Unity, 9 October 2022

Series—JOY: The Book of Philippians
Philippians 1:27-2:4

Series Big Idea:
Paul’s letter from prison to the church in Philippi is filled with joy.
Big Idea: Paul echoes Jesus’ prayer for unity in the church.
For the past seven years—well, actually it will be seven years on Wednesday—I’ve been
praying four prayers for First Alliance Church: direction, protection, passion, and unity.
I pray for direction because this is God’s church. It’s not mine. It’s not yours. It’s not ours. It’s His church and where He leads, we must follow.
I pray for protection, knowing there is a real enemy that wants to steal, kill, destroy, and lie. He can’t create anything, but if we’re not fitted with the armor of God (Ephesians 6) and on our knees, we will be destroyed…but our God is greater!
I pray for passion for the things that God cares about…the lost, the widow, the stranger, the orphan, the poor…along with justice, righteousness, and peace.
I pray for unity because it is fragile, it’s what Jesus prayed for us, and it’s our theme today.
We’re in the middle of a series on the book of Philippians, a letter from imprisoned Paul to the church in Philippi in Greece which he started. This is a letter from a pastor to a congregation. We begin in Philippians chapter one, verse 27.
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. (Philippians 1:27, NLT)
Above all. This is the most important thing Paul wants this church to know. First, he tells them to live as citizens of heaven. He was writing to Roman citizens, but he’s saying they have a higher citizenship. Most of us are citizens of the United States, but that will only be useful for a hundred years or so. For citizens of heaven,
conduct matters.
First Alliance, your conduct matters. People are watching you. They’re watching us. They want to know if we just talk about Jesus or walk like Jesus. We all know actions speak louder than words. Paul’s not sure if he will even see these people again, but he knows conduct matters. They—and we—may be the only Bible people read. Hypocrisy can hurt the spread of the gospel. So can division, racism, hate, idolatry, and the countless other sins that are giving the movement of Jesus a bad reputation in our day.
The gospel simply means “good news,” and one unknown writer wrote,

You are writing a gospel,
A chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do
And the words that you say.
Men read what you write,
Whether faithful or true:
Just what is the gospel
According to you?

Paul described it this way in his letter to the church in Corinth:
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. (2 Corinthians 3:2, NIV)
Unfortunately, the gospel many people are reading from so-called Christians is not good news. It’s not attractive. Young people especially are leaving the Church, perhaps because they can’t find Jesus there!
Can I tell you about something exciting, though, that gives me some hope? The largest Christian media campaign in history is underway. It’s called
He Gets Us. Have you seen it? Here’s an example of one of the ads.
Video: He Gets Us
Our church is one of thousands around the country receiving prayer requests from people responding to this
campaign which is right now all over social media, television, and billboards. There will be Super Bowl ads, race car sponsorships, and more. I think it’s exciting and I pray it stimulates a revival in our nation, especially among young people, the target audience. As hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested, tremendous research has been done and the majority of people in our nation are open to learning more about Jesus. The issue isn’t Christ, but Christians who don’t conduct themselves well, who don’t act like the one they claim to follow. This is nothing new. Notice what Paul says about them.
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. (Philippians 1:27, NLT)
One spirit. One purpose. Fighting together. That’s unity! Paul wants this church to fight together for the gospel, the good news. He wants them to be like that group in the video, a gang of love, following Jesus together. Conduct matters. It doesn’t save us—only Jesus can do that—but it’s the evidence that we’re saved. Not perfect, but growing in Christ-likeness.
Paul continues.
Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. (Philippians 1:28, NLT)
Have you ever been intimidated? How does that feel? I’ve spoken with many people who seem intimidated by enemies of Jesus, whether they are politicians or people of other religions or even people from other countries. In case you forgot, our God is greater!
…the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4b, NIV)
Family, we are to fight…on our knees. We are to be warriors…of love. We are to unite together…at the foot of the cross. We are to encourage one another…especially when we are afraid. Following Jesus isn’t easy. It’s a battle. That’s why one of my four prayers is protection. Ephesians 6 talks about the armor of God. We have to put it on.
You don’t wage war in your pajamas!
For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. (Philippians 1:29, NLT)
Have you ever thought of suffering as a privilege? Paul did. Remember, he’s writing from prison…for his faith. Suffering is remarkable. It breeds empathy. Military veterans—especially those wounded—have a unique bond with one another. In a similar way, those who suffer for Jesus can identify in a small way with the tremendous suffering Jesus endured for us. We can reach out to God for comfort and strength. Most of us don’t like to ask for help, but we can do far more with God’s help than we can on our own. Most of us have never experienced true persecution, but many of our brothers and sisters around the world experience it every day. We need to pray for them…and prepare for persecution which may be in our future. If it comes, it will reveal the true believers from the fakers…the Sunday morning Christians from the fully devoted.
Paul told Timothy,
Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12, NLT)
How many of you memorized this verse?! This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus was persecuted and his followers will be, too. He lived a radical, counter-cultural life and the world always hates those who refuse to follow the status quo and the politically-correct. We must remember Jesus identifies with those who suffer, and though he promised us trouble, he also promised to be with us and said he has overcome the world (John 16:33). Suffering for Christ always has a purpose…for our good and God’s glory, even though we may avoid it.
Paul reminds them…
We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it. (Philippians 1:30, NLT)
Unity. They are in it together. Family,
we need to follow Jesus together. We need to love one another well, believe the best in one another, extend grace to one another, be quick to forgive one another, refuse to gossip about one another, serve one another, pray for one another, and you know what else? Get to know one another!
In a growing church like ours, I don’t even know everyone, but I want to personally invite you to
Bruce’s Bonfire on October 22 and our all-church potluck on October 30. These two events were created especially for you to get to know one another. Mark your calendars. Make it a priority.
Perhaps the best way to really get to know one another is by joining a
Life Group, doing life together with others. It’s not always easy. People can be messy. We can all be challenging, at times, but that’s why we need one another.
One of the reasons the early church grew so quickly was because messy ragamuffins were welcomed by followers of Jesus. It wasn’t a country club for the rich and famous, but a tribe of broken people seeking faith, hope, and love.
I said a few weeks ago there’s only one Church in Toledo. We need one another. We were created to need one another. There will always be things we disagree about, but followers of Jesus are called to come together, to present one message to the world: Jesus is LORD!
Paul’s not done with his unity remarks.
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. (Philippians 2:1-2, NLT)
What’s Paul’s message? Unity! Agree. Love, Work together. One mind and purpose. This is what the Church is supposed to be. What a vision! As one of your pastors, let me say First Alliance, “Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose!”
Amen! You know that’s hard, right? That’s why there are more than 41,000 Christian denominations in our world! Yet Jesus prayed for us—for us—that we would be one.
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. (John 17:20-21, NLT)
Jesus also said neither a divided kingdom nor a divided house can stand (Mark 3:24-25). Our real enemy wants to divide and conquer. He doesn’t want us to be one, but 41,000+!!! One writer said, “Unity is the hallmark of the gospel.” This isn’t about uniformity, about us all looking and acting exactly the same. Unity is being coming together to follow Jesus. There’s an African proverb which says, “Threads united can tie even a lion.” There’s power when we unite, when we come together, when we avoid the temptation to cancel one another and, instead, extend grace, listen to one another, seek understanding, and love well.
Why do we struggle with unity? Two words: selfishness and pride.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2:3-4, NLT)
Don’t be selfish. Is that clear? I like the
New International Version’s translation.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV)
nothing out of selfish ambition.
What is the sin that causes us to try to impress others, vain conceit? Pride. It’s the root of all sin, the original sin. It plagues all of us in a variety of destructive ways, from arrogance to false humility to hating ourselves and calling God’s masterpiece junk, as if you know better than the Creator! The opposite of pride is…humility.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. It’s thinking of Jesus and others more. It’s having the posture of a servant. We all like the idea of being a servant until we’re treated like one! Jesus’ example for us was characterized by humility and obedience. If anyone deserved to act like he was God…!!!
One obvious expression of humility Paul states is looking out for others. It’s having concern for our city and caring for the widow, the stranger, and the orphan. This is especially hard in our individualistic, materialistic, me-first culture. Humility was not valued in the ancient world, and it seems uncommon among the celebrities of our day, yet it is the way of Jesus.
Family, this is a struggle for me. I am selfish. I am proud. I want my own way. I don’t like to wait for others. I think of myself far too often. Even listening can be challenging for me. But would you agree this is a beautiful vision? If we could just get this right, how incredible would that be?
I think it begins with a careful look at Jesus. Imagine he walked in the room. Instant humility! The more time I spent with the LORD, the more I realize how sinful and weak I am. It’s not a popular thing in our culture to admit, but it’s not about me! It’s all about Jesus.
His desire for all of us is simple: follow him. Love him. Love others. This is not done by trying harder. The goal isn’t to merely avoid doing bad things. It begins with surrender, with letting go, with giving Jesus your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Like the five people baptized last week, it’s dying to yourself so you can be made new in Christ.

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

Proclaim, 9 September 2018

Series: FAC-DNA
2 Timothy 4:1-5

Series Overview:
God has placed us uniquely in our city and world for such a time as this, a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.

Big Idea:
 We are to proclaim good news…in word and deed.

Simon Sinek is a best-selling author. He has the third-most-watched Ted Talk video of all time. He speaks all over the world. His primary message is simple: start with why.

Often people focus on what they do or how they do things, but there’s power in unpacking the why.

Why are you here this morning?
Why are we here this morning?
Why does First Alliance Church exist?

Unlike independent churches, we are part of a larger family, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. Our president, Dr. John Stumbo, has called the Alliance

a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family

Last week we said we’re all about Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is our authority. He is not only our Savior, he is our LORD. He’s our leader. We are Christ-centered. He modeled what it means to be human. He incarnated love. He taught with the most powerful stories and wisdom in all of human history. He offered three significant commands:

Love God
Love others as you love yourself (the Great Commandment; Matthew 22:34-40)
Make disciples (the Great Commission; Matthew 28:18-20)

Obey and become like Jesus and help others become like Jesus, loving God and others. This is what it means to be Christ-centered.

Acts 1:8 says

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

We exist to obey and worship and glorify Jesus Christ.

We are called to make disciples in Toledo, the region, the nation, and around the world.

We are also a family. We’re not a perfect family, but what family is?

We are a Jesus-centered family making disciples in Toledo and beyond for God’s glory.

But what does that mean? We’re examining that question this month in our series FAC-DNA.


The “why” is to glorify and obey God.

The “what” is to love God, love others as we love ourselves, and make disciples.

But how? Last week, we heard Alliance president, Dr. John Stumbo, talk about love. It’s so basic and obvious it almost seems silly to mention, yet our examination of 1 Corinthians 13 last week revealed loving others can be messy and challenging. One friend told me after last week’s sermon that sometimes loving means literally getting poop on your hands. Truly loving God and others can only be done as we receive God’s love and are filled with the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to love the unlovable, never give up on the hopeless, give when we want to take, and sacrifice when we want to be selfish.

We are to love. That’s what a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family looks like. We must be known for our love. We’re not, by the way. Many know us for what we’re against rather than what we’re for. I pray that each day we would becoming more loving and known for our love. Jesus was known for his love. If we are truly following Jesus…
We are to love. Here’s Dr. Stumbo introducing our next verb of this series.

Stumbo video transcript:

The second verb that arose is the verb proclaim. When I say love, I’m saying one thing. When I say proclaim, I’m saying two, really. And it depends on what generation I’m talking to.
To baby boomers and older, my generation, I have to talk about Matthew 25—that the marginalized, the hurting, the imprisoned, the poor, the immigrant—they’re part of our Bibles, too. We focused so much on verbalizing the gospel, which was fantastic, that sometimes we overlooked demonstrating the gospel.
We kind of left that to the liberal churches, to do the social gospel kind of thing, and I’m questioning that. And I’m saying that we as an evangelical church, as The Christian and Missionary Alliance, must learn to demonstrate the gospel in ways that touch our communities.
Meanwhile, if I’m speaking to the younger generation, they don’t need for me to go to Matthew 25. Cause, justice, those kind of issues, are part of their language and lifestyle. But, they’ve lost, as one young leader has confessed to me, “Our generation has lost the ability to articulate faith.”
Verbalizing, speaking the gospel, has become weak in a lot of our younger groups. And so I want to challenge us to be the kind of people who verbalize and demonstrate the gospel. So millennials and younger generation, you don’t have to like the words or methods that us older guys use in speaking the gospel. That’s fine if you don’t ever ask anybody to invite Jesus into their heart. I don’t care about that, but what I do care about deeply is that we become people who authentically speak the true gospel in ways that each culture, each generation, can hear.
We are to love. Love is a noun. Love is a verb. Loving can also be an adjective describing how we do…everything. We are to teach with love, serve with love, give with love, teach with love, discipline with love…and with love we are to proclaim good news, the gospel, our Savior, Jesus Christ. We even helped start a radio station years ago with that in mind: WPOS, proclaim our Savior.

One of my favorite things about our FAC family is its diversity. Sure, we’re not exactly a United Nations convention, but we have people from various religious, political, ethnic, educational, and economic backgrounds. They say variety is the spice of life.

On a side note, this past week I heard a podcast featuring Cherry Street Mission’s CEO Dan Rogers. In it, he said we need to surround ourselves with people different from ourselves in order to truly grow. He said this is why we don’t marry our sibling! Think about it. God’s design is that we marry someone from a different family in order to produce healthy hybrids of the two. Fascinating!

We have a reputation as being an older congregation, and it’s hard to argue that assessment. But despite a growing number of retirees from the Builder and Boomer generations, there are those of us GenXers, Millennials, and a growing number of GenZ members, too, those born in since the late 1990s. Each generation is unique and special. As Dr. Stumbo said in the video, some of us need to proclaim more clearly through our words while others need to amplify our actions.

Each Tuesday morning at 8:30 AM, a group of men gather here to pray…for our families, church, city, nation, and world. Men, you are all invited! Before we begin to pray each Tuesday, Charles Carter shares a passage of scripture and a story of one of our spiritual siblings overseas. Some involve martyrdom, others torture. Some of the accounts describe the most inhumane treatment of not only men and women but sometimes children. I believe every story has one thing in common: these atrocities were done because someone refused to proclaim Jesus Christ as LORD.

This is nothing new, of course. Jesus himself was murdered. Eleven of his best friends were martyred.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and VOM—Voice of the Martyrs,—tell these unbelievable stories of passionate faith, radical love, and supernatural forgiveness. We shouldn’t be surprised. Paul wrote to Timothy…

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5)

Yet I worry about what someone might
think of me if I share my faith. I’m too busy to love others, serving the least of these. I so easily fall into materialistic, consumeristic, and selfish ways rather than following the example of Jesus to proclaim good news.

I’m not saying you should cancel your Netflix subscription, vacation plans, and time with your family. Hardly. But when is the last time you proclaimed Jesus Christ in word and/or deed?

Paul wrote,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)
The gospel, the good news, Jesus, Jesus is LORD, God loves you, that’s powerful. We must not be ashamed. Jesus hung up for you. Will you stand up for him?
Sometimes we make proclamation more complicated than necessary. Do you have a God story? Share it! Life is all about stories. Relationships are all about stories. I talk about my wife. I talk about my kids. I talk about my vacation. I talk about my God.
Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words. Have you heard that? Who said it? It has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but there’s no evidence he actually said it. Actions speak louder than words, yes, but our actions only give credibility to our words, not the other way around.
If your doctor is 100 pounds overweight and he tells you to lose weight…
Peter wrote,
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Our good deeds validate our message, but we must have a message. How many of you became a follower of Jesus without anyone ever telling you anything about Jesus, his love for you, his death, his resurrection, and his upcoming return? We need words. We need to proclaim good news. Family, our city and world have never been more desperate for good news, for love, for peace. We are called to be hope dealers! What a privilege!
Every day there are people contemplating and even committing suicide. What’s the use in living?
Every day there are people overdosing on opioids, unable to cope with the pain in their lives? Where’s the hope?
Every day people are bored out of their skulls, filling time with cat videos on YouTube and binge watching cheesy tv shows and movies. What on earth am I here for?
Paul wrote to his disciple, Timothy, these words:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

Preach the word. Proclaim the word. He’s not just saying give Sunday sermons. He’s saying know God, know God’s word, and proclaim it…every day…everywhere. Will some reject it? Absolutely! But that’s not our concern. We are to obey. We are to proclaim.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

We desperately need the Holy Spirit’s power. We can’t change people. We can’t make anyone follow Jesus. But we can set an example. We can live compelling lives. We can invite people to the party. They can choose whether or not they want to attend.

By the way, this word “witnesses”…the Greek word is “martys.” What word do you know that sounds like martys? Martyr. A testifier, a witness, and possibly even someone whose proclamation will cost them their very life.

So What?

Look for opportunities to deal hope to those who are struggling through life, which is all of us at one time or another. Consider these questions:

  • - What do you do when life gets hard? Where do you turn?
  • - How do you make decisions? Who guides you through life?
  • - Where are you at in your spiritual journey?
  • - Are you a part of a faith community?
  • - What do you think is the meaning of life?
  • - How can I pray for you?

These are some simple, non-threatening questions which might open up some spiritual conversations, creating space for your story and the gospel of Jesus.

Family, loving God, loving others as we love ourselves, and make disciples necessitates proclamation. Good news needs to be shared. Will you proclaim?
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Be Holy! 8 November 2015

    Note: This message is similar to one preached at Scio Community Church, September 13, 2015.

    Be Holy!
    Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 1:13-21

    Series Overview:
    God’s grace is present in the midst of suffering.

    Big Idea: When suffering, we need not only need empathy but also holy action.


    Last week we began our series on 1 Peter, “What In The World Is Going On?” We live in crazy times, amen?

    • - We can kill babies and sell their parts but go crazy if a lion is shot
    • - It’s ok smoke weed but not cigarettes.
    • - Bush might run against Clinton for president!
    • - Women now have wives and men can have a husband.
    • - We are to be tolerant of everything yet offended by everything.

    I’ve heard Christians in the USA talk about suffering and persecution. Perhaps you’ve lost friends over your faith, have been skipped over for a job promotion for following Jesus, or been teased because you love Christ. While I don’t mean to minimize those things, it’s nothing compared to the imprisonment, torture, and even death faced by our brothers and sisters around the world. In recent days, the media has shed light on the horrific actions of ISIS and other groups who have promoted violence, prompted refugees to flee their homelands, and murdered our spiritual siblings.

    The theme of this book may well be called hope and grace in the midst of suffering. While we all experience trials, Peter—one of Jesus’ three best friends—is writing to scattered peoples fleeing for their freedoms and, in many cases, their very lives. In the first twelve verses of this epistle—or short letter—these exiles are addressed with reminders of their salvation, the temporary nature of their suffering, and hope both now and forever.

    Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

    What is therefore there for? These exiles are suffering and have been given encouragement and hope.

    When you’re suffering, encouragement and hope are wonderful, but something else is needed to prevent despair: action. There are times we are to be still, quiet, reflect, and meditate, but when life gets hard, we can focus inward on our problems and miss out on God’s blessings. Most everything in life begins with our minds, our thoughts.

    I’d be the first to say positive thinking can be overrated, but not always. Paul famously wrote

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

    Our actions begin with our mind. Garbage in, garbage out. Purity in, purity out.

    The temptation in suffering is to turn inward and suffer your own suffering, troubling your own trouble. Peter gives them a vision of something greater than the present. God is still on the throne.

    Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. (1 Peter 1:13)

    With minds that are alert and fully sober…what an interesting phrase. It means to prepare your minds for action, literally “gird up the loins of your mind.”

    Some have suggested we translate this passage “taking off the coat” or “rolling up the sleeves” of your mind. Take off your warm-up suit so your mind can move freely.

    Peter is saying maintain a loose grip on this world and a tight grip on what lies ahead. This world is temporary.

    Life is short. Eat dessert first!

    Then he says to make sure your minds are fully sober. This is a metaphor. He’s saying be self-controlled. Drunks cannot control themselves or their bodies. What’s the point of this gird of loins and self-control? Hope! With focused, ready minds “set your hope.”

    Hope is a challenging word because it means so many different things. I can hope to play baseball for the Detroit Tigers or I can hope you like this sermon or I can hope my wife will love me tomorrow. Like faith, the issue isn’t so much with me, but with the object of my hope. Playing for the Tigers is wishful thinking. It’s not going to happen no matter how much I think about it, pray about it, or hope for it. The love of my wife, however, is secure. Although I haven’t experienced tomorrow yet, I am confident in the love my wife has for me and I look forward to being with her tomorrow.

    Peter is saying our hope is in Jesus and His return. We can be sure Jesus is alive and coming back. It has not yet happened. We are waiting, but it is going to happen! There may be pain and trials now but Christ will return and justice will be served.

    1 Peter 1:14…

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

    Although our culture likes to talk about how things are not black and white but gray, the Bible is filled with contrasts: hot or cold, good or evil, heaven or hell. Every day we can choose to follow the world or God. We can reflect society’s consumerism and individualism or we can reflect God and His character, His nature, His holiness.

    There’s a lot of opinions in our world about right and wrong…or if there is any such thing. One of the tenants of postmodern philosophy is the belief that since words are subjective, there is no such thing as absolute truth.

    Of course the problem with saying there is no such thing as absolute truth is it is a declaration that the statement itself is true!

    Truth. This has been the dilemma of our court system. Who is right? What is ok? Abortion? Marijuana? Gay marriage? Adultery? Sharing a Netflix account with a friend? Pornography? Human cloning?

    Ethics originate from within ourselves (conscience, reasons, nature) or from outside ourselves (the Constitution, revelation, codes of ethics). Scot McKnight writes

    Christian orthodoxy teaches that ethics flows from salvation and that humans, by themselves, cannot discern the will of God—for personal salvation, for personal ethics, or for the social order. We know God’s will because in his grace he has made his will known to us through his revelation, the Bible being the primary mode of this revelation. The same construction applies to our knowledge of ethics: We know what is good from what is bad because God has told us in his Word, beginning with the Mosaic legislation and climaxing in the teachings of Jesus and the apostolic testimony.

    Our text for today is quite explicit in this, distinguishing between evil desires of the world and holiness, reflecting God. Holy means “set apart” or “different.” It’s not necessarily saying perfection—though God is perfect and we are not—but different, unique, special. We are to be holy because we have been changed and because we are children of a holy God. Kids are like their parents (sorry kids!). Obedient children follow Daddy. We were children of the devil, the world, following its ways. Now we are to be obedient children of God, walking in holiness, imitating Jesus.

    We are
    called to be holy. As Jesus called Peter to follow Him, so also He is calling us to be holy and follow His example.

    Notice, too, Peter says, “It is written.” The Word of God is powerful. Do you know it? Do you read it? Do you live it? An hour on Sunday isn’t going to make up for the 167 hours you’re in the world, absorbing its messages of selfishness and pride. As Warren Wiersbe says,

    The Word reveals

    God’s mind, so we should learn it.
    God’s heart, so we should love it.
    God’s will, so we should live it.

    Author John Eldridge wrote, “Our journey to holiness is the process whereby we receive more and more of the holiness of Jesus Christ into more and more of our being…In fact, the assumption of the New Testament is that you cannot become whole without becoming holy; nor can you become holy without becoming whole. The two go hand in hand.”

    In order to make humans what they are meant to be the love of God seeks to make us whole and holy. We are not holy because of what we do for God, we are made holy because of what God has done for us.

    Are you an obedient child of God?

    When I reflect upon God’s holiness and my sin I realize I am desperate for Him.
    When I recognize God’s power and my weakness I realize I am desperate for HIm.
    This is why worship is so important.

    When I am desperate for God, I spend time with Him.
    When I spend time with Him, I know Him.
    When I know Him, I love Him.
    When I love Him, I obey Him.

    Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. (1 Peter 1:17)

    This fear does not mean anxiety or scary, but rather awe. Dad is watching us now, and one day He will judge each of us. We can have awe or desire the approval of the world as citizens or we can be in awe of and seek the Father as foreigners; visitors.

    For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)

    We have been redeemed, purchased with a price. Jesus died, shedding His blood for us. Our redemption makes us grateful for not only forgiveness but adoption into our new family and a desire to live in holiness and awe before God.

    Our Father is the standard. He is holy. He shows us through Jesus what it means to truly be human, to live as we were created to live, full of faith, hope and love. He shows us the benefits of salvation, an eternal hope that cannot be taken away.

    So What?

    Is your faith and hope in God…or in the stock market?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your friends?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your job?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your social media popularity?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your stuff…the house, the cars, the vacations?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in our president, governor, or political party?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your gifts, talents and abilities?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your education and diplomas?

    Is your faith and hope in the present…or in the future?

    Peter encourages us to be aware of the future—God’s righteous judgment of our lives and also the hope of the joy of final salvation. The best is yet to come.


    Some ideas from

    Be Hopeful (1 Peter): How to Make the Best of Times Out of Your Worst of Times (The BE Series Commentary) by Warren Wiersbe

    Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

    1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

    Faith Works, 7 August 2011

    Big Idea: Faith and works are marks of true believers.

    When I was in middle school, I asked the question of friends, all of whom said heaven. “Why?” I asked. “Because I’m a good person and haven’t killed anyone,” they would usually respond.

    “There’s a problem, though” I would say. “You’re not good enough. I’m not good enough.”

    ...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)

    All of my goodness is as filthy rags it says in Isaiah 64:6.

    Let’s look at some of Paul’s writings for a moment:

    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

    How are we saved? By grace. Through faith. By God.

    This is one of the most vital passages in the Bible. You are not good enough to go to heaven.

    It’s not what you do that gets you to heaven but what was done by Jesus.

    So does that mean that all dogs go to heaven, and people, too? No. We must receive the gift. Action is required. Faith is not merely something in your head, but something that is expressed.

    Niagara Falls story

    The Great Blondin - the man who invented the high wire act, announced to the world that he intended to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. More than five thousand people gathered to watch. Halfway across, Blondin suddenly stopped, steadied himself, back flipped into the air, landed squarely on the rope, and then continued safely to the other side. Blondin crossed the Falls again and again; blindfolded, carrying a stove, in chains, and on a bicycle. Just as he was about to begin yet another crossing, this time pushing a wheelbarrow, he turned to the crowd and shouted, "Who trusts that I can cross pushing this wheelbarrow?" Every hand in the crowd went up. Blondin pointed at one man:

    "Do you trust that I can do it?" he asked.
    "Yes, I trust you can." said the man.
    "Are you certain that you trust me?" said Blondin.
    "Yes" said the man.
    "Absolute trust? Absolutely certain?"
    "Yes, absolute trust, with absolute certainty."
    "Thank you," said Blondin, "please get into the wheelbarrow."

    On Thursday I took my son and two friends to see the Detroit Tigers. They were losing 5-0 near the end of the game and I told my friend, “If I was a betting man, I’d say the Tigers will lose.” After the Tigers scored two runs and had opportunities for more, I leaned over and said, “I’m glad I’m not a betting man.”

    There’s a difference between saying you believe something and putting action behind it. It’s one thing to say the Tigers will win and another to put money on it, not that I’m advocating gambling!

    Are you willing to get in the wheelbarrow?

    Let’s look at today’s passage from the book of James.

    What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

    Here James refers to the poor again as he did in his definition of “pure religion.”

    Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:27)

    Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. That’s why I love Jesus. He didn’t just tell people, “I love you.” He demonstrated His love by giving His very life for us, dying on the cross in our place, receiving the punishment of
    our sins.

    Martin Luther took issue with James, arguing that we are not saved by works, but instead by faith.

    James' point is not to argue whether we are saved by faith or by works. His point is that our belief, which saves us, is only true belief if it is confirmed by our actions, if it is confirmed by hopping in the wheelbarrow.

    But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

    Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.

    Check this out—satan believes in God, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to heaven!

    It’s not enough to say you believe in God. Again, talk is cheap. Knowledge isn’t enough. Following Jesus is a verb, it involves action. Demons may believe in God, but they don’t serve Him, they don’t call Him LORD, they haven’t died to themselves in order to let Jesus live in and through them. Jesus said if we want to follow Him we must pick up our cross daily. We must die. We must put our faith into action.

    You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (2:20-24)

    Real faith requires action.

    At this point it should be obvious that in context James is talking about works and faith being so tightly interwoven that to suggest you are saved, but do not do good works in response to that salvation then it's likely you are not really saved.  Notice that James does not say, "You are justified by works alone." He very clearly unites works and faith. Either one alone is useless. It’s like a screen door on a submarine.

    It’s so useless that James equates it to a body without a spirit, which is a dead body. The living dead. Those who claim to have faith but have no works are living with a dead thing; their dead spirit.

    In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (2:25-26)

    Jesus did not die 2000 years ago to simply make history. His butchered body didn’t hang on a cross for people to say they witnessed a death. He died to demonstrate His love for us that we would die to ourselves, be recreated in His image, and make a difference in our world. Christians are to do more than talk the talk...we are to walk the walk. The world can’t see our mental beliefs, but they can see our actions...and often they FAIL to see our actions, making us hypocrites.

    Jesus’ ministry was filled with good works as he healed the sick and fed the poor. That opened the door to dialogue about faith.

    We need to walk in faith, not sit in faith.

    So my challenge to you...and to to walk the walk and put are faith into action. That’s what our Master did.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Words, 24 July 2011

    Big Idea: We are to know the Word, obey the Word, and share the Word.

    What is your favorite word? Probably your name. Words are the building blocks of communication. They are the subject of the game Scrabble and its newer rival Words with Friends. Words are powerful. They convey meaning. Words can encourage or destroy, inform or confuse.

    My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (1:19-20)

    That sounds simple, doesn’t it?

    Quick to listen
    Slow to speak
    Slow to become angry

    Let’s go back for a moment and review the context. The previous verses say

    Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:16-18)

    Notice that phrase...

    ...“word of truth.” The Greek is “logos” and means “word, spoken or written, often with a focus on the content of a communication.” Jesus is referred to as “The Word” in John 1:1 which emphasizes His own deity and the communication of who God is and what He is like.

    We have been given the Word, both Jesus Christ and the Bible. God chose to give us new life and the Word.

    Followers of Jesus that know Jesus and the Bible are to be...

    Quick to listen
    Slow to speak
    Slow to become angry

    When I was writing my message this week, I accidentally wrote

    Quick to speak
    Slow to listen
    Slow to become angry

    Unfortunately, that probably describes me more accurately. I love to speak (aren’t you glad!). It has been said, however, that God has given us one mouth and two ears. I’m trying to become a better listener. It’s difficult. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about what I’m going to say next rather than truly listening to the speaker.

    We are also to be slow to anger. This is impossible without being filled with the Holy Spirit, something we talked about a few weeks ago. If you missed it, I encourage you to download the podcast because being filled with the Holy Spirit is one of the most vital and yet ignored aspects of following Jesus. We need to confess our sins, get rid of the junk in our lives, and invite the Holy Spirit to fill us. That’s exactly what the next verse says...

    My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (1:19-21)

    Is there any moral filth or evil in your life? Get rid of it!

    Last week I mentioned my (weed) garden. Before I could plant my garden, I had to first remove all of the weeds from last year. I rototilled the soil and then planted seeds.

    What is in the garden of your mind? Fox News? Facebook? Gossip? Lust? Or the Word?

    Let me be very frank: if you are not filling your mind with the Word, it’s sin!

    Last week I said there were sins of commission that we commit and sins of omission when we ignore things. You cannot follow Jesus if you don’t know Him. You can’t obey God’s Word if you don’t know what it says.

    We have more resources and opportunities to fill our minds with God’s Word than ever before. People in other countries smuggle pages of the Bible, risking their own lives, in order to read it. We can listen to it in our cars, read it on our phones, buy countless translations and study editions, and even watch much of it on film.

    If you spend any time online, I urge you to download the free
    YouVersion app or bookmark on your computer. It’s a totally free resource where you can both read and listen to the Bible, post notes, interact with others, and view various reading plans. I’m reading through the Bible this year with the Life Journal reading plan. I begin most every day using my iPad to read the Bible before I even get out of bed. It’s a great way to start the day!

    Perhaps you’ve tried to read the Bible and found it to be boring or difficult to understand. If so, a reading plan is great, especially one that takes you through both the Old and New Testament each day. I often find that out of the four or five chapters I read each day, if one or two are less than exciting, inevitably one or two will be timely and powerful. For daily reading, I’m using the New Living Translation and love it.

    Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. (1:22-25)

    Did you catch that? Don’t just read the Bible, do what it says.

    I’ve met people that love to study the Bible, but they never apply it. That’s like a soldier who spends all day polishing his gun collection but never goes into battle. There are many so-called Bible scholars that are atheists! They completely miss the point! They are educated, but not transformed. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were like that. Their brain was filled, but it never reached their heart.

    Watching workout videos won’t help you lose weight!

    Most of us are educated far beyond our level of obedience.

    A common complaint to pastors is that they want deeper teaching. Deep teaching means I want you to confuse me so I don’t have to do anything about it! Mark Twain famously said, “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

    Jesus said

    “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

    They both heard the same word but had different outcomes.

    Listen to this!

    “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:47-48)

    We’re judged by what we do, not what we know (the opposite of most schools!).

    James concludes...

    If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:26-27)

    A few years ago I was talking with a man who told me that he was not into organized religion. I told him that I hated organized religion! He was surprised and said, “But I thought you were a pastor.” I explained that I follow Jesus, not a religion. I know Jesus through prayer and the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. Religion is man’s attempt to know God, but Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion. He came to foster a relationship, to give us freedom and real life, and to establish His Kingdom. He has sent us on a mission to be His hands and feet, serving orphans and widows and the poor and needy. He wants us fully engaged in the world, but so filled with the Word that it transforms the world rather than the world polluting us.

    It grieves me when I see Christianity reduced to information without transformation. We need information, but it most not stop with information. We need application which then leads to transformation.

    We were created to know God, not merely know about God. Jesus Christ is the Word. Do you know Him? He gave Himself and also the Bible. Let’s get into the Word. Let’s let the Word get into us. Finally, let’s practice true religion and get the Word into the world, our broken world that is desperately in need of faith, hope, and love.

    You can listen to the podcast here.