Full Life Now, 27 March 2016

Full Life Now
John 10:10

Big Idea: Jesus didn’t just die so we could go to heaven, He died so we can live now!

Jesus didn’t just die for our future. He died for our future, present, and past. Eternity has begun.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, and it’s a life God wants to be abundant, fruitful, exhilarating, and full.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

My name is Kirk and I’m thrilled you’ve chosen to spend your Resurrection Sunday morning with us! There is no greater day on the calendar than today. This is our Super Bowl, New Year’s Day, Summer Vacation, Mardi Gras, Memorial Day all packed into one 24-hour period. Today is the ultimate celebration of life.

We often take life for granted…until it is threatened or lost. We live life day after day, perhaps wishing for a better job, better weather, better relationships, or a better car. We’ve all been fed the message that the pursuit of happiness is something we all deserve, and nearly every advertisement is designed to convince us we’re not living life to the full until we have their product or service.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up. Why are you here? No, not why are you in this place at this time, but why are you on this planet? This question has haunted people for generations. What’s the meaning of life?

Earlier we saw a promo for Alpha, an interactive exploration of this question I have experienced several times. Whether you’re an atheist dragged here today by a family member, an agnostic searching for answers, or a follower of Jesus looking to deepen your faith, Alpha is a fantastic way to deepen your spiritual life.

Life. There’s that word again.

Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Here’s the way one enemy of early Christians who later followed Jesus describes it:

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NLT)

With all due respect to other faiths, unlike many religious figures throughout history who are no longer living, the message of Christianity is that of a living God, a God who conquered death. It’s the foundation of our faith. Without the resurrection, Christianity is, uh, dead. Paul, quoted earlier, continues…

And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. (1 Corinthians 15:17-20, NLT)

Today we celebrate that Jesus is alive. His resurrection surprised many, but 700 years before the birth of Jesus Isaiah prophesied that Jesus

  • - Would die (Isaiah 53:8b)
  • - Would be crucified between two thieves (Isaiah 53:12)
  • - Would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9)
  • - Would resurrect from the dead (Isaiah 53:10-12)

On Friday we remembered the death of Jesus on the cross. It’s important to remember why He died.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NLT)

Jesus died for every man, woman and child…Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, Christian, and agnostic. He died so our sins can be forgiven. He died to pay the punishment we deserve to pay for our evil deeds. He died to reconcile us to our perfect, holy, heavenly Father who sent Him.

This is love.
This is life.

Have you experienced the love of Jesus?
Have you experienced the life of Jesus?

The passage says those who believe—those who surrender their life to Jesus—will have eternal life.

Years ago I heard the story something like this:

God loves us.

We sin and are separated from a perfect, holy God who cannot tolerate sin.

Jesus died in our place, to forgive us, to reconcile us to God, to make us holy and pure.

We need to believe in Jesus, receiving the gift of eternal life He offers us.

This is all true, but it leaves one lingering question…

What do we do now?

If Christianity is just about what happens after we die, what do we do in the meantime?

If Easter is about a past event and eternal life is about the future, what about now?

Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

He came that we would have
full life now. We are promised an eternity with God. That’s fantastic, but He wants us to experience full life now.

A life with
hope—hope that someday every wrong will be righted, that every war will cease, that justice will prevail, that peace will come.

A life with
joy—not merely happiness but a deep sense of contentment no trial or tragedy can erase.

A life with
love—unconditional acceptance from our heavenly Father which allows us to love and forgive others, not because they or we deserve it but because we’ve been given the ultimate gift of love from Jesus…His very life.

A life with
meaning—realizing we’re not an accident but cherished children of Almighty God who created us in His image with dignity, value and worth.

A life with
security—knowing nothing we can do can make God love us more than He already does…and nothing we can ever do can make God love us less.

A life with
grace—undeserved favor from our Father just because He loves us but won’t force Himself upon us which is why we must receive the gift of life, Jesus.

Religion is spelled D-O. It’s all about what we try to do for God.

Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. It’s about what God has done for us.

When my son was younger he wanted to learn about other religions. I said, “Go for it! Study other religions. We are the only ones with grace. Every religion says you must pray, study, eat or not eat, drink or not drink, do certain things…and hope God will love you. Only Christianity has grace.”

The Bible says

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT)

It’s all about Jesus, His death, and His resurrection. One of the most popular songs is called “Amazing Grace.” Grace truly is amazing. You cannot earn it. You cannot do things to get it. You cannot work for it. You cannot buy it. Like any gift, you can only accept or reject it.

Will you accept or reject the gift?
Will you accept or reject Jesus?

Do you want to continue to be in control or are you ready to
let go and let God…be God and King and LORD?

God’s love, His forgiveness, His grace…they are incredible! They are the reason for Easter. Today is a celebration of life…eternal life, full life, dynamic life.

Are you living a full life now? I love what N.T. Wright says…

…we should make Easter a forty-day celebration. If Lent is that long, Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension. We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?”

I’m embarrassed to say I’ve met boring Christians. That should be an oxymoron! We have more to celebrate than a sports victory, a job promotion, or a birthday. Followers of Jesus should throw the best parties…and live the best, most fulfilled lives.

Jesus told one woman…

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

Jesus is the resurrection.
Jesus is the life.

Know Jesus. Know life.
No Jesus. No life.

Ironically, many have died simply because they claimed Jesus was alive. He didn’t come to make bad people good. Jesus came to make dead people come alive. When we die to ourselves, our agendas, and our pride and fully surrender our lives to Jesus He is able to do more than we can ever dream or imagine. It may not always be easy, but we are never alone. He promises to be with us always. He promises to lead us and guide us. He promises to give us full life now…and forever.

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

Demanding, 20 March 2016

Palm Sunday
John 12:12-19

Big Idea: Do we make demands of Jesus or allow Him to truly be LORD and King?

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:12-13)

The people blessed Jesus. They blessed the king of Israel. But there was another word they shouted…


This word has several translations.

Save us.
Please save us.
Save us now!

These people were desperate. Rome was a vicious, violent place.

Although it was built after Jesus walked the earth, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built, the place where many Christians were martyred in front of screaming fans.

Time does not permit us to unpack the full context of Roman life at the time of Jesus, but it was oppressive, especially for the Jews.

Here’s the thing: the people had an agenda for Jesus. They wanted Him to overthrow the government. They wanted Him to save them from Rome. We’re not exactly sure the tone of their voices, but rather than joyful shouts, they were very possibly desperate and demanding shouts.

Save us now!

We celebrate Palm Sunday as the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem. We know He arrived not on a white horse but a modest colt.

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (John 12:14-15)

Needless to say, Jesus did not meet the demands of the crowd. He did not meet the demands of His own disciples.

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. (John 12:16)

Can you blame them? Days after the crowds shout, “Hosanna!” crowds—not necessarily the same people—yell, “Crucify Him!”

All who followed Jesus—including the eleven and His mother—watched all of their hopes and dreams destroyed as He was nailed to a cross.

But that’s for Friday!

One More Thing

There’s another biblical account involving palm branches and loud multitudes.

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.”

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!” (Revelation 7:9-12)

Today we close with worship. We sing praises to Jesus for He alone is worthy. He alone is King. And someday soon He will return not on a donkey but on a white horse. He will arrive not to die but to rule forever and ever. We will not shout, “Save us, now” but, “Thank You, Jesus!” And we prepare for eternity now as we declare Jesus as LORD.

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

The Money Mess, 13 March 2016

The Money Mess
1 Timothy 6:6-10

Big Idea: Money is not the root of all evil, but it can mess up our lives if we allow it.


Today we’re going to talk about a subject Jesus loved to discuss, a subject He talked about more than heaven and hell combined…money!

Money. Is it a problem for you? It clearly was in the drama.

In our culture we have problems earning money.
We have problems spending money.
We have problems saving money.
We have problems sharing money.

We have a money mess.

In the next thirty minutes I will not solve all of our money problems, but as Tax Day approaches and you’ve had multiple opportunities to invest in God’s work in Toledo and beyond, I’d like to briefly address some money matters with plans to go more in depth in the future.

Earning Money

I was recently privileged to interview more than a dozen Toledoans for a doctorate research project. One question I repeatedly asked was, “What would be good news in Toledo?” A common answer was, “Jobs.” It’s no secret our city has struggled in the midst of the Rust Belt as manufacturing jobs have gone overseas during the past few decades. Although our unemployment rate is only 6.6%, many are underemployed and many have given up entirely on employment and are no longer included in unemployment statistics.

Work is a good thing. Although a burden for many, it was present in the Garden of Eden and I believe will be a part of our eternal lives.

What was Adam and Eve’s work before The Fall?

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)

That’s quite a responsibility, ruling over the fish, birds, and living creatures. But there was another task assigned.

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. (Genesis 2:19-20a)

Adam—and possibly Eve—had to name the animals. Sure, maybe that wasn’t as stressful as dealing with your boss, but think about how creative they had to be after they got through dog, cat, cow, pig, and horse. Rhinoceros. Hippopotamus. That took effort! Seriously, Adam and Eve worked before they sinned and were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. God designed us to work. We will work in heaven.

In the midst of our crazy election circus, allow me to be political for a moment: if you don’t work, you should not eat.

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty. (Proverbs 28:19)

This verse is significant not only because it appears in the Old Testament but also because it is reiterated in the New.

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

I’m not including, of course, those who cannot work, but every able-bodied person in our nation who wants to eat needs to work. They need to earn money. They need to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well-done, whether it is in a store, the home, an office, or a classroom.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, (Colossians 3:23)

We are to work for the Lord…and to earn money to provide for ourselves and, in some instances, others.

Spending Money

This is where USAmericans often get into trouble. Simply: we spend more than we earn.

Non-housing debt is $3.38 trillion. The average household owes $7283 on their credit cards, and only 51% of Americans have enough cash in their emergency accounts to clear themselves of credit card debt.

Debt is a tremendous burden. We’re all aware of the student loan crisis and the earlier housing loan crisis. Proverbs famously states

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)

Experts disagree whether or not it is ever appropriate to have debt such as a student loan or a mortgage. The point is simply debt is a burden, and credit card debt, in particular, is a tremendous burden because

  1. a) Interest rates are ridiculously high
  2. b) Many are tempted to only pay the minimum, which only increases your debt
  3. c) Often credit card debt is the result of poor money management and self-control, buying products that depreciate
  4. d) Rarely is there a plan to eliminate the debt

The solution is simple but not always easy: budget. I admit budgeting has been challenging for me, especially when I was creating annual budgets. I prefer monthly budgeting since incomes and expenses are rarely the same twelve months of the year.

Mint.com has some excellent, free tools for creating a budget and managing your finances.

Dave Ramsey also has a great, free
guide to budgeting.

Saving Money

This is one area where we have struggled as a family. Many financial experts advise a six-month emergency fund plus additional savings for retirement and large expenses such as college, cars, and weddings.

As a matter of full disclosure, our family has never had credit card debt. We had a car payment for one year. We have a mortgage on our home of less than 40% of the home’s value. We have largely avoided debt and lived within our means, but we have little savings. Our emergency fund is small. While I personally wish we had six months of income or more in the bank, there is a benefit to our condition. Again, turning to Proverbs:

Two things I ask of you, LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

Unexpected bills have kept us from amassing a great savings account, but they have also kept us dependent upon God for our daily bread. I’m grateful for that. He has never failed us. There have been so many stories throughout our marriage of God supplying our needs—and often our wants—it’s absolutely silly that I have any money worries at all…but I do.

A friend on our trip told me about his least-favorite verse. He finds it so convicting, and so do I!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Do you worry about money? Speaking from experience, it usually boils down to our trust in God. Often our worries stem from lack of fail and/or poor stewardship on our part, spending more than we can afford and then feeling the pressure of mounting debt.


Sharing Money

Paul wrote to Timothy…

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Perhaps you’ve read this verse and taken exception. “I’m not rich,” you say. Take a look at this…


I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but if you earn this much money per year you are in the richest 1% of the world. It will not rank you in the top 1% in the USA, of course, but most of us are in the richest 1%.

But regardless of your income,
are you generous? Or are you stingy?

Do you have an abundance mentality that recognizes the vast resources available to us or a scarcity mentality that clings to every penny?

I must tell you I planned the timing of this message on money months ago, long before I knew we would be raising money for Claro Coffee Bar or our local and international missions partners. I promise you there’s no hidden agenda here, just to be good stewards of God’s gifts.

Imagine my surprise when yesterday I did my daily One Story reading and came across this passage from the Exodus as the people were wandering for 40 years in the wilderness:

Now the Lord sent a wind that brought quail from the sea and let them fall all around the camp. For miles in every direction there were quail flying about three feet above the ground. So the people went out and caught quail all that day and throughout the night and all the next day, too. No one gathered less than fifty bushels! They spread the quail all around the camp to dry. But while they were gorging themselves on the meat—while it was still in their mouths—the anger of the Lord blazed against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. So that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah (which means “graves of gluttony”) because there they buried the people who had craved meat from Egypt. (Numbers 11:31-34, NLT)

They were gluttons. They were hoarders. 50 bushels per person? That’s a ton of meat!

We have been blessed with a ton of resources. We have not only dollars but freedom, opportunity, brothers and sisters in Christ, education, the Internet, transportation, technology, health,…and let’s not forget the power of prayer and the presence of God.

So What?

We looked at part of Paul’s letter to Timothy. Timothy was in Ephesus, a huge port city filled with great trade and wealth.

Heather and I both found it to be our favorite of the dozen or so cities we visited. This huge city was once buried under dirt and archaeologists keep excavating the area, uncovering incredible relics of this city of at least 50,000 but possibly as many as 200,000 people.

Paul writes to Timothy in Ephesus

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Money is not the root of all evil. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

Do you love money? Do you hoard money? Or are you generous?

We often talk about tithing, which literally means giving ten percent. The great thing about a percent is we can all give. We all give a percentage to Columbus and Washington whether we like it or not! The reality is one hundred percent of what we have is a gift from God, a loan from God, if you will. We are to be good stewards of it. We have been blessed to be a blessing. We are not supposed to feel guilty about our wealth, but rather be grateful and generous.

We are to live open-handed, allowing God to give and take away. It’s all His so we can clench our fists and let Him pry things out of our lives or we can freely surrender, knowing He can be trusted with our time, our talents, and our treasures.

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