"What in the World is Going On?"

Be the Change, 28 June 2020

Be the Change
Series—What in the World is Going On?

Big Idea:
God has placed us here for such a time as this to love well.

What in the world is going on?
If you’re like me, you’ve asked that question a lot lately.

The deadly coronavirus is one thing. The lockdowns and ensuring chaos have been—at least for many—even worse.

The senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are one thing. The ensuring protests and violence are—at least for many—even worse.

What in the world is going on? Are these the last days? Is Jesus coming back soon? If so, what difference does it make?

Our world is a mess. But this is actually not a new thing. Read the Bible! Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the Garden, we’ve all been involved in the deadliest force in the universe…sin.

Throughout our series this month, we’ve looked at injustice, the end times, and our good, good Father. As we conclude today, I want to equip you with tools to make a difference, to impact the world, to be the change.

I don’t know about you, but I want to fix our planet. I want to live in a world free of violence, division, and hatred. I want my grandkids to inherit a better, more peaceful world than the one we know today. I want to see people transform to become more like Jesus and less like satan. I want to make a difference! I want to do something!

But what can I do? What can one person do? How can I best use my 76.1 years as a US male? The problems are so overwhelming, it’s tempting to throw up your arms and give up.

Be The Change

There’s a famous quote that says, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It’s attributed to…Gandhi…but Gandhi didn’t actually ever say it (josephranseth.com). Gandhi did say,

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.

Of course, we’re not here to follow Gandhi. We’re here to follow Jesus. He practiced what he preached. There was a consistency—an authenticity—which seems rare among those who bear the name of Christ…Christians.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

Be the change.

Single people, instead of looking for the perfect mate, focus on being the perfect mate.

Married people, instead of waiting for your spouse to love/serve/respect/give, make the first move.

Instead of getting angry at the misbehavior of others, set an example. It makes me think of Paul. He was repeatedly in prison, flogged, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked three times…(2 Corinthians 11:22-28). You think you’ve got problems! But instead of complaining, he was determined to press on, to be the change, to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

That’s risky. It takes courage. Effort is required. Action is necessary.

Paul told his disciple Timothy,

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

He told Titus essentially the same thing.

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:6-8)

It’s easy to complain. It takes little effort to criticize. It’s tempting to feel overwhelmed, afraid, and out of control. What in the world is going on?

I want to challenge you to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

I want to challenge you to set an example for others to follow.

I want to challenge you to be the change? Here’s why:

  1. 1. Be the change stops us from judging others.

Jesus famously said,

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)

Well, Jesus didn’t really mean that, right? I mean, he meant it for someone else. Judging is my spiritual gift!

A few verses later, he made his point vividly clear.

How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:42)

Love the sinner, hate your own sin!

  1. 2. Be the change allows us a measure of control.

I’m quite sure you like control. You might not label yourself a control freak, but COVID-19 has demonstrated how little control we actually have…and how frustrated we can become as a result.

I’ve often said the only thing we can control is our attitude.

You can’t control another person, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, you can be self-controlled (Galatians 5:23).

  1. 3. Be the change empowers us to make a difference.

Jesus changed the world without the Internet. His eleven friends turned it upside down without radio or television. History is filled with people like MLK, JFK, and the founder of KFC whose lives we remember for a variety of reasons. They took action. Ask not what your world can do for you; ask what you can do for your world. In a word: love.

So What? How?

There are so many ways to love well. We’re all uniquely created with different passions, gifts, and personalities. Some of you love to write letters, others prefer the phone, text, or face-to-face. Dr. Gary Chapman has famously said there are five “love languages” we use to express and receive love:

Words of affirmation
Physical touch
Receiving Gifts
Quality time
Acts of service

There are countless next steps to take in order to be the change, but I want to highlight three.

  1. 1. Listen.

I mentioned this in week one of this series as we discussed injustice. Listen to understand, not respond. Many of us—myself included—feel educated and experienced. We’ll rarely admit it, but inside we feel like we know it all. We will even say, “I know how you feel” to someone who’s experiencing pain unlike any we’ve encountered.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20)

It’s interesting how James says to be slow…to speak and to become angry. We are often quick to speak, quick to become angry, and slow to listen. In a relationship, this can often be described as a misunderstanding. We jump to conclusions, judge, think more about what we’re going to say than what the other person is trying to communicate.

Look people in the eye. Keep your phone in your pocket. Make the other person feel like they’re the most important thing in the world to you in that moment. They should be!

Listen can also include reading, watching videos, and listening to podcasts. This past week I was listening to Dr. Anita Philipps on The Grove Podcast. I feel decently educated about Black History and injustice, yet I learned so much from this brilliant sister in Christ. It was fascinating and humbling.

Be the change and listen. Listen is a verb!

  1. 2. Mourn

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

This is relatively foreign to most of us. When there’s a problem, we fix it. When there’s a loss, we try to replace or say, “You’ll get over it” or “God works all things for the good.” We need to let people grieve and mourn when there is pain and loss. Celebrate Recovery is a great venue for such expressions and it relaunches this Wednesday in the Fellowship Hall.

Family, these are difficult days…for all of us. Many of you are stuck in your home right now, yearning to be physically present. Others are sick. Some are afraid. We have family members who are afraid they or someone they love might be the next victim of injustice…or coronavirus.

It’s awkward to be silent with someone, and yet that’s often the best thing to do…be silent and be with. Nobody expects you to cure COVID, wipe out racism, or bring peace to Jerusalem, but your quiet presence, your empathy, your compassion can be a source of healing, of hope, and of restoration.

  1. 3. Pray

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16b)

Family, there’s arguably nothing more important we can do to be the change, to create change, to promote peace, to show love, to restore masterpieces than pray. We are not in control, but our God is!

One of the highlights of my day is Zoom Prayer, weekdays at 9 AM. You’re invited!

Sometimes we don’t even know what to pray!

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. (Romans 8:26)

My most frequent request of God is wisdom. I’m encouraged by the words of James:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

I lack wisdom. I ask for it. I need it!

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:6-8)

The Starfish

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked, he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.
The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”

One more thing…

Be the change. It’s a catchy phrase. It sounds positive and action-oriented. But remember, we are human beings, not human doings. Our actions matter, but our “being,” our character, our essence matters, too. If you’re like me, you want to be productive. You love accomplishing things. It’s exciting to cross things off your to-do list. But we must never let busyness keep us from becoming.

Jesus had a powerful message for Martha when she was too busy (Luke 10:38-42). The psalmist said of God,

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

Family, let’s be the change. Let’s passionate follow Jesus. Let’s love well. Let’s trust God. No matter how crazy our world becomes, our Heavenly Dad’s got this! We simply need to trust Him and obey Him, following Jesus until He returns. The best is yet to come!

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

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

Good, Good Father, 21 June 2020

Good, Good Father
Series—What in the World is Going On?

Big Idea: In the midst of our chaotic world, our Father is good, loving, and trustworthy.

What in the world is going on? If you’re like me, you’ve asked that question a lot lately.

The deadly coronavirus is one thing. The lockdowns and ensuring chaos have been—at least for many—even worse.

The senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are one thing. The ensuring protests and violence are—at least for many—even worse.

What in the world is going on?

Our world is a mess. But this is actually not a new thing. Read the Bible! Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the Garden, we’ve all been involved in the deadliest force in the universe…sin.

Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love…and a great Dad!

Happy Father’s Day!

Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day can be bittersweet. Perhaps like me, your father is deceased and you’re left with memories, perhaps good, possible not-so-good. Maybe you never knew your dad…or he was abusive. Some of you are dads, and your heart breaks for your wayward, prodigal child.

Today I want to talk about a good Father. A good, good Father. Actually, He’s great, He’s awesome, He’s positively perfect! Yes, I’m talking about our heavenly Dad.
If the word “father” carries baggage, I encourage you to imagine the best dad you know…or maybe even the best parent you know. It might be a friend’s dad or even one from a movie or television show. No matter how ideal that dad is, our heavenly Dad is so much greater.

I have one simple prayer for today: that you would begin to understand how much your heavenly Dad really loves you. I know what you’re thinking: I know God loves me. But you can’t imagine how loved you really are. I can’t imagine. Why? Because none of us have experienced such extravagant love from a human. It is transformational. It is unconditional. It is life-giving. It is grace-filled.

Grace. Unmerited favor.

Nothing you can do can make God love you more than He does right now.
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than He does right now.

I want to be a dad like that. I want my kids—and grandkids—to be secure in my unconditional love for them. I love them. Period.

I don’t love them more if they get straight As.
I don’t love them more if they are the starting quarterback.
I don’t love them more if they become a CEO, launch a non-profit, or become a billionaire.

I don’t love them less if they flunk calculus.
I don’t love them less if they get cut from the basketball team.
I don’t love them less if they get addicted to opioids or end up in prison or get divorced.

Now imagine how much greater God’s love is for them…for me…for you!

God doesn’t love you more if you read the Bible every single day for the rest of your life.
God doesn’t love you more if you “go to church” every Sunday.
God doesn’t love you more if you go on a missions trip, live off 10% of your income, or lead a thousand people to follow Jesus.

God doesn’t love you less if you struggle with porn or alcohol.
God doesn’t love you less if you get arrested for speeding on I-75.
God doesn’t love you less if you get an abortion, are attracted to someone of the same sex, or commit adultery.

“But pastor, that’s not how a good Christian is supposed to behave!”

True, but have you ever met a truly good Christian? We all sin. We all miss the mark. We all fall short. We can compare ourselves to others, but the reality is we’re all sinners. We don’t want what we deserve from God…trust me! How many times did God threaten to wipe us all out? He did once—with Noah! Even then, God’s love won the day. There’s nothing like a good Father’s love.

For quite some time, churches have promoted the notion of sin management. We need to try harder to be a good person and stop doing bad things so God will like us.

In their book True Faced, Thrall, McNicol, and Lynch ask a rather provocative question:

Is it more important to please God or trust God?

The authors state quite properly, in my humble opinion,

Motives —> Values —> Actions

Pleasing God

God’s done so much for us. The least we can do is please Him, right? We need to work on our sin, engage in spiritual disciplines, and try not to mess up. We need to strive to be better, try harder, and certainly look good in front of others. It’s important to manage our sin, celebrate our progress, and make sure nobody knows the struggle, the secrets, the guilt and shame.

Pleasing God: the least we can do is please Him after all He’s done for us; good intentions (impressive, passionate people…wearing masks), working on their sin and disciplines; God loves you always, but He likes you a lot less when you mess up; God’s glad you’re doing your to-do list, but He’s not happy about your thoughts; nobody knows what’s behind the mask; you don’t believe you can really please God for a minute; you’re exhausted from faking;

Many Christians are motivated to please God. I’m not suggesting we should try to displease God, but if our primary motive is to please God, we will value perfection, realize our imperfection, and inevitably fake it. We join others with masks, believing God loves us, but He likes us a lot less when we mess up. He likes it when we read the Bible and pray, but He’s not happy about our thoughts. If we just try harder, if we just strive, if we do more…

More right behavior + less wrong behavior = Godliness


Motives —> Values —> Actions

If your motivation is to please God, you’ll value perfection and pursue it at all costs, even if it means pretending.

Trusting God

But there’s another option. It’s to trust God. It’s not as impressive, but it is infinitely more inviting. There’s not much to do. There are no masks to put on or people to please. It’s messy but honest and real. It’s about grace. The message on this road is God is delighted with you, wild about you regardless of how you behave. God loves you and likes you all the time, even when you mess up. God is here in the midst of your mess, enjoying you. He’s big enough to handle your stuff, and He’s never surprised when you fall. He says, “I am crazy in love with you…on your very worst day. I just want you to trust Me with who I say you are.” Embracing such love and acceptance is transformational…and contagious.

Jesus gave us a mission in Matthew 28:18-20 to go and make disciples, students, followers of Jesus. Discipleship is about being more than doing. It’s about becoming like Jesus, not impressing others. The true test of discipleship is how well you love…God and others. That doesn’t come from a seminar or sermon. It comes from being…with Jesus and with others who love Jesus.

Some of you are still stuck on pleasing God versus trusting God. Aren’t we supposed to please God? Yes! It is written,

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Trusting God pleases God!

We are to trust and obey, not obey and trust.

Some of you think faith is simply believing Jesus died 2000 years ago for your sins. That’s part of it, but it’s so much more. It’s trusting God…with everything! It’s jumping out of the airplane believing when you pull the parachute string, He’ll be there. It’s taking a risk and loving someone who intimidates you. It’s being wildly generous and believing you can’t outgive God. It’s letting go of your bitterness and forgiving that evil person who tried to destroy you years ago. It’s refusing to believe the lies that you’re worthless, shameful, unlovable, or simply a loser.

I’m NOT saying we should take sin lightly. It always leads to death. Every time we sin, relationships are broken. God doesn’t want that for us any more than a parent would want to visit their child in jail.

But motives matter. They determine our values which lead to our actions, our behavior. We can’t begin with behavior because we will always fail and fake. We need to trust God and what He says about us, living out of our true identity as sons and daughters of the Most High God, our good, good Father.

The authors of TrueFaced note, “Scientifically, according to every test, including DNA, (a caterpillar) is fully and completely a butterfly.”

I know, you don’t look like a butterfly today. Neither do I! We have warts and wrinkles, literally and figuratively! Inside, we’re full of pride, selfish ambition, and evil thoughts. The enemy loves to remind us of our failures and flood us with accusations and shame. We look at those around us with their beautiful masks and think we’ll never measure up, unaware that they are just as insecure and impure as we are, they’ve just become better at hiding.

Family, our heavenly Dad loves you. Period. We don’t need to please God to earn His love, His favor. He’s already nuts about us! How else could you explain sending Jesus? He didn’t even do it because we were good. He knows we’re not!

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

If our motive is pleasing God, we will strive to earn His approval.

If our motive is trusting God, we will live out of who God says we are.

This is the difference between religion and a vibrant relationship with God.

It’s the difference between works and grace.

It’s the difference between doing and being.

Should we sin? No! Never! It’s deadly!

But the goal isn’t to sin less. It’s to know Jesus more. It’s to follow him. It’s to do life with him. John 15 talks about abiding, being rooted in him, experiencing the joy of fellowship, relationship, freedom, and peace.

I could talk about the Father’s love all day, but I want to take five minutes and let Him tell you!

The Father’s Love Letter


I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Paul wanted the church in Ephesus to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is God’s love. It’s nearly unbelievable!

Good dads love their kids. One of the things they do is give good gifts. As a dad, I love giving gifts to my kids and grandkid. It might be a hug, a word of wisdom, encouragement, or yes, even something from Amazon! Love gives. Jesus said,

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)

Dr. Luke recorded something similar from Jesus:

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

God doesn’t just say, “I love you.” He proves it!

Psalm 103 says,

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)

That’s great news, family! He’s a good, good Father!

In the middle of our crazy world, despite our sins and failures, we can trust God. We can run to our good, good Father whose arms are wide open. He was there after David committed murder and adultery. He was there when the prodigal son destroyed his life and returned home. He was there after Peter denied Jesus three times. He was there after Saul was involved in martyring Christians.

He’s here for you, too. Run into his arms! Trust and obey. Your Daddy loves you…forever!!!

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

Is The End Near? 14 June 2020

Is the End Near?
Series—What in the World is Going On?

Big Idea:
Are you ready for the return of Jesus? Are others?

What in the world is going on?
If you’re like me, you’ve asked that question a lot lately.

The deadly coronavirus is one thing. The lockdowns and ensuring chaos have been—at least for many—even worse.

The senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are one thing. The ensuring protests and violence are—at least for many—even worse.

What in the world is going on? Are these the last days? Is Jesus coming back soon? If so, what difference does it make?

Last week I mentioned one of the most common questions I get is, “Are we living in the end times? Are these the last days? Paul wrote these words to his disciple, Timothy:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Does that describe our world today? I think so!

Does that describe Paul and Timothy’s day in the first century? Yes!

The Bible is not always the easiest book to understand. I think we can discern the meaning of Exodus 20:13. It says,

“You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)

But what about those other passages which talk about beasts and horns and fire? It can be confusing…and even scary.

The Bible is not a book. It’s a collection of books…sixty-six books written over hundreds of years in multiple languages by a variety of authors…yet they fit together as one beautiful story. When we study the Bible, we must ask three questions:

  • - What did it mean then? This is known as exegesis. It is important to discover the original, intended meaning of a passage because a text cannot mean what it never meant.

  • - What does it mean now? This is known as hermeneutics.

  • - How do we apply it to our lives? So what?

(Note: a great resource for hermeneutics—studying the Bible—is Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth)

This is a simple process, but not necessarily easy!

One of the key factors in reading the Bible is understanding the type of literature. If you go into a bookstore (remember those?!), you can find graphic novels, reference volumes, comic books, biographies, and satire. If you don’t understand the difference, you’ll almost certainly end up with some crazy conclusions!

In the same way, we cannot read the poetry of the Psalms the same way we read the laws of Leviticus. The stories of the prophets are different from Paul’s personal letters. There’s one type of literature that is especially fascinating and misunderstood: apocalyptic.

VIDEO: Apocalyptic Literature, https://bibleproject.com/videos/apocalyptic-literature/

One of the most provocative chapters in the Bible is Matthew 24. Jesus responds to his disciples’ questions about the end of the age.

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. (Matthew 24:4-8)

He’s speaking of the end, right? Actually, he says in verse six these “things must happen, but the end is still to come.” When will all of this occur? It already has! I can prove it!

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. (Matthew 24:9)

He’s not speaking to us. He’s talking to his followers about 2000 years ago! They all died in the first century, nearly all of them martyred.

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:10-13)

Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience looking for signs of the Messiah. You may have heard this is about a future event, but it’s obvious Jesus is speaking about first-century events, specifically the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70.

This past week I was listening to the Alliance’s EquippingU podcast where they were discussing the moral decline of our nation, the marginalization of Christianity, and opposition to the views of the Church. These verses in Matthew sound a lot like our present day. One person said that we no longer have home-field advantage, to which the other speaker said those in the first century would remark that we still have it easy compared to their experience living under Roman rule.

If we read the Bible as if it was written to us, we’ll end up with some radically different conclusions than if we understand it was written for us. These events Jesus is describing already occurred…yet we can relate to them today.

Some have said there are four approaches to apocalyptic texts:

Preterist these events occurred around the time the text was written (“past”)
Idealist this describes the ongoing conflict between good and evil
Historicist this helps us understand God’s perspective in human history
Futurist these describe events in the future, before and during the end times

Which approach is the best? It depends! In some cases, more than one might be useful.

Despite the difficult conditions of the early church in the first century, the Holy Spirit came (Acts 2) and did incredible things, moving the Church from Jerusalem to regions across the known world. Jesus predicted that, too!

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
(Matthew 24:14)

This is a famous verse in the Christian & Missionary Alliance. It has been understood by some to mean when everyone on the planet hears the good news of Jesus, Christ will return. If we evangelize the whole world, we can go home!

I’m not saying that’s necessarily wrong, but it’s not what Jesus was referencing. This was fulfilled nineteen centuries ago!

It is possible that it speaks of two eras, one in the past and one in the future. This is true for some prophecy even about the Messiah. Some speak of the first coming of Jesus, others his return, and perhaps some describe both!

So What?

Are these the end times? Yes…but they began around AD 70! Actually, the war began in 66 AD until 70 AD.

Is the anti-Christ alive today? It’s possible, but previous generations said the same thing. Does it really matter?

Is Jesus returning soon? Absolutely! He said so…about two thousand years ago!

It can be fascinating to listen to predictions, look for prophetic fulfillment in the news, and get excited about the Second Coming of Christ, but there’s really only two things we must do:

  1. 1. Get ready.
  2. 2. Get others ready.

Get Ready. Jesus said later in Matthew 24,

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:44)

Jesus is coming. When? Soon! In our lifetime? I have no idea! All I know is we’re one day closer than we were yesterday! The point is to get ready. If you want to study this chapter, many believe the first 35 verses were fulfilled in 70 AD (preterist), while verses 36-51 speak of the future (futurist)

Someday this body will die. It might be from COVID, cancer, or a car accident. We don’t know when, but the odds are pretty good! Only one generation will be alive when Jesus returns. It might be ours, it might be thousands of years from now.

I’m afraid too many people waste time and energy trying to figure out the
when instead of focusing on the Who.

After describing many great men and women of faith, the writer of Hebrews continues,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Family, we need to fix our eyes—and our attention—on Jesus. Will there be trials? Absolutely! Will people hate us? In every generation. Will we be martyrs? It’s always possible, and not historically unusual.

We need to turn our eyes away from the tv news and social media and toward Jesus. Followers of Jesus have no reason to fear. None. Zero. Zip! When we look to him, we will not grow weary and lose heart. We will not freak out about chaos in the world, instead preparing for the new heaven and new earth. We must be ready for our end…and get others ready, too. Tomorrow may be too late.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Family, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. He’s the reason we’re here. He’s our hope—not our economy, politicians, or popularity. From Genesis until the end of Revelation, God is in control. He’s got this! We need to get ready…and we need to help others get ready, too. Now is the time to share good news with our family, friends, and even strangers. We need to pray, engage in spiritual conversations, and tell our story. Perhaps the best way to love well is to introduce people not to religion, but to Jesus.

These are crazy times. Are these the last days? Maybe. We’ve been in the end times for two thousand years, but someday Jesus will return. Are you ready? Are your friends ready?

Family, our world is out of control. Coronavirus. Racism. Political divisions. Fear. Anxiety.

The world needs Jesus! He’s coming soon. Let’s get ready. Let’s get others ready. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus.

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

Racism & Injustice, 7 June 2020

Racism and Injustice
Series—What in the World is Going On?
Featuring special guest Pastor Donald Smith

Big Idea:
Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love.

What in the world is going on?
If you’re like me, you’ve asked that question a lot lately.

The deadly coronavirus is one thing. The lockdowns and ensuring chaos have been—at least for many—even worse.

The senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are one thing. The ensuring protests and violence are—at least for many—even worse.

What in the world is going on? Are these the last days? Is Jesus coming back soon? If so, what difference does it make?

Our world is a mess. But this is actually not a new thing. Read the Bible! Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the Garden, we’ve all been involved in the deadliest force in the universe…sin.

Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love.

we are engaged in a war! We’re in the middle of a battle! It’s easy to forget that sometimes in our air-conditioned cars and houses with our flat-screen TVs, and La-Z-Boy recliners. We enjoy prosperity and freedoms in this country others on our planet can’t even imagine.

Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love.

We’ve seen blatant sin in full-color. We watched a man murdered. We witnessed violence toward police, civilians, whites, and blacks. We’ve seen buildings burned, businesses looted, …and there are a hundred different narratives to describe these disturbing events.

Tragically, it’s nothing new. Racism isn’t new. Pandemics aren’t new. Hatred and violence aren’t new. They’re simply signs of our enemy, satan.

Paul wrote these famous words to the church in the city of Ephesus in what is modern-day Turkey:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

The enemy loves to steal, kill, and destroy. Sin leads to death, and it’s the hallmark of satan.

Years ago, I heard Ravi Zacharias respond to whether the decline of Christianity in the West or the rise of it in the developing world was more significant. He said they balance each other out.

That makes sense to me. I don’t believe angels or demons reproduce. According to my math, there are two angels for every demon. We will win the war, but the battles are real.

Two weeks ago, I gave a sermon entitled, “
Love Well.” In it, I reflected upon the fact that as a church family, we are diverse. We are different. We have a huge variety of views on politics, football teams, theology, fashion, and music. But we’re family. We’re a Jesus-centered family. We exist for God’s glory, not our own.

We are a Jesus-centered family
Restoring God's masterpieces
In Toledo and beyond
For His Glory.

I’m really glad we’re different. It would be so boring if everyone thought and acted like me! Sure, I have opinions and preferences, but when my focus is on God’s glory, I can set them aside. Sometimes I actually do!

Jesus said,

“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)

That phrase “love one another” was echoed in the book of Romans (13:8). Peter preached it (1 Peter 1:22; 3:8) John restated it (1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11; 2 John 5).

We are to love one another, even when we disagree. I think we were created to disagree! Again, it would be boring if we were all the same, but our differences allow us to be stretched, challenged, and grow. As someone once said, the purpose of marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy. I think that’s true for family, too.

Today I want to put some action behind this idea of love well, of loving one another. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the analogy of a body to describe the Church, the family of believers. It’s a brilliant metaphor vividly showing how we are all different, we’re supposed to be different, and when we are united, beautiful things emerge. When we are divided, of course, things get ugly…quick. Paul wraps up his instructions by saying,

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

If you stub your toe, your whole body suffers. If you have a sliver in your finger, attention is drawn to it. When you have a migraine…

Family, we have some parts who are suffering. It’s not a new pain, but one they have known since birth. It’s a suffering I can’t understand, but I can empathize. Just like I’ll never know the pain of giving birth, I can appreciate the agony as I hear it described (or by being an eyewitness three times!).

It’s easy for people in the majority culture to dismiss the struggle of those in the minority, whatever the situation. I’ve heard people of the lighter hue for years talk about how there’s equal opportunity, everyone should pick themselves up by their bootstraps, look at Oprah and Obama, and turn the other way whenever racial issues are presented.

Racism is not a political issue. It’s a biblical issue.
It’s a human issue. Jesus died for all masterpieces. We are all created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. All of us.

Pastor David Swanson writes, “It is deeply disturbing that so many Christians think that racial reconciliation is some kind of liberal, politically motivated social agenda that has nothing to do with their faith as followers of Jesus Christ.”

Tragically, some Christians seem to have more in common with those who share their race than those who share their faith. Some are more influenced by politics than Jesus.

Racism is not a political issue. It’s a biblical issue.

Proverbs, the book of wisdom, includes this important instruction:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

I’ve often heard that verse used by the pro-life movement, which is appropriate. Dr. Tony Evans said this week that God, “Wants to protect the life of the unborn in the womb, but wants to see justice of the life once born to the tomb. God wants a whole life agenda, not a term agenda.”

Evans said, “We’re in a medical pandemic. Simultaneously, we’re in a cultural pandemic because we’re seeing the devolution of our society…and we’re in a cultural pandemic because we’re in a spiritual pandemic.”

Family, I’ve spent countless hours these past several days praying, reading, and listening. Again, I confess I simply want to fix it! How? Should I run for political office? Will a great sermon do the job? What can I do on social media to make a statement? Is peaceful protest the answer?

One of my best friends on the planet, Dr. Calvin Sweeny, offered three suggestions for me:

  • 1. Listen to understand, not respond
  • 2. Learn about racial injustices
  • 3. Lead your congregations toward solutions (not just response) bathed in prayer

  • I’ve been focusing on steps one and two. Today is the beginning of step three.

    I prayed about how to address this issue today, knowing we’re not going to fix it in sixty minutes, but we can’t be silent, either. I spoke to many friends of color this past week—including many of you—and felt led to invite Pastor Donald Smith to join me today. Reverend Smith is the pastor of Sylvania Community Church, our sister Alliance congregation. He’s been here before for joint worship gatherings and I’ve asked him to speak to us today. Please, listen to understand, not respond.

    Interview with Pastor Donald Smith

    You can download our Next Steps resource guide

    You can watch a panel discussion on race, justice, and the Church's response led by Alliance President Dr. John Stumbo

    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