Seeking the Savior, 28 April 2019

Seeking the Savior
Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
Luke 19:1-10

Series Big Idea:
Love is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture, yet it is at the heart of the two greatest biblical commandments: love God, love neighbor.

Big Idea:
Lost people matter to God and He wants them found.

One of the greatest controversies among students of the Bible is whether God chooses us or we choose God. If you are a follower of Jesus today, why? Is it what God did or what you did? Did God seek you to follow Him or did you seek out God?

My short opinion—if you’re wondering—is yes!

On the one hand, we are told to seek after God, to pursue a relationship with our Creator.

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. (Psalms 105:3)

Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. (1 Chronicles 16:11)

The Hebrew word used in both verses is
baqash. It means to seek, search, look for, inquire about.

God wants us to seek Him. But ever since sin entered the world, we naturally want to pursue our own pleasures. We want to be god, the master of our own universe. We like to be in control. This led Paul to write to the church in Rome:

As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:10-11)

Here the verb “seek” is Greek, ekzeteo, meaning “to seek out, investigate diligently, scrutinize.” It’s as if we need God to pursue us because left to our own devices, we’ll selfishly do life our way, oblivious to the wisdom of the Almighty.

A moment ago, I said my answer is yes—I believe we seek after God and God seeks after us. Who is responsible for my being married, my wife or me? Our relationship requires the participation of two parties, and I believe that’s the same for those in a relationship with God through King Jesus.

Two weeks ago, we noted again how

Lost people matter to God and He wants them found.

Luke chapter 15 tells of the pursuit of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son where God pursues.

Today we’re going to look at two spiritual seekers, people who pursued God. Both are rich men who want to follow, yet they end up with two very different outcomes.

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18)

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” (Luke 18:19-20)

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. (Luke 18:21)

When Jesus heard this, he said to him,
“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said,
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:23-25)

This man seeks after God, but he became very sad because he was ultimately seeking money more than God.

Our text for today in the following chapter is similar.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. (Luke 19:1-2)

Zacchaeus means “righteous one,” but this man was anything but righteous. He was not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector, hated and despised. The tax system was oppressive to the people (some things never change!). But seriously, he could charge taxes on most anything he wanted, at most any rate he wanted. The comment about his wealth is hardly necessary.

As Zach walked around town, the people saw their money…used to purchase fancy clothes and expensive food. He could raise taxes and pocket the increase. To make matters worse, if you couldn’t pay the taxes, tax collectors would loan you the money at a huge interest rate, making even more money for themselves. If that wasn’t enough, the taxes went to pay for the unwanted Roman army to occupy your village.

Zacchaeus was, no doubt, greedy and selfish. His world revolved around himself. Have you ever met someone like this? Maybe it’s your boss or a co-worker or neighbor. They’re climbing to the top and could care less about whatever is in their way, even if it’s you! They’ll beg, borrow or even steal to get what they want. Tragically—as we noted recently in our series on Ecclesiastes—they never have enough. They are never satisfied. They may seem to be beyond hope and help. But he was a masterpiece in the eyes of God.

He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. (Luke 19:3-4)

Kids love Zacchaeus. He was short like them. If you’ve ever taken a child to a parade, they usually struggle to see, not unlike Zacchaeus in this crowd. When I was little, I loved it when my dad put me on his shoulders at a parade so I could see over the tops of all of the adults. Zach takes advantage of tree to get a height advantage.

Luke is the only biblical writer who tells us about Zacchaeus, though it’s a perfect story since he had just written about the problem of riches…and an encounter with Jesus.

You might call this man a seeker. It says he ran, something unusual for a man in the culture, especially a wealthy government official. He may not have been seeking after God, but Jesus was a celebrity and perhaps he wants an autograph or even a selfie with the Messiah. That would look great on his social media account, right? Although it says he simply wanted to see who Jesus was, I believe God was at work in his heart.

God the Holy Spirit draws people to Jesus.

Only God can change a selfish, human heart, and that’s exactly what happens.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him,
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (Luke 19:5-6)

Did Jesus just invite himself to Zacchaeus’ house? Yes he did, and Zacchaeus was happy to welcome him.

Let’s face it, there are some celebrities who can do just about anything they want. I’m not suggesting Jesus had selfish motives because he had an agenda far greater than a free meal. But if Lebron James or Julia Roberts or David Jeremiah or Taylor Swift wanted to come over to your place, you’d probably welcome them gladly, right?

Did Jesus seek after Zach or did Zach seek after Jesus? Yes! It’s a beautiful story! But then religion enters the scene.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)

Zacchaeus wasn’t just any sinner. This is the man who has been stealing from them, padding his wallet with extra fees and taxes. He was a crook! I’m sure some were jealous simply because they would’ve liked Jesus to invite himself to their house. But beyond that,

Jesus was criticized for being a friend of sinners.

Tragically, many godly men and women today experience the same judgment from self-righteous religious people. Like Jonah or the older son in the Prodigal Son story, they want exclusive access to the Father, shunning the lost, the sinner, the broken…even when they come to their senses, repent, and follow God, which is exactly what Zach does here.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

What a statement! This is extravagant repentance. Zacchaeus doesn’t simply say, “I’m sorry everyone. I won’t let it happen again.” He makes amends. He turns and does what he can to not only pay back what he had taken, but also make fourfold restitution. Wow!

Under the Mosaic law, restitution for a theft meant returning what was stolen plus twenty percent. The greatest penalty was if what was stolen could not be restored, then a fourfold repayment was required. Zach self-imposed the harshest penalty.

The rich young ruler refused to sell his possessions, yet Zacchaeus seemingly gives away all of his cash. In Jesus, he has found something more valuable than all of the gold in the world, and he is forever transformed by his encounter with the Messiah.

Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)

Salvation comes to those who follow Jesus…with not only their heads but their hands. Faith without works is dead. Zacchaeus is a new man, a found man, a saved man, and now a truly rich man because of the gift of salvation.

God encounters are transformative.

Jesus mission was not only to die on the cross. It also included seeking the lost sheep. It involved spending time with sinners far from God. It required intentionality and action and pursuit. Jesus is the one that saves and changes us. It’s all about Jesus!

I have two questions for you today. First,

Are you a God-seeker?

Really. Would you sell everything you have if God called you to do so? Do you generously give now? I believe 10% is the starting point—not the goal—for financial stewardship, giving to your local church.

Singles, are you willing to honor God with your body and remain sexually pure?

Does your calendar reflect your pursuit of God, or are your days filled with screens and personal pursuits?

I know a lot of long-time Christians and I’ve seen spiritual newborns and there’s something exciting about a new believer. They’re hungry, eager to learn and grow. Are you? I pray we will all be God-seekers, regardless of where we are on our spiritual journey.

How can you serve God-seekers?

I believe the greatest way you can serve those pursuing God is to share Jesus, share your story, listen to their questions, guide them to the cross…and empty tomb.

This past week a research study revealed although 56% of Protestant churchgoers said they pray for opportunities to share the Gospel—or good news—with non-Christians, 55% said they haven’t engaged in an “evangelistic conversation” in at least six months. One researcher replied, “Sharing the good news that Jesus paid for our sins through His death on the cross and rose again to bring us new life is the mission of the church, but it does not appear to be the priority of churchgoers.”

Perhaps even more concerning is a recent report that 47% of Millennials agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith. We’re never supposed to shove God down anyone’s throat, but there are people all around us who are asking questions, they’re seeking meaning and purpose in life, whether or not they define their search as seeking God.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and he invites us to follow him. After all,

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

I’m so grateful for this church. For more than thirteen decades we have been seeking and saving the lost, serving Toledo and the world. We have been local and global. We’ve had people serving as missionaries in our city and the ends of the earth. I want to challenge you with three simple yet powerful ways you can help seekers in Toledo and beyond.
Pray. This is the primary work of God’s people. We are a praying church and I can’t imagine where we’d be without prayer. Transformation will not occur through great sermons and dynamic music alone. It comes through the power of God unleashed when we get on our knees and pray. Imagine what would happen if the Holy Spirit prompts people in Toledo like Zacchaeus to come and see, to pursue God through First Alliance Church. It has been exciting seeing new people join us, many simply because they saw our sign and beautiful campus. We pray that God would draw people to Himself. We pray for our city, its leaders, its churches, and ministries. We pray for spiritual awakening among the 500,000 souls in Northwest Ohio.

On a global level, you can adopt an International Worker and pray for them. There’s a list of them in each week’s
Prayer Connection which can be found both in the Information Center kiosk and in each edition of our e-newsletter, The FAC Focus. Please pray for Heather and me as we travel to Africa, not only for our health and safety but effective ministry to youth, leaders, and pastors.

Give. Today is Great Commission Sunday. We promote the Great Commission Fund regularly because it is the way we support International Workers in The Alliance. Some groups ask individuals to do months of personal fundraising. We prefer to do the work for them so they can be involved in seeking the lost, sharing Jesus, inviting people to experience abundant life. You can give today, next week, or any week. You can put the Great Commission Fund in your estate and will, ensuring your wealth will be invested in people for eternity.
This year The Alliance is sending 60 International Workers, the most we’ve ever sent in our history! We praise God for 60 people responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to go, but now we need people to respond to the call to support them financially through the Great Commission Fund.

On a related global note, thank you to those who have invested in our trip next month to Burundi, Africa. I don’t know who contributed, but I can’t wait to share stories of God’s faithfulness as we train youth, leaders, and pastors next month.
On a local level, you can also give to First Alliance Church and our Faith Missions and Home Missions partners. Our books are always open and I can assure you every dollar is spent carefully to maximize effectiveness.
…to West Virginia or the Dominican Republic or Africa. Maybe God is calling you to leave Toledo for another state or country in the future. He does that sometimes! Maybe God is calling you to go launch a new ministry or church. I’d love to talk with you about that!
You can go to your next door neighbor or co-worker or family member. Ask them where they are on their spiritual journey. Take them out for coffee and listen to their story. Show them love through random acts of kindness. Take a risk! It can be as simple as inviting them to…
Dinner Church?

I know there are some questions about Dinner Church and I want to do my best to address them now. We start with why, and it’s simply to seek and save the lost, following Jesus. He is the one who said,

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20)

Who is going to set the table? We are! We are creating space for sinners, seculars, and strangers to have dinner with Jesus. He said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” What if he wasn’t speaking metaphorically?

Although I first heard about the Dinner Church movement two years ago at a conference, it’s nearly identical to the church Heather and I started in Ann Arbor twenty years ago, Frontline. We sat at round tables, met on Sunday evenings, began with dinner, and offered a non-traditional, interactive God experience for people young and old, rich and poor, religious and non-religious. I could spend hours telling stories of the transformed lives we witnessed during those fruitful years.

Dinner Church is not a soup kitchen, but a community meal for the mind, body, and soul. From 5-6 PM we’ll gather in the Fellowship Hall at round tables, eating together, extending hospitality to our guests, just hanging out with these masterpieces in need of God’s restoration, just like each of us needs.

The 6 PM hour will include music and the arts, an interactive teaching, Q&A, and prayer. Kids are welcome, though we will have child care available for those who need it. The entire evening will be kid-friendly, casual, and engaging. I’m praying God brings spiritual seekers like Zacchaeus to connect with us and with Him.

As we’ve said, this is designed for the unchurched, whether they be Christians or not. If you’re a regular on Sunday morning, we’d love for you to either serve or bring an unchurched friend. We want to make sure there’s room for God seekers.

If you have such a friend, please prayerfully invite them. You might say, “My church is doing an experiment called Dinner Church and we’d love your feedback. Would you come as my guest and tell me what you think, kind of like a mystery shopper? We’ll even treat you to dinner!”

Next Sunday, Cinco de Mayo, will be our sneak preview gathering. On May 26, we’ll begin meeting on the last Sunday of the month from 5-7 PM.

Pray. Give. Go.

What a privilege we have to join God in His work seeking and saving the lost. Amen!

One more thing

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. We have the privilege of joining him in that mission, the mission of restoring masterpieces, of making disciples, of sharing good news. And according to Matthew 24:14, this is not merely good for the sake of the lost and for the sake of God, but it will hasten the return of the King.

A New York reporter once asked Alliance founder A. B. Simpson, “Can you tell us when Jesus will return?” Simpson replied, “Yes, I will tell you, as long as you promise to print what I say word for word.” The reporter agreed, at which time Simpson quoted Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

More than 4,000 people groups have not yet had opportunity to receive and respond to Christ’s invitation to experience life with Him now and evermore. Who’s going to tell them?
VIDEO: The Kingdom Now Snapshot

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for Jesus to return, but in the meantime, we’re on a mission from God! Let’s get to work, let’s follow Christ and his mission of seeking and saving the lost.

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

From Death to Life, 21 April 2019

From Death to Life (Easter)
Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
Luke 24:1-8

Series Big Idea:
Love is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture, yet it is at the heart of the two greatest biblical commandments: love God, love neighbor.

Big Idea:
The resurrection changes everything—past, present and future.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Welcome to Resurrection Sunday, our annual Easter celebration, the biggest day on the Church calendar. This is the day we remember the greatest moment in history, when the God who came to the world He created died for the sins of humankind and rose from the dead. He was crucified on a cross, the most horrific torture known in the day, yet he conquered sin and death. He arose. Hallelujah!

Although the vast majority of USAmericans believe Jesus died and resurrected, you may be skeptical. If you’re not convinced Jesus is alive, just imagine for a few moments that he is living, that he hears our prayers, that his promise to return is true, that his death was an acceptable sacrifice to pay for the sins of every man, woman and child who receives the gift of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation extended to them. Listen to this amazing story, the Easter story, the events recorded by a doctor named Luke of what happened following the horrifying death of Jesus:

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Luke 24:1)

You just can’t make this stuff up! If Luke—or any other writer—was creating fiction, they would never mention women as the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. Women were second-class citizens in the Roman Empire. The authenticity of Dr. Luke’s account is strengthened by details such as this.

All four gospels—or “good news” biographies of Jesus—mention the Resurrection occurring on the first day of the week. Sunday became the day of Christian worship as a result, so this detail is significant, too, since the Jewish Sabbath is from Friday night until Saturday night.

Why did these women—named in other biographies of Jesus—go to the tomb? They brought spices to give his body a proper burial. The original Greek word for spices here is…
aroma. Interesting.

In Matthew’s biography, after the death of Jesus, we read:

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:62-64)

It’s ironic that a group of unbelievers remembered Jesus’ prediction that he would rise from the dead, yet his own followers seemed clueless.

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. (Matthew 27:65-66)

A Roman guard unit consisted of sixteen soldiers—four groups of four. Four would stand in front of that which they were guarding and the other twelve would be behind them, often sleeping in shifts.

Sixteen soldiers were guarding the tomb on Friday, but they weren’t there on Sunday! Back to the women with their spices:

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, (Luke 24:2)

The stone is believed to have been 1.5 to 2 tons!

but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (Luke 24:3)

I can’t imagine how they felt. Was the body stolen? Who moved the stone? I’m sure the main question was, “Where is the body of Jesus?”

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? (Luke 24:4-5)

This is a great question!

The universal symbol of the Christian faith is the…cross. It fits nicely on a necklace, is easily constructed with two pieces of wood, and can be found around the world. But the cross is an object of torture. It’s an image of death.

The cross is incredibly important because on it Jesus died for the sins of all who follow him, declaring him LORD and Savior. He lived a perfect life so he could die as a perfect sacrifice for sinners like you and me—imperfect people stained by our failures that separate us from Almighty God.

Our culture is filled with stereotypes and impressions of heaven and hell. Don’t expect heaven to be a place with people floating around playing harps, and don’t look for red guys with pitch forks running around in hell. Let me give you two simple definitions:

Heaven is where God.
Hell is where God isn’t.

Because God is holy and intolerant of sin, our sin separates us from God. That’s why Jesus came, lived, and died—to pay the price, to take our punishment, to cover our sin. The wages of sin is death and we must pay…or we can let Jesus’ death pay it. It’s our choice.

Contrary to statements about God sending people to hell, C.S. Lewis famously said, “All that are in Hell, choose it.” We choose to believe in Jesus, follow him now, and spend eternity with him in heaven—where God is—or we can reject him now and spend eternity in hell—where God isn’t.

But back to our text:

He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” (Luke 24:6-7)

Jesus predicted not only his death, but his resurrection. Not even Harry Houdini, David Copperfield, or Criss Angel can do that!

Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:8)

Have you ever missed something someone told you? I admit sometimes I’m not the best listener and someone will say to me, “I told you…” Ugh!

Jesus died and came back to life. Nice story. Even if it’s true,

So What?

I’m so glad you asked! In one statement:
the empty tomb changes everything!

First, the empty tomb changed the past.

The past two thousand years have ushered in arguably the greatest movement in history. Jesus didn’t come to start another religion, but he did come to show us what it means to be human. He lived a perfect life, preached the greatest sermons, died to reconcile all humanity to God,…but didn’t stop there.

Many people of history have lived extraordinary lives and done incredible things. Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle, Galileo, Alexander the Great, Plato, William Shakespeare…but they’re all dead. It would be foolish to try to talk to them, even if you were to visit their burial site.

But Jesus is alive, and that changed everything. Paul, one of the leaders of the first Christians, wrote to the church in the Greek city of Corinth:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

I think that’s clear. Without the empty tomb, the Christian faith is useless. A few verses later, Paul writes,

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)

That’s a pretty bold thing to say. Without the resurrection, our faith is futile, we are living a fantasy, our sins are eternal stains keeping us from Almighty God, there’s no hope for the dead, and we are most to be pitied.

Most people today acknowledge Jesus as an historical figure. Muslims believe in him. Hindus believe in him. Even atheists believe Jesus walked the earth. The question is,

“Who is Jesus?”

The Bible plainly teaches several things:

Jesus is fully God.
Jesus is fully human.
Jesus is perfect.
Jesus died.
Jesus rose from the dead.

By the way, Paul also noted:

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:6)

If you take all of the witnesses and brought them to court to testify for six minutes each, it would take more than 50 hours to get through the testimony. And countless followers of Jesus have become martyrs, dying for their belief not only in the person of Jesus, but also his death and resurrection.

The empty tomb changed the past.
The empty tomb changed the present.

Think for a moment about something broken in your life, something seemingly hopeless.

This past week a friend was devastated by a house sale that fell through. Another failed to get a job they really wanted. Our world witnessed the loss of part of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Every day we’re confronted disappointment, suffering, and even death.

I can’t imagine the horror of Jesus’ friends as they watched him hanging on a cross, his life extinguished before their very eyes. It’s as if they invested three years building a house, only to watch it go up in flames…with no insurance!

In the classic tale
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, there’s a scene where the great and mighty Aslan is killed on the Stone Table, devastating young Susan and Lucy. But that wasn't the end of the story.

I’ve had many storms in my life which seemed like dead ends. Loss. Hopeless.

But just as Jesus went from death to life, so also many things in my life have been resurrected. I’ve experienced redemption. I’ve found delightful surprises when I turned the page of my story. I’ve discovered miracles are real.

I was reminded of this in the movie
Breakthrough, a true story of boy who fell through the ice and was declared dead for 45 minutes before coming back to life, walking out of the hospital on his own, and living without brain damage three weeks later.

The empty tomb changed the present, offering hope to those who believe in miracles, who embrace the supernatural, who have faith in the living Messiah.

This doesn’t mean life is easy. In fact, Jesus promised us we would have troubles in this life, but he also promised to be with us through the storms of life…always.

The empty tomb changed the present. Finally,

The empty tomb changes the future.

One famous song says, “Because he lives/I can face tomorrow/Because he lives/All fear is gone/Because I know he holds the future/And life is worth the living/Just because he lives.”

Some people say Christianity is all about going to heaven when you die. Remember, heaven is where God is, and if you follow Jesus in this life, you will follow him in the next. The most famous verse in the Bible says,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

This isn’t just a reference to the next life, but to a whole and lasting life. An abundant life. A life filled with meaning and purpose and hope and peace. Christianity is all about going to heaven before you die, experiencing God’s presence and power now. But followers of Jesus are promised an incredible future, new bodies like Jesus’ resurrected body, eternity with God, a reality without temptation or sin. Here’s a sneak preview of what is to come:

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

If Jesus is still dead, I’m hopeless, my faith is useless, my destiny is eternal separation from God in hell because of my sins, and I am, indeed, to be pitied.

But I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus is alive, and that changed the past, the present, and the future.

I have resurrection power.
I have hope.
I have peace.
I have freedom—from sin, darkness, eternal death, and shame.

All because of an empty tomb.

Have you experienced the living Jesus? We can all read about dead people from the past, but Jesus is alive and wants a relationship with you. This isn’t about religion—trying to do good things to make God approve of you. He is already crazy in love with you and proved it by sending Jesus to die for you. This isn’t about tradition. This is about a person, a living person, Jesus.

But no gift is yours until you accept it. A check is worthless until you cash it. A winning lottery ticket cannot buy anything until it is redeemed. And the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross—his claims of divinity validated by his resurrection—is only sufficient if you confess your sins, repent and turn away from your life of sin, and receive the gift of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love of Jesus.

But it begins with surrender. Let go and let God. I know it’s hard. We all want power and control, but how’s that working out for you? Imagine how different your life could be if the Creator of the universe was in charge? The gospel—the good news—is more than just forgiveness of sins, though Jesus died to make that available to you. Our celebration today is that Jesus is risen. He has conquered all evil, he is seated beside God the Father, he rules the world by his presence until all things have been made subject. Make space for Jesus to be LORD, to be God, to lead your life, to rule your entire life.

There’s no pressure. There’s no guilt. There’s no manipulation. There’s only an invitation.

Jesus said, “Follow me.”

He said,
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6b)

He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; (John 11:25b)

Jesus is calling your name today. He wants to call you from darkness to light, from sin to forgiveness, from bondage to freedom.

Have you experienced Jesus, the living Messiah? The empty tomb changed the past, it can change your present, and it can tranform your future.

But you must respond. You must say yes. You must make Jesus your Savior…and LORD.

If you have said yes, if Jesus is your LORD, it’s time to celebrate!

He is risen. He is risen indeed!

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

Get (the) Lost! 14 April 2019

Get (the) Lost!
Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
Luke 15:1-32

Series Big Idea:
Love is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture, yet it is at the heart of the two greatest biblical commandments: love God, love neighbor.

Big Idea:
We are to love everyone and perhaps the greatest way we can love someone is to introduce them to Jesus.

This morning we’re continuing our look at the gospel or good news of Luke in our series “The Quest of the Good Shepherd.” Today we’re in Luke chapter 15 where Jesus tells three stories of something lost and found. I’ve entitled my message, “Get (the) Lost!” God’s heart is truly for the lost. If we are to love God—and love our neighbor—we are to pursue the lost and guide them toward the Good Shepherd so that they may be found and experience the amazing love of our Creator God.

One of the Alliance core values states,

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

Do you believe that? Does your life reflect that value?

I believe every soul needs Jesus. It is not merely an obligation but actually a privilege to introduce people to the source and definition of love, Almighty God.

Last week we were reminded of the Great Commandments: love God and love your neighbor. One of the ways in which we love God is by loving our neighbor, even when that neighbor is an enemy.

If we truly love God, what matters to God must matter to us.

Every person you encounter this week is masterpiece created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth.

This Friday we will gather at 7 PM to remember God’s unbelievable love in action through the death of Jesus on the cross, an act so outrageous it is literally the definition of the word “passion.” Is it any wonder that after such a sacrifice, the LORD is

…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9b)

Last Sunday we said love is not just a feeling, but a rugged commitment to another person which requires action. Love is a verb.

Lost Things

Have you ever lost something of value?

I pride myself in keeping track of my stuff, ensuring that I don’t misplace or drop my keys or other such objects. So imagine my surprise when I was at a Detroit Tigers game last year and couldn’t find my phone. It’s a very old phone, but its contents are very valuable to me, especially my photos. One moment I was using my phone and seemingly moments later it was lost. I was so surprised. I had a moment of panic. My pride was squashed (not a bad thing!). What to do?

After some discussion with people nearby, I learned it had fallen on the ground, someone took it to the lost and found, and I was able to retrieve it, safe and sound!

I could’ve sat in my seat the entire game, waiting for my lost phone to fall out of the sky onto my lap, but that’s not how we usually find lost things! We need to take action, to search, and even pray!

If a piece of gum fell out of my pocket or a tissue, I never would’ve gone to the trouble of finding it, but when it was something of value, it was worth the pursuit. Let me say again,

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

Our text for today actually includes three stories of lost things. The first is the lost sheep.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

Then Jesus told them this parable:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ (Luke 15:3-6)

Sheep and shepherds are not popular in our culture, but the Bible is filled with them. Psalm 23 tells us the LORD is our shepherd. Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd in John chapter 10.

The celebration is not merely for the sheep, but also for the shepherd who found the lost animal. He doesn’t simply say, “The sheep has been found,” but “I have found my lost sheep.” Sheep are not the brightest creatures on earth, and when they’re lost, there’s not much they can do to be found.

Why would the shepherd risk the safety and well-being of ninety-nine good, healthy, “obedient” sheep to find one stray? Jesus continues,

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:7)

Does this mean Christians don’t matter to God? Hardly, but our Heavenly Father will not be satisfied until all of His children are adopted, reconciled to Him, found. To further make his point, Jesus talks about a lost coin.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)

Married Jewish girls often wore a headband of ten silver coins, similar to how women in our day wear wedding rings. Losing one of the coins necessitated a search. Again, it’s not just that the coin has been found, but rejoice that “I have found,” she says.

Are you getting the point? Angels rejoice over lost person who is found. I’m not sure how angels rejoice, but I bet they know how to throw a party! Imagine how they must’ve partied when you repented and began to follow Jesus…if you have done so.

If the messages of the lost sheep and lost coin were unclear, the lost son—also known as the prodigal son—surely conveys God’s love for the lost.

Jesus continued:
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. (Luke 15:11-12)

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. (Luke 15:13)

Far or distant country didn’t just mean a place a long ways away, but Gentiles—a different worldview, a different culture.

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:14-16)

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ (Luke 15:17-19)

So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

It would've been unusual for the father to run. The wayward boy brought disgrace to his family and could've been stoned to death in the culture. The father running possibly kept the neighbors from stoning the boy. What a picture of Jesus on the cross!

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 15:21)

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:22-24)

The lost son has returned home and there is a celebration. I know of several prodigals in our church family, men and women who have walked away from the faith and/or their family. The pain is heartbreaking while the prayers seem unending. I have first-hand experience with this and beg God to bring reconciliation to my family. I have the fattened calf ready to go!

I wish the story ended here. I really do. Lost and found. Lost and found. Lost and found. But there’s more to the story of the prodigal son. It involves the ninety-nine sheep. It’s about the nine silver coins which were not lost. It’s about the older son. We might call him the good Christian boy who went to church every Sunday, never said cuss words, and got straight A’s on his homework while his brother partied until he was broke and hungry.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ (Luke 15:25-27)

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:28-30)

“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ” (Luke 15:31-32)

So What?

Family, I love you. I truly love you, and I know God loves you, too. He loves each and every one of you. He loves our brothers and sisters at Westgate Chapel, the Vineyard, the Tabernacle, Bedford Alliance, That Neighborhood Church, and Cedar Creek.

But God also loves the lost. Jesus died for the unchurched. He sacrificed his life for atheists. His blood was shed for Muslims. His body was broken for Buddhists.

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. Do you? Do we?

Perhaps there was a day when we would ring the bell and everyone would rush into our church building, but that’s clearly not the case today. Our competition is not Harvest Lane Alliance Church or Calvary Church. Our competition is the television, the golf course, the Internet, and the pillow.

Our city is packed with people searching for hope and meaning. Some are so depressed and discouraged that they’re taking their own lives…or those of others. Countless men, women, boys, and girls feel unloved, rejected, and worthless. They are lost.

Sure, I would love for God to appear to them in a dream and reveal His love for them—and that is happening, especially among Muslims—but more often than not God uses people like you and me to go and make disciples, to search for the lost, to introduce people to Jesus. Yes, God can use billboards and radio programs and television shows, but most people are following Jesus because a friend or family member shared their story and God’s story.

Perhaps the greatest way we can love someone is to introduce them to Jesus.

John Wesley said, "The church has nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore, spend and be spent in this work."

This is so important, family, not to get more people to attend First Alliance Church, but rather to get more people into the Kingdom of God! Jesus gave us three examples of lost and found to show us his heart and our mission…our commission.

I realize it can be difficult to just walk up to a stranger and say, “Hi! Are you lost?” I want to offer some simple, tangible next steps you can take in the next few weeks to get (the) lost!

1. Breakthrough movie. Opens Wednesday.
2. Easter. Next Sunday. 9:00 and 10:30 AM
3. Dinner Church. Preview on May 5, 5-7 PM.
4. Celebrate Recovery. Relaunches on May 8

Before you make invitations, please do one important thing: pray. Pray about who to invite. Pray for the person to accept the invitation. Pray for the Holy Spirit to open their eyes to the truth and their heart to Jesus.

Lets’ get (the) lost!

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

Love Your Neighbor, 7 April 2019

Love Your Neighbor
Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
Luke 10:25-37

Series Big Idea:
Love is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture, yet it is at the heart of the two greatest biblical commandments: love God, love neighbor.

Big Idea:
We are to love everyone, which means…everyone…because we’ve been loved by God.

Today’s text is so clear, so famous, so obvious. If you’ve spent any amount of time around here, you’ve heard about the Great Commission—make disciples or students of Jesus—and the Great Commandment: love God and love your neighbor.

You heard about the Great Commission last week during our Global Missions Conference. We are to make disciples as we are going through life, and for many of us we are to go and make disciples, go and share the story of Jesus with people who have never even heard his name, go to Africa or Columbus or even next door. But we must always, always, always go…with love.

Last month we were in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. This month we’re going to be in the book of Luke in a series we’re calling
The Quest of the Good Shepherd. Holy Week is right around the corner so it makes sense for us to focus on some of the key teachings and life events of Jesus. Dr. Luke is writing a biography of Jesus and in chapter ten he writes,

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

This is a test…from a very smart man, an expert in the law, a religious leader, a respected person in the community. Jesus does what he so often does, he answers a question with a question.

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26)

I think I might respond, “Jesus, I asked you first!” But…

He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Where did this scholar come up with this answer? He knew the known-Bible, what we call the Old Testament.

Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. (Deuteronomy 11:1)

“ ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

The scholar began with a question, Jesus replied with a question, the man answered Jesus’ question, and then Jesus speaks.

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28)

There it is, the end of the story. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Simple. Clear. Any questions?

The scholar had one.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

What’s the first thing when you hear the word…neighbor?

Who is my neighbor? When I was a kid, I always thought of my next door neighbor. Andrew was my friend, and it seemed reasonable to love him, to respect him, to show kindness and exercise the Golden Rule with him.

We can certainly extend neighbor from our next door neighbor to the person sitting next to us right now. This year, the National Day of Prayer is on May 2 and the theme is “Love One Another.” Jesus said,

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

We will gather with people from across our city at Cherry Street Mission’s Life Revitalization Center down the street at 7 PM on May 2 to pray together, worship together, and love one another.

Perhaps you’re thinking love one another is too basic, too simple. You want me to get deep, you want meat, come on preacher, give me something new! I’m sorry, but until we truly love God and love one another, we’re never going to be the mature followers of Jesus we claim to be. I’m not being critical, but simply saying loving one another is a lot more challenging than it sounds. Jesus said the hallmark of our devotion to Him is our love for one another, the people in our church family, our brothers and sisters in Christ in Toledo and beyond, yes, even those from a different congregation or denomination with a different worship style or with theological differences. There’s a time and a place for dialogue on our differences, but at the end of the day, we must love one another. Tragically, the world has seen division rather than unity, hate rather than love, and criticism rather than compassion from the Church of Jesus Christ. No wonder so many have given up on organized religion!

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can love one another. We
must love one another if we have any hope of seeing spiritual awakening. This is not a commercial, but I want to challenge you to join in the National Day of Prayer gathering on Thursday, May 2. You’ll be hearing more about it and it’s already on the church calendar, but this could be a great stop toward loving your neighbor, your brothers and sisters in Christ. If we can’t love one another, how in the world will we love those outside the church?

Maybe we should back up and ask, “What is love?” 1 Corinthians 13 offers a good description. It’s not about marriage—though marriages should be filled with love. It describes true, unconditional, agape love.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7,

Love requires action. It’s more than a mushy feeling. It’s a rugged commitment to another person demonstrated not only with words but deeds. We are to love one another. We are to love our neighbor. Now back to our text,…

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Another question from this man!

We are to love one another, but clearly it doesn’t stop when we exit the building.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. (Luke 10:30)

I’m guessing this isn’t the answer the expert in the law was looking for when he asked Jesus to define neighbor. Nevertheless, Jesus tells the story of this robbery victim. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be dangerous and difficult, even called the “Way of Blood” due to the violence that occurred there.

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:31)

This kind of hits close to home for me. My title is not priest, but it might as well be in this instance. Notice the priest saw them man and deliberately avoided him.

Maybe the man was thought to be dead, in which case contact would defile the priest and make him ritually unclean. However, there was an exception for neglected corpses. What we do know is the priest did not love this man.

So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:32)

Levites were respected leaders in the day and this Levite did the exact same thing as the priest. Almsgiving to the poor was how the Pharisees—experts in the law—loved their neighbors as themselves.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. (Luke 10:33)

This surely offended the expert in the law asking Jesus the question. Jews hated Samaritans.

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. (Luke 10:34)

Is this love? Of course. Don’t miss the next verse. I love how the Samaritan delegated care to this man.

The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:35)

The Samaritan touched the man, bandaged him, poured oil and wine, transported him on his donkey, and took him to an inn where he cared for him. But he doesn’t stop there. He pays the innkeeper to care for him. Delegation is a powerful leadership tool. As I often tell our church staff, you don’t have to do everything…you just have to make sure everything is done. There may be times when you can’t provide the help someone needs, but you can help them get the help they need. There are six verbs here that describe the loving action this Samaritan took. He invested emotionally, physically, and financially in this stranger’s rescue.

The story concludes by Jesus asking the expert in the law,

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him,
“Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

Notice the expert in the law wouldn’t even utter the word “Samaritan!” In the Greek, “do” is an imperative verb, a command. It’s not optional. Have mercy. Love others. Put your faith into action. We often love God by loving others.

We could analyze this story for hours—and many articles and books have been written about it—but don’t miss the central point:

Our neighbor is anyone we encounter.

They might be a friend or acquaintance. They might look and act like you. Then again…

Our neighbor may be a stranger.

It could be someone you encounter for the first time, as was the case in this story. It might be an Immigrant, a refugee, a prostitute, a panhandler, a lawyer, a drug dealer, a pastor, …

Here’s the really challenging reality:

Our neighbor may be an enemy.

That was clearly the case in Jesus’ story. We can’t begin to understand how much the Jews hated the Samaritans.

Who’s your enemy? I know,
you don’t have any enemies, right? But seriously, what about Democrats or Republicans, refugees or immigrants, your boss, the gangsters down the street? Perhaps members of the LGBTQ community disgust you. Maybe you have hatred toward or have received hatred from someone of a different race, nationality, or religion. On a more personal level, maybe your enemy is an abuser, a criminal, someone who has done you great harm. We are to love them, too (though “love” does not mean trust; we need healthy boundaries).

At this year’s MERGE Summit, Savannah Martin shared a powerful story about The Pregnancy Center’s opportunity to open a location next door to Toledo’s lone abortion clinic. Talk about loving your neighbor! She said God made it clear she was to not only love those seeking an abortion, but also those who worked inside. It was a startling realization, yet one which resulted in The Pregnancy Center providing Christmas gifts to the abortion workers! They realized these workers are not the enemy, but actually masterpieces created by God with dignity, value and worth. They may not value the life of an unborn child, but they are not the enemy. They need to experience God’s love, too…in word and deed.

The word “enemy” appears more than 300 times in the Bible! Paul told the Roman church:

…“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
(Romans 12:20)

I have a confession: I’m not a loving person. I love myself pretty well! Most of the time I’m loving toward my wife and kids and grandbaby. I think I do a decent job of loving our staff and our congregation…I truly love you, church! But there are other people who are more difficult to love.

I really can’t love my neighbor…apart from the power of God. Only the Holy Spirit can give me the love I need to love my neighbor, my friend, my family, my enemy.

Here’s the real scandal:

We were all enemies of God, yet He loved us through both words and action.

This the perfect segue to communion, the LORD’s Supper, the Eucharist. In that letter to the Romans, Paul said,

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! (Romans 5:10)

We can only love others—and God—with the love we have received from God. This was Jesus’ point in Luke chapter 7 when he said that “whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47b)

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


Author and speaker Bob Goff has two books. The first is entitled, “Love Does.” His second book describes the scope of love: “Everybody always.” That includes our God, our neighbor, our friend, our church family, and our enemies.

Pastor Bryan Loritts said, “The gospel begins with a vertical relationship with God that propels us into horizontal relationships with our neighbors who don’t look like, think like, or vote like us.”

May the Holy Spirit fill you with love—the greatest of all gifts—that you may go and love your neighbor—even your enemy—as yourself.

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