40 Days of Prayer

Evangelize now, 11 February 2024

Evangelize now
40 Days of Prayer
Matthew 28:18-20
Series Big Idea: We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Big Idea: The “e-word” is not only a command of Jesus, it’s a joy…sharing good news.
“What would be good news in Toledo? What headline would you love to see in the Blade?”
I asked those questions to some of the most prominent people in our community several years ago when I was working on my doctoral thesis. What do you think? What would be good news to you? A big going-out-of-business sale at the mall? The birth of a baby? Your favorite team winning the big game? A job promotion with a big raise? A new car? An outstanding meal? A budding romance?
In 1985, there was a movie called Brewster’s Millions. Monty Brewster, a minor league baseball player, must choose between a $1 million inheritance upfront or an entire estate if he can spend $30 million in 30 days. There are several catches to the deal (he can’t give it away except for 5% to charity and 5% in gambling losses), but perhaps most challenging, he must keep it a secret.
Generally speaking, I don’t like secrets. I can keep a secret, but I usually don’t like to do so, especially when it’s good news. Good news needs to be shared!
Good news needs to be shared. Church people often talk about the gospel. We mentioned this last Sunday. Gospel simply means “good news.” Sharing the gospel, proclaiming the gospel is all about good news. When I interviewed people in UpTown about good news, I was trying to discern what it would mean to bring the gospel to our neighborhood. Many of the things shared answered that question. They spoke of jobs, safety, and health. Are those good? Yes! Does the gospel address them? Yes! Ultimately, the gospel is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. Jesus is King and wants all of humanity to submit to his Lordship, not because he wants to oppress us, but rather he wants to liberate us from the bondage of sin, addiction, poverty, and violence. He wants to be LORD of your life and mine…every day…every moment. Sometimes we let him!
The last recorded words in Matthew’s gospel—his biography of Jesus—say this:
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18, NLT)
Jesus is LORD. This is the gospel. This is good news! He has been given all authority.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NLT)
Because Jesus is LORD, because he has all authority, he can commission his friends to go. The original Greek word here is poreuomai. It means to traverse, to travel, to depart, to go! We can’t do it from our La-Z Boy recliners! We must take action, move, go! This is the calling of every follower of Jesus. This is the commission of every disciple of Jesus.
Which begs the question: what is a disciple? It is a student, an apprentice. I often hear people talk about how this football coach is a disciple of another one…a student becoming like his teacher. It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for people to ask the rabbi to disciple them. It’s fascinating to me how Jesus chose his twelve rather than act upon their request.
The only way we can make disciples is by being a disciple. Who is discipling you? Who are you discipling? Do they know it?
Generally speaking, this can’t happen on Sunday morning. We gather to worship and study the Bible, which is great, but discipleship…spiritual formation…life transformation is “slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others” as Alliance leader Richard Bush used to say.
What is the first step to becoming a disciple? It’s meeting Jesus!
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15, NLT)
Boom! There it is! Going and tell the gospel, the good news. That’s not written to professional clergy. That’s what disciples do. Disciples make disciples. Disciples share good news. Disciples go and make disciples…of all nations, which is why we’re so committed not only to Toledo but also Germany and the Dominican Republic and every nation, tribe and tongue…until all have heard the good news!
Imagine living your entire life and never tasting ice cream. I can’t imagine! How sad!
Imagine living your entire life having never experienced air conditioning or heat or running water or motorized transportation.
Imagine never hearing the name of Jesus, knowing nothing of this historical figure who changed the world. Imagine never knowing about the cross, the crucifixion, and the empty tomb. Imagine being completely clueless about God’s love, the invitation of salvation, the pathway to peace, and the opportunity to experience forgiveness and grace. I can’t imagine, but as I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve encountered people who have not rejected Jesus…they’ve never been introduced to him!
That’s our job! That’s our mission! The first part of disciple-making is evangelism, proclaiming good news, inviting people into the Kingdom of God, introducing them to Jesus!
I have two friends who were born in other countries and knew almost nothing about Jesus before we met. I can’t tell you how much joy I have sharing my story and His story. They are not my projects. I’m not trying to force anything upon them…but I want them to know my best friend. I want to faithfully represent what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and encourage them to follow him, too. It takes time. I’ve known one friend for several years, the other for almost a year. I love to get together with both of them, hang out, talk, play sports…It’s not scary or intimidating…it’s just being intentional. GO and make disciples.
What about you? How many unbelieving friends do you have? I’m not saying I have a lot, but I deeply love these two men and I’m committed to them…again, not because they’re projects, but they’re my friends. I like them! I like being with them! I have been praying for them and believe someday they will surrender their lives to Jesus and tell others, disciple others. That’s how we’ve gotten here after more than two thousand years…disciples making disciples, proclaiming Jesus in word and deed, living radical, alternative lifestyles filled with faith, hope, and love.
I know for some of you it’s hard to GO and make disciples. You’ll never travel to east Germany where less than 1% are Christians. Can you pray for our trip in June? Can you help us pay for the plane tickets? Can you volunteer at Mud Hens games and help us raise money for the trip?
Not all of you are called to go to Germany, but you can probably go next door. You can probably go across the street and meet your neighbor. It amazes me how many people don’t know their neighbors…even the people who live right next door!
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NLT)
GO and make disciples…of all nations. The Internet has certainly allowed us to reach people far away, and let’s not forget the hundreds (thousands?) of international students, immigrants, and refugees living right here in Toledo. You don’t need a passport to do global missions! Volunteering with Water for Ishmael would be a great first step.
The rest of Jesus’ commission says that once people are introduced to Jesus and surrender to him, then…
Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NLT)
Discipleship is more than praying a magic prayer so you can go to heaven when you die. It’s a lifestyle of obedience. Christianity is not a spectator sport! Disciples make disciples, and it begins with proclaiming good news…evangelism.
Author and pastor Ed Stetzer says of this text, “Jesus’ last words should be our first priority.” Family, we’re on a mission from God. The mission is not to sing a few songs and listen to a sermon once a week. It’s not to be busy distributing religious goods and services. We’re on a mission to make disciples, to restore God’s masterpieces, to love God and others well. The greatest way to love another human is to introduce them to Jesus, to share good news…evangelism!
As we finish our 40 Days of Prayer series with our Christian & Missionary Alliance family, our subject is Evangelize Now. The “e-word” is not only a command of Jesus, it’s a joy…sharing good news.
Sharing good news is a joy! Sure, there are those who are imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for their faith. I don’t want to make light of that. In fact, I want to pause and remember those who truly suffer for Jesus. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a classic collection of such stories, and Persecution.com has wonderful resources to help you pray for the persecuted church.
But we’ve been blessed with freedoms in this nation we must never take for granted. Instead, we should seize every opportunity to share good news. Not everyone will accept it, but that’s not the point. Sharing good news is a joy! I love to talk about my grandkids, even if the only person who is as excited as I am is their grandma!
We naturally talk about what we love—our family, pets, sports teams, hobbies…why not our faith? I know, we’re not supposed to talk about religion or politics, but what if it’s not about religion at all? What if it’s simply sharing the good news of what Jesus has done in our lives? We don’t need a megaphone. We don’t need to pressure anyone. Evangelism can be as easy as sharing our story…His story. At the end, I’m going to give you several tools to help you share good news, but first you need to see the urgency of doing so.
Our world is broken, desperate, and dark. People are lost, searching, and hopeless. I often say we are called to be hope dealers! Not everyone wants hope, but many people today are struggling with anxiety, fear, depression, loneliness, and a lack of purpose. We have the solution! We have good news! We have Jesus! I don’t know about you, but I’m so glad I’m living in this moment, this election year, this time in history where things seem to be falling apart. The darker the world, the brighter the light of Jesus can shine in and through us!
I used to hear people say the greatest time to introduce people to Jesus is when someone is in crisis…a divorce, a job loss, the death of a child…some life event that has them seeking, asking questions, looking for help. Sometimes that window is very small and once people get back to busyness, they won’t have time for or sense a need for God.
But right now, virtually everyone you meet is in crisis! COVID has been disorienting for all of us, but there’s more. In a 2018 Cigna health study—before the pandemic—nearly half of Americans said they sometimes or always feel alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent). More than one in four (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
In fact, loneliness is so bad, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in terms of lifespan, loneliness is equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day! People are dying because they need a friend…just a friend!
Can you be a friend to someone? It’s not just going to happen. You can’t do it playing games on your phone. You need to go…and make disciples.
Before we get to some practical tools, let me remind you of the urgency. We need to evangelize now because people are dying…physically, but even more tragically physically. If you still don’t believe me, Barna released a report this past week which showed the top thing urban churches like ours can address is…loneliness. Church and unchurched people said loneliness is the top thing we can address…and the Surgeon General is urging faith communities to do so. We are uniquely equipped to meet one of the greatest needs in our city. Let’s go!
So What?
What now? How do I make a friend? How do I start a conversation? First, pray. Ask God to show you someone to love, to befriend. It might be someone next door, but it could be a co-worker, a family member, the cashier at the grocery store…it could be any human. Each is a masterpiece, and many are hurting, lonely, living in fear.
Last fall I was introduced to Heather and Ashley Holleman. Heather’s a professor at Penn State and she wrote a book called The Six Conversations. It might be the best tool I’ve seen for engaging people in relationships. This is for introverts and extroverts, by the way! She said the four most critical things to do to foster a warm and connected conversation are:
-       Be curious
-       Believe the best
-       Express concern
-       Share your life
It’s really a great book on how to ask good, engaging questions, build relationships, and love well. That’s the first step to evangelism. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. In our present day when the church has a PR crisis, we have to earn the right to be heard. Tragically, church and Christianity do not sound like good news to many in our culture. They sound like politics. They sound like judgment and condemnation. They sound like guilt and shame. They sound like boredom and stuffiness (as Kenny said last Sunday). Let’s change that, family!
“What would be good news in Toledo? The Gospel! Jesus is LORD! He loves and died for every man, woman, and child in our city and beyond. He offers abundant life, eternal life, forgiveness, mercy, grace, peace, meaning, and purpose. He’s not as concerned about where we’ve been but where we’re headed. He is the perfect example of what it means to be human, and he’s where the joy is!
I want to challenge you with three things:
1.    List three names of people you know that need salvation. If you can’t, pray that God leads you to some. Pray for them.
2.    Look for “divine appointments.” Commit to praying for them and asking God to provide you with an opportunity to share the gospel with them.
3.    Go and evangelize to someone! Share your story. Invite them to Dinner Church and Celebrate Recovery. Invite them to our Easter celebration next month. Invite them to our next Alpha Course.
Family, we have good news to share. Don’t hoard it. Don’t keep it to yourself. Let’s let the whole world know in word and deed that Jesus is LORD! 
Preach the gospel…it’s necessary to use words…and deeds!
You don’t have to have all of the answers to share the gospel. Just share your story. We just sang about it. Pray…Go…be intentional…take a risk…make a friend…share your story…share His story…for His glory!

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

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

His now, 21 January 2024

His now
40 Days of Prayer
1 Peter 2:9-10
Series Big Idea: We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Big Idea: You are His now because of Jesus and his work on the cross
When I was a boy, I remember asking my dad when I would be old enough to call him Jim! All of the adults I knew called him Jim, yet I was required to address him as dad.
Years later, I realized it was a privilege to call him dad. To this day, only four people—my sister and our spouses—had that unique relationship with him, a relationship I miss more than words can describe. He was my dad…and I was his son.
It did not take a lot of effort on my dad’s part for me to become his son, but my mom labored to make it a reality!
Most of you have a heavenly dad. It did not take a lot of physical effort on His part for you to become His child, but Jesus labored to make it a reality. You are His now because of Jesus and His work on the cross. You are His son or daughter. You are His. His now.
We’re in the middle of 40 Days of Prayer, joining with Christian & Missionary Alliance churches across the country in a season of devoted prayer…not merely talking to God or talking with God, but doing life with God…doing life with our heavenly dad, His son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit…one God in three Persons, a mystery we call the trinity.
This message is about identity…not who you are, but Whose you are. Much of our identity—for better or worse—comes from our family of origin. Generations ago, if you were a Vanderbilt or a Rockefeller or a Kennedy, people may have assumed you were powerful. The sons of LeBron James are becoming famous for their connection to their father…and are trying to follow in his footsteps. It really means something to be connected, to be related, to belong.  
One of my favorite portrayals of this was in the story of little orphan Annie, transferred from a miserable orphanage to a family of wealth. She went from an outcast to a child of Daddy Warbucks…she became his.
No matter your family of origin, you have all been given an invitation to be adopted as sons and daughters of the most high God. Not everyone accepts the invitation, but those who do experience tremendous blessings and benefits, both now and in the life to come.
One of Jesus’ best friends, Peter, once wrote this to the early church:
…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)
There’s a lot packed into those two verses!
First, we are chosen. There’s an endless debate between Calvinists and Arminians, named after John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. One of the differences is that Calvinists believe God chooses us (unconditional election) while Arminians (no relation to Armenians, of which I am!) believe we choose God (conditional election). Who is correct? We have both in our church family, and both views are welcome in The Alliance.
Do you want to know what I believe? Am I married because I asked Heather to marry me or because she said yes? They’re two sides of the same coin. It’s a dance that requires two partners, like any relationship. There are many scriptures that support both viewpoints, but I think we can manage whatever tension they create and bask in the reality that followers of Jesus are a chosen people.
Second, we’re a royal priesthood. You are a priest! Say with me, “I am a priest.” You don’t need a fancy robe or a seminary degree. You are royalty if you are a follower of Jesus. You are a King’s kid! We are all called to go and make disciples of all nations. It’s not just for professional Christians. Some have called this the priesthood of all believers. It’s a powerful reality I urge you to embrace. Christianity is not a spectator sport. It’s a family on mission, and everyone needs to participate, each in their own unique way using their unique spiritual gifts to glorify God.
Third, we’re a holy nation. We’ve been set apart to live an alternative lifestyle before a dying world, shining the light of Jesus. This isn’t about Christian nationalism or American patriotism. This is the people of God worldwide, set apart for God’s glory.
Fourth, we are God’s special possession. We are His now. We’ve been called out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10, NIV)
Do you see the contrast, the before and after? Once we were not a people and had not received mercy, but now we are the people of God who have received mercy. How did this happen? Jesus died so we may live
You are His now because of Jesus and his work on the cross. Hallelujah!
So What?
Tragically, many have reduced the Christian faith to “Jesus died so you can go to heaven when you die.” There are elements to that statement which are true, but it’s missing so much. Please allow me to review some basic concepts of the scriptures.
First, heaven is where God is present. It’s not necessarily a place where angels with two wings fly around and hand out harps to people who pray a magical prayer. Heaven is where God is, which is why we can truly experience heaven on earth. In fact, Jesus said to pray that heaven comes down to earth.
Second and parenthetically, hell is where God is absent. It may or may not have eternal flames. The absence of God is more than enough torment, in my humble opinion. C.S. Lewis famously said everyone in hell chooses to be there because we all choose to be present or absent from God in this life, and that choice is honored in the next one.
Third, you were created to have a relationship with God…now. That’s the abundant life Jesus spoke of in John 10:10. Christians, please don’t sit around waiting to die so you can experience the abundant life. It’s yours now! Obviously the next life will be far better without sin and temptation and suffering, but you were created to have a relationship with God…now. This is why we talk so much about prayer (time with God) and Bible study (learning about God and His people).
The Bible begins “in the beginning God created.” He created our incredible universe, our planet, puppies, dolphins, birds, and even cats! He created you and me and He knew us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). He has incredible love for us, but our sin is a real problem. You might say God’s allergic to sin because He is holy, He is perfect, He is righteous, He never makes mistakes, yet sin is like poison in a glass of perfectly pure water. It’s intolerable.
Knowing we would sin and screw up, God sent Jesus to earth to die in our place, to pay our penalty, to remove the poison in the water, so to speak. In ten days, the Alpha Course is going to explore the question, “Why did Jesus die?” His friend Peter wrote,
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24, NIV)
Many in our culture believe heaven is their destiny because they’re good people. That’s religion. It’s all about what you do, and millions—if not billions—of people are trying to appease the god or gods, hoping their good outweighs the bad. The problem is, God doesn’t grade on a curve! His standard is perfect, and none of us measure up. That’s why Jesus was sent to die so we might live. Religion is spelled d-o. It’s about what we do. The message of Jesus is d-o-n-e. It was done on the cross. Jesus cried out, “It is finished.”
When we follow Jesus, when we confess our sins, when we repent and turn away from our evil living, when we surrender to God, when we believe, a variety of things begin.
First, we become reconciled to God.
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19, NLT)
Second, we can experience freedom from sin.
We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. (Romans 6:6, NLT)
Third, we realize death was defeated.
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57, NLT)
Furthermore, we are adopted into God’s family. Yes, we were made by Him, for Him, and for His glory, but until our sin—the poison—is dealt with, we can’t enter His presence.
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (Romans 8:15-17, NLT)
Family, this is just a sample of the things that we can experience because of the cross. We are His now. Our identity is in Him…not our ethnicity, political party, or football team. Our rights are His. We surrender control of our lives, knowing that His ways are higher than our ways.
I want to share with you one final passage of scripture, written by Paul to a church in Galatia, modern day Greece. He writes,
Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. 2 They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. 3 And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. (Galatians 4:1-3, NLT)
But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir. (Galatians 4:4-7, NLT)
You’re His now. That means you have the benefits of being in His family as well as the responsibilities. You were bought at a price…the blood and body of Jesus. We are to honor God with our bodies. We are not to become slaves of the world, followers of culture, doing what everyone else is doing. We are children of the King. We are His now. We are children of the light, not the darkness. We are to declare the truth of the gospel in word and deed, shining the light of Christ to a broken, lonely, anxious world.
During these 40 Days of Prayer, it seems appropriate to pause for a time of prayer, giving thanks to God for adopting us as sons and daughters.
As a follow-up to prayers of thanksgiving and praise, my friend, Jim Lange, introduced me to a new prayer last week at our Truth at Work group.
LORD, I want to give You everything You paid for.
That’s a prayer of surrender. That’s a prayer of devotion. That’s the prayer of an orphan who has been adopted into a wonderful family. That’s a prayer that acknowledges Jesus gave everything so that we might have him and be his now…and forever.
I miss my earthly dad. I love him deeply. I’m his son. I represent him as the next generation of “Mr. Schneemann.” I never want to do anything to tarnish the good name of our family. It’s an honor and a privilege to be his. I’m grateful, too, for my mom who brought me into this world and into my family.
I love my heavenly dad, too. I love him deeply. I’m his son. I never want to do anything to tarnish the good name of our family. It’s an honor and a privilege to be His. I’m grateful, too, for Jesus who brought me into my spiritual family through the cross and empty tomb and for the Holy Spirit who lives inside of me, helping me to become like Jesus.

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

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

Wake up now! 7 January 2024

Wake up now!
40 Days of Prayer
Romans 13

Series Big Idea: We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Big Idea: We need to wake up, clean up, and grow up…now!
Wake up! Now! Did you get enough coffee this morning?!
We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Imagine what would happen if we prayed together for the next 40 days and read through the Bible in 2024. Let’s do this! Who’s with me? If you’re looking for some new year’s resolutions (now that you’ve probably broken any you made!), these are two simple ones which will literally change your life. Guaranteed.
This year’s theme for 40 Days of Prayer and really the entire movement known as the Christian & Missionary Alliance—our tribe, our denomination—is
now. There is a measure of urgency related to how we are to live our lives. We need to be intentional, focused, and disciplined because life is short. I’m not saying we can’t have fun in the process, rest well, and play hard. But our days are numbered, opportunities vanish, and tomorrow is not guaranteed.
A Senegalese proverb says, “The opportunity that God sends does not wake up those that are asleep.”
Our text for today is the thirteenth chapter of Romans. If you have a Bible, please turn to Romans 13. It begins with words many find challenging in our day.
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. (Romans 13:1)
Several weeks ago, we looked at Paul’s instructions on marriage where he wrote, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). We’re not fond of the word
submit, are we? Don’t worry, this isn’t a sermon on politics, but these instructions seem universal, so long as following them doesn’t violate the holy scriptures.
So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. (Romans 13:2-3)
This was written to people in the Roman Empire, not exactly a godly society.
The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. (Romans 13:4-5)
Translation: obey the law…again, unless it violates God’s laws (see Acts 5:29).
There are three institutions God created for humanity—the family/home (Genesis 2:18-25), government (Genesis 9:1-17), and the church (Acts 2). All were created to be a blessing, yet all are capable of corruption and abuse. We’re all sinners and we need authority, we need to submit to others, we need accountability. In the case of government, even if you don’t like the person in office, we are to respect the office because God ordained government. It was His idea.
Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. (Romans 13:6-7)
There’s a great scene in two of the gospels where religious leaders were trying to trap Jesus with this question:
Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
He saw through their duplicity and said to them,
“Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:22-25, NIV)
What is God’s? All of our heart, soul, mind and strength! Back to Romans 13…
Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. 9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. (Romans 13:8-10)
Love. That’s the sign of spiritual maturity. That’s the sign of a true believer. That’s the sign of someone devoted to God.
Family, I’ve said this so many times that you may be sick of it, but the Great Commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said so. The writer of Romans said so.
We must be people of love…because we’re people who have been loved…by God. Hallelujah!
While I’m incredibly embarrassed at the unloving behavior of many so-called Christians, the reality is I don’t always look out for the best interest of another person. 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter of the Bible, is not always a description of my life. We need more of God’s love in our hearts so we can express more love to others.
Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. (Romans 13:8)
Going back to this verse for a moment, some godly leaders like J. Hudson Taylor and Charles Spurgeon believed this means we are to have no financial debts. I’m not sure I would go that far—never say never—but debt is definitely a burden and something to be avoided at (almost) all costs. Regardless of your financial debt, we are always indebted to love others.
Now we have the context for today’s central message.
This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)
Wake up now! Be alert. Get ready. We just celebrated the first advent, the first coming of Jesus to our planet. He is returning…soon! Are you ready? Are your friends and family ready? Tomorrow is not promised. Today is the first day of the rest of your life…and it could be your last. If our purpose in life was merely to pray a prayer to get a get out of hell free card, there’s nothing left to do…but there is! Every follower of Jesus has been commissioned by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 to go and make disciples. We use the phrase “restoring God’s masterpieces” from Ephesians 2:10, but the application is identical. We need to wake up! We need to urge others to wake up, too…both believers and not-yet followers of Jesus.
The greatest way to love our neighbors is to be hope dealers, preaching the good news of Jesus in word and deed. It’s not even about getting them ready to die so much as it is about showing them how to live…the abundant life that Jesus offers…a life filled with faith, hope, and love. Easy? No. Comfortable? Hardly. Exciting? Absolutely! Satisfying? More than anything this world can offer.
The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. (Romans 13:12)
What a brilliant metaphor. Get rid of your sin and walk in the light. Confess and repent your junk and let God forgive and redeem.
We are to wake up…and clean up!
Let’s get a wardrobe makeover in 2024, getting rid of our sinful habits and prideful attitudes and put on the armor of God, the fruit of the Spirit, the robe of righteousness. Some of you trust God with what happens after you die, but you won’t let him be LORD before you die! It’s time to clean up, church! It’s time to stop acting like the world and live radical, alternative lives that ask people the reason for the hope we have. It’s about loving the unlovable, extending grace and forgiveness to the unworthy, and seeking first His Kingdom, not our own.
What’s your new year’s resolution? I hope it’s to join us in 40 Days of Prayer and reading through the Bible this year, but greater than those is to love well, to obey God, to live right.
Now we’re told to
grow up!
Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. (Romans 13:13)
Thanks quite a list. Note some are visible like wild parties, while others like jealousy is more a matter of the heart. It’s worth mentioning again sexual immorality or promiscuity refers to virtually any sexual activity outside of a marriage between a husband and wife. Yes, I know it’s old school, but it’s what honors God. If you are a follower of Jesus, your body is not yours. Your possessions are not yours. Your future is not yours.
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20, NIV)
So we’re commanded to not participate in the darkness. What’s the alternative? Paul returns to a clothing metaphor.
Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. (Romans 13:14)
Charles Spurgeon said, “The rags of sin must come off if we put on the robe of Christ.”
A few weeks ago, we looked at a similar passage with this “wake up now” message.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
14 This is why it is said:
            “Wake up, sleeper,
                        rise from the dead,
                        and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8-14, NIV)
It’s easy for me to stand up here and say, “Love God, hate sin.” The truth is, most of us
want to do the right things. We want to obey God. We want to love well. But life gets in the way. We get tempted…through friends, co-workers, family, and media. We hear, “Everybody’s doing it,” whether explicitly or implicitly. By the way, not everyone is doing it!
The first step in doing anything begins in the mind. We need to “know the truth and the truth will set us free,” Jesus said in John 8:31. This is why we need to be in the scriptures. We need to read them, listen to them, study them, and most of all obey them.
The expression “sleeper” in the original Greek is someone who is “indifferent to their salvation,” one who “yields to sloth and sin.” (Blue Letter Bible) Does that describe you?
The late Keith Green penned these song lyrics a few decades ago:
Oh, can't you see it's such sin? The world is sleeping in the dark That the church just can't fight 'cause it's asleep in the light How can you be so dead when you've been so well fed? Jesus rose from the grave And you, you can't even getta out of bed
Family, we’re on a mission from God. Restoring masterpieces doesn’t just happen. It takes prayer, intentionality, time, and effort. Many of you are actively engaged in making disciples, engaging in spiritual conversations, extending hospitality, surrendering your time, talents, and treasures. Well done, good and faithful servants!
Some of you have been sitting on the sidelines. Maybe it’s indifference. Perhaps you’re asleep. It’s possible that you want to engage but don’t know where to start. Let me offer a few next steps.
-       Pray: online (Zoom), 9:30 AM Sundays, with 40 Days of Prayer devotional
       Study: The Bible Recap (how much time do you spend reading social media?)
       Give: take a faith-filled risk, up your giving (or start) and watch your investment grow
       Invite: Alpha beings 1/17
       Serve: graphics and communications, facilities, student ministries, Life Group hosts, Life Group leaders, musicians and tech, hospitality team, visitation
Wake up…now. Clean up…now. Grow up…now.
What if this is the year we pay attention, remain fully present in the moment, be intentional, and live with passion and purpose? Wake up!
What if this is the year we fully surrender, avoid temptation, embrace accountability, and say no to sin? Clean up!
What if this is the year we learn, study, pray, rest, sabbath? Grow up!
Our closing prayer today was written by Ciro Castro of The Alliance:
God, we pray for an awakening in our hearts. We pray for a deep hunger and a deep longing for You. We ask for a fresh anointing from You. We declare our lack of satisfaction in and rejection of the things that are causing us to drift off to sleep. Search us and know our hearts, God. Replace sloth with vigor, sin with holiness, and indifference with passion. Wake us up now. Amen.
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

Prayer as an Expression of Hope, 5 February 2023

Prayer as an Expression of Hope
40 Days of Prayer

Matthew 6:13b; Mark 13:24-26

Series Big Idea: We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Big Idea: Prayer produces hope as we are reminded of the power and glory of God.
Someone has said humans can go
40 days without food
3 days without water
8 minutes without air
1 second without hope
Author Lewis B. Smedes put it this way:
Hope is to our spirits what oxygen is to our lungs. Lose hope and you die. They may not bury you for a while, but without hope you are dead inside. The only way to face the future is to fly straight into it on the wings of hope…hope is the energy of the soul. Hope is the power of tomorrow.   
Who could use a little more hope?
What exactly is hope? It is a verb. I can say, “I hope the Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl next Sunday.” It is also a noun. We can be full of hope. The Greek word for hope used in the Bible is”elpis,” meaning to anticipate, usually with pleasure; expectation or confidence.
Like faith, the power of hope lies not in the person hoping, but rather the object of hope. I can hope this chair will hold me up, but I have no bearing on whether or not it breaks. That belongs to the chair and its strength.
You can hope for anything…a new car, a perfect spouse, a wonderful job, 80 degrees and sunny! In the business world, it has been said that hope is not a strategy…”I hope we start to make some sales so we don’t go bankrupt.”
Today we finish our 40 Days of Prayer series with our Christian & Missionary Alliance family.
We’ve been looking at the LORD’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray.
We began with prayer as Worship:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
Then prayer as Kingdom Partnership:
thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.  
Prayer as Petition:
Give us this day our daily bread.  
Prayer as Confession:
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those
who trespass against us.  
Prayer as Spiritual Warfare:
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

One of my frustrations about prayer is when people make it about a list instead of a relationship. Jason did a great job a few weeks ago preaching about “give us this day our daily bread.” We
are to ask God for things. He’s a good, good Father who gives good gifts to His children. But a wish list is not a relationship. We were created to know God and be known by Him. Prayer is not just talking to God. It’s not just talking with God. I submit to you that prayer is doing life with God.
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica,
Never stop praying. (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NLT)

How can we do that?
If I close my eyes and fold my hands while I drive my car…
How can I pray when I’m asleep?
How can I pray when I’m at work focusing on a project?
If prayer is something we do, we must surely stop.
If prayer is something we are, we can never stop praying.

Allow me to explain what I mean. Ever since I married Heather, I have been involved in a marriage. Date nights are a part of marriage. Phone calls and texts are a part of marriage. But I’m still married when I’m asleep. I’m still married when I’m out of town. I’m still married when I’m at the office. Why? Because marriage is about a relationship.
I have a different relationship with the barista at Biggby Coffee. I go there for a transaction…I ask for tea, I pay the barista, and they give me tea. Period.
Tragically, many treat prayer like a barista transaction. God, this is what I want. Give it to me. Now, please. If not, I will be angry, doubt You, or even abandon You.
Prayer is not about a transaction. Prayer is about a relationship, and relationships are not just what we do, but who we are.
It is vital for us to have “dates” with God where we set aside everything and focus on Him. For many, closing the eyes, bowing the head, and folding the hands can aid in that focus. But prayer doesn’t end when we say amen. Our relationship with God continues throughout the day and night.

Never stop praying. (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NLT)
Today’s theme is Prayer as an Expression of Hope:
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Why is this an expression of hope?
God and His Kingdom are forever.
Last week I was driving around my old stomping grounds in Ann Arbor. It’s been about seven and a half years since we moved from Michigan to Toledo, and in less than a decade, so much has changed. New people live in many of the homes in our old neighborhood. Stores I used to frequent have closed. I ate breakfast in a new restaurant in space that used to be a different establishment.
I drove by The Big House—Michigan Stadium—and what used to be a cutting edge, high tech video board has been taken down, most likely to be replaced by an even brighter, higher-definition one.
Everywhere we look, our world is changing. Few people stay at the same company throughout their career. Little people grow up to become big people. The weather is constantly changing. People even change spouses when their marriages fail.
It’s no wonder people are desperate for hope. One pastor recently wrote, “We no longer trust the government, the medical profession, the judicial system, our academic institutions, or our churches.”
But God and His Kingdom are forever! That’s real hope. One of Jesus’ best friends, Peter, wrote,
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)
A living hope. Jesus died to give us hope, forgiveness, peace, reconciliation to our heavenly Father, but then rose from the dead. That’s real power! That’s real hope!
When we hope in temporary things, we’ll always be disappointed. They become false hope. Paul said to his apprentice, Timothy…
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)
Followers of Jesus view their resources as something to steward, to share, not something to worship. Where is your hope today?
Even in the midst of trials, we can have hope. In fact, it is through trails that we encounter hope. Listen to these words:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5, NLT)
When is the last time you rejoiced over your problems and trials? It sounds crazy, right, but you can trust God’s Word to be true. None of us enjoy suffering, but suffering shapes us. It develops our character. It makes us stronger.
For the past five weeks or so, Heather has been using crutches due to a broken foot. The crutches are uncomfortable and she is using her arms in ways she’s never done before, but those muscles are getting stronger. In the same way, when we are tested, our character grows. Furthermore, we’re reminded of our weaknesses, how little we can control, and the hope of heaven. The hope of salvation. The hope of eternity with God.
Some of you are struggling right now, and I want to encourage you and tell you two things:
1.    You are seen. God sees you. If you’ve shared with others, they see you. You are loved. You are accepted. You matter. You belong here. You are family. No matter what you’ve done.
    Your story is not over. If you are a follower of Jesus, the best is yet to come. I promise! Here’s a glimpse of what’s ahead:
“At that time, after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:24-26, NLT)
That’s hope! That’s what we have to look forward to very soon! Be encouraged, family.
This prayer in Romans perfectly describes how I feel about you.
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NLT)
Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 6. We’re going to look at the end of verse 13.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:13b, NKJV)
How many of you see that? How many of you don’t? This is called the doxology, and it’s missing in many Bible translations, though there’s probably a footnote somewhere. Let Dr. Scot McKnight explain:
Readers of most editions of the Bible will find a note that the best and earliest manuscripts do not have the commonly recited doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen” (KJV). Neither does Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:1 – 4 have a doxology. Those words appear to have been formed on the basis of 1 Chronicles 29:11 – 13 by someone later than Jesus and the writing of the gospel of Matthew; the doxology was added to the Lord’s Prayer in public prayer, and then was gradually added to the text of the New Testament itself. We recite them today because the public recitation of the Lord’s Prayer seems incomplete without such an ending.
The Story of God Bible Commentary)
It’s a fitting conclusion to the prayer, reminding us that God is worthy of our praise. He is all-powerful. There is evidence of His Kingdom breaking forth here on earth, but more is to come.
As we pray, we can praise and prepare for eternity.
The next life will be filled with music, praise, and adoration. I don’t expect to play a harp on a cloud, but we will certainly worship Almighty God. When we sing, we prepare. When we look back at Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the miraculous resurrection, we are reminded of who he is and why he is worthy.
Jesus Messiah
All our hope is in you, Jesus, the light of the world!

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

Prayer as Confession, 22 January 2023

Prayer as Confession
40 Days of Prayer
2 Samuel 11; Matthew 6:12; Psalm 51:1-17

Series Big Idea:
We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Big Idea: Confession is a vital, liberating component of prayer.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Cheery question, right?! You’re in good company. The book of Romans says,
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3:23, NLT)
Sin is “any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God” (1 John 3:4; Rom. 4:15), in the inward state and habit of the soul, as well as in the outward conduct of the life, whether by omission or commission (Rom. 6:12-17; 7:5-24). (Source: Easton’s Bible Dictionary)
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? All sin leads to death. All sin is harmful…to us and/or others. All sin is an offense against God. While any sin is enough to break the intended relationship between us and God, not all sins have equal consequences in this life. Going 61 miles an hour in a 60 will not have the same impact on our lives as going 100 miles an hour and crashing into a church nursery!
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Whatever it is, you’re in good company.
Jacob was a cheater.
Peter had a temper and denied Jesus.
Noah got drunk.
Jonah ran from God.
Paul was responsible for murder.
Miriam was a gossip.
Martha was a worrier.
Samson was a womanizer.
Rahab was a prostitute.
But one of the greatest figures in human history was involved in lust, likely rape, adultery, fathering a child out of wedlock, getting someone drunk, lying, and pre-meditated murder…in one story…and was still forgiven. His name: King David.
The story is epic.
In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1, NLT)
Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. 3 He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home. 5 Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.” In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:2-5, NLT)
This is the second time we’re told David stayed behind in Jerusalem…and plans a cover-up.
Then David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. 8 Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. 9 But Uriah didn’t go home. He slept that night at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard. (2 Samuel 11:6-9, NLT)
When David heard that Uriah had not gone home, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?” (2 Samuel 11:10, NLT)
Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents, and Joab and my master’s men are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I would never do such a thing.” (2 Samuel 11:11, NLT)
 “Well, stay here today,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard. (2 Samuel 11:12-13, NLT)
So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. 15 The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” 16 So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. 17 And when the enemy soldiers came out of the city to fight, Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers. (2 Samuel 11:14-17, NLT)
Lust, likely rape, adultery, fathering a child out of wedlock, getting someone drunk, lying, and pre-meditated murder. What follows—after a confrontation by Nathan the prophet—is confession…and forgiveness.
Have mercy on me, O God,
                        according to your unfailing love;
            according to your great compassion
                        blot out my transgressions.
2          Wash away all my iniquity
                        and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2, NIV)
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Imagine it is blotted out. Imagine God washes it away. Imagine He no longer even knows what you’re talking about! That’s what King David was seeking. That’s what we all desire, right?
The king (eventually) acknowledged his sin. He confessed it. He came clean.
Do you find confession to be easy? Why or why not? I often find it easier to rationalize, to be defensive, to excuse my sins…it’s not that big of a deal…I didn’t kill anyone…people on TV do worse things…
But there’s freedom when we ‘fess up.
Confession is a vital, liberating component of prayer.
It’s the pathway to forgiveness . One of the most beautiful promises in the Bible says,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, NIV)
This is a conditional promise. If we confess. The psalmist offers a brilliant picture of that forgiveness.
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12, NIV)
Is that good news? It’s why Jesus came, died, and rose.
We all experience the guilt associated with our sins. The number one reason people feel guilty is…because they’re guilty! But there’s hope for the person who has surrendered their life to Jesus Christ, accepted the reality of his life, death, and resurrection. What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
I could talk about this for hours! The reason the cross has become the symbol of our faith is because it represents both the incredible sacrifice of Jesus and the incredible hope for us. Hallelujah!
Confession is vital, but there’s more. We must repent, turn, change.
Have you ever heard a parent say to a child, “Say you’re sorry” and the child responded, “Sorry!”?
Have you ever had someone apologize to you for the same thing…over and over?
It’s easy to question the sincerity. “Sorry” is not a magic word. True reconciliation is rooted in authenticity and sincerity. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll never do it again, but we must genuinely seek change. This is why we offer Celebrate Recovery on Wednesday nights. It’s usually not enough to try harder. We need help. We need support. We need prayer. We need others. We certainly need the power of God.
In Psalm 51, David doesn’t just say, “Sorry.” A few verses later he says,
10         Create in me a pure heart, O God,
                        and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11         Do not cast me from your presence
                        or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12         Restore to me the joy of your salvation
                        and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
He wants restoration. Our mission is “restoring God’s masterpieces.” He wants the relationship with God that was broken by sin to be mended. He doesn’t stop there. He is changed by forgiveness.
13         Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
                        so that sinners will turn back to you.
He wants others to confess and experience the joy of forgiveness. Good news needs to be shared! If you’ve been forgiven, let others know the same freedom and cleansing is available to them.
David offers praise and worship to God as a result of our forgiveness, and we should, too.
That’s all background for today’s scripture!!!
As we continue our 40 Days of Prayer series on what we call the LORD’s Prayer, out text for today simply says,
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12, NIV)
Another translation says,
and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. (Matthew 6:12, NLT)
Debts. Sins. Trespasses. They can generally be used interchangeably.  This is a fascinating verse. We are to ask God to forgive us our sins, but there’s more. There’s an understanding—an assumption— that we have forgiven others. It’s as if Jesus is saying forgiveness is available, but don’t hoard it.
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:9, NIV)
We’ve been blessed to be a blessing.
We’ve been forgiven in order to be able to forgive.
We have a role to play in forgiveness. It begins with confession, but it seems greater than that.
I’ve noticed when it comes to prayer, we often want God to do all of the work. We might pray, “Feed the hungry, LORD” and God says, “You feed the hungry!” We may pray, “LORD, help me ace the exam tomorrow” and He responds, “Did you study?!”
Some of you have bought this lie of what some call cheap grace. It goes something like this: pray this magical prayer and then do whatever you want for the rest of your life. That’s not following Jesus. That’s not true repentance, turning from your sin. That’s not sincere confession.
I am not suggesting we have to walk on eggshells or worry about our salvation, but I am saying the deeper life with Jesus is not passive. We are invited to participate, by loving God, by loving our neighbor as ourselves, by making disciples of all nations, by picking up our cross daily and following Jesus, …and by forgiving. We don’t earn forgiveness by forgiving, but if we have experienced God’s forgiveness, we will be ready to forgive others. One writer notes, “Forgiveness of others is proof that that disciple’s sins are forgiven and he or she possesses salvation.” (NIV Application Commentary) Jesus said,
Matt. 6:14    For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV)
Wow! Someone said forgiveness is easy…until you have someone to forgive!
“But they don’t deserve to be forgiven.” True. Neither do you.
“But they hurt me.” True. Sin hurts.
“But I don’t have the power to forgive.” True. That’s why you need God and His forgiveness. You can’t give what you don’t have. Forgiven people forgive others.
One of Jesus’ best friends had a remarkable conversation with him.
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?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)
That doesn’t mean 490. Jesus meant for us to keep forgiving others as long as we want to be forgiven. The rest of Matthew 18 has more of Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness.
So What?
The message of our text is simple, but not easy.
and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. (Matthew 6:12, NLT)
God is quick to forgive, but he wants us to confess, to repent and turn away from sin, and to pass on forgiveness to others. What do you need to do today? Maybe you need to confess, to come clean, to get right with God. Perhaps you’re sick of confessing the same thing over and over and it’s time to take some serious action, to go to Celebrate Recovery, to share your struggle with a friend, to receive prayer from our elders. Some of you simply need to forgive…yourself or others. Jesus died to make that possible. Forgiveness brings freedom.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?
Maybe it’s refusing to forgive someone. Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. They might not even know you’re bitter. Today’s the day to forgive and get free. It doesn’t necessarily mean to trust, nor does it mean to forget, but it means to pass on the forgiveness you’ve received to others.
Maybe the worst thing you’ve ever done is refusing to forgive yourself. Is God a liar?
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9, NLT)
We’ve been forgiven and, therefore, have the power to forgive others and ourselves. Hallelujah!

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

Prayer as Kingdom Partnership, 8 January 2023

Prayer as Kingdom Partnership
40 Days of Prayer
Matthew 6:10, Colossians 1:13-14; Romans 14:17
Series Big Idea: We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Big Idea: King Jesus wants us to experience God’s Kingdom and share it with others.
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word
kingdom? Maybe Disney or the animal kingdom or the United Kingdom or even Burger King! Unless we’re speaking of something historical or foreign, we don’t often think about a kingdom, yet it’s the English word used to describe what may be the primary subject of Jesus’ teachings…the Kingdom of God.
Today we begin week two of
40 Days of Prayer, a nationwide series with our global family, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. There are daily devotionals, weekly online gatherings, and our sermon series designed to get us on our knees as we begin 2023. If you’re paying attention, the series itself is a study of what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Last week Pastor Donald spoke on prayer as worship:
“ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, (Matthew 6:9, NIV)
Today’s text continues:
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10, NIV)
God’s Kingdom. What is it? Where is it? Few words have been more misunderstood among Christians than this word
One of my favorite professors, Scot McKnight, wrote a book on the subject entitled
Kingdom Conspiracy. In it, he notes these five elements to the meaning of kingdom in the Bible:
a kingdom (1) has a king who (2) rules both by way of redemption and governing, and this king rules (3) over a people [Israel, church] through the revelation of (4) the law [Torah, teachings of Jesus and the apostles], and this king rules (5) in a land. All five of these elements are needed to speak biblically about kingdom, and all five are needed to be a kingdom-mission church.
Many reduce
kingdom to only one or two elements, which is insufficient. Kingdom is ultimately a people, and that people is Israel expanded, the Church. The Kingdom of God is not a church building. It’s not a church service. It’s not merely a local congregation. When we speak of the Kingdom of God, we’re referring to the global people under the rule of King Jesus, the Holy Scriptures, and the land they inhabit.
Jesus used the word
kingdom well over 100 times. To a first-century Jew, “kingdom” always meant “Israel.” To us, it should mean…well, us! The capital-C Church. It’s more than just good deeds. It’s more than salvation. It’s about us, who we are, and what we do under the Lordship of King Jesus. Perhaps the greatest challenge in understanding the Kingdom is it is now and not yet. Jesus recognized this. In the first chapter of Mark’s gospel or “good news” biography of Jesus, he said
The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15, NLT)
King Jesus was on the scene.
One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”
Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21, NLT)
The rule and reign of Jesus was present, and that included miracles, healings, signs, and wonders. These did not cease when Jesus ascended into heaven, but actually exploded onto the scene in Acts 2, the early Church. The entire book of Acts—and much of the New Testament—is filled with accounts of love winning over hate, life conquering death, health dominating disease, and truth prevailing over lies. My favorite definition of heaven is it’s where God is present. Hell is the one place God is absent. Never mind playing harps on clouds. Don’t focus on pitchforks and fire.
Heaven is where God is present.
Hell is where God is absent.
It’s interesting how often people speak of heaven and hell, though the words heaven and hell never occur together in the Bible, though heaven and earth are often together. Regardless, heaven is where God is present, hell is where God is absent, and that’s really all you need to know…except that we experience aspects of both today. We see people who have rejected God and live as if He is absent…hoping He is absent. Some day they’ll be in for a rude awakening, but C.S. Lewis famously said, “All that are in hell choose it.” Keep God out of your life now, He’ll honor that decision for eternity. It’s your choice.
But let’s shift toward heaven for a moment, the spaces where God is present, or particularly visible. When Jesus said to pray
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10, NIV)
He’s saying to welcome God, submit to the LORD, live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, and seek moments where heaven kisses earth.
Family, this still happens today. I’ve seen God heal the sick, restore broken relationships, provide in times of desperation, and transform lives from darkness to light. If it weren’t for such God-things, I’d quit my job and go drive a brown truck for UPS or something!
For he has rescued us from the kindom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. (Colossians 1:13-14, NLT)
The kingdom of God includes salvation, but it’s so much more than just praying a prayer. It’s the ultimate alternative lifestyle!
Unfortunately, many so-called Christians live dull, lifeless, faithless lives without experiencing the power of God through the Holy Spirit. It’s just religion. The writer or Romans, in contrast, said,
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17, NLT)
Some have taken the other extreme and had phony encounters, but kingdom people should be seeking the experiencing the power of God…not simply for our pleasure, but the benefit of others.
Personally, I want more of God. Is anyone with me? Maybe my new year’s resolution is summarized in an old song that said, “More love, more power, more of You in my life.” There are moments when the kingdom of God is visible now, and it’s a wonderful thing.
The late Dallas Willard said,
“Discipleship is learning how to live in heaven before you die.” I love that. Some of you have been taught to just tolerate this life, but Jesus said to
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:33, NLT)
In doing so, we will be doing life with God, living in the Kingdom of God, experiencing the fruit of godly choices, and knowing the abundant life Jesus promised his followers. It does not mean life will be easy and happy-happy-happy, but you will find peace, contentment, and joy.
If we’re honest, the problem isn’t God, it’s us. No matter how holy or mature, righteous, or religious, we all mess up…a lot! All of the problems in our world are the result of sin…ours or someone else’s. I often pray,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10, NIV)
…but then I sometimes want it my way. My will. Sometimes He allows it, which leads to…regret.
I said the kingdom of God is now and not yet. We experience the rule and reign of God from time to time, but the earth is not fully submitted to the lordship of King Jesus. That’s obvious. In chapter 19, Dr. Luke records,
The crowd was listening to everything Jesus said. And because he was nearing Jerusalem, he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away. (Luke 19:11, NLT)
We experience moments of the Kingdom of God now, but someday it will be all we know. John records in Revelation,
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:3-4, NLT)
That’s what we have to look forward to…but we can seek and experience it now, too. The now and the not yet. It’s a tension. We are called to be light in our dark world. We are on a mission from God to participate in His kingdom now, bringing faith, hope, and love to our friends, family, neighbors, and even enemies. The Church is to offer a sneak preview of the kingdom to the lost world. We are not to be known for our rules, our politics, or our condemnation, but rather our love, our joy, our peace.
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10, NIV)
The kingdom is God in action. The Church is God in action. You can’t see the wind, but you can see it’s activity. People can’t see God, but they can see Him at work in and through us. Right?!
To put things into historical context, many have viewed reality as a play with multiple acts. If you’ve ever been to a multi-act play, you know each act is different, but each fits the greater story. If it’s a play about the Civil War, you wouldn’t expect to have Lebron James in a scene or spaceships on stage! There are a few different outlines, but consider this as one example of the biblical story:

I.         Act 1: Creation and the Fall
God creates a magnificent world for us to enjoy, and then sin ruins it.

II.         Act 2: Israel
I mentioned this is what first-century Jews knew of kingdom, God leading his people through Moses, Joshua, King David, and others. The Psalms and the Old Testament record Act 2.

III.         Act 3: Jesus Brings Us into the Kingdom
King Jesus makes his first appearance on our planet, showing us what it means to be human while accomplishing his mission of seeking and saving the lost through his death

IV. Act 4: The Church

The Holy Spirit arrives fully in Acts 2, guiding those in the Kingdom to become like Jesus and live out God’s Kingdom on earth…now!
Lord, let Your Kingdom come on earth! Now!
The Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5 give us a vision for God’s Kingdom on earth.
Matt. 5:3    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
                         for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4          Blessed are those who mourn,
                         for they will be comforted.
5          Blessed are the meek,
                         for they will inherit the earth.
6          Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
                         for they will be filled.
7          Blessed are the merciful,
                         for they will be shown mercy.
8          Blessed are the pure in heart,
                         for they will see God.
9          Blessed are the peacemakers,
                         for they will be called children of God.
10         Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
                         for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Let’s pray that God’s Kingdom is evident in our lives, that people see God in action through us. I pray that our lives are so different, so attractive, that people want to join our family, they want to taste the Kingdom, they want to follow King Jesus.

IV.         Act 5: Completed Redemption
This is the reward for following Jesus, the fulfilment of God’s Kingdom, the new heaven and a new earth.
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10  And they were shouting with a great roar,
            “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
                        and from the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10, NLT)
But it all begins now. This week. This month. This year. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Will you submit to the lordship of King Jesus? Will you seek first his kingdom? Will you pray for his will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven? Will you surrender your time, talents, and treasures to him? When people pray, they usually tell God what they want Him to do. Jesus taught us to pray, LORD…

your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:10, NIV)

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

Reawakening to the Mission of Christ, 30 January 2022

Reawakening to the Mission of Christ
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Luke 14:12-23

Series Big Idea: The aim of this 40-day focus is to fix our gaze on Jesus, remember who He is, what He has done, what He has given us to do, and what He will do in the future.

Big Idea: We’ve been invited to join Jesus on his mission to seek and save the lost.

My all-time favorite movie is The Blues Brothers (the TV version!). I love music, comedy, and Chicago and it blends them together seamlessly. Perhaps the most famous line in the movie is the mantra of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd: “We’re on a mission from God.”

What is your mission? Why on earth are you here? What is your calling?

Today we’re continuing our
40 Days of Prayer series with The Alliance. The theme is awakening and we’ve talked about awakening to the glory of Christ, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, and the Church of Christ. Today we’re going to reawaken to the mission of Christ…and you might reawaken to your mission in the process.

Many of you know the story of Zacchaeus, the wee little man who was the chief tax collector in the region, a rich, greedy, despised man who climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus over the crowd. How surprised he must’ve been when Jesus not only sees him but invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house.

Have you ever invited yourself to someone’s house?!
Has anyone ever invited themselves to yours?!

Zacchaeus has a truly life-changing encounter with Jesus, declares his intention to pay back everyone he has cheated four times and give half of his wealth to the poor. Is that a transformation or what?!

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:9-10, NLT)

Did you catch it?

The mission of Christ is to seek and save the lost.

I realize
lost can be a negative term, but it’s the most common English translation of the Greek word apollumi used by Jesus, a word also indicating destroy, die, lose, mar, perish. They are the ones Jesus came to seek and save. They were his mission. They are his mission today. If you can sing the words of Amazing Grace—“I once was lost/but now am found”—it’s your mission, too.

The mission of Christ is to seek and save the lost.
The mission of Christ’s followers is to seek and save the lost.

Obviously, you and I can’t save the lost on our own, but we can introduce them to the one who lived, died, and rose from the dead, offering them an opportunity to be with God for eternity and inviting them to the greatest party in history!

Why don’t we have the reputation of being the greatest partiers on the planet? It seems like Christians are known as the most boring, judgmental, self-righteous people! How did that happen?

For thousands of years, the Jews have thrown some of the best parties, measured not in hours, but days! In the eighth chapter of 1 Kings, there’s an account of a week-long party to celebrate the temple’s dedication. Then it was extended another week! Have you ever been to a fourteen-day party?

I’ve run a DJ business for more than eighteen years as a side hustle and I can tell you my favorite events are Jewish weddings…by far!

The mission of Christ is to seek and save the lost.

The heart of his message is literally an invitation to a party, a feast, something the book of Revelation calls “the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Some have said his first miracle—turning water into wine at a wedding in John chapter two—was an example of the marriage feast. Jesus himself tells a similar story in Luke chapter 14 while he is at a fancy dinner.

Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. (Luke 14:12, NLT)

Back in the day—and often still today—hosts invited guests either to pay them back for a past invitation or to put them under their debt in order to receive an invitation in the future. The motivation was not selfless hospitality, but rather social status.

Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
(Luke 14:13, NLT)

What? Who does that? Kingdom people! People on the mission of Christ. In the first century, it was not proper to invite the handicapped and poor to a public banquet…or women, by the way! Jesus’ teaching is radical! What kind of repayment can these outcasts offer to the host?

Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” (Luke 14:14, NLT)

Someone once said, “You can’t get your reward twice!” We either earn the applause of people or God.

Not long ago I was asked to do a favor. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was inconvenient and involved some expense of time. I wrestled with whether to say yes or not and then I thought of that word I mentioned a few weeks ago…die. Someone told me they’ve now made that their word for the year! Death is the first step in following Jesus, but we don’t remain dead. When we give, serve, love, sacrifice for others, God sees. There may be no financial benefit or social reward now, but God sees everything we do…even those done in secret. This is what separates worldly people from Jesus people. They are motivated by present returns rather than eternal treasures.

Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15, NLT)   

Amen! Family, this is a sneak preview of what’s ahead for us. Remember three weeks ago I said although are present is not certain, our future is! Many think heaven will be angels playing harps on clouds! Jesus’ Jewish peers saw the future kingdom as a great banquet featuring Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets at the table.

Jesus replied with this story:
“A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ (Luke 14:16-17, NLT)   

In Jesus’ day, invitations stated the day, but not the hour of the meal. The host needed people to RSVP so he knew how many animals and food to prepare. The guests in this parable had already said they were coming.

What was the servant’s job? Was it to get people to come to the banquet? No! It was to let people know the banquet was ready. The master did the heavy lifting, buying the food and preparing the great feast. He represents God in the story. We are the servants told to let people know it’s time to party! Who wouldn’t respond to that, right?

But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’
Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ (Luke 14:18-20, NLT)

You’ve got to be kidding! These people are choosing to miss this great feast? What an insult to the host! It’s not like they got a flat tire on the way! They were given plenty of notice. The invitations were sent out days ago, probably weeks ago. Maybe longer. But they made excuses. Lame excuses! Billy Sunday once said an excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie!
“The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ (Luke 14:21, NLT)

Did you catch the emotion of the host—of God? He’s furious! God gets angry. He never sins, but those who reject His invitation will suffer the consequences.

This food will not be wasted! The show must go on, with or without the invited guests. If they’re too busy, it’s their loss! I’m fascinated that it doesn’t say go and invite anyone. It specifically says the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Maybe even Gentiles!

That’s the Kingdom of God!

The reason Jesus cautioned the rich is because they can become busy with their wealth and toys. They can turn money into an idol, a tool for power, an object of pride. The people in the parable making excuses were consumed by their field, their oxen, their marriage. Like so many today, there’s no room in their lives for God.

The poor can certainly make money and other things idols, too, yet they often recognize their needs more readily than those insulated by comfortable living. Is it any surprise the early church grew largely through down-and-outers being shown love and compassion? Steve Taylor once sang, “Jesus is for losers,” and he’s right, though winners are welcome to follow him, too.

So What?

Jim Sappia, an Alliance International Worker, notes three things about this passage. First,
we are invited to the party (Luke 14:16-17), and what a party it will be! He wants you there. He wants everyone there (1 Timothy 2:4). God so loved the world, not just Americans or people from a particular class. You are invited to the table, the place where we can connect with Almighty God. Jesus said,

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. (Revelation 3:20)

Have you opened the door? Have you responded to the invitation? Do you have a relationship with God? If not, you can begin by simply saying, “Jesus, I give you my life.” Doing so won’t make your life instantly easy, but it will launch the greatest adventure imaginable. Life with Jesus is…the greatest!

Many make excuses. Believe me, no job, spouse, child, hobby, addiction, tv show, social media app, or treasure can compare to the Jesus journey. As I said a few weeks ago, let go and let God. Joining God’s family, coming to His party is the greatest blessing. Remember what the man said?

Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15, NLT)   

we are sent to be a blessing (Luke 14:21).

There’s no need for a scarcity mentality. We don’t need to hoard it like toilet paper or N95 masks! There is no end to the abundance, the banquet, the party! It’s a never-ending, all-you-can-eat buffet! The greatest gift you can give another human is an invitation to the party. The greatest blessing to others—and us—is introducing people to Jesus. I love that God shows no favoritism. You don’t have to be special to receive an invitation…and yet so many have never received theirs. Many have no clue a party is being prepared at this very moment. Billions have never even heard the name of Jesus! That’s why…

we are called to go and compel (Luke 14:23). The servant invited the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.

After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. (Luke 14:22-23, NLT)

We are to go! Jesus said in Matthew 28 to “go” and make disciples…of all nations. That’s what we do in the Alliance. You might need to go around the world, fly across the country, …or simply walk across the street. There’s a place for mail, e-mail, and texting, but the master said to go…and urge them to come. The NIV translation says compel them to come. We can’t force them, but we can implore them. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NLT)

He wants everyone at the feast. You. The poor. The rich. The lame. The doctors. The orphans. The single parents. The widows. The refugees and immigrants. Even the Republicans and Democrats!

God wants us to go and take the invitation to everyone…both here and around the world.

We’ve been invited to join Jesus on his mission to seek and save the lost.

Will you respond?

One more thing…

Tony Campolo story read by Mark Clark: https://youtu.be/JMWa24DdY2Y

We’re on a mission from God. Maybe you need to go…throw some parties. Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The Christian life is a feast, not a funeral, and all are invited to come.” We all need to go invite people to the ultimate party.

Invite people to dinner. Invite them to your table, whether that’s at the Mac Café, in your home, the school cafeteria, or your favorite restaurant. Meals are one of the greatest places to share stories, to listen well, to love well, and to share God’s story. Sharing meals makes disciples.

Our friends at Bowling Green Alliance are planning to share 1000 meals this year, mostly just inviting friends and neighbors over for dinner. We could do the same.

In addition, you can invite people to our Dinner Church table on the second Sunday of the month. We have an exciting opportunity to welcome Afghan refugees to our tables in partnership with Water for Ishmael (contact the office for details).

I confess I don’t know a lot of people to invite, so this month I took on a new, very part-time job for the purpose of rubbing shoulders with non-Christians and inviting them to meals and parties.

For God so loved the world. I’m so glad that includes you and me…and our neighbors.

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

Reawakening to the Life, Death, & Resurrection of Christ, 9 January 2022

Reawakening to the Life, Death, & Resurrection of Christ
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Hebrews 2:10-18; 9:11-15; 10:12-14, 19-25

Series Big Idea: The aim of this 40-day focus is to fix our gaze on Jesus, remember who He is, what He has done, what He has given us to do, and what He will do in the future.

Big Idea: The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are an example for us to appreciate and follow.

Today we’re beginning week 2 of 40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance. Last week we talked about reawakening to the glory of Christ. We said
you can seek your glory or God’s glory, but not both. I believe the reason the Church in America is so weak, anemic, asleep is that we try to sprinkle a little Jesus into our lives. If we just give God an hour on Sunday or a quick prayer before meals or like an Instagram post of a scripture or listen to a few Christian songs on the radio, we’ll experience a little more happiness in our lives.

NO! Jesus’ message was to
die…so we can truly live. I think the reason so many Christians live miserable lives is because they’re still trying to be in control, do things their way, play the role of God. We must die first. We must pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus. Then we are ready to experience true joy, peace, and contentment. The resurrected life is infinitely greater than any tweaking or self-improvement of our sinful lives.

Speaking of resurrected life, today we’re jumping ahead to Holy Week. Our topic is
reawakening to the Life, Death, & Resurrection of Christ. You’ve heard of Christmas in July? This is Easter in January! I’m thankful for Steve Grusendorf’s sermon outline as we fix our gaze on Jesus today.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of dying—and aren’t we all?!—remember Jesus set the perfect example for us. He never asks us to do anything he hasn’t already done for us. That’s what it means to follow someone, right?

Jesus isn’t looking for fans. He doesn’t need casual friends. He’s looking for followers, and he’s inviting you and me to follow him…daily. The challenge is Jesus is not safe…but he’s good!

Tragically, many have been told the lie that the safest place to be is the center of God’s will. It’s the most
dangerous place to be…but also the most rewarding. If you remain close to Jesus, you will experience both death and resurrection more fully than if you’re just a spectator. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi,

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

There is no Easter without Good Friday.

There is no resurrection without a death.

There are no shortcuts for followers of Jesus. He wants
all of you!

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are an example for us to follow. This is NOT the American Dream! It’s not popular or politically correct. But it’s the greatest way to live. It’s the way to truly be human. It’s the pathway to true peace, hope, and joy.

I must admit God’s plan for us—for humanity—is not what I would’ve imagined. If I wanted to rescue the world from its sin and death, I probably would’ve tried to create something or someone to do the dirty work, to fight the battle, to pay the price. Instead, God sent His one and only son, Jesus, the uncreated one to not only die and resurrect, but also to live for more than three decades in our world, experiencing the same temptations, trials, triumphs, and tragedies we face every day.
I. Jesus lived with us so that He could relate to us in our uncertain lives. (Hebrews 2:10–18).
The writer of Hebrews describes it like this:

God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation. (Hebrews 2:10, NLT)

Not only were you made by God and for God, everything was made by God and for God…and He invites us into glory.

I was struck by the second sentence about Jesus’ suffering. In our culture, we will do just about anything to avoid suffering, yet in God’s vision, suffering has a purpose. God doesn’t waste anything! As a student of leadership, I’m fascinated by the link between suffering and leadership here. At its core, leadership is not about a title or position, but rather influence.
Suffering was the preparation for Jesus’ mission…and I believe it’s true for all great leaders. Suffering reminds us of our weakness, of our dependency upon God. It forces us to slow down, reflect, get on our knees, and become passionate for God. It is never pleasant in the moment, but it often produces wonderful fruit in the lives of those seeking God’s glory above their own.

So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. For he said to God,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.
I will praise you among your assembled people.” (Hebrews 2:11-12,

If you are a follower of Jesus, he calls you a brother or sister. We have the same Father. Isn’t that amazing?!

He also said,

“I will put my trust in him,”
that is, “I and the children God has given me.” (Hebrews 2:13,

I find these to be words of intimacy, of relationship. Jesus truly is our big brother and he not only loves us, he proved it by going to the cross.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. (Hebrews 2:14a,

That’s the message of the incarnation. Jesus took on flesh. He became one of us.

For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.
15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. (Hebrews 2:14b-15, NLT)

Hallelujah! This is wonderful news!

We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. (Hebrews 2:16,

I love that!

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17,

What a plan! What a mission! What a God!

Let me say again to anyone out there who thinks you deserve to go to heaven when you die because you’re a good person, if you’re good enough—which requires perfection, by the way—it was foolish for Jesus to come, live, and die. Jesus even asked for Plan B when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane,

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

There’s one more verse in Hebrews chapter two we must not miss.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. (Hebrews 2:18,

One of the most abused and sometimes offensive statements in our culture is, “I know how you feel.” Really? We can have empathy for others, but unless we’ve had a similar experience, we really don’t know. I don’t know what it’s like to give birth to a baby…but many of you ladies do! I don’t know what it’s like to break my collarbone…but some of you do. I do know what it’s like to have a sick child for years, to lose a parent, to be laid off from a job, to see a negative balance in the checkbook…and therefore I can help others in similar situations.

Our FAC family has lost several members in recent years to death. One person who lost a spouse told me they recently spoke to a widow in our congregation to offer a word of sympathy, comfort, and encouragement. They understand what it’s like! They can help others in a similar situation.

Jesus has gone through suffering, testing and temptation to help us in ours. He understands! He gets it! I know of no other religion or faith or philosophy with such connection, compassion, and comfort. Jesus can uniquely help us in our trials and temptations because He’s been here and done that!

Hebrews has much more to say about the death of Jesus and what it accomplished.

So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. 12 With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. (Hebrews 9:11-12, NLT)

The book of Hebrews has some significant connections with the book of Leviticus, including references to the Jewish sacrifices. Jed Ostoich notes,

“The argument in Exodus and Leviticus was simply that humans could reenter God’s presence in costly fashion. The argument of Hebrews is that Jesus paid that high cost and more.”

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. (Hebrews 9:13, NLT)

Can you imagine life before Jesus?!

Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. (Hebrews 9:14, NLT)

Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (see John 1:29). He is the perfect sacrifice. God died for you! I still can hardly believe such love!

That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15,
II. Jesus sacrificed Himself in order to secure our heavenly future (Hebrews 9:11–15).
Jesus’ death and resurrection make our future more certain than our present. Think about that for a moment! We don’t know when the pandemic will end or if the Walleye will win tonight, but our heavenly future is secure. We have a certain future which gives us hope in the present.
There are three types of people listening to me.

First, there are those who are investigating the claims of Jesus as LORD. I want to urge you to give your life to Jesus…today! He came to show us what it means to be human and demonstrated his genius through the greatest teachings in history. He died to prove his humanity and his love for you, offering to forgive your sins—past, present, and future. Then, as if that weren’t enough, he proved his deity by conquering death, rising from the dead, appearing to hundreds of people, ascending into heaven, and promising to return. What more could Jesus do to prove himself to you? Take it from me, Jesus is the greatest! He is everything to me! I have made him the leader of my life and I urge you to do the same, not for my sake but yours! His glory is magnificent. His grace is amazing. His love is unending. His mercies are new every morning. His faithfulness stretches to the skies. His kindness is beyond description, …I could go on all day!

Second, there are some of you who have experience the glory and wonder of Jesus and have said yes to his invitation to follow him. It’s not an easy life, but it’s an exciting one! The benefits will last for eternity, and there’s nothing in this world which satisfies like Jesus.

But there’s a third group and, honestly, I often find myself here. It’s the comfortable, casual, and familiar. It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt, and it’s so easy to think of this death and resurrection thing as yesterday’s news. It’s easy to forget the radical sacrifice of God himself for pillars of dust like you and me. This is why Jesus said, “Remember me.” It’s why we celebrate communion on the first Sunday of the month. It’s why we gather to sing, to give, to serve, to praise, to study, to worship.

We need to reawaken to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I can’t do that for you, though I can encourage you. I can’t force it upon you, though I can invite you to experience it. Finally,
III. Jesus resurrected Himself in order that He might support us in our uncertainties today (Hebrews 10:12–14, 19–25).
There’s so much we don’t know about this crazy world, but if we fix our eyes on Jesus rather than social media and cable news, we’ll find hope, joy, and peace. Right now, Jesus is seated next to the Father, praying for us (Romans 8:34). How cool is that?!
Jesus is our Savior, but also our sanctifier, healer, and coming King. We have a hope. We have a future! We also have the Holy Spirit with us now to comfort, guide, and lead us.
Let me remind you again of what Jesus has done.

But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:12-14, NLT)

So What?

Jesus suffered for us. He died for us. He knows pain, storms, loss, grief, and uncertainty. He wants to be with us in the storms and the victories of life. It’s just a question of whether or not we will trust and follow Him.

I’ll let Hebrews wrap us up. It needs no explanation.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22,

This is such good news!

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. (Hebrews 10:23,

Amen! Here’s more…

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24,

There’s your homework for this week! Finally,

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25, NLT)

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

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

Reawakening to the Glory of Christ, 2 January 2022

Reawakening to the Glory of Christ
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Matthew 19:27-30; Exodus 20:3; Habakkuk 3:2

Series Big Idea: The aim of this 40-day focus is to fix our gaze on Jesus, remember who He is, what He has done, what He has given us to do, and what He will do in the future.

Big Idea: The bottom line of our mission is God’s glory, not ours.

What’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen, the most majestic, beautiful, splendid thing? Maybe it was a vibrant sunset, the birth of a child, the Grand Canyon, or a starry night away from the city. There are things so beautiful, so honorable, so incredible words can’t begin to describe them. You might say they are glorious.

Happy New Year!

We’re beginning 2022 on our knees…literally. Today we begin a series along with Christian & Missionary Alliance churches across the country. For the next forty days, we’re going to pray like never before. One of the Alliance Core Values says “Prayer is the primary work of God’s people.” For the next 40 Days we’re going to fix our gaze on Jesus, remember who He is, what He has done, what He has given us to do, and what He will do in the future. We often say around here it’s all about Jesus…not religion or rules or being perfect, but Jesus.

I’m frequently heartbroken when I hear the tragic stories of people walking away from the faith because of an abusive priest, a corrupt pastor, or other sins committed by so-called Christians. If that’s you, I’m deeply sorry. But no matter what has been done to you or those you love, I can assure you Jesus has never harmed you. In fact, he was harmed
for you! We don’t worship tradition or even the Bible, but Jesus Christ who lived, died, and rose from the dead…for you and me. That’s amazing! That’s marvelous! That’s glorious!

Much of what I plan to say today I’ve said before, but it bears repeating…especially as we begin a new year. Much of what I plan to say is incredibly challenging…especially for me! So let’s begin with prayer!

The key word during these 40 Days is
reawakening. It means to emerge or cause to emerge again; awaken again. I think that’s obvious looking at the word. It implies sleep or slumber followed by a renewal of an interest or feeling.

The late Keith Green penned these prophetic lyrics in his song
Asleep in the Light:

Do you see, do you see all the people sinking down? Don't you care, don't you care are you gonna let them drown? How can you be so numb not to care if they come? You close your eyes and pretend the job's done Open up, open up and give yourself away You see the need, you hear the cries so how can you delay? God's calling and you're the one but like Jonah you run He's told you to speak but you keep holding it in Can't you see it's such a sin? The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can't fight 'Cause it's asleep in the light How can you be so dead, when you've been so well fed Jesus rose from the grave and you, you can't even get out of bed
I believe the problem in our world today is not the world, but the Church. We can complain about the evil and darkness “out there,” but the world is simply acting like the world. The problem is the Church is, too! We’ve fallen for the idols of money, sex, pleasure, and power. We’ve become obsessed with our rights rather than loving others well. By many measures, the Church in the United States is dead…just like the world…filled with individualistic, narcissistic, consumeristic people who will do anything possible to be happy. If we’re not dead, we’re at least asleep, apathetic…maybe even pathetic!

We need an awakening! We need to wake up from our comfortable, selfish ways of living. [I’m sorry, hopefully I’m just preaching to myself!]

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Great Awakenings in our nation’s history. God used people like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield to wake up the lukewarm Christians, convict the godless, and stir the first of two major revivals in the US and England. The stories are remarkable. Christianity.com notes,

The Great Awakening in America in the 1730s and 1740s had tremendous results. The number of people in the church multiplied, and the lives of the converted manifested true Christian piety. Denominational barriers broke down as Christians of all persuasions worked together in the cause of the gospel. There was a renewed concern with missions, and work among the Indians increased. As more young men prepared for service as Christian ministers, a concern for higher education grew. Princeton, Rutgers, Brown, and Dartmouth universities were all established as a direct result of the Great Awakening. Some have even seen a connection between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution --Christians enjoying spiritual liberty in Christ would come to crave political liberty. The Great Awakening not only revived the American church but reinvigorated American society as well.

If I have one prayer for 2022, it’s that we would experience a spiritual awakening. By “we,” I mean First Alliance Church. I mean the Church of Toledo. I mean the USA. I mean our world. I’ve been praying for spiritual awakening for years, but I was especially hopeful when the pandemic began nearly two years ago. I thought the fear, sickness, death, uncertainty, and chaos of COVID-19 would be the perfect opportunity for the light of Jesus to shine through His Church, for His people to come together and unite to bless the unchurched, to offer faith, hope, and love to a desperate world.

Instead, …well, you know what happened. Tragically, the world sees the Church as part of the problem rather than part of the solution! I often go back to one fundamental question: do we look like Jesus? That’s what a Christian is! Does my life and yours look like Jesus? If not, we need to change our lives…or our label!

I don’t mean to beat up anyone—except perhaps myself—but I do want to acknowledge the state we’re in. It’s not good. I have four prayers I’ve been praying for years…direction, protection, unity, and passion. I want God to lead us. We need protection from the very real enemy who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. He loves to bring division—and he’s doing a very good job these days—which is why I specifically pray for unity (which was also Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17). Finally, I pray for passion, a hunger for God, a thirst for righteousness and justice, a zeal for the widow, the stranger, and the orphan. I long to see us known as the most humble, kind, generous, loving people on the planet!

I believe praying for awakening is the first step, but we can’t stop there. Prayer is not simply asking a genie for wishes. It’s so much more than talking to God. It’s even more than talking with God.
Prayer is doing life with God. It’s relational, not religious. It’s about knowing and obeying God, trusting that He has a better vision for our lives than we could ever imagine. When it comes to spiritual awakening, I can pray, but I also need to take action.

There’s an old story about a man who prayed, “God, why don’t you feed the hungry people in the world?” to which God replied, “Sir, why don’t you feed the hungry people in the world?” We must pray for spiritual awakening, but we’ve also been invited to participate with God in His plan for the renewal of all things. In a famous interaction with Jesus,

Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27, NLT)

This is a classic, selfish, human response, isn’t it? What’s in it for me? What do I get out of the deal? Why should I follow you, Jesus? I want to do things my way!

Jesus said to them,
“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28, NIV)

I love that phrase “the renewal of all things” in the NIV translation. The original Greek word for renewal, paliggenesia, (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee-ah) is from two words:

paling, “again”
genesia, “beginning”

Jesus is speaking of the world made new, recreated. It’s not a picture of clouds in the sky, but all things being renewed, including our planet. Scripture refers to new heavens and a new earth (Is. 65:17, 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1).

Jesus is saying a day is coming when there will be no more sickness, pain, viruses, political stalemates, violence, tears, hatred, homelessness, injustice, or apathy. Jesus will sit on his glorious throne, and for all followers of Jesus, it will be glorious! He invited his followers—and continues to invite his followers today—to participate with him in the renewal of all things.

And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29, NLT)

Jesus is casting an eternal vision for them, saying if they truly surrender their lives to following Jesus, they will ultimately experience something truly remarkable…for eternity! It will be glorious! Then he utters these famous words:

But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then. (Matthew 19:30, NLT)

We all like that verse…until we are the ones going last! We like the idea of loving our enemies…until we have one to love. We all believe in the value of forgiveness…until there’s someone to forgive. What Jesus is really saying—and what his overall message was—is summarized in one, simple, three-letter word. I believe this is the secret to true satisfaction. It’s the pathway to meaning and purpose. It’s the way to experience the abundant life Jesus spoke of, and the most important step in following him. It’s a very unpopular word, but if you can grasp it, you will be able to not only experience reawakening and renewal in your life, it will be contagious for the benefit of others, too. If we can take this one step, it will change everything for us in 2022…and beyond. Are you ready?


Happy New Year! I know death is the one thing most of us avoid at all costs—except for those struggling with suicidal ideation (please call 800.273.8255). Of course, I’m not speaking of physical death. That will eventually happen for all of us. I’m speaking of dying to yourself.

I haven’t heard much about it recently, but there have been some court cases over the Ten Commandments and their placement in certain public places. We don’t have time to explore God’s Top Ten today except to say I struggle with the first one…every day! No, it’s not “thou shall not murder.” You can relax, it’s not “thou shall not steal.” It’s actually the first one:

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

I want to be God. I want to be in control. I want it my way. I want to be happy at all times and do whatever possible to avoid suffering and pain. But despite my ability to fool myself, I’ve recognized I’m not god! Hopefully you’ve come to the same realization about yourself! No offense! Here’s the mantra of my boss and dear friend, Rev. Thomas George, our District Superintendent:

You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

Most of you can probably accept that you were made by God. Even if you believe in certain types of evolution, every creation has a creator, and God the Artist created you in his image with dignity, value, and worth. For details, see Psalm 139.

You were made for God. That means you have a purpose, which is greater than your own desires. It’s not that God
doesn’t want you to be happy, but His higher priority is for you to be holy, to be set apart, to trust and obey, not because He’s a control freak, but because Daddy knows best. His will and plans for you are far greater than anything you could imagine.

There have been numerous movies about robots taking over the world, somehow gaining enough intelligence to overrule their programming to cause destruction rather than assistance. If you had the ability to design a robot, how frightening would it be if it turned against you and did whatever it desired?

God has created us. He has designed us. Yet we’re not robots. He has given us free will, the ability to make choices. Just like I can’t make you love me, so God can’t make us love Him, obey Him, follow Him…but that’s His desire for us. There’s nothing God wants more than your heart. In fact, every commandment, rule, and law in the Bible was summarized by Jesus.

He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

That’s my new year’s resolution! But I’ve learned it’s not about trying harder. I can’t achieve it on my own strength. Even though spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible study, and fasting are useful tools, the first step is to die.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

I have the hardest time with the word “daily” here! I wish I could say a magical prayer, get a Get Out of Hell Free Card, and be done with it, but that’s not what it mean to follow Jesus. It means every day we are to pick up our cross…die to ourselves, our rights, our will…and follow Jesus.

The good news—the great news—is that following Jesus is the pathway to true greatness, true purpose, true meaning, true life. He’s not out to get you, but rather died to prove his love for you. The message of Christmas is that God became one of us, lived on our planet, showed us what it means to be human, gave everything for us, and shows us the pathway to enlightenment, wisdom, peace, freedom, hope, and joy.
Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people come to life.

I know of no greater picture of this than baptism. Some churches sprinkle, which is fine, I guess, but the ancient tradition involves dunking a person completely in what is symbolically a water grave. They die to their old self, their sinful nature, and then are resurrected with Jesus, new life in Christ, recreated, reawakened. In one sense, we need to die daily…and be renewed daily.

To borrow a phrase, we need to
let go and let God. Some of you have been trying so hard to be good, striving, and struggling. You can’t impress God. You can’t manipulate God. You certainly can’t compete with God. But you can love Him. You can let go and surrender. You can trust and obey. You can seek first His Kingdom rather than your pleasure.

You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

As long as you pursue your own glory, you’ll be frustrated. Despite what all of the self-help gurus want you to believe, it’s not all about you. It’s all about God! We need to reawaken to the glory of Jesus, and what a glory it is!

In the Old Testament, the word for glory is hod. It means splendor, majesty, beauty, vigor, authority. The prophet Habakkuk wrote,

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2, NIV)

I can’t think of a more timely prayer…and that was written around the 7th century BC!

We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory.

The bottom line of First Alliance Church’s mission statement is the glory of God.

As we begin this new year, I want to challenge you
to make God’s glory your highest priority. It goes against everything the media and social media want you to believe. It is counter-cultural. It is radical. It is the true alternative lifestyle!

Yet I believe if we reawaken to the glory of Jesus rather than our own glory, it will transform our lives, it will transform this church, it might transform our city, and it could even change the world. Jesus said,

…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, NIV)

You can seek your glory or God’s glory, but not both! What will you choose in 2022?

The Wonderful Cross (song)

O the wonderful cross bids me come and die and find that I may truly live 

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

The Holy Spirit, 14 February 2021

The Holy Spirit
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Romans 8:1-6

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: We can live our lives according to the flesh or the Holy Spirit.

Have you experienced God’s love and life-giving Holy Spirit?

Although 40 Days of Prayer officially ended Thursday—we missed a sermon due to Home Missions Sunday—I couldn’t skip the Holy Spirit. After all, the Holy Spirit is the most underrated, mysterious, and misunderstood Member of the Trinity. We serve one God who exists in three Persons…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We sing songs about God the Father. There are countless hymns written about Jesus. But try to find one about the Holy Spirit. The closest hymn in our repertoire I could find is the one we sang…Holy, Holy, Holy.

The Holy Spirit is a Person, not a force or a ghost, though some use the expression Holy Ghost.

Most of us have some idea of God the Father who sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth about 2000 years ago to teach, heal, serve, die, and rise from the dead. Jesus literally separates history for us. The Old Testament is the Jewish Bible describing creation until the prophets. The New Testament begins with four gospels—or good news—about the life of Jesus. As the video said, the Holy Spirit is present in both Testaments, but in the second chapter of Acts, the Holy Spirit was unleashed upon multiple believers in multiple places. No longer was God confined to the temple or the Person of Jesus. God moved from a building to the hearts of men, women, and children.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too!

When I was a kid, I wanted my mom to buy what we called “sugar cereals” at the grocery store. What was your favorite? Mine was Apple Jacks. As much as I enjoyed the sweet goodness of those little circles, there was usually another reason I wanted them. The prize at the bottom! Often that was better than the cereal!

I know it’s a stretch, but just as some people ignore the prize while consuming the cereal, so some are so focused on Jesus, they ignore the Holy Spirit.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too!

We’ve been looking at Acts 1:8 the past two weeks where Jesus tells his disciples,

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)

The Holy Spirit arrives in the second chapter of Acts in dramatic fashion.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)

If you read on, this was not the heavenly language that some speak, but known languages. Imagine if suddenly we all started speaking French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic in a room full of people from all over the world. It was a miraculous moment Jesus predicted about 40 days prior.

What was even more surprising to the first Christians—who were mostly Jewish—was the Holy Spirit coming upon Gentiles. Let me say it one more time:
If you are a follower of Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too!

There’s no way we can say everything about the Holy Spirit in thirty minutes, but I want to look at a passage in the letter written to the church in Rome. Paul is talking about the tension between good and evil, God’s law and our sinful nature. He begins chapter eight with a staggering statement.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, (Romans 8:1)

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are no longer declared guilty of your sins. Jesus paid it all!

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

O how I love Jesus/O how I love Jesus/O how I love Jesus/Because He first loved me!

I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. But Jesus is perfect and He died for us on the cross.

The Jewish religion was all about following the law of Moses. Sure, doing so was good for the individuals and the community, but it was impossible to get it all right. The Jews had to slaughter animals and make sacrifices to atone for their sins, to make amends. I’m so glad our gatherings don’t require a butcher!

Only Jesus lived a sinless life, which is also why he was uniquely qualified to die in our place and satisfy the wrath of God we deserve for our mistakes and failures. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4)

Each day—each moment—we make choices. We’ve been given freedom by God to do good or evil, to follow Him or follow the lust, the flesh, the world, our own selfish desired. Have you ever felt the tension? Paul certainly did! In the previous chapter, he talked about the struggle, the battle, the war raging within him and within us. It’s a war we sometimes win and sometimes lose, but Jesus will ultimately be the Victor. Hallelujah!

What causes you to choose the right thing? Why do you mess up sometimes? How can we do better? It’s not by trying harder, but rather it’s by letting go and letting God. It’s about surrender to the Holy Spirit. It’s about confessing your sins and inviting the Holy Spirit to take control. The late Bill Bright called this
spiritual breathing. We exhale and admit our sins and failures and we inhale, welcoming the Holy Spirit into our lives.

Religion and rules and regulations condemn us every time we make a mistake, but we have freedom and forgiveness when we live according to the Holy Spirit, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to a church in modern-day Turkey,

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The word “filled” is not a one-time thing, but the Greek word implies a continual activity, just like breathing. It’s a daily, hourly, constant activity. We are to do life with the Holy Spirit, influenced with the Spirit like a drunk is influenced by alcohol. I love that one of the results of being filled with the Spirit is an overflow of music, of worship, of thanksgiving.

Have you ever met someone obsessed with social media? They spend hours on their screens, posting and commenting. They live for it!

Others are consumed by sports. They wake up early, workout, practice, and devote their lives to making the team, earning a medal, or winning the championship.

Tragically, many are controlled by their addictions, whether it’s alcohol or drugs or porn or food or work or whatever rules their life. By the way, if that’s you,
Celebrate Recovery meets Wednesdays at 7 PM in the Fellowship Hall. But it’s not just for addicts. Anyone who is dealing with grief, loss, depression, hurts, habits, or hangups of any kind is welcome. We could all benefit from it…and I have!

What if your life was truly led by God? Imagine if you
wanted to do what’s right? What if prayer, love, praise, and studying the Bible came naturally to you? I can’t promise a quick fix, but when we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, when we’re surrendered to the Holy Spirit, our lives begin to change. Day by day, we become more like Jesus, a process called sanctification.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Romans 8:5)

Where’s your mind? Who are living for, or where’s your focus?

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)

It’s your choice! Death or life and peace?

How do you know if someone is governed by the flesh?

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

What’s the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit? Paul mentioned peace. He repeats it again to the church in Galatia, also in modern day Turkey.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
24 (Galatians 5:22-23)

Here’s the key.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25)

We need to be filled with the Spirit, to live by the Spirit. We can feed our soul with the flesh or the Spirit.

What are you consuming…on social media? Music? Television?

Are your friends following Jesus or the world? You are your friends…choose wisely.

We can live our lives according to the flesh or the Holy Spirit. Which will you choose?

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

Alliance Missions, 7 February 2021

Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: God invites each of us to participate in His mission…here and around the world.

You were made by God.
You were made for God.
You were made for God’s glory.

The same can be said about First Alliance Church. When Albert Benjamin Simpson came to Toledo in 1887, it wasn’t about making a name for himself. It was about creating a God-glorifying community that would impact our city, our region, our nation, and our world. It’s all about Jesus.

We looked at Acts 1:8 last Sunday. Jesus tells his followers,

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)

Toledo is our Jerusalem. It’s where we live, work, and play. We are all called to be missionaries here, to make disciples here, to love our neighbors, to serve our city.

Judea is the next ring as we move outward. I like to think of it as our Home Missions partners who serve beyond our church campus to impact the region.

Last Sunday we talked about Samaria, the marginalized people who struggle to fit in, perhaps because of their ethnicity, country of origin, language, marital status, education, or wealth.

Today we finish our emphasis on Acts 1:8 by talking about the ends of the earth. The Christian & Missionary Alliance has always been about missions. It’s our middle name!

Missions is in our Alliance DNA. What’s remarkable about that video is it’s not from an American. The Alliance is now a global movement. We send international workers from the US to other nations, but other nations have their own Alliance churches who are also reaching other countries.

In the US, we have 1913 churches with 427,680 worshipers that speak 38 languages and dialects.

We presently have 734 international workers serving 70+ people groups in 138 cities. Last year we added 39 new international workers.
aXcess missionaries proclaim the gospel and multiply networks of faith communities among the least-reached of the world.
  Alliance Missions also includes
Marketplace Ministries which facilitates marketplace professionals who bring their expertise to a community to disciple those around them. CAMA—Compassion & Mercy Associates—responds to disasters globally and partners locally to restore communities and alleviate poverty.

Envision identifies and develops missional leaders through short-term missions experiences and innovative ministry strategies in 22 locations around the globe.
When you give to the Great Commission Fund, you are supporting all four of these ministries who are reaching the ends of the earth.

The Global Alliance

Because of the great work done by previous generations of Alliance workers, 90% of our Alliance family lives outside of the United States! The Alliance World Fellowship represents over six million people speaking 180 languages in over 22,000 churches!

  • Every four minutes, someone prays to receive Christ.
  • Every hour, three patients receive physical and spiritual care through Alliance medical ministries.
  • Every day through 43 radio broadcasts, people without a gospel witness hear the good news.
  • Every week, over 3,500 new believers are baptized.
  • Every month, 250 new groups or churches join the Alliance worldwide family.
  • Every year, 10,000 students are trained and equipped for ministry through more than 125 Alliance theological schools.
Imagine what God will do in and through our Alliance family in the coming years as we plant more churches, send more workers into the harvest, and make disciples of all nations. That’s what Jesus commissioned us to do.

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)

We are to make disciples of Jesus here…and beyond.

That’s why our church mission states:

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

To God be the glory!

Why Missions?

You might ask, “Why worry about the ends of the earth? Don’t we have enough problems here? Don’t USAmericans need Jesus?”

Yes, of course, but Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8 was not an either/or, but a both/and. There are nearly eight billion people on the planet and each one is a masterpiece God loves. Each and every life—black, white, brown—matters.

All Christians are called to be missionaries. God calls some to be missionaries in Toledo…in homes, schools, and businesses. Some of us are called to serve through the Pregnancy Center, Cherry Street Mission, Water for Ishmael, or other Home Missions Partners. God has sent our Faith Missions partners to northern Michigan, the Dominican Republic, and to other people groups through the Jesus Film Project. He calls some of us to distant lands, learning new languages, and introducing Jesus to people who have never even heard his name. I pray God will call some of you to become international workers with The Alliance. Over the years, more than 125 missionaries, pastors, pastors’ wives, and other full-time Christian workers have been called to ministry and “sent” from this church. We’re not done yet! I’d like to think we’re just getting started!

We have said the gospel—good news—needs to be shared. We can’t keep Jesus to ourselves! We can’t be selfish with our faith. Our world—our whole world—needs Jesus. This is why although I love our country, I get uncomfortable when Christians put too much emphasis on our nation while ignoring our current and future brothers and sisters abroad. I want God to bless America, but I also want God to bless Bolivia, Belgium, Bangladesh, Brazil, and Burundi.  We are not all called to travel overseas, but we can be involved in reaching the ends of the earth through giving to the Great Commission Fund…and through prayer. After all, this is a series on
prayer! Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

Some are called to stay, others are called to go. Some plant the seeds, some water, some harvest the fruit. Some pray, others give, and still others go. Everyone plays a role in God’s Kingdom. As I said, all Christians are called to be missionaries.
In Luke 10, Jesus gathers a group of his followers and as he sends them

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. (Luke 10:2)

All ministry must begin with prayer. The work we do—here and abroad—cannot be accomplished without a miraculous move of God. Only God can cause a human heart to change, to submit, to surrender.

I find prayer so remarkable. First, we can do life with the Creator of the universe! I’m still just amazed that He hears my voice…and yours. I’m also amazed at how we can participate in God’s Kingdom not only here but on the other side of the world…on our knees. We can be a part of the transformed lives of men, women and children we won’t meet until heaven by simply praying.

So we’re going to do that now. It seems pointless to talk about prayer and not do it! On Zoom prayer each weekday at 9 AM I encourage the participants rather than spending most of the time sharing prayer requests, let’s just pray!

Family, I’d like to guide you into some prayers today. This is a little different from what we typically do on Sunday morning, but maybe it shouldn’t be! Let’s pray for

- the lost without Jesus

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

- unreached people groups (3.4 billion people, 4000 people groups)

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

- Alliance International Workers and their families

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. (Romans 15:30)

- aXcess
- Marketplace Ministries 
- Envision
- CAMA—Compassion & Mercy Associates

- New Workers to be raised up

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)

- Breakthrough for financial support

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:7-8)

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

Marginalized People, 31 January 2021

Marginalized People
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Luke 18:1-8

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: We are to pray for and serve those who are unlike us, including those who make us feel uncomfortable.

What comes to mind when you think of
marginalized people? Jesus announced to his friends in Acts 1:8.

“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)

Last Sunday we talked about the e-word: evangelism. We said evangelism is proclaiming good news. It’s about introducing others to know our best friend, Jesus Christ. We’re inviting people to an eternal party. That often occurs in our Jerusalem—where we live, work, and play. Where is your Jerusalem? Where do you do life? Chances are, much of your time is spent with people who look, act, speak, and earn like you.

Many people are content to stop there, being witnesses in their Jerusalem. Honestly, I wish more followers of Jesus were committed to their Jerusalem, proclaiming good news to their friends and neighbors where they feel comfortable. But there’s more. Judea meant the next step beyond, not unlike our Home Missions Sunday two weeks ago. Samaria to Jesus’ listeners in Acts 1:8 meant the marginalized people, those who make us uncomfortable.

Jews and Samaritans did not get along. I’m not sure what the modern-day equivalent would be, but religious Jews saw Samaritans as impure and second-class. Most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10 and how this supposedly ungodly man showed more compassion and love toward a stranger than the two religious Jews that saw him first and ignored him in his hour of need.

Who makes you uncomfortable? For some of you, the wealthy make you uncomfortable. You might be put off by the successful CEO, the corrupt politician, or the flamboyant celebrity.

When we think of the marginalized, it’s often someone on the margins of society, someone who doesn’t fit in with the mainstream. It could be a person from another country or another faith. The man covered in tattoos and piercings? The person with poor hygiene? The lady with the cardboard sign at the exit ramp? The members of the LGBTQ+ community? A woman who doesn’t speak English? An angry protestor?

Marginalized people are God’s masterpieces. Jesus died for them. Jesus loves them. Following Jesus means we are to love them, too…even if they make us uncomfortable.

But this is series on prayer. Our text for today is the beginning of Luke chapter 18.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)

Dr. Luke tells us what’s about to happen. Jesus is going to tell a parable—a story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Before recording even a word of the parable, Luke tells us the big idea of the parable.

We should always pray and not give up. We could stop right now! Always pray. Never give up. Why would Jesus want us to understand this? It’s because we don’t always pray and we often give up, we grow impatient or tired, we think God doesn’t hear us, we assume He’s ignoring us or saying, “No.”

I suppose if there’s one thing I want you to get out of these 40 Days of Prayer it’s simply this: pray! Develop a habit of prayer, a rhythm of prayer. Pray continually as we said last week. Always pray and never give up.

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. (Luke 18:2)

Jesus taught us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. This judge neither loved God nor his neighbors. He did life his way.

And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ (Luke 18:3)

Widows today in our culture face great challenges, but in Jesus’ day, they may have been even greater. Without family or remarriage, they could easily become destitute. The fact that this woman was fighting for justice makes her condition even more dire.

Have you ever been a victim of injustice? We hear a lot about injustice in our world today, yet it’s tragically nothing new. Social media has allowed some injustice to be exposed—which can be good—but it has also allowed fake news to spread, creating new expressions of injustice.

At this moment, there are men, women, and children crying out to God, begging for justice, for help. It might be you! Many of us are marginalized. Perhaps it’s a single mom overwhelmed by the mess inherited after her husband abandoned her and her children. It could be the homeless person who lost everything after a lie convicted them of a felony and turned their life upside down. Maybe it’s the woman struggling with same-sex attraction after multiple men abused her and left her fearful of any male.

I’ve heard that once you’ve heard someone’s story, they can never be an enemy. God told the prophet Samuel,

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b)

I find it so easy to look at someone’s outside and make conclusions about what’s inside. We call this prejudice…pre-judging. I think we all do it, at times. If you don’t know what’s inside, all you can go on is what you see. We must be careful. Sometimes things are not as they appear…or even if they are, there’s a story that may need to be heard.

The person may be felon, but could’ve been wrongfully accused.

The atheist doesn’t believe in God, but may have lost their faith after being abused by a priest.

The annoying co-worker may be arrogant and narcissistic, but may have struggled their entirely life to get attention from parents who abandoned them.

Suffice it to say every human is a masterpiece with a story and a need for God. We’ll never know the silent prayers of others, yet so many pray for justice daily. If we stop and listen, we may discover we have more in common with “that person” than differences.

In Jesus’ parable, this likely-marginalized widow keeps coming to the judge for justice.

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ” (Luke 18:4-5)

I never noticed these last two words! I knew the judge became sick of her petitions, but he’s worried she’ll attack him if he doesn’t get her justice!

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. (Luke 18:6)

I’ve often interpreted this parable to mean we are to bug God until He answers our prayers the way we desire. Certainly the message is to always pray and not give up, but there’s another angle to this. After all, God’s not worried about us attacking Him!

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words a few chapters back in Luke 11.

“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)

If evil fathers love their children, imagine how much our Heavenly Father loves us.

If unjust judges are willing to honor the persistence of a victim of injustice, imagine how much our just Heavenly Father will respond to cries for help. Always pray and don’t give up.

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? (Luke 18:7)

Why does God allow injustice in the first place? How could a loving God permit the abuse, violence, poverty, and hatred in our world? There are mysterious we can’t easily explain, but God wastes nothing, including opportunities for His followers to be agents of blessing, healing, reconciliation, and restoration. The real question is how could God love any of us?

Fortunately, this life is short…compared to eternity. Someday, God will bring about justice for His chosen ones, those who cry out to Him in prayer. We are often comforted by the words of Revelation 21 which says someday in the new heaven and the new earth,

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

But what about now? Does God care for victims of injustice today? Does He do anything about the cries of the widow, the stranger, and the orphan? Can He hear the silent screams of the unborn who are never given a chance to live? Is He unaware of the wrongfully accused who are rotting away in a prison cell despite being innocent? Does He see the violence committed in our streets?

I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

The issue isn’t God’s justice but our perseverance in prayer…and obedience.

A man prayed, “God, why don’t you feed the starving children of the world” to which God replied, “Why don’t
you feed the starving children of the world.”

We are to pray for the marginalized…and be prepared to be the answer to the prayer.

It’s the same with evangelism. We are to pray for the lost, but also proclaim good news. We need to get in the game! We need to get on our knees…and then obey what the LORD instructs us to do. It might be share our story or listen to theirs. It could be take someone out for lunch, help them fix their broken car or house, or babysit their kids. Maybe God wants you to volunteer, give money, or just spend time with someone very different from you.

Obviously we can’t be involved in the lives of every person on the planet, but could we start with one? Could you befriend one person who is different, hear their story, and help them out? One of my favorite quotes from Pastor Andy Stanley is, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”

Can you solve world hunger, racism, injustice, despair, homelessness, and hopelessness? Of course not, but you might be able to help someone.

So What?

We all have bad days. Life is hard. Jesus promised his followers trouble (John 16:33). But some of us have spent most or all of our lives on the margins of society, trying to fit in, get ahead, given an opportunity, or even find a friend. Every day God hears the cries for justice among the least of these Jesus spoke of, including the widow, the stranger, and the orphan.

The news is filled with stories of immigrants—legal and illegal—who are all masterpieces in need of restoration. I don’t have the answers to the challenges facing lawmakers, but I know there are refugees—many of whom are our Christian brothers and sisters—who are literally fleeing for their lives. Again, I’m not trying to get political because some issues are complicated, but can we recognize every masterpiece—every human—as created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth? Can we pray for their peace and safety? Can we ask God how we can help? Can we get involved?

It might be as simple as volunteering with Water for Ishmael to help an English student in Toledo. They are always looking for conversation partners. Toledo is filled with people from other countries who are here to study at the university or simply taking refuge legally from persecution abroad. They are lonely. Many are scared. Many will eventually return to their homelands without a single American friend, which is tragic!

They are praying. Maybe we are the answer to their prayers. They may be as close as the person sitting next to you right now.

Some of you do this so well. You pray. You give. You serve. You love. Thank you!

Others of us—myself included—have some work to do. The message isn’t, “Try harder.” It’s trust God more. Trust God more fully with your time, talents, and treasures. Trust Him with your fears, insecurities, and discomfort. Trust that still, small voice which may be nudging you right now to take one step toward a marginalized person. Trust Him to provide the words you need to say or hear.

We can pray for others. We can answer the prayer of others. We can stand with the marginalized and speak up for those without a voice…the unborn, the oppressed, the violated, the abandoned, the afflicted, the suffering. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing.

One more thing…

Jesus was marginalized. The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. (Isaiah 53:2b-3a)

Is it any wonder that he said of our treatment of the marginalized,

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

When we love others well, we love Jesus well.

Credits: some ideas taken from Rosilio Roman and The Alliance

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

The e-word, 24 January 2021

The e-word: Evangelism
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Colossians 4:2-6

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: It is a joy to pray for and proclaim good news to the lost.

After a break for Home Missions Sunday last week, we’re returning to our 40 Days of Prayer campaign with the Christian & Missionary Alliance. I hope you’ve been enjoying the adult, youth, and children devotionals, Wednesday online prayer gatherings, and our Sunday topics.

Today’s topic is one that makes many uncomfortable. I call it the e-word. It is… evangelism. What comes to mind when you hear the word
evangelism? It’s another “church” word uncommon in our cultural vocabulary. Maybe you picture door-to-door harassing, aggressive preachers with megaphones, or simply fear of not knowing what to say.

Evangelism is proclaiming good news. Many years ago, Guy Kawasaki was hired to be an Apple evangelist. His passion for their computers led him to make promoting Apple his vocation. Sure, there were Windows users uninterested in his message, but he considered it an honor to proclaim good news about the products he loved.

Have you experienced the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ? If so, why would you keep it to yourself? Why would you deprive others of the life you’ve encountered, the joy, the peace, the love? Why wouldn’t you be a Jesus evangelist, proclaiming good news—great news—to those around you?

Our text today is from Colossians chapter four. Paul is writing from prison to a church in modern-day Turkey.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4:2)

What a fitting verse during 40 Days of Prayer! He doesn’t say pray. He says to be devoted to prayer. Are you devoted to prayer? What would that look like?

In another letter, Paul wrote,

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)

Pray continually. That’s being devoted to prayer! We often think of prayer as a highly formal, religious activity with closed eyes and folded hands. You can certainly take that posture, but it’s not necessary. I used to think prayer was talking to God. Then I began to see prayer as talking with God…a conversation. Now I view prayer as life with God, a 24/7/365 relationship in which I am pouring out my heart to God and I’m listening for His voice, seeking to discern His will. There are times when I pray without distraction, giving God my undivided attention, often through journaling. At other times, I’m aware of His presence and grateful for the relationship we have. I’ve never heard His audible voice, but He speaks loudly through His Word, the Bible, as well as through people, circumstances, dreams, and occasional spiritual hunches which may require confirmation from others to determine if it’s from God or bad pizza!

While we’re on the subject of God’s will, some see it as this highly mysterious plan in which God picks out your socks each morning, tells you what to eat for breakfast, and what toothpaste to buy. I’m not sure He cares too much about that, but there is a brilliant way to discover God’s will contained in these three verses. God wants you to rejoice…always. He wants you to pray continually. He wants you to give thanks in all circumstances. That’s God’s will! Of course, there’s more, but that’s a great start. How are you doing with those? Back to Colossians…

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (Colossians 4:3)

If you were in prison asking people to pray, what would you request? “Get me out of here!” Paul doesn’t say that. He doesn’t even write, “Send me a care package” or “stop by and pay me a visit.” He says pray for opportunities to proclaim good news, to evangelize, to do the very thing that got him into prison in the first place! Is this guy crazy? He’s passionate.

Paul had an encounter years earlier which changed his life. It prompted repentance, a u-turn. It led him to set aside his religious agenda and devote the rest of his life to promoting Jesus Christ, to letting the world know they are loved by a God who proved it on the cross. Paul says pray so he can evangelize, so he can proclaim good news.

Have you ever asked someone to pray for you so you could be effective in sharing your faith with others, so you can proclaim good news? If you’re going to evangelize, prayer is the best place to start.

Jason Horton delivered a powerful message last Sunday on evangelism, on sharing good news. Somehow we’ve got this idea that it’s a scary thing. Well, it got Paul in prison, but in our culture, we’re blessed with freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Do you take advantage of it?

Evangelism is not sales. I worked a sales job in college…on straight commission. I sold carpet, tile, and blinds and some weeks my sales were so bad, they had to pay me minimum wage because my sales weren’t even enough to cover the $3.35/hour!

Evangelism is not sales. There is no manipulation, shame, or pressure required.
Evangelism is an invitation. It’s proclaiming good news and inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, the one who loves them and proved it.

Jesus Christ is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. The more I understand how sinful I am and how incredible God is, the more I love Jesus and want others to follow him.

I think most people share what they love. Don’t you? All of my friends know I love my wife, ice cream, roller coasters, music, …and Jesus. They don’t have to love those things, but if they haven’t experienced them, I want them to do so.

This might be a stretch, but although I rarely drink pop (not soda!), Vernors is my favorite. I realize not everyone likes it, but everyone should at least try it once to make an informed decision about whether or not they like it. How can you reject something you’ve never tried…and yet people reject Jesus all the time. I’m amazed at people who say they don’t believe the Bible…but they’ve never read it! Come on!

Tragically, many people haven’t rejected Jesus because they’ve never even heard his name. We’ll talk more about that in the next two weeks. What I want you to understand is evangelism is an invitation…to a relationship…to a lifestyle of abundance…to a party that will last for eternity.

Honestly, I don’t understand how someone could reject the love of Jesus…except that the enemy has blinded the eyes of people. His mission is to steal, kill, and destroy and that’s physical and spiritual. I think it takes satan to keep someone from following Jesus…and unfortunately, he does a good job!

Evangelism is an invitation, but there are spiritual forces at work urging people to reject Jesus and do whatever makes them happy for the moment. You can follow God or yourself, but not both. No one can serve two masters. In order to overcome the spiritual forces, we…pray! Paul says to
pray for open doors. We might call that open hearts.

I was with a group of friends last week and I asked them what keeps them from proclaiming good news, for sharing their faith, for evangelizing. The number one response was fear of failure. What if I invite someone into a personal relationship with Jesus and they say no? My response: move on! Jesus’ response: move on! See Matthew 10:14. We begin by praying for open doors. Some people simply aren’t ready to experience the love, joy, peace, and purpose found in a relationship with Jesus. They’re too busy trying to do life their way. But many people are searching for answers…for the Answer. It would be so selfish, so cruel to deny them the opportunity to be forgiven, to be reconciled to their Heavenly Father, to know abundant life. Evangelism is a joy. Proclaiming good news is an invitation, but don’t take rejection personally. Most people rejected Jesus Himself! But many people right now are open. Pray for open doors, open hearts.

Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Colossians 4:4)

He says pray for clarity. Pray for the right words. Have you ever tried to communicate an idea to someone and they just didn’t get it? Maybe you were in sales and the potential customer had no interest. Maybe you tried to communicate a difficult concept to a child who simply couldn’t understand. Or maybe, like me, you process out loud, use too many words, and struggle to get to the point!

Paul is very specific. He’s saying, “I’m in prison for sharing good news. I want to reach more people, and I want the message to be clear. It’s more than information, though. It’s a life-transforming announcement that Jesus is LORD…not Caesar, not money, not your own feelings or pleasures.” It’s a polarizing message drawing followers and opponents who have thrown him into prison.

Two thousand years later, there are people in prison for proclaiming good news. We have brothers and sisters who are tortured for simply inviting people into a relationship with their Creator. It seems crazy, but it’s true. We often think we’ve got it rough, but we’ve been given so many resources, freedoms, and opportunities. We need to proclaim Jesus Christ clearly.

Perhaps the best way to do that is to share your story. Nobody can argue with it. You don’t need to prove anything historical. “I once was blind, but now I see.” If you don’t have a story, you have nothing to proclaim…and I’d love to talk with you about what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

He loves you. He proved it by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. He offers forgiveness for everything you’ve done wrong, He is the ultimate example of what it means to be human, and He’s inviting you into a life-giving relationship filled with meaning, purpose, freedom, hope, and joy. You can choose to continue to do life your way, on your terms, with you in control…or experience life the way it was meant to be lived, following the wisdom of your Creator. Would you like to give your life to Jesus?

Was that clear? Was it in invitation. Actually, that wasn’t even my story. He’s my story, which is another way to proclaim good news:

I grew up in a religious home. I was taught to always do the right thing. I believed in God and went to church, but although I knew a lot about God, I didn’t know God personally. I didn’t really follow God, just my parents’ instructions. When I was a teenager, I encounter peers who really followed God. They found ancient wisdom and life in studying the Bible. They discovered prayer is not just talking to God, but with God. They encouraged me to make Jesus the leader of my life and ever since, I’ve been seeking to know and follow Jesus, the One who proved his love for me by coming to earth, dying for my sins and failures, and rising from the dead. It’s not about religion and what we do. It’s about a relationship and what Jesus has done. I love Jesus and I’d love to invite you to follow Jesus, too.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5)

Actions speak louder than words, and sometimes the messenger is the message. One of the top obstacles to people proclaiming good news is they don’t want to be a hypocrite…or they’re concerned about the reputation of Christians. This is a huge one for me. It’s absolutely evil that we are known for politics, self-righteousness, and even hate rather than the love we were instructed to exhibit. I’m not saying every Christ-follower is guilty, but many so-called Christians have not acted well toward outsiders, toward those Jesus called the lost, the unbeliever, the non-Christian. Jesus is our focus. Jesus is our message. But if our lives are not attractive, nobody will want to hear. We are to pray for the right actions…and love well. Peter wrote,
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 2:12)
We are to be in the world but not of the world. Paul’s concerned about their behavior not only within the church, but also among non-Christians who he calls “outsiders.” Rather than telling them to ignore them and stay in a holy huddle, he tells them to be intentional, to engage, to seize every opportunity…to do what? To proclaim good news. To evangelize!

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

In other words, love others so well that they ask questions. Faith is expressed in actions
and words. Another top obstacle to sharing one’s faith is fear of not having the right answers. There’s a simple solution: pray for the right answers! That’s Paul’s point, speak and act with love. People can tell if you care or if you’re just trying to earn points or make a sale. Again, tell your story. Invite them into a relationship with Jesus. If they ask a question you don’t know, say, “That’s a great question. I don’t know. I’d love to do some research and get back with you.”

Most people aren’t going to respond to an invitation with philosophical arguments or demands for archaeological proofs. If they do, there are great responses. There’s fantastic evidence for our faith. Christianity is filled with some of the most brilliant minds, the most successful resumes, the most creative arts, and the most loving people. Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus. The gospel is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. That’s the message we proclaim. Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship with a Person who is inviting every man, woman, and child of every nation, race, religion, sexual orientation, political party, and language give up control and follow him.

Who is your best friend? If I’ve spent any time with you at all, I’ve probably heard about your best friend, especially if you are married. It’s natural to talk about our spouse, our kids, our best friend. If you know Jesus, he should naturally show up in your conversations, too. I want everyone to meet my wife because I think she’s the most amazing woman on the planet. Even more, I want everyone to meet Jesus because he’s the most amazing human in history…and he lived not only for his sake, but ours.

A Confession

Perhaps this subject of proclaiming good news causes you to feel guilt and shame. I’m with you! I struggle with evangelism, not because I’m necessarily afraid, but because most of my conversations are with Christians. That tends to happen when you work at a church! I love to talk about Jesus, but I rarely get the opportunity. Or I rarely take the opportunity. I confess that to you and ask you to pray for me, that God would open doors for me to proclaim good news.

I’ve heard research studies which say the longer one is a Christian, the fewer non-Christian friends they have as they hang around with Christians. We certainly need one another, but we must never neglect the lost, the hurting, the broken, the hopeless around us. It goes back to praying for open doors…and being prepared to take action. One of my favorite conversation starters is, “Where are you at on your spiritual journey?” You could begin with, “What do you think of Jesus?” or “What do you think our world needs more than anything?” If you want to go really deep, ask, “What do you think is the meaning of life?” And listen! Discover where someone is before you suggest a path for them to take.

God is on the move. Jesus is the answer for the world today, and many are seeking answers. If we don’t offer Jesus, they’ll stumble into any number of false gods, religions, philosophies, or simply follow the path of consumerism, individualism, and narcissism. Pray for open doors. Pray for clarity. Pray that the Holy Spirit would fill you with attractive fruit and God-honoring actions, and pray for the right words in your conversations. We need actions and words. When we are weak, He is so strong! It all begins on our knees.

It is a joy to pray for and proclaim good news to the lost.

Credits: some ideas taken from Ivån Marti’ and The Alliance

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

Repentance, 10 January 2021

Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Revelation 1-3

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: “Be holy, for I am holy.” Repentance can help us turn toward holiness.

I’m so grateful to the leaders of the Christian & Missionary Alliance to call us to 40 Days of Prayer to begin 2021. Last year was a challenging year for all of us, and the events of Wednesday in our nation’s capital proved the new year did not magically fix everything. We are broken people desperately in need of a Savior. Some thought our president was that savior. Others have given their allegiance to the next one. The hopes of herd immunity to rid the world of COVID-19 are everywhere. If we can just get those $2000 checks, eliminate racism, stop global warming, develop a source of accurate news, beat Alabama tomorrow night…!!!

Ever since Adam and Eve ate from the fruit in the Garden of Eden, our world has been plagued by sin. We are plagued by sin. It’s easy to point fingers at people on TV, but as the song says, “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with…me.” I can’t control the outcome of elections, the behavior of blasphemers, the attitude of adulterers, the liars, the haters, the murderers, the…

It begins with me. It begins with you. It begins with us…on our knees.

Last Sunday we began our series talking about God’s holiness. Alliance pastor A.W. Tozer said,

God's holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God's power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.

The Tozer Devotional adds…

Until we have seen ourselves as God sees us, we are not likely to be much disturbed over conditions around us as long as they do not get so far out of hand as to threaten our comfortable way of life.

We underestimate God’s power and holiness while overestimating our goodness. He is God…and we are not. We don’t deserve to even gain an audience with Him, yet He loves us, proved it, and invites into an eternal relationship with Him. Jesus models for us what it truly means to be human—and holy.

Do you want to be like Jesus? That’s essentially the definition of
discipleship—becoming like Christ.

We know that’s his desire for us, which is why I get so frustrated when my life—or the lives of others who claim to follow Christ—doesn’t look like Jesus.

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

Are you holy? It’s sort of a trick question. On the one hand, we are made holy because of the cross. Hebrews tells us about God’s will.

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

We are set apart. We are purified, consecrated, set apart, sanctified.

But on the other hand we’re not perfect. We sin, fail, rebel, and disobey. Our lives do
not always look like Jesus. He is our example, our teacher, our model, our hero. Just because we don’t get it right every time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”

God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” How do we do that? Repentance is required. Repentance is another one of those religious words we don’t often here in the broader culture and it’s often confused with confession.

Confession is a statement. Repentance requires action.

Confession is admitting wrongdoing. It might involve remorse and an apology, but at its most basic level, confession is saying, “I did it.”

Repentance is something we do. It’s a verb. Eugene Peterson wrote,
You don’t repent by taking a deep breath and then feel better. You only repent when you turn around and go back or toward God. It doesn’t make any difference how you feel. You can have the feeling, or you don’t have to have the feeling. What’s essential is that you do something. The call to repentance is not a call to feel the remorse of your sins. It’s a call to turn around so that God can do something about them.
Repentance is to do a u-turn, to turn around, to move in a different direction.
I’m grateful for GPS when I drive. Some of us old people remember the days of pulling
maps out of the glove box (did anyone ever have room for their gloves in the glove box?) to get directions. We’d fumble around with this huge piece of paper until we could discover our place, our destination, and the path between them.
Now we just tell Siri where to go and she tells us where to go! Occasionally I find myself disobeying her commands! Recently on the expressway I had to make a pit stop at an exit and she wanted to re-route me. Turn around! You’re going the wrong way! Get back on the right road!
Many of us have been moving in the
wrong direction…and therefore, we’re not in the right place. We’re not experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised. We’re living with anxiety, fear, regret, or guilt. We’re ashamed of where we’ve gone and we don’t know how to turn around.
I need to stop right here and say that’s where Jesus comes in! That’s why God’s grace is so amazing. Forgiveness is always available. It’s never too late to turn around, to repent,
to turn around, to get right with God, to follow Jesus. He said,
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
The good news—the gospel—is that Jesus is LORD, and he invites us to follow him, to experiencing forgiveness and salvation not because of what we do, but because of what he’s done for us on the cross, proving his love and commitment to us by dying for us, for our sins, and reconciling us to our Holy, Heavenly Father.
But we must repent. We must turn. We must change…not by trying harder, but by surrendering to God and letting the Holy Spirit work in and through us.
Jesus didn’t say confess and believe. He didn’t tell us to say a little prayer and go back to normal life. He said repent—turn, change—and believe. The Greek word, pisteuo, for believe means to commit, to put in trust with, to have faith. Like repentance, it involves action.
Why Repent?
You might be asking yourself why we need to repent. If Jesus paid it all, can’t I take my “get out of hell free” card and do it my way? There are several reasons why repentance is essential. The first chapter of the last book of the Bible—Revelation—reveals several. Jesus’ best friend, John, had a revelation from God. He wrote,
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

I repent because I am blessed.

I have a friend who has a reputation for giving candy to children at his church. It’s not a creepy thing, but a kind gesture that the area dentists love! He’s a magnet for kids who know that turning toward him will result in a blessing. We’ve been blessed by God and it should be natural to want to be with Him, to follow Him.

Two verses later, John greets his readers with grace and peace…

and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, (Revelation 1:5)

I repent because I am in awe of Jesus’ work on the cross.

After decades of knowing Jesus, I still am in awe of his sacrifice. Last Sunday we celebrated communion together, remembering the cross and the empty tomb. We turn away from sin, repent, and follow Jesus because of all that he has done for us.

The next verse continues by saying that Jesus
and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:6)
I repent because I am a priest.

I don’t mean a pastor. That’s my job title. But Jesus has made all of his followers to be priests, serving God. I don’t even understand completely what that means, but I know I can’t bring him glory if I’ve wandered away from Him…which leads to a fourth reason to repent.

I repent because I am able to walk away from holiness and need a wake-up call. (Revelation 1:11-3:22)

Sin has consequences, both from God and from everyday life. You reap what you sow. No matter how passionate and sincere you may be today, it’s possible to wander tomorrow. This is why sanctification is both an action and a process. Repentance is not once-and-done, but like driving a car, a constant steering of our lives, making adjustments, and sometimes making significant corrections.

Many students of the book of Revelation love to search for meanings in the symbolism and apocalyptic messages of the book, but the first three chapters require little interpretation. Jesus speaks to seven churches in cities you can visit to this day. Here’s a quick summary:
  1. 1. Ephesus: Repent from Idolatry
“You have forsaken your first love.” (Revelation 2:4)
“Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:5)
  1. 2. Smyrna: No repentance warning; suffering produces holiness
  2. 3. Pergamum: Repent from tolerating false teaching and sexual sin
Following teaching of Balaam (sexual sin) and Nicolaitans (false teaching) (Revelation 2:14–15)
“Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Revelation 2:16)
  1. 4. Thyatira: Repent from tolerating sexual immorality and idolatry taught by false prophetess, causing disunity
Gave her time to repent; she is unwilling to repent of sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:21)
“So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (Revelation 2:22–23)
  1. 5. Sardis: Repent from dead faith and lack of deeds
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Revelation 3:3)
  1. 6. Philadelphia: No repentance warning; suffering produces holiness
  2. 7. Laodicia: Repent from self-sufficiency, materialism, and lukewarm faith
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)
So What?

It can be interesting to read the accounts of others and their sins, but what about you? At this moment, do you need to repent? Fill in the blank:

I need to repent from ______________

Maybe it’s idolatry. You’ve given more of your time, talents, treasures, and love to something or someone other than God. It might be a good thing like family or a destructive habit like drugs. Politics has clearly become an idol for many in our day. The church in Ephesus had lost their first love, Jesus. Have you?

Maybe it’s sexual sin like those in Pergamum. Porn, adultery, …any sexual activity that isn’t between a husband and wife. Our culture says it’s no big deal, even celebrating it, but it’s unholy. It’s settling. It’s sin.

Maybe it’s something related to disunity like the Thyatirans. Gossip, slander, criticism, half-truths, judging others, divisiveness.

Maybe it’s a dead faith like the church in Sardis. Maybe it’s not your actions but your inaction that needs to change. When is the last time you really prayed, studied the Bible, shared your faith, gave sacrificially of your time or talents or treasure? You say you believe, but is there evidence…or do you just go through the motions on Sunday morning?

Maybe it’s the self-sufficiency and materialism of the Laodician church. This is especially common among many in our nation who think they don’t need God. We have money, hospitals, cars, the Internet…who has time or need for God? Do you really trust God…or your bank account, career, or power?

Where do you need to repent, to turn, to change? Again, the good news—the great news—is that God offers forgiveness and grace to all of us. Nothing you can do can make God love you more, and nothing you can do can make God love you less.

But until you repent, you won’t be following Jesus. Until you turn away from your sins, you won’t experience true peace. Until you choose to make Jesus LORD and not just Savior, you will never know true intimacy with your Creator and the fruit of the Spirit.
Where do we need to repent as a church? What sin are we tolerating? Where do we exalt wrong teaching or worldly philosophy? Where are we allowing division to creep in? Where have we started to become dead or lukewarm in caring about our community and the world? Where have we become confident in our own wealth and power? Are we even able to suffer?
LORD, Have Mercy

Credits: some ideas taken from Amy Roedding and The Alliance

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

The Holiness of God, 3 January 2021

The Holiness of God
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Isaiah 6:1-8

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: God’s holiness will lead us to worship…with our head, heart, and hands.

Happy New Year!
Aren’t you glad to get rid of 2020? Actually, if you joined us for our virtual New Year’s Eve celebration, you’ll know that God was faithful in 2020 despite all of the chaos…and I promise you, He will be faithful in 2021!

Today we’re beginning not only a sermon series but a forty-day campaign with the Christian & Missionary Alliance…
40 Days of Prayer.

I can’t imagine a better way to start a new year than on our knees. Our world is in transition with the pandemic, our nation is in transition in Washington DC, our church is in transition with new staff members, …we need God! I continue to pray that God would bring us—all of us—Christians and non-Christians—to our knees, seeking first His Kingdom, His will, His righteousness.

Today’s theme is holiness, and few things will bring you to your knees like experiencing the awe and wonder of God’s holiness.

What come to mind when you hear the word

The original Hebrew word for holy is
qadosh. It means ceremonially or morally sacred. It is set apart. Wayne Grudem defines holiness as “the doctrine that God is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own glory.” Holy is consecrated, hallowed, sanctified, venerated, revered.

The prophet Isaiah had an incredible experience he records in chapter six.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)

How do you imagine God? I’m quite sure Isaiah wasn’t able to see God’s face. God told Moses,

But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20)

Isaiah was able to see God’s glory, His throne. It must’ve been an awesome sight, yet there’s more.

Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (Isaiah 6:2)

The word “seraphim” means “fiery ones” to indicate their burning love. The appear to have been human with the addition of wings, which might be why angels are often depicted with wings. Isaiah’s eyes must’ve been overwhelmed. But this was more than a visual experience.

And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

The repetition may very well be a reference to the Trinity, one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:4)

This was a scene unlike any New Year’s Eve spectacular! I wish he had a video camera! This was no theatrical production, though. It’s just God. He is holy.

Holiness is displayed by God’s power.

There is no one like our God! He is holy, set apart, without equal, supreme. He is free from sin and Master of all. The seraphim declared it, and last book of the Bible tell us the refrain continues.

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8)

This is God stuff. We can’t fully comprehend it. It will require our resurrected bodies to be able to contain it. This is our God.

Holiness is displayed by God’s personification.

God is a Person. Isaiah doesn’t describe God as a force or spirit. He mentions God is seated on a throne dressed in a robe. He is above all, high and lifted up.

Holiness is displayed in God’s

Only God is worthy of continuous worship and adoration, both by humans and other creatures such as the seraphim. This text is truly awe-inspiring. There’s more to the story, but first I want to stop and focus on these words: holy, holy, holy.

Isaiah has this incredible encounter with the Almighty. It engaged all of his senses except, possibly, taste. He saw, felt, smelled, and heard God and His glory, leading him to say,

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

When you’re in the presence of greatness, it’s humbling.

When I was a young boy, my dad took me to a Detroit Pistons game on church night. After the game, there was a special event featuring the spiritual testimonies of some of the players. Somehow I noticed an empty seat in the audience next to 6’ 10” Kent Benson and I asked my dad if I could fill it. After gaining his approval, I sat next to this gigantic NBA star and could hardly contain my excitement. At one point we were asked to stand and I remember straining my neck just to see his head! I was humbled in the presence of greatness.

The greatness of God is infinitely greater than any athlete. Isaiah recognized not only his physical weakness, but his sinfulness in the presence of our holy God. The New Living Translation describes him saying,

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” (Isaiah 6:5, NLT)

That’s a proper response to the LORD…and to our own sin. We are doomed. We are wrecked. I don’t care how good you think you are, compared to God, you are but dust. You and I have no hope before a holy God…apart from God’s grace and mercy.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

Atone is an uncommon word in modern English, but it means to make amends or reparation. It’s making restitution. Isaiah is aware of his sin and unworthiness, yet God had mercy. This is an unusual event, yet the message is clear.

God offers forgiveness.

Jesus made forgiveness possible for all of us when he died on the cross. At one moment Jesus atoned for our sins. You might say he bridged the canyon that existed between a holy God and sinners like us. Regardless of what you’ve done, forgiveness is available through the death and resurrection of Jesus. No matter what you did in 2020—or even the first days of 2021—God offers forgiveness.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. (1 John 1:8-10)

Make no mistake, someday we will all stand before a holy God and give an account for our lives, but followers of Jesus will not stand alone. We stand with Christ…forgiven. Hallelujah! We celebrate that death, resurrection, and forgiveness today through communion.

God offers forgiveness. We respond with worship.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

We often reduce worship to singing songs as we did a moment ago, but worship is declaring God is worthy. It is showing honor and reverence to our awesome and holy God. We can worship with our lips in song. We can worship with our head in study. We can worship with our hands in service to others.

Isaiah had a truly awesome encounter with the holy God, it brought him to his knees, and led him to offer his life.

Have you encountered the holiness of God? If so, worship and service are the only appropriate responses. If we truly realize the extent of God’s holiness, power, and grace, we can’t help but declare, “I surrender all. Here am I. Send me!”

I can’t think of a better way to begin this year than on our knees in devotion to God. We may not have the experience the prophet had, but we can imagine the splendor and majesty of our God and responding in brokenness and humility like Isaiah did. God’s holiness will lead us to worship…with our head, heart, and hands.

Credits: some ideas taken from Steve Grusendorf and The Alliance

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