Sermons

Four Signs You Might Have a Keeper, 5 May 2024

Four Signs You Might Have a Keeper
Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary
Ruth 2:10-23
 
Series Big Idea: God does extraordinary things in and through the ordinary.
 
Big Idea: If you want a good friend, be a good friend.
 
What qualities do you look for in a friend?
 
Which of those qualities are people born with?
 
Which of those qualities are character that is developed?
 
Today’ we’re returning to the book of Ruth, one of the most fascinating stories in the Bible. The first chapter of the book introduces us to a woman named Naomi. She’s from Bethlehem—yes, that Bethlehem, though centuries before the birth of Jesus—and her family leaves during a famine and lives in Moab for about a decade. While there, her husband and two sons died, leaving her without the three men in her life, surrounded by her two daughters-in-law who are also widows. Naomi tells them to return to their mothers. One does, but Ruth refuses to leave her mother-in-law despite the bleak prospects of two widows trying to survive.
 
In chapter two, Boaz is introduced as this wealthy and influential man who hears about Ruth’s commitment to Naomi and her commitment to God. The big idea two weeks ago was God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people. It’s not a magic formula, but Ruth is a stellar example of someone faithful to God and Naomi and Ruth blessed by a relationship with Boaz. Spoiler alert: they get married, so today, we’re looking at four signs you might have a keeper. This not only applies to dating and marriage, but any friendship.
  
Before we get into the four signs of a keeper, let
me say again if you want a good friend, be a good friend.
 
I used to wonder why I rarely had friends call me (some of you remember when you used a phone to talk to someone!) and then I realized I wasn’t initiating. Don’t expect a gift on your birthday if you don’t buy birthday gifts for others. Does this make sense? I’m not saying keep score. I am saying do to others what you want them to do to you.
 
If you want a good spouse, be a good spouse…be the type of person you want to attract. It sounds so obvious, but it’s amazing how many guys want a beautiful woman to show up on their doorstep while they are too lazy to bathe, have terrible manners, and won’t get a job!
 
What qualities do you look for in a friend? Do you have those qualities?
 
Today we’re going to explore four signs you might have a keeper, borrowed from Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life Church. I’ll tell them to you now:
 
Seeking Character (v.10-13)
Exploring Connection (v. 14)
Showing Consideration (v. 15-18)
Receiving Confirmation (v. 19-23)
 
Let’s go back and review. Ruth tells Naomi she’s going to glean, which means she’s going to look for grain stalks leftover from the harvesters. Boaz notices a new person in his field and shows her unusual kindness. In chapter two, verse ten, we’re told…
 
Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” (Ruth 2:10, NLT)   
 
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12, NLT)
 
Ruth is a woman of great character, and Boaz takes notice. He’s also a person of great character himself. Are you?
 
Seeking Character (v.10-13)
 
We’re never told anything about Ruth’s physical appearance, but her inward character. She is faithful, hard-working, and humble. We saw that two weeks ago. What about you? Are you a man or woman of character? Are you friends? You are your friends. How do you treat others? None of us is perfect, but are you seeking to become like Jesus? Are you devoted to God? Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? The test of that is not a particular gift or sign, but fruit.
 
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)
 
How do you get this fruit? They don’t sell it at Wal-Mart, but it comes from repenting of your sins and failures, following Jesus, and surrendering to the power of God. As our relationship with Him grows, we’ll naturally see more good fruit in our lives as the Spirit makes us more like Jesus. Let’s be men and women of character.
 
Boaz hears about Ruth’s character, extends kindness and grace, and then Ruth says,
 
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” (Ruth 2:13, NLT)   
 
Their character led to a connection.
 
At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over. (Ruth 2:14, NLT)   
 
This is not normal. Something special is happening. It’s not necessarily romantic, but Ruth is getting special treatment from Boaz. It will continue.
 
When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!” (Ruth 2:15-16, NLT)   
 
I’m sure you’ll agree food is a necessity in life. We all need it and will literally die if we go several weeks without it. Food is readily available to all of us today in Toledo. Even if you can’t afford to buy food or don’t know how to cook food, there are food pantries and soup kitchens and the Mac Café at Cherry Street Mission to ensure we stay alive. You might say there are many safety nets in urban Toledo to make hunger unnecessary, though some still experience it.
 
Today in many parts of the world, no such safety nets exist. We’ve all seen pictures and videos of starving children and I was deeply moved a few years ago when Heather and I were in Burundi, Africa. We taught many who rarely experience more than one or two meals a day and often go without any food. We were a part of a special celebration and I watched Heather literally food a starving baby.
 
Ruth and Naomi are widows and without husbands, starvation was a real possibility. Gleaning leftovers as the only safety net, but Boaz is so impressed with Ruth and her character that he goes out of his way to ensure she gets plenty of food.
 
Boaz was Showing Consideration to Ruth.
 
So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket. (Ruth 2:17, NLT)   
 
This basket was worth two weeks wages! That’s consideration.
 
If you want a Ruth, be a Boaz.
 
Character led to a connection which led to consideration and finally they were
 
Receiving Confirmation (v. 18-23)
 
She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was left over from her meal. (Ruth 2:18, NLT)   
 
That’s a lot of food! It’s like going to Monnettes and bringing back a Costco load!
 
Where did you gather all this grain today?” Naomi asked. “Where did you work? May the LORD bless the one who helped you!”
 
So Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, “The man I worked with today is named Boaz.” (Ruth 2:19, NLT)   
 
Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, confirms Boaz is a good man. If you’re seeking a spouse, pay attention to what others say about your date. They might not always be right, but usually those who know and love us the most also know what’s best for us. Be very careful if you find yourself defending your date to your friends and family. They say love is blind, and it’s scientifically proven! We need to seek wise counsel from others in important life decisions, especially life partners.
 
“May the LORD bless him!” Naomi told her daughter-in-law. “He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband. That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.” (Ruth 2:20, NLT)
 
The Hebrew word here for kindness is
hesed. It appears three times in the book of Ruth. There’s not a good English equivalent, but it refers to God’s plan for humans, the Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself…selfless, active caring for others which seems to be rare in our narcissistic, self-centered culture. Naomi is saying Boaz is essentially acting like Jesus, our example of what it means to be human (even though this was centuries before Jesus’ birth). It is God’s hesed which is the real story here.
 
A family redeemer is someone who provides for someone who has had a great loss. Some translations call them a guardian redeemer or a kinsman redeemer. This goes back to the book of Leviticus.
 
If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell some family land, then a close relative should buy it back for him. (Leviticus 25:25, NLT)
 
Numbers chapter 27 explains it further if you want to study it.
 
Then Ruth said, “What’s more, Boaz even told me to come back and stay with his harvesters until the entire harvest is completed.” (Ruth 2:21, NLT)   
 
“Good!” Naomi exclaimed. “Do as he said, my daughter. Stay with his young women right through the whole harvest. You might be harassed in other fields, but you’ll be safe with him.” (Ruth 2:22, NLT)   
 
This is such a beautiful story. It reminds me again of last week’s big idea that
God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people. Ruth did not deserve any special treatment, especially being a foreigner from Moab, yet Boaz is gracious after learning about Ruth’s graciousness to Naomi, refusing to leave her alone.
 
So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law. (Ruth 2:23, NLT)
 
This is hardly the end of the story. The best is yet to come!
   
 
So What?
 
Character, connection, consideration, and confirmation are four signs that you might have a keeper, whether it’s a spouse or a good friend. Pay attention. Men, be like Boaz. Women, be like Ruth. Be who you want to attract.
 
But before we close, I want to go back to Boaz as kinsman-redeemer or family-redeemer or guardian-redeemer. Boaz is not related to Naomi, but rather to her late husband. He was not the closest relative. Ruth is not even an Israelite, yet Boaz extends grace. He was motivated by love to redeem Ruth and Naomi.
 
We have a redeemer who protects, provides, and paid for our sins. His name is Jesus. He restores broken masterpieces. He loves you more than you can imagine. He doesn’t want you starving or even being stuck with the scraps and leftovers. He’s preparing a banquet feast for all who will follow him. Boaz is considered to be a “type” of Christ, a biblical character who prefigures or foreshadows Jesus. We’re going to see this more in the coming weeks but understand there are layers to this story. It’s not the typical boy meets girl, they fall in love, and life happily ever after. There are three main characters—Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz—plus God, the real star of the show! Do you know Him? Do you know God? Have you surrendered your life to Jesus? He gave everything for you, including his very life. You can return the favor by saying, “Jesus, I give you my life.”
  
One more thing
 
Today we’ve looked at four signs you might have a keeper, but what if it’s too late? What if you’re in a challenging marriage? Get help. Pray. Seek counseling (there’s a directory link at the bottom of the
FAC Focus e-newsletter each Wednesday). Most of all, be the spouse you want to have. Demonstrate character. Show kindness. Extend grace. Display the fruit of the Spirit. Don’t tolerate abuse. If you’re in danger, get out. But when it’s hard, seek to be part of the solution rather than prolonging the problem. Be the bigger person and make the first move toward love, forgiveness, mercy, grace. It’s not easy, but we serve a big God who can do incredibly more than we can ever ask, dream, or imagine…if we remain faithful to Him and His people.

Finding the Love You Want, 21 April 2024

Finding the Love You Want
Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary
Ruth 1:19-2:14

Series Big Idea:
God does extraordinary things in and through the ordinary.
 
Big Idea: God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people.
 
Marriage has changed a lot in our culture, just in my lifetime. Its literal definition changed in 2015 in the USA. Cohabitation is seen as an alternative to marriage for many. In the last five decades, marriage rates have dropped nearly 60%. But our text today is about—spoiler alert—a woman meeting her future husband. They didn’t meet on a dating site or at a bar, but it’s a great story.
  
Two weeks ago, we began our series on the book of Ruth. If you missed Pastor Mike’s sermon, the first chapter of the book introduces us to a woman named Naomi. She’s from Bethlehem—yes, that Bethlehem, though centuries before the birth of Jesus—and her family leaves during a famine and lives in Moab for about a decade. While there, her husband and two sons died, leaving her without the three men in her life, surrounded by her two daughters-in-law who are also widows. Naomi tells them to return to their mothers. One does…
 
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more. (Ruth 1:16-18, NLT)   
 
Ruth and Naomi are widows, a great challenge in our day, but far more treacherous in their culture. Ruth is so committed to Naomi she gives up her cultural and religious identity to be with her. It’s possible she was impressed not only with Naomi, but her God. This vow is so compelling, Heather and I had it read at our wedding as a declaration of our dedication to one another.
 
Speaking of weddings, today’s message is entitled, “Finding the Love You Want.” We’re going to look at the incredible way God led Ruth to find a husband after the death of her first one. Before we continue, let me make a few important disclaimers. First, married life is not superior to single life. Some of you unmarried people like being single. Others think a spouse will “complete you” and idealize marriage. God doesn’t want everyone married, though it was His design for some of us to marry in order to reproduce, but with 8 billion people on the planet, I think we’re doing a pretty good job at that! There are many reasons why people are single, but it is not a curse. I’m deeply sorry for the way some church people have treated singles, whether it be unwanted match-making, a what’s-wrong-with-you attitude, or creating meat markets called “singles ministries.”
 
We are family, and we need one another. Singles can learn from marrieds and vice-versa and we need to do life together. Our Life Groups are a great tool for this…diverse, small communities where the young and old, married and unmarried, parents and those without kids, rich and poor…can experience life together, serving one another, loving one another. There are two single men in our church family who have each been “adopted” by a family and it brings me great joy to see them live life in such a community, despite not having a spouse. Paul wrote in the Bible,
 
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. (1 Corinthians 7:8, NIV)
 
Jesus was unmarried. There’s no shame in singleness. But if you need help finding a mate, you might want to pay attention to this.
 
VIDEO
 
You’re welcome!
 
Ruth and her mother-in-law have lost their husbands…and they never had the privilege of seeing that video to aid in finding new ones!
 
So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. (Ruth 1:19, NLT)   
 
Naomi had lived here and must’ve made quite an impression for “the entire town” to be excited to see her.
 
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21, NLT)
 
This is kind of dark, but I love her honesty. In this culture, names had tremendous meaning. Naomi’s life had changed so much she wanted to be called “bitter.” She felt God was punishing her, perhaps for leaving Bethlehem to live in a foreign country that worshipped other gods. While I can see why she felt it was a punishment, the Bible is filled with refugees, immigrants, and aliens and cares deeply for them. Guess what the name Ruth means? It means friendship or clinging. How appropriate! And Naomi? It means pleasant! Note in these two verses Naomi says, “I” or “me” eight times! She so fixated on herself she doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of Ruth, saying “the LORD has brought me home empty.”
 
It’s easy to pick on Naomi, but as Pastor Mike said two weeks ago, there’s much we don’t know about her, and there are things that reveal both her godliness and imperfections. One writer noted the similarities between her and Job. They both experienced tremendous loss and suffering, though Naomi did it as a woman, a widow, and a foreigner while living in Moab, things Job never experienced.
 
So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest. (Ruth 1:22, NLT)
 
Harvest time has always been important, but especially in an agrarian society. They couldn’t run up to Kroger and grab a frozen burrito or pick up fast food. If you don’t harvest, you die. Chapter one began with Naomi leaving Bethlehem and ends with her returning.  
 
Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1, NLT)   
 
Hello Boaz! He’s a relative of Naomi’s late husband and is wealthy and influential. The book of Matthew mentions he is the son of Rahab, the former prostitute in Jericho who hid Israel’s spies in the book of Joshua.
 
One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
 
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” (Ruth 2:2, NLT)   
 
They were hungry and needed food.
 
So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:3, NLT)   
 
“As it happened.” The author is telling us this is not chance or coincidence, but God’s providence. He is at work in this situation, and He’s far more active in our lives than we realize. Ruth is a hungry, desperate widow, but God sees her. God sees you, too. This story is remarkable, but the greatest impact of Ruth and Boaz will not occur in their lifetime. God is doing something that will impact generations for centuries…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
 
This process of picking up leftover grain was known as gleaning (see Leviticus 19:9-10). There’s a food bank in metro Detroit called Gleaners.
 
While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The LORD be with you!” he said.
 
            “The LORD bless you!” the harvesters replied. (Ruth 2:4, NLT)   
 
This seems like a nice guy! He’s a wealthy, influential man who takes time to greet the poor collecting his leftovers.
 
Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?” (Ruth 2:5, NLT)
 
He notices Ruth…because she’s new? Because she’s young? Because she’s beautiful? The culture was patriarchal where every woman must belong to a man, whether it’s a husband or father. Unfortunately, some of these attitudes remain today, where women are treated as second-class citizens and single women are incomplete.  
 
And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2:6-7, NLT)
 
She’s a hard worker. That’s a good character trait.   
 
Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.” (Ruth 2:8-9, NLT)   
 
This is probably not typical treatment of a gleaner. Either Boaz is very kind, he has an interest in her, or both.
 
Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” (Ruth 2:10, NLT)   
 
Remember, Naomi was from Bethlehem, but Ruth was from Moab,
 
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12, NLT)
 
Boaz is kind, but he’s also heard about the kindness of Ruth…without social media! Could this be a match made in heaven? We’ll see!  
 
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” (Ruth 2:13, NLT)   
 
All Ruth is seeking is food for her and her mother-in-law, Naomi. But she is a vulnerable widow, as is Naomi.
 
At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over. (Ruth 2:14, NLT)   
 
Now she has food, all right, but not from gleaning. These aren’t leftovers. She’s eating with the master of the house, so to speak. Not only did she have quality food, she’s dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I hope there’s a doggy bag for her to take some food to Naomi!
 
And that’s where we end today! Come back next time for the continuation of the story and see what happens between Ruth and Boaz.
 
So What?
 
The moral of this story is if you want to find love, glean from the nearest farm and hope the owner sees you and shows you favor! Not quite, but it is a truly remarkable story. It’s important to see that God is the main character. LORD—the all-caps sacred name for God—is mentioned several times. This is much more than a tragedy becoming hopeful or the search for a spouse.
 
There are some principles that apply not only to dating, but all friendships. First and foremost, God is sovereign. He is in control. Although He didn’t force these events to take place, He had a plan for Ruth…and Naomi…and Boaz…and an even bigger plan that we’ll see later in the series that impacts us today!
 
Second, God sees needs. He saw these widows. He hasn’t forgotten them. And He sees you, too. We have many actual widows in our First Alliance family. God sees you. We do, too, and want to love and serve you in your loss, grief, and loneliness. I read a remarkable statistic that 90% of wives will be widows for at least part of their lives. Throughout the Bible, we see three vulnerable people groups God instructs us to care for: widows, strangers, and orphans.
 
Third, God sees deeds. He not only sees our needs, He sees our deeds! Ruth showed radical love to her mother-in-law. She could’ve listen to Naomi who said, “Go find a husband. I don’t want to be a burden to you,” but instead, Ruth was committed to Naomi. God saw this, and others did, too, which is why Boaz heard about it and a primary reason why he showed such kindness to Ruth.
 
I’m not sure who needs to hear this today, but listen to these words from Paul:
 
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT)
 
Ruth didn’t explicitly stay with Naomi for the Lord, but her devotion was an expression of love. Ruth was a woman of faith who loved God. This was clear in verses 1:16 and again in 2:12.
 
It’s easy to feel hidden and unnoticed. Sometimes the work we do takes weeks, month, years, even decades before it’s noticed, but God is always watching…and in time, it’s likely that your good deeds will be noticed and rewarded. Don’t give up. Don’t worry about human applause. You will be rewarded for eternity for the things you do for the LORD.
 
By the way, we don’t do good works to get saved. We do good works because we’ve been saved. Faith without works is dead. As Dallas Willard said, God’s not opposed to effort. He’s opposed to earning. Serving God and others should be the natural response to the cross, the empty tomb, and God’s amazing grace toward us.
 
Ultimately, God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people. That blessing may be finding the love of your life. It might be experiencing the joy of a deep friendship. What we do matters. Who we worship matters most of all…and my heart is full of gratitude for our amazing God and His faithfulness. 
 
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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

Upside Down (Easter), 31 March 2024

Upside Down (Easter)
John 19:30

Big Idea:
Because of the resurrection, our world and future are radically transformed.
 
I love roller coasters. As a young boy, they terrified me, but a $20 bribe from my grandpa got me convinced to ride one a few years later and I was hooked (on roller coasters, not the $20!!!). Despite my early love for roller coasters, there was one thing I wouldn’t ride…a coaster that goes
upside down. I don’t know if I thought I would fall out or just thought it would be a weird sensation but I refused to do a loop for several years…until my grandpa bribed—no, he wasn’t involved this time, but when I was at King’s Island, I faced my fear and went upside down for the first time on a roller coaster, and while I didn’t want to stay upside down, I loved it!
 
We’re not here to talk about roller coasters (though I can’t wait to ride Top Thrill 2!), but the subject of Easter—of Resurrection Sunday—is filled with surprises, with irony, with
upside down reality. It’s really a picture of life in the Kingdom of God, the life of a follower of Jesus. He is risen!
 
 
The resurrection of Jesus has been celebrated since…well, since it occurred in the first century. I wish we had time today to unpack all of the reasons why I believe in the resurrection. I do realize dead people do not usually come back to life…especially when they are exposed to the horror of crucifixion
. Nobody’s been able to locate the place where Jesus’ body was placed or buried, so whether you believe Jesus rose from the dead or not, just imagine for a moment that he did. What if it’s true?
 
The subject of Resurrection Sunday is filled with surprises, with irony, with
upside down reality. Our scripture reading text is filled with such moments!
 
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. (Matthew 28:1, NLT)
 
Nothing special here.
 
Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. 3 His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. (Matthew 28:2-4, NLT)
 
Earthquake. Angel. Shining face and white clothing. Of course, the guards were afraid and fainted. Have you ever seen an angel? It seems like they always say the same thing…
 
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. 7 And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7, NLT)
 
The crucified don’t rise from the dead! That’s as
upside down as it gets!
 
The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. (Matthew 28:8, NLT)
 
Frightened and joyful. That’s upside down!
 
The Kingdom of God is upside down from the kingdoms of this world.
 
But let’s back up. How did we get to this scene? Many of you know the story of Good Friday which we remembered two days ago. One of Jesus’ three best friends, John, wrote regarding Jesus on the cross…
 
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, NIV)
 
I’m grateful to pastor Erwin McManus for introducing me to the true meaning of this simple verse and its relevance to Easter. Jesus did three things.
 
First, he said, “It is finished.” This was moments before he died, making this declaration look like one of defeat. It appears his life is finished. His friends certainly saw it that way. Usually when people die, it’s a tragedy. The Hebrew word for
death does not mean the absence of life, but rather the separation of two things that never meant to be separated. Death feels wrong because it is. My father-in-law died on Monday and we’ve been surrounded by preparations for next Sunday’s funeral. But when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he wasn’t talking about the end of his life. He was referencing his completed mission to seek and save the lost. What appeared to be a failure was upside down. Jesus fulfilled the scriptures written centuries earlier. The cross was viewed as a symbol of powerlessness, but on the cross Jesus had total confidence in his power to accomplish the mission. At the cross, defeat is victory.
 
Then he bowed his head. This is the same language found when he said,
 
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20, NIV)
 
Jesus had no place to rest his head, but he did on the cross. There is rest at the cross. He takes an act of violence and turns things
upside down, making it a place of peace.
 
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, NIV)
 
Thirdly, the text says Jesus “gave up his spirit.” This doesn’t mean he lost it, but rather he gave it up, he made a choice—a decision—with his last act. Nobody took Jesus’ life, it was a gift, an act of grace, unmerited favor.
 
Do you see how
upside down the story of Jesus is? In this one verse, we see defeat is victory, violence is peace, failure is conquest. It’s not the death of Jesus that makes Good Friday good. Yes, he died to offer forgiveness to every man, woman, and child that responds to his simple invitation, “Follow me.” But if there was no resurrection, we wouldn’t be celebrating today.
 
Some of you today are exploring what it means to follow Jesus. Welcome! We welcome people of all faiths, backgrounds, ethnicities, …all humans are welcome here! We’re not about becoming a big church or famous, but we are about helping people discover Jesus and what you might call the upside-down Kingdom of God. Our faith is not built on philosophy or someone’s dream or a dead person’s wisdom. It’s on the living person of Jesus, a real human who changed the world, who showed us what it means to be human.
 
In many ways, following Jesus is the opposite of following the world—both the religious world and the culture. Religious people have always tried to be good enough for a perfect God, but it doesn’t work. It’s always tempting to keep up with the Joneses, to pursue the American Dream, to just do it, to have it your way, to do you and be true to yourself (what slogans am I missing?!), but how’s that working for you? It’s no secret that we live in a cancel culture that then struggles with loneliness (I wonder why?!). Money, sex, and power are like a mirage in the desert, an illusion of satisfaction which quickly fades away. I like these words from the late J. Oswald Sanders:
 
“Because we children of Adam want to become great, He became small. Because we will not stoop, He humbled Himself. Because we want to rule, He came to serve.”
 
Jesus died for you and for me. His blood poured out of his beaten body, his head covered in a crown of thorns, nails in his wrists and feet, eventually a spear in his side. He took our punishment. That’s upside down!
Jesus left heaven to come to earth. That’s upside down!
His blood washes us white as snow. That’s upside down!
He brings us from darkness into light. That’s upside down!
  
And it wasn’t because we’re good people.
 
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8, NIV)
 
That’s really upside down! That’s the message of the gospel, the good news. Jesus died for us…not only to experience forgiveness and grace, but also a relationship with God.
 
Jesus turned everything upside-down. Consider a few of his choice statements:
 
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:39, NIV)
 
Six chapters later, he says it again.
 
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matt. 16:25, NIV)
 
Perhaps you’ve heard this one:
 
But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. Matt. 19:30
 
Perhaps the most radical of commands is found in chapter five of the same book.
 
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor  and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matt. 5:43-44   
 
Love your enemies? That’s so upside-down. It sounds ridiculous to our culture. Cancel your enemies. Harm your enemies. Treat them the way they treat you. At the very best ignore your enemies. But love them?
 
One of the things I love about Jesus is he gets us. Perhaps you’ve seen the tv commercials! But he really gets us. He spent 33 years on our planet, getting sick, cold, tempted, and enduring the most horrific pain imaginable on the cross.
 
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)
 
I love that so much! When he says things like “love your enemies,” he walks the talk.
 
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34) 
 
Paul, who had a life-transforming encounter with the risen Jesus, notes:
 
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. (1 Corinthians 15:3-6, NLT)
 
It's not like one or two people had a hallucination or something!
 
The resurrection is everything to the follower of Jesus. Paul, who met Jesus, wrote,
 
And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:15-17, NLT)
 
Without the resurrection, our faith is useless.
Without the resurrection, we are guilty of our sins.
Without the resurrection, we have no hope.
Without the resurrection, we have no peace.
Without the resurrection, Christianity is just one of many religions trying to get to God.
Without the resurrection, we’re wasting our time praying to a dead God.
Without the resurrection, we have future of death.
Without the resurrection, this is as good as it gets (and that’s tragic!)
Without the resurrection, we have no purpose (he who dies with the most toys wins)
 
But because he lives, I’m alive!
Because he lives, I can face tomorrow
Because he lives, every fear is gone
  
So What?
 
In a moment we’re going to hear stories of people who have said, “Jesus, I give you my life.” If you’ve done that, let this be a moment to remember your surrender and recommit to follow Jesus and his upside-down, radical, alternative way of life.
 
If you’ve never said, “Jesus, I give you my life,” I urge you to do so today. It’s the most amazing experience to surrender, die to your own selfish ways, and be resurrected in Christ. When you do so, Christ lives in you! When you die, you can really live. That’s upside down…and it’s amazing!

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

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

The Greatest Investment, 17 March 2024

The Greatest Investment
God Cares More About Your Money Than You Do

Luke 12:13-34

Series Big Idea:
Money matters…to God, to us, and to those we love.
 
Big Idea: The greatest investments will last forever.
 
Although I love this country, the older I get, the more I see its many flaws. No nation is perfect, of course, but despite our financial wealth, our culture has many weaknesses. One of them is we are impatient. Would you agree? When we stare at the microwave clock wishing it would cook faster…!!! Speaking of fast, have you driven on I-75 lately? If you’ve ever put money in the stock market, hoping the value would double overnight…It reminds me of my grandkids who once planted a garden and checked on it the next morning!
 
The late Dallas Willard famously gave this advice to his disciple, John Ortberg: “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.” Good luck!
 
As we conclude our three-part series “God Cares More About Your Money Than You Do,” we are talking about the greatest investment.
 
What’s the greatest investment you’ve ever made?
 
I’m pretty happy with the Apple stock I bought in 2005 before I worked for the company. I bought 4 shares, spending $367. That $367 is now worth over $44,000. Imagine if I bought 100 shares instead of only 4! Truthfully, I’ve done very little investing in the stock market. Most of my very modest retirement account is in mutual funds.
 
All fruitful investments require time. By definition, the returns are not instantaneous. If you buy something from a vending machine, we call that a transaction. No waiting is required (unless the machine is broken and you have to kick it!). When you order fast food at a drive-thru, you hope and pray it won’t take an hour to receive your order!
 
But investments are different. There is no instant gratification. This is why many use financial investments to fund their retirement. They know it is years or decades away. They also recognize the value of compounding interest. The Bible has over 2000 references to money. Don’t worry, we’ll only look at half of them today!
  
God gives us many gifts for our good…that the enemy uses to destroy. Our planet was created filled with beauty, yet pollution taints its splendor. Relationships are God’s design, yet they often bring the greatest pain. Sex is a wonderful gift…within God-given boundaries designed to protect us. Money is another tool that can be used for good or harm.
 
In case you missed our message two weeks ago, we said
 
-       If you spend less than you earn, you will never be broke.
-
       Work hard
-
       Spend wisely
-
       Give generously
 
Those are principles for building financial wealth. They also bring us great joy when we honor God with our money, no matter how much we possess…so long as our money doesn’t possess us.
 
I want to talk about another dimension of money and that is investing. Saving is not only a financial principle, it’s a healthy discipline. Because we live in an on-demand, have it now culture, the mere mention of the word “wait” might be enough to cause some of you anxiety. Who has time to wait?
 
The same is true with money.
It’s hard to wait sometimes. We either see something we want, but it before we have the money, and pay outrageous interest fees (by the way, making the minimum monthly payment will rarely if ever lead to the payment of the debt!)…or we cash our paycheck and spend it all before the next one arrives…with no thought of savings, much less investment.
 
Many of you have heard of an emergency fund or a rainy day fund. So-called experts differ on exact formulas, but before you spend every penny you own, consider the fact that
emergencies will arise. It’s a fact of life. Rain will fall (especially in Toledo). And all of us have a limited number of days on earth…and days when we are able to work.
 
I realize our church family is very diverse. Some of you know more about money than I do. Many of you
have more money than I do! And some of us struggle to save even a little, much less invest. We are so focused on surviving today that we can’t even imagine planning for tomorrow. Then the rain comes and we’re in crisis mode.
 
I want to remind you of the “spend wisely” principle from two weeks ago. We need to differentiate between our wants and our needs. Advertisements are designed to destroy your contentment. People are paid to convince you that desires are necessities. And you need that new (fill in the blank) now! And if now won’t work, perhaps you can wait for Amazon to deliver tomorrow (or later today!).
 
Since each household is unique, I want to simply remind you that
a budget brings freedom, not bondage…and savings should be in your budget. Whether you save $1/paycheck, 1%, 10%, or more, it’s essential to save…and then invest that money so it can grow.
 
Jesus told a great story about three men who were given money to invest. In the 25
th chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells of a man going on a long trip.
 
He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip. (Matthew 25:15, NLT)
 
“The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money. (Matthew 25:16-18, NLT)
 
“After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’ (Matthew 25:19-20, NLT)
 
“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’ (Matthew 25:21, NLT)
 
“The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’ (Matthew 25:22, NLT)
 
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’ (Matthew 25:23, NLT)
 
“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’ (Matthew 25:24-25, NLT)
 
“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’ (Matthew 25:26-27, NLT)
 
“Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:28-30, NLT)
 
There’s so much that could be said about savings and investments. A great resource is
https://faithandfinance.org, a ministry of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. Of course, some of you will be meeting with David Munn of Munn Wealth Management today at noon. His company is built upon biblical principles and has been extremely generous to First Alliance and many Christian organizations throughout our community. David is a personal friend and a great resource. There are many others, too, including the Ron Blue Institute which partners with Orchard Alliance.
 
But I want to go back to Jesus’ story of investing. It’s a great picture of investing money—silver—
but the greatest investment in the world is people.
 
A biblical example of investment
 
Who wrote the book of Timothy? Actually, there are two books called Timothy…1
st and 2nd Timothy…and they were written by…Paul. These short letters were written from a mentor to an apprentice, a teacher to a student, a discipler to a disciple.
 
Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. (2 Timothy 1:3, NLT)
 
Paul invested prayer. Night and day he prayed for Timothy.
 
I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again. (2 Timothy 1:4, NLT)
 
Paul invested passion. He cried when they parted and longs for a joyous reunion.
 
I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. (2 Timothy 1:5, NLT)
 
Grandma and mom invested, too.
 
This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. (2 Timothy 1:6, NLT)
 
The Holy Spirit invested in Timothy with a spiritual gift.
 
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)
 
That’s the fruit of the investment…power, love, and self-discipline. Who doesn’t want that?
 
A few verses later, Paul tells Timothy to…
 
Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. 14 Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:13-14, NLT)
 
So What?
 
The greatest investment you can make is not in real estate, Bitcoin, or Microsoft. It’s in people. We do that through our
time, talent, and treasures.
 
We must spend
time with people. This is the core of discipleship, of investment, of friendship. Love is spelled t-i-m-e! There are no shortcuts or hacks. You simply need to invest time in people, listening to them, eating with them, having fun with them! When is the last time you chose to spend an hour with a non-Christian with no agenda, just to be with them?

Another way to invest in people is through your talents, your abilities. This might include volunteering with one of our Home Missions partners from last Sunday, cooking food for Dinner Church, assisting on the next Alpha Course, joining the music or tech teams, or any number of other things to get involved around here. What do you love to do? How can you do that with others, for others, for God’s glory?
 
You can also make a financial investment in people through giving your treasures to First Alliance, FAC Missions, and the Alliance Great Commission Fund. These three accounts are used to impact lives for eternity by supporting this local congregation, serving our ministry partners in our city and world through church planting, Home Missions, and Faith Missions, and contributing to the global work of our Christian & Missionary Alliance family, including Germany and the Dominican Republic.
 
Conclusion
 
Financial investments are great, especially as we age and become unable to work and earn income. Starbucks stock was worth more than eleven times its year 2000 value in 2016. Monster Beverage stock was worth 24 cents in 2001 and grew to $150 in 2015.
 
But despite the bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” there’s only one investment that’s eternal, and it’s not about money. It’s about people…and Jesus. The greatest investment you can make is investing in people, loving people, serving people, praying for people, introducing people to Jesus.
 
Several weeks ago, my sermon was entitled
evangelize now, meaning “share good news now, tell others about Jesus now.” It is true that tomorrow could be too late…for you or them!
 
Investing in people always
begins with prayer. Pray that God would lead you to the right people, that He would prepare their hearts, and that He would give you wisdom and words.
 
The next step is to
listen…listen to them. Don’t bombard them with information. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
 
Eat with them. Grab coffee. There’s something powerful about food and relationships. The Bible is packed with examples, including the very manner in which we are to remember the death of Jesus.
 
Serve them. Put your faith into action.
 
Finally,
share your story. After you’ve listened to theirs and served them, you’ve likely earned the right to share your story…God’s story. If you began the process with praying for them, there’s a good chance they’ll be interested in learning more.

B.L.E.S.S.

There's even a free BLESS app for your smart phone. Search for it.
 
But we must be intentional. It takes time. Sometimes years or decades! It requires sacrifice. This is true of all investments, but I promise you there is no greater investment than people. The returns are eternal!
 
British missionary C.T. Studd (what a great name!) penned a powerful poem entitled, “Only One Life, Twill Soon Be Past.” Here’s a sample:
 

Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way; Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done; Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, the still small voice, Gently pleads for a better choice Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears; Each with its clays I must fulfill. living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
When this bright world would tempt me sore, When Satan would a victory score; When self would seek to have its way, Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Give me Father, a purpose deep, In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep; Faithful and true what e’er the strife, Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Oh let my love with fervor burn, And from the world now let me turn; Living for Thee, and Thee alone, Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, yes only one, Now let me say, “Thy will be done”; And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
  

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

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

How to Get Rich, 3 March 2024

How to Get Rich
God Cares More About Your Money Than You Do
1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT

Series Big Idea:
Money matters…to God, to us, and to those we love.
 
Big Idea: Intentionality is usually required to make us rich…financially and otherwise.
 
If you were offered one wish, what would it be? You can’t ask for more wishes!
 
A common wish people have is to get rich. Was that your wish? Today I’m going to tell you how to get rich…and I hope you’re paying attention!
 
Welcome to week two of our series God Cares More About Your Money Than You Do. It’s true. God loves you and wants you to flourish in this life—and the next—and money can be a tool for good…or an idol to destroy our lives.
 
It’s so easy to make money our god, our idol. It’s a common factor in divorce. It has split families and friendships. So is money evil?
 
No. It’s a tool, like food or a hammer or a book. It can be used for good or bad purposes. It can be used or abused. Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy and said,
 
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10, NIV)
 
The love of money is the issue, just like the love of pleasure or power or any number of things can get in the way of our relationship with God…and others.
 
God is more concerned about the heart than the wallet.
 
One of the problems with the love of money is there never seems to be enough. One billionaire was asked how much was enough and he replied, “Just a little bit more.” The love of money will never lead to contentment. Perhaps that’s why in the book of Hebrews it says,
 
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
 
            “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV)
 
God wants us to trust Him, not money. Isn’t it ironic that our currency says, “In God We Trust” when most of us put our trust in money?
 
I’ve titled this sermon, “How to Get Rich.” So how much money do you need to be rich? By the world’s standards, must of us are already rich. What are we doing about it?
 
Two weeks ago, Pastor Donald said God owns, we possess. Do you have possessions or does what you have possess you?
 
One of the core values of our Alliance family says, “Everything we have belongs to God. We are His stewards.” God owns it all. Your health. Your job. Your retirement account. Your house, car, baseball card collection, wardrobe, …
 
W. Graham Scroggie said, “There are two ways in which a Christian may view his money--"How much of my money shall I use for God?" or "How much of God's money shall I use for myself?" 
 
Back in November, I said,
 
“Wealth is an issue of the heart, and our attitude should be one of gratitude and generosity.”
 
On the subject of tithing—giving ten percent of your income to the LORD—I like to say don’t tithe on what you earn. Tithe on what you want to earn! No, I’m not guaranteeing a raise, but it’s amazing how many people think they’ll tithe on a million dollars but refuse to give ten percent of a hundred dollars.
 
But back to how to get rich. Here’s a simple principle, maybe step one in getting rich…financially. Are you ready?
 
If you spend less than you earn, you will never be broke.
 
My late grandfather gave me a silver dollar when I was a boy and said if I kept it, I’d never be broke!
 
It’s no secret USAmericans are drowning in debt. Mortgages, car payments, student loans, medical bills, and perhaps worst of all, credit card debt. I hate debt. It is not only costly financially due to interest, it is an emotional burden.
 
Addison H. Hallock once said, “Before borrowing money from a friend, decide which you need more!”
 
Proverbs says,
 
The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)
 
Many of you just said a silent, Amen!” I must confess we owe a small amount on our house, but we have no other debt. I wanted to say we’re blessed to have no other debt, but it’s not accidental. If I had three pieces of advice about money, I would say,
 
Work hard.
Spend wisely.
Give generously.
 
How’s that for a three-point sermon? Let’s go!
 
Work hard.
 
I know it’s politically incorrect to say, but some people are just lazy! I’m grateful for government programs and charities who help the disabled who are unable to work, but able-bodied people who choose not to work are stealing from taxpayers who work hard.
 
Paul wrote to a church in modern day Greece and said,
 
For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10, NIV)
 
We were created to work. Adam and Eve were given the task of naming the animals and caring for the Garden of Eden before they sinned and disobeyed God. I’m quite confident that we will work in heaven, too. It won’t be boring work. We won’t have a mean boss! But we were created to work, to produce, to create, to serve.
 
We’ve had seasons in our nation when unemployment was high. It created hardships not only financially, but also mentally and emotionally. We were not created to watch tv or play video games or surf the Internet all day!
 
It’s no surprise to me that many people who retire early and move to Florida to play golf die early. Study after study has shown this. Able-bodied people—and I want to emphasize that again—need to work. It may or may not involve a paycheck. We have many retirees here in our First Alliance family who volunteer countless hours, enabling us to do things we could never afford to do if paid staff were required. Thank you!
 
I could preach an entire sermon series on work as worship. We spent much of our lives working, and beyond a paycheck, how we work matters. Paul wrote,
 
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)
 
Needless to say, hard work will often lead to raises, promotions, more money. So if you want to get rich, the first step is to work hard. The secret is not sports betting, the lottery, Hollywood Casino, or replying to that spam e-mail from Nigeria! It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme or running a shady business. It’s working hard…for the LORD…with rest…with sabbath…with quality time for family and friends…but work hard.
 
One more thing about work…in Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells a parable about three workers. He says to two of them,
 
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:23)
 
He calls the third a “wicked, lazy servant” in verse 26. That’s not what I want Jesus to call me!
 
I want to slip in one Toledo reference. The seal of the city says in Latin, “To work is to pray.” The Alliance says, “Prayer is the primary work of God’s people.” It’s ok to ask God for a better job, more money, or favor with your boss. Virtually all of us experience emergencies in which we need help. It’s ok to ask God…and it’s ok to ask our church family, too. We have a Benevolence fund the Deacons administrate to assist with emergencies. Simply fill out the form in the lobby kiosk or at the bottom of Wednesdays’ FAC Focus e-newsletter. Family helps family.
 
Spend wisely.
 
This is a huge challenge in our consumer culture where every commercial is created to make discontent, conditioning us to want what we don’t have, promising eternal happiness if we just buy…now!
 
There used to be a time before credit cards when people would actually save up before buying a car or new furniture or even a tv! Contentment is a blessing…an attitude of gratitude. Instead of what you want, think about what you already have. Count your blessings. Many of the things we think we want or even need will end up in a garage sale—or dumpster—in a few years. Some money problems are related to income, but others are about consumption. Let me say it again
 
If you spend less than you earn, you will never be broke.
 
I have a helpful tool to help you. It’s called a…budget!
 
I used to struggle with budgets because my income changed from month to month. Then I learned a monthly budget might be more useful than an annual budget. I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence, but let me walk you through a simple budget.
 
Suppose you earn minimum wage…$10.45/hour. Most entry-level jobs pay more than that, but let’s use that. Your paycheck would be about $784 twice a month, so $1568/month. You can’t spend more than that or you’ll go into debt. Period.
The next step is to look at your expenses and, if necessary, find ways to reduce them. For example, housing is the largest expense for many of us. If you can’t find housing to fit your budget, you might consider a roommate (pets don’t count! They don’t share the bills!).
 
Food eats up much of our budgets (sorry for the pun). I’ve gone through seasons where instead of eating out, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (which are still affordable even with inflation!). Sure, it’s tempting to see an ad for Mancy’s or even fast food these days (which has skyrocketed in price), but your budget will thank you if you go to Aldi or Kroger instead. Use digital coupons. Look for sales and stock up. If you like to eat out, consider buying a Save-around coupon book in the lobby to support the Germany trip. My $25 investment pays off with two meals using the book.
 
Transportation is another huge expense. When it’s 70 degrees in February, consider walking! Take the bus. Hang on to the used car before racing to buy a new one with all of the fancy features you can’t afford. Consider reliability over frills. The job of transportation is to get you to your destination, not give you a day at the spa! Maybe a bicycle would fit the bill, especially if we keep having mild winters.
 
These are some simple examples, and as your income increases, so can your spending…but not until!
 
A budget brings freedom, not bondage.
 
Take the time to create one. Income on one side and expenses on the other. As one author says, a budget tells your money where to go. You never need to feel guilty about spending on something that’s in your budget. 
 
Give generously.
 
I know this one doesn’t make logical sense, but Kingdom math—God math—is amazing! No, I’m not promising that if you stuff the Drop Box you will win the lottery. I’m not saying name it and claim it. I am saying—Jesus said—
 
You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:23b)
 
If we work hard, spend wisely, and live open-handed, God will bless. It might be unexpected financial blessings. Pastor Will Henderson told a great story last week of being given $10,000 out of the blue! That happens to those who are generous. I can tell personal stories of cash taped to my office door, cash appearing in our medicine cabinet, and my favorite story of all, the gift of a minivan hours after we prayed for one (and didn’t tell a soul!). Those stories all happened when we had little people, couldn’t afford to give away a dime, yet chose to take God at His Word and give at least ten percent of our income to our local church. Again, I’m not promising that $100 in the Drop Box will mean $100 will appear in your mailbox or Venmo account this week…but it might…or even more!
 
The only place I know God says, “Test Me” is in the last book of the Old Testament.
 
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10, NIV)
 
There’s an old adage that says, “Pay it forward.” God math often works like that. You can’t outgive God. I dare you to try! It’s such a joy to give. I’ve often said I love giving, especially to First Alliance Church. I see how our frugal budget is invested and the return on investment is amazing…it’s eternal!
 
This is not a fundraising pitch. God doesn’t need your money…even though First Alliance could use it! This is about an attitude of gratitude that results in generosity and blessing. It might be financial blessing. It might be physical health, enriching relationships, and certainly grace, mercy, peace, forgiveness, hope, and eternal life with God.
 
Conclusion
 
If you were offered one wish, what would it be? You can’t ask for more wishes!
 
King David had a brilliant answer.
 
One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
 
Getting rich—being rich—is about so much more than money. No amount of money can buy you true and lasting joy. Money can buy you temporary happiness, and you can experience great peace when you discover contentment and exercise generosity. Being a good steward of the riches you’ve been given brings glory to God. Ultimately, only a relationship with the living God can bring the meaning, purpose, and satisfaction we all seek.
 
So work hard, spend wisely, give generously, …and seek first the Kingdom of God. He’s where the joy is!
  
One more thing…
 
I’m not sure you really want to be financially rich. Many millionaires have expressed the burden of riches.
 
Actor Jim Carrey said, “I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they dreamed of so they can see that it is not the answer.”
 
“Two things I ask of you, LORD;
                        do not refuse me before I die: 
            Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
                        give me neither poverty nor riches,
                        but give me only my daily bread.
            Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
                        and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
            Or I may become poor and steal,
                        and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)
 
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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

Evangelize now, 11 February 2024

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

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

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

His now, 21 January 2024

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

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

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

Wake up now! 7 January 2024

Wake up now!
40 Days of Prayer
Romans 13

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

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

Love, 24 December 2023

Love
The Season of Advent

Big Idea:
The heart of Christmas is love…not a feeling, but a Person!

Merry Christmas Eve!
 
We’re in week four of our series
The Season of Advent. We’re launching from the traditional candle theme of each Sunday, today being love…and tonight we will light the Christ Candle, the conclusion of Advent, a season of waiting, expecting, anticipating.
 
Love must be the most misunderstood word in the English language. It replaces multiple words in other languages. I love my friends. I love First Alliance. I love my wife. I love tacos. I love riding roller coasters. They hardly mean the same thing!
 
What do you think of when you hear the word
love? One of my favorite definitions is “looking out for the best interest of another.” It requires more than candy hearts or mushy words. It’s certainly not mere lust or even a feeling. Love is a verb, a rugged commitment to a person, and it’s the best word to describe God.
 
 
When I was in high school, our youth group leader once told the story about how he searched for a good definition of love. He found a young lady he wanted to marry, but wanted to know what the Bible said about love. He came across these words:
 
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8, NIV).
 
God is the definition of love! That word in the original Greek, agape, means “affection or benevolence, charity, dear, love.”
 
Do you think of God as love…or do other images and words come to mind? I’ve often said the two most important questions in the world are “Who are you?” and “Who is God?” Tragically, many are afraid of God, thinking He’s out to get them, ready to zap them with lightning if they ever make a mistake. Others picture God as some cosmic grandpa who’s taking a nap in a rocking chair or too busy to notice what’s happening on our planet.
 
God is love, and the most famous verse in the Bible declares His rugged commitment to you and me, a commitment which involved the ultimate sacrifice, the most drastic action.
 
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, NIV)
 
God loved. He so loved. He loved the whole world…every gender, ethnicity, nation. He gave. Giving is a sign of love. Gifts are one of Gary Chapman’s five love languages. HE gave His son, His one and only son. He sent him away for 33 years to our planet…to show us what it means to be human, to love, to heal, to teach, and ultimately to die on purpose…for us…and then rose from the dead, conquering sin and death.
 
Do you know that one and only Son, Jesus Christ? He’s what this season is all about. It’s his birthday we celebrate tomorrow (what are you getting him for his birthday?).
 
Jesus embodied God’s love, being fully God and fully human. There’s more that John wrote.
 
God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17, NLT)  
 
That was his mission. He came to die for our mistakes, our sins, our rebellion, our selfishness and pride. He is the greatest gift you can ever receive. It comes with peace, joy, hope, meaning, purpose, and contentment. But a gift is only yours if you receive it. God’s love is only yours if you believe, if you trust, if you surrender. Without Jesus, we live in darkness, without hope.
 
“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” (John 3:18-21, NLT)   
 
Light or darkness. You choose. That choice has consequences, both now and forever.
You can choose to be with God now and forever…or choose to be without God now and forever.
 
As C.S. Lewis put it: sin is a human being saying to God throughout their life, “Go away and leave me alone.” Hell is God’s answer: “You may have your wish.” Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it” (The Great Divorce [New York: Macmillan, 1946], 72).
 
God loves you. Really. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done. He’s crazy in love with you, and nothing can change that love…but again, if you don’t receive it, you can’t experience it.
 
What are you getting Jesus for his birthday? What he wants most is you…your heart…your surrender…your acceptance…your obedience…your worship. Going back to the words of one of Jesus’ three closest friends:
 
And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. 4 If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. 5 But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. 6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6)
 
He continues later…
 
God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
 
To summarize the reason for our faith in one sentence…
 
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NIV)
 
That’s what Christmas is all about…love…God’s love for us…our response of love toward Him…and others.
 
Two weeks ago, we looked at a story that occurred shortly after Jesus was born. His parents took him to the temple for the customary dedication. It was there that they met Simeon and Anna. Simeon was overjoyed at seeing the infant Messiah, an experience promised by the Holy Spirit. He most certainly spoke through tears of joy as he prayed.
 
“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:29-32).
 
The text continues.
 
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:33-35)
 
What a bittersweet blessing! Now we come to the prophecy of Anna. Before we read, prophecy is a spiritual gift that is alive and well today to be used not for the prophet, but rather for the benefit of the Church. Bible.org notes:
 
Most prophecy is forth-telling, not foretelling. A Christian prophesying will normally “tell forth” God’s word as an encouragement or exhortation for the whole congregation. Only on rare occasions will prophecy predict some future event When it does, the biblical test is in the prophecy: fulfillment, or lack of it (Deut. 18:22).
 
Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. (Luke 2:36)   
 
We’re about to see just how old she was.
 
Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. (Luke 2:37)   
 
That’s a woman devoted to the LORD! One benefit to being single is the ability to invest your time and energy in the LORD rather than a spouse. For decades, Anna was serving the LORD.
 
She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)   
 
True love requires action. Talk is cheap. Simeon and Anna were both great lovers…of the LORD. They experienced God’s love and responded accordingly. Although they weren’t at his birth, they gave Jesus special gifts of worship, devotion, time, prayer, energy, and attention. Think about how rare these gifts are today. We are so busy…doing what? Staring at screens? Buying things we don’t actually need? Worrying about outcomes which will never occur? Stressing about unnecessary tasks?
 
That’s just part of
my list!
 
Jesus summarized every command in the Bible when…
 
He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)
 
There’s that agape love again. God is agape love and we are to agape love Him. Always. With all of our being. The second part is often more challenging…loving others as we love ourselves. After all, Jesus clarified his statement by saying your neighbor may even be your enemy, yet they are to be loved…not because they deserve it, but rather because we’ve been so loved. Remember…
 
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NIV)
 
We love God because he first loved us.
 
We love our neighbors and enemies as we love ourselves because he first loved us.
 
So What?
 
Who do you need to love?
How do you need to love?
 
I mentioned Dr. Gary Chapman’s book
The Five Love Languages. In it, he states we all have ways in which we want to receive love, and that’s how we usually express love. Those languages are
 
    • 
Words of Affirmation: Expressing affection through spoken words, compliments, or words of appreciation.
    • 
Acts of Service: Demonstrating love by performing actions or tasks that show consideration and thoughtfulness.
    • 
Receiving Gifts: Expressing love through the giving and receiving of tangible gifts as symbols of affection.
    • 
Quality Time: Spending meaningful and focused time together, giving each other undivided attention.
    • 
Physical Touch: Showing love through physical gestures such as hugs, kisses, or other forms of physical intimacy.
 
These languages are spoken in marriage, with children and parents, among friends, and even with co-workers. Again, we normally give through the language(s) we like to receive, which might not make the other person feel as loved as we might desire.
 
The point is, Jesus said to love others, and these are practical ways in which we express love. He also said the greatest command is to love God, and one way we do that is by loving others.
 
Christmas is about love. It’s about God’s love, showing us how to love, setting a perfect example for us. Jesus said,
 
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NIV)
 
That’s what Jesus did for us. He came into our world in the humblest of circumstances, as a baby into a poor family. No hospital maternity ward. No car seats, Pampers, pacifiers, or bottle warmers! He became one of us, moved into the neighborhood and experienced the trials and thrills of life, the joys and sorrows, temptation and victory. This season is about so much more than Amazon boxes, letters to Santa, Mariah Carey songs, and gingerbread cookies (though I love gingerbread cookies!). The heart of Christmas is love…not a feeling, but a Person! His name is Jesus.

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

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

Peace, 10 December 2023

Peace
The Season of Advent

Luke 2:22–35, Isaiah 26:3
 
Big Idea: Our world desperately needs to experience shalom…peace and well-being.
 
One of my favorite words in the world is shalom. It’s a popular Hebrew word for many reasons, often translated peace. Many of us have been praying for peace in the Middle East, particularly Jerusalem, especially during the war between the Jews and Palestinians.
 
But
shalom is more than the absence of war and conflict. It is wholeness, well-being, completeness, and safety. Do you need more shalom in your life?
 
We’re in week two of our series
The Season of Advent. We’re launching from the traditional candle theme of each Sunday, today being peace. Advent is not exactly Christmas, but rather a time of waiting, expecting, preparation, arrival, anticipating…much like children (and some adults) are looking forward to those gifts under the tree!
 
It seems like advent calendars have recently become popular in the USA, but when I was in Germany a few weeks ago, I was amazed at how widespread they are…and how many different “gifts” are offered each day…some small chocolates, others little toys, and still others things like clues to an escape room game, puzzles, and even beer!
 
As much as we may yearn for December 25, the Jewish people spent not days, weeks, months, or years waiting, but centuries…anticipating the promised Messiah. Can you imagine? Generation after generation had been looking forward to the arrival of Jesus Christ. They were waiting for God to user in His Kingdom and overthrow the kingdom of Caesar Augustus.
 
The second chapter of Luke records the birth of Jesus, but today’s text records what happened shortly after.
 
Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 23 The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the LORD.” (Luke 2:22-23, NLT)   
 
It was only a five mile journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Today, we dedicate children to the LORD, following both the Old Testament example and that of Mary and Joseph…though we don’t sacrifice animals!
 
So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:24, NLT)   
 
The creator of the universe was born into a family so poor, they could not afford the regular sacrifice of a lamb. A pair of birds was all they were able to bring. Dr. Luke includes this important detail. Jesus was not only born in a humble place, he was born into a poor family.
 
At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25-26, NLT)   
 
Imagine God telling you that you will not die until you see something or someone. Wow! What a promise! Simeon was a special man who loved the LORD.
 
That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. (Luke 2:27-28a, NLT)
 
I love how the text says the Spirit led Simeon to the Temple. Did the Spirit lead you here today? I think so! About 33 years later in Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit would be given to all followers of Jesus to lead and guide us. It’s not always easy to discern the Spirit from our own minds, but I’m here to tell you God still speaks, and angels are not the only vehicle. In fact, the primary way God speaks today is through the Bible. We have been blessed with tremendous instructions, poetry, songs, history, and stories, yet we’re so easily distracted by other things. I think it’s amazing how the Spirit led Simeon to the Temple.
 
He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
 
 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
                        as you have promised.
30         I have seen your salvation,
31                     which you have prepared for all people.
32         He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
                        and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:28b-32, NLT)
 
Here, the word for peace is “eye-ray-nay” in Greek. It speaks of peace, quietness, rest, not unlike the R.I.P. we see on tombstones…rest in peace. Simeon is overjoyed that he was able to see and hold the Messiah, promised and prophesied for hundreds, thousands of years. I can’t imagine what could possibly come close today.
It’s easy for us to miss, but Simeon reveals God’s plan is both for the Jews—Israel—and us gentiles, the nations. This is so important, especially as Israel is back in the news. Jesus the Messiah is Jewish, yet he came to expand God’s family to include gentiles. For God so loved the…world. I’m so glad I don’t have to be Jewish to be God’s child.
 
A common question among Christians is why don’t the Jews view Jesus as the Messiah. If he was Jewish and fulfilled the prophecies, how did they miss him? There are many answers to that question, but one is simply that the prophecies speak of two different times in history…the first coming (as a baby) and the second coming (soon as the King of kings). Jesus disappointed many Jews by not overthrowing the Roman government and liberating them as they thought he would do the first time he walked the earth. As I’ve often said, we live between the two “comings” of Jesus. Christmas is the celebration of his first coming, and we are waiting for his promised return.
 
If you’re a parent, you know how wonderful it is when someone says something kind about your children. Imagine being Mary and Joseph hearing Simeon’s words, yet further confirmation that their baby is no ordinary boy.
 
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. (Luke 2:33, NLT)   
 
But the news was not all happy.
 
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35, NLT)
 
I guess you could say Mary was warned! She would witness the torture and execution of this baby, arguably the most controversial person in history.
 
So What?
 
Simeon was able to rest in peace knowing that God’s promise to him had been fulfilled.
 
What about you? Is it well with your soul? Do you have peace? The prophet Isaiah said,
 
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)   
 
The Hebrew word for peace is…shalom. True peace cannot come from politicians, treaties, or deals. It can only come from knowing Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Earlier in his book, Isaiah penned these words which are commonly recited at this time of year:
 
For a child is born to us,
                        a son is given to us.
            The government will rest on his shoulders.
                        And he will be called:
            Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
 
Have we seen the complete fulfilment of this? Of course not, but the day is coming.
 
In the meantime, I want to go back to my question…do you have peace?
 
This past week I read an article that suggested what people in our culture—especially young people—need is inner peace. It’s no secret that mental health, addictions, isolation, anxiety, and despair are rampant in our nation. I think it’s easy to see why, with social media and even conventional media bombarding us with distorted messages, unrealistic expectations, and outright lies that lead to discontent and even suicide. The writer of the article, Mindy Caliguire, believes if those struggling would encounter Christians who have inner peace, it could lead to transformation. She wrote, “We could impact millions!” but then asked, “Are we marked by peace?”
 
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s Kingdom is filled with peace. Where God rules, there is peace. Where the enemy rules, there’s all of the stuff that makes the news every day. Family, we are here to bring about what is good, to help people experience God’s Kingdom now. As one person said, our mission is not to help people go to heaven when they die, but rather for them to experience heaven before they die. Heaven is where God is present, ruling, reigning. When we submit to King Jesus, we participate in Kingdom life.
 
Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, said,
 
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6, NIV)
 
That’s Kingdom language. It all begins in our head…with our minds ruled by the same Spirit who spoke to Simeon all those years ago. We’re told the evidence or fruit of the Holy Spirit is
 
…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22b-23a, NIV)
 
There it is…peace.
 
Know Jesus. Know peace.
No Jesus. No peace.
 
This does not mean Christians can’t struggle with loneliness, mental illness, or anxiety, but rather we have hope. We know the Prince of Peace. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul also wrote these words:
 
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, NIV)
 
We get to choose who rules our hearts. We can pay attention to cable news and social media or fill our minds with the truth and our souls with the Holy Spirit. Peace rules over toxic thoughts and anxious thinking. It’s the result of time with God in prayer, reflection, Bible study, and surrender. It’s not always instant, but over time—with God—we will experience an inner peace that will speak volumes to the anxious world around us.
 
Listen to these words of King David from Psalm 29:
 
Honor the LORD, you heavenly beings;
            honor the LORD for his glory and strength.
Honor the LORD for the glory of his name.
            Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Psalm 29:1-2, NLT)
 
The voice of the LORD echoes above the sea.
            The God of glory thunders.
            The LORD thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
            the voice of the LORD is majestic. (Psalm 29:3-4, NLT)
 
The voice of the LORD splits the mighty cedars;
            the LORD shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
            he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox. (Psalm 29:5-6, NLT)
 
The voice of the LORD strikes
            with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the LORD makes the barren wilderness quake;
            the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. (Psalm 29:7-8, NLT)
 
The voice of the LORD twists mighty oaks
            and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!” (Psalm 29:9, NLT)
 
The LORD rules over the floodwaters.
            The LORD reigns as king forever.
The LORD gives his people strength.
            The LORD blesses them with peace. (Psalm 29:10-11, NLT)
 
The LORD blesses those who seek, follow, and honor Him shalom…peace. It’s not only for us, though.

Peace is meant to be shared. Once it’s experienced, it needs to go viral. Peace on earth!
 
Now this prayer from Eli Pfau:

Father God, would You show me what it means to rest in You. Would the fragrance of Your peaceful Spirit continuously fill me as I seek Your face. Lord, as I lean into the peace that only You can give, draw me to Yourself more than anything. Allow me to come before You, humbled, grateful, and hopeful. I love You. Amen.
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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

Gratitude & Generosity, 26 November 2023

Gratitude & Generosity
Luke 17

Big Idea:
Every day is an opportunity to give thanks for our many blessings.
 
The year was 2004. I was in San Diego, California at the National Pastor’s Convention at the beautiful Town & Country Resort. Although I barely had a dollar in my bank account, I felt like a millionaire staying that this fancy place. I have many great memories of the event, but one that I likely never forget occurred in a breakout session with Dr. Tony Campolo, a sociologist who has done a lot of work with the poor, especially in Latin America. I don’t agree with everything he believes, but during a Q&A, someone asked, “Dr. Campolo, how can you talk about the poor while we’re staying in this luxurious resort.?”
 
I was on the edge of my seat! For years, I had struggled with being a USAmerican with virtually unlimited access to clean water, food, and shelter while millions are on the brink of starvation. I had felt some guilt about my religious freedoms knowing I have spiritual siblings imprisoned, tortured, and even martyred by the same faith I possess. What if the money I spent on this conference (actually, it was on someone else’s dime!) was used to print Bibles or feed hungry children? I loved the audacity of this man’s question and then Campolo responded something like this…
 
For everything there is a season,
                        a time for every activity under heaven.
2          A time to be born and a time to die.
                        A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3          A time to kill and a time to heal.
                        A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4          A time to cry and a time to laugh.
                        A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5          A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
                        A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6          A time to search and a time to quit searching.
                        A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7          A time to tear and a time to mend.
                        A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8          A time to love and a time to hate.
                        A time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
 

He added something like…
 
“A time to stay in a fancy resort and a time to live and work among the least of these.
 
Wealth is an issue of the heart, and our attitude should be one of gratitude and generosity.”
 
Wow! I thought his response was brilliant, and it has stayed with me for nearly twenty years.
 
A lot has been said about the diversity of our First Alliance family. That diversity relates to age, ethnicity, education, zip code, spiritual background…and certainly income. Some of you own your home debt-free while others are unhoused. Some arrived in nice, newer vehicles while others wondered if they would have to push theirs to get here today…and still others took the shuttle. The issue of wealth is not what you possess, but what possesses you, and it’s our subject today.
 
As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. 12 As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, 13 crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:11-13)
 
Leprosy is a terrible disease, one so dreadful that it often required total quarantine…in another village! Perhaps the only thing worse than the physical agony of leprosy was the social toll it took. You remember lockdown three years ago and how lonely and awkward it was for all of us. Imagine being sent away to another village, leaving all of your family and friends and having no way to communicate with them…no FaceTime, e-mail, phone, or even letter. These ten men were desperate.
 
He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. (Luke 17:14)
 
Were they healed at that moment in the presence of Jesus? No! One of the fascinating things about Jesus is he rarely healed the same way twice. Sometimes he touched a person, but sometimes they were not present. His instruction to these ten men was simply to go to the priests, the ones who declared people clean or unclean. Departing Jesus’ presence was probably an act of faith, and certainly going to the priest was, since the priest could not touch a leper. “As they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy,” a brilliant miracle!
 
Have you ever been healed? Have you ever had God answer a prayer…perhaps for a physical healing, but maybe a relational healing, a financial situation, a prayer for a job, car, housing, food, spouse, or child?
 
We are all blessed. We are all rich, by the world’s standards.
 
According to the Global Rich List last year, if you have an annual income of $32,500, you are in the top 1% of global earners. This does not mean you’re in the top 1% in the USA, but globally, you are among the world’s richest 1%. If you earn $16/hour, that’s you! That’s most of us. If you earn $12,000 or $1000/month, you’re in the top ten percent!
 
Even if you have zero income, you are here today, have clothes, food, access to shelter, freedoms many in the world would envy, and greatest of all the opportunity to have a relationship with the Creator of the universe! You are blessed!
 
In our text for today, these ten men were blessed. Their lives were transformed from outcasts to recipients of healing and wholeness.
 
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” (Luke 17:15)
 
One out of ten.
 
He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. (Luke 17:16)
 
One out of ten gave thanks. Luke tells his readers he was a Samaritan, a half-breed, a despised one, yet he was another example of a “good” Samaritan.
 
Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” (Luke 17:17-19)
 
We always need an attitude of gratitude. This isn’t just a November thing. I hope you were able to celebrate Thanksgiving this past week. It’s one of my favorite days of the year (despite spending it in Germany this year!). It’s a day to pause and give thanks…to God, and maybe others, too.
 
The challenge for many of us is the pause. We’re so busy. We’re not only busy in work and entertainment and parenting and activity, we’re busy comparing ourselves to others.
Comparison kills. Our screens scream at us every day…look at that car, that vacation photo, that new outfit, that new gadget, that house, that beautiful person, that…
 
We’ve been blessed. You’ve been blessed.
We need to count our blessings…daily. I have a friend who used social media to list his blessings…I think it was five per day. Think about your blessings.
 
 
Researchers have discovered the power of gratitude. When we focus on what we don’t have, it’s easy to become discouraged, discontent, and even depressed. When we pause and give thanks, the opposite occurs. As usual, “science” confirms the truth of the ancient scriptures. King David declared,
 
I will thank the LORD because he is just; I will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. (Psalm 7:17, NLT)
 
Paul wrote,
 
Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NLT)
 
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)
 
The Bible is filled with instructions to give thanks. It’s also filled with instructions to give. Remember,
wealth is an issue of the heart, and our attitude should be one of gratitude and generosity.
 
We are to give thanks, but we can also give. We can share. We can take what we have and be generous. Maybe it’s something as simple as a smile or a kind word. It might be taking someone out for coffee. Generosity might look like time, truly listening to someone’s story rather than being distracted by your phone.
 
We’ve all been blessed to be a blessing. The one thing we must never do with our gifts is hoard them. Jesus famously said,
 
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35b, NLT)
 
 
As I sat in that San Diego resort all those years ago, a sense of relief and mission came over me. I was relieved because I didn’t have to go home, sell my clunker of a car, and ride a bicycle to work in the winter snow! I didn’t have to feel guilty about the blessings I had received. Instead, I needed to have an attitude of gratitude. I also had a mission of generosity. It really is more blessed to give than to receive. I love to give. I love to give to First Alliance Church because I know every dollar is invested carefully in God’s Kingdom. It’s a joy to support the work here. As our income grew with Heather’s new job, we’ve been able to give even more. We’ve had occasions to take faith-filed risks financially, and it’s exciting! You can’t outgive God!
 
In this season of Thanksgiving (before Amazon and the mall begin telling you about all of the things you “need!”), let’s commit to being grateful and generous rather than greedy and fearful.
Everything we have belongs to God. We are His stewards. Jesus said if we’re faithful in the small things, more will be given to us (Matthew 25). You may recall a young boy who only had a small lunch of bread and fish, yet when he was generous, thousands were fed…and he probably had the day of his life!
 
Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” (Luke 6:38, NLT).
 
Video: Extend Hope (Alliance Christmas Offering)
 
Wealth is an issue of the heart, and our attitude should be one of gratitude and generosity.

Even blogger Seth Godin came to this conclusion!
 
I pray that as we enter the season of consumerism, we will experience contentment, gratitude, and generosity.
 
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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

Armor, 5 November 2023

Armor
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity

Ephesians 6:7-24

Series Big Idea:
The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
 
Big Idea: We need to fight the good fight of faith with armor…on our knees.
 
Today we’re finishing our series on the book of Ephesians! We’ve been looking at this letter written by Paul to a church in modern day Turkey, and it’s a doozy! If we could embrace even a fraction of the instructions, we would be a healthier, more fruitful, and more satisfied congregation…so let’s pay attention!
 
Two weeks ago we looked at this gem:
 
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21, NLT)
 
We saw how that related to husbands and wives, submitting to one another. Last Sunday Sue shared how this relates to parents and children—children are to obey and fathers are to avoid provoking their children to anger. The next section relates to slaves and masters, though it’s not exactly the Civil War era antebellum slavery we imagine, but rather servants who often had to work off a debt. In our context, a parallel would be workers and bosses.
 
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. 6 Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. 7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8, NLT)
 
Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites. (Ephesians 6:9, NLT)
 
Masters and slaves are hardly equals, but they are both worthy of dignity and respect if they are followers of Jesus. We could devote an entire sermon to this, but we must move on to our subject today, the Armor of God.
  
The Bible is filled with metaphors, parables, and images designed to help us understand spiritual concepts through the lens of physical objects. Paul’s final teaching in Ephesians introduces a battle motif.
 
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10, NLT)
 
We all want to be strong. Action movies are filled with men and women with bulging muscles, powerful weapons, and a mission to conquer the bad guys. Notice Paul doesn’t stop with “be strong,” but continues “in the Lord and in his mighty power.” None of us have what it takes to do battle on our own. It’s only in the LORD and in His power that we can stand a chance against the forces of sin, evil, and destruction.
 
Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11, NLT)
 
The devil is our enemy. He’s powerful. He’s very powerful. We see it in the news every day. Death. Abuse. Hunger. Corruption. Racism. Injustice. Violence. The list goes on and on.
 
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)
 
This is where I want to focus. You can’t see the enemy, but the enemy is real. There are spiritual forces that want steal, kill, destroy, and lie and they are powerful. It says they are mighty powers. We often refer to them as demons. I’ve always found it interesting that more people believe in angels than in demons, but both are realities according to the Bible. The enemy is real, but unseen. The enemy is not flesh-and blood. That means…
 
-       Our government leaders are not the enemy
-
       The gang leaders are not the enemy
-
       Drug dealers are not the enemy
-
       Sex traffickers are not the enemy
-
       Abortionists are not the enemy
 
They are all masterpieces created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth…broken by sin, pawns of the enemy, at times, but not the enemy.
 
Family, we must get this. I must get this. Every time I look into the eyes of another human, I’m looking at a masterpiece. Sure, they need work. They need restoration. So do you and I. It occurred to me there may have been times when I was a pawn of the enemy, falling into temptation, failing to love others, thinking impure thoughts, dishonoring the God I claim to love and serve. Put another way, there’s a beautiful lyric in the musical
Les Miserables that says, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
 
I need to linger here for a moment, especially during election season. It’s so tempting to demonize the other, whoever or whatever is the other. I expect the world to be arrogant, disrespectful, and filled with hate, but
real Christians don’t hate. Real Christians love. Who has ever changed their mind about something because someone yelled at them…or worse?
 
Can I be real with you? I’m so sick of politics. I’ve got people telling me we’re too political and others telling me we’re not political enough. I refuse to talk partisan politics because we serve the Lion and the Lamb, not an elephant or donkey. Here’s the bottom line: we need to follow Jesus and do what would bring him glory.
 
This means caring for and protecting life, from the womb to the tomb. This is why we support the fine work of Bella Vita and the Pregnancy Center, who not only provide alternatives to abortion, they equip parents with the resources they need to thrive.
 
This means caring for the least of these—the widow, the stranger, the orphan, the poor. This is why we support the fine work of Water for Ishmael, Cherry Street Mission, and Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission.
 
This means speaking up for those whose voice is not heard, whether it’s the unborn, children, the elderly, the refugee, or the disabled.
 
Do you want me to continue? I feel like I’m preaching to the choir!
 
This means loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves…in every circumstance.
 
Family, sin is rampant in our world, but
people are not the enemy. They are pawns in a cosmic battle between good and evil. Should you vote? Absolutely. It’s a privilege. But do your homework. Don’t blindly believe a tv commercial or lawn sign. Stand up for what is good, beautiful, and true. But no matter the results of the election, God is on the throne, fear not, and love your neighbor…and enemy.
 
But there’s so much more we can do…so much more we need to do…
 
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:13, NLT)
 
We need to put on every piece. An hour on Sunday is not enough. A quick prayer before bedtime is insufficient. We’re in a war, family!
War is not a hobby or part-time endeavor. It’s a lifestyle.
 
Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. (Ephesians 6:14, NLT)
 
We need truth, righteousness (not self-righteousness!), justice. The Christian message isn’t true because it works, but it works because it’s true. Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
 
For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. (Ephesians 6:15, NLT)
 
We have good news to proclaim: King Jesus is LORD! The Prince of Peace will return soon, and sent the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and peace in the midst of the chaos in this world. We bring the gospel of peace wherever we go.
 
In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. (Ephesians 6:16, NLT)
 
These aren’t just arrows from the archery range. They’re fiery! We need faith to guard against temptation, despair, adversity, lies, hateful thoughts, pride, etc.
 
Back in the day, the shield was made of wood, covered with leather, and about 2’ by 4’. It was common in the day for soldiers to bring their shields together, forming a wall and even a covering to defend against flaming arrows.
 
Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17, NLT)
 
The helmet protects the mind, where our actions begin. The sword of the Spirit is the one offensive weapon, piercing the heart. It brings healing and life…except when we cripple the enemy. Note there’s no covering for the back side. That means we’re to advance…never retreat! We must be strong…in the LORD…and in His mighty power!
 
These images are great, especially with children. Sue is probably dressing them up right now in Glass City Kids! God has given us the armor, the tools, but we must wear them. We must use them. When you put it all together, it sounds a lot like king Jesus. He is the Truth, our righteousness, our peace, our salvation, the Word of God, the faithful one. We are “in Christ” and we are to put on Christ each day, living for him and his glory, never our own. Now Paul gives us the real secret sauce.
 
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. (Ephesians 6:18, NLT)
 
At all times. On every occasion. For all the saints. The real battle is fought on our knees.
 
Paul wrote to his apprentice, Timothy…
 
Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12, NLT)
 
We need to fight the good fight of faith with armor…on our knees.
 
I want to invite you to Zoom Prayer, weekday mornings at 9 AM.
I want to invite you to Sunday morning prayer here at 9:30 AM.
I want to invite you to pray with your Life Group, your spouse, your family.
 
I know many of you are fearful of the future. Let me restate the big idea of my first sermon here eight years ago: Fear not. Fear God.
 
Remember, what you fear most is your god.
 
Consider these profound words from one of Jesus’ three best friends…
 
But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. (1 John 4:4, NLT)
 
We’re on the winning side! We know how the battle ends. There will be casualties. There will be losses, especially if we’re not alert and armed. But we win! Our God is greater, our God is stronger, the enemy is a fraud! He has power, but can’t hold a candle to King Jesus. He proved that on resurrection Sunday!
Fear is a powerful motivator, and media is filled with hype and alarm. That’s how they make money! When you feel afraid, get on your knees and do something about it!
 
Paul continues…
 
And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20, NLT)
 
When we go through a book of the Bible, I like to make sure every word is read, so here are Paul’s final greetings.
 
To bring you up to date, Tychicus will give you a full report about what I am doing and how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper in the Lord’s work. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you. (Ephesians 6:21-22, NLT)
 
One of the things I love about the Bible is it’s a library of books written by real people in real places.
 
Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. 24 May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 6:23-24, NLT)

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

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

The "S" Word, 22 October 2023

The "S" Word
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity

Ephesians 5:21-33

Series Big Idea: The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
 
Big Idea: We are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
 
Although my primary identity is found in Christ, I’m a citizen of the United States. I love this country. There’s a spirit of creativity, innovation, and risk-taking that has made us a world leader in business, education, science, military, and entertainment. But every strength has a weakness, and one of the negatives about our pioneering spirit is we are almost certainly the most individualistic nation in the history of the world. Rugged individualism has value, but also a huge downside. You may recall God said, “It’s not good for the man to be alone” in Genesis. Is it any wonder so many today are lonely? Cancel culture has run amok, divorce has split many families, and in our “pursuit of happiness,” we are tempted to ignore those around us.
 
As we continue in our series on the book of Ephesians—a letter written by Paul to a church in modern-day Turkey—we will see what is possibly the most offensive word in our individualized culture.
  
Before we dive in to our text, I want to remind you of the ending of Pastor Mike’s text from two weeks ago.
 
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-20, NLT)
 
This is all possible when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, controlled by the Holy Spirit, surrendered to the Holy Spirit. Now we begin.
 
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21, NLT)
 
There it is! Did you see it? Submit! How does that make you feel?
 
The original Greek word, hupotasso (hoop-ot-as’-so) means, “to subordinate; to obey; subdue unto, submit self unto.” In other words, it means what you think it means!
 
Submission is not popular in our culture. It was hardly popular 2000 years ago in the midst of the Roman Empire when Paul was writing. Although racism and discrimination are very real today, we live in a nation that, at least in writing, believes “all men are created equal.” There was not such philosophy in Rome. Abuse was rampant. Women were slaves. In fact, going much farther back to the opening chapter of the Bible we read,
 
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. (Genesis 1:26a, NLT)
 
Notice the Trinity, the plural, us…one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God created the first man, Adam (which means “man” in Hebrew) and woman and all was well until the Fall when Adam and Eve sinned. Hierarchy emerged after the Fall when God said to Eve,
 
And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16b, NLT)
 
Do you see the tension? Ever since, men have been trying to domineer over women (and men). Women have been striving to even the score. Humans have been trying to get others to obey, to submit. We love power and control, don’t we? Sin is so common, we often don’t even recognize it when we commit it.
 
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21, NLT)
 
But notice Paul didn’t just say, “Submit!” In fact, he didn’t even say, “Submit to God.” He says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
 
We’re going to see how this related to marriage in a moment, but note this verse is not addressed to couples. It’s for all of us. We don’t blindly submit to one another, but in our quest to glorify God and revere Christ, we love one another and submit to one another. The Greek word for reverence, phobos, is where we get the word “phobia.” It means to be put in fear, alarm or fright, to be afraid. This doesn’t mean to avoid, but to recognize the power of, to be in awe of, to revere. We are to be in awe of Jesus, to make him LORD and Master of our lives. To fear someone or something often involves terror, causing us to run away. Fear of the LORD means awe and wonder, drawing us closer to God like the awe and wonder of the Grand Canyon. To put it simply, what you fear is your God.
 
For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22, NLT)
 
Did I see some women wince? Remember, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Yield to each other out of love. It’s not about hierarchy or power but bringing God glory in and through our relationships. One commentator says, “All it asks is that wives give up self-centeredness, take seriously their mutuality with their husbands, and promote the benefit of their husbands.”
 
In Paul’s day, women were considered not only inferior to men, but also impure.
 
For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:23-24, NLT)
 
Tragically, this passage has been abused by men seeking power. Ladies, this does not mean be a doormat, tolerate abuse of any kind, or engage in sinful behavior (which would not be out of reverence to Christ).
 
Listen to N.T. Wright on this text:
 
Paul assumes, as do most cultures, that there are significant differences between men and women, differences that go far beyond mere biological and reproductive function. Their relations and roles must therefore be mutually complementary, rather than identical. Equality in voting rights, and in employment opportunities and remuneration (which is still not a reality in many places), should not be taken to imply such identity. And, within marriage, the guideline is clear. The husband is to take the lead - though he is to do so fully mindful of the self-sacrificial model which the Messiah has provided. As soon as 'taking the lead' becomes bullying or arrogant, the whole thing collapses.
 
I fully realize Paul is not politically correct, but is our culture offering a better model for men and women? It seems that our world is plagued by broken homes, broken marriages, broken relationships…could it be that we have abandoned God’s design for family? This is not an attack on those of you who are not in healthy marriages—far from it—but I wonder if we would embrace our differences, celebrate them, and submit to one another if we wouldn’t be vastly better off.
 
As the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
 
Tragically, this passage has been abused by men seeking power which I believe is what started the rejection of God’s design for marriage. I’ve heard so many stories of women rejecting and even hating men after suffering evil abuse. Ladies, if you find it hard to imagine submitting to a man, consider the next verse.
 
For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her (Ephesians 5:25, NLT)
 
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
 
Husbands, Jesus died for the church. Are you willing to die for your wife? That’s the point. Such dedication would never make selfish demands. It would never harm or abuse. Godly husbands love sacrificially, making submission a joy.
 
Husbands, Jesus is to be your role model. Not Hugh Hefner or Lebron James, Neil Armstrong, Nelson Mandela, or Bear Grylls. Jesus was not married, but the church is his bride, the king’s wife. He gave us his life for her and we are to give up our lives for our wives (hey, that rhymes!).
 
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…unto death!
 
A few years ago I was speaking with one of our senior saints and asked him, “How many times have you ever played the submit card?” In other words, how many times did you take charge, telling your wife to obey? He paused and said, “Zero!”
 
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Paul elaborates:
 
For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28
(Ephesians 5:25-27, NLT)
 
This is a beautiful vision of what Jesus has done for us, the church. Hallelujah!
 
In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:28-30, NLT)
 
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
 
One of my favorite passages to read at wedding says,
 
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3, NLT)
 
This isn’t rocket science. Jesus summarized the entire Bible in two commands: love God and love your neighbor (or spouse) as yourself. You take care of your body. You eat. You bathe. You see a doctor when you’re in pain. Imagine what would happen if spouses cared for one another like they care for themselves. Of course, this need not be restricted to marriages. This verse applies to all of us, a brilliant vision of life together. Warren Wiersbe notes,
 
When the Christian wife submits herself to Christ and lets Him be the Lord of her life, she will have no difficulty submitting to her husband. This does not mean that she becomes a slave, for the husband is also to submit to Christ. And if both are living under the lordship of Christ, there can be only harmony. Headship is not dictatorship. “Each for the other, both for the Lord.” The Christian husband and wife should pray together and spend time in the Word, so that they might know God’s will for their individual lives and for their home. Most of the marital conflicts I have dealt with as a pastor have stemmed from failure of the husband and/or wife to submit to Christ, spend time in His Word, and seek to do His will each day.
 
To conclude, Paul goes all the way back to Genesis 2:24:
 
As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. (Ephesians 5:31-32, NLT)
 
There’s two things going on simultaneously here. Do you see it? A husband and wife are united into one. This is true of Jesus and his bride, the Church.
 
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
 
Family, I’ve seen two extremes. I’ve seen men rule over their wives which is clearly not submission. I’ve also seen men afraid to exercise servant leadership, so passive that they become doormats.
 
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
 
God’s design for marriage is a man and woman complement one another…different yet equal. We don’t need to embrace societal stereotypes that say the man does the outdoor work and the woman does the inside work…unless that’s what is agreed upon mutually. I’ve heard some preachers say the women must stay home with the kids while the man brings home a paycheck…but I’ve seen healthy examples where the roles are reversed…if that’s what is agreed upon mutually. Obviously our economy makes it challenging—but not impossible—to live on one income. But you need to find what works for your marriage.
 
As a simple example, we decided early in our marriage that whoever cooks, the other cleans. For 33 years I do dishes about 360 days a year! Some men love to cook, which is great. Do what works for you. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
 
So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:33, NLT)
 
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. It’s worth noting the man is to love his wife and the woman is to respect her husband. For further reading on this, see loveandrespect.com (not necessarily an endorsement!). I believe the overarching point is men and women are different…by design.
 
A husband must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
 
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. I’m sure this is how Adam and Eve originally behaved before the Fall. We need the Holy Spirit to make us like Jesus, filled with sacrificial, agape love for one another. When we love or respect one another, it fuels the spouse to reciprocate. Tragically, when one is not loved or respected, it can short-circuit the relationship. In other words, when a wife shows respect to her husband, he is more likely to respond with love and vice versa. The challenge when you’re stuck is who goes first?
 
Honor Marriages
  
Celebrate Singles
 
Jesus was single. Paul said it’s better to not marry.
 
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT)
 
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ in love.

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

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

One, 17 September 2023

One
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity

Ephesians 4:1-16

Series Big Idea:
The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
 
Big Idea: The Church of Jesus Christ is to be one family, united not in our politics, ethnicity, age, or income but in faith, all loving and serving together for God’s glory.
 
One of the six core values of First Alliance Church states,
 
Family. We are a mosaic of people loving God and doing life together. (1 Corinthians 12:4-31; Romans 12:10; Revelation 7:9)
 
I love mosaics. The don’t usually look all that great up close. In fact, most individual pieces are anything but attractive, typically broken glass fragments. When an artist is able to bring together a variety of shards of glass, the results can be stunning.
  
We’re in the middle of series on the book of Ephesians, finding our true identity. Whether it’s due to Hollywood, social media, our families of origin, or the expectations of ourselves or others, it’s easy to be confused about our identity. Who are we? Whose are we? Why are we? Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus in modern day Turkey addresses these questions, and today’s text in chapter four is packed with compelling instructions on what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ, the family of God, the Church…a mosaic of people loving God and doing life together.
  
What’s the first thing you think of when I say the word family? Is it positive or negative? We’ve all seen various families portrayed on tv and the movies, whether positively or negatively. What are some famous families?
 
Regardless of your own family of origin, it’s possible to imagine some of those ideal families, whether they’re realistic or not.
 
My personal experience with family is quite positive, but I must admit there are no perfect families, and even the best of them can be complicated and messy. Where two or more are gathered together…there’s the potential for conflict! The very thing that makes relationships interesting—diversity—is also the source of our tensions. How boring would it be if we all looked, dressed, voted, and behaved the same? Yet many of us have been taught to question or even hate those who are different.
 
God created you unique and special, with dignity, value and worth. He knew you in your mother’s womb and He sees you, He hears you, He loves you. I believe somebody needs to hear that today!
 
We all have a lot in common, yet we’re all different. Our theme today is one…unity…not uniformity, but unity. It wasn’t long ago that I heard unity and diversity are the two words that form the word university…a place where different people and opinions can come together (though that’s not always the case!).
 
As we noted three weeks ago, there was a huge divide between Jews and Gentiles which Jesus died to remove, unifying them into one family. We are one in Christ. It’s a spiritual reality we need to guard and protect. It’s also fragile which is why unity is one of the four prayers I pray regularly for First Alliance Church (echoing the prayer Jesus prayed for us in John 17).
 
Are you ready to dive in?
 
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. (Ephesians 4:1)
 
What’s the therefore there for? The first three chapters of the book are about doctrine, right beliefs, orthodoxy. The second half of the book is about duty, about right actions, orthopraxy. It’s not enough to know the right things if you can’t apply them.
Our enemy, satan, knows the truth. He believes in Jesus and saw him before and after the resurrection. He probably knows the Bible better than you or I.
 
We’ve been invited into God’s family. If you receive the invitation, you become an adopted son or daughter of the Creator of the Universe. The King of kings. The LORD of all. Paul says if this is true, if you are now royalty, if you are on God’s team, act like it! Lead a life worthy of your calling. Our faith cannot stop with our head. It needs to transform our hearts and hands, too.
 
I get so frustrated when people claim the name of Jesus but act nothing like him. Christian means “little Christ.” So what does that look like?
 
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. (Ephesians 4:2)
 
I didn’t say this was easy!
Always be humble and gentle. Has anyone mastered this? I. haven’t!
 
Before we go any farther, let me remind you that this behavior is not the result of trying harder. It’s about surrender and letting the Holy Spirit take over. This may look like daily times of Bible study, prayer, silence, reflection, and simply saying, “Holy Spirit, take control.”
 
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t like slow and quiet. I like to go, produce, succeed, get ‘er done! Sabbatical interrupted my rhythms…and lowered my speed! When I get busy and excited, I find it harder to be humble and gentle. I want people to notice me and my accomplishments, and I’m tempted to tell everyone how right I am about everything! This may be fine if I’m alone, but as soon as I’m with another person…
 
This is why Paul says to be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your…love. Because of God’s love in you. Again, it’s not about trying harder. It’s about being filled with the Holy Spirit, emptying ourselves of our pride, selfishness, and sin and being open to God working in and through us.
 
If we could master this one verse, it would only be a matter of time before our campus would be overflowing with people. Humble and gentle? Patient? Who does this? Jesus followers.
 
Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. (Ephesians 4:3)
 
United. Unity. One. That’s the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
 
For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. (Ephesians 4:4)
 
One. That’s our theme today. Many broken pieces of glass together form one beautiful mosaic. Many parts form one body. Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be one. Again, not uniformity, but unity.
 
I’ve told the story before, but on my wedding day, I was excited to watch my beautiful bride walk down the aisle to meet her groom (me!). If the same woman came down the aisle in pieces (eyeballs rolling, foot hopping, hands wiggling), it would’ve been horrifying! Same parts, just not one. The biblical vision of the Church of Jesus Christ is one body of diverse parts joined together not by our politics or skin color or favorite football team, but rather by the LORD.
 
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6          one God and Father of all,
            who is over all, in all, and living through all. (Ephesians 4:5-6)
 
I like to say we’re all related by blood…the blood of Jesus. Likewise, we’re all equal at the foot of the cross. We all need Jesus.
 
However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say,
 
            “When he ascended to the heights,
                        he led a crowd of captives
                        and gave gifts to his people.” (Ephesians 4:7-8)
 
This is a quote from Psalm 68 and likely referring to Jesus’ victory through his death and resurrection, setting us free from the law of sin and death. We’ll get to the gifts in a moment.
 
Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. (Ephesians 4:9-10)
 
Jesus descended from heaven to earth about 2000 years ago, ascended into heaven and promised to return…soon! In the meantime, the Holy Spirit came (and you can read about that in Acts 2) and is alive in our world today, living in every believer, though many seem unaware of His presence and the command to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, continually surrendering our will and desires and pursuing His. Jesus’ mission is to rule over everything. He is King of kings and LORD of lords.
 
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. (Ephesians 4:11)
 
Some have called this the fivefold ministry, though others see pastors and teachers combined. A frequent acronym is APEST: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd or pastor, and teacher. Let’s look at these gifts.
 
In the New Testament, the Apostles were a special group of people who spent time with Jesus. Obviously, none of them exist today, but apostles (small a) are sent ones, entrepreneurs and church planters that think about new ways to reach new people with the good news of the gospel.
 
Prophets are not necessarily future tellers, but forth tellers. They know God’s will and bring correction and challenge, questioning the status quo. Biblical prophets were generally not popular, and not much is different today!
 
Evangelists recruit, communicate good news, and introduce people to Jesus.
 
Shepherds or pastors care for people, protecting the flocks and leading others toward maturity.
 
Teachers teach! They communicate God’s truth.
 
In our culture, professional Christians who may fall into one or more of these categories are typically given the title pastor or reverend or clergy, which kind of defeats the distinction of the fivefold gifting of APEST, of church leaders. Why are the gifts given?
 
Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12)
 
Their responsibility is not to do the ministry, but to equip God’s people to do the ministry. Do you see this? One of the most important things I want you to understand is
you are called by God to be a minister, a disciple-maker. It’s not just for professional Christians! Ministry is acts of service to bring glory to God, which could be plumbing, lawn care, factory work, whatever…it can all be done for God’s glory. When Paul was writing, there weren’t paid and unpaid Christians. There were leaders and followers. One of the greatest strategies of our enemy is to make people think only the clergy can do ministry. That’s wiping out 99% of the army of God!
 
Imagine if a football team thought the job of the coach was to play on the field while the players sat back and watched! Do you think any football coach by himself or herself could beat an entire football team? Of course not! It’s the job of the coach to equip the team to win the game. Likewise, it’s my job and the job of our staff to recruit and equip you to win the game, to make disciples, to launch Life Groups, to serve the poor, to disciple our children and youth, to lead worship, to care for our physical campus, to manage the finances, to lead people to Jesus, and all of the other things involved in restoring God’s masterpieces.
 
This idea is known as the priesthood of all believers, and a few years ago one of our elders at the time, Doug Oliver, alerted me to the reason it’s such a challenge. As you may know, the King James Version of the Bible has been influential since its translation in 1611. It says
 
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-12, KJV)
 
It says it’s the job of the pastors and clergy to do the work of the ministry. It was corrected in the New King James Version which states:
 
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11-12, NKJV)
 
It’s the difference between a semicolon and a comma, and it makes a huge difference! If I had to do all of the work of the ministry, I would burn out like so many clergy have done in recent days. If our job as staff is to equip you (which we do through Sunday gatherings, Life Groups, online resources, discipleship Huddles, Right Now Media, and other tools), we can all get in the game, loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and making disciples of all nations. Let me say it again,
you are called by God to be a minister, a disciple-maker. First Alliance isn’t about a Sunday gathering. It’s about an army of love getting equipped to be Jesus with skin on 168 hours a week.
 
It's worth noting there are other parts of the New Testament which speak about spiritual gifts such as healing, hospitality, and tongues, but in this case Paul mentions people…people to equip the body.
 
13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)
 
There it is again. Unity…in Christ.
 
Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
 
I could preach another sermon just on those verses, but here’s the big idea:
 
The Church of Jesus Christ is to be one family, united not in our politics, ethnicity, age, or income but in faith, all loving and serving together for God’s glory.
 
We’re different. We need one another. We need apostles like Will Henderson to start new churches like LEAD Community Church. We need prophets like Jason Horton to challenge us and make us uncomfortable through the proclamation of God’s Word. We need evangelists like Hollywood to share the good news of Jesus with people who are not yet following Christ. We need pastors and shepherds like Pastor Donald and his wife, Joyce, who can visit the sick, care for the needy, and love on people. We need teachers like Pastor Mike and the others on our teaching team to instruct us in the Bible and show us what it means to follow Jesus.
 
Paul is talking about the rule of Jesus over everything, and to do so he has given the church leaders to equip his people to serve and glorify him and make him known everywhere, all the time, not just in a building on Sunday morning.
We’re all different…by design. That can be challenging, at times, which is why Paul began by saying,
 
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. (Ephesians 4:2)
 
Family, let’s surrender to the LORD, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through each of us as we restore God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory. He is worthy of our worship, our praise, our time, our talents, and our treasures. Amen!
 
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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

How to Live, 1 October 2023

How to Live
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity
Ephesians 4:29-32

Series Big Idea:
The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
 
Big Idea: Life in the Kingdom of God is radically different than in the world around us.
 
Who are you?
 
We’ve been going verse-by-verse through the book of Ephesians, a letter sent to a church in modern day Turkey that reveals our true identity…in Christ! Tragically, many draw their identity from their job, politics, education, net worth, sexual orientation, friends, addiction, worst mistake, or even family. Those things contribute to who we are, but our primary identity should come from being in Christ. Thirteen times in the NIV translation of Ephesians, the phrase “in Christ” is used. Paul used the idea more than 200 times in his writings. Do you know what those two words mean? One pastor wrote,
 
“As Christians, we live from our identity, not for our identity. We are defined by who we are in Christ, not what we do or fail to do for Christ. Christ defines who we are by who he is and what he’s done for us, in us, and through us. Understanding this information is the key to your transformation.”
 
We are in Christ or in idolatry…anything that takes a higher priority. I’m saying all of this as an introduction because we’re about to read some challenging words which we cannot follow, at least not on our own. We need a higher power. We need God…because life in the Kingdom of God is radically different than in the world around us.
 
Don’t use foul or abusive language. (Ephesians 4:29a, NLT)
 
What does this really mean? The New International Version translates it this way:
 
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, (Ephesians 4:29a, NIV)
 
Foul language. Abusive language. Unwholesome talk. The entertainment industry has assembled a list of words that it deems inappropriate, at least for children. They can change a G-rated movie into a PG, PG-13, or even an R just by those words alone.
 
When our kids were younger, we had some good conversations about language. Why are some words acceptable and others not? Are “Christian swear words” ok? Is it really such a big deal when everyone is saying it? How did some words that even appear in the Bible become profanity?
 
The issue isn’t so much the articulation of one word or another. It’s about the meaning of the words. A word in one culture may have a different meaning in another. I infamously used a word in a sermon years ago with multiple meanings, one of which was unsuitable for a sermon…or any other usage! I had no idea and went on an apology tour the next week!
 
In college, I went on a trip to England where I used a particular word which I was told meant something quite different across the pond than it does in the USA!
 
The thing about language is it’s a communication tool. What are you communicating? What do you intend to communicate? What is in your heart…and will it be received that way? The verse continues…
 
Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29b)
 
My parents used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I think that’s generally good advice, and the point Paul is making to this church. Let every word that comes out of your mouth be good, helpful, and encouraging. The message isn’t simply, “Don’t cuss.” It means don’t gossip. Don’t be unnecessarily critical. Or as we used to joke in youth group, “Edify, stupid!”
 
That was only a joke, but that reminds me of something my dad used to tell me all the time when I got in trouble: it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it. Some researchers believe 60-70 percent of human communication is non-verbal…loudness, pitch, style, tone…to say nothing of eye contact, gestures, and body language. There’s a huge difference between a child (sweetly) saying, “I’m sorry” and (yelling) “I’m sorry!!!”
 
Human speech can communicate virtually any emotion, and be constructive or destructive in the process. Do you remember the old line, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but…words will never hurt me”? What a lie!
Words can be devastatingly toxic…or they can transform a life for the good. 
 
I imagine most of you can recall something said many years ago that was encouraging or destructive. Maybe it was a parent, teacher, or friend. To this day, my mom still offers encouraging words to me, while others I know never knew such positivity, struggling to even believe they are loved…by God or anyone else.
 
Jesus literally got to the heart of the matter in one of his famous interactions with the religious Pharisees.
 
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34, ESV)
 
Let’s take a look at a bit of the context:
 
“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. 34 You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. 35 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. 36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37 The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” (Matthew 12:33-37, NLT)       
 
Words are powerful. They convey meaning. Communication is built through them. Yet today, it seems harder and harder to find words that are good, beautiful, and true. From fake news to racist song lyrics, from profanity saturated tv shows and movies to slander and lies online, Paul’s letter sounds almost prudish, if not unimaginable.
 
Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29b)
 
This is another example where Christ-followers can live the ultimate alternative lifestyle. When people tell inappropriate jokes, we need not repeat them. When music contains parental warnings, we can opt to listen to something else. When “everybody’s doing it,” we can choose to consume and produce the good, helpful, and encouraging.
 
It sounds simple, right? I can’t say I’ve heard much profanity on Sunday mornings here, but what about Monday morning? The message is not simply, “stop cussing.” Jesus said out of the heart the mouth speaks, so get to the heart of the matter. Fill your mind and heart with the good, beautiful, and true. But know growth and maturity take time.
 
One of the great myths of the Christian faith is you need to clean up your act in order to come to Jesus. What a lie from the pit of hell! The amazing thing about our faith is all are welcome…come as you are…but don’t stay there. Grow! We’re all on a journey. Where you are today is less important than where you’re headed…what you’re becoming…how you are growing. My twelve week-old grandson
should be filling his diapers…but if he’s wearing them when he’s twelve years old, we’ve got a problem! If you’re new in your faith, of course you’re going to sin and screw up, but hopefully as you spend more time with Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, your head, heart, and hands will begin to change.
 
The book of Romans offers us a glimpse at spiritual maturity regarding the mouth.
 
Before Christ,
 
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” (Romans 3:14)
 
Then
 
If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
 
A changed heart will result in changed speech…from profanity to praise, from gossip to glorifying God, from hatred to holiness, from bitterness to blessing, from…you get the idea! The Bible is filled with examples of transformation, which is why we believe people can change. We
know people can change! Masterpieces can be and are being restored. Hallelujah! But as I often say, it’s not about striving, but surrender. It’s about letting the Holy Spirit fill you with good fruit and gifts. But it’s also about making good choices.
 
It has been said you are your friends. Choose wisely. Garbage in, garbage out. If you hang out with people who encourage and bless, chances are you’ll do the same. If you fill you mind with trashy entertainment, don’t be surprised if it leaks out of you. Jesus said,
 
A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. (Matthew 7:17-18, NLT)
 
The word
bad used here in the original Greek referred to rotten fruit. It might not be poisonous, but it’s worthless. We need to fill our hearts and minds with Jesus, with the truth of the Bible, with the encouragement of godly friends, and with that which is good and beautiful. The overall message of verse 29 is not to have a swear jar to penalize yourself every time you say a bad word. It’s to fill your heart with good fruit, good ideas, good words, constructive messages to bless others. For more on the tongue, see James chapter three. Our words are powerful, for good or bad. Let’s re-present Jesus well with our lips.
 
Now that we’ve finished the first verse of today’s sermon, let’s continue!
 
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30, NLT)
 
Some translations say don’t grieve the Spirit. This reminds me of the parent who said to their child, “Whatever you do is a reflection upon our family.” People are watching us…even if you don’t have a fish on the rear bumper of your car! When you surrendered your life to Jesus—if you have, and I urge you to do so if you haven’t yet—you became his. Jesus wants to be LORD, Master, not just buddy or consultant. We are Christ’s ambassadors. We’ve been called to re-present God to the world. If our words aren’t constructive, we give God a bad name.
 
We can grieve or glorify God by the way we live. If you have more than one child, you know that awful feeling when your kids don’t get along, fighting and arguing. You may also know the joy of seeing them get along. Imagine our Heavenly Father and what He feels when He sees how we live with one another.
 
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. (Ephesians 4:31, NLT)
 
Bitterness. It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die! I read an amazing story from Warren Wiersbe.
 
A handsome elderly man stopped at my study one day and asked me if I would perform a wedding for him. I suggested that he bring the bride in so that we might chat together and get better acquainted, since I hesitate to marry strangers. “Before she comes in,” he said, “let me explain this wedding to you. Both of us have been married before—to each other! Over thirty years ago, we got into an argument, I got mad, and we separated. Then we did a stupid thing and got a divorce. I guess we were both too proud to apologize. Well, all these years we’ve lived alone, and now we see how foolish we’ve been. Our bitterness has robbed us of the joys of life, and now we want to remarry and see if the Lord won’t give us a few years of happiness before we die.” Bitterness and anger, usually over trivial things, make havoc of homes, churches, and friendships.
 
Bitterness, rage, anger (which is not necessarily a sin, by the way). Paul has already spoken about our words. If our actions and words aren’t enough, he throws in “all types of evil behavior.” Stop it! How? Begin spiritual habits, simple rhythms. Join a Life Group. Read a chapter a day in the Bible (maybe start in Ephesians or John). Invite someone out for coffee to engage in a spiritual conversation. Access the free Right Now Media subscription resources. Download the YouVersion app and begin a Bible reading plan. Take one small step toward growth. If all else fails, send me an e-mail and we’ll discuss it together.
 
Remember, though, “spiritual formation is slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others” (Richard Bush).
 
We’ve seen the negative list. Here’s a positive vision for how Christians are to behave.
 
Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32, NLT)
 
What a vision! Who wants to be a part of a family like that?
 
Perhaps the opposite of bitterness is forgiveness, and this is a radical thing in our culture where we are prone to either cancel someone or take them to court. There may be a time and place for that, but forgiveness takes things to another level. We can’t forgive people on our own strength, but when we see how God has forgiven us, with His power we can forgive. The most famous prayer in history states, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Paul is echoing that here in verse 32. What if we don’t forgive? First, it will probably harm us more than the other person.
 
We all love the idea of forgiveness…until we have someone to forgive. Who do you need to forgive? They don’t deserve it. Forgiveness is never earned. It’s a choice you make to set them—and yourself—free. It doesn’t mean you trust them. It doesn’t mean everything goes back to the way it used to be, but it means you’re done with bitterness. You’re letting go.
 
Family, we’re always going to hurt one another. Hopefully there will never be harmful intent, but where two or more are gathered, there is bound to be conflict. If you hurt me, you want forgiveness, right? We need to be a community of faith, hope, and especially love filled with grace and forgiveness. We need to silence the lie of the enemy that wants us trapped in the pain of the past and press on toward the abundant life Jesus promised us. This is not easy. It might involve professional help. The wounds will take time to heal. But we can choose, declare, decide God will be the judge and we can forgive them because we’ve been forgiven so much by God. Let it go! For God’s sake, forgive!
 
Conclusion
 
I would love to stand in front of you each week and encourage, sharing good news. The reality is, sin is a part of each of our lives. We need to be reminded of the bad and the good, the prohibitions and the positive instructions.
 
Life in the Kingdom of God is radically different than in the world around us.

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

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

Mission of Peace, 27 August 2023

Mission of Peace
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity
Ephesians 2:11-22

Series Big Idea: The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
 
Big Idea: Gentiles have been invited to join Jews in God’s beautiful but messy family, uniting in a mission of peace.
  
Earlier this year, I did some work with a counselor, a coach. One of the exercises we went through was called 10 Most Painful Life Events. I’ll spare you the details, but one of the things it revealed was my childhood was relatively easy and trauma-free. There are few things I remember that were painful, but one constant involved my athletic abilities…or lack thereof. I was slow. I am slow. This was evident for all to see on field day, and often when teams were being picked for team sports. Can you relate? Do you remember wanting to be picked on a particular team…and hoping you weren’t the last one picked?!
 
Throughout the Bible, there are two groups of people—Jews, God’s chosen people, and everyone else, known as Gentiles. Needless to say, they didn’t always get along with one another. You could almost think of them as two rival teams. A major part of Jesus’ mission while here on earth was to bring those groups together. Most of us today are Gentiles, and while our text will probably not have the impact it did on first-century Gentiles, the message and mission of peace is both relevant and timeless.
  
Before we get into today’s text, I want to highlight two things. First, we’re going verse-by-verse through the book of Ephesians, a letter written to a church in the city of Ephesus in modern-day Turkey. I’ve been there, and it’s one of the most incredible archaeological sites in the world, complete with a 25,000 seat coliseum! The Bible is not a book of fairy tales, but rather an historical document written by real people in real places. Paul, a highly decorated Jew, had a remarkable encounter with Jesus which resulted in a mission for him to preach to Gentiles, hardly a politically-correct assignment! Nevertheless, Paul obeys.
 
We’re in Ephesians chapter two, beginning at verse eleven, but I must first go back to verse ten. Ephesians 2:10 is a very special verse for First Alliance Church as it contains an important element of our church mission statement.
 
We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory.
 
Ephesians 2:10 says,
 
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)
 
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul uses the Greek word poiema, which literally means God’s poetry. When poiema is translated as “handiwork” or “workmanship” it misses the following important point. Poetry in scripture does not rhyme sounds; it follows the Hebrew pattern and rhymes thoughts. This means that as God’s poetry, our thoughts can rhyme with our Heavenly Father’s. That is amazing! How can it work? We know that as we become intimate with someone, we begin to finish each other’s sentences and thoughts. In a deep, authentic, mutual-mind state, we actually don’t know where our thoughts stop and the other person’s thoughts begin. This is exactly what can happen between God and us too. A mutual-mind state with God results in an emulation of His character and heart; we are showing the world the poet behind the poetry. As our mutual-mind state becomes stronger, we are able to live out our purpose of being created for good works. It is important to note here that our “good works” do not save us. Good works flow from thinking like our Creator; we rhyme God’s actions and not just His thoughts.
 
-       Wilder, E James; Kang, Anna; Loppnow, John; Loppnow, Sungshim. Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel
 
Isn’t that beautiful? OK, now we begin today’s text!
 
Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. (Ephesians 2:11, NLT)
 
One of the marks, literally, of a Jewish man is circumcision. It dates back to Abraham, a command of God still practiced today. It was meant to be an outward symbol of an inward commitment to Yahweh, the God of the Bible. Like many Old Testament practices, circumcision is not required of “New Testament Christians,” though many Gentiles are circumcised today. Jews were forbidden in the Old Testament from eating pork, yet that is no longer the case for Christians since the New Testament.
 
The point of this verse is racism has been a part of our world for thousands of years. Paul is reminding the Gentiles in Ephesus that they used to be outsiders, mocked, despised by the proud Jews. Jesus changed all of that.
 
In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. (Ephesians 2:12, NLT)
 
What a bleak existence! It’s been said you can live 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 40 days without food, but only one second without hope. I can’t imagine a second without God or without hope. Tragically, there are billions of people today who live without God. We have the privilege of introducing them to Him! Gentiles were without God and hope…
 
But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13, NLT)
 
Hallelujah! We are all related by blood…the precious blood of Jesus!
 
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. (Ephesians 2:14-16, NLT)
 
The cross is obviously a symbol of the death of Jesus, but many have noted its two dimensions, vertical and horizontal. This execution device is a reminder of the work of reconciliation done by Jesus on it, reconciling us to God (vertical) and to one another (horizontal).
 
The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is more than the absence of violence. It’s wholeness, harmony, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. It’s greater than tolerance. It’s blessing.
 
It’s hard to appreciate how radical this coming together of Jews and Gentiles was two thousand years ago. Today, both groups have been united into one family of Jesus-followers, but it was almost unimaginable in the first century.
 
Perhaps the closest analogy would be to imagine Republicans and Democrats united, working together to serve the American people! That would be a miracle, right?!
 
Jesus created one new people from the two groups, Jews and Gentiles. It’s worth noting there are two types of Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus). There are Messianic Jews who engage in Jewish practices such as Passover and Yom Kippur…and others who would simply call themselves Christians, detached from Hebrew traditions like kosher eating. Regardless, all followers of Jesus are one. This is, in many ways, the realization of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:
 
I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:9-11, NIV)
 
Later in the chapter, Jesus prays for us…”those who will believe.” In a world with over 40,000 Christian denominations, I wonder how much more divided we would be if Jesus wasn’t praying for our unity! Back to the text.
 
He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. (Ephesians 2:17-18, NLT)
 
Here we see again Jesus’ mission of peace. It’s a mission of unity. He wants all of us to get along! We all have the same Father. We all have Jesus as our brother. We all have the same Holy Spirit. Unity does not mean uniformity. We are different and we can celebrate our differences, but we must remember we have more in common than not if Jesus is our LORD.
 
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. (Ephesians 2:19, NLT)
 
Family, isn’t it great to be a part of God’s family? Earthly families can be messy. It’s been said some put the fun in dysfunctional! Seriously, though, because we’re human, we hurt even when we don’t mean to harm. We fail one another. No child or parent is perfect…except when it comes to our heavenly Father.
 
I’ve always loved the story of Little Orphan Annie, going from rags to riches (not that riches themselves bring true satisfaction). This girl living in an orphanage is chosen, embraced, loved, and given a new family. That’s a picture of all of us, spiritual orphans adopted into God’s family. We are all children of the King. Those of us who are Gentiles have been grafted into God’s holy people.
 
 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22, NLT)
 
Where is God’s house? Right here (us). He no longer lives exclusively behind a curtain in a special place. That curtain was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died. Hallelujah! We are his dwelling place. When people encounter you, they should be encountering God.
 
This is why our bodies matter. If God lives in us, we must care for the temple. When Jesus said to pick up our cross and follow him, he meant we are to die. Your body is not yours if you follow Jesus. It’s his.
 
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)
 
Paul wrote these words to another church. This is why our sexuality matters. We can’t just do whatever we want with whomever we want. We are to be a holy temple for the LORD. We are to love the LORD with all of our strength…our bodies. Wellness, nutrition, exercise, …these things matter. You can’t fulfill your mission of making disciples if you’re six feet under! Some have been mistakenly taught that our bodies are bad and evil, a heresy known as Gnosticism. Others have made idols of their bodies, seeking to glorify themselves in the process. Worship the LORD with your bodies, don’t worship bodies (or anyone else’s!).
 
Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22, NLT)
 
The thought of God dwelling in us should be both encouraging and challenging to all of us. Notice it says, “together, we are his house.” We are joined together in Jesus. To restate the theme of today’s text, Gentiles have been invited to join Jews in God’s beautiful but messy family, uniting in a mission of peace.
 
I want to close with another writing from Paul, this one to the church in Galatia, also in modern Turkey.
 
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NIV)
 
There are no second-class citizens in the family of God. You are welcome, regardless of your family of origin, skin color, zip code, or income bracket. We are all united at the foot of the cross. We all need to die to our selfish desires, surrendering all of our heart, all of our souls, all of our minds, and all of our strengths/bodies to the LORD. When we do, we create a beautiful house for God to dwell and bear witness to His goodness, presence, and power in our world for His glory. May we be one as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.

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

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

Great Commission Day, 14 May 2023

Great Commission Day
Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8

Big Idea: The Great Commission— the act of global disciple-making—is for every follower of Jesus,
 
The first words I spoke from this stage as your pastor more than seven years ago were a question.
 
Why are you here?
 
Why are you here this morning?
 
If we’re honest, there are probably multiple answers to the question, some more “spiritual” than others. One of the hardest things for me as a pastor is when someone leaves our congregation for another one. Sometimes the answer is obvious: they moved to another state. When the answer is more subjective, I wonder what attracted them in the first place. Was it the music? The preaching? The location? The staff? Friends?
 
Why are you here? Why are you here on this planet? Why are you?
 
Today is Great Commission Day and I want to be crystal clear about what the Great Commission is and how you can participate in God’s mission on planet earth.
  
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)
 
These were Jesus’ final words as recorded by Matthew. Last words are important, right? The words of someone on their death bed, the last sentence or two as someone heads off on a trip, even the last words of a parent to the babysitter before going on a date are often the most important words spoken.
 
In this text, known as the Great Commission, we read what Jesus said to his closest friends as he prepared to ascend into heaven. Let’s unpack this.
 
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18, NIV)
 
First,
Jesus has all authority. He has been given all authority in heaven. He has been given all authority on earth.
 
Authority and responsibility go together. If you’ve ever been given responsibility to do something without the authority to do it, you’ve surely been frustrated. If you have authority but no responsibility, there’s nothing to do! Jesus has all authority, and as he prepares to exit the earth, he is essentially passing the baton, granting his authority to his friends. Here’s the mission:
 
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18-20a, NIV)
 
We know what the therefore is there for! Go. That requires action, movement. You can’t stay and go at the same time!
 
Make disciples. What’s a disciple? A disciple is a follower, an imitator, an apprentice. it’s a learner. Jesus did not say start programs, teach lessons, or distribute religious goods and services. He said make disciples. Follow Jesus and train others to do the same. A disciple is not someone who is merely spiritual. It’s not just someone in a church building on Sunday mornings. It’s someone who truly loves God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength…and who loves others as they love themselves. It’s someone who is developing their character and discovering their calling.
 
I must admit I love church planting. I’m an entrepreneur, and it’s a joy for me to start new things and help others start new things. I love the idea of forming new communities of faith to reach the unchurched. Helping launch Visible Church and L.E.A.D. Community Church last year were not only highlights of 2022, they will surely go down as highlights of the decade!
 
But Jesus never said to plant churches. He said to make disciples. If you plant a church, it’s possible to do religious activity without seeing people truly follow Jesus. On the other hand, if you follow Jesus and help others to do the same, eventually a group of people will emerge and a new church might naturally form.
 
Traditionally, churches in our culture have said, “Come and see.” Come to our Sunday services, give money, and maybe help out in the nursery or as a greeter. The focus is on the stage, the professional, the event. I’m very glad you’re here today, and I love to be with you in this context, but Sunday morning attendance does not make you a disciple. The Great Commission is Go and Be. Making disciples, therefore, requires more than a few songs and a good sermon. It’s a 24/7/365 lifestyle all of us are invited to experience, with Jesus as our leader, our Master, our LORD. You were created to go and be a disciple…a disciple-maker.
 
In our cultural context, people often think a church needs a building, a professional pastor, and lots of structure. Making disciples is something any Jesus-follower can do at home, work, or play. Recently I was thrilled to hear the story of Jennifer and how Betty Kasubski and Lois Eddy discipled her, showing her what it means to surrender her life to Jesus. Betty and Lois did not start a church. They do not pastor a congregation. But they loved Jennifer well. They poured their life into hers. It’s usually much easier to sing a few songs, teach the Bible, and say a closing prayer than it is to be fully present with another person over months, years, and even decades. We are called to Launch Presence, to be with people. To do life together. Our primary tool for this is called Life Groups, clusters of people doing life together.
 
But did you know people are messy? People can be slow. People can be frustrating. I’m sure there are people who find you and me to be challenging, at times! The thing about discipleship is, in the words of the late Richard Bush,
 
Discipleship is slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others.
 
But this the mission. This is the commission. This is what Jesus instructed his followers, his disciples. Are you a follower of Jesus? Are you a disciple? Disciples go and make disciples.
 
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18-20a, NIV)
 
We noted the verb go (some have said the original Greek meaning is like “as you are going,” as you are living your life) and make disciples. Note it says “of all nations,” which we’ll come back to in a moment. Baptizing is the next verb, ensuring they obey Jesus and go public with their faith. The final verb is teaching. Jesus doesn’t just say teach but teach them to obey. Obedience is God’s love language.
 
If you want a good metaphor for discipleship, it’s parenting. The role of a parent is to help a little person develop into a mature, productive, godly adult. It doesn’t happen overnight! It requires time, energy, patience, and work! Making disciples is essentially spiritual parenting.
 
Who are you discipling? Do they know it?
 
This is not a question merely for the paid staff. It’s for all of us. We’re all called to help others become more like Jesus. Some do it one-on-one which is fine, though Jesus seemed to spend most of his time with twelve…and especially with a small group of three. Again, our Life Groups are designed to help you grow to become more like Jesus…in community with others, doing life together.
 
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:18-20a, NIV)
 
Then Jesus concludes with a beautiful promise, one of the most comforting sentences in the Bible.
 
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b, NIV)
 
We are never alone. Jesus is with us, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are unable to make disciples in our own strength. We can’t change another person’s behavior, let alone their heart and motivation. But we can partner with God to build relationships, engage in spiritual conversations, share our story, listen to the journey of others, and invite people to give their lives to Jesus. When they do, we can help them grow to know, love, and share Christ. Again, it’s a process. It takes time. But it’s so important, the commission was among his final words spoken on earth.
 
The heart of our mission is
restoring God’s masterpieces. Ephesians 2:10 says,
 
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)
 
God’s mission—the Great Commission—is to…go and make disciples…students of Jesus. I was with a group of friends recently and someone said the Great Commission is only found in Matthew’s gospel, but the extended version of Mark includes it, too.
 
And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. 16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15, NLT)
 
This is discipleship, a process that begins with evangelism, proclaiming Good News. Again, we can do this one-on-one. We can do this through these Sunday gatherings. We can do this through Dinner Church (are you coming tonight?). Perhaps our best discipleship vehicle is Life Groups, which is why our goal is to see every one of you participate in a Life Group…not just to obtain information through a Bible study, but to be transformed through community, doing life together.
 
But what about people that do not live near us? Do we have a responsibility beyond Toledo? Yes! Jesus spoke plainly about this, too. Luke records these words of Christ in the beginning of the book of Acts, a book that is essentially the history of the early Church.
 
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV)
 
The Holy Spirit came the next chapter, Acts chapter two. Jesus tells them the good news needs to go beyond Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. We have home missions partners which serve our Judea. We have faith missions partners which go beyond to serve our Samaria. The ends of the earth are being reached by our global Alliance family through the Great Commission Fund.
 
Some of you have been to churches where missionaries from other countries visit and ask for money. The Christian & Missionary Alliance has created opportunities for you to support individual workers and families overseas, but the Great Commission Fund is one big pot that helps fund all of our international work. We have over 700 family members scattered around the world making disciples, proclaiming Good News, and extending faith, hope, and love to masterpieces young and old.
 
So What?
 
The Great Commission— the act of global disciple-making—is for every follower of Jesus. We’re all invited to participate. This is not just for pastors. It’s not just for smart people or talented people or rich people. We all can be involved in making disciples, across the street and around the world. Here are some simple next steps:
 
1.             Pray. Pray for your neighbors. Pray for our church, city, state, and nation. Pray for our world. The founder of First Alliance, A.B. Simpson, was once seen by a guest in his house praying at his desk, holding a globe, and weeping as he prayed for the nations. God, give us all that passion for Your people around the world. 
2.
             Go. That’s part of the command: go and make disciples. Go meet someone for coffee. Go invite a neighbor to Dinner Church. Go meet people at the gym or join a sports team. Go have a backyard BBQ. Go on an international missions trip.
3.
             Give. Some ministry fundraising can be confusing. Heather and I give to First Alliance Church first and foremost, and then we give to the Great Commission Fund because I’ve seen the way it is used to impact lives in Germany, in the Dominican Republic, and across the globe.
 
Why are you here? Why were you created? To know God, love God, obey God, and love others as you love yourself. You and I have been commissioned by Almighty God to proclaim good news in word and deed to every one of the 8 billion masterpieces on earth. Through our Alliance family, the Great Commission is being fulfilled for God’s glory.
  
While I believe the coming sabbatical months will be valuable for me, I’m equally excited about how my absence will create new opportunities for you to “get in the game.” It has never been the paid staff’s role to “do” the ministry, but rather we are paid to “equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.” This is something I’ve repeatedly communicated, noting that if only the professionals do ministry, 99% of our workforce is deactivated.
 
Family, I challenge you to become a disciple, a learner, a follower, an apprentice of Jesus. I challenge you to go—as you go—make disciples. Share your story. Invite someone out for coffee and listen to their story. Become a Life Group apprentice. Serve at Sports & Arts Camp next month. Most of all, be present…with others and most of all with Jesus. I look forward to hearing great stories in August about how you have launched presence, made disciples, restored masterpieces, and loved well.

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

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

Worthy is the Lamb, 30 April 2023

Worthy is the Lamb that Was Slain
Handel’s Messiah
Revelation 5:9-14

Series Big Idea: Handel’s Messiah may be the greatest work of music ever created, bringing praise and glory to the Creator.
 
Big Idea: Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb that was slain for us, is worthy of our eternal worship, praise, and devotion.
 
Today’s the day, the grand finale, the big conclusion to our series on Handel’s
Messiah that began with Advent last year and resumed on Resurrection Sunday. Hallelujah! If you’re new around here, Handel created this magnificent work around lyrics taken from the Bible. Virtually every word is scripture! For years I had this crazy idea to do a sermon series on it and we finish it today…and get a glimpse of the future!
  
Of all of the sermon requests I get, perhaps none is greater than people wanting to hear about Revelation. There is no book more fascinating, mysterious, or misunderstood than the last book of the Bible. Some of you may recall several weeks ago a woman interrupting my sermon to say nothing in Revelation has happened yet, despite that it begins with John writing to the seven churches in the province of Asia…about 2000 years ago! Much of Revelation may lie in the future, including our text for today, but it’s worth noting the context before we dive in.
Revelation is a special type of literature called apocalyptic which means revelation or unveiling. You read it differently than Romans, for instance, a teaching on theology, or Matthew which is essentially a biography of Jesus.
 
We all understand science fiction is not to be understood the same as
The Toledo Blade, right? You don’t interpret The Babylon Bee the same as The Wall Street Journal. Poetry is read differently than a science textbook, and comic book has a different purpose than a car owner’s manual. You might say that how you read depends upon where you are in the library. The Bible is a library, and we can’t read Genesis, Song of Solomon, James, and Revelation the same way. They’re all God-inspired, valuable, and true, but understanding them and applying them vary from book to book.
 
I said Revelation is apocalyptic literature.
Here’s The Bible Project explaining what that means.
  
Although much of Revelation is challenging and controversial, today’s text is rather clear. It speaks of Jesus as the lamb mentioned in the video. He is sometimes depicted as a lion (you may know C.S. Lewis used a lion named Aslan to be a symbol for Jesus in the Narnia series) and sometimes a lamb, causing me to often say during election time
our allegiance is not to an elephant or a donkey, but to the Lion of Judah who is also the Lamb of God.
 
In Revelation chapter five, there is a wonderful scene that is a preview of what is to come.
 
Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it. (Revelation 5:1-3, NLT)
 
Jesus’ friend John continues…
 
Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. 5 But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:4-5, NLT)
 
Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. 7 He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. 8 And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. (Revelation 5:6-8, NLT)
 
The video said sometimes symbolism is identified. Here, gold bowls filled with incense are the prayers of God’s people. Did you know that about your prayers?
 
Many have used Revelation like a treasure map or a secret decoder ring, trying to solve every mystery and make it into a simple story, often using numerology to predict events and dates. This is where people often get off track…and why many are fascinated with Revelation.
 
Another challenging factor is this was written about 2000 years ago. Imagine 2000 years from now there is a political cartoon which shows a crying bald eagle with the numbers 9/11 below. We understand the bald eagle as representing the United States and the tears representing the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Similarly, there are images and symbols in Revelation that are literally thousands of years old. John’s original readers likely understood them better than we can, at least at first glance.
 
Is Jesus returning this year? Is so-and-so the anti-Christ? Are we living in the last days? Is that new Amazon technology the mark of the beast? One of the most popular books in the 1980s was
88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988. There was a big sale on them in 1989! By the way, Jesus himself said he didn’t know when he would return. He said…
 
However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. (Mark 13:32, NLT)
 
If someone tells you a date, they think they’re greater than Jesus! Run!
 
And by the way, rapture is a word that isn’t even found in the Bible. It is common in one eschatology or end times theory known as dispensationalism which sees history as divided into multiple ages or "dispensations" in which God acts with humanity in different ways.
 
This theological system began in 1833 with writings by John Nelson Darby and was spurred on by Cyrus Scofield who added study notes to the King James Bible in 1909 which essentially became the first study Bible. Tragically, some people confused the notes with the scriptures themselves! Many believe the Scofield Bible was the single most influential Bible in American History.
 
I’m not going to say everything written by Scofield was wrong. I’m certainly not going to say everything her wrote is right. What I am saying is since many didn’t understand the difference between scripture and his notes, those notes became very influential.
 
If you want a quick summary of how this dispensational theory spread, Israel becoming a nation in 1948 was a catalyst for people trying to see modern events in the book of Revelation. Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth became the best-selling non-fiction book of the 1970s and was the subject of a television special in 1974 and 1975 and even a 1978 film. The Left Behind books introduced in 1995 have sold more than 65 million copies.
 
I’m not necessarily saying these theories are wrong, but they are certainly controversial and relatively new way of viewing Revelation…and they have made publishers very rich!
 
Dispensationalism is a theory and must always be treated as such. The problems people have with the Bible and theology and God often have nothing to do with the Bible and God…and everything to do with our interpretation of the Bible. 
 
I must admit there are parts of the Bible which are difficult to understand, which is why we were meant to be in community, to study the Bible together. First Alliance has Elders to help discern what God is saying to us, both through the Bible and through circumstances. It’s really more than one person can handle.
 
Mark Twain famously said, ““It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it's the parts that I do understand.”
 
Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Go and make disciples of all nations. Don’t worry about when Jesus will return. Just get ready…and help others get ready.
 
If you’re still fascinated with Revelation, I have two and a half books to recommend to you. The first is
Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael Gorman. Gorman notes several problems with the “Left Behind” approach including (and I quote):
 
The series misunderstands the NT references to the “end times.” For the NT, the “end times” is the period between the first and second coming of Jesus.
 
It reduces the primary reason for conversion to fear.
 
It is escapist and therefore has no ongoing ethic of life between the times, between the first and second comings. There is no compulsion to love one’s neighbor, practice deeds of mercy, work for peace and justice, etc. Contrast the hope of imminent return and the ethic in 1 Thessalonians, which actually has an ethic for life in the hope of the second coming.
 
The second book I would recommend is
Revelation for the Rest of Us by one of my seminary professors, Scot McKnight. Neither Gormon nor Mcknight  claims to be the sole, perfect authority, but they present a broader understanding of various interpretations of Revelation.
 
I said two and a half books. I say half because
The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism by Daniel Hummel will not be released until May 4, but I’ve read excerpts from it and it sounds enlightening.
 
The point is there are many different views on Revelation, here are some you may not have encountered, and don’t become overly concerned about the future. We’re one day closer than yesterday.
 
The purpose of Revelation—and all of the Bible—is to bring comfort and help us prepare for the future. Get ready! These things will happen someday. We don’t know when. It could be today. It could be 1000 years from now. But get ready…and now we’re ready for our text for today from Handel’s Messiah.
 
And they sang a new song, saying:
 
            “You are worthy to take the scroll
                        and to open its seals,
            because you were slain,
                        and with your blood you purchased for God
                        persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10         You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
                        and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10, NIV)
 
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. (Revelation 5:11, NIV)
 
Can you imagine? What a sight! What a sound!
 
In a loud voice they were saying:
 
            “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
                        to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
                        and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12, NIV)
 
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
 
            “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
                        be praise and honor and glory and power,
                                                for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, NIV)
 
Don’t miss this: it says every creature. This isn’t just an announcement from an angel. These aren’t words spoken by a group of saints. It says every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea. Does that mean fish and birds and giraffes and puppy dogs will declare this?
 
There may be many things we don’t understand about Revelation, but the Lamb that was Slain is certainly Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who came, lived, died, and rose again. He is worthy—worth—all power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. Hallelujah! Praise the LORD!
 
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:14, NIV)
 
That’s the natural response to an encounter with God…humility and worship. That’s one reason we gather each week…to be reminded He’s God and we’re not and He deserves our worship, our allegiance, our time, our talents, and our treasures. He is in control, we’re not. He is LORD. He is worthy of our worship.
 
Do you want to know when all this will happen? I don’t know, but we’re done day closer to it today than yesterday…and it will be amazing!
 
Amen. Yes, LORD. Let it be!
 
Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb that was slain for us, is worthy of our eternal worship, praise, and devotion.

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

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

The Trumpet Shall Sound, 23 April 2023

The Trumpet Shall Sound
Handel’s Messiah
1 Corinthians 15:51-53

Series Big Idea: Handel’s Messiah may be the greatest work of music ever created, bringing praise and glory to the Creator.
 
Big Idea: Transformation is coming soon…get ready!
 
High school. For some, it’s filled with wonderful memories of making the homecoming court, scoring the winning touchdown, or winning the spelling bee. For others, it’s social awkwardness, struggling through final exam week, or a long list of poor choices. I went to Brighton High School in Michigan and graduated in nineteen-something! The best thing that happened to me in high school occurred in my senior year when I met the love of my life, an amazing girl named Heather.
 
The second best memory of high school is band…symphonic band, jazz band, and most of all marching band. I played the trumpet and our trumpet section was so passionate, we made t-shirts that said, “Trumpets Jam.” I don’t have the t-shirt, but I still have the trumpet! The greatest thrill was when four of us were featured at the Detroit Lions halftime show at the old Pontiac Silverdome, hearing my name over the PA system in front of 80,000 fans (most of whom were at the concession stands or bathrooms!).
 
Today we’re continuing our series on Handel’s Messiah, arguably the greatest piece of music ever composed…with lyrics taken directly from the Bible. Today’s song is The Trumpet Shall Sound. The text is taken from 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. The New King James Version reads,
 
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53, NKJV)
 
Is this good news? Absolutely!
 
Let’s look at the passage again, this time from a modern translation.
 
But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53, NLT)
 
There is so much we don’t know about the future, but this hopeful text reveals many things. First, transformation is coming. I’m too old to have played with Transformers, but I know of their ability to change from one thing to another. That’s the idea of transformation. A caterpillar is transformed into a…butterfly. Our physical campus is in the midst of several transformations. The garage across the street has been leveled and will soon be transformed to green space. Our children’s wing was first transformed by a car flying into our nursery and is now being transformed again with new flooring, murals, and decorating to become vibrant space for kids to encounter Jesus. You get the idea!
 
We all realize change can be hard, especially when loss is involved, but in the case of our campus—and the case of our bodies—transformation is a beautiful thing. I said two weeks ago the odd of you dying are about 100%. This text seems to make an exception for some in the future who will not die. There will be a brief moment when a trumpet is blown, the dead will be raised, and our mortal bodies will be transformed. Transformation is coming.
 
Second, we must prepare for the transformation. There will be no advance notice. It will happen suddenly…in the blink of an eye. That’s fast! Nobody knows when this event will occur, not even Jesus (so don’t waste your time with people claiming to know)!
 
Our transformed bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrected body. I mentioned it will be immortal. Jesus ate after the resurrection, so we will eat…but perhaps we won’t have to count calories! There was at least one moment when Jesus seemed to defy the laws of physics and enter a room without going through a door or window.
 
Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said.  (John 20:26, NLT)   
 
That’s kind of fun! Resurrection Sunday is about more than just Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a preview of coming attractions for his followers, too. We will have our own resurrection day soon (well, after we die!).
 
But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53, NLT)
 
Compare our current bodies from our resurrected ones:
 
Perishable                             imperishable
Sown in dishonor                 raised in glory
Sown in weakness               raised in power
Sown a natural body           raised a spiritual body (1 cor. 15:35-54)
Sickness and death             no sickness or death
 
There’s more to the transformation than just the physical flesh and blood which will decay and die. Our sinful nature is in rebellion against God. It’s not suitable for the new world that is to come, the new creation
 
If we read a bit more…
 
Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
 
            “Death is swallowed up in victory.
55         O death, where is your victory?
                        O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55, NLT)
 
I love those words. Those are fightin’ words! Death, you won’t have the last word. Your time is coming to an end. Jesus defeated you, and someday we will, too!
 
Paul quotes from two Old Testament prophets, Isaiah (25) and Hosea (13). But if you look at the entire library we call the Bible, you will see the themes of creation, death, and new creation. What God did in Jesus the Messiah He will do for all of Jesus’ followers. Through Jesus, we’ve been given victory over sin and death. It has been given, it will be given, and in the here and now it is being given to us.
 
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:56-57, NLT)
 
Like much of scripture, it is a present and future reality, now and not yet. Sure, we look to the future, but don’t miss the present reality, the mission, the calling to make disciples and restore masterpieces now. Jesus didn’t come so we can go to heaven when we die. He came so we could experience moments of heaven now—Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven—and in a more complete way in the future. Perhaps you were taught that the value of Christianity begins when you die. Paul…and Jesus…and I would vehemently disagree.
 
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT)
 
The things we do in this life matter for eternity, good or bad. Paul is saying specifically the things we do for the LORD are not in vain, they are never useless. This is an important thing for us to remember. We have a present responsibility, an opportunity today.
 
All this talk of resurrected bodies and new creation are wonderful…for followers of Jesus. But tragically, there is an alternative destination for those in rebellion against God. From Matthew 25 to 2 Thessalonians 1 to Revelation 20, we see judgment is coming and without Jesus as Savior, they are without hope. We must tell them. We must show them. We must proclaim good news in word and deed. Family, one of my four prayers for us is passion…passion for the things that matter to God…passion for the lost. I have family members, friends, and neighbors I love who are facing an eternity without God. I can’t imagine such a hell! My heart aches when I think about them living without God now, too, and how they’re missing out on a life of peace, joy, and meaning.
 
But ministry is hard. I don’t mean professional ministry. Any ministry, any discipleship, any outreach, any investment we make in people…because people are people. They are messy. They wander. They betray. They deny. They leave. They backslide. They sin (just like all of us!). Discouragement is rampant among anyone trying to make disciples, restore masterpieces, love their neighbor as themselves. You’re heard the old adage “no good deed goes unpunished.” It’s not biblical, but it seems true sometimes.
 
First Alliance Church, be strong. Be immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the LORD. Nothing you do for God’s Kingdom is in vain. Even if people quit your Life Group. Even if your ministry struggles. Even if the person you are discipling seems clueless. Even when that student you poured your life into makes poor choices. Even when your own children or grandchildren walk away from the faith. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. You matter. Your Kingdom work matters. We’re all called into the disciple-making ministry and it’s hard. It’s rarely convenient. It will stretch you and take you out of your comfort zones…but God will meet you there, and there’s nothing better than that!
 
I love these words from N.T. Wright:
 
How God will take our prayer, our art, our love, our writing, our political action, our music, our honesty, our daily work, our pastoral care, our teaching, our whole selves – how God will take this and weave its varied strands into the glorious tapestry of his new creation, we can at present have no idea. That he will do so is part of the truth of the resurrection, and perhaps one of the most comforting parts of all.
 
Wright, N. T.. Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 228). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 
Family, I love you, and I’m so proud of you. Many of you have served around here for decades, pouring your time, talent, and treasures into God’s work here and around the world. A day is coming when you will receive your reward. It will be greater than any paycheck or new car or lottery winning. Your new body alone will be worth it, to say nothing of eternity with the LORD.
 
The day is coming. The trumpet will sound. The dead will be raised. We will be transformed. Are you ready?

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

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

I Know that My Redeemer Lives, 9 April 2023

I Know that My Redeemer Lives
Handel's
Messiah
Job 19:25-27; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22

Series Big Idea:
Handel’s Messiah may be the greatest work of music ever created, bringing praise and glory to the Creator.
 

Big Idea:
The resurrection is at the heart of our faith, a wonderful miracle with countless effects.
 
Welcome to Resurrection Sunday! Welcome to Easter! This is the greatest day of the year and begins what should be a season of great joy and a celebration of life. The life of Jesus. Abundant life. Eternal life.
 
This past Advent, we began a sermon series examining the songs and lyrics of Handel’s Messiah. The first part of the magnificent work of music speaks of the Incarnation, the events of Christmastime. We will complete our study over the next four Sundays incorporating the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Messiah and glimpses of the future.
 
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
 
 
The book of Job may seem like an odd place to go for our Easter text. It might be the oldest book in the library we call the Bible. It’s the story of a righteous man whose faith is tested by a variety of tragedies and pain, from physical suffering to the loss of his children. In the midst of recorded dialogue with God…
 
Then Job replied:
 
“How long will you torment me and crush me with words? Ten times now you have reproached me; shamelessly you attack me. (Job 19:1-2)
 
Have you ever felt like God is against you? Have you ever felt crushed by the storms of life? One of the most important messages from the book of Job is the difference between testing and punishment.
Sometimes our suffering is the result of sin…ours or that of others. For example, if you fail to pay your taxes and end up in prison, don’t blame God. Pay your taxes (which are due next week!).
 
Sometimes our suffering is the result of strengthening…a testing of our faith.
 
Jesus’ half brother, James, wrote,
 
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3, NIV)
 
Athletes understand this well. They endure great pain in practice so they can finish well in the race or game. There is a testing that takes place, pushing sometimes beyond what is even thought possible. The old expression “no pain, no gain” often applies to an intentional workout.
 
Perhaps the most common spiritual question people ask is, “Why does God allow suffering?” It’s a valid question, one I think every human has considered. Why did God allow that hurricane to destroy, those children to die, that saint to develop cancer, that family to get hit by the drunk driver’s car, …
 
One of my dearest friends and mentors, our District Superintendent Rev. Thomas George, says, “Don’t ask ‘why,’ but ask, ‘What are you up to, LORD?’”
 
We all understand suffering, whether it’s the result of sin or strengthening. Perhaps when written, nobody understood suffering like Job. In a short period of time, he experienced financial loss (1:14-15), the loss of his children (1:18-19), physical anguish (2:7-8), loneliness (19:13-19), loss of his reputation (12:4), and even his wife was challenging his faith (2:9). Returning to Job chapter 19…
 
He has blocked my way so I cannot pass; he has shrouded my paths in darkness. (Job 19:8)
 
He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head. (Job 19:9)
 
He tears me down on every side till I am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree. (Job 19:10)
 
His anger burns against me; he counts me among his enemies. (Job 19:11)
 
Job is honest about his suffering and how he feels about God’s testing. There’s more…
 
My breath is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family. (Job 19:17)
 
Even the little boys scorn me; when I appear, they ridicule me. (Job 19:18)
 
All my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me. (Job 19:19)
 
I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth. (Job 19:20)
 
“Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me. (Job 19:21)
 
Why do you pursue me as God does? Will you never get enough of my flesh? (Job 19:22)
 
Have you ever felt like that?
 
Then a few verses later after expressing all of his anguish, he declares,
 
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. (Job 19:25)
 
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:26-27)
 
I know that my redeemer lives.
 
Redeemer is one of those church, biblical words you rarely hear in our culture, but it’s incredible.
 
To redeem is to exchange. When I was a kid, I remember collecting cereal box tops and redeemed them for prizes in the mail. More recently, I have redeemed gift cards, entered redemption codes…one definition of “redeem” is to turn in and receive something in exchange.
 
Another meaning of redeem is to pay off, like a debt or promissory note. A few years ago I had a friend who had clothes at the dry cleaner’s, but he didn’t have twelve dollars to get them. I told him I would pay the debt—the bill—and he was able to retrieve his items.
 
Is there anyone perfect here? You’ve never told a white lie, cheated, lusted, coveted, driven over the speed limit…!!! We’ve all sinned, and according to God we must be penalized. That’s only fair, right? Justice means restitution must be made for evil, making good for damage, loss, or injury. A simple example would be paying a parking ticket or a speeding ticket.
 
Imagine you received a ticket from God for every sin you committed, every bad deed, every failure to love well, every evil thought. That would be an expensive ticket, right?! How would you feel about paying it?
 
Now imagine God comes along and says, “I’ll pay it.” How would that make you feel?
 
That’s redemption. That’s a redeemer. That’s grace…unmerited favor.
 
Job wrote centuries before Jesus walked the earth. While we can view his words as somewhat prophetic, he had no knowledge of the Messiah’s death and resurrection. He was not only on the other side of Easter, Job was on the other side of Christmas! But even in his agony, he had faith to believe the God would eventually intervene, that he would be vindicated, that whether in life or death, he would see God.
 
I know that my redeemer lives.
 
Job wrote those words hundreds of years before the first arrival of the redeemer, Jesus the Messiah, to our world.
 
At First Alliance, we’re passionate about Jesus…because Jesus is passionate about us! He know none of our good works could ever be good enough to pay for our sins. God doesn’t grade on a curve. A perfect God demands perfection, and only Jesus lived a perfect life. Then he died…willingly, purposefully, to offer payment, redemption for those who follow him. This is the reason Good Friday is good…for us.
 
But if Jesus remained dead, there would be no reason for faith. We would have no hope. Death would win.
 
But he is risen! He is risen indeed!
 
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. (1 Corinthians 15:20, NLT)
 
Job’s words, “I know that my redeemer lives,” were prophetic. They were a vision of the resurrection.
 
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. (Job 19:25)
 
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:26-27)
 
Someday we’re all going to die. It might be today. It might be decades from now, but the odds of your death are…one hundred percent! What happens after we die is worth considering.
 
So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, NLT)
 
Death entered the world when Adam and Eve sinned. But because Jesus was raised from the dead, so also his followers will be given new life…eternal life.
 
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NLT)
 
You and I can have eternal life because Jesus is alive. Do you know that the Redeemer lives?
Is Jesus your redeemer?
 
The resurrection is at the heart of our faith, a wonderful miracle with countless effects. The Christian faith rises and falls with it. If Jesus is dead, we have no hope. If Jesus is not your redeemer, your savior, your LORD, you have no hope.
 
Paul wrote to the church in Rome,
 
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
 
He didn’t deny the present, the pain, the sufferings, but put them into perspective…an eternal perspective. Perhaps you’re in the middle of a trial that feels like death, like Good Friday. As author Tony Campolo famously said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” If you know Jesus, there is always hope. Jesus knows suffering. Jesus knows pain and death. But
 
He is risen. He is risen indeed!

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

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

Day of the LORD, 26 March 2023

Day of the LORD
Honor: The Book of Malachi
Malachi 4

Series Big Idea:
The last book of the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) offers challenging words about bringing honor to the LORD.
 
Big Idea: God’s final judgment is coming for each of us on the day of the LORD…get ready!
 
When I was a kid growing up in the Church, one of the most popular songs declared,
 
This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24, NKJV)
 
Are we rejoicing? Are we glad?
 
Today we’re concluding our verse-by-verse exploration of the last book of the Jewish Bible—the Old Testament—written by the prophet Malachi. This is the day the LORD has made, but today we are going to look at the day of the LORD, something referenced throughout the Bible.
 
PRAY
 
The day of the LORD. The Hebrew word yom means “day.” It’s one of the most common nouns in the Old Testament. You’ve probably heard of Yom Kippur, day of atonement. Yom Yahweh is the day of the LORD. This isn’t a reference to what some call the LORD’s day, the sabbath, the day of rest, but rather a period of time, not necessarily 24 hours. It could mean the daylight hours or a special event. Part of the challenge in defining the day of the LORD is it means different things throughout the Bible. Here are some examples of its usage:
 
Scream in terror, for the day of the LORD has arrived—the time for the Almighty to destroy. (Isaiah 13:6, NLT)
 
For this is the day of the Lord, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, a day of vengeance on his enemies. (Jeremiah 46:10a, NLT)
 
for the terrible day is almost here—the day of the LORD! It is a day of clouds and gloom, a day of despair for the nations. (Ezekiel 30:3, NLT)
 
 
The day of the LORD is near, the day when destruction comes from the Almighty. How terrible that day will be! (Joel 1:15, NLT)
 
Yes, the day of the LORD will be dark and hopeless, without a ray of joy or hope. (Amos 5:20, NLT)
 
“That terrible day of the LORD is near. Swiftly it comes—a day of bitter tears, a day when even strong men will cry out. (Zephaniah 1:14, NLT)
 
Let’s take a look at some New Testament references:
 
The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the LORD arrives. (Acts 2:20, NLT)
 
But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:4, NLT)
 
Before we address today’s text, know this: God’s final judgment is coming for each of us on the day of the LORD…get ready! This is an urgent message for every generation. The prophet Malachi begins his final chapter:
 
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all. (Malachi 4:1, NLT)
 
For centuries, people have debated whether or not the evil will be exposed to literal fire or if they will burn “like” a furnace. Will the torment be eternal, or will humans somehow be annihilated? The details are not as important as the big idea:
sin kills and we need Jesus.
 
“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. (Malachi 4:2, NLT)
 
This is a prophetic vision of the Messiah, of Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness.
 
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 84:11, NIV)
 
Jesus the Messiah brings more than just forgiveness of sins, but victory and healing.
 
“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. (Malachi 4:2, NLT)
 
This is where I wish the book ended, with joy and leaping!
 
Have you ever seen calves let out to pasture? It’s nothing like straw being burned up!
 
VIDEO
 
This is the fate of those who fear the name of the LORD, who know and love God, who are obedient, faithful, and righteous. They will go free, leaping with joy! But there’s more.
 
On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 4:3, NLT)
 
How would you like God to walk all over you? In this life, there seem to be few things that are black and white, but plenty of gray. The day of the LORD, however, appears to be binary: the wicked and the righteous, with two very different outcomes. Which group describes you, wicked or righteous?
 
“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel. (Malachi 4:4, NLT)
 
This describes the righteous, those who obey God’s law, those how love God and speak His love language of obedience. We can obey or suffer.
 
Now we come to the end of the chapter, the end of the book, the end of the Old Testament.
 
“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. (Malachi 4:5 NLT)
 
John the Baptist was the prophet sent, according to Jesus in Matthew 11:14. He prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah. But some see this as the second coming of Elijah. Regardless, God desperately wants to give everyone ample opportunity to follow Him. He’s not tricky or deceitful.
 
He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9b, NLT)
 
He has given each of us the mission—the commission—to proclaim good news as we go and make disciples. We want to give every man, woman, and child in this world not only a chance to escape eternity without God, but also eternity with God. Look what Peter says next:
 
But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. (2 Peter 3:10, NLT)
 
Are you ready for the day of the LORD? Are you preparing others for the day of the LORD?
 
“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. (Malachi 4:5 NLT)
 
His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. (Malachi 4:6a NLT)
 
The angel of the LORD quotes this when telling Zechariah about his forthcoming son, John the Baptist.
 
He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” (Luke 1:17, NLT)
 
His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:6, NLT)
 
And thus ends the book of Malachi and the Old Testament. It ends with a curse!
 
There were about four hundreds of years of silence between Malachi and John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah.
 
So What?
 
Understanding biblical prophecy can be challenging. Much of it is focused upon Jesus the Messiah…His first coming about 2000 years ago, His return, …or perhaps even both! Many of the things in Revelation, for example, were fulfilled when the temple was destroyed in AD 70, though some have yet to occur (though Revelation is more apocalyptic than prophet, but that’s for another discussion). Does the mention of Elijah in today’s text literally mean Elijah, the prophet who never died (he was taken into heaven in a whirlwind)? Was it actually speaking of John the Baptist? Or both! Applying prophetic writings to our lives can be challenging, but some things are universal, including the unchanging God Pastor Donald spoke of last Sunday.
                                                                                         
Two weeks ago I reminded you that judgment day is coming…for everyone. It’s a sobering reality, and I feel like each time we gather, it’s important to be reminded of who God is, who we are, and how our present impacts our future.
 
Some have said the Day of the LORD is similar to a coin with two sides, one positive and one negative. We’ve seen here in Malachi chapter four the Day of the LORD will be good for some and terrible for others, perhaps not unlike final exam week!
 
For the true members of God’s people, the Day of the LORD is blessing. For those who are not God’s people, it is judgment. Amazingly, the Old Testament is filled with passages which suggest it will be a day of judgment for Israel. They will not be alone, of course, as both then and now men and women have ignored or even rejected the Almighty, thinking themselves beyond the need for a relationship with God. The Day of the LORD refers to a variety of things, judgments, blessings, seasons, and the upcoming time when He will reestablish His rule over the earth.
 
Throughout our study of Malachi, we’ve seen a people who have robbed God by their greed and lack of stewardship. We’ve encountered rationalization…calling evil good. We’ve seen offerings of leftovers rather than the first fruits, their best. The Jews have been unfaithful despite the faithfulness of God. In many ways, it sounds like the Church in the United States today. I’m not trying to be critical. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem, both personally and professionally.
 
I think this challenging book gives us all a lot to reflect upon and consider. Where are you? I know you’re in this room or watching on a screen, but where are you? Where are you in your relationship with God? The first question in the Bible (Genesis 3:9) was God asking Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” It wasn’t that God couldn’t find them. He’s God. He wanted them to identify where they were relationally.
 
Where are you? It matters both now and for eternity.
 
You may think a church gathering would be an odd place to ask these questions. After all, most of you would say Jesus is your Savior and LORD. But saying so isn’t enough. Jesus asked,
 
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46, NIV)  
 
47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:47-49, NIV)  
 
The Day of the LORD will bring blessing for the true believers, but judgment for the self-sufficient, the busy, the unfaithful, the wicked.
 
Family, I don’t want any of you to be in that later category. I love you. I plead with you to surrender and follow Jesus with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Worship with your time, talents, and treasures. Love God and your neighbor and yourself well. Knowledge is not enough. Our actions provide evidence for our faith. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
 
God’s final judgment is coming for each of us on the day of the LORD…get ready! Get others ready!

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

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

Judgment, 12 March 2023

Judgment
Honor: The Book of Malachi

Malachi 2:17-3:5

Series Big Idea:
The last book of the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) offers challenging words about bringing honor to the LORD.
 
Big Idea: The God of justice will judge, and we need to be ready.
 
When I was in seminary, one of my professors said he likes to preach verse-by-verse through the Bible. This is known as expository preaching, as opposed to topical. One of the reasons, he said, is it can be tempting to skip around the Bible, finding popular passages and ignoring those which are more controversial, uncomfortable, or even offensive. Although we do some topical messages—especially around Holy Week and Advent—much of our preaching is expository. We’re in the middle of one such series on the book of Malachi, the last book of the Jewish Bible or Old Testament. It’s written by the prophet Malachi, and biblical prophets rarely made people happy!
 
It's always important to understand our text today was not written to us, but it’s very valuable for us…a glimpse into the heart of God and what happens when His people forget or even forsake God. It’s usually a slow fade, but one which inevitably results in God’s judgment, not because He doesn’t like us, but precisely because He loves us and He wants us to return to Him.
 
PRAY
 
Two weeks ago we looked at Pastor John Soper’s summary of much of the Old Testament:
Israel forgets God >>> Israel forsakes God >>> Israel worships other gods >>> God sends judgment upon Israel >>> Israel cries out to God >>> God raises up a deliverer >>> God saves Israel >>> Israel pledges to serve God >>> [repeat]
Again I ask, where are you?
 
This past week a friend mentioned someone whose life is a wreck, they are experiencing God’s judgment or—at the very least—the dire consequences of many poor choices, yet they have refused to cry out to God and surrender.
 
God has ways of getting our attention, doesn’t He? Malachi is God’s prophet, trying to get the attention of His people, the Jews. The last verse of chapter two begins…
 
You have wearied the LORD with your words.
 
“How have we wearied him?” you ask. (Malachi 2:17a, NLT)
 
They pretend ignorance and declare innocence. This is the fifth sarcastic question they ask. God has an answer.
 
You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the LORD’s sight, and he is pleased with them. You have wearied him by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17b, NLT)
 
God is weary over two things the people were saying.
 
First, they were saying that all who do evil are good in the LORD’s sight, and he is pleased with them. You might call this a new morality. It happened in Noah’s day. It happened in the period of the judges. Twice in the book of Judges (17;6; 21:25), it says,
 
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. (Judges 17:6; 21:25, NLT)
 
You can rationalize anything.
 
Throughout history, Christians have used the Bible to justify everything from misogyny to slavery. Satan even used it to tempt Jesus! We like to start with what we want, what we desire, what we think is fair, rather than beginning with a careful study of the Holy Scriptures and aligning ourselves with God’s will. Perhaps one reason we don’t read the Bible more frequently is we don’t want to be responsible for what it says!
 
We must be careful because
 
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12, NLT)
 
I feel like this hits very close to home in our day, in our nation. It’s one thing to tolerate sin, but quite another to celebrate it with parades and celebrations. God must weep when He sees how even Christians have embraced alternative lifestyles, abortion, greed, gossip, pride, the pursuit of power and wealth, …the list goes on and on. It’s one thing for the world to act like the world, but when so-called Christians look just like everybody else, falling for whatever’s hip and cool and trendy, we have real problems. Politically correct does not necessarily mean biblically correct. In fact, the world is often diametrically opposed to godliness. There’s a war raging between good and evil, God and satan, the flesh and the truth.
 
Jesus said,
 
21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” (Mark 7:21-23, NLT)
 
This is nothing new. One of the things that makes me chuckle is when people say, “We are a New Testament church!” Which one? Laodicea? Ephesus? They were all filled with sinners…just like ours! The church in Corinth was hardly exempt:
 
I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. (1 Corinthians 5:1, NLT)
 
Do we want details on that one?! If you need a definition, sexual immorality is any sexual activity outside of the marriage of a husband and wife. It’s mentioned more than a dozen times in the New Testament, including the lips of Jesus and the writings of Paul and John. Jesus said even lust was adultery.
 
Let me add there seem to be acceptable sins in the church…even so-called conservative churches.
 
-       Pride often runs rampant, the original sin.
-
       Fear, the opposite of love, is used to bring people to Jesus and paralyzes many decisions, both in homes and churches
-
       Gluttony…hey, we only have potlucks on 5th Sundays!
-
       Worry…Jesus condemned it (Matthew 6:25-34), but I’m very guilty!
-
       Lying…you’ve never told a lie, right?
-
       Favoritism…we like to hang around people like us, don’t we?
-
       Greed is demonstrated by stingy giving
 
Christians nationwide are giving 2.5% of their income…one quarter of what is known as the tithe, 10%, a good starting point for generosity. One 2023 report said only 5% tithe. Most of you tip your barista far more than you give to your God.
https://nonprofitssource.com/online-giving-statistics/
 
I’m not a perfect example, but I am seeking to follow Christ, not merely avoiding sin, but loving Jesus. The point is the Jews were celebrating sin, not unlike many Christians today.
 
You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the LORD’s sight, and he is pleased with them. You have wearied him by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17b, NLT)
 
Second, they were asking, “Where is the God of justice?” Have you ever heard someone blame God for their problems?
Where is the God of justice?…while their poor choices have done them in. No wonder God was weary! In a moment we’ll see how God addresses the claim that He is either absent or unjust.
 
Now that we’ve looked at that verse, let’s move on to chapter 3! It doesn’t get any easier. God warns of the coming judgment.
 
“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 3:1, NLT)
 
This sounds like good news, right? God’s messenger is coming! Actually, there seem to be two messengers. Jesus quotes this passage in Matthew 11:9-10 and Luke 7:27, referring to John the Baptist, the one who will prepare the way. Then the messenger of the covenant will come. This appears to be none other than Jesus the Messiah, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. Malachi describes the second coming of Christ.
 
“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. 3 He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the LORD. (Malachi 3:2-3, NLT)
 
This is a sobering, powerful message, family.
Clean hands and a pure heart are what God seeks, and purification is necessary, a refiner’s fire.
 
The Refiner’s Fire
As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says: ‘He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.’ (Malachi 3:3) She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, ‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’ He smiled at her and answered, ‘Oh, that’s easy — when I see my image in it.’
This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:9).
“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10). 

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart 
(Proverbs 17:3).

For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver 
(Psalm 66:10).   
 
Purify (testing/fire) and cleanse (soap) like silver and gold.
 
After the purifying…
 
Then once more the LORD will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past. (Malachi 3:4, NLT)
 
Hallelujah! The worshipers are purified and cleansed, acceptable to the LORD. But there’s more. They want the God of justice? He’s going to judge!
 
“At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 3:5, NLT)
 
He's going to judge, and He mentions four things in particular: sorcerers, adulterers, liars, and oppressors, those who treat employees, widows, orphans, or foreigners/immigrants poorly. These things are still detestable to God, and we see it all over, don’t we? The occult is celebrated in many ways. Adultery sounds like an old-fashioned term for what everybody’s doing. We don’t like liars, but only tell “little white lies,” right? How have we treated laborers, widows, orphans, refugees?
 
Judgment is coming…for all of us. Are you ready?
 
So What?
 
There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the Father sent Jesus to die on the cross to make forgiveness and purification possible. We all sin and fall short of God’s standard, but He has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him—and one another—through Jesus.
 
The bad news is so many have rejected God…even people who think they are Christians or “saved” because they prayed a prayer as a child. The invitation of Jesus is not pray a prayer so you can go to heaven when you die. It’s follow me, be with me, do life with me…it’s about a relationship. How’s that going for you? How is your soul?
 
Remember from two weeks ago in chapter 2, the Jews had intermarried with people from other religions. They had abandoned God and turned to sorcery, adultery, and lies. Every day is a new opportunity to follow Jesus or ignore Him. It’s like a marriage. It doesn’t end when you say, “I do.” That’s only the beginning, and the relationship must be cultivated every day.
 
Perhaps you’ve been going through the motions, mailing it in, so to speak. I’ve found myself doing that, at times. Just because I avoid doing bad things doesn’t mean I’ve necessarily been obedient, either. Following Jesus is more than just playing by the rules, avoiding murder, adultery, lying, and the like. It also means loving well…God and others. It means caring for the widow, stranger, and orphan. It involved surrendering my time, talents, and treasures for His glory, His Kingdom, His Church. Following Jesus even means surrendering my body, my dreams, and my comforts.
 
The good news, of course, is God’s grace. Forgiveness is available to every one of you. There’s nothing you’ve done that’s beyond God’s mercy. Each time we gather is an opportunity to be reminded that He’s God and we’re not, that we all fall short and miss the mark, and that we have a loving Father with arms wide open to extend grace and forgiveness if we come to Him, if we repent, if we turn from our sin, and do life with Jesus.
 
Family, I love you and I want what’s best for you. So does God. I don’t get it right all of the time, but that’s my desire. What is your next step in following Jesus? What do you need to surrender?

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

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

Unfaithful, 26 February 2023

Unfaithful
Honor: The Book of Malachi
Malachi 2:1-16

Series Big Idea: The last book of the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) offers challenging words about bringing honor to the LORD.
 
Big Idea: Our faithful God calls us to be faithful…to Him and one another.
 
What is your favorite attribute of God? We know God is love. He is holy. He is righteous and just. He is ever-present, all-powerful, and all-knowing. My favorite aspect of God’s character is His faithfulness. My favorite hymn declares
Great is Thy Faithfulness.
 
Faithful. Full of faith. Remaining loyal and steadfast. True. Devoted. Unwavering. Constant. Does that describe God? Does that describe you?
 
 
Last Sunday, Pastor Donald kicked off Honor, our series on the book of Malachi, the last book in the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament. It’s important to understand the context. Malachi is a powerful, prophetic message to God’s people who have been unfaithful to Him…and chapter two begins with a warning to the priests.
 
“Listen, you priests—this command is for you! (Malachi 2:1, NLT)
 
I wish priests, pastors, Christian leaders were known as the most godly people in the community. It breaks my heart every time I hear of the moral failure of minister…and yet I know I fall short. I’m not perfect. I need God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy for my pride, my selfishness, my lack of faith, my worry,…
 
Listen to me and make up your minds to honor my name,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “or I will bring a terrible curse against you. I will curse even the blessings you receive. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you have not taken my warning to heart. (Malachi 2:2, NLT)
 
One role of Old Testament priests was pronouncing blessings on God’s people, but God threatens to turn them into curses.
 
I will punish your descendants and splatter your faces with the manure from your festival sacrifices, and I will throw you on the manure pile. 4 Then at last you will know it was I who sent you this warning so that my covenant with the Levites can continue,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 2:3-4, NLT)
 
God doesn’t sound happy! God hates religion, or at least half-hearted, when-it’s-convenient, going-through-the-motions activity. Have you ever done this? Maybe you’re there right now…here not to truly pursue God, but to do your religious duty for the week. The priests were not honoring God, so God was threatening to make them unclean, literally and figuratively.
 
This text was not written to us, obviously. It was written to a people almost 2500 years ago, but there are common patterns humans seem to engage, regardless of time or culture.
 
Back in November, I mentioned Pastor Soper’s summary of the cycle the people of Israel went through during the Old Testament.

Israel forgets God >>> Israel forsakes God >>> Israel worships other gods >>> God sends judgment upon Israel >>> Israel cries out to God >>> God raises up a deliverer >>> God saves Israel >>> Israel pledges to serve God >>> [repeat]
Perhaps this same cycle is relevant today. If so, where are we? Where are you?
I want to stress we’re still looking at warnings to the priests.
 
“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6 They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. (Malachi 2:5-6, NLT)
 
That’s what Old Testament priests were supposed to do. They were to teach the Law and acts as messengers of God. Today, the role of the priests and clergy is first to set an example for others to follow (“Follow me as I follow Christ,” Paul wrote) and then to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. This is known as the priesthood of all believers.
We are all called to be priests, to be missionaries, to make disciples, to worship God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. We are all called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
 
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10, NLT)
 
But back to the Old Testament priests…
 
“The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 2:7, NLT)
 
Then we have that all-too common preposition.
 
But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. 9 “So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” (Malachi 2:8-9, NLT)
 
This is sobering, especially for a professional Christian like me! But this is relevant for you, too. Have you caused anyone to sin? Have you wandered from the LORD? Is your life one worth imitating?
 
Now the message shifts from the priests to all believers, what is known as the third oracle of Malachi…three questions.
 
Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors? (Malachi 2:10, NLT)
 
These people have one Father, a reference to God or possibly Abraham. They are all masterpieces created by the same God, but they’ve been unfaithful not only to God, but to one another.
 
Judah has been unfaithful, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. The men of Judah have defiled the LORD’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols. 12 May the LORD cut off from the nation of Israel every last man who has done this and yet brings an offering to the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 2:11-12, NLT)
 
They have been detestable! History is filled with people—men and women—who have been led astray by their spouses. The Jews were not to marry those of other faiths because God knew their hearts would be led astray. There are many examples of this, both then and now, and the penalty was strict…cut off from the nation, either a literal death or that they would have no descendants. The reference to offerings is yet another declaration that religious activity without obedience is worthless. To obey is better than sacrifice. God wants all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength…24/7/365, not just an hour on Sunday. But let’s go back to the point of this detestable thing…intermarrying with pagans, with those who worship other gods.
You are your friends. Choose wisely. This is why Paul wrote,
 
Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NLT)
 
We often apply this to dating, forbidding Christians from marrying non-Christians. This is so vital. There are some unusual examples of “missionary dating” being successful, but too often well-meaning Christians dating non-Christians are lured into abandoning their faith. This command could be relevant in other relationships, too. This does not mean we are to avoid unbelievers. We are simply not to be influenced by them. Light should penetrate the darkness, not the other way around. Someone said,
“When Jesus hung out with sinners…they changed. He didn’t.” We are to be in the world, but not of it.
 
When we talk about the holiness of God, we’re speaking of how He is set apart, distinct, different. It is our calling, too…all of us. We are not supposed to act like the world. We are not supposed to do what they do, but rather live an alternative lifestyle of righteousness, integrity, generosity, compassion, and most of all love.
 
I get angry when I hear accounts of so-called Christians behaving just like the world, seeking power for their sake, ignoring those in need, embracing lifestyles forbidden in scripture, spewing pride, and even promoting violence. There’s a great scene in the tenth chapter of Mark. James and John, two of the disciples, asked Jesus if they could sit on his right and left in his glory.
 
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (Mark 10:42, NIV)
 
Power is seductive. It is attractive. It’s one of the greatest temptations. Jesus continues,
 
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45, NIV)
 
The Bible is true. Every word. Problems arise when we ignore the Bible or misunderstand it. Some statements—especially in the Old Testament—applied to particular people in a particular time, but Jesus’ words are usually universal, and this is clearly the case here.
 
Most of us love the idea of being a servant…until we’re treated like one! Jesus is our perfect example, and its only by knowing Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit that we can become like Jesus. It’s not about trying harder. It’s not the result of a new year’s resolution or a self-help book. You are your friends. Choose wisely. Choose Jesus. Now another subject emerges.
 
Here is another thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. (Malachi 2:13, NLT)
 
When is the last time you cried out to God? What makes you weep? What causes you to groan in desperation? Sometimes God’s response to our prayers is related to our obedience…or disobedience. I am
not saying if you’re a good boy or girl God will grant your every wish. I’m not saying if your prayers aren’t answered how and when you want, it’s the result of sin. But in this case, God identifies the problem with their worship. Their crocodile tears are not the result of sincere worship. They have been unfaithful.
 
You cry out, “Why doesn’t the LORD accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the LORD witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. (Malachi 2:14, NLT)
 
Wait, God cares about my marriage? He cares about my faithfulness to my spouse? In a word, yes!
 
Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. (Malachi 2:15, NLT)
 
Most of you who are married made vows, not only to your spouse, but also to God. It’s one thing to break a promise to a person, but another to be unfaithful to God.
 
If you’re married, are you honoring your vows? Are you faithful in sickness and in health? I have to admit when I spoke those words almost 33 years ago, I didn’t imagine pushing a wheelchair all winter. I never imagined COVID. I didn’t anticipate surgeries. And I have no regrets!
 
Better or worse. We never really think about the worse part. What if a child is seriously sick. What happens when a career change is made, a job relocation, a car breakdown, or mental illness in the family? How do you respond when your husband drives over your foot with your Jeep in front of the church building?!
 
Richer or poorer. I suppose this one is easy for young couples to envision since they’re often poor as church mice like Heather and I were when we got married.
 
Married people, guard your heart. Protect your marriage. Kindle your romance. Remain loyal to your spouse…even when you don’t feel like it. Be faithful.
 
I want to pause for a moment and address those of you who are not married. If you’ve never been married, I want to say I’m sorry…not because you’re single, but because of the way Christians and churches often treat singleness as some kind of disease…when the Bible clearly teaches it is better for some not to marry. Marriage is not the fix-all, cure-all guaranteed to “complete you.” It’s hard work. It can take your focus off God if you’re not careful. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re single, whether you choose it or haven’t met the right person yet. Married people, let’s stop treating singles as second-class citizens. Instead, let’s welcome them into our families. Let’s do life with them.
 
Some of you are unmarried as a result of death. I’m so sorry for your loss and pray God floods your life with peace and comfort.
 
Some of you are unmarried as a result of divorce. Malachi addresses you, too.
 
“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Malachi 2:16, NLT)
 
God hates divorce, but He does not hate divorcees. There are many reasons why people get divorced, some permitted by scripture, others not. Many divorcees never wanted a divorce. Those seeking divorce to end all of their problems are often disappointed. Divorce is messy…and expensive…and often inevitable. God hates it because He knows the pain it causes. It violates His plan for a man and woman to be one and, frequently, create a family together. Marriage is a beautiful symbol of His relationship with His people.
 
If you’re married, guard your heart and be faithful to your spouse.
 
If you’re single, embrace the benefits of your marital status. Single parents, I realize this is especially challenging. You have the toughest job in the world, but remember you’re a part of a family. Get connected to a
Life Group. Take some initiative. If you’re new around here, come to the After Party today. We see you. God sees you. You don’t have to do this by yourself. You weren’t meant to do this by yourself. We were all created for community. We are different part of the body of Christ and we need one another, We need to be faithful to one another, and faithful to God.
 
If you are seeking a perfect mate, focus on being the perfect mate…and be patient.
 
If you’re divorced, receive God’s grace, mercy, and healing.
 
God hates divorce because it hurts people. It may be necessary, but it still causes pain.
 
God’s vision is for family is clear from the opening pages of the Bible: one man and one woman may marry, which often leads to children. Single people are to remain committed to celibacy.
 
But the message of this text is more than the faithfulness of a husband and wife. It’s about the relationship between God and Israel. The prophets spoke numerous times about God divorcing Israel, His “wife,” for unfaithfulness.
 
Our faithful God calls all of us to be faithful…to Him and one another. He is good. Hallelujah!

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

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

Prayer as an Expression of Hope, 5 February 2023

Prayer as an Expression of Hope
40 Days of Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

Never stop praying. (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NLT)
 
Today’s theme is Prayer as an Expression of Hope:
 
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
Why is this an expression of hope?
 
God and His Kingdom are forever.
 
Last week I was driving around my old stomping grounds in Ann Arbor. It’s been about seven and a half years since we moved from Michigan to Toledo, and in less than a decade, so much has changed. New people live in many of the homes in our old neighborhood. Stores I used to frequent have closed. I ate breakfast in a new restaurant in space that used to be a different establishment.
 
I drove by The Big House—Michigan Stadium—and what used to be a cutting edge, high tech video board has been taken down, most likely to be replaced by an even brighter, higher-definition one.
 
Everywhere we look, our world is changing. Few people stay at the same company throughout their career. Little people grow up to become big people. The weather is constantly changing. People even change spouses when their marriages fail.
 
It’s no wonder people are desperate for hope. One pastor recently wrote, “We no longer trust the government, the medical profession, the judicial system, our academic institutions, or our churches.”
 
But God and His Kingdom are forever! That’s real hope. One of Jesus’ best friends, Peter, wrote,
 
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)
 
A living hope. Jesus died to give us hope, forgiveness, peace, reconciliation to our heavenly Father, but then rose from the dead. That’s real power! That’s real hope!
 
When we hope in temporary things, we’ll always be disappointed. They become false hope. Paul said to his apprentice, Timothy…
 
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17, NIV)
 
Followers of Jesus view their resources as something to steward, to share, not something to worship. Where is your hope today?
 
Even in the midst of trials, we can have hope. In fact, it is through trails that we encounter hope. Listen to these words:
 
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5, NLT)
 
When is the last time you rejoiced over your problems and trials? It sounds crazy, right, but you can trust God’s Word to be true. None of us enjoy suffering, but suffering shapes us. It develops our character. It makes us stronger.
 
For the past five weeks or so, Heather has been using crutches due to a broken foot. The crutches are uncomfortable and she is using her arms in ways she’s never done before, but those muscles are getting stronger. In the same way, when we are tested, our character grows. Furthermore, we’re reminded of our weaknesses, how little we can control, and the hope of heaven. The hope of salvation. The hope of eternity with God.
Some of you are struggling right now, and I want to encourage you and tell you two things:
 
1.    You are seen. God sees you. If you’ve shared with others, they see you. You are loved. You are accepted. You matter. You belong here. You are family. No matter what you’ve done.
2.
    Your story is not over. If you are a follower of Jesus, the best is yet to come. I promise! Here’s a glimpse of what’s ahead:
 
“At that time, after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
 
Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:24-26, NLT)
 
That’s hope! That’s what we have to look forward to very soon! Be encouraged, family.
This prayer in Romans perfectly describes how I feel about you.
 
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NLT)
 
Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 6. We’re going to look at the end of verse 13.
 
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:13b, NKJV)
 
How many of you see that? How many of you don’t? This is called the doxology, and it’s missing in many Bible translations, though there’s probably a footnote somewhere. Let Dr. Scot McKnight explain:
 
Readers of most editions of the Bible will find a note that the best and earliest manuscripts do not have the commonly recited doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen” (KJV). Neither does Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:1 – 4 have a doxology. Those words appear to have been formed on the basis of 1 Chronicles 29:11 – 13 by someone later than Jesus and the writing of the gospel of Matthew; the doxology was added to the Lord’s Prayer in public prayer, and then was gradually added to the text of the New Testament itself. We recite them today because the public recitation of the Lord’s Prayer seems incomplete without such an ending.
 
(
The Story of God Bible Commentary)
 
It’s a fitting conclusion to the prayer, reminding us that God is worthy of our praise. He is all-powerful. There is evidence of His Kingdom breaking forth here on earth, but more is to come.
 
As we pray, we can praise and prepare for eternity.
 
The next life will be filled with music, praise, and adoration. I don’t expect to play a harp on a cloud, but we will certainly worship Almighty God. When we sing, we prepare. When we look back at Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the miraculous resurrection, we are reminded of who he is and why he is worthy.
 
 
Jesus Messiah
 
All our hope is in you, Jesus, the light of the world!

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

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

Prayer as Confession, 22 January 2023

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


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

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

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

Prayer as Kingdom Partnership, 8 January 2023

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

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

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

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

IV. Act 4: The Church

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

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah, 25 December 2022

Hallelujah!
Handel's
Messiah
Zechariah 9:9-10
Revelation 19:6; 11:15; 19:16

Series Big Idea:
Handel’s Messiah may be the greatest work of music ever created, bringing praise and glory to the Creator.
 
Big Idea: The Messiah is King of kings and LORD of lords…hallelujah!
 
Throughout this season of Advent—waiting, arrival—we’ve been looking at various scriptures through the lens of
Handel’s Messiah. If you go to a live performance of the musical masterpiece, you will likely get something called a libretto, a booklet with notes. The first time I experienced it live, I was struck by how the libretto was entirely Bible passages!
 
We’re going to look at two songs on this the day we celebrate the birth of the Messiah. The first one is
Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion. Like much of Part One of Handel’s Messiah, the text is from an ancient prophet, this time Zechariah:
 
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the horse from Jerusalem;
The battle bow shall be cut off.
He shall speak peace to the nations;
His dominion shall be “from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.’ (Zechariah 9:9-10. NKJV)
 
What does this mean? These prophecies were fulfilled hundreds of years later when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday.
 
Matthew the tax collector recorded the following:
 
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.” (Matthew 21:1-3, NLT)
 
This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
            ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
            riding on a donkey’s colt.’” (Matthew 21:4-5, NLT)
 
As I’ve said before, one of the reasons I believe the Bible is true is because of the fulfilled prophecies, especially those pertaining to Jesus the Messiah. There are more than 300 Messianic prophecies Jesus fulfilled. According to Christianity.com, the chances of one person fulfilling eight of them are one in 100,000,000,000,000,000. The odds of fulfilling 48 of the 300+ would be one in ten to the 157th power!
 
Before we look at our final song for this part of Handel’s Messiah, I want to jump back to the Zechariah passage. It ends,
 
His realm will stretch from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:10b, NLT)
 
We find ourselves between the first and second comings of Jesus. Zechariah wrote around 500 BC…about 500 years before the first Christmas. We’re 2000 years on the other side of it awaiting his return. He’s not coming back as a baby. He won’t be riding on a donkey. There will be no arrest or crucifixion next time. We live in the awkward in-between with the Bible and Holy Spirit to guide us, yet a great day is coming…for those who follow Jesus.
 
Is that you today? A few weeks ago we saw how Judgment Day is coming for us all. We either bear the penalty for our sins and mistakes or trust Jesus’ death and resurrection to pay for us…but that requires surrender, followership, devotion to Jesus.
 
The greatest gift you can give Jesus for his birthday is your heart. Actually, your heart, soul, mind, and strength. He doesn’t need something from WalMart! He wants you!
 
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, NIV).
 
That word “believe” doesn’t mean intellectually agree. The original Greek word
pisteuo means to have faith in, to trust, to commit. We live in a culture that tells us every day it’s all about us. The message might as well be we’re gods and don’t need God. We don’t want someone telling us how to live our lives, even if He wrote the instruction manual and knows what’s best!
 
God gave. The Father gave the Son, Jesus. Jesus gave His life. When he left earth after he rose from the dead, he sent the Holy Spirit to live inside every disciple, every follower.
 
There are actually three parts to Handel’s Messiah. The first is what we might call the Christmas portion. Part two we’ll cover as we approach Holy Week, the death of Jesus for the sins of the world. Part three is about the resurrection of the Messiah and the resurrection of our bodies when he returns. Our final song today—the last song of 2022 for First Alliance Church—speaks not of 2000 years ago or even the present, but the future. The texts come from the book of Revelation where John the apostle records a vision from the LORD.

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Revelation 19:6, NKJV)
 
This is a picture of the coming King, the return of the Messiah. The word “Alleluia” or “Hallelujah” means “praise the LORD.” It is the same in languages around the world.
 
I’ve been in big crowds, but none have sounded like many waters and mighty thunderings. This is some choir! The word “omnipotent” means all-powerful. God may seem distant from you today. You may wonder if He hears your prayers (He does!). You probably ask, “Why?” a lot like I do, but He is at work, often behind-the-scenes. He’s waiting, perhaps for us to finish the mission of letting 8 billion people know they are loved by their Creator who wants them to surrender and follow Jesus.
 
Do you know Jesus? Do you know the Messiah? There’s no other agenda or purpose or mission we have at First Alliance Church than proclaiming the gospel, the good news, that Jesus is LORD. It’s all about the Messiah. He wants every man, woman, and child to trust and love him with all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their mind, and all of their strength…and then love others as they love themselves.
 
Let me say again, what are you getting Jesus for his birthday? He wants you! When he returns, you’ll be on the winning team! Listen…
 
Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15, NKJV)

He shall reign…forever…and ever! That’s a long time! Here’s another description:
 
And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:
            KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:16, NKJV)
 
I did not put this in all-caps. It’s how it’s written! Jesus the Messiah is greater than any king, president, CEO, movie star, social media influencer, athlete, or author. He’s greater than any angel, demon, and definitely greater than satan. He’s greater than communism, capitalism, religion, or political party. He’s truly the GOAT: the greatest of all time. And he’s returning soon. Are you ready?
 
The most famous song in Handel’s Messiah celebrates in lyric and music.

If you’ve ever attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah, you know everyone stands when the Hallelujah Chorus begins. Tradition says this is because King George II stood up during the song in the 1743 London premiere, so moved by the music that he stood in reverence. Regardless, we conclude our first series on Handel’s Messiah and our Advent series by singing…the Hallelujah Chorus.

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

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

Shepherd, 11 December 2022

Shepherd (part of the Family Christmas P