September 2018

Reach, 23 September 2018

Series: FAC-DNA
Acts 17:24-28

Series Overview:
God has placed us uniquely in our city and world for such a time as this, a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.

Big Idea:
 Do we have eyes to see People on the Move, People Overlooked, and People Lacking Access?

One of my favorite songs as a kid was about a wee little man. Have you heard this one?

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, And a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree For the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way He looked up in the tree and he said,  'Zacchaeus you come down, For I'm going to your house today!' For I'm going to your house today!
The nineteenth chapter of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, a man so short he climbed a tree to see Jesus as he was Jesus passed through a crowd in Jericho.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (Luke 19:5-6)

Did I mention Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector? Imagine an IRS agent who works on commission…and can charge whatever he wants. Needless to say, he was not popular with the people, especially the religious people. Why is Jesus giving this guy the time of day? This is a hated man, the scum of the earth.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)

Who was upset? All the people! Jesus, do you know who this guy is? He has robbed us all? I wonder if they intentionally pushed Zacchaeus away from Jesus, forcing him to climb the tree for a better view.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

That was an incredible promise! This guy cheated everybody…out of most everything they had! How could he pay back four times the amount? It actually doesn’t matter, because he’s not the key character in this story.

Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)

My name is Kirk and we’re in the middle of series addressing the “why” question of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, our global family. Why do we exist? What’s in our DNA? The Zacchaeus story shows us why Jesus came to earth—to seek and to save the lost.

He didn’t come to start a new religion.
He didn’t come to win a preaching contest.
He didn’t come to give us a list of rules to follow.
He didn’t even come for the righteous and holy people of his day.

He came to seek and to save the lost. This is expressed beautifully in one of the core values of The Alliance.

• Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. Luke 19:10

If Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and he asks us to follow him, what should we do? We should seek and save the lost! Obviously, we can’t save them, but we can point the way to salvation, to the cross, to the empty tomb, to Jesus the Messiah. We can let them know about the King and His reign.

It’s interesting to note this year The Alliance has done regional events called
Seek. They are all about us seeking God, yet it was God who first sought us. Jesus’ mission was to go and seek the lost.

Seek is a verb. It’s an action verb. It’s hard to seek in the La-Z-Boy unless you are seeking a tv show with your remote control! It’s hard to find something lost by relaxing on the beach or lying in bed. You need to go. We need to go. We’ve said throughout this series we’re guided by the Great Commandment (love God and love your neighbor as yourself) and the Great Commission…go and make disciples. Some have translated it “as you are going, make disciples.” In either case, we love God and others by reaching out to the hurting, the broken, and the lost.

The “why” is to glorify and obey God.

The “what” is to love God, love others as we love ourselves, and make disciples.

But how? In the first two weeks of this series, we heard Alliance president, Dr. John Stumbo, talk about love and proclaim. We are to proclaim good news with love. Everything we do should be done with love—"a rugged commitment to be with another person, to be for another person, and to grow together in Christ-likeness” as Scot McKnight likes to say. It’s not just a feeling, but involves action, presence, advocacy, and transformation. That transformation comes through the proclamation of the gospel with word and deed as we show and tell. Here’s Dr. Stumbo on our third verb:

Stumbo video transcript:

I’m calling us to three things when I say reach. Reaching the overlooked. In every community, there’s somebody being missed. I experienced it when I was in a wheelchair that often the disabled are overlooked. And for some communities it’s the deaf. For some it might be children. For some it’s senior citizens.
I don’t know who it is that’s being missed in your community. It might be the immigrant who’s come to your town. Would you ask God to give you eyes to see and to reach those who are currently being overlooked, missed, in your own community?
Reaching not only the overlooked but also those that are
on the move. Never before in human history have there been so many people in transition, no longer living in the home of their origin. And when we first started speaking of this four years ago, it was just seeming to arise as a significant worldwide trend. And now it’s amazing how many people are in transition, and some of those have come to your community.
And I challenge us to be people who reach those who are overlooked and not get so caught up in the political wrangling on so many issues that center around immigration that we miss the simple fact that The Alliance from pre-day one—Dr. Simpson, in his earliest days in New York City—[has been] ministering to the immigrant. And so who are we to think that we’ve grown past that or that our issues are more complicated this day and age, so we can forget that? Friends, let’s reach those who are on the move.
And thirdly, under that category of reach, I’m concerned there’s still people that do not have access to the gospel of Jesus, and so . . . reaching the overlooked, those on the move, and
those lacking access.
This is a justice issue, is it not? Is it not unjust that you can still live in this world and still not know that forgiveness is available to you? You don’t have to accept that message, but to not even know that the Christ has come to provide that? It’s not satisfactory, it’s not good enough. So, happily, you’re part of a family that’s doing something about it. You’re part of a family that is reaching those [who] are lacking access, and I’m continuing to ask the Alliance family to engage further in that process.
Let me state again,
• Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. Luke 19:10

As the classic songs says, “I once was lost/But now am found.” Hallelujah! Someone reached out to you and me. Someone loved us. Someone proclaimed good news to us. In many cases, it was a family member.

Perhaps it was a friend.

We’ve been blessed in this nation to have a robust history of faith. Although Christians in this country have not always acted like Jesus, religious freedom in our great land has made it possible to have access to the Bible. We even have Christian radio stations and television stations and thousands of books and videos to help us find God and grow in our relationship with Him.

But it’s easy to take that access for granted. It’s easy to assume everyone knows about Jesus, his death, his resurrection, his love, and his coming return. The truth is, there are people in our city and around the world who have no clue they are loved. They only know Jesus as a swear word, if at all. They know nothing of grace, forgiveness, joy, or hope. And like Jesus’ pursuit of Zacchaeus, it is a privilege for us to reach out.

Paul spoke…

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. (Acts 17:24-26)

There is so much packed into this paragraph. In fact, Heather and I stood on the very place in Athens, Greece where Paul spoke to a group of Greek philosophers and leaders at a place called Mars Hill or the Areopagus. As I often say, our faith is based upon historical events and real people.

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:27-28)

We need to reach out to others because God reached out to us. It’s not hard to find people in need of God’s love and our love. It used to be expected that people in our nation would spend Sunday mornings attending a worship gathering like ours here today. As fewer and fewer people are exposed to the gospel—the good news—they are remarkably unaware of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Put another way, our world, our nation, our city is filled with unreached peoples. They’re right here! You don’t need a passport to reach the nations. They’re in line with you at Kroger, they’re pumping gas beside you, they live on your street. Will you reach out? Will you offer them a smile? A cup of coffee? Jesus the Messiah?


As much as I want to challenge you to reach out to the overlooked, people on the move, and those lacking access, I want to offer some encouragement.

As a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, we have been actively involved in reaching our Jerusalem—Toledo—as well as our Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. For thirteen decades we have been reaching out to the overlooked, those on the move, and those lacking access. Through the Great Commission Fund, Envision trips, overseas projects, partners like Water for Ishmael, Cherry Street Mission and the After School Klub, and spiritual conversations we are living out our mission and calling. It is such an honor and privilege to serve such a vibrant church committed to outreach…reaching out. And we’re just getting started!

But I want to add as a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, we’re also committed to reaching in. We need both. In almost thirty years of vocational ministry, I can never remember being a part of a church with so much grief, loss, hospitalizations, and suffering. For whatever reason, we are in a season of pain and trial, pruning, reflection…yet I continue to hear stories of our family members loving and serving one another. Hospital visits, cards, meals, prayers…we are a family of love and I’m humbled and blessed to be a part of it. Family first.

But healthy families grow. It’s a both/and. We want more and better family members. It’s not about building the Alliance family or the FAC family, but rather God’s family, God Kingdom. We want to enhance the quality and quantity of God’s family, God’s Kingdom.

We are to love.
We are to proclaim.
We are to reach.

Will you join us?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Proclaim, 9 September 2018

    Series: FAC-DNA
    2 Timothy 4:1-5

    Series Overview:
    God has placed us uniquely in our city and world for such a time as this, a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.

    Big Idea:
     We are to proclaim good news…in word and deed.

    Simon Sinek is a best-selling author. He has the third-most-watched Ted Talk video of all time. He speaks all over the world. His primary message is simple: start with why.

    Often people focus on what they do or how they do things, but there’s power in unpacking the why.

    Why are you here this morning?
    Why are we here this morning?
    Why does First Alliance Church exist?

    Unlike independent churches, we are part of a larger family, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. Our president, Dr. John Stumbo, has called the Alliance

    a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family

    Last week we said we’re all about Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is our authority. He is not only our Savior, he is our LORD. He’s our leader. We are Christ-centered. He modeled what it means to be human. He incarnated love. He taught with the most powerful stories and wisdom in all of human history. He offered three significant commands:

    Love God
    Love others as you love yourself (the Great Commandment; Matthew 22:34-40)
    Make disciples (the Great Commission; Matthew 28:18-20)

    Obey and become like Jesus and help others become like Jesus, loving God and others. This is what it means to be Christ-centered.

    Acts 1:8 says

    But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

    We exist to obey and worship and glorify Jesus Christ.

    We are called to make disciples in Toledo, the region, the nation, and around the world.

    We are also a family. We’re not a perfect family, but what family is?

    We are a Jesus-centered family making disciples in Toledo and beyond for God’s glory.

    But what does that mean? We’re examining that question this month in our series FAC-DNA.


    The “why” is to glorify and obey God.

    The “what” is to love God, love others as we love ourselves, and make disciples.

    But how? Last week, we heard Alliance president, Dr. John Stumbo, talk about love. It’s so basic and obvious it almost seems silly to mention, yet our examination of 1 Corinthians 13 last week revealed loving others can be messy and challenging. One friend told me after last week’s sermon that sometimes loving means literally getting poop on your hands. Truly loving God and others can only be done as we receive God’s love and are filled with the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to love the unlovable, never give up on the hopeless, give when we want to take, and sacrifice when we want to be selfish.

    We are to love. That’s what a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family looks like. We must be known for our love. We’re not, by the way. Many know us for what we’re against rather than what we’re for. I pray that each day we would becoming more loving and known for our love. Jesus was known for his love. If we are truly following Jesus…
    We are to love. Here’s Dr. Stumbo introducing our next verb of this series.

    Stumbo video transcript:

    The second verb that arose is the verb proclaim. When I say love, I’m saying one thing. When I say proclaim, I’m saying two, really. And it depends on what generation I’m talking to.
    To baby boomers and older, my generation, I have to talk about Matthew 25—that the marginalized, the hurting, the imprisoned, the poor, the immigrant—they’re part of our Bibles, too. We focused so much on verbalizing the gospel, which was fantastic, that sometimes we overlooked demonstrating the gospel.
    We kind of left that to the liberal churches, to do the social gospel kind of thing, and I’m questioning that. And I’m saying that we as an evangelical church, as The Christian and Missionary Alliance, must learn to demonstrate the gospel in ways that touch our communities.
    Meanwhile, if I’m speaking to the younger generation, they don’t need for me to go to Matthew 25. Cause, justice, those kind of issues, are part of their language and lifestyle. But, they’ve lost, as one young leader has confessed to me, “Our generation has lost the ability to articulate faith.”
    Verbalizing, speaking the gospel, has become weak in a lot of our younger groups. And so I want to challenge us to be the kind of people who verbalize and demonstrate the gospel. So millennials and younger generation, you don’t have to like the words or methods that us older guys use in speaking the gospel. That’s fine if you don’t ever ask anybody to invite Jesus into their heart. I don’t care about that, but what I do care about deeply is that we become people who authentically speak the true gospel in ways that each culture, each generation, can hear.
    We are to love. Love is a noun. Love is a verb. Loving can also be an adjective describing how we do…everything. We are to teach with love, serve with love, give with love, teach with love, discipline with love…and with love we are to proclaim good news, the gospel, our Savior, Jesus Christ. We even helped start a radio station years ago with that in mind: WPOS, proclaim our Savior.

    One of my favorite things about our FAC family is its diversity. Sure, we’re not exactly a United Nations convention, but we have people from various religious, political, ethnic, educational, and economic backgrounds. They say variety is the spice of life.

    On a side note, this past week I heard a podcast featuring Cherry Street Mission’s CEO Dan Rogers. In it, he said we need to surround ourselves with people different from ourselves in order to truly grow. He said this is why we don’t marry our sibling! Think about it. God’s design is that we marry someone from a different family in order to produce healthy hybrids of the two. Fascinating!

    We have a reputation as being an older congregation, and it’s hard to argue that assessment. But despite a growing number of retirees from the Builder and Boomer generations, there are those of us GenXers, Millennials, and a growing number of GenZ members, too, those born in since the late 1990s. Each generation is unique and special. As Dr. Stumbo said in the video, some of us need to proclaim more clearly through our words while others need to amplify our actions.

    Each Tuesday morning at 8:30 AM, a group of men gather here to pray…for our families, church, city, nation, and world. Men, you are all invited! Before we begin to pray each Tuesday, Charles Carter shares a passage of scripture and a story of one of our spiritual siblings overseas. Some involve martyrdom, others torture. Some of the accounts describe the most inhumane treatment of not only men and women but sometimes children. I believe every story has one thing in common: these atrocities were done because someone refused to proclaim Jesus Christ as LORD.

    This is nothing new, of course. Jesus himself was murdered. Eleven of his best friends were martyred.
    Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and VOM—Voice of the Martyrs,—tell these unbelievable stories of passionate faith, radical love, and supernatural forgiveness. We shouldn’t be surprised. Paul wrote to Timothy…

    For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5)

    Yet I worry about what someone might
    think of me if I share my faith. I’m too busy to love others, serving the least of these. I so easily fall into materialistic, consumeristic, and selfish ways rather than following the example of Jesus to proclaim good news.

    I’m not saying you should cancel your Netflix subscription, vacation plans, and time with your family. Hardly. But when is the last time you proclaimed Jesus Christ in word and/or deed?

    Paul wrote,

    For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)
    The gospel, the good news, Jesus, Jesus is LORD, God loves you, that’s powerful. We must not be ashamed. Jesus hung up for you. Will you stand up for him?
    Sometimes we make proclamation more complicated than necessary. Do you have a God story? Share it! Life is all about stories. Relationships are all about stories. I talk about my wife. I talk about my kids. I talk about my vacation. I talk about my God.
    Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words. Have you heard that? Who said it? It has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but there’s no evidence he actually said it. Actions speak louder than words, yes, but our actions only give credibility to our words, not the other way around.
    If your doctor is 100 pounds overweight and he tells you to lose weight…
    Peter wrote,
    Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

    Our good deeds validate our message, but we must have a message. How many of you became a follower of Jesus without anyone ever telling you anything about Jesus, his love for you, his death, his resurrection, and his upcoming return? We need words. We need to proclaim good news. Family, our city and world have never been more desperate for good news, for love, for peace. We are called to be hope dealers! What a privilege!
    Every day there are people contemplating and even committing suicide. What’s the use in living?
    Every day there are people overdosing on opioids, unable to cope with the pain in their lives? Where’s the hope?
    Every day people are bored out of their skulls, filling time with cat videos on YouTube and binge watching cheesy tv shows and movies. What on earth am I here for?
    Paul wrote to his disciple, Timothy, these words:
    In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

    Preach the word. Proclaim the word. He’s not just saying give Sunday sermons. He’s saying know God, know God’s word, and proclaim it…every day…everywhere. Will some reject it? Absolutely! But that’s not our concern. We are to obey. We are to proclaim.

    But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

    We desperately need the Holy Spirit’s power. We can’t change people. We can’t make anyone follow Jesus. But we can set an example. We can live compelling lives. We can invite people to the party. They can choose whether or not they want to attend.

    By the way, this word “witnesses”…the Greek word is “martys.” What word do you know that sounds like martys? Martyr. A testifier, a witness, and possibly even someone whose proclamation will cost them their very life.

    So What?

    Look for opportunities to deal hope to those who are struggling through life, which is all of us at one time or another. Consider these questions:

    • - What do you do when life gets hard? Where do you turn?
    • - How do you make decisions? Who guides you through life?
    • - Where are you at in your spiritual journey?
    • - Are you a part of a faith community?
    • - What do you think is the meaning of life?
    • - How can I pray for you?

    These are some simple, non-threatening questions which might open up some spiritual conversations, creating space for your story and the gospel of Jesus.

    Family, loving God, loving others as we love ourselves, and make disciples necessitates proclamation. Good news needs to be shared. Will you proclaim?
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Love, 2 September 2018

    Series: FAC-DNA
    Matthew 22:34-40

    Series Overview:
    God has placed us uniquely in our city and world for such a time as this, a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.

    Big Idea: We are to love—God and others…even our enemies. Will we be dependent upon the Spirit to live His loving fruit through us?

    Why are you here? Perhaps you’re thinking, “Because I don’t have a cottage to close up this weekend!” But really, why are you here? Why did you choose to devote this time to be here this morning? I’m sure there are many reasons—if we’re honest—but perhaps a more important question is why are
    we here? If the answer is, “We’ve been gathering for 130 years on Sunday mornings so it’s just habit or ritual or tradition,” I want to say that’s not good enough! Really, why are we here?

    Unlike independent churches, we are part of a larger family, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. I was at a focus group this past week at the Art Museum and I was asked to describe the Alliance. People often ask, “Is it like Baptists or Presbyterian or Lutheran?” What is the Alliance? Many of you are new to the Alliance. I didn’t grow up in an Alliance church. Next year will be our eighth year—Heather and me—in the Alliance. So what is it?

    We are a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.

    What does that mean?

    Obviously it means we’re focused on Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He commissioned us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), reproducing Jesus in ourselves and others.

    Then Jesus came to them and 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 28:18-20)

    This is known as the Great Commission. So the “why” the Alliance exists and why we exist is because Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations. Acts 1:8 defines “all nations” with a bit more detail:

    But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

    We exist to obey and worship and glorify Jesus Christ.

    We are called to make disciples in Toledo, the region, the nation, and around the world.

    We are also a family. We’re not a perfect family, but what family is?

    We are a Jesus-centered family making disciples in Toledo and beyond for God’s glory.

    But what does that mean? We’re going to examine that question this month in our series FAC-DNA.

    The “why” is to glorify and obey God.

    The “what” is to make disciples.

    But how? Here’s our Alliance president, Dr. John Stumbo:

    Stumbo video transcript:

    We said, “Lord, as a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, what would you have us to do?”
    And four verbs seem to arise in prayer and in conversation, and I want to unpack each of those briefly today. They’ve become pillars for how we think and function.
    The first verb that seemed to arise was so simple that I was a little taken off guard at first. The word was simply “love.” But what seems simple at first has begun to arise in all its complexity as I realize that this must increasingly be central to who we are as an Alliance family and as the American church.
    That maybe, maybe there was a time that you could get away with a strong program, or a beautiful building, or with great communication, and that people would overlook the fact that they weren’t really being loved in the process. I don’t know if there was ever a time when that was true, but certainly that is not true now.
    The world isn’t going to care about our program. They won’t listen to our message. They won’t come to our building if there’s not the sense that love dwells among us. Love for each other, and as the family, and love for the world. That, what do we lead with? Are we leading with message? Are we leading with action and that some way is all about us?
    Are we leading with program, or building, or are we leading with what Christ said we’re actually to be known for, and that is our love? This drives me back to Jesus, because I don’t have the capacity to love like that, hour by hour, person by person.
    So, it takes me right back to the Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, focused on Jesus, empowered by the Spirit. I need Him in me, every moment, if I’m going to love that way. But I don’t want to back off on this, Alliance family, as if it’s something just to be assumed.
    Because I have to admit, as I travel so much, that I have left places at times, Alliance churches sometimes, and thought, “Pastor, church leader, I watched you worship with those people, preach to those people, take an offering from those people, have a picnic with those people, have meetings with those people, do all sorts of things with those people, but I’m not convinced that you love those people.”
    Other times, happily, on the other hand, I leave knowing that church leadership team loves the congregation that God has called them to serve, and it’s just evident in their demeanor, their attitude, their prayers, their behavior, their words.
    We must love. That’s what we’re called to do. It’s who we’re called to be as a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.
    Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36)

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

    Love God.
    Love your neighbor as yourself.

    This is known as the Great Commandment.

    For thousands of years, religious people have sought checklists to follow and things to avoid. “Don’t drink, smoke, cuss or chew or hang around with those that do” was a popular slogan for many. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid sins of commission—committing sins—than sins of omission.

    Love God.
    Love your neighbor as yourself.

    Family, the world identifies us more for what we’re against than what we’re for! We should be known as the most compassionate, generous, kind, humble, gracious, and hospitable people on the planet. That’s love!

    I know the world loves love. A nearby mural says, “Toledo Loves Love.” But what is love?

    Jesus is not speaking of an emotion. He’s not referencing a sexual act. It’s a rugged commitment to another person, looking out for their best interest.

    The “love chapter” of the Bible is often recited at weddings, but it was not written about a couple. It addresses Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

    For some of you, those words are so familiar you’ve almost tuned me out. Here’s a slightly newer version, the New Living Translation:

    Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

    Think about this past week. Were you ever impatient with someone? The person ahead of you on I-75 or in line at Kroger? Did you miss an opportunity to be kind to a co-worker or neighbor? At any point were you jealous? Proud? Rude? Selfish? Bitter?

    Have you ever felt like giving up…on another person?

    On Tuesday I attended a fantastic gathering of Christian leaders at The Tabernacle down the street. Our governor and attorney general’s office sent presenters to discuss the opioid epidemic. I must say I learned a lot, including the way the brain is changed through the introduction of certain stimulants including not only alcohol and heroin but also pornography and some pain killers. Recovery is long, hard and messy. That’s true for the addict as well as the friends, family and caregivers.

    Love never gives up. It’s easy to give up on people. One of the presenters at the gathering on Tuesday was Darryl Strawberry, a superstar baseball player whose career was literally busted by substance abuse. He said he went through rehab five times and it never worked…until he met Jesus Christ! Now he not only speaks, he and his wife have opened a Christian recovery center for people suffering from addiction and mental illness…something experienced by 8 million Americans including many of you. Love never gives up.

    This is a great opportunity to give a plug for Celebrate Recovery. If you are dealing with grief, loss, habits, hurts, or pain—which is really all of us—Celebrate Recovery is for you…Wednesdays at 7 PM in the Fellowship Hall. I attended again this past Wednesday. What a great ministry! You will find amazing people there who love…the hurting, the broken…the unlovable? The most common response to Celebrate Recovery invitees is, “It’s not for me,” yet it is. Only one third of Celebrate Recovery participants are dealing with addictions. The other two-thirds are dealing with pain, grief, loss, and hurts. Last month was one of the most difficult for me and our entire church body as we experienced a funeral, news of several serious accidents, lengthy hospitalizations, an unexpected job loss, …As a family, we have been grieving. We must not rush the process. We must talk, pray, support, encourage, listen, and love one another. Celebrate Recovery is a great forum for such love. Enduring love. Love that never gives up.

    We are commanded to love, family. Yes, we love God by praying, studying the Bible, attending church gatherings, singing songs of worship, and giving financially to support Kingdom work. But we also love God by loving others.

    I’m not good at loving others. Sure, you probably think I’m a loving person because you see me smile and act nice on Sunday, but that’s because you’re all so lovable!

    The real test of our love is not how we treat our best friend or the person we’re hoping will help us in some way. Jesus said love your enemies. He said love the poor. He said love those in prison. He said love the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee.

    Let me get real personal—and I’m very serious—love the Muslim, the Republican, the Democrat, the communist! We are to love the drug dealer, the pimp, the child molester, the person who abused you. Obviously we are not to love all of their behaviors, but Jesus shed His blood on the cross for their sins as well as yours and mine. In fact, Jesus loved—and prayed for—the very people who crucified him!

    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)

    That’s love! That’s not candy heart, lollipops and rainbows love. That’s raw, messy love.

    Love is a great idea, until you have enemies to love!

    Scot McKnight says love is a rugged commitment to be with another person, to be for another person, and to grow together in Christ-likeness. It’s not just a feeling, but involves action, presence, advocacy, and transformation.

    That’s what Jesus did for us. He didn’t just send us love notes. He came to be with us. He gave his life for us. And today he is for us. He is praying for us. He is preparing a place for us. He loves us. He loves you. And he wants that love shared with others. We love because He first loved us.

    But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, - Matthew 5:44
    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

    Family, let’s go love God. Let’s go love Toledo. Let’s go love this world.

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