In between sympathetic, compassionate, and humble he says to love one another. There are several Greek words for love. This one is philadelphos, brotherly love, the root of the city of Philadelphia.

    Jesus had a similar instruction, though He used the word
    agape, a deeper love.

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

    Don’t miss that last sentence.

    Everyone will know we are disciples of Jesus by…


      Our love for one another!

      Just to clarify, this does not merely mean how we love one another here at First Alliance. It means how we love one another on Facebook, in the comments section of blogs and newspapers, when we disagree, when we’ve been wronged, …when we don’t feel like loving!

      When you don’t
      feel like loving, remember you are not always loveable, but the Father still loves you. He’s still nuts about you! When your love tank is empty, bask in the love the Father has for you and allow Him to fill you.

      Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (3:9)

      We are to bless others. The Golden Rule. Turning the other cheek. Community 101.

      Returning evil for good is satanic.
      Returning good for good and evil for evil is human.
      Returning good for evil is divine. Jesus set the ultimate example for us.

      For,

      “Whoever would love life
      and see good days
      must keep their tongue from evil
      and their lips from deceitful speech.
      They must turn from evil and do good;
      they must seek peace and pursue it.
      For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
      and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
      but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (3:10-12)


      Peter quotes Psalm 34:15-16 and Ecclesiastes 2:17. There’s so much here.


        Let’s live it up…doing good!

        God is watching. God is listening. He hears the prayers of His children.

        Can I tell you one of my prayers? It’s for Toledo to follow Jesus, for our city to have a spiritual awakening, for men, women and children to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ, experiencing what it truly means to be human.

        Thursday night was a defining moment in my time in Toledo…and I pray in the history of Toledo. Hundreds of people gathered in a ballroom to pray for our city. Dozens of churches joined together on the 179
        th birthday of our city to declare Jesus is the King of Toledo. He is the LORD of this city. We prayed for the government, business, education, arts and entertainment, the family, media, and the Church of Toledo.

        I love serving as the lead pastor at First Alliance but I also serve on staff of the Church of Toledo along with dozens (hundreds?) of pastors with the same mission: to make disciples, to see people in Toledo follow Jesus, transforming our city and the world in the process, one life at a time.

        The motto of Toledo is, "Laborare est Orare.” It is in our city seal, but very few know what it means because it is written in Latin. It is an old Benedictine saying, "To work is to pray.” Prayer is at the very core of our city’s foundation.

        It was a thrill to see so many of you on Thursday night as we prayed for 500k, for God to save every soul in the Greater Toledo area, 500,000 people.

        www.500k.org

        In biblical times people said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

        We aren’t the most popular or powerful city, but this week someone suggested perhaps revival could begin here and spread around the world, challenging the question, “Can anything good come out of Toledo?”

        By the way, the answer is a resounding YES!!!

        Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” (3:13-14)

        We talked about suffering in chapter two. Suffering for being right should bring us joy, not because we enjoy suffering, but because God is watching and doing the right thing brings Him glory.

        Now we come to one of my favorite verses in the Bible.

        But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (3:15a)

        How do we make disciples? It begins with a conversation. It might be at a picnic, a party, a water cooler chat, or an online encounter. If we are truly following Jesus, our lives will be different. They will radiate love, joy, and peace. They will be filled with hope, and people will ask.

        But you have to be ready. We must know the Bible. Even more, we must know Jesus and always “be prepared” (the Boy Scout motto!) to introduce others to Him. The word “apology” is from the Greek word “answer.” It’s not regret or saying you’re sorry, but rather like a defense in a court. Apologetics is defending the faith.

        If we are truly following Jesus, our lives will look different. It’s not that we’re supposed to act weird, but we’re supposed to act different than the selfish, prideful, insecure people around us, especially in the midst of the fear and chaos we encounter every day. Our lives should be characterized by peace, joy, hope, generosity, and most of all love. This does not mean we cannot share our faith until someone asks why we’re different. Quite the opposite. We need to be prepared with our story.

        What’s your story?

        I want to hear it. We want to hear it. The world wants to hear it.

        I’d like to invite you to share your story and there are several ways you can do it.


          The great thing about your story is no one can argue with it. You might not be able to offer intellectual, archaeological, philosophical, or existential proofs for the existence of God, but your story is real. There are great reasons to believe, but even if you don’t know the Bible like Pastor Keith or understand world religions like Ravi Zacharias or be able to explain the historical basis for our faith like Ray Vander Laan your story may be the only thing people need to take their next step with God.

          And be sure to ask about their story. One of my favorite questions is, “Where are you at on your spiritual journey?”

          In Michigan we had fantastic neighbors who were Buddhists. I loved asking them about their faith and it gave me the freedom to share mine. Our friendship grew as we dialogued. We didn’t debate, but we dialogued. We listened to one another. We respected one another, which is exactly what Peter advised.

          But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (3:15b-17)

          I love this passage! We are to treat everyone—Republicans, Democrats, even Buckeyes—with gentleness and respect as they are created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. They’re lost and Jesus wants them found (Luke 15). There’s no greater thrill than introducing people to Jesus! But it’s not just what we say that’s important, but how we say it. Megaphones are not always the best tool for evangelism and discipleship!

          We must keep a clear conscience in the process.

          Peter closes this section by reiterating what he has said so many times before: sometimes we will suffer for doing good, and that may be God’s will. We pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If you suffer for Jesus, rejoice. Great will be your reward. Our enemies may hurt us, but they can never harm us.

          So What?

          Our mission is to make disciples. Disciples of Jesus. The world will know we are His if we love one another.

          The world will know He is real if we live radical, counter-cultural lives of faith, hope and love that cause people to ask about our lives. Then we can tell our story—His story—and invite others to follow Jesus with us, thus making more disciples of Christ.

          It is my prayer that in 2016 we will see many new people begin their journey and grow to become like Jesus.

          I pray our baptistery is filled this year with people eager to tell the world about our amazing God!

          I pray Toledo follows Jesus this year!

          Love one another.
          Prepare your story.

          The best is yet to come!

          Credits

          Some ideas from

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

          Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

          1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

          Wedlock or Deadlock? 3 January 2016

          Wedlock or Deadlock?
          Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
          1 Peter 3:1-7

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

          Big Idea: Spouses, love one another and submit to Jesus.

          Introduction

          This morning we continue our series on 1 Peter, “What In The World Is Going On?” This short letter to the early, suffering church is a powerful message not only to an ancient people but is increasing relevant to modern Christians as we face persecution. We may never face the horrors of ISIS victims, but nevertheless we can—and perhaps should—feel in the minority as followers of Jesus in a world consumed with money, sex and power. The theme of this book may well be called hope and grace in the midst of suffering. We’ve looked at hope, holiness, harmony, and last week living a cruciform life in the way of the cross, knowing our suffering is temporary and known by God.

          Throughout the book, Peter has been talking about a very offensive word in our culture:
          submit.

          Why do we struggle to submit?

          We want to do things our way. We live in a hyper-individualistic society. We can get seemingly anything customized and on-demand. Don’t like the selection of meat at your grocery store? Go down the street. You’ve got options! Don’t like your spouse? Trade them in for a newer model. Sick of your church? Hop over to another one.

          We want autonomy and control. We want to be independent and free. We want choices and often rebel when told what to do. Of course this is nothing new. It began with Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God and His one prohibition in the Garden of Eden.

          We previously talked about submission to authority. This includes government and commerce, the president and your boss, in the original context the emperor and the slave’s master. It also involves church authority, submitting to godly leaders. Regardless of the outcome, we are to do the right thing knowing we will eventually be rewarded—and oppressors will eventually be punished. Perhaps most important was the example of Jesus who was unjustly treated, died sacrificially despite being innocent of all accusations, and sought to please the Father above pleasing people or even Himself.

          Today’s passage brings the subject of submission from the streets to the home. Peter addresses married people, but the message is applicable to all. If you are unmarried, don’t check out! Listen up. Perhaps someday you will have a spouse. The principles are relevant to all regardless of marital status…and they usually look nothing like Hollywood’s messages to us!

          Remember context is critical. We can never read the Bible in the same way the original recipients read it. Our world is so different. Peter was writing to an early church where a large number of women had husbands who were not yet Christians. It was likely a very patriarchal, restrictive society that debilitated the development of their gifts.

          1 Peter 3…

          Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (3:1-2)

          Likewise. In the same way. This refers to the previous verses on submitting to authority and Jesus' example of sacrifice.

          We may suffer for doing good. If we suffer for doing evil, that’s to be expected. Jesus suffered for doing good. A perfect man was crucified unjustly. He glorified the Father through it all, though. He submitted to the Father’s will. In the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested, Jesus prayed

          “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

          If you don’t like the idea of submission, you’re in the wrong place. Both husbands and wives are to first submit to Jesus…who submitted to the Father. This is about order, not value or importance. God has a place for everything and has ordained levels of authority.

          This does not mean we become doormats and let people manipulate and abuse us. We don’t have time to say much about this extreme, but I highly recommend the book
          Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

          They write

          We have never seen a “submission problem” that did not have a controlling husband at its root. When the wife begins to set clear boundaries, the lack of Christlikeness in a controlling husband becomes evident because the wife is no longer enabling his immature behavior. She is confronting the truth and setting biblical limits on hurtful behavior. Often, when the wife sets boundaries, the husband begins to grow up.

          In other words, “focusing on submission is almost surely an indicator that one’s priorities are messed up.” (Scot McKnight)

          One evangelical scholar said, “I believe in a wife submitting to her husband, but I don’t believe the husband ever has the right to demand it. In fact, I know that when I am worthy of submission, my wife submits; and when I am unworthy of it, she does not.”

          Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (3:1-2)

          Peter is not saying wives are to be slaves or treated like children. Perhaps a better word than submit is respond. It is voluntary. Engage. Partner with your partner!

          Notice Peter’s reason: a witness to the unbeliever. Actions speak louder than words. The Bible warns against being “unequally yoked.” Marriages between a follower of Jesus and a person who is not following Jesus almost always results in grief to both. They have different world views. They have different goals.

          However, there are couples that—for a variety of reasons—are not spiritually compatible. In this instance Peter says to believing wife with unbelieving husbands let your behavior be so full of love and grace and purity that the husband sees real faith to be attractive.

          At the risk of reversing roles, my great grandfather was a bouncer in a bar in Hungary, accepted Christ through a co-worker (if I’m not mistaken), and freaked out his wife! She was skeptical of his faith and wanted nothing to do with Jesus—until she realized it was not a short-term phase he would grow out of but, instead, an authentic relationship with Jesus that was transforming him into a man filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

          Do you look like Jesus to your spouse? To your family? To your boss? To your friends?

          For decades there has been great emphasis on “sharing one’s faith” with words, telling people the gospel—the good news. That’s extremely important, but first we need to earn the right to be heard or we’ll never be heard. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. They don’t care about Jesus until they meet Him through you! What kind of sermon are you preaching with your life, every day?

          Peter continues…

          Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. (3:3)

          This word “adornment” is
          kosmos in Greek, as in the cosmic universe or…cosmetics! It is the opposite of chaos.

          It has been said that beauty is on the inside. I think both external and internal beauty are attractive, but Peter’s saying it’s the inner self that matters most.

          Ladies, have you ever worn a wig? For that matter, men used to wear wigs. In the first century, hair was hugely important…and just huge! Wigs were very ornate.

          Women, inward beauty is most important, but don’t neglect yourself. You’re not of this world but that doesn’t mean you are to look like you came from out of this world!

          Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (3:4-6)

          We know Sarah was beautiful. Several kings wanted her.

          We know Rachel was beautiful. Have you seen my daughter?! Seriously, though, Jacob worked fourteen years for Laban for her hand in marriage. (I’ve been secretly hoping that my future son-in-law would work 14 years for me before marrying Rachel!).

          Suffice it to say Peter is saying to women, “Love your husbands.” He’s not saying be a robot or a slave, but love your husbands. Look out for their best interests. Seek to serve them. Seek to bless them. Seek to honor them.

          Now we turn to the men, though he only provides us with one sentence to husbands.

          Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (3:7)

          Husbands, honor your wife. Be a gentleman. Open doors. Buy flowers. Talk with her…in person…with the phone put away!

          The phrase “be considerate” literally means “living with one’s wife knowledgeably.” Husbands, do you know your wives?

          We are to love and know our wives


            Keep dating her. If I hear another married man say to me, “When we were dating…”

            Some women have been offended by Peter calling wives the weaker partner. He’s not insulting them, but rather emphasizing how men need to care for their wives, treating them as partners, as different but equals. Most wives are physically weaker than their husbands and men are to use their strength to serve—never control or harm—their wives. Simply put, men love your wives. Look out for their best interests. Seek to serve them. Seek to bless them. Seek to honor them.

            Notice those final seven words: “so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Don’t miss that. God cares about how we love Him and how we love others. The most important relationship beyond our relationship with God is to be our marriage. The scriptures are loaded with directives regarding men and women, husbands and wives. We are created different and complementary. We were designed to be a team, to balance the strengths and weaknesses of one another. A husband, wife and child are a reflection of the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each with a role and purpose.

            Paul said it this way:

            Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

            So What?

            Wives, love your husbands.

            Husbands, love your wives.

            Unmarrieds, love those around you, that they may see Jesus living in and through you.

            If you’re still trying to understand your spouse, Gary Smalley says,

            I would venture to say that most marital difficulties center around one fact—men and women are TOTALLY different. The differences (emotional, mental, and physical) are so extreme that without a concentrated effort to understand them, it is nearly impossible to have a happy marriage. A famous psychiatrist once said, “After thirty years of studying women, I ask myself, ‘What is it that they really want?’”

            This week while visiting Carl and Mary Aleksoff I asked them what marital advice they would offer others. They said commitment, wives respecting husbands, and husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the Church, echoing Paul’s instructions…

            Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

            He continued…

            Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

            Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

            Although He was never married, Jesus demonstrated love. He demonstrated submission. He demonstrated how a husband is to treat his bride, laying down His very life.

            One More Thing…

            The divorce rate in the USA is…50%, right? Wrong! That figure is an urban legend based upon projections decades ago that were completely false. Nobody knows exactly, but 71% of women are still married to their first spouse (2009 Census), and many no longer married are widowed, not divorced.

            Researcher Shaunti Feldhahn (
            The Good News About Marriage) discovered four things that are helpful in building a strong marriage:

            •  Don’t live together before marriage. It increases your rate of divorce because the relationship is built on convenience rather than commitment.
            •  Go to church together. It may drop the divorce rate by about 25-50%.
            •  Pray together.
            •  Be intentionally affectionate. Research shows that physical connection builds a sense of happiness in a marriage, so hold hands, hug, and kiss each other good-bye!

            Perhaps you’ve heard the divorce rate is the same for Christians and non-Christians. That is also false. In fact, some research suggests couples who pray together have a divorce rate around 1% (http://www.smalley.cc/do-you-know-the-divorce-rate-of-couples-who-pray-together/).

            Remember, love is not a feeling, but a commitment. If you fall out of love, find a way to fall back in!

            Credits

            Some ideas from

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

            Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

            1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

            No reserve. No retreat. No regrets. 31 December 2015

            No reserve. No retreat. No regrets.
            New Year's Eve

            Big Idea: Live your life with no reserve, no retreat, and no regrets.

            Introduction

            Happy New Year’s Eve! In a few hours 2015 will be history. How was it? In a few moments you’ll have a chance to answer that question. While much attention is placed upon the new year (they don’t call it new year’s eve for nothing!), this is a wonderful hour in which to reflect, to look back, to celebrate the goodness of the LORD.

            For some of you, 2015 was a difficult year. For others, a great year. For most, a mix.

            The past 365 days have been filled with births and deaths, wins and losses, successes and failures. There’s nothing you can do with the past besides reflect and learn.

            The psalmist wrote

            Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

            I have a number of pastor friends who prefer doing funerals over weddings. I’m not among them, but I do appreciate their perspective. Funerals are one of the few times people pause to reflect upon life.

            Today is another such time. It has been said we overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year. What did you do in 2015? How is your life different than it was 365 days ago?

            I must confess my life hardly resembles it from a year ago, though I can hardly take any credit for it. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be living in Toledo, Ohio…and loving it!

            What did you do in 2015? How is your life different than 365 days ago? How is the world different than it was 365 days ago because of you?

            That might be a grandiose question, but if you’re like me you want to change the world. You want to make a difference. Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me.

            This week I was praying with some dear senior saints that gather here each Tuesday morning. After hearing some very kind words from them, I said as the face of First Alliance I get far more recognition than I deserve. A football player can only score a touchdown if others do the unsung work of blocking. In the same way, they do vital work on their knees, praying for you, me, our church, and our city. Their work is done in secret, but it is changing the world.

            You can change the world with your prayers. You can change the world with your encouragement, your smile, your time, your simple gift, your story, …your love.

            As you reflect on 2015, what do you see?

            One of the most powerful series of sermons I ever heard was at a Campus Crusade for Christ Christmas Conference in college. It must’ve been five years ago! OK, it was nearly 30 years ago…and I remember it like yesterday. There were three talks:

            No reserve
            No retreat
            No regrets

            I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no reserve, no holding back. Passion. The word itself stems from Jesus’ wholehearted act on the cross, giving everything. 110%.

            I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no retreat, no turning back. The armor of God described in Ephesians 6 contains a belt, breastplate, boots, shield, helmet, and sword…but nothing to cover the back. There’s no running away, no backing down, no retreat.

            I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no regrets. I’ve made countless mistakes, but a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes…and the mistakes of others.

            No reserve
            No retreat
            No regrets

            Did you give your absolute best in 2015? If so, fantastic! Do it again in 2016. If not, no worries. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Tomorrow will be a new year, a new beginning, yet there are no guarantees. Tomorrow itself is not a guarantee for all of us. We all have an expiration date, and none of us knows what it is. William’s was only 25 years.

            This week I read about an acquaintance of mine who was riding his bicycle to a Christmas Eve service near Ann Arbor. On the way, he was hit by a car and died. It’s still surreal to think he’s no longer with us.

            It is critical that we pause, we reflect, we consider how life is sacred, precious, and fragile. Every day is a gift from God.

            Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

            My prayer for myself and all of us is that on December 31, 2016 we’ll gather again and say, “To God be the glory for the great things He has done in and through our lives.” But it requires action on our part. We were not created as puppets He manipulates. We make choices every day that affect our lives and the lives of others.

            I’m not going to challenge you tonight to make any New Year’s resolutions.

            Well, except for reading the Bible with us. If you haven’t heard about the One Story reading plan there are copies at the Information Center and links in our weekly
            FAC Focus e-newsletter.

            There was a famous religious leader named Saul. He was so passionate he was at least an accomplice in the martyrdom of many early Christians. His conversion to Christianity was miraculous, to say the least. After his name was changed to Paul, he wrote much of the New Testament of the Bible. Reflecting upon his sordid past, he wrote,

            Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

            I encourage you to press on in 2016. Follow Jesus with your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbors. Live with intentionality.

            No reserve
            No retreat
            No regrets

            Happy New Year!

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