Gratitude & Generosity, 26 November 2023

Gratitude & Generosity
Luke 17

Big Idea:
Every day is an opportunity to give thanks for our many blessings.
The year was 2004. I was in San Diego, California at the National Pastor’s Convention at the beautiful Town & Country Resort. Although I barely had a dollar in my bank account, I felt like a millionaire staying that this fancy place. I have many great memories of the event, but one that I likely never forget occurred in a breakout session with Dr. Tony Campolo, a sociologist who has done a lot of work with the poor, especially in Latin America. I don’t agree with everything he believes, but during a Q&A, someone asked, “Dr. Campolo, how can you talk about the poor while we’re staying in this luxurious resort.?”
I was on the edge of my seat! For years, I had struggled with being a USAmerican with virtually unlimited access to clean water, food, and shelter while millions are on the brink of starvation. I had felt some guilt about my religious freedoms knowing I have spiritual siblings imprisoned, tortured, and even martyred by the same faith I possess. What if the money I spent on this conference (actually, it was on someone else’s dime!) was used to print Bibles or feed hungry children? I loved the audacity of this man’s question and then Campolo responded something like this…
For everything there is a season,
                        a time for every activity under heaven.
2          A time to be born and a time to die.
                        A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3          A time to kill and a time to heal.
                        A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4          A time to cry and a time to laugh.
                        A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5          A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
                        A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6          A time to search and a time to quit searching.
                        A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7          A time to tear and a time to mend.
                        A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8          A time to love and a time to hate.
                        A time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

He added something like…
“A time to stay in a fancy resort and a time to live and work among the least of these.
Wealth is an issue of the heart, and our attitude should be one of gratitude and generosity.”
Wow! I thought his response was brilliant, and it has stayed with me for nearly twenty years.
A lot has been said about the diversity of our First Alliance family. That diversity relates to age, ethnicity, education, zip code, spiritual background…and certainly income. Some of you own your home debt-free while others are unhoused. Some arrived in nice, newer vehicles while others wondered if they would have to push theirs to get here today…and still others took the shuttle. The issue of wealth is not what you possess, but what possesses you, and it’s our subject today.
As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. 12 As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, 13 crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:11-13)
Leprosy is a terrible disease, one so dreadful that it often required total quarantine…in another village! Perhaps the only thing worse than the physical agony of leprosy was the social toll it took. You remember lockdown three years ago and how lonely and awkward it was for all of us. Imagine being sent away to another village, leaving all of your family and friends and having no way to communicate with them…no FaceTime, e-mail, phone, or even letter. These ten men were desperate.
He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. (Luke 17:14)
Were they healed at that moment in the presence of Jesus? No! One of the fascinating things about Jesus is he rarely healed the same way twice. Sometimes he touched a person, but sometimes they were not present. His instruction to these ten men was simply to go to the priests, the ones who declared people clean or unclean. Departing Jesus’ presence was probably an act of faith, and certainly going to the priest was, since the priest could not touch a leper. “As they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy,” a brilliant miracle!
Have you ever been healed? Have you ever had God answer a prayer…perhaps for a physical healing, but maybe a relational healing, a financial situation, a prayer for a job, car, housing, food, spouse, or child?
We are all blessed. We are all rich, by the world’s standards.
According to the Global Rich List last year, if you have an annual income of $32,500, you are in the top 1% of global earners. This does not mean you’re in the top 1% in the USA, but globally, you are among the world’s richest 1%. If you earn $16/hour, that’s you! That’s most of us. If you earn $12,000 or $1000/month, you’re in the top ten percent!
Even if you have zero income, you are here today, have clothes, food, access to shelter, freedoms many in the world would envy, and greatest of all the opportunity to have a relationship with the Creator of the universe! You are blessed!
In our text for today, these ten men were blessed. Their lives were transformed from outcasts to recipients of healing and wholeness.
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” (Luke 17:15)
One out of ten.
He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. (Luke 17:16)
One out of ten gave thanks. Luke tells his readers he was a Samaritan, a half-breed, a despised one, yet he was another example of a “good” Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” (Luke 17:17-19)
We always need an attitude of gratitude. This isn’t just a November thing. I hope you were able to celebrate Thanksgiving this past week. It’s one of my favorite days of the year (despite spending it in Germany this year!). It’s a day to pause and give thanks…to God, and maybe others, too.
The challenge for many of us is the pause. We’re so busy. We’re not only busy in work and entertainment and parenting and activity, we’re busy comparing ourselves to others.
Comparison kills. Our screens scream at us every day…look at that car, that vacation photo, that new outfit, that new gadget, that house, that beautiful person, that…
We’ve been blessed. You’ve been blessed.
We need to count our blessings…daily. I have a friend who used social media to list his blessings…I think it was five per day. Think about your blessings.
Researchers have discovered the power of gratitude. When we focus on what we don’t have, it’s easy to become discouraged, discontent, and even depressed. When we pause and give thanks, the opposite occurs. As usual, “science” confirms the truth of the ancient scriptures. King David declared,
I will thank the LORD because he is just; I will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. (Psalm 7:17, NLT)
Paul wrote,
Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NLT)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)
The Bible is filled with instructions to give thanks. It’s also filled with instructions to give. Remember,
wealth is an issue of the heart, and our attitude should be one of gratitude and generosity.
We are to give thanks, but we can also give. We can share. We can take what we have and be generous. Maybe it’s something as simple as a smile or a kind word. It might be taking someone out for coffee. Generosity might look like time, truly listening to someone’s story rather than being distracted by your phone.
We’ve all been blessed to be a blessing. The one thing we must never do with our gifts is hoard them. Jesus famously said,
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35b, NLT)
As I sat in that San Diego resort all those years ago, a sense of relief and mission came over me. I was relieved because I didn’t have to go home, sell my clunker of a car, and ride a bicycle to work in the winter snow! I didn’t have to feel guilty about the blessings I had received. Instead, I needed to have an attitude of gratitude. I also had a mission of generosity. It really is more blessed to give than to receive. I love to give. I love to give to First Alliance Church because I know every dollar is invested carefully in God’s Kingdom. It’s a joy to support the work here. As our income grew with Heather’s new job, we’ve been able to give even more. We’ve had occasions to take faith-filed risks financially, and it’s exciting! You can’t outgive God!
In this season of Thanksgiving (before Amazon and the mall begin telling you about all of the things you “need!”), let’s commit to being grateful and generous rather than greedy and fearful.
Everything we have belongs to God. We are His stewards. Jesus said if we’re faithful in the small things, more will be given to us (Matthew 25). You may recall a young boy who only had a small lunch of bread and fish, yet when he was generous, thousands were fed…and he probably had the day of his life!
Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” (Luke 6:38, NLT).
Video: Extend Hope (Alliance Christmas Offering)
Wealth is an issue of the heart, and our attitude should be one of gratitude and generosity.

Even blogger Seth Godin came to this conclusion!
I pray that as we enter the season of consumerism, we will experience contentment, gratitude, and generosity.
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

Armor, 5 November 2023

Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity

Ephesians 6:7-24

Series Big Idea:
The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
Big Idea: We need to fight the good fight of faith with armor…on our knees.
Today we’re finishing our series on the book of Ephesians! We’ve been looking at this letter written by Paul to a church in modern day Turkey, and it’s a doozy! If we could embrace even a fraction of the instructions, we would be a healthier, more fruitful, and more satisfied congregation…so let’s pay attention!
Two weeks ago we looked at this gem:
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21, NLT)
We saw how that related to husbands and wives, submitting to one another. Last Sunday Sue shared how this relates to parents and children—children are to obey and fathers are to avoid provoking their children to anger. The next section relates to slaves and masters, though it’s not exactly the Civil War era antebellum slavery we imagine, but rather servants who often had to work off a debt. In our context, a parallel would be workers and bosses.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. 6 Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. 7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8, NLT)
Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites. (Ephesians 6:9, NLT)
Masters and slaves are hardly equals, but they are both worthy of dignity and respect if they are followers of Jesus. We could devote an entire sermon to this, but we must move on to our subject today, the Armor of God.
The Bible is filled with metaphors, parables, and images designed to help us understand spiritual concepts through the lens of physical objects. Paul’s final teaching in Ephesians introduces a battle motif.
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10, NLT)
We all want to be strong. Action movies are filled with men and women with bulging muscles, powerful weapons, and a mission to conquer the bad guys. Notice Paul doesn’t stop with “be strong,” but continues “in the Lord and in his mighty power.” None of us have what it takes to do battle on our own. It’s only in the LORD and in His power that we can stand a chance against the forces of sin, evil, and destruction.
Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11, NLT)
The devil is our enemy. He’s powerful. He’s very powerful. We see it in the news every day. Death. Abuse. Hunger. Corruption. Racism. Injustice. Violence. The list goes on and on.
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)
This is where I want to focus. You can’t see the enemy, but the enemy is real. There are spiritual forces that want steal, kill, destroy, and lie and they are powerful. It says they are mighty powers. We often refer to them as demons. I’ve always found it interesting that more people believe in angels than in demons, but both are realities according to the Bible. The enemy is real, but unseen. The enemy is not flesh-and blood. That means…
-       Our government leaders are not the enemy
       The gang leaders are not the enemy
       Drug dealers are not the enemy
       Sex traffickers are not the enemy
       Abortionists are not the enemy
They are all masterpieces created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth…broken by sin, pawns of the enemy, at times, but not the enemy.
Family, we must get this. I must get this. Every time I look into the eyes of another human, I’m looking at a masterpiece. Sure, they need work. They need restoration. So do you and I. It occurred to me there may have been times when I was a pawn of the enemy, falling into temptation, failing to love others, thinking impure thoughts, dishonoring the God I claim to love and serve. Put another way, there’s a beautiful lyric in the musical
Les Miserables that says, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
I need to linger here for a moment, especially during election season. It’s so tempting to demonize the other, whoever or whatever is the other. I expect the world to be arrogant, disrespectful, and filled with hate, but
real Christians don’t hate. Real Christians love. Who has ever changed their mind about something because someone yelled at them…or worse?
Can I be real with you? I’m so sick of politics. I’ve got people telling me we’re too political and others telling me we’re not political enough. I refuse to talk partisan politics because we serve the Lion and the Lamb, not an elephant or donkey. Here’s the bottom line: we need to follow Jesus and do what would bring him glory.
This means caring for and protecting life, from the womb to the tomb. This is why we support the fine work of Bella Vita and the Pregnancy Center, who not only provide alternatives to abortion, they equip parents with the resources they need to thrive.
This means caring for the least of these—the widow, the stranger, the orphan, the poor. This is why we support the fine work of Water for Ishmael, Cherry Street Mission, and Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission.
This means speaking up for those whose voice is not heard, whether it’s the unborn, children, the elderly, the refugee, or the disabled.
Do you want me to continue? I feel like I’m preaching to the choir!
This means loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves…in every circumstance.
Family, sin is rampant in our world, but
people are not the enemy. They are pawns in a cosmic battle between good and evil. Should you vote? Absolutely. It’s a privilege. But do your homework. Don’t blindly believe a tv commercial or lawn sign. Stand up for what is good, beautiful, and true. But no matter the results of the election, God is on the throne, fear not, and love your neighbor…and enemy.
But there’s so much more we can do…so much more we need to do…
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:13, NLT)
We need to put on every piece. An hour on Sunday is not enough. A quick prayer before bedtime is insufficient. We’re in a war, family!
War is not a hobby or part-time endeavor. It’s a lifestyle.
Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. (Ephesians 6:14, NLT)
We need truth, righteousness (not self-righteousness!), justice. The Christian message isn’t true because it works, but it works because it’s true. Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. (Ephesians 6:15, NLT)
We have good news to proclaim: King Jesus is LORD! The Prince of Peace will return soon, and sent the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and peace in the midst of the chaos in this world. We bring the gospel of peace wherever we go.
In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. (Ephesians 6:16, NLT)
These aren’t just arrows from the archery range. They’re fiery! We need faith to guard against temptation, despair, adversity, lies, hateful thoughts, pride, etc.
Back in the day, the shield was made of wood, covered with leather, and about 2’ by 4’. It was common in the day for soldiers to bring their shields together, forming a wall and even a covering to defend against flaming arrows.
Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17, NLT)
The helmet protects the mind, where our actions begin. The sword of the Spirit is the one offensive weapon, piercing the heart. It brings healing and life…except when we cripple the enemy. Note there’s no covering for the back side. That means we’re to advance…never retreat! We must be strong…in the LORD…and in His mighty power!
These images are great, especially with children. Sue is probably dressing them up right now in Glass City Kids! God has given us the armor, the tools, but we must wear them. We must use them. When you put it all together, it sounds a lot like king Jesus. He is the Truth, our righteousness, our peace, our salvation, the Word of God, the faithful one. We are “in Christ” and we are to put on Christ each day, living for him and his glory, never our own. Now Paul gives us the real secret sauce.
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. (Ephesians 6:18, NLT)
At all times. On every occasion. For all the saints. The real battle is fought on our knees.
Paul wrote to his apprentice, Timothy…
Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12, NLT)
We need to fight the good fight of faith with armor…on our knees.
I want to invite you to Zoom Prayer, weekday mornings at 9 AM.
I want to invite you to Sunday morning prayer here at 9:30 AM.
I want to invite you to pray with your Life Group, your spouse, your family.
I know many of you are fearful of the future. Let me restate the big idea of my first sermon here eight years ago: Fear not. Fear God.
Remember, what you fear most is your god.
Consider these profound words from one of Jesus’ three best friends…
But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. (1 John 4:4, NLT)
We’re on the winning side! We know how the battle ends. There will be casualties. There will be losses, especially if we’re not alert and armed. But we win! Our God is greater, our God is stronger, the enemy is a fraud! He has power, but can’t hold a candle to King Jesus. He proved that on resurrection Sunday!
Fear is a powerful motivator, and media is filled with hype and alarm. That’s how they make money! When you feel afraid, get on your knees and do something about it!
Paul continues…
And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20, NLT)
When we go through a book of the Bible, I like to make sure every word is read, so here are Paul’s final greetings.
To bring you up to date, Tychicus will give you a full report about what I am doing and how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper in the Lord’s work. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you. (Ephesians 6:21-22, NLT)
One of the things I love about the Bible is it’s a library of books written by real people in real places.
Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. 24 May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 6:23-24, NLT)

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