Comforter, 27 November 2022

Handel’s Messiah
Isaiah 40:1-5

Series Big Idea: Handel’s Messiah may be the greatest work of music ever created, bringing praise and glory to the Creator.
Big Idea: The Messiah is our comforter.
Welcome to the season of
Advent! Some say this is the most wonderful time of the year. For others, it’s a challenging season for any number of reasons. Though we usually use the word “Christmas” to describe the next several weeks, the word “Advent” is becoming increasingly popular, perhaps because of the proliferation of advent calendars.
Advent is all about arrival. For hundreds of years, prophets spoke of a coming Messiah, the promised deliverer of the Jews. This season celebrates His arrival about two thousand years ago.
It’s beyond cliché to say Jesus is the reason for the season, but it’s true. Amazon, Target, and the mall can’t wait to get your money. Your calendar may be filling up with parties, concerts, and seasonal events. But in the consumption of time and money, I want to challenge you to keep your focus not on exchanging presents, but rather experience His presence, the presence of Jesus, God in the flesh, becoming one of us. I still can’t grasp the incarnation, the shocking truth that the Messiah visited this planet, moved into the neighborhood, and understands every temptation and struggle we face.
Did you know…
There are over 100 Old Testament prophecies uniquely fulfilled by the Messiah.
There are many reasons I believe in Jesus, but one involves biblical prophecy. No person could possibly fulfill these prophecies unless they were legitimate. We’re going to look at a few of them through what might be the greatest music of all time, a collection of songs known as Handel’s Messiah.
When I saw The Messiah performed at the University of Michigan many years ago, I was struck by how much scripture was contained in the lyrics. It’s basically all scripture! Mr. Handel wrote his extraordinary music under the inspiration of numerous passages of the Bible assembled by a man named Charles Jennens.
Check out this VIDEO that explains the background.
Handel’s Messiah has three parts, the first of which covers the themes of Christmastime, the arrival of Jesus to our planet. The second and third parts deal with Holy Week, the death and resurrection of Jesus which we’ll revisit when Easter approaches.
The Messiah begins with three songs from Isaiah 40:1-5. I want to share samples of them with you today. But first, a bit of context.
Isaiah is a prophet who wrote the book that bears his name around 700 BC. The people of Israel were struggling under the expansion of the Assyrian empire. Like much of the Jewish Bible—the Old Testament—themes of God’s salvation and judgment abound. God goes to extraordinary lengths to show his love for humanity, we turn away from Him, and things go south! Pastor Soper notes the cycle like this:

Israel forgets God >>>
Israel forsakes God >>>
Israel worships other gods >>>
God sends judgment upon Israel >>>
Israel cries out to God >>>
God raises up a deliverer >>>
God saves Israel >>>
Israel pledges to serve God >>>
Israel forgets God >>>

Why don’t we learn?!
As Isaiah’s writing, God’s people are in bad shape.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. (Isaiah 40:1, NIV)
Whenever you see something repeated in scripture, take notice. Ancient scrolls and languages did not have bold, italics, or different colors to get our attention. They had to literally spell it out! God tells His people they will be comforted in the midst of their bondage. Deliverance is coming, and it came most profoundly about 700 years later in the first coming of the Messiah.
VIDEO: Comfort Ye, Newark-Granville Symphony
I want to thank the Newark-Granville Symphony for the video clips today.
I realize some of you may not be fans of classical music…yet! I must confess I rarely listen to my symphonic recordings of The Messiah. In 1990, a group of Christian singers and musicians came together for an updated version of The Messiah, simply called Handel’s Young Messiah.
Here’s Matthew Ward’s rendition of “Comfort Ye.”
Strangely, three years later, The New Young Messiah was released with a different group of artists.    
Here’s Wayne Watson.
My favorite recording of this music is 1992’s
Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. Quincy Jones brought together an all-star cast of African-American artists ranging from Take 6 and Dianne Reeves to Patti Austin, Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau and the Richard Smallwood Singers.
Here’s Vanessa Bell Armstrong & Daryl Coley
Jesus brings comfort to our lives, whatever the circumstances. He is present through the Holy Spirit in every believer. Do you need comfort today? Call out to Jesus.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:2, NIV)   
Jerusalem had been held captive for seventy years. The trial was the result of their sin, but that is coming to an end. Now Isaiah speaks of John the Baptist, a New Testament figure who will come on the seen about 700 years later.
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3, NIV)   
This is a vivid description of John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus. The book of Mark is explicit.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
            “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
                        who will prepare your way”
3          “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
            ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
                        make straight paths for him.’ ”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:1-4, NIV)
Verse 4…
Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. (Isaiah 40:4, NIV)   
Raising and lowering was a metaphor for preparing a road for a dignitary. We might call this today, “Rolling out the red carpet.” Get ready for the Messiah, people! Isaiah said it then about the first arrival. We can proclaim it today as the return of Christ is near.

Handel's Young Messiah video
This is one of my favorite songs on the Soulful Celebration album.
Audio: Every Valley, Soulful Celebration
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:5, NIV)   
The bottom line of First Alliance’s mission statement is God’s glory. I want that to be the bottom line of my life. In the midst of suffering, Isaiah declared God’s glory would be revealed. These days, it seems like nobody is paying attention to the LORD God Almighty, but just you wait!
Video: And the Glory of the LORD, Sandi Patti
So What?
Today, we wait for the return, the second arrival of Jesus.
He’s coming soon. He promised! Are you ready? Do you know him? He’s the reason we’re here!
Actually, God is with us…now! The Holy Spirit is here until Jesus returns. Sure, you can’t touch the Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t diminish the power or reality of the One who is at work making us more like Christ, preparing us for the Messiah’s promised return, filling us with gifts and fruit, and bringing comfort to us in our dark days.
My prayer is that this season we would center ourselves on Jesus the Messiah. Rather than giving into fear, we can experience the Prince of Peace, the God of comfort.
I want to encourage all of you to experience Handel’s Messiah, too. You can attend a Toledo Choral Society performance next weekend (flyers are at the Information Center), stream the songs, watch video performances, visit websites about the musical masterpiece, or just show up next Sunday as we continue the series.
The music is beautiful. The lyrics…well, they’re taken directly from scripture, so they’re beautiful. The Advent story is beautiful…and even has a present reality as we await the return of the King.
We’re going to close with the song
Beautiful Things because God is an artist. We are made in His image and can create songs, meals, paintings, organizations, and so many other things, but you are a masterpiece! As we focus on Handel’s masterpiece, you are God’s masterpiece! Don’t forget that this season. You are more valuable than anything found online or in a store! You matter to God…and you matter to us.

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

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

Citizens, 13 November 2022

JOY: The book of Philippians
Philippians 3:17-4:9

Series Big Idea:
Paul’s letter from prison to the church in Philippi is filled with joy.
Big Idea: Paul challenges followers of Jesus to live as citizens of heaven, filled with joy, prayer, and peace.
Have you ever been in another
country? Maybe you’ve taken the Ambassador Bridge or the tunnel to Windsor. It’s usually not a huge transition, but customs, the red maple leaves on signs, and the currency are constant reminders you’re not in the USA.
Mexico, though bordering the USA, is an even more radical experience. Once I was in San Diego and I rode the trolley train south to the border where I was a able to simply walk into Tijuana without any effort. Once there, the language, the music, and the food were noticeably different…and getting back into the USA was a minor ordeal!
I’ve been privileged to have been able to travel around the world, and whether it’s Bolivia, Burundi, or Britain, there’s no place like home, where I know the language, the culture, and where I am a
Home is a special place. Where do you call home?
If you’re new around here, welcome! We’ve been examining a letter written by Paul—one of the early Church leaders—wrote to a congregation he started in the city of Philippi in Greece. He’s covered a number of topics and today’s text begins with pastoral words.
Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. (Philippians 3:17, NLT)
Those are bold words! Do you want others to live like you?
I don’t think Paul’s saying he’s perfect, but he’s a follower of Jesus and followers of Jesus are called to not only follow Jesus, but also help others follow Jesus. We call this…
Most of you are familiar with Jesus’ final words in the book of Matthew. It’s known as the Great Commission. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not an optional thing.
Discipleship is not only for professional Christians. It’s the mission—the commission—of everyone who claims to follow Jesus. He said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18b-20, NIV)
Go and make disciples. That’s the mandate, the assignment. A disciple is a devoted follower—an apprentice—and part of being a disciple is making disciples…following Jesus and helping others follow Jesus.
Who are you following? Who influences you? We all have people who influence us, and we probably all have people we influence. Side note: my favorite definition of leadership is influence. That makes us all leaders. You might not have a title or position, but if you influence, you lead. It might be a friend or co-worker or a child, but if you have influence, you lead.
When Paul says, “Pattern your lives after mine,” that’s a high level of influence. Let me ask again, who influences you? Who are you influencing?
Jesus’ simple invitation was, “Follow me.” He didn’t force it. There were no seminary degrees required, no tests to take, no pre-requisites. John Mark records several examples.
Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Mark 1:17, NLT)
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:14, NLT)
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. (Mark 8:34, NLT)
This whole thing—First Alliance Church, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, Christianity—is all about following Jesus…and helping other people follow Jesus. Paul seemed to do this quite well. What about you?
Who is influencing and discipling you?
Who are you influencing and discipling?
I dream of a day when every person in our First Alliance family is engaging in the lives of others, both as a disciple and discipler. I’m doing my best to equip and disciple you on Sunday mornings, but I can’t disciple each of you intimately in this large-group environment.
iscipleship and spiritual formation—according to the late Richard Bush—is slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others.
Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. (Philippians 3:17, NLT)
I could easily do a sermon on verse 17 alone! Paul explains why he wants them to follow his example:
For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. (Philippians 3:18-19, NLT)
Just because you read it on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true.
Just because someone called themselves a Christian doesn’t mean it’s true.
I hate to say this, but there are many so-called Christians and even pastors who are not following Jesus. But by the grace of God so go I. This is why Jesus said
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. (Mark 8:34b, NLT)
You can’t follow Jesus and your desires. Which is it?
Family, I love you. I must warn you there are a lot of dangerous pastors and Christian celebrities out there. There are people trying to sell books, make money, become famous, and Paul would say “they are really enemies of the cross of Christ.”
But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. (Philippians 3:20-21, NLT)
Are you following your desires or Jesus?
Are you a citizen of this world or a citizen of heaven?
There’s so much talk about heaven…what it will be like, when we get to go there, who will be there with us,…I did an entire sermon series on heaven a few years ago, but here’s my simple definition of heaven:
Heaven is where God lives. Paul says that explicitly in verse 20. If heaven without God sounds attractive, you don’t belong there. Seriously. Heaven is where God lives, and that’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” There are moments when heaven kisses earth, where God’s presence is unmistakable. Understand, God is omni-present, meaning He’s everywhere at once, but there are special times when you know He’s real.
But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. (Philippians 3:20-21, NLT)
If heaven is where God lives, are you doing life with God or are you merely a citizen of the USA? I love this country, but this body and this country will not last. I’m looking forward to a glorious body and the new earth. How about you? Chapter four begins…
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work. (Philippians 4:1, NLT)
Now we know what the therefore is there for! Church family, I feel the same way about you. Stay true to the LORD. Many are abandoning the faith these days. Deconstructing is what all of the cool kids are doing, and deconstruction itself is not a bad thing. We need to regularly pause and take inventory of our lives, our beliefs, our heart. Why do we do the things we do? Why are you here this morning? But stay true to the LORD. You can deconstruct religion, but don’t leave Jesus. Don’t buy into the prideful lie of satan that you are somehow above the Almighty. Someone recent said the problem with our country is we are one nation over God instead of under God.
Stay true to the Lord. I love you. You are my joy. I appreciate you. Thank you!
Now Paul offers more notes about his friends.
Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. 3 And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life. (Philippians 4:2-3, NLT)
These two women had been proclaiming the gospel, the good news, but as so often happens, they experienced conflict. Paul’s saying, “Don’t cancel one another! Work it out. Extend grace. Love well.” Could we use that message today?
Now he returns to simple, clear instructions.
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! (Philippians 4:4, NLT)
Paul is under house arrest while writing this letter. He’s not at the beach! Yet he emphasizes the theme of this entire letter: joy. Are you full of joy? It doesn’t come from trying harder, but rather from being with Jesus. Joy…in the LORD! Despite circumstances, we can have joy knowing we are loved, forgiven, accepted, and adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High God. We have hope. We have a guaranteed future with the LORD forever in paradise. We have meaning and purpose. That’s what people need today. They’re searching…often in strange places! We are called to be hope dealers, and it begins with our attitude, with our time with Jesus, with experiencing joy and contagiously sharing it with others.
Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. (Philippians 4:5, NLT)
Would people say you are considerate? There were a lot of so-called Christians who weren’t exactly considerate during last week’s election!
Paul reminds them the Lord is coming soon. I know, it’s been 2000 years, but we need to be ready. We need to get others ready. Jesus is coming soon.
Now Paul issues one of the most challenging statements:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. (Philippians 4:6a, NLT)
Do you ever worry? I do! Heather had to put a sign in our bathroom to remind me of this simple message. I worry. It’s a sin. It shows my lack of faith. I take matters into my own hands rather than trusting God, praying, seeking His help. This would be a great passage to memorize.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6b-7, NLT)
What a great passage for this month of Thanksgiving! Thank him. Then we’ll experience peace.
Our world desperately needs peace. Our government needs peace. Our streets and homes need peace. It is found in Jesus, and it comes by living in Christ Jesus. I think the rest of today’s text offers a pathway to peace.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9, NLT)
Did you catch that? Think about good stuff, follow Paul who followed Jesus, and the God of peace will be with you. You want a formula, there you go!
Think well. Find peace.
So What?
There’s so much in this passage! Let’s review:
Discipleship is not only for professional Christians.
Who is influencing and discipling you?
Who are you influencing and discipling?
“Spiritual formation (discipleship) is slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others.”
– Richard Bush
You can’t follow Jesus and your desires. Which is it?
Heaven is where God lives.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Think well. Find peace.
Which of these is the most radical? The most challenging?
Maybe you’ve thought discipleship is only for the paid staff instead of getting in the game. Perhaps you’ve been influenced and discipled by social media or your co-workers or classmates rather than godly men and women. Maybe you’ve become impatient with the growth of others or even yourself, frustrated by sins or addictions. Your desires win over Jesus’ desires. It could be that—like me—you worry when you could be praying. Very often our problem boils down to our thoughts which stem from what we watch, read, hear, or surf. Shut off the junk, think well, and find peace.
This is not how the world lives, but we’re
primarily citizens of heaven. We shouldn’t live like everyone else. It’s not about striving, but rather surrender. We don’t have to be in control because God is in control. We are called to be in this world, but not of it, citizens of heaven on God’s mission on earth to make disciples of all nations.

Honestly, it’s an impossible task…apart from God’s supernatural love. I don’t know about you, but I need more faith. I need to be with you each week to be reminded God will come through, no matter the challenges before me. We’ve been given an incredible assignment to proclaim good news, but sometimes I’m afraid. I can even freak out about the news of this world, yet joy and peace are hallmarks of the Kingdom of God. We serve a God of miracles who is on the throne inviting us to enjoy Him and challenging us to go and make disciples.

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

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

Messengers, 30 October 2022

JOY: The book of Philippians

Philippians 2:19-30

Series Big Idea: Paul’s letter from prison to the church in Philippi is filled with joy.
Big Idea: Pastor Paul had friends who discovered and used their spiritual gifts.
Scripture Reading
It’s been a while since you’ve seen it on the screen, but one of my favorite questions when looking at a passage from the Bible is…
So What?
Maybe you asked that after listening to that reading. Paul’s talking about two of his friends. What’s that got to do with me two thousand years later?
Let’s take a step back and review for a moment. The
Bible is not a book. It’s actually a library, a collection of 66 books, written by many people in multiple languages on several continents over hundreds of years. It truly is a library.
One of the great things about a library is its diversity. If you go to the
downtown library— which is one of the gems of Toledo, by the way—you’ll find dictionaries and novels, biographies and mysteries, how-to manuals and ancient writings. They’re all created for different purposes with different audiences in mind. You don’t write a graphic novel the same way you’d write your autobiography…I hope! The purpose of an encyclopedia is not the same as a collection of poetry.
We’re in the middle of a series on the book of
Philippians, a short letter or epistle written by Paul to a church he started in the Greek town of Philippi. He’s writing from prison for preaching about Jesus, essentially, and he’s giving instructions on how to do life as followers of Jesus. Here are some of the things he has said:
…live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. (Philippians 1:27b, NLT)
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2:3-4, NLT)
Do everything without complaining and arguing, (Philippians 2:14, NLT)
Then he interrupts his words of instructions and encouragement with what appears to be a commercial break or, more accurately, an update on his friends, Timothy and Epaphroditus.
Who’s your
best friend? Why?
One of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of our USAmerican culture is rugged
individualism. Most of us were raised to be independent, free-thinking people…who can get prideful, selfish, and believe the lie that we don’t need others…and then wonder why we’re lonely!
In the second chapter of the entire Bible,
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18, NIV)
A few weeks ago, we talked about how God exists in
community, one God in three Persons—Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit.
The very nature of what we call “church” is from the Greek word
ekklesia, a gathering, an assembly of people. We are an interdependent family, which can certainly be messy, but also very rewarding. We need a lot of grace, a lot of forgiveness, a lot of patience, and a lot of love!
In our text we see two of Paul’s friends who were messengers, delivering the good news of the gospel to others, and setting a great example for each of us to follow.
The theme of this short epistle—or letter—is joy. Paul writes from prison, of all places, and offers encouragement and guidance to those in what may be the first European church in history. Imagine you were the founder of an organization—a business, a non-profit, a school—and you were imprisoned and wanted to communicate to the team. As I’ve said before, my primary message would be, “Get me out of here!” but Paul has other things to say. If you haven’t yet read through the short book, I encourage you to do so. It’s a powerful letter and it’s best understood in one reading rather than chopped up over months as we are doing in our study together.
A few weeks ago in looking at chapter one, verse twenty-seven, I said
“conduct matters.” Actually, Paul said it! I want to go back to that for just a moment because I ran out of time and never finished my thought. Paul has a clear desire for his audience, which is not us (it was written to a church two thousand years ago), but it can certainly apply to us. It’s the same desire Jesus has for us.
His desire for all of us is simple: follow him. Love him. Love others. This is not done by trying harder. The goal isn’t to merely avoid doing bad things. It begins with surrender, with letting go, with giving Jesus your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Like the five people baptized last month, it’s dying to yourself so you can be made new in Christ.
Religion is all about trying harder, trying to earn God’s approval by your good deeds, which is impossible. Nobody is that good…and God doesn’t grade on a curve!
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can receive grace, unmerited favor. It’s unearned and undeserved. It’s a gift to be received. Have you received it?
The reason Paul said conduct matters is because if you’ve truly encountered Jesus, you will be changed…for the better! It’s a lifelong journey of change we call discipleship. It’s the journey of becoming like Jesus…not by trying harder, but by spending time with Jesus through prayer and studying the Bible and by hanging out with others who are seeking to follow Jesus. You are your friends…choose wisely.
One of the things I love about the Bible is it’s filled with real people in real places describing real events. In our text, Paul first talks about Timothy, who is referenced in the first verse of Philippians and also the recipient of two other letters from Paul.
If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon for a visit. Then he can cheer me up by telling me how you are getting along. 20 I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. 21 All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. 22 But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News. 23 I hope to send him to you just as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me here. 24 And I have confidence from the Lord that I myself will come to see you soon. (Philippians 2:19-24, NLT)
I don’t think there’s a lot to analyze here. It’s pretty clear what he’s saying. He loves his friend, Timothy, and he commends him to the Philippians, hoping to see them, himself, soon. Next he turns to Epaphroditus (which is not in this year’s top ten baby names for boys!).
Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need. 26 I am sending him because he has been longing to see you, and he was very distressed that you heard he was ill. 27 And he certainly was ill; in fact, he almost died. But God had mercy on him—and also on me, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. (Philippians 2:25-27, NLT)
So I am all the more anxious to send him back to you, for I know you will be glad to see him, and then I will not be so worried about you. 29 Welcome him in the Lord’s love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve. 30 For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away. (Philippians 2:28-30, NLT)
Again, a description and commendation of his friend and instructions to welcome him.
So what?
What shall we do with that this week as we live our lives in Toledo in 2022? How does this help us love God and love others as ourselves? In what way can this lead us toward making more and better disciples of Jesus?
First, this text reminds us that our faith is the result of real, historical events in real places with real people and a real God. It’s not grounded in someone’s dream. The Bible is not a collection of fiction. It’s not fairytales. Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus…they walked this earth and modeled for us what it mean to follow Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life.
Pastor Paul had friends who discovered and used their spiritual gifts.
Ministry is not just for the professionals. The role of pastors is not to preach, lead meetings, visit the sick, do weddings and funerals, counsel, and 100 other things and for the congregation to watch (and critique!). According to Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus,
Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12, NLT)
Did you catch that? It’s my job to equip
you to do God’s work.
Some of you are passionately engaged in God’s work. You love God. You love your neighbor. You are making disciples, spending time with others, serving, giving, and glorifying God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Thank you!
Some of you come week after week to watch. We’re glad you’re here, but
it’s more fun to play than watch the game.
I mentioned earlier this year how one of the greatest strategies of the enemy has been to get the 99% of unpaid Christians to watch the 1% professionals/pastors/clergy do all of the ministry. In many parts of the world, this is not even possible, but here so many expect the paid professionals to do it all. Our job—the role of our staff—is to equip you to love God, love people, and make disciples.
Several years ago, Princeton Alliance in New Jersey hired a consultant to work with their team. The staff was told they could not do any hands-on ministry for several months—only equipping volunteers—and they grew from 500 to 2000 people! The goal is not to have a big church, but rather to engage every follower of Jesus in meaningful ministry.
This is why we have Life Groups.
This is why we offer Dinner Church.
This is why we are involved in Celebrate Recovery.
This is why we started Masterpiece Mentors.
This is why we are involved in ten area ministries, our Home Missions Partners.
This is why we are engaging in Germany and the Dominican Republic.
If you’re looking for a place to start, take the free SHAPE assessment online at It will help you discover your purpose and how God has uniquely created you, with gifts and passions and experiences to serve others.
Another next step involves apprenticeship. Paul had several apprentices, including Timothy and Epaphroditus. Every leader should have an apprentice leader. Ask any leader, “Can I be your apprentice?” This isn’t the only way to get involved, but it’s a great way to learn from an established leader, help, and explore a possible leadership opportunity in the future.
Ask Sue Trumbull if you can help her with kids.
Ask Pastor Mike if you can help with Alliance Youth.
Ask Hollywood if you can help with Celebrate Recovery.
Ask your Life Group leader if you can apprentice with them.
I dream of a day when every leader has an apprentice, where everybody is serving, and where ministry is exploding from this campus across our city, state, nation, and world.
This isn’t a recruiting speech. This is an invitation to discover and live out your purpose! God has created you with unique gifts and passions which I need, which we need. Every part of the body is important, and you’re a vital part.
When Jesus said,
…go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:18, NLT)
he wasn’t at a pastor’s conference! The Great Commission is for every Jesus-follower.
Timothy and Epaphroditus were friends, co-workers with Paul. They began as apprentices and over time gained more experience, skill, and confidence to become engaged in greater ministry opportunities.
While we’re on the subject, if you know any high school or college students interested in ministry, we have paid internship opportunities available. Check out our website. Yes, I catch the irony of mentioning a paid role while promoting volunteer ministry!
By the way, some of our greatest needs presently are Life Group leaders, social media and digital storytelling, graphic arts, sound, IT, and communications. If any of those are of interest, please see me or contact the church office.
Pastor Paul had friends who discovered and used their spiritual gifts. What about you?

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

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