Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Is It I, LORD? 26 March 2017

Is It I, LORD?
Series: A Love That Never Dies
Matthew 26:21-25

Series Big Idea:
Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

Big Idea: Lent reminds us of our need for forgiveness…and its availability.

Scripture:
Matthew 26:21-25

Introduction

Betrayal. Have you ever experienced it? Have you ever had a friend turn against you? That’s not what friends are supposed to do!

My name is Kirk and we’re continuing our Lent sermon series, “A Love That Never Dies.” Every day should be a day to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, but this season leading up to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is an especially good time to focus on Holy Week, including the cross and empty tomb. We contemplate our sins which caused Jesus to endure a horrific death…and remember the love of God can never die.

Death. It’s the one subject most USAmericans hate to discuss. It makes us uncomfortable, even fearful. Sure, many Christians say they’re ready to die, but that doesn’t remove the uncertainty of when…or how.

For some of us it will be soon. But we don’t know.

For some of us it will be quick and easy, while others will agonize for years.

Are you uncomfortable yet?

There are so many unbelievable aspects of Jesus’ death. We’re all aware of the physical anguish of being beaten, wearing a crown of thorns, carrying a cross, and the nails. Those three spikes.

Most of us pay less attention to the emotional and mental anguish Jesus endured…because he loved us so.

First, Jesus spent thousands of years preparing to die. He knew before the foundation of the world we would exist…and need a Savior (Ephesians 1:4). That means before he spoke the universe into existence, he knew about the plan to enter our world and die.

Have you ever anticipated pain? It can be worse than the pain itself! At this very moment I’m anticipating the pain of the vaccinations I need to travel to Africa this summer to train pastors (I’ll share more about that soon). I don’t like shots. I’m dreading the needle. If you just randomly walked up to me and gave me the shot, I wouldn’t have any anxiety (though I’d be startled and momentarily quite upset with you!).

Imagine anticipating pain…forever. Imagine spending 33 years on this planet knowing you would willingly die. We’re all going to die—the odds are 100%—but Jesus died intentionally. He died to demonstrate his love for us…not because we’re good, but because we’re desperate. We saw two weeks ago…

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

In today’s text, Jesus is celebrating Passover, the pinnacle of Jewish festivals. Thirteen men gather around food and drink to commemorate the exodus from Egypt of their ancestors. It was a huge deal.

And then Jesus drops a bomb.

And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (Matthew 26:21)

What? That’s not party talk! Betrayal? How did Jesus know? Can he predict the future?
Who would possibly betray a friend, much less Jesus? And why?!?!?!

They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22)

“Is it I, LORD?”

In case you need a definition, one dictionary described betrayal as

1: to give over to an enemy by treason or treachery
2: to be unfaithful
3: to tell in violation of a trust


Is it possible to “accidentally” betray someone? The betrayer knew. So did Jesus.

Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:23-24)

That’s an understatement, though it was all part of God’s plan.

Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” 

Jesus answered,
“You have said so.” (Matthew 26:25)

“Is it I, LORD?”

“Yes, Judas.”

Betrayal

Is there any emotional pain greater than betrayal? It takes years to establish trust, to develop a deep friendship…and an instant to lose it.

Judas betrayed Jesus shortly thereafter…with a kiss. That simple gesture we reserve for loved ones became the signal that would begin the series of events leading to the gory execution of the only perfect human in history. Judas sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver, about four months’ wages for a common laborer.

What was Judas thinking?!

What must he have been thinking when the mob cried out, “Crucify him!”? (Matthew 27:23)

When they said to Pilate, “His blood is on us and on our children,” he knew the blood of Jesus was on his hands. (Matthew 27:25)

Imagine how Jesus’ words must have echoed in the mind of Judas.

But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24)

We all want to make a difference in this world. You want your life to matter, right? Imagine hearing God—not an ignorant fool, but GOD—saying your life was wasted.

Is it any wonder Judas committed suicide?

I don’t think Judas was a lost cause. Jesus’ words reflected his own sorrow and pain more than a personal statement toward his friend, Judas.

Jesus loved Judas. Jesus’ love never dies. He says to Judas and to me and to you

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
Jesus would have forgiven Judas, just as he forgave Peter when he denied Christ three times. And he forgives you and me.

In the book of Romans, we read

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written: 

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  (Romans 8:35-36)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

I want to close with one simple verse I love to quote.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

So What?

I want to give you an opportunity to respond today. We’ve all sinned. We’ve all offended God. We’ve all disobeyed. Maybe you have not denied Christ or betrayed him—or maybe you have—but Jesus died to forgive you of your sins—past, present, and future. It says, “If we confess.”

The altar is open every Sunday, but occasionally we draw particular attention to it. To close today, I simply want to invite you to come forward and offer personal prayers of confession. You can do so in your seat, if desired. You are also free to quietly exit the sanctuary. Just know if you are a follower of Jesus, you are forgiven. That’s why Jesus died. That’s what Lent is all about. That’s why we possess and share good news. Hallelujah!

Questions for individual or group reflection

  1. What examples of betrayal can you cite from recent movies, books, or current events What makes betrayal such a disgusting, shameful act in almost every era, every culture?
  2. Why do you believe Jesus chose Judas to be one of the disciples?
  3. The name Judas means “praised one.” How does this add to the irony of Judas’s life story?
  4. Compare John 13:18 with Psalm 41:9. Based on these verses, what do you deduce about the meaning of eating together in the culture of both Old and New Testament times?
  5. Who initiated Judas’s act of betrayal? We can only guess, but what motives might have been behind this? (See Matthew 26:14–16 and John 12:4–6.)
  6. Compare Matthew 27:1–8 and Acts 1:18–20. What do you think lay behind Judas’s suicide?
  7. Together with everyone in your group, brainstorm these two questions:
  8. - In what ways were Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:69–75) and Judas’s betrayal alike?
  9. - In what ways were they different?
  10. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:48–50 and his warning in Mark 3:29. Would Jesus have forgiven Judas as he later forgave Peter? How does this make Judas’s death even more tragic?
  11. Where in the events we have been considering do you see Jesus’ love, a love that never dies?
  1. Based on all this, what would you say to someone who might say to you, “I’m so ashamed. What I’ve done is unforgivable”?
  1. What one key point will you carry away when you leave today? Explain.
  2. What will you ask Jesus to do in and through you in response to what you’ve heard?
Credits: Questions and some sermon ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

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

Sin Knows No Strangers, 12 March 2017

Sin Knows No Strangers
Series: A Love That Never Dies
Romans 5:6-11

Series Big Idea:
Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

Big Idea: Because of Jesus, we can be friends of God rather than enemies.

Scripture:
Romans 5:6-11

Introduction

Good morning! My name is Kirk and we are heading toward an exciting time of year. I don’t mean March Madness, though the teams and brackets will be announced tonight. I don’t mean spring, though it begins in eight days. I don’t even mean baseball’s Opening Day which is only three weeks away. I’m talking about Lent.

I must confess Lent has never played a significant role in my life. For many Catholics and Lutherans, it is an important season of reflecting upon Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return. It can be for us, too. As I said last week, Jesus told us to remember him…because we forget. He said eat and drink in what we call communion or the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, focusing on his body and blood sacrificed for us.

I believe the two most important questions in life are

-
Who am I?
- Who is God?

Our text today addresses some powerful issues of identity we must all ponder carefully in order to answer those two questions.

What words describe you?
What words describe God?

A Love That Never Dies. Ever so briefly yet dramatically, these words describe our Lord’s love for us, and they serve as our overarching theme in these weeks leading up to Easter. God’s love for us is a love that never dies, and that’s a good thing! For “sin knows no strangers.” Sin is pervasive, powerful, and persuasive. In both its global and most intimate forms, sin seeks to draw us away God.
Listen for those truths in today’s text:

Paul, once known as Saul of Tarsus, is in the midst of writing to the first Christians in Rome. He offers them rich insight into their identity.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

For whom did Christ die? The ungodly.

When did Christ die? When we were still powerless.

Why did Paul mention “we” and then “ungodly?” You’re a good person, right? You’re in church. Most of you haven’t murdered anyone or robbed a bank. Jesus died on the cross because we’re good people, we are loveable, and he loves us.

I think most people think they’ll go to heaven when they die because they’re good people. They pay their taxes. They vote. They brush their teeth!

Jesus died for the ungodly. That’s me!

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. (Romans 5:7)

Let that sink in for a moment. Would you die for someone? Your child? Your best friend? Your spouse? What about LeBron James? President Trump? Putin?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

This is stunning. I’ve heard it 100 times, but it is truly remarkable.

Jesus died for the powerless and feeble (v. 6)
Jesus died for the ungodly (v. 6)
Jesus died for sinners (v. 8)
Jesus died for his enemies (as we will see in verse 10)
Jesus died for you and me.

Drop the mic! That’s incredible!

You don’t have to hope God loves you.
You don’t have to wonder if God loves you.
God loves you. He demonstrated it. He proved it. His actions speak as loud as his words.

He loved you and me while we were unrepentant sinners.

Isn’t this good news? Isn’t this great news?

We celebrate the death of Jesus last Sunday. It’s called Good Friday because Jesus dying for us—hopeless, helpless sinners—provided a pathway for forgiveness, reconciliation with our Heavenly Father, peace, joy, and hope.

But it gets better…and worse.

God’s Wrath

When you mentioned words to describe God, how many said, “Wrath?”

God is love.
God is kind.
God is forgiving and gracious and merciful.

Yes. But God is also just. And justice includes wrath.

Does God hate people? Absolutely not…but He hates sin. He hates sin! And we are sinners. You know this. Earlier in chapter three, Paul states the obvious:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)

That’s one of the most depressing verses in the Bible.

Have you ever felt short?

God is perfect. 100% pure. He has a zero tolerance policy for sin. Zero! So when we sin—and we all sin—where does that leave us? Separated from God.

That’s the bad news. But the good news is Jesus’ death covered all of our sin.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

We have been justified. That means God approves of us because of Jesus, an acquittal that sets of free from the penalty of our sin. Justification happens now. On judgment day we will be saved from God’s wrath. It will be awe-inspiring to see and be spared of God’s wrath.

Because God is just, He must judge. He must be fair. We will all get what we deserve…unless we follow Jesus and receive grace—unmerited, undeserved favor.

Have you ever thought of yourself as an enemy of God? Paul says that’s what we were, enemies of God.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

But Paul says we’re reconciled. That’s becoming one of my favorite words. We don’t hear it often because it doesn’t happen often. It’s easier to remain bitter, angry, or even silent. Reconcile means

- Restore friendly relations between
- Cause to coexist in harmony; make or show to be compatible or consistent
- To compose or settle (a quarrel, dispute)

It’s as if we wore white t-shirts, our sin stained them with dirt, and Jesus wraps a white robe around us, allowing us to stand before God perfect and pure. Jesus does the heavy lifting. We just open our arms and say yes.

Hallelujah!

To summarize…

Sin has made us enemies of God.

God’s grace, mercy, and never-ending love have rescued us.

Through Jesus, we can be friends of God.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”  and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:23)

This is a truly amazing reality. We weren’t always friends of God. We were enemies, yet through Jesus we can be reconciled. We can know God…not just about God, but truly know God.

Are you a friend of God?

Credits

Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

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

Vision Sunday, 5 March 2017

Vision Sunday
Matthew 28:18-20

Big Idea: God has an exciting mission for us to (continue to) pursue.

Scripture:
Matthew 28:18-20

Introduction

Those words, often called the Great Commission, are our mission. They are why we exist as a church. They are our mandate, our calling…make disciples.

My name is Kirk and about eighteen months ago I was invited to move to Toledo and serve as your lead pastor. It was a humbling opportunity. Heather and I continue to thank God for calling us here.

Several people have asked about our future, our vision. I dedicated my first year to listening—to you, our city, and most of all our Senior Pastor, Jesus. I came with no agenda. I came with little understanding of Toledo or First Alliance and its rich history.

I’m excited to say things are beginning to get clear. I’m starting to get the pulse of our church and neighborhood. I don’t have a 20-year strategic plan to share with you today or announcements of ten new initiatives, but after many discussions with our staff and elders, I believe things are slowly coming into focus and I want to share with you glimpses of our future.

Before we talk about First Alliance, I want to reflect upon our scripture text for today. To set the scene, we need to back up a bit. Matthew tells us about the resurrection of Jesus at the beginning of chapter 28. This, of course, is the great climax of Lent, arguably the greatest day in the history of the world.

By the way, I want to encourage all of you to join me in this season of Lent, the journey toward the Cross…and resurrection. It’s not just a Catholic thing! These forty days remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We still have some devotionals if you didn’t get one last week, available at the Information Center in the lobby. Next week we begin a Lent series called, “A Love That Never Dies” to help us prepare for Holy Week.

Matthew, one of four biographers of Jesus Christ, tells us the resurrection and then says…

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 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 28:16-20)

These are Matthew’s final words in his gospel or “good news.” The mission—the commission—is simple:
make disciples. Great! What’s a disciple? A simple definition would be a student or apprentice of another person. The goal of a disciple is to become like their master. When Jesus says make disciples, he is telling his followers to invest in followers who will become Christ-like.

A disciple is not someone who just has the knowledge of the master.
A disciple is someone who acts like the master.

You may be a master chef and spend years showing me how to cook, but the test of my discipleship is not what’s in my head, but rather what I put on the dinner plate.

You may be a master plumber and spend years showing me how to fix a leaky faucet, but the test of my discipleship is not what I know about plumbing, it’s whether or not I know how to keep the floor dry!

Tragically, the focus of many churches has been attendance, getting people to go to a church service or small group. For some it is information, stuffing people with Bible knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t truly measure discipleship.

The measure of discipleship is how much you look and act like Jesus. He said, “Follow me.”

I have heard countless times people respect Jesus but they don’t like the church. That’s a discipleship issue, friends. If you are a Christian—or “little Christ”—your life should resemble Jesus. Obviously, none of us have arrived—we’re all imperfect sinners—but our goal, our example should be Jesus. If you need a more specific description of a disciple of Jesus, consider the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

How do you make disciples? First, be a disciple. Are you a disciple of Jesus? How does your life reflect the fruit of the Spirit?

It should be noted Jesus never commanded us to start churches, go on mission trips, engage in Bible studies, attend prayer meetings, or even listen to a sermon every Sunday. Again, none of those are bad, but they are not the goal. Our mission is to make disciples, people who look like Jesus, people who love God and others. Make disciples is the Great Commission. Jesus also gave the great commandments:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28)

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Have you heard this before? You’ll hear it again, I promise, because at the end of the day, Jesus told us the entire Bible is summed up in two commandments:

Love God
Love your neighbor

And he has given us one mission

Make Disciples

Simple? Yes.
Easy? No.

The reality is, we can’t love God and our neighbor and make disciples on our own. We need the Holy Spirit. Thomas George spoke about the Holy Spirit a few weeks ago. If you weren’t here, you can download the message for free on iTunes or our smartphone app. In a sentence, he said we need to let go and let God, surrendering ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us in order for us to bear fruit.

So make disciples. But how? Actually, the command is go and make disciples. What does it mean to love God and love others? Let’s take a look at our church’s mission statement. It says

The mission – make disciples - fully devoted followers of Christ. We define discipleship at First Alliance as someone who is: Connecting to God (worship), others (growing in community), and the world (missions – here and around the world)

As our logo says, we’re about connecting to God, others, and the world.

Are you still with me?

The elders have been working on bringing more clarity to our mission. It’s biblical, but very broad. Any church could/should help people connect to God, others, and the world. I don’t have a revised mission statement for you—though we’ve been discussing one—but I want to suggest two details I cannot avoid:

1. Toledo

I know, this isn’t exactly rocket science, but Toledo is our “Jerusalem,” our home mission field. I’m sure there was a day when Toledo was filled with followers of Jesus, but like most any city in the west, it is becoming increasingly secular or non-Christian. We probably have more atheists, agnostics, and people of other faiths in our city than ever before, to say nothing of lukewarm Christians.

If God called you to be a missionary in west Africa as he did last week’s guests Doug and Karen Conkle, you would live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus, right?

Most of you have been called by God to be missionaries in Toledo. This is our mission field. We need to live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus.

Let me briefly share a few reasons why I believe we need to focus on Toledo:

1. We’re here!
2. We’ve been here for 129 years
3. We chose to stay here when the old building burned down
4. Toledo has many needs we can address
5. We’ve been given some wonderful opportunities to pursue
6. We can be a part of the city’s growth and renaissance
7. God is on the move in Toledo, not only at First Alliance but in the dozens of churches who are praying, serving, and worshiping together

This morning I want to declare my personal commitment to this city. For as long as God has me here at First Alliance, I want to live, work, shop, and play in Toledo. Heather and I really have done better in Toledo and we’re excited about the future.

2. The Next Generation

No, I’m not talking about Star Trek. Actually, the next generation can be interpreted in a number of different ways—the next generation in US history (the Millennials) or the one that follows (GenZ), the next generation of members at First Alliance, the next generation of followers of Jesus…but it’s not me. It’s not many of you. Obviously we’re not going to go crazy, hang a disco ball from the ceiling, and sing Lady Gaga songs, but many of us have had our day. People served and sacrificed so we could encounter Jesus. We must make space for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. If you know Jesus, it’s critical to help the next generation know him. You saw some of them earlier waving ribbons. Others spoke last Sunday about their trip to the Avalanche youth retreat. They are our future…they are our present!

We’ve always been about the next generation. We were involved in starting Toledo Christian Schools. We have an After School Klub. We run an annual sports and arts camp. We have possibly the best children’s director in the state of Ohio (Sue Trumbull) who is leading one hundred volunteer workers!

Jesus told this great parable (story) in the 13
th chapter of Matthew. He said seed was scattered in soil. Some was eaten by birds. Some fell on rocky ground and died. Some was choked by thorns. Some fell on good soil and produced a great crop. Jesus explained the story by saying…

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:19-22)

But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
(Matthew 13:23)

After being so impressed by my first year at sports and arts camp last summer, I told Sue we did a great job scattering seed for a week, but what about the next 51 weeks? We need to cultivate the seeds, making sure they receive sun, rain, and fertilizer, keeping away the thorns, rocks, and birds.

We are starting to do just that, through Toledo Urban Impact, the new van pickup each Sunday, new students from the neighborhood coming on Wednesday nights to girls club, boys club, and youth group, and our growing relationship with Rosa Parks Elementary School two miles away. We’re certainly not done, but we’re in the process of developing a birth to college pipeline of discipleship.

Our involvement at Rosa Parks began largely through an invitation from Dr. Durant, the TPS superintendent, to be present in the school with the students and staff—before, during, and after school! He is a God-fearing man who is unashamed of his faith and we accepted his invitation. I wrote him this past week to say I was thrilled to read his contract was extended three years. Rosa Parks Elementary is a huge part of our mission field, people we are called to love, serve, and bless.

Do you want to know my dream? It is to put Dan Rogers at Cherry Street Mission out of a job! Seriously! He would love that!

He would love to see homelessness end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to experience graduation, a career, and most of all Jesus Christ.

He would love to see poverty end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to develop a career.

He would love to see crime and teen pregnancy end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to encounter Jesus Christ.

We’re not giving up on adults, but something like 80% of Christians trust Christ before they turn 18. We can share the gospel with adults, but it’s a lot harder. We can rehabilitate the 55 year-old addict, but it’s a lot harder.

And do I need to tell you the kids of Toledo need hope? They need help? They need Jesus.

Last week Toledo’s 9
th teen was shot dead.

The current graduation rate for TPS is less than 65%.

Teen moms are not just 16 and 17. Some are 12 and 13 years old in junior high.

So What?

Toledo needs Jesus. Not religion. Not programs. Jesus.

The next generation needs Jesus.

Where is Jesus on earth? We are to be his hands and feet, loving and serving and inviting people to come and see the one who loves them, who died for them, who never shames or pressures or manipulates, but simply says, “Follow me.”

Discipleship is praying for our city and next generation.
Discipleship is serving our city and next generation.
Discipleship is loving our city and next generation.

Will you join me?

  • You can listen to messages at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Messiah Mess, 19 February 2017

Messiah Mess
Series: Ideal Family
Luke 2:41-46

Series Big Idea:
All families are messed up, including biblical families.

Big Idea: The Messiah lived in a messed-up family, too, and was even “left behind.”

Scripture: Luke 2:41-46

Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a family; at least one. Ever since God said it was not good for man to be alone, humans have lived with others…for better or worse. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a biological father and a biological mother. Most people have siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are a vital part of life for many of us. Family is God’s design. It was His idea.

There are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses. The drama pretty much summed it up, didn’t it?!

The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families. This even includes Jesus’ family as we’ll see today!

I love to travel. I was blessed to travel to dozens of states during childhood vacations (perhaps my favorite being the celebration of my February birthday at Sea World in San Diego, California…while it was snowing at home in Michigan!). In my undergraduate years, I studied international business and spent a summer in Bolivia. It has been a thrill for me to experience many different countries and cultures, filling my passport with stamps from around the world.

One thing I don’t particularly enjoy about travel is flying. I absolutely love flying itself. I would love to get my pilot’s license if it ever made sense to do so. I love soaring above the clouds, moving quickly through the skies, and thrill of landing. But like many of you, I could do without the meat-market experience of being herded onto a small plane, cramming into a tiny seat, only to have the person in front of me recline his seat into my lap!

When I fly alone, it’s not uncommon for me to be among the last to board the plane. My philosophy is I’m going to be packed into that seat long enough, so I savor every moment of space, whether it’s standing, walking, or even stretching out in a seat near the gate. I typically have a backpack I place under the seat in front of me so I have no need to rush for overhead compartment space. I leisurely walk to my seat, the cabin door is shut, and we prepare for takeoff. Simple and sweet!

There was, however, one time when my lingering in the terminal nearly became a serious mistake. I was in the airport talking to my wife on the telephone when I heard my name called on the PA system. They were preparing to close the door and noticed my name on the “not-yet-boarded” list. As you can imagine, I quickly said goodbye to my bride and raced to enter the plane before I was left behind.

Have you ever been left behind?

I’ve heard stories of people missing flights, trains, and buses but perhaps my favorite “left behind’ story involves Jesus. It is told in six, simple verses:

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (Luke 2:41-46) 

There are so many things I find troubling about this text! How about you? I know, it was a different time, a different culture…but seriously!

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

This is an annual event. We know they did it at least a dozen times because…

When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. (Luke 2:42)

Some of you have annual trips. You go to the cottage up north. The family makes a pilgrimage to the same campground each year. You celebrate the 4th of July in a particular town. There’s a bike trip you do every summer. In the case of Mary and Joseph, it was their faith tradition which prompted them to travel to Jerusalem for Passover.

After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. (Luke 2:43)

This was not thirty year-old Jesus. He was twelve. I love the phrase “the boy Jesus.” Did he know his parents were leaving? How many children did they have to wrangle as they headed back to Nazareth? It’s about 90 miles from Jerusalem. These journeys were done in a group to guard against robbers, though we don’t know how many were in their caravan.

Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. (Luke 2:44)

“Thinking” he was in their company. That’s what we call an assumption, friends! Can you imagine the conversation? “Where’s Jesus?” “Is he with you?” “No!” “I thought he was with you!”
 
When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. (Luke 2:45)

This has to be one of the most obvious verses in the Bible! I would hope they would go back and look for their lost boy…the boy they left behind! Can you imagine what Child Protective Services would say to Mary and Joseph?!?!?

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (Luke 2:46)

I can’t imagine looking for a lost child for three days! I can remember times when I’d lose one of my kids for a few seconds in a story and be on the verge of panic. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t worried. It never says he even knew he was lost! We’ve often spiritualized this entire story by pointing out how devoted Jesus was to studying the scriptures, which is true.

But what happened? How did he miss the flight—err, the journey—back to Nazareth? What kind of communication breakdown caused his absence to be unnoticed for an entire day? Why did it take them three days to look for Jesus in the temple courts when they were in Jerusalem for a religious festival?

Jesus’ Not-So-Perfect Family

Perhaps no other story shows us how Jesus did not come from an Ideal Family. He was sinless, but his parents were not perfect. His siblings weren’t perfect. In fact, it wasn’t until years later that his half-brother, James, acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah…and they lived together! How did James miss the clues:

  • - The family dog died…until Jesus brought it back to life!
  • - Mary ran out of bread…until Jesus multiplied the loaves until there were leftovers
  • - Wine was served at every meal…even when they only had water to drink!
  • - Jesus won the Fantasy Football league every year!
  • - His brother seemed to have a Messiah complex and thought he was perfect!

I’m being facetious, just playing a bit, but seriously, Jesus’ family wasn’t perfect. Like ours, they surely had struggles, conflicts, and parental mistakes.

Perfect Parents

I used to think perfect kids came from perfect parents.
I used to think “bad” kids came from “bad” parents.
I used to think some crazy thoughts!

The truth is parenting matters, but there are no guarantees. Some of the most godly people I know came from seriously broken homes…and some of the most godly homes have produced some seriously wayward children. Despite the flaws of Mary and Joseph, I’d say Jesus turned out pretty good!

So What?

As we close out this series, there are a few things I want you to remember…

  1. 1. You and your family are messed up.
  2. 2. You are not alone. We’re all messed up.
  3. 3. We need God’s amazing grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness.
  4. 4. God loves to extend that grace to us. We don’t deserve it.
  5. 5. We need to encourage one another to follow Jesus, every day. As Thomas George said a few weeks ago, we need to be sanctified…daily filled with the Holy Spirit to become more like Jesus. The true test of our growth is not biblical knowledge or church attendance but how well we love…God and others.
  6. 6. Loving others begins with our family. It’s often easier to love strangers than those gathered around the dinner table.
  7. 7. Finally, we are all family. We are members of both a biological family and a spiritual family. Look around. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have spiritual siblings. If God is your Father, He has given you brothers and sisters…for better or for worse!

Jesus said the world will know we are His disciples by the love we have for one another.

As members of God’s family, we fail and sin, but our Dad is perfect. He perfectly calibrates discipline, work, and play. He provides us with tough and tender love. Daddy knows best.

Throughout this series, I hope you’ve been encouraged regarding your own family. I hope you’ve been challenged regarding your own family. How can we avoid the tragic mistakes of others? How can we bask in the forgiveness and grace—unmerited favor—when we mess up? How can we fully embrace our roles as moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins?

Families can be messy…but they also provide us with the greatest opportunities to learn, grow, serve, and experience joy.

As your brother in Christ, I’m grateful for you. I love your encouragement, appreciate your constructive criticism, and need your prayers. Together we are seeking to know and love God and His children…and welcome new spiritual siblings into the family.

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

King's Chaos, 12 February 2017

King’s Chaos
Series: Ideal Family
Psalm 3

Series Big Idea:
All families are messed up, including biblical families.

Big Idea: The “man after God’s own heart” was punished for his great sins yet experienced amazing grace.

Scripture: Psalm 3

Good morning! My name is Kirk and today we’re continuing our series entitled, “Ideal Family.” Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a family; at least one. Ever since God said it was not good for man to be alone, humans have lived with others…for better or worse. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a biological father and a biological mother. Most people have siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are a vital part of life for many of us. Family is God’s design. It was His idea.

There are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families. We all need help…so let’s pray!

PRAY

Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been a collector of baseball cards. I never cared much for the gum that Topps used to include with their cards, but it continues to be a thrill for me to open a pack and see which players are inside. I’m much too young to see Babe Ruth’s face or Mickey Mantle’s eyes looking back at me, but I love to get players from the Philadelphia Phillies or Detroit Tigers—my two favorite teams—or rookie cards or superstars. My favorite cards in my collection include Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, and even a Michael Jordan from the year he tried to play baseball.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have Bible character cards. “Hey, I’ll trade you a Noah for a John the Baptist!” “What’s more valuable, the card of Abram or Abraham?” “I’ve got a rookie card of Jesus…in the manger!”

Obviously Jesus is the most important figure in the Bible—in human history—but if I were to collect cards of other biblical characters, I’d probably be most excited about David. First and foremost for me, he was a musician and songwriter. The psalms are my favorite book of the Bible, and he wrote most of them. As a boy, he killed a lion and a bear…and then Goliath the giant (1 Samuel 17). His music was so powerful, it would bring relief to the tormented king, even causing an evil spirit to flee (1 Samuel 16:23). David became so popular, the crowds would celebrate him over and above King Saul, the man whose thrown he would later possess (1 Samuel 18:7; 21:11; 29:5). David was a mighty warrior, a powerful king, and best of all a man after God’s own heart.

Now there was that whole Bathsheba incident that led to David committing adultery, murder, and likely rape. Oh, if only that never happened! Then again, as we’ve noted in this series, all of our biblical heroes besides Jesus are flawed. They sinned against God—and others. Like us, they needed the amazing grace offered by Jesus who died to provide forgiveness, salvation, and reconciliation.

But let’s not get bogged down with David’s dark chapter. He had a son named Solomon who built the Temple and was blessed with wisdom, wealth, and women.

Royal transition is always exciting. Queen Elizabeth just celebrated a record 65 years on the throne in England. Someday soon her heir, Prince Charles, will most likely reign as king.

Near the end of his life, King David assembled all the officials of Israel and said,

Of all my sons—and the LORD has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel. (1 Chronicles 28:5)

So David blesses Solomon, he becomes king, and everyone lives happily ever after. Right? Hardly.

David said he many sons. Remember Cain and Abel, sibling rivalry? Imagine many sons with different mothers!

These were the sons of David born to him in Hebron:
The firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel;
the second, Daniel the son of Abigail of Carmel; 
the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; 
the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
and the sixth, Ithream, by his wife Eglah. 
These six were born to David in Hebron, where he reigned seven years and six months. 

David reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years, and these were the children born to him there:
Shammua, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. These four were by Bathsheba  daughter of Ammiel. There were also Ibhar, Elishua, Eliphelet, 
Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet—nine in all. 
All these were the sons of David, besides his sons by his concubines. And
Tamar was their sister. (1 Chronicles 3:1-9)

That’s quite a clan!

Now here’s how David’s story ends:

David son of Jesse was king over all Israel. He ruled over Israel forty years—seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. He died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honor. His son Solomon succeeded him as king. (1 Chronicles 29:26-28)

But let’s back up. Last week we noted how sins can be passed from one generation to the next. Blessings work that way. Curses work that way. We often become like our parents, and our children follow our example. Jacob was deceitful like his father Isaac who was deceitful like his father Abram.

David’s sexual sin with Bathsheba may have some connection to a horrific event that would occur among his children. David’s firstborn son, Amnon, fell in love with his half sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13:4) and raped her (2 Samuel 13:14) causing chaos in David’s family.

When King David heard all this, he was furious. And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar. (2 Samuel 13:21-22)

Understandable, right?

Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.” So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled. (2 Samuel 13:28-29)

Do you see why I entitled this message, “King’s Chaos?”

We simply don’t have time to cover all of the stories of David and his family, but if you turn to 2 Samuel chapter 15, we see Absalom wreaking more havoc on his family. He decides he wants to customer service for the king’s subjects!

Reading from the
New Living Translation

After this, Absalom bought a chariot and horses, and he hired fifty bodyguards to run ahead of him. He got up early every morning and went out to the gate of the city. When people brought a case to the king for judgment, Absalom would ask where in Israel they were from, and they would tell him their tribe. Then Absalom would say, “You’ve really got a strong case here! It’s too bad the king doesn’t have anyone to hear it. I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!”

When people tried to bow before him, Absalom wouldn’t let them. Instead, he took them by the hand and kissed them. Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel. (2 Samuel 15:1-6, NLT)

You see where this is going, right? David’s son, Absalom, tries to seize control

A messenger soon arrived in Jerusalem to tell David, “All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!” (2 Samuel 15:13, NLT)

“Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.” (2 Samuel 15:14, NLT)

“We are with you,” his advisers replied. “Do what you think is best.” (2 Samuel 15:15, NLT)

So the king and all his household set out at once. He left no one behind except ten of his concubines to look after the palace. (2 Samuel 15:16, NLT)

It is in this context that we read Psalm 3

A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.
  
LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me! 
Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
But you, LORD, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the LORD,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. 
I will not fear though tens of thousands 
assail me on every side.
Arise, LORD!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked. 
From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people. (Psalm 3)

David flees his son and in 2 Samuel chapter 18, we read

During the battle, Absalom happened to come upon some of David’s men. He tried to escape on his mule, but as he rode beneath the thick branches of a great tree, his hair got caught in the tree. His mule kept going and left him dangling in the air. One of David’s men saw what had happened and told Joab, “I saw Absalom dangling from a great tree.” (2 Samuel 18:9-10, NLT)

“What?” Joab demanded. “You saw him there and didn’t kill him? I would have rewarded you with ten pieces of silver and a hero’s belt!” (2 Samuel 18:11, NLT)

“I would not kill the king’s son for even a thousand pieces of silver,” the man replied to Joab. “We all heard the king say to you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake, please spare young Absalom.’ And if I had betrayed the king by killing his son—and the king would certainly find out who did it—you yourself would be the first to abandon me.” (2 Samuel 18:12-13, NLT)

“Enough of this nonsense,” Joab said. Then he took three daggers and plunged them into Absalom’s heart as he dangled, still alive, in the great tree. Ten of Joab’s young armor bearers then surrounded Absalom and killed him. (2 Samuel 18:14-15, NLT)

This is great news, right? Not to David.

Then the man from Ethiopia arrived and said, “I have good news for my lord the king. Today the LORD has rescued you from all those who rebelled against you.” (2 Samuel 18:31, NLT)

“What about young Absalom?” the king demanded. “Is he all right?” 

And the Ethiopian replied, “May all of your enemies, my lord the king, both now and in the future, share the fate of that young man!” (2 Samuel 18:32, NLT)

The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.” (2 Samuel 18:33, NLT)

So What?

I’ve heard stories of some dysfunctional families, but David’s is one of the most bizarre. Incest, rape, murder, adultery…yet the patriarch, David, is called a man after God’s own heart.

After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ (Acts 13:22)

But what does this have to do with us thousands of years later?

1. David’s passion is endless. Sure, it is misdirected when seeing Bathsheba bathe, but he has a deep love for God. Read the Psalms. He loves his family, even when they go off the deep end. When his son Absalom—who is trying to destroy David and his men—is killed, rather than rejoicing at the death of his enemy, he weeps at the loss of his son.

The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.” (2 Samuel 18:33, NLT)

Parents love their kids, through thick and thin (even teenagers!!!). It’s a special bond. They say love is blind, and while that usually refers to romance, it can sometimes apply to parenting. David loved his kids. Our heavenly Father loves HIs kids, too. Always.

2. One spouse is enough! I don’t want to make light of this, but so much of David’s chaos came from multiple wives bearing multiple children and a family tree that looked more like spaghetti than an oak. One man marrying one woman and creating children mirrors the Trinity of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all One, doing life together, each serving a unique, complementary function.

3. Sin always has consequences, whether immediate or over time. We can only imagine David’s legacy had he (and Solomon) avoided sexual sins (there’s so much we don’t have time to cover here).

4. God’s grace (unmerited favor) is sufficient. Despite his flaws, God used David…and his family, both then and thousands of years later.

Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. (2 Timothy 2:8)

His amazing grace is available to you and me today.

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

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