2020 Vision, 15 September 2019

2020 Vision: Back to our Roots
Series—A Love Supreme
Colossians 2:6-19

Series Big Idea:
Christ is above all others. This is a study on the book of Colossians.

Big Idea:
We must always remain rooted in the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Why are you here?
These were the first words I ever spoke from this platform nearly four years ago. It’s a simple question with a variety of answers, some more spiritual than others, but all leading to you being present this morning. One response can be found in our lobby:

For the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

This phrase is taken from the first two verses of the book of Revelation:

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2)

Although the kids have been in school for several weeks and the football season is well underway, today is really our fall kickoff. Technically, fall begins this Saturday. More than a message about the next few months, I want to talk about the upcoming ministry year, the upcoming calendar year, what I’d like to call 2020 Vision. It’s hard to believe a new decade begins in less than sixteen weeks.

Before we look ahead, I want to mention a word I’ve heard people using a lot around here. Some have said we are a “
conservative” church…or used to be…or should be. Unfortunately, to many, that means one thing: Republican. But we must never confuse faith with politics. Here’s what “conservative” means according to the dictionary:

holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation,

Are we a conservative church? Should we be a conservative church? No…and yes.

On the one hand, we must recognize that our world is changing. 2020 will look much different than 2010, to say nothing of 1920 or AD 20.

We need to be guided by our Alliance family’s core values (seen on posters in our lobby).

One of them states:

Achieving God’s purposes means taking faith-filled risks. This always involves change. - Hebrews 1

Do you see the paradox? This value is not, by definition, conservative, yet holding to our values
is conservative!

Here are our other values:

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.
Luke 19:10
Prayer is the primary work of God’s people.
Philippians 4:6-7
Everything we have belongs to God; we are His stewards.
1 Chronicles 29:14
Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success.
Joshua 1:8
Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully-devoted disciple.
Matthew 28:19
Without the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can accomplish nothing.
1 Corinthians 2:4-5

We must always remain rooted in the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Is Jesus conservative?

God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever…and yet He is moving. He is doing new things.

Why are you here? Quite literally, we wouldn’t be here without a man named Albert Benjamin Simpson.


Today I want to go back to our roots. I don’t mean 2007 conservative. I don’t mean 1987 conservative. Let’s go back to 1887!

A.B. Simpson came to Toledo on December 5, 1887 and planted the Toledo Gospel Tabernacle, now known as First Alliance Church. Since then, we’ve had several buildings, a number of pastors, and thousands of people who have called our family home. Getting back to our roots means we look at who we got here. Why did Simpson travel from New York City to Toledo? He wanted everyone to know Jesus: rich, poor, black, white, young, old, male, female.

Our series this month,
A Love Supreme, is a study of the book of Colossians. Paul wrote to the church in Colossae…

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)

Paul wrote to another church,

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)

It’s all about Jesus.

It’s not about the color of the carpet, the volume of the music, the hair of the preacher, or the clapping abilities of the congregants.

It’s all about Jesus.

Our text for today is found in Colossians chapter 2.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)

It’s all about Jesus.
We must always remain rooted in the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Paul continues…

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

There are tens of thousands of Christian denominations in our world, which I find tragic. Many of them came about when one church split from another over human tradition. Perhaps the two most divisive issues in the history of Christianity have involved communion—where Jesus simply told us to remember him—and how much water to use in baptism! This is called religion! This is what Jesus despised! He did away with the Jew/Gentile walls and division. The focus must never be on legalism, but life. The life of Jesus. The abundant life Jesus offers.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:9-12)

It’s all about Jesus. It’s about dying to ourselves and living for Christ.

In two weeks, we’re going to have another baptism. The symbolism is so rich, entering a water grave and being raised with Jesus, experiencing new life.

If you’re a follower of Jesus—or want to be—and have never been baptized, please let us know today, either in person or via e-mail.

Are you ready for some good news?
Are you ready for some great news?

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

That is one of my favorite verses in the Bible! Jesus made a public spectacle of satan and his team of demons when he died for us. He triumphed! He died for all of our sins—past, present and future—if we repent and follow him.

Jesus is alive!
Jesus is the victor!
Jesus is LORD!

It’s all about Jesus.

It’s not about religion. It’s not about legalism. It’s about Jesus.
We must always remain rooted in the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:16-19)

We need to be connected to Jesus. We need to focus on Jesus. And when we do, we look at culture and politics through the lens of Jesus, and not look at Jesus through the lens of culture and politics.

We must hold our traditions and preferences loosely… while holding biblical orthodoxies tightly.

Put any two people in a room and they’ll discover differences. Division is easy. Unity is another matter entirely. Jesus’ one prayer for us—it’s in John 17—is unity. He prayed that we would be one as he and the Father are one.

A.B. Simpson never sought to start a denomination. He merely planted churches which didn’t formally become a denomination until almost a century later in 1974. He didn’t want to get caught up in quarrels and controversies. He wanted to focus on the essentials and let the peripheral issues remain peripheral. As a result,

We are a diverse family.

This is true both The Alliance. 40% of Alliance churches in the USA are non-anglo, speaking 37 languages and dialects! That’s just in the USA. 90% of Alliance members live outside the USA!

Here at First Alliance Church, we are growing more diverse, which I think is a beautiful thing. I believe every church should reach its community, serve its city, reflect its population. As we’ve been welcoming new people to First Alliance Church, some people have gotten a little uncomfortable. That’s ok. It’s not about you or me anyhow.

It’s all about Jesus.

I recently heard a speaker make an incredible statement of diversity. She said diversity is inviting someone to the party. Inclusion is inviting them to dance! We need to invite everyone to dance! We want to be more than a friendly church. We want to be a family of friends.

If you don’t like diversity in this life, you won’t like what’s next! John gives us an amazing vision:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

We’re different because God made us this way! Each of us is unique and special.
Anyone can get along with people like them. The beauty of the gospel, the distinction of the people of God, is that they become all things to all people, like Paul. They sacrifice their preferences, welcome strangers, and they see themselves as a mosaic—a collection of different, broken pieces that come together to create a work of art through which light shines. Consequently,

We must love and respect others…always. They are masterpieces.

Jesus’ half-brother, James, said never play favorites (James 2). We’re not here just for young people or attractive people or rich people. Every person in our family is created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth, a masterpiece, God’s masterpiece. We all need some restoration and cleaning, but we all have something to offer. That’s the way family works. You might disagree with the politics or fashion or worship style of your brother or sister, but they’re family. They deserve love and respect. Always. Over and over again, the Bible demonstrates that love for God and man has its greatest expression in community.

Recently, someone told me
love is listen, overlook, value, and encourage. I like that!

Jesus died for the whole world. Everyone. All people. All nations. All generations.

We must be mission-driven…commission-driven. It’s about making disciples.

Jesus has given us a commission—not a suggestion—to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). We’re not about programs or distributing religious goods and services. We’re not a social club for members-only. We are on a mission from God. The way we describe is…

We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory. (Ephesians 2:10)

We are a diverse family. We are called to be a loving family. We are here for both the city and the world. We’re going back…to our roots.

So What?

This fall we’ll be joining what will hopefully be hundreds of churches in our region giving everyone in our five counties a chance to hear the gospel…to see the gospel! Saturate Toledo is providing all of the Jesus film DVDs, booklets, and bags. We’ll get together and pray, stuff the bags, include our church info, and hang them on doors. It couldn’t be easier. Begin praying now for this unique outreach opportunity. It could change our community.

Dinner Church continues to exceed our expectations. We already have featured artists booked for the fall. We might need to buy more round tables since we’ve filled most every seat at the ones we have, but that’s a good problem! Unchurched people are encountering Jesus each month and I couldn’t be more excited!

Celebrate Recovery has been growing, serving not only people struggling with addictions, but also the 2 out of 3 participants who are dealing with the hurts and pain life brings to each of us.

This is our fourth year serving
Rosa Parks Elementary, both students and staff. The impact has been tremendous.

Next month our
After School Klub begins its 21st year serving the next generation. This will be Sharralynn Cook’s second year leading the ASK and if you haven’t worked with her, you have no idea what you’re missing! It’s an all-new Klub! Toledo Urban Impact is just one of our ten Home Missions partners.

That Neighborhood Church—our sister congregation in The Alliance—has offered to assist us in serving our growing population of people in need of basic life skills. Our partnerships with TNC and other area churches—including The Tabernacle and Vineyard—will unify and build God’s kingdom in Toledo and beyond.

We’ve also been getting help from Allegheny Alliance in Pittsburgh. Urban ministry is new for many of us, and we’ve been blessed with many trailblazers who have offered to equip us.

Perhaps our most important ministry—besides our prayer teams—is our
small groups. They remain the core of First Alliance Church. If you’re not in a group, you’re missing out on community, care, fellowship, and fun. An hour on Sunday is not enough to sustain a vibrant spiritual life. We were created to do life together.

Why are you here? I hope it’s for Jesus. I pray it’s because of our mission:

We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory. (Ephesians 2:10)

We need to be conservative—rooted in God’s Word, our core values, our history…but doing so involves change. It involves new wineskins for new wine. It means opening the doors wide for new people…and more importantly getting outside our four walls to love and serve the world…in deed and word. It’s about the inspiring vision of our founder, A.B. Simpson, and most of all…

It’s about Jesus. It has always been all about Jesus.

We must always remain rooted in the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

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

Vision Sunday, 5 March 2017

Vision Sunday
Matthew 28:18-20

Big Idea: God has an exciting mission for us to (continue to) pursue.

Those words, often called the Great Commission, are our mission. They are why we exist as a church. They are our mandate, our calling…make disciples.

My name is Kirk and about eighteen months ago I was invited to move to Toledo and serve as your lead pastor. It was a humbling opportunity. Heather and I continue to thank God for calling us here.

Several people have asked about our future, our vision. I dedicated my first year to listening—to you, our city, and most of all our Senior Pastor, Jesus. I came with no agenda. I came with little understanding of Toledo or First Alliance and its rich history.

I’m excited to say things are beginning to get clear. I’m starting to get the pulse of our church and neighborhood. I don’t have a 20-year strategic plan to share with you today or announcements of ten new initiatives, but after many discussions with our staff and elders, I believe things are slowly coming into focus and I want to share with you glimpses of our future.

Before we talk about First Alliance, I want to reflect upon our scripture text for today. To set the scene, we need to back up a bit. Matthew tells us about the resurrection of Jesus at the beginning of chapter 28. This, of course, is the great climax of Lent, arguably the greatest day in the history of the world.

By the way, I want to encourage all of you to join me in this season of Lent, the journey toward the Cross…and resurrection. It’s not just a Catholic thing! These forty days remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We still have some devotionals if you didn’t get one last week, available at the Information Center in the lobby. Next week we begin a Lent series called, “A Love That Never Dies” to help us prepare for Holy Week.

Matthew, one of four biographers of Jesus Christ, tells us the resurrection and then says…

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 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 28:16-20)

These are Matthew’s final words in his gospel or “good news.” The mission—the commission—is simple:
make disciples. Great! What’s a disciple? A simple definition would be a student or apprentice of another person. The goal of a disciple is to become like their master. When Jesus says make disciples, he is telling his followers to invest in followers who will become Christ-like.

A disciple is not someone who just has the knowledge of the master.
A disciple is someone who acts like the master.

You may be a master chef and spend years showing me how to cook, but the test of my discipleship is not what’s in my head, but rather what I put on the dinner plate.

You may be a master plumber and spend years showing me how to fix a leaky faucet, but the test of my discipleship is not what I know about plumbing, it’s whether or not I know how to keep the floor dry!

Tragically, the focus of many churches has been attendance, getting people to go to a church service or small group. For some it is information, stuffing people with Bible knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t truly measure discipleship.

The measure of discipleship is how much you look and act like Jesus. He said, “Follow me.”

I have heard countless times people respect Jesus but they don’t like the church. That’s a discipleship issue, friends. If you are a Christian—or “little Christ”—your life should resemble Jesus. Obviously, none of us have arrived—we’re all imperfect sinners—but our goal, our example should be Jesus. If you need a more specific description of a disciple of Jesus, consider the fruit of the Spirit:

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

How do you make disciples? First, be a disciple. Are you a disciple of Jesus? How does your life reflect the fruit of the Spirit?

It should be noted Jesus never commanded us to start churches, go on mission trips, engage in Bible studies, attend prayer meetings, or even listen to a sermon every Sunday. Again, none of those are bad, but they are not the goal. Our mission is to make disciples, people who look like Jesus, people who love God and others. Make disciples is the Great Commission. Jesus also gave the great commandments:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28)

“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.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Have you heard this before? You’ll hear it again, I promise, because at the end of the day, Jesus told us the entire Bible is summed up in two commandments:

Love God
Love your neighbor

And he has given us one mission

Make Disciples

Simple? Yes.
Easy? No.

The reality is, we can’t love God and our neighbor and make disciples on our own. We need the Holy Spirit. Thomas George spoke about the Holy Spirit a few weeks ago. If you weren’t here, you can download the message for free on iTunes or our smartphone app. In a sentence, he said we need to let go and let God, surrendering ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us in order for us to bear fruit.

So make disciples. But how? Actually, the command is go and make disciples. What does it mean to love God and love others? Let’s take a look at our church’s mission statement. It says

The mission – make disciples - fully devoted followers of Christ. We define discipleship at First Alliance as someone who is: Connecting to God (worship), others (growing in community), and the world (missions – here and around the world)

As our logo says, we’re about connecting to God, others, and the world.

Are you still with me?

The elders have been working on bringing more clarity to our mission. It’s biblical, but very broad. Any church could/should help people connect to God, others, and the world. I don’t have a revised mission statement for you—though we’ve been discussing one—but I want to suggest two details I cannot avoid:

1. Toledo

I know, this isn’t exactly rocket science, but Toledo is our “Jerusalem,” our home mission field. I’m sure there was a day when Toledo was filled with followers of Jesus, but like most any city in the west, it is becoming increasingly secular or non-Christian. We probably have more atheists, agnostics, and people of other faiths in our city than ever before, to say nothing of lukewarm Christians.

If God called you to be a missionary in west Africa as he did last week’s guests Doug and Karen Conkle, you would live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus, right?

Most of you have been called by God to be missionaries in Toledo. This is our mission field. We need to live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus.

Let me briefly share a few reasons why I believe we need to focus on Toledo:

1. We’re here!
2. We’ve been here for 129 years
3. We chose to stay here when the old building burned down
4. Toledo has many needs we can address
5. We’ve been given some wonderful opportunities to pursue
6. We can be a part of the city’s growth and renaissance
7. God is on the move in Toledo, not only at First Alliance but in the dozens of churches who are praying, serving, and worshiping together

This morning I want to declare my personal commitment to this city. For as long as God has me here at First Alliance, I want to live, work, shop, and play in Toledo. Heather and I really have done better in Toledo and we’re excited about the future.

2. The Next Generation

No, I’m not talking about Star Trek. Actually, the next generation can be interpreted in a number of different ways—the next generation in US history (the Millennials) or the one that follows (GenZ), the next generation of members at First Alliance, the next generation of followers of Jesus…but it’s not me. It’s not many of you. Obviously we’re not going to go crazy, hang a disco ball from the ceiling, and sing Lady Gaga songs, but many of us have had our day. People served and sacrificed so we could encounter Jesus. We must make space for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. If you know Jesus, it’s critical to help the next generation know him. You saw some of them earlier waving ribbons. Others spoke last Sunday about their trip to the Avalanche youth retreat. They are our future…they are our present!

We’ve always been about the next generation. We were involved in starting Toledo Christian Schools. We have an After School Klub. We run an annual sports and arts camp. We have possibly the best children’s director in the state of Ohio (Sue Trumbull) who is leading one hundred volunteer workers!

Jesus told this great parable (story) in the 13
th chapter of Matthew. He said seed was scattered in soil. Some was eaten by birds. Some fell on rocky ground and died. Some was choked by thorns. Some fell on good soil and produced a great crop. Jesus explained the story by saying…

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives 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. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:19-22)

But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
(Matthew 13:23)

After being so impressed by my first year at sports and arts camp last summer, I told Sue we did a great job scattering seed for a week, but what about the next 51 weeks? We need to cultivate the seeds, making sure they receive sun, rain, and fertilizer, keeping away the thorns, rocks, and birds.

We are starting to do just that, through Toledo Urban Impact, the new van pickup each Sunday, new students from the neighborhood coming on Wednesday nights to girls club, boys club, and youth group, and our growing relationship with Rosa Parks Elementary School two miles away. We’re certainly not done, but we’re in the process of developing a birth to college pipeline of discipleship.

Our involvement at Rosa Parks began largely through an invitation from Dr. Durant, the TPS superintendent, to be present in the school with the students and staff—before, during, and after school! He is a God-fearing man who is unashamed of his faith and we accepted his invitation. I wrote him this past week to say I was thrilled to read his contract was extended three years. Rosa Parks Elementary is a huge part of our mission field, people we are called to love, serve, and bless.

Do you want to know my dream? It is to put Dan Rogers at Cherry Street Mission out of a job! Seriously! He would love that!

He would love to see homelessness end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to experience graduation, a career, and most of all Jesus Christ.

He would love to see poverty end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to develop a career.

He would love to see crime and teen pregnancy end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to encounter Jesus Christ.

We’re not giving up on adults, but something like 80% of Christians trust Christ before they turn 18. We can share the gospel with adults, but it’s a lot harder. We can rehabilitate the 55 year-old addict, but it’s a lot harder.

And do I need to tell you the kids of Toledo need hope? They need help? They need Jesus.

Last week Toledo’s 9
th teen was shot dead.

The current graduation rate for TPS is less than 65%.

Teen moms are not just 16 and 17. Some are 12 and 13 years old in junior high.

So What?

Toledo needs Jesus. Not religion. Not programs. Jesus.

The next generation needs Jesus.

Where is Jesus on earth? We are to be his hands and feet, loving and serving and inviting people to come and see the one who loves them, who died for them, who never shames or pressures or manipulates, but simply says, “Follow me.”

Discipleship is praying for our city and next generation.
Discipleship is serving our city and next generation.
Discipleship is loving our city and next generation.

Will you join me?

  • You can listen to messages at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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