Toledo: Get Ready, 28 August 2016

Toledo: Get Ready
7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
Revelation 1:1-8

Series Overview

Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

Message Overview

Toledo is not mentioned in the Bible, but we are a part of the universal Church. How are we like the seven churches in Revelation? What is Jesus saying to us in 2016? Our baptistery has been empty. Who will be an advocate for the lost? The focus will be on hospitality and outreach: pray, serve, share.

Big Idea

Jesus loves Toledo and is alive and active in our city inviting us to join him.


Welcome to First Alliance Church. The Bible often refers to the Church as the Bride of Christ. For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at Jesus’ words to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. We examined…

  • - Ephesus (First Love)
  • - Smyrna (Persecution)
  • - Pergamum (False Teaching)
  • - Thyatira (Sexual Sin)
  • - Sardis (Wake Up)
  • - Philadelphia (Faithful)
  • - Laodicea (Lukewarm)

Each week in the series we’ve tried to apply the messages of these seven ancient churches to our own lives, church, and city…which begs the question,

“What is God saying to us in Toledo?”

This series has focused on the second and third chapters of Revelation. Today I want to go to the beginning, back to chapter one. It begins

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2)

As we have often said, First Alliance Church is about Jesus. We do not exist to make a name for our church, for the Christian & Missionary Alliance (our denomination), or even Toledo. We are all about Jesus Christ. He is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King.

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

Do you want be blessed? Read God’s Word. Study it. Read it aloud, it says. Most of all, obey it. Put it into practice. Take to heart what is written in it. This is true not only for the book of Revelation but the entire Bible.


To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Revelation 1:4-5a)

As we said, Jesus speaks to John who writes the book of Revelation.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5b-6)

There’s so much here! Jesus has freed us from our sins. Hallelujah!

Jesus has made us to be a kingdom and priests. We are all called to be ambassadors of Jesus to our city and world.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

Jesus will return and all will see him. What a day that will be!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

This is our God. He is Almighty. He transcends time and space. He has always been. He is. He will always be. Our God is truly awesome.

Revelation 7:9-10

If we skip ahead several chapters, we get a glimpse of what appears to be the future:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

We are on God’s mission to make disciples of all nations. What a privilege! What a responsibility! How are doing?

Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. All of life is about relationships. I like to think of it like a triangle:

UP: relationship to God
IN: relationship to one another (the church)
OUT: relationship to the world

I’ve been at First Alliance Church for less than a year. I have made a conscious decision to spend this first year listening, learning, and making as few major decisions as possible. People have asked me what my vision is for our church and I’ve said

  1. a. It’s not about my vision, it’s about God’s vision. Jesus is our Senior Pastor
  2. b. I need to know where we are before I can imagine a destination

Therefore, what I’m about to say is preliminary. This is my sense of what Jesus is saying to First Alliance Church. This is not “thus saith the LORD” and is not to be taken as scripture. Would you like to hear it?

“To the angel of the church in Toledo write:

These are the words of the Son of God, who has a throne in front of what looks like a sea of glass.

Did you catch that, Glass City?!

I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance. I know you love Me. You are faithful in worship, generous with your money, and eager to serve. You eat together (as evidenced at last week’s picnic) and fellowship together on Sundays and in small groups. Your UP and IN relationships are commendable.

Nevertheless, I have this against you: Your passion for the lost is weak. Sure, some of you reach OUT, but you went two years without a baptism and there are those right outside your doors desperate for salvation, hope, and healing. Go and make disciples!

Allow me to elaborate.
UP: relationship to God

I believe our church truly loves God. Many of you have been faithfully attending on Sunday mornings for years, even decades. For more than twelve decades we have been worshipping in UpTown Toledo, praying, giving financially, and committed to the Word of God.

One part of our church’s story is the creative arts. God is an artist and we were created in His image. We have had choirs, orchestras, handbells, and bands along with drama, musicals, and even this building which I believe is a work of art. We are geographically on the Avenue of the Arts next to one of the nation’s greatest art museums just blocks for dozens of art galleries. For years we have even trained future artists at our summer arts camp. I’m excited to announce today a new addition to our team to help enhance our worship. Charlie Flack has been hired as our Creative Arts Consultant. His part-time role will include mentoring Hayden Bewley, our outstanding young worship intern, and developing other artistic ministries such as tech and video. Our elders initiated the idea earlier this month after Charlie blessed us as a guest worship leader and we are thrilled to welcome him.

I might add we have a growing staff, though only two of us—Josh and myself—are full-time. God has blessed us with an incredible staff whose job is NOT to do the ministry, but rather to equip the saints (that’s you!) for the ministry.

IN: relationship to one another (the church)

Our church loves one another. Truly! One of my four prayers for us is unity and I’ve experienced a sense of oneness during my months here. Heather and I deeply love being a part of this family…and if you’re new around here, welcome! I might add these gatherings are vital, but the real connections occur in groups: Sunday School, Bible studies, and small groups. If you’re not in one, you’re missing out on possibly the richest dimension of First Alliance. There’s a list of groups at the Information Center in the lobby.

By the way, I love our groups. I love when they relate UP to God. I love when they relate IN to one another. Today I want to challenge every group to do some kind of OUT activity. Throw a party, serve at Cherry Street Mission, set up a prayer booth,…do anything that will help you build relationships with the unchurched. Do it once a month, once a quarter…once a year!

Which leads us to

OUT: relationship to the world

Making disciples ideally begins in the home, but today in our city so many are growing up with no understanding of God and His love. Our church has chosen to be in the city of Toledo, even when others fled to the suburbs. We are uniquely positioned in UpTown to reach out to not only the underprivileged but also the up-and-coming artists and young professionals who will become our neighbors over the next few years. Would you like a sneak preview of what’s ahead?


Sue Trumbull is an exception leader leading an exceptional team of people committed to children’s ministry. Each Sunday they love kids during Sunday School and the worship hour. They produce special events. They have Wednesday night programs for students. And then there’s sports and arts camp.

For months people told me about sports and arts camp…and then I experienced it. Wow! It was so exciting to see dozens of kids from the neighborhood exposed to faith, hope and love. It may have been the best week of the year for me.

But then I began to think about the 51 weeks until next summer’s camp. So many of the seeds scattered will surely be snatched up or choked by the weeds and rocks of this world. What can we do to build lasting relationships with these precious children?

I’m glad you asked! First, the After School Klub (ASK) starts up again in October serving many of these kids two days a week. That’s great! I praise God for everyone involved in Toledo Urban Impact and the After School Klub.

Recently Charles Carter has had a burden to get these kids here on Sunday mornings. Imagine what a difference it would be to go from one week to 52 Sundays a year. We need two things to make this happen: more children’s ministry workers and van drivers to pick up the kids. Is God calling you to invest in the next generation? They need you!

We are also in conversations with the local YMCA about ways we can expand our partnership. They assist with sports and arts camp but we could do so much more for these kids if we work together.

Perhaps the most exciting development is Keep Watch: Praying for the Hearts of Our Children. I don’t know how this is even possible in our day of political correctness, but we’ve been invited to pray in and through Rosa Parks School on Cherry Street once a week. This pre-school through grade eight school has 250 students who test in the lowest 5% of all students in Ohio. The principal, Ms. Richburg, is asking for us to adopt her school, read to students, encourage teachers, and pray…pray in the school! This seems like an incredible opportunity for us, an opportunity that could close in the future if TPS staffing changes.

Imagine if we had weekly—even semi-weekly—influence on the lives of children in our city? It could literally change our city. Studies show kids are far more likely to follow Jesus than unchurched adults. We have a unique invitation to build relationships with those outside our church family, extending God’s love and hospitality.


Speaking of relationships and hospitality, we have been working hard to enhance our hospitality—welcoming the stranger, the guest, the newcomer—on Sunday mornings. However, long before I arrived at First Alliance a group of people realized no matter how dynamic our gatherings in this building, many in Toledo will never walk through our doors. We need to go to them. In fact, Jesus said

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

He said go! He didn’t say, “Ring the bell and watch everyone come to church.” He said to go under his authority into the world and make disciples.

After some considerable, unavoidable delays, we are weeks—maybe days—from opening CLARO Coffee Bar, our new hospitality ministry in UpTown at Adams and 18
th. Many have asked how we intend on using this space for ministry and the answer is simple: relationships. We are intentionally creating space for spiritual conversations. This means listening, learning, and loving. Christians are, unfortunately, known for monologue rather than dialog. Whether it’s fair or not, many picture a guy with a megaphone rather than someone truly concerned for their welfare.

CLARO will be serving amazing coffee and tea. It will be staffed by caring, friendly baristas seeking to develop friendships with guests, not just taking orders from customers. Tables will be open for you to engage with people, listening to their story, and sharing yours. I heard someone talking about putting tracts or leaflets in the bathroom and my first thought was to use them in dialog with a person, not monolog on a sink. We want people building relationships with us, not a toilet!

Research indicates the longer someone is a follower of Jesus, the fewer unchurched friends they have, which makes sense on one hand but is unfortunate. We are to be salt and light in our dark world. We must always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus…but it begins with relationships.

How many unchurched people do you know? How many of your neighbors can you name? When is the last time you had a meal with a non-Christian?

OUT need not be scary or painful. Buy someone a cup of coffee. Go to Rosa Parks school and pray. Throw a Labor Day party and invite your neighbors. Join a local parks and rec team. Become a conversation partner with an international student through Water for Ishmael. Serve with Cherry Street Mission or Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission.

I’ll make this extremely simple: pray, invite, and listen. Pray for your unchurched friends—or pray FOR unchurched friends—and invite them over for a meal or out for a cup of coffee. And listen. Don’t make them your project. Don’t preach to them. Just love them like a human being. Have fun with them. Be a friend to them. Ask them about their spiritual journey.

If and when it seems appropriate, invite them to the Alpha Course…or Sunday morning here. This fall we’re doing a six week series entitled, “What happens when you die?” It’s about heaven. We’ll talk about hell, too, but people are fascinated with heaven. Movies have been made about it. Best-selling books talk about it. We all have questions about it, but we’re going to look at what the Bible actually says (and doesn’t say) about heaven. But it all begins with conversations, with friendships, with intentionally reaching OUT.


Months ago I sensed God saying two words to me regarding our church: Get Ready. We are equipping leaders, building our staff, and preparing for a great harvest. The cobwebs are off the baptistery and I hope we fill it often. God is blessing us with incredible opportunities to connect with children and our UpTown neighbors. Get ready, church. Get on your knees. Pray and invite…and make disciples for the glory of God.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Laodicea: Lukewarm, 21 August 2016

    Laodicea: Lukewarm
    7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
    Revelation 3:14-22

    Series Overview

    Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

    Big Idea

    The Laodicean church was lukewarm…which made Jesus sick!


    We are nearing the end of our series on the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Jesus sent letters to some of the first Christian communities, all located in modern-day Turkey. We have examined…

    • - Ephesus (First Love)
    • - Smyrna (Persecution)
    • - Pergamum (False Teaching)
    • - Thyatira (Sexual Sin)
    • - Sardis (Wake Up)
    • - Philadelphia (Faithful)

    Today we look at the church in Laodicea.

    Before looking at our text, you must understand a few things about Laodicea.

    1. 1. It was the region’s banking center. It had gold in abundance.
    2. 2. It had a fine medical school, specializing in ophthalmology, eye-healing
    3. 3. It was known for its fashion, particularly clothes made from Laodicean wool
    4. 4. It had bad water. The river Lycus was not strong and often dried up. The city seemed to have everything except that vital liquid H2O.

    It’s important to understand its geography. Southeast of the city was Colosse. It had great water. In fact, it had cold, Alpine-quality water from Mount Cadmus. To the north is Hierapolis. Heather and I spent some time in this area which looks snow-covered but, in fact, it is merely mineral deposits. Hierapolis also contains wonderful hot springs that are still enjoyed today.

    Since the Laodicea lacked good water, aqueducts were built to bring water several miles to the city.

    Revelation 3:14-22

    “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

    These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. (Revelation 3:14)

    This is the only time in the Bible “Amen” is a proper name, the name of Jesus. The word “amen” means “so be it.” Jesus is the Amen. He has the last word. He alone will reveal all and tell all as the faithful and true witness.

    I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (Revelation 3:15)

    Jesus commends many of the other churches for their good works, but not Laodicea. I used to hear people say this means our faith should be cold or hot. We should be really bad or really good. We should serve satan or serve God. But why would Jesus say he wants people to serve satan? The people of Laodicea understood the refreshment of cold water from Colosse. They loved the hot springs in Hierapolis. But the water they received in their city was neither. The cold water became warm as it moved through the aqueduct and the hot water cooled. When I order a drink at Starbucks I either order it hot or cold. Do you like lukewarm coffee or tea?

    So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)

    Jesus is trash-talking. Literally. He’s saying their actions are pathetic. They are sickening. This NIV translation of the Greek is rather tame. Jesus is saying this church makes him want to throw up! Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, says

    You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. (Revelation 3:16, The Message)

    This is not encouragement! And he’s not done!

    You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)

    They are delusional! They’re clueless! They’re pitiful. They are known for healing the eyes yet they’re blind. They are known for their fashion and special wool yet like the emperor with no clothes, they don’t even know they’re naked!

    They are not self-aware! Jesus offers a solution, though.

    I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:18)

    He doesn’t walk away, he offers to provide for them…if they turn back to him.

    Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. (Revelation 3:19)

    He loves them and, therefore, he is rebuking and disciplining them. He doesn’t abandon them. Instead he urges them to repent, to turn around, to do a 180. Repent is to change. It’s to go in the opposite. Jesus is saying, “Come back! You’ve walked away from me but I’m still here. I still love you. Return home!”

    Jesus continues with one of the most famous verses in the Bible.

    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)

    He’s saying, “I’m here. I want to enter your world, but I’m not going to break in. I’m not going to force myself upon you. No pressure. But I’m here. I have so much to offer you. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. Will you let me in?”

    Notice he doesn’t just say he wants to come in. He wants to join them at the table. He wants to eat with them. In the culture, eating with another person was a big deal. You didn’t just grab fast food. Meals took hours to enjoy. Eating together was a sign of friendship, in some instances a deep commitment. It declared a special relationship (which explains why Jesus got into so much trouble for eating with sinners). He doesn’t want to just share a meal. He wants to share a life.

    This letter was written not to an individual but to a church. Some have suggested Jesus had been shut out of the church of Laodicea, out of their fellowship. Perhaps they had abandoned his teachings and example. Like many churches today that have Jesus in their name, perhaps Jesus wasn’t alive inside, the center of their worship, their savior, and their Lord.

    To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:21-22)

    Jesus goes even further, expressing his deep love and commitment to those who would follow him.

    So What?

    I think the message to us is obvious. Jesus wants us passionate. He wants us to be devoted to him. He wants us on fire to burn brightly, to be like hot, healing springs in a spa or refreshing like a cold drink in the middle of a hot summer day. Most of all, he wants to be in our church. He wants to be at our table. He wants to do life with us, not just on Sunday mornings but 24/7/365.

    Jesus didn’t come to start a religion. He came to offer us life…every day!

    What would Jesus say to First Alliance Church? What would he say to you? Are you passionate for Jesus? He is passionate for you. He gave everything he had—his very life—for you! He wants nothing less than total surrender, not because he needs you or wants to manipulate you, but because he loves you and his plans and purposes are far greater than anything you could ever imagine. He wants to be savior, yes, but also Lord. Master. King.

    I think his message to Laodicea was this: surrender it all. Not just Sunday mornings. Not just when there’s extra change in your pocket when the offering plate is passed. Not just when it’s popular, comfortable, and convenient. Jesus wants it all. He wants you to be all-in. He wants your life to be refreshing like cold water. He wants it to be a source of life and healing like hot springs. Are you fully surrendered to Jesus?

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