The Real Jesus

More Signs of the End, 30 May 2021

More Signs of the End
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 13:14-37

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Keep watch, for the end of the world is coming…soon!

Open your eyes! Look around! Be on guard! Be alert! Get ready! Keep watch! Watch!

This morning we continue and conclude Mark chapter thirteen, what is known as the Olivet Discourse, words spoken by Jesus on the Mount of Olives about the future. The chapter begins

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mark 13:1)

The temple was the most sacred place, essentially the center of the world for the Jews. I can’t imagine something comparable in our culture…maybe the US Capital or, in Toledo, 5/3 Field…just kidding! But the temple was arguably the most important and majestic structure on the planet.   

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2)   

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
(Mark 13:3-4)

They ask two questions: when and what will be the sign. He spends verses 5-13 describing what will happen first, including wars, natural disasters, persecution, and the preaching of the gospel—or good news—to all nations. Today we’ll see more details about when this—the destruction of the temple—will occur…though it also appears he is speaking about the end of all things and his return.

Today I’m going to do my best to give you a crash course in biblical prophecy. I can almost guarantee you it will frustrate you, if only because my sermon will last nine hours! Just kidding! But to understand today’s text, some background is necessary.

The prophet Daniel in the Old Testament used a peculiar phrase three times (9:27, 11:31, 12:11) in his short book: “abomination that causes desolation.” It speaks of the Gentiles polluting the Jewish temple with idolatry. It was defiled in 167 BC by Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) with pig’s blood poured on the altar in an offering to Zeus, an event predicted in Daniel 11:31. It led to three and a half years of intense persecution for the Jews.

“His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. (Daniel 11:31)

The temple was defiled again in AD 70 by the Romans when they destroyed the city of Jerusalem.

Paul Carter notes, “The catastrophe of AD 69-70 is, in a sense, a foreshadowing of the catastrophe of satan’s little season or the Great Tribulation…just as Rome encircled Jerusalem, so shall the antichrist encircle the people of God in the last days.”

Jesus said in last week’s text there will be many signs of the beginning of the end, but they’re not the end. They’re like a woman with birth pains—having contractions. That doesn’t mean the baby has arrived. It’s just a signal that the process has started. In many ways, our world has been in the midst of tribulation since Jesus ascended into heaven. We have seen wars and famines and earthquakes—and pandemics! The past 2000 years have been a season of tribulation. It has hard for Jesus. It has been hard for his followers who have been persecuted, tortured, and even martyred.

Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Mark 13:13)

following Jesus is dangerous…but worth it. Saved people persevere.

Now we come to the most controversial part of the chapter. Is Jesus speaking of the events that would occur in AD 70 with the destruction of temple, or something further into the future…perhaps even things have not yet occurred in the past 2000 years? Or both?

“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Mark 13:14)

This was a sign, a signal. “Let the reader understand” is a way of saying, “This is Bible code. There’s a message here. Don’t miss it!” The first part of the chapter said to stand firm, but now Jesus says when you see these things, go. Flee! Jewish Christians heeded this warning and they did leave Jerusalem before it was destroyed in AD 70, saving many lives.
In AD 69, there was a succession of four Roman emperors‑Nero, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian—filled with murder, violence, and civil war. Then in AD 70 during the destruction, people starved, practiced cannibalism, and fought for food scraps. Titus burnt the temple and crucified thousands of Jews. Yet more Jews were killed by other Jews than by the Roman invaders. It was a brutal time.

Matthew Henry notes, “The Jews had rejected Christ as an abomination, though he would have been their salvation, and now God brought on them an abomination that would be their desolation, an abomination that was spoken about in this way by Daniel the prophet (9:27), and that would bring about a cessation of the sacrifices offered under the Law of Moses.”

Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. (Mark 13:15-16)

Survival is more important than stuff.

How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! (Mark 13:17)

They will be the most vulnerable. They usually are!

Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. (Mark 13:18-19)   

Jesus doesn’t say when this will happen, but urges them to pray.

Again, Christians fled Jerusalem in AD 70 when it was invaded. Many took refuge at Pella in the Transjordanian mountains.

“If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. (Mark 13:20)

Praise the LORD! God is sovereign and in control. We may question why God allows certain things, but don’t think for a moment that He is out of control He has given us free will to make choices, but He always has the last world. He may have given us—and satan—freedom, but there are limits.

At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.
For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time. (Mark 13:21-23)   

Jesus is warning them—and, perhaps, us. Watch out! Get ready! Don’t be deceived. Then he seems to shift to his second coming. He uses apocalyptic language and quotes Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4…

“But in those days, following that distress,

“ ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ (Mark 13:24-25)   

Can you imagine? And this wasn’t even the end of the world, though it would be the end of their world.

“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:26)   

The Son of Man is a reference to Daniel 7:13. Those are glory clouds, not rain clouds! This will be a great moment! Jesus’ complete vindication. John saw something similar in his revelation…

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

Paul used similar language in his letter to the Thessalonian church…

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Encouraging words, indeed! Back to Jesus’ words in Mark…

And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. (Mark 13:27)   

A great harvest will occur which will include not only Jews, but Gentiles, too. We are called to make disciples “of all nations.” Now Jesus tells a parable.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. (Mark 13:28-29)

The disciples wanted signs. Jesus gives them one.

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mark 13:30-31)

This will last no longer than forty years, the typical length of a biblical generation. But wait, Jesus says “this generation?” Some believe that meant the events up to verse 23, excluding his second coming from verses 24-27. Others think it refers to “this race” as in the Jewish people, not Jesus’ contemporaries. If that’s the case, “all these things” includes both the temple’s destruction and the second coming. Jesus guarantees these things will occur. Jesus always keeps his promises.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32)

It’s ridiculous—and quite frankly a waste of time—to predict when this will happen since Jesus doesn’t even know! Anyone arrogant enough to give a date thinks they’re greater than the Messiah! What’s the point? It’s certainly not to make predictions!

Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. (Mark 13:33)

Be on guard! Be alert!

It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. (Mark 13:34)

Keep watch!
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. (Mark 13:35-36)   

Keep watch!

What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (Mark 13:37)   


So What?

Be on guard! Be alert! Keep watch!

That’s it. That’s the message. It’s an old message that is extremely relevant today. As I said last week, we’re one day closer than yesterday!

Jesus doesn’t say worry about the antichrist. He doesn’t say be anxious about the mark of the beast. He doesn’t even say get stressed about satan. He simply says tribulation is coming, get ready, and what follows will be wonderful for those who remain faithful to God. Jesus is coming back soon. 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

Signs of the End, 23 May 2021

Signs of the End
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 13:1-13

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Get ready, for the end of the world is coming…soon!

One of the most common questions I get as a pastor is, “When will Jesus return?” The broader culture describes it as “the end of the world.”

You may recall about a decade ago many were saying the end of the world would coincide with the Mayan calendar’s ending on December 21, 2012. 12-21-12.

Wikipedia is packed with past predictions of the end of the world, beginning with the Jewish Essene sect in 66-70, Some thought it would end on January 1, 1000.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted the end in 1941 in the middle of four dates given by Herbert W. Armstrong. Then there was Jim Jones in 1967, Charles Manson in 1969, the Jehovah’s Witnesses again in 1975, Pat Robertson said 1982, Edgar C. Whisenant in 1988 (
88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988), Louis Farrakhan in 1991, Harold Camping in 1994 (and 1995!), and Nostradamus 1999.

Many of you were around at Y2K and experienced great commotion at the turn of the millennium. Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, and even Jonathan Edwards thought 1.1.2000 would be the big day.

Unfortunately, the predictions continue to this day. I only have two responses:

  1. 1. We’re one day closer than yesterday.
  2. 2. Get ready!

Today we’re back in the book of Mark, the shortest of the four gospels, “good news,” that tell about the life of Jesus. He’s why we’re here. He’s our guide, our leader, our Savior, our LORD, our Senior Pastor. When you focus on Jesus, you can forget all of the religious mumbo jumbo, conspiracy theories, cults, and heretics. Jesus is our authority. This is why we talk about him, sing to him, and love him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Today and next Sunday we’re in Mark chapter 13 in what is known as the Olivet Discourse, also found in Matthew 24-25 and Luke 21. It is sometimes called the Little Apocalypse because of its apocalyptic or literally “uncovering” language.
One of the challenges with apocalyptic language (besides pronouncing it!) is the questions raised, specifically whether it speaks of a past, present, or future event.
Biblical prophecy often has more than one meaning in view. It can be challenging to discern whether what we’re reading is something in the future or a past event that followed the prediction…or both!

If you w
ere drive west on the Ohio Turnpike and stay on I-80, eventually you’ll see what looks to be a large mountain ahead, maybe a hundred miles in the distance. As you get closer to the Rocky Mountains, however, you’ll discover what looked like one mountain is actually a series of mountains. What looks like rock 150 miles away may also include peaks 160, 170, perhaps 200 miles away. There is no definitive point of the Rocky Mountains (unless you count the gift shop at Rocky Mountain National Park!).

The same can be said about biblical predictions of the future. Many people think they know what exact day or event is being described, but it might be a reference to more than one. Broadly, many of the prophecies of Jesus were fulfilled about 2000 years ago during his first coming…while many will not occur until he returns…soon!

The context of Mark chapter 13 is Jesus’ rising popularity with the crowds and the growing hatred of him by the religious leaders. In chapter four, Jesus talked about “hearing.” In this discourse, the them is “watching,” watching out for the way evil will materialize. The images are not always pretty. Pastor Keith spoke of suffering last week, and persecution has been a way of life for so many followers of Jesus throughout the ages. But Jesus will have the last word! I’ve read the end of the book!

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mark 13:1)   

The temple was incredible, one of the wonders of the Roman world. It covered one-sixth of the city! The Babylonians destroyed the original temple of Solomon. The book of Ezra describes the smaller replacement. Now centuries later in our text, Herod Antipas was still completing the edifice started by his father, Herod the Great.

Imagine this temple, twice the size of the Athens Acropolis. It covered thirty-five acres. Perhaps most impressive were the stones mentioned here, some 45 feet long, 11 feet high, and 12 feet thick!

If you go to Jerusalem today, you can see the remains at the Temple Mount.

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2)   

That’s a jolting statement! What do you mean, Jesus? Will there be an earthquake? A tornado? How do you know?

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
(Mark 13:3-4)

Like so many today, they wanted to know about end times. Jesus had given them valuable real estate advice! Don’t buy those building! They won’t last!

They wanted to know when. Give us a date, Jesus! Maybe we’ll go on vacation that week and avoid the destruction. They also wanted a sign.

Jesus said to them:
“Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. (Mark 13:5-6)   

Jesus says watch for imposters who will deceive. Has this ever happened in history? Absolutely! False messiahs have formed cults and led many astray. Jesus is warning them of what is ahead, though he gives no dates.

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. (Mark 13:7)   

He tells them to watch for calamities of human origin: wars and rumors of wars. Has this every happened in history? Of course! Tragically, there have been wars somewhere on the planet since…well almost since Adam and Eve! For the most part, USAmericans are unfamiliar with war, at least on our soil. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to live in Israel today in the midst of the conflict…or other places where war is ensuing.

Jesus says wars must happen. Why? He knows the human heart. He knows our lust for power, for money, for domination over another. He knows our enemy and the death and destruction he always leaves in his path. He says, “Do not be alarmed. Keep calm!”

Jesus says watch out for calamities of human origin.

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
(Mark 13:8)   

This is actually the place to start to understand our text for today. Jesus says watch out for natural calamities like earthquakes, famines, …pandemics?! He doesn’t say these are signs of the end, though. They are just the beginning.

Now Jesus moves to the next sign: persecution.

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. (Mark 13:9)   

The book of Acts is filled with the fulfilment of these prophecies. While they most certainly asked, “Why, LORD?” during their persecution, it prompted the spread of the gospel to other peoples. God had a plan. God always has a plan!

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. (Mark 13:10)   

The parallel in the book of Matthew says,

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

One of the driving passions of our church and denomination’s founder, A.B. Simpson, was to see the Great Commission completed so that Jesus could return. He took this verse at face value.

Is it a statement of what will occur or a condition for Jesus’ return.

New York Journal reporter approached Dr. Simpson with the question, "Do you know when the Lord is coming?"

"Yes," he replied, "and I will tell you if you promise to print just what I say, references and all."

The reporter's poised notebook gave the ready promise.

"Then put this down: 'This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto the nations and then shall the end come.' Matthew 24:14. Have you written the reference?"

"Yes, what more?"

"Nothing more."

The reporter lowered his pencil and said, "Do you mean to say that you believe that when the Gospel is preached to all nations Jesus will return?"

“Just that.”

"I think I begin to see daylight," answered the reporter. "I see the motivation and the motive power in this movement."

"Then," said the Alliance leader, "You see more than some of the doctors of divinity."

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. (Mark 13:10)   

It’s a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg scenario. Which comes first? Can we actually make the end come sooner by preaching the gospel to all nations? It seems like Jesus is stating what will occur rather than a precondition for his return, but I maybe wrong. Regardless, we are all called to make disciples, to love others well, to always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have, to share good news.

Jesus continues…

Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. (Mark 13:11)   

I would imagine the disciples found this to be incredibly encouraging.

Today we desperately need the Holy Spirit. I need the Holy Spirit each time I stand before you, and I pray He speaks through me. My wisdom is not worth much, believe me!

The persecution would expand beyond the government.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. (Mark 13:12)   

Jesus is warning them of the cross they must pick up daily to follow him. The enemy will divide families. Two thousand years of history have born this out. It’s heartbreaking to hear of people rejected by their families when they begin to follow Jesus, but it should come as no surprise. Following Jesus is dangerous…but worth it.

Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
(Mark 13:13)   

That’s a troubling yet comforting sentence! I’ve never met anyone who wants to be hated, but entering the kingdom of heaven will be worth it. All believers will someday be vindicated. Jesus never breaks a promise!

So What?

I know some of you have been told this passage is about the second coming of Jesus. Others believe it’s about the end of the world. Where does this fit into the Millennial reign of Christ? Was all of this fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed the temple? I actually believe the latter, but I could be wrong.

Again, biblical prophecy can be challenging to understand. We do know Jesus will return someday. We are told repeatedly to be ready…and to get others ready. For centuries, our brothers and sisters in the faith have faced tremendous suffering and even martyrdom, and that may be our fate someday, too.

In our text for today, Jesus says do not be alarmed. He says those who stand firm will be saved. If we seek God’s glory instead of our own, His Kingdom will come and His will will be done. I’ve always been amazed that the persecution we avoid is often the very thing that results in the spread of the gospel, the good news. What Jesus said here came to pass as recorded in the book of Acts and Philippians 1. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

We need to get ready…for the return of Christ.
We need to get ready…for the possibility of suffering.

Tom Wright notes, “…those Christians who don’t face persecution often face the opposite temptation, to stagnate, to become cynical, to suppose that nothing much is happening, that the kingdom of God is just a pious dream.”

We also need to get others ready. Everyone deserves a chance to know Jesus.

Jesus never breaks a promise! He not only made predictions about the destruction of the most beautiful building in the world, he promised the coming of the Holy Spirit. He said in verse 11 that the Holy Spirit would come and give them words to speak when they were arrested and on trial.

Next week we’ll see Jesus address when the destruction of the temple will occur and more signs of the end, even if today’s passage merely described the events leading up to the end of the temple.

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

Temple Talk, 9 May 2021

Temple Talk
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 12:35-44

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Jesus has choice words about the heart of God and the heart of humans.

We’ve been exploring the life and teachings of Jesus as recorded by John Mark in his gospel or “good news” biography of Christ. Perhaps our greatest quest in this extensive sermon series is to more fully answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” Since our church, our Alliance family, all of Christianity is based upon Jesus, the more we can understand his life, teachings, example, death, and resurrection, the more vibrant and authentic our faith.

If you’ve been with us throughout this series, Jesus’ popularity is causing great envy among the religious leaders. They were so jealous, they were devising plans to have him killed. The crowds loved him, though, and so they devised questions to try to trap Jesus and discredit him among the general public. In our text for today, Jesus turns the tables, so to speak, and presents questions of his own.

King David wrote,

The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.” (Psalm 110:1, NLT)

This is known as a prophetic song following a revelation from God. It is quoted in Acts 2:34-35 and Hebrews 11:13. It also appears in our text for today.

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? (Mark 12:35)

Jesus is in Jerusalem and he challenges the religious leaders about the promised Messiah. He would be a son or descendent of David, yet Psalm 110 reveals something rather remarkable. Jesus explains.

David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:

“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’ (Mark 12:36)
Now Jesus asks his question.   

David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” (Mark 12:37a)   

How can Jesus be David’s son and David’s LORD?

This is a mystery, yet it was announced hundreds of years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem (see Psalm 2, 89, 2 Samuel 7).

Jesus is fully human, the son of David.
Jesus is fully deity, the son of God.

Jesus poses a question nobody answers. He is unique. He is virgin-born. He is the fulfillment of centuries of prophecies. He is the Messiah! He is uniquely prophet, priest, and king. Here in the temple, he declares his authority over the Temple, over Israel, over the world.

Although Mark tells us nothing about the speechless religious leaders, he says,

The large crowd listened to him with delight. (
Mark 12:37b)   

I wonder,
do you listen to Jesus with delight? Do you read the Bible with delight? Do you delight in your life with God? He delights in you. He sings over you. He loves to hear your voice in prayer.

King David wrote,

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

I know it’s sometimes hard to have a relationship with Someone you cannot see or hear or touch, but we’re blessed with sixty-six books to enjoy, the Holy Spirit living inside of us, and a God who is active, listening, and present 24/7/365.

The large crowd listened to him with delight. (Mark 12:37b)   

Notice the common people loved him! Now Jesus finishes his public teaching.

As he taught, Jesus said,
“Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. (Mark 12:38-39)

Have you ever met an entitled person? They feel they deserve special privileges and treatment. They can be found in most any culture, including our own.

I did a little research and came across a few modern examples.

"My daughter worked at Sephora, and once — when the checkout line was really long — a woman cut in front of everyone saying, ‘I need to go first because I just know I’m spending more money today than the lot of you.'"

- "A woman called our dentist office and requested an appointment at a specific date and time. When I told her there was already someone scheduled at that time, she had the audacity to say, 'Well, can’t you just MOVE them?'”

- "I work at a restaurant, and one of our servers complimented a woman on her purse hanging over her chair. The woman responded, 'Oh, honey, you’ll never be able to afford this.'"

- "I work reception at a vet and we had a puppy rushed in who wasn't breathing. A guy who was waiting asked me how long he'd have to wait for his pet's appointment and I apologized and explained about the puppy. He huffed and said, 'It's taking a long time, isn't it?!' His appointment was for his guinea pig to have a nail trim."

Jesus calls out the teachers of the law…the scribes…the religious scholars. If they were here today, they would surely wear fancy clothes, drive fancy cars…or be driven in fancy cars! They were impressive and loved the attention of their power, their prestige, their position. Jesus is issuing a warning about them, no doubt further enraging them. He’s not done!

They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” (Mark 12:40)

The King James Version says they “shall receive greater damnation.” Ouch! Hypocrites will be given great condemnation, perhaps the greatest.

Widows were often destitute without a working husband. The Bible gives instructions on how to care for them, particularly in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. The teachers of the law clearly had no respect for them, perhaps because they were unable to make big donations to their cause.

The mention of lengthy prayers is explicit: it’s just a show for people rather than communication with God.

I can just hear the disciples: “Jesus, you might want to zip it! You’re going to get yourself killed!”

He did!

This marks the end of Jesus’ public ministry in Jerusalem. What follows involves only his disciples and is not found in the parallel account in Matthew chapter 23.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. (Mark 12:41)

How does Mark know the rich threw in large amounts? They did it publicly! They put on a show. They wanted everyone to know how rich they were. They wanted everyone to know how generous they were.

Have you ever heard about a multi-millionaire making a large donation to a charity? I love to hear about generous people, but often the amount is not as significant as it may appear. If a billionaire gives away a million dollars, it’s only 1/10 of 1% of their wealth! If you earn $50,000, it’s like giving away $50!

But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. (Mark 12:42)

I imagine those religious leaders paid no attention to this offering. Remember, Jesus had just talked about how they treated poor widows. But who were the better worshippers, the teachers of the law or this widow?

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. (Mark 12:43)

How could a few cents be more than the offerings of the rich?

They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
(Mark 12:44)

Jesus saw what she kept for herself. Nothing!

How much do you keep for yourself? How much do you really love Jesus?

The ultimate giving is sacrificial. It costs something.

The rich gave what was extra. The woman gave everything. It reminds me of the story of the chicken and the pig. They are both asked to provide for a breakfast plate. The chicken offered an egg which was easily spared. The pig’s contribution required everything!

Last Sunday, Pastor Donald taught on the Great Commandment from the previous passage of Mark.

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

One of the ways we love God is with our generosity. We worship through giving. We declare our allegiance to the LORD through the stewardship of our wealth, our money, no matter how much we have.

I’ve had people over the years ask me if tithing is a command for us today. Tithe literally means ten percent and it was prescribed in Old Testament worship, not only of cash but crops.

“ ‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. (Leviticus 27:30)

I believe that was the starting point, the minimum…ten percent. In the last book of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi recorded this:

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)

The people weren’t even giving ten percent, yet God made a promise to them. I believe this is the only time God says, “Test me.”

This is not a subtle fundraising speech. We’re not desperate for money around here. But I want you to take Jesus’ words seriously.

Some of you have very little money…and yet some of you are very generous with what little you have. Others of you think nothing of buying expensive clothes, toys, cars, or even homes…yet you struggle to give more than a percent or two to God…if that!

I don’t know who gives what, but I’m told we have church members who didn’t give a dime last year! Again, it’s not that I’m begging for your money. I’m simply concerned that you’re missing out on the thrill of giving, of investing in God’s Kingdom, and the blessings God grants those who are obedient.

In today’s text, Jesus contrasts the impressive yet entitled religious leaders with the generosity of a poor widow. Who loved God more? Who was the most generous? Who was the better steward?

Once again, I’m reminded of God’s message to Samuel:

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

How is your heart? Where is your heart?

One More Thing

Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all. (Proverbs 22:2)

I love the mosaic God is creating that we call the First Alliance family. It’s easy to see black, brown, and white, but we have people who are homeless and people who have beautiful homes. We have doctors, lawyers, and those who make minimum wage. Some of us haven’t graduated from high school while others have their doctorate degree. But we’re family. We’re a Jesus-centered family. We do life together. We need one another. We love and serve and pray for one another. Where else can you find such a group of different types of people together? That’s the Kingdom of God! It’s beautiful!

Before we close, I want to remind you of our benevolence fund. It’s used to serve family members in need. You can give to it anytime…and if you find yourself in need, you can fill out a Benevolence Form which can be found in our lobby kiosk or at the bottom of the
FAC Focus e-newsletter each Sunday morning. Please take advantage of this opportunity to give and receive, to love one another, to be good stewards and share together in the blessings of God.

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

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

The Resurrection, 25 April 2021

The Resurrection
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 12:18-27

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Someday all of the dead will be resurrected…are you ready?

Life is filled with questions and mysteries. How long will the COVID-19 last? Will the Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions ever win a Super Bowl? What came first, the chicken or the egg? Is breakfast cereal soup?

Perhaps the greatest question of all-time is, “What happens after you die?” Religions and philosophers have an abundance of answers, but even the Bible leaves plenty of mystery.

This morning we’re talking about resurrection. No, not
the Resurrection that we celebrated three weeks ago. We’re actually going to look at your resurrection. I know what you’re thinking…I’m not dead…yet! There’s a good chance that someday you will die…and then what? In our text for today, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what’s on the other side of the grave and why it matters.

I often stress the importance of context. We’re in the middle of the book of Mark, the shortest of the four gospels—or good news—that tell us about Jesus. He has predicted his own death and the religious leaders are getting riled up over Jesus’ popularity and audacious claims to be God. The Pharisees and Herodians failed to trap Jesus in last week’s text. Mark chapter twelve, verse eighteen says,

Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. (Mark 12:18)

The Pharisees get a lot of attention in the Bible, but the Sadducees were a different group of religious leaders. The high priests Caiaphas and Annas were first-century Sadducees. They only believed in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible and there is no mention of the resurrection in those books of Moses. As Mark plainly states, they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, leading some people to conclude without hope of the resurrection, were “sad, you see.” They viewed the resurrection as a new, dangerous idea that depended upon dubious books like Daniel and groups like the Pharisees.

To better understand, listen to these words from N.T. Wright:

…the Sadducees saw belief in resurrection as politically risky. It had become popular particularly during the revolutionary movements of the second century BC, as a way of affirming that the martyrs had a glorious future awaiting them, not immediately after death, but in the eventual resurrection when they would be given new bodies. This belief was based on the fundamental idea of God as the maker, and therefore the remaker, of the world. People who believe that God is going to recreate the whole world, including Israel, and even including their own dead bodies, are much more likely to do daring and risky things. Wealthy ruling classes prefer people not to think thoughts like that.

Dr. Luke tells us in the book of Acts:

(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.) (Acts 23:8)

Now they setup their question.

“Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. (Mark 12:19)

This is a fascinating instruction given by Moses. Obviously, it’s not something we follow today, nor are we obligated to do so since we are no longer under the 613 laws of Moses, the Mosaic Law. This particular command would certainly be practical a culture where women rarely earned income and Social Security did not exist. What’s a widow to do with her kids?

Genesis 38:8 and Deuteronomy 25:5-10 describe a scenario in which a man dies and his brother marries the widow. But now they offer an absurd scenario, seemingly in an attempt to discredit Jesus and other Jews who believed in the afterlife. You might call them skeptics.

Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. (Mark 12:20-22)

At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” (Mark 12:23)

Do you see how they were trying to twist the truth? Maybe they were even giggling. They put Jesus in the middle of a theological controversy between the Sadducees and Pharisees (who believed in the resurrection).

Perhaps you’ve had someone challenge your faith with a question like, “Can God create a rock so heavy He cannot lift it? (the answer is no because He cannot make a contradiction).

You can’t trick Jesus!

Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? (Mark 12:24)

Before Jesus addresses their question, he addresses their ignorance. They didn’t understand the power of God, denying the supernatural world of spirits and angels. They also didn’t understand the Scriptures. They refused to believe anything they couldn’t see.

This is true of many today, deists who believe in a Creator, they believe in God, but they deny miracles or supernatural activity today. Famous deists include Benjamin Franklin, Neil Armstrong, John Adams, Thomas Edison, Victor Hugo, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, and perhaps even Abraham Lincoln.

Our faith is not based upon merely a Creator, but the vital work of Jesus Christ the Messiah, dying for us, conquering sin and death, and the resurrection. The Sadducees ignored most of the Jewish Bible and failed to understand miracles and God’s power.

I don’t worship a weak God!
I don’t worship a dead God!
I don’t worship a God who is sleeping or distracted!

I worship a God who is omnipotent and all-powerful!
I worship a God who is omnipresent and with me always!
I worship a God who is omniscient and all-knowing!

Jesus answers their question—after asking one himself—and just like his response to the Pharisees in last week’s text, he amazes them. It’s mic-drop time!

When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. (Mark 12:25)

I love that phrase, “When the dead rise.” That’s hope! He doesn’t say, “If.” He’s very clear. The dead will rise!

Notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say we will become angels, get wings, fly, play the harp, or sit on a cloud. The only reference to angels is that the resurrected will not marry or be given in marriage.

He doesn’t say there won’t be married people in heaven.
He doesn’t say we will be without gender.

He never explicitly says spouses won’t be together in heaven or even that there won’t be marriage in heaven. He simply says there won’t be weddings in heaven. There won’t be new marriages.

If you examine the
purpose of marriage, one of the primary purposes is procreation. In the beginning, God made us male and female (Genesis 1:27) and said, “Be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:22).” People in heaven are eternal and there will be no need to procreate in order to continue the family line as we do today (which was the point of the law about the widow marrying the brother).

Resurrection means transformation with a new and improved body.

Resurrection means a new, embodied life in the future…not necessarily at the moment of our death.

Resurrection is the reversal of death to enjoy life in the new heaven and the new earth. What God has created, He will recreate. That is good news indeed!

Again, there are many things we don’t know about the next life. Great mystery remains, but what is clear is the Sadducees were wrong. There will be a resurrection, and Jesus goes back to one of their five books—Exodus chapter 3—to show them.

Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? (Mark 12:26)

Here Jesus is confronting their ignorance of the Book of Moses. If God is the God of these deceased men, these men must continue to exist in some form. Their bodies may be dead, but not their souls.

He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:27)

Jesus is trash-talking. Okay, maybe not exactly, but he clearly corrects them. “You are badly mistaken!”

But actions speak louder than words. I’m sure Jesus’ teaching was informative, but his own resurrection was transformative.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

I can’t overstate the importance of the resurrection—both Jesus’ resurrection and ours. Paul said it so plainly to the church in Corinth:

But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 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. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, NLT)

The Christian faith rises and falls on the resurrection. The reason I get so excited about Resurrection Sunday and the empty tomb is because without it, we have a dead faith. Literally.

The old hymn “He Lives” contains these lyrics:

I serve a risen Savior/He’s in the world today
I know that He is living, whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy/I hear His voice of cheer
And just the time I need Him/He’s always near

He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

So What?

For thousands of years, there have been people who believed in God but not the supernatural. Deists have a reverence for a Creator, but no relationship. I can’t imagine such a life, such a faith. If this life is all there is, we might as well just eat, drink, and be merry. But if there is a resurrection…if there is a Judgment Day…if there is eternal life waiting for us on the other side of the grave, we must seize every opportunity to get ready and get others ready for the resurrection.

Are you ready?

Are you getting others ready?

I want us to be people of the resurrection, celebrating Christ’s resurrection and anticipating our own and that of our loved ones.

Life is filled with questions and mysteries, but one thing is clear: Jesus is alive!

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

Church & State, 18 April 2021

Church & State
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 12:13-17

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Ultimately, everything we have belongs to the King of kings.

We’ve been going verse-by-verse through the book of Mark, the shortest of the four gospels or “good news” that tell the story of Jesus.

If you joined us last week, Jesus retold an ancient parable to the religious leaders, making them the bad guys in what Isaiah prophesied about Israel. Put simply, Jesus called them out, adding fuel to the fire of these wicked leaders who wanted to see the Messiah killed. They were successful in getting Christ crucified, but their victory was short-lived.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Our text today is short…only five verses. Before we look at them, it’s helpful to understand some historical background. As a Jew, Jesus spent most of his life and ministry among Jews living under Roman rule in a culture that had many gods. The people of Israel were somewhat unique in their monotheism, their belief in one God.

shema—the most essential prayer in Judaism, often prayed each morning and evening—begins

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

One God…who exists in three Person: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ day, some leaders were considered gods. This may seem odd in our culture, but that’s how much power they possessed among the people. Caesar was not an elected official like we have presidents and governors. But he ruled and taxed and was not exactly admired by the Jews!

Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. (Mark 12:13).

We’ve heard about the Pharisees. They were the conservative, legalistic Jewish leaders. Here Mark also mentions the Herodians. They were a political group who supported Herod. The Pharisees and Herodians are strange bedfellows! It’s amazing how people can come together over a common enemy, in this case Jesus. These religious leaders are ruthless! They have already determined to kill Jesus. They are doing everything possible to destroy his credibility, to “catch him in his words.”

Have you ever had someone “out to get you?” Do you walk on eggshells, so to speak, when you’re around certain people? Imagine your greatest critics were literally seeking to kill you!

In our text for today, a question is brought to Jesus, but they were not seeking knowledge. They were trying to trap Jesus.

Why do you do the things you do? I’m a big fan of the “why?” Motives matter. We often do things without even realizing why we’re doing them. Good and bad habits dictate many of our actions. It’s possible to even do good things with bad motives. This is a perfect example. Mark tells us from the beginning the “why.”

They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. (Mark 12:14a)

Notice they begin by buttering him up, praising him for his integrity. Their sarcasm—or anger in a clown suit!—is actually true. Jesus is a man of integrity. He wasn’t swayed by others. He taught the way of God in accordance with the truth. They were masquerading as genuine followers of Jesus and the truth, but they weren’t. Are you ready for the question?

Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” (Mark 12:14b-15a)

You have to admit it’s a good question! After all, the law of Moses written hundreds of years earlier which guided Jewish conduct knew nothing of Rome or Caesar or imperial taxes. It was a different era, much in the same way we face questions today which are not explicitly spelled out in the Bible.

Again, it’s a practical question, but it was asked with impure motives. I’m sure they were excited, placing Jesus in a no-win situation. Or so they thought!

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” (Mark 12:15b)

There are a lot of people who look, act, and sound impressive. They know the Bible. They go to church. They have the perfect family. Everyone knows about their generosity. But some simply know how to put on a show. The word for “hypocrite” is from the same root word as “actor.” Jesus knew their hearts…and he knows ours, too. One of my favorite verses in the Bible involves the selection of the next king of Israel.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1Samuel 16:7)

As I’ve said, these religious leaders were impressive. Their books were on the bestseller list. They had thousands of followers of social media. Their podcasts were hugely popular. Their tv shows had great ratings. But their hearts were wicked.

By the way, some things never change. Like many of you, I’ve been deeply disappointed seeing various Christian leaders fail over the years. They are impressive, but fail to finish the race well. Their charisma attracts great crowds, but their character is corrupt. The outside of the cup is shiny, but inside it’s filthy.

Jesus asks them for what we would call a penny. He may not have even had one himself. He had no credit cards!

They brought the coin, and he asked them,
“Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied. (Mark 12:16)

If Jesus said give to Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor, that would imply Caesar was greater than Moses, and they would’ve accused him of idolatry. If he said don’t give to Caesar, the Roman authority would have great concern! That would be insurrection. One response would offend the Pharisees, the other the Herodians.

You may know the Jews were not allowed to make carved images, yet the Roman coin had Caesar’s image on it…along with writing that said in Latin, “Augustus Tiberius, son of the divine Augustus.” On the other side, it said, “High Priest.” This coin was more than just a way to buy goods and services. It was a statement of power the Jews found downright offensive.

Then Jesus said to them,
“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

God is sovereign and in control over all, including Caesar!

And they were amazed at him. (Mark 12:17)

I’m sure they were also very disappointed for their trap failed. They were flooded in divine wisdom regarding stewardship, but found no evidence to support their quest to end his life.

Jesus is amazing! Jesus’ teachings are amazing. His life and death and resurrection are amazing. His prayers and intercession for us now are amazing. His return will be amazing. Best of all, spending eternity with Jesus will be amazing!

So What?

- We have a responsibility to government.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

Obviously there have been times throughout history when a choice must be made between following Jesus and following the government. Our first allegiance must be to God, but He has created three institutions for human flourishing: the family, the Church, and government. As much as we criticize government, we would be far worse without a defense, schools, roads, and other services they provide. I rarely hear people say their taxes are too low, but they are needed to fund the government.

Jesus said to give to Caesar—or the government—what belongs to Caesar.

Columbus takes 7% of nearly everything we buy. Lucas County takes ¼% of our purchases. Washington DC takes…too much!

But the message is about more than money. It may include obeying laws, including speed limits! We may have a responsibility to the government to apply for the draft when such a thing is required. We give our time to the government and to one another when we vote. Good citizens can do many things to partner with and serve the government for the sake of the community.

One of the challenges in our culture is hyper individualism. The attitude of many is it’s all about them. We’ve even brought this into the church, saying Christianity is all about me and my personal relationship with Jesus. A personal relationship with Jesus is incredibly important, but we were created for community. Following Christ is a team sport. That’s why we have the Church.

- We have a responsibility to the Church. We are to give. We are to serve. We are to love one another. We are to do life together. When it’s good, it’s really good! I admit when we get it wrong, it’s really ugly. In fact, the gossip, judging, condemnation, hypocrisy, and even hatred of so-called Christians has called many to end their pursuit of God. Few things break my heart more than hearing of people who have walked away from God because of a bad experience with the Church.

If you’ve been hurt by Christians—and we all have—I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Please forgive us. Saying we’re not perfect is no excuse, though it’s true! We all need Jesus. I sometimes wonder why God entrusted His Kingdom to broken ragamuffins like us instead of Jesus spending more than three years of ministry here on earth.

But we have responsibility to one another. I need you. You need me. None of us has all of the spiritual gifts. Give to the church what belongs to the church. Yes, that includes not only time but also talents and treasures. Now that we’re opening up more, I encourage you to get in a Life Group, serve on the Hospitality Team, join the Music or Tech Teams, …and support God’s work here and around the world with your finances.

Some religions have what are essentially dues in order to participate. We don’t sell tickets around here! But one of our newly adopted core values as a church which we’ll reveal in the coming months is generosity. God is generous. He gave us the most precious possible gift…His son Jesus. Jesus gave us his life. What more could he give? The Holy Spirit fills the planet in every follower of Jesus.

Again, the message from today’s text is more than just money, but it certainly includes money. In a few weeks we’ll look at Jesus’ teaching on investing in God’s Kingdom.

I’ve had people over the years ask me if tithing is a command for us today. Tithe literally means ten percent and it was prescribed in Old Testament worship, not only of cash but crops. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

We are a generous church. We have people that give dozens of volunteer hours each month. We have people generously sharing their talents and expertise. We have people who use their wealth to give extravagantly to bless our community.

I think ten percent is a good starting point for generosity, but it is by no means the max. Honestly, I can’t think of a better investment of finances than First Alliance Church and its work in Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and the ends of the earth through our Home Missions, Faith Missions, and Great Commission Fund partners. I love investing here!

By the way, in addition to giving cash online or in person, we can accept other assets and potentially save you substantial money on your taxes. If you have stocks, bonds, real estate, cattle, a business, or most any asset, we have the means of receiving them and using them for God’s glory.

As I said, the government, church, and family are the three institutions God created.

- We have a responsibility to our family. Parents, train your children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)


Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

Ultimately all of our responsibility to government, church, and family can be summarized in one command we’ll look at in two weeks:

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)

I realize that verse is missing a bit of context…and it relates to our greatest responsibility…our responsibility to God.

Everything is created by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

If we are to properly give to Caesar’s, what do we give to God? When asked which of the commandments is the greatest…

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29-30)

Did you catch Jesus quoting the shema? The Lord is one. We worship one God. How do we worship Him? With everything! All of our heart. All of our soul. All of our mind. All of our strength.

One hundred percent of our time, talents, and treasures belong to God. They’re on loan. We must be good stewards of what’s He’s entrusted to us.

How do your finances bring God glory?
How does your calendar bring God glory?
How does your physical body bring God glory?
How does your mind bring God glory?

What do I need to submit to God? Where is Jesus not LORD in my life?

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar…and give to God what belongs to God…which is everything…including Caesar!

One more thing

You might think God is awfully demanding. You mean I have to give up everything to follow Jesus? Yes! You mean I have to die to myself and my desires and passions to serve God? Yes!

“Why would I give up everything for God?” Because He gave up everything for you. He loves you. He knows you. He created you. He knows your name. He wants nothing but the very best for you, even when it doesn’t feel good, even when the storms come, even when it’s not popular or politically-correct. God’s ways are perfect and so much higher than ours. He can be trusted.

We can do life our way. We can hoard our money. We can cheat on our taxes. We can rob God. We can be selfish with our talents and time. But disobeying God harms us more than anyone else. Eventually we’ll discover we don’t have all of the answers. We really need God. We need love.

I want to encourage you…you are loved, you are known, God is here, and He wants everything from you…and He wants to be your everything.

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

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

The Tenants, 11 April 2021

The Tenants
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 12:1-12

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Jesus—the rejected cornerstone—challenges religion once again while predicting his own death.

I love stories! Do you? There’s nothing like a great story…especially one with surprises. There are few things more exciting than suspense…and few thing more boring than a predictable plot. I think that’s one reason I rarely watch a movie more than once. If I know the ending, there’s no mystery to solve.

The Bible is packed with stories. After all, it’s not a book, but a library…of 66 books! Some parts of the Bible are filled with poetry, others with instructions, and still others with history. Today we’re returning to Mark’s story, gospel, good news, biography of Jesus. Chapter twelve is between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The religious leaders are becoming so envious and agitated with Jesus that they are literally finding a way to kill him. In the previous chapter, Mark tells us

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (Mark 11:18)

The Jews were God’s chosen people, but they were frequently led astray by corrupt kings and self-righteous religious leaders who were more concerned about their own glory than God’s. Jesus repeatedly confronted them, leading to their hostility. Spoiler alert: they succeed in killing the Messiah. But…

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

The Jewish chief priests and teachers of the law knew the scriptures we call the Old Testament. You could call it the Jewish Bible. Many memorized long sections and even entire books. They were so passionate about the rules they often missed the purpose behind the rules…a deeper relationship with God.

Jesus repeatedly spoke of the law and the prophets in reference to the Hebrew Bible. The five books of Moses—known as the Pentateuch—are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The prophets covered the other books, though some put the psalms or other writings in a third category.
Before we look at Jesus’ words in Mark, I want to examine a passage from the prophet Isaiah. This is a poem…a love song.

Isaiah 5:1 (NLT)    Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
2 He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter.

Isaiah 5:3    Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,
you judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not already done?
When I expected sweet grapes,
why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?

Isaiah 5:5    Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
6 I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.

Isaiah 5:7    The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.

In case you missed it, the vineyard owner is God and the vineyard is Israel. The vineyard failed to produce good fruit in the same way the people of Israel abandoned justice and righteousness for oppression and violence. It sounds a bit like our world today, doesn’t it?

It’s likely that this passage had been memorized by some of Jesus’ audience when

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. (Mark 12:1)   

I’m sure they were saying to themselves, “We know this story. We know how it ends. We can reenact it right now.”

This was actually a common arrangement. Vineyard owners would rent their land to farmers in return for a share of the harvest.

There’s a lot of talk these days about tenants, people who rent land or property from a landlord. The COVID-19 pandemic led the government to make it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants who lost their jobs and were unable to pay their rent.

The relationship between tenant and landlord can often be a little tricky. As I mentioned last month, expectations are crucial in any relationship. This is why we have contracts that spell out the arrangement.

At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. (Mark 12:2)   

There is no surprise here. This was exactly what was supposed to happen.

But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. (Mark 12:3)   

This was not supposed to happen! What kind of tenants would do such a thing?

Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. (Mark 12:4)   

The original Greek word for “struck on the head” is similar to the word for beheaded, which could be a subtle reference to John the Baptist.

He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. (Mark 12:5)   

These tenants are ruthless! They not only pay the crops to the vineyard owner, they violently attack every member of the collection agency!

“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ (Mark 12:6)   

Does this seem a little naïve? The owner is going to send his son? His only son? His son whom he loved? In the culture, a family member of a wealthy household would be respected far more than a servant.

If the son shows up, the tenants might assume the owner is dead.

“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:7-8)   

These are evil tenants! How dare they reject the son! They surely thought they would lay claim to the property if the owner and His son are dead. In the Jewish culture, squatters could claim the property of a deceased person who had no inheritor.

In this case they not only killed the owner’s only son, they threw him unburied, a terrible offense to Jews.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. (Mark 12:9)   

Is that harsh? Is that fair? In Isaiah, God punished the vineyard or Israel for not producing good fruit. Here, the tenants are clearly to blame. The religious leaders caused Israel’s corruption…and now they will be removed.

10 Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

“ ‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:10-11)   

This is another Old Testament quote, this time from Psalm 118:22. Many believe this was sung at the dedication of the second Temple or Jerusalem’s rebuilt walls. It was sung on Palm Sunday in the previous chapter!

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Jesus is the son. The stone was a symbol for the Messiah. God sent his son to earth, knowing he would be killed. Jesus is the rejected one. He is the cornerstone. Up until this point, the religious leaders thought the tenants were the evil Romans, but now they realize Jesus is saying they are the tenants, the violent ones in charge of the vineyard (Israel). The tenants in the story are the leaders of Israel.

The surprise in the story is the good guys—or at least the righteous-looking religious leaders—are actually the bad guys. The servants in the story, by the way, are the prophets sent by God. If you know anything about biblical prophets, they were hated and persecuted.

There are three special offices or positions in the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. Jesus is all three…the greatest prophet, our great high priest, and the King of kings.

Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away. (Mark 12:12)   

The religious leaders would kill Jesus soon. He would die. But he is risen! He is risen indeed!

So What?

I wrestled for a while this past week trying to discern what relevance this story has for us today. Here are a few reflections:

  1. 1. The Old and New Testaments are two parts of the same story. This might not be news to some of you, but Jesus updating Isaiah’s story shows both his knowledge of the ancient account and his masterful use of retelling.

  1. 2. Biblical prophecy gives credibility to the Bible. This is one of many account in which Jesus predicted his own death. This parable became reality on Good Friday. We don’t worship the Bible. We worship Jesus, but the Bible is a reliable tool we have to know and understand God and His plan for humanity. It’s not just a bunch of fairy tales or the result of a dream (or indigestion). It’s a historically accurate, archaeologically-verifiable library of books assembled in multiple languages from multiple continents over hundreds of years…with one overarching metanarrative of God’s love for us and His desire for us to respond in obedience.

  1. 3. God wants a relationship with us. He wants a relationship with you. Does He have one? This is where the religious leaders missed the boat. They tried to be good, moral people but failed to do the only two things God requires: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

  1. 4. In the story, the Jews were God’s chosen people. They were the fruitless vineyard. Today, the Church is understood to be God’s people. God—the vineyard owner—gave the vineyard to the Church. If we are God’s vineyard today, what kind of fruit are we bearing? What kind of fruit are you bearing? If you look at the passages that surround today’s text, you’ll get an idea of what God requires of us.

  1. a. Our place of worship is to be a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17)
  2. b. We are to be a forgiving family (11:25)
  3. c. We are to give to God what belongs to God (12:17)
  4. d. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (12:30)
  5. e. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (12:31)

The fruit we owe the owner—God—is our obedience. We are to be an accepting, prayerful, devoted, forgiving, and loving fellowship built around Jesus, the cornerstone that binds everything together. Otherwise, we may face God’s judgment. Good fruit comes from being connected to vine…Jesus (John 15).

The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes. (Psalm 118:22-23)

Jesus was hated and rejected. He was pierced, crushed, and crucified. But he conquered sin and death. He is risen! He is risen indeed! The LORD has done this! It is marvelous! This is the greatest story ever told!

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

Palm Sunday, 28 March 2021

Palm Sunday
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Kirk Schneemann
First Alliance Church
March 28, 2021
Mark 11:1-11

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Palm Sunday reminds us Jesus is LORD even in the midst of disillusionment.

Welcome to Holy Week! This is the time of year when we remember the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just a reminder, our Good Friday Service at 6 PM with our friends at The Tabernacle will be a time to remember Jesus’ death for us on the cross. It’s not a happy service, but while it was horrible for Christ, it was good for us. Hallelujah!

Palm Sunday was significant for several reasons which we'll explore today in the eleventh chapter of the book of Mark.

Jesus and his friends travel from Jericho to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. That might not sound significant, but the dozen-mile-or-so journey involved a long, hard climb from the lowest city on earth—over 800 feet below sea level—to nearly 3000 feet above sea level.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ” (Mark 11:1-3)

This has always fascinated me. Jesus tells them to steal a donkey! Actually, he only intended to borrow it, but notice he never tells them to ask permission to untie this colt. He anticipates objections, though.

A colt never ridden means this is something of a wild animal. It’s young so not necessarily dangerous, but it’s not used to riders, obviously. Jesus knows this. Maybe he knows the owner. Perhaps he had already rented it…or he simply had divine knowledge from the Holy Spirit. It’s obvious he doesn’t plan on keeping it, but it’s for a special purpose.

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.
(Mark 11:4-6)

If the story ended there, I think it’d be pretty cool! Jesus gives them a command. They obey. He tells them what might happen and it does…exactly “as Jesus had told them.” Mission accomplished! Jesus is amazing!

What’s also amazing is his selection of a donkey instead of the warhorse typically used by royalty. God’s Kingdom is different than earthly kingdoms.

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.
(Mark 11:7)

Jesus is now the colt’s first rider. It submits, showing Jesus’ authority over creation. The cloaks or coats or robes may have been a makeshift saddle, perhaps making the ride easier for both the animal and its passenger. What happens next is quite a scene.

Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.
(Mark 11:8)

We call today Palm Sunday because we envision palm branches which are plentiful in the Middle East, but other plants such as corn may have been used to create a path for Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem. This was their version of the red carpet Hollywood stars use on special occasions! Only royalty received such treatment.

Jesus’ arrival was a big deal! He was known for his teaching and miracles. The envy of the religious leaders surely made him even more famous and controversial. The Jews had been waiting centuries for the Messiah, and rumors were swirling that he was the One. Just as Moses delivered their ancestors out of Egypt, it was their hope that Jesus would save them from the oppression of the Roman government. Their King was coming!
King Jesus is the Messiah!

Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
(Mark 11:9-10)

This is their song. This is their chant. This is their hope. “Save us, now!” or “Please save!” is the meaning of “hosanna,” a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew phrase. They were crying out for liberation. They praised King Jesus with eager expectation. They were desperate, quoting Psalm 118:

LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success! (Psalm 118:25)

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. (Psalm 118:26)

In Hebrew and Aramaic, this is how you say, “Welcome!” These people were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the saving of the people of Israel from slavery. They were excited, singing Hallel psalms used in festive processions and at the Passover meal. Their prayers were being fulfilled.

I sometimes wonder why we aren’t more passionate about Jesus. Sure, he’s not physically here, but he’s our audience when we sing. He’s the one we claim to follow. He’s the object of our worship. On Palm Sunday, the city was elected when Jesus entered. Could the same be said of us each time we gather? Should it?

Maybe we’ve become too comfortable with God. The longer you know Him, the more you take Him for granted, perhaps? This is not unique with God. I’ve met couples who’ve been married for years and they barely tolerate each other. What happened to the spark that caused them to marry in the first place? Where did the love go?

I used to think the voices shouting “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday were the same ones yelling, “Crucify him” five days later. I’m not sure. Maybe. I’m quite sure they quickly became disappointed, though. Why did he ride a lowly donkey instead of a majestic horse? Was he going to overthrow the government? Would the ancient prophecies of the Messiah ruling and reigning forever be realized now? How did they feel when the object of their hope was being nailed to a cross?

Life is filled with
disappointments. Following Jesus doesn’t mean everything becomes easy. In fact, sometimes it creates new challenges. A few years ago, New York magazine published an article on the science of disappointment which stated rather obviously “the feeling of being let down is actually one of life’s toughest emotional experiences.” But more than just emotional, it is physiological, linked to dopamine levels in the brain. Jonathan Merritt explains how it works in his fascinating piece on Palm Sunday and the Gift of Disillusionment:
Hereʼs how it works: Your brain generates expectations about the future. Often these expectations are based on what you want. Something you perceive as good has happened in the past, so you begin to expect it will happen in the future. Before it even happens, your dopamine levels begin to rise in the rush of anticipation. Then, when that good thing actually occurs, you get a double shot of dopamine.
Do you know what happens when the good thing doesn’t happen? The dopamine levels crash. We don’t get what we wanted and we experience the displeasure of being wrong.
We’ve all been disappointed with life. We’ve all had people fail us. Sometimes they don’t even know they failed us…we just had expectations.
When I do premarital counseling, I tell couples I believe the secret to a great marriage is…realistic expectations. I know, you’re supposed to say Jesus, but we all know of couples who are happily married without Jesus…and miserable couples who claim to follow Jesus.
If you expect my sermon to last under an hour and I decide to preach for two hours, even if it’s a good message, you’ll probably be disappointed because you expected to eat lunch before 2 PM!
If you expect your basketball team to win the championship—which is always a high expectation—and they don’t, you’re disappointed.
Let’s face it, we like to be in control. We like to have things our way. We like people to do what we want them to do…and we’re quick to acknowledge when they fail to do so.
Hang with me for just a moment. Steven Covey in his classic
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wrote, “Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen…responsibility—“response-ability”—the ability to choose your response.
Have you ever heard someone say, “They make me so angry!”? They are letting their emotional life be governed by something outside their control. We can choose our response to situations. We can be response-able. Let me try to connect the dots.
I’ve often said
God created us in His image…and we often return the favor! We are tempted to think the purpose of God is to make us happy…and when He fails us, we may question, doubt, or abandon Him completely.
Disappointment with God is normal. We are disappointed when we have expectations that are unfulfilled.

If you’ve ever asked Pastor Donald how he’s doing, you’ve probably heard him say, “Better than I deserve.” What does he deserve? What do you deserve?

God is God…and you’re not. It’s perfectly acceptable to honest with God about your feelings, your doubts, your fears, and your hopes…but trust in God means…we trust Him. We follow Him. We seek His will, His plan, His understanding.

I’ve mentioned before how our District Superintendent, Thomas George, encouraged me to change my prayers from, “Why, God? to, “What are you up to, LORD?”

When we’re disappointed with God, instead of demanding our way like a child who can’t take every toy home from the store, we need to draw near to God and seek first His Kingdom. It’s a lot better than anything you or I could create! Just wait!

Another common emotion is disillusionment. We often view it in the same negative light as disappointment, but consider these words from Jonathan Merritt,
“Disillusionment occurs when God shatters our fantasies, tears down our idols, and dismantles our cardboard cutouts. It occurs when we discover that God does not conform to our expectations but rather exists as a mystery beyond those expectations.” – Jonathan Merritt, Learning to Speak God from Scratch
Disillusionment destroys the illusion that it’s all about us, that we’re in control, that we can put God in a box, that He was created in our image for our glory. Disillusionment helps us trade our will for His. It allows God to be who He is, not who we wish He was, making our expectations an idol.
On the first Palm Sunday, the crowd was excited to see Jesus, but they were surely disappointed…disillusioned…perhaps even angry to the point of yelling, “Crucify Him!”
In our current cancel culture, that’s essentially what people are yelling today. If you don’t conform to the latest trend, they’ll cancel you. Unfriend you. Boycott you. In some cases threaten to kill you. The people who preach tolerance seem to only tolerate those who agree with them. This past week people were calling for a basketball team to be kicked out of the NCAA tournament because the school believes in traditional marriage.

It’s easy for me to point fingers, but I don’t always behave well when I don’t get what I want…from God, my wife, my friends, …you!

It would be easy to dismiss this historic event as another nice story Mark tells us about Jesus, but there may be more going on than just a parade. It really comes down to a simple question Jesus once asked his friend Peter. “Who do you say that I am?”

Who do you say Jesus is? The crowds said he was the Messiah who would deliver them from Roman oppression. They were half-right. He is the Messiah, but his first visit to our planet involved a different mission. Rather than freeing us from Rome, he came to free us from the law of sin and death. He came to reconcile us to our heavenly Father. He came to offer eternal life, not merely make us comfortable for eighty years or so.

Who do you say Jesus is? C.S. Lewis said your options are liar, lunatic, or Lord. You can’t dismiss him. He has influenced our planet more than any other person. His claims are radical. His followers legendary. His message transformational. His death epic. His resurrection…well, we’ll talk about that next Sunday!

The last verse of our passage says,

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. (Mark 11:11)

He made his appearance, saw what was going on in the temple courts (which we talked about two weeks ago), and moved out of the city into Bethany for the night, a village less than two miles to the east of Jerusalem. Days later, he would be arrested and crucified on the day we call Good Friday.

Who do you say Jesus is? I say he is the Messiah, the King of kings!

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

Authority, 21 March 2021

Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 11:27-33

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth…and he has given it to us for God’s glory.

When one of our children was little, they were given a time-out for poor behavior. Not long after, my wife discovered they had gotten up with plans to return to playtime. Heather said, “Who told you to get up from your time-out?” They replied, “God!”

While I doubt God really did that, it’s a perfect introduction to today’s topic: authority.

When I think back to my own childhood, I can remember asking, “Who gave you permission?” to do something. Maybe you’ve said, “Who put you in charge?” or even, “Who made you God?”

As we’ve been looking at the life and teachings of Jesus—our example, the one we follow, the whole purpose of First Alliance Church—we’re blessed to be able to eavesdrop on some of his conversations. As we saw last week, they’re not always cordial! When he finds the sacred temple in Jerusalem turned into something of a shopping mall, he expresses his anger—without sinning—in words and deeds. Although he addressed inappropriate behavior, he was especially confronting the wicked hearts of the religious leaders who—consequently—wanted to have him killed. The crucifixion on Good Friday was no accident. It was all part of God’s plan to seek and save humanity.

Before we look at today’s text in Mark chapter eleven, I want to declare

Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. He studied and knew the Jewish Bible, amazed the religious teachers when he was only twelve years old (Luke 2:47), and the first chapter of this gospel or “good news” of Mark told us

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:22)

Ouch…for the teachers of the law!
Jesus possessed authority. Not only were his words filled with truth and wisdom, they came with authority.
If you have truth but no authority, you’re like a little boy trying to direct traffic at a busy intersection. Good luck!

If you have authority with no truth, you’re likely to be corrupt and act unjustly.

Truth and authority, however, is a powerful combination that can lead to transformation.

We need authority in our world. Without it, we’d have chaos. Imagine if drivers were allowed to drive as fast and reckless as they desired without any threat from police (or speed cameras!). How could we have March Madness without a little authority from the refs in the striped shirts? What would happen in the home or school if children did as they pleased? Imagine a workplace with no boss to enforce the employee handbook. It would be anarchy before long.

There’s a popular saying in our culture from Rich Remender which says, “There is no authority but yourself.” How long can civilization survive with that mantra?

We’re told in the book of Romans,

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

God is the ultimate authority. Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus has the ultimate authority. This word, authority, in the original Greek is exousia (ex-oo-see-ah). It means jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength, …authority.

Let’s look at our text for today in Mark chapter eleven.

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:27-28)

They’re challenging Jesus. We learned last week they were afraid of Jesus because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. They wanted to do anything possible to discredit him…including killing him. In modern terms, they were probably saying, “Who do you think you are, God or something?”

One of Jesus’ favorite tools was to respond to a question with a question.

Jesus replied,
“I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. (Mark 11:29)

One question. That’s reasonable, right?

John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”
(Mark 11:30)

Zinger! If you don’t understand the question, don’t worry. Mark explains.

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) (Mark 11:31-32)

Jesus set them up. Remember, he’s the smartest man who ever lived! More than an intellectual argument, he was really concerned about their hearts. He knew they were up to no good.

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
(Mark 11:33a)

At least they were honest!

Jesus said,
“Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Mark 11:33b)

Jesus sounds a little snarky, doesn’t he? That’s not very nice, Jesus. But perhaps it was necessary to get their attention…or get them even more riled up to kill him!

Jesus possessed authority in heaven and on earth.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:16-18)   

Followers of King Jesus are under his authority.

This might be the primary difference between the world and Christians. The world will always act like the world. They’ll do what they want…or what they can get away with.

Followers of Jesus submit…to God’s authority. Paul wrote,

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

You don’t have to like everything in the Bible, but by definition, followers obey. We are told to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ. In other words, we die to ourselves, our agendas, our sin and seek first God’s Kingdom, His will, His ways.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)   

We are under the authority of King Jesus who then said,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)   

We call this the Great Commission because they are the instructions Jesus gave to his followers before leaving earth, ascending into heaven. It’s our mandate, our purpose, our mission.

John records these powerful words from Jesus:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:15-21)

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
(John 14:22)

Jesus replied,
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

In this passage, Jesus declares his authority comes from the Father. He also repeatedly states love equals obedience.

If you love me, keep my commands.
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.
Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.

Do you love Jesus? Do you really love Jesus? If so, we need to obey his commands. While the two greatest are general—love God and love your neighbor as yourself—the Great Commission brings some clarity, some specificity.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)   

This is the assignment. Jesus has the authority—all authority—and this is what he does with it. He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations.

What does that mean? Ultimately, it means
we are to become followers of Jesus who help others become followers of Jesus. We are to live like Jesus, become like Jesus, and guide others to Jesus.

There are two parts to this idea of discipleship. First, we are to live like Jesus. It begins with surrender. There are no shortcuts. It’s a daily rhythm of dying to yourself and seeking first God’s Kingdom. This is especially hard in our culture where we’re bombarded by messages from social media, billboards, and nearly omnipresent advertising about how it’s all about us. But it’s not! The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It’s not about our desires, our rights, our pleasure. I’m not saying self care is wrong, but self-worship is!

Satanism is a real thing. Its essence is not the worship of satan as some believe, but the worship of self. Here’s a quote from a website about Satanism:

“…instead of relying on some moral code meant for those who belong to religion, the Satanist is free to choose who they will love or who deserves their punishment. This places the satanist at the center of their own world, their own universe with the self being the most important aspect of all.” (

Our culture is obsessed with self worship. It’s as old as satan himself, the prideful one who began his tempting spree with Eve and Adam in the Garden. He told Eve,

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

It’s the top two commandments again: no other gods, no idols (Exodus 20). Who’s the leader of your life? Who’s in charge? What drives your decisions? What inspires your words, your budget, your social media activity, your calendar? Most people do what they want to do with little regard for others and less regard for God. That’s why any talk of restraint, self-control, obedience, submission, or discipline is met with horror and disdain. We all want to be gods! We all want it our way! Tragically, I don’t think people inside the church are often all that different from the world. We just follow what everyone else is doing to “keep up with the Joneses” and fit in.

But that’s not the way of Jesus. That’s not discipleship. That’s not what it means to live under God’s authority. I know this sounds harsh. I know sounds radical. It is! While it may make you feel uncomfortable, I will make you a promise:
you will ultimately not regret following Jesus.

Jesus is the smartest human ever. You’re not. Sorry!
Jesus is the wisest human ever. Not even Solomon can claim that.
Jesus is the most powerful human ever. He has all authority. Our president doesn’t.

is God. He didn’t try to self-actualize or evolve into a god. He is God. Capital G!

And he is good. His ways are good. His life is good. His teachings are good. His love is good. He is the only one worth following in this world.

In our current culture, authenticity is the new authority. The constant message is let your emotions dictate your actions. Do what feels right. Get what you want. It’s all about you. Be true to yourself. You do you. Speak your truth. Tragically, we often do what we think others want, what will get the most likes on social media, what is trending. Popularity won’t last! Following your momentary emotions and desires will not lead you to lasting happiness.

Your authentic self is who you were
created to become. You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. God was not made by you for your glory!

We all need an external guide in order to experience human flourishing. We need something to build our lives upon. We need the rock of Jesus Christ, the one true authority who loves us, proved it, the way, the truth, and the life who will lead us into all truth, all peace, all joy. We need 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

House Cleaning, 14 March 2021

House Cleaning
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 11:12-26

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus wasn’t always “nice,” but he never sinned.

When you think of Jesus, what comes to mind? What does he look like? What kind of voice does he have? How would you describe his personality?

For two thousand years, peoples from various cultures and civilizations have depicted him a number of ways.

As a boy, I always envisioned Jesus as being nice. Would he kill a mosquito? Raise his voice? Get angry? Criticize someone? Of course not! He’s nice Jesus…or is he?

We are told in scripture that Jesus—our perfect example of what it means to be human—never sinned. This is more than a trivial point since only a perfect sacrifice could pay the price for our sins, our failures, our offenses.

Paul wrote,

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Peter, referencing Isaiah 53:9, said,

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (1 Peter 2:22)

John affirms this truth:

But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. (1 John 3:5)

Before we look at today’s text as we continue our study of the book of Mark, it’s essential for us to see Jesus as perfect, as committing no sin. Jesus and his disciples were in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. If you’re really observant, you may have noticed we skipped the beginning of Mark chapter eleven, the account of Palm Sunday which we’ll cover on Palm Sunday in two weeks.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. (Mark 11:12)

This is a reasonable situation. We’ve all been hungry. Jesus knows hunger, too.

Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. (Mark 11:13)

Jesus, you don’t pick apples in March. You don’t pick pumpkins in December. You don’t pick figs in April when the fruit doesn’t arrive until May.

Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:14)

That’s not a “nice” thing to say to a tree! Is it the tree’s fault that Jesus wanted figs out of season? Remember, Jesus never sinned, yet this is a moment of conflict, perhaps of anger. This is not something Mr. Rogers would ever do!

But to truly understand the account, we need to back up. Why would Mark begin this text telling us about a fig tree? In the Old Testament, a fig tree was sometimes used as a symbol for the nation of Israel. This is essentially a parable. The tree looked alive, but it was barren. Israel and its religious leaders similarly looked good on the outside, yet they were corrupt, they lacked faith, and they produced no good fruit for God. Like modern Christians who have Bible knowledge but demonstrate no love toward others, they are spiritually barren.
Jesus confronts loveless religion…and he will pay a dear price for it.

We’ll come back to the fig tree in a moment.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. (Mark 11:15-16)

This is definitely not a nice thing to do! He is full-blown furious…but why? Does he feel personally violated? Is he protecting his own selfish interests? Is he offended for his own sake?

And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17)

Jesus’ concern is for his Father’s glory, his Father’s house. We were made by God, for God, and for God's glory. That's the bottom line of our mission statement and it's the bottom line of life as a follower of Jesus—God's glory. Jesus says in the book of John,

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30)

He repeats the thought in the very next chapter.

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)

In the book of John, this phrase “who sent me” is spoken by Jesus 23 times! He was on a mission from God, literally, even as Jesus himself is God, one third of what we call the Trinity, one God in three Persons.

It’s one thing to be angry when someone offends us, but it’s something else entirely when we are looking out for the best interest of others. We
should be angry about sex trafficking. We should be angry about racism. We should be angry about injustice, murder, child abuse, domestic violence, and other evils that plague our world.

Jesus was not always nice. The temple which was constructed for the worship of God had become something of a shopping mall for people to sell overpriced animals for religious sacrifices. The Passover was big business for these merchants…and we all know what happens to people when they lose their jobs. It’s not a pretty picture.

And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17)

Jesus is quoting Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. Instead of making room for non-Jews (who were not allowed in the central sanctuary) to pray and worship God, it became a market for greedy merchants. Religion became big business.

Once again, the response of the religious leaders is the opposite of the crowd.

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (Mark 11:18)

The people love Jesus, while the insecure chief priests and teachers of the law are threatened by his popularity…so much so that they plot to kill him! That’s radical envy and jealousy!

Holy Week is right around the corner for us this year. We’ll gather here on Good Friday with The Tabernacle at 6 PM and remember the end result of these religious leaders and their quest to kill Jesus.

What have learned so far
? Jesus confronts loveless religion. He is willing to confront injustice. His agenda is not his will, but the will of the Father. He is not always nice, but always right…always righteous. After all, why would someone want to kill a person who is merely “nice?”

Listen to the words of N.T. Wright:

The purpose of the Temple was to be the place of sacrifice. Hour by hour worshippers came to the Temple, changed money into the official coinage, bought animals that were guaranteed perfect for sacrifice (if you brought an animal from some distance, there was a good chance it might be attacked on the way and so no longer be a perfect specimen, able to be sacrificed), and brought them to the priests who completed the killing and offering. The sacrificial system, and with it the reason for the Temple’s existence, depended on money-changing and animal purchase. By stopping the entire process, even just for a short but deeply symbolic moment, Jesus was saying, more powerfully than any words could express: the Temple is under God’s judgment. Its reason for existing is being taken away.

The Temple was the most epic of all places in the Jewish world. It was where God resided, in the Holy of Holies behind a curtain. It was sacred space, yet it had become contaminated by people lusting after money and power.

N.T. Wright adds,

The sacrificial system was therefore doubly redundant. It was part of the Temple system which had come to stand for the wrong things; it was part of the signpost system set up by God to draw the eye to the climactic achievement of Jesus himself on the cross.

But our story is not over.

When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. (Mark 11:19)

Thus ends their day!

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. (Mark 11:20)

The tree was not withered the day before. It was merely out of season for fruit.

Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:21)

Why did it wither? It’s a reminder of God’s judgment on Israel (Isaiah 34:4; Joel 1:7-12; Amos 4:9). It’s a picture of what happens when people lose their faith in God, putting it, instead, in money and power.

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. (Mark 11:22)

The object of our faith must never be money or power, religion or politics, people or possessions.
Our faith must be in God and God alone.

“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. (Mark 11:23)

We’ve been given power and authority as followers of Jesus. This does not mean God is a genie in a bottle who will grant us our every wish. It does not mean if we have enough faith we’ll be rich and happy. Rather, Jesus is stating the power of prayer when we seek first His Kingdom, not our own. When we set aside our agendas and pursue God’s will, we can be confident it will be done.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)

Some faith healers and prosperity gospel preachers have taken this verse out of context. Jesus has just confronted the sin of religion…in a not-so-nice way. Like the prophets of old, he is announcing God’s judgment upon those who have lost their first love and corrupted the entire Jewish faith.

Prayer is powerful when we pray according to God’s will. Faith in Jesus is greater than any religious structure, nation, or temple. But we need more than faith. We need to forgive.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25)

As Tony Evans notes, “Unrepentant sin blocks God’s power.” We all sin. It’s what we do with our sin that matters. Are we proud of our sins? Do we rationalize away our failures? Do we hold grudges against others?

There’s one additional verse found in some ancient manuscripts and absent in others. This is one of a small number of differences which are notable and yet insignificant to the message of the text. The New King James Version includes verse 26.

But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:26, NKJV)

So What?

I’ve been accused of being too nice. I know that sounds like one of those strengths disguised as a weakness, but there are times when we must confront others…in love. Love is not always nice. One thing I used to tell my kids when I disciplined them is, “I love you too much to let you get away with this behavior.” Their actions were harmful to themselves and/or others.

In a similar way, God disciplines us because He loves us. He cannot tolerate sin. He would bring judgment upon the Jews for their idolatry and abandonment of the true purpose of the Temple. As I said last month, it all goes back to the first two commandments in Exodus 20: no other gods and no idols. Yet it’s so easy to get distracted by our culture. We’ve seen in recent days so-called Christians embracing nationalism, misogyny, partisan politics, and sexism while covering up racism, abuse, and immorality.

This past week I heard two different authors talk about how Christians have used Jesus' anger in the Temple to justify their outlandish behavior on social media. May it never be! The scene may have been part of God's sovereign plan leading to the crucifixion. Remember, Jesus never sinned. His anger was righteous and selfless. He forgave the very people he confronted. He was not defending an ideology, political party, or politician, but rather the heart of God. We are to speak up for those who have no voice, but demanding our rights is not how we love our neighbor well…or how we love God well.

At the dawn of the Christian Church in Acts 2:42,

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

That’s a picture of the Kingdom of God. It’s radical. It’s counter-cultural. It’s selfless and others-centered…God-centered. It welcomes everyone. It’s all about Jesus.

It’s Jesus we’re studying throughout this series. He wasn’t always nice, but he always loved well. He lived a perfect life and never sinned.

It’s Jesus we worship, both for who he is and for what he has done for us by being the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, offering forgiveness to anyone who repents and follows him.

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

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

The Quest for Power, 28 February 2021

The Quest for Power
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 10:32-45

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: The Kingdom of God is upside-down where the greatest serve.

What comes to mind when you think of power? What is power? Is power good or evil? Yes!

It seems that some want power, some are afraid of power, some need power, …and we all have a certain measure of power, though all of us have limited power.

Andy Crouch has called power “the ability to make something of the world.” I think we all want to make something of the world…and so does God!

Last Sunday we returned to our study of Jesus from the book of Mark. The more we know about Jesus, the more we will know Jesus. He came to earth to create a path not for religion, but relationships. Do you know Jesus? He wants to be known, yet there are so many obstacles that stand in the way, most notably our other gods and idols we discussed last week, such as our love for money, sex, and power.

John Mark, the writer of this gospel or “good news,” tells us

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. (Mark 10:32)

The Passover celebration is near. Jesus is with his disciples and others. He had told them twice already that he would die, though they will seem to be clueless about the prophecies later. He tells them a third time…

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)   

No wonder there was astonishment and fear. Jesus couldn’t be more clear about what was going the happen, and everything occurred exactly the way he predicted.

I understand there are skeptics who may think Mark simply took historical events and wrote Jesus’ words back into the story. While that may technically be possible, it is impossible for ancient prophets centuries earlier to rewrite the events. One of the greatest proofs of our faith is Jesus and the multiple prophecies he uniquely fulfilled. God knows the future. God is omniscient—all-knowing. The crucifixion was no accident. It was part of God’s plan, even though it didn’t make any sense at the time to the disciples.

This is true in our day, too. Josh Kaiser—pastor of OneHope Church—was telling me last week how one of his goals is to communicate God’s goodness to his congregation and generation.
God is good…all the time. All the time…God is good!

“But how can God be good when I’m going through this…?” I don’t know, but your story is not over. As Tony Campolo famously said, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming!”

God is good. God can be trusted. It’s okay if it doesn’t feel like it in this moment. You’ll see! In the meantime, faith fills in the gaps. “I believe, LORD. Help me in my unbelief.”

Now we move to a most interesting conversation.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35)   

They want a blank check! Can you imagine?! What audacity! Jesus is willing to play along.

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. (Mark 10:36)   

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
(Mark 10:37)   

Translation: we want the two best seats in heaven, in the next life. To be fair, James and John were two of Jesus’ three best friends, along with Peter. But this is quite the request.

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38)   

Jesus knows what lies ahead for himself…death. Following Jesus—being with Jesus—means following him everywhere…including the cross. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people come alive. It’s not all fun and games. You take the good with the bad, the hard with the easy, the suffering with the comfort, the pain with the glory. But whatever price you pay in this life for following Jesus will be rewarded in the next…for eternity!

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them,
“You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, (Mark 10:39)   

Jesus says they will suffer and die…and they did. It’s believed that all of the disciples died as martyrs except John…who was boiled in hot oil. Jesus doesn’t invite us to a life of pleasure and parties. The invitation is come and die…so you can truly live. Any sacrifice for Christ will be worth it…for eternity. James and John died for their faith…

but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (Mark 10:40)

We don’t know who will sit beside Jesus…or if it really matters.   

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. (Mark 10:41)

Can you blame them? I would be angry, too! Now Jesus seizes this incredible teaching moment.

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)

If you thought the lust for political power is a new thing, you haven’t been reading the Bible! Two thousand years ago, people were seeking to rule over others. They had agendas they wanted to implement, power they wanted to exert, and most likely people they wanted to oppress. This is the way of the world…money, sex, and power.

It’s easy to criticize politicians, but don’t you want power, too? Have you ever put someone else down so you could feel better about yourself? Have you ever silently thought you’re glad you're not like
that person? Have you ever felt justified cutting in line or cheating because you felt better than another? Have you ever experienced a feeling of entitlement?

I thought so! Me, too! But Jesus says,

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:43-44)   

God’s Kingdom is upside down. Jesus turns the tables. In his world, the greatest serve. The first are last. The word “slave” here is not like our nation’s understanding of slave, but rather a bondservant, someone who is working off a debt for a specific time. They often owned property and could obtain freedom.

Jesus always backs up his words with action. He practices what he preaches!

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 10:45)   

Here’s Jesus with his disciples on the way to his crucifixion. He has just told them exactly what would happen. He knows his life will be given for theirs, a ransom or payment for their sins…and ours. God became flesh and spent more than three decades serving. God served us! What kind of God would do that? Furthermore, God died for us! Show me any religion with that love, that mercy, that grace!

Only a God like You/could be worthy of my praise/and all my hope and faith

That’s our God! That’s our King!

So What?

In his book Playing God: Redeeming the gift of Power, Andy Crouch writes,

Power is all about image bearing—reflecting and refracting the creative power of the world’s Maker into the very good creation. And image bearing is for flourishing. But as idolatry fills the world with false images, and as those false images proliferate, the image bearers lose their capacity to bear the true image. The more the image bearers lose this capacity, the more creation itself is diminished, reduced to utilitarian means to bitter ends. Idolatry is the true failure of power.

This flows perfectly with last Sunday’s sermon on money. Our hearts are drawn to money, sex, and power…for our benefit. There’s actually nothing inherently wrong with any of them. Money can be used to bless others. Sex is one of God’s most wonderful ideas, a remarkable experience for a husband and wife in bonding and celebration of their relationship, to say nothing of procreation. Power can bring about freedom for the powerless and justice for the weak.

The issue is the heart. Why do you want money? Is it for yourself or others?

Why do you want sex? Is it for your personal pleasure or strengthening your marriage?

Why do you want power? Is it to bless or oppress others?

Andy Crouch adds,

Every Maundy Thursday, the night before Good Friday in the Western liturgical calendar, Christians around the world gather to wash one another’s feet. Two thousand years after the Teacher and Lord knelt with a towel around his waist, his followers, servants and messengers continue to imitate his example. There is no act of culture-making power more extraordinary than creating a ritual, an act that continues to bear witness to truth from generation to generation, long after the first persons who experienced it lay in the dust of death. The persistence down to this day of the act Jesus performed at that table, and the acts from that night that the other Gospels report—taking, blessing, breaking and giving the bread and wine—is the ultimate test and sign of his power. In this moment, Jesus creates culture, forever transforming the meaning of towel, loaf and cup, forever altering the way teachers and masters will see their roles, and the way their students and servants will see them.

Following Jesus means following his example of service, of washing feet, of daily sacrifice, of putting others first, of praying for one’s enemies, of blessing those who curse you. Could anything be more counter-cultural?

I wish I could say Christians model this well, that we never seek power, that we put others above ourselves, that we are content to go last, that we are known as servants.

The great theologian (!) Jimi Hendrix famously said, "When the power of love takes over the love of power, that's when things will change.”

Tony Campolo notes, “A basic sociological principle is you can’t express love and power at the same time. Whenever you love, you lose power. Love makes you vulnerable … We have a God who loves us so much he was willing to become vulnerable.”

I have to admit I’ve been embarrassed by so-called Christians who clamored for power, especially during this past political season, as if either candidate was the Messiah, the Savior, the answer to the world’s problems…and that somehow their guy would give them power.
Washington’s got nothing on the Kingdom of God! I know politics is messy, but our allegiance must never be to a president but to a Priest, the great high Priest, who is also a Prophet, and King, Jesus Christ. His mission wasn’t to seek power for himself. He came with all authority on heaven and earth. He came for the world. In fact, he gave us his power and authority…for the sake of others.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

What does Jesus do with power? He sends his followers on a 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

One final passage from Andy Crouch:

There is no point in this story where Jesus gives up power—instead, it is the culmination and demonstration of his power. What Jesus gives up in this story is not power but privilege and status…

For those of us preoccupied with protecting our privilege and raising our status, this indifference of Jesus is terrifying. It prompts the kind of outburst that came from Peter. It is holy power, utterly purified, without an ounce of self-protection or self-regard. Jesus’ only use of power was to create, never to protect himself or to exalt himself. Perhaps this is the deepest explanation of his nonviolence. Violence, even when used in justifiable self-defense, does nothing to restore, redeem or create. It only damages in return. And Jesus simply never had a thought except to restore, redeem and create a new community among whom power would be used always and only for flourishing. In such a community, privilege and status can only be disdained and discarded. They are distractions from the real calling of image bearers: to be fruitful and multiply, far as the curse is found.

To follow Jesus means rejecting the world. It involves dying to self. It requires you to think—and act—differently. There’s no keeping up with the Joneses, giving them what they had coming to them, or even telling them to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Some people don’t have bootstraps!

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. (Proverbs 31:8)

This includes the unborn, yes, but it also includes the marginalized, the forgotten, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the refugee. We all have a certain measure of power, given not for our own sake, but for the sake of others. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. Everything we have—our money, time, talents, energy, power, influence, relationships—is a gift, on loan from God. We are to be good stewards and will one day given an account for what we did with what we’ve been given.

This is not a message about trying harder. It’s not a message about abusing yourself and being a doormat, either. Love your neighbor…as yourself.

It is a message of surrender, of letting go, of leveraging what you have for others, as Jesus did.

The Kingdom of God is upside-down where the greatest serve, where the first are last, and where power is poured out for others as Jesus poured out his life—and blood—for us.

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

One more thing…

I want to offer a final challenge to you today. Last week I said generosity kills the money monster, the temptation of greed. Likewise, there are three spiritual practices which kill the power monster, the temptation to selfishly use power. They are solitude, silence, and fasting. These classical disciplines—along with sabbath rest—allow us to disconnect from busyness, achievement, and striving and put our faith and trust into action. Dallas Willard’s classic The Spirit of the Disciplines and John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted are two recommended titles.

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

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

The Rich Young Ruler, 21 February 2021

The Rich Young Ruler
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 10:17-31

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Following Jesus involves total surrender, not just a one-time prayer.

Nearly four years ago we began a series called
Mark, the Real Jesus. We’ve been going verse-by-verse through the shortest of the gospels or “good news,” the four biographies of Jesus that include Matthew, Luke, and John. The purpose of the series is to know Jesus…not just know about him, but to know him, to have a relationship with him, to become like him by the power of the Holy Spirit we talked about last Sunday.

Before we look at today’s text in Mark chapter ten, we’re going to go back—way back—to the second book of the Bible. In Exodus chapter twenty, God delivers His Top Ten List, the Ten Commandments. How many of them can you name?

And God spoke all these words: (Exodus 20:1)   

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2)   

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

That’s the first one: no other gods. What is most important to you? Who is most important to you? What is the foundation of your life? What or who truly matters most?

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (Exodus 20:4)   

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, (Exodus 20:5)   

but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:6)

The second one is no idols. We often think of idols as religious statues, but it’s anything we love and worship more than God. Notice God makes incredible promises concerning these commands. He gives us great freedom, but there are consequences to both obedience and disobedience.  

If you’re keeping score, the rest involve misusing the name of the LORD, sabbath, honoring one’s parents, and the “shall nots” of murder, adultery, stealing, false testimony, and coveting.

Today, though, our focus will be on the first two commandments as we look at the gospel of Mark.

Are you rich? Whether you feel like it or not, most of you are rich. Sure, we are all rich in God’s love, but I mean financially rich. You’ve heard of the one-percent, those wealthy Americans who are frequently demonized in the media (despite many create jobs and opportunities for others as business owners). To be in the top one percent in the USA, you need to earn about $500,000 a year. For the record, that is NOT me!!!

To be in the top one percent in the
world, you need to earn about $60,000 a year. If you earn $45,000, you are in the top two percent, and if you only earn $38,000, you are in the top three percent of the richest people in the world. If you earn only $19,000 a year, you’re in the top ten percent.

Most of us are rich compared to the rest of the world. With blessings comes responsibility…and temptation.

We’re in the tenth chapter of Mark, beginning at verse 17.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)

This guy sounds sincere. He runs to Jesus, falls on his knees, proclaims him to be a good teacher, and asks what it takes to inherit eternal life.

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. (Mark 10:18)

Maybe the man realized Jesus
was God!

Think for a moment about Jesus’ statement. If only God is good, we’re not. Sure, compared to some people we might be good, but we all sin. We are all deserving of eternal punishment for our wicked deeds. None of us is perfect, which is God’s standard for goodness, found only in Jesus, the sinless one.

You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:19)

These are commandments 6-9 if you’re keeping score, plus “don’t defraud,” and then 5. He skips 1-4 and 10…for now!  

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” (
Mark 10:20)

That’s a pretty bold statement, but the man didn’t list all ten. Like us, he was self-deceived. He overestimated his goodness after Jesus told him only God is good.

Jesus looked at him and loved him.
“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

I always missed the first sentence. Jesus loved him. Jesus loves sinners. It’s out of love that Jesus addresses the commandments related to God first. no idols, and covetousness or greed.

N.T. Wright notes,

When Jesus says ‘You will have treasure in heaven’, he doesn’t mean that the young man must go to heaven to get it; he means that God will keep it stored up for him until the time when, in the Age to Come, all is revealed. The reason you have money in the bank is not so that you can spend it in the bank but so that you can take it out and spend it somewhere else. The reason you have treasure in heaven, God’s storehouse, is so that you can enjoy it in the Age to Come when God brings heaven and earth together at last. And ‘eternal life’, as most translations put it, doesn’t mean ‘life in a timeless, otherworldly dimension’, but ‘the life of the Age to Come’ (the word ‘eternal’ translates a word which means ‘belonging to the Age’).

(Mark for Everyone, Westminster John Knox Press)

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (
Mark 10:22)

The rich, young ruler had good feelings for God, but loved wealth more. It’s important to remember most of us have great wealth, too. The world says that’s good, but it can become an obstacle. Do you possess money or does your money possess you?   

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23)

I’ve seen a number of people lately writing about downsizing and eliminating clutter in our lives. The more we have, the more we must work to protect, insure, store, and steward. Some in our church family are homeless, which is not a popular or comfortable position to be in, but there are certainly benefits to its simplicity.

As I said, sometimes we demonize the rich, as if their success is somehow evil. Perhaps it’s actually envy that leads to such criticisms.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Proverbs 30. It reads,

8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 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 30:8-9)

Do you recall someone teaching his friends to pray for daily bread? It’s in Jesus’ model we call the LORD’s Prayer (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3). It’s taken from these words by Agur son of Jakeh, a wise man indeed.

The rich are tempted to feel secure in their wealth and ignore God.
The poor are tempted to steal and dishonor God.

We are to pray for daily bread.

Back to Jesus,
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:24-25)

That’s a sobering statement, especially for USAmericans. We often think of the kingdom of God as a disembodied heaven, but rather it’s here on earth where God rules. Jesus taught us to pray for his kingdom to come now, on earth as it is in heaven. We don’t walk on streets of gold, but the Age to Come is emerging here and now, like a baby chick with its beak sticking through the egg shell, as N.T. Wright says. We are in-between.

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” (
Mark 10:26)

Many in Jesus’ day thought wealth was a sign of God’s favor and blessing, and that a place in the Age to Come could be purchased somehow. If the rich can’t get in, who can?  

Jesus looked at them and said,
“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Many of you have heard that expression, “All things are possible with God.” But look at the context. It’s about salvation. It’s about the rich entering the kingdom of God. We are saved by grace. It’s a gift. Praise God we have hope because of Jesus, his death, and resurrection!   

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” (
Mark 10:28)   

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31)   

What a promise! This life—eighty years or so, on average—is so short compared to eternity. Why are we so attached to the cares of this world when it’s all so temporary? God’s kingdom is not of this world. It’s the upside-down kingdom. Jesus is saying anything we sacrifice for him will be worth it, both in the present age and in the age to come. He is inviting them—and us—to put away our idols and greed and follow him with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. There’s a price to pay for following Jesus, but it’s worth it.

So What?

Is money evil? No. Money is a tool used for centuries, a means of exchange. It can be used for good or bad.

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)

The love of money is dangerous. It is one of the most common idols in our culture. Most of us want more. In fact, one millionaire was asked how much money was enough and he replied, “Just a little bit more.” That’s because money will never truly satisfy, especially if your goal is to hoard it.

Contrast that with generosity. I remember hearing a wise man years ago say his goal was to make as much money as possible and keep as little as necessary for himself. He delighted in giving.

During my five years here at First Alliance I’ve seen many examples of radical generosity. God has blessed us with some wealthy members, and although I don’t see who gives what, I know our budget is met through men and women who are good stewards of their wealth, making eternal investments through their tithes—ten percent-and offerings week after week. But I’ve heard stories of anonymous homeless people giving generously, too. The best way to destroy the money monster—the greed machine, the idol of wealth—is generosity.
Giving is a gift. Paul instructed the church in Corinth,

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Do you want to be loved by God? Give! This isn’t a fundraising pitch, but an encouragement to share your wealth, invest your money, be generous. To those of you with little financial wealth, give something! If ten percent seems too much, start with one percent. Columbus takes seven percent! The federal government takes even more! What if you took a faith-filled risk and sowed some seeds, upped your giving, made a wild investment in God’s work, or simply began the godly discipline of generosity? Remember,
everything we have belongs to God, not just ten percent.

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

We can see from today’s text how money easily becomes an idol. It becomes more important than God. In fact, I believe the reason Christianity has been in decline in the western world for decades isn’t politics or technology or education, but simply wealth. We don’t need God. We have doctors when we’re sick, heaters when we’re cold (until we lose power!), iPhones when we’re lonely, and entertainment when we’re bored. Who needs God? Who has time for God?

It’s amazing how different things are in the developing world. When they are sick, they pray. For many, there is no plan B. For our brothers and sisters around the world without religious freedom, they have no power or rights, but they trust completely on God. Many of us are so comfortable that truly pursuing God seems like work or an obligation rather than a privilege to commune with the Creator of the universe!

Is God first in your life?
What idols are between you and God? It might be money, but it could be your career, family, hobbies, or even religion. Anything more important to you than God is a sinful idol. Period. Those are God’s words…Old and New Testament!

Consider these words from the book of Hebrews:

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)

Think about that for a moment. If we have God, what more do we really need? True contentment can only be found in God in the first place.

Listen to Paul’s instructions to Timothy:

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

If this doesn’t sound like our country, I don’t know what does. But we’re called to be different! We’re called to follow Jesus, not the world. We’re called to live lives of contentment, peace, faith, hope, and love. We’re called to fully rely on God, not our 401k or bank account.


No other Gods. No idols. No covetousness or greed. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said the greatest commandment was:

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

May it be said of each of us, “In God We Trust,” not the money upon which it is stated.

What is your foundation? What or who is your God. What is your first love?

We can build our lives on the stock market, but it can crash.
We can build our lives on a dream home, but a storm can destroy it.
We can build our lives on a career, but it can be lost in a pandemic.

“Build My Life”

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

Jesus on Divorce, 8 November 2020

Jesus on Divorce
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 10:1-16

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: God designed marriage and family for our flourishing, not our frustration.

I guess I’m a glutton for punishment! It’s not enough to talk about politics, race, theological differences, and hell! Today we’re talking about divorce. Actually, Jesus is talking about divorce.

One of my professors told me years ago, “Always put the Bible between you and your audience so when they’re offended, they’re offended by the Bible, not by you and your opinions.” Great advice! You don’t have to always agree with me. In fact, I’d be worried if you did! There are many things in the Bible that simply aren’t clear. My boyhood pastor once said, “There are some things the Bible is silent about, and we should be, too.” Some things are debatable and others essential and indisputable.

If you didn’t know by now, my favorite biblical character is…Jesus! I love the book of Mark because it’s the shortest, most to-the-point of the four gospels, the good news of the Messiah. Many of your Bibles have words in the color red, indicating they are the words of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, the challenging, counter-cultural wisdom of God.

Today we’re looking at what Jesus said about divorce in Mark chapter ten.

In the beginning, God created marriage. Well, first man was created. Then, …

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

A few verses later Genesis reads,

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:21-22)

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:23)

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25)

The two were one flesh, both physically and emotionally. They complemented one another. Loneliness was shattered. Community was established. And one of the most beautiful realities of their differences allowed them to reproduce and form a family…father, mother, child. This is God’s design. It makes perfect sense. For thousands of years, the biological family of father, mother, and child has been the foundation of societies from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

The family—biological and spiritual—is vital for everyone.

I wish the story ended there, a naked husband and wife experiencing paradise, free from shame, sin, and sorrow. Unfortunately, the very next verse in Genesis introduces the tragic event known as The Fall when Adam and Eve sinned, felt shame, were expelled from the Garden of Eden, and experienced punishment…not the least of which was marital conflict which leads us to today’s text in Mark 10.

Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. (Mark 10:1)   

Mark is giving us details which might seem trivial, but this district was under the rule of Herod Antipas, the one John the Baptist preached against due to his adulterous marriage—marrying his brother’s wife—which might be one reason for the question that follows.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (
Mark 10:2)   

There are several reasons why we ask questions. Often, it’s out of genuine curiosity. Sometimes, we are seeking clarification or confirmation. In this instance, Mark tells us these religious leaders were testing Jesus. Divorce was a controversial subject, and the original Greek verbs convey the idea that they kept asking Jesus, trying to get him to say something incriminating. As is often the case, Jesus responds to a question with a question, knowing their impure hearts.

“What did Moses command you?” he replied. (Mark 10:3)

Rather than debating rabbinical schools of thought, Jesus went right to the scriptures. It is believed that the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch, were written by Moses. When he led the Jewish people out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, hundreds of laws were written to instruct the people on everything from diets and hygiene to murder and rest. One of the topics was divorce.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” (
Mark 10:4)   

Moses never commanded divorce. He merely allowed it to protect the vulnerable women from exploitation. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 offers a provision for divorce when there is “some uncleanness.” Rabbi Hillel and his followers interpreted that to mean a man could divorce his wife for any reason, even burning his food! Rabbi Shimmai taught this only applied to premarital sin, such as discovering his new bride was not a virgin.

The provision for divorce was not to encourage it, but rather to protect the wife if her husband scorned her. Jewish women could not divorce their husbands. If a woman was rejected, she was often destitute. The certificate of divorce declared her free to remarry. Remarriage of the woman was expected for her survival. The question was, “What are the legal grounds for the man to divorce his bride?” Adultery was not grounds for divorce because it resulted in the stoning of both the adulterer and adulteress (Deut. 22:22; Lev. 20:10; John 8:1-11)!

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. (Mark 10:5)   

Marriage is not a contract. A covenant is an unbreakable commitment. Obviously, some covenants are broken, causing great harm to everyone involved. Since marriage is a picture of God’s covenant with His people (Hebrews 9:15), divorce made a mockery of the covenant relationship. In fact, the relationship between Jesus and us—the Church—is used to illustrate that of a husband and wife in Ephesians 5.

Jesus continues…

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ (Mark 10:6)  

I never imagined the day when this would be a radical, controversial statement! This article speaks volumes! If we’re all just random accidents—blobs of tissue with no value—I suppose we can think and do whatever we want because we have no purpose, no destiny, no meaning. But if we were created, if we have value, if we are masterpieces, then we must submit to the Creator.

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ (Romans 9:20)

I don’t want to get on a soapbox here, but the story of the Bible is so beautiful, so creative, so redemptive, so unbelievably good! If it’s true—and I’m betting my life on it—we are not God. We don’t write the rules.

I know the Bible isn’t politically correct, but if it is followed carefully, it results in human flourishing like nothing else. God made us male and female. He made us to complement one another. He made husband to become one with his wife for the purpose of pro-creation, the establishment of family, mutual submission, pleasure, love and respect, a reflection of Jesus and the Church.

Obviously when the Bible is not followed carefully, abuse emerges. Sin affects us all on a daily basis. We see signs of it all around us, yet it’s not God’s fault. The plan is perfect. It’s the poor execution that results in pain, injustice, hatred, violence, deceit, misogyny, corruption, and the like. God has given us free will, the ability to make choices. All of the brokenness in our world is the result of poor choices…sin.

Let me explain it this way: Heather and I have been watching a show called
Nailed It. The baking show gives three contestants a cake to make in an hour or two. They are presented with the model cake and are asked to recreate it. The recipe and ingredients are provided. The results are usually hilarious!

I am no baker! I might be able to buy one of those tubes of cookie dough and make some simple cookies, but these
Nailed It cakes are truly works of art. The baffling thing to me, though, is when the bakers ignore the recipe, make up their own measurements, or even substitute ingredients! One person decided baking a cake was too difficult and, instead, found a Rice Krispie treat and decorated it!

Nailed It bakers are given the freedom to do whatever they want, but the winners are the ones who play by the rules and follow the recipe.

The same is true for life. You can argue about God’s rules—and He has given you the freedom to ignore them—but I promise you the results will never be as good as if you obey the Master, the Author of life.

Back to our text, Jesus echoes the words of Genesis when he says,

7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:7-9)   

I often think of marriage like super gluing two pieces of paper together. Don’t do it if you want to separate them! Use Post-It notes for that! If you super glue two papers together, it will be nearly impossible to separate them without damage to them both.

That’s a pathetic metaphor for marriage, I know, but hopefully you get the point. Marriage is intended to glue two people together…to become one…for life…’til death. Married people are not supposed to separate, but sometimes they do…and it is always painful and unfortunate.

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this.
11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:10-12)   

Jewish women could not divorce their husbands, but Roman women could. Adultery was a pretty big deal. It’s in God’s top ten list, the Ten Commandments. It’s still a big deal today because it destroys trust, the foundation of any relationship.

Adultery—like all sin—hurts us and offends God.

All sin leads to death, whether it’s physical, relational, emotional, financial, spiritual, etc.

Can divorce be forgiven? Absolutely.
Can adultery be forgiven? Yes!
Does divorce solve every problem in a broken marriage? Of course not.
Is it sometimes unavoidable? Yes, in certain circumstances.

God hates divorce, but not divorcees.

I think everyone hates divorce…except, perhaps, for divorce attorneys! It’s not the way it’s supposed to be…like so much of life.

So What?

Marriage was
God’s design, intended for life.

This is seen throughout the Bible, including Romans 7:2 and 1 Corinthians 7:39. Can people survive in “alternative lifestyles?” Sure. But living outside of God’s plan will never allow you to truly thrive. I didn’t write the book, but I’ve read it and I’ve experienced it. It works!

God designed marriage and family for our flourishing, not our frustration.

I know it’s cool and edgy and progressive to be into polygamy, polyamory, fornication, adultery, gay marriage, orgies, BDSM, pedophilia, and other forbidden arrangements often described under the heading of “sexual immorality” (mentioned more than twenty times throughout the Bible; e.g. Numbers 25:1; Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20, 29; Ephesians 5:3; Jude 7; Revelation 9:21). But why settle when you can have the best? Daddy knows best, He loves you, and He wants the best for you.

Let me be clear: following Jesus is not always easy. It’s certainly not popular. God has given us the freedom to make choices, and with freedom comes responsibility and with actions comes consequences. You’ll get the best performance out of life if you follow the recipe, read the owner’s manual, obey God’s instructions in the Bible (which is also why it’s so important to read and study it to know what’s in there!).

If you’re involved in any form of sexual immorality, God doesn’t hate you. I don’t hate you. Quite the opposite. God’s love desires for you to experience the ultimate satisfaction and joy. I want the best for you. I’m not here to judge you or condemn you, but simply point you to Jesus where you can find forgiveness, freedom, and true peace.

If you’re struggling with any form of sexual issue, I urge you to seek help. Celebrate Recovery and Christian counseling are two things offered here on our campus. I’d love to talk with you or you can even talk to Karen Thompson, our office manager, in confidence. She attends another church so you need not worry about seeing her here on Sundays. I’ve given her resources to share with anyone seeking help.

In addition, if you are struggling in your marriage, help is available. Divorce will not fix everything. Again, contact the office and either ask for me or, if you prefer anonymity, get some resources from Karen our office manager. We are here to serve you…and our God is the God of miracles! Several years ago friends of ours came to Heather and I shared the dreadful news that their marriage had been violated by not only pornography and affairs, but prostitutes. This good Christian couple with the perfect family was on the verge of collapse. The woman had every right to seek a lawyer, but by God’s grace she chose forgiveness and a very long, very painful road of reconciliation and restoration. Today, they help other couples on the brink of divorce and have a beautiful marriage, a brilliant portrait of redemption and healing.

I said earlier,

God hates divorce, but not divorcees.

Some people picture God as this angry judge out to get us. Yes, Judgment Day is coming for all of us…and followers of Jesus have a wonderful ally to help us. But I think often the consequences of sin are enough on their own. Like a judge telling a parent who accidentally killed their child they have suffered enough, I wonder if the pain of divorce needs any additional penalty from God. I can’t prove that, but it’s just a thought. I’ve not been divorced, but I have yet to meet someone who enjoyed it. One person expressed this online: “That’s the horrific loss in divorce, it’s not losing your spouse - that’s just a breakup - it’s the loss of that new family you created, it’s devastating beyond words.” Sadly, many divorcees never had a say in the matter. Others were hasty in getting divorced and now live with regret.

Let me add,

God hates sin, but not sinners.

We’re all sinners. Every one of us has struggles, and the enemy wants to deceive us into thinking we’re the only ones. If you think you’re the only one listening to me struggling with porn, same-sex attraction, lust, fornication, divorce, adultery, or the like, you are mistaken! The first step in experiencing freedom is to admit it, confess it, get help. The reason our mission involves “restoring God’s masterpieces” is because you are a masterpiece, but a broken one. Me, too. God wants the best for us, but He has also given us freedom…and sometimes we don’t make the best use of that freedom.

If you want to get married, choose wisely.

Many single people don’t want to marry, and Paul says it’s better if you don’t marry (1 Corinthians 7:8). If you are seeking a spouse, remember it’s for life. Do your homework. Pray like crazy. Seek input from wise counsel. Don’t rush into it.

One more thing

Divorce is devastating for the husband and wife…and also the children, even adult children. Now they enter the picture…literally.

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)   

Children are a blessing from God.

There’s nothing quite like kids! There is an innocence, a humility, a vulnerability that allows them to have precious faith. They have no filter, which is wonderful when it comes to intimacy with God. They are trusting and have the most incredible curiosity. We are to approach our Heavenly Father like a child, filled with awe and wonder, desperate and surrendered. We are not to be childish, but childlike!

May God bless all of our families, marriages, singles, and children.

The Christian & Missionary Alliance statement on divorce:

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

Hell is for Real, 1 November 2020

Hell is for Real
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 9:38-50

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Hell is real…and avoidable!

Hell. There are few words which conjure up more images, more controversy, more fear. It’s a word found in English Bibles which has been used both as the name of a Michigan community and a swear word.

There are a lot of myths about hell, and while we won’t probably answer every question, our text today as we continue in the book of Mark will reveal some of Jesus’ teachings on hell.

More people believe in heaven than believe in hell.
More people believe in angels than believe in demons.
More people believe in God than believe in satan.

What does that tell you? We are optimists!

It may not be politically correct, but the Bible is abundantly clear that there are two roads, two teams, two sides, two armies at war with one another…good and evil. Spiritual warfare is real, and we’re in the middle of it every day.

However, there is much we don’t know for certain about the spiritual world. There are many things we don’t know about heaven and hell. Theories about the afterlife abound, but the Bible is not as clear about some things as we may have been led to believe.

Let’s begin with our scripture for today.

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” (Mark 9:38)

John is worries about someone performing an exorcism. I can just see it: “Jesus, the guy is from a different denomination! He’s not on our team! He probably hasn’t even been ordained yet or gone to seminary! We need to stop this, right?”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:39-40)

Wait, is it “whoever is not against us is for us” or “whoever is not for us is against us?”

Twice Jesus says, “Whoever is not against you/us is for you/us,” here and in Luke 9:50.

Twice Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23).

Which is it, Jesus? Actually, the context matters. “Whoever is not against you is for you” applies to other believers, while “whoever is not with me is against me” is a reference to those who are anti-Christian. The point is, you cannot be neutral about Jesus. Are you with Jesus or against Jesus?

It’s not a question of do you like Jesus or do you believe intellectually some events in history. The question is are you with him. If so, you need to be all in…heart, soul, mind, and strength; time, talents, and treasures; 24/7/365. He’s not looking for fans. He is seeking followers. Disciples.

Back to our text, Jesus continues,

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
(Mark 9:39-41)

I think this is a statement of unity. As we stated last Sunday, there are theological arguments which separate followers of Jesus, yet we are all children of God. We will spend eternity with God and one another. We need to be careful about judging other believers simply because we have disagreements. But that doesn’t mean we can be careless about our theology, our study of God.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42)

A quick read may cause you to think of children, but I think the reference is to those new to the faith. A biblical millstone was huge. Jesus is graphic about the consequence of causing others to stumble, to fall into sin. Now Jesus gets even more graphic.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43)

Some people have taken this verse literally! The message is following Jesus demands sacrifice. Anything that gets in the way of following Christ must go. Jesus is saying the consequences of sin are real. Hell is for real.

The original Greek word translated here as “hell” is “geena” from the valley of [ge] Hinnon or Gehenna in southwest Jerusalem, used figuratively as a place or state of everlasting punishment. I’ve been there! Gehenna was the place where idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to the pagan god Molech, and later where bodies of the dead were disposed. In the first-century, it was a garbage dump with everything set on fire, hence Jesus’ phrase, “Where the fire never goes out.”

Does this mean hell is a literal lake of fire that will burn forever? Maybe.

Much of our understand of hell—fire and brimstone—comes not from the Bible, but rather from art and an Italian poem by Dante called Divine Comedy. Inferno is the first part, describing Dante’s journey through hell with vivid language.

Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven as a present reality, not merely something in the afterlife. In the same way, our choices now can create what many call “hell on earth.” Sin has consequences. Hell is real, I don’t want anyone to experience it. God doesn’t want anyone to experience it. Jesus’ friend Peter wrote,

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

C.S. Lewis said,

“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. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find to those who knock, it is opened.”

There are so many things we don’t know about heaven and hell, but my simplest definitions are

Heaven is where God is present.
Hell is where God is absent.

To restate C.S. Lewis,

God does not send people to hell. We choose to be present with God now and for eternity or we choose to ignore God now and He will honor that choice for eternity.

Some of your Bibles are missing verse 44. That’s because many of the oldest manuscripts of the Bible lack this phrase:

“Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
(Mark 9:44, NKJV)

This is a quotation from Isaiah 66:24. Some believe the worm represents internal suffering and the fire external. This is added detail to verse 43. Together they read in the NKJV,

It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where
“Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
(Mark 9:43b-44, NKJV)

Let’s look at a few more verses and you’ll understand why there are missing verses.

And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. (Mark 9:45)

Verse 46 is missing in most translations, too. The NKJV reads exactly the same:

“Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
(Mark 9:46, NKJV)


And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
“ ‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:47-48)

Verses 44, 46, and 48 are exactly the same in the NKJV. The translators likely added 44 and 46. The meaning of the text doesn’t change with or without them. It’s as if the NKJV did a copy-and-paste for emphasis. This is one of a small number of textual discrepancies in the Bible. Since we don’t have the original manuscripts, there are some variations, but virtually all of them are like this, having no bearing on the meaning. If someone tells you the Bible is full of errors, they are literally correct, but those errors are inconsequential to the meaning, reliability, and authority of the Bible. Out of 66 books, there are a few occasions where the copyist was unsure whether something was a semi-colon or a comma with a speck of dust on the page. No big deal.

To my knowledge—I am not an expert on the original, ancient documents—there are absolutely no controversies surrounding any essential truths of our faith such as the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Any problems are extremely minor such as punctuation.

Tony Evans says hands represent things we handle, the foot represents where we go, and the eye symbolizes things we look at, all potential doors to sin. Jesus continues,

Everyone will be salted with fire. (Mark 9:49)

Fire can destroy, but it can also test and purify. Salt purifies, too. Old Testament sacrifices were offered with salt, which both preserves and purifies.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)

So What?

The Alliance Statement of Faith says,

Man was originally created in the image and likeness of God: he fell through disobedience, incurring thereby both physical and spiritual death. All men are born with a sinful nature, are separated from the life of God, and can be saved only through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The portion of the unrepentant and unbelieving is existence forever in conscious torment; and that of the believer, in everlasting joy and bliss.

The verse used to support “the portion of the unrepentant and unbelieving is existence forever in conscious torment” is Revelation 21:8…

“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

My purpose today isn’t to debate nuances of hell, but merely to encourage you to avoid it! The Bible never describes it as a wild party for demons and rock stars. It’s the one place in the universe where God is absent. I can’t imagine how dreadful it is. You think this world is bad?! Imagine our planet without God. Literal or figurative fire, eternal or temporary…does it really matter?!
Alliance pastor Skye Jethani writes, “An afterlife in heaven or hell is the residue of tradition, but it is decidedly not the emphasis of the New Testament. Scripture has a far more physical and terrestrial vision of the future. It depicts a renewed earth in which God dwells with his resurrected people in a redeemed, glorified creation. The Lord is focused on redeeming his world, not abandoning it to the enemy. The goal of the New Testament is not disembodied souls escaping the earth and occupying a celestial heaven for eternity…Its emphasis is not heaven or hell but on a choice between life or death.”

I know this isn’t the most uplifting of subjects, but there’s good news. That’s the meaning of the word “gospel.” The good news or gospel is Jesus.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)

Without Christ, our sins would automatically condemn us to hell, separation from God. He is allergic to sin. But Jesus died to pay for our sins, to forgive us, to wipe the slate clean, to reconcile us to the Father. If we choose to follow Jesus, we will not perish, but will have everlasting life. Could there be any greater news?

Today we remember the sacrifice Jesus made, leaving heaven to come to earth for about thirty-three years to live, die, and resurrect.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)


If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us
our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Hell is for real…and avoidable…not because we are good enough, but because of Jesus.

But as I said, Jesus isn’t looking for fans. He wants followers. If you want Jesus simply for a “get out of hell free” card, you’re in the wrong place. He wants to give you life—abundant life, everlasting life, real life…now and forever. You simply need to say “yes” and respond to his gift, the gift of himself. Repent and turn away from your sins…and follow Jesus.

While there is much we don’t know about hell, one thing is certain: God will judge evil.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

You are not ready to live until you’re ready to die.

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

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

The G.O.A.T., 27 September 2020

GOAT: Greatest of All Time
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 9:33-37

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Jesus is the Greatest of All Time, though the path to greatness is a paradox.

There’s a lot of discussion lately about the GOAT: the greatest of all time. In basketball, the debate is LeBron James versus Michael Jordan. In football, Brady or Manning. Hockey fans can’t agree on Gretsky or Hull. Debates rage in soccer over Renaldo or Messi. Golfers argue over Woods or Nicholas.

Muhammad Ali was never shy about being called “the Greatest.” He was not only a great boxer, he is considered by many to be the most important athlete of the 20th century. He was named the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC and became a legend in and outside of the boxing ring.

Just before takeoff on an airplane flight, the stewardess reminded Ali to fasten his seat belt. “Superman don’t need no seat belt,” replied Ali. Legend has it that the stewardess retorted, ”Superman don’t need no airplane.”

H.G. Wells said, “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”

I doubt I would have trouble convincing most of you that Jesus Christ is the greatest human of all time. But who’s next? Who’s the second-greatest human in history? What about in the Bible?

Today we’re returning to the book of Mark, the shortest gospel or “good news” of Jesus Christ. It’s a fascinating biography of the Messiah, and our text today speaks volumes about true greatness.

In the eighth chapter of Mark, it is said of Jesus…

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

Jesus predicts his death. It is so clear that Peter rebukes Jesus which results in a teaching moment for Jesus! A few verses later…

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

These are not easy words…and I’m not convinced anything has changed. To follow the world, we can pursue happiness, money, sex, power, and pleasure…but following Jesus means the death of our sinful, false self. It means surrender and sacrifice. Paul connects Jesus’ example to our calling.

And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

Jesus continues…

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
(Mark 8:35)

This is known as a paradox—“a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true,” Whoever wants to save their life will lose it. Whoever loses their life for Jesus will save it. Missionary and martyr Jim Elliot famously said,
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:30-32)

This is the second time Jesus predicts his death in the book of Mark. The disciples were clueless, but Jesus is teaching them about greatness. He’s the greatest, and yet his mission is not to be served, but to serve.

Don’t you wish our politicians could try this?!

Our passage for today, Mark 9:33-37, begins…

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:33-34)

Jesus hears them arguing, which is never a good sign! When he confronts them, they probably tried to change the subject! They know they’ve been caught in the act!

Numbers 32:23 says, “be sure that your sin will find you out.” It’s one thing that they’re arguing. It’s another that they’re arguing about who’s the greatest.

It should be noted that God isn’t always fair. It’s not fair that some are born into great wealth and comfort while others have refugee parents. It’s not fair that some are born with natural beauty while others have less-attractive features. It’s not fair that some are born in this great country with freedoms and liberties while others are monitored 24/7 like lab rats by their government.

Likewise, it’s not fair that Jesus picked twelve to be his special followers. It’s not fair that Peter, James, and John were in Jesus’ inner circle, privileged with unique opportunities. It’s believed that John was Jesus’ favorite among the three. Maybe this was the topic of conversation that Jesus overheard. What we know for sure is Jesus was not pleased with this argument, though it’s a debate that rages to this day. Who’s the greatest? Whose rank or status in society is at the top? It’s no secret that there are the rich, famous, and powerful on one extreme and the sick, poor, disabled, homeless, foreigner on the other. It’s human nature to pre-judge based upon what we see, whether it’s a shiny, new sports car or worn-out shoes with holes in them.

I’m guessing the argument was not about who was the greatest among the Roman leaders. They probably weren’t conversing about the greatest athletes in the upcoming Olympic Games. No, my guess is they were all trying to one-up one another, comparing stories of encounters with Jesus to see who he loved the most.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said,
“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Mic drop! Here’s another paradox, another radical, revolutionary, counter-cultural declaration. In our world today, alternative has become another word for cool, edgy, trendy, and different. The ultimate alternative lifestyle is following Jesus. It’s extreme, outrageous, …and oh so rewarding! It’s not the pathway to comfort and pleasure, but the peace of Christ from an obedient relationship with him is priceless. When you don’t have to pretend and wear masks to cover up your flaws, when you don’t have to worry about pleasing people because you’re pleasing God, when you don’t worry about—well, anything—that’s the road to contentment. Servanthood is the pathway to true satisfaction.

For many of this, this statement of Jesus to serve almost sounds cliché, but imagine the Creator of the universe washing your feet! Imagine the Son of God dying for you! Imagine the greatest human in history loving you with a perfect, unconditional love!

If we’re honest, we all want to be great. We’re conditioned that fame and fortune will lead to happiness, though history proves that lie! We want to be in control. We lust after power. We want it our way. We like to be served, admired, complimented, and praised. But Jesus says if you want to be great—if you want to be first—you must be last, you must serve, you must die to your self, your pride, your will…and seek first God’s Kingdom.

Greatness is not about power.
Greatness is not about possessions.
Greatness is not about position or prestige or performance or any other p-word!

Greatness is a humble servant, dying to self, obeying God, loving well.

By the way, Christians love the idea of being a servant…until they’re treated like one! Are you living as a servant or king/queen? Are you seeking a cross or a throne?

It’s interesting to note Jesus sits when he teaches, the opposite of our culture where the teacher stands and the students sit. In Jesus’ day, the teacher sat as they were worthy of respect. This small detail underscores the significance of Jesus’ words. He is deliberating teaching them something very important.

What follows is no coincidence. It is the “so what” of his brief teaching.

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37)

This was scandalous! In the culture, children were not cute, idolized creatures who were spoiled with extravagant birthday parties, designer clothes, and expensive video games. Children were nothing more than a nuisance. They were to be seen and not heard. In the original language, the word “child” could also mean “servant.” This is another example of the extraordinary Kingdom of God. This child has nothing to offer. They don’t have money. They don’t have power. They don’t have connections. They can’t produce with physical labor. Yet Jesus welcomes them.

Jesus values hospitality—welcoming the stranger, the powerless, the other. He serves those who should be serving him. He died for the very ones—you and me—who deserved death. He sees every human as a masterpiece.


One of my favorite things about First Alliance Church is its growing diversity. We have people of all different shapes and sizes, colors and creeds, education and ethnicity. Everyone is welcome.

I found a sign that said,

We welcome
All races and ethnicities
All religions
All countries of origin
All gender identities
All sexual orientations
All abilities and disabilities
All spoken languages
All ages

Here’s how Paul said:

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)

That’s the message of Jesus. All are welcome. All saints. All sinners. We don’t celebrate sin, of course, but we recognize we all sin, we all fall short of God’s glory, we all need His amazing grace and forgiveness, He so loved the whole world that He sent Jesus.

I’m glad you are different than me. This world can only handle one Kirk Schneemann!

I’m thrilled we are all different. We can learn from one another. We can learn patience by being with one another! We can learn new skills, new ideas, and new perspectives through doing life together. I need you. I really do! You need me. That’s family!

This past week Heather and I watched a documentary called The Social Dilemma. It exposes the manipulation of social media to feed us information just like those things we click. If you watch YouTube videos about fishing, they will recommend other videos about fishing. If you click on fake news about the earth being flat, suddenly other conspiracy theories will be presented to you. If you are a progressive, you’ll be encouraged to consume more news and media that support left-leaning ideology. The filmmakers of this documentary present a compelling argument that our nation is divided because we never hear from the other side, whether it’s a different cable news channel, a different set of Facebook posts, or a different type of podcast.

Tragically, this is nothing new. Decades ago in 1955, Donald McGavran promoted the homogeneous unit principle, the idea that, “Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers.” In other words, we need white churches for white people, black churches for black people, fancy churches for rich people, etc. It’s a good marketing strategy, but a terrible expression of faith. Revelation tells us twice that every nation, tribe, people, and language is included in God’s plan for humanity. Jesus prayed that we would be one, united family (John 17). Only satan could bring about the division, the injustice, the hatred that exists both inside and outside the church today.

Next month we’re doing a sermon series along with some other area churches called The Great Divide. In God’s Kingdom, age is not an issue, as evidenced by Jesus’ love for children. In God’s Kingdom, politics is not an issue. It’s all about King Jesus, not a donkey or elephant. In God’s Kingdom, ethnicity is not an issue. We’re all part of the human race, all created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth, no matter your skin color, national citizenship, zip code, or language.

It sounds so basic, so simple, so obvious, yet time and time again I hear about people—often pastors—who fail to value or sometimes even recognize the “other.” Every person you meet this week is a masterpiece! That includes those noisy kids that are going stir-crazy from staring at computer screens all day. That includes the person with the cardboard sign, the annoying co-worker, the harsh boss, the nagging spouse, the lunatic driving 70 on the Trail, and yes, those politicians you despise from the other party.

For the record, I still content Michael Jordan is the GOAT, the greatest of all time in the game of basketball. If you disagree, I can respect that. But the ultimate GOAT, the greatest human of all time is undeniably Jesus the Messiah. His teaching was great. His example was great. His love was great. His death and resurrection were great. Thousands of years later, he remains the most powerful, most influential person in history.

We love him—and others— because he first loved us.
We serve others because he served us.
We are hospitable and welcome the stranger because he welcomes us into his family.
We die to ourselves so we can live as new creations.

Jesus is the greatest, and he is worthy of our praise and worship, both in word and deed, all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, all of our strength.

Family, be great! Humbly serve. Extend hospitality. Love well. It’s the Jesus way to live.

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

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

God of the Impossible, 10 May 2020

God of the Impossible
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 9:2-32

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Nothing is impossible with our great and awesome God.

On the fringes of what has been known for decades as contemporary Christian music is a band called Daniel Amos. In 1988, they formed an anonymous spinoff called The Swirling Eddies. Some of their more interesting song titles include “Coco the talking guitar,” “Arthur Fhardy’s yodeling party,” “Outdoor Elvis,” and maybe my all-time favorite song title, “Hide the beer, the pastor’s here!”

In the midst of their playful satire and comedy, one song has stuck with me for decades. It’s entitled, “Yer’ Little Gawd.”

i don't want to speak to yer little gawd  i don't want to drink to yer little gawd  interface or link with yer little gawd 

How big is your God?

We’re in the middle of a series called Mark: The Real Jesus. We’re looking at his life from the gospel—good news—of Mark. Perhaps the pivotal question in the entire book was when Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” in the previous chapter.

Today’s text is packed with startling stories that bring clarity to the question of whether Jesus is fully God or fully human. The answer is yes! And he’s great!

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. (Mark 9:2-4)

This must’ve been an incredible sight…and sound! Can you imagine the conversation? Elijah represented the prophets and Moses the law. Both are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. A masquerade is an outward change that does not come from within, while transfigured describes an outward change that comes from within.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:5)

Peter’s mouth is always getting him in trouble! I love John Mark’s commentary that follows in parenthesis.

(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) (Mark 9:5-6)

Has that ever happened to you? When is the last time you were speechless…or should’ve been speechless and you couldn’t stop talking?!

Some people question whether the Bible is authentic or a bunch of fairy tales. If you were to write fiction, you wouldn’t include accounts such as Peter’s clumsy suggestions! I’m sure Peter was embarrassed about many of the things written about him, but they only show God’s amazing power to redeem and restore blemished masterpieces for His glory.

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)

What is the most astonishing thing about this encounter? Everything! This is multi-media extravaganza! God the Father identifies Jesus once again (Mark 1:11) as His Son. The command to the three disciples is simple: listen to him!

This is a timeless message. We need to listen to Jesus. We need to obey his commands, his teachings, the “red letters” in many Bibles. We are to follow his example of loving even our enemies. We are to re-present Jesus to the world, bearing witness to the reality of God and His Kingdom, praying for it to become a reality here on earth as it is in heaven.

Family, I know we all long to be physically together again soon, but First Alliance Church is not a building or even a gathering. We are not in the business of distributing religious goods and services. Our mission is to restore God’s masterpieces. It’s to make disciples. It’s to become like Jesus and help others become like Jesus…something which is best done in small groups rather than large gatherings. Although much of Jesus’ ministry occurred with twelve disciples—a group larger than the ten we are encouraged to stay within at this present moment—his deepest work was done in the lives of these three men—Peter, James and John. Jesus did not lead a megachurch. There’s actually few references to him teaching in the synagogues. He did attract crowds—largely due to the hope of healings. But discipleship seems to happen best in smaller groups that do life together.

I’m grateful for all of our small group leaders who disciple others through Zoom, in-person socially-distanced gatherings, and one-on-one interactions. We are to listen to Jesus. We are to follow Jesus. That’s what First Alliance Church is all about, and it’s what the Father has commanded us to do…
we must listen to and obey Jesus.

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. (Mark 9:8)

The show’s over! It’s time to go home. I’m so glad there were three witnesses because I’m sure a solo observer would’ve thought they were hallucinating!

It’s worth noting nobody saw Elijah or Moses die. Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind and Moses died alone, buried by God Himself according to Deuteronomy 34:5-6.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. (Mark 9:9-10).

Here’s another example of Jesus predicting his death and resurrection…yet they still didn’t catch on.

And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” (Mark 9:11)

They’re talking about prophecy and the future. Elijah and Moses prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:12-13)

Jesus tells them again that He’s the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, and that he will die. Now the scene comes to a close and a new one begins.

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. (Mark 9:14-15)

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. (Mark 9:16)

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” (Mark 9:17-18)

When is the last time you saw someone possessed by a spirit? Have you ever seen someone foaming at the mouth and gnashing their teeth?

I’ve long been fascinated by the role of the supernatural here in the west versus spirituality in other countries. I once spoke with a man who travels all over the world. He said in some parts of the planet, both demons and healings are common. The spiritual world is understood. However, he said he sees fewer demons and healings in the United States. I can’t fully explain why this may be, but I think it has something to do with our love for logic, facts, reasoning, and science which can remove the mystical, the mysterious, and the supernatural.

Are demons real? Absolutely!
Are angels real? Absolutely!
Does God still heal today? Absolutely, though sometimes God often uses doctors and medicine. But sometimes He shows up and confounds the experts with the miraculous.

Jesus often exorcised demons, offering liberation for the oppressed.

This text makes is clear there are different degrees of demons. The disciples had driven out demons before, but they were unable to drive out this one. Was it their lack of faith?

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” (Mark 9:19)

Jesus is so real! He’s so emotionally healthy, able to express his frustration without sinning.

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. (Mark 9:20)

There is power in the presence of Jesus. There is power in the name of Jesus!

Jesus asked the boy’s father,
“How long has he been like this?” (Mark 9:21)

“From childhood,” he answered.

“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22)

Spiritual warfare is real. We have a real enemy that wants to steal, kill, and destroy. In this case, a demon repeatedly tried to kill this boy. I don’t understand all of the factors that lead to murder, self-harm, suicide, or domestic violence, but they are not from God. There are signs of the enemy all over our communities, making our job of demonstrating faith, hope, and love so vital.

To be clear, I’m not blaming every bad thing on satan—and mental illness is real—but sin leads to death, while God is the author of life, the source of every good and perfect gift, the healer and lilberator.

“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

I love Jesus’ response: if you can? The father’s hesitation is understandable. After all, the disciples couldn’t help. Loving parents will do virtually anything to help their children. One of the reasons we love our mothers is their devotion, their commitment, their desire to care and seek healing for their offspring. This father had a similar passion, yet he was surely disappointed at the failure of the disciples.

This verse contains the key sentence in our scripture for today.
Everything is possible for one who believes. I looked up the original Greek word for everything. The word is pas and it means…everything, whole, whatsoever, thoroughly, all. This declaration by Jesus echoes his words in Matthew 19:26…With God, all things are possible.

Did you know Ohio is the only state in the USA with a biblical motto? This is it: with God, all things are possible.

“Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23b)

We love, worship, serve, obey, and love the God of the impossible.

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

There it is, one of my favorite prayers in the Bible!

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit.
“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” (Mark 9:25)

Jesus didn’t want to create a scene, perhaps for both his sake and these two men.

I love Jesus’ command to not only leave, but to never return!

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. (Mark 9:26-27)

Peter, James and John had seen everything now! First, the transfiguration of Jesus with Elijah and Moses in a supernatural moment of glory, and now a manifestation of supernatural evil. If they thought they were hallucinating before…

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (Mark 9:28)

He replied,
“This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

Wait! Does it ever say Jesus prayed? There’s no mention of him closing his eyes and talking to the Father. He doesn’t spit on the boy as he did with one of his earlier healings. He simply speaks with authority…an authority that comes through his ongoing relationship with the Father, praying without ceasing, not only praying to the Father or talking with the Father but doing life with the Father.

Jesus never says the disciples don’t have enough faith. He doesn’t say miracles are reserved for the Messiah. He has received the power and the authority to cast out demons from the Father, through prayer.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is known as the Great Commission where Jesus tells his followers to go and make disciples of all nations. We often forget how it begins.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

Jesus was given all authority…and he passed it on to his followers. Our text for today concludes…

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:30-32)

Again, he plainly tells them he will die and rise, but they were clueless.

So What?

How big is your God? Is He the sky fairy, a good luck charm, a comfort piece like a stuffed animal?

Is he the big guy upstairs who punched your ticket so you can go to heaven when you die?

Or is Jesus LORD, Messiah, King of Kings, all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present?

Family, our God is the God of the impossible. He’s the one who raises the dead, heals the sick, mends the broken, frees the oppressed, and offers hope to the hopeless. He has conquered sin, death, demons, and satan. He loves you with an everlasting love.

This isn’t positive thinking or psychobabble! Our God is awesome! He is powerful! Paul declared to a church in modern-day Turkey,

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

He can do what we ask.
He can do what we imagine.
He can do more than we ask or imagine.
He can do more than all we ask or imagine.
He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!
He is the God of the impossible!

Sometimes He says, “Wait.”
Sometimes He says, “No.”
Sometimes nothing happens because we simply don’t ask! Jesus’ half-brother once wrote,

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)

We must ask. We must pray. We must follow Jesus every day, not just Sunday morning. And then we must thank and praise Him for His faithfulness and goodness.

Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer. I participated in several online events. Perhaps there’s never been a better time in our lifetime to bow our heads and kneel before Almighty God and pray…for the impossible!

How big is your God?

When we seek first His Kingdom, His will, His plan, we can ask the God of the impossible and expect great things…because He is a great and awesome God!

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

You can watch this online worship experience

Dead Man's Journey, 3 May 2020

Dead Man’s Journey
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 8:31-9:1

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Following this King is a death sentence…which leads to abundant life.

Unlike you, my dad has not been affected by coronavirus. He’s not been worried about losing his job. Not once has toilet paper been a concern. There’s no fear of catching or spreading the virus. He hasn’t even given a thought to death. Why?

He died six years ago this week!

I miss my dad terribly. He was the greatest man I ever knew. The best thing about my dad was his love for God and the way he followed Jesus. He loved the LORD. He worshipped with his time, talents, and treasures. He surrendered most everything to God, living not for himself, but for Jesus. You might say he died long before his death…and we should, too.

Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived. His investment in a small group of people forever changed the world. His words are quoted every day by people from most every nation, tribe, and tongue. The wisdom he delivered is revered, even by those of other religions.

As I’ve studied Jesus’ teachings, I’ve come to the conclusion that many are difficult, if not impossible. Love your neighbor as yourself is daunting, even if you have a good neighbor! The first shall be last is curious, to be sure. But our scripture today includes what may be the most radical and controversial of all of his statements: die…in order to live.

In the eighth chapter of Mark’s gospel—good news—Jesus has just healed a blind man and listened to Peter’s declaration of faith, that Jesus is the Messiah, the King. Verse thirty stated,

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:30)

It wasn’t time for his true identity to be revealed to the world. He already had people trying to kill him. There were things he needed to tell his friends.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

Jesus predicted his own death…and resurrection! He told the disciples exactly what would happen, and how. They got the message about suffering, but they all seemed to forget the resurrection prediction, but that’s for another sermon!

They were clearly confused. Why would the Messiah suffer? He’s supposed to reign. Some rabbis even thought there would be two Messiahs, one who would suffer and one who would reign. We now understand the fascinating relationship between the cross and the crown. God transformed suffering into glory while satan tempted Jesus to experience glory without suffering.

Not only did Jesus tell them what would happen in the near future,…

He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark 8:32)

Say what you want about Peter, he’s not afraid to speak him mind! He rebukes Jesus!

He has just proclaimed Jesus is the Messiah and he can’t believe the King of the Jews is going to suffer. Kings don’t give themselves up to be killed. And dead people certainly don’t come back three days later!

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33)

Do you think Peter meant well? He was seeing with physical eyes rather than seeking spiritual vision. God had a plan, albeit unexpected.

Sometimes I take matters into my own hands instead seeking first His kingdom. Proverbs tells us to seek wise counsel, but sometimes God leads us to do things that violate conventional wisdom. Following Jesus might mean learning a new language and moving to the others side of the world. It could involve radical generosity.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

Mic drop!

Jesus, I thought you died so I could go to heaven when I die and all I need to do is pray a prayer!

Family, a Christian is not someone who simply prays a prayer. A Christian is not another word for American, though much of the world tragically thinks they’re synonymous. A Christian is not someone that goes to church—or engages online! A Christian is not someone with Bible knowledge, mental belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, or even someone who gives money to a local church.

A Christian is someone who follows Jesus. The word literally means “little Christ.” It’s a disciple, a student, a protégé, an apprentice, an imitator of Jesus. Jesus is defining what it means to follow him:

- deny themselves; surrender to our will and determine to obey his
- take up their cross (as in suffering and death!)
- follow Jesus obediently, wherever he leads

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

Jesus, you can’t be serious. You want me to die?

God wants us to die…to ourselves. He wants us to let go of our ego, our agenda, and even the illusion we have of control.

Just to clarify, Jesus continued,…

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35)

It’s been said that you only live once, but I disagree. In this life, sixty, eighty, or even a hundred years seem like forever, but it’s not.

Think about the pandemic. It hasn’t even been two months, yet for some of us it feels like two years!

This life is short. Compared to eternity, you couldn’t even see it on a timeline. How we live this life will impact the life to come.

This verse is one of the hardest statements in the entire Bible. It’s one of the most challenging verses ever written, and yet it’s not only true, it’s liberating.

If we die for Jesus—figuratively or even literally as millions of martyrs have done—we don’t have to worry about this life. We can let go and let God. What’s the worst thing that can happen to you? What’s the worst thing that can happen during this pandemic?

If you live for yourself, you might lose your job, your money, your health, even your life.

If you live for Jesus, you recognize everything in life is a gift, on loan from God. You don’t deserve your job, even if you worked hard to acquire it. The same goes for your money, but how quickly can your 401k become a 201k? Every good and perfect gift is from above, from God (James 1:17).

Jesus isn’t promoting suicide. He’s not saying you shouldn’t have fun, pleasure, hobbies, or recreation. He is saying…

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Mark 8:36-37)

The eternal matters. The next life is infinitely longer than this one! If your entire focus is on this life, this world, this body, it’s not going to matter in a hundred years. We have all come from dust and to dust we will return. That’s the message of Lent. Again, it can all be gone in a moment.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

Yikes! That’s more than a little scary, isn’t it?

Jesus was speaking to a group of people, most of whom would become martyrs. They would die for their faith. We’ve enjoyed bountiful religious freedom in this country since its founding, but many of our brothers and sisters haven’t enjoyed such liberty.

Millions of men, women and children have been martyred—killed for their faith in Jesus, a faith that was proven by action and a willingness to die.

Jesus never asks us to do anything he doesn’t model for us.
He hung up for you and me. Can we stand up for him?

It’s easier when you have nothing to live for…except Jesus. Dead people don’t fear death.

Many years ago, the gold vehicle I was driving began to take on more of a rust color! To say it was falling apart would be about right. Every member of my family urged me to get rid of it (I’m not sure if it was because they were embarrassed by its looks or afraid it would break down in the middle of nowhere!).

I liked the vehicle. I’m not even ashamed to admit it was an old minivan. I liked the sleek design and didn’t even mind the gold color. It previously belonged to my grandfather, so it had a little sentimental value. The fact that it was paid for was certainly endearing. But maybe what I loved most about it was the fact that I wasn’t afraid of getting in an accident. If someone ran into me, I wouldn’t be out much! As long as it ran, I didn’t worry about it getting scratched or damaged or even stolen. It was nearly dead so there wasn’t much to lose.

Contrast that with minivan I rented on vacation a few years ago. After getting the keys and starting it up, I looked at the odometer and I think it read about 80 miles. This was a brand new car, worth ten times more than my bank account! I drove so carefully, aware that I could actually be a perfect driver and still return it totaled if someone else was careless.

If we have nothing to lose—if we’ve already died to ourselves—there’s no fear in loss, in death.

If we have everything to lose, we live in fear, anxiety, and scarcity.

In the final verse for today, Jesus said to them,…

And he said to them,
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 9:1)

Eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples saw the resurrected Christ. They got a sneak preview of what their future bodies will be like, and they saw satan and death defeated, hallelujah!

So What?

Our world is in turmoil. Fear abounds. Anxiety is running rampant. One report said half of the restaurants closed will never reopen. People have labored for years building businesses that are vanishing because of something that began on the other side of the world. Perhaps you’re among those who are at the end of your rope, at the bottom of the barrel, desperate. Maybe you’re engaging online right now because you don’t know where else to turn. I’ve got great news!

You can’t lose what’s not yours…and nothing is truly ours. It’s all a gift on loan from God. Our health. Our jobs. Our family. Our skills. Our talents. Our dreams.

If we truly let go and let God, we can let go of worry, fear, and anxiety. This doesn’t mean we sit around all day playing video games, but we can seek first God’s agenda, His plan, and watch Him do what only He can do.

Perhaps today is your day to let go and let God, to die to yourself and allow Jesus to give you a new life, a new heart, a new future, a new destiny. If you want to begin to follow Jesus today, you can “raise your hand” on the church online platform. If that’s you, please let us know your phone or e-mail so we can give us you some free resourced to help you get started with Jesus. Dying doesn’t sound like an attractive proposition, but it’s the only path to really living, letting Jesus “take the wheel” and be the leader of your life.


As I said, Jesus never asks us to do something he has not already modeled for us. He died…so we could live. He was the least-deserving person in history to die, much less be crucified, yet it was part of God’s plan to redeem us, to restore us, to reconcile us to Himself.

As we sing this next song together, The Wonderful Cross, if you’re a follower of Jesus, this is the time to eat the bread and drink the cup, reminders of Jesus’ body and blood sacrificed for you and me.

As we survey the wondrous cross, I want to call your attention to these lyrics:

Oh the wonderful cross
Oh the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live

This is an incredible paradox, yet it’s so true.

The Wonderful Cross

What does it mean for you to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus this week? It might mean a financial sacrifice, an extravagant gift, a kind note, or a generous act of service to someone in need. It might be putting others above yourself, wearing a mask when you don’t want to (they won’t make you safe but they might protect others). Denying yourself could involve listening when you want to speak, reading the Bible when you’d rather post on social media, or seeking forgiveness from someone you have wronged.

Someday, it might involve a greater sacrifice, a greater death to yourself. Maybe God will call you to relocate, change careers, or maybe—just maybe—die for your faith.

The dirty little secret about Christian martyrs is they really do go to a better place!

We can live for ourselves or we can live for Jesus. It’s a choice we make every day.

Family, I haven’t mastered this. It’s a daily struggle. I want to be in control. I want to be my own god. I want it my way. But when I stop, trust God, surrender, put things into His hands, and let go, there’s so much relief, satisfaction, peace, and joy.

This entire message can be described with two simple gestures. A closed fist represents our desire to hold on, to cling, to protect, to hoard. That’s what it’s like to do life in the flesh. An open hand releases everything, it signifies surrender, it’s scary because it allows everything we have to be taken away…yet it also creates space for God to bring new blessings into our lives.

Perhaps a more familiar image is water baptism,
which I hope we will be able to do soon. It’s a beautiful symbol of a person dying (in a water grave) of their old life, their sinful, selfish nature and then coming out of the water resurrected, a new life in Jesus, proclaiming in word and deed that Jesus is LORD.

I want to close with two scriptures. Jesus said,

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

Paul wrote,

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

Death is not the end. It’s only the beginning. What follows death for every follower of Jesus is live…abundant life…freedom…and ultimately resurrection.

Following Jesus is more than a prayer and a few adjustments in our ordinary lives. It’s a dangerous adventure filled with risk…and eternal rewards.

Jim Elliot—who was a Christian martyr—said,

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Someday this life, this body will end. Salvation through Jesus Christ is forever.

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

You can watch this online worship experience

New Normal, 26 April 2020

New Normal
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus

Mark 8:22-30

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: A blind man and Peter are both transformed by encounters with Jesus…and we can be, too.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a number of buzzwords and phrases that will forever remind us of this season of life: social distancing, quarantine, and flatten the curve, for example. But there’s one phrase that is rising in popularity…and uncertainty: new normal.

There are defining moments in all of our lives which forever change how we live. Some occur on a societal level such as removing your shoes before flying since 9/11. Others are personal in nature, such as my daughter’s amputation or even my wedding day. I’ve never been the same since.

Nobody knows what life will look like on May 1, much less June, September, or January 1. One thing’s for sure: life will be forever different after coronavirus.

Today we’re going to look at defining moments in the lives of two very different people, one a stranger to Jesus and the other one of his three best friends.

We’re in the middle of a series on the book of Mark: The Real Jesus. This biography is packed with compelling stories about the life of Jesus, and our text in chapter eight is no exception.

The disciples have been traveling with Jesus and

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” (Mark 8:22-23)

Did the blind man want to be healed? I know that seems like a crazy question, but nowhere are we told it’s his desire. People brought him to Jesus and begged Jesus to touch him. It doesn’t even say they wanted him healed, though I t seems obvious enough to us.

Jesus leads the man outside the village. That’s interesting. Couldn’t he heal the man in Bethsaida? Was he trying to get away from the crowds? Did Jesus want to heal in private?

We’re told elsewhere that the people of Bethsaida were an unbelieving bunch (Matthew 11:21). Jesus spoke “woe” and grief over them. The city was destroyed in AD 115 by an earthquake and was never rebuilt. Anyhow, just as Jesus often withdrew with his disciples away from the lake and crowds, so here Jesus leaves the village.

His healing technique was definitely unique! He spit on the guy! He spit on the man’s eyes! “Jesus, this is not sanitary!” It’s actually quite gross!

It should be noted that Jesus healed different people in different ways. Some people have formulas for prayer, hoping to manipulate God with certain words or behaviors. God’s so much bigger than rituals. He wants to know our heart. The Holy Spirit is alive and active in and through followers of Jesus.

Then the blind man is asked if he sees anything.

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
(Mark 8:24)

Jesus, you’re off to a good start, but he’s not quite healed.

If he recognized trees, it’s possible he was not born blind, but lost his sight through an accident or disease.

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying,
“Don’t even go into the village.” (Mark 8:25-26)

Jesus heals the man. He can see! He’ll no longer be the blind guy, but the guy who used to be blind! I can’t imagine the new normal he experienced from that day forward.

We’ve noted before how Jesus is not eager to become famous. We saw last week how the Pharisees were after him, testing him and trying to ultimately kill him. This was not the time for his true identity to be revealed. He had compassion on people, but didn’t want to be the object of paparazzi! Jesus warns the man to avoid the crowds, to stay away from the village, to go home quietly…as if he could hide his vision for long!

The once-blind man could see. His new normal was filled with light…and life.

LORD, open our eyes to see what You are doing, even in this pandemic.
Open our ears to hear Your still, small voice leading and guiding us.
Open our hearts to receive all You want us to know and experience.

Most people fear change. They avoid it at all costs. Sometimes they will actually choose a worse outcome rather than a “new and improved” option out of comfort and security. But sometimes the “new normal” is actually better. It certainly was for the blind man! I can’t help but think of those precious words in Amazing Grace:

I once was lost, but now I am found
Was blind, but now I see

Ironically, the blind man in Mark 8 wasn’t the only one who couldn’t see. The disciples were often blind, clueless, unable to see and understand who they were following. After Jesus heals the blind man, he leads his friends twenty-five miles north.

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them,
“Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27)

Caesarea Philippi was named after Augustus Caesar and Herod Philip. Its citizens would often declare, “Caesar is lord!” It was a pagan place filled with temples devoted to various gods. I don’t think it was an accident that Jesus asked this question in such a religious place where an emperor and even a goat were worshiped!

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
(Mark 8:28)

There was a similar list in chapter six (verse 14). Jesus was nothing like John the Baptist! He was more like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who was rejected by his own people, called out the false religious leaders, and persecuted by those in authority.

Who do people say I am?

Much like today, many of the people in Jesus’ day didn’t understand who he was, and perhaps they didn’t really care. Public opinion was defined by Elbert Hubbard as “the judgment of the incapable many, as opposed to that of the discerning few.” Doesn’t that sound like our culture today?

There are two problems with following the crowd. First, the crowd rarely, if ever, follows God. When we do what everyone’s doing, we’re almost certainly breaking the first two Commandments to have no other gods or idols. The second problem with following the crowd is the crowd is always changing. Look at fashion. Look at architecture. Look at what is politically correct.

The Bible is old school. God never changes. He’s doing new things, but He never changes.

He provided for Abraham.
He was trustworthy for Elijah.
He was faithful to the disciples.
He continues to be good…so good!

Every day we make choices to do what’s popular or follow God.

Now Jesus gets personal with Peter.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29a)

Here was Peter’s response:

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
(Mark 8:29b)

This is the first use of the word “Messiah” in the book of Mark since the first sentence:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)

Messiah was more than a title. It was a politically dangerous declaration, stating Jesus is the true King of Israel. It meant he was the “anointed one.” Jesus is more than a prophet announcing the kingdom of God; he’s the king! Such pronouncements could get Jesus killed. They did! Such pronouncements could get Peter killed. That happened, too! It’s no wonder that…

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:30)

We often look at Jesus as this wonderful, perfect person of peace who brought nothing but wisdom, healing, hope, and forgiveness to the world. He did, but even good things are threatening to evil. Life is threatening to death. Jesus is threatening to satan.

So What?

The blind man and the disciples experience a new normal. The blind man goes from darkness to seeing people like trees to seeing things clearly.

The disciples go from seeing Jesus as a rabbi to seeing him as a prophet to seeing him as the Messiah.

Where are you at today?
Who do you say Jesus is? It matters. I think it’s the most important question in life. Perhaps you’re thinking, “He’s my Savior.” Great! But there’s so much more to Jesus than the cross and being saved from the penalty of your sins. Author, pastor, and professor David Fitch notes,

“The shift from accepting Jesus as Savior (and Lord) to submitting to (putting complete trust in) Jesus as Lord (and Savior) fundamentally changes the phenomenology (experience) of salvation. Salvation is reframed ... from seeing/experiencing God at work in me (first) to seeing God at work in the world (first) governing all things in Christ for His purposes. Into this I am saved (and find "me" all over again).” – David Fitch

In other words, we need to go from seeing Jesus as a great teacher to seeing him as savior to making him LORD. The boss. Our leader.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, you’re really not in control of much in this life. One event on the other side of the world can quarantine you, cost you your job, make toilet paper scarce, and wipe out your sports channels.

Some of you say you believe in God, but you’re not following him. He’s not leading your life. How’s that working out for you?

Jesus wants to be LORD. Nothing less. He wants your complete surrender and allegiance…not because he’s a control freak, but because he’s got a better way, a better plan. He loves you. He proved it by dying for you. Who else has ever died for you? His message to the disciples was simple: follow me. That remains his invitation today.

I urge you…make Jesus LORD…today…and tomorrow…and this week. What does that mean? It begins with time in the Bible, discovering his plans for your life. It begins with prayer, talking with God. It begins with seeking first his will and kingdom and plan rather than doing whatever you want. By the way, his rules are never meant to harm you or take away your fun. They’re only there for your benefit, for your flourishing.


There’s no doubt our future will be different than the past. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Open your eyes and see Jesus is LORD…and declare it with your life. If you haven’t already done so, give your life to Jesus. Simply says, “Jesus, I give you my life.” When you do, you not only get Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit who is able to guide, comfort, and fill you, making you more like Jesus. We don’t become like Jesus by trying harder. It begins with surrender. It continues with pursuit. It takes a lifetime, but what a journey! What an adventure! A new…better normal!

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

You can watch this online worship experience

Bread & Signs, 19 April 2020

Bread and Signs
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 8:1-21

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: We must never forget God’s abilities…or evil’s capabilities.

Many years ago, I saw a television special featuring comedian Bill Engvall. His debut comedy album was entitled, “Here’s Your Sign.” This is what Wikipedia says about it:

The title of this album refers to a routine framework commonly used by Engvall, which began with his stating that stupid people should have to wear warning signs that simply state "I'm stupid" so that no one will rely on them or ask them anything. He would then go on to tell several anecdotes in which someone asks an (obviously) asinine question, and the question is then answered sarcastically, followed by the statement: "Here's your sign!" For example, a trucker gets his truck stuck under an overpass, and the responding policeman asks "Hey, you get your truck stuck?" The trucker answers, "No sir, I was delivering that overpass and I ran out of gas. Here's your sign!"

Here are some other examples I found online:

It’s like before my wife and I moved. Our house was full of boxes and there was a U-Haul truck in our driveway. My neighbor comes over and says, “Hey, you moving?” “Nope. We just pack our stuff up once or twice a week to see how many boxes it takes. Here’s your sign.”
A couple of months ago I went fishing with a buddy of mine, we pulled his boat into the dock, I lifted up this big ol’ stringer of bass and this idiot on the dock goes, “Hey, y’all catch all them fish?” “Nope. Talked ’em into giving up. Here’s your sign.”
Last time I had a flat tire, I pulled my truck into one of those side-of-the-road gas stations. The attendant walks out, looks at my truck, looks at me, and I SWEAR he said, “Tire go flat?” I couldn’t resist. I said, “Nope. I was driving around and those other three just swelled right up on me. Here’s your sign.”
It may seem odd to follow Resurrection Sunday with a study of the life of Jesus before Holy Week, but we’ve been looking at Mark’s gospel—or good news—of Jesus for literally years now—with many breaks—and we’re going to pick up where we left off…at Mark chapter 8. Here we will see Jesus encounter two groups of people, one receiving a sign and another seeking one.

Today we’re looking at signs…from heaven.

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.” (Mark 8:1-3)

Two weeks ago, the drama team of H2—Heather and Hank—had a discussion about Jesus feeding 5000 or 4000 people. He did both! In Mark chapter six, Jesus feeds a crowd of five thousand men—plus women and children—with one boy’s lunch after a long day of teaching. Here, Jesus must be doing a three-day conference! The people are hungry, and Jesus wants to feed them. He’s a gracious host! He’s compassionate.

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” (Mark 8:4)

Jesus fed a huge crowd two chapters earlier with a boy’s lunch! Hello? Did we already forget God’s power? Who’s in charge here?

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied. (Mark 8:5)

I wonder if the light bulb went on. When did they realize the table was set for another miracle, another sign from God, another moment of heaven kissing earth?

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. (Mark 8:6-7)

I love how Jesus involves the disciples. He’s the greatest leader in history! His investment in eleven ragamuffins in just three years changed the world!

I love his process. If you are a leader or parent or teacher, here’s the best way to transfer knowledge, to “pass the baton.”

I do. You watch.
I do. You help.
You do. I watch.
You do. Someone else watches and I celebrate.

Mike Breen of 3DM, creator of LifeShapes, describes the discipleship square like this:

Where are they at in this story? Step 2. Jesus is doing and they help. Can you imagine helping Jesus?!

The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present. After he had sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha. (Mark 8:8 -10)

Much could be said about the numbers in this story. Just like standing “six feet away” means more to us than some random distance, the number seven—fish and basketfuls of leftovers—would have had special significance to both the participants in and readers of this account. The number seven is one of the most important numbers in the Bible, as is twelve from the feeding of the 5000. Some have said the twelve baskets represented the twelve tribes of Israel while the seven represents the Gentile world of 70 nations.

Jesus feeds four thousand people who ate and were satisfied. I’m quite sure many saw this miracle as a sign that the long-awaited Messiah was in their presence, though some may have been unaware of the miracle, the sign, the wonder that occurred in their midst. The crowd received three days of transformational teaching from the Messiah…and got a free meal, too!

Just for fun, here’s a comparison of the two feeding miracles.

Mark 6:35-44

Mark 8:1-9

One day
Three days
Food concerns was money
Food concern was remote location
Five loaves, two fish
Seven loaves, a few fish
Twelve small wicker lunch baskets left
Seven large hampers of food left
“You give them something to eat.”
“How many loaves do you have?”
Sit on the green grass
Sit on the ground

Jesus and his disciples leave the scene of this miraculous feeding and head in a boat to Dalmanutha (nobody is exactly sure where this is located along the Sea of Galilee).

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. (Mark 8:11:13)

That was a short scene! Jesus gives thousands of people a clear sign of his deity and then the religious folk test him. I love the NIV translation in verse twelve: he sighed deeply. The Pharisees are demanding Jesus to prove he is God, yet they are clueless. Jesus won’t play their games. If they can’t figure it out on their own, he’s not about to waste his time and energy pandering to his critics. He doesn’t give them another sign (the Greek word
semeion means miracle, sign, token, or wonder). Faith does not ask for signs, much less demand them.

Some people today say they’d believe in God if they could see Him. I doubt it. Jesus spent three years performing miracles and while some believed, others didn’t. While some followed, others had him killed.

It sounds good to say you only believe in science, but what is science? It’s ever-changing. What do we know absolutely about COVID-19? The data seems to be evolving, the questions growing.

I’m not against science. I’m grateful for it. There are some things we know with a high degree of certainty, like if I drop a bowling ball above my shoe, I will likely experience pain as gravity moves the ball toward my foot. Or if I run over my wife’s foot with her car…

But some people use science as a justification for their unbelief, their rejection of God. Let’s face it, we all know facts intellectually which we reject practically.

We know Twinkies and Mountain Dew and smoking and drugs can damage our bodies. We know flossing our teeth will reduce cavities. We know rest is important. We know we shouldn’t hoard toilet paper! See, data is not enough. Signs or miracles aren’t enough, either. Faith does not ask for signs. It seeks truth.

Please understand, I’m not talking about blind faith. I’m not talking about a leap of faith. I’m simply saying if you look at the evidence, you’ll discover as many former atheists have that the Bible checks out, the resurrection is a reality, and the real question is will we respond in obedience or rebellion to God.

If you have sincere questions, please ask them. Send me an e-mail. Call our office. We’re here to serve you and help you on your journey. But if your arms are folded and you just want to make demands of God, don’t be surprised if He’s quiet.

The ultimate sign—the ultimate miracle—was Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:22-26; 3:12-26) and that wasn’t enough for many (see also Luke 16:22-31).

For followers of Jesus, we are to remember God’s provision. He taught us to pray for daily bread (echoing Proverbs 30:8). He can not only provide for us, He loves to involve us in the process, whether it’s getting a job so we can feed our families or blessing us with resources to share with others. Jesus could’ve had food fall from the sky (that happened before!), but he allowed the disciples to participate, and he invites us to participate, too. This is why, for example, we have a Benevolence Fund to take care of family members in need.

By the way, sometimes people paint Jesus as this weak, soft, pushover. He was not! He was kind and compassionate—especially to the weak, poor, and hurting—but he did get angry (in the temple with the money changers, for example). He wasn’t afraid to speak the truth, call out hypocrisy, or confront sin…in love.

Now the thirteen men get back in the boat for a ride across the sea, but there’s a problem.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. (Mark 8:14)

Here we go again! They’re short on bread. They left seven basketfuls back at the shore. What will they do? Will they starve? Hardly! Jesus ignores their hunger and utilizes the bread as an object lesson.

“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” (Mark 8:15)

Jesus rarely said, “Beware” or “be careful,” but when he did, he meant it.

Examples of leaven or yeast include false doctrine (Galatians 5:1-9), hypocrisy (Luke 12:1), and unaddressed sin (1 Corinthians 5). Of course, the Pharisees were guilty of hypocrisy, while the Herodians followed Herod and his vision for the Jews. They both asked for signs (Luke 23:8).

For Jesus, this is a teachable moment. Bread was on their minds, and he used it as a metaphor. Leaven or yeast was forbidden at certain times in the Jewish festivals, not because it was unhealthy, but because of symbolism related to the Exodus.

We are to remember God’s purity. His Word is true. His ways are perfect. Be careful of false doctrine, hypocrisy, and unaddressed sin, church. Beware of pride, self-righteousness, and the things of this world.

Jesus is teaching the disciples to be avoid sin, and all they can think about is their bread shortage.

They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”
(Mark 8:16)

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them:
“Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.
(Mark 8:17-19)

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls eof pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”
(Mark 8:20)

He said to them,
“Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:21)

Mark had written after the feeding of the 5000, the disciples

…had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:52).

That’s the key…the heart. The disciples watch Jesus perform miracles right before their eyes, but they were clueless and filled with unbelief.

The disciples were almost as blind as the Pharisees…with dull minds, hard hearts, and deaf ears (Mark 4:11-12). Ironically, Jesus will heal the blind (8:22-26) and the deaf (8:32-35) later in this chapter.

We are to remember God’s promises. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He has assured us of his forgiveness. He proved His love during Holy Week. So many of our problems arise from failing to know and claim His promises, instead living in fear and plagued by anxiety. You want a sign? The Bible is packed with them!

So What?

Every day we make choices, to trust God or ignore Him. To follow God or abandon Him. To live by faith or be consumed by fear. To remember His promises or forget His faithfulness.

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:21)

I’m sure God asks me this question all the time.

“Kirk, I’ve proven myself over and over, yet you worry.”
“I’ve provided again and again, yet you’re anxious.”
“I’ve taken care of you throughout your life, yet you wonder if I can handle your concern.”

That’s why I pray, “LORD, I believe. Help me in my unbelief (Mark 9:24).”

In our text today, Jesus provided a sign from heaven, a miracle, a bounty of bread. One writer—J. Vernon McGee—noted, “When God is in it, you will notice, there is always a surplus.” God provided.

We also saw unbelieving people demanding a sign, religious people with no interest in a relationship with God, obedience, and surrender. God is perfect, holy, and pure.

Finally, we see the clueless disciples who can’t understand the history unfolding right in front of them, forgetting God’s goodness and bounty. He always keeps His promises.

In a word, remember. Why? We easily forget!

Psalm 103 says,

1 Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)

We are to remember God’s provision.
We are to remember God’s purity.
We are to remember God’s promises.

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

You can watch this online worship experience

Dogs & Deaf, 23 February 2020

Dogs and Deaf
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 7:24-37

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: God is perfect, His timing is perfect, and His plans are perfect.

Do you trust God? We all know the spiritual, Sunday morning answer to the question, but what about Monday morning? If you’re like me, you are fully of questions for God, and most of them begin with “why?” It’s rather audacious to think we could understand anything better than the Creator of the universe. It’s okay to ask God questions. You can be real with God. I encourage you to pour out your heart to God…every day. He can handle it…and all of life’s trials.

Although we occasionally have topical sermons, most of the time we go verse-by-verse through the Bible, something known as expository preaching. We start with the text and ask three questions of it: What did it mean? What does it mean? So what?

When we go through books of the Bible—as we’ve been doing with the book of Mark—it’s tempting to skip over difficult passages or those texts which may seem less interesting or relevant. I must confess the seventh chapter of Mark is not my favorite chapter in the Bible, but as we’ve seen the past two weeks, there are some important things Mark wants us to know about Jesus. As we finish the chapter, we see two different encounters with Jesus. The first is with a Gentile woman and the other with a deaf man.

Let’s dive in…

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. Mark 7:24)

Tyre is a city in Lebanon and is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on the planet. This is the only biblical mention of Jesus leaving Palestine.

Why would he want to hide? There are several possibilities:

  • He wanted to avoid the crowds who wanted to use Jesus for their own purposes
  • He needed to get alone with his followers/disciples and teach them
  • He was simply tired and needed some privacy and rest

Jesus was led by his mission, not the crowds. He knew what to do and did it. God is perfect.

Jesus is arguably the most famous person to ever walk the face of the earth. He was on a mission to change the world, which he surely did. Nevertheless, he had an agenda, a plan, an intentional strategy for doing so. His mission was to seek and save the lost, not necessarily gain the biggest crowd as quickly as possible. In our culture, we assume the more fans and followers the better, but building a social media platform is different than transforming humanity!

I used to think the only thing that mattered was the “what.” I’ve becoming increasingly concerned about the “how of a situation.” It’s been said that timing is everything, so the “when” is also vital in any action plan.

So another reason Jesus may have not wanted to find him is it wasn’t the right time for him to go public.

God’s timing is perfect. He’s never late, though rarely early. He knows when to act.

This was true for Jesus and his ministry. It’s also true when we pray. Can you trust God’s timing?

In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. (Mark 7:25)

Do you believe in angels? Do you believe in demons? They are both real, spiritual beings. Demon possession is real. We discount it in our hyper-scientific culture, but you don’t have to travel far around the world to see the supernatural world on full display. There is an unseen, spiritual dimension to reality. Angels and demons are mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible.

She falls at the feet of Jesus. She’s desperate. She loves her little daughter, yet this demon was wreaking havoc. She needs an exorcism.

Demons are real. Demon possession is real. But God is greater. Hallelujah!

The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. (Mark 7:26)

She’s a Canaanite. She’s not Jewish. She’s a Gentile. Last week we talked about the huge tension between Jews and Gentiles. It is at the heart of Jesus’ response.
“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27)

What? Does Jesus call this woman a dog?

There are a few different understandings of this metaphor. Some have suggested the children refers to Jesus’ disciples and the bread is his ministry, his teachings. It likely is a reference to the Jewish people. Jesus was a Jew and his first priority was to the Jews. The dogs refers not to women, but the Gentiles.

There are two Greek words for dogs. One is a negative word that we might call an ugly creature or a violent dog (like the two German Shepherds who bit me when I was a boy). Jews would sometimes use this scavenger dog word to describe Gentiles. The word Jesus uses here, though, refers to a household animal. We love our children. We love our pet puppies! Is there a priority? Yes, but both are loved.

Jesus is not always fair, but he loves equally.

John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that He gave us Jesus. There’s an old song which says Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. He died for every child—and every man and woman—who responds to his invitation to follow him, to make him LORD, to surrender control of their lives to their Creator and the one who proved his love by laying down his life on the cross…and rising from the dead, conquering sin and death.

But Jesus is not always fair. Just look around! We’ve all been given different gifts, childhoods, opportunities, and talents. Hundreds of people followed Jesus, but his focus was on a dozen…and really on three: Peter, James, and John. How do you think the other nine felt when they heard stories of Jesus and his best friends?

Our culture emphasizes fairness and equality, but listen…you don’t want fair. You don’t want to give you what you deserve. You and I deserve death and eternal punishment for our sins. Without Jesus we’re hopeless, lost, and separated from God. The scandal in Christianity is not God’s judgment, but God’s mercy. The scandal is an innocent, holy, perfect God was killed for selfish, arrogant, rebellious sinners like us. The most unfair thing in the universe is that God loves us…and proved it. It’s like Dave Ramsey says when asked how he’s doing: “better than I deserve.”

I don’t always understand God and how He works, what He’s doing. I have many questions for Him, but I know I’m loved, I know Daddy knows best, and the rest is faith, it’s trusting that the God of the universe understands reality better than I do.

God’s plan was to begin with the Jews, but not stop there. In the first book of the Bible, it is revealed that,

Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. (Genesis 18:18)

Not Jew only, but Jew first. Is that fair? It doesn’t matter. It’s God’s plan…and you’re in it!

By the way, Jesus said,

But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:31)

Could this apply to the order of the Jews and Gentiles?! Today, Gentiles are not dogs, but rather children alongside the Jews.

This woman doesn’t go away and give up. She presses in.

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:28)

She knows God’s love is not exclusively for the Jews, even if it begins with them. Children and dogs both get food…at the same time. She just wants a crumb, a small miracle, a simple expression of grace.

Then he told her,
“For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” (Mark 7:29)

He performs a miracle. It’s already done!

Jesus is impressed with her faith…and tenacity. What about you? Do you pray once and give up? It’s okay to be real with God. Jesus never scolds her for persevering. He praises her for it. Often our prayers are not answered on-demand. God’s timing is usually different than ours. He loves to hear you pray. I believe your voice is the most beautiful sound in the universe to God. Really.

I love my kids. I love it when they text. Calling is even better. FaceTime is better still. The best is when we’re together, in person. I love my kids. I love interacting with my kids. God does, too. He wants us to engage, to ask, to persevere, to pour out our heart.

It may seem like God is playing hard-to-get, hiding, or just ignoring you, but I assure you He’s at work. He hears you. He’s responding, but His timing is not always ours. While we get impatient and want everything now, He’s got all the time in the world. Literally. He’s at work in us as well as through us, refining our character, teaching us, and writing a story on our hearts that usually takes many decades to tell.

Ask…and keep asking. It will be worth it. It was for this woman. The demon left her daughter. Her prayer was answered.

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (Mark 7:30)

Have you given up on God? Have you quit praying that prayer? Have you put your faith on auto-pilot? Are you just going through the motions, defeated by disappointment with God? I want to challenge you to persevere, to keep praying.

Years ago, someone gave me a beautiful image of a giant parachute hanging from the ceiling like a big bowl. He said when he prays, he imagines writing his prayers on paper and placing them in the parachute. Each prayer causes the parachute to get heavier and heavier until it eventually bursts. It might be that your next prayer is the one—after hundreds or thousands or millions—which will lead to that breakthrough. Don’t give up!

Mark continues with a different story in a different place with different people.

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.
There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. (Mark 7:31-32)

Jesus was gaining a reputation as a healer. Who doesn’t want free health care?! Here’s a deaf man who could hardly talk, and his friends beg Jesus to heal him.

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him,
“Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). (Mark 7:33-34)

Is this how you’re supposed to heal, Jesus? Does he really want your spit in his mouth?

We like formulas. Pray these magic words and all of your dreams will come true! Jesus heals different people differently. In the case of the woman’s demon-possessed daughter, he didn’t even meet the girl, he just declared her healed. With this man, he takes him away from the crowd and sticks his fingers in his ears and tongue to open them with one word.

Jesus’ plans are always perfect, even when they seem odd.

At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. (Mark 7:35)

No speech class is required. What a beautiful miracle. Then Jesus does something that would drive any public relations director crazy.

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:36-37)

Was Jesus using reverse psychology, telling the people to be quiet in hopes that they would rebel and spread the word of his amazing power? I used to think that, but I believe Jesus was sincere. As we saw earlier, he had a mission, a timetable, a plan. He needed to disciple his…disciples. There were sermons he needed to preach, people he needed to encounter. He knew the sooner he became famous, the sooner the religious leaders would want him killed.

The prophet Isaiah said,

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:5-6a)

The Messiah is here!

God is perfect. (what)
God’s timing is perfect. (when)
God’s plans are perfect. (how)

Yet we have the audacity to ask why. We question the Creator of the universe. And He’s actually ok with that, so long as we don’t give up…so long as we engage with Him.

Matthew records Jesus saying,

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

This doesn’t mean we always get what we want, and it certainly doesn’t mean we get it when we want it, but we are encouraged in more than one place to ask, to seek, to knock, to engage with God. He wants us to pray. Yes, He knows what we want before we ask, but He wants us to ask. Every good Dad loves to give gifts to his kids, but they don’t want to be a vending machine. They want a relationship.

So What?

Perhaps the message in both of these stories is to ask and keep asking. You can analyze the woman’s story and compare children and dogs. You can discuss the irony of a loud crowd trying to help a man who couldn’t talk followed by the man talking and Jesus telling the crowd not to talk.

God sees you. He knows your name. He knew you before the creation of the universe! He saw you in your mother’s womb. He knows the number of hairs on your head (or how many used to be on your head!). He sees every tear you cry and every smile on your face.

God hears you. He hears every prayer, every word. He listens, too. He cares.

Do you trust God? Do you trust His plans? Do you trust His timing?

I know it can be hard. I’ve been praying for years for things, for people, for healing, for reconciliation. I don’t understand why it’s taking so long, but I’m seeking to trust God. Instead of why, I’ve been asking, “What are you up to, LORD?”

God is perfect, His timing is perfect, and His plans are perfect. God can be trusted.

Prayer: I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Clean & Unclean, 16 February 2020

    Clean and Unclean
    Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
    Mark 7:14-23

    Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

    Big Idea: Looks can be deceiving, especially when it involves matters of the heart.

    Are you are rule-keeper or a rule-breaker?

    Whether you like them or not, laws are a part of life. There are scientific laws like the law of gravity which says if you drop a bowling ball on your foot, it’s going to hurt. There are human laws, those rules designed to help us flourish such as stop at a red light, pay your taxes, and don’t hurt animals.

    Some laws have a shelf-life and become outdated over time. For example,

    In Missouri, you can't drive down the highway with an uncaged bear in your car.
    When parking your elephant at a meter in Orlando Florida, you must deposit the same amount of change as you would for a regular motor vehicle.
    It's against the law in North Dakota to serve beer and pretzels at the same time.
    In Winona Lake, Wisconsin, it is illegal to eat ice cream at a counter on Sunday. 

    In Arizona, it is illegal for donkeys to sleep in bathtubs.

    In Michigan, it’s illegal for women to cut their own hair without their husband’s permission.

    In Ohio, it is illegal to get a fish drunk.

    Last Sunday we returned to our study on Mark’s biography of Jesus and looked at the Pharisees and religious leaders who were so devoted to tradition and laws that they missed God in the process…especially when he was standing in their midst! They were determined to stop Jesus…at all costs.

    Our text for today in Mark 7 is discussion of clean and unclean. Those words in our culture might describe one’s clothes or car, but here it’s a reference to the Jewish laws which governed everything from diet to fabrics to a woman’s menstrual cycle. Are you clean or unclean? Looks can be deceiving, especially when it involves matters of the heart.

    We live in a binary world of us versus them. Black or white. Republican or Democrat. Love or hate. In or out. Our divisions usually pale compared to the Jew and Gentile separation. The laws created by God to enhance the welfare of the Jewish people became—over time—nothing more than a checklist of external rules to obey with little regard to the internal heart or love for God. Last week we saw Jesus address the issue of hand-washing. There were religious customs for hand-washing that had nothing to do with hygiene and everything to do with determining who’s in and who’s out, who is a Jew and who is a Gentile.

    One of the most common ways Jews distinguish themselves is through their diet. Today we call it…kosher. It’s based upon Old Testament restrictions on certain animals including pork and shellfish. Halal among Muslims is somewhat similar. Keep in mind, the issue behind the dietary laws is not necessarily physical health, but rather distinguishing one’s self from others. We said last Sunday the word “Pharisee” meant “separated ones.”

    Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” (Mark 7:14-15)

    This was a radical statement, one of many that would rile up the Pharisees and religious leaders. Though it is not explained to the crowd here, Jesus is declaring the entire kosher system null and void. As we’ll see, it’s not that the laws were bad, but they were for a season…and Jesus’ arrival signaled a new season. It goes without saying that Jesus changed the world. He changed how we relate to God…and one another.

    I must admit Old Testament laws can be confusing, especially to modern Christians. Much of the New Testament controversies and debates in the early church dealt with the role of Jewish laws for Christians. These matters are still discussed today. Recently, Pastor Andy Stanley wrote a somewhat controversial book, Irresistible, which examined the role of the Old Testament and its laws on modern Christians.

    Verse 16

    If you’re paying close attention, some of you may notice verse sixteen is missing from some of your Bibles. What happened? We don’t have the original writings or autographs of the Bible books. We do, however, have very reliable copies. Before the invention of the printing press, people would hand-copy the Bible for their occupation, often on scrolls. Every letter was crucial, and if a mistake was made, they would often destroy their work and start over.

    Over the years, the Bible has come under tremendous scrutiny…more than any other text in history. There is tremendous evidence to conclude it is about 99% reliable with perhaps thirty or forty errors. Pastor Soper discussed this on Friday’s devotional. Thirty or forty errors might sound like a lot, but when you consider that’s less than one per book and most of the errors involved a piece of punctuation, spelling, or a slight numerical variation, you quickly realize there is no historical book even remotely close to the reliability of the Bible. In fact, there are more errors and discrepancies in Shakespeare’s works than in the Bible.

    Some—but not all—manuscripts of the book of Mark include verse sixteen which adds Jesus saying,

    If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 7:16, NKJV)

    This was a common expression which Jesus said on more than one occasion, including Mark 4:23. Did he say it again here or was it added by the copyists? We’re not sure. Does it change the meaning of the text? Not one bit…nor do the other minor errors scholars have found after comparing about 5000 different manuscripts of the books of the Bible.

    (Back to our story!)

    Jesus spoke in parables, simple stories used by Jesus to teach a moral or spiritual lesson. It was not uncommon for him to tell a story his disciples failed to understand. It may seem obvious to us, but the Jewish traditions were so ingrained in the disciples, they were clueless about any alternative.

    After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. (Mark 7:17)

    I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they were clarifying the meaning of Jesus’ teachings or they wanted to hear more, but Jesus’ response makes it obvious they missed the point.

    “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? (Mark 7:18)

    In case you didn’t know, Jesus is fully human. He’s fully God, too, but he’s fully human. We often picture him as some flakey, angelic white guy with blonde hair and blue eyes whose feet never really touch the ground, but that’s just artistic fantasy. He’s a real person with real emotions. He has never sinned, but he was not always “nice.” Sometimes tough love is necessary in relationships. Often we do things to get the attention of others. In this instance, he spoke the truth plainly, calling out their ignorance.

    “Are you so dull?” I love that!

    For those of you who like the Shakespearean King James, it says,

    Are ye so without understanding also? (Mark 7:18a, KJV)

    The New King James reads,

    “Are you thus without understanding also? (Mark 7:18a, NKJV)

    The New Living Translation says,

    “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. (Mark 7:18a, NLT)

    I like the New International Version, though!

    “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? (Mark 7:18)

    You’ve probably heard the expression, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you fill your body with junk food, you’ll probably regret it…eventually. If you fill your mind with trash, most likely trash will come out of your mouth and life.

    The Jewish culture—especially the religious people like the Pharisees—were less concerned about physical health, though, and more concerned about how other people viewed them. One writer put it this way: the old legalism was, “What’s in your refrigerator?” If you had pork or shellfish or anything non-kosher, you were considered unclean, tainted, a bad Jew. Kosher became a test, not about one’s relationship with God, but rather one’s relationship with the religion.

    Similarly, many legalistic Christians have forbidden any use of alcohol…and condemned anyone who has even a sip of wine at a special occasion.

    I’m not encouraging the consumption of alcohol. I can’t stand the taste of alcohol, but the Bible never explicitly prohibits alcohol. In fact, Jesus made some great wine (John 2)! Under-age drinking is a sin. It’s against the law. Drunkenness is a sin…and if you can’t stop with one glass, don’t start! But some judgmental Christians will put you in one of two categories: drinker or non-drinker, sinner or saint. It’s not about the health benefits of alcohol, but what they personally think about you and your character as a result of your beverage preference. This attitude was similar to that of the Pharisees and their dietary laws.

    By the way, the writer who called old legalism “what’s in your refrigerator?” describes the new legalism as “what’s in your driveway?” Think about that for a moment.

    Back to our text,

    “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? (Mark 7:18)

    For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7:19)

    This was a radical statement Mark makes to his readers. Kosher is no longer necessary. The traditions related to diet were no longer relevant because the rules were no longer the pathway to God. Jesus was! Matthew records him saying,

    “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. (Matthew 5:17)

    Jesus brought the Old Testament to a new completion, a new fulfillment. The laws were signposts. When you arrive at your destination, you don’t need signposts, not because they have no value, but because they were correct. The laws led to Jesus the Messiah.

    We don’t need to offer animal sacrifices in the temple, thank goodness. We don’t need to avoid eating pig (though I do since I’m allergic to pork!). We are no longer under the Old Testament laws, not that they are bad or wrong, but they’re obsolete.

    I encourage you to follow the Ten Commandments, but if you break the Sabbath, you need not fear the death penalty given to Old Testament Jews who did so. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), hallelujah! We’re not saved by our good works, our mastery of the law, our outward perfection. We’re saved by God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    Does this mean we should eat, drink and be merry, doing whatever we want? Hardly! It does mean we start from the inside, not the outside. We begin with our hearts. What matters most is the inside, not the outside.

    It’s Black History Month in the USA and I’m reminded of Dr. King’s brilliant statement,

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

    I think Jesus would say,

    I have a dream that my friends will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by the food in their refrigerator, but by the content of their character.

    He went on:
    “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:20-22)

    This is not a comprehensive list of sins, of course, but what we might call a dirty dozen.

    Sexual immorality is all kinds of inappropriate sexual activity outside of marriage. Theft and murder are obvious. Adultery is sexual immorality by a married person with someone other than their spouse. Greed or coveting involves inappropriate cravings for what belongs to another. Malice is another term for wickedness or simply evil.

    Deceit is trickery, cheating, or dishonesty. Lewdness is lustful, rude or profane desires. Envy is similar to greed and jealousy. Slander is hurting someone or God with your words. Arrogance is pride, exalting yourself above others. Folly is moral and spiritual insensitivity or foolishness.

    None of these just happen. They begin in our heart.

    All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:23)

    Elsewhere, Jesus said,

    A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45)

    Sin begins inside, not outside. It begins with temptation, a thought, an idea. You don’t accidentally walk up to someone and murder them. You don’t randomly commit adultery. You don’t rob a bank without a plan (unless you want to get caught!).

    Jesus’ half-brother, James, described the four-step process of sin:

    When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

    Desire – deception – disobedience – death

    It’s not a pretty picture…and it describes all of us. So many people today talk about getting in touch with your feelings, listening to your heart, being true to yourself, finding yourself. That’s a certain path to destruction, family, because our hearts are dark and depraved. The problem in our world is not them, it’s me. The solution is not trying harder because the solution is not within me. It’s Jesus. True holiness is internal, not external, and it begins with surrender, making Jesus LORD.

    What Jesus is addressing with all of these statements is religion. Religion is human attempts to earn God’s favor. It involves personal expressions of perfection and a holier-than-thou attitude which elevates one’s self while putting down those around you. It usually involves pride, judgment of others, and an attitude which isolates. The New Testament if filled with accounts of the self-righteous, and I’m not aware of a single instance where Jesus praises their behavior.

    On the contrary, Jesus highlighted the humility of the broken. He applauded the meek and weak. He encouraged the sinner to pursue righteousness, but never promoted religion. He simply invited people to follow him, to make him both Savior and LORD. He’s still doing that today. He said all of the laws of the Old Testament and the 613 laws of Moses could be summarized in two: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

    Perhaps you’ve made a mess out of your life. I’ve got great news for you! Nothing you can do can make God love you any more than He already does, and nothing you can do can make God love you less than He already does. He made you, He knows you, He loves you, and His arms are open wide to welcome you into His family, to forgive you, to heal you, to make you new. What do you say? I know, it sounds too good to be true, but that’s grace. That’s why Jesus came. He knew we couldn’t perfectly follow all of the rules, no matter how hard we might try. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to obey God and become like Jesus. He came to die for us…lost sinners…all of us!

    Perhaps you’ve tried to follow all of the rules, and done pretty well. Nobody’s perfect, but most people think you are. It feels good to be around sinners because you are so superior. Unfortunately, in the eyes of God your pride undermines all of your good works. As I said again last week, I’m a recovering Pharisee. I’ve struggled with pride, a sin which can be hidden from others.

    We all need repentance. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, His standard of perfection. Big sins or little sins all lead to death. They separate us from God and others. They may be visible or invisible sins. They made be sins of commission which we commit or sins of omission, failing to not do the right thing.

    This isn’t just about individuals. As a church, we’ve sinned, too. I’ve heard so many stories about the great things First Alliance Church has done. We’ve held onto the truths of the Bible while other churches have “watered down the gospel.” If that’s true, it’s a good thing, but how easy it is to take pride in our good deeds, our good theology, our righteousness (see Isaiah 64:6). As we saw in last week’s text, it’s easy to make our human-made traditions more important than God’s timeless Word. We can easily slip into legalism and drive away the very people who are seeking God.

    God’s desire for First Alliance Church is a broken and contrite family, a religion-free church, a group of humble, desperate, God-fearing, masterpiece-restoring, Jesus-following men, women and children who are more concerned about their own hearts than the behavior of others. They begin inside, with themselves. King David wrote,

    Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23)

    He also wrote these famous words when he acknowledged his sin with Bathsheba,

    Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

    You can wash your hands with water, but the only way you can have a clean, pure heart is through repentance and Jesus.

    The world says you are what you do. Jesus says you do what you are. It begins with your heart.

    How is your heart. Clean or unclean?

    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Tradition Rules, 9 February 2020

    Tradition Rules
    Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
    Mark 7:1-13

    Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

    Big Idea: Motives matter and tradition should never be more important than obedience to God.

    I love Celebrate Recovery! I’m so grateful for Sherry and Hollywood and the others who lead this vital ministry on Wednesdays at 7 PM. I’m grateful, too, for the team at Saddleback Church who took the 12 Steps and enhanced them with a robust biblical foundation. Although Celebrate Recovery is perfect for anyone struggling with grief, loss, and pain, it may best be known for its ability to help those dealing with any form of addiction.

    Arguably the most important step of the twelve is the first one, to admit we are powerless and that we have a problem. No transformation can begin while denial is present, so let me begin with this admission…

    My name is Kirk and I’m a recovering Pharisee.

    This month we’re returning to our series from the gospel of Mark. It’s the shortest of the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the biographies of Jesus. It’s clear and concise. We began this series in 2017 and have taken quite a few breaks along the way! I doubt we’ll finish it this year, though I encourage you to read the book of Mark this year…and every year! Over the years, we have looked at every verse in the first six chapters, bringing us to chapter seven. Our text today revolves around one word…tradition!

    It begins,

    The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) (Mark 7:1-4)

    What is a Pharisee and why do I consider myself a recovering Pharisee? I’m glad you asked!

    There are actually many debates about this group of religious leaders, but here are a few things we know:

    1. 1. They were the authorized teachers of Jesus’ time
    2. 2. Many of them were politically active
    3. 3. They were significant, popular, and influential in Israel
    4. 4. They were the largest of the groups within Judaism, possibly numbering 6000 members during Jesus’ life
    5. 5. They promoted not only their own holiness but also that of other Jews
    6. 6. Their chief concern was purity within the story and tradition of being Jews, God’s elect people
    7. 7. They were highly religious and devout

    Is this a good thing? Yes. Can it become a bad thing? Yes.

    We usually think of Pharisees as legalistic, self-righteous, hypocritical bigots who look for the speck in the eyes of others while ignoring the 2x4 plank of pride in their own. But that wasn’t necessarily the case for all Pharisees, and it certainly wasn’t their intention.

    In fact, hardly any group of people are always bad…or always good. This is important to remember, especially in our day of division and stereotype. There are few things that can be said about ALL Republicans or ALL Democrats or ALL refugees or ALL African-Americans or Asians or ALL rich people or ALL Christians or ALL Catholics or ALL doctors or ALL Buckeyes! Labeling is harmful. Period. We need to look at each person as an individual masterpiece in need of varying amounts of restoration.

    Josephus, a first-century Jewish writer, said the Pharisees were

    • - considered “the most accurate interpreters of the laws”
    • - the leading sect of the Jews and “extremely influential among the townsfolk”
    • - devoted to Torah—the Law, the Jewish Bible—to its interpretation, and living according to the Torah

    When we mention the Pharisees, we often think of zealots, likely an extreme form of Pharisaism. Saul—who became known as Paul in the New Testament—was a zealot. He was so passionate about preserving the Jewish nation that he oversaw the killing of early Christians who began following Jesus rather than Judaism. To that end, Dr. Scot McKnight makes these observations:

    1. Pharisees, with others, opposed John and Jesus for their kingdom ministry (Matt 3:7). 2. Pharisees had a “righteousness” that Jesus said was inadequate (Matt 5:20). 3. Pharisees opposed Jesus and his followers for eating with the wrong sorts (Matt 9:11). 4. Pharisees had a different fasting routine (Matt 9:14). 5. Pharisees accused Jesus of exorcising demons in allegiance with Satan (Matt 9:34). 6. Pharisees opposed Jesus and his followers for their sabbath practices (Matt 12:2). 7. Pharisees wanted Jesus to attest to his vocation with a sign (Matt 12:38). 8. Pharisees opposed Jesus and his followers for their lack of handwashing before meals (Matt 15:1-20). 9. Pharisees taught things Jesus thought were contrary to God’s will (Matt 16:6, 12). 10. Pharisees tested Jesus’ “theology”/”practice” on divorce (Matt 19:3). 11. Pharisees wanted Jesus put away (Matt 22:15) and Jesus knew it (Matt 21:33-45). 12. Pharisees were accused of hypocrisy by Jesus (Matt 23). 13. Pharisees are nearly absent in the trial scenes of Jesus. [They did not have the power to put him to death.]

    They had a clear interpretation of the Jewish Bible, the Torah, and opposed any other interpretation or practice related to it, which explains their conflicts with Jesus. They obviously thought they were right and, therefore, anyone who didn’t believe and behave exactly like they did was a heretic, an enemy. They had a noble motive to protect the nation of Israel.

    Here’s the real issue: The Pharisees saw the Torah largely as a comprehensive rule book which must be followed in order to please God. Jesus taught the Torah was about loving God and loving others.

    Now let’s return to our text.

    The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) (Mark 7:1-4)

    Washing hands is a very good practice, especially before eating or touching any part of your face. The Mayo Clinic says the number one way to avoid the cold and flu (or coronavirus) is to…stay away from sick people! They add, “Don’t put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth” and “wash your hands frequently, especially when out in public.”

    Actually, the issue here was not related to physical health, but rather tradition. They didn’t literally wash their hands, but merely rinsed them (Mark 7:3-4). There’s nothing wrong with tradition in and of itself. We have many traditions here. For decades, First Alliance Church has gathered on Sunday mornings. Why not Tuesday at 11 PM?
    We take communion on the first Sunday of the month. We take a benevolence offering on the second Sunday of the month. We sing at least one hymn each Sunday. We have a group of men who pray each Tuesday morning. We have activities on Wednesday evenings. We have annual services on Good Friday and Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Why? Tradition!

    The problem arises when tradition becomes an idol, more important than Jesus. The Bible itself can become simply a tradition if it becomes more important than Jesus. Our faith is based upon a person, not a book.

    In the context of this scene, the Pharisees had built an agenda which was both political and religious. Does that sound familiar? Scripture was being interpreted and applied through an agenda related to revolt against Rome. God’s Word got polluted.

    So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:5)

    The Jewish religious leaders began with accusation. Their question is literally, “Why don’t your disciples walk…?” Why are they not following tradition? The religious leaders loved to find fault in others, especially someone as popular and threatening to them as Jesus. The issue really wasn’t hygiene, but rather tradition given to the people to add to their burdens (Matthew 23:4). Jesus had already broken their fasting and Sabbath traditions (Mark 2:23-3:5) and now they’re looking for more evidence to discredit him and elevate their own status. At issue was these teachers had access to the written Torah, but they also relied upon the oral traditions of their forefathers.

    A little bit of background is necessary to grasp this event. The Jews—as God’s chosen people—saw themselves as special. They sought to distinguish themselves from Gentiles—or worse, Samaritans. By ceremonially washing, they announced they were special while others were “unclean.” What was once a good reminder that they were God’s elect became an empty ritual filled with pride and religious separation. Such washings were tangible and visible.

    Jesus taught that while externals matter, it’s possible to do the right things externally while having a sinful interior life. For Jesus, the focus was always about loving God and loving people. These two commands would summarize the 613 laws in the Jewish tradition.

    He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

    “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’

    You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:6-8)   

    The word “hypocrite” means “play actor.” These religious people would often perform for crowds their good deeds despite their wicked hearts.

    Have you ever done something you didn’t feel like doing? It can be easy to pretend with people, but God always knows our hearts. He knows our thoughts. He knows our attitudes.

    It reminds me of a little boy whose mother kept insisting he sit down in his highchair. When he finally unlocked his knees and plopped into the seat, he declared, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I'm still standing up on the inside!”

    The Pharisees knew how to impress people by their actions, but on the inside they were becoming prideful. They were more concerned about human traditions than the commands of God. It’s easy to fall into this trap, especially in our consumer culture where we are assaulted with the message that it’s all about us. “This is MY church and I want things done MY way, regardless of what the Bible does or doesn’t say.”
    The Pharisees generally began with good motives, but they lost their focus. Instead of knowing and loving God, they became more concerned about looking good for others and even thinking their good works would win them favor with God. We call that religion.

    I like to think of religion as anything we do to try to make God like us, but He already loves us. That’s why He sent Jesus to live and die and resurrect for us. We can’t earn salvation. We can’t get to heaven—now or after we die—by following the rules. We’re saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).

    And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! (Mark 7:9)

    If you wear a fancy suit on Sunday but fail to love your neighbor…
    If you have memorized the book of Mark but fail to love your neighbor…
    If you attend a church service every Sunday but fail to love your neighbor…
    If you wash your hand or your face or your car or your clothes but fail to love…

    Don’t believe me? Here’s what Paul, the former Pharisee, said,

    If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

    The Pharisees had abandoned God’s commands while keeping human tradition.

    Back to Jesus…

    For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:10-13)

    These Jewish leaders begin with teaching tradition as God’s Word (Mark 7:7), setting aside God’s Word (7:8), rejecting God’s Word (7:9), and robbing God’s Word of its power (7:13). It doesn’t matter how sincere you are or how religious you are or how pious you appear to others, God sees your heart.

    Jesus says they do many religious things. They do many traditional things, yet they miss the point…love God and love others as they love themselves. While they claim to love God, they don’t even love their own parents, breaking the fifth Commandment. They dedicated their wealth to God while failing to support their parents. They place tradition above God’s Word.

    Let me say again traditions aren’t necessarily bad, but when tradition rules above God, when preference rules above the Bible, when we do the right things for the wrong reasons with bad motives, we risk becoming like the prideful, self-righteous Pharisees.

    And I’m a recovering Pharisee. You might be one, too.

    I used to not only follow the rules but judge others who didn’t behave just like me. I still do, sometimes, which is why I’m recovering.

    I used to get nervous when someone didn’t worship exactly like me, dress like me, or think just like me. I still do, sometimes, which is why I’m recovering.

    My focus needs to always be on Jesus. What would make Jesus smile?

    I’m a recovering Pharisee. I sometimes want people to see how good I am. I don’t smoke, chew, or go out with girls that do! Look at me, mister holier-than-thou.

    It amazes me how much the religious people seemed to dislike Jesus…and vice-versa. You can serve God or religion. You can follow the Bible or tradition.

    Motives matter. Underneath everything we do is an attitude, good or bad, self-serving or God-serving, prideful or humble.

    Are you a Pharisee? Are you, like me, a recovering Pharisee?

    How is your heart? Why do you do the things you do? Is it to make yourself happy? Is it to impress others? Or is it to honor God?

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

  • Water: Boat & Walking, 26 May 2019

    Water: Boat & Walking
    Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:45-56

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea:
    Without Jesus, we will struggle in life’s storms.

    For about two thousand years, people have been telling stories about Jesus. He lived. He taught. He died. He rose again. He started the greatest movement in human history. He cast out demons. He raised the dead. He healed the sick. And someday soon He will return!

    My name is Kirk and today we’re continuing our series, Mark: The Real Jesus. We’re seeking to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”

    More than 4 billion people in the world “believe in Jesus,” but what do they believe? Since that number includes Muslims, what do the 2.4 billion Christians believe about Jesus? What does John Mark tell us, the biographer who likely wrote this book with the help of Peter, one of Jesus’ three best friends?

    In the sixth chapter of Mark, we’ve seen Jesus rejected in his hometown, sending out his twelve disciples two by two to do ministry, thought to be the resurrected John the Baptist, seeking quiet and rest, and feeding five thousand families with one boy’s lunch. No wonder he became famous without media, social or even traditional media!

    Today’s account is a popular story of Jesus performing a dramatic miracle that left his best friends amazed. I hope it leaves us amazed, too.

    What is Jesus’ greatest miracle? I believe it was the resurrection! Other than the resurrection, what do you think was Jesus’ greatest miracle?

    To set the scene, Jesus sent out the disciples in verse 7. They return with great stories of miraculous ministry in verse 30. The crowds were following them so in verse 31 Jesus tells them to spend some quiet time with him to get away from the people and get some rest. “So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (verse 32).

    We all need solitude and rest. [riff on last weekend and the Life on Life retreats, Martha/Mary]

    However, the solitary place was anything but. By the time they arrived, the crowds had run ahead of them, leading Jesus to spend time feeding their minds, bodies, and souls. After everyone was satisfied with their meal, …

    Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. (Mark 6:45-46)

    They’ve all eaten this miraculous meal of fish and bread, and each of the disciples had a basket of leftovers for their boat ride snack! But where’s Jesus? He leaves the twelve disciples to get alone with the Father in prayer on a mountainside.

    Have you ever been on a mountainside? Obviously not in Toledo! Mountains are stunning.

    The Sea of Galilee has 33 miles of shoreline. It is 13 miles at its longest length.

    The hills around the Sea of Galilee reach nearly 1400 feet above sea level, which is just shy of the highest point in Ohio (Campbell Hill in Bellefontaine, 1550 feet).

    Jesus is not looking out as if he were at the top of the Rocky or Appalachian Mountains, but he has a nice view of the Sea of Galilee, no doubt, a beautiful place to hide from the crowds and pray.

    Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. (Mark 6:47)

    Sometimes I wish Mark gave us more details, but then again his biography is the shortest and most succinct of the four gospels, a word which means “good news.” It was night, the twelve are in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus is alone on land.

    He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. (Mark 6:48a)

    If you’ve ever been in a boat during a storm, it can be frightening. Some of us get frightened when we’re in a car during a storm…or even a house! On the water, lightning can be dangerous, the wind can make navigation challenging, water can fill the boat, causing it to sink, its getting dark (and that means “dark” since the clouds are blocking the moon and stars and there’s no electricity, even on shore), …it’s a scary place to be!

    Without Jesus, we will struggle in life’s storms.

    Storms are difficult enough with Jesus, but the struggle is even greater alone.

    Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. (Mark 6:48b-50a)

    First, it says it’s shortly before dawn, so by this time it’s very dark. Mark nonchalantly says Jesus goes out to them, walking on the lake. No, the lake was not frozen (if it was, the boat couldn’t sail…and the temperature rarely drops below 46 degrees…and that’s in January). This is what we call a miracle, a supernatural event. Jesus is walking on the lake, the Sea of Galilee (the terms are used interchangeably).

    Have you ever walked on water? I actually have several times…with some help. OK, technically I wasn’t walking. I was water skiing! I love to water ski. I remember the first time I was ever able to get up and I looked at the water below me and thought of this passage of the Bible. “Look, I’m walking on water!”

    On a side note, during my visit to Israel in 2006, I saw someone water skiing on the Sea of Galilee and had a rare burst of envy! If I ever go back to Israel, I
    have to water ski on that lake! I need to put that on my bucket list!

    The disciples are trying to stay alive in this brutal storm, Jesus happens to be walking out to them, he’s about to pass them by (!), they see him, think he’s a ghost, and cry like little children, terrified!

    Remember, it’s dark. It’s stormy. And how often have you seen someone walking on water?

    Jesus is with us in the storms, even if we don’t recognize him.

    Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:50b-52)

    Jesus’ best friends didn’t understand the miracle meal. They couldn’t believe the walking miracle. Now he climbs in the boat and they experience another miracle, the storm ending. Of course they were completely amazed, yet their hearts were hardened, it says.

    Jesus saw them struggling. You might be struggling right now. Jesus sees you. He knows your struggle.

    Is Jesus in your boat?

    You might be afraid of him, of letting him into your boat, into your life. We all love control, and letting go is so hard. Handing over the keys to Jesus seems like such a big risk. What will happen if I surrender? Take a step of faith and find out!

    I love how human the disciples appear to be in the Bible. They were not created by Marvel! Like each of us, they were filled with fear. They were clueless, at times. They were anxious and worried.

    Everything changed when Jesus was in their boat, when they recognized him.

    I’m sure Jesus could’ve calmed the storm from the mountainside when he saw their struggle, but he chose to be present, instead. Obviously he is not physically present in our lives like he was with the twelve, but he is with us. Before he ascended into heaven—this Thursday is Ascension Day—he said,

    And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

    In many ways, we actually have it better than the disciples. Jesus told them,

    But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

    That Advocate is the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew name for the Spirit is “ruach.” It means spirit, breath, or, interestingly, wind. The Holy Spirit lives inside every follower of Jesus. This (sanctuary) is not God’s house. This (my body) is God’s house, the place where the Holy Spirit dwells, producing gifts and fruit in our lives. The Greek word used in John 16,
    parakletos, means advocate, counselor, and comforter.

    I’m quite sure many of you could use a comforter in your life, a counselor, the Spirit of God. But first we must surrender. We must allow God into our boat. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit—daily, hourly, continually—like breathing. It’s not a once-and-done decision, but a moment-by-moment action.

    By the way, having God in your boat doesn’t mean the end of storms and trials, but it does mean you’ll never be alone. As one song says, “Sometimes He calms the storm/ Sometimes He calms His child.”

    The chapter concludes…

    When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:53-56)

    We can’t imagine how many sick people Jesus healed. I’m sure it was thrilling for not only those receiving the healing, but also for the countless witnesses, seeing miracles before their very eyes.

    God’s not done doing miracles. We’ve seen people in our First Alliance family healed physically. We’ve seen broken marriages restored. We’ve seen God answer prayers for jobs, relationships, and mental illness. Each Sunday we invite any and all to receive prayer at the conclusion of our worship gatherings, following the instructions of scripture to have the elders anoint the sick with oil.


    What is Jesus’ greatest miracle? I believe it was the resurrection! Other than the resurrection, I believe the greatest miracle is not physical, but spiritual. When a selfish sinner surrenders their life to Jesus, that’s amazing! Letting go and letting God is so simple, yet so challenging. We want to be in control. Our pride wants to rule. But when we welcome God into our boat, the real transformation begins.

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

    Feeding: Loaves & Fish, 12 May 2019

    Feeding: Loaves & Fish
    Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:30-44

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea:
    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    Spoiler alert. There are few word couplets that seize our attention more than someone about to reveal the ending to a movie or a sporting match. Humans love suspense, and anyone destroying the surprise is likely to be criticized for doing so.

    Recently a youth pastor made headlines for spoiling the ending of
    Avengers: Endgame in front of his youth group. In a few short weeks, this film has become the number two movie of all-time as it approaches the reigning champion Avatar.

    Spoiler alert. If you are at all familiar with the Bible, your knowledge can be a deterrent to fully engaging with its stories. For example, the sorrow of our Good Friday remembrances is always tempered by our understanding of the resurrection. We know what happens next. This is true of most any biblical account.

    So today I want you to forget what you know about today’s text, assuming you know anything at all. Pretend you are a follower of Jesus and you have no clue about the following events which are recorded in all four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. To set the scene, earlier in Mark chapter six, we’re told of Jesus,

    Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. (Mark 6:7)

    He sent them on a mission trip!

    These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:8-11)

    They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:12-13)

    As we continue our series Mark: The Real Jesus, we’re seeking to know about and ultimately know King Jesus, the Messiah. Last week we saw Herod’s confusion about his identity as people thought perhaps Jesus was a resurrected Elijah or John the Baptist. Who is Jesus?

    Jesus sent out his dozen followers two by two, gave them supernatural authority, told them to trust God for their provisions (take only a staff), and God did amazing things in and through their lives, including exorcising demons and healing the sick as they preached repentance.

    The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

    I wish this on YouTube! Can you imagine their excitement?

    “Jesus, you’ll never believe what happened!”

    Jesus: “Try me!”

    We begin every staff and elders meeting at First Alliance with “wins,” sharing stories of what God has done in and through us.

    We need to celebrate God’s goodness.

    I’m not very good at celebrating. I find it easy to start my prayers with wants and needs rather than praise and thanksgiving.

    My mind is usually on the next thing to accomplish instead of pausing to celebrate the goodness of the past.

    Earlier you heard about the upcoming events and opportunities on the church calendar, but what about last week?

    Many years ago I was reading John Ortberg’s book
    The Life You’ve Always Wanted. It’s about spiritual disciples, also known as spiritual habits or practices. I knew the importance of prayer and Bible study. I was a little uneasy about the thought of fasting or silence or solitude, thinking they were like eating your veggies—good for you but unpleasant (I hope to do a series on these practices sometime soon; they are truly wonderful pathways to God). I was really surprised when early in the book Ortberg talked about The Practice of Celebration.

    (Some of us could use a bit more celebration!)

    (The book is excellent, by the way, and I recommend it.)

    The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

    I’m sure there was some celebration in their midst.

    I want to pause and celebrate God’s goodness at the sneak preview of
    Dinner Church last Sunday. Many of you served in beautiful ways—inviting, prayer, food prep, greeting—and God used our efforts to do amazing things. We had people from several continents exposed to the gospel, kids riveted to the message, adults engaging in unique ways, friendships forming, and an energy which could only be the Holy Spirit. I believe…

    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    Thank you, family, for surrendering your time, talents, treasures, and energy last week. We’ll do it again on the last Sunday of each month, beginning May 26, and I can only imagine what God will do.

    Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31)

    Vance Havner said, “If you don’t come apart and rest, you will come apart.”

    Because God is at work, we can—and must—rest.

    Are you rested this morning? Our culture can drive us insane—literally—with its non-stop, 24/7, on-demand, bigger is better, climb the ladder of success mentality. We were not created to work seven days a week. We do not have the capability of doing great work 12 or 15 hours a day. Science has proven this repeatedly. We need rest.

    If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, you must rest. You must be with Jesus in a quiet place. You must be still and know that He is God.

    I’m preaching to myself here, family. I don’t do this well, but I think I’m making some progress.

    We need to rest daily…time with God.
    We need to rest weekly…a Sabbath.
    We need to rest annually…vacations and staycations.

    We are human beings, not human doings.

    Pastors are one of the greatest culprits of workaholism. Many of us have this strange notion that if we’re not taking care of every need of every person in the local church, the world is going to end. I’ve seen insecure, co-dependent pastors run themselves ragged and, sometimes, destroying themselves and/or their families in the process. I know God doesn’t need me to accomplish His plans. I feel very privileged to have been invited to serve in His Kingdom—as all of you have been—but He doesn’t need me.

    Today’s text has echoes of Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd. It begins,

    The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalms 23:1-3)

    There’s nothing there about busyness, demands, schedules, or achievement. Ultimately, we were created for relationships—with God and others. I’m afraid many cultures understand this better than USAmericans.

    We need rest. Life is a marathon, friends, not a sprint. You can only make it to the finish line with rest. When is the last time you were led by the Good Shepherd to quiet waters and refreshing rest?

    So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. (Mark 6:32)

    This is a beautiful, tranquil lake in Israel, known today as the Sea of Galilee. I’ve been there in a boat and I’m sure the twelve were looking forward to some quality time with Jesus.

    But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. (Mark 6:33-34)

    Jesus—the Good Shepherd—can’t avoid the paparazzi! The problem with being in a boat on a lake is people on the shore can see you…and where you’re headed! Jesus invites his disciples to get rest and then turns around and starts teaching the crowds. I’m sure the twelve were upset. After all, they had all of these great stories to tell! If only Jesus wasn’t so compassionate! Remember, the Good Shepherd is willing to leave the 99 to look for the one lost sheep, or in this case disrupt the solitude of the dozen for the thousands of lost people in the crowd.

    Do you see people as greedy or needy? Are people an interruption to your day or the purpose of our mission? Are you compassionate…or just comfortable?

    By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36)

    I’m sure the disciples were hungry, too, but remember they wanted that quiet time with Jesus. Send the people away, Jesus!

    But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37a)

    What? Jesus, we’re hungry, too! This isn’t our problem. Let’s send them away, get back in the boat, catch some fish, and have a nice, quiet dinner together. We’re getting hangry, here!

    They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37b)

    I know that would be my answer! I can call Domino’s or Grub Hub, but I don’t know if my credit card limit will cover it!

    It’s easy to fault the lack of faith of the disciples, but again, they didn’t know what followed. If we were at the Mud Hens game, they ran out of food, and I told you to feed the crowd, what would you say?

    The disciples saw the problem but not the potential.

    “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

    When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” (Mark 6:38)

    [I have some fish. Are there any moms who would like some fish?]

    We know from another account of this story (John 6:9) the twelve disciples apparently had no food at all and, therefore, they searched the crowd and found a boy with a small lunch. Imagine being the only person in a crowd with food and someone asks you for it. Would you surrender it or keep it?

    What do you have to offer God?

    It might be your lunch. Literally. Would you give it to Jesus? He said essentially,

    “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

    When we show kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re showing kindness to Jesus. Giving to the benevolence fund is an excellent way to offer your lunch—or your wealth—to Jesus.

    What do you have to offer God?

    Remember, the boy had no idea what would happen to his lunch, but he surrendered it.

    If you knew by putting $100 in the offering today, you’d get an unexpected refund in the mail this week for $500, of course you’d do it. But faith is expressed through obedience without knowing the outcome. I’m not promising you $500, but can you outgive God?

    If you knew volunteering your time and talents to help on church work day would result in getting an extra week’s vacation at work the next week, you’d be foolish not to invest those hours.

    We don’t know how God will use our offering, but I can almost guarantee there will be no regrets.

    Think of it this way: is it generally wiser to invest retirement funds yourself or have someone with thirty years of successful experience do it?

    Do you trust God to do more with your time, talent, and treasures than you could ever do on your own?

    The exciting things is you might not have much to offer, in the eyes of the world. Some of us are not wealthy. Some of us are not healthy. Some of us aren’t especially attractive or talented or educated, but God can use anything and anyone He chooses to accomplish His will and plans…if we’re available.

    What could Jesus possibly do with a little bread and fish? Shhh. No spoilers, please!

    Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. (Mark 6:39-41)

    There are so many layers of symbolism in these verses.

    - Moses wasn’t sure how to feed all of the people in the wilderness
    - Green grass: the Good Shepherd (green pastures; it is springtime in Galilee)
    - Groups of hundreds and fifties: Jethro telling Moses how to delegate (Ex. 18)
    - Looking up to heaven, giving thanks, breaking bread: Passover

    Jesus was demonstrating signs the new creation, the kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God. Here we see God’s love and power blended together.

    They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mark 6:42-44)

    We have no idea how many women and children were fed, too, but Michael Card makes an interesting observation, saying, “In every account of the feeding of the five thousand, the word used is kofinos. It indicates a small lunch-pail-sized basket.” It’s likely the crowd didn’t even realize the miracle that occurred right before their very eyes, a miracle more of perfect provision than overflowing abundance. They had enough…their daily bread (and a little midnight snack for each of the twelve disciples).

    God is able to provide for our daily bread as we seek Him and surrender what we’ve been given to Him.

    Sure, Jesus could’ve had manna and quail fall from the sky to feed the crowd. God did this to the people of Israel in the wilderness, feeding them for forty years!
    Jesus could’ve taken stones and turned them into bread as satan had tempted him to do in the wilderness when Jesus was fasting for forty days.

    Jesus could’ve prayed a hunger prayer which instantly removed hunger from the crowd.

    Instead, Jesus wanted participation. He allowed a boy to be involved. He engaged his disciples. Instead of creating something from nothing—as he has done many times before—he chose to work in and through others. I love that!

    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    How do you think that boy felt at the end of the day? Can you imagine the story he told his mom when he got home? What about what he said to his dad he arrived home from work?

    It is a thrill to be used by God. But first, we must surrender. God can bless and multiply whatever we give to Him. He used

    - an old man named Abraham to become a dad at 100 and father the Jewish nation
    - a stutterer named Moses to lead His people for decades in the wilderness
    - a prostitute named Rahab was so important she is in Jesus’ genealogy

    God often asks us to do the impossible…so He can receive the glory. Forgive without limit? Love our enemies? We are totally dependent upon Him…and that’s a great place to be.

    Sometimes we cry out to God and say, “Do something” and God replies, “You give them something to eat. What’s in your hand? I’ve placed you there in Toledo for such a time as this.”

    A man once asked God, “Why aren’t you feeding the hungry?”
    God replied, “Why aren’t you feeding the hungry?”

    I don’t know what God is calling you to surrender today, but I know it’s a thrill to be obedient, to be used by God to impact lives for eternity, to have a front-row seat to watch God at work. Some of you experienced this last Sunday at Dinner Church. Others were blessed by serving at the Rosa Parks Elementary Carnival. Still others were involved in Celebrate Recovery, bringing hope and healing to the hurting. I saw many of you at the TUI After School Klub banquet, celebrating another year of investment in our city’s kids. Next month you’re all invited to participate in Sports & Arts Camp, possibly our biggest event of the year.

    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    What are you doing with your lunch? Hoarding it, or offering it to God?
    What are you doing with your wealth? Your time? Your talents? Your life?


    “God will you let us see people the way You see people, as masterpieces in need of love and restoration? Let us have compassion like You do. Will you take our time, talents, and treasures and multiply them for Your glory? I believe, LORD, but help me in my unbelief, that I may trust You completely with my heart, soul, mind, and strength. In Jesus’ Name, amen.”

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

    John: Arrested & Beheaded, 5 May 2019

    John: Arrested & Beheaded
    Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:14-29

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea:
    John sacrificed everything for Jesus…who sacrificed everything for John and us.

    “Oh how I love Jesus/oh how I love Jesus/oh how I love Jesus/because he first loved me”

    How much do you love Jesus?

    It’s hard to quantify love. It’s challenging for most people to even define “love.” But how important is Jesus to you…really?

    Today we are continuing our series Mark: The Real Jesus. I know, it’s been a while. September 3, 2017 was the last Sunday in this series! Sometimes you just need a break! We’ll have more breaks before we finish this, the shortest of the gospels or “good news,” biographies of Jesus. With the recent celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, we’re going back to look at his life, his ministry, the three years or so prior to Holy Week. And today’s text is about one of the most devoted followers of Jesus, John, who was arrested & beheaded.

    “To live outside of God’s will puts us in danger; to live in his will makes us dangerous.” – Erwin McManus

    Before we look at this dreadful event, I want to begin with some background information on John the Baptist.

    At the beginning of the book of Mark, we are introduced to John the Baptist.

    And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:4-5)

    John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:6-8)

    John’s father was a priest, usually a hereditary role which John chose not to accept, becoming a fiery preacher, paving the way for the Messiah.

    He’s immersing people in the Jordan River, a process called baptism which symbolizes a death and resurrection, washing away that which is old and become a new creation.

    We are planning a baptism on May 26. If you’ve never experienced baptism as a follower of Jesus—infant baptism is different—I’d love to invite you to be baptized, to publicly declare your faith, and to symbolically die in the water grave and come out as a forgiven, purified, resurrected follower of Jesus.

    But back to John. The Judeans, crushed by Roman rule and the high priests, found John refreshing. He was not afraid of seemingly anyone. Some thought he was the Messiah. He was a revolutionary who prepared the people for another Revolutionary.

    The following verses describe John the Baptist baptizing his cousin, Jesus. Why does Jesus need to be baptized? He is sinless and has no need of repentance, but perhaps it was a public way to begin his ministry.

    Later John leaves the wilderness and takes on the political leaders of his time. He starts in Tiberias, the place of sin, one of the cities in Galilee. It’s ruled by Herod Antipas, the second son of Herod the Great, the tyrant who tried to kill baby Jesus (Matthew 2:7-16). Herod Antipas wanted to be the king of Judea but, instead, became the tetrarch of Galilee.

    John decides to call Herod to repentance, a gutsy move. Can you imagine confronting a Roman ruler, calling them out over their sins. Keep in mind his sins were many. The Jews are struggling under the Roman Empire while Herod lives in luxury.

    Of all of Herod Antipas’ sins, one is most notable. While visiting his half-brother Philip in Rome, he fell in love with Herodias, Philip’s wife. He married her after divorcing his first wife. To make things even more complicated, Herodias was the daughter of another half-brother, so Antipas marries the woman who is both his sister-in-law and niece! You thought your family tree was messed up!

    In the politics of the day, Herod’s job is primary to keep peace in Galilee. If a rebellion breaks out, Herod loses his power. John calls for repentance and may have appeared to have been gathering a rebellion, so Herod has John imprisoned in the Fortress of Machaerus, 100 miles from Tiberias. It’s an awful place, distant from John’s followers. In the day, prison was barbaric. There was no rehabilitation, only punishment and breaking.

    While John is in prison, Jesus’ ministry grows and it is his popularity and his followers are sent out to preach repentance, turning away from their sins and toward God. They are also driving out demons and healing the sick, which leads us to today’s text in Mark 6:14.

    King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Mark 6:14)

    Herod Antipas wanted to be called king, though he was technically only a tetrarch, ruling a fourth part of the nation.

    Others said, “He is Elijah.”

    And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” (Mark 6:15)

    Who is Jesus? How you answer this question is remarkably important.

    Jesus was obviously special. He was a dynamic leader, a marvelous teacher, and a miraculous healer. He was quickly becoming an incredibly popular person among the crowds. Even John is unsure of the true identity of his cousin, Jesus. You may recall Elijah never really died, but was taken directly to heaven, so his return was plausible.

    Herod gets into the discussion of Jesus’ identity, wondering if he wasn’t John raised from the dead.

    But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” (Mark 6:16)

    Now Mark provides us a flashback.

    For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:17-18)

    It’s hard to imagine the audacity of John calling out Herod. We don’t really know all of the context other than we know Herod liked to listen to John. Whatever the case, there was obviously tension between John, Herod, and Herodias.

    So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:19-20)

    Herod was interested in hearing John, though it may have been a political maneuver. Remember, Herod’s chief responsibility was to keep the peace.

    If you’ve been going through Mission 119 with us, you may recall recent Bible reading through several of the prophets. The role of prophet—proclaiming God’s truth, forthtelling—is no for the faint of heart. Sometimes God calls us to do difficult things, even confronting people in love over their sin. This is not judging or condemning, but rather pointing people to life, to truth.

    How do you react when you’re confronted about something? We all hate criticism by strangers or venomous attacks by insecure people trying to tear us down. But what about when a loved one throws out a “help me understand?” For many years, my first instinct toward any constructive feedback was defensiveness. As I get older, I’m trying to listen first and then respond with grace. I can’t say I’m good at it. My pride gets in the way.

    Some people can’t handle the truth. They want to follow their pleasures rather than God. They’ve been given the choice, that free will. Followers of Jesus, however, must be open to loving correction. But remember,

    "God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, we are to love." -Billy Graham

    Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

    The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” (Mark 6:21-23)

    This must’ve been some kind of dance…or Herod had been drinking some kind of booze…or both! Imagine offering up to half of your kingdom as thanks for a dance! And it’s Herod’s birthday! The only thing I can think of in the Bible as outrageous is Esau exchanging his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup…or Jesus offering us his very life on the cross!

    Salome, Herodias’ dancing daughter, is already a married woman and Antipas’ stepdaughter. Herod makes an incredible offer to Salome—to impress his guests—and the response is equally shocking.

    She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

    “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

    At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Mark 6:24-25)

    There was no argument or delay. At once she hurried to request John’s head…on a platter! What detail! What audacity!

    The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:26-29)

    What a way to go!

    How much do you love Jesus? John was obedient, even unto death. He sacrificed everything to remain obedient to the call on his life, speaking the truth in love.

    This story is hard to imagine—a man beheaded for obeying God—yet today in our modern, sophisticated world, many of our brothers and sisters face persecution every day. Two days ago, the BBC said, “Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels’” in parts of the world. One in three people suffer from religious persecution and Christians were the most persecuted religious group, according to a report ordered by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

    The world saw the reports of more than 250 killed on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, just the latest of attacks upon Christians which includes church crackdowns in China, torture in North Korea, Indian Christians arrested for sharing their testimony with a small group, …and that’s just scratching the surface. On average, 11 of our brothers and sisters are killed every day for their faith. That would wipe out our church in a month! For more, visit

    What would cause someone—John the Baptist or anyone—to allow themselves to die for their faith, to be persecuted for their beliefs, to be tortured for their obedience to God? Love.

    Here’s the thing:

    Jesus sacrificed everything for you, including his life.

    If you think it’s crazy for a human to die for God, how much more radical is it for God to die for a human? That’s what we remembered last month on Good Friday.

    Jesus did so much more than save your life. He offers to save your eternity, and he exchanged his life for yours on the cross. What more do you want Jesus to do to prove his love for you? No, he’s not a cosmic genie who is going to instantly give you everything you pray for, because he knows what’s best. Sometimes a miracle is best, but in this life as we experience suffering, it is not without purpose. God uses trials to strengthen our faith, help us identify with and help others, and give us a yearning for the next life. I’m not saying it’s always fun or easy, but neither was the cross. Today we remember the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus…not because we’re so great, but because our sin was so great…and his love is so great.

    Honestly, I’m almost embarrassed to talk about giving God a tithe—10% of your income. It’s silly to think one hour out of 168 each week is a sacrifice. I scoff at the notion spending a little time overseas is super spiritual or noble.

    Jesus died for us, family! That’s a really big deal! Who else has shown you that much love? Can we not reciprocate?

    Following Jesus requires a sacrifice, including your life—dead or alive.

    Jesus doesn’t want fans or part-time followers. He wants fully-devoted disciples, men and women and children who are willing to live and even die for the one who died for them. After describing God’s incredible love and sacrifice for us, the writer of Romans wrote:

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

    How much do you love Jesus? This is what it means to love and follow Jesus. Become a living sacrifice—and maybe a martyr. Give it all! Die to yourself and surrender to God. I’m not just talking to spiritual seekers here, I’m talking to all of us. How committed are we to God? Really? John the Baptist was all in…and so was Jesus.

    Persecution may come to Christians in this nation. We could use a wake-up call, actually, not that I want persecution, but the church in the west is nearly dead, friends. When we feel persecuted by someone saying, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” we’re living way too comfortably! I know there are threats to certain freedoms we have enjoyed, but we are still a very blessed people. And let’s not forget what Paul wrote:

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

    We need to remember our brothers and sisters in prayer. I know Sri Lanka and China and the Middle East seem so far away, but they are family. Finally,

    No sacrifice for Jesus will ever be too great…or regrettable.

    Jim Elliot, before he was martyred in Ecuador, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

    This life is so short. I know it seems like…a lifetime. But imagine a timeline of eternity. How much of that timeline would represent the century or so we’re on this planet? You couldn’t even see it! As one song says, “It will be worth it all/when we see Jesus.” In two chapters, Jesus says,

    For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Mark 8:35-36)

    Jesus gave everything for us. God for humans. Can we not return the favor?

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

    Sent: Preaching & Anointing

    Sent: Preaching & Anointing
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:6-29

    Series Big Idea:
    The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Following Jesus is radical and dangerous…but worth it!


    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. According to the Declaration of Independence, these are our unalienable Rights endowed to us by our Creator. Despite its countless flaws, I love the United States, but Thomas Jefferson’s words are not taken from the Bible. In fact, following Jesus may result in the loss of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…but it will be worth it.

    Today we continue our look at Jesus from Mark’s biography of him. Last week we saw Jesus’ amazement at the lack of faith among those in his hometown of Nazareth. The text continues…

    Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. (Mark 6:6)

    I want to pause and analyze Jesus’ leadership. Contrary to popular belief, leadership is more than a title or position. At its core, leadership is influence. We all have some influence on others. The best leaders do not merely have followers, but rather they develop leaders. Perhaps my favorite verse describing this comes to Timothy from his mentor Paul:

    And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2)

    Four generations are found in one verse: Paul, Timothy, reliable people who teach others.

    Here’s Jesus’ model as outlined by Dave Ferguson in his book

    1. I do. You watch. Jesus was teaching and healing and the disciples observed.

    2. I do. You help. At some point Jesus told them he had a purpose for them beyond companionship. He wanted them involved, helping.

    3. You do. I help. We talk.
    This is the point of action. The baton is being passed; not thrown, but passed. Debriefing is important, too. Feedback can be so valuable, especially when we are doing something new.

    4. You do. I watch. We talk.
    Not the leader does not assist except to coach afterward.

    5. You do. Someone else watched.
    Now the student becomes the teacher, the apprentice is the leader. Things have come full circle.

    This process works if you are teaching your kids how to load the dishwasher, training your apprentice small group leader, or equipping a new employee at the office.

    John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus who is preparing his twelve disciples to transform the world…without cable tv, Twitter, or even the newspaper.

    Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. (Mark 6:7)

    It sounds like Noah’s ark, doesn’t it, two by two? It’s not good for man to be alone, God said after creating Adam. There’s strength in numbers. A partner helps protect against the dangers of temptation and attack. Who does two by two well? The Mormans and JW’s! They have it mastered, undoubtedly drawing their inspiration for this verse. If only the entire Bible was followed as carefully by them. Notice Jesus gave them authority. He equipped them. He didn’t shove them out the door and say, “Good luck!”

    These were his instructions:
    “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. (Mark 6:8-9)

    They are to travel light. They can’t even run to the ATM and get some cash! He wants them focused on the mission and dependent upon God for daily bread. Personal comforts are not a priority for Jesus. Now this is not meant to be a universal plan for missions work. Today we raise money to provide for ministries around the world, but this particular mission was dependent upon the hospitality of others.

    Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.
    (Mark 6:10)

    I want to suggest perhaps Jesus is saying, “Get to know the people. Build relationships. Don’t rush off. Preach repentance. Drive out demons. Heal the sick. You’ve seen me do it. Now it’s your turn.”

    And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
    (Mark 6:11)

    This is an odd instruction in our culture, but he’s saying if they ignore you, let them know the consequences. Let them know judgment would eventually fall on them…they’ve been warned. The disciples were commissioned to preach repentance, to urge people to turn from their selfish desires and follow God. Repent means to turn, to do a 180. Not everyone is eager stop what they’re doing and surrender to Jesus. This is obviously just as true today. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but to make dead people come alive…but first they must die…to themselves. This is where I struggle with Thomas Jefferson. I’m not against life, liberty or happiness—nor is God—but those are not God’s highest values for us. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, submit to Jesus as LORD, and pick up our cross and follow him. It is not always easy, fun, or comfortable.

    I get worried when I see Christianity sold to USAmericans as just another self-help alternative. Pray this prayer and God will make you happy. Have enough faith and you’ll be rich. The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. UGH! What garbage!

    Jesus gave up everything—including his own life—and he asks us to do the same…because it will be worth it in the end. He doesn’t promise is safety and comfort and pleasure now. We have work to do. We are in the middle of a war…between good and evil. So many so-called Christians are lounging by the pool unaware there’s a battle on the other side of the gate. Look around, friends.

    Heroin. Sex trafficking. Racism. Hunger. Homelessness. Violence. Hatred. Injustice.

    Jesus didn’t come and die so we could sit in comfy seats for an hour a week with our nice leather-bound Bibles and fancy clothes…and I’m not against any of those things. But following Jesus must take precedent over life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Kingdoms collide.

    One final thought on this verse: we are not to coerce, threaten, entice, or pressure people to follow Jesus. The command for the twelve was to preach repentance, to invite people to turn from their pleasure to seek God’s kingdom. And if they don’t listen, move on.

    They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:12-13)

    They did it. They obeyed Jesus. The miracles authenticated their message. I wish I had a recording of their conversation with Jesus afterward. The stories must’ve been amazing! God obviously provided despite their lack of provisions. Ministry was accomplished. Lives were changed. The twelve began to get a glimpse of what it truly meant to proclaim truth and follow God.

    And then Mark inserts a bizarre flashback, a story that reminds us the risks of obeying God.

    King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Mark 6:14)

    Herod hears rumors about Jesus and begins to think perhaps John the Baptist was back, resurrected.

    Others said, “He is Elijah.” 

    And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

    But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” (Mark 6:15-16)

    Remember, the central question in our series is, “Who is Jesus?” Herod thinks the only one who can preach with authority and heal is John, whom he beheaded! He killed John but has enough faith to believe in the resurrection, even though John was still dead! Yet he does nothing to pursue Jesus.

    For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:17-20)

    Herod liked John the Baptist even though John spoke out against the king’s marriage. He married Herodias, his niece, who is already the wife of his half brother, according to scholars. It’s rather confusing because Herod was a family name, not one man’s name. This was not Herod the Great. This was his son, Herod Antipas. He was banished to southern France by AD 39 and his kingdom was given to Herodias’ brother Agrippa. Mark calling him “King” Herod was ironic and sly.

    Let me be radical and politically incorrect and say despite what some say, our culture does not believe any two people in love should be able to marry. What if one is a minor? What if one is a relative (eww!)? What about polygamy? Then again, it may just be a matter of time.

    Herodias hates John because he criticized her marriage, likely a plot of hers to gain power by marrying Herod.

    Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. (Mark 6:21-22a)

    This was not some Chuck E. Cheese birthday party. Jews saw birthdays as pagan celebrations, and this occasion was filled with paganism: dancing girls at a stag party, a drunken king, …you get the idea. Most likely the amoral Herodias sent her teen daughter to perform erotically for her uncle and these other powerful men.

    The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” (Mark 6:22b-23)

    This must’ve been quite a dance! Herod actually can’t give half of the kingdom away because he’s merely a puppet of Rome. Jesus, however, gives his disciples the power of the kingdom of God which brings healing and salvation.

    She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” 

    “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered. (Mark 6:24)

    At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Mark 6:25)

    I’ve played that genie game many times, the one where you ask, “If you could have three wishes, what would they be?” I’ve never heard someone mention a person’s head on a platter!

    The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:26-29)

    What an incredible story.

    So What?

    What do we do with it? Be careful what you ask for!

    It might seem odd, but look what Mark says next.

    The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

    This is the only time Mark calls the twelve “apostles.” They are sent ones who have completed a commission. It seems like Mark is connecting the dots between John, Jesus, and the disciples. Their mission to preach repentance is the same. Their fate as martyrs is the same. They are hated like the prophets of old. David Garland notes that “what happened to John the Baptizer presages what will also happen to any who preach the same message of repentance in a hostile world. They too will be handed over. They too will have to stand before kings. While Jesus’ ministry began after John’s imprisonment, the disciples’ preaching begins after John’s death.”

    Paradoxically, this is how the kingdom of God has grown for thousands of years. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Kierkegaard stated, “The tyrant dies and his rule ends, the martyr dies and his rule begins.” Mark shows us a cowardly man, Herod, with wealth and no character. He also shows us brave men with character and no wealth. One enjoys life now, the others for eternity.

    A choice must be made. Following Jesus is risky business. Sure, we’re blessed with tremendous freedoms in this nation today, but tomorrow offers us no such guarantees. One report I read this past week said a Christian was killed every six minutes last year for their faith. Over 90,000 of our brothers and sisters, slaughtered for following Jesus. That doesn’t include those arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.

    It’s a radical thought, but might God be preparing you for a life of suffering, of radical living, of dangerous adventure for the sake of eternity? Jesus never promised us a successful career, good health, or a stocked 401k. He never said obedience would result in popularity, comfort and pleasure. Jesus taught and modeled the denial of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the glory of God, for the kingdom of God.

    Credits: some ideas from Stephen Leston, Mark Strauss, Ian Fair, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Homecoming: Amazed & Faithless, 8 October 2017

    Homecoming: Amazed & Faithless
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:1-6

    Series Big Idea:
    The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Faith is a precious gift from God we must exercise.


    And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

    We talked about love last week. God’s grace enables us to love one another. Today we are looking at faith. In many ways, it is what brings us together. We are a family of faith, a community of faith. There are “faith healers” who say with enough faith the sick can be healed and the poor can become rich. There are doubters and skeptics who may struggle with notions of faith. Faith is linked to trust, yet it is different. Faith is a precious gift from God we must exercise.

    Where does faith originate? How can we grow our faith? What even is faith, and what difference does it make? My name is Kirk and as we resume our series on the book of Mark, a biography of Jesus, we’re going to examine faith and, I pray, strengthen yours.

    Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. (Mark 6:1-2a)

    Several weeks ago, we finished the fifth chapter of Mark where Jesus had healed a bleeding woman on the way to raising a dead girl to life. Then he goes to Nazareth, his hometown, and amazes those in the synagogue with his teaching.

    Jesus was a remarkable teacher. Last Sunday we looked at the Golden Rule, words quoted thousands of years later, even by non-Christians who think it’s a good idea to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

    “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:2b-3)

    Imagine showing up to your high school reunion in a fancy sports car with a gorgeous spouse on your arm, a Rolex watch on your wrist, and the finest of clothes. Many of your colleagues will be…jealous. After all, they came from the same town, attended the same school, and their lives looked like that?! I can just imagine the commotion:

    “Jesus never spoke like that in high school speech class.”
    “ I remembering praying with him for his sick dog in seventh grade and it was healed, but now he’s raising the dead?”
    “He made me a nice kitchen table a few years back, but when I went to buy matching the matching chairs they said he moved away.”

    Nobody knows you like family and close friends. There’s an old expression that an expert is someone with a briefcase who is more than 50 miles from home. It’s easy t fool strangers but hard to fool your neighbors and kinfolk.

    People change, of course, but our roots and family of origin matter and often influence us throughout our lives. These people couldn’t believe their hometown carpenter had become a teacher, a healer…a celebrity.

    Jesus said to them,
    “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” (Mark 6:4)

    They were skeptical, perhaps understandably. I’ve heard stories of people who grew up in a church as children who struggle to get respect as adults because everyone remembers “little George” or “little Mary.” But honor wasn’t the only thing Jesus failed to receive. The people lacked faith.

    He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:5-6a)

    This is an incredible text. First, Mark nonchalantly says Jesus only healed a few sick people. That’s more than I’ve done today…this week…this month…this year? But his lack of power seems to be connected to their lack of faith, something which amazed Jesus.

    I would love to amaze Jesus…but not because of my lack of faith.

    Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. (Mark 6:6b)

    Jesus hit the road in search of people with faith.

    So What?

    What does this mean? If I have enough faith I can heal or be healed, but without faith I’m hopeless and helpless?

    What is faith?

    The faith chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, famously begins…

    Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

    Faith is a gift. We are saved through faith…by grace.

    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

    This is a perfect bridge to our previous series on grace. We are not saved by our good works. We can’t be good enough. Every other religion emphasizes trying hard to be good enough for a holy God, but none of us is perfect so without grace, we’re all hopeless. We are saved not by works but by grace through faith, putting our trust and faith in Jesus Christ, trusting in his sacrifice on the cross, believing in his resurrection, and making him LORD of our lives, surrendering our will and desires to his.

    Faith matters. But love is the greatest of all.

    If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

    This addresses another issue from last Sunday, the propensity of many to love God but not their neighbor, to believe the right things in their head but fail with their mouth, heart, and hands.

    But how do we obtain faith, especially if it’s a gift? Romans says in regards to the proclamation of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ,

    Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

    Our faith grows as we study God’s Word, the Bible, as we pray and see God’s activity in our broken world, as we are encouraged by others who are encountering God, and as we trust Him for our daily bread.

    Claro Update

    One of the seven core values of The Alliance states,

    Achieving God’s purposes means taking faith-filled risks. This always involves change. Hebrews 11:6

    Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

    Do not be anxious about…anything! My wife put these words in our bathroom:

    Worry about nothing. Pray for everything.

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

    God is clearly on the move and we’re just getting started! I can’t wait to hear and share more stories in the coming days of God’s goodness not only financially but also with transformed lives. May we have increasing faith in our faithful God! The best is yet to come.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Healing: Woman & Girl, 3 September 2017

    Healing: Woman & Girl
    Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 5:21-43
    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
    Big Idea: Jesus healed—and still heals—those who believe.
    Faith. Do you have it? Sure you do. We all have faith…in something…or someone! The book of Hebrews states
    Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
    As we continue to look at the life of Jesus through Mark’s biography, we come to two stories of faith…and physical healing.
    They are very similar. They both involve females. Both of their stories began twelve years prior.
    They are very different. One female is young, the other old. One is the daughter of an important synagogue officer, the other an anonymous woman. The officer was about to lose a daughter who brought him twelve years of happiness while the woman lost an affliction that brought her twelve years of grief.
    These are documented, historical incidents but God never changes…and He continues to heal today.
    Jesus is the Son of God, the way, the truth, and the life.
    Two weeks ago, we saw his power over the natural world, calming a huge storm.
    Last week we saw his power over the supernatural, exorcising demons.
    Today we will see his power over sickness and death.
    When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet.  He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  So Jesus went with him. (Mark 5:21-24a)
    We’re back in Jewish territory, probably Capernaum. The crowds are back. They religious leaders are back. Instead of being a critic, Jairus is a believer. He’s obviously desperate, willing to lose his religious friends who despise Jesus in his quest to save his twelve-year-old daughter’s life. He has faith that if Jesus only touches his dying girl, she will be healed and live.
    Note all healing in this life is temporary. Lazarus was raised from the dead but eventually died again. If Jairus’ daughter is healed from her deadly condition, she will eventually die. We are constantly praying for the sick in our church family and beyond, but even the most miraculous healing of diseases or cancers merely prolongs life in these mortal bodies. Of course, each day we are both closer to the death of these temples and to the new bodies that will resemble Jesus’ resurrected form.
    So crowds surround Jesus, a religious leader begs Jesus to come to his home and touch his daughter, and Jesus goes.
    A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (Mark 5:24b-26)
    This woman had been suffering with a bleeding condition for twelve years. That means for twelve years she was probably considered unclean. She couldn’t touch people. She couldn’t be around people, yet here she is in a crowd, desperate. She wasn’t passive about healing. She had spent all of her money and likely most of her time seeing doctors…and only got worse. How frustrating. Some of you can relate. Health care is not a new problem!
    When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:27-29)
    What faith! She merely wanted to touch Jesus’ clothes. She didn’t need him to touch her. She didn’t need Jesus to pray for her. She didn’t even feel the need to touch Jesus—just his clothes. She was instantly healed. Praise God! But then look what happens next.
    At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30)
    Jesus knew power had gone out, but even he notices it was not his flesh but rather his clothes that were touched. Then the disciples say what I would’ve said…and if you’re honest, you probably would’ve thought it, too.
    Jesus once said,
    Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)
    Paul tells us in Philippians (2:5-11) that Jesus “made himself nothing” when he came to earth, “taking the very nature of a servant.” The power he had was the Holy Spirit, the same power available to all followers of Jesus.
    “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” (Mark 5:31)
    Jesus ignores his disciples!
    But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:32-34)
    She’s caught touching Jesus’ clothes! How embarrassing! She’s trembling with fear and confesses, but instead of a rebuke, she receives a blessing…and healing. What a wonderful gift. What a great story she has for her friends of the healing power of Jesus. He heals her body and soul, granting her peace—
    shalom, completeness—and calling her “daughter” while commending her faith.
    But what about that girl?
    While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” (Mark 5:35)
    She’s dead? Jesus, if you weren’t listening to that lady’s story maybe you would’ve been able to save my daughter. You’re too late now. So much for your perfect timing.
    Jesus missed the death of Lazarus.
    Jesus missed the death of Jairus’ daughter.
    Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mark 5:36)
    Easy for you to say, Jesus. You don’t even know this girl. And what do you mean, “Just believe?” What good is faith? We were hoping you could just touch her but now she’s dead!
    Before moving on, I want to focus on those words: don’t be afraid; just believe. That’s faith. Max Lucado wrote,
    “Faith is trusting what the eye can’t see. Eyes see the prowling lion. Faith sees Daniel’s angel. Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah’s rainbow. Eyes see giants. Faith sees Canaan. Your eyes see your faults. Your faith sees your Savior.”
    Don’t be afraid; just believe.
    He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. (Mark 5:37-40a)
    Here we see Jesus’ three best friends—Peter, James and John—receive a special invitation. The crowds aren’t allowed to follow. Perhaps even the other nine disciples were snubbed. They arrive on the scene of this twelve year-old girl’s tragic death. It’s a hot mess of commotion and wailing. It’s interesting to note in the culture professional mourners were often hired to wail at funerals. The Jewish Mishna, completed around 220 AD, quotes Rabbi Judah as saying even the poorest in Israel should hire two or more flutes and one weeping woman for a burial.
    Then Jesus makes the laughable suggestion that she’s merely asleep…and they laugh…at Jesus. They go from wailing to laughing. Why not? They’re probably there just to “perform” with no real attachment to the girl.
    Then Jesus gets to work!
    After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). (Mark 5:40b-41)
    Jesus kicks everyone out—except for his three friends and the parents. Six adults encounter the girl, Jesus touches her and commands her to get up. It’s a private moment for those with considerable faith, not a public spectacle to rile up the fans and critics.
    Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:42-43)
    They were completely astonished! Amazing!
    We have noted before the seemingly random details Mark includes, such as Jesus telling them to grab a granola bar for the girl (or whatever they ate then!). It’s an incredible scene, yet Jesus wants them to keep quiet about it (like that’s going to happen!).
    When I was in college, I spent a summer in Bolivia with Campus Crusade for Christ—now known as Cru—showing the Jesus film. It is based upon the Good News Translation of the book of Luke, but it is very similar to Mark’s account. My favorite moment in the film—besides the resurrection—is the healing of Jarius’ daughter. I’d like to take a moment and share it with you.

    In the original language Jesus said, “Lamb, get up!” What a tender wake-up call.
    So What?
    Jesus spoke to the sea and it calmed.
    Jesus spoke to the demons and sent them into the pigs.
    Jesus spoke to the girl and she was raised…after healing a woman.
    Someday Jesus will say, “Wake up” to the dead.
    Does Jesus still heal today? Yes! How do I know? I have heard countless stories throughout my life…and I’d like you to hear one now!
    My Story: Kendra Sankovich
    The fifth chapter of Mark is quite remarkable.
    Jesus casts out demons.
    Jesus heals the woman.
    Jesus raises the dead girl.
    And he’s not done yet!
    Perhaps you would like healing…for yourself or even for someone else. If Jesus were here, you’d reach out and try to touch his clothes in hopes of being healed. His power and presence are here through the Holy Spirit. Do you believe he can heal? Do you have faith? The woman had faith. Jairus had faith. Jesus still heals.
    Credits: some ideas from Stephen Leston, Mark Strauss, Ian Fair, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Exorcism: Demons & Pigs, 27 August 2017

    Exorcism: Demons & Pigs
    Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 5:1-20
    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
    Big Idea: Jesus has power over the supernatural…and we do, too.
    The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses. (Deuteronomy 14:8)
    Thus begins the context for today’s passage of scripture.
    Pigs. Aren’t they cute? Not to Jews. Few things are more disgusting, more offensive. God gave the people of Israel dietary laws thousands of years ago, laws still followed today by millions of kosher people. Pigs are so detestable to the Jews that Proverbs says,
    Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. (Proverbs 11:22)
    Does anyone else find it odd we celebrate the resurrection of the King of the Jews with ham?!
    We’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark. We’ve seen Jesus’ ministry attract crowds and critics through teachings and miracles. Last week we saw him demonstrate his power over the natural world, calming a furious storm. Today’s text shows his power over the supernatural world, an unforgettable exorcism of demons.
    Jesus has been sleeping in a boat with his disciples. He is awoken by his petrified friends, commands the winds and waves to be still, and seems upset at the fear and lack of faith his disciples possess.  
    They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. (Mark 5:1-5)
    This scene could’ve inspired the creation of a horror film! Imagine a wild man living in a cemetery so filled with demons that he is given supernatural physical strength. He is a gruesome sight—what with cuts all of over his body—and the sounds are just as bad as he cries night and day. To say he was alone would be an understatement. Nobody dared approach this person who behaved more like an animal.
    Before we go any farther let me state the importance of getting to know someone’s story before judging them. Our world is filled with people who look, smell, act, and sound different than us. There are people who offend us. There are people who scare us. There are people who hurt us. Why? Do you know their story?
    I’m not suggesting we are to be best friends with everyone or that we are to naively welcome any stranger into our car or home. But hurt people hurt people. There are often tragic stories behind those people we find threatening. Maybe they were abused as a child, victims of injustice, born with disabilities, dealing with serious illnesses, or just prisoners of their own past mistakes.
    This man was quite a sight, I’m sure, but he had a story. We don’t know it, but we do know he was a human being created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. And he was loved by God despite being filled with demons. How did that happen? Again, we don’t know. How are people possessed by demons? Can Christians be possessed by demons?
    These are great questions. I have neither the time nor the expertise to fully address these, but let me offer a few thoughts. These are my thoughts, not necessarily absolute truth. If you disagree, I’d love to hear from you. I have a lot to learn when it comes to the supernatural world. But here’s my best attempt to explain some common questions.
    1.    The supernatural world is real. There are angels. There are demons, who are often considered fallen angels, cast from heaven along with satan.
    The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9)
    2.    Demons are personal beings. They know Jesus is the Son of God (Mk 1:24, 34; 5:6). They can lead people astray (1 Timothy 4:1-6; John 4:1-4). They have emotion and fear Jesus (James 2:19).
        Demons have power. They are dangerous. We need not fear them but we should never treat them casually. Their power is limited but real.
        Demons need an entry point. They don’t just take over someone randomly. Scripture prohibits things like trying to talk to the dead and sexual immorality. I believe witchcraft, illicit drugs, the occult and other sinful activities can be pathways to demonic possession. Evil spirits can use the human body to distort and kill people’s relationship with God…and others.
        Followers of Jesus are given the Holy Spirit and, therefore, cannot be possessed by a demon. They can, however, be oppressed by demons and struggle with temptation and sin.
        Demons can and should be exorcised, resulting in freedom.
        In the west, we acknowledge less positive and negative spiritual activity than in other parts of the world. Africa is especially spiritual. There are countless accounts of demonic and miraculous activity. We tend to be in denial about angels and demons and discount supernatural moments.
        Mental illness and demonic activity are often confused with one another. Both physical and mental sicknesses can be the result of demons, but not necessarily. At First Alliance we offer prayer for all types of illnesses, believing they might be the result of spiritual activity and—regardless of the source—God’s power is greater; it is unlimited. And God still answers prayers and does miracles (more on that next week!).
        Again, I’m not an expert in the supernatural and neither deny the reality of spiritual activity nor look for a demon in every Coke can. I participated—more or less as an observer—in an exorcism in college which was real and powerful.
    We need to be aware of the supernatural without being scared of it. Though there are battles, Jesus is the ultimate victor. Love triumphs.
    You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
    We need not fear satan or demons. God in us—the Holy Spirit—is greater!
    Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
    This is how we are to relate to God…and satan!
    When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” (Mark 5:6-8)
    Is it the man or the demon shouting? Yes?
    Few today would admit they are demon possessed, but so many in our culture live lives screaming at God and God’s Word and values. We can choose to follow God or follow the world, friends. It’s all about God or it’s all about you. Every day—every hour—we choose to follow God or choose to follow the world, the flesh, and the devil.
    Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” 
    “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. (Mark 5:9-10)
    I have been told demons have names and if you can identify their name you can validate their presence. A legion was the largest group in the Roman army, 3000-6000 soldiers. Notice that final sentence contains both the singular and plural: “he begged…send them out.” It seems the demons are speaking through the man.
    The demons knew they had no chance against the power of Jesus so they begged him to not send them far away (Luke 8:31 calls it “the Abyss”). He could’ve cast them into hell, but the time for judgment had not yet come.
    God’s timing is perfect. I wish he’d just throw satan and his friends into the eternal fire today, but for whatever reason it’s not yet time. Jesus once said
    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)
    A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. (Mark 5:11-13)
    This was not Jewish land. Pigs were unclean. Jews were not allowed to eat—or even touch—pigs. Graveyards were unclean, too. Of course, the demoniac was
    very unclean! Rome was unclean, too, a nation of pigs. And if you recall from last week, the sea was the place of monsters and Rome was the Monster of all monsters.
    Jesus came announcing God’s kingdom, his rule over the world, bringing healing and justice and freedom to the world—Jews…and Gentiles.
    The demons begged Jesus to send them to the pigs rather than the abyss. The demons couldn’t destroy the man so they destroyed the pigs.
    About 2000 pigs! That’s quite a herd! No wonder their owners were upset! Their livelihood was gone.
    Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. (Mark 5:14-17)
    You would think people would be glad to see Jesus. He did some radical life revitalization in just a few moments. But the pig owners have lost a truckload of pork, ham, bacon and sausage…and everyone else is probably freaked out! What just happened? The wild man? The pigs? The pigs drowning? They were afraid of Jesus’ supernatural power. What would he do next?
    As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark 5:18-20)
    Jesus often told people to keep quiet about him, but this time he says, “Share the good news of your healing with everyone.” And he did! Just speaking would be a wonderful testimony to people of God’s power. This was also a Gentile region, a pagan area where Jesus was not so well-known and where the Jewish religious leaders would not be trying to kill him. Rather than staying with Jesus, the freed man is commissioned to tell others about Christ and his power. 
    So What?
    We are, too! Has Jesus forgiven you? Has he healed you? Has he transformed your life? Has he turned your despair into hope, your mourning into dancing, your bondage into freedom, your anxiety into peace? If so, tell the world! Good news needs to be shared, especially when most of it seems to be bad or fake…or both!
    Our world is hurting. They need to know hope is available, healing is available through Jesus. If we don’t share Jesus—in word and deed—with others, how will they know?
    And if you’ve ever felt unqualified or unprepared, look at this once-demonized man. He didn’t go to seminary. He wasn’t a priest or pastor. He never even went to Sunday School! He simply encountered Jesus and shared his story with others. Do you have a story? Don’t keep it to yourself! Nobody can argue with your story. You don’t have to prove scientifically the existence of God through archaeology or scholarship—though many have. You simply need to let others know what Jesus has done—and is doing—in your life.
    As we think about Jesus and all he has done for us, I’m reminded of these words from N.T. Wright:
    At the climax of Mark’s story Jesus himself will end up naked, isolated, outside the town among the tombs, shouting incomprehensible things as he is torn apart on the cross by the standard Roman torture, his flesh torn to ribbons by the small stones in the Roman lash. And that, Mark is saying, will be how the demons are dealt with. That is how healing takes place. Jesus is coming to share the plight of the people, to let the enemy do its worst to him, to take the full force of evil on himself and let the others go free.
    We live in the space between…Jesus’ first and second comings. We have the Holy Spirit. God is alive and on the move, but the battle rages on. We see it every day on the news, in hospitals, in rehab centers, in bankruptcy and divorce courts, at funeral homes.
    Demons are real. They seek to indwell mankind. Evil is real. Satan is real. But Jesus is greater!
    Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
    We have been given power and authority by Jesus who said:
    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
    After 72 of Jesus’ followers returned from ministry…
    He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20)
    Jesus is alive and he has entrusted his Church to us, his world to us. Let’s go and let the whole world know Jesus loves them and is still bringing deliverance and healing to the hurting and broken willing to surrender to his lordship.
    One more thing: demonic activity is all over the New Testament and I don’t believe it has ceased. If you or someone you know would like deliverance, we’d love to pray for you. That doesn’t mean you are possessed or oppressed or that you’ve done anything wrong, but if you feel defeated by sin, perhaps you need deliverance. The name of Jesus is still driving out demons and making them tremble today. Hallelujah!
    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Power: Winds & Waves, 20 August 2017

    Power: Winds & Waves
    Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 4:35-41

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
    Big Idea: Jesus has command over all things—natural and supernatural.
    As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we’ve seen Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious. Mark records several of Jesus’ parables but one lingering question remains…who is Jesus?
    As I often say, this may be the most important question for any human to answer. Who is God and who are you? If you ask people today, “Who is Jesus?” you are likely to get a variety of responses: a good teacher, a prophet, a famous figure in history…
    In today’s text it’s obvious those closest to Jesus don’t truly realize Jesus is God, Jesus is the Messiah.
    That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. (Mark 4:35-36)
    Why did Jesus cross the lake? To get to the other side, of course! But seriously, the crowds followed him everywhere and he likely wanted a break, among other things. The departure seems sudden. Perhaps Jesus said, “Let’s get out of here…now!” Jesus is fully human. He is tired. He also has confidence in God that allows him to fall asleep.
    A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:37-38)
    This body of water is beautiful, surrounded by mountains which make it susceptible to sudden storms. This wasn’t just a common thunderstorm, though, but rather a furious squall.
    Have you ever been in boat in a storm? It can be pretty scary.
    The most violent storm I’ve ever experienced on water was on a cruise ship. I know, poor me! We were in the Caribbean with my extended family and this huge ship was really rocking. I found it relaxing, but then again I was inside, safe, and immune to any seasickness so I was not terribly worried.
    I have, however, been in the middle of some serious turbulence on airplanes. Even though I know the odds of a plane crashing due to weather are almost zero, I still find myself scared sometimes when I feel like I’m on a roller coaster…with no track!
    These squalls came suddenly so even veteran fishermen could be surprised by them, and there were at least four seasoned fishermen in the group, which makes this story even more significant. They understood the difference between rough weather and deadly storms.
    Jesus is exhausted, sleeping on the cushion that was usually placed under the steersman’s seat. It’s a great image Mark includes in his biography. He must’ve really been tired to sleep through this squall. No cushion could be that comfortable in such conditions!
    I find the reaction of the disciples to be startling. They wake up their exhausted leader and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Did they think he would teach his way out of the situation? They probably wanted him to help bail water out of the boat before it sank. They certainly had no idea he would respond as he did.
    He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
    He uses the same words he spoke to silence the demons. The original Greek might best be translated, “Put the muzzle on and keep it on!”
    In Jewish thought the ocean represented chaos, the unpredictable place where evil originates. In fact, Genesis 1:2 is commonly translated, “Now the earth was formless and empty” but has also been translated, “The earth was chaos.” Only God had authority over chaos. He seized it and created our beautiful world from it. The disciples likely knew only God could control the sea, the chaos, the storm.
    He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
    “How can you be such cowards? Don’t you have any faith?”
    And then what? For all we know, Jesus went back to sleep!
    They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
    Who is this? Who is Jesus? The answer is obvious: Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. No magician could do this. It wasn’t the result of a knowledgeable teacher. It certainly wasn’t a coincidence. There is no other explanation: they are in the presence of God!
    You may recall Mark began his book with these words:
    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)
    Jesus did things only God can do. I doubt they thought it at the time, but as they reflected upon this miracle, perhaps Psalm 107:29-30 came to mind:
    He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. (Psalm 107:29-30)
    Note: other examples of God’s dominion over the waters can be found in Job 26:12-14, Nahum 1:34, Psalm 65:5-7; 74:12-14; 89:8-9; 93:4; 104:5-9.
    They knew Jesus had power, but they never imagined this type of power could exist.
    Yet their faith remained weak.
    You would think it would be enough to see demons exorcised.
    You would think it would be enough to see the sick healed.
    You would think it would be enough to see storms stopped.
    People often say, “I would believe in Jesus if I could see him,” but they’re wrong. So many people saw Jesus and witnessed miracles and still dismissed him…or worse.
    They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
    Who is this? Who is Jesus? I’ve met him, friends! The great song, “My Redeemer Lives,” has this wonderful line which says, “I spoke with him this morning.” Yes! I did. You can. Our faith is not built upon rules and checklists but rather upon a person, a living person, Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God. Through the Holy Spirit he is alive and well on this planet, living inside every one of his followers.
    Some have ignored the literal nature of this story, finding the miracle too…supernatural! There were, however, many eyewitnesses to this and Jesus’ other miraculous activities. Mark records various details such as “there were other boats with him” (verse 36) which would be unnecessary if he was simply telling a myth or allegory.
    So What?
    The most common command in the Bible is…fear not. Fear not. Don’t worry. God is sovereign—he is in control of the supernatural world. He’s also in control of the natural world.
    I know, if he can control things why doesn’t he wipe out every evil leader, every bad guy, every hater? I can’t say I always understand, other than the simple fact he is in control but gives us freedom. We’re not angels on assignment, but rather people given choice. He allows us to cherish our blessings or waste them away, pursue him or pursue money, sex and power, to be filled with hate or love, to support life or death. We can even choose to be afraid and worry, but Jesus says it’s a waste of time and energy because he has given us power, authority, and his presence. He is with us. The only one we should fear—and ultimately revere—is Him.
    What storms are in your life today?
    A stormy marriage? Physical health issues? Depression? You’re not alone.
    Struggles with addictions to alcohol, porn, or drugs? You’re not alone.
    Same-sex attraction and gender struggles, greed, envy, pride? You’re not alone.
    Financial chaos? Job challenges? Broken relationships? You’re not alone.
    Grief and loss? Uncertainty about the future? Learning disabilities? You’re not alone.
    I say you’re not alone for two reasons. First, you’re not alone in this room. There are people here in the midst of every storm I mentioned. This is why we have been given the gift of family, the opportunity to do life together, to weep when one weeps and to rejoice when one rejoices. We weren’t made to do this thing called life alone.
    Second, if you are a follower of Jesus, he is with you. The Holy Spirit is living inside of you and you need only to empty yourself, surrender, confess your sins, and welcome the Spirit to take control of your life. Let go and let God. It may not be an instant cure-all, but raising the white flag is the first step toward truly experiencing the presence and power of God in your life.
    In Jesus’ famous Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, he sends out his followers to make disciples. But he doesn’t end there. He concludes by saying
    And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
    He is with us. He can calm the storm. He’s got this…even if his timing may be slower than our timetable.
    To quote composer Scott Krippayne, “Sometimes he calms the storm and other times he calms his child.”
    He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
    Jesus may need to say to your storm, “Quiet! Be still!”
    Jesus may need to say to you, “Quiet! Be still!”
    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Investment: Lamps & Seeds, 13 August 2017

    Investment: Lamps & Seeds
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 4:21-34

    Series Big Idea:
    The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Jesus blesses those who listen to his stories…and pursue him.


    Stories. We all love stories. We read them, we watch them on television and at the movies, we listen to them on podcasts, we tell them every day. Some are true, some are imaginary, and some are outright lies. Stories can inform, educate, warn, or entertain. They can be as simple as recounting what you ate for breakfast for as complicated as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    As we continue our series on Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus, we have seen Jesus’ early ministry, his rise in popularity among the common people, and the growing envy and hostility toward him among the religious leaders.

    This week we will continue to see Mark turn his attention from Jesus’ actions to his teachings, specifically special stories called parables. The original Greek word, parabole, means “putting things side by side.” Jesus is constantly teaching about one thing these people knew nothing about…another world…far, far away…called the kingdom of God. The central message of Jesus’ teachings was the kingdom of God, and he used parables to help his audience understand this new reality, this exciting world about to be born. We’ll look at two stories today, the parables of lamps and seeds.

    Before we look at today’s text, it is important to understand the purpose of parables. First, there is always a context. I believe much of the problems people have with the Bible stem from ignoring context.

    Jesus is a Jew. His people were oppressed under Roman rule. Israel as a nation had experienced tremendous victories and agonizing defeats. Jesus the storyteller has an important message, but it’s a dangerous message. It is not politically correct. He could—and would—get in so much trouble a contract would be out on his life! Rather than just speak plainly about things, he chooses parables as a literary device to code his teachings.

    Imagine, for example, a political cartoon featuring a donkey and an elephant. If you lived in Africa, you might just think of survival of the fittest, the zoo, or even mascots of sports teams without deciphering the message of conflict between Democrats and Republicans.

    Likewise, it’s easy for us to miss those messages, the context and symbols Jesus used two thousand years ago. Fortunately, Jesus often explains his stories to those who seek. But not all of the parables are clear to us. Sixteen commentators on a passage may yield sixteen different interpretations—which is not to say the Bible itself is unclear. Much of it needs no explanation—don’t murder, love your neighbor—but Jesus’ parables are deliberately for those who have “ears to hear.” I pray we do!

    He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:21-23)

    In the previous verses, Jesus described the kingdom of God. He is continuing here, saying again, “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” We might say, “Listen up! Pay attention!”

    The original Greek text asks, “Does the lamp come for the purpose of being placed under the measure? Does it not come for the purpose of being placed on the lampstand?” It’s as if the lamp is a person…which most believe it is! King David was the lamp of Israel (2 Samuel 21:17; 1 Kings 15:4). Jesus may have been speaking of himself, in which case he’s talking about how his presence is a secret. Since the word “bed” may be a couch, one writer suggest maybe Jesus is saying, “The Messiah has come but he’s been shoved under the couch…until after his death and resurrection when he will be ‘brought out into the open.’”

    “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mark 4:24-25)

    Here again he begins by saying, “Pay attention.”

    Back in the day, you couldn’t go to the grocery store and buy a pound of flour off the shelf. You would go to the market and ask the merchant for two measures of flour…or four or however many you wanted. He seems to be telling them to pursue God, and that if they seek, they will find. Again, his audience is mixed. There are critics, curious onlookers, and genuine God-seekers. He’s separating the fair-weather fans from the truly serious.

    Our faith is not based upon a to-do list, but rather a person, the person of Jesus Christ, God who came to earth in the flesh. We can’t study people like we study rocks or flowers. People are complex. They can be mysterious. I’ve known my wife for almost 32 years and I’m still pursuing her, getting to know her, dating her, and making discoveries about her. God is even more fascinating. The title of A.W. Tozer’s classic book
    The Pursuit of God says it all.

    What about you? Are you chasing after God? Do you, like the psalmist, long after God like a deer panting for streams of water? Do you truly want Jesus to be LORD of your life…or is he just an interesting person to study for an hour on Sunday?

    He also said,
    “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

    Again Jesus announces the subject of his metaphors: the kingdom of God. Of the four gospels, only Mark records this parable. What is most provocative is the phrase “all by itself.” The Greek word is “automatos,” the source of our word automatic. We know from last week the seed is the word of God. The sickle most likely refers to judgment day.

    If you recall from last week, the Jews are waiting for the Messiah to come and overthrow the Rome, but Jesus is in no hurry. He’s saying the kingdom will emerge slowly. We must be patient. Yes, we long for the return of Jesus and even say, “Maranatha! Come quickly LORD Jesus!” but rushing the kingdom of God is like digging up crops hoping to harvest before they are grown. We are to sow the seed, the word, and trust God’s timing for the harvest.

    Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)

    The kingdom of God begins small…like a tiny seed. A mustard seed looks like a grain of sand. It’s so small! But it will grow! Many mustard bushes are twelve feet tall!

    Similarly, from Jesus to a ragamuffin dozen to billions around the world, the kingdom of God has been growing and advancing. Even in 2017 when we hear bad news about the decline of Christianity in the west, it is exploding in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Hallelujah! It’s also advancing here in the Midwest.

    With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. (Mark 4:33-34)
    Years ago, I wrote for a Christian music magazine doing album reviews and feature articles. One of the perks was getting backstage passes, meeting musicians, and seeing how they really behaved out of the limelight. The disciples must’ve felt special to get time alone with Jesus—and they were! Not only did they get to be with him, they were able to hear the explanations for the parables.

    The aforementioned A.W. Tozer said:
    To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul's paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily-satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart…Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.
    Jesus spoke in parables not to keep people from understanding the kingdom of God, but rather to see who really wanted truth, who really wanted to know God.

    Do you? Are you a God-seeker? If you pursue God, you will find him.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

    Sower: Soils & Spoils, 6 August 2017

    Sower: Soils & Spoils
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 4:1-20

    Series Big Idea:
    The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Not everyone is ready to enter the kingdom of God…are you?

    Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. (Mark 4:1)

    Jesus is so popular he can’t even just stand up and speak. The crowds will mob him so he does his teaching from a boat.

    He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. (Mark 4:2-3)

    One hundred years ago the most common occupation in the United States was farmer. Today, of course, it is rare to meet a full-time farmer, but everyone in Jesus’ audience knew about farming. If they wanted to eat, they needed to farm—or live near someone who did! Jesus begins by commanding them to listen. Not everyone would. Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. Unlike today’s sophisticated farms, the ordinary Jewish farmer had a small plot of land, used every inch, scattered seed everywhere and then plowed it under along with the thorns, weeds, and anything else on the ground.

    As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (Mark 4:4)

    Those stinkin’ birds! Okay, some birds are wonderful, but others are annoying. If you scatter seed without caring for it, they will disappear!

    Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. (Mark 4:5-6)

    This is common, too. Plants start to grow but die without strong roots.

    Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. (Mark 4:7)

    Here we see another crop killer…thorns.

    Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” (Mark 4:8)

    Obviously this is what is supposed to happen, though Jesus surprised the crowd with these numbers since an average harvest was only seven or eight times the amount of seed sown and a good harvest would be about ten times.

    Then Jesus said,
    “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9)

    He says again, listen! He knows not everyone will hear. Parables reveal the truth to some while concealing it from the rebellious.

    Jesus is not giving instructions on agriculture. There’s a much deeper message, but it wasn’t obvious. In fact…

    When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 

    “ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:10-12)

    They missed it! Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10.

    In revelation, God’s people are trained about the requirements of the kingdom.
    In concealment, those who oppose God never understand the kingdom.

    Much of Jesus’ teachings was about the kingdom of God, a radical contrast to the kingdoms of this world. Jesus was a revolutionary declaring an alternative reality, a different society, casting visions for a counter-cultural life.

    His enemies rejected his teaching.
    The crowds were interested in his miracles but not his teaching.

    Parables allowed those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness would be filled. It separated the curious from the true seekers. Seek and you will find.

    By the way, I love how Jesus explained the parable not only to the Twelve but also the others who stuck around to hear the exposition. The only thing that seems to separate those on the inside of Jesus’ explanation and those on the outside is their pursuit of God.

    However, as it is written:

    “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—

    these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. 

    The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

    Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to lead us, teach us, and guide us.

    Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? (Mark 4:13)

    I wish I could hear his tone of voice! He was, of course, intentional about how he coded his message but maybe did too good of a job since his closest friends were clueless!

    The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. (Mark 4:14-15)

    Israel has been in exile and this is a picture of Go sowing Israel again in her own land, restoring their fortunes, making the family farm fruitful again. They expected the Messiah to come and rescue Israel in an explosive way, not slowly like farming.
    This is about the word of God, the inauguration of the kingdom. It is coming, but it won’t be as they expect it. It won’t happen instantly, but it will eventually become a reality…and we are in the midst of that today, heaven kissing earth, God’s kingdom coming and his will being done here as it is in heaven. It is not done with power like a military coup, but rather humbly, unobtrusive, and coexisting with evil, an unpopular message with patriotic Jewish seeking revolt.

    Satan loves to steal. He is a deceiver. His goal is to keep us from God.

    Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.
    But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (Mark 4:16-17)

    Easy come, easy go. I love God until life gets hard and then I blame him for my trials and walk away. This is so tragically common today as it was then.

    Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-19)

    Can you relate? I can’t imagine anyone in our culture tempted by wealth or worries! Ha! The world can be very attractive, yet never truly satisfying. Money will make you happy…for a while. But only following Jesus the Messiah will bring true satisfaction, peace, hope, and joy.

    Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
    (Mark 4:20)

    That’s where I want to sow…into the good soil.
    That’s what I want my life to be…good soil.

    So What?

    First, we must be intentional when we sow. We need to work smart, not just hard. A few weeks ago I mentioned six words to define our mission:

    Love God.
    Love Others.
    Make Disciples.

    Making disciples means following Jesus and helping others follow Jesus, passing the baton of faith, mentoring and investing in the lives of others.

    If you recall I mentioned how Jesus spent time praying before choosing his twelve disciples. Similarly, we are not to just randomly scatter seed. We are to love everyone, but we are not supposed to invest equally in the lives of everyone we meet. Some people are FAT: faithful, available, and teachable. They are good soil. They will pass the baton of faith to others (2 Timothy 2:2) and reproduce. Other people have no interest in following Jesus. They’re too busy, too selfish, too prideful, too distracted. Two weeks ago I challenged you to ask, “God, who do You want me to disciple?”

    Obviously not everyone you devote time and energy to will yield the same results. Some people, like Judas, will not produce good fruit. Others, however, will yield a great harvest.

    Second, we must be patient and persevere when we sow. You can’t scatter seed today and expect a harvest tomorrow. Jesus warns the soil must receive attention. Even today farmers water, weed, fertilize, and pray for adequate sunshine in order for the seeds to form deep roots and abundant fruit.

    Many of you served at this summer’s Sports & Arts Camp and I want to say our work is not done. It’s just beginning! We sowed seed, but we need to water it, weed it, fertilize it, and persevere until it produces a harvest.

    Finally, we must give attention to our own soil. How is your heart? Are the investments of others into you paying off? Are you a good disciple? Are you pursuing God, studying the Bible, devoted to prayer, sharing your faith, serving the poor, living a generous life, and discipling others? Or are you distracted with screens, busy with hobbies, and growing a personal garden of weeds?

    It is my prayer for you, myself, and all of us at First Alliance that we would know, share, and experience the kingdom of God and that God would produce a great harvest in and through us in Toledo and beyond for His glory.

    The Lord’s Prayer

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Identity: Family & Foes, 30 July 2017

    Identity: Family & Foes
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 3:20-35

    Series Big Idea:
    The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Jesus’ followers are his true family…and you are welcome to join it!

    Earlier this year we did a series entitled Ideal Family. Throughout the series I said there are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

    The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families.

    As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we are told Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—is growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious.

    Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

    As I said, all of our families are messed up. All of them. If you don’t think yours is messed up, yours is REALLY messed up! Jesus is trying to eat, a huge crowd mobs him, and his family think he’s crazy. They want to get him in line! “Make Jesus stop,” they say! Jesus’ family wants Jesus to stop his ministry because they don’t understand what he’s doing.

    On the other hand the religious people know what he’s doing…and they’re hostile.

    And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Mark 3:22)

    This must be one of the dumbest statements in the Bible! I’m not saying the Bible is stupid, of course, but the religious leaders accuse Jesus of being demonic…and driving out demons. Huh?

    So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables:
    “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. (Mark 3:23-26)

    This is just common sense…but Jesus obviously needed to say it. A divided kingdom or house cannot stand. You may have noticed our nation is a bit divided these days. It’s scary to think what could happen if we remain this way. It seems like the options are to be overtaken by another country or find ourselves in civil war…because a house divided cannot stand. This is why unity is one of my top four prayers for First Alliance Church. United we stand, divided we fall (a phrase possibly used first by Aesop in his fable of “The Four Oxen and the Lion”). When we rally around a common mission, vision, strategy, and LORD, there is no limit to our potential. If we experience division, the ballgame is over. And we see this all the time…well-intended Christians arguing over things that often lead to awful results, including church splits and even people losing their faith in God altogether.

    Satan knows this. He knows if he can divide us, he can conquer. And again I say we need to always be praying for unity. I pray for direction, protection, passion, and unity. I know unity is a God-honoring prayer because it is Jesus’ prayer for us…right now. In John chapter 17, he says

    “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

    Jesus is praying that we would be one…so that the world may believe!

    As if Jesus has not already made his point about division and unity clear, he adds these words:

    In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. (Mark 3:27)

    It’s easy to miss his message. Satan is like a strong man. Jesus is a stronger man! Jewish listeners may have been reminded of this passage in Isaiah:

    Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce?

    But this is what the LORD says: 

    “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. (Isaiah 49:24-25)

    Jesus also may have been thinking about this text:

    After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
    by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
    Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, 
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
    because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
    For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12)

    The Messiah is right before their eyes, yet they are unable to see.

    Returning to the verse…

    In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.
    (Mark 3:27)

    We have a real enemy, brothers and sisters. He is a liar, a thief, an accuser, a big fat jerk! He is powerful and destructive…but our God is greater!!! Be encouraged. There are battles, but we will win. Love prevails. Truth reigns. Peace conquers. Jesus rules!

    I want to add one more thing about unity…Dave Ramsey’s five enemies of unity. These five destroyers are true in the marketplace, but they can be found in churches and even homes, too.

    1. Poor communication
    2. Lack of shared purpose/mission/goals
    3. Gossip (Ramsey’s employees are warned once and fired if it occurs again)
    4. Unresolved disagreements
    5. Sanctioned incompetence (John Maxwell), keeping poor performers on the team

    That was just for fun! Back to Jesus…

    Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter,
    but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:28-29)

    Throughout my life I’ve heard people talk about these verses. Did I commit the unforgivable sin? If you have to ask, the answer is a resounding no.

    Nobody disputed Jesus’ miracles. They were real. The healings were real. The exorcisms were real. The resurrection was real. Since the religious leaders couldn’t deny Jesus’ power, the only way they could discredit him was to attack the source of his power, claiming it is satanic. They knew better, but they were obviously desperate.

    Jesus presents a paradox, a self-contradictory statement. He says all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven and then says the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Which is it?

    Forgiveness of sins comes only from God. If you claim God is evil, who can forgive your sins?

    If you choose to deny God, it’s impossible to receive his forgiveness.

    Jesus doesn’t even say these religious leaders have committed the unforgiveable sin, but it’s a stern warning.

    He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” (Mark 3:30)

    Now we see Jesus’ family again.

    Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” (Mark 3:31-32)

    When is the last time someone said, “Where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you!”? Mary and the boys are outside, unable to get to their popular son and brother. Then Jesus asks a simple question.

    “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. (Mark 3:33)

    No wonder they thought Jesus lost his mind! He couldn’t even identify his mom and siblings?

    Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said,
    “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

    Wow! That’s radical! Jesus is starting a new family, a holy people. He’s willing to sacrifice his biological family for a new tribe, club, group. This is shocking!

    Growing up in a “good, Christian home,” I always felt close to my sister and parents, my grandparents, and even my aunts, uncles, and cousins. If we were visiting family out of town, we would always attend church with them on Sundays, reinforcing our Christian heritage and bond in Jesus. I married into a family that was…different. Church was generally reserved for Christmas and Easter.

    So imagine my surprise at my life in 2017. Two weddings last year led to major division among my Christian family members, while many members of Heather’s family are closer to me than my own flesh and blood. I keep reminding myself all families are messed up…including mine!

    I’m beginning to better understand Jesus’ words about family. Perhaps what matters most isn’t your blood but your relationships. I’m certainly not saying family doesn’t matter. Quite the opposite. Family is incredibly important, but to Jesus’ point, relationships matter more than family. Jesus did not abandon his mom and brothers. He merely extended his family to include all God seekers, or more accurately all God followers.

    So What?

    Are you a part of Jesus’ family? I didn’t ask if you attend this church or believe in God or were born in the USA. I’m asking if you are part of Jesus’ family. Do you do God’s will? Do you obey God? Are you truly a follower of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his teachings. I’m not talking about religion, but rather righteousness and relationship.

    Jesus invites you and me to join his family. We are welcome to become sons and daughters of the Most High God, thus becoming the brothers and sisters of Jesus. In fact, if we follow Jesus today, we are closer kin to Jesus than even his mother and brothers! That’s incredible! No matter your family of origin, you can be born again, become a new creation, receive the gift of eternal life…and an abundant life now. I’m so glad I’m a part of God’s family…not because of anything I have done, but rather because of what Jesus did in inviting us to follow him.

    See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

    some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • The First Followers, 23 July 2017

    The First Followers
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 3:7-19

    Series Big Idea:
    The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: The Messiah invites us to follow him…in making disciples.


    Today’s text contains two paragraphs…two stories. They begin similarly. If you recall last week we looked at the Sabbath, a day of rest, a day to play. Did you have a play day in the past week? Did you rest? There’s so much that can—and will—be said about Sabbath, even from science. It seems like every year I read another major report stating the benefits of sleep, breaks, vacation, recreation…and the danger of working too many hours.

    I found it timely that while working on today’s sermon, my daughter, Rachel, wrote a blog post entitled, “Time Out.” She begins

    I used to hate it when my parents put me in "time out" as a kid. Sitting and doing nothing felt like torture when all I wanted to do was play. Now, I dream of sitting and doing nothing, even for just a few minutes.

    She then talked about the Sabbath she spent with her husband, Mark, driving three hours to a Lake Michigan beach for the day despite plenty of work to be done at home.

    Jesus rested. He withdrew. He took time outs. He said…

    “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

    We’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel—or “good news”—of Mark. In chapter 3, Jesus is criticized by the religious leaders who then begin to plot how they might kill him (3:6). Needless to say, Jesus flees the religious leaders and verse seven says…

    Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. (Mark 3:7)

    If you think you’re busy, imagine what it would be like to be Jesus!

    I’ve been to this lake. It is beautiful! It’s often called the Sea of Galilee but today’s it’s known as
    Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias. It’s about 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, and about 700 feet below sea level, the lowest freshwater lake on Earth.

    When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. (Mark 3:8)

    The crowds were from the entire area. He was in danger not only from the religious leaders but the mob. He needed bodyguards!

    Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. (Mark 3:9)

    This was their exit strategy, their safety plan!

    For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. (Mark 3:10)

    Everyone likes free medical care!

    Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. (Mark 3:11-12)

    I love these verses! The demons recognized Jesus. They called him the Son of God. But Jesus didn’t want his true identity to be revealed just yet.

    Who is Jesus? The demons know. Earlier God the Father declared Jesus to be his son, in whom He is well pleased (Mark 1:11). We’ll see even nature knows. But the people were clueless, the religious leaders were in denial, and even after a death, resurrection, and a global movement of billions of people there are still billions who have never heard of Jesus or deny he is the Messiah.

    Why does Jesus tell the impure spirits to keep quiet about his identity? There are many theories, not the least of which is he is obviously a wanted man. The religious are plotting to kill him…and we’re only in chapter 3!

    Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. Mark 3:13

    Jesus retreats again. He withdraws. He must’ve been exhausted after having the crowds not only mobbing him but asking for healing. The mountainside site is significant. It figures prominently in the accounts of Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and Mark will tell us about several important events on a mountain.

    Then he chooses his disciples. John recorded these words of Jesus to the twelve:

    You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

    Jesus called and they followed. The book of Luke tells us before Jesus selected the twelve he “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). You don’t randomly pick your team if you want to change the world. You pray diligently for wisdom. God often chooses the most unlikely people to serve Him.

    He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3:14-15)

    Why twelve? There were twelve tribes of Israel, even though it had been more than 700 years since those tribes had been visible due to Jewish exile. Everything Jesus did was giving off clues he was the Messiah. And notice what the twelve were called to do: be with him. Yes, they were sent out to preach and drive out demons, but discipleship is caught more than it is taught. Everything the disciples would do began with being with Jesus. John 15 tells us if we abide—if we spend time with Jesus—we will bear fruit. We are human beings, not human doings, so it makes sense Jesus wanted them to be with him.

    Here’s his motley crew!

    These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Mark 3:16-19)

    Jesus did not call the qualified, but qualified the called. His team was not exactly the most impressive group of men voted most likely to succeed in high school. There were four fishermen, a hated tax collector, a member of a radical and violent political party…no formal leader, scholar, or doctor in the bunch!

    The same is true today. God works through FAT people: faithful, available, teachable. He’s looking for a few good men, women and children today that will follow, surrender, and serve. It seems like he rarely calls the rich, famous and powerful, but rather the meek, ordinary, and humble.

    As I was reflecting on Jesus’ appointed I was reminded of The Alliance General Council four years ago. John Stumbo was nominated for president along with another man. Both gave brief speeches. If memory serves correct, John was wearing a polo shirt, spoke with his usual raspy voice, offered no grand vision or strategy but rather a story about God prompting him to accept the nomination after years of health issues, trials, and struggle. The other man was very impressive, wore a fine suit, had an extensive resume…yet when I was handed a ballot I had no doubt God was calling John Stumbo to the role and he received my vote…and nearly 100% of the vote.

    Jesus prayerfully chose his disciples, men who would follow him and disciple others.

    So What?

    This week I attended my first
    Truth at Work meeting. These monthly gatherings bring Christian leaders together for a morning of fellowship, presentations, training, and accountability. It was a great experience. Being the new guy in a room of about a dozen business owners and non-profit directors I was asked to complete a New Member Introduction Form. One of the blanks to fill was “Company Mission Statement.” Since First Alliance does not presently have a formal mission statement, I wrote, “Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples.” I borrowed those six words from Jesus!

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

    Then Jesus came to them and said,
    “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

    Love God.
    Love Others.
    Make Disciples.

    We refer to those words as the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. That’s why we’re here…this church…us…on this planet.

    How are we doing? Our “success” as a church hinges on those three statements.

    How are you doing? I’ve met many Christians who truly love God. They pray, read the Bible, and attend church gatherings, uh, religiously (sorry for the pun!). If Jesus walked in the room, they would give him a huge hug. They love God.

    I’ve met Christians who love others. Like me, they find some people easier to love than others. They are devoted to their friends. They occasionally volunteer to serve the poor. They may even give money to help those in need, forgive those who have wronged them, and pray blessings on their enemies.

    But then we come to making disciples. I can hear it now. “That’s the pastor’s job.” Except that nowhere in the Bible does it speak of discipleship being exclusively for clergy, for professional Christians. Jesus said to his followers, “Go and make disciples.” Hundreds—maybe thousands—of people followed Jesus around. We know of at least one group of 72 who Jesus sent out (Luke 10). In today’s text we see the list of the dozen disciples Jesus appointed. He concentrated most of his time and energy on three—Peter, James and John.

    So who are your disciples? Who are you investing your life into? Do they know it?! Parents, this is an easy one! You are leading…influencing…mentoring…discipling your children every day. They listen to your words…and watch your actions.

    Who are your disciples? Each of us has been blessed with skills, experiences, talents, and gifts. Maybe you are not able to teach the Greek New Testament but you know how to visit someone in the hospital. Perhaps you can’t play a musical instrument but you can invite someone to your home for a meal. You don’t have to be a perfect example, just a living example.

    I’ve heard of churches structured in such a way that every person has a mentor and a protégé, someone discipling them and someone they are discipling.

    One of the great joys I had in Africa was training youth and pastors about leadership. Most people believe a leader is someone with a title, a position, yet my favorite definition of leadership is influence. I remember attending my first elders meeting here at First Alliance thinking to myself, “I’ve got the title, but I’m not the most influential person in the room.”

    Who are you influencing? Who are you investing in? Who are you loving…intentionally?

    I love our church. It’s such an honor and privilege to serve you. But sometimes I fear people put me on a pedestal thinking I’m the minister and they’re just the attendees, the parishioners, the congregation. Brothers and sisters, we’re all called to make disciples. We’re all called to love God and others. Making disciples accomplishes both commands!

    I want to challenge you with one simple prayer:
    God, who do You want me to disciple?

    Maybe you’re in high school. Great! Find an elementary or middle school student to serve. Be a big brother or big sister to them.

    You might be a new believer in Christ. That’s ok, there are plenty of non-Christians in our city who need to hear your story, feel your love, experience your joy.

    Jesus chose twelve but focused on three. What if you just pick one. One person. Ask God for a name. It might be a co-worker, a neighbor, someone sitting next to you right now, or someone you’ll see in the lobby in a few minutes. Pray for them. Take them to Claro this week for coffee. Invite them to your small group or Sunday School class. Send them an encouraging text.

    Love God.
    Love Others.
    Make Disciples.

    Jesus did it. He invites us to follow him.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Sabbath: Good & Evil, 16 July 2017

    Sabbath: Good & Evil
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:23-3:6

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused.

    Our text for today focuses on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused. If we go way back—to the second book of the Bible, Exodus—we’ll find the Sabbath in God’s Top Ten list, the Ten Commandments.

    Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

    Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

    The Sabbath is a day of rest. God rested on the seventh day of the week after creation. When we rest, we imitate God.

    One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:23-24)

    The religious police have caught Jesus! The Pharisees developed a list of 39 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath. Sure, God set apart the Sabbath, but these religious leaders took God’s law and expanded it with their traditions and interpretations. Instead of resting and reflecting upon God, they turned Saturday into a day to tiptoe around activities, adhere to checklists, and avoiding technical definitions of work.

    Actually, no laws were broken anyhow. They were not harvesting grain, only picking some to eat. The law made provision for eating, just not harvesting on the Sabbath. Farmers were supposed to rest, but these fishermen were not working, only grabbing a snack.

    If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain. (Deuteronomy 23:24-25)

    God gave the law to serve the people. Note Jesus and the disciples did not harvest with a sickle. The Pharisees were just trying to trap Jesus, but the tables are turned.

    He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” (Mark 2:25-26)

    Jesus did not argue about the Sabbath. He challenges the Pharisees, implying they have never even read the Bible! The letter of the law was not to be imposed when it brought hardship to one of God’s servants. By referring to David, Jesus is implying he is doing God’s business in some way these religious leaders are not.

    Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

    Boom! The law was made for man, not the other way around.

    Allow me to add this thought: all of God’s laws are for our benefit. That’s because our heavenly Father loves us. He wants what’s best for us. He didn’t just sit around one day and think, “How can I make life miserable for humans? How can I take away all of their fun?” No, like any good parent, He has more wisdom and understanding than His kids and He provides boundaries for our protection and ultimate satisfaction.

    As if Jesus has not already offended these religious leaders, he throws in one more declaration.

    So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)

    Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath. Jesus is the LORD of all! The Pharisees were clueless. Standing in front of them was the Messiah, God! Yet all they could think about is their own outrage at this man who is gaining popularity and has a comeback for everything they throw at him.

    A.W. Tozer said,

    “The God of the Pharisee was not an easy God to live with, so his religion became grim and hard and loveless. It had to be so, for our notion of God must always determine the quality of our religion. 
    Much Christianity since the days of Christ’s flesh has also been grim and severe. And the cause has been the same – an unworthy or an inadequate view of God.” 

    Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” (Mark 3:1-3)

    The critics were outside in the grainfields. Now they’re in the synagogue.

    Was this man planted? Probably. They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.

    Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.  (Mark 3:4)

    I love it when Jesus silences his critics with a question! The answer is obvious, but the Pharisees aren’t looking for truth, but rather a reason to accuse Jesus. Since they didn’t answer his question, he decided to heal the man.

    He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (Mark 3:5)

    Jesus got angry! Anger is not sin, though we can sin in our anger. Jesus did not carry a grudge, he just recognized the injustice of the moment and their hard hearts.

    The Sabbath was given to Israel as a gift. The religious leaders hijacked it.

    Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:6)

    Don’t miss this: the religious leaders want to kill Jesus. They go out of their way to follow commandment number four about the Sabbath but seem to have no problem with number six…that one about murder! Did they forget? Maybe it was unclear, hard to understand. Here it is:

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

    The original Hebrew word,
    rasah, means “to murder, kill.”

    Oh, and let’s not forget this murder would be premeditated! They even plotted with another group, the Herodians!

    Have things changed since then? Not really.

    So What?

    I want to close with two thoughts.

    First, religion is ugly in all of its forms. Legalism. Judgment. Self-righteousness. We might not often think of religion leading to murder, but Mark 3:6 clearly shows us that’s where it can go. And we know their plans were eventually carried out. How can God be linked to such violence? Obviously we see in our own day—and throughout history—blood shed in the name of God and religion. What a tragedy! This has led some to declare organized religion is responsible for the wars of the world, as if communism and other atheistic philosophies have been entirely peaceful! But the point remains, religion can be an adventure in missing the point. The Pharisees were clueless about the Sabbath. They were unable to see God…standing right in front of them!

    One need not go far to see religion today…in our culture. It seems every week another pastor or author is poked, prodded, critiqued, and banned because of something said in an interview or online. Yes, we need to be discerning and avoid heresy, but good luck finding someone with whom you agree one hundred percent. And a disagreement does not mean all of their contributions are trash.

    I get frustrated with intolerant, close-minded, arrogant people in the world who boycott Claro because it was started by a church. Uh, how’s the coffee?! There are Republicans that refuse to associate with Democrats and vice versa. Seriously? We have far more in common than we have differences. If we would stop and listen to one another rather than constantly pointing fingers of condemnation, we would live in a far better world. We need to build bridges, not walls.

    But the same can be said in the church. I want to see diversity…not only ethnically but theologically. There are many things over which we could probably start an argument, but rather than debate, let’s dialog. Let’s seek to understand one another. Let’s truly love one another, explore points of difference, and ask questions. I’m not suggesting this is necessarily occurring here at First Alliance Church, but the Internet is loaded with total strangers heaving verbal bombs at one another, figuratively and sometimes even literally calling for boycotts of individuals and their work. There’s a fine line between criticism and discernment, I admit, but so much of what I see and read is pure Pharisaical religion, people on a witch hunt to attack their so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. No wonder the world is walking away from the church. Who wants to join a dysfunctional family?

    As one of my professors, David Fitch, wrote, “
    We need Christians that can unravel the antagonisms that drive Christianity in America, not make them worse.”

    David Garland writes regarding Mark chapter four:

    (1) The question, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (2: 16) is answered with a truism: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2: 17).

    (2) The question, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).

    (3) The question about why the disciples do what is unlawful on the Sabbath (2: 24) is answered with the proclamation, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” and, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (2: 27– 28).

    (4) In the last controversy, Jesus turns the tables on his inquisitors and provokes an engagement.

    • - Mark: NIV Application Commentary
    Second, let’s get back to our subject: the Sabbath. We need rest. It has been proven in countless studies. We are human beings, not human doings. You need a day off. You need vacation days. Sure, you can survive a week without a Sabbath, but you cannot thrive for long without one. It would be hypocritical for me to get legalistic about the Sabbath, but here’s the bottom line:

    Do you trust God can do more with six days than you can with seven?

    I know, your life is busy. The boss is demanding. The kids are a handful. Deadlines loom. You have to fit in soccer practice, dance lessons, volunteering at Cherry Street Mission, get the car oil changed, grab dinner in a drive-thru…

    I know, it must’ve been easier in Old Testament times. They didn’t have Facebook to check or phone calls to return. No, they had to grow and harvest crops…or die of starvation!

    I was challenging pastors in East Africa to honor the Sabbath. It’s only the fourth commandment…ahead of murder and adultery! The penalty for breaking it was only death! It’s hard for them. Most of them are volunteers. They have a vocation Monday through Friday…or Saturday and then preach on Sunday. Who has time to rest?

    It’s like Stephen Covey says in his classic
    The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, sharpen the saw. A man is cutting down a tree with a dull saw. His friend says, “Stop cutting and sharpen your saw.” He replies, “I don’t have time. I have to get this tree cut down.” His friend counters, “If you take time to sharpen your saw, you will cut the tree down much faster.”

    I know you can’t afford to take a day off…but really you can’t afford NOT to rest. God made the Sabbath for us…to enjoy. Relax. Do only things that fill you. Be unproductive! If you enjoy gardening, garden. If you hate pulling weeds, read a book instead. Often those who do physical labor during the week need to engage in mental activities, and those who exercise their minds for a living may find physical recreation replenishing.

    Sabbath doesn’t just happen. Like a vacation, it requires planning and preparation. Experiment. Don’t overthink it, but find ways to intentionally unplug from busyness and work, from things that deplete you. Psalm 46:10 says

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

    I challenge you to set aside one day a week for rest, to fill your tank, to be with God, a Sabbath. Will God be exalted in your life? It begins with trust, trusting that God is sovereign and in control. Trusting that God will honor your Sabbath. What the Pharisees used for evil we are invited to use for good. And God’s glory.

    Resource: I found this article by Mark Galli helpful, A Theology of Play.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Timing: Old & New, 18 June 2017

    Timing: Old & New
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:18-22

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: God is always doing new things, even though He never changes.

    My fellow graduates, I want to encourage you to lead. I know you might not consider yourself to be a leader, but my favorite definition of leadership is simply “influence.” Each of us has countless opportunities every day to influence others, whether it be friends, a family member, co-worker, Facebook acquaintance, or even total strangers in public. Follow Jesus and lead/influence others to do the same.

    But for all of the talk of leadership in our day, remember one thing: every leader has followers and opponents. Whether you’re a politician, CEO, store manager, or little league coach, there will be people who support you and people who can’t stand you!

    Just ask Jesus!

    We’re in the middle of a series exploring The Real Jesus from the gospel—or good news—of Mark, a biography of King Jesus.

    Last week we saw Jesus questioned for inviting Levi into a meaningful relationship. “How dare he associate with sinners?” the religious leaders asked. But the criticism is still just beginning.

    Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (Mark 2:18)

    Fasting is an ancient practice which seems to have periodic surges in popularity. I’ve noticed several authors recently writing about the benefits of fasting, especially for weight control. This is not the context of our passage today.

    Fasting was a popular practice in first-century Judaism. Some thought they could ward off demons by fasting. Others thought they could earn God’s favor by fasting, perhaps making their prayers more likely to be answered in a way that pleases them. Still others fasted in hopes of prompting mercy or attaining the forgiveness of sins. The most self-righteous would use fasting as a way to show their piety and gaining the applause and admiration of others.

    This is not to say fasting is a bad thing. Hardly. Jesus fasted for forty days. It was sometimes connected to sorrow for the loss of a loved one. Jesus’ own death likely led to the fasting of the disciples as they grieved.

    But there is an appropriate time and a place for everything.

    There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build, 
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

    There is a time to fast…and a time to feast!

    Jesus answered,
    “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (Mark 2:19-20)

    I love weddings! There’s no celebration like a wedding. Last week Heather and I traveled about 3000 miles to California just to participate in a wedding.

    The day was filled with joy, smiles, laughter, food, and feasting. And why not? Is there any greater party than one focused on love? If there is ever a time to eat, drink, and be merry, it is a wedding.

    Jesus tells the religious leaders now is not the time for his disciples to fast. He is the groom. It’s time to party! There will be a day when he will be taken from them. He’s previewing his death on the cross. There will be no celebration on Good Friday, though Resurrection Sunday will be another story!

    Jesus came to proclaim and practice the kingdom of God. The kingdom is God is not a funeral but a wedding party! You don’t fast at a wedding. You can’t fast at a wedding! It would be offensive to the host. It’s time to feast! Religion and the kingdom of God are completely different.

    Jesus continues

    “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. (Mark 2:21)

    This is a universal truth. I’m no seamstress, but I know garments will tear when they are washed and the patch of new, stronger fabric shrinks. The old and new are incompatible.

    Perhaps you’ve experienced this reality. Replacement parts for old products often fail to fit. When my wife gets new glasses, she gets new lenses and frames because the new lenses won’t fit in new frames. I recently had to explain to someone a DVD will not work in their VCR!

    Jesus is saying the old and new are incompatible. He didn’t come to abolish the law or add to it. He came to do something new.

    Weddings are filled with fancy food, fancy garments, and fancy drinks, too.

    And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)

    This is not a verse about alcohol, per se, but rather about another truth concerning the incompatibility of old and new. Animal skins, often goatskins, were used as containers for fluids. Old, stretched wineskins will burst when new wine is poured in and expands.

    David Garland notes, “The question, ‘How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?’ (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).”

    Jesus came to do a new thing. He will die for the sins of the world, the new garment, the new wineskins. Jesus will not merely reform the old, he will transform it. He announces the end of the old and the birth of the new.

    Religion is like a ball and chain, weighing people down with guilt and shame.

    Jesus showed us how to party, how to experience abundant life, how to soar with joy.

    Why do you do what you do?

    This is an important question for us all. What is behind our behavior? Why are you here this morning? Is it to impress others? To try to score points with God? Or to worship our LORD with others, knowing Jesus and making him known to our city and world?

    It’s hard for us in our day to understand the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, but suffice it to say they were bold, loud, and arrogant. They judged, condemned, scorned, and criticized. They were stuffy, proud, fuddy-duddies!!! And they were no fun at all!

    What about you? Do you live like you’re at a funeral or a wedding? Again, there’s a time and place for everything, but I wonder if more people would follow Jesus if we looked more like him. I wonder if the world sees Christians as boring, gloomy people depressed by Fox News rather than hope dealers filled with joy, peace, and love.

    Jesus rocked their world…and the world of everyone he encountered. He replaced gloom with joy, death with life, despair with hope, and hate with love. This is why I love Jesus! Even if you skipped his death and resurrection—the climax of his ministry—his very attitude was refreshing. He hated organized religion!

    Jesus announced the kingdom of God, saying God was becoming king in an entirely new way. Something powerful and explosive was about to take place…and history has never been the same since! We are invited to participate in the kingdom, the reign and rule of King Jesus.

    Because of Jesus’ teachings, life, death, and resurrection we must think differently, think bigger, live more passionately. God never changes, but he’s always doing new things. Our church history is a great example of this. In 1930, we began a live radio broadcast. In 1966, we started a Christian radio station, WPOS, Proclaim FM. In 1996, church members launched a TV station, WLMB. Today you can download our sermon podcasts online. The message of King Jesus remains the same, but medium changes.

    I can’t imagine what lies ahead for us as a church, but God knows, and it will be exciting. It won’t always look like the old, but it shouldn’t. There are great things in the rear view mirror, but if you look ahead you’ll see even more exciting things. And most exciting of all will be the ultimate party, the ultimate feast, the day when the groom returns for his bride, when Jesus returns for the Church. What a celebration that will be! Are you ready?

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Church: Hospital or Museum? 11 June 2017

    Church: Hospital or Museum?
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:13-17

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: We are to welcome sinners, recognizing we are sinners ourselves.

    Good morning saints! Good morning sinners!

    My name is Kirk and we’re studying Mark’s biography of The Real Jesus. In chapter 2, he has been baptized, begun his preaching ministry, and done some healings. Word is spreading and while he is attracting crowds, he’s also drawing the envy and wrath of religious leaders. This will be a common theme, so significant the religious leaders will eventually kill him.

    Jesus has at least four followers—four fishermen. Now he continues his recruiting trip.

    Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14)

    Levi is also likely called Matthew, though it is possible he was not one of the Twelve, making this invitation even more compelling. He works at a toll booth, but it’s not automated like the ones on the Turnpike. These collectors were known for extortion and dishonesty.

    Levi likely worked for Herod Antipas. His father’s kingdom was divided among his three sons. Tolls suddenly had to be paid to cross from one part of the old kingdom to another. Levi did not have a popular job!

    Jesus comes by, and instead of complaining or swearing at Levi, he says, “Follow me.” What an invitation! Instead of working for a man who thought of himself as king of the Jews, he is invited to follow the true King of the Jews, the Messiah.

    Can you imagine someone walks into your office, says, “Follow me,” and you walk out on your job? Levi takes a huge risk in following Jesus. The fishermen can always return to fishing, but a government job? They’re not always available, especially after suddenly leaving without giving your two weeks notice!

    Jesus’ identity as King was not yet revealed, though. Instead, he was known as a preaching doctor who loved to throw parties…for sinners, outcasts, the marginalized.

    While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. (Mark 2:15)

    Jesus continues to attract crowds, even at dinnertime. But he did not just attract the educated and elite, the righteous and religious. Jesus was a friend of sinners.

    The best scholarship seems to suggest Jesus was the host, throwing a party at Levi’s house. Jesus doesn’t just preach to sinners; he befriends them. He loves them. He offends the religious establishment who have rejected these “sinners.”

    When we are invited to dinner, the polite thing to do is say…yes. Who doesn’t like a free meal, right? But in the first century, table fellowship implied friendship—even approval. If you and I share a meal together, it tells the world we are close friends. Does Jesus approve of these greedy, dishonest tax collectors and sinners? Doesn’t he care about holiness? It makes sense for Levi to gather with fellow sinners, but why is Jesus present?

    When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

    They’re afraid to ask Jesus! They go to his disciples and criticize him.

    Now the Pharisees get a bad rap. It’s deserved, but they were devout. They wanted to honor God by carefully following the Jewish law. They made two mistakes, however. First, they were prideful, also satan’s downfall. Second, they focused on every minute detail of the law without understanding the purpose and spirit of the law. They could no longer see the forest for the trees. They were so concerned about staying clean and pure that they missed opportunities to love their neighbor, to extend forgiveness, and to see reconciliation and repentance. They wanted to exercise control rather than compassion.

    But make no mistake, Jesus did not endorse sin.

    In John chapter 8, a woman is caught in the act of adultery. A group of Pharisees condemns her. Jesus famously says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, the Pharisees walk away, leaving only Jesus and the woman. He says he does not condemn her. He offers grace and compassion. But the story doesn’t end there. He tells her, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

    Jesus welcomed sinners. Jesus loved sinners. But because Jesus loved them, he urged them to repent, to turn, to change…not because he doesn’t want them to have fun, but instead because he knows there’s a better way to live.

    Sin always leads to death. It might not be instant physical death, but it will kill relationships—with others, with God. Sin will destroy our ability to experience the abundant life Jesus taught and modeled. Greed. Pride. Adultery. Envy. Gossip. The list goes on.

    Can people live in sin and survive. Sure! But I’ve discovered following Jesus and his Word are the path to true satisfaction, true peace, and true joy. We need to welcome sinners

    We need to welcome sinners, but we also need to encourage them to experience Jesus, grow in their faith, and love God and their neighbor.
    David Garland notes,

    “to follow Jesus in the full sense of the word requires repentance and obedience. His goal in reaching out to the sick is to bring about healing and transformation in their lives, not to gather them together for a fun time. Instead of sorting people into classifications, holy and unholy, clean and unclean, righteous and sinner, Jesus gathers them under the wings of God’s grace and love.”

    It breaks my heart to see people make poor choices. But what shall I do? It depends upon the relationship. If it’s someone I know and love, tolerance might be the most hateful thing I can do, standing by watching them self-destruct. On the other hand, getting in their face about their behavior may cause our relationship to be destroyed. Obviously, this calls for wisdom…and it matters greatly if the person claims to follow Jesus or not.

    If you are my brother or sister in Christ, I owe it to you to encourage you to pursue Jesus. This doesn’t mean I point out all of your sins, but it does mean I might love you enough to confront.

    This week I received a short e-mail which simply said, “If I'm openly gay, would I be accepted at your church?”

    Would they, church?

    If they are seeking to know God, I hope and pray we would welcome them with open arms. I replied:

    All are welcome at First Alliance Church. We exist to help people know and experience Jesus, our example of what it means to be truly human. I hope to meet you soon.

    When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

    Why was Jesus a friend to tax collectors and sinners?

    On hearing this, Jesus said to them,
    “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

    We are not a museum for saints. There’s a museum next door if you want a museum!

    We are a hospital for sinners. And we’re all sinners! It might get messy. It might get uncomfortable. But the reason we’re still on this planet is because of the
    mission Dei, the mission of God, to seek and save the lost, to call sinners, to heal the sick, to make disciples, to serve the least of these, to love the unlovable. If all you care about is your own comfort, it’s not Jesus you’re following. Jesus lived to die and that’s what he calls his followers to do—die to ourselves and love and serve others.

    You would think after 2000 years we would understand this, but religion persists. Self-righteous people insist on pointing fingers.

    Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about love the sinner, hate your own sin?

    Brothers and sisters, I can summarize this message in three words. Many Christians have had the attitude the if you behave and believe, you can belong.

    Behave – Believe – Belong

    We must reverse it. Jesus did! He said you belong. As you are loved and accepted, belief often follows naturally. And don’t miss this: when you believe in Jesus and make him King and LORD, you are also given the Holy Spirit who gives you power to behave. You can’t just change your behavior because someone tells you to do so. You need power. You can’t just walk up to a guy with a brown bag on the streets and say, “Stop drinking” and expect him to never take another drink. He needs power to quit his addiction.

    And we’re all addicted to sin of one sort or another.

    Belong – Believe - Behave

    You belong here. All of you. Everyone. Young or old. Gay or straight. Black or white. Christian or atheist. Citizen or immigrant. Republican or Democrat. You belong here. You were created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. Jesus died for you. Come as you are.

    But we don’t want you to stay that way. Jesus doesn’t want you to stay as you are. He tells all of us to “go and sin no more,” not because he’s a scolding, condemning God but because he knows sin will always harm us. He wants what’s best for us.

    You belong here. We would love for you to experience Jesus and believe in him, surrendering your life to him. It’s not that we are trying to manipulate you or sell you anything, but we’ve discovered the source of real life, real peace, real joy and it’s not in religion but it’s in a person, Jesus!

    If you welcome Jesus into your life, you will want to change, you will want to follow Him, and you’ll be given the Holy Spirit’s power to do so.

    "God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, we are to love." -Billy Graham

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing, 4 June 2017

    Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:1-12

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

    A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. (Mark 2:1)

    Jesus’ headquarters moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. If you recall, Jesus healed a leper, told him to keep quiet, and instead the healed man told everyone about Jesus. The crowds loved to see physical healing but cared less about the spiritual messages Jesus preached.

    Jesus left Capernaum…and later returned to Simon Peter’s house. Most homes had 1-4 rooms so it would’ve gotten crowded quickly.

    But wait. Some scholars believe this was probably Jesus’ own house. Have you ever heard that before? That was news to me, and it shifts the story a bit.

    They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. (Mark 2:2)

    Preaching the Word of God was Jesus’ primary ministry. It is powerful. Whether it was his own house or not, he was obviously trapped. I’ve never been the subject of TV news, fortunately, but we’ve all seen private homes overrun with paparazzi when overly-zealous reporters try to get an exclusive interview. It’s chaos. In this case, it’s not media but people. Jesus is preaching to a crowd that gathered without any press release, billboards, or direct mail invitations. Did they want to hear…or just get healed?

    Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
    “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:3-5)

    Five guys show up, can’t get to Jesus, and take things into their own hands!

    It was a thatched roof made of straw, but getting the man on the roof must have been challenging, though many first-century homes had an outside staircase leading to a flat roof made of sod and branches.

    How would you feel if someone put a whole in your roof? Jesus says, “All right, I forgive you!” Of course, this was a deeper forgiveness than just necessitating a home improvement project! But if it is Jesus’ house, it makes his forgiveness a bit more interesting, don’t you think?

    Whose faith? The faith of the men. Their faith led to the man’s sins being forgiven? It’s not their faith that saved him but their faith led to the man meeting Jesus.
    Our city is filled with sick people—physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. We need stretcher bearers, people who will bring people in to hear the gospel.

    Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7)

    Only priests could declare forgiveness, speaking in the name of God. Of course, if that’s what his friends were seeking, they would’ve taken him to the temple in Jerusalem, not to a guy preaching in a home.

    Mark tells us what they were thinking. Only God can forgive sins. They’re right about that, but Jesus is not blaspheming. He’s God. He came to earth to provide salvation. Isaiah the prophet had said the Messiah would forgive sins, restore the broken hearted, and bring healing to the lame (chapters 29; 35; 61).

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

    Today’s story is a micro version of the entire gospel of Mark: Jesus teaches, heals, is condemned for blasphemy, and vindicated.

    Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,
    “Why are you thinking these things? (Mark 2:8)

    He knew what they were thinking. They were speechless!

    Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? (Mark 2:9)

    Only God can do either one! Jesus will do both.

    But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:10)

    This is the first time in Mark where Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” This is the key sentence in today’s text. Daniel 7 said “one like a son of man” would be the representative of God’s true people. He would be opposed by evil, vindicated and rescued by God, proved right, and given authority to dispense God’s judgment.

    “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

    Jesus has authority, even the authority to forgive sins.

    Mark 2:10 also points to Jesus’ answer to Caiaphas in chapter fourteen:

    Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

    “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

    Jesus declares himself to be the Son of Man. He also forgives, the most powerful thing in the world.

    So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:11)

    The paralyzed man obeys. Incredible!

    He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:12)

    I love how this story ends with people praising God.

    So What?

    We are called to be stretcher-bearers for others. The man had great friends!

    The greatest healing is spiritual, not physical. Even healed bodies will eventually decay, but the soul is eternal. Jesus addressed the paralyzed man’s spiritual brokenness before addressing his body.

    God is not done healing souls. He offers forgiveness for all of your sins. All of them!
    God is not done healing bodies. His timing is perfect, even when it is slower than ours.

    Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

    We can receive forgiveness and healing.
    We can proclaim forgiveness and healing.
    We can bring people to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Ministry: Private & Public, 28 May 2017

    Ministry: Private & Public
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:35-45

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Jesus used his private time to prepare for his public ministry.

    Today we’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus based upon Mark’s biography of the Messiah. His gospel—or good news—is short and sweet. In the final verses of chapter one, we see aspects of Jesus’ private and public life and ministry.

    Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

    Note this is the morning after a busy Sabbath! The day before he was healing, preaching, and exorcising demons.

    Again, I love Mark’s details in the midst of his headlines. It wasn’t just morning, it wasn’t just early morning, it wasn’t just very early morning, it was very early in the morning while it was still dark! So Jesus seeks solitude before everyone awakes to pray. The Greek word for “solitary” (eremos) is used to speak of the wilderness, the place where the Jews wandered for forty years, where John the Baptist was calling people to repentance, and where Jesus was tempted.

    God uses the wilderness. It’s not a comfortable place, but it is in those bleak and hopeless places in our lives that God does some of His best work.

    This isn’t a desert, but it is deserted. It is a great place for Jesus to pray. Why did Jesus pray? The same reason we pray…to talk with the Father. To submit. To listen. To be filled with the Holy Spirit.

    I believe Jesus sets an example for us to follow. Some of you saw the movie War Room. Jesus didn’t have a dedicated place, but he sacrificed sleep to surrender, to be with the Father.

    Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:36-37)

    I’m guessing they did not get up early and look for Jesus in the dark. It’s even more unlikely that the crowds were looking for Jesus very early in the morning. Jesus devoted serious time to prayer, most likely several hours. Based upon the text, Jesus has four followers at this point. They aren’t even called disciples yet, but mere companions. They aren’t listening to Jesus, they frantically talking to him. The original Greek conveys the idea that they were hunting for Jesus. I can just hear them. “There you are! The crowds are looking for you! Come on! You can pray later!”

    Jesus replied,
    “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:38-39)

    Jesus is a man on the run…or walk! He tells them he came to preach, which he does…and drives out demons. He didn’t come to heal, he came to preach. Healing gave him credibility and authority, but it wasn’t his primary purpose. He came to call people to repentance, to change, to follow him. He didn’t come to do magic tricks. He came to preach. This is the last time Jesus’ preaching is mentioned in the gospel of Mark. He will later send the twelve apostles to “proclaim” or “preach” the message.

    What did he preach? We saw a few weeks ago in verse 15:

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    Returning to verse 38…

    Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:38-39)

    Jesus has little success in his hometown of Nazareth or here in Capernaum. Later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus will denounce Capernaum.

    And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.  For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. (Matthew 11:23)

    Yikes! So Jesus and the four fishermen travel, preach, and drive out demons.

    A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)

    He doesn’t ask to be physically healed, but rather to be made clean, a spiritual and social change. This word “leprosy” was used for as many as 72 different skin conditions. I made the mistake—or not—of doing a Google Image search for “leper.” It was so shocking and tragic. Here’s what the law prescribed for lepers:

    “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

    In several Old Testament stories, people were punished by God with leprosy, so imagine what people thought of lepers.

    - They were physically sick
    - They were considered unclean, unholy
    - They had to live alone and stay 50 paces away from others

    Both the medical disease and the spiritual impurity were considered contagious. Lepers couldn’t work so they had to beg. It was catastrophic in many ways—physical, spiritual, social, financial. The man asks to be clean rather than healed because social and spiritual restoration mattered more than his physical body.

    Lepers were untouchables…literally. Can you image never being touched by another human?

    Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man.
    “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:41-42)

    Obviously, the man got within 50 paces of Jesus since Jesus touched him. That touch must have been incredible! Anyone in sight would’ve thought Jesus was crazy to contaminate himself with a leper. Instead, Jesus transmits wholeness and holiness to the leper. He has authority. He has power. And he has given it to us through the Holy Spirit.

    Why was Jesus indignant and angry? Some translations say he was moved with compassion, others that he was filled with pity. Compassion makes the most logical sense, but if he was actually angry, it probably wasn’t because the man broke the 50-pace barrier. Anger doesn’t seem to fit the interruption. Most scholars suggest he was angry at the evil forces who claimed the leper as their victim. That would be holy, righteous anger. We need to be angry at sin, at injustice, at evil.

    Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 
    “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:43-44)

    Jesus sends the leper away. The word to describe Jesus’ strong warning is used to describe a horse snorting! He is serious! Perhaps he risked attracting people who only wanted to see magic tricks rather than listen to his preaching.

    Was this reverse psychology on the part of Jesus? Keep your healing a secret. Is that even fair?! People aren’t going to notice the leper is healed? But Jesus seems to be saying to the man, “Don’t blow my cover!”

    The priest was to determine whether or not a person had leprosy and whether they were cured. I’m grateful that’s not in my job description! You can read more about the treatment of lepers in Leviticus 13 and 14. The cleaning is an eight-day process with sacrifices. Of course, without the priest’s approval, the man cannot re-enter society.

    Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:45)

    He disobeyed Jesus’ strong warning! He proclaims the news. The publicity leads to audiences rather than congregations, fans rather than followers. Donovan notes four ironies:

    1) A disobedient man is one of the first to preach the good news about Jesus
    2) Jesus’ popular hurts rather than helps his ministry
    3) The leper begins outside of society and is restored to it. Jesus begins in public and has to live outside. The two men trade places!
    4) Jesus’ power to heal becomes the reason he cannot move about

    But he didn’t have to move. The people came to him!

    So What?

    I want to end by going back to the beginning. Before Jesus heals the leper, he spent time alone with God.

    Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

    This is where he sacrificed. This is where he prepared. This is where he worked.

    This week is the beginning of the NBA Finals. For the first time in NBA history, the same teams—Cleveland and Golden State—will face each other for the third year in a row. Millions will watch the marquis matchups including LeBron James and Stephen Curry. The players will give their all for 60 minutes. But the real work is done before the games. In the weight room. During practice. Making good choices at mealtime. In mental preparation.

    NBA players don’t spend every day lounging around watching Netflix, drive to the arena, play for an hour, and then go to bed and do it all the next day. They train. Most of the work is done off the court.

    This is true for Jesus. He didn’t just show up for work, preach and heal. He prepared when no one was looking. His private life made his public life possible.

    Many want to play in the NBA, but few are willing to do the hard work off the court to be ready at game time.

    Many want to do miracles, but few are willing to do the hard work on their knees to be ready.

    What about you? How committed are you to following Jesus? What have you sacrificed? Sleep? Time? Money? Energy? Dreams?

    Are you willing to pay the price to radically follow Jesus…or are you just a fan?

    N.T. Wright writes,

    As we Christians pray today, especially when this prayer is costly and sacrificial, not merely a perfunctory few minutes now and then, the presence of this same Jesus is promised, by his Spirit, to guide and encourage us. Part of this guidance will be the discernment to know when to speak and when to be silent, when what we are called to do should be kept secret and when it should be celebrated publicly. Sometimes, in some countries and in certain situations, some Christians will know, in prayer, that it is better not to attract too much attention to themselves. This isn’t cowardice; it’s wisdom. But if, as in Jesus’ case, word leaks out anyway, we can remain confident, especially through prayer, that this same Jesus is with us as we face the cost of being kingdom-people, bringing the news and power of Jesus’ healing love to the world.

    Memorial Day

    Memorial Day is our country’s most hallowed and somber holiday. It’s not a day to honor our military—that’s veteran’s day—but to remember those who paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom. I’m grateful for their sacrifice and would like to pause for a moment of silence to remember them.

    I’m also grateful for the true heroes of the faith—men, women and children who paid the ultimate price to follow Jesus. History is filled with martyrs. You can learn about them at

    The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates 90,000 Christians were murdered for their faith last year. That’s like filling 5/3 Field nine times! At least 29 died Friday in Egypt, including children.

    What would possess a person to die for their faith? Passion, commitment, and quality time with God in prayer. I freely admit I’m a spiritual wimp. I need more quality time with the LORD…not because I’m a pastor, but because I claim to follow Jesus. That requires action. It involves preparation. It necessitates sacrifice.


    As we continue to look at the life of Jesus, it’s easy to be awed by his miracles and teachings. But his public ministry was only possible because of his private preparation. He invites us to follow his example.

    some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and Richard Niell Donovan.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Supernatural: Exorcism & Healings

    Supernatural: Exorcism & Healings
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:21-34

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: The supernatural world is real, and so is the Holy Spirit.

    Who is Jesus? This is the question we’re asking in our series on the gospel—or good news—of Mark.

    In the first verse of the book we see Jesus introduced as the Messiah and Son of God. Then we examined John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for His arrival. Next we discussed Jesus’ preparation for public ministry through baptism and temptation. Last week we looked at an invitation from Jesus, an invitation He is still making to us thousands of years later, to follow him.

    I want to make a brief addendum to last week’s message.

    I’ve become frustrated by those who communicate the gospel is about praying a prayer to avoid hell and go to heaven when you die.

    The gospel is Jesus. The gospel is Jesus is LORD. Christ is not his last name. He is the Jesus the Messiah. He is King Jesus.

    I mentioned John 3:16.

    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)

    I listened to Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Roots Podcast last week and he did a fascinating interview with Matthew Bates, author of Salvation by Allegiance (KR 51).

    The question is,
    “Who are you believing in?”

    If Jesus is Savior, then faith means trust in his saving work or trust in him who can save
    If Jesus is LORD, then faith means submit or to bow down to
    If Jesus is King, then faith means a declaration of allegiance and loyalty to serve that king and to serve in that king’s army

    What does it mean when you say you believe in Jesus? You believe in the historical figure and that he died and rose again…or he is your LORD and King and you submit to him and declare your allegiance to serve him?

    Remember, believing that there is a God is no big deal. Even the demons believe that, we’re told in James 2:19!

    We are to submit, serve, and declare our allegiance to King Jesus.

    The Supernatural. Does it excite you? Does it scare you? Why? In our passage for today, we get a front-row seat to see the authority and power of Jesus.

    He has just asked two pairs of brothers to follow him.

    They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. (Mark 1:21)

    What did he teach? We’re not sure. How did teach? With authority! With power!

    The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:22)

    This is Mark’s first hint that Jesus will face opposition—opposition that will claim his life. He would be crucified because of the envy of religious leaders.

    Mark continues…

    Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:23-24)

    He was possessed by an impure spirit. What do we make of this? A man cries out in the synagogue, identifies Jesus, speaks in the plural, and is obviously threatened. The “us” is a reference to all the demonic forces. This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus would have conflict with demons.

    I’ve preached hundreds of sermons. I’ve been interrupted, but never like this!

    Mark clearly shows us the world of the supernatural is real. And it submits to Jesus.

    “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. (Mark 1:25-26)

    What is this? The people asked the same thing!

    The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”  News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1:27-28)

    Many of you have read this story, but imagine you know nothing about Jesus, you attend synagogue, his teaching amazes you, and then he exorcises an impure spirit before your very eyes.

    No wonder news traveled fast about Jesus…and they didn’t even have CNN! This was the first miracle Mark mentions. Jesus had authority and backed it up with power. But there’s more!

    As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. (Mark 1:29-31)

    Jesus heals the Peter’s wife’s mother. Notice we don’t even know her name, but she has a fever—which was actually a very big deal back then, more than a symptom but a serious condition. Notice Mark’s details. Jesus goes to her, takes her hand, helps her out of bed, and it says the fever left her. Did he pray? Exactly when did the fever leave her? When he touched her? When she stood up? We don’t know.

    We do know she went straight to the kitchen, made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and served them with glasses of cold milk. Ok, we don’t have those details, but Jesus actually benefits in small way from healing her. I’m sure that wasn’t his motivation, of course.

    Jesus teaches with authority.
    Jesus casts out impure spirits with authority.
    Jesus heals with authority.

    What a day! And he wasn’t done.

    That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. (Mark 1:32-34)

    If you were with Jesus and didn’t believe in the supernatural in the morning, you surely did by the time you went to bed.

    The demons knew Jesus. Do they know you?

    So What?

    I know some of you are looking for simple answers and resolve everything. I’ve got to be honest and say this text actually raises several questions for me.

    Why are exorcisms common in the New Testament and we rarely see or hear about them today, unless it’s Halloween? Where did all the demons go? No, mental illness is not a sure sign of demons.

    Should we be performing exorcisms? I actually participate in one in college. It was low-key but very cool. I would love for our church to do whatever it takes to help people experience joy, freedom, peace, and life. If that means exorcisms, let’s do it—carefully. The supernatural is not something you mess around with, but it is a reality we must accept an experience. We have been given authority from Jesus. We often forget the beginning of the famous Great Commission text:

    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

    Why doesn’t God heal today? Oh wait, he does! There is power in the name of Jesus.


    Jesus had authority and power. All authority—in heaven and on earth! The exciting news is he said it was good that he ascended so the Holy Spirit to come. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit arrived! Jesus said,

    Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

    The supernatural world is real. We can engage it, but we must do so wisely. Demons are real and powerful. But God is greater. The Holy Spirit is available to each of you, but you must surrender. You must repent and believe, as we noted last Sunday. You must let go and let God…be your Lord and King.

    Jesus had power and authority. We have been given authority. Let’s use it…wisely.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Invitation: Repent & Believe, 14 May 2017

    Invitation: Repent & Believe
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:14-20

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Jesus invites us to repent, believe, and follow Him.


    What’s the greatest invitation you’ve ever received?

    • - Attend a birthday party
    • - Sit with someone in the school cafeteria
    • - Join a sports team
    • - Participate on a ministry team
    • - Graduation celebration
    • - Wedding proposal
    • - Job opportunity

    It’s usually nice to receive an invitation, though some are better than others. My Facebook account is often filled with invitations from people I barely know for events I know next to nothing about. Contrast that with an elegant, “snail-mail” wedding invitation. Yes, some people still use paper!

    Often we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into when we accept an invitation. Agreeing to stand up in that wedding means I have to shell out a hundred bucks for a tuxedo rental? Joining that board requires ten hours a week of volunteer team outside of the monthly meetings? Taking the job involves several weeks a year of travel? Marrying that person means…?!?!?!

    We’re in the middle of a series from the gospel or “good news” of Mark in our pursuit of knowing “The Real Jesus.” In the first verse of the book we see Jesus introduced as the Messiah and Son of God. Then we examined John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for His arrival. Last week we discussed Jesus’ preparation for public ministry through baptism and temptation. Today we look at an invitation from Jesus, an invitation He is still making to us thousands of years later.

    After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. (Mark 1:14)

    Mark is our “headline” gospel. He gets right to the point. John’s in prison. Jesus is in Galilee.

    Why was John put in prison? See John 1:19-4:54.

    What is the good news of God? It’s the gospel. What’s the gospel? In a word, Jesus. In three words, Jesus is LORD.

    The gospel is not you’re bad, Jesus is good, He died, pray a prayer, and go to heaven when you die. That might be a part of the gospel, but the gospel is so much more than life after death.

    It’s about life before death.
    It’s about faith, hope and love.
    It’s about loving God and neighbor.
    It’s about knowing and being known by your Creator.
    It’s about being a part of an eternal family.
    It’s about coming home.

    Can I preach for just a moment?

    There are too many people loved by God that don’t know it because they aren’t being loved by us.

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    This verse summarizes the teaching of Jesus. God’s kingdom is near. What is the kingdom of God? This was the focus of Jesus’ proclamation. It wasn’t about dying and going to heaven, it was about heaven coming down to earth, heaven kissing earth, God’s kingdom coming near. First-century Jews would have understood the kingdom of God to mean “the day of the Lord.”

    To enter the kingdom, we must repent and believe. This is easier said than done. It means laying down our lives and picking up the cross.

    Repent is from the Greek metanoia. Like metamorphisis, it means to change…one’s mind. Repent is not about condemnation or shame, just a change of mind and heart that results in a change of behavior and lifestyle. All of our actions begin in our mind. Repent means to change, to do a 180. It’s not optional for followers of Jesus. We are to turn from our selfish, sinful ways and turn to God’s generous, perfect ways.

    Repentance does not mean we change. It simply means to change one’s mind. Then the fun begins!

    Jesus said repent and believe.

    The most famous verse in the Bible is…John 3:16. It 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)

    The Greek word for believe is “pisteuo.” The English translation, believe, frustrates me because many “believe” if they agree with the historical notion Jesus died and rose again they are, therefore, going to heaven when they die and can continue in their sinful, God-dishonoring ways. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Believe is a verb. The noun form means faith. Believe means to commit or to trust. That’s action. In this context it means to trust in Jesus, to commit to the charge of Jesus. It means to surrender and follow Jesus. Here’s how one writer put it:

    It is the act whereby a person lays hold of God's resources, becomes obedient to what He has prescribed and putting aside all self interest and self-reliance, trusts Him completely. It is an unqualified surrender of the whole of one's being in dependence upon Him. It is wholly trusting and relying upon Him for all things. It is not just mental assent to the facts and realities of truth, it must come from a deep inner conviction.

    Believing that there is a God is no big deal. Even the demons believe that, we’re told in James 2:19!

    This kind of belief is trust. Surrender. Dying to yourself and becoming a new creation, resurrected with Jesus. This is the image of baptism we’ll all witness shortly.

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    Repent and believe.
    Turn and follow.

    This is how we change to become like Jesus.
    This is how we grow in our faith.
    This is discipleship.

    People have wrongly said repentance is about changing your outer behavior and belief is something that is inward and private. Jesus says to transform the inside first and then the outside follows.

    I want to introduce you to the Learning Circle, one of the most valuable tools I’ve encountered in following Jesus.

    LifeShape: circle video,

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    The Learning Circle is based upon this verse. We can’t change alone. We need others to help us observe, reflect, and act as we repent. We need others to help us plan, account, and act in order to truly become like Jesus.

    The Learning Circle shows us:

    •what it means to live a lifestyle of learning as a disciple of Christ;
    •how to recognize important events as opportunities for growth; and
    •how to process these events.

    The Learning Circle—which is just a tool you can use with others—is based on two questions:

    What is God saying to me?
    (This will help change the inner parts of me)
    What am I going to do about it? (The inner change has to produce an action)

    Now we turn to two sets of brothers who chose to repent and believe.

    As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 
    “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)

    The gospel of John tells us this is not their first encounter with Jesus. Notice He didn’t say join a cult or help Him start a religion. He offered an invitation of relationship. They responded. He didn’t say, “Follow God.” He said, “Follow me,” which was the same thing.

    These brothers are fishermen. They were not religious scholars, gifted speakers, or special leaders. They were ordinary people like you and me. They may have been to poor to afford a boat, casting their nets from shore. Jesus does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called. His invitation is simple: follow Me.

    When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.  (Mark 1:19-20)

    Simon and Andrew were fishing brothers. James and John were, too.

    They left their nets. They left their boat. They even left their father to follow Jesus.

    What do you need to leave behind to follow Jesus? What will it cost you?

    Following Jesus…

    It’s more than a prayer you pray.
    It’s more than knowledge you believe.
    It’s more than sin you avoid.
    It requires trust and action.

    What is God saying to you?
    What are you going to do about it?

    Credits: some ideas from Mike Breen, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Preparation: Baptism & Temptation, 7 May 2017

    Preparation: Baptism & Temptation
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus\
    Mark 1:9-13

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Baptism and temptation prepared Jesus for the ministry that would follow.


    One of the most rewarding parts of my childhood was Boy Scouts. As a scout, I learned about nature, how to tie knots, rappelling, wilderness survival, and so much more. The Boy Scout motto is short yet powerful: Be prepared.

    Preparation. It’s one key to success in life. Anything worth doing is probably worth preparation which is why doctors devote more than a decade of their lives to education before performing their first surgery. It’s why an athlete will train for four years before entering Olympic competition. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden famously said, “When the opportunity arises, it is too late to prepare.”

    What kind of preparation would be necessary to revolutionize the world? No human has had a greater impact on our planet than Jesus Christ did in the three years of His public ministry. We know almost nothing about the first three decades of His life, but Mark tells us about two significant events in Jesus’ preparation—baptism and temptation. And it leads to one truth that will blow your mind!

    We’re in week three of an extensive series on The Real Jesus based upon the gospel or good news of Mark. This biography of Christ is short and sweet, the headlines, so to speak, of the life of Jesus.

    In week one, we saw Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies, the Son of God, one of three Persons of the Holy Trinity, yet fully human.

    Last Sunday we looked at the messenger, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for Christ. Today we see Jesus encountering John—and satan.

    At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. (Mark 1:9)

    John Mark, the writer of Mark, finally brings Jesus to the stage. His message is short and sweet. Jesus comes from an obscure village in Galilee and gets baptized.

    Last week we said baptism had several possible purposes in the first century. It was used for cleansing the body, publicly demonstrating one’s faith, or perhaps symbolically purifying one as they turn away from their sins. It can also represent turning toward God, not just away from evil.

    Baptism doesn’t remove sin. Jesus had no sin to remove. John had been baptizing in the Jordan River in the wilderness drawing crowds from the countryside and the city of Jerusalem, preparing the way for Jesus of Nazareth who finally arrives in Mark’s narrative, baptized by His cousin, John.

    Today, baptism is a ceremony we do for people who want to go public with their faith in Jesus. They enter the water and are dunked in what is symbolically a water grave, dying to their own selfish will and desires before emerging out of the water resurrected as a new creation, seeking to devote their lives to following Jesus.

    Jesus is dunked by John, and the original Greek clearly puts John in the background. The spotlight is on Jesus.

    Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (Mark 1:10)

    Notice the details here. First, Jesus saw heaven being torn or ripped open as He was coming out of the water. The verb for “torn open” will be used again by Mark when he describes the temple veil being torn in two from the top to the bottom. What is opened can be closed, but what is torn is more permanent. Both episodes give us a glimpse into God’s kingdom. Remember, heaven is where God is. In the Bible, it often means God’s dimension behind ordinary reality. All heaven breaks loose when Jesus is baptized! The hope of Isaiah has come to pass: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you” (Isaiah 64:1).

    The Holy Spirit is then introduced, descending on Jesus “like” a dove. Can you think of any doves in the Bible? One brought an olive branch after the flood (Genesis 8). This doesn’t say a dove landed on Jesus, though. It says the Spirit descended on like a dove. It is as if the Spirit came upon Jesus, perhaps entering Him. We clearly see God the Son and God the Spirit together. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1 now descends on Jesus as a sign that new creation has begun.

    The dove never came back: he was looking for some place to land. He tried to land on Noah, but Noah got drunk. He tried to land on Abraham…Moses…David…Solomon…Isaiah…Jeremiah…landed on Jesus.

    And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

    The voice of God the Father is heard. It will later be heard at the transfiguration when He says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him! (Mark 9:7). As one might expect, Jesus’ baptism was special. Heaven was torn open, the Holy Spirit came on Him like a dove, and the Father spoke, announcing Jesus as His Son.

    The Trinity

    One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is the Trinity, one God in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They exist in community.

    When we say, “God is love,” it’s not abstract. God is the community of love. The Father, Son, and Spirit interact as one. God rooted God’s communal identity in the core of our being as humans. We were made by community, for community. (Ruth Padilla Deborst)

    I can’t emphasize this enough— we struggle in our individualistic culture to understand and appreciate the community of love that is the Trinity.

    Artists have long depicted the Trinity with visual art. Some see a dismembered relationship between the three Persons while others see Them as a family, a community, relating to one another (Rublev).

    (art examples)

    How do we understand one God in three Persons? It is a mystery. No metaphor is adequate to describe God, but I like to think about an egg. The yolk, whites, and shell are all equally egg, yet distinct. We pray to the Father in the Name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.


    There is a sect of Christianity which denies the Trinity. It’s called modalism. They believe in one God in one Person who changes modes, one moment being the Father and then shifting to become the Son and then suddenly appearing as the Holy Spirit. I can’t begin to tell you how troubling this belief can be, especially when considering this text. How can God be in the water, in heaven, and a dove at the same time? Although the word “trinity” does not appear in the English translations of the Bible, the concept is vivid, especially here. It’s why we sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy” last week instead of “Holy.”

    The doctrine or belief in the Trinity is a beautiful picture of community, cooperation, and complementary collaboration.

    John the Baptist introduces Jesus.
    The Father identifies Him.
    The temptation will initiate Him.


    At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:12-13)

    There’s no mention of a baptism celebration, but rather the Holy Spirit sends Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. That’s a long time, friends. The wilderness is a harsh, rocky desert region. The wilderness was a place of testing for the people of Israel, and they often failed. Jesus never fails.

    Forty is a special number in the Bible. It rained forty days and forty nights during the great flood (Genesis 7:12). The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses spent forty days and nights on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28). Elijah spent forty days and nights journeying to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).

    Jesus has been prepared for ministry by baptism and now it’s time for testing, for a face to face encounter with satan. Have you ever encountered satan? I doubt it. He has bigger fish to fry than you and me, I believe. He does, however, have an army of demons—fallen angels—who tempt and wreak havoc on our lives and world. The Greek word peirazo can mean tempt or test. In Hebrew, satan means adversary or enemy.

    And what about the wild animals? Some see them as satan’s allies in contrast to the angels that attend to Jesus. Some see an allusion to Psalm 91:11-13.

    For he will command his angels concerning you 
    to guard you in all your ways;
    they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
    You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent. (Psalm 91:11-13)

    I like animals, but not necessarily “wild” animals. They don’t usually make good pets!

    Matthew and Luke tell us more about the temptation but Mark simply gives us an image of Jesus and satan, angels and wild animals, good and evil. It will be a constant theme in the book…and all of human history.

    Jesus has been baptized and tested. He’s prepared and next week we’ll see Jesus’ ministry begin.

    One More Thing

    Occasionally I come across as reading so profound it’s not worth paraphrasing; it simply needs to be read. Listen to N.T. Wright:

    It happens all the time, in families, businesses, all over. Many children grow up in our world who have never had a father say to them (either in words, in looks, or in hugs), ‘You are my dear child’, let alone, ‘I’m pleased with you.’ In the Western world, even those fathers who think this in their hearts are often too tongue-tied or embarrassed to tell their children how delighted they are with them. Many, alas, go by the completely opposite route: angry voices, bitter rejection, the slamming of doors. 

    The whole Christian gospel could be summed up in this point: that when the living God looks at us, at every baptized and believing Christian
    , he says to us what he said to Jesus on that day. He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ. It sometimes seems impossible, especially to people who have never had this kind of support from their earthly parents, but it’s true: God looks at us, and says, ‘You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you.’ Try reading that sentence slowly, with your own name at the start, and reflect quietly on God saying that to you, both at your baptism and every day since.

    How does this come about? It will take the whole story, particularly Jesus’ death and resurrection, to explain. But this is what the Christian gospel is all about.

    It is true for one simple but very profound reason: Jesus is the Messiah, and 
    the Messiah represents his people. What is true of him is true of them. The word ‘Messiah’ means ‘the anointed one’; and this story tells how Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, marked out as God’s son. The Messiah is called ‘God’s son’ in a few biblical passages, including the one that the heavenly voice seems to be echoing here (Psalm 2.7). Though the early Christians realized quite quickly that Jesus was God’s son in an even deeper sense, they clung on to his messiahship for dear life. It was because Jesus was and is Messiah that God said to them, as he does to us today, what he said to Jesus at his baptism. And without that word from God all we often hear, in our mind’s ear, is doors being slammed.

    N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) Westminster John Knox Press; bold are my highlights

    Your Team

    How can that be? Let me tell you a story about two men named Chris—Coghlan and Bryant. Last fall, they both played for the Chicago Cubs who finally won the World Series. Kris Bryant is arguably the best player on the team. He hit two home runs during the World Series and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Chris Coghlan batted three times in the World Series, struck out twice, and never made it to first base. There’s a tradition in baseball where every player on the championship team gets a diamond-covered ring worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every player gets the same ring, whether they are superstars or bench-warmers.

    That’s how I like to think about what it means for us to be “in Christ,” a phrase used more than a dozen times in the book of Ephesians to describe followers of Jesus. We are on His team, we wear His uniform. The Chicago Cubs are World Champions which means every player on the team is equally a World Champion. When we are in Christ, everything the Father says about Jesus He says about us.

    Author Bob Goff said,
    "On the day of your worst screw-up, Jesus sees you and still calls you 'Beloved'!"

    That’s good news, friends. That’s great news!

    His baptism and temptation were preparation for a greater test…and a greater victory. Today is a great day to reflect upon your own journey, your own baptism if you’ve followed Jesus’ command to go public with your faith, something you can do next Sunday if you haven’t. It’s a great day to reflect upon your own temptations—those you overcame and those tests you failed. Jesus’ body was pierced and broken on the cross, His blood was poured out to offer forgiveness of your sins; past, present, and future. Hallelujah! Because of Jesus, the Father says, “You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you."

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Messenger: John the Baptist, 30 April 2017

    Messenger: John the Baptist
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:1-8

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: John prepared the way for Jesus’ coming…and so can we.

    Holy Spirit

    Last night I returned from the Missio Alliance conference near Washington DC. It was a great opportunity to connect with new and old friends, hear from world-renown theologians, and be reminded of the most misunderstood member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

    If you are a follower of Jesus, you were given the Holy Spirit. God dwells within you. What an amazing reality, one we often forget. I have much to say at a later date about the Holy Spirit, but for now I simply want to welcome and acknowledge the Spirit’s presence here.

    Would you please take a moment of silence and pray, inviting the Holy Spirit to open your heart to the Word of God and to give me words to speak?


    Many years ago, I heard about this new rock group that allegedly had one or more Christians in it named Bourgeois Tagg. They were the opening act for singer Robert Palmer’s concert at Pine Knob, now DTE Music Theatre in metro Detroit. Some friends of mine asked if I wanted to go to the show, not to see the headliner, but to check out the opening act. We all liked their performance, and before I knew it we were backstage meeting the band! It was surreal for a teenager to be backstage with rock stars! They were excited to have fans thousands of miles from their Sacramento home. It was a memorable night for all of us.

    Over the years I’ve spent enough time talking with touring musicians to know being an opening act can be a tough gig. You usually stand between the fans and the headliner. It can be great exposure for a new artist, but it can also be a struggle.

    Have you ever been an opening act? Maybe you played on the junior varsity team before the varsity team took the court or field. Perhaps you introduced a keynote speaker at a big event, aware that people did not come to see you!

    Today we’re going to look at Jesus’ opening act, his cousin John.


    In Jesus’ day, a messenger would precede the arrival of any important person. Today, the media lets us know if a rock star, celebrity, or politician is coming to town. Imagine a world without the Internet, TV, radio, or even newspapers. Messengers would ensure the roads were in good repair (good luck in Toledo!), make arrangements for food and lodging, and announce the arrival of the dignitary. This is what John did for Jesus.

    Last week we looked at the first verse of the book of Mark in our quest to discover the real Jesus. Charles Carter told me if we take one verse each week we’ll be studying the book for more than ten years! Today we’ll tackle seven more verses, but first, let’s review verse one:

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)

    Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He is God. Jesus is 100% and 100% human. This book is the gospel—or good news—of Mark. Jesus is the gospel. The gospel is Jesus is LORD.

    The comma at the end of the verse is not a typo. The sentence continues in verse 2:

    as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: 
    “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way” — 
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
    ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’ ” (Mark 1:2-3)

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the reasons I trust Jesus is the hundreds of prophecies he fulfilled. This is actually a collection of three different Old Testament books—Exodus (23:20), Malachi (3:1), and Isaiah (40:3). These writings said hundreds of years before the birth of Christ a messenger would come before Jesus. John the Baptist is that messenger.

    And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)

    Were there baptism before Christian baptism? Yes!

    In first-century Judaism, people would cleanse themselves according to the book of Leviticus when they were impure from things such as touching a leper or a corpse. Later, when Gentiles converted to Judaism, the meaning of baptism was extended as a sign of the covenant given to Abraham.

    This does not fully explain John’s “baptism of repentance.” One group at Qumran, the people known for creating the Dead Sea scrolls, believed a person could not become clean if they disobeyed God’s commandments. Their manual stated,

    "For it is through the spirit of God's true counsel concerning the ways of man that all his sins be expiated, and when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water, it shall be made clean by the humble submission of his soul to all the precepts of God."

    To enter their community, one would need to “go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, ‘Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a path for our God.” The wilderness is key in Jewish history, the place where they were tested, where they rebelled against God, and where they sinned and repented.

    John preached repentance, urging people to turn away from their sins. To repent is to turn away, to do a 180. The Greek word is “metanoia” and means a change of mind or direction. John was preaching of the need for people to change, to get off the throne of their lives and surrender to God. He was obviously very effective.

    The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:5)

    People traveled to see this preacher. It had been more than 300 years since a prophet was active in Israel. They were convicted of their sins, confessed them, and were immersed in water, in the Jordan River.

    Water is a powerful image throughout the Bible. It begins at creation, as God separates the waters from the earth. It covers the earth during the days of Noah. God miraculously parts the sea through Moses, allowing the people to walk on dry ground with water on either side. Huge crowds of people (the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem; not literally, of course!) were visiting John. He must’ve been quite popular. As opening acts go, he was developing his own fan base, perhaps partly because of his appearance.

    John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:6)

    Just think about that for a moment! Notice the detail. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four, a book of headlines. When you vivid descriptions, don’t miss them. John is quite the fashion statement! There’s more than meets the eye. This description is similar to that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). His unusual diet was part of the prophetic tradition. Locusts were kosher. But remember, he had a greater mission, to prepare the way of the LORD. He was a messenger.

    It’s interesting to note there were other messengers announcing Jesus’ arrival. Old Testament prophets predicted it. The angel Gabriel told Mary. Now John is the messenger.

    Let’s not forget John had a messenger, too. The angel Gabriel first appeared to John’s father, Zechariah, to announce his birth. This was a big deal since John’s parents were elderly, surprised, and somewhat doubtful about having a son. We have messengers all over the stories of John and his six-month younger cousin, Jesus.

    And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. Mark 1:7

    John knows he’s just the opening act. He’s preparing the way. He’s getting people ready for the coming of the Messiah. Despite his popularity as the first prophet in 300 years, he humbly acknowledges his role as messenger and the arrival of someone much greater.

    I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

    Baptize means to immerse, to overwhelm, to submerge. This is what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives. As John prepares the way for Jesus, Jesus prepares the way for the Holy Spirit. Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus said

    But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

    Have you ever wished Jesus was here? Me too! Jesus said it was good for Him to leave, though, to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us—all of us. Do you trust Jesus? He prepared the way for the Holy Spirit, a wonderful gift available to all of us who surrender to the Spirit.

    Now catch this! Jesus said

    Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

    I want to give you an assignment for this series. As we go through the book of Mark, think about what it would mean for us to do what Jesus is doing in the text.

    Let’s review:

    Gabriel announces the births of John and Jesus
    John prepares the way for Jesus first coming
    Jesus prepares the way for the Holy Spirit
    The Holy Spirit fills us.
    We are invited to prepare the way for Jesus’ second coming
    We are called to be messengers. We are to prepare the way for the return of the King. We are to announce His arrival.

    I know the idea of being a messenger for Jesus may sound scary or weird. What do we do, go door-to-door and tell everyone to get ready for Jesus? That’s one way to do it! Perhaps another way is to stop, be still, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the name of a person, pray for them, and ask the Spirit for an opportunity to talk with them about Jesus. Here are a few simple starter questions:

    Do you believe in God? Why or why not?
    Who is Jesus?
    Who is Jesus to you?
    Where are you at on your spiritual journey?
    When have you felt the most loved?

    When it comes to proclaiming the truth of Jesus, it should never feel forced. We’re not sales people for Jesus, getting others to sign up for church membership or fire insurance. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit to guide us, to lead us, to allow us to re-present God in word and deed to our world. It’s not about us. We’re just the opening act. We’re only the messengers preparing the way for the coming of the King of kings, Jesus Christ. We are privileged to let the whole world see our risen King!

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • On Your Mark, 23 April 2017

    On Your Mark—An Intro to the Gospel of Mark
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:1

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Mark wrote a stunning biography of Jesus, our Messiah and God.


    He is still risen! He is still risen indeed!

    Welcome back! My name is Kirk and last Sunday we had a fantastic celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But listen to these profound words from N.T. Wright:
    But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

    …Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

    …we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins…

    …if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again—well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative…. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.”

    As I said, last Sunday we had a fantastic celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. He is alive! But who is Jesus, really?

    If you ask ten people who Jesus is, you may end up with ten different answers. But how can we know for sure? I submit to you two things:

    - The Bible provides us with four biographies of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
    - Jesus is alive and knowable—personally—through prayer and the Bible

    One of my greatest frustrations as a pastor is reading about “biblical scholars” who are atheists. It seems like every Eastertime they get busy promoting another book, another theory, hoping to make a buck off some naïve shopper in line at the grocery store with tabloid headlines about another new discovery, a new theory, a secret revealed. With all due respect to intellectuals who study the Biblical texts, the atheists among them miss the point. Jesus is a living Person. He wants us to know Him. He wants to know us. The first thing I want to know about a Bible scholar is if they know the Author…of the Bible, of life. Our faith is completely dependent upon the cross and the empty tomb. If you know the Bible but don’t know Jesus, it’s as useless as analyzing the penmanship of a love letter, missing its message.

    The Bible is, in fact, a love letter. It is not written to us, exactly, but for us. Today we’re going to look at the background of the Gospel—or good news—of Mark and the most important question in life.

    Why Four Gospels?

    Matthew: Hebrew, religious audience, “Son of David,” advertising and announcements
    Mark: Roman, strong, rulers, power, emphasizes Jesus the suffering Servant, headlines
    Luke: also wrote Acts, Gentile author, historian, “Son of Man,” special features
    John: emphasizes deity of Christ, Savior, “Son of God,” editorials/columns

    This biography of Jesus will inspire, inform, and hopefully transform you and me to become more like Jesus.

    Before we dive into the Gospel of Mark, I want to give you some background.

    It’s the first gospel written, one of the first NT books to be written

    It was written by John Mark. He was not an apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, but he was an important figure in the early Church

    He appears in the book of Acts

    When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. (Acts 12:12)

    He was a cousin of Barnabus.

    My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) (Colossians 4:10)

    He was the spiritual son of Simon Peter.

    She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. (1 Peter 5:13)

    This has long been considered Simon Peter’s gospel. John Mark traveled with Paul and later Barnabus.

    Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. (Acts 15:37-40)

    John Mark made good. Paul later called for him in his letter to Timothy.

    Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11)

    Mark learned about Jesus from Peter and Paul. Mark was also an eyewitness to the events in the life of Christ.

    Mark emphasizes Christ as the suffering Servant, the One who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. Mark likely wrote this book in Rome. A servant needs references, not a birth certificate (no genealogy as in Matthew).

    Here’s J. Vernon McGee’s outline of the book:

    John introduces the Servant
    God the Father identifies the Servant
    The temptation initiates the Servant
    Works and words illustrate the Servant

    It’s filled with more miracles than the other gospels.

    Healing: Physical
    Nature: Natural
    Casting out of demons: spiritual
    Raised from the dead: supernatural

    Mark 1

    The book begins with what might be the most important verse in the entire book. It answers what might be the most important question in all of life:

    Who is Jesus?

    John Mark’s gospel or “good news” begins…

    The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1 (NIV)
    The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1, NASB)

    The purpose of the book of Mark is not history. It’s not merely a biography of Jesus. In fact, Jesus’ birth and childhood are omitted. The book begins with Jesus around age 30. No manger. No puberty. No teenage years! Mark begins with the gospel or “good news.” His purpose is “good news.”

    The original Greek word for gospel,
    euaggelion, was often used in a military context. The army would send a message back to the city and proclaim, “A victory has been won. We are not going to die! We are going to live!”

    That’s what Mark does. He tells us Jesus is alive and, therefore, a victory has been won for you and me. Life is available for us. Not just survival, but abundant life (John 10:10).

    He also tells us two things about Jesus’ identity. First, Christ is not Jesus’ last name! The word means “an anointed, royal figure” in Greek. In Hebrew, it is translated, “the Messiah.” A victory has been won for us by Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed, royal figure proclaimed for generations. Some English translations of this verse replace “Christ” with “The Messiah.”

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1, NIV 2011)

    Second, Jesus is the Son of God. He’s not just the Messiah, He’s God!

    Jesus is Messiah and God. This statement is a dividing line of faith. You can accept or reject the claim. If you believe Jesus is God, the miracles and teachings and resurrection are not difficult to accept. If you don’t believe Jesus is God, the rest of the book of Mark—the rest of the New Testament—will not make much sense.

    If you don’t believe Jesus is God, there’s no shame. You belong here. Keep seeking. Keep asking.

    Some contemporary Jews believe Jesus is not the Messiah because He did not bring the Kingdom to Israel. He was a failed Messiah. There have been hundreds, maybe thousands of people who claimed to be the Messiah. You’ve probably never heard of any of them.

    If Jesus is just another failed Messiah, how would you explain His influence two thousand years later? His Church is still growing, His Name is being worshipped in every part of the world.

    What if Mark was correct? Let’s assume Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God. Let’s assume He really died and rose again. Why do I believe that and others don’t?

    When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)

    They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)

    “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

    Who do you say Jesus is?

    Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

    Look at how Jesus replies.

    Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)

    If you believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, it was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by God the Father. It’s not because of your intellect or morality or a great argument. It’s because your Heavenly Father revealed it. The original Greek word for “revealed” here means “to take the cover off of something.”

    Simon Peter is blessed by God.

    Believers in Jesus Christ are blessed by God. The truth has been revealed.

    The greatest longing in any heart may be to receive the blessing of their father and mother.

    If you believe Jesus is the Christ, it’s because God the Father blessed you. Followers of Jesus are blessed sons and daughters of the King of kings.

    Who is Jesus?

    This is the question we will be answering each week in this series as we examine the gospel of Mark.

    Listen to Jesus' answer to the question from the gospel of John:

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

    Jesus is the way…to truth, to life, to the Father.
    Jesus is the truth.
    Jesus is life. He is alive. He conquered death. He offers you and me eternal life. He offers us abundant life.

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1, NIV 2011)

    Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the LORD of all.

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

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