Wise Man, 29 December 2019

Wise Man: Christ
Series—Away in a Manger
Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew 1:1, Luke 2:11, Luke 2:22-39, Leviticus 12:1-8, Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:6, Matthew 27:19, Matthew 27:29, Matthew 27:45, Matthew 27:54

Series Big Idea:
The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

Big Idea:
Wise men and women still seek truth…and bring him presence.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t Christmas over? We blew out Jesus’ birthday candles days ago. Sure, we haven’t taken down the tree yet, but it’s time to move on, to get ready for New Year’s Eve, the ball drop, the football bowl games…

Here’s a thought: Jesus is the reason for the season…every season! And wise men—and women—still seek truth…and bring him gifts.

We don’t know Jesus’ exact birthday. We know it was about 2000 years ago but there’s a 1-in-365 chance that Jesus was born on December 25. Mary and Joseph were there. Shepherds were there. Animals and angels were there. The three kings or wise men? Not a chance!

Here’s the story from Matthew’s gospel—“good news”:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

These are Magi from the east. It says nothing about kings. The names of the Magi—Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior—and their status as kings from the east or “Orient” are based upon legend and tradition, not the Bible. So what are Magi? They are learned Gentile men. They may have come from Arbia, Ethiopia, Persia, or even India. They were likely astrologers, paying attention to the stars, which was easier to do then—before electricity and lights! It may seem odd to us that people took cues from what they saw in the sky, but they believed everything we interconnected. When a something special appeared in the sky, they assumed something special was occurring on earth. Scholars aren’t sure what the Magi saw exactly, but some think it may have been the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter was the royal, kingly planet and Saturn was thought, by some, to represent the Jews. They came to Jerusalem, the Jewish capital, looking for the king of the Jews. However, Matthew wants us to know his rule is not limited to the Jews.

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-4)

No king wants to be overthrown. It is my understanding that the Romans were fine with the Jews so long as they were good, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. When stars announce a new king, that can be threatening! Herod was not someone you wanted to threaten, as he murdered his wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, and many others. And soon he would slaughter baby boys, too. He was not a descendant of David…or even Jacob, but rather Esau, causing hatred from most of the Jews.

Notice how a simple question from the Magi disturbs not only King Herod—the fake king of the Jews—but all Jerusalem.

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5-6)

I still find it remarkable that the birthplace of Jesus was prophesied about 700 years before his birthday (Micah 5:2, 2 Samuel 5:2)!

It says “a ruler who will shepherd.” How many kings and rulers actually care for their people?

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

Why did Herod call the Magi secretly? He was obviously scheming since he had no intention of worshipping this child…this king…or anyone!

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. (Matthew 2:9)

The star in the east reappears to the Magi. Though some believe these were actually planets, others think maybe it was the Shekinah glory of God that led the people of Israel for forty years in the wilderness as a pillar of fire and cloud.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. (Matthew 2:10)

We talked about joy last Sunday. They had great joy. They saw the star. It was moving until it reached the place where the child Jesus was, about five miles south of Jerusalem.

When I toured Israel many years ago, our tour guide told us to consider not only the historical buildings, fields, and bodies of water, but also the sky above us. Angels sung above Bethlehem. In this account, a star guided the Magi as they traveled and stopped above Jesus.

There’s a passage in the book of Isaiah that may prophesy this occasion.

Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:6)

Gold, incense, and praise. Where have I heard that before?

Psalm 72 makes some references which may be relevant.

May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. (Psalm 72:10)

Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long. (Psalm 72:15)

Jewish tradition and the early church saw this as pertaining to the Messiah.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

We don’t know how many Magi were present; maybe two, maybe twenty. We sing “we three kings” because there were three gifts mentioned and those three men with three gifts look so nice in the nativity scene! The Roman Catholic Church states Orient tradition would favor at least twelve Magi. This is the only verse in the New Testament that lists the gifts given to Jesus.

We usually see Magi in Nativity scenes carrying small “samples” of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Magi were high-level dignitaries who likely brought great quantities of these gifts, perhaps even a whole train of pack animals loaded with them. When the Queen of Sheba brought a gift to king Solomon, for example, she gave 9000 pounds of gold (2 Chronicles 9:2)!

It's possible that these gifts had special significance. They were appropriate presents for kings or even gods. Gold might reflect Jesus’ deity or purity, frankincense the fragrance of his life, and myrrh —which is used to embalm the dead—a foreshadowing of his death on the cross. It’s likely is these gifts provided the resources needed to flee to and live in Egypt until Herod died.

It’s worth noting years later, Pilate’s soldiers will be the first Gentiles wince the Magi to call Jesus the king of the Jews, though his crown would be made of thorns, his throne a cross, and instead of a star, darkness would cover the land while a Gentile man declares Jesus to really be God’s son.

We don’t know when the Magi arrived, either. It is probably months, possibly days, but it may have been up to two years since Herod wanted all baby boys up to two years old killed on a not-so-silent night. Matthew tells us the family was in a house, so this was definitely not Jesus’ birthday.

Every time the child Jesus and Mary are mentioned together, Jesus is mentioned first. Notice Matthew calls him a child now rather than a newborn infant.

Our text for today concludes,

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:12)

What followed was Joseph taking his family to Egypt to escape King Herod’s slaughter of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.

So What?

Great, powerful men traveled far bringing gifts to a royal baby, one whose mission was to die. Other kings rule and reign, and when Jesus returns, that’s exactly what he will do…forever! He is the Lord of lords. He is the King of kings.

But as we look back at history, we see the most unlikely birth of a king. We see the most unexpected death of a king. We see here the king of the Jews pursued by wise Gentiles.

The wise men were searching for truth. Are you?

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Jesus is the truth. What he says is offensive to many, yet timeless and true. If we read and listened to Jesus as much as we do the news, I believe we would be different, to say nothing of the other 7+ billion people in this world.

The wise men were searching for truth. Are you?

One of the most searched, quoted, and misquoted verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

The problem with this verse comes when you take it out of context. God is speaking to the Israelites exiled in Babylon. It’s not something to cut and paste onto a t-shirt. I’m not suggesting God wants to harm you, but that there’s more to the message. It continues:

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:12)

God’s inviting the people of Israel to get involved, to pursue, to pray. Then God adds:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Wise men still seek him. Wise women, too!

Jesus said,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:33-34)


The wise men brought gifts? Did you?

I must confess I always thought the gifts of the Magi were small samples that could fit in the palm of your hand. While that makes for a nice Nativity scene, it’s highly unlikely. Kings were given great, extravagant gifts. If you’re going to travel a distance, why not bring the best?

What did you get Jesus for his birthday? No, it’s not too late! Every day is a day worth celebrating the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

You might wonder what you can give? One of my favorite Christmas songs—perhaps because it’s about a musician—is The Little Drummer Boy. If you omit the “rum pump um pum,” you’re left with these words:

Come they told me A newborn King to see Our finest gifts we bring To lay before the King
I am a poor boy too I have no gift to bring That's fit to give a King
I played my drum for Him I played my best for Him Then He smiled at me Me and my drum

What’s the message? A poor boy brought what he had…his drum…his best.

Some of you have great financial wealth. Give Jesus your best. Invest in his church.

Some of you have great talents. Give Jesus your best. Sing. Dance. Serve. Design. Paint. Lead. Invite. Love.

Some of you have great quantities of time. Pray. Visit. Read. Encourage.

We all need to give of our time and talent and treasures…and give our best. It will look different for each person, but the point is we need to give God our very best. We’ll talk more about this next Sunday, but for now, think about your gift to the King of kings.

Do you know what he wants more than anything? You can’t get it at Walmart! He wants you! He wants your heart, your obedience, your worship, your witness.

I think he also wants you to seek him, to pursue him, to be fully present with him. Not just now. Not just on Sundays. Not just at Christmastime. Every day. Every hour. Every moment. I believe if Jesus walked into this room and we gave him one wish from us, he would say the same thing he said to his friends:

Follow me.

He says it six times in the book of Matthew (Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9; 10:38, 16:24, 19:21) and numerous times in Mark, Luke, and John.

Wise men and women still seek truth…and bring him presence.

They are present. They pursue. They listen. They read. They pray. They slow down. They love. They worship. They follow.

My prayer for all of us as we draw near the end of this year and decade is that we would seek truth, seek God’s Kingdom, and give all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength to the King of kings.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Joseph: Joy, 22 December 2019

    Joseph: Joy
    Series—Away in a Manger
    Luke 2:10, 21; John 16:33; Hebrews 12:2; Matthew 1:20-24; 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27
    Philippians 4:4, 8; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

    Series Big Idea:
    The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

    Big Idea: Although they experienced pain and suffering, Joseph and Jesus were both filled with joy.

    Does Jesus bring you joy?

    I can tell you my first child brought me joy. Although we had been together for more than six years, the first time my wife saw me bawl like a baby was when I held our baby for the first time. Sheer joy! I did the same with our other two kids…and our grandbaby last year!

    Joy. It’s one of those Christmas words we don’t often mention the rest of the year. We’re all pursuing happiness. That’s our right in this country, according to the Declaration of Independence.

    But joy is different. Much different. We sing “Joy to the World,” but what does that really mean?

    We have sanitized the Christmas story. I don’t know if it’s the Christmas pageants at churches with girls dressed in blue bathrobes or sweet songs like Silent Night or even beautiful stained glass and paintings depicting Mary riding gently on a donkey with her man, Joseph, at her side, but the scene was hardly one of comfort…though there was joy. Great joy.

    Joy has been defined as,

    • - the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation
    • - a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated
    • - the expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety.
    • - a state of happiness or felicity.

    But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

    The word “joy” mentioned here in Luke 2 by the angel is the Greek word “chara” (khar-ah) which means cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness, exceeding joy.

    What makes you glad?
    Who makes you cheerful?
    When do you experience calm delight?

    We are so often disappointed in our pursuit of happiness because life isn’t fair. Bad things happen. People let us down. Our expectations are not met. This is especially true this time of year.

    This past week I learned of a pastor friend in Chicagoland who had a Blue Christmas service at his church yesterday, the longest night of the year. They called it, “A time to name and offer our darkness and grief to the God of Advent hope.” I love that. While it is “the most wonderful time of the year” for many, others are struggling—even now…in this room—with loneliness, financial concerns, stress, and anxiety. Many will sing along to Elvis about their
    Blue Christmas. But that doesn’t make joy impossible.

    Joy stems not from life’s circumstances, but the knowledge that although our world is
    broken, God is in control. In a rare example of a good “but,” Jesus said

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

    We looked at this passage last Sunday when we focused on peace. But there’s great joy knowing Jesus has overcome the world. God’s light is greater than the world’s darkness. God’s truth is greater than all human lies. God’s love is greater than death.

    One of the most amazing verses in the entire Bible says of Jesus,

    For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2b)

    Joy and cross don’t usually belong in the same sentence. What this means is while Jesus was tortured and brutally murdered, he experienced joy. Not happiness. Not comfort. Not pleasure. But joy. He was able to look beyond his momentary troubles and recognize God the Father was up to something good. Redemption was coming for all humanity, along with reconciliation, forgiveness, salvation, and shalom.
    Yesterday many of us gathered to mourn and grieve the loss of our dear brother Willie Heidebrink. He was a great man who loved Jesus, loved his family, and added value to so many lives. We hurt. We cry. We struggle. But we have joy looking beyond ourselves to Willie’s new reality. We have joy looking beyond this moment of grief—and we must grieve!—and anticipate a future reunion.

    Author Mike Frost notes, “The message of Christmas is that God’s love comes to shine light into our darkness. That knowledge might not eliminate the darkness you’re struggling with now, but I trust it reminds you that God knows the despair, the pain, the anguish you’re currently enduring.” He is with us, which raises the question, “If God’s here, why doesn’t He do something about this pain/loss/grief/situation?”

    He does. He’s given us the Holy Spirit. He’s given us one another to be the hands and feet of Jesus. He’s given us hope for an incredible eternity with Him. He’s giving us opportunities to trust, to identify with Jesus, the suffering servant. I don’t usually understand why, but I know God has a plan. He never wastes anything. He’s up to something. I believe He’s inviting us all to trust Him. In fact, if He’s spoken anything to me in 2019, it’s two words: “trust Me.”

    I’ve heard them in the midst of some of the darkest moments of my vocational life this year. I’ve heard them as I am estranged from two family members. I’ve heard them as I seek the right words to share with you.

    Choose Joy

    There’s not much we can truly control in life, but we can control our attitude. We can choose joy. Henry Nouwen wrote,

    To choose joy does not mean to choose happy feelings or an artificial atmosphere of hilarity. But it does mean the determination to let whatever takes place bring us one step closer to the God of life. Maybe this is what is so important about quiet moments of meditation and prayer. They allow me to take a critical look at my moods and to move from victimization to free choice.

    Pain is not an end. It’s not permanent. It’s temporary. It’s an invitation to world without pain. Joy is knowing there’s more to life than this moment. There’s more to reality than this world. This does not mean to deny our pain, but to remember we can have joy in the midst of it—just like Jesus—if our perspective is right.

    In today’s scripture reading (Matthew 1:20-24), Joseph learns he is having a son…not from an ultrasound, but from an angel!

    But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

    All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:22-23)

    We don’t give Joseph much credit. Sure, he walked for about 90 miles to Bethlehem while Mary rode on a donkey—at least that’s what some painters think—but he was more than chivalrous.

    When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

    Joseph trusted God. He stayed with Mary and married her—which was no easy task given the culture’s take on babies out of wedlock. He was willing to be stepdad to the Messiah. He accepted the name given to him for his stepson. He would obey God’s orders to become flee to Egypt to spare the life of Jesus and making refugees out of his family. Yes, Jesus was a refugee. But that’s not until the second chapter of Matthew!

    Jesus had joy, even while enduring the cross.
    Joseph had joy, even though this baby wasn’t biologically his.

    In both cases, joy was based upon obedience and bringing glory to the Father rather than happiness in the moment.

    Paul is another example of a joy-filled man despite difficult circumstances. Not only did he have a mysterious “thorn in the flesh” which tormented him every day of his life (2 Cor. 12:7), he wrote that he had

    “…been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-27, MSG)

    Through all of Paul’s sufferings, he was a man of joy. He said,

    Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

    The entire book of Philippians is about joy, not from Paul’s circumstances, but because he had confidence in God’s sovereignty and a hope in heaven. He had joy because of his focus, his perspective.

    For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

    Where are your eyes? Where’s your focus? Is your glass half-full or half-empty? Are you thinking about the things you don’t have or the blessings you do? Can you choose joy or do you prefer to complain and compare?

    Paul’s joy began in his head, with his thoughts. He famously said,

    Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

    There was joy at the birth of Jesus. The long-awaited Messiah had arrived. Nobody delivers joy like a baby.

    The story doesn’t end there.

    On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. (Luke 2:21)

    We usually end the story with the newborn King in the manger, but there was surely great joy for Joseph just days later as Jewish sons became included in the covenant relationship with God on their eighth day. This tradition called b’rit milah would set Jesus apart for God following Genesis chapter seventeen. The circumcision occurred on the eighth day since God worked six days, rested on the seventh, and day eight is a new cycle of a new week of new life set apart for the glory of God.

    Baby Jesus wouldn’t remember the occasion, but Joseph surely did. It was a special moment for families to welcome their Jewish son into the covenant God had established with all of Israel throughout the generations. While there was, for Jesus, a moment of pain—hurt, not harm—joy surely filled Joseph’s heart.

    One writer (Skit Guys) put it this way:

    It was the joy of Joseph to call his son’s name “Jesus” during the covenant of circumcision celebration. As Joseph looked into the face of Jesus, the first time his son would bleed and cry out in pain, He would be looking into the eyes of His earthly father as Jesus was being welcomed into the covenant of God’s people. The final time Jesus would bleed would be thirty-three years later. Upon a Roman cross, Jesus would cry out for the last time while looking up toward the eyes of His Heavenly Father as He made a way for all people to enter into a covenant with God throughout eternity.
    God saves.
    Jesus saves.
    And the joy of a father, both on earth and in heaven, remains more than we possibly can imagine this Christmas. But rest assured, the hopes and fears through all the years still are met in Jesus tonight, because he still saves. And it still is His joy to do so today.
    The question is,
    Does Jesus bring you joy?
    We used to sing this song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” True and lasting joy won’t come from the new Star Wars movie or good seats at a Walleye game. You won’t find it under the Christmas tree or even on Amazon.
    Real joy comes from seeking God’s glory, knowing He is with us—Emmanuel—even when we feel alone.
    Real joy comes from knowing our story’s not over. There are more chapters to be written and the best is yet to come.
    Real joy comes from serving others, knowing you are serving Jesus at the same time.
    Real joy comes from surrendering control rather than fighting for something unattainable.
    Real joy comes from the Son of God who came as a baby but will return soon as King of kings and LORD of lords.
    In the meantime, as we wait for Advent—his second coming—we can fix our eyes on Jesus. We can stand amazed at his love for us—broken, imperfect sinners he left heaven for, he died for, he rose for, and that at this moment he is praying for.
    How marvelous!
    How wonderful!
    How amazing!
    Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Shepherd: Peace, 15 December 2019

    Shepherd: Peace
    Series—Away in a Manger
    Luke 2:4-20, 1 John 3:5-8, Isaiah 9:2,6-7, Isaiah 53:5, Luke 1:76-79, Ephesians 2:13-17, Philippians 4:6-7

    Series Big Idea:
    The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

    Big Idea:
    Jesus is the Prince of Peace and desperately needed in our hearts and world.


    The shepherd in the drama said it’s more than peace. It’s God’s highest and most complete good.

    God’s peace on the earth…His highest and most complete good. Isn’t that what we all want? Jesus taught us to pray,

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

    That’s shalom, and it’s our subject today in our Advent series
    Away in a Manger.

    Our world is in chaos. Have you noticed? I’m grateful we don’t find ourselves in the middle of a war on our soil today. There are presently 28 countries at war, but even more staggering is a recent report—the Global Peace Index—which stated there are “just ten countries which can be considered completely free from conflict.” The USA is at war in seven countries right now! In fact, we are ranked as the 128th most peaceful country in the world (Afghanistan is 163, Iceland is number one).

    Locally, it’s no surprise to anyone that we live in a city and region in chaos. It seems like every day there’s another report in
    The Blade of a shooting, robbery, overdose, or protest. Despite our beautiful Metroparks, community services, industries, and world-class attractions like the zoo and art museum, violence and crime thrive.

    Even closer to home, there’s a lack of internal peace. The statistics for ulcers, depression, and anxiety are overwhelming. Suicide is rampant, especially among young people.

    Could we use peace on earth?
    The older I get, the more I seek perspective. There are always optimists talking about how the world is getting better—and it is—and pessimists who say the world is getting worse—and it is.

    There’s an irony in the Christmas story. Dr. Luke describes it this way:

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)

    This was common. A shepherd’s job is to watch over the sheep.

    An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:9)

    One angel shining with the glory of the LORD appears and terrifies the shepherds.

    I’ve heard many stories of people who encountered angels. It may have been someone who helped with a car broken-down on the side of the road, only to disappear. Perhaps it’s a stranger who offered an encouraging word at the perfect moment, then suddenly gone. Frequently the angel is identified as an angel after their appearance.

    The shepherds had no doubt this was an angel! While we often think of angels as nice and helpful and gentle and quiet, this one terrified the shepherds.

    But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

    Don’t be afraid. Easy for you to say, angel! The angel delivered good news—the gospel! We all love good news, and this good news was for all the people. All the people. Shepherds and kings. Jews and Gentiles. Rich and poor. What’s the good news?

    Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)

    The long-awaited Messiah has been born…to you! The description was necessary since this was not the way a king normally enters the world…wrapped in rags and lying in an animal’s food trough. Now the story develops.

    Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

    “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)

    Suddenly. Why are people always sneaking up on these poor shepherds?! This disruptive group of supernatural creatures announces peace in the midst of disturbing the shepherds who were just minding their own business in the fields! The original Greek word for peace here, eirene (i-ray-nay), means one, peace, quietness, rest.

    Not this night! There was nothing quiet or restful or peaceful about these angelic visitors, but once they changed their underwear (!), I’m sure they didn’t mind. After all, they were privileged to be among the first to meet the Messiah.

    Leave it to God to invite common shepherds to the delivery room of His son! Most royalty enter the world surrounded by powerful and famous, with paparazzi trying to get the best photo and story. Not the Messiah.

    When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15)

    What a brilliant idea! The shepherds may have been common, but they weren’t stupid!

    So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:16-18)

    The shepherds were the first (human) evangelists, spreading good news about the arrival of the Messiah, the advent of Jesus, God moving into the neighborhood with flesh and blood. All who heard it were amazed. It amazes me two thousand years later.

    But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:19-20)

    Jesus. Prince of peace. Shalom arrived in person!

    Two weeks ago we looked at the prophet Isaiah and how his words hundreds of years before Christ were perfectly fulfilled through Jesus the Messiah.

    For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
    He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
    establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the LORD Almighty
    will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

    When we read phrases like “Prince of Peace” and “of the greatness of his government and peace there will be end,” it may not seem terribly significant. After all, every nativity scene seems to depict a tranquil gathering of people and animals around baby Jesus. “All is calm, all is bright…sleep in heavenly peace.” Jesus came in the midst of nice people who lived in a nice neighborhood with nice neighbors and a nice government, right?

    Hardly! This is the Roman empire! Herod would order the death of Jesus and all of the other baby boys under two years old. This is a culture that didn’t use lethal injection for criminals. They were crucified! Battles were common. Oppression was normal. Peace? For some, it was unimaginable.

    Jesus. Prince of Peace. Paul would later write about the Messiah.

    But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)

    For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:14-17)

    Jesus is our peace. He brings together Jews and Gentiles, black and white, rich and poor, young and old. But remember, shalom peace is more than the absence of conflict. It’s God’s highest and most complete good.

    There was a day when God’s shalom ruled the earth. Everything and everyone were at peace. There was no death or hatred or selfishness or pride. It was paradise, a garden called Eden. Until sin entered the world. Until Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The serpent—who knows how to lie, steal, kill, and destroy better than anyone—introduced evil and rebellion and war to our world, shattering shalom. Peace was broken…to pieces.

    The only solution to our sin, to violence, to wars, to brokenness was Jesus. He is our peace. He rescues. He restores. He reconciles. He redeems. He renews. He revives. One writer has said,

    “The peace of God is a full, satisfying, rich, and juicy fruit of His Spirit to His people and creation. The shalom of God is intended for relational goodness and harmony through and through. Peace is the original order of creation and remains in the heart of God for all His creation.” (Skit Guys)
    Isn’t that beautiful? What a vision! I want to experience that. I want you to experience that. I want City Council and Columbus and Washington and Syria and North Korea to experience that. I want every man, woman and child on the planet to experience shalom, wholeness, completeness, relational goodness and harmony through and through.

    It won’t come through an election, though.
    It won’t come through new laws.
    It won’t come through the perfect enforcement of old laws.
    It won’t come through more jobs, more education, or more money.
    It won’t come through religion and traditions and striving.

    Shalom only comes through God. It is manifest through Jesus. It comes through the Holy Spirit being given space to work in us, making us more like Christ. It comes through surrender, giving up control, hitting rock bottom and letting Jesus take the wheel. As the old song says, “Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me.”

    The Bible begins with peace during creation (Genesis 1-2) and ends with peace in New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22. We’re living in the awkward in-between, seeking to know God and His shalom in a world fixated on its own happiness and pleasure. And it’s why what happened in Bethlehem was a strategic initiative by God to bring us peace—shalom—in the midst of a chaotic world. Listen to one of Jesus’ best friends, John:

    But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

    Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:5-8)

    We know the devil’s work. We see it every day. Addictions. Racism. Hatred. Greed. Disease. Bitterness. Envy. Insecurity. Pride. Despair. Fear. Worry.

    Jesus came to destroy them! The sweet baby Jesus didn’t remain in the manger. He grew. He showed us what it means to be human. He died and rose again, conquering sin and death. He literally destroyed the devil’s work. Hallelujah!

    Although some were surprised on Resurrection Sunday, it was prophesied—not by Isaiah or Micah or even Moses, but God in the third chapter of the Bible. After the devil tempted Adam and Eve,

    So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

    “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

    Jesus would be born of a woman. Satan would strike his heel…but Jesus would crush his head! God knew all of this. His plan was perfect, even though we’re not. All pain and suffering is not God’s fault, but rather the result of our choices, our free will. When we screwed up, God sent a Savior, a Healer, a Restorer, a Rebuilder…the Prince of Peace.

    We have all been enlisted to join him on his mission to seek and save the lost, to be hope dealers, to love, to make disciples. The purpose of Christmas was Good Friday…and Easter. The word “Savior” in Greek,
    soter, can be translated “preserver” or “deliverer.” Jesus came to deliver people from the devil’s work, to preserve the shalom peace of God so that we might experience the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Obviously, we are not experiencing the fullness of heaven now, but there are moments when heaven kisses earth, when love conquers hate, when peace prevails.

    So What?

    So what are we to do? How do we experience peace in a world of chaos? First, we need to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    “Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me.”

    Peace is broken not just by others, but often by ourselves. We often make a mess and blame God. Here are some examples of how we break peace:

    • - When we spend more than we make, leading to debt and financial bondage
    • - When we read, post, and say negative words instead of encouragement
    • - When we mask our true self and hiding rather than courageously being truthful
    • - When we shade the truth and tell lies
    • - When we take and hoard rather than give and share
    • - When we are envious of others rather than being grateful
    • - When we gossip to others rather than caring enough to lovingly confront
    • - When we rationalize our sinful behavior rather than confessing and repenting
    • - When we value our comfort over doing the right thing

    Maybe you’re not experiencing peace simply because you’re not choosing peace. Call yourself whatever you want, perhaps you’re following some of the works of the devil rather than pursuing selfless, humble love for God and others.

    Many of you have lived lives of peace. You’ve made good choices and served others, yet injustice has followed you home. You think, “It’s not fair!” You’re right. It’s not fair when others sin against you, and what is even more unfair is that Jesus would leave heaven and live here…so he could die for our mess!

    The baby in the manger would experience death, the ultimate loss of shalom. Yet his death brings us life, forgiveness, hope, …peace. He said,

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
    (John 14:27)

    Later, he said,

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (
    John 16:33)   

    So what do we do when our peace is broken? After examining ourselves,

    Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

    In a word, trust. Give it to God. Let it go.

    Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

    I’m still working on this, but over the years I’m starting to make a little progress. As the sign in my bathroom says, “Worry about nothing. Pray about everything.”


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

    It takes two to tango. You can’t control the behavior of others. The best you can do is pray and love. Some relationships will never be peaceful. Some are not even safe. Love and leave the results to God.


    Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He is alive. He is still at work. Through the Holy Spirit, God’s shalom is brought from heaven to earth. God’s highest and most complete good is available if we seek first His Kingdom, if we trust and obey. Like the shepherds, we can join the angels in bringing honor and glory to the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Prince of Peace.

    May you know the peace of Christ this Christmas and experience God’s highest and most complete good. May he bring peace to each of us so that He might work peace through us for His glory.

    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)


    Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Mary: Love, 8 December 2019

    Mary: Love
    Series—Away in a Manger
    John 3:16, 1 John 4:7-11, 19, Luke 2:16-19, Luke 2:21-24

    Series Big Idea:
    The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

    Big Idea:
    Mary provides us with a beautiful portrait of true love to God and people through her devotion and presence.

    Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

    This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)

    Love. It’s the heart of Christmas. It’s the heart of God.

    We talk about love a lot at First Alliance Church. We should. The word appears more than 600 times in the Bible. Jesus used it about 50 times in the four gospels, the biographies about him.

    If you’re new around here, welcome! You belong here!

    We talk about love a lot because God is love. He’s the definition of love. Did you hear that in the scripture reading? God is love.

    Unfortunately, love is one of the most confusing words in the dictionary, especially the English dictionary.

    I love God.
    I love my grandbaby.
    I love ice cream.

    A few days ago I saw a fortune cookie fortune which said, “Love is the first feeling people feel, because love is nice.” Wow! That’s deep!

    I repeat once again Dr. Scot McKnight’s definition:

    Love is a rugged commitment to be with other people, to be for other people, and to grow together in Christ-likeness. – Scot McKnight

    This is what it means when I say I love you, family. I am committed to be with you. I’m committed to be for you. I’m committed to grow with you to follow and become like Jesus, the ultimate example of what it means to be human.

    Jesus lived a life of love. It was more than words. It never involved lust. It was never cliché or trite. It was a choice, a decision, a rugged commitment to look out for the best interest of others.

    God is love. He proved it.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    Love gives. Bob Goff says love does.

    As we continue our series Away in a Manger, our theme is obviously love, expressed beautifully in the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We devoted our entire 2018 Advent series to her. She is not only one of the most remarkable women in the Bible, she’s one of the most remarkable humans…in history! No sermon could ever begin to help us experience the shame this unwed mother endured, the courage this teenage girl expressed, the obedience this faithful saint demonstrated. If Roman Catholics think too highly of her—as some Protestants have suggested—she us surely the most underrated Bible character among Protestants. Some Christians have all but ignored her entirely for fear of worshipping her, yet there is so much to take from her life and story. Her love was expressed both to baby Jesus and the suffering Messiah, literally from the cradle to the grave…and beyond!

    But we’re getting ahead of ourselves!

    Jesus summarized all of the teachings in the Bible into two statements:

    Love God.
    Love people.

    Mary is a terrific example of someone who did both.

    In his book Soul Talk, Larry Crabb writes,

    Every follower of Jesus has two sets of desires: the desire to know God and to experience intimate communion with the Trinity, and the desire to hear the specific calling of the Spirit in our life, to be so anchored in the hope of eternal joy and to be so in love with Jesus now that we endure every hardship as a privilege and as an opportunity to become more like Christ.

    What did he say? Our love for God must be so great that suffering for Christ would be considered a privilege. Sacrifice for the LORD would be welcome in our lives. Obedience and faithfulness to our Creator would be prioritized above anything and anyone…even our own pleasures and comfort. That’s love! That’s a rugged commitment to another Person.

    Does that describe my love for God? I want it to, though if I’m honest, no, at least most of the time. Often I love myself first, then if I feel like it, I’ll love others and God. I love God because He makes me happy, takes care of me, helps me be successful. Right? Don’t we use God? This is not love, or at the very best it’s conditional love. God, I will love you if…

    Larry Crabb continues,

    Jesus taught that the core longing of our soul is the desire to know God, not the desire to feel loved, not the desire to experience meaning, not the desire for the pleasures of family, friends, or success, but the passion to know God as high and lifted up and to place ourselves beneath him, resting in his goodness and available for his purposes.

    This is what it means to follow Jesus.
    This is what it means to love God.

    The central battle in the souls of Jesus followers is the battle to keep the first-thing desire in first place and second-thing desires in second place.

    John wrote,

    We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

    Notice this is in the past-tense. Does God love us today? Yes, absolutely! But He has already loved us so much that an eternity of devotion to Him will never begin to equal His love.

    The whole point of Christmas is not God gave us a gift so we can go to heaven when we die. The real message is God loved us, wanted a relationship with us, we screwed it up through our sin and rebellion, the only solution to restore our relationship with our Creator was the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, and while the cross and empty tomb are the defining moments in human history, it’s all about a relationship now…and for eternity. Our faith is based upon past events, but it also about today…and tomorrow.

    And I don’t just mean after we die. Last week I mentioned one of my favorite names for the Messiah is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus came here. He lived among us. Eugene Peterson famously said of Jesus,

    The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. (John 1:14a)

    He didn’t come simply to keep you out of Hell. His mission was to restore a relationship.

    “The biblical story is about God making a world where God wants to come and live with people in His world so that the final act in Revelation Is not saved souls going up to heaven but the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth and a voice is heard saying, ‘The dwelling of God is among humans.’” - N.T. Wright

    Do you see the difference?

    Love requires relationship.
    Love requires time.
    Love requires presence.
    Love requires sacrifice.
    Love requires commitment.

    This is why slogans such as “Toledo loves love” can be confusing. True love is not about what I can get from another person. It’s not about my feeling good. In fact, it’s not really about me at all. It’s about the One I love.

    We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

    Mary loved Jesus. Sure, she was his mom and all moms love their children, right?!

    But Mary loved God long before Jesus was born. She accepted a costly assignment. She suffered greatly for her LORD.

    There was a social cost during her pregnancy, the scandal of a baby out of wedlock.

    There was a physical cost during the birth. They call it labor!

    There was a relational cost during the early years as the family became refugees in Egypt.

    There was an emotional cost as she watched him crucified, dying before her eyes.

    That’s love! It’s
    a rugged commitment to be with other people, to be for other people, and to grow together in Christ-likeness.

    She welcomed Jesus into her life, into her heart, into her world.


    Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion. He came to restore a relationship. He wants to do life with you. Loving God is not about an hour on Sunday or even a daily quiet time or a generous end-of-the-year donation. Loving God means being fully present with Him, keeping Him first in everything—time, talent, treasures. It is demonstrated by your calendar and your checkbook. It’s visible in how you relate to others.

    “The central battle in the souls of Jesus followers is the battle to keep the first-thing desire in first place and second-thing desires in second place.” – Larry Crabb

    What would it look like for you to truly love God?

    I’ve often said I want to want God. I believe, but I need help with my unbelief, my lack of faith, my fear, my wavering trust, my selfishness. I want to desire God above all else, yet my flesh puts up a fight.

    Most of us know there were shepherds in the Christmas story who were told of the Messiah’s birth by angels. Talk about a cool birth announcement!

    So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:16-18)

    I think the shepherds loved Jesus. They knew this was a special baby and they loved others enough to “spread the word” about the Messiah’s arrival. “All who heard it were amazed.” The scene was incredible, but Dr. Luke adds a profound statement in the next verse.

    But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

    That’s love. She treasured the encounters. She treasured the conversations. She treasured the relationships. She treasured the privilege of knowing both God and people. She had all of the emotions of a new mom, yet she knew her son was special. She knew the biblical prophecies. She understood suffering was part of the package, yet her ultimate focus was on knowing God and being obedient. As Larry Crabb said, she was willing to endure every hardship as a privilege and as an opportunity to become more like the Christ she would mother.

    Jesus would say,

    “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15)


    Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (John 14:24a)

    Is that clear?

    Again, love is more than a feeling. It requires action. Mary not only loved Jesus as any good mother would love her son, she loved God and accepted a difficult assignment. Even her first moments of motherhood were filled with strangers making an unannounced visit to see her child. Rather than complaining, she treasured up these things, these people, these moments.

    One translation of this verse says,

    Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. (Luke 2:19, The Message)

    I want that kind of devotion, intentionality, engagement. I want to be fully present in every moment, with you and God. I want to be captivated by the majesty of God. I want to love Him so much all of my other desires pale in comparison. I want that love to be obvious to everyone who meets me…not because of a slogan on a t-shirt or a fish on a bumper sticker, but because of my life.

    James K.A. Smith says you are what you love. I want to become like Jesus. I want you to become like Jesus. I want all who call themselves Christians to become like Christ.

    You are what you love.

    The message today is not shame on you for not being a good Christian.
    The message today is not try harder and be better.

    The message today is love God. Be with God. Respond to His love for you. Treasure the things He has done to show—to prove—His love for you. Ponder them in your heart. Meditate on the scriptures. Slow down. Reflect. Be still and know He is God. Open yourself up to the Holy Spirit.

    Paul said it this way:

    So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16-18)

    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)

    Love is so much more than a feeling. It’s
    a rugged commitment to be with other people, to be for other people, and to grow together in Christ-likeness.

    Be present with God.
    Be present with people.

    Many years ago I was having dinner with a best-selling author and world-class speaker and I asked for his definition of success. After some hesitation, he said, “Being fully present in the moment.” I’ve never forgotten that. Be present. That’s what people need. That’s what I need. That’s what your family and friends need. Presence is powerful, especially in our world of non-stop screens, distractions, multi-tasking, and hurry.

    Love God.
    Love people.

    They both require action…or maybe inaction.

    They both require attention…our attention to be fully present with others.

    So What?

    Perhaps the greatest gift we can give this season is Christmas presence.

    Spend quality time with God. Spend quality time with others. Slow down. Turn off the noise. Shut off the screens. Ponder deeply what God is doing in and through you. Listen to those around you. Set aside your desires to truly seek first God’s Kingdom, His will, His desires.

    Be with God and others.
    Be for God and others.
    Let’s grow together in Christ-likeness.

    Let’s love!

    Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.

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

  • Isaiah: Hope, 1 December 2019

    Isaiah: Hope
    Series—Away in a Manger
    Isaiah 40:3-5, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Isaiah 60:2-3, Isaiah 9:2, 6-7, Matthew 1:20-25

    Series Big Idea:
    The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

    Big Idea:
    Isaiah’s people were exiles in need of hope, not unlike our captivity to sin and need of salvation today.

    It’s finally here! The turkey has been put away, the credit cards are maxed out, The Game is over, and Advent has begun, this season of expectant waiting and preparing for both the celebration of Jesus’ first arrival to our world and his promised return. The word “advent” comes from a Latin word meaning “coming,” and we’re spending this month focused on the first and second comings of the Messiah.

    Throughout our series
    Away in a Manger, we’re going to look at the nativity of Jesus from the perspectives of various characters in the story, covering the five themes of Advent in the five Sundays of December. Today’s theme is hope and our character is a prophet who wrote about 700 years before the birth of Jesus, yet his predictions were spot-on, giving tremendous credibility to both the Holy Bible and our faith.

    Do you like music? Do you like Christmas music? I love Christmas music, though I always wait until I see Santa in the Thanksgiving Day parade before I listen to it. One of the things that makes Christmastime so special is how it engages all of our senses: we hear the carols, eat the gingerbread, touch the ornaments, smell the pine tree, and see the lights. Perhaps the greatest soundtrack of the season was composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel…The Messiah. How many have attended a performance of it?

    If you’re familiar with it, you surely recognized our scripture reading today from the book of Isaiah, whose name means “the salvation of Yahweh” or “the salvation of God”:

    A voice of one calling:

    “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
    Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

    Every Valley Shall Be Exalted (2 versions)

    Most every year at this time I think about doing a sermon series on Handel’s Messiah. Interestingly, it covers more of the Good Friday events than the Christmas story, so maybe this spring…!!!

    Back to Isaiah, he made at least nineteen different prophecies that were fulfilled centuries later by Jesus the Messiah.

    (You can find a chart of them

    Although Handel tied it together with chapter 40, it says in chapter 52

    See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. (Isaiah 52:13)

    Jesus said,

    And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

    Paul said of Jesus,

    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

    Perhaps the most famous prophesy related to Advent states,

    Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin
    will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

    This was echoed by Matthew when he wrote his gospel or “good news” about Jesus.

    But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

    All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:22-23)

    I might add “Immanuel” is one of my favorite words for Jesus. He came and become one of us. Although it occurred two thousand years ago, God came to earth. He laughed and cried, knew joy and hardship, was tempted in every way, and understands pain of the most horrific kind. While Jesus is physically beyond our planet, he knows suffering. He can relate to whatever trial you are facing today. He was with us, he is with us by the Holy Spirit who lives in every follower of Jesus, and one day soon he will be with us again when he returns, the second “coming” which we remember during Advent.

    When Isaiah wrote his prophecies, the people of God had become unruly and disobedient. Their sins brought death and destruction and their abandonment of God brought about devastation. Isaiah understood the only way the people could experience peace was through repentance, turning away from their sin and rebellion and returning to God.

    I believe that message is spot-on in our nation today. Other than Christmas, it seems the only time we hear the name of Jesus outside of a church gathering is when it’s used as a swear word.

    (When did it ever occur to someone to use Jesus as profanity? Why not Pinocchio or Hitler or even satan?)

    We are a divided nation, an anxious nation, a fearful nation. Is it any wonder? Life apart from God will always break down eventually. We’re simply not wise enough our own. We were created for relationship with God and one another, yet it seems like every day we’re bombarded with another message stating it’s all about us.

    In Isaiah’s day,
    foreign nations such as Assyria and Babylon overtook God’s people and eventually led them into exile. That means they were taken from their homes and land. Imagine being kicked out of your home this afternoon, maybe sent to a different city, state, or even country. Some of you know what displacement is all about.
    People that experience exile for any length of time hope for survival and rescue. When we read the news today—whether we’re in our homes or not—it’s obvious we’re not following God. Our cities are filled with abuse, violence, corruption, human trafficking, addiction, exploitation, divorce, pornography, disease, debt, depression, and other signs the enemy is experiencing some victories.
    What we need is hope!
    When we were preparing to distribute goodie bags with Saturate Toledo, I reminded our teams not to worry about soliciting. We weren’t soliciting. I told them they were delivering good news. They were hope dealers!
    Isaiah offered hope to those in exile, proclaiming the coming of Messiah. One of my favorite prophecies is found in chapter 61:

    The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1)

    That’s what Jesus did, and today we re-present Jesus to our world. We are to be his hands and feet, proclaiming good news to the poor…and rich. We are called to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.

    We do that through Cherry Street Mission.
    We do that through Kairos Prison Ministry.
    We do that through Dinner Church.

    We are hope dealers!

    We aren’t the hope, but we deal it, we deliver it, we proclaim it. Jesus is the hope of the world!

    Hollywood’s not the hope.
    Government’s not the hope.
    Our school systems are not the hope.
    Science isn’t the hope.
    Jesus is the hope of the world! He was. He is. He will always be.

    Listen to these hopeful words from Isaiah:

    The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

    Could we use that today?

    Could you use a Wonderful Counselor?
    Could you use a Mighty God?
    Could you use an Everlasting Father?
    Could you use a Prince of Peace?

    Hope came about 700 years after Isaiah prophesied these things. His name, Jesus, means “God saves.” About 700 year after Jesus was born, a group of monks sang a song which would become “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Here’s a little background on the song from Eric Metaxas:

    “I want you to imagine yourself in a monastery in the 8th century. It’s December 17th and you’ve gathered with your brothers for Vespers, the sun-set prayer service. As with all Vespers, at the heart of the service is the chanting of select psalms, each of them preceded and followed by what is known as an antiphon, a sung or recited response. What sets December 17th apart, and the six nights that follow it, are the seven antiphons used only on these nights. Each one is a name of Christ – specifically, they are Messianic titles from the book of Isaiah: Sapieta (wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix (Root of Jesse), Clavis (Key of David), Oriens (Dayspring), Rex (King of the Nations), and Emmanuel.
    Because each of these titles is preceded by the word “O,” they are known as the “O Antiphones.” If this sounds familiar, it should. I have just given you a glimpse into the origins of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” – the greatest Advent, or should I say, Christian Hymn of all time. While I asked you to imagine an 8th-century monastery, the O Antiphons predate the 8th century. The Roman philosopher Boethius, who lived in the late 5th and early 6th centuries, alludes to them in his writings. It’s reasonable to suppose, as one scholar put it, that ‘in some fashion, the O Antiphons have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early church.’
    But it’s what they teach us, and not just their antiquity, that gives them their power. The composer and musicologist Robert Greenberg has noted that if you take the first letter of each of the Messianic titles in reverse order, by December 23rd, you have the Latin phrase ERO CRAS which means, ‘Tomorrow I will come.’”
    While yesterday in exile may have been bad and today may not seem to be much better, we have hope knowing that if not tomorrow, soon, He will come again. The second Advent is closer than we may realize even if we feel like exile has lasted far too long from our vantage point of life. If we feel like we are still in exile, may we join with the monks and the many throughout the ages who have sung the song of advent hope: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel.”
    O Come, O Come Emmanuel
    Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Gift of Jesus, 24 December 2017

    The Gift of Jesus
    Series—The Gifts of Christmas
    Luke 2:1-11

    Big Idea: The greatest gift in human history was Jesus Christ.

    Skit Guys Video


    Christy, I bought you a gift. I hope you like fruitcake! Merry Christmas!

    Who loves Christmas cookies? I’m sorry, I don’t have any to throw out this morning, but I sure love them better than fruitcake! I’ve rarely met a cookie I didn’t like. I love sugar cookies, shortbread, …yes, I love buckeyes…but to clarify, I love to EAT buckeyes! My favorite cookie is gingerbread. I LOVE gingerbread!

    Have you ever eaten cookie dough?

    Have you ever made chocolate chip cookies and then poured the final chips from the bag into your mouth?

    Have you ever poured the extra flour from the bag into your mouth? Of course not! But the flour and baking powder are essential. Skipping that tiny teaspoon of baking powder can destroy a batch of cookies.

    History is filled with tiny things making a huge impact on our world. As Christy said in the drama, “Big things can come from really little places.” Jesus Christ, whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow—and today—came from a “little town” of Bethlehem two thousand years ago. The greatest gift came from the smallest place.

    What are some of your favorite Christmas gifts? What are some of your least favorite Christmas gifts? That list might be more interesting!

    One of my favorite Christmas traditions is the white elephant gift exchange. I’ve received some very interesting gifts at those parties! I think we can all agree there are some gifts we really don’t want!

    During this Advent season of arrival, of waiting, we have looked at the gifts of expectancy, grace, reconciliation, and adoption. None of those can be wrapped or shoved into a gift bag, but those who choose to receive those gifts experience things far greater than an iPhone which will be obsolete in a few years or a sweater which will be eventually sent to Goodwill.

    Today we conclude our series,
    The Gifts of Christmas. It has been my experience that there is no greater gift than the gift of Jesus. But like all gifts, you must choose to receive it or not.

    The Christmas Story

    Most of us have heard the Christmas story read by a friend, family member, someone at church, or even Linus on A Charlie Brown Christmas. A doctor named Luke wrote a biography of Jesus and our text for today comes from the gospel—or good news—of Luke.

    In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3)

    The scene is the Roman empire about two thousand years ago. Transportation was difficult, yet required by the government.

    So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2:4-5)

    Joe and Mary travel about eighty miles to this little town of Bethlehem. The timing of the census was terrible as Mary was eight or nine months pregnant, although it is possible they were in Bethlehem for some time before the birth, as stated in the next verse.

    While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

    That nativity set you may have in your home might not be 100% accurate, though the same can be said for many things regarding our understanding of the Christmas story. I like the biblical account as it is ancient, tested, and trusted around the world. Most likely Bethlehem was filled with travelers and with no guest room available, they slept with the animals in the downstairs of a home. Tim Chaffey writes,

    Archaeologists have excavated first century homes from the Judean hill country. They have discovered that the upper level served as a guest chamber while the lower level served as the living and dining rooms. Oftentimes, the more vulnerable animals would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold and theft. This sounds strange to many of us, since we wouldn't dream of bringing some of our cattle into the house at night, but even today in some countries of Europe (e.g., Germany and Austria), the farmhouse and the animal quarters are often different parts of the same building.

    There was no inn, no innkeeper, no stable…they were probably staying with family in an overcrowded house.

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)

    What a scene! There are scholars who believe these weren’t just any shepherds, but rather Levitical shepherds tending to animals which would be used for Passover sacrifices in the Jewish rituals. These were special lambs who had to be without defect, creatures given great care, even swaddled by their shepherd in order to be acceptable in the temple as a payment for the sins of the owner. What an image for Luke to highlight while telling the story of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would be in swaddling cloths. These shepherds were in for a big surprise!

    An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:9-11)

    There are so many ancient prophesies fulfilled in these eleven verses. I wish we had time to explore them, but suffice it to say this was no ordinary baby and no ordinary birth, though the event occurred among ordinary people in a small, ordinary town.

    The prophet Micah wrote about 700 years before the birth of Jesus these words:

    “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

    There is so much solid evidence for faith in Jesus, including dozens of Old Testament prophesies uniquely fulfilled in Christ hundreds of years later. This is one. You can’t choose where you’re born, but Jesus’ birthplace was prophesied. O little town of Bethlehem! Big things can come from really little places.

    Boaz, Barley, and Jesus

    Jesus came from a little town that means “house of bread” as Christy mentioned in the drama. There are more than 5000 biblical references to baking bread…from unleavened bread during the Exodus to Jesus breaking bread and saying to His friends, “This is my body.” Ezekiel Bread can be found in grocery stores nationwide, a unique recipe found in the Bible.

    One of the most fascinating stories in the Bible involves two women, Ruth and Naomi, distance ancestors of Jesus.

    Naomi’s husband dies, her sons had died, and she is alone with her two daughters in-law. She urges them to find new husbands. One does but Ruth stays with her mother in-law, Naomi. They travel to Bethlehem…1000 years before Jesus is born.

    At the time, if you owned a field, you were not allowed to harvest the corners of it, instead making it available to the poor and hungry. One day Ruth “gleans” from the field of Boaz, gathering ingredients to make bread. Boaz sees her, likes her, gives her more food, and eventually Boaz marries her. Ruth goes to Bethlehem and finds not only the gift of bread but the gift of a bread winner. Ruth and Boaz have a son named Obed, a blessing to not only them but also grandma Naomi. She was overjoyed at the gift.

    The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (Ruth 4:14-15)

    Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.  Ruth 4:16
    The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:16-17)

    Ruth was King David’s great-grandmother and Naomi was his great, great-grandmother! The little town of Bethlehem became known as the City of David, and centuries later that label will be used by angel’s announcement to the shepherds.

    Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

    A Kinsman-Redeemer of all people was arriving in Bethlehem. Jesus came to rescue and redeem humanity in the same town where Boaz had redeemed His ancestor Ruth. If you’ve ever read through the Bible, you know there are some genealogies that can be extremely boring, but this one is quite fascinating:

    Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. 

    David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, (Matthew 1:5-6)

    Two of Jesus’ ancestors met during the barley harvest and a part in the ongoing gift-giving which would lead to the birth of Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

    So What?

    We can talk all day long about big things coming from really little places. We can read the Christmas story of the birth of the Messiah. We can sing songs, exchange gifts, and eat cookies, but what difference does Jesus make two thousand years later? Jesus is the greatest gift. The story doesn’t end with a baby in a manger. Sweet baby Jesus would grow up, teach with wisdom which amazed the most brilliant minds of His day, perform countless miracles, willingly surrender His own life on a cross for the sake of every man, woman and child who follows Him, rise from the dead, ascend to heaven, and promise to return.

    Jesus is the greatest gift. He came as Emmanuel, God with us. He came to our world to be with us, to relate to us, to love us, to show us what it means to truly be human. And He’s coming back for all who receive the gift, who receive Him, who follow Him.

    Jesus is the greatest thing in my life. He has given me life—bountiful life! I live every day knowing my sins are forgiven which gives me peace. I know He is returning someday to our broken world which gives me hope. He is present here and now by the Holy Spirit living inside of me which gives me great joy. I’ve experience meaning and purpose for life, surrendering to the Creator God who knows me and still loves me.

    And all of this can be true for you, too. There’s nothing special about me. I just said, “Yes” to the gift. And you can, too. The most famous verse in the Bible says

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    That’s a promise of eternity with God after you die, but also the promise of His presence and power and peace in this life, here and now. It’s not about religion or even being good. It’s simply about welcoming Jesus into your heart, your life, your world and inviting Him to lead and guide Your life. It’s about a relationship with Almighty God, a journey in which you can actually know your Creator, be adopted into a faith family of love, receive a fresh start in life, conquer your fears, and truly experience joy. If Jesus is not the main ingredient in your life, you’re missing out on the greatest ingredient, the greatest gift. I urge you to receive the gift, the gift of Jesus. Let Him lead and guide you and who you through His Word, the Bible, real wisdom, life, and joy.

    One of my favorite songs of the season is “Joy to the World.” One of the lines says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Is there room in your heart for Jesus? He’s the main ingredient in my life and He can do incredible things with yours if you let Him in, if you receive the greatest gift this Christmas, the gift of Jesus.

    Credits: title, drama, and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

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

  • Gift of Adoption, 17 December 2017

    The Gift of Adoption
    Series—The Gifts of Christmas
    Ephesians 1:1-6

    Big Idea: God sets a beautiful example of love and grace by adopting us as His children.

    Skit Guys Video


    Adoption is a very important and often emotional topic. I remember hearing a wonderful story of a boy being teased for being adopted. He turned to his peers and said confidently, “Your parents had to take you. My parents chose me!” While his attitude may have been a bit over the top, one thing’s for sure: adoption changes lives.

    In the video, the mother utters three powerful words as she’s about to pick up her baby. She says, “We decided that’s the way it was going to be” and then says with a smile, “But it wasn’t.”

    Our world is full of brokenness and pain. Bad news assaults us every day, prompting fear, worry, and anxiety. It’s so easy to give up, embrace the discouragement, settle for the status quo, and say, “That’s the way it’s going to be.” And then God whispers, “But it’s not.” During this Advent season of arrival, of waiting, we have looked at the gifts of expectancy, grace, and reconciliation. Today we turn to one of the most remarkable gifts of all…adoption. It changes lives. Has it changed yours?

    In eight days we will celebrate the birth of Jesus, His entrance into our world…and into the family of Joseph and Mary. There are few things in this world more exciting than the birth of a baby. I’ve often said the only part of hospitals I like is the maternity ward. Families can grow two ways: through birth and adoption.

    The Bible is filled with metaphors describing spiritual truths with physical realities. Words like family, born again, and new birth appear numerous times. One of my favorite verses—which we examined recently—was written by Jesus’ close friend John to some of the first Christians, followers of Jesus. He writes…

    See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

    I love this verse—pun intended. It’s not just love, but great love. It’s not just a stranger, but the Creator of the universe. It’s not just that He gives love, but He lavishes it. It’s not just anybody, it’s us! It’s not just servants or acquaintances or even friends, it’s children. And that is what we are…children of God…if we follow Jesus. If we embrace the “reason for the season.” If we surrender our will to God’s, believing that Daddy knows best.

    I know many of you struggle at this word “Father” because your earthly dad was…less than stellar. Maybe you never knew him. Perhaps he abused you. That’s not our heavenly Father, though. He loves His kids. He loves you!

    Our text for today was written by Paul, a remarkably passionate man who once persecuted Christians before encountering Jesus and becoming one of His followers. He writes,

    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, 

    To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 

    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1-2)

    This is a letter to the church in the city of Ephesus in modern day Turkey. His introduction is similar to his other writings. Then he begins to talk about their identity—who they are. I think we can safely say although this was not written to us, it was written for us and applies to all followers of Jesus.

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

    Paul offers praise to God. We praise God as we sing and pray, adoring Him for His greatness, power, majesty, faithfulness, and most of all love. It also says we’ve been blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. I’m not even sure I understand what every spiritual blessing means exactly, but I know it’s all good! In Christ—that’s the key phrase—we have access to God, to blessings, to faith, hope, and love. We are entitled to the benefits of being children of the King, the LORD of the universe. What’s more, followers of Jesus are “in Christ,” God the Father sees in us the things He sees in Jesus.

    For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

    The Greek word for “adoption” is huiothesia. When Paul uses the word it serves to distinguish the believer’s relationship as a daughter or son of God from that of Jesus.

    Look at the New Living Translation of this Greek text:

    Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. (Ephesians 1:4-6, NLT)

    That’s incredible!

    God loved us.
    God chose us to be holy.
    God chose to adopt us into his own family.
    And that was all before he made the world!

    There’s more: it says he wanted to adopt us…and it gave him great pleasure. So what’s our response? We praise God. We praise the Father for sending the Son, Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate in eight days.

    Have you heard this before? If so, share it. Listen as if you have to share this with a friend tomorrow…and then do it! This is a great time of year to ask, “What does Christmas mean to you?” Then listen. Maybe they’ll return the favor and you can say, “It means Jesus came as the greatest gift in human history, living a perfect life, dying for us, rising from the dead, and now he’s preparing a place for us. Do you know Him? He loves you.”

    Love. There’s that word again. Everything in the video points to love. Everything about this season points to love. Baking cookies, buying or making gifts, hosting meals, sending cards, giving to charity, even singing songs of praise are all expressions of love.

    But what is love? Contemporary philosopher-theologian Tom Oord says, “To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promise overall well-being.” I think that works. Theologian H. Richard Niebuhr said, “By love we mean at least these attitudes and actions: rejoicing in the presence of the beloved, gratitude, reverence and loyalty toward him [or her].”

    Last week we read God is love. My professor, Scot McKnight, sees four elements in divine love:

    God’s love is a rugged covenant commitment.

    Beginning with Abraham, God relates to humans through covenant, a deep commitment, greater than a contract. Often people will say they fell in or out of love, but that’s just emotion. A commitment is a decision, a choice, a promise. God’s love is permanent. It is rugged and is able to withstand anything we may do or fail to do.

    God’s commitment is to be present, or to be “with.”

    I love this idea of presence. Jesus came as Emmanuel which means “God with us.” He doesn’t love us from afar, but enters our world, our pain, our suffering, our hopes. In the absence of Jesus—who left our planet but promised to return soon—He sent the Holy Spirit to live and dwell within each of His followers. God is committed to be with us, and He lives inside many of us through the Spirit. Someday He will dwell with His people in the new heavens and the new earth.

    God’s commitment is to be an advocate, or to be “for.”

    Have you ever had a friend that believed in you? Hopefully all of our friends like us, but I mean a special friend who supported you. About a decade ago my friend Ramsey came up to me and said, “I’ve got your back.” I’ve never forgotten those simple words. He was for me. Again, we see love expressed through a commitment. Throughout the Old Testament, God says to the Israelites, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

    God’s commitment has direction: God’s love is “unto” kingdom realities.

    God loves the whole world. Every human was created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. If only we would always see others that way! Jesus is King and kings have kingdoms and kingdoms have rules. God’s kingdom mission establishes churches, communities marked by righteousness, the cross, and love.

    The Family

    Which brings us to right here and right now. We are a family, a faith family. In God’s family, we are all adopted…into grace…into love.

    When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he said…

    For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:14-15)

    The word “abba” is Aramaic, a word used by children for their father, not unlike “daddy” or “papa.” It implies both intimacy and respect. What a joy to call the Almighty “Abba, Father.” When I talk with Him, I always want to maintain a reverence, but not a distance. Some are too formal with God…others too casual. Suffice it to say, it’s a huge honor and privilege to be able to talk with God at all, much less address Him as one of His children.

    Heather and I watched the first episode of “The Crown” this past week. I’m not necessarily recommending it as we’ve just begun, but it’s the story of Queen Elizabeth. She is introduced in the television program shortly before she is married, and soon thereafter they fast-forward several years until she has two small children, Charles and Anne. These kids are shown riding their bikes and interacting with their parents, seemingly unaware that they are in the presence of royalty…that
    they are royalty.

    It’s easy for me to take my relationship with Abba Father for granted. I’m used to Him being my Dad, especially after the death of my earthly dad. I don’t deserve to be adopted as His son any more than Charles deserves to be Prince or Little Orphan Annie deserved to be adopted by Daddy Warbucks. What a privilege!

    Paul continues…

    The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-17)

    If you think Prince Charles is heir to a lot, think about what God’s children receive! We are co-heirs with Christ. But we are not yet able to enjoy all of the inheritance now. For many followers of Jesus throughout the centuries there has been suffering, persecution, and even martyrdom. Jesus was killed for speaking the truth, what makes us think following Him will lead to a safe, comfortable life? We’ve been blessed in this country with great freedoms, but as long as we live in a sinful, broken world there will be opposition from the author of hate and death, satan.

    If you recall in the video, the mother reads the verse in the Advent calendar which says, “God has chosen me…” God has chosen us to be His children, to join His family, to participate in His mission to seek and save the lost, to serve the poor, widow, stranger and orphan, to make disciples of all nations who will follow Jesus, to love God and others. Family brings both privileges and responsibility. We have been given salvation, hope, peace, love, joy, and the Holy Spirit to love and serve our world.

    Our Heavenly Father is greater than any earthly parent. He invites all humans to become His children, yet He gives us the choice of joining His family or rejecting Him. If you have not experienced a great human family, meditate on this simple verse:

    Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me. (Psalms 27:10)

    That’s adoption language. That’s love. He will never turn us away.

    So What?

    Maybe this is the Christmas when you say yes to God’s invitation to be adopted into His family. It simply involves surrendering control of your life, believing Daddy knows best. It means saying, “God, I want You to lead my life, be my LORD. Thank You for sending Jesus to die for my sins and offer me forgiveness and life. I want to join Your team, Your mission, Your family.”

    Maybe this is the Christmas when you follow God’s example and adopt someone into your family. Heather and I completed foster care classes last year and continue to seek God regarding possibly fostering or adopting in the future. Some of you have experienced the tremendous joy of adoption. Even if you’re not ready to foster or adopt, you can help someone who is by praying for them, babysitting, or any number of things. The need in Lucas County for foster homes right now is staggering, especially with the opioid epidemic. There are brochures at the information center kiosk if you’re interested.

    Maybe this is the Christmas when you simply adopt a person or family to join you at the Christmas table, buy them a gift, send them a hand-written note of encouragement, or simply say, “I love and appreciate you.”

    How will you celebrate the Gift of Adoption this year? May Abba Father lead and guide you and your loved ones today, during these next eight days, and for years to come.

    Credits: title, drama, and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Gift of Reconciliation, 10 December 2017

    The Gift of Reconciliation
    Series—The Gifts of Christmas
    1 John 4:7-12

    Big Idea: Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father…and one another.

    Skit Guys Video


    An old man who just wants to make things right with his kids. That’s sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? He seems like a nice enough guy. What kind of person would reject love? He’s done everything he can think of so this time...this season...he goes...himself. He gives himself....a new beginning.

    We’re in the middle of a series called The Gifts of Christmas. Two weeks ago we talked about the give of expectancy. Advent is about arrival, anticipation, and waiting. Last week we examined the gift of grace, unmerited favor. None of us deserve forgiveness, love, peace, forgiveness, or hope, yet that’s where God’s amazing grace becomes so vital to not only experience but also share. Today we’re talking about the gift of reconciliation, a word that reflects reunion, understanding, and resolution. In a world full of brokenness, reconciliation is desperately needed.

    It has surprised me over the years how many good parents are estranged from their children. Don’t good parents produce good kids? How could someone walk away from the love of a father—or mother? Why would a “Christian” family have any division or unresolved conflict? Why are there so many prodigals amongst our First Alliance family? And then I look at the gap in my own family photo. Why? What happened? Can I fix it? If so, how?

    Let me state from the beginning relationships require at least two people, and reconciliation requires at least two, also. The holidays are a time when people gather—with family, co-workers, and friends—for parties, meals, and for Christmas. I have nothing but good memories of childhood Christmases, not only tearing open brightly-wrapped presents and stuffing myself with cookies but seeing relatives I dearly loved.

    It’s very different for me now. Obviously the wonder of gifts under the tree is different as an adult and I think twice before eating too many cookies, but while I love the family and friends in my life, I’m also reminded at this time of year about those with whom I am not connected. Many of my favorite people will be spending Jesus’ birthday with Him rather than me, which his bittersweet.

    What’s more bitter and not at all sweet are those broken relationships. There will be one very empty chair at our table on the 25
    th for the second year in a row, and while our relationship with our daughter has taken some baby steps forward, it has a long way to go. How could someone reject the love of a father?

    Tragically, it happens every day, and not just with human fathers. Our heavenly Father went to the most extreme of measures to show us His love. We can accept or reject it…it’s our choice. He made the first move. The ball’s in our court.
    We’ve looked at our text for today—written by one of Jesus’ best friends, John—before, but it bears repeating. It begins

    Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)

    This sounds so familiar to anyone who has cracked open the Bible, but this is revolutionary among other religions. Love comes from God? Those who love are born of God? Those who love know God?

    And what if we don’t love? What does that say about us? The command here—and elsewhere in the Bible—is to love…one another.

    What is love? That’s the question! Hollywood will tell you one thing, Hallmark cards another. A man I knew searched the Bible to understand the true definition of love when he came upon this next verse.

    Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

    God is love. He’s the definition of love! Love is a person. Love is also a verb. It is action.

    This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)

    Love is more than words. The verse describes the purpose of Christmas itself. God showed His love by sending Jesus into the world, Emmanuel, God with us, that we might live, the we might experience abundant, satisfying, purpose-filled life.

    This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

    Jesus came to die for our sins on the cross, to be the perfect sacrifice, to reconnect us with our Creator in a relationship destroyed by our sins, our pride, our rebellion, our offenses against God. Elsewhere in the Bible it says

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

    Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

    We have received love.
    We have received reconciliation.
    We have received an invitation to know our Creator—not just know about, but know.

    Why would a holy God want to reconcile with sinners like us? Why would a righteous deity want to make the first move in mending a relationship we destroyed? That’s the love of a Father…a good, good Father. He takes the initiative to fix things when life happens. He sets the perfect example for us in our human relationships…our messy human relationships. You know…words get said, feelings get hurt, blame gets assigned, misunderstandings occur. It’s so easy for once-beautiful families and friendships to be strained or even severed. That’s where love comes in.

    Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

    Let’s take a moment and meditate on those verses. Wow! God so loved us. We are to love one another. If God is love, what does it look like to love one another? It means looking out for the best interest of the other person. We’re naturally selfish, thinking about our own needs, desires, and opinions. Loving another means putting ourselves in their shoes for a moment. It can be so easy when they like us and are like us. Loving someone different…that’s another story! But it’s possible when God’s love is made complete in us.


    Sometimes the most difficult people to love are those closest to us because they are capable of not only great love but great pain. You might know the story of the prodigal—or extravagant—son. Jesus tells his audience…

    Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.  (Luke 15:11-12)

    Then the prodigal son takes the extravagant gifts of inheritance from his generous father, takes off for a foreign land, and parties until he’s homeless and hungry. In fact, the text says

    He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:16)

    That might sound gross to us, but to a Jew, even being near pigs was horrifying, much less eating their food.

    I love the beginning of the next verse.

    “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. (Luke 15:17-20a)

    The soundtrack for this moment is, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas!”

    The son could be home for Christmas if only in his dreams. He showed up ready to beg for a job as a servant. After all, he already played his son card, walking off with half of the father’s wealth, a scandalous thing given an inheritance is received after someone dies. He is ashamed, humiliated…but desperate.

    “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

    In 1985, Benny Hester wrote a song called When God Ran, about this verse. He sings:

    The only time I ever saw him run/ Was when He ran to me/ He took me in His arms/ Held my head to His chest/ Said "My son's come home again!"/ Lifted my face/ Wiped the tears from my eyes/ With forgiveness in His voice He said/ "Son, do you know I still love You?"/He caught me By surprise, When God ran

    That’s reconciliation. That’s grace. That’s love!

    The father in the drama leaves his home and goes out to meet his family, just as the prodigal son’s father went out to meet his son.

    Seeking Reconciliation

    When we seek reconciliation, there are no guarantees. It takes two to tango, but someone needs to make the first move. Perhaps that someone is you. Maybe this Christmas is the one where steps are taken toward the healing of broken relationships. That is certainly the prayer for my family.

    One thing I love about our God is there is nothing too difficult for Him. Prayer is powerful. There is no hopeless relationship. Nothing is beyond repair. No relationship is beyond fixing. That includes our relationship with God and our relationship with others.

    God saw that the space between us and Him had become too great. So He ran to us. He came down to us at Christmas. Love comes down at Christmas.

    So What?

    We love God because God first loved us.
    We love others because God first loved us.

    He has done everything possible to show you His love, to have a relationship with you. It’s your move. What will you do?

    Perhaps you’ve done everything possible to show others your love, to have a relationship with them. It’s their move. There might not be anything else you can do other than remain faithful, pray, and wait.

    I’m there. Many of you are there. The gift of reconciliation means God took the initiative and has reconciled us to Himself which then allows us to potentially be reconciled to others.

    Will you receive the gift of reconciliation with the Father?
    Will you extend the gift of reconciliation to someone this Christmas?

    Credits: title, drama, and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Gift of Grace, 3 December 2017

    The Gift of Grace
    Series—The Gifts of Christmas
    Ephesians 2:1-10

    Big Idea: One of God’s greatest gifts is grace—unmerited favor.

    Skit Guys Video


    Have you ever encountered anyone grumpy at Christmastime? It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can be the most stressful time of year, the most depressing time of the year, the most lonely time of the year.

    Have you ever been the grumpy one at Christmastime? Maybe you’ve been upset when people said, “Happy Holidays?” Perhaps you’ve blamed others for the loss of loved ones. Here’s the unpopular truth: hurt people hurt people. Our sinful human nature is prone to want to retaliate, to react when we are hurt or offended.

    We have sung about grace. It is truly amazing. It is unmerited favor, an undeserved gift.

    Last week we began our Gifts of Christmas series looking at the
    gift of expectancy. Advent is about arrival, about coming. Like Black Friday has spread from a day to a season, Christmas has spread from a day to a season of shopping, parties, and vacations.

    But Advent is different. In some ways it’s not about the present, but the past and future. We are in between the first arrival of the Messiah and the second arrival, the return of Jesus Christ. We read the Old Testament which looks forward to the birth of Jesus. Essentially we remember the future!

    But we also await the arrival, second coming of the Messiah.

    The gift of expectancy is precious. Part of the joy of a vacation is the planning, the anticipation. As much as I would love for you to invite Heather and me on an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii next week (we’d find a way to clear our schedules and go!), perhaps even better would be the same invitation for a date further in the future (February would be perfect!) which would allow us to eagerly await the experience.

    Today we’re looking at the gift of grace. We recently did a series on the subject,
    Grace is Greater. You can read the notes and listen to the podcasts at Grace is a precious gift.

    Grace is the name of a girl.
    Grace is a prayer before a meal.
    Grace is simple elegance or refinement of movement.

    Grace is a gift, and true gifts are not earned, but rather unmerited blessings.

    Non-profit giving statements often include this statement:

    No goods or services were provided in exchange for this contribution.

    If that’s really true, it might be considered an act of grace.

    I want to turn your attention back to that video of Louis. How does that guy feed himself in that body cast?

    Seriously, though, some might say he got what he deserved, a ride on the conveyer belt and painful injuries from his rude, obnoxious behavior. Then again, he got what he did not deserve—a Christmas gift from a person he offended.

    I don’t know about you, but I am more troubled by Christians who behave badly than those who do not claim to follow Jesus. I expect people without faith, hope and love to be arrogant, selfish, and mean. But Christians? The word “Christian” means “little Christ.” Whenever I see a speeding car with a fish on the back, a megaphone-toting evangelist yelling at people, or pastors fawning over politicians I think of the old Bon Jovi song, “You Give God a Bad Name!” Okay, that’s not the exact title, but that’s what comes to mind.

    Disclaimer: I give God a bad name sometimes. It’s not my intent, but my life does not always look like a “little Jesus.” I can be arrogant, self-righteous, and judgmental—among other things—and it’s in those moments that I especially need God’s gift of grace. I know what I deserve from God: eternal punishment for my countless sins and offenses toward a holy, perfect Creator. Instead, God so loved me and you and every man, woman child of every age, race, nationality, orientation, language, and religion that He sent His only Son, Jesus, into our world as a gift of grace to offer forgiveness, salvation, hope, peace, love, and joy.

    But a gift isn’t yours until you take it, until you receive it.

    Did Louis receive the gift of grace? Did he truly experience the grace of being right with God and others, or was he bound up in a religious quest?

    Maybe the controversy about saying “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas” is not relevant, but what religious attitudes do you possess? Am I the only one guilty of judging non-Christians for not acting like Christians? Am I the only one guilty of trying to be right instead of trying to further a relationship? I find it easy to laugh at the video but the reality is in our post-Christian culture, Christians do not have a good reputation. I wish the first thing people thought of when they heard “Christian” is Jesus, love, generosity, kindness, hospitality, and grace.

    Instead, we’re known more for what we’re against than what we’re for. This really frustrates me—and it’s hardly a new phenomenon—but what can we do? What can I do? I believe the only thing I can do is experience God’s grace and share it generously with others.

    Jesus came as Emmanuel, God with us. He passed the baton to His disciples, the first Christians, who have passed it to us. You might be the only “little Jesus” people encounter this Christmastime. I don’t know anyone who is searching for religion—rules and regulations—but our world is crying out for relationships, friendship, hope, love, grace.

    Our text for today was written by Paul to the church in the city of Ephesus, a very cool city I was privileged to visit last year. It was a once-powerful, influential city in the Roman empire. He wrote to some of the first Christians…

    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

    Even the most righteous, Christ-like person on the planet was once a sinner without hope. Paul—who wrote this—was previously known as Saul, one who persecuted Christians! What a transformation! That’s grace.
    But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

    Last Sunday during baptism we symbolically placed people into a water grave to die to their sinful past in order to be resurrected as new creations. We have been saved by grace. Paul even says it again.

    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

    We receive grace. We can’t earn it. We can’t take credit for it. We can’t boast about being a Christian or having salvation, the forgiveness of sins, the hope of heaven, or a relationship with our Creator. It’s a gift.

    Likewise, religion’s quest to be good enough for God is futile, it’s doomed to fail. But grace, the gift of God, is amazing.

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

    That’s grace!

    So What?

    If you’ve received grace, if you’ve experienced it, don’t hoard it. Don’t keep it to yourself. Share it…lavishly!

    I know it can be difficult to put others first, to listen when you want to speak, to give when you’d rather take, to go after that good parking place when the wind is howling, to bake cookies for that neighbor who drives you crazy, to go out of your way to be kind to the office Grinch…but that’s grace.

    And just a reminder: nobody deserves grace! So it doesn’t matter if the person is young or old, a Christian or a Muslim, gay or straight, a Wolverine or a Buckeye…if you’ve received grace it needs to be shared.

    Religion is about being right.

    Grace is about relationship, about love, about a gift, about Jesus…and that’s who we remember and await. As we live between his first and second arrivals, we celebrate what He has done and look forward to what He will do.

    Let’s not be like Louis—proud, loud and arrogant. He ends up in a full body cast, restricted and bound up, a great picture of what religion does. Let’s re-present Jesus well as people giving the gift of grace. I pray when people hear we’re Christians, they think

    “You’re the ones who were handing out blankets that night it got so cold downtown.”
    “You’re the ones who served coffee to those with whom you ideologically disagree.”
    “You’re the ones who took a team over to the country that had the earthquake.”
    “You’re the ones who sat by my mother’s bedside when she passed away last year.”

    Life is more than being right. God-intended life is about being right with our Creator as well as being right with others…because of the gift of grace, a gift we can both receive and share.

    Credits: title and some ideas from The Skit Guys.
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Gift of Expectation, 26 November 2017

    The Gift of Expectancy
    Series—The Gifts of Christmas
    John 3:16-21

    Big Idea: The gift of Jesus is worth waiting for…and worth sharing.

    Skit Guys Video


    Do you ever feel like that dad? Thanksgiving’s over and now it’s full throttle until Christmas? It’s quite a transition, dominated, of course, by Black Friday which apparently begins before Friday and continues past Friday. Tomorrow is Cyber Monday followed by Giving Tuesday and…

    Do you have rules about Christmas music? When I met Heather, she wouldn’t listen to Christmas music until December 1. I thought that was a bit extreme, but so are those radio stations that begin November 1. For me, Christmas begins when I see Santa in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. What rules do you have in your home about Christmas music and decorations? Often they are passed down from generation to generation. Do you hide a baby Jesus?

    Advent. We commonly associate it with Christmas. Years ago our family had Advent calendars and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see Advent calendar gaining popularity. The term “advent” comes from Latin and means “coming” or “arrival.” With any arrival, there is anticipation and expectancy which means waiting.

    At this very moment, what are you waiting for? Complete this sentence:

    “I can’t wait for _________________.”

    Today we begin a five-week Advent series called
    The Gifts of Christmas. Do you like gifts? Of course, we all love gifts! They are great to receive and even better to give.

    Today we’re looking at the gift of expectancy. Sometimes expectancy doesn’t feel like a gift. In fact, it may feel like torture. As I child, I couldn’t wait for Christmas, to open those colorfully-wrapped boxes…and hopefully find more toys than clothes! But the more anticipation, the greater the reward when the waiting is over and the arrival is experienced.

    It’s impossible for us to understand how great the expectancy of the Messiah, Jesus. People waited for hundreds of years for this baby. Announcements were made. Clues were given. Finding baby Jesus was different than looking for a hidden nativity set piece. Dr. Luke described the clues given about two thousand years ago.

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

    How do you think these shepherds reacted to their angelic encounter? After calming down from the shock, I’m quite sure they said, “That was strange, now let’s get back to shepherding.” No! They probably wanted to run and see this gift from the Heavenly Father which was good news “for all the people.”

    Can you imagine good news for all the people today? That would be so great, and yet that’s why we’re here. That’s why we exist…to proclaim the gospel, the good news. Jesus is the greatest news in human history, and we stand at a special time between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus. We look back at Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but we also anticipate His return.

    I’ll tell you how the shepherds reacted to the news that the Messiah was coming. A few verses later it says,

    So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:16)

    Jesus’ half-brother wrote,

    Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

    The greatest gift of all is Jesus. Have you received the gift? Do you know Jesus? Many know about Him, but you can know Him personally.

    Jesus is the greatest gift, sent from the Father
    of the heavenly lights. God created the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars…and they reflect His beauty, genius, and creativity. He is a loving Father who loves to give good gifts to His children. Many tragically think of God as a mean creature with the personality of The Grinch. Instead, He is the most loving Dad. His generosity makes Santa Claus look downright stingy! Jesus said

    “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

    We’ve been given good gifts since the creation of our magnificent world. When we messed it up, God realized we needed help—serious help! Our sins—those things which offend God and His perfection—created a wall between us and God. But since God is all about relationships, He offered a gift to us to knock down the wall, to allow us to know our Creator, have our sins forgiven, experience real joy and purpose, and engage in real life. The most famous verse in the Bible says

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    But there’s more!

    For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:17-21)

    The Father of Lights gives good gifts…great gifts…the most excellent gifts! He loves the world. He loves you and me. He demonstrated His love by sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world, saving us from sin and death, mediocre living, evil, and hopelessness. People waited for generations for Jesus’ first arrival even as we await for his second arrival…which could be any day! Even though Jesus is not physically present, make no mistake…he is here! He is transforming people through faith, hope and love. Do you know him?

    Which Jesus?

    There was a woman named Charlotte who ran a Christian pre- school. She bought a plush Jesus toy. He was happy and smiling and all squishy; the way a cuddly toy should be. Some of the parents objected. They thought it was “inappropriate.”

    Charlotte didn’t hesitate. She knew the question she needed to ask. She asked “Which Jesus do you want your kids to know? The breakable Jesus on the high shelf who’s always looking down on them OR the Jesus who’s huggable and sits with them on the
    comfy couch, the one they can talk to, the one that comforts them when they’re hurt, the one they tell all their secrets.

    Which Jesus are we actually expecting at Advent. The one who plays games with us and brings us life or the one who sits on the shelf until it’s time to go back in the box?

    Wise Men Still Seek Him

    My prayer for you, regardless of where you find yourself today on your spiritual journey, is that you would look for Jesus. I don’t mean the plastic figure from the nativity set—though you might want to hide him until December 25—but the real Jesus, the one the shepherds pursued, the one who lived a perfect life, died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and promised to return. He came to show us what it means to truly be human. He demonstrated true love, the kind of love that gives until there’s nothing left to give. He said,

    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

    Wise men—and women—still seek him. Ask. Seek. Knock. You are invited this advent to know your Creator. This is not about religion. It’s not even about the Bible. It’s about knowing a Person, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the greatest gift.

    Will you seek him this season? Will you pursue him? We are awaiting his return, but he has been waiting for some of you to surrender your life to him, to embrace him as the greatest gift.

    If you’ve already received the gift, know Jesus is not slow in keeping his promise to return. He hasn’t forgotten you. Rather, he has a mission for you, a mission to proclaim the gospel, the good news, the gift.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    We often think of eternal life as referring to a length of time, but some scholars understand the original Greek to be qualitative, not quantitative. Following Jesus means we can have an amazing, fulfilling, satisfying life now. Don’t just sit around and impatiently wait for his return. Be ready, but use these precious moments to help people discover the missing piece in their Nativity set, the missing Person in their life.

    So What?

    How can you bring Jesus to Toledo? Maybe you can do it through Christmas caroling, delivering cookies, inviting a neighbor out for coffee, or even inviting a friend to join us next Sunday or any Sunday in December. For the next four weeks we’ll be talking about the gifts of Christmas. This is a season of expectation. If you’ve received the gift, it’s time to share it until He returns.

    Credits: title and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • When You are Suffering or Afraid, 13 December 2015

    When You Are Suffering Or Afraid
    Series: Be Here Now
    Psalm 139, 23, 56:3-4

    Series Overview:
    Christmas is the celebration of “presence.”

    Big Idea: God is with us…always…especially when we are suffering or afraid.


    This morning we continue our Advent series, “Be Here Now,” a series on presence.

    Perhaps the holidays for you are the most isolated time of year. You feel like the guy in the video, surrounded by people, yet empty inside, alone, and seemingly invisible to everyone.

    The first two weeks dealt with us being fully present with others and God. The next two weeks will address God’s presence with us. You are not invisible. You are not alone. Today we’ll briefly look at God’s presence when we are suffering and when we’re afraid. I have a few things to say, but mostly today I want to let the words of David from the Psalms refresh you.

    This past week I was invited to the offices of Proclaim FM 102.3 and their sign said, “Christmas is about three words: God with us.” That is the meaning of “Emmanuel.” God is with us. He is present. He is here…now.

    Do you know God is here? Perhaps you feel His presence right now. Maybe you don’t. It’s possible you’ve never felt God with you.

    But He is. Whether you feel it or not.

    Feelings are real. They are powerful. They cannot always be trusted. That’s why we need the Bible to guide us into truth.

    One of my favorite psalms, Psalm 139, beautifully describes God’s presence—even seeing us in the womb!

    Psalm 139

    For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
    You have searched me, LORD,
    and you know me.
    You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
    You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
    Before a word is on my tongue
    you, LORD, know it completely.
    You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

    Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
    If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
    If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
    even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
    If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
    even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
    For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
    My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
    Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
    How precious to me are your thoughts,
    How vast is the sum of them!
    Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.
    If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
    They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
    Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
    I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
    Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
    See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139)

    God is here. How do I know? “The Bible tells me so.” Is that enough? Sometimes.

    Often I find a conflict between my thoughts and feelings, between what I know in my head to be true and what I sense in my heart.

    I often think of God like
    radio waves. Whether you know it or not, this room is filled with radio waves. They are invisible, but real. You simply need to dial in to experience them. A television will be able to tune in television channels, a radio radio frequencies, and a laptop WiFi signals. You can deny their existence…or listen in. God is here whether you deny or embrace it, whether you feel it or not. Is your antenna up?

    Sometimes God seems very distant. I’ve had many
    “dark nights of the soul” where I cried out, wondering where I could find God. Perhaps you’ve had them. Perhaps you’re going through such a season right now. I promise you God is real and He loves you and He is with you. I don’t understand why He sometimes seems to play hard to get, but He promised to never leave us or forsake us, to be with us always to the very end of the age. Don’t give up. Tell a friend your struggles. Fill your mind with the truth of God’s Word. Beg Him to reveal Himself. Be assured He is worth the pursuit.

    When have you felt God closest to you?

    On September 21, 2006 a friend of mine sent me this e-mail while our daughter was in horrific pain in the hospital:
    It is hard to figure out where God is when we are sitting in the ash heap in suffering, but I really sense that God is sitting in the ash heap with you.  Along those lines, I encourage you to spend time in the place of mourning (even as you work on solutions to the problem) and I think that you will meet God there. 

    His words were truly prophetic. The next day, September 22, I found myself at one of the worst moments of my life, despondent over our suffering child who could get no relief from horrendous pain. I opened my Bible to Psalm 22—since it was September 22—and read these words

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1a)

    I instantly bawled like a baby, something highly unusual for me. The paradox was how close I felt to God at the moment. In fact, I’ve probably never felt close to the Father than when I read those words. I did not feel forsaken by God. Instead, my mind raced to the words of Jesus on the cross we looked at last week…

    From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Matthew 27:45-46)

    As I watched my child suffer excruciating pain, I was transported to Calvary and the pain the Father must’ve felt watching His child suffer excruciating pain.

    Where is God when you’re suffering? With you. He understands.

    Psalm 34:18 says

    The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

    There are many wonderful attributes of God. One is His presence. He is not only omnipresent—everywhere at once—He is especially close to the hurting, the suffering. Jesus knows pain and refused to watch us from a distance. The celebration of Emmanuel is God came near, God entered our world, God experienced pain, God understands.

    For the longest time I couldn’t turn to Psalm 22 without getting emotional. Those nine words pierced my heart, reminding me of that place of mourning and agony and yet joyfully reminding me of God’s presence.

    It was months later when I realized what follows the suffering of Psalm 22…Psalm 23. Perhaps you’ve heard it!

    A psalm of David.

    The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
    he leads me beside quiet waters,

    he refreshes my soul.
    He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

    Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
    I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

    You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
    You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.

    Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
    and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
    forever. (Psalm 23)

    Because David was able to fear God and not evil—he found God more awesome than his temptations or fears—he was not afraid. The presence of God brought him comfort.

    Every day we are tempted to be afraid as we read the news, talk with friends…look in the mirror! As we said several weeks ago, “Fear Not. Fear God.”

    Where is God when you’re afraid? With you. So we need not be afraid.

    A few chapters later in Psalms we read these words of David

    When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
    in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4)

    It’s great to know God is powerful, but it is His presence which is truly comforting. Whether you feel it or not, God is with us. Always. Everywhere. He’s with us in the midst of suffering. He’s with us when we’re afraid.

    The irony of Advent is during this season of waiting for Jesus, He is with us. He is here. At this time of year we look back at history, we look forward to the return of Jesus, but we must also be fully present in the moment, welcoming Jesus into our current reality.

    He wants to do life with us. Today. We are never alone. As we celebrate Emmanuel, invite Jesus into your life, your home, your school, your place of work, your recreation, and your commute. He not only wants to be your friend, He is the Almighty God of angel armies who is always by your side.

    You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here. You can subscribe to the free FAC Focus e-newsletter here.

    When Friends Let You Down, 6 December 2015

    When Friends Let You Down
    Series: Be Here Now
    1 Samuel 30:6

    Series Overview:
    Christmas is the celebration of “presence.”

    Big Idea: We must be present with and find our strength in God, even when friends desert us.


    This morning we are continuing our Advent series, Be Here Now, messages about presence—not presents you buy and wrap but presence—being fully present. Last week we noted The Golden Rule, Jesus’ timeless command to

    Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

    We’ve all been annoyed by people who are present physically with us but are in another place mentally and emotionally. Whether they are distracted by texts on their phone, yawning binges and fatigue, daydreaming, or multitasking, it’s frustrating and downright offensive to be ignored.

    It’s one thing to struggle for attention during a lunch conversation but quite another to be ignored or even abandoned in a relationship.

    Have you ever been deserted by a friend? Have you invested in a friendship only to watch it die? What do you do when you’re willing to be fully present with someone and they no longer show up?


    One of the great things about the Bible is its authenticity. You can’t make this stuff up! Today we’re going to look at three biblical characters, one from the Old and the other two from the New Testament. The first involves David. King David is one of the most important figures not only in the Bible but in human history. He became the second king of Israel following Saul, famous for a battle won against a giant named Goliath, and—like all of us—an imperfect sinner.

    The book of 1 Samuel chapter 30 describes one of David’s worst moments as a warrior…prior to assuming the throne.

    David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day. Now the Amalekites had raided the Negev and Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, and had taken captive the women and everyone else in it, both young and old. They killed none of them, but carried them off as they went on their way. (1 Samuel 30:1-2)

    This is not a good day!

    When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. David’s two wives had been captured—Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. (1 Samuel 30:3-5)

    Imagine how David is feeling. His two wives—we don’t have time today to discuss polygamy!—have been captured. Defeat is visible everywhere. He’s desperate.


    Shawn Achor, Harvard researcher and author of
    How Happiness Fuels Your Success, says, “The social connection is the greatest predictor of long-term happiness by far…social connection is not only the greatest predictor of happiness, social connection is as predictive of how long you will end up living as obesity, high blood pressure, or smoking.”

    Connection to friends is the key indicator of happiness and a huge factor in how long you will live!

    What are the implications of that when we lose friends? Huge!

    I know what it’s like to lose friends.

    One of my very best friends drifted away, failing to return phone calls and showing no interest in me and our relationship.

    A few years ago after gently confronting another friend about his offensive behavior a similar situation occurred. Not only did he no longer reach out to me, he said things to other friends who stopped inviting us to social gatherings.

    There are other examples, but none come close to the intensity of David’s loss.

    Back to David!

    David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. (1 Samuel 30:6a)

    It’s one thing to lose a friend. It’s another thing entirely to have friends that want to see you lose your life! What would you do…after you ran from these angry men?!

    But David found strength in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6b)

    This is an example of a good “but.” It’s worth noting the word “LORD” is capitalized. This is the Hebrew word that is essentially spelled YHWH. We don’t know how to pronounce it because Hebrew has no vowels and because it is the holy name of God, the name spoken to Moses at the Burning Bush. To this day Jews will not utter the word because they don’t want to dishonor it in any way. The word “Adonoi” is a more common word for “lord” often used instead. “In English, the Tetragrammaton—another term for YHWH— is in all-caps LORD to distinguish it from Adonai.

    I once asked my Messianic Jewish rabbi friend about the pronunciation of YHWH. It is my understanding that Jehovah is grossly incorrect. When I asked Allen if it is Yahweh, he said, “That’s very close!” refusing to speak the word himself.

    But David found strength in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6b)

    This holy word for God describes Him as “I Am,” as the one who exists and/or causes existence. When abandoned by friends, David found strength in Am, in the LORD God.

    One of the great things about God is He never changes. Hebrews tells us

    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)


    Paul, once known as Saul, wrote much of the New Testament. In his second letter to his disciple Timothy, he writes,

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

    Notice Paul not only acknowledges the painful loss of a friend, he offers a warning to Timothy. Alexander is not a safe person. Boundaries are necessary.

    We are to love all—look out for their best interests—but that does not mean we are to be best friends with everyone. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if Alexander was the only lost friend, but Paul continues…

    At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. (2 Timothy 4:16)

    Not only does Paul not complain, he speaks on behalf of those who deserted him, and then he offers a “but” similar to David.

    But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:17-18)

    Paul turns to God for strength, then seeks the glory of God in all things. Every story in the Bible is ultimately about God’s glory.

    Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. (Isaiah 26:8)

    He leveraged the good and bad for the glory of God.


    Our third biblical character was denied three times by one of His three best friends, Peter. He was betrayed by one of His twelve closest friends, Judas. I’m speaking of Jesus. As painful as those experienced must have been, nothing can compare to the anguish of being forsaken by the Father as He hung on the cross.

    From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Matthew 27:45-46)

    When David and Paul were deserted, they turned to God.

    When Jesus was deserted, He had nowhere to turn.

    After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

    “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. (John 17:1)

    Jesus died for the glory of God. Did you catch that? He died for us, but even more He died for the glory of God.

    In Jesus’ hour of greatest need, He turned to the Father. Where do you turn when you feel alone, abandoned, betrayed?

    So What?

    It’s impossible to be fully present with someone who’s not even there! The wounds of a friend run deep, and many common psychological problems stem from abandonment issues, often parents, but also friends. It takes years to build trust but only seconds to destroy it.

    This season is “the most wonderful time of year” for some, yet it’s the most depressing time of year for others. Loneliness can be deadly—literally. If you feel alone, I have great news for you!

    First, whether you know or accept it, you are a part of a family—the First Alliance family. You belong here!

    As I mentioned a few weeks ago, our worship gathering is not the ideal environment for developing relationships, but we have Sunday School classes at 9 AM and Growth Groups that meet tonight and throughout the week, both smaller gatherings of people who not only study the Bible and pray but do life together. I urge you to get connected in a small group.

    Second, Jesus understands. He was not only abandoned by friends, He was abandoned for a time by God the Father as our sins upon Christ were unbearable. He experience the ultimate pain, grief and loss.

    For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

    Third and finally, God is with you…always. We’ll discuss this further the next two weeks. One of the names of Jesus, Emmanuel, means “God with us.” Although Jesus is not physically with us at the moment, He left the Holy Spirit for all who believe in Him to experience. The Holy Spirit lives inside every follower of Jesus!


    Relationships are risky. Friends can turn on you. Bonds can be broken. Such pain can make us bitter—or it can make us better as we run to Jesus, our big Brother who knows suffering and abandonment better than any of us could imagine.

    This Advent season and every day of the year let’s be fully present for one another—inward. Let’s we reach out to the lonely and needy—outward. And let’s reach upward to Emmanuel, God with us.

    You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here. You can subscribe to the free FAC Focus e-newsletter here.

    When You Are Exhausted, 29 November 2015

    When You Are Exhausted
    Series: Be Here Now
    Galatians 6:9-10

    Series Overview:
    Christmas is the celebration of “presence.”

    Big Idea: How do we remain fully present in the lives of others…and not wear ourselves out in the process?


    This past Wednesday I received a mass e-mail from writer Brett Kelly. I could hardly believe my eyes as the title was “Be Present.” He said,

    “About a week ago, I was sitting at my usual bar, having a drink with a friend. As we sat there, I found my mind wandering to all sorts of different things: work I needed to do, my kids, etc. Important things, sure, but things unrelated to the current activity. I was anxious about the thoughts that distracted me, even though I had decided, by agreeing to meet the friend I sat with, that I wasn’t going to do anything about them for awhile.

    So, I sat back, took a sip of my drink, and looked across the table at my friend and said to myself:

    Be here, now.

    Several years ago I found myself at a table with some friends talking to a best-selling author and pastor. I told him I was wrestling with a good definition of success, especially because I knew it was more than simply the number of people in the church I pastored or how many people read my blog. At first he said, “I don’t really think about success.” “Easy for you to say,” I thought, “since you’re leading one of the most innovative churches in the world, writing popular books, and speaking all around the world.”

    Then he said something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “If I had to define success, I would say to be fully present in the moment.”

    Now that the Christmas season has officially begun (for me it begins when I seen Santa in the Thanksgiving Day parade!) we are taking a break from our series on 1 Peter to celebrate Advent, literally the arrival.

    For hundreds of years the people of Israel waited for the arrival of the Messiah prophesied throughout the Old Testament.

    Hundreds of years! Can you imagine waiting hundreds of years for Jesus? Actually, yes! Today we find ourselves between the first and second arrivals of Jesus to our planet. We naturally think of Christmas as a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it’s easy to forget the generations of people prior…and even those of us who await His return. This is an important time of year for giving gifts, singing songs, decorating, parties, and traditions but Advent is so much more. It is a time to simultaneously look back and look forward.

    Our Advent series is called “Be Here Now” and the theme of these four weeks is presence, not Christmas presents wrapped under a tree, but presence—“e-n-c-e.” Christmas is the celebration of presence, God’s presence with us and our presence with Him and others.

    If success is being fully present in the moment (let’s just use that definition for now), what is failure? Not being fully present!

    Before we continue, I must pause and confess. I’m not always fully present. I “try” to multitask, thinking I can talk on the phone, eat my lunch, and surf the Internet simultaneously. I can’t. Heather knows it!

    Parenthetically, I’ve been told a man’s brain is like a bird house. There’s room for one thing at a time. A woman’s brain, on the other hand, is like Swiss cheese! I’m not sure about that but I know I’m easily distracted (look, a squirrel!) and struggle to be fully present.

    How do you feel when someone you’re with is not fully present…with you? You may feel frustrated, angry, or even invisible and lonely.

    Jesus created The Golden Rule, stating simply

    Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

    Which begs the question…

    What prevents us from being fully present?

    What doesn’t?!

    • - Phone calls
    • - Texts
    • - TV
    • - ADD
    • - Other people
    • - Noise
    • - Boredom
    • - Stress

    Perhaps the greatest obstacle to being fully present with another person is busyness. When did it become a badge of honor to be busy?

    Being busy is not the definition of success.
    Being busy is not the same as being productive.
    Being busy is not a spiritual gift.
    Being busy is not a sign of spiritual maturity.


    One of the reasons we’re not fully present with one another—and/or with God—is exhaustion.

    When you are fatigued, it’s difficult to focus. It’s hard to listen attentively to others. It’s a challenge to engage a person. You may have to fight the urge to literally fall asleep (I hope that’s not you right now!!!).

    Are you tired? Why? It may be you’re the parent of a young child who still confuses daytime and nighttime. I remember wondering if those sleepless nights would ever end. They do. When they become teenagers. Then you can’t wake them up!

    Your fatigue may be due to health concerns you cannot control.

    But it could be due to busyness. Busyness may be the cause of your health concerns!

    Friends, we’re all given 24 hours a day. We must be good stewards of our time as we are to be good stewards of the financial resources we’ve been given by God. Time and money are both gifts, gifts to be used wisely. Often it’s easier to manage our checkbook than our calendar.

    Busyness compromises my focus. I used to have a terrible habit of being a few minutes late to appointments.

    If busyness is not a good thing, we need to assess our priorities and say no to things. It has been said the good is the enemy of the best. You can’t do everything! Author Jim Collins is famous for not only creating a to-do list but also a not-to-do list. If you add something to your schedule, what will you delete?

    Doing Good

    I’ve been your pastor for a little over a month now and I must say I’m still overwhelmed by God’s goodness, the incredible opportunities before us, and the rich heritage at First Alliance of serving. A week ago Heather and I joined seven other teams to distribute Thanksgiving meals to the less fortunate in Toledo. Many of you serve not only within these walls but into the community with Cherry Street Mission, the Toledo Resuce Mission, Water for Ishmael, and the many other local—and global—ministries. I’m humbled to be surrounded by so many faithful servants, especially visible during the holidays.

    Toledo is a city with many needs, and it’s inspiring to see so many of you meeting those needs, day in and day out. But being aware of the needs of the world around us can wear us out. We can become “
    weary in doing good.” Paul wrote to the church in Galatia…

    Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9-10)

    Great, but how do we keep from becoming disengaged and still stay balanced? How do we remain
    fully present in the lives of others and not wear ourselves out in the process?

    Make sure you on your oxygen mask! If you’ve ever flown on a commercial airplane, you know they always alert you to the oxygen masks that will be available if there is a loss in cabin pressure, and when they do their pre-flight safety instructions they always say, “If you’re traveling with small children, put on your oxygen mask first.” It’s counter-intuitive, but if you’re not safe, you’ll be useless in helping others stay safe.

    Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have written a helpful book whose title says it all…

    When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself

    If we’re exhausted or sick—or dead!—we can’t be fully present for others.

    If we’re discouraged and inpatient and give up, we’ll miss the harvest God has planned for us.

    Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

    Don’t become weary and overwhelmed. Easier said than done! Just stop it!

    Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10)

    “Opportunity” in the Greek is the word
    kairos meaning “time.” You may be familiar with the word chronos, another Greek words for time. Chronos is a specific moment of time, like 11:03 AM or Thursday at noon. Kairos refers to a season or less specific moment, like last month or—likely in this context—our limited lives. As we have time, do good. As we are alive in these bodies for 70 or 80 (or longer!) years, do good.

    So how do we avoid burnout and exhaustion…or disengaging entirely from the needs of the world? What did Jesus do? He understood His limits. He didn’t try to address every possible need. Does that sound cruel? Does that sound fair?

    It’s what He did! He fasted for forty days before choosing the twelve disciples…and then had three favorites with whom He spent most of His time—Peter, James and John.

    He focused on individuals rather than the masses. To quote Andy Stanley, Jesus did for one what He wanted to do for everyone. He was deep with a few rather than shallow with many. Lasting change takes time. It takes attention.

    You can’t be fully present with all 7 billion people on the planet.

    Jesus was fully present…with them and with others. He looked people in the eye. He said no to good opportunities in order to say yes to the best. He also chose rest.


    Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.

    Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a day off.

    It seems to me Someone said once a week we need a day off, a Sabbath. In God’s Top Ten the Sabbath is listed above murder and adultery. I’m just sayin’!

    Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy

    Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.

    For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

    Is anyone convicted like I am right now?

    As I fight to establish weekly rhythms in our new life in Ohio I’m working to make sure I’m faithful in rest. As I get older, I’m more conscious of my need for rest in order to be fully present. It’s difficult to be engaged with someone when you can’t stop yawning! Of course when I’m tired my mind is prone to wander even if my body looks involved in the conversation.

    Honestly, I like to be busy and productive. I love the feeling of accomplishment, whether it’s finally finishing an endless home improvement project, writing a paper for a doctorate class, completing a jog around the neighborhood, or running errands.

    But sometimes I need to rest. I need to slow down.

    Present with God

    One of the most challenging verses in the Bible just so happens to be hanging in our hallway near the bathrooms. Perhaps it’s a subtle message from God!

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

    Be still, and know that I am God. Notice there’s even a comma! It doesn’t say be still and know that I am God. It says be still…and know that I am God. You need a moment of stillness just to complete the sentence!

    Are you fully present with God?

    Again, I recognize for young parents and others it’s difficult to be still. You’re surrounded by noise! You’re exhausted. It’s worth the effort to be present with God—in prayer, in reading the Bible, in worship.

    The Starfish Story
    A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

    She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

    The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

    The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

    — Adapted from The Star Thrower
    by Loren C. Eiseley

    So What?

    Brothers and sisters, do good, but know your limits. Rest. Take care of yourself. Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone. We are on a mission to make disciples. If Jesus could only handle a dozen—or three—He doesn’t expect us to change the world overnight. But if we all did for one or a few what we wish we could do for everyone, the world would be changed! We’d be changed, too!

    You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here. You can subscribe to the free FAC Focus e-newsletter here.

    King David, 22 December 2013

    Big Idea: The only greater king than David is Jesus. Will He be your King?

    Scripture Reading, 1 Samuel 16:4-13

    Introduction: Kings

    What do you think of when you hear the word King? We struggle in our culture to understand royalty. Most USAmericans probably think of celebrity when words like “prince” or “lady” or “royal family” are mentioned. In England, there is great wealth in Queen Elizabeth’s family, but limited power. Unless something unexpected takes place, we will soon see King Charles, King William, and King George.

    Imagine a land where one man ruled. He is sovereign and in complete control. He creates the law and is above it. He has unlimited riches…and power.

    Would you prefer to live under such a person or dwell in a democracy like our nation? Why? It depends upon who is on the throne. Today millions are oppressed by dictators in nations such as North Korea. They can submit or die.

    On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we are waiting for Jesus. For thousands of years, the world awaited the Messiah who arrived on the day we celebrate as Christmas. For the past two weeks we have examined agents of God that were forerunners of the Messiah. Each person radically changed history in anticipation of Emmanuel, God with us.

    From the beginning of time, God has wanted to pursue us and be our king. Some have called Adam the first king. He and Eve were given dominion over creation in the Garden of Eden. They failed, of course. Two weeks ago we talked about Adam, our first father. He co-created with God but also introduced sin to our world through the Fall. Jesus is called the second Adam because He reversed the curse of death through His own.

    Generations later, God makes a covenant with Abraham—our agent from last Sunday. Like Adam, Abraham was a deeply flawed man, yet God used him mightily. Out of Abraham the nation of Israel was born. God was their king, guiding Moses and the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Despite God’s goodness and faithfulness, the people begged for a human king like the surrounding nations have, ultimately rejecting God as their LORD.

    Today we’re looking at our third and final biblical character, a king. The scripture read moments ago records the search for a new king. Saul is the first king of Israel, but God told the prophet Samuel to find his successor, a shepherd boy who is both an unlikely yet a perfect choice to become king. His name is…David.

    David was an agent of God. Few in human history have been more successful than the giant-killing shepherd boy who became the most famous king of Israel and, arguably, the most famous leader in human history other than Jesus. In fact, no person is mentioned more in the Bible besides Christ. To say that David was legendary is a great understatement.

    There are three things to know about David.

    First, he was immensely successful. Before thwarting Israelite slavery by killing Goliath, he had killed a lion and bear…without a gun (1 Samuel 17)! That was just the beginning. Women met King Saul, dancing and singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands. (1 Sam. 18:6-7)” He was a respected, powerful, magnificent ruler.

    The second thing to know about David is he was immensely sinful. Other than Adam and Eve’s infamous fruit snack, David’s lust, adultery, rape, and murder are the most notorious evil in the Bible. It has been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. David is Exhibit A.

    The third thing to know about David is he was a man after God’s own heart.

    After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ (Acts 13:22)

    He wrote most of the psalms, many filled with praise and others lament and question. He is my favorite Bible character other than Jesus. I love his passion, his honesty, and his musical skills. Many have wondered why a man with such a track record could be considered a man after God’s own heart. Psalm 51 reveals a broken, repentant man seeking reconciliation and restoration with the God he loves.

    Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
    according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
    Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

    For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
    Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
    so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.

    Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
    Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
    Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
    (Psalm 51:1-4; 10-12)

    David confessed his sins and repented. Despite his great power, he needed forgiveness. He needed a Savior. He needed a King.

    King Jesus

    For generations people waited for the true King. Not surprisingly, this Messiah was a descendent of King David. In fact, the very first words in the New Testament, Matthew 1:1, says

    This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

    We won’t take the time to read the entire genealogy today, but verses 2 through 16 conclude with the record of

    …Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:16b)

    Jesus was a descendent of King David, though He hardly looked like a king during His thirty three years on our planet. He was born in a barn in a small town called Bethlehem. We know almost nothing about his first thirty years of life. When He goes public, the carpenter’s son teaches, performs miracles, and enters Jerusalem, not on a horse, but a humble donkey. The most surprising moment came when this promised King freely surrendered Himself to executioners who crucified Him, dashing all hopes that this Man was the Messiah who would set the people free from Roman tyranny. Or so they thought.

    Although hijacked by Santa and shopping, this season celebrates a king,
    the King. He visited our planet once and will return soon to rule and reign over sin, death, and evil forever. Here’s a description of what is to come:

    I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

    (Rev. 19:11-16)

    So now we wait for the return of the King. In the very last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, we find these words…

    “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

    “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:12-13, 16)

    King Jesus is the root and the offspring of King David, the bright Morning Star. Jesus—the little baby we see in Nativity scenes—will rule and reign forever…with us, imparting to His followers His own glory and a share in His royal dominion. He is coming soon!

    But wait, He’s here. We can’t see Him, but some of the greatest things in the world cannot be seen, like the wind, love, joy, or peace. But He’s here. He sent the Holy Spirit to live on our planet. Where? Inside every believer.

    It’s easy to look back at the birthday of King Jesus.
    It’s easy to look forward to the return of King Jesus.

    We struggle with the in-between.

    God is called
    Emmanuel which means “God with us.” We’ve sung it. We know it. But King Jesus is here…now…in this room. Yes, His physical body left the planet, but He sent the Holy Spirit to live and rule and reign…in us!


    In three days we will celebrate the birthday of a King. Will it be just another holiday, a day off work and reason to throw a party, or will it be a time to truly remember the King who became one of us…and who will return soon to rule and reign forever?

    This Christmas as we celebrate the birth of a King, I encourage you to do two things:

    1. Welcome Jesus into your life, your heart, your home. He is alive and wants nothing more than you—all of you. Kings do not have part-time subjects. Many love Jesus as Savior, but refuse to recognize Him as LORD. He gave everything for you when He died on the cross. He loves you so much, regardless of your past. Jesus is a King who willingly died for His subjects, asks everything in return, but then exchanges our broken, messed-up lives for abundant life filled with hope, joy, peace, purpose, and love. It’s the greatest gift ever!

    2. Prepare for the return of the King. He will return on a white horse, not a donkey. He will rule the world with truth and grace. Forever. Are you ready?

    Joy To The World

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    Adam, 8 December 2013

    Big Idea: The “birth” and life of our oldest ancestor, Adam, has affected every human being since.


    On this second Sunday of Advent, we are waiting for Jesus. For thousands of years, the world awaited the Messiah who arrived on the day we celebrate as Christmas. For the next three weeks we will examine three agents of God that were forerunners of the Messiah. Each person radically changed history in anticipation of Emmanuel, God with us.

    Before we look at today’s agent, I want to take a moment and review the story of God. Last week we finished a lengthy series that looked at the Gospel of John verse by verse. In this series we’ll examine the big picture.

    What is the Gospel?

    This is actually a hotly discussed topic these days. Many will say it is “good news,” which is the literal translation, and that it relates to God’s love for sinners like me. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. The Bible does not begin at the cross, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, or even at His birth. It began thousands of years earlier.

    In the beginning. If you recall, this is not only how Genesis begins but also John.

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

    What is the greatest thing you have ever created? Parents, your kids don’t count! It might be a song, a building, a business, a painting, or website.

    God is an artist, He has given us the ability to be creative, and we are His greatest masterpiece.

    For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

    The Greek word for handiwork,
    poi÷hma or poihma, means creation, workmanship, what is made.

    Scholar N.T. Wright recently said, “It is God’s purpose, God’s mission, God’s aim, God’s project to make this creation a wonderful, flourishing, fulfilled, joyous place full of His love and His glory and His purpose and His wisdom.”

    The story of God begins at creation in a garden. He has plenty of angels to lead, but He creates humans in His image with the ability to accept or reject Him, full will. God created humans for relationship. You can’t have a relationship with a robot, at least not a meaningful one. Relationships are forged through love, respect, honesty, and communication.

    God’s first agent was a man named…Adam. Adam was born around 4004 BC. Wikipedia lists his birthday as October 23 at 9 A, but I wasn’t around to confirm that! Actually, the date was identified through a study by a group of theologians and scholars in 1630.

    It’s really not important when Adam was created, but why. He was created to know God.

    Adam was also created to know his wife, Eve, and create children. This is not merely for their benefit, but God’s. His agenda is to see a world filled with people He can love and that can love Him. Adam and Eve become His agents, co-creating with Him the miracle of life and co-ruling over creation. They represent creation to God and are supposed to reflect God to creation.

    N.T. Wright says that when God created us in His image, it’s not like looking in a mirror but like an angled mirror so that God’s love and wisdom is reflected out into the world and the praises of creation are reflected back to God.

    All of us can ultimately trace our ancestry back to Adam and Eve. In fact, last week the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3 was read, tracing His roots back to Adam.

    the son of Enosh,
    the son of Seth,
    the son of Adam,
    the son of God.
    (Luke 3:38)

    One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Genesis 2:25…

    Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

    They knew God and one another and enjoyed life together. They enjoyed creation…and co-creating with God. Twice in Genesis chapter one it says

    God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number. (Genesis 1:22a; 1:28a)

    Further more, they were to

    …fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
    (Genesis 1:28b)

    Adam and Eve are God’s agents of creation, co-creating and co-ruling with Him in paradise.

    The End. Right?

    The Garden of Eden was paradise…until satan entered the story, tempted Eve, and paved the way for sin to enter our world and introduce death and destruction. Our forefather failed and we’ve been suffering ever since, both humans and the planet itself, now filled with decay and pain.

    To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

    “Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
    (Genesis 3:17)

    Adam was created, walked with God, sinned, was kicked out of the Garden, fathered many children, and…

    Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.
    (Genesis 5:5)

    It’s not the most inspiring story, is it?

    Ever since sin entered our world through Adam and Eve we’ve been trying to make sense out of life, struggling to survive in a broken, messy world. For about 4000 years after Adam, God continued to pursue a relationship with humans, some of whom returned the favor and many others who rejected Him.

    You might recall at one point He became so frustrated with evil that He destroyed the world with a flood, sparing only the lives of those who entered the ark built by Noah.

    From generation to generation, God remained faithful, but nothing could truly address the sin issue. We needed a Savior. Romans 5:14 says that

    …death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

    Fortunately, about 2000 years ago God took the radical step of becoming one of us to show us what it truly means to be human. Sin has more than tainted the image of God we were created to bear.

    With Adam came not only life but death. With Jesus, however, His death brought us life. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth

    For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)


    So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being” ; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45)

    Jesus can stand as representative for all of creation, and His faithfulness can redeem all of creation, just as He receives the punishment which belonged to all of creation.

    So What?

    It’s impossible to ignore Christmas in our culture. We are inundated with music, parties, food,…and shopping! I want to give you some homework.

    Meditate on creation. Our world is amazing. God made it for us to enjoy.

    Take a trip to the Toledo Zoo and
    admire God’s handiwork. Stare at a sunset, admire snowflakes, or capture beauty with a camera.

    Think about how you and others have co-created with God. Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts. Attend tomorrow’s greenroom gathering in downtown Ann Arbor. Go to a musical concert or just listen carefully to your favorite album. Write a poem, paint a picture, or make a craft. Use your God-given imagination. The arts are a way to the center of truth. Handel and Bach set the Christian story to music. God wants creativity and imagination. He will make this world even more powerful and beautiful. He wants us to put up signposts that redemption and His return is coming.

    Reflect upon ways in which you and your sin have damaged your relationship with God…and others. Confess your sins, repent and turn from evil, and bask in the forgiveness of the second Adam whose death brings life.

    Wait for the return of Jesus. The true Human is coming back soon to bring healing and wholeness to our broken world. We pray, “Maranatha! Come quickly, LORD Jesus.”

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.