Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

The First Followers, 23 July 2017

The First Followers
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 3:7-19

Series Big Idea:
The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: The Messiah invites us to follow him…in making disciples.

Introduction

Today’s text contains two paragraphs…two stories. They begin similarly. If you recall last week we looked at the Sabbath, a day of rest, a day to play. Did you have a play day in the past week? Did you rest? There’s so much that can—and will—be said about Sabbath, even from science. It seems like every year I read another major report stating the benefits of sleep, breaks, vacation, recreation…and the danger of working too many hours.

I found it timely that while working on today’s sermon, my daughter, Rachel, wrote a blog post entitled, “Time Out.” She begins

I used to hate it when my parents put me in "time out" as a kid. Sitting and doing nothing felt like torture when all I wanted to do was play. Now, I dream of sitting and doing nothing, even for just a few minutes.

She then talked about the Sabbath she spent with her husband, Mark, driving three hours to a Lake Michigan beach for the day despite plenty of work to be done at home.

Jesus rested. He withdrew. He took time outs. He said…

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

We’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel—or “good news”—of Mark. In chapter 3, Jesus is criticized by the religious leaders who then begin to plot how they might kill him (3:6). Needless to say, Jesus flees the religious leaders and verse seven says…

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. (Mark 3:7)

If you think you’re busy, imagine what it would be like to be Jesus!

I’ve been to this lake. It is beautiful! It’s often called the Sea of Galilee but today’s it’s known as
Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias. It’s about 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, and about 700 feet below sea level, the lowest freshwater lake on Earth.

When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. (Mark 3:8)

The crowds were from the entire area. He was in danger not only from the religious leaders but the mob. He needed bodyguards!

Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. (Mark 3:9)

This was their exit strategy, their safety plan!

For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. (Mark 3:10)

Everyone likes free medical care!

Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. (Mark 3:11-12)

I love these verses! The demons recognized Jesus. They called him the Son of God. But Jesus didn’t want his true identity to be revealed just yet.

Who is Jesus? The demons know. Earlier God the Father declared Jesus to be his son, in whom He is well pleased (Mark 1:11). We’ll see even nature knows. But the people were clueless, the religious leaders were in denial, and even after a death, resurrection, and a global movement of billions of people there are still billions who have never heard of Jesus or deny he is the Messiah.

Why does Jesus tell the impure spirits to keep quiet about his identity? There are many theories, not the least of which is he is obviously a wanted man. The religious are plotting to kill him…and we’re only in chapter 3!

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. Mark 3:13

Jesus retreats again. He withdraws. He must’ve been exhausted after having the crowds not only mobbing him but asking for healing. The mountainside site is significant. It figures prominently in the accounts of Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and Mark will tell us about several important events on a mountain.

Then he chooses his disciples. John recorded these words of Jesus to the twelve:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

Jesus called and they followed. The book of Luke tells us before Jesus selected the twelve he “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). You don’t randomly pick your team if you want to change the world. You pray diligently for wisdom. God often chooses the most unlikely people to serve Him.

He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3:14-15)

Why twelve? There were twelve tribes of Israel, even though it had been more than 700 years since those tribes had been visible due to Jewish exile. Everything Jesus did was giving off clues he was the Messiah. And notice what the twelve were called to do: be with him. Yes, they were sent out to preach and drive out demons, but discipleship is caught more than it is taught. Everything the disciples would do began with being with Jesus. John 15 tells us if we abide—if we spend time with Jesus—we will bear fruit. We are human beings, not human doings, so it makes sense Jesus wanted them to be with him.

Here’s his motley crew!

These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Mark 3:16-19)

Jesus did not call the qualified, but qualified the called. His team was not exactly the most impressive group of men voted most likely to succeed in high school. There were four fishermen, a hated tax collector, a member of a radical and violent political party…no formal leader, scholar, or doctor in the bunch!

The same is true today. God works through FAT people: faithful, available, teachable. He’s looking for a few good men, women and children today that will follow, surrender, and serve. It seems like he rarely calls the rich, famous and powerful, but rather the meek, ordinary, and humble.

As I was reflecting on Jesus’ appointed I was reminded of The Alliance General Council four years ago. John Stumbo was nominated for president along with another man. Both gave brief speeches. If memory serves correct, John was wearing a polo shirt, spoke with his usual raspy voice, offered no grand vision or strategy but rather a story about God prompting him to accept the nomination after years of health issues, trials, and struggle. The other man was very impressive, wore a fine suit, had an extensive resume…yet when I was handed a ballot I had no doubt God was calling John Stumbo to the role and he received my vote…and nearly 100% of the vote.

Jesus prayerfully chose his disciples, men who would follow him and disciple others.

So What?

This week I attended my first
Truth at Work meeting. These monthly gatherings bring Christian leaders together for a morning of fellowship, presentations, training, and accountability. It was a great experience. Being the new guy in a room of about a dozen business owners and non-profit directors I was asked to complete a New Member Introduction Form. One of the blanks to fill was “Company Mission Statement.” Since First Alliance does not presently have a formal mission statement, I wrote, “Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples.” I borrowed those six words from Jesus!

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Then Jesus came to them and said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Love God.
Love Others.
Make Disciples.

We refer to those words as the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. That’s why we’re here…this church…us…on this planet.

How are we doing? Our “success” as a church hinges on those three statements.

How are you doing? I’ve met many Christians who truly love God. They pray, read the Bible, and attend church gatherings, uh, religiously (sorry for the pun!). If Jesus walked in the room, they would give him a huge hug. They love God.

I’ve met Christians who love others. Like me, they find some people easier to love than others. They are devoted to their friends. They occasionally volunteer to serve the poor. They may even give money to help those in need, forgive those who have wronged them, and pray blessings on their enemies.

But then we come to making disciples. I can hear it now. “That’s the pastor’s job.” Except that nowhere in the Bible does it speak of discipleship being exclusively for clergy, for professional Christians. Jesus said to his followers, “Go and make disciples.” Hundreds—maybe thousands—of people followed Jesus around. We know of at least one group of 72 who Jesus sent out (Luke 10). In today’s text we see the list of the dozen disciples Jesus appointed. He concentrated most of his time and energy on three—Peter, James and John.

So who are your disciples? Who are you investing your life into? Do they know it?! Parents, this is an easy one! You are leading…influencing…mentoring…discipling your children every day. They listen to your words…and watch your actions.

Who are your disciples? Each of us has been blessed with skills, experiences, talents, and gifts. Maybe you are not able to teach the Greek New Testament but you know how to visit someone in the hospital. Perhaps you can’t play a musical instrument but you can invite someone to your home for a meal. You don’t have to be a perfect example, just a living example.

I’ve heard of churches structured in such a way that every person has a mentor and a protégé, someone discipling them and someone they are discipling.

One of the great joys I had in Africa was training youth and pastors about leadership. Most people believe a leader is someone with a title, a position, yet my favorite definition of leadership is influence. I remember attending my first elders meeting here at First Alliance thinking to myself, “I’ve got the title, but I’m not the most influential person in the room.”

Who are you influencing? Who are you investing in? Who are you loving…intentionally?

I love our church. It’s such an honor and privilege to serve you. But sometimes I fear people put me on a pedestal thinking I’m the minister and they’re just the attendees, the parishioners, the congregation. Brothers and sisters, we’re all called to make disciples. We’re all called to love God and others. Making disciples accomplishes both commands!

I want to challenge you with one simple prayer:
God, who do You want me to disciple?

Maybe you’re in high school. Great! Find an elementary or middle school student to serve. Be a big brother or big sister to them.

You might be a new believer in Christ. That’s ok, there are plenty of non-Christians in our city who need to hear your story, feel your love, experience your joy.

Jesus chose twelve but focused on three. What if you just pick one. One person. Ask God for a name. It might be a co-worker, a neighbor, someone sitting next to you right now, or someone you’ll see in the lobby in a few minutes. Pray for them. Take them to Claro this week for coffee. Invite them to your small group or Sunday School class. Send them an encouraging text.

Love God.
Love Others.
Make Disciples.

Jesus did it. He invites us to follow him.

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

Sabbath: Good & Evil, 16 July 2017

Sabbath: Good & Evil
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 2:23-3:6

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused.

Our text for today focuses on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused. If we go way back—to the second book of the Bible, Exodus—we’ll find the Sabbath in God’s Top Ten list, the Ten Commandments.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

The Sabbath is a day of rest. God rested on the seventh day of the week after creation. When we rest, we imitate God.

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:23-24)

The religious police have caught Jesus! The Pharisees developed a list of 39 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath. Sure, God set apart the Sabbath, but these religious leaders took God’s law and expanded it with their traditions and interpretations. Instead of resting and reflecting upon God, they turned Saturday into a day to tiptoe around activities, adhere to checklists, and avoiding technical definitions of work.

Actually, no laws were broken anyhow. They were not harvesting grain, only picking some to eat. The law made provision for eating, just not harvesting on the Sabbath. Farmers were supposed to rest, but these fishermen were not working, only grabbing a snack.

If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain. (Deuteronomy 23:24-25)

God gave the law to serve the people. Note Jesus and the disciples did not harvest with a sickle. The Pharisees were just trying to trap Jesus, but the tables are turned.

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” (Mark 2:25-26)

Jesus did not argue about the Sabbath. He challenges the Pharisees, implying they have never even read the Bible! The letter of the law was not to be imposed when it brought hardship to one of God’s servants. By referring to David, Jesus is implying he is doing God’s business in some way these religious leaders are not.

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

Boom! The law was made for man, not the other way around.

Allow me to add this thought: all of God’s laws are for our benefit. That’s because our heavenly Father loves us. He wants what’s best for us. He didn’t just sit around one day and think, “How can I make life miserable for humans? How can I take away all of their fun?” No, like any good parent, He has more wisdom and understanding than His kids and He provides boundaries for our protection and ultimate satisfaction.

As if Jesus has not already offended these religious leaders, he throws in one more declaration.

So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)

Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath. Jesus is the LORD of all! The Pharisees were clueless. Standing in front of them was the Messiah, God! Yet all they could think about is their own outrage at this man who is gaining popularity and has a comeback for everything they throw at him.

A.W. Tozer said,

“The God of the Pharisee was not an easy God to live with, so his religion became grim and hard and loveless. It had to be so, for our notion of God must always determine the quality of our religion. 
Much Christianity since the days of Christ’s flesh has also been grim and severe. And the cause has been the same – an unworthy or an inadequate view of God.” 

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” (Mark 3:1-3)

The critics were outside in the grainfields. Now they’re in the synagogue.

Was this man planted? Probably. They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.  (Mark 3:4)

I love it when Jesus silences his critics with a question! The answer is obvious, but the Pharisees aren’t looking for truth, but rather a reason to accuse Jesus. Since they didn’t answer his question, he decided to heal the man.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (Mark 3:5)

Jesus got angry! Anger is not sin, though we can sin in our anger. Jesus did not carry a grudge, he just recognized the injustice of the moment and their hard hearts.

The Sabbath was given to Israel as a gift. The religious leaders hijacked it.

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:6)

Don’t miss this: the religious leaders want to kill Jesus. They go out of their way to follow commandment number four about the Sabbath but seem to have no problem with number six…that one about murder! Did they forget? Maybe it was unclear, hard to understand. Here it is:

“You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)

The original Hebrew word,
rasah, means “to murder, kill.”

Oh, and let’s not forget this murder would be premeditated! They even plotted with another group, the Herodians!

Have things changed since then? Not really.

So What?

I want to close with two thoughts.

First, religion is ugly in all of its forms. Legalism. Judgment. Self-righteousness. We might not often think of religion leading to murder, but Mark 3:6 clearly shows us that’s where it can go. And we know their plans were eventually carried out. How can God be linked to such violence? Obviously we see in our own day—and throughout history—blood shed in the name of God and religion. What a tragedy! This has led some to declare organized religion is responsible for the wars of the world, as if communism and other atheistic philosophies have been entirely peaceful! But the point remains, religion can be an adventure in missing the point. The Pharisees were clueless about the Sabbath. They were unable to see God…standing right in front of them!

One need not go far to see religion today…in our culture. It seems every week another pastor or author is poked, prodded, critiqued, and banned because of something said in an interview or online. Yes, we need to be discerning and avoid heresy, but good luck finding someone with whom you agree one hundred percent. And a disagreement does not mean all of their contributions are trash.

I get frustrated with intolerant, close-minded, arrogant people in the world who boycott Claro because it was started by a church. Uh, how’s the coffee?! There are Republicans that refuse to associate with Democrats and vice versa. Seriously? We have far more in common than we have differences. If we would stop and listen to one another rather than constantly pointing fingers of condemnation, we would live in a far better world. We need to build bridges, not walls.

But the same can be said in the church. I want to see diversity…not only ethnically but theologically. There are many things over which we could probably start an argument, but rather than debate, let’s dialog. Let’s seek to understand one another. Let’s truly love one another, explore points of difference, and ask questions. I’m not suggesting this is necessarily occurring here at First Alliance Church, but the Internet is loaded with total strangers heaving verbal bombs at one another, figuratively and sometimes even literally calling for boycotts of individuals and their work. There’s a fine line between criticism and discernment, I admit, but so much of what I see and read is pure Pharisaical religion, people on a witch hunt to attack their so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. No wonder the world is walking away from the church. Who wants to join a dysfunctional family?

As one of my professors, David Fitch, wrote, “
We need Christians that can unravel the antagonisms that drive Christianity in America, not make them worse.”

David Garland writes regarding Mark chapter four:

(1) The question, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (2: 16) is answered with a truism: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2: 17).

(2) The question, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).

(3) The question about why the disciples do what is unlawful on the Sabbath (2: 24) is answered with the proclamation, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” and, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (2: 27– 28).

(4) In the last controversy, Jesus turns the tables on his inquisitors and provokes an engagement.

    Second, let’s get back to our subject: the Sabbath. We need rest. It has been proven in countless studies. We are human beings, not human doings. You need a day off. You need vacation days. Sure, you can survive a week without a Sabbath, but you cannot thrive for long without one. It would be hypocritical for me to get legalistic about the Sabbath, but here’s the bottom line:

    Do you trust God can do more with six days than you can with seven?

    I know, your life is busy. The boss is demanding. The kids are a handful. Deadlines loom. You have to fit in soccer practice, dance lessons, volunteering at Cherry Street Mission, get the car oil changed, grab dinner in a drive-thru…

    I know, it must’ve been easier in Old Testament times. They didn’t have Facebook to check or phone calls to return. No, they had to grow and harvest crops…or die of starvation!

    I was challenging pastors in East Africa to honor the Sabbath. It’s only the fourth commandment…ahead of murder and adultery! The penalty for breaking it was only death! It’s hard for them. Most of them are volunteers. They have a vocation Monday through Friday…or Saturday and then preach on Sunday. Who has time to rest?

    It’s like Stephen Covey says in his classic
    The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, sharpen the saw. A man is cutting down a tree with a dull saw. His friend says, “Stop cutting and sharpen your saw.” He replies, “I don’t have time. I have to get this tree cut down.” His friend counters, “If you take time to sharpen your saw, you will cut the tree down much faster.”

    I know you can’t afford to take a day off…but really you can’t afford NOT to rest. God made the Sabbath for us…to enjoy. Relax. Do only things that fill you. Be unproductive! If you enjoy gardening, garden. If you hate pulling weeds, read a book instead. Often those who do physical labor during the week need to engage in mental activities, and those who exercise their minds for a living may find physical recreation replenishing.

    Sabbath doesn’t just happen. Like a vacation, it requires planning and preparation. Experiment. Don’t overthink it, but find ways to intentionally unplug from busyness and work, from things that deplete you. Psalm 46:10 says

    “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10)

    I challenge you to set aside one day a week for rest, to fill your tank, to be with God, a Sabbath. Will God be exalted in your life? It begins with trust, trusting that God is sovereign and in control. Trusting that God will honor your Sabbath. What the Pharisees used for evil we are invited to use for good. And God’s glory.

    Resource: I found this article by Mark Galli helpful, A Theology of Play.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

    Timing: Old & New, 18 June 2017

    Timing: Old & New
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:18-22

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: God is always doing new things, even though He never changes.

    My fellow graduates, I want to encourage you to lead. I know you might not consider yourself to be a leader, but my favorite definition of leadership is simply “influence.” Each of us has countless opportunities every day to influence others, whether it be friends, a family member, co-worker, Facebook acquaintance, or even total strangers in public. Follow Jesus and lead/influence others to do the same.

    But for all of the talk of leadership in our day, remember one thing: every leader has followers and opponents. Whether you’re a politician, CEO, store manager, or little league coach, there will be people who support you and people who can’t stand you!

    Just ask Jesus!

    We’re in the middle of a series exploring The Real Jesus from the gospel—or good news—of Mark, a biography of King Jesus.

    Last week we saw Jesus questioned for inviting Levi into a meaningful relationship. “How dare he associate with sinners?” the religious leaders asked. But the criticism is still just beginning.

    Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (Mark 2:18)

    Fasting is an ancient practice which seems to have periodic surges in popularity. I’ve noticed several authors recently writing about the benefits of fasting, especially for weight control. This is not the context of our passage today.

    Fasting was a popular practice in first-century Judaism. Some thought they could ward off demons by fasting. Others thought they could earn God’s favor by fasting, perhaps making their prayers more likely to be answered in a way that pleases them. Still others fasted in hopes of prompting mercy or attaining the forgiveness of sins. The most self-righteous would use fasting as a way to show their piety and gaining the applause and admiration of others.

    This is not to say fasting is a bad thing. Hardly. Jesus fasted for forty days. It was sometimes connected to sorrow for the loss of a loved one. Jesus’ own death likely led to the fasting of the disciples as they grieved.

    But there is an appropriate time and a place for everything.

    There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build, 
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

    There is a time to fast…and a time to feast!

    Jesus answered,
    “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (Mark 2:19-20)

    I love weddings! There’s no celebration like a wedding. Last week Heather and I traveled about 3000 miles to California just to participate in a wedding.

    The day was filled with joy, smiles, laughter, food, and feasting. And why not? Is there any greater party than one focused on love? If there is ever a time to eat, drink, and be merry, it is a wedding.

    Jesus tells the religious leaders now is not the time for his disciples to fast. He is the groom. It’s time to party! There will be a day when he will be taken from them. He’s previewing his death on the cross. There will be no celebration on Good Friday, though Resurrection Sunday will be another story!

    Jesus came to proclaim and practice the kingdom of God. The kingdom is God is not a funeral but a wedding party! You don’t fast at a wedding. You can’t fast at a wedding! It would be offensive to the host. It’s time to feast! Religion and the kingdom of God are completely different.

    Jesus continues

    “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. (Mark 2:21)

    This is a universal truth. I’m no seamstress, but I know garments will tear when they are washed and the patch of new, stronger fabric shrinks. The old and new are incompatible.

    Perhaps you’ve experienced this reality. Replacement parts for old products often fail to fit. When my wife gets new glasses, she gets new lenses and frames because the new lenses won’t fit in new frames. I recently had to explain to someone a DVD will not work in their VCR!

    Jesus is saying the old and new are incompatible. He didn’t come to abolish the law or add to it. He came to do something new.

    Weddings are filled with fancy food, fancy garments, and fancy drinks, too.

    And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)

    This is not a verse about alcohol, per se, but rather about another truth concerning the incompatibility of old and new. Animal skins, often goatskins, were used as containers for fluids. Old, stretched wineskins will burst when new wine is poured in and expands.

    David Garland notes, “The question, ‘How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?’ (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).”

    Jesus came to do a new thing. He will die for the sins of the world, the new garment, the new wineskins. Jesus will not merely reform the old, he will transform it. He announces the end of the old and the birth of the new.

    Religion is like a ball and chain, weighing people down with guilt and shame.

    Jesus showed us how to party, how to experience abundant life, how to soar with joy.

    Why do you do what you do?

    This is an important question for us all. What is behind our behavior? Why are you here this morning? Is it to impress others? To try to score points with God? Or to worship our LORD with others, knowing Jesus and making him known to our city and world?

    It’s hard for us in our day to understand the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, but suffice it to say they were bold, loud, and arrogant. They judged, condemned, scorned, and criticized. They were stuffy, proud, fuddy-duddies!!! And they were no fun at all!

    What about you? Do you live like you’re at a funeral or a wedding? Again, there’s a time and place for everything, but I wonder if more people would follow Jesus if we looked more like him. I wonder if the world sees Christians as boring, gloomy people depressed by Fox News rather than hope dealers filled with joy, peace, and love.

    Jesus rocked their world…and the world of everyone he encountered. He replaced gloom with joy, death with life, despair with hope, and hate with love. This is why I love Jesus! Even if you skipped his death and resurrection—the climax of his ministry—his very attitude was refreshing. He hated organized religion!

    Jesus announced the kingdom of God, saying God was becoming king in an entirely new way. Something powerful and explosive was about to take place…and history has never been the same since! We are invited to participate in the kingdom, the reign and rule of King Jesus.

    Because of Jesus’ teachings, life, death, and resurrection we must think differently, think bigger, live more passionately. God never changes, but he’s always doing new things. Our church history is a great example of this. In 1930, we began a live radio broadcast. In 1966, we started a Christian radio station, WPOS, Proclaim FM. In 1996, church members launched a TV station, WLMB. Today you can download our sermon podcasts online. The message of King Jesus remains the same, but medium changes.

    I can’t imagine what lies ahead for us as a church, but God knows, and it will be exciting. It won’t always look like the old, but it shouldn’t. There are great things in the rear view mirror, but if you look ahead you’ll see even more exciting things. And most exciting of all will be the ultimate party, the ultimate feast, the day when the groom returns for his bride, when Jesus returns for the Church. What a celebration that will be! Are you ready?

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

    Church: Hospital or Museum? 11 June 2017

    Church: Hospital or Museum?
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:13-17

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: We are to welcome sinners, recognizing we are sinners ourselves.

    Good morning saints! Good morning sinners!

    My name is Kirk and we’re studying Mark’s biography of The Real Jesus. In chapter 2, he has been baptized, begun his preaching ministry, and done some healings. Word is spreading and while he is attracting crowds, he’s also drawing the envy and wrath of religious leaders. This will be a common theme, so significant the religious leaders will eventually kill him.

    Jesus has at least four followers—four fishermen. Now he continues his recruiting trip.

    Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14)

    Levi is also likely called Matthew, though it is possible he was not one of the Twelve, making this invitation even more compelling. He works at a toll booth, but it’s not automated like the ones on the Turnpike. These collectors were known for extortion and dishonesty.

    Levi likely worked for Herod Antipas. His father’s kingdom was divided among his three sons. Tolls suddenly had to be paid to cross from one part of the old kingdom to another. Levi did not have a popular job!

    Jesus comes by, and instead of complaining or swearing at Levi, he says, “Follow me.” What an invitation! Instead of working for a man who thought of himself as king of the Jews, he is invited to follow the true King of the Jews, the Messiah.

    Can you imagine someone walks into your office, says, “Follow me,” and you walk out on your job? Levi takes a huge risk in following Jesus. The fishermen can always return to fishing, but a government job? They’re not always available, especially after suddenly leaving without giving your two weeks notice!

    Jesus’ identity as King was not yet revealed, though. Instead, he was known as a preaching doctor who loved to throw parties…for sinners, outcasts, the marginalized.

    While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. (Mark 2:15)

    Jesus continues to attract crowds, even at dinnertime. But he did not just attract the educated and elite, the righteous and religious. Jesus was a friend of sinners.

    The best scholarship seems to suggest Jesus was the host, throwing a party at Levi’s house. Jesus doesn’t just preach to sinners; he befriends them. He loves them. He offends the religious establishment who have rejected these “sinners.”

    When we are invited to dinner, the polite thing to do is say…yes. Who doesn’t like a free meal, right? But in the first century, table fellowship implied friendship—even approval. If you and I share a meal together, it tells the world we are close friends. Does Jesus approve of these greedy, dishonest tax collectors and sinners? Doesn’t he care about holiness? It makes sense for Levi to gather with fellow sinners, but why is Jesus present?

    When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

    They’re afraid to ask Jesus! They go to his disciples and criticize him.

    Now the Pharisees get a bad rap. It’s deserved, but they were devout. They wanted to honor God by carefully following the Jewish law. They made two mistakes, however. First, they were prideful, also satan’s downfall. Second, they focused on every minute detail of the law without understanding the purpose and spirit of the law. They could no longer see the forest for the trees. They were so concerned about staying clean and pure that they missed opportunities to love their neighbor, to extend forgiveness, and to see reconciliation and repentance. They wanted to exercise control rather than compassion.

    But make no mistake, Jesus did not endorse sin.

    In John chapter 8, a woman is caught in the act of adultery. A group of Pharisees condemns her. Jesus famously says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, the Pharisees walk away, leaving only Jesus and the woman. He says he does not condemn her. He offers grace and compassion. But the story doesn’t end there. He tells her, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

    Jesus welcomed sinners. Jesus loved sinners. But because Jesus loved them, he urged them to repent, to turn, to change…not because he doesn’t want them to have fun, but instead because he knows there’s a better way to live.

    Sin always leads to death. It might not be instant physical death, but it will kill relationships—with others, with God. Sin will destroy our ability to experience the abundant life Jesus taught and modeled. Greed. Pride. Adultery. Envy. Gossip. The list goes on.

    Can people live in sin and survive. Sure! But I’ve discovered following Jesus and his Word are the path to true satisfaction, true peace, and true joy. We need to welcome sinners

    We need to welcome sinners, but we also need to encourage them to experience Jesus, grow in their faith, and love God and their neighbor.
    David Garland notes,

    “to follow Jesus in the full sense of the word requires repentance and obedience. His goal in reaching out to the sick is to bring about healing and transformation in their lives, not to gather them together for a fun time. Instead of sorting people into classifications, holy and unholy, clean and unclean, righteous and sinner, Jesus gathers them under the wings of God’s grace and love.”

    It breaks my heart to see people make poor choices. But what shall I do? It depends upon the relationship. If it’s someone I know and love, tolerance might be the most hateful thing I can do, standing by watching them self-destruct. On the other hand, getting in their face about their behavior may cause our relationship to be destroyed. Obviously, this calls for wisdom…and it matters greatly if the person claims to follow Jesus or not.

    If you are my brother or sister in Christ, I owe it to you to encourage you to pursue Jesus. This doesn’t mean I point out all of your sins, but it does mean I might love you enough to confront.

    This week I received a short e-mail which simply said, “If I'm openly gay, would I be accepted at your church?”

    Would they, church?

    If they are seeking to know God, I hope and pray we would welcome them with open arms. I replied:

    All are welcome at First Alliance Church. We exist to help people know and experience Jesus, our example of what it means to be truly human. I hope to meet you soon.

    When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

    Why was Jesus a friend to tax collectors and sinners?

    On hearing this, Jesus said to them,
    “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

    We are not a museum for saints. There’s a museum next door if you want a museum!

    We are a hospital for sinners. And we’re all sinners! It might get messy. It might get uncomfortable. But the reason we’re still on this planet is because of the
    mission Dei, the mission of God, to seek and save the lost, to call sinners, to heal the sick, to make disciples, to serve the least of these, to love the unlovable. If all you care about is your own comfort, it’s not Jesus you’re following. Jesus lived to die and that’s what he calls his followers to do—die to ourselves and love and serve others.

    You would think after 2000 years we would understand this, but religion persists. Self-righteous people insist on pointing fingers.

    Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about love the sinner, hate your own sin?

    Brothers and sisters, I can summarize this message in three words. Many Christians have had the attitude the if you behave and believe, you can belong.

    Behave – Believe – Belong

    We must reverse it. Jesus did! He said you belong. As you are loved and accepted, belief often follows naturally. And don’t miss this: when you believe in Jesus and make him King and LORD, you are also given the Holy Spirit who gives you power to behave. You can’t just change your behavior because someone tells you to do so. You need power. You can’t just walk up to a guy with a brown bag on the streets and say, “Stop drinking” and expect him to never take another drink. He needs power to quit his addiction.

    And we’re all addicted to sin of one sort or another.

    Belong – Believe - Behave

    You belong here. All of you. Everyone. Young or old. Gay or straight. Black or white. Christian or atheist. Citizen or immigrant. Republican or Democrat. You belong here. You were created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. Jesus died for you. Come as you are.

    But we don’t want you to stay that way. Jesus doesn’t want you to stay as you are. He tells all of us to “go and sin no more,” not because he’s a scolding, condemning God but because he knows sin will always harm us. He wants what’s best for us.

    You belong here. We would love for you to experience Jesus and believe in him, surrendering your life to him. It’s not that we are trying to manipulate you or sell you anything, but we’ve discovered the source of real life, real peace, real joy and it’s not in religion but it’s in a person, Jesus!

    If you welcome Jesus into your life, you will want to change, you will want to follow Him, and you’ll be given the Holy Spirit’s power to do so.

    "God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, we are to love." -Billy Graham

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

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

    Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing, 4 June 2017

    Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:1-12

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

    A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. (Mark 2:1)

    Jesus’ headquarters moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. If you recall, Jesus healed a leper, told him to keep quiet, and instead the healed man told everyone about Jesus. The crowds loved to see physical healing but cared less about the spiritual messages Jesus preached.

    Jesus left Capernaum…and later returned to Simon Peter’s house. Most homes had 1-4 rooms so it would’ve gotten crowded quickly.

    But wait. Some scholars believe this was probably Jesus’ own house. Have you ever heard that before? That was news to me, and it shifts the story a bit.

    They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. (Mark 2:2)

    Preaching the Word of God was Jesus’ primary ministry. It is powerful. Whether it was his own house or not, he was obviously trapped. I’ve never been the subject of TV news, fortunately, but we’ve all seen private homes overrun with paparazzi when overly-zealous reporters try to get an exclusive interview. It’s chaos. In this case, it’s not media but people. Jesus is preaching to a crowd that gathered without any press release, billboards, or direct mail invitations. Did they want to hear…or just get healed?

    Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
    “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:3-5)

    Five guys show up, can’t get to Jesus, and take things into their own hands!

    It was a thatched roof made of straw, but getting the man on the roof must have been challenging, though many first-century homes had an outside staircase leading to a flat roof made of sod and branches.

    How would you feel if someone put a whole in your roof? Jesus says, “All right, I forgive you!” Of course, this was a deeper forgiveness than just necessitating a home improvement project! But if it is Jesus’ house, it makes his forgiveness a bit more interesting, don’t you think?

    Whose faith? The faith of the men. Their faith led to the man’s sins being forgiven? It’s not their faith that saved him but their faith led to the man meeting Jesus.
    Our city is filled with sick people—physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. We need stretcher bearers, people who will bring people in to hear the gospel.

    Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7)

    Only priests could declare forgiveness, speaking in the name of God. Of course, if that’s what his friends were seeking, they would’ve taken him to the temple in Jerusalem, not to a guy preaching in a home.

    Mark tells us what they were thinking. Only God can forgive sins. They’re right about that, but Jesus is not blaspheming. He’s God. He came to earth to provide salvation. Isaiah the prophet had said the Messiah would forgive sins, restore the broken hearted, and bring healing to the lame (chapters 29; 35; 61).

    The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
    because the LORD has anointed me 
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1)

    Today’s story is a micro version of the entire gospel of Mark: Jesus teaches, heals, is condemned for blasphemy, and vindicated.

    Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,
    “Why are you thinking these things? (Mark 2:8)

    He knew what they were thinking. They were speechless!

    Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? (Mark 2:9)

    Only God can do either one! Jesus will do both.

    But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:10)

    This is the first time in Mark where Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” This is the key sentence in today’s text. Daniel 7 said “one like a son of man” would be the representative of God’s true people. He would be opposed by evil, vindicated and rescued by God, proved right, and given authority to dispense God’s judgment.

    “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

    Jesus has authority, even the authority to forgive sins.

    Mark 2:10 also points to Jesus’ answer to Caiaphas in chapter fourteen:

    Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

    “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

    Jesus declares himself to be the Son of Man. He also forgives, the most powerful thing in the world.

    So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:11)

    The paralyzed man obeys. Incredible!

    He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:12)

    I love how this story ends with people praising God.

    So What?

    We are called to be stretcher-bearers for others. The man had great friends!

    The greatest healing is spiritual, not physical. Even healed bodies will eventually decay, but the soul is eternal. Jesus addressed the paralyzed man’s spiritual brokenness before addressing his body.

    God is not done healing souls. He offers forgiveness for all of your sins. All of them!
    God is not done healing bodies. His timing is perfect, even when it is slower than ours.

    Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

    We can receive forgiveness and healing.
    We can proclaim forgiveness and healing.
    We can bring people to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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

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