Dinner Church: Grace, 26 May 2019

Dinner Church: Grace

Big Idea:
Grace is truly amazing, a gift from God which needs to be received.

What is grace?

It’s a name.

It’s what some people say before a meal.

In two words, grace is unmerited favor. It’s getting a good thing you did nothing to earn or deserve.

People often confuse grace with mercy or justice. I like to think of it this way:

Justice is when you smash my car and I make you pay for the damages.

Mercy is when you smash my car and I say, “Don’t worry about it.” You’re off the hook.

Grace is when you smash my car and I say, “Don’t worry about it. Let me buy you some ice cream.”

What? That’s crazy, right? Who does that?


We live in a world that seeks justice. We don’t always get justice, but we want it. We like things to be fair. If you break something, you should fix it. If I wrong you, you want me to fix it, to make amends, to make it right. We like to see criminals punished. Justice.

However, when
we are the guilty party, we seek mercy.

When have you experienced grace?

Last Sunday, billionaire tech investor Robert F. Smith announced at Morehead College’s graduation ceremony he’s paying off the student loans of the entire 2019 graduating class. $40 million. That’s grace!

Tonight I’ve got some bad news and some good news for all of us.

Here’s the bad news: the Creator God is perfect. Holy. Set apart. Intolerant of evil, sin, imperfection, mistakes, …us!

Contrary to popular belief, God does not judge on a curve. Our good deeds don’t cancel our flaws. We all mess up…every day. God calls that sin. It might be something awful like murder or something seemingly innocent like a little white lie. It doesn’t matter. We all do it. We have lustful thoughts, greedy intentions, cheat on our taxes, break the speed limit on I-75, gossip, …the list goes on and on!

For some reason, our culture believes if you do more good things than bad things, everything’s ok. That’s like saying if you put enough sugar in your coffee, it will cancel out the drops of poisonous cyanide someone put in it!

How many of you would drink that?

God’s standard is perfection, and since none of us is perfect, we’re all hopeless on our own. There’s a really good chance someday you will die! Me, too! Jesus talked several times about Judgment Day, the moment when we will stand before God and have to give an account for how we lived our lives…and what happens next.

Judgment Day is coming. Are you ready?

Oh, Kirk, forget about the future. Live for the moment!

I can tell you plenty of stories of friends who are living today the consequences of their actions from years ago.

Judgment Day is coming. Are you ready?

The truth is, none of us can be ready…on our own. All of our good works—while important—can’t begin to overcome the death of sin, of our bad deeds. Paul, who wrote much of the Christian Bible, said to some of the first Christians in what is now Turkey,

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. (Ephesians 2:1-3, NLT)

This is not a pretty picture. Every day we make choices, choices to follow God or follow satan, the devil, the world, the culture. Every day we’re bombarded with messages that say ignore God and do what feels good, what makes you happy.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) (Ephesians 2:4-5, NLT)

Usually I don’t like the word “but.” It’s a setup, like, “I’d love to come to your party, but I might have to binge-watch something on Netflix” or “I’d really like to help, but I’m broke.” This is a good “but.” Here’s the good news! Paul is saying Paul’s speaking to Jesus-followers. He’s saying on our own, we’re hopeless, but God. God is merciful. He loved us. He saw us dead in our sins and hopeless, which is why He sent Jesus to die and be raised from the dead. This is what the Christian faith is all about: the death and resurrection of Jesus.

If our good can outweigh the bad, there never would’ve been a need for Jesus to leave heaven, come to earth, be born as a baby, live and teach, die for your sins and mine, and then come back to life, proving his power to conquer sin and death (the victory we spoke of at our last Dinner Church). In other words, if we can know God and go to heaven by being good, we don’t need Jesus. But we do! Because we can’t!

Do you see the note at the end of the verse? It is only by God’s grace—unmerited favor—that you have been saved. Paul is saying it’s a gift you must receive. You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. The only way you can know God and spend eternity with him is to let the sacrifice of Jesus deal with it. Jesus died so you can live. Forever. With Him.

Do you want that? It’s a choice. We can choose to follow God now and forever or reject God now and forever. He has given us the freedom to choose. But choose carefully. Your life depends upon it. Your future depends upon it. Your destiny depends upon it.

For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7, NLT)

This is a beautiful picture of what it means to follow Jesus. I’m not talking about religion or tradition or even church. This is about reconciling with your Creator, confessing your sins and mistakes, asking Jesus to forgive you, and make him the leader of your life. If we surrender and die to ourselves, our will, and our agenda, he will take over, do life with us, and lead us now and forever.

This morning across the street we did a baptism where a woman was dunked in water to symbolize dying to her old life and then when she came up out of the water, it symbolized she is born again, she is resurrected like Jesus, she has new life. She is not instantly perfect, but her faith in Jesus means her sins are completely removed and forgiven. She has freedom. She has peace. She has experienced amazing grace, the gift of God of Jesus the Messiah.

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)

I love these two verses. They remind me I can’t experience salvation or peace or a relationship with God by being a good person or becoming a pastor or going to church or praying or reading the Bible or doing anything religious. It’s as simple as letting go and letting God. It’s about experiencing amazing grace.


No matter where you are in your spiritual journey, I’ve been praying that tonight you might take a next step. It might be to ask more questions and discover Jesus further. It might be tonight’s your night to say for the first time, “Jesus, I give you my life.” Maybe you have been calling yourself a Christian but you’re not really following Jesus. You’ve been living for yourself, filled with pride and selfishness and maybe even hate. Jesus said the true sign of his followers is simply love. Followers of Jesus are to be filled with love—and grace—and extend it to others. Think about your next step with God. He’s here and He’s calling you closer, inviting you into a deep relationship with Him, possible only because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, His gift of grace.

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

Water: Boat & Walking, 26 May 2019

Water: Boat & Walking
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 6:45-56

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea:
Without Jesus, we will struggle in life’s storms.

For about two thousand years, people have been telling stories about Jesus. He lived. He taught. He died. He rose again. He started the greatest movement in human history. He cast out demons. He raised the dead. He healed the sick. And someday soon He will return!

My name is Kirk and today we’re continuing our series, Mark: The Real Jesus. We’re seeking to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”

More than 4 billion people in the world “believe in Jesus,” but what do they believe? Since that number includes Muslims, what do the 2.4 billion Christians believe about Jesus? What does John Mark tell us, the biographer who likely wrote this book with the help of Peter, one of Jesus’ three best friends?

In the sixth chapter of Mark, we’ve seen Jesus rejected in his hometown, sending out his twelve disciples two by two to do ministry, thought to be the resurrected John the Baptist, seeking quiet and rest, and feeding five thousand families with one boy’s lunch. No wonder he became famous without media, social or even traditional media!

Today’s account is a popular story of Jesus performing a dramatic miracle that left his best friends amazed. I hope it leaves us amazed, too.

What is Jesus’ greatest miracle? I believe it was the resurrection! Other than the resurrection, what do you think was Jesus’ greatest miracle?

To set the scene, Jesus sent out the disciples in verse 7. They return with great stories of miraculous ministry in verse 30. The crowds were following them so in verse 31 Jesus tells them to spend some quiet time with him to get away from the people and get some rest. “So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (verse 32).

We all need solitude and rest. [riff on last weekend and the Life on Life retreats, Martha/Mary]

However, the solitary place was anything but. By the time they arrived, the crowds had run ahead of them, leading Jesus to spend time feeding their minds, bodies, and souls. After everyone was satisfied with their meal, …

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. (Mark 6:45-46)

They’ve all eaten this miraculous meal of fish and bread, and each of the disciples had a basket of leftovers for their boat ride snack! But where’s Jesus? He leaves the twelve disciples to get alone with the Father in prayer on a mountainside.

Have you ever been on a mountainside? Obviously not in Toledo! Mountains are stunning.

The Sea of Galilee has 33 miles of shoreline. It is 13 miles at its longest length.

The hills around the Sea of Galilee reach nearly 1400 feet above sea level, which is just shy of the highest point in Ohio (Campbell Hill in Bellefontaine, 1550 feet).

Jesus is not looking out as if he were at the top of the Rocky or Appalachian Mountains, but he has a nice view of the Sea of Galilee, no doubt, a beautiful place to hide from the crowds and pray.

Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. (Mark 6:47)

Sometimes I wish Mark gave us more details, but then again his biography is the shortest and most succinct of the four gospels, a word which means “good news.” It was night, the twelve are in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus is alone on land.

He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. (Mark 6:48a)

If you’ve ever been in a boat during a storm, it can be frightening. Some of us get frightened when we’re in a car during a storm…or even a house! On the water, lightning can be dangerous, the wind can make navigation challenging, water can fill the boat, causing it to sink, its getting dark (and that means “dark” since the clouds are blocking the moon and stars and there’s no electricity, even on shore), …it’s a scary place to be!

Without Jesus, we will struggle in life’s storms.

Storms are difficult enough with Jesus, but the struggle is even greater alone.

Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. (Mark 6:48b-50a)

First, it says it’s shortly before dawn, so by this time it’s very dark. Mark nonchalantly says Jesus goes out to them, walking on the lake. No, the lake was not frozen (if it was, the boat couldn’t sail…and the temperature rarely drops below 46 degrees…and that’s in January). This is what we call a miracle, a supernatural event. Jesus is walking on the lake, the Sea of Galilee (the terms are used interchangeably).

Have you ever walked on water? I actually have several times…with some help. OK, technically I wasn’t walking. I was water skiing! I love to water ski. I remember the first time I was ever able to get up and I looked at the water below me and thought of this passage of the Bible. “Look, I’m walking on water!”

On a side note, during my visit to Israel in 2006, I saw someone water skiing on the Sea of Galilee and had a rare burst of envy! If I ever go back to Israel, I
have to water ski on that lake! I need to put that on my bucket list!

The disciples are trying to stay alive in this brutal storm, Jesus happens to be walking out to them, he’s about to pass them by (!), they see him, think he’s a ghost, and cry like little children, terrified!

Remember, it’s dark. It’s stormy. And how often have you seen someone walking on water?

Jesus is with us in the storms, even if we don’t recognize him.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:50b-52)

Jesus’ best friends didn’t understand the miracle meal. They couldn’t believe the walking miracle. Now he climbs in the boat and they experience another miracle, the storm ending. Of course they were completely amazed, yet their hearts were hardened, it says.

Jesus saw them struggling. You might be struggling right now. Jesus sees you. He knows your struggle.

Is Jesus in your boat?

You might be afraid of him, of letting him into your boat, into your life. We all love control, and letting go is so hard. Handing over the keys to Jesus seems like such a big risk. What will happen if I surrender? Take a step of faith and find out!

I love how human the disciples appear to be in the Bible. They were not created by Marvel! Like each of us, they were filled with fear. They were clueless, at times. They were anxious and worried.

Everything changed when Jesus was in their boat, when they recognized him.

I’m sure Jesus could’ve calmed the storm from the mountainside when he saw their struggle, but he chose to be present, instead. Obviously he is not physically present in our lives like he was with the twelve, but he is with us. Before he ascended into heaven—this Thursday is Ascension Day—he said,

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

In many ways, we actually have it better than the disciples. Jesus told them,

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

That Advocate is the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew name for the Spirit is “ruach.” It means spirit, breath, or, interestingly, wind. The Holy Spirit lives inside every follower of Jesus. This (sanctuary) is not God’s house. This (my body) is God’s house, the place where the Holy Spirit dwells, producing gifts and fruit in our lives. The Greek word used in John 16,
parakletos, means advocate, counselor, and comforter.

I’m quite sure many of you could use a comforter in your life, a counselor, the Spirit of God. But first we must surrender. We must allow God into our boat. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit—daily, hourly, continually—like breathing. It’s not a once-and-done decision, but a moment-by-moment action.

By the way, having God in your boat doesn’t mean the end of storms and trials, but it does mean you’ll never be alone. As one song says, “Sometimes He calms the storm/ Sometimes He calms His child.”

The chapter concludes…

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:53-56)

We can’t imagine how many sick people Jesus healed. I’m sure it was thrilling for not only those receiving the healing, but also for the countless witnesses, seeing miracles before their very eyes.

God’s not done doing miracles. We’ve seen people in our First Alliance family healed physically. We’ve seen broken marriages restored. We’ve seen God answer prayers for jobs, relationships, and mental illness. Each Sunday we invite any and all to receive prayer at the conclusion of our worship gatherings, following the instructions of scripture to have the elders anoint the sick with oil.


What is Jesus’ greatest miracle? I believe it was the resurrection! Other than the resurrection, I believe the greatest miracle is not physical, but spiritual. When a selfish sinner surrenders their life to Jesus, that’s amazing! Letting go and letting God is so simple, yet so challenging. We want to be in control. Our pride wants to rule. But when we welcome God into our boat, the real transformation begins.

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

Feeding: Loaves & Fish, 12 May 2019

Feeding: Loaves & Fish
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 6:30-44

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea:
God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

Spoiler alert. There are few word couplets that seize our attention more than someone about to reveal the ending to a movie or a sporting match. Humans love suspense, and anyone destroying the surprise is likely to be criticized for doing so.

Recently a youth pastor made headlines for spoiling the ending of
Avengers: Endgame in front of his youth group. In a few short weeks, this film has become the number two movie of all-time as it approaches the reigning champion Avatar.

Spoiler alert. If you are at all familiar with the Bible, your knowledge can be a deterrent to fully engaging with its stories. For example, the sorrow of our Good Friday remembrances is always tempered by our understanding of the resurrection. We know what happens next. This is true of most any biblical account.

So today I want you to forget what you know about today’s text, assuming you know anything at all. Pretend you are a follower of Jesus and you have no clue about the following events which are recorded in all four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. To set the scene, earlier in Mark chapter six, we’re told of Jesus,

Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. (Mark 6:7)

He sent them on a mission trip!

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:8-11)

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:12-13)

As we continue our series Mark: The Real Jesus, we’re seeking to know about and ultimately know King Jesus, the Messiah. Last week we saw Herod’s confusion about his identity as people thought perhaps Jesus was a resurrected Elijah or John the Baptist. Who is Jesus?

Jesus sent out his dozen followers two by two, gave them supernatural authority, told them to trust God for their provisions (take only a staff), and God did amazing things in and through their lives, including exorcising demons and healing the sick as they preached repentance.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

I wish this on YouTube! Can you imagine their excitement?

“Jesus, you’ll never believe what happened!”

Jesus: “Try me!”

We begin every staff and elders meeting at First Alliance with “wins,” sharing stories of what God has done in and through us.

We need to celebrate God’s goodness.

I’m not very good at celebrating. I find it easy to start my prayers with wants and needs rather than praise and thanksgiving.

My mind is usually on the next thing to accomplish instead of pausing to celebrate the goodness of the past.

Earlier you heard about the upcoming events and opportunities on the church calendar, but what about last week?

Many years ago I was reading John Ortberg’s book
The Life You’ve Always Wanted. It’s about spiritual disciples, also known as spiritual habits or practices. I knew the importance of prayer and Bible study. I was a little uneasy about the thought of fasting or silence or solitude, thinking they were like eating your veggies—good for you but unpleasant (I hope to do a series on these practices sometime soon; they are truly wonderful pathways to God). I was really surprised when early in the book Ortberg talked about The Practice of Celebration.

(Some of us could use a bit more celebration!)

(The book is excellent, by the way, and I recommend it.)

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

I’m sure there was some celebration in their midst.

I want to pause and celebrate God’s goodness at the sneak preview of
Dinner Church last Sunday. Many of you served in beautiful ways—inviting, prayer, food prep, greeting—and God used our efforts to do amazing things. We had people from several continents exposed to the gospel, kids riveted to the message, adults engaging in unique ways, friendships forming, and an energy which could only be the Holy Spirit. I believe…

God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

Thank you, family, for surrendering your time, talents, treasures, and energy last week. We’ll do it again on the last Sunday of each month, beginning May 26, and I can only imagine what God will do.

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31)

Vance Havner said, “If you don’t come apart and rest, you will come apart.”

Because God is at work, we can—and must—rest.

Are you rested this morning? Our culture can drive us insane—literally—with its non-stop, 24/7, on-demand, bigger is better, climb the ladder of success mentality. We were not created to work seven days a week. We do not have the capability of doing great work 12 or 15 hours a day. Science has proven this repeatedly. We need rest.

If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, you must rest. You must be with Jesus in a quiet place. You must be still and know that He is God.

I’m preaching to myself here, family. I don’t do this well, but I think I’m making some progress.

We need to rest daily…time with God.
We need to rest weekly…a Sabbath.
We need to rest annually…vacations and staycations.

We are human beings, not human doings.

Pastors are one of the greatest culprits of workaholism. Many of us have this strange notion that if we’re not taking care of every need of every person in the local church, the world is going to end. I’ve seen insecure, co-dependent pastors run themselves ragged and, sometimes, destroying themselves and/or their families in the process. I know God doesn’t need me to accomplish His plans. I feel very privileged to have been invited to serve in His Kingdom—as all of you have been—but He doesn’t need me.

Today’s text has echoes of Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd. It begins,

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalms 23:1-3)

There’s nothing there about busyness, demands, schedules, or achievement. Ultimately, we were created for relationships—with God and others. I’m afraid many cultures understand this better than USAmericans.

We need rest. Life is a marathon, friends, not a sprint. You can only make it to the finish line with rest. When is the last time you were led by the Good Shepherd to quiet waters and refreshing rest?

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. (Mark 6:32)

This is a beautiful, tranquil lake in Israel, known today as the Sea of Galilee. I’ve been there in a boat and I’m sure the twelve were looking forward to some quality time with Jesus.

But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. (Mark 6:33-34)

Jesus—the Good Shepherd—can’t avoid the paparazzi! The problem with being in a boat on a lake is people on the shore can see you…and where you’re headed! Jesus invites his disciples to get rest and then turns around and starts teaching the crowds. I’m sure the twelve were upset. After all, they had all of these great stories to tell! If only Jesus wasn’t so compassionate! Remember, the Good Shepherd is willing to leave the 99 to look for the one lost sheep, or in this case disrupt the solitude of the dozen for the thousands of lost people in the crowd.

Do you see people as greedy or needy? Are people an interruption to your day or the purpose of our mission? Are you compassionate…or just comfortable?

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36)

I’m sure the disciples were hungry, too, but remember they wanted that quiet time with Jesus. Send the people away, Jesus!

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37a)

What? Jesus, we’re hungry, too! This isn’t our problem. Let’s send them away, get back in the boat, catch some fish, and have a nice, quiet dinner together. We’re getting hangry, here!

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37b)

I know that would be my answer! I can call Domino’s or Grub Hub, but I don’t know if my credit card limit will cover it!

It’s easy to fault the lack of faith of the disciples, but again, they didn’t know what followed. If we were at the Mud Hens game, they ran out of food, and I told you to feed the crowd, what would you say?

The disciples saw the problem but not the potential.

“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” (Mark 6:38)

[I have some fish. Are there any moms who would like some fish?]

We know from another account of this story (John 6:9) the twelve disciples apparently had no food at all and, therefore, they searched the crowd and found a boy with a small lunch. Imagine being the only person in a crowd with food and someone asks you for it. Would you surrender it or keep it?

What do you have to offer God?

It might be your lunch. Literally. Would you give it to Jesus? He said essentially,

“…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

When we show kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re showing kindness to Jesus. Giving to the benevolence fund is an excellent way to offer your lunch—or your wealth—to Jesus.

What do you have to offer God?

Remember, the boy had no idea what would happen to his lunch, but he surrendered it.

If you knew by putting $100 in the offering today, you’d get an unexpected refund in the mail this week for $500, of course you’d do it. But faith is expressed through obedience without knowing the outcome. I’m not promising you $500, but can you outgive God?

If you knew volunteering your time and talents to help on church work day would result in getting an extra week’s vacation at work the next week, you’d be foolish not to invest those hours.

We don’t know how God will use our offering, but I can almost guarantee there will be no regrets.

Think of it this way: is it generally wiser to invest retirement funds yourself or have someone with thirty years of successful experience do it?

Do you trust God to do more with your time, talent, and treasures than you could ever do on your own?

The exciting things is you might not have much to offer, in the eyes of the world. Some of us are not wealthy. Some of us are not healthy. Some of us aren’t especially attractive or talented or educated, but God can use anything and anyone He chooses to accomplish His will and plans…if we’re available.

What could Jesus possibly do with a little bread and fish? Shhh. No spoilers, please!

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. (Mark 6:39-41)

There are so many layers of symbolism in these verses.

- Moses wasn’t sure how to feed all of the people in the wilderness
- Green grass: the Good Shepherd (green pastures; it is springtime in Galilee)
- Groups of hundreds and fifties: Jethro telling Moses how to delegate (Ex. 18)
- Looking up to heaven, giving thanks, breaking bread: Passover

Jesus was demonstrating signs the new creation, the kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God. Here we see God’s love and power blended together.

They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mark 6:42-44)

We have no idea how many women and children were fed, too, but Michael Card makes an interesting observation, saying, “In every account of the feeding of the five thousand, the word used is kofinos. It indicates a small lunch-pail-sized basket.” It’s likely the crowd didn’t even realize the miracle that occurred right before their very eyes, a miracle more of perfect provision than overflowing abundance. They had enough…their daily bread (and a little midnight snack for each of the twelve disciples).

God is able to provide for our daily bread as we seek Him and surrender what we’ve been given to Him.

Sure, Jesus could’ve had manna and quail fall from the sky to feed the crowd. God did this to the people of Israel in the wilderness, feeding them for forty years!
Jesus could’ve taken stones and turned them into bread as satan had tempted him to do in the wilderness when Jesus was fasting for forty days.

Jesus could’ve prayed a hunger prayer which instantly removed hunger from the crowd.

Instead, Jesus wanted participation. He allowed a boy to be involved. He engaged his disciples. Instead of creating something from nothing—as he has done many times before—he chose to work in and through others. I love that!

God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

How do you think that boy felt at the end of the day? Can you imagine the story he told his mom when he got home? What about what he said to his dad he arrived home from work?

It is a thrill to be used by God. But first, we must surrender. God can bless and multiply whatever we give to Him. He used

- an old man named Abraham to become a dad at 100 and father the Jewish nation
- a stutterer named Moses to lead His people for decades in the wilderness
- a prostitute named Rahab was so important she is in Jesus’ genealogy

God often asks us to do the impossible…so He can receive the glory. Forgive without limit? Love our enemies? We are totally dependent upon Him…and that’s a great place to be.

Sometimes we cry out to God and say, “Do something” and God replies, “You give them something to eat. What’s in your hand? I’ve placed you there in Toledo for such a time as this.”

A man once asked God, “Why aren’t you feeding the hungry?”
God replied, “Why aren’t you feeding the hungry?”

I don’t know what God is calling you to surrender today, but I know it’s a thrill to be obedient, to be used by God to impact lives for eternity, to have a front-row seat to watch God at work. Some of you experienced this last Sunday at Dinner Church. Others were blessed by serving at the Rosa Parks Elementary Carnival. Still others were involved in Celebrate Recovery, bringing hope and healing to the hurting. I saw many of you at the TUI After School Klub banquet, celebrating another year of investment in our city’s kids. Next month you’re all invited to participate in Sports & Arts Camp, possibly our biggest event of the year.

God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

What are you doing with your lunch? Hoarding it, or offering it to God?
What are you doing with your wealth? Your time? Your talents? Your life?


“God will you let us see people the way You see people, as masterpieces in need of love and restoration? Let us have compassion like You do. Will you take our time, talents, and treasures and multiply them for Your glory? I believe, LORD, but help me in my unbelief, that I may trust You completely with my heart, soul, mind, and strength. In Jesus’ Name, amen.”

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

Dinner Church: Victory, 5 May 2019

Dinner Church: Victory

Today is Cinco de Mayo, a celebration which, interestingly, is celebrated more in the United States than Mexico. What does this day commemorate?

The Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It is not Mexico’s Independence Day, but it has become a day for us to eat tacos and burritos! Leave it to USAmericans to take a solemn occasion and turn it into a food feast!

Our them tonight is victory. We’ve all had victories and defeats, wins and losses. We will throughout our lives. Not even the New England Patriots or New York Yankees—or that team down south—win every year!

I love sports. I love to play sports. I love to watch sports. And I’m very competitive. I’ve never been fast, but I want to be! I want to win…and I want my teams to win.

Many years ago, I discovered the key to watching sports is to cheer for a person or team.

The most important part of a game is the…end. As many people have found out, it doesn’t matter the score with one second left on the clock or in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs. Anything can happen in those final moments.

As much as I love basketball, for instance, I rarely sit and watch the first half of a game, even if it’s one of my favorite teams. However, if I know the Pistons or Sixers are in the fourth quarter and the score is tied, get out of my way! Some of the great moments in sports history came when a certain defeat became a miraculous victory.

What is one victory you’ve experienced in your life? It could be field day as a kid, a little league game, watching your favorite team win on tv, getting a job you wanted, winning an award, etc.

How did it feel?

How is a victory different from a defeat?

What does it take to be victorious?

I want to suggest often victory requires defeat. I’ve rarely met anyone who is just a born winner and effortlessly succeeds at everything.

Last month Christians around the world celebrated a day called Good Friday. It was actually terrible. Jesus spent about three years creating a movement, a movement which continues to this day, a movement of faith, hope, and love. He spent three years teaching, healing the sick, raising the dead, attracting crowds, mentoring men and women, and then all of a sudden he allows himself to be arrested on false charges, refuses to defend himself, and goes from celebrity status to that of a criminal. Imagine the horror of all of his friends and fans as he is crucified, nailed to a cross, butchered for all to see in the most humiliating and excruciating of executions.

In a word, all was lost.

The life of Jesus. Lost.
The hope of his followers. Lost.

That’s not all. As Jesus died on the cross, the universe began to shift. Literally.

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. (Matthew 27:45)

Even with all of the cloudy, rainy days we have in Toledo, it’s not dark from noon until three in the afternoon! These were the hours Jesus was dying on the cross. Matthew, the writers of one of Jesus’ four biographies called the gospels, wrote,

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. (Matthew 27:50)

He died. There’s no way anyone could’ve survived the beating, torture, mocking, thorns, and nails.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:51-53)

Did you know zombies were in the Bible? When Jesus died—and a spear was shoved into his side causing blood and water to flow, proving he was dead—the whole universe went crazy. All was lost. Or so it seemed.

Have you ever had a moment like that? Maybe it was a day, a week, a month, or even a year. Maybe that moment is right now. Life feels like one big loss.

It could be a literal loss, like the loss of a job or a relationship breakup. Maybe your physical health is failing or your finances are a wreck.

If it feels like Friday, I’ve got good news for you. Your story’s not over. In fact, this very moment of pain, struggle, and storm may actually be preparing you for the greatest victory in your life.

Here’s the thing about Jesus and the cross: it wasn’t a loss. Sure, for a couple days all seemed loss, but something was going on behind the scenes. The crucifixion wasn’t an accident. In fact, Jesus had predicted he would die. He told people he would die. Ancient prophecy from hundreds of years earlier predicted he would die. What looked like a loss was just part of a plan.

On the cross, Jesus died to forgive you and me of all of our sins, our mistakes, our junk. Nobody’s perfect, right? Except Jesus.

See, the bad news is God is perfect and demands perfection from all of us. He doesn’t grade on a curve! If our lives are not 100% perfect, he has to reject us. It’s like the measles that are spreading in parts of the country. Nobody wants to get close to someone with measles because it’s very contagious. If you’ve got the measles—even if you’re a nice person and get good grades in school and make a lot of money and volunteer at the Humane Society and support the Toledo Symphony—you’ve got to be quarantined. You’re contagious.

Sin is contagious, and we’ve all got it…and God can’t get close to it. We were all—all—destined to go to hell when we die. Don’t get freaked out about a place with guys in red suits wearing horns and carrying a pitchfork. Hell is simply where God is not present. It’s not a good place, but it’s where we all deserve to go because we’ve all got sin.

But the amazing thing is Jesus—perfect Jesus—died to forgive our sins, to bring our score to 100%, to cure our sickness, our measles, so we can know God, so we can be with God, so we can go to heaven. Heaven is where God is, and you can experience heaven before you die, and even more after you die in the next life.

But heaven is not for people who are good. You have to be perfect…or know someone who is! Jesus came, lived, and died so you could know God, do life with God, and experience the love, joy, peace, freedom and hope that come only from God.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible says,

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15, NIV)

On the cross as Jesus died, the real loser was sin, evil, and death. He made a public spectacle over satan and demons.

Jesus took the beating. His body was broken. His blood poured out. For you. For me.

The cross was actually a victory for all of humanity, anyone who would say yes to Jesus, say yes to the cure he offers for our sin disease. And guess what? It’s a gift! You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. You can’t do enough good things to deserve it.

If someone offers you a gift—a wonderful gift—what do you have to do? Take it!

Tonight I want every one of you to experience sweet victory. I’m not talking about self-help, positive thinking, cheerleading. I mean take your junk to Jesus…your fears, failures, hurts, habits, and hangups. Let go and let God.

“Our God loves triumphing over what looks impossible.” – Lisa Bevere

On the third day—the day we celebrate on Easter—Jesus came back to life. He rose from the dead.

Dr. Tony Campolo famously said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

There’s a lot of talk about Christianity dying in this country. I think some of it has to do with abusive priests, power-hungry pastors, and hypocritical Christians. I’m very sorry for that, by the way. Christian means “little Christ” and a lot of Christians don’t look like Jesus…including me, sometimes. I’m very sorry.

But a lot of people have no need for God. They say they don’t need a crutch. They feel like they’re experiencing victory. But it never lasts. Eventually every team loses, every champion retires, every dollar is spent, every breath is breathed.

If you don’t need God, thanks for coming tonight. I hope you enjoyed dinner and made some friends.

But if there is any part of your soul that needs healing, any part of your heart that needs love, any part of your mind that needs truth, or any part of your body that needs healing, I know where you can find victory tonight. It might not be instant victory, but surrendering your life to Jesus, receiving his forgiveness, repenting and turning away from your past life and running to God will change you forever. Forever!

This isn’t about religion or even church. It’s about Jesus.

Steph Curry’s favorite verse is Philippians 4:13

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

If you want to experience victory in your life, I have a short prayer I want to invite you to pray tonight. It’s simply this: Jesus, I give you my life. I believe for some of you, tonight is your night. This prayer is not the end, it’s just the beginning. Jesus, I give you my life.

At the end of the Bible is a somewhat mysterious book called Revelation. It begins with letters to churches and Jesus speaks to an ancient church in what is now Turkey says this to those who followed Jesus:

All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. (Revelation 3:5, NLT)

That’s victory! That’s eternal victory! And that’s the victory we can experience with Jesus is greater than any Mexican war victory on Cinco de Mayo, greater than any NBA Finals championship, and even greater than winning the lottery!


John: Arrested & Beheaded, 5 May 2019

John: Arrested & Beheaded
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 6:14-29

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea:
John sacrificed everything for Jesus…who sacrificed everything for John and us.

“Oh how I love Jesus/oh how I love Jesus/oh how I love Jesus/because he first loved me”

How much do you love Jesus?

It’s hard to quantify love. It’s challenging for most people to even define “love.” But how important is Jesus to you…really?

Today we are continuing our series Mark: The Real Jesus. I know, it’s been a while. September 3, 2017 was the last Sunday in this series! Sometimes you just need a break! We’ll have more breaks before we finish this, the shortest of the gospels or “good news,” biographies of Jesus. With the recent celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, we’re going back to look at his life, his ministry, the three years or so prior to Holy Week. And today’s text is about one of the most devoted followers of Jesus, John, who was arrested & beheaded.

“To live outside of God’s will puts us in danger; to live in his will makes us dangerous.” – Erwin McManus

Before we look at this dreadful event, I want to begin with some background information on John the Baptist.

At the beginning of the book of Mark, we are introduced to John the Baptist.

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:4-5)

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:6-8)

John’s father was a priest, usually a hereditary role which John chose not to accept, becoming a fiery preacher, paving the way for the Messiah.

He’s immersing people in the Jordan River, a process called baptism which symbolizes a death and resurrection, washing away that which is old and become a new creation.

We are planning a baptism on May 26. If you’ve never experienced baptism as a follower of Jesus—infant baptism is different—I’d love to invite you to be baptized, to publicly declare your faith, and to symbolically die in the water grave and come out as a forgiven, purified, resurrected follower of Jesus.

But back to John. The Judeans, crushed by Roman rule and the high priests, found John refreshing. He was not afraid of seemingly anyone. Some thought he was the Messiah. He was a revolutionary who prepared the people for another Revolutionary.

The following verses describe John the Baptist baptizing his cousin, Jesus. Why does Jesus need to be baptized? He is sinless and has no need of repentance, but perhaps it was a public way to begin his ministry.

Later John leaves the wilderness and takes on the political leaders of his time. He starts in Tiberias, the place of sin, one of the cities in Galilee. It’s ruled by Herod Antipas, the second son of Herod the Great, the tyrant who tried to kill baby Jesus (Matthew 2:7-16). Herod Antipas wanted to be the king of Judea but, instead, became the tetrarch of Galilee.

John decides to call Herod to repentance, a gutsy move. Can you imagine confronting a Roman ruler, calling them out over their sins. Keep in mind his sins were many. The Jews are struggling under the Roman Empire while Herod lives in luxury.

Of all of Herod Antipas’ sins, one is most notable. While visiting his half-brother Philip in Rome, he fell in love with Herodias, Philip’s wife. He married her after divorcing his first wife. To make things even more complicated, Herodias was the daughter of another half-brother, so Antipas marries the woman who is both his sister-in-law and niece! You thought your family tree was messed up!

In the politics of the day, Herod’s job is primary to keep peace in Galilee. If a rebellion breaks out, Herod loses his power. John calls for repentance and may have appeared to have been gathering a rebellion, so Herod has John imprisoned in the Fortress of Machaerus, 100 miles from Tiberias. It’s an awful place, distant from John’s followers. In the day, prison was barbaric. There was no rehabilitation, only punishment and breaking.

While John is in prison, Jesus’ ministry grows and it is his popularity and his followers are sent out to preach repentance, turning away from their sins and toward God. They are also driving out demons and healing the sick, which leads us to today’s text in Mark 6:14.

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Mark 6:14)

Herod Antipas wanted to be called king, though he was technically only a tetrarch, ruling a fourth part of the nation.

Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” (Mark 6:15)

Who is Jesus? How you answer this question is remarkably important.

Jesus was obviously special. He was a dynamic leader, a marvelous teacher, and a miraculous healer. He was quickly becoming an incredibly popular person among the crowds. Even John is unsure of the true identity of his cousin, Jesus. You may recall Elijah never really died, but was taken directly to heaven, so his return was plausible.

Herod gets into the discussion of Jesus’ identity, wondering if he wasn’t John raised from the dead.

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” (Mark 6:16)

Now Mark provides us a flashback.

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:17-18)

It’s hard to imagine the audacity of John calling out Herod. We don’t really know all of the context other than we know Herod liked to listen to John. Whatever the case, there was obviously tension between John, Herod, and Herodias.

So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:19-20)

Herod was interested in hearing John, though it may have been a political maneuver. Remember, Herod’s chief responsibility was to keep the peace.

If you’ve been going through Mission 119 with us, you may recall recent Bible reading through several of the prophets. The role of prophet—proclaiming God’s truth, forthtelling—is no for the faint of heart. Sometimes God calls us to do difficult things, even confronting people in love over their sin. This is not judging or condemning, but rather pointing people to life, to truth.

How do you react when you’re confronted about something? We all hate criticism by strangers or venomous attacks by insecure people trying to tear us down. But what about when a loved one throws out a “help me understand?” For many years, my first instinct toward any constructive feedback was defensiveness. As I get older, I’m trying to listen first and then respond with grace. I can’t say I’m good at it. My pride gets in the way.

Some people can’t handle the truth. They want to follow their pleasures rather than God. They’ve been given the choice, that free will. Followers of Jesus, however, must be open to loving correction. But remember,

"God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, we are to love." -Billy Graham

Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” (Mark 6:21-23)

This must’ve been some kind of dance…or Herod had been drinking some kind of booze…or both! Imagine offering up to half of your kingdom as thanks for a dance! And it’s Herod’s birthday! The only thing I can think of in the Bible as outrageous is Esau exchanging his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup…or Jesus offering us his very life on the cross!

Salome, Herodias’ dancing daughter, is already a married woman and Antipas’ stepdaughter. Herod makes an incredible offer to Salome—to impress his guests—and the response is equally shocking.

She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Mark 6:24-25)

There was no argument or delay. At once she hurried to request John’s head…on a platter! What detail! What audacity!

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:26-29)

What a way to go!

How much do you love Jesus? John was obedient, even unto death. He sacrificed everything to remain obedient to the call on his life, speaking the truth in love.

This story is hard to imagine—a man beheaded for obeying God—yet today in our modern, sophisticated world, many of our brothers and sisters face persecution every day. Two days ago, the BBC said, “Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels’” in parts of the world. One in three people suffer from religious persecution and Christians were the most persecuted religious group, according to a report ordered by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The world saw the reports of more than 250 killed on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, just the latest of attacks upon Christians which includes church crackdowns in China, torture in North Korea, Indian Christians arrested for sharing their testimony with a small group, …and that’s just scratching the surface. On average, 11 of our brothers and sisters are killed every day for their faith. That would wipe out our church in a month! For more, visit

What would cause someone—John the Baptist or anyone—to allow themselves to die for their faith, to be persecuted for their beliefs, to be tortured for their obedience to God? Love.

Here’s the thing:

Jesus sacrificed everything for you, including his life.

If you think it’s crazy for a human to die for God, how much more radical is it for God to die for a human? That’s what we remembered last month on Good Friday.

Jesus did so much more than save your life. He offers to save your eternity, and he exchanged his life for yours on the cross. What more do you want Jesus to do to prove his love for you? No, he’s not a cosmic genie who is going to instantly give you everything you pray for, because he knows what’s best. Sometimes a miracle is best, but in this life as we experience suffering, it is not without purpose. God uses trials to strengthen our faith, help us identify with and help others, and give us a yearning for the next life. I’m not saying it’s always fun or easy, but neither was the cross. Today we remember the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus…not because we’re so great, but because our sin was so great…and his love is so great.

Honestly, I’m almost embarrassed to talk about giving God a tithe—10% of your income. It’s silly to think one hour out of 168 each week is a sacrifice. I scoff at the notion spending a little time overseas is super spiritual or noble.

Jesus died for us, family! That’s a really big deal! Who else has shown you that much love? Can we not reciprocate?

Following Jesus requires a sacrifice, including your life—dead or alive.

Jesus doesn’t want fans or part-time followers. He wants fully-devoted disciples, men and women and children who are willing to live and even die for the one who died for them. After describing God’s incredible love and sacrifice for us, the writer of Romans wrote:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

How much do you love Jesus? This is what it means to love and follow Jesus. Become a living sacrifice—and maybe a martyr. Give it all! Die to yourself and surrender to God. I’m not just talking to spiritual seekers here, I’m talking to all of us. How committed are we to God? Really? John the Baptist was all in…and so was Jesus.

Persecution may come to Christians in this nation. We could use a wake-up call, actually, not that I want persecution, but the church in the west is nearly dead, friends. When we feel persecuted by someone saying, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” we’re living way too comfortably! I know there are threats to certain freedoms we have enjoyed, but we are still a very blessed people. And let’s not forget what Paul wrote:

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

We need to remember our brothers and sisters in prayer. I know Sri Lanka and China and the Middle East seem so far away, but they are family. Finally,

No sacrifice for Jesus will ever be too great…or regrettable.

Jim Elliot, before he was martyred in Ecuador, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

This life is so short. I know it seems like…a lifetime. But imagine a timeline of eternity. How much of that timeline would represent the century or so we’re on this planet? You couldn’t even see it! As one song says, “It will be worth it all/when we see Jesus.” In two chapters, Jesus says,

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Mark 8:35-36)

Jesus gave everything for us. God for humans. Can we not return the favor?

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