Come, Holy Spirit, 31 May 2020

Come, Holy Spirit
Acts 2

Big Idea: We must be filled with and led by the Holy Spirit.

Video: Holy Spirit (The Bible Project)

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church in Acts 2 as found in today’s scripture reading. It’s a profoundly important moment in history.

Today is significant to First Alliance Church because it’s the first time many of you have been able to see each other face to face. Letters are great, texts are fine, phone calls are nice, and I’m grateful for FaceTime and Zoom, but there’s nothing like being physically present with someone.

Have you ever wished you could spend some time with Jesus? I mean physically be with Jesus. Let’s face it, prayer is wonderful and the Bible is fantastic, but haven’t you had those moments when you longed to see Jesus face to face?

Imagine you were a disciple of Jesus. You traveled with him. You ate with him. You saw him heal the sick, raise the dead, feed the thousands, and preach incredible sermons. Life with Jesus literally transformed your life. Now imagine in the middle of three years with him, he drops this bomb:

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)

You’re leaving us, Jesus? You’re going away? How can you call this good? We like you! What could be better than having you lead our team?

Jesus said it was for their good that he would go away. That was partially a reference to Good Friday when he would leave his friends and die for them…and us. But it was also a reference to his ascension when he left our planet, paving the way for the Holy Spirit.

N.T. Wright in at least two of his books describes history as a five-act play. Act One is creation, seen in the opening pages of the Bible in Genesis. What follows, Act Two, is the Fall of Adam and Eve, sinning in the Garden of Eden and creating chaos for all of creation from that day forward. Act Three is Israel, God’s chosen people beginning with His covenant with Abraham which continued throughout Jewish Bible we call the Old Testament. Act Four is Jesus, chronicled in the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Act Five begins in the book of Acts, the emergence of the Church, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, events that continue to this day.

We worship one God in three Persons, a mystery known as the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been present throughout all five acts. In fact, Pentecost began as
an Old Testament celebration called the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks. We think of Pentecost as the day the Holy Spirit birthed the Church with power, adding 3000 new believers in Acts 2. Prior to Pentecost, we see the Spirit in one place at a time. What made Pentecost so special was the distribution of God’s presence among multiple people.

Throughout act three—Israel—God’s presence on earth was most visible in a special part of the temple called the holy of holies where God dwelled behind a curtain. The day Jesus was crucified,

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38)

You might say God’s presence escaped the temple. God left the building. It wasn’t that God wasn’t present in the temple, but that the temple could not hold Him. No longer would people have to travel to a particular place to encounter the living God. Let’s look at what happened on Pentecost Sunday.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)

This was no ordinary day. This was a multi-media extravaganza! The Holy Spirit filled all of those gathered. They started speaking known languages they had never learned, a reversal of the Tower of Babel when God confused the people with multiple languages (Genesis 11:9). Author John Gill notes,

“Through this baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, the apostles became more knowing, and had a greater understanding of the mysteries of the Gospel, and were more qualified to preach it to people of all nations and languages.”

For many of these believers, they loved Jesus, grieved his death, celebrated his resurrection, watching him ascend into heaven, grieved his departure, and then became temples of God as the Holy Spirit arrived.

It’s a little ironic talking about Pentecost on the day we return to our physical campus. First Alliance Church never closed. Our buildings were shut, but these buildings are not the house of the LORD. They are not the temple. God’s presence and power dwells in each follower of Jesus since Acts 2. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

All of this. Had been prophesied. Jesus, of course, had announced the future coming of the Holy Spirit.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)

He also said,

When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:8-11)

He gave even more details in the first chapter of the book of Acts.

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)

This all came to pass in the very next chapter.

Jesus was not the first to predict the events of Pentecost. The prophet Joel declared God’s words.

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28)

Peter quotes this text in the second chapter of Acts. What follows is nothing short of miraculous. The capital-C Church was born, a group of Spirit-filled believers who literally changed the world. I never get sick of reading this passage. Acts 2:41 says because of the movement of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s preaching,

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41)

Wow! That’s what I call church growth! Those numbers are impressive, but that’s not all.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

Years ago, I worked at a church called 2|42 Community Church. Its name came from this text. It’s a wonderful picture of church. Again, the temple is mentioned, but church was not a building or a service, but a family of people who did life together. They were devoted to

  • - Teaching
  • - Fellowship
  • - Community meals
  • - Prayer

They experienced miracles. They did life together, sharing everything. This occurred every day, not merely an hour a week. Much of their lives were spent in homes.

This sounds a little like the past two and a half months for First Alliance Church! We’ve not been in large groups, but people have been meeting together both online and in person in small groups. Meals have been shared. Prayer have been prayed…and answered! Teaching and equipping are occurring. It has been very different, but the Holy Spirit has been at work in and through us.

I’ve heard many pastors say they want a “New Testament church.” The problem is, there are many mentioned, including seven called out in the beginning of the book of Revelation. They were all messed up. Each had issues, just like ours. There is no perfect church, only a perfect Senior Pastor whose name is Jesus.

Acts 2 sounds amazing—and it was—but Jesus promised following him would not always be easy.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

A moment ago, we looked at his words in Acts 1:8. The Alliance calls itself a “Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.” This is a pretty important passage!

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)

The original Greek word for witnesses,
martus, means “martyrs.” Many of these early believers who were filled with the Holy Spirit were persecuted for their faith. Many died as martyrs. Their passion was real. Church wasn’t something they did, it was who they were.

So What?

What about you? What about us? Where do we go from here? As we create the future, we desperately need the Holy Spirit. If you think I’m smart enough to guide us, you’re fooling yourself! If you think the elders possess the necessary wisdom, you’re mistaken. We need the Holy Spirit. Individually. Corporately.

When you give your life to Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too. Unfortunately, many are not filled with the Spirit. Some are afraid of the Holy Spirit because they think the Spirit will make them bark like a dog or do something weird. Others have dismissed the Spirit, practically seeing the Trinity as the Father, Son, and Holy Bible. Because certain gifts of the Spirit have been abused, they conclude we don’t need them…though the enemy is capable of distorting all of God’s good gifts.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts, not for our selfish use, but rather for the benefit of the Body, the Church. Nobody has all of the gifts. There’s no one gift that every believer possesses. Some of the gifts include teaching, giving, mercy, service, healing, wisdom, faith, tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, helps, leadership, and miracles. There are four primary lists of spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Timothy 4. As a Christian & Missionary Alliance church we believe in all of the gifts and their proper use to serve the Body of Christ.

The Holy Spirit also produces fruit in our lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Show me someone who is growing in those areas and I’ll show you someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit. The true test is Christ-likeness, not any particular gift.

We are to be filled with the Spirit.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

Being filled with the Spirit is something we must continually do, like breathing. You don’t stop! That’s the meaning of the words “be filled” in Ephesians 5:18.

How can you be filled with the Holy Spirit? It involves surrender, picking up your cross daily to follow Jesus, setting aside your agenda and rights, inviting the Spirit to live in and through you.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, the Spirit is already living inside of you, but might not be fully activated, much like you can have central air conditioning in your house but it won’t cool your home until it’s turned on.

There’s so much that can be said about the Holy Spirit, but here’s the bottom line:

We need God. We need the Holy Spirit. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know what lies ahead for First Alliance Church, but the Spirit knows.

I don’t know how we can restore God’s masterpieces in Toledo, but the Spirit does.

I don’t have the power to change a life, a marriage, a broken body, a hurting heart, but the Spirit does.

I don’t possess all of the gifts necessary to be Jesus to our city, but together if we are filled with the Spirit, we do.

The Holy Spirit descended upon the city of Jerusalem about 2000 years ago and the world has never been the same as men, women and children around the world have been conduits of God’s blessing, presence, and power.

I am praying for the Holy Spirit to descend upon the city of Toledo, equipping us and our spiritual siblings at The Tabernacle, The Vineyard, Harvest Lane Alliance, Perrysburg Alliance, Westgate Chapel, Cedar Creek, and others to become more like Jesus, to be transformed by faith, hope, and love.

This is a critical moment in history. We’re not going back. God is doing a new thing. Now more than ever, we need the Holy Spirit to guide and provide, to encourage and give us courage, to direct and protect.

Come, Holy Spirit. You are welcome here!

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

Love Well, 24 May 2020

Love Well

Big Idea: We must love—God, ourselves, one another, and others—well.

Scripture Reading:
John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:11

Love. It can be such a mushy word. Perhaps you’re sick and tired of me saying love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Blame Jesus! He’s the one who said those two commandments summarize the entire Law and the Prophets, the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament.

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

We often depict our love with a triangle (credit: Mike Breen, 3DM).

3DM-triangle with words

Love God (up). Love others (as we love ourselves; out). Love one another (in).

We’re taking a break from our series on the Gospel of Mark to examine some important and timely topics. Pastor Keith shared a good message with us last Sunday. Today I want to talk about what it means to
love well.

We love God. I hope that’s obvious…not only to us, but to the world. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We are to love God well, our “up” relationship.

On the surface, it can be easy to love God. Sing Him a song. Give Him an hour of your week on Sunday morning. Give a portion of your income. Spend some time in prayer and Bible study.

I want to suggest one of the primary ways we love God is much more challenging:
love your neighbor as yourself. If you like your neighbor, that might not be a big deal. We have great neighbors who live on either side of our house. I’m sad one family is moving away (they will either sell or possibly rent it; let me know if you want to be my neighbor!). The thing about loving others is you can sometimes get away from them! You can avoid other people in many cases. Tolerance—which is almost the opposite of love—is usually possible. We are to love others well, our “out” relationship.

Often the hardest people to love are…family—biological or spiritually, our “in” relationship. John wrote,

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:20-21)

We are a family. Family can be messy. People typically don’t leave family. They learn to do life together. In a spiritual family, our love for one another does three things:

  1. 1. It shows our love for God.
  2. 2. It shows our love for one another.
  3. 3. It is a witness to others, the watching world.

In our scripture reading for today, Doug Oliver read,

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

When we love one another well, we prove our faith. It’s how people identify us as true believers, followers of Jesus. Healthy families love one another. Godly families love one another.

We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory. (Ephesians 2:10)

While this pandemic has been tragic for many and trying for all of us, I’ve seen God use it for His glory.

One man told me of incredible conversations he’s having with people in the marketplace as people search for hope. Several people have said they feel more connected to our First Alliance family than before the lockdown. We’ve been equipping you and your family with fresh, spiritual content six days a week. Corporate prayer has engaged more people, more often. People have seized opportunities to tutor children, feed the hungry, and help those in need…loving our neighbor as ourselves. Family, we have been living out our mission beautifully during these past two months. I thank you and praise God!

Our video question of the week for this upcoming week is, “How has God used the pandemic in your life?” Make a short, landscape (not portrait) video and send it to using

Church is not a building. It’s not an event. It’s a
family. You don’t “go to” family. You don’t “close” family. First Alliance Church has never closed! As I’ve said, this season may be one of the most fruitful. This “reset” has allowed us to examine everything we do in light of our mission. Our goal moving forward is not to return to the way things used to be. Everything we add to our menu must be driven by our mission. There are new things we need to create, old things we need to revive, and some things we simply need to leave behind. We need to begin with “why?” Does it further or distract from our mission?

In March, nearly everything on our menu was wiped out, immediately replaced with three items:

  • - FAC Online Worship
  • - Zoom Prayer (weekdays at 9 AM)
  • - Pastor Kirk’s Daily Briefing (4 PM weekdays on Facebook Live)

Soon afterward, we added three more:

  • - Zoom Small Groups
  • - Kids Club United Online (Wednesdays on Zoom)
  • - Elevate Youth Online (Thursdays on Zoom)

Our entire staff has been hard at work providing these six ministry vehicles as well as personal discipleship and preparations for the future, and I’m very proud of and grateful for them as well as our Elders, Deacons, Deaconesses, and Trustees who have continued to serve behind the scenes. Thanks not only to our leaders, but everyone who has been praying, supporting financially, and participating in the life of FAC.

On Tuesday, our Elders met to discuss—among other things—reopening our physical campus. We closed it in March not because the government required it, but rather because we believed it was the best interest of the health and safety of you and our neighbors. The church left the building because we love people, which is also one of the best ways we love God.

When COVID-19 began, I was encouraged by the unity that I heard as people proclaimed, “We’re all in this together.” Tragically, fake news, conspiracy theories, politics, pride, and fear have brought division…especially within the church.

I have four prayers I pray for First Alliance Church:

  1. 1. Direction. Jesus Christ is our Senior Pastor. We want to be led by the Holy Spirit. I am not the boss! Our staff and elders seek God’s wisdom, guidance, and will. We begin every meeting by celebrating wins and engaging in open-ended prayer. This is not my church. This is not our church. First Alliance Church is God’s.
  2. 2. Protection. We have a real enemy who wants to steal, kill, destroy, lie, and divide. He’s having a field day right now, not only here but also around the country. I pray God would protect us from the physical, mental, emotional, financial, and relational pain of the coronavirus.
  3. 3. Passion. I want to want God! I want my heart to sync with His. I want God to give all of us His heart for the lost, the unborn, the least of these, the widow, the stranger, and the orphan.
  4. 4. Unity. This is where I want to focus for a few moments.

I’m aware of only one prayer Jesus prayed specifically for us, his future followers.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Imagine you and I were as close as Jesus and the Father! It wasn’t necessarily easy and it required effort and prayer, but Jesus and the Father were on the same page. Along with the Holy Spirit, they are one God in three Persons, a mystery we call the Trinity. Jesus wants us to be like this…one church, one body in many persons. He wants us to be one.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the Church—the Bride of Christ—is not known for its unity. There are literally thousands of Christian denominations that have split off from what once was one church. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for Jesus to see his Bride so divided. I’ve often said my dream is for the global Church to be so unified and beautiful that Jesus would turn to the Father and beg Him to return to earth for us! Right now, we must look like a dismembered mess!

It’s not uncommon for such disunity to appear within a local church. Where two or more are gathered together, there’s bound to be conflict. Family is messy. When it’s hard, it’s really hard…and when it’s good, it’s SO good!

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and while many of you have been engaging passionately online, many of us long to be physically together. We were created for community, and while a letter is good, a phone call is better, and a video chat is better still, and being in the same room is even better.

As you may know, there are vast opinions about the pandemic, its legitimacy, and its consequences. Anyone who says they know and understand coronavirus is crazy! New discoveries are being made each day, and this is unlike anything in our lifetime. I’ve prayed more for our President and Governor this year than probably any year of my life! They are in a no-win situation, not matter what they say or do. In a small way, I’ve felt that, too. That’s one of the challenges of leadership. However, I don’t operate in a vacuum. We are led by a team of Elders of which I am the non-voting chair person. I’m grateful for the wisdom of our Elder Team: Rich Bradish, Jim Kirkman, Caine Kolinski, Jim Kujawski, Jim MacDonald, Doug Oliver.

Much like our church survey results, there’s a great diversity of views on COVID-19. Some of you wondered why we ever closed our physical campus and others are willing to wait a year or longer until a vaccine is available before resuming in-person worship. After surveying you and consulting with other churches, the Great Lakes District, the Governor’s office, a wide variety of medical experts, we met Tuesday and adopted
Phase One of our campus reopening plan.

We began with the “
why?” Does a physical gathering for worship further our mission? We said, “Yes,” especially for those who are tech-less and have been unable to connect with the FAC family. I miss our family members from Ohio Link, Cherry Street Mission, and others who may not have access to the Internet.

The next question was “
how?” One of our elders shared his three goals: safety, credibility to the unreached, and a quality experience. Put another way, we obviously don’t want people to become sick–or worse—by anything we do together, we don’t want to hurt our witness to our community by acting out of selfishness, recklessness, or rebellion, and we want to continue to create meaningful experiences for people, albeit different from what we did months ago.

Then we wrestled with the “
when” question, the one so many of you have been anxiously awaiting.

Beginning next Sunday, we will have Sunday worship in three venues. Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. It’s one of the most sacred days on the Church calendar, and one I can’t wait to commemorate. Our reopening coincides with the Catholic Church in Ohio and other congregations, as well.

Next Sunday at 10:30 AM we will offer three options. These three options reflect both the three different groups that presently exist within our family and allow for social distancing (we can’t all fit in the sanctuary together safely). Here are your options:

Safe. Youth Center Assembly Hall. Live stream. Touchless. Social distancing. Masks highly recommended, not for you, but for those around you. It is a proven tool for reducing the spread of disease to others. We love with masks! We will have them available if you don’t have your own.

Safer. Sanctuary. Live. Touchless. Social distancing. Masks required…and provided. This is a safer option, but still has risks. Spending an hour in a room full of people is not the same as being in a grocery store for a few minutes or picking up a pizza. Nobody knows exactly what the risks are, so we will continue to offer a third option.

Safest. Online. Live streaming. No restrictions. If you want to shake hands, hug, and socialize, have a watch party at your home! Likewise, if you are elderly, diabetic, or otherwise at risk, we urge you to stay home. We have no plans to ever discontinue FAC Online Worship. It will be our safest option for your physical health, and it will be your only option when you’re unable to reach our physical campus.

We plan to offer these three options for the foreseeable future.


This will obviously be a
different experience than anything in the past. There will be no child care. The restrooms will be available for emergencies, but our goal is for everyone to touch nothing but their individual seats. The new Sunday edition of the FAC Focus will serve as your bulletin. We’ll have offering boxes as you exit (or you can give online).

We won’t be in Phase One forever. We won’t worship in three venues forever. But this is what Sunday mornings will look like for a while. Thank you in advance for your grace, your patience, your prayers, and most of all your love for one another. We love God by loving others…well. Let’s love well, family!

How do we love well? Let me close with some suggestions:

  1. 1. Pray. There may be no greater way to love others than prayer. The FAC Focus which will be in your e-mailbox in a few minutes always has a link to our Prayer Connection. Let our office know how we can pray for you. We have Zoom Prayer each weekday at 9 AM and it will continue for the foreseeable future.
  2. 2. Give. I love the stories of how people have been giving meals to one another, giving time to one another, and even sharing resources via the Benevolence fund. Our family is so generous, and if you have a need, please let our office know.
  3. 3. Here’s a new one. Masks. There are conflicting reports about a great many things, but one of the most consistent things I’ve heard is masks protect others. They don’t necessarily help you, but they make it harder for you to spread germs and viruses to others. I know they can be uncomfortable. I recognize it’s not necessarily easy to sing with one. They limit non-verbals which is frustrating. But masks send a message that we love others, that we love one another.
  4. 4. Listen. We all have opinions on the pandemic. It’s easy to look at someone with whom you disagree and condemn them for being too fearful, reckless, cautious, or ignorant. One of the reasons we are offering three venues next week is you told us there are three distinct groups within our family when it comes to gathering together. We’re blessed to have the resources to serve all three during this season.

Family, let’s love well. Next Sunday will be a real test of our love, not only for God, but also for one another. None of us knows everything about COVID-19, but we know the One who does! As we gather next Sunday online and on our campus, let’s go the extra mile to extend grace, to respect one another, to do everything possible to set aside our own preferences and rights and privileges to humbly love others well.

We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory. (Ephesians 2:10)

I love you, family. Next Sunday is the beginning of a new First Alliance Church. It’s going to be different. The future is going to look different. But the best is yet to come!

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

You can watch this online worship experience

God of the Impossible, 10 May 2020

God of the Impossible
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 9:2-32

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Nothing is impossible with our great and awesome God.

On the fringes of what has been known for decades as contemporary Christian music is a band called Daniel Amos. In 1988, they formed an anonymous spinoff called The Swirling Eddies. Some of their more interesting song titles include “Coco the talking guitar,” “Arthur Fhardy’s yodeling party,” “Outdoor Elvis,” and maybe my all-time favorite song title, “Hide the beer, the pastor’s here!”

In the midst of their playful satire and comedy, one song has stuck with me for decades. It’s entitled, “Yer’ Little Gawd.”

i don't want to speak to yer little gawd  i don't want to drink to yer little gawd  interface or link with yer little gawd 

How big is your God?

We’re in the middle of a series called Mark: The Real Jesus. We’re looking at his life from the gospel—good news—of Mark. Perhaps the pivotal question in the entire book was when Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” in the previous chapter.

Today’s text is packed with startling stories that bring clarity to the question of whether Jesus is fully God or fully human. The answer is yes! And he’s great!

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. (Mark 9:2-4)

This must’ve been an incredible sight…and sound! Can you imagine the conversation? Elijah represented the prophets and Moses the law. Both are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. A masquerade is an outward change that does not come from within, while transfigured describes an outward change that comes from within.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:5)

Peter’s mouth is always getting him in trouble! I love John Mark’s commentary that follows in parenthesis.

(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) (Mark 9:5-6)

Has that ever happened to you? When is the last time you were speechless…or should’ve been speechless and you couldn’t stop talking?!

Some people question whether the Bible is authentic or a bunch of fairy tales. If you were to write fiction, you wouldn’t include accounts such as Peter’s clumsy suggestions! I’m sure Peter was embarrassed about many of the things written about him, but they only show God’s amazing power to redeem and restore blemished masterpieces for His glory.

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)

What is the most astonishing thing about this encounter? Everything! This is multi-media extravaganza! God the Father identifies Jesus once again (Mark 1:11) as His Son. The command to the three disciples is simple: listen to him!

This is a timeless message. We need to listen to Jesus. We need to obey his commands, his teachings, the “red letters” in many Bibles. We are to follow his example of loving even our enemies. We are to re-present Jesus to the world, bearing witness to the reality of God and His Kingdom, praying for it to become a reality here on earth as it is in heaven.

Family, I know we all long to be physically together again soon, but First Alliance Church is not a building or even a gathering. We are not in the business of distributing religious goods and services. Our mission is to restore God’s masterpieces. It’s to make disciples. It’s to become like Jesus and help others become like Jesus…something which is best done in small groups rather than large gatherings. Although much of Jesus’ ministry occurred with twelve disciples—a group larger than the ten we are encouraged to stay within at this present moment—his deepest work was done in the lives of these three men—Peter, James and John. Jesus did not lead a megachurch. There’s actually few references to him teaching in the synagogues. He did attract crowds—largely due to the hope of healings. But discipleship seems to happen best in smaller groups that do life together.

I’m grateful for all of our small group leaders who disciple others through Zoom, in-person socially-distanced gatherings, and one-on-one interactions. We are to listen to Jesus. We are to follow Jesus. That’s what First Alliance Church is all about, and it’s what the Father has commanded us to do…
we must listen to and obey Jesus.

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. (Mark 9:8)

The show’s over! It’s time to go home. I’m so glad there were three witnesses because I’m sure a solo observer would’ve thought they were hallucinating!

It’s worth noting nobody saw Elijah or Moses die. Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind and Moses died alone, buried by God Himself according to Deuteronomy 34:5-6.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. (Mark 9:9-10).

Here’s another example of Jesus predicting his death and resurrection…yet they still didn’t catch on.

And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” (Mark 9:11)

They’re talking about prophecy and the future. Elijah and Moses prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:12-13)

Jesus tells them again that He’s the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, and that he will die. Now the scene comes to a close and a new one begins.

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. (Mark 9:14-15)

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. (Mark 9:16)

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” (Mark 9:17-18)

When is the last time you saw someone possessed by a spirit? Have you ever seen someone foaming at the mouth and gnashing their teeth?

I’ve long been fascinated by the role of the supernatural here in the west versus spirituality in other countries. I once spoke with a man who travels all over the world. He said in some parts of the planet, both demons and healings are common. The spiritual world is understood. However, he said he sees fewer demons and healings in the United States. I can’t fully explain why this may be, but I think it has something to do with our love for logic, facts, reasoning, and science which can remove the mystical, the mysterious, and the supernatural.

Are demons real? Absolutely!
Are angels real? Absolutely!
Does God still heal today? Absolutely, though sometimes God often uses doctors and medicine. But sometimes He shows up and confounds the experts with the miraculous.

Jesus often exorcised demons, offering liberation for the oppressed.

This text makes is clear there are different degrees of demons. The disciples had driven out demons before, but they were unable to drive out this one. Was it their lack of faith?

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” (Mark 9:19)

Jesus is so real! He’s so emotionally healthy, able to express his frustration without sinning.

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. (Mark 9:20)

There is power in the presence of Jesus. There is power in the name of Jesus!

Jesus asked the boy’s father,
“How long has he been like this?” (Mark 9:21)

“From childhood,” he answered.

“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22)

Spiritual warfare is real. We have a real enemy that wants to steal, kill, and destroy. In this case, a demon repeatedly tried to kill this boy. I don’t understand all of the factors that lead to murder, self-harm, suicide, or domestic violence, but they are not from God. There are signs of the enemy all over our communities, making our job of demonstrating faith, hope, and love so vital.

To be clear, I’m not blaming every bad thing on satan—and mental illness is real—but sin leads to death, while God is the author of life, the source of every good and perfect gift, the healer and lilberator.

“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

I love Jesus’ response: if you can? The father’s hesitation is understandable. After all, the disciples couldn’t help. Loving parents will do virtually anything to help their children. One of the reasons we love our mothers is their devotion, their commitment, their desire to care and seek healing for their offspring. This father had a similar passion, yet he was surely disappointed at the failure of the disciples.

This verse contains the key sentence in our scripture for today.
Everything is possible for one who believes. I looked up the original Greek word for everything. The word is pas and it means…everything, whole, whatsoever, thoroughly, all. This declaration by Jesus echoes his words in Matthew 19:26…With God, all things are possible.

Did you know Ohio is the only state in the USA with a biblical motto? This is it: with God, all things are possible.

“Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23b)

We love, worship, serve, obey, and love the God of the impossible.

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

There it is, one of my favorite prayers in the Bible!

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit.
“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” (Mark 9:25)

Jesus didn’t want to create a scene, perhaps for both his sake and these two men.

I love Jesus’ command to not only leave, but to never return!

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. (Mark 9:26-27)

Peter, James and John had seen everything now! First, the transfiguration of Jesus with Elijah and Moses in a supernatural moment of glory, and now a manifestation of supernatural evil. If they thought they were hallucinating before…

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (Mark 9:28)

He replied,
“This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

Wait! Does it ever say Jesus prayed? There’s no mention of him closing his eyes and talking to the Father. He doesn’t spit on the boy as he did with one of his earlier healings. He simply speaks with authority…an authority that comes through his ongoing relationship with the Father, praying without ceasing, not only praying to the Father or talking with the Father but doing life with the Father.

Jesus never says the disciples don’t have enough faith. He doesn’t say miracles are reserved for the Messiah. He has received the power and the authority to cast out demons from the Father, through prayer.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is known as the Great Commission where Jesus tells his followers to go and make disciples of all nations. We often forget how it begins.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

Jesus was given all authority…and he passed it on to his followers. Our text for today concludes…

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:30-32)

Again, he plainly tells them he will die and rise, but they were clueless.

So What?

How big is your God? Is He the sky fairy, a good luck charm, a comfort piece like a stuffed animal?

Is he the big guy upstairs who punched your ticket so you can go to heaven when you die?

Or is Jesus LORD, Messiah, King of Kings, all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present?

Family, our God is the God of the impossible. He’s the one who raises the dead, heals the sick, mends the broken, frees the oppressed, and offers hope to the hopeless. He has conquered sin, death, demons, and satan. He loves you with an everlasting love.

This isn’t positive thinking or psychobabble! Our God is awesome! He is powerful! Paul declared to a church in modern-day Turkey,

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

He can do what we ask.
He can do what we imagine.
He can do more than we ask or imagine.
He can do more than all we ask or imagine.
He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!
He is the God of the impossible!

Sometimes He says, “Wait.”
Sometimes He says, “No.”
Sometimes nothing happens because we simply don’t ask! Jesus’ half-brother once wrote,

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)

We must ask. We must pray. We must follow Jesus every day, not just Sunday morning. And then we must thank and praise Him for His faithfulness and goodness.

Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer. I participated in several online events. Perhaps there’s never been a better time in our lifetime to bow our heads and kneel before Almighty God and pray…for the impossible!

How big is your God?

When we seek first His Kingdom, His will, His plan, we can ask the God of the impossible and expect great things…because He is a great and awesome God!

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

You can watch this online worship experience

Dead Man's Journey, 3 May 2020

Dead Man’s Journey
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 8:31-9:1

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Following this King is a death sentence…which leads to abundant life.

Unlike you, my dad has not been affected by coronavirus. He’s not been worried about losing his job. Not once has toilet paper been a concern. There’s no fear of catching or spreading the virus. He hasn’t even given a thought to death. Why?

He died six years ago this week!

I miss my dad terribly. He was the greatest man I ever knew. The best thing about my dad was his love for God and the way he followed Jesus. He loved the LORD. He worshipped with his time, talents, and treasures. He surrendered most everything to God, living not for himself, but for Jesus. You might say he died long before his death…and we should, too.

Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived. His investment in a small group of people forever changed the world. His words are quoted every day by people from most every nation, tribe, and tongue. The wisdom he delivered is revered, even by those of other religions.

As I’ve studied Jesus’ teachings, I’ve come to the conclusion that many are difficult, if not impossible. Love your neighbor as yourself is daunting, even if you have a good neighbor! The first shall be last is curious, to be sure. But our scripture today includes what may be the most radical and controversial of all of his statements: die…in order to live.

In the eighth chapter of Mark’s gospel—good news—Jesus has just healed a blind man and listened to Peter’s declaration of faith, that Jesus is the Messiah, the King. Verse thirty stated,

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:30)

It wasn’t time for his true identity to be revealed to the world. He already had people trying to kill him. There were things he needed to tell his friends.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

Jesus predicted his own death…and resurrection! He told the disciples exactly what would happen, and how. They got the message about suffering, but they all seemed to forget the resurrection prediction, but that’s for another sermon!

They were clearly confused. Why would the Messiah suffer? He’s supposed to reign. Some rabbis even thought there would be two Messiahs, one who would suffer and one who would reign. We now understand the fascinating relationship between the cross and the crown. God transformed suffering into glory while satan tempted Jesus to experience glory without suffering.

Not only did Jesus tell them what would happen in the near future,…

He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark 8:32)

Say what you want about Peter, he’s not afraid to speak him mind! He rebukes Jesus!

He has just proclaimed Jesus is the Messiah and he can’t believe the King of the Jews is going to suffer. Kings don’t give themselves up to be killed. And dead people certainly don’t come back three days later!

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33)

Do you think Peter meant well? He was seeing with physical eyes rather than seeking spiritual vision. God had a plan, albeit unexpected.

Sometimes I take matters into my own hands instead seeking first His kingdom. Proverbs tells us to seek wise counsel, but sometimes God leads us to do things that violate conventional wisdom. Following Jesus might mean learning a new language and moving to the others side of the world. It could involve radical generosity.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

Mic drop!

Jesus, I thought you died so I could go to heaven when I die and all I need to do is pray a prayer!

Family, a Christian is not someone who simply prays a prayer. A Christian is not another word for American, though much of the world tragically thinks they’re synonymous. A Christian is not someone that goes to church—or engages online! A Christian is not someone with Bible knowledge, mental belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, or even someone who gives money to a local church.

A Christian is someone who follows Jesus. The word literally means “little Christ.” It’s a disciple, a student, a protégé, an apprentice, an imitator of Jesus. Jesus is defining what it means to follow him:

- deny themselves; surrender to our will and determine to obey his
- take up their cross (as in suffering and death!)
- follow Jesus obediently, wherever he leads

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

Jesus, you can’t be serious. You want me to die?

God wants us to die…to ourselves. He wants us to let go of our ego, our agenda, and even the illusion we have of control.

Just to clarify, Jesus continued,…

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35)

It’s been said that you only live once, but I disagree. In this life, sixty, eighty, or even a hundred years seem like forever, but it’s not.

Think about the pandemic. It hasn’t even been two months, yet for some of us it feels like two years!

This life is short. Compared to eternity, you couldn’t even see it on a timeline. How we live this life will impact the life to come.

This verse is one of the hardest statements in the entire Bible. It’s one of the most challenging verses ever written, and yet it’s not only true, it’s liberating.

If we die for Jesus—figuratively or even literally as millions of martyrs have done—we don’t have to worry about this life. We can let go and let God. What’s the worst thing that can happen to you? What’s the worst thing that can happen during this pandemic?

If you live for yourself, you might lose your job, your money, your health, even your life.

If you live for Jesus, you recognize everything in life is a gift, on loan from God. You don’t deserve your job, even if you worked hard to acquire it. The same goes for your money, but how quickly can your 401k become a 201k? Every good and perfect gift is from above, from God (James 1:17).

Jesus isn’t promoting suicide. He’s not saying you shouldn’t have fun, pleasure, hobbies, or recreation. He is saying…

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Mark 8:36-37)

The eternal matters. The next life is infinitely longer than this one! If your entire focus is on this life, this world, this body, it’s not going to matter in a hundred years. We have all come from dust and to dust we will return. That’s the message of Lent. Again, it can all be gone in a moment.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

Yikes! That’s more than a little scary, isn’t it?

Jesus was speaking to a group of people, most of whom would become martyrs. They would die for their faith. We’ve enjoyed bountiful religious freedom in this country since its founding, but many of our brothers and sisters haven’t enjoyed such liberty.

Millions of men, women and children have been martyred—killed for their faith in Jesus, a faith that was proven by action and a willingness to die.

Jesus never asks us to do anything he doesn’t model for us.
He hung up for you and me. Can we stand up for him?

It’s easier when you have nothing to live for…except Jesus. Dead people don’t fear death.

Many years ago, the gold vehicle I was driving began to take on more of a rust color! To say it was falling apart would be about right. Every member of my family urged me to get rid of it (I’m not sure if it was because they were embarrassed by its looks or afraid it would break down in the middle of nowhere!).

I liked the vehicle. I’m not even ashamed to admit it was an old minivan. I liked the sleek design and didn’t even mind the gold color. It previously belonged to my grandfather, so it had a little sentimental value. The fact that it was paid for was certainly endearing. But maybe what I loved most about it was the fact that I wasn’t afraid of getting in an accident. If someone ran into me, I wouldn’t be out much! As long as it ran, I didn’t worry about it getting scratched or damaged or even stolen. It was nearly dead so there wasn’t much to lose.

Contrast that with minivan I rented on vacation a few years ago. After getting the keys and starting it up, I looked at the odometer and I think it read about 80 miles. This was a brand new car, worth ten times more than my bank account! I drove so carefully, aware that I could actually be a perfect driver and still return it totaled if someone else was careless.

If we have nothing to lose—if we’ve already died to ourselves—there’s no fear in loss, in death.

If we have everything to lose, we live in fear, anxiety, and scarcity.

In the final verse for today, Jesus said to them,…

And he said to them,
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 9:1)

Eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples saw the resurrected Christ. They got a sneak preview of what their future bodies will be like, and they saw satan and death defeated, hallelujah!

So What?

Our world is in turmoil. Fear abounds. Anxiety is running rampant. One report said half of the restaurants closed will never reopen. People have labored for years building businesses that are vanishing because of something that began on the other side of the world. Perhaps you’re among those who are at the end of your rope, at the bottom of the barrel, desperate. Maybe you’re engaging online right now because you don’t know where else to turn. I’ve got great news!

You can’t lose what’s not yours…and nothing is truly ours. It’s all a gift on loan from God. Our health. Our jobs. Our family. Our skills. Our talents. Our dreams.

If we truly let go and let God, we can let go of worry, fear, and anxiety. This doesn’t mean we sit around all day playing video games, but we can seek first God’s agenda, His plan, and watch Him do what only He can do.

Perhaps today is your day to let go and let God, to die to yourself and allow Jesus to give you a new life, a new heart, a new future, a new destiny. If you want to begin to follow Jesus today, you can “raise your hand” on the church online platform. If that’s you, please let us know your phone or e-mail so we can give us you some free resourced to help you get started with Jesus. Dying doesn’t sound like an attractive proposition, but it’s the only path to really living, letting Jesus “take the wheel” and be the leader of your life.


As I said, Jesus never asks us to do something he has not already modeled for us. He died…so we could live. He was the least-deserving person in history to die, much less be crucified, yet it was part of God’s plan to redeem us, to restore us, to reconcile us to Himself.

As we sing this next song together, The Wonderful Cross, if you’re a follower of Jesus, this is the time to eat the bread and drink the cup, reminders of Jesus’ body and blood sacrificed for you and me.

As we survey the wondrous cross, I want to call your attention to these lyrics:

Oh the wonderful cross
Oh the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live

This is an incredible paradox, yet it’s so true.

The Wonderful Cross

What does it mean for you to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus this week? It might mean a financial sacrifice, an extravagant gift, a kind note, or a generous act of service to someone in need. It might be putting others above yourself, wearing a mask when you don’t want to (they won’t make you safe but they might protect others). Denying yourself could involve listening when you want to speak, reading the Bible when you’d rather post on social media, or seeking forgiveness from someone you have wronged.

Someday, it might involve a greater sacrifice, a greater death to yourself. Maybe God will call you to relocate, change careers, or maybe—just maybe—die for your faith.

The dirty little secret about Christian martyrs is they really do go to a better place!

We can live for ourselves or we can live for Jesus. It’s a choice we make every day.

Family, I haven’t mastered this. It’s a daily struggle. I want to be in control. I want to be my own god. I want it my way. But when I stop, trust God, surrender, put things into His hands, and let go, there’s so much relief, satisfaction, peace, and joy.

This entire message can be described with two simple gestures. A closed fist represents our desire to hold on, to cling, to protect, to hoard. That’s what it’s like to do life in the flesh. An open hand releases everything, it signifies surrender, it’s scary because it allows everything we have to be taken away…yet it also creates space for God to bring new blessings into our lives.

Perhaps a more familiar image is water baptism,
which I hope we will be able to do soon. It’s a beautiful symbol of a person dying (in a water grave) of their old life, their sinful, selfish nature and then coming out of the water resurrected, a new life in Jesus, proclaiming in word and deed that Jesus is LORD.

I want to close with two scriptures. Jesus said,

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

Paul wrote,

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

Death is not the end. It’s only the beginning. What follows death for every follower of Jesus is live…abundant life…freedom…and ultimately resurrection.

Following Jesus is more than a prayer and a few adjustments in our ordinary lives. It’s a dangerous adventure filled with risk…and eternal rewards.

Jim Elliot—who was a Christian martyr—said,

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Someday this life, this body will end. Salvation through Jesus Christ is forever.

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

You can watch this online worship experience