September 2017

Grace is Greater than Your Circumstances, 24 September 2017


Grace Is Greater Than Your Circumstances
Series: Grace is Greater
I Thessalonians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 11:21-23, 12:7-10; Romans 8:18-30

Series Big Idea: No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. This 3-week series, based on the book Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, explores what the Bible teaches about grace, developing a deep understanding of the life-changing power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For more resources and information on the book, visit

Big Idea: Circumstances and obstacles will attempt to drown out God’s grace in our lives; we must trust in him anyway.

Life is hard. God is good.
That’s all I want to say. Life is hard. God is good.

We’re continuing our series Grace is Greater, including some ideas borrowed from Kyle Idleman’s book of the same name. We said grace is unmerited favor, a free gift, an undeserved blessing. As a review, in week one we said grace is greater than your mistakes.

The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace.

God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness.

God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets.

And quoting author Philip Yancey,

Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.

That’s amazing! That’s grace!

Last week we said
grace is greater than your hurts.

We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God.

We Must Release the Person Who Hurt Us Over to God.

Reconciliation May Not Always Be Possible or Appropriate, but It Can Reflect God’s Grace and Forgiveness Toward Us.

In other words, if we’ve received grace and forgiveness, we must extend grace and forgiveness.

Today we’re talking about circumstances…trials and suffering. Grace is greater. This hits close to home for all of us because we live in a broken, messed-up world infested with sin. We are a long way from the paradise of the Garden of Eden. But God is with us…and God is good…all the time…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Some of you are in the midst of brutal
storms. Like the barrage of earthquakes and hurricanes south of us, your life is shaking. Your body may be failing. Your relationships might be eroding. Your finances might be draining. Your addictions and temptations might be overwhelming. Whatever storm you’re experiencing, grace is greater…really.

Like many things in life, our approach to life’s storms are a matter of perspective. Take snow storms, for example. As a kid, we all loved snow days, right? I may complain of slow traffic, treacherous driving, and the necessity of shoveling but my grumbling will do nothing to change the circumstance. What I may perceive as a hassle is a gift to every student, tow truck operator, ski resort, and snow blower dealer. And no matter how miserable you may feel, it can always be worse. The only thing you can control in life is your attitude.

Thankfulness Helps Us Trust God and Acknowledge His Grace in Our Lives.

I’ve heard so many people inquire about God’s will for their lives. Would you like to know it?

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

It doesn’t say give thank for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. If we took time to list all of our complaints and concerns we’d be here all day, but no matter what storm you’re facing, there is much for which to be thankful.

But there’s a slight problem with my mention of this verse…the context…the dots! Here’s the rest of the sentence.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Paul is writing to the church in the city of Thessaloniki. Here’s Gods’ will:

Rejoice always
Pray continually
Give thanks in all circumstances

Idleman writes, “God takes complaining personally, because complaining overlooks the greatness of the grace we have received.” A recent study revealed the more people complain, the more they find things about which to complain. Thankfulness destroys complaining, negativity, and ungratefulness.

The Bible tells us to “give thanks” dozens of times. Thankfulness can shift your focus and actually change the way you think and behave.

Do you know anyone who constantly complains? Would you like to vacation with them?
Do you know anyone who is thankful and positive? Do you like to be around them?

God is God. He wants us to be honest. We can be real with our struggles and cares, but we must set those in the context of God’s grace and faithfulness. One of my favorite prayer tools is ACTS

Supplication (requests)

When I align my prayers with ACTS, often by the time I finish thanksgiving my requests seem so small, so easy for God.

Are you thankful?


We’re Able to Receive God’s Grace Only to the Extent We’re Able to Recognize Our Need for It

I believe the single greatest reason for the decline of the movement of Jesus in the western world is we don’t need God…or we don’t think we need God. Think about your prayer life. When was it most vibrant? Probably in crisis. It’s funny how we pray when storms come and often quit when the coast is clear. This has even been true during the past few weeks. People who never mention God have been suddenly asking people to pray when a hurricane is headed their way.

Friends, we need God, and the sooner we recognize that and act like it, the sooner we will experience the joy of a true relationship with God.

Our youngest daughter went through nine years of nasty storms that included chronic pain, blindness, an eating disorder, lymphedema, and a leg amputation. She spent a lot of time crying out to God…and so did her parents! I remember vividly one moment when I prayed, “LORD, thank You for calming the storms in her life. Thank You for the remission of pain, the restoration of her sight, the control of her diet, and a prosthetic leg. I want to replace my petitions with praises. I don’t want to get up off my knees. I never want to forget your grace. Great is Thy faithfulness.”

Being desperate for God is the most wonderful place to be, even when it’s the most uncomfortable. Sore knees lead to soothed souls. Paul, who wrote to Thessaloniki, also wrote to the church in Corinth. He said,

in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

We don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was—some say a physical pain, a birth defect, an addiction, …we don’t know. We do know he begged God three times to calm the storm in his life and God said no. He said His grace was sufficient. God knew as long as Paul relied on God, Christ’s power would be celebrated rather than Paul’s gifts.

I’ve experienced this countless times in my preaching. There are some weeks when I drive onto our campus excited about my message, prepared and ready to go. Sure, it’s God’s Word and the Holy Spirit who have given me the ideas and words, but I’m tempted to take the credit for a job well done as I shake hands in the lobby afterward. I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I am strong, my flesh wants to be recognized and applauded. That’s the ugliness of pride.

There are other Sundays, however, when I’ve done my very best to prepare but am woefully aware of my inadequacies. Maybe the week was filled with unexpected interruptions or I’m not feeling well or I’m personally so challenged by the topic I can’t imagine offering much to others. Whatever the reason, I simply cry out to God, begging Him to speak through me knowing I have little to offer on my own. Is it any surprise those are the Sundays that generate the most positive feedback? I really don’t want you to hear from me. I want you to hear from God!

The more we are able to acknowledge our weakness, the more we can experience God’s strength, presence and power. And today I feel very weak after a packed week launching Act 2 Productions, so if you benefit from this morning, praise God!!!


We Must Trust God’s Goodness, Even When Life Is Difficult

The early church experienced harsh persecution. Think North Korea. Think death and martyrdom. In fact, most of our brothers and sisters around the world today face suffering for their faith much greater than anything we will encounter. Paul wrote to the first Christians:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

For Paul, it’s all about perspective. Today’s suffering will produce tomorrow’s glory. Olympic athletes experience this every day. No pain, no…gain.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)

Creation has been groaning. Sin impacts our planet and all of its inhabitants, but there’s hope for tomorrow.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. . (Romans 8:26-27)

I love this passage. Have you ever tried to pray and you were so distraught, so weak, so desperate you didn’t know what to say? I have, and in those moments I’ve often cried out, “Holy Spirit, please groan!” I wish we had time to unpack this more fully, but finally we turn to one of the most used and abused verses in the Bible.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. . (Romans 8:28-30)

This does not say all thing work together for good. It says God works for the good of those who love him. That’s called redemption. No matter what you’re experiencing today, God can use it for his glory. He can turn ashes into beauty. Even better than recycling, he can turn your trash into a treasure.

I love our friends at Cherry Street Mission. They recently gave a title to many or all of their staff: ministers of redemption. I love that! They partner with God to see lives revitalized.

I don’t want to make light of any hardship you are facing today, but I want to encourage you to persevere.
Your story is not over. This chapter might be messy, but turn the page! The world is full of cheap inspirational sayings, but I especially liked Michael Jr.’s quote from the Global Leadership Summit Instagram account this week:

“Like a slingshot, the further you’ve been set back, the further you can go.”

We Must Trust God’s Goodness, Even When Life Is Difficult

God is in control. He has a plan. He has a purpose. He is the God of redemption.

Tony Campolo has a great sermon he made famous years ago about Holy Week, the death and resurrection of Jesus. I love the title: It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming! There is no greater example of God’s redemption. God’s grace is greater than your circumstances. Today might feel like death and crucifixion but tomorrow may be the day everything changes…for His glory.



So What?

We must trust that God is good, even when life is hard. This isn’t easy, but this is where we need one another. We don’t need cheesy cliché’s, but encouragement.

I am with you. You are not alone.
I’ll bring over dinner.
We can watch the kids for you.
I’m on my way.
Here’s a small gift.

God is good…all the time…and he works through his people. Yes, we need to pray for one another, but what else can you do?

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

Grace is greater than your circumstances. We need to receive grace, experience it, and share it. Life is hard. God is good.

Credits: outline, title, and some ideas from Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Grace is Greater than Your Hurts, September 17 2017


    Grace is Greater Than Your Hurts
    Series: Grace is Greater
    Acts 7:54-60; 2 Timothy 4:14-18; Colossians 1:19-23

    Series Big Idea: No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. This 3-week series, based on the book Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, explores what the Bible teaches about grace, developing a deep understanding of the life-changing power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For more resources and information on the book, visit

    Big Idea:
    We receive freedom from our past wounds when we choose to forgive.


    We’re in the middle of a three-week series called “Grace Is Greater” based on the outline of Kyle Idleman’s book of the same title. Last week we said grace is unmerited favor, an undeserved gift. Grace is Greater Than Your Mistakes. God’s amazing grace is available to everyone, regardless of their past.

    The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace. (Romans 3:23)

    God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness (John 4:1-30)

    God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets (John 21:15-19)

    And quoting author Philip Yancey,

    Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.

    That’s not only good news, that’s incredible news! It’s almost unbelievable.

    But receiving grace carries with it an important opportunity…extending grace.

    I love to clean. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I love to clean toilets, wash windows, dust furniture, or scrub the floor. I like cleaning the garage, purging junk from my desk, and even getting rid of unnecessary computer files.

    Heather and I lived in our childhood homes from birth until college. When we were married, we lived in eight homes during our first eight years of marriage. What a change! The bad news was moving is always a huge hassle. The good news was every year or so we were able to throw out stuff we no longer needed. It was a great feeling to be lean and mean! Then we bought a house and lived in it for 17 years. Imagine the accumulated mess we faced two years ago as we prepared to move to Toledo! Wow!

    Like computer hard drives, closets, and car trunks, our hearts need periodic decluttering. Over time, hurts and raw sin can accumulate in the form of anger, bitterness, and rage.

    We all love to receive grace, but how easy is it to share? Put another way, we’ve all been forgiven, but how easy is it to forgive others?

    In the most famous prayer in history, Jesus taught his disciples to pray

    And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

    You may have prayed, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

    Have you ever stopped to think about that? The next verse clarifies Jesus’ intention.

    For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14)

    That’s good, right? When we forgive, God will forgive us. Then Jesus really gets serious.

    But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
    (Matthew 6:15)

    I want grace for me and justice for others. I want God to forgive my sins but I want others to pay when they hurt me and those I love. “Revenge is mine,” says me!

    But Jesus says forgive. Last week we talked about Jesus’ friend Peter’s denial and restoration. Here’s another memorable encounter.

    Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)

    Jesus answered,
    “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:22)

    Some translations say seventy times seven. Peter thought he was being generous, saying up to seven times. Jesus essentially says there is no limit. There’s no limit to God’s forgiveness of us and there should be no limit to our forgiveness of others. That’s only fair, right? But oh so hard!

    Jesus continues by telling a story about a man forgiven of millions of dollars who refuses to forgive another who owed him a few thousand dollars. Every sin we have committed has offended God. We have all been forgiven of much more than we could imagine, yet how easy is it to refuse to forgive those who have wronged us?

    Jesus says forgive…and he never asks us to do something he hasn’t already done.

    When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34)

    I know what you’re thinking. It’s Jesus. He’s God. He used superpowers to forgive. Maybe he wasn’t really in that much pain—dying on a cross!!!

    I know some of you have been deeply hurt. People have betrayed you, abandoned you, abused you. Some of you have endured violence, rape, molestation, and neglect. Love was broken, trust was shattered, hope was destroyed. Maybe you’re thinking, “Kirk, you have no idea how they hurt me!” You’re right, but God knows. And he instructs us to forgive.

    We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God (Acts 7:54-60)

    Perhaps you’re thinking, “Ok, Jesus forgave those who were violently tortured and murdered him, but still, that was Jesus.” Listen to this story of one of the early church leaders.

    When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:54-56)

    In all fairness to the religious leaders, Stephen was rebuking them. He called them out on their self-righteous religion and their murder of Jesus (yes, religious people killed Jesus!). But Stephen was speaking the truth in love.

    At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:57-58)

    Here we get a glimpse at Saul’s persecution of Christians, the man who would encounter Jesus, be renamed Paul, and write much of the New Testament.

    While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)

    While they were stoning Stephen, he echoes Jesus’ prayer on the cross, Father forgive them. And then he died (the meaning of “fell asleep”).

    We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God

    Notice Jesus and Stephen don’t actually say to their murderers, “I forgive you.” Rather, they release their agony to God, asking God to forgive them. Maybe if you struggle to forgive, begin by asking God to forgive them.

    Forgiving others honors God. He instructs us to forgive.

    Forgiving others is an undeserved blessing to the offender. Who doesn’t appreciate being forgiven.

    But forgiving others changes us…in more ways than one. In yet another example of the Bible being relevant and practical, scientific research has repeatedly shown the harm caused by bitterness. It has been linked to creating or exacerbating ulcers, lupus, skin problems, and sleep issues. It can lead to problems with relationships. Simply, not forgiving can destroy us. Someone once said refusing to forgive another is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Often when we are bitter the other person doesn’t even know! They’re moved on and we’re the ones suffering.

    In the words of Elsa, "Let It Go!"

    I know, easier said than done. How often do we want to do something yet struggle to do so? We need God. We need God’s grace. The more we experience it, the more we can share it. You can’t give what you don’t have.

    We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God

    Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It simply means releasing the hurt to God.

    Forgiving does not mean trusting. There are dangerous people who are not worthy of trust. We need to establish healthy boundaries. For example, forgiving an abusive spouse does not mean we allow them to continue to abuse. It just means we refuse to be bitter about their past sin.

    In addition to release our feelings to God,

    We Must Release the Person Who Hurt Us Over to God (2 Timothy 4:14-18)

    The aforementioned Paul told his disciple Timothy

    Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. (2 Timothy 4:14-15)

    Alex is dangerous. He is not to be trusted. Paul tells Timothy to establish healthy boundaries with him.

    At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:16-18)

    The Lord stood by Paul’s side. God was present.

    Where was God when you were hurt? Right with you. That’s both comforting and frustrating. “Great, God, thanks for just standing there while I was being fired, betrayed, raped, beat up, or abused.” We’ll talk more about this next week but God gives us free will, choices. He doesn’t stop all evil—though one day all evil will be stopped.

    God’s grace is greater than anything you’ve ever done…and greater than anything done to you.

    But how do we forgive? Consider these four steps:

    1. Acknowledge our hurt. It happened. Don’t sugar-coat it. Don’t deny it. Don’t spiritualize it.
    2. Release Our Rights. We can be bitter, angry, and seek revenge…but why?
    3. Pray for Our Enemies. Jesus did. Stephen did. Did Stephen’s prayer impact Saul?
    4. Give it to God. He can be trusted. Let him judge.

    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:17-19 [Deuteronomy 32:35])

    God’s wrath will be greater than any revenge you can imagine!


    Reconciliation May Not Always Be Possible or Appropriate, but It Can Reflect God’s Grace and Forgiveness Toward Us (Colossians 1:19-23)

    As I said, forgiveness does not necessarily mean trusting. Some relationships are permanently severed, but in many cases reconciliation is possible.

    Jesus came to reconcile the relationship between us and our heavenly Father severed by our sin.

    For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

    Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—  if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23)

    Hallelujah! This is the gospel: Jesus is LORD and has reconciled us to God.

    We have been reconciled to God and, if possible, we are to be reconciled with others.

    On October 2, 2006, the world was stunned to learn of a gunman entering an Amish one-room schoolhouse, shooting ten girls, killing five, and then taking his own life. The gunman’s mother, Terri Roberts, wrote a powerful book called
    Forgiven. Listen to the response of one Amish family member toward the parents of the killer:

    When my driver Sam took me to the Robertses’ home, I was concerned to see that they were all alone. In contrast, there were thousands by now—media, family, and spectators—gathered at Nickel Mines to be there for the victims’ families. My heart was moved because it seemed to me that Chuck and Terri were suffering just as much as the parents of Roberts’ victims.

    When others challenged me as to why I should feel this way, I answered, “What would be worse? Would you rather have lost a child, or have your son have done something like this?”

    It is my belief that more good is going to come out of this sad tragedy than bad. After all, what is the most unjust thing that you can think of? The answer is the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet what should be the most wonderful thing you can think of? The best thing that has ever happened? Our crucified Savior Jesus Christ rose again.

    Wow! That’s redemption…and God is really good at redemption!

    True reconciliation requires both repentance from the offender and forgiveness from the offended. Obviously you cannot reconcile with someone who is deceased or unwilling to reconcile,

    If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

    But God is able to heal even the most broken of relationships, even reconciling a shooter’s victims with his parents. That’s grace!

    My Story: Crystal Howald

    We could spend hours telling the stories of those who have chosen forgiveness over bitterness, but what about you? Who do you need to forgive? A family member? An enemy? Yourself? Who have you avoided praying for? What broken relationship needs to be reconciled? Maybe you can’t do it, but God can. Grace can. Grace is greater than your hurt.

    Maybe it’s time to get rid of that junk in your heart, the bitterness and anger. Take it to the curb and enjoy the freedom and peace of a cleansed soul.

    Bonus content: Matthew West, Forgiveness

    Credits: outline, title, and some ideas from Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Great is Greater than Your Mistakes, 10 September 2017

    Grace Is Greater Than Your Mistakes
    Series: Grace is Greater
    Romans 3:23; John 4:1-30; John 21:15-19
    Series Big Idea: No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. This 3-week series, based on the book Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, explores what the Bible teaches about grace, developing a deep understanding of the life-changing power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For more resources and information on the book, visit
    Big Idea: Our sin is ugly, but God’s grace is greater than any past mistake or regret.
    I love words. Obviously! I’m fascinated by the use and meanings of words…and the creation of new ones. In his book, Grace is Greater—the source of our title and series outline—Kyle Idleman mentions a few new words.
    The affliction of dialing a phone number and forgetting whom you were calling just as they answer.
    To sterilize the piece of candy you dropped on the floor by blowing on it, assuming this will somehow remove all the germs.
    meeting intended to determine why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible. 
    Unlike these words, “grace” is a term we’ve heard countless times. People sing about amazing grace. They say grace before meals. People have named their daughters grace. Businesses often talk about a grace period with payments. But what is grace…and what does it matter? This will be our focus during these three weeks.
    Grace. It’s a word Jesus never used in the Bible, yet His entire life demonstrated it. The original Greek word is charis (χάρις). It is where we get our word charm. It is simply is unmerited favor. A free gift. It is not deserved. It is not earned. It truly is amazing for those reasons. God’s grace is more beautiful, freeing, and altogether greater than we could ever imagine. I’m no expert on the subject but I know I love it. But before we get to the wonder of grace, we need to begin with a harsh reality…
    We’re not ok.
    Let me say it in a way I often say: we’re not perfect. No perfect people are allowed at First Alliance…except Jesus. If you are perfect, you are invited to get up, grab some great Claro coffee in the lobby and head home. There’s not much here for you! But the Bible says that
    …all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
    See, God is perfect. He is God and we are not. The sooner we grasp this, the better. I’m messed up…really messed up. I’m selfish. I’m prideful. I’m judgmental. The Bible calls it sin. I don’t have time to list all of my sins—past or present—but it’s a long list. And God hates it.
    The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace. (Romans 3:23)
    If you’ve got your act together, don’t worry about God. New York City’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg apparently feels he doesn’t need to worry about God. In a New York Times interview, Bloomberg stated, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” He felt his good deeds were greater than his bad deeds so he can waltz into heaven.
    Here’s the problem: we all sin—even politicians, if you can believe it!—and one sin is enough to keep us from God.
    Let me reiterate a statement I made several months ago:
    Heaven is where God is present.
    Hell is where God is absent.
    Let me add: God is absent where sin is present. Period.
    How much sin? It doesn’t matter. How much cyanide in your water is enough to kill you? A drop will kill you! It doesn’t matter if you place a teaspoon, a tablespoon, or a half-cup of cyanide in your water, you’re dead regardless. You wouldn’t knowingly drink water with any cyanide and God won’t tolerate even a little sin. Maybe you think you’re a better person than the leader of North Korea or Charles Manson or a serial killer but that’s beside the point. Your sin and my sin have offended God enough to separate us from Him.
    It’s not that God sends us to hell, it’s that our sin separates us from God. Do you see the difference? God wants to be with us. Just like you might want to drink water on a hot day…but you won’t touch it if you know it’s laced with poison. We try to convince ourselves that we’re not that bad, but any bad, any imperfection, any sin is too much for a perfect, holy God.
    And if you think you’re a really good person, let me remind of what Paul said:
    Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)
    Paul—he wrote much of the New Testament…what’s on your resume?—announces he’s not only a sinner, he’s the worst of sinners. No, he doesn’t say I was the worst when I persecuted Christians as Saul, he declares to Timothy he is the worst of sinners. That makes me the second worst of sinners since I’m not arguing with Paul. Seriously. I’m the second worst of sinners. I desperately need grace. I want to go back to that verse in Romans 3 which ended with a comma.
    …all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
    Grace! Jesus died to reconcile us to God. He died to offer forgiveness of our sins through his blood and broken body. I hate religion—man’s futile quest to be good enough for God—but I love Jesus. He not only showed us what it means to be human, he sacrificed his life for us…not because we’re so good, but because we’re so loved.
    One of my favorite passages in the Bible two chapters over, says
    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
    Jesus died for us because of our sin. He recognized how we are not good, yet his love for us compelled him to make such a sacrifice.
    Parents understand this in a small way. We make tremendous sacrifices for our kids, beginning with sleepless nights and diaper changings for infants that are so good, so talented, so capable that…all they do is sleep, cry, and fill their diapers! But it’s out of love. Things don’t get any easier when they learn to talk—back—and drive and…well, many of you understand! We invest countless time, money, and energy on our kids often not because they’re so good but because we love them so much. I have often said the day I became a dad was the day I began to truly understand the great love my heavenly Dad has for me…and you…although we can only imagine it.
    God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness (John 4:1-30)
    There are two types of people distant from God—those who feel they’re so good they don’t need God and those who feel they’re so bad they can’t have God.
    If you think you don’t need God because you’re so good, you are more messed up than you can imagine! Pride is killing you…literally.
    Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
    I love that quote from Philip Yancey. You can’t do enough good things. You can’t earn your way to heaven. You’re not perfect—which isn’t a license to just intentionally be a jerk and do evil—but all of your good works the Bible calls “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
    Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
    But you may feel like you’re not worthy of God. You’ve done so many awful things. “Kirk, if you only knew what I’ve done.” God knows! And I’ve got wonderful news for you:
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
    Philip Yancey said that, too. There’s a great story in the fourth chapter of John’s biography of Jesus. I wish we had time to study it in detail. It’s a great personal study. In fact, if you have a Bible, turn to John 4. Jesus—a Jew—goes to Galilee through Samaria, a region no Jew ever entered.
    When we lived in Ann Arbor I used to joke whenever we drove to Florida we would drive around Ohio! It was just a joke—and I obviously don’t tell it anymore now that I live in Ohio (don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!)—but some people do avoid certain cities or neighborhoods, even today. But back in the day Jews hated Samaritans, but here’s Jesus going through Samaria around noontime and sits by a well.
    When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) (John 4:7-8)
    The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. ) (John 4:9)
    Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
    “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” (John 4:11-12)
    Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
    The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15)
    He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (John 4:16)
    “I have no husband,” she replied. 
    Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (John 4:17-18)
    “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. (John 4:19)
    That’s an understatement! He didn’t learn about her past on Facebook! It’s nearly impossible for us in our culture to understand just how radical it is for Jesus to engage this adulterous Samaritan in conversation. She is so sinful, so disgraced, so shamed that she goes alone to the well in the middle of the day to get water. First, you never traveled alone and second you don’t go in the desert heat…unless you’re hoping to avoid being seen. She has messed up her life, yet Jesus responds with grace and love.
    How do you respond to sinners? It’s a trick question because we’re all sinners! But how do you respond to those “really bad” sinners? Do you avoid people who don’t look like you, act like you, talk like you, or smell like you? I admit there are people that make me uncomfortable and my first thought is usually not to engage them. I want to be safe. I want to mind my own business. I often want to ignore those different from me.
    But that’s not what Jesus did. He demonstrated grace…and sets an example for us to follow. I’ve said First Alliance is not to be a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners…and we’re all sinners!
    Jesus engages the woman in conversation and later the text says
    Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. (John 4:28-30)
    When God’s mercy and grace collide with our guilt and shame it’s messy but it’s beautiful. Jesus knows everything you’ve ever done…but his grace is greater.
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
    In the words of Kyle Idleman, “The worst thing that could happen is that you spend your life trying to outrun God because you think he’s chasing you to collect what you owe—when he’s really chasing you to give you what you could never afford.”
    God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets (John 21:15-19)
    If you could go back in time, what would you change? Maybe a selfish act, a harmful word, a lack of self-control, the beginning of an addiction? It might be a split second or a decade.
    I’m pretty sure I know what Peter would do over. He was one of Jesus’ three best friends and despite Jesus even predicting it, Peter denied he even knew Jesus not once, not twice, but three times…all during Jesus’ most desperate hours. Some friend!
    After Jesus dies and is resurrected, he cooks breakfast for his friends.
    When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” 
    “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” 
    Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
    Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
    He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 
    Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
    The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
    Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” 
    Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19)
    Peter denied Jesus three times and Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” He knows Peter has great regret about the denials and yet Jesus offers grace. He doesn’t want Peter imprisoned by his regrets. He has a great plan for Peter, a man who will become one of the greatest leaders in the history of the Christian Church. Grace has the power to redeem regret—to save it, to recycle it, you might say. Grace takes our trash and makes it useful, valuable.
    We all have regrets, and ever since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, we often try to hide our sins, thinking they are unforgiveable. Our regrets should lead to remorse, but God doesn’t leave us in our mess of sin. He doesn’t shame us. God’s grace most often finds us in the midst of our remorse and redeems us, forgives us, restores us.
    If one of my best friends denied even knowing me three times when I needed him most, I’m not sure I would assign him to be the president of my company, but that’s grace. Remember…
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
    And God doesn’t tolerate you. He loves you. He forgives you. He embraces you. He redeems you.
    I wish I had time to share all of the times I’ve messed up—well, maybe not! That would be the longest sermon I’ve ever preached! But seriously, God has taken my arrogant, wicked heart and a lifetime of failures and done some things in and through me I could never take credit for. Even standing before you today I feel incredibly inadequate and unworthy. I am continually reminded that when I am weak, He is strong and His grace is enough. It is sufficient.
    So What?
    I desperately want you to know and experience God’s grace.
    If you’re like me, you’re not even aware of how bad you are, how sinful you are. We need grace.
    Others of you are on the other end of the spectrum, feeling unworthy. You are! That’s grace!
    Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
    Don’t let your past mistakes destroy your future. Become a trophy of God’s grace, trust Jesus, and allow him to transform your life.
    Credits: outline, title, and some ideas from Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman. Other ideas from Philip Yancey.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Healing: Woman & Girl, 3 September 2017

    Healing: Woman & Girl
    Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 5:21-43
    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
    Big Idea: Jesus healed—and still heals—those who believe.
    Faith. Do you have it? Sure you do. We all have faith…in something…or someone! The book of Hebrews states
    Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
    As we continue to look at the life of Jesus through Mark’s biography, we come to two stories of faith…and physical healing.
    They are very similar. They both involve females. Both of their stories began twelve years prior.
    They are very different. One female is young, the other old. One is the daughter of an important synagogue officer, the other an anonymous woman. The officer was about to lose a daughter who brought him twelve years of happiness while the woman lost an affliction that brought her twelve years of grief.
    These are documented, historical incidents but God never changes…and He continues to heal today.
    Jesus is the Son of God, the way, the truth, and the life.
    Two weeks ago, we saw his power over the natural world, calming a huge storm.
    Last week we saw his power over the supernatural, exorcising demons.
    Today we will see his power over sickness and death.
    When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet.  He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  So Jesus went with him. (Mark 5:21-24a)
    We’re back in Jewish territory, probably Capernaum. The crowds are back. They religious leaders are back. Instead of being a critic, Jairus is a believer. He’s obviously desperate, willing to lose his religious friends who despise Jesus in his quest to save his twelve-year-old daughter’s life. He has faith that if Jesus only touches his dying girl, she will be healed and live.
    Note all healing in this life is temporary. Lazarus was raised from the dead but eventually died again. If Jairus’ daughter is healed from her deadly condition, she will eventually die. We are constantly praying for the sick in our church family and beyond, but even the most miraculous healing of diseases or cancers merely prolongs life in these mortal bodies. Of course, each day we are both closer to the death of these temples and to the new bodies that will resemble Jesus’ resurrected form.
    So crowds surround Jesus, a religious leader begs Jesus to come to his home and touch his daughter, and Jesus goes.
    A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (Mark 5:24b-26)
    This woman had been suffering with a bleeding condition for twelve years. That means for twelve years she was probably considered unclean. She couldn’t touch people. She couldn’t be around people, yet here she is in a crowd, desperate. She wasn’t passive about healing. She had spent all of her money and likely most of her time seeing doctors…and only got worse. How frustrating. Some of you can relate. Health care is not a new problem!
    When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:27-29)
    What faith! She merely wanted to touch Jesus’ clothes. She didn’t need him to touch her. She didn’t need Jesus to pray for her. She didn’t even feel the need to touch Jesus—just his clothes. She was instantly healed. Praise God! But then look what happens next.
    At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30)
    Jesus knew power had gone out, but even he notices it was not his flesh but rather his clothes that were touched. Then the disciples say what I would’ve said…and if you’re honest, you probably would’ve thought it, too.
    Jesus once said,
    Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)
    Paul tells us in Philippians (2:5-11) that Jesus “made himself nothing” when he came to earth, “taking the very nature of a servant.” The power he had was the Holy Spirit, the same power available to all followers of Jesus.
    “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” (Mark 5:31)
    Jesus ignores his disciples!
    But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:32-34)
    She’s caught touching Jesus’ clothes! How embarrassing! She’s trembling with fear and confesses, but instead of a rebuke, she receives a blessing…and healing. What a wonderful gift. What a great story she has for her friends of the healing power of Jesus. He heals her body and soul, granting her peace—
    shalom, completeness—and calling her “daughter” while commending her faith.
    But what about that girl?
    While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” (Mark 5:35)
    She’s dead? Jesus, if you weren’t listening to that lady’s story maybe you would’ve been able to save my daughter. You’re too late now. So much for your perfect timing.
    Jesus missed the death of Lazarus.
    Jesus missed the death of Jairus’ daughter.
    Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mark 5:36)
    Easy for you to say, Jesus. You don’t even know this girl. And what do you mean, “Just believe?” What good is faith? We were hoping you could just touch her but now she’s dead!
    Before moving on, I want to focus on those words: don’t be afraid; just believe. That’s faith. Max Lucado wrote,
    “Faith is trusting what the eye can’t see. Eyes see the prowling lion. Faith sees Daniel’s angel. Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah’s rainbow. Eyes see giants. Faith sees Canaan. Your eyes see your faults. Your faith sees your Savior.”
    Don’t be afraid; just believe.
    He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. (Mark 5:37-40a)
    Here we see Jesus’ three best friends—Peter, James and John—receive a special invitation. The crowds aren’t allowed to follow. Perhaps even the other nine disciples were snubbed. They arrive on the scene of this twelve year-old girl’s tragic death. It’s a hot mess of commotion and wailing. It’s interesting to note in the culture professional mourners were often hired to wail at funerals. The Jewish Mishna, completed around 220 AD, quotes Rabbi Judah as saying even the poorest in Israel should hire two or more flutes and one weeping woman for a burial.
    Then Jesus makes the laughable suggestion that she’s merely asleep…and they laugh…at Jesus. They go from wailing to laughing. Why not? They’re probably there just to “perform” with no real attachment to the girl.
    Then Jesus gets to work!
    After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). (Mark 5:40b-41)
    Jesus kicks everyone out—except for his three friends and the parents. Six adults encounter the girl, Jesus touches her and commands her to get up. It’s a private moment for those with considerable faith, not a public spectacle to rile up the fans and critics.
    Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:42-43)
    They were completely astonished! Amazing!
    We have noted before the seemingly random details Mark includes, such as Jesus telling them to grab a granola bar for the girl (or whatever they ate then!). It’s an incredible scene, yet Jesus wants them to keep quiet about it (like that’s going to happen!).
    When I was in college, I spent a summer in Bolivia with Campus Crusade for Christ—now known as Cru—showing the Jesus film. It is based upon the Good News Translation of the book of Luke, but it is very similar to Mark’s account. My favorite moment in the film—besides the resurrection—is the healing of Jarius’ daughter. I’d like to take a moment and share it with you.

    In the original language Jesus said, “Lamb, get up!” What a tender wake-up call.
    So What?
    Jesus spoke to the sea and it calmed.
    Jesus spoke to the demons and sent them into the pigs.
    Jesus spoke to the girl and she was raised…after healing a woman.
    Someday Jesus will say, “Wake up” to the dead.
    Does Jesus still heal today? Yes! How do I know? I have heard countless stories throughout my life…and I’d like you to hear one now!
    My Story: Kendra Sankovich
    The fifth chapter of Mark is quite remarkable.
    Jesus casts out demons.
    Jesus heals the woman.
    Jesus raises the dead girl.
    And he’s not done yet!
    Perhaps you would like healing…for yourself or even for someone else. If Jesus were here, you’d reach out and try to touch his clothes in hopes of being healed. His power and presence are here through the Holy Spirit. Do you believe he can heal? Do you have faith? The woman had faith. Jairus had faith. Jesus still heals.
    Credits: some ideas from Stephen Leston, Mark Strauss, Ian Fair, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

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