Marginalized People, 31 January 2021

Marginalized People
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Luke 18:1-8

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: We are to pray for and serve those who are unlike us, including those who make us feel uncomfortable.

What comes to mind when you think of
marginalized people? Jesus announced to his friends in Acts 1:8.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Last Sunday we talked about the e-word: evangelism. We said evangelism is proclaiming good news. It’s about introducing others to know our best friend, Jesus Christ. We’re inviting people to an eternal party. That often occurs in our Jerusalem—where we live, work, and play. Where is your Jerusalem? Where do you do life? Chances are, much of your time is spent with people who look, act, speak, and earn like you.

Many people are content to stop there, being witnesses in their Jerusalem. Honestly, I wish more followers of Jesus were committed to their Jerusalem, proclaiming good news to their friends and neighbors where they feel comfortable. But there’s more. Judea meant the next step beyond, not unlike our Home Missions Sunday two weeks ago. Samaria to Jesus’ listeners in Acts 1:8 meant the marginalized people, those who make us uncomfortable.

Jews and Samaritans did not get along. I’m not sure what the modern-day equivalent would be, but religious Jews saw Samaritans as impure and second-class. Most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10 and how this supposedly ungodly man showed more compassion and love toward a stranger than the two religious Jews that saw him first and ignored him in his hour of need.

Who makes you uncomfortable? For some of you, the wealthy make you uncomfortable. You might be put off by the successful CEO, the corrupt politician, or the flamboyant celebrity.

When we think of the marginalized, it’s often someone on the margins of society, someone who doesn’t fit in with the mainstream. It could be a person from another country or another faith. The man covered in tattoos and piercings? The person with poor hygiene? The lady with the cardboard sign at the exit ramp? The members of the LGBTQ+ community? A woman who doesn’t speak English? An angry protestor?

Marginalized people are God’s masterpieces. Jesus died for them. Jesus loves them. Following Jesus means we are to love them, too…even if they make us uncomfortable.

But this is series on prayer. Our text for today is the beginning of Luke chapter 18.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)

Dr. Luke tells us what’s about to happen. Jesus is going to tell a parable—a story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Before recording even a word of the parable, Luke tells us the big idea of the parable.

We should always pray and not give up. We could stop right now! Always pray. Never give up. Why would Jesus want us to understand this? It’s because we don’t always pray and we often give up, we grow impatient or tired, we think God doesn’t hear us, we assume He’s ignoring us or saying, “No.”

I suppose if there’s one thing I want you to get out of these 40 Days of Prayer it’s simply this: pray! Develop a habit of prayer, a rhythm of prayer. Pray continually as we said last week. Always pray and never give up.

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. (Luke 18:2)

Jesus taught us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. This judge neither loved God nor his neighbors. He did life his way.

And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ (Luke 18:3)

Widows today in our culture face great challenges, but in Jesus’ day, they may have been even greater. Without family or remarriage, they could easily become destitute. The fact that this woman was fighting for justice makes her condition even more dire.

Have you ever been a victim of injustice? We hear a lot about injustice in our world today, yet it’s tragically nothing new. Social media has allowed some injustice to be exposed—which can be good—but it has also allowed fake news to spread, creating new expressions of injustice.

At this moment, there are men, women, and children crying out to God, begging for justice, for help. It might be you! Many of us are marginalized. Perhaps it’s a single mom overwhelmed by the mess inherited after her husband abandoned her and her children. It could be the homeless person who lost everything after a lie convicted them of a felony and turned their life upside down. Maybe it’s the woman struggling with same-sex attraction after multiple men abused her and left her fearful of any male.

I’ve heard that once you’ve heard someone’s story, they can never be an enemy. God told the prophet Samuel,

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b)

I find it so easy to look at someone’s outside and make conclusions about what’s inside. We call this prejudice…pre-judging. I think we all do it, at times. If you don’t know what’s inside, all you can go on is what you see. We must be careful. Sometimes things are not as they appear…or even if they are, there’s a story that may need to be heard.

The person may be felon, but could’ve been wrongfully accused.

The atheist doesn’t believe in God, but may have lost their faith after being abused by a priest.

The annoying co-worker may be arrogant and narcissistic, but may have struggled their entirely life to get attention from parents who abandoned them.

Suffice it to say every human is a masterpiece with a story and a need for God. We’ll never know the silent prayers of others, yet so many pray for justice daily. If we stop and listen, we may discover we have more in common with “that person” than differences.

In Jesus’ parable, this likely-marginalized widow keeps coming to the judge for justice.

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ” (Luke 18:4-5)

I never noticed these last two words! I knew the judge became sick of her petitions, but he’s worried she’ll attack him if he doesn’t get her justice!

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. (Luke 18:6)

I’ve often interpreted this parable to mean we are to bug God until He answers our prayers the way we desire. Certainly the message is to always pray and not give up, but there’s another angle to this. After all, God’s not worried about us attacking Him!

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words a few chapters back in Luke 11.

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

If evil fathers love their children, imagine how much our Heavenly Father loves us.

If unjust judges are willing to honor the persistence of a victim of injustice, imagine how much our just Heavenly Father will respond to cries for help. Always pray and don’t give up.

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? (Luke 18:7)

Why does God allow injustice in the first place? How could a loving God permit the abuse, violence, poverty, and hatred in our world? There are mysterious we can’t easily explain, but God wastes nothing, including opportunities for His followers to be agents of blessing, healing, reconciliation, and restoration. The real question is how could God love any of us?

Fortunately, this life is short…compared to eternity. Someday, God will bring about justice for His chosen ones, those who cry out to Him in prayer. We are often comforted by the words of Revelation 21 which says someday in the new heaven and the new earth,

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)

But what about now? Does God care for victims of injustice today? Does He do anything about the cries of the widow, the stranger, and the orphan? Can He hear the silent screams of the unborn who are never given a chance to live? Is He unaware of the wrongfully accused who are rotting away in a prison cell despite being innocent? Does He see the violence committed in our streets?

I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

The issue isn’t God’s justice but our perseverance in prayer…and obedience.

A man prayed, “God, why don’t you feed the starving children of the world” to which God replied, “Why don’t
you feed the starving children of the world.”

We are to pray for the marginalized…and be prepared to be the answer to the prayer.

It’s the same with evangelism. We are to pray for the lost, but also proclaim good news. We need to get in the game! We need to get on our knees…and then obey what the LORD instructs us to do. It might be share our story or listen to theirs. It could be take someone out for lunch, help them fix their broken car or house, or babysit their kids. Maybe God wants you to volunteer, give money, or just spend time with someone very different from you.

Obviously we can’t be involved in the lives of every person on the planet, but could we start with one? Could you befriend one person who is different, hear their story, and help them out? One of my favorite quotes from Pastor Andy Stanley is, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”

Can you solve world hunger, racism, injustice, despair, homelessness, and hopelessness? Of course not, but you might be able to help someone.

So What?

We all have bad days. Life is hard. Jesus promised his followers trouble (John 16:33). But some of us have spent most or all of our lives on the margins of society, trying to fit in, get ahead, given an opportunity, or even find a friend. Every day God hears the cries for justice among the least of these Jesus spoke of, including the widow, the stranger, and the orphan.

The news is filled with stories of immigrants—legal and illegal—who are all masterpieces in need of restoration. I don’t have the answers to the challenges facing lawmakers, but I know there are refugees—many of whom are our Christian brothers and sisters—who are literally fleeing for their lives. Again, I’m not trying to get political because some issues are complicated, but can we recognize every masterpiece—every human—as created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth? Can we pray for their peace and safety? Can we ask God how we can help? Can we get involved?

It might be as simple as volunteering with Water for Ishmael to help an English student in Toledo. They are always looking for conversation partners. Toledo is filled with people from other countries who are here to study at the university or simply taking refuge legally from persecution abroad. They are lonely. Many are scared. Many will eventually return to their homelands without a single American friend, which is tragic!

They are praying. Maybe we are the answer to their prayers. They may be as close as the person sitting next to you right now.

Some of you do this so well. You pray. You give. You serve. You love. Thank you!

Others of us—myself included—have some work to do. The message isn’t, “Try harder.” It’s trust God more. Trust God more fully with your time, talents, and treasures. Trust Him with your fears, insecurities, and discomfort. Trust that still, small voice which may be nudging you right now to take one step toward a marginalized person. Trust Him to provide the words you need to say or hear.

We can pray for others. We can answer the prayer of others. We can stand with the marginalized and speak up for those without a voice…the unborn, the oppressed, the violated, the abandoned, the afflicted, the suffering. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing.

One more thing…

Jesus was marginalized. The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. (Isaiah 53:2b-3a)

Is it any wonder that he said of our treatment of the marginalized,

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

When we love others well, we love Jesus well.

Credits: some ideas taken from Rosilio Roman and The Alliance

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

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

The e-word, 24 January 2021

The e-word: Evangelism
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Colossians 4:2-6

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: It is a joy to pray for and proclaim good news to the lost.

After a break for Home Missions Sunday last week, we’re returning to our 40 Days of Prayer campaign with the Christian & Missionary Alliance. I hope you’ve been enjoying the adult, youth, and children devotionals, Wednesday online prayer gatherings, and our Sunday topics.

Today’s topic is one that makes many uncomfortable. I call it the e-word. It is… evangelism. What comes to mind when you hear the word
evangelism? It’s another “church” word uncommon in our cultural vocabulary. Maybe you picture door-to-door harassing, aggressive preachers with megaphones, or simply fear of not knowing what to say.

Evangelism is proclaiming good news. Many years ago, Guy Kawasaki was hired to be an Apple evangelist. His passion for their computers led him to make promoting Apple his vocation. Sure, there were Windows users uninterested in his message, but he considered it an honor to proclaim good news about the products he loved.

Have you experienced the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ? If so, why would you keep it to yourself? Why would you deprive others of the life you’ve encountered, the joy, the peace, the love? Why wouldn’t you be a Jesus evangelist, proclaiming good news—great news—to those around you?

Our text today is from Colossians chapter four. Paul is writing from prison to a church in modern-day Turkey.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4:2)

What a fitting verse during 40 Days of Prayer! He doesn’t say pray. He says to be devoted to prayer. Are you devoted to prayer? What would that look like?

In another letter, Paul wrote,

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Pray continually. That’s being devoted to prayer! We often think of prayer as a highly formal, religious activity with closed eyes and folded hands. You can certainly take that posture, but it’s not necessary. I used to think prayer was talking to God. Then I began to see prayer as talking with God…a conversation. Now I view prayer as life with God, a 24/7/365 relationship in which I am pouring out my heart to God and I’m listening for His voice, seeking to discern His will. There are times when I pray without distraction, giving God my undivided attention, often through journaling. At other times, I’m aware of His presence and grateful for the relationship we have. I’ve never heard His audible voice, but He speaks loudly through His Word, the Bible, as well as through people, circumstances, dreams, and occasional spiritual hunches which may require confirmation from others to determine if it’s from God or bad pizza!

While we’re on the subject of God’s will, some see it as this highly mysterious plan in which God picks out your socks each morning, tells you what to eat for breakfast, and what toothpaste to buy. I’m not sure He cares too much about that, but there is a brilliant way to discover God’s will contained in these three verses. God wants you to rejoice…always. He wants you to pray continually. He wants you to give thanks in all circumstances. That’s God’s will! Of course, there’s more, but that’s a great start. How are you doing with those? Back to Colossians…

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (Colossians 4:3)

If you were in prison asking people to pray, what would you request? “Get me out of here!” Paul doesn’t say that. He doesn’t even write, “Send me a care package” or “stop by and pay me a visit.” He says pray for opportunities to proclaim good news, to evangelize, to do the very thing that got him into prison in the first place! Is this guy crazy? He’s passionate.

Paul had an encounter years earlier which changed his life. It prompted repentance, a u-turn. It led him to set aside his religious agenda and devote the rest of his life to promoting Jesus Christ, to letting the world know they are loved by a God who proved it on the cross. Paul says pray so he can evangelize, so he can proclaim good news.

Have you ever asked someone to pray for you so you could be effective in sharing your faith with others, so you can proclaim good news? If you’re going to evangelize, prayer is the best place to start.

Jason Horton delivered a powerful message last Sunday on evangelism, on sharing good news. Somehow we’ve got this idea that it’s a scary thing. Well, it got Paul in prison, but in our culture, we’re blessed with freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Do you take advantage of it?

Evangelism is not sales. I worked a sales job in college…on straight commission. I sold carpet, tile, and blinds and some weeks my sales were so bad, they had to pay me minimum wage because my sales weren’t even enough to cover the $3.35/hour!

Evangelism is not sales. There is no manipulation, shame, or pressure required.
Evangelism is an invitation. It’s proclaiming good news and inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, the one who loves them and proved it.

Jesus Christ is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. The more I understand how sinful I am and how incredible God is, the more I love Jesus and want others to follow him.

I think most people share what they love. Don’t you? All of my friends know I love my wife, ice cream, roller coasters, music, …and Jesus. They don’t have to love those things, but if they haven’t experienced them, I want them to do so.

This might be a stretch, but although I rarely drink pop (not soda!), Vernors is my favorite. I realize not everyone likes it, but everyone should at least try it once to make an informed decision about whether or not they like it. How can you reject something you’ve never tried…and yet people reject Jesus all the time. I’m amazed at people who say they don’t believe the Bible…but they’ve never read it! Come on!

Tragically, many people haven’t rejected Jesus because they’ve never even heard his name. We’ll talk more about that in the next two weeks. What I want you to understand is evangelism is an invitation…to a relationship…to a lifestyle of abundance…to a party that will last for eternity.

Honestly, I don’t understand how someone could reject the love of Jesus…except that the enemy has blinded the eyes of people. His mission is to steal, kill, and destroy and that’s physical and spiritual. I think it takes satan to keep someone from following Jesus…and unfortunately, he does a good job!

Evangelism is an invitation, but there are spiritual forces at work urging people to reject Jesus and do whatever makes them happy for the moment. You can follow God or yourself, but not both. No one can serve two masters. In order to overcome the spiritual forces, we…pray! Paul says to
pray for open doors. We might call that open hearts.

I was with a group of friends last week and I asked them what keeps them from proclaiming good news, for sharing their faith, for evangelizing. The number one response was fear of failure. What if I invite someone into a personal relationship with Jesus and they say no? My response: move on! Jesus’ response: move on! See Matthew 10:14. We begin by praying for open doors. Some people simply aren’t ready to experience the love, joy, peace, and purpose found in a relationship with Jesus. They’re too busy trying to do life their way. But many people are searching for answers…for the Answer. It would be so selfish, so cruel to deny them the opportunity to be forgiven, to be reconciled to their Heavenly Father, to know abundant life. Evangelism is a joy. Proclaiming good news is an invitation, but don’t take rejection personally. Most people rejected Jesus Himself! But many people right now are open. Pray for open doors, open hearts.

Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Colossians 4:4)

He says pray for clarity. Pray for the right words. Have you ever tried to communicate an idea to someone and they just didn’t get it? Maybe you were in sales and the potential customer had no interest. Maybe you tried to communicate a difficult concept to a child who simply couldn’t understand. Or maybe, like me, you process out loud, use too many words, and struggle to get to the point!

Paul is very specific. He’s saying, “I’m in prison for sharing good news. I want to reach more people, and I want the message to be clear. It’s more than information, though. It’s a life-transforming announcement that Jesus is LORD…not Caesar, not money, not your own feelings or pleasures.” It’s a polarizing message drawing followers and opponents who have thrown him into prison.

Two thousand years later, there are people in prison for proclaiming good news. We have brothers and sisters who are tortured for simply inviting people into a relationship with their Creator. It seems crazy, but it’s true. We often think we’ve got it rough, but we’ve been given so many resources, freedoms, and opportunities. We need to proclaim Jesus Christ clearly.

Perhaps the best way to do that is to share your story. Nobody can argue with it. You don’t need to prove anything historical. “I once was blind, but now I see.” If you don’t have a story, you have nothing to proclaim…and I’d love to talk with you about what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

He loves you. He proved it by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. He offers forgiveness for everything you’ve done wrong, He is the ultimate example of what it means to be human, and He’s inviting you into a life-giving relationship filled with meaning, purpose, freedom, hope, and joy. You can choose to continue to do life your way, on your terms, with you in control…or experience life the way it was meant to be lived, following the wisdom of your Creator. Would you like to give your life to Jesus?

Was that clear? Was it in invitation. Actually, that wasn’t even my story. He’s my story, which is another way to proclaim good news:

I grew up in a religious home. I was taught to always do the right thing. I believed in God and went to church, but although I knew a lot about God, I didn’t know God personally. I didn’t really follow God, just my parents’ instructions. When I was a teenager, I encounter peers who really followed God. They found ancient wisdom and life in studying the Bible. They discovered prayer is not just talking to God, but with God. They encouraged me to make Jesus the leader of my life and ever since, I’ve been seeking to know and follow Jesus, the One who proved his love for me by coming to earth, dying for my sins and failures, and rising from the dead. It’s not about religion and what we do. It’s about a relationship and what Jesus has done. I love Jesus and I’d love to invite you to follow Jesus, too.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5)

Actions speak louder than words, and sometimes the messenger is the message. One of the top obstacles to people proclaiming good news is they don’t want to be a hypocrite…or they’re concerned about the reputation of Christians. This is a huge one for me. It’s absolutely evil that we are known for politics, self-righteousness, and even hate rather than the love we were instructed to exhibit. I’m not saying every Christ-follower is guilty, but many so-called Christians have not acted well toward outsiders, toward those Jesus called the lost, the unbeliever, the non-Christian. Jesus is our focus. Jesus is our message. But if our lives are not attractive, nobody will want to hear. We are to pray for the right actions…and love well. Peter wrote,
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)
We are to be in the world but not of the world. Paul’s concerned about their behavior not only within the church, but also among non-Christians who he calls “outsiders.” Rather than telling them to ignore them and stay in a holy huddle, he tells them to be intentional, to engage, to seize every opportunity…to do what? To proclaim good news. To evangelize!

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

In other words, love others so well that they ask questions. Faith is expressed in actions
and words. Another top obstacle to sharing one’s faith is fear of not having the right answers. There’s a simple solution: pray for the right answers! That’s Paul’s point, speak and act with love. People can tell if you care or if you’re just trying to earn points or make a sale. Again, tell your story. Invite them into a relationship with Jesus. If they ask a question you don’t know, say, “That’s a great question. I don’t know. I’d love to do some research and get back with you.”

Most people aren’t going to respond to an invitation with philosophical arguments or demands for archaeological proofs. If they do, there are great responses. There’s fantastic evidence for our faith. Christianity is filled with some of the most brilliant minds, the most successful resumes, the most creative arts, and the most loving people. Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus. The gospel is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. That’s the message we proclaim. Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship with a Person who is inviting every man, woman, and child of every nation, race, religion, sexual orientation, political party, and language give up control and follow him.

Who is your best friend? If I’ve spent any time with you at all, I’ve probably heard about your best friend, especially if you are married. It’s natural to talk about our spouse, our kids, our best friend. If you know Jesus, he should naturally show up in your conversations, too. I want everyone to meet my wife because I think she’s the most amazing woman on the planet. Even more, I want everyone to meet Jesus because he’s the most amazing human in history…and he lived not only for his sake, but ours.

A Confession

Perhaps this subject of proclaiming good news causes you to feel guilt and shame. I’m with you! I struggle with evangelism, not because I’m necessarily afraid, but because most of my conversations are with Christians. That tends to happen when you work at a church! I love to talk about Jesus, but I rarely get the opportunity. Or I rarely take the opportunity. I confess that to you and ask you to pray for me, that God would open doors for me to proclaim good news.

I’ve heard research studies which say the longer one is a Christian, the fewer non-Christian friends they have as they hang around with Christians. We certainly need one another, but we must never neglect the lost, the hurting, the broken, the hopeless around us. It goes back to praying for open doors…and being prepared to take action. One of my favorite conversation starters is, “Where are you at on your spiritual journey?” You could begin with, “What do you think of Jesus?” or “What do you think our world needs more than anything?” If you want to go really deep, ask, “What do you think is the meaning of life?” And listen! Discover where someone is before you suggest a path for them to take.

God is on the move. Jesus is the answer for the world today, and many are seeking answers. If we don’t offer Jesus, they’ll stumble into any number of false gods, religions, philosophies, or simply follow the path of consumerism, individualism, and narcissism. Pray for open doors. Pray for clarity. Pray that the Holy Spirit would fill you with attractive fruit and God-honoring actions, and pray for the right words in your conversations. We need actions and words. When we are weak, He is so strong! It all begins on our knees.

It is a joy to pray for and proclaim good news to the lost.

Credits: some ideas taken from Ivån Marti’ and The Alliance

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

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Repentance, 10 January 2021

Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Revelation 1-3

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: “Be holy, for I am holy.” Repentance can help us turn toward holiness.

I’m so grateful to the leaders of the Christian & Missionary Alliance to call us to 40 Days of Prayer to begin 2021. Last year was a challenging year for all of us, and the events of Wednesday in our nation’s capital proved the new year did not magically fix everything. We are broken people desperately in need of a Savior. Some thought our president was that savior. Others have given their allegiance to the next one. The hopes of herd immunity to rid the world of COVID-19 are everywhere. If we can just get those $2000 checks, eliminate racism, stop global warming, develop a source of accurate news, beat Alabama tomorrow night…!!!

Ever since Adam and Eve ate from the fruit in the Garden of Eden, our world has been plagued by sin. We are plagued by sin. It’s easy to point fingers at people on TV, but as the song says, “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with…me.” I can’t control the outcome of elections, the behavior of blasphemers, the attitude of adulterers, the liars, the haters, the murderers, the…

It begins with me. It begins with you. It begins with us…on our knees.

Last Sunday we began our series talking about God’s holiness. Alliance pastor A.W. Tozer said,

God's holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God's power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.

The Tozer Devotional adds…

Until we have seen ourselves as God sees us, we are not likely to be much disturbed over conditions around us as long as they do not get so far out of hand as to threaten our comfortable way of life.

We underestimate God’s power and holiness while overestimating our goodness. He is God…and we are not. We don’t deserve to even gain an audience with Him, yet He loves us, proved it, and invites into an eternal relationship with Him. Jesus models for us what it truly means to be human—and holy.

Do you want to be like Jesus? That’s essentially the definition of
discipleship—becoming like Christ.

We know that’s his desire for us, which is why I get so frustrated when my life—or the lives of others who claim to follow Christ—doesn’t look like Jesus.

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

Are you holy? It’s sort of a trick question. On the one hand, we are made holy because of the cross. Hebrews tells us about God’s will.

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

We are set apart. We are purified, consecrated, set apart, sanctified.

But on the other hand we’re not perfect. We sin, fail, rebel, and disobey. Our lives do
not always look like Jesus. He is our example, our teacher, our model, our hero. Just because we don’t get it right every time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”

God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” How do we do that? Repentance is required. Repentance is another one of those religious words we don’t often here in the broader culture and it’s often confused with confession.

Confession is a statement. Repentance requires action.

Confession is admitting wrongdoing. It might involve remorse and an apology, but at its most basic level, confession is saying, “I did it.”

Repentance is something we do. It’s a verb. Eugene Peterson wrote,
You don’t repent by taking a deep breath and then feel better. You only repent when you turn around and go back or toward God. It doesn’t make any difference how you feel. You can have the feeling, or you don’t have to have the feeling. What’s essential is that you do something. The call to repentance is not a call to feel the remorse of your sins. It’s a call to turn around so that God can do something about them.
Repentance is to do a u-turn, to turn around, to move in a different direction.
I’m grateful for GPS when I drive. Some of us old people remember the days of pulling
maps out of the glove box (did anyone ever have room for their gloves in the glove box?) to get directions. We’d fumble around with this huge piece of paper until we could discover our place, our destination, and the path between them.
Now we just tell Siri where to go and she tells us where to go! Occasionally I find myself disobeying her commands! Recently on the expressway I had to make a pit stop at an exit and she wanted to re-route me. Turn around! You’re going the wrong way! Get back on the right road!
Many of us have been moving in the
wrong direction…and therefore, we’re not in the right place. We’re not experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised. We’re living with anxiety, fear, regret, or guilt. We’re ashamed of where we’ve gone and we don’t know how to turn around.
I need to stop right here and say that’s where Jesus comes in! That’s why God’s grace is so amazing. Forgiveness is always available. It’s never too late to turn around, to repent,
to turn around, to get right with God, to follow Jesus. He said,
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
The good news—the gospel—is that Jesus is LORD, and he invites us to follow him, to experiencing forgiveness and salvation not because of what we do, but because of what he’s done for us on the cross, proving his love and commitment to us by dying for us, for our sins, and reconciling us to our Holy, Heavenly Father.
But we must repent. We must turn. We must change…not by trying harder, but by surrendering to God and letting the Holy Spirit work in and through us.
Jesus didn’t say confess and believe. He didn’t tell us to say a little prayer and go back to normal life. He said repent—turn, change—and believe. The Greek word, pisteuo, for believe means to commit, to put in trust with, to have faith. Like repentance, it involves action.
Why Repent?
You might be asking yourself why we need to repent. If Jesus paid it all, can’t I take my “get out of hell free” card and do it my way? There are several reasons why repentance is essential. The first chapter of the last book of the Bible—Revelation—reveals several. Jesus’ best friend, John, had a revelation from God. He wrote,
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)

I repent because I am blessed.

I have a friend who has a reputation for giving candy to children at his church. It’s not a creepy thing, but a kind gesture that the area dentists love! He’s a magnet for kids who know that turning toward him will result in a blessing. We’ve been blessed by God and it should be natural to want to be with Him, to follow Him.

Two verses later, John greets his readers with grace and peace…

and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, (Revelation 1:5)

I repent because I am in awe of Jesus’ work on the cross.

After decades of knowing Jesus, I still am in awe of his sacrifice. Last Sunday we celebrated communion together, remembering the cross and the empty tomb. We turn away from sin, repent, and follow Jesus because of all that he has done for us.

The next verse continues by saying that Jesus
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 1:6)
I repent because I am a priest.

I don’t mean a pastor. That’s my job title. But Jesus has made all of his followers to be priests, serving God. I don’t even understand completely what that means, but I know I can’t bring him glory if I’ve wandered away from Him…which leads to a fourth reason to repent.

I repent because I am able to walk away from holiness and need a wake-up call. (Revelation 1:11-3:22)

Sin has consequences, both from God and from everyday life. You reap what you sow. No matter how passionate and sincere you may be today, it’s possible to wander tomorrow. This is why sanctification is both an action and a process. Repentance is not once-and-done, but like driving a car, a constant steering of our lives, making adjustments, and sometimes making significant corrections.

Many students of the book of Revelation love to search for meanings in the symbolism and apocalyptic messages of the book, but the first three chapters require little interpretation. Jesus speaks to seven churches in cities you can visit to this day. Here’s a quick summary:
  1. 1. Ephesus: Repent from Idolatry
“You have forsaken your first love.” (Revelation 2:4)
“Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:5)
  1. 2. Smyrna: No repentance warning; suffering produces holiness
  2. 3. Pergamum: Repent from tolerating false teaching and sexual sin
Following teaching of Balaam (sexual sin) and Nicolaitans (false teaching) (Revelation 2:14–15)
“Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Revelation 2:16)
  1. 4. Thyatira: Repent from tolerating sexual immorality and idolatry taught by false prophetess, causing disunity
Gave her time to repent; she is unwilling to repent of sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:21)
“So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (Revelation 2:22–23)
  1. 5. Sardis: Repent from dead faith and lack of deeds
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Revelation 3:3)
  1. 6. Philadelphia: No repentance warning; suffering produces holiness
  2. 7. Laodicia: Repent from self-sufficiency, materialism, and lukewarm faith
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)
So What?

It can be interesting to read the accounts of others and their sins, but what about you? At this moment, do you need to repent? Fill in the blank:

I need to repent from ______________

Maybe it’s idolatry. You’ve given more of your time, talents, treasures, and love to something or someone other than God. It might be a good thing like family or a destructive habit like drugs. Politics has clearly become an idol for many in our day. The church in Ephesus had lost their first love, Jesus. Have you?

Maybe it’s sexual sin like those in Pergamum. Porn, adultery, …any sexual activity that isn’t between a husband and wife. Our culture says it’s no big deal, even celebrating it, but it’s unholy. It’s settling. It’s sin.

Maybe it’s something related to disunity like the Thyatirans. Gossip, slander, criticism, half-truths, judging others, divisiveness.

Maybe it’s a dead faith like the church in Sardis. Maybe it’s not your actions but your inaction that needs to change. When is the last time you really prayed, studied the Bible, shared your faith, gave sacrificially of your time or talents or treasure? You say you believe, but is there evidence…or do you just go through the motions on Sunday morning?

Maybe it’s the self-sufficiency and materialism of the Laodician church. This is especially common among many in our nation who think they don’t need God. We have money, hospitals, cars, the Internet…who has time or need for God? Do you really trust God…or your bank account, career, or power?

Where do you need to repent, to turn, to change? Again, the good news—the great news—is that God offers forgiveness and grace to all of us. Nothing you can do can make God love you more, and nothing you can do can make God love you less.

But until you repent, you won’t be following Jesus. Until you turn away from your sins, you won’t experience true peace. Until you choose to make Jesus LORD and not just Savior, you will never know true intimacy with your Creator and the fruit of the Spirit.
Where do we need to repent as a church? What sin are we tolerating? Where do we exalt wrong teaching or worldly philosophy? Where are we allowing division to creep in? Where have we started to become dead or lukewarm in caring about our community and the world? Where have we become confident in our own wealth and power? Are we even able to suffer?
LORD, Have Mercy

Credits: some ideas taken from Amy Roedding and The Alliance

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

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

The Holiness of God, 3 January 2021

The Holiness of God
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Isaiah 6:1-8

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: God’s holiness will lead us to worship…with our head, heart, and hands.

Happy New Year!
Aren’t you glad to get rid of 2020? Actually, if you joined us for our virtual New Year’s Eve celebration, you’ll know that God was faithful in 2020 despite all of the chaos…and I promise you, He will be faithful in 2021!

Today we’re beginning not only a sermon series but a forty-day campaign with the Christian & Missionary Alliance…
40 Days of Prayer.

I can’t imagine a better way to start a new year than on our knees. Our world is in transition with the pandemic, our nation is in transition in Washington DC, our church is in transition with new staff members, …we need God! I continue to pray that God would bring us—all of us—Christians and non-Christians—to our knees, seeking first His Kingdom, His will, His righteousness.

Today’s theme is holiness, and few things will bring you to your knees like experiencing the awe and wonder of God’s holiness.

What come to mind when you hear the word

The original Hebrew word for holy is
qadosh. It means ceremonially or morally sacred. It is set apart. Wayne Grudem defines holiness as “the doctrine that God is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own glory.” Holy is consecrated, hallowed, sanctified, venerated, revered.

The prophet Isaiah had an incredible experience he records in chapter six.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)

How do you imagine God? I’m quite sure Isaiah wasn’t able to see God’s face. God told Moses,

But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20)

Isaiah was able to see God’s glory, His throne. It must’ve been an awesome sight, yet there’s more.

Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (Isaiah 6:2)

The word “seraphim” means “fiery ones” to indicate their burning love. The appear to have been human with the addition of wings, which might be why angels are often depicted with wings. Isaiah’s eyes must’ve been overwhelmed. But this was more than a visual experience.

And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

The repetition may very well be a reference to the Trinity, one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:4)

This was a scene unlike any New Year’s Eve spectacular! I wish he had a video camera! This was no theatrical production, though. It’s just God. He is holy.

Holiness is displayed by God’s power.

There is no one like our God! He is holy, set apart, without equal, supreme. He is free from sin and Master of all. The seraphim declared it, and last book of the Bible tell us the refrain continues.

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8)

This is God stuff. We can’t fully comprehend it. It will require our resurrected bodies to be able to contain it. This is our God.

Holiness is displayed by God’s personification.

God is a Person. Isaiah doesn’t describe God as a force or spirit. He mentions God is seated on a throne dressed in a robe. He is above all, high and lifted up.

Holiness is displayed in God’s

Only God is worthy of continuous worship and adoration, both by humans and other creatures such as the seraphim. This text is truly awe-inspiring. There’s more to the story, but first I want to stop and focus on these words: holy, holy, holy.

Isaiah has this incredible encounter with the Almighty. It engaged all of his senses except, possibly, taste. He saw, felt, smelled, and heard God and His glory, leading him to say,

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

When you’re in the presence of greatness, it’s humbling.

When I was a young boy, my dad took me to a Detroit Pistons game on church night. After the game, there was a special event featuring the spiritual testimonies of some of the players. Somehow I noticed an empty seat in the audience next to 6’ 10” Kent Benson and I asked my dad if I could fill it. After gaining his approval, I sat next to this gigantic NBA star and could hardly contain my excitement. At one point we were asked to stand and I remember straining my neck just to see his head! I was humbled in the presence of greatness.

The greatness of God is infinitely greater than any athlete. Isaiah recognized not only his physical weakness, but his sinfulness in the presence of our holy God. The New Living Translation describes him saying,

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” (Isaiah 6:5, NLT)

That’s a proper response to the LORD…and to our own sin. We are doomed. We are wrecked. I don’t care how good you think you are, compared to God, you are but dust. You and I have no hope before a holy God…apart from God’s grace and mercy.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

Atone is an uncommon word in modern English, but it means to make amends or reparation. It’s making restitution. Isaiah is aware of his sin and unworthiness, yet God had mercy. This is an unusual event, yet the message is clear.

God offers forgiveness.

Jesus made forgiveness possible for all of us when he died on the cross. At one moment Jesus atoned for our sins. You might say he bridged the canyon that existed between a holy God and sinners like us. Regardless of what you’ve done, forgiveness is available through the death and resurrection of Jesus. No matter what you did in 2020—or even the first days of 2021—God offers forgiveness.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. (1 John 1:8-10)

Make no mistake, someday we will all stand before a holy God and give an account for our lives, but followers of Jesus will not stand alone. We stand with Christ…forgiven. Hallelujah! We celebrate that death, resurrection, and forgiveness today through communion.

God offers forgiveness. We respond with worship.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

We often reduce worship to singing songs as we did a moment ago, but worship is declaring God is worthy. It is showing honor and reverence to our awesome and holy God. We can worship with our lips in song. We can worship with our head in study. We can worship with our hands in service to others.

Isaiah had a truly awesome encounter with the holy God, it brought him to his knees, and led him to offer his life.

Have you encountered the holiness of God? If so, worship and service are the only appropriate responses. If we truly realize the extent of God’s holiness, power, and grace, we can’t help but declare, “I surrender all. Here am I. Send me!”

I can’t think of a better way to begin this year than on our knees in devotion to God. We may not have the experience the prophet had, but we can imagine the splendor and majesty of our God and responding in brokenness and humility like Isaiah did. God’s holiness will lead us to worship…with our head, heart, and hands.

Credits: some ideas taken from Steve Grusendorf and The Alliance

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

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library