Is The End Near? 14 June 2020

Is the End Near?
Series—What in the World is Going On?

Big Idea:
Are you ready for the return of Jesus? Are others?

What in the world is going on?
If you’re like me, you’ve asked that question a lot lately.

The deadly coronavirus is one thing. The lockdowns and ensuring chaos have been—at least for many—even worse.

The senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are one thing. The ensuring protests and violence are—at least for many—even worse.

What in the world is going on? Are these the last days? Is Jesus coming back soon? If so, what difference does it make?

Last week I mentioned one of the most common questions I get is, “Are we living in the end times? Are these the last days? Paul wrote these words to his disciple, Timothy:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Does that describe our world today? I think so!

Does that describe Paul and Timothy’s day in the first century? Yes!

The Bible is not always the easiest book to understand. I think we can discern the meaning of Exodus 20:13. It says,

“You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)

But what about those other passages which talk about beasts and horns and fire? It can be confusing…and even scary.

The Bible is not a book. It’s a collection of books…sixty-six books written over hundreds of years in multiple languages by a variety of authors…yet they fit together as one beautiful story. When we study the Bible, we must ask three questions:

  • - What did it mean then? This is known as exegesis. It is important to discover the original, intended meaning of a passage because a text cannot mean what it never meant.

  • - What does it mean now? This is known as hermeneutics.

  • - How do we apply it to our lives? So what?

(Note: a great resource for hermeneutics—studying the Bible—is Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth)

This is a simple process, but not necessarily easy!

One of the key factors in reading the Bible is understanding the type of literature. If you go into a bookstore (remember those?!), you can find graphic novels, reference volumes, comic books, biographies, and satire. If you don’t understand the difference, you’ll almost certainly end up with some crazy conclusions!

In the same way, we cannot read the poetry of the Psalms the same way we read the laws of Leviticus. The stories of the prophets are different from Paul’s personal letters. There’s one type of literature that is especially fascinating and misunderstood: apocalyptic.

VIDEO: Apocalyptic Literature,

One of the most provocative chapters in the Bible is Matthew 24. Jesus responds to his disciples’ questions about the end of the age.

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. (Matthew 24:4-8)

He’s speaking of the end, right? Actually, he says in verse six these “things must happen, but the end is still to come.” When will all of this occur? It already has! I can prove it!

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. (Matthew 24:9)

He’s not speaking to us. He’s talking to his followers about 2000 years ago! They all died in the first century, nearly all of them martyred.

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:10-13)

Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience looking for signs of the Messiah. You may have heard this is about a future event, but it’s obvious Jesus is speaking about first-century events, specifically the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70.

This past week I was listening to the Alliance’s EquippingU podcast where they were discussing the moral decline of our nation, the marginalization of Christianity, and opposition to the views of the Church. These verses in Matthew sound a lot like our present day. One person said that we no longer have home-field advantage, to which the other speaker said those in the first century would remark that we still have it easy compared to their experience living under Roman rule.

If we read the Bible as if it was written to us, we’ll end up with some radically different conclusions than if we understand it was written for us. These events Jesus is describing already occurred…yet we can relate to them today.

Some have said there are four approaches to apocalyptic texts:

Preterist these events occurred around the time the text was written (“past”)
Idealist this describes the ongoing conflict between good and evil
Historicist this helps us understand God’s perspective in human history
Futurist these describe events in the future, before and during the end times

Which approach is the best? It depends! In some cases, more than one might be useful.

Despite the difficult conditions of the early church in the first century, the Holy Spirit came (Acts 2) and did incredible things, moving the Church from Jerusalem to regions across the known world. Jesus predicted that, too!

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)

This is a famous verse in the Christian & Missionary Alliance. It has been understood by some to mean when everyone on the planet hears the good news of Jesus, Christ will return. If we evangelize the whole world, we can go home!

I’m not saying that’s necessarily wrong, but it’s not what Jesus was referencing. This was fulfilled nineteen centuries ago!

It is possible that it speaks of two eras, one in the past and one in the future. This is true for some prophecy even about the Messiah. Some speak of the first coming of Jesus, others his return, and perhaps some describe both!

So What?

Are these the end times? Yes…but they began around AD 70! Actually, the war began in 66 AD until 70 AD.

Is the anti-Christ alive today? It’s possible, but previous generations said the same thing. Does it really matter?

Is Jesus returning soon? Absolutely! He said so…about two thousand years ago!

It can be fascinating to listen to predictions, look for prophetic fulfillment in the news, and get excited about the Second Coming of Christ, but there’s really only two things we must do:

  1. 1. Get ready.
  2. 2. Get others ready.

Get Ready. Jesus said later in Matthew 24,

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:44)

Jesus is coming. When? Soon! In our lifetime? I have no idea! All I know is we’re one day closer than we were yesterday! The point is to get ready. If you want to study this chapter, many believe the first 35 verses were fulfilled in 70 AD (preterist), while verses 36-51 speak of the future (futurist)

Someday this body will die. It might be from COVID, cancer, or a car accident. We don’t know when, but the odds are pretty good! Only one generation will be alive when Jesus returns. It might be ours, it might be thousands of years from now.

I’m afraid too many people waste time and energy trying to figure out the
when instead of focusing on the Who.

After describing many great men and women of faith, the writer of Hebrews continues,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Family, we need to fix our eyes—and our attention—on Jesus. Will there be trials? Absolutely! Will people hate us? In every generation. Will we be martyrs? It’s always possible, and not historically unusual.

We need to turn our eyes away from the tv news and social media and toward Jesus. Followers of Jesus have no reason to fear. None. Zero. Zip! When we look to him, we will not grow weary and lose heart. We will not freak out about chaos in the world, instead preparing for the new heaven and new earth. We must be ready for our end…and get others ready, too. Tomorrow may be too late.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Family, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. He’s the reason we’re here. He’s our hope—not our economy, politicians, or popularity. From Genesis until the end of Revelation, God is in control. He’s got this! We need to get ready…and we need to help others get ready, too. Now is the time to share good news with our family, friends, and even strangers. We need to pray, engage in spiritual conversations, and tell our story. Perhaps the best way to love well is to introduce people not to religion, but to Jesus.

These are crazy times. Are these the last days? Maybe. We’ve been in the end times for two thousand years, but someday Jesus will return. Are you ready? Are your friends ready?

Family, our world is out of control. Coronavirus. Racism. Political divisions. Fear. Anxiety.

The world needs Jesus! He’s coming soon. Let’s get ready. Let’s get others ready. Let’s keep our eyes on 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

Honoring God’s Word, 10 November 2019

Honoring God’s Word
Series—Links in the Chain (Discipleship)
Nehemiah 8:1-18

Series Big Idea:
The Great Commission is all about becoming like Jesus…and helping others become like Christ.

Big Idea:
Read—and obey—God’s Word.

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, (Nehemiah 7:73)

all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. (Nehemiah 8:1)

So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:2-3)

What a scene! Can you imagine all the people of a nation gathering together in one place…to listen to the reading of a book?

In our nation’s history, the Gettysburg address was legendary. We’ve been riveted by speeches delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK. The television and phone offer us portals through which to view historic events and receive vital messages.

But the scene in the book of Nehemiah is extraordinary. This is not a ten-minute speech or even an hour-long sermon like today (!). A book is read from daybreak until noon…and
all the people listened attentively. What book? The Hebrew Bible.

I must confess I struggle to read a book—any book—for more than an hour. If a podcast goes longer than an hour—and I usually listen to them at double speed—I sometimes begin to tune out. I have found my attention span declining—no doubt due to technology—even in viewing a movie for more than two hours.

All the people listened attentively to the reading of the Bible from daybreak till noon. Wow! I can’t think of any other book which would be so captivating, so life-giving, so riveting. Today we continue our series on discipleship entitled
Links in the Chain. The Church is always one generation away from extinction. We have a great inheritance of faith from those who have gone before us, and we must pass it on to future generations.

Let’s continue in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah. To appreciate the story, you must understand the context. Babylon took over the Kingdom of Judah in 586 B.C. The temple was destroyed. The people were exiled.

A generation later, King Cyrus of Persia allows the people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. These people didn’t know the Law of the LORD, much less follow it. You might say their Bible had been lost. Now God’s Word is presented to the people…in their own language! They were eager to learn about God in order to know and obey God.

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam. (Nehemiah 8:4)

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. (Nehemiah 8:5-6)

There are many physical descriptions in these verses. Some people see following Jesus as nothing more than a spiritual endeavor, but Jesus said,

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)

Did he forget anything?!

God has given us incredible bodies…and they are to used for God’s glory. We are to love God with our bodies, with our strength. That doesn’t simply mean we should all be weight lifters for Jesus! Rather, we treat our bodies as the holy temples of God they are, not worshipping our bodies, but using our bodies in worship.

Note first the physicality of the scene. Ezra is above the people so he can be seen. He’s also elevated to show the book to the people. They stood in reverence to the sacred scriptures, much like we stand as the scripture is being read on Sunday mornings. Standing doesn’t change the Bible, but it changes us. It shows respect. It communicates honor. We can use our bodies to declare something—or someone—is special. We stand for the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance.

As Ezra praised God, the people stood there with their hands in their pockets. No! They lifted their hands. They bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Your posture matters. Your body matters. The scriptures are filled with worship instructions: sing, stand, shout, clap, kneel, bow…I don’t think it ever says to sit!

The point is these people were excited about God and His word. They didn’t have it in the pockets as we do on our smart phones. They didn’t even have a paper copy in their homes!

The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. (Nehemiah 8:7-8)

These Levites had studied the Law and helped Ezra interpret and teach it. One of my goals when I preach is to make the Bible clear, to make it meaningful, and to help you understand it…even the difficult parts. Always remember the Bible is our authority, not necessarily the teaching of the Bible. There have always been false teachers who use the Bible for their own gain. It is a sobering thing to teach the Bible and I take the responsibility seriously. You don’t have to be a scholar to study the Bible, but you do have to be a diligent student.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:9)

These people are really excited about the Law! They can’t contain their emotion! They mourned when they realized how they had disobeyed God. They also wept for joy because they heard God’s Word. What an emotional day it must have been.

It kind of reminds of a
video I saw about a decade ago of the Kimyal community in West Papua, Indonesia when they received the first copies of the New Testament in their language. Today, about 1.5 billion people don’t have access to the Bible in their first language.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Many of you have quoted that last phrase, but do you see how context matters? It’s stated in the midst of celebration. The Jews knew how to celebrate. They still do to this day!

The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” (Nehemiah 8:11)

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. (Nehemiah 8:12)

The Word of the LORD had brought about transformation. They heard from God! They were no longer unsure of God’s plans, provisions, and purposes.

On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”—as it is written. (Nehemiah 8:13-15)

So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great. (Nehemiah 8:16-17)

The “links in the chain” had been broken. The baton of faith had been dropped. People had no idea what God desired…until they heard it read. This included not only issues of right and wrong, but also mandated celebrations such as the festival of booths, dating back to Moses. This celebration also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot in Hebrew, was the last of the fall festivals, held at harvest time. It commemorates the forty years God provided for the Jews as they wandered in the wilderness. Sukkot is still remembered today, held this year October 13-20.

Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly. (Nehemiah 8:18)

They read the Law for a week! What have you ever done for a week? When is the last time you had a seven-day celebration for anything?!

So What?

Discipleship is the process of becoming like someone. In our context, that someone is Jesus. How do we know about Jesus? How do we know Jesus? The primary tool we have for knowing God and His will and plan for our lives is the Bible. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a big book of rules forbidding fun! Nor Is it a book of hate.

Abdu Murray speaks at universities across the country and said one of the top three questions he is asked by young people is, “Isn’t the Bible sexist, homophobic, racist?” In a word, no! It has been manipulated for the self-serving purposes of people who act nothing like Jesus, but the Bible is a book of freedom and liberation. It contains songs, poems, and the most riveting stories ever written. It overflows with timeless wisdom showing us how to experience the most exciting, satisfying, and meaningful life imaginable…both now and beyond the grave. The Bible is no ordinary book! Actually, it’s a collection of 66 life-transforming books.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

What’s your attitude toward the Bible? Maybe you read it daily…out of obligation or ritual. Perhaps you only experience it on Sunday mornings, choosing social media, television, magazines, and other reading materials to the best-selling book of all time. My point is not to shame you or make you feel guilty, but rather to encourage you and offer some next-steps for your spiritual journey.

  1. 1. Download the free YouVersion app.
  2. 2. Find a Bible you can understand. My favorite for daily reading is the New Living Translation.
  3. 3. Better yet, invest in a study Bible. Some of my favorites are The NIV Study Bible and The Life Application Study Bible.
  4. 4. Read it…or listen to it. Audio Bibles are great, too. Some people read while listening, stimulating two different senses simultaneously.
  5. 5. Memorize it.
  6. 6. Engage it with others (small groups, Bible studies, Sunday School).
  7. 7.
  8. 8. A daily devotional (YouVersion)
  9. 9. A daily reading plan (YouVersion)
  10. 10. Meditate on the Word. Quality and quantity. Don’t rush. Focus on a daily message/verse.

Billions of people do not own a Bible. It’s banned in many countries. It’s unavailable in certain languages. In our land, so many sit buried under a pile of dust…and we wonder why despite information overload, we lack wisdom, common sense, decency, or hope.

We are so blessed to not only have the Holy Bible in our own language, it’s available in a multitude of translations and forms. There are even videos of much of the Bible if you prefer to watch it!

…the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:2b)

That’s what we’re all about!

We don’t worship the Bible, but we worship the God of the Bible. The psalmist wrote,

How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. (Psalms 119:103-105,

One more thing…

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Humbly Obeying God’s Word, 21 July 2019

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word
    Series—All The King’s Choices
    2 Kings 22:1-20; 23:1-3, 21-25

    Big Idea: Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    Success. It’s a word we hear almost every day. We see successful people on television. We hear successful people on the radio and on podcasts. We read books by successful people…who tell us how to be successful! We’re told the importance of being successful because, after all, what’s the opposite? Failure? Who wants that?

    Satisfaction is another thing we seek. We hope it comes from being successful! Yet we know people who are successful are not always satisfied in their fame or fortune or whatever made them a success.

    Is it possible to be successful and satisfied? If so, how?

    This morning as we continue our series “All the King’s Choices,” we’re going to look at king who began his reign at the age of eight…and who humbly obeyed God’s word. I believe…

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    Last week we looked at the good king Jehoshaphat who obeyed God and was blessed, but made one critical mistake in making alliances with the evil king Ahab which proved to be costly not only to him but also to his descendants. In 2 Kings chapter 21, we read of the death of King Amon, an evil king. Then in 2 Kings 22 we read,

    Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left. (2 Kings 22:1-2)

    He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. That’s what I want to be said of me. If you read through all of the kings, you’ll see Josiah is the exception, not the rule, tragically. He begins his reign at the ripe old age of eight! The book of 2 Chronicles tells us he began to seek after the LORD when he was 16. Fortunately, Josiah had good advisors.

    In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the LORD. He said: (2 Kings 22:3)

    “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the LORD, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the LORD— the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.” (2 Kings 22:4-7)

    King Josiah, at age 26, tells his secretary to tell the high priest to go to the ATM, get a load of cash, and start fixing the temple! He’s the fourth and final king of Judah who made reforms, and his changes were more extensive than those of Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah.

    The temple of God had not only fallen into disrepair, it had been desecrated by Manasseh who used it for pagan images and altars. It was a mess!

    Money had been collected for some time to repair the temple and now they had enough to get to the task.

    Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the LORD and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.” (2 Kings 22:8-9)

    This is written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus and much of the writings we call the Bible (which is simply a collection of books). The Pentateuch—the five books of Moses—was available. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are known as the Book of the Law because Moses wrote them to guide the people of Israel. It is also known as the Mosaic Law. These books—the first five in our Bible—are loaded with history, instructions, and stories. Most likely, this is what was discovered by Hilkiah.

    It's hard to imagine the evil of previous kings, not only desecrating the temple but also destroying copies of the Book of the Law.

    Evidently the Book of the Law was lost and, therefore, was not read or understood. The high priest finds it while they’re beginning to restore the temple.

    Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. (2 Kings 22:10)

    This is a big deal! The existence of these sacred writings was known, but since it was lost, nobody knew its contents. For the first time in this generation, God’s Word—His will, commands, and plan—could be discovered.

    When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’S anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:11-13)

    The king realizes the people have been disobedient and changes must be made immediately. It had obviously been some time since God’s Word had been read and understood, and now Josiah fears the anger of the LORD for the disobedience of the people.

    Ignorantia juris non excusat

    This Latin phrase means “ignorance of the law excuses not.”

    God had punished evil kings for their disobedience, and now Josiah wants to put the nation on a new path, a new direction. He wants them to repent—to turn, to do a 180—and humbly obey God’s Word. The king knew

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter. (2 Kings 22:14)

    This woman seems to be highly regarded for her gift of prophecy. Why the priest didn’t consult other prophets such as Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, or Habakkuk is unknown. What we do know is this woman plays an important role in the spiritual revival lead by King Josiah.

    She said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me,

    ‘This is what the LORD says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ (2 Kings 22:15-17)

    God’s not happy, and if God’s not happy…!!!

    You might know the first of the ten commandments is to have no other gods. The second is to have no idols. The people had violated both. Sin has its consequences and the wrath of God was coming for the nation, though it would come after Josiah died.

    Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: (2 Kings 22:18)

    Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse
    and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’ ”

    So they took her answer back to the king. (2 Kings 22:19-20)

    This is great news for Josiah!

    Humbly Obeying God brings His blessing.

    Who wants God’s blessing? It doesn’t happen automatically. God loves us all, but He can express His love—looking out for our best interest—a number of ways. When we obey, that often looks like blessings. When we disobey, that could mean loving discipline. In this case, God blessed Josiah with His mercy because he humbly obeyed God.

    Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the LORD with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD—to follow the LORD and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. (2 Kings 23:1-3)

    Josiah wastes no time in proclaiming God’s covenant to people. They respond.

    Our humble obedience can influence others.

    (so can our disobedience!)

    Sure, Josiah was the king and had just a bit of influence on the people, but notice that last sentence. All the people pledged themselves to the covenant.

    I don’t think Josiah used force. He humbly obeyed—submitting himself to the LORD—and set an example for all the people to follow. He understood the source of true wisdom and the people were drawn to his humility and obedience. Are you known for your humility and obedience to God?

    If we skip ahead, we see

    Humble obedience requires action.

    We must not merely agree with statements in a book, we must repent, turn away from our sin, and live God-honoring lives.

    The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” Neither in the days of the judges who led Israel nor in the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah had any such Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the LORD in Jerusalem. (2 Kings 23:21-23)

    Josiah didn’t just put an end to the idolatry that preceded him. He threw a massive party! Imagine the biggest New Year’s Eve in New York City times the Super Bowl Champion’s parade times…you get the idea! The king give orders to celebrate to the LORD, to reestablish the Passover, to remember what God did through Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This was Israel’s oldest feast, and 2 Chronicles (35:18) tells us people from both kingdoms—Judah and Israel—celebrated together in a massive feast!

    Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the LORD. Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. (2 Kings 23:24-25)

    Humble obedience requires action. He didn’t ignore the false gods and the idols. He cleaned house. He dealt with sin. Household gods were purged. No other king more faithfully observed the Word of the LORD, including David and Solomon!

    Perhaps there’s some sinful things in your life that need to be destroyed. Maybe it’s unhealthy entertainment. Uncontrolled anger. Greed. Gossip. It could be a relationship which is not glorifying to God. Perhaps it’s bitterness and unforgiveness. It might even be a sin of omission, failing to do something like generosity, compassion, or time with God. Whatever it is,
    get rid of it! Today! Now! Tell a trusted friend to help you with the change.

    The cause and effect between obedience and blessing could not be clearer.

    So What?

    The implications of this story should be obvious for us. Sure, we live in a different era. We are not kings. But the truth remains.

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    Let’s unpack that statement.

    Humbly. Humility is a rare character trait today. It doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less. The thing about God is He’s God…and we’re not! We sometimes want to be god. We sometimes act like we’re god. Comparing ourselves to God is like…ridiculous! This is the Creator of the universe!

    God loves us. He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for us. But we’re not gods. We’re not in His league! We must always posture ourselves in humility before God.

    Obey. Obedience is God’s love language. Talk is cheap, but obedience is real. Jesus said

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

    Does that need any interpretation?!

    God’s Word. This is not speaking of our leather-bound 66-book volume called the Bible. It didn’t exist at the time of this writing. The people had portions of what we call the Old Testament…on scrolls. As we learned today, those scrolls were sometimes lost or hidden.

    God’s Word can include the Bible, but it also includes the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The real Word is Jesus.

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

    Jesus is the Word of God. It’s stated again in Revelation:

    He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. (Revelation 19:13)

    We don’t worship the Bible. We worship Jesus. The Bible is how we learn about Jesus and God’s commands for our lives, but Jesus is the Word of God.

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    I’m not pushing religion on you. There’s no guilt or shame. I simply want to encourage you to trust God and obey. There’s no greater wisdom. There’s no great power. There’s nothing more timeless.

    I’m making an assumption that you trust God, at least you trust His wisdom more than your own. At least sometimes!

    Countless research studies have shown most USAmericans believe in God, but what does that really mean? Satan believes in the existence of God (he used to work for Him), but he doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t follow God. He doesn’t humbly obey God.

    Author Ruth Haley Barton (
    Invitation to Silence and Solitude) gets to the point when she writes,

    When it comes right down to it, many of us do not believe that God's intentions toward us are deeply good; instead we live in fear that that if we really trusted him, he might withhold something good from us.

    Most of the kings of Israel and Judah rejected God, His wisdom, His commands, and His Word. They did so at their own peril. Josiah, on the other hand, trusted God, humbly obeyed Him, led the people to do so, and God blessed them as a result.

    As I said last week, God’s blessing doesn’t always mean we’ll be happy and comfortable, but it does mean we’ll experience His presence and power, His peace, and His joy, even in the midst of life’s storms.

    I love you, church. I want what’s best for you. I want you to be successful. I want you to experience deep satisfaction. Lasting contentment will never come from your stock portfolio, car collection, job title, education, or even relationships. It only comes from loving God and loving others as we love ourselves. It comes from listening, reading, knowing, and obeying God’s Word. It comes from following Jesus…with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

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

    Defending the Truth, 26 August 2018

    Defending the Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    1 Peter 3:13-17

    Series Overview: God is truth and the source of all truth.

    Big Idea: We need to know the truth so we can accurately and lovingly share the truth.

    We’ve been talking about truth throughout this month. We said first and foremost, Jesus is the truth—the way, the truth, and the life. The Bible was God-breathed or God-spirited or inspired by God. It is a miracle: 66 books written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years in three languages, yet it is remarkably cohesive and consistent in telling a beautiful love story between a Creator and His creation, between God and humanity.

    We can know God through general revelation—creation—and specific revelation, including the Bible. So how do we get everyone to believe the Bible is true and obey it perfectly like us?!?! Ha!

    Today we’re looking at truth upheld. The fancy word is apologetics. No, it’s not to to say you’re sorry. Apologetics is “the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse.”

    In plain English, it’s defending the Bible from critics. Today we’re talking about defending the truth, which ultimately means both helping others experience God and drawing us closer to our Creator.

    We’re all at different places in our spiritual journey. Some of you may be atheists. Welcome! Some of you may be agnostics. We want to welcome you, too! Others of you are new to the faith, some have followed Jesus for a while, and still others of you have been Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians for decades. Therefore, any discussion about defending the Bible acknowledges some of you want to be equipped to defend the Bible while others of you are on the other side, wondering why anyone would believe it in the first place. I’m so glad you’re here, regardless!

    Jude wrote to early Christians,
    Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. (Jude 3)
    One of the great things about the Bible is it’s a book about real people and real, historical events. Every year archaeologists are uncovering evidence verifying the authenticity of the Bible. Hundreds of biblical prophecies have been fulfilled. Micah 5:2 and Luke 2:4-7 connect as just one example.
    Skeptics often say the Bible has contradictions and errors, but a more careful examination reveals that’s simply not the case. For instance, they’ll say God never changes, yet He changed His mind…but did He? Or was it merely from the perspective of the writer that He
    appeared to change His mind. There are difficult biblical passages, but I have yet to find one without an explanation.
    I mentioned last week how many of the sharpest critics of the Bible have become followers of Jesus, embracing the Scriptures as God’s Word. Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell are among them, and if you have questions about the Bible and its truthfulness, I urge you to read their research. Other prominent apologists—or defenders of the Bible—include Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, and even C.S. Lewis. I’m not suggesting I agree with everything each of them have written, but they have devoted much of their lives addressing biblical critics and revealing evidence for the reliability of the Bible.
    If you’re a skeptic, I doubt a single sermon will change your mind, but I urge you to investigate. Ask questions. Text me your questions. It might sound cliché coming from a pastor, but I’ve studied, I’ve done the research, and I’m convinced the Bible is God’s Word. I declare my full support for The
    Alliance Statement of Faith which says,
    The Old and New Testaments, inerrant as originally given, were verbally inspired by God and are a complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men. They constitute the divine and only rule of Christian faith and practice.

    If you believe the Bible, do you know why? Can you defend it? The greater question is, what are you doing about your belief in the Bible?
    I’m going to say something radical which will probably get me in trouble.

    I don’t care if the Bible is true. Well, that’s not quite true. Don’t post that on Twitter!

    I care more about Jesus being true than the Bible being true. Our faith is not built upon a book, but rather a person. Truth is not a list of propositions. It’s a person. Again, Jesus said,

    “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
    Everything in the Bible is true, but it’s not the center of our faith, nor does it claim to be. Christianity is built upon Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection.
    Pastor Andy Stanley summarized this point when he said: “Christianity does not exist because of the Bible any more than you exist because of your birth certificate. Your birth certificate documents something that happened. If you lose it, you do not go out of existence.”
    We need to let the Bible guide us toward Jesus. The Bible is all true, but it’s not the center of faith for us. Jesus is that center.
    Some people get so caught up in defending the Bible and whether it is inspired or inerrant or King James or infallible or whatever that they miss the purpose of the Bible—to help us know the God who created us, loves us, died for us, rose from the dead, and will return to judge us all. The Bible is a love letter. It tells us who God is, who we are, and how we are to love God and one another.

    The Bible is divine revelation, revealing God’s will for salvation. The Scriptures guide our faith and practice. They tell us how to live…and why we should live. They tell us how to love…and why we should love.

    With all respect to the great apologists who defend the Bible, who cares if the Bible is true if it is not studied and applied? Most people in our city aren’t asking, “Is the Bible true?” They want to know, “Does it work? Can I apply it to my life? So what?”

    I love the Bible. I read it. I study it. I proclaim it. I believe it. I know it is inspired by God.
    But the foundation of our faith is not a book. It’s not theology. It’s not laws or rules. It’s a story. It’s a Person. It’s an empty cross…and an empty tomb. Our faith is built upon the historical, living Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. To quote a great hymn,

    My faith is built on nothing less/than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

    If you asked me about my wife and I showed you all of the love letters she wrote me over the years but never said anything about my relationship with her, you’d find that rather odd, right? I care more about my wife than the letters she wrote me, and the same is true for the Bible. I love it, but it’s a means to an end. It helps me know God.

    The Bible is big. It’s controversial. A friend of mine recently put together a list of 24 questions and asked people to rank their order of importance. The point of the exercise is not to answer the questions, but rather to determine if the question is peripheral, important, essential, or affects salvation. Here are a few examples:

    Is the story of Jonah and the fish a (fictional) parable or did it actually happen?
    Was the universe created less than ten thousand years ago in six 24-hour days?
    Will pets be in heaven?
    Are there errors of any kind in the Bible?
    Did Jesus physically rise from the dead?

    Our six elders agreed on the priority of only one of these questions. That is, some felt the question was a salvation issue while others felt it was essential, important, or peripheral.

    Scripture never says we must believe in an actual person named Jonah who was swallowed by a great fish in order to be saved and experience eternal life.

    Scripture never says we must believe in a literal, six 24-hour day creation to be saved.

    I think Paul was pretty clear:

    If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

    Don’t hear what I’m not saying! I don’t know how old the earth is, and it’s really not that important to me. If you want to use an alternative narrative to deny the existence of God, I’m out of here, but if you content God may have used some type of evolution to produce our universe, I’m not going to get hung up on six 24-hour days…especially since the sun and moon were not even created until the fourth day…so what defines a day and how long were the first three days?

    With all due respect to the Creation Museum, the age of our universe has no bearing on whether or not Jesus died and rose again for you and me. In the beginning God. That’s my focus. Maybe the earth is billions of years old and maybe it’s thousands of years old. I don’t know! I don’t care! What I do know is Jesus is Lord, I believe in my heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that I’m commanded to love God and love others as I love myself.

    If you want to study the age of the earth, that’s great. Really. But don’t worship the study of creation. Worship the Creator…and obey Him.

    See, the challenge we all face is how to read the Bible. Some have called for a literal interpretation. Well, that’s fine when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But
    always taken literally, we would have to declare the Bible is clearly false. For example,

    The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. (Psalms 50:1)

    The sun does not rise. We know this. It is undeniable. The earth rotates in such a way that it appears that the sun rises, but it is the earth—not the sun—which moves. There! This is an example of biblical criticism. The critics say the Bible can’t be true…

    …except the Psalms are not a science textbook. They are songs and poems. When a singer sings, “I love you with all of my heart,” they’re not speaking of the organ in their chest that pumps blood. It’s a metaphor for deep emotion and commitment. There are many things in the Bible which need to be interpreted, not merely read like a
    Toledo Blade article. As we understand the Bible and, in particular, the overarching narrative of the Bible, the problematic passages begin to make sense. If you were to read a John Grisham or Steven King novel, you don’t begin with chapter six and say it’s confusing. You need to understand the big picture…the story.

    Sometimes the Bible—or its misuse—has actually become a barrier to people knowing Jesus. Could there be anything more tragic? Scot McKnight wrote in his book The King Jesus Gospel

    “When the plan (of salvation) gets separated from the story, the plan almost always becomes abstract, propositional, logical, rational, and philosophical and, most importantly, de-storified and unbiblical. When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off from the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future. We separate ourselves from Jesus and turn the Christian faith into a System of Salvation."

    So What…now?

    I know, some of you are getting confused, maybe even upset. Studying and obeying the Bible is not always simple, and like I said last Sunday, it’s not always best done by ourselves. We were created for community. From beginning to end, relationships are found on virtually every page of the Bible. We gather together to study. I’m not saying you should never open the Bible alone, but I am saying you probably can’t understand and apply every verse of the Bible alone.

    Last week I mentioned the value of study Bibles, online tools, small groups, and most of all the Holy Spirit.

    Should you eat ham on Easter?
    Should you vote Republican or Democrat?
    Should women pray without wearing a hat?
    Should you go to a Rated-R movie? What if it’s “The Passion of the Christ?”
    Should you own a house…or anything at all?
    Should you give ten percent of your income to First Alliance Church? If so, gross or net?
    Should you send your kids or grandkids to public, private, or home school?
    Should you observe the Sabbath every Sunday? Or what about Saturday?
    Should you get a tattoo or not?

    Here’s the honest truth: the answer to all of those questions is maybe.

    So what are we to do now?

    First, focus on Jesus. He’s the subject of the Bible. The great thing about Jesus is he’s alive, so as we learn about him, we also can talk with him through prayer. He summarized the entire Bible quite simply.

    Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36)

    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)

    ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth as it says in John chapter 16. Knowing God is a fascinating adventure because we have the Bible, we have the church, and we have the Holy Spirit helping us know our Father and His son, Jesus.

    Third, be a student. Recognize you don’t know and understand everything in the Bible, much less obey it. That’s ok. I don’t know and understand everything about my wife, either. Each day is a new opportunity to discover her, and a new opportunity to discover Jesus. Dr. Leonard Sweet once said, “20% of my theology is wrong. I just don’t know what 20%.” That’s humility, and that’s the posture we need to have when it comes to the Bible. There are many things which are very clear: love others, pray, care for widows and strangers and orphans, speak truthfully, stay sexually pure, etc. These are repeated throughout the Bible and throughout church tradition, too. If you ever hear of someone claiming a radical new understanding of the Bible, question them. We stand today on the shoulders of men and women who have studied and applied the Bible for centuries. God never changes. His Word, the Bible, continues to change the lives of people around the world, however.

    Our apologetic—our defense of the Bible—is the resurrection of Jesus. Paul, the great persecutor of the first Christians who became a follower of Jesus and spent much of his life starting churches, wrote,

    And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

    The Bible is all about Jesus. Do you know him?

    Jesus’ friend Peter wrote,

    Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)

    The greatest apologetic—the greatest defense of the Bible—is your life transformed through it. It has often been said your life will be the only Bible some people will ever read. The best defense is a good offense—an attractive, compelling life.

    I challenge you to read the Bible. Study it. Apply it. See if it doesn’t change your life. See if God doesn’t change your life. He has changed mine. Jesus is alive. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

    Apologetics Resources (defending the Bible from critics)

    Ravi Zacharias
    Josh McDowell
    Lee Strobel
    William Lane Craig

    Online Bible Study Resources

    The Navigators
    Mission 119

    Books on Studying the Bible

    The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
    How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart
    Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Richards and O'Brien

    A Provocative Interview

    Andy Stanley

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Preserving Truth, 19 August 2018

    Preserving the Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    1 Peter 1:22-25
    Series Overview:
    God is truth and the source of all truth.
    Big Idea: The Bible has transformed lives for thousands of years…and continues to do so today.
    I want to take you back in time to…2007. Do you remember? The nation was in recession. Detroit and their car companies was in trouble. My mom bought a Chrysler minivan which came with a special lifetime warranty. A lifetime warranty!

    They say nothing lasts forever, but a lifetime warranty is good enough, right? When I buy a car—or a house or computer or most anything, I want it to last. I know, things break, but who likes to have the dishwasher quit…besides the appliance repair person?

    Our world feels so temporary, so disposable. My four year-old iPhone is considered by many to be a dinosaur. Fashion trends change every few years, if not every few months. The careers of musicians is sometimes shorter than that of athletes, which isn’t long. The changes on our planet are occurring faster and faster, making anything resembling stability and longevity increasingly rare. Retro and vintage are the new modern! What can we rely upon? What can we trust? What won’t go out of style in twenty minutes?

    We’re in the middle of a series on
    truth. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but even truth has—uh—changed. ‘Post-truth’ was named the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries…but that was in 2016 so I’m sure it’s outdated! They defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say it is true that we have entered a post-truth society.

    “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”
    “What I feel is true.”
    “What I experience is true.”
    “I find truth by turning inward.”

    Can there be anything more audacious and arrogant than ignoring thousands of years of history and making ourselves gods, declaring our understanding to be superior to that of the billions of people who have walked our planet?

    Our authority is God and His Word, the Bible. As I have said, I’m not the authority. I am an authority, but not the authority. If anything I say contradicts scripture, call me out on it.

    I admit, our government has not always been trustworthy, which is necessary for truth.
    I admit, our media has not always been trustworthy.
    I admit, social media has not always been trustworthy. Can you say, “Fake news?”
    I admit, religious leaders have not always been trustworthy.

    But I want to suggest to you that God is trustworthy, God’s Word is trustworthy, and they have never failed.

    One of my favorite biblical characters is Peter. Sure, he gets a bad rap—he denied Jesus three times, after all—but he grew and matured and shaped the movement Jesus began. In his first letter to the early church, he wrote,

    Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23)

    As we mentioned last week, Peter did not have 66 leather-bound books. He did have access to the Old Testament books. He had heard many sermons. Most of all, he had spent three years with The Truth, Jesus Christ, the word, the Greek word “logos.” Peter literally knew the Truth, the Messiah. By following Jesus, by obeying God’s teachings, he was becoming purified. He was becoming like Jesus. He was exhibiting sincere love, and taught others to do the same.

    He had not been transformed from a loose-lipped hot head to a brilliant leader by watching self-help videos on YouTube or by attending a motivational seminar. No, he had become born again—a new creation—through the imperishable, living, enduring word of God. Psalm 119 asks,

    How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
    By living according to your word.
    I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands.
    I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you. (Psalms 119:9-11)

    The Bible is a miracle. It has been banned by many regimes. Translators have died as martyrs. It has transcended cultures and continents. It has stood the test of time—not merely centuries but thousands of years. Although it was written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years in three languages—Hebrew, Greek, and a bit of Aramaic, it is remarkably cohesive and consistent in telling a beautiful love story between a Creator and His creation, between God and humanity. Peter continued…

    “All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
    the grass withers and the flowers fall, 1Peter 1:24
    but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

    And this is the word that was preached to you. 1Peter 1:25
    But is it true? Can you trust it? What about all of the Bible’s critics?

    Well, if truth is merely that which you want it to be, that which is internal, I’d encourage you to just say the Bible is true and that’ll be good enough, right?

    All kidding aside, no other book has been so controversial, transformative, or scrutinized. It’s reliability and sustainability is miles beyond any other piece of literature in history.

    Obviously there’s no way I can thoroughly “prove” the Bible is true, but as you saw in the video, God has remarkably preserved His Word.

    Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalms 119:89)

    Banning, burning, and critiquing the Bible haven’t extinguished its popularity or power.

    Jesus said,

    Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mark 13:31)

    For two thousand years, the words of Jesus have endured. They have transformed lives. They have changed the world.

    The story of our Bible is fascinating. Long before the printing press, scribes meticulously copied the texts. They had to ensure each letter was exact or else they would destroy their work and start over. These scribes were willing to die to defend and preserve it. When an OT manuscript wore out, the Jewish scribes burned or buried it.

    Perhaps you’ve heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was privileged to visit the place in Israel where they were discovered. In the 1940s, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Old Testament Hebrew manuscripts dating back to 100 BC, over 1000 years older than any previously known manuscripts. When compared, they were nearly identical, with most of the minor differences being the spelling of words.

    The Bible we have, family, is extremely close to the original texts, with virtually no discrepancies in the messages and meaning, just grammatical differences.

    Jesus said,

    For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)

    Last week I said some people say they don’t believe the Bible but have never read it. Equally disconcerting is some people say they do believe the Bible but have never read it.

    There are numerous accounts of people who didn’t believe the Bible, sought to disprove it, and concluded the Bible is true!

    The recent movie,
    The Case for Christ, is a true story of journalist Lee Strobel’s journey from atheist to pastor.

    Josh McDowell is another best-selling author who had a similar path to faith.

    I’ve read the Bible and read
    about the Bible quite extensively. In my undergrad, grad, and doctoral studies, I’ve never encountered anything like it. It’s extraordinary. It better be since I’ve built my entire life on it and its chief subject, Jesus Christ!

    What we hold in our hands and on our devices is so precious, so profound, so powerful. We possess the very words of Almighty God, Creator of the universe. He’s reliable. He’s trustworthy. He’s true. And so is the Bible, God’s Word.

    So What?

    But what about you? Have you read the Bible? Have you let it read you?

    If you haven’t surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, I urge you to do so. If you’re not ready today, that’s fine, but I beg you to investigate. Ask questions. Seek answers. Read the Bible.

    Let me go a step beyond “read the Bible” and say, “Study the Bible.” It’s a big book—or shall I say collection of books. Perhaps the best tool—besides a Bible in a translation you can read and understand—is a study Bible. Two of my favorites are the
    NIV Study Bible and the Life Application Bible. They include notes corresponding to the text which help you understand the background and context.

    Online, the YouVersion app is loaded with free resources. Mission 119 is another free app with daily readings and devotions, something our church has been using throughout this year.

    Get in a group. The Bible was not meant to be read alone, in isolation. Yes, personal Bible study is essential, but reading and studying in community helps avoid misinterpretations. It engages the mind, heart and hands as we explore the texts together and make application. It spurs one another on toward obedience.

    If you’re not in a group, I invite you to join ours at 9 AM across the street in the Fellowship Hall. We are all at various stages in our spiritual journey, exploring God’s Word together. New small groups will be launching in the next few weeks. A directory of groups can be found at our Information Center kiosk and at the bottom of the weekly
    FAC Focus e-newsletter each Wednesday.

    Finally, I want to remind you of the most important resource in studying the Bible—the Holy Spirit. Jesus once was talking with his friends and said

    “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

    The Holy Spirit guides us into all the truth. He is the Spirit of truth. It’s like an air mattress. It can function without air, but not well! It’s designed to be filled. The same is true for the Bible. We can read it as literature, but the Holy Spirit brings it to life.

    Apart from the Holy Spirit, we cannot fully understand the Scriptures. The Spirit provides an anointing, an illumination, an ability to truly understand the Bible. John wrote,

    But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth…As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:20, 27)

    That’s the bottom line, family. Remain in Jesus. Remain in His Word. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you, to guide you into all truth, to enhance your understanding and obedience of the Bible. It has been carefully preserved for us to study and apply.

    Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalms 119:105)

    some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Divine Truth, 12 August 2018

    Divine Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    2 Timothy 3:12-17

    Series Overview: God is truth and the source of all truth.

    Big Idea: The Bible is God’s message to all humans, revealing Jesus, the truth.


    Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

    Jesus had already declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

    Our August series,
    Truth on Trial, is a look at how God reveals Himself to us.

    Last week we said general revelation is God speaking through creation:

    For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

    Every creation has a creator. You can’t get something from nothing. Now theoretically speaking, some scientists from the University of Michigan have said you can conjure particles from a vacuum under the right conditions, but actually even then their “nothing” is something, according to Popular Science magazine.

    This building had a creator…or creators. It didn’t just appear one day. This space reflects the creativity of its creators.

    Someone designed and created my shoes. The same can be said for my phone and car and drinking mug. Music and paintings and sculptures all reflect their artist.

    If you look at
    nature, you will see incredible examples of God’s creativity. I know, there are some who believe this is all one big cosmic accident or that aliens are responsible for our universe (seriously!), but I choose to believe in a Creator…and Romans 1:20 affirms it.

    But last week we said there’s another way God speaks, another source of truth. We call it special revelation. Special revelation refers to God revealing Himself through supernatural means, including dreams, visions, physical appearances, the Bible, and most of all Jesus. Our focus last Sunday was on Jesus. He is the truth. God is true. Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus is true. Jesus is truth. He makes the rules. We follow them…or suffer the consequences.

    Today we turn our attention to another type of special revelation—the Bible. Is it truth? Can we trust it? How do we study it? What is its purpose?

    What is the Bible, and why should I care? I’m glad you asked!

    I was raised to believe in the importance of reading the Bible. As a child, I didn’t understand a lot of it, but I was told—like vitamins—it was just good for me.

    It could’ve been worse! I could’ve been raised Catholic during the era of the Latin Mass, sitting through Sunday after Sunday unable to understand a single word spoken!

    The Bible is not a book, but rather a collection of books. There are 66 books, written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years in three languages—Hebrew, Greek, and a bit of Aramaic. The authors were kings, leaders, servants, and everything in between. There are poems, stories, wisdom, prophecies, and instructions. Yet for all of its diversity, it has a marvelous unity to it. I don’t think its an overstatement to call it a miracle.

    The Bible is the most popular book in history. If included in the NY Times bestseller list, it would be number one every single year.

    It is the most powerful book in history. Millions of lives have been transformed by these writings.

    It is the most precious book in history. People have devoted their lives to translating it into more languages than any other book in history, some even dying for the right to do so or acquire copies of it.

    But despite its uniqueness among other books—sacred or secular—its purpose is most important. The Bible is a fantastic tool we have for understanding Jesus…and ourselves. It addresses life’s most fundamental questions, including origin, meaning, morality, purpose, hope, love, and eternity.

    My friend Alex is often asked how he knows the Bible is true. He says, “If it’s not, it should be!” There’s nothing like it. Nothing!

    Today’s scripture reading offers both a brilliant declaration about the Bible along with an important message for how to read the Bible. Paul is writing to his apprentice, Timothy. He writes,

    In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:12-17)

    These last two verses are the most popular in this text.

    All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

    Some have wrongly concluded the Bible was dictated by God to its authors, the breath of God turning into words on a page. Others seem to feel the Bible itself becomes God. Some have tragically turned the Trinity into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible. Our English vocabulary fails to perfectly describe the original Greek word. Some have translated it “God-spirited.” We naturally jump to thinking Paul is referring to the 66 books we have in our leather-bound Bibles, but since the New Testament had not yet been compiled, he is speaking of the Old Testament and, no doubt, oral sources. This phrase “God-breathed” or “God-spirited” is unique not only in the Bible but also in Greek literature before Paul’s time. He was likely creating a word picture to convey the idea that God’s Spirit is behind the images and narratives we have in Scripture.

    That alone makes the Bible unique. People put pen to paper—or papyrus—but the Bible is God-inspired. If that’s true, we can say Scripture is God’s divine truth. It is unlike any other piece of literature. Human authors wrote it, but they were filled and inspired by God the Holy Spirit.

    Peter wrote,

    Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

    The Alliance Statement of Faith says,

    Old and New Testaments, inerrant as originally given, were verbally inspired by God and are a complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men. They constitute the divine and only rule of Christian faith and practice.

    As I stated last Sunday, I am not the authority at First Alliance Church, nor is our District Superintendent, Thomas George, or the Alliance President, Dr. John Stumbo. Because the Bible was inspired by God, it is our best source of special revelation, that which reveals God to us. God is our authority. Jesus is our Senior Pastor. The Bible is the best tool we have for learning about God…in order to know God.

    You can read a biography of George Washington and learn about him, but it won’t lead to a relationship with him.

    The Bible contains four biographies of Jesus—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—but it provides so much more than facts. Taken as a whole, the Bible is a beautiful narrative, a love story of God and humanity.

    I find it simply astonishing that the Creator of the universe would speak to us, not only through creation, but through the Bible and Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

    In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

    Listen to the Father’s heart as recorded in the book of Jeremiah the prophet:

    Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:12-14)

    God speaks through Jesus and the Bible so that we might know Him, not just about Him. He wants us to find Him! He wants us to know Him! The Bible is not to be approached as an encyclopedia to acquire facts, but rather a love letter to build a relationship. Yes, there are facts and instructions, stories and prophecies, but the overarching message is that of a Father to His children, expressing His character, love, and desires, inviting them into a deeper relationship with Himself while challenging them to obey and follow.

    So What?

    If the Bible is divine, we must read it…and obey. Jesus’ half brother, James, stated it so plainly.

    Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

    We read and study the Bible to know God and to know God’s will for our lives and to obey him. This idea of obedience is not politically correct in our society. We like to do our own thing. We like to create our own rules, be our own person, do what feels good, and pursue individual happiness. That works…until it doesn’t! If God is God, He knows best. I love these words from God to Job:

      “Who is this that questions my wisdom
    with such ignorant words?
    Brace yourself like a man,
    because I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.

      “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know so much.
    Who determined its dimensions
    and stretched out the surveying line?
    What supports its foundations,
    and who laid its cornerstone
    as the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

      “Who kept the sea inside its boundaries
    as it burst from the womb,
    and as I clothed it with clouds
    and wrapped it in thick darkness?
    For I locked it behind barred gates,
    limiting its shores.
    I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come.
    Here your proud waves must stop!’

      “Have you ever commanded the morning to appear
    and caused the dawn to rise in the east?
    Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth,
    to bring an end to the night’s wickedness?
    As the light approaches,
    the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal;
    it is robed in brilliant colors.
    The light disturbs the wicked
    and stops the arm that is raised in violence.

      “Have you explored the springs from which the seas come?
    Have you explored their depths?
    Do you know where the gates of death are located?
    Have you seen the gates of utter gloom?
    Do you realize the extent of the earth?
    Tell me about it if you know!

    That’s just the beginning, but you get the idea! If God is God, He knows best. He makes the rules. He is the authority. We can choose to follow God and His Word or follow our own sinful desires and suffer the consequences.

    It amazes me how many so-called Christians have complete disregard for the Bible. They like the idea of God and His love, but ignore His wisdom, His will, His instructions. I have one friend who claims to follow God yet is choosing to deliberately violate the clear teachings of the Bible because…He thinks He knows better than God?

    Family, we all mess up, we fall…and we are to get up. I’m not talking struggles with sin. I’m speaking of willfully picking and choosing things from the Bible. It’s not a buffet! Either the Bible is true and authoritative or it’s not.

    We often struggle with the commands:

    • - Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:18; Mark 12:31)
    • - Care for the hungry, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner (Matthew 25:40)
    • - If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it (Matthew 16:25)
    • - Whoever divorces and marries another commits adultery (Matthew 5:27-32; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18)
    • - You must be perfect (Matthew 5:48)
    • - The last will be first, and the first last (Matthew 20:1-16)
    • - Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:1-6)
    • - Renounce all your possessions (Luke 14:33)
    • - Abstain from all sexual immorality (Matthew 15:19; Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 6:18)
    • - Do not lie (Leviticus 19:11)
    • - No other gods, including the person in the mirror (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7)
    • - Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (Mark 10:43)

    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.”

    For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

    Here’s my simple challenge to you: read the Bible this week!

    Read it on your phone. The YouVersion website and app are totally free.
    Listen to it on your phone. The YouVersion website and app are totally free.
    Study with Pastor Soper at Mission 119. The website and app are totally free.
    Grab a copy of the New Living Translation of the Bible at our Information Center. Free!

    Read a verse. A chapter. A book. A great place to start is the book of Mark. It’s the shortest biography of Jesus.

    If you want a challenge to your lifestyle, read the book of James. It will rock your world.

    Looking for a way to connect with God in praise? Study the Psalms.

    Jesus said,

    My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

    Do you know Jesus? Do you know His voice? The Bible is one of our primary tools for knowing Jesus, hearing His voice, and obediently follow Hiim.

    In closing, most people who say they don’t believe the Bible have never read it! I think most people who say they do believe the Bible have never read it! This is God’s special revelation to us! The Creator of the universe! You owe it to yourself to read it…not for information, but for transformation. It’s all about Jesus!

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Blessed, 27 December 2015

    Psalm 1

    Big Idea: Blessed is the person who knows the LORD.


    Good morning! Welcome to that odd, in-between Sunday. The gifts are opened, maybe you’ve spent time returning that ugly sweater or unwanted fruitcake (can you return a fruitcake?!). The decorations are ready for the attic. You might be thinking about using that gift card to buy a treadmill or join Planet Fitness. New Year’s Eve parties (including the biggest of all, right here at 7 PM!) and bowl games are right around the corner. Parents might be ready for school to resume, kids enjoy every moment of freedom.

    We look back at Christmas and look forward to New Year’s.
    We look back at 2015 and look forward to 2016.
    We’re going Back to the Future!

    It’s that odd, in-between Sunday!

    Rather unexpectedly, the Psalms became a focal point during our Advent series. Advent itself is an odd, in-between time, looking back at baby Jesus and looking forward to the Return of the King.

    As we near the end of 2015, we’re going to go to the beginning of the Psalms and look at Psalm 1 together.

    Blessed…(Psalm 1:1a)

    Do you want to be blessed? I often here people pray, “LORD, bless me” or “LORD, bless so-and-so.”

    Have you been blessed in 2015?

    God bless us all in 2016!

    The word “blessed” or “asrey” in Hebrew means…blessed, happy, a heightened state of happiness and joy, implying very favorable circumstances, often resulting from the kind acts of God.

    Like joy, blessings are not related to our circumstances. Blessings are not obtained by seeking them, but rather they are often a side benefit from choices we make…or don’t make. A wise man said that happiness is like a
    cat. Seek it and it will run from you. But go about your business steadily day by day and soon it comes and curls up at your feet. How true, although I’m not a big cat fan!

    In biblical terms to be blessed meant to be rightly related to God so that your life was fulfilled and you experienced deep personal satisfaction. Who wants that?!

    Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, (Psalm 1:1)

    Did you ever stop and think your actions are a factor in God’s blessing? It seems clear here. Note the contrast. Walk with the wicked or love the law, the Torah, God’s Word.

    Notice this psalm begins with a negative. A person is blessed if they
    don’t walk, or stand or sit. That’s in interesting progression. In each instance evildoers are involved. We are not to walk with the wicked. That could be a casual interaction. We are not to stand with sinners. That could be a more involved conversation. We are not to sit with mockers, perhaps to avoid becoming like them.

    You are your friends. Jim Rohn says it this way: “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

    We need to invest our lives into those who don’t yet know Jesus, but we must guard ourselves from their influence. Like someone rescuing a drowning person, we must be careful to ensure we don’t get dragged down while we are attempting to serve others.

    Often dangerous people look nice. Who’s going to come up to you and say, “I’m an unsafe person who will deceive and harm you?” Can you imagine a stranger approaching you wearing a “Let’s go to Hell together” t-shirt?! But this world is filled with wicked, proud-of-their-sin mockers. Notice I didn’t just say sinners since we’re all sinners. What’s your attitude toward your sin?

    We are to be in the world but not of the world. This can be tricky.

    The progression is walk, stand sit; think, behave, belong.

    The psalm begins by telling us what not to do if we want to be blessed, but what should we do instead?

    …but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

    Your delight determines your direction. Do you delight in the law of the LORD? Do you delight in the Bible? Do you delight in God?

    Which is more popular, partying with pagans or going to a Bible study? Which is more fun? Which is the pathway to blessing?

    I know I’m not supposed to say this, but sometimes I struggle to read the Bible. There are times I’d rather read blogs than the Bible. But no blog can offer the wisdom, inspiration, and transformation found in the living Word of God. And it is an exciting book. If you think it’s boring, you’ve either never read it or you have an ancient translation you don’t understand. In either case, we have free Bibles in modern English available for you at the Information Center in the lobby. Please take one…and read it! Or read it online (more about that later).

    The other day I was talking with David Sankovich in the office and I said, “Did you know there’s a story in the Bible about someone speaking with the dead?” He knew. Did you? There’s accounts of donkeys talking, the dead raised, the earth swallowing up households, a woman driving a peg through a man’s temple, God serving frosted flakes to thousands—if not millions—of people…and that’s all before Revelation!

    Do you want to be blessed? Get into the Word! Is your faith weak? Get into the Word!

    Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

    You can read and listen to and study God’s Word, the holy scriptures, the Bible. Throughout history many have been unable to read. Most of us are able to read, but we can also listen to it as you are now, or online or via recording.

    Much of Psalm 119—the longest chapter in the Bible—is devoted to God’s Word. Of course, it’s not enough to read or listen to the Bible, or even know it intellectually. We must obey it. We must do what it says. Why? Because Daddy knows best. God’s ways are higher than ours. Blessed is the one who delights in God’s Word.

    …but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

    What is the object of your delight?

    On Friday we saw children delighting in their Christmas gifts.
    On Friday we saw adults delighting in their Christmas gifts!

    Young lovers delight in…one another.

    Sports fans delight in their teams, especially when they win.

    The word for “meditate” means to digest thoroughly. I like that!
    “Day and night’ means anytime, but it could also mean from the beginning of the day to its end.


    LORD, help me to want to know You and Your Word! I want to want you!

    That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:3)

    I love this image for many reasons. First, I love water. I often feel closest to God when I’m near water…and ocean, a lake, a river, a stream…sometimes a drinking fountain will do!

    I’m…uh…blessed to be able to see Swan Creek in my backyard during this time of year when the leaves have fallen. I could spend all day watching and listening to the current. Water is life. Our bodies are about 60% water. We obviously need it to live.

    So do trees! Trees with access to water will grow and become fruitful.

    A tree planted by a stream is usually stable. Its root system is often greater than the tree seen above the ground.

    How do you know when a tree has good roots? When the storms come!

    Have you ever noticed apple trees produce apples? Orange trees produce oranges.

    As we delight in God, our lives will produce godliness.

    As we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will bear 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)

    Psalm 1 continues…

    Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. (Psalm 1:4)

    “Not so” the wicked. They are not like the righteous…at all!

    Chaff is like peanut shells, waste. The wisdom of the wicked is waste. Garbage.

    Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1:5-6)

    I used to think “stand in the judgment” meant to appear and be present at the judgment, to show up. It means “stand” as in “stand up, stand firm.” Without roots, trees will fall. Without righteousness, the wicked will not pass the judgment. The winds of judgment will blow them over like chaff.

    The righteous will stand. The righteous will not blow down or be blown away. They will be like a strong, healthy tree with deep roots, surviving the windy storms and surviving God’s judgment.

    The LORD knows the ways of the righteous, like a dad knows his children.

    The wicked will eventually perish. It might not be today. Things might not seem fair now, but on Judgment Day God will have the final word.

    Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Are you ready? Are your roots deep? Are you grounded in God’s Word or being sucked downstream by the current of the culture?

    I pray we would be rooted in the Bible in 2016 (and every year!).

    So What?

    My first resolution for next year is to listen more…to God’s Word. Will you join me?

    For the last several years I’ve done a Bible reading plan. I have done many different ones, but my favorite I’m about to finish this year and I can’t wait to do it again. It’s called One Story and it takes you through the key stories of the Bible in one year. The plan shows how the many stories of the Bible make up one interconnected story – God’s story. The plan calls for reading between one to three chapters of Scripture a day from three separate chapters (i.e. the main storyline and key cross references), six days per week. It’s not only the greatest hits of the Bible, it is beautifully constructed to link the Old and New Testaments in ways I’ve never seen before.

    If you have YouVersion, it’s simply to access. Go to

    If you visit you can not only access the plan, there’s also study guides and videos you can use on your own, with your family, or in your Sunday School or small group.

    I’m not merely asking you to read the Bible next year. I’m inviting you to read it with me and the rest of us…together. If you miss some days, it’s not a problem. There’s power in reading the same passages. You’ll always have something to discuss when you get together.

    I have a second resolution for next year: to talk more…with God.

    is a beautiful gift. We have 24/7 access to the Creator of the universe!!! But it’s hard. Just as I’d sometimes rather read blogs than the Bible, sometimes I’d rather talk to my friends than to my heavenly Father.

    We have been invited to join churches across Toledo in three exciting prayer intiatives:

    a. Church Together 21 Day Corporate Fast, praying for our city January 1 through 21 while fasting from one meal each day…or whatever God may be leading you to give up during those three weeks (Facebook, TV, desserts, etc.).

    40 Day Prayer Journey with the same area churches beginning Sunday, January 3 and blanketing the seven key aspects of society.

    Toledo Prays citywide prayer gathering on Thursday, January 7.

    I believe Toledo’s best days are ahead and I believe First Alliance’s best days are ahead, but I believe they will only occur if we partner together with brothers and sisters of other churches at the foot of the cross, seeking the direction, protection, and power of Jesus Christ.

    Begin the new year in God’s Word. You’ll be blessed. Read with us.

    If you have not yet done so, I encourage you to sign up for one or more of the prayer initiatives. Begin the new year on your knees. Pray with us. You’ll never regret it!

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

    Antichrists, 1 John 2:18-27, 17 May 2015

    Big Idea: We must know the Truth and avoid the lies.

    Scripture: 1 John 2:18-27

      Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
      But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
      As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life.
      I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.


    What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word…antichrist?

    My mind races to the book of Revelation, end times movies, Christian persecution, and global chaos.

    As we continue in our study of the book of 1 John—a letter written by one of Jesus’ best friends and the author of the Gospel of John—this word “antichrist” emerges.

    To review last week’s text that precedes this week’s scripture, John writes

    Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

    There’s a great contrast between God’s ways and the world’s ways, and that distinction will continue to be expressed in today’s passage.

    Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18)

    “Little children” is used again, speaking to the babies in the faith. John tells them it’s the last hour, which sounds like one of those end times movies again with earthquakes and people disappearing and chaos ensuing. You may have noticed it has been the last hour for quite some time! On the one hand, it’s tempting to dismiss You might not be around tomorrow.

    Antichrist can mean against Christ or it can mean instead of Christ, a substitute.

    There is going to be an antichrist but there were many in John’s day. They denied the deity of Christ, that Jesus was God. Many claimed to be Christ. Revelation 13 describes a wild beast that is called forth by satan, a political ruler against Christ and also a wolf in sheep’s clothing who pretends to be Christ, a religious ruler. Both can be called antichrist, one against and one instead of Jesus.

    They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:19)

    Have you ever seen someone excited about something, only to lose their enthusiasm? In sports, we call these fair-weather fans. They’ll support a team as long as they’re winning, but when the championships end, they jump on the bandwagon of another team.

    This happens frequently in the marketplace. A person will be passionate about their job until it gets difficult and they’ll quit or—worse—complain.

    Faithfulness is never more evident than in relationships. The reason marriage is more than just a piece of paper is the commitment it records.

    I have seen so-called followers of Jesus abandon the faith, and there is nothing more tragic. Eleven of the twelve disciples were faithful, but Judas did not remain with them.

    A popular argument among Christians is whether or not you can lose your salvation. Some suggest if you can, you were never a Christian in the first place. I’m not here to debate the issue here, but Jesus said in Luke 8 that the Word of God is like seed, some of which falls on the path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns, and some on good soil that took root and persevered and produced a crop.

    Are you truly a follower of Jesus? Are you a new creation? Why? Is it simply for what you can get from God? What if He fails to meet your “needs” and He disappoints you?

    Paul said

    Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

    Three chapters later he added

    Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

    Does this describe your life? Are you standing firm in the faith? How do we do that? By filling our mind with God’s Word, our heart with prayer, and our hands with service to others. Simply, we know and follow Jesus.

    John continues

    But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1 John 2:20)

    We need the Holy Spirit. The Spirit helps us understand the truth.

    I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:21-23)

    They had the truth but lies are entering. Some see the world as the enemy, but the real enemy is inside the church.

    Again, there are many antichrists, then and now, those who deny Jesus is the Messiah.

    If Jesus is not God, we’re in trouble.
    If Jesus is not human, we’re in trouble.

    As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. (1 John 2:24)

    We must remain. We must abide. We must persevere. We must continue daily to follow Jesus…hourly…every moment!

    This requires discipline. That’s not a popular word, but I heard a great definition of discipline this week:

    doing what you don’t want to do so you can do what you want to do (Jeff Fisher)

    Sometimes I don’t want to jog, but I overcome that objection by thinking about the reward of being physically fit.

    Sometimes I don’t want to invest time in my relationship with God, but I overcome that objection by thinking about the reward of knowing Jesus.

    Sometimes I don’t want to invest money in savings, but I overcome that objection by thinking about the reward of having an emergency fund or resources for the future.

    In John 15, Jesus said if we abide/remain/persevere/invest our lives in Him we will bear fruit, but it doesn’t happen automatically or instantly.

    What did they hear from the beginning?

    That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1)

    And this is what he promised us—eternal life. (1 John 2:25)

    God promised us eternal life. That’s a long time! It’s not just eternal but life! If we trust Jesus with our lives, eternal life is promised.

    I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:26-27)

    Who’s trying to lead us astray? Anyone who is not teaching the Word of God. Do you know it well enough to know the truth from the lies? Never trust me over the Bible…and let me know if you ever hear a word that doesn’t align with the Bible.

    I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m in process. The more I learn, the more I realize I need to learn!

    My favorite theological quote is from Leonard Sweet who said, “20% of my theology is wrong. I just don’t what 20%”

    He’s not saying we don’t need teachers, but we especially need the Holy Spirit.

    But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)

    So What?

    There are many false teachings and false teachers. They perpetuate myths. Can you think of any? Here are some:

    1. God wants you happy. God wants you rich.
    2. God won’t give you more than you can handle.
    3. It doesn’t matter what you do.
    4. It doesn’t matter what you believe.
    5. Praise God when things go well. Ignore Him when things go poorly.
    6. Jesus was a good teacher but never died.
    7. Jesus was a good teacher but never rose from the dead.
    8. Jesus was not God.
    9. Jesus was not human.
    10. God helps those who help themselves.
    11. All good people go to heaven.
    12. Only good people go to heaven.
    13. Success is always measured by numbers.
    14. There is only one road you can take, one plan God has for your life.
    15. If you’re not busy, you’re lazy.
    16. God is not okay with doubt and questions
    17. There are bad sins (abortion) and acceptable ones (gossip)
    18. Your behavior affects God’s love for you
    19. The church is a building or a gathering
    20. All pastors are perfect, holy, and super spiritual
    21. The Bible is all about rules
    22. The Bible is boring

    Finally, challenge what you hear from me, challenge what you read in the media, challenge what you see in our culture. Does it align with the Word of God? It’s so tempting to follow conventional wisdom or what is politically correct without wrestling with the scriptures. Yes, sometimes they’re difficult to understand. Some things are controversial, but we must humbly seek the truth, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us. This is why we have elders. This is why we have Life Groups. This is why we have a Facebook page and Q&A in sermons…to study, wrestle, and seek to understand the truth…both the words on the page and Jesus,
    the Truth.

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

    Motherhood: Woman of God, 28 December 2014

    Big Idea: Moms—and Mary, in particular—do more than simply give birth.

    Key Scripture: Luke 2:21-52


    As a general rule, I don’t like reruns. I don’t like seeing movies for the second time. The reason is simple: I know what’s going to happen.

    Of course, sometimes I forget I’ve even
    seen the movie! One time I called Heather from the video store (remember those?) and asked if we had seen a particular movie. She said, “We rented it last weekend!” I then asked, “Did we like it?”

    There’s nothing like a show for the first time, be it on tv, the movies, or live. On Tuesday we are celebrating Heather’s birthday by going to the Detroit Opera House to see the musical Wicked. It’s her favorite show and we’ve both seen it before…but it will be the first time for two of our kids. It will be great for the three of us who have seen it before, but when you know the ending, the suspense is diminished, the thrill is muted, the mystery is lost.

    This is one of the challenges of the Bible. If you’ve read it before, it can become familiar. While it’s great to be comfortable with the truths of God’s Word, as Apuleius said, familiarity breeds contempt. We can miss the awe when we’ve “been there and done that.”


    We have two final weeks in our series on Mary. Hopefully you haven’t packed her away in the attic with your nativity set until next December! Giving birth to Jesus—while essential—was just the beginning, not the end of her influence and importance. Sure, the pain of labor and delivery were over, but a host of experiences and emotions lie ahead for her…and Joseph. We are going to take a peek at some today.

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

    Does that really say He wasn’t named until the eighth day, even though months earlier they were told what to name Him?

    When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24)

    Last Sunday we had a child dedication—actually a parent and child dedication. Jesus was dedicated by His parents to the Lord. Fortunately for us, we do not have to slaughter animals in the process, but this was the Old Testament Law.

    Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

    “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
    For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
    a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)

    Surely this was further confirmation that their child was special—as if they needed further proof following angel visitations, the glory of the Lord shining, choirs of singing angels, strange shepherds visiting the labor and delivery room, and the fulfillment of ancient prophecy.

    Simeon saw Jesus as the Savior of all, not merely Jews, a radical expansion of God’s redemption promised in the OT (Ps. 98; Is. 49:6).

    The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:33-35)

    This was a beautiful moment, this righteous man rejoicing at the presence of the Messiah. He praised God, his parents marveled, He blessed the child…and then those nine words to Mary: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Imagine how jarring that sentence must’ve been to this young mom. There was no warning. Simeon didn’t say, “There’s some good news and some bad news. What do you want first?” It’s almost a P.S. “By the way, Mary, your soul will be pierced by a sword. Have a nice day!”

    There’s more.

    There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

    We’re introduced to Anna the prophet (a female!) who confirms Jesus as the One, the child.

    It often seems the greater the challenge, the greater the clarity required. For instance, if God wants you to sell everything and move to Africa, it may take more than a hunch, a brief thought in the middle of the night after late-night pizza and pop! Such radical action requires great clarity, most likely through multiple messages.

    It was critical that Mary and Joseph knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that their Son was special, the Messiah. Many people told them so, including two at His consecration.

    When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. (Luke 2:39)

    This verse raised questions for me. Didn’t they get a visit from the Magi and have to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys in accordance with Matthew chapter two? Luke did not feel it was an important detail.

    And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. (Luke 2:40)

    This is about all we know of Jesus’ childhood…except for one incident…a dozen years later.

    Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (Luke 2:41-48)

    The trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem was not a one-time journey for Jesus’ birth. It was an annual affair.

    Parents, if you’ve ever lost your child, you know how consuming it can be. Imagine three days of searching!

    “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:49-50)

    We understand, but you have to admit those words must’ve sounded strange to Mary and Joseph…especially Joseph. “Father? You don’t know your father? Hello!”

    Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:51-52)

    Jesus grew and Mary treasured all these things in her heart.

    I believe Mary was a great mom. She certainly had huge challenges, yet she persevered. She raised a boy with a Messiah complex! She was forever known as conceiving before marriage. It is thought that her husband died young, though the Bible is not explicit about this. We are told she had other children (who must’ve struggled to live up to the expectations of Jesus; “why can’t you be more like your brother?” “Because He’s perfect!”).

    Clearly Mary was thoughtful; deliberate. Like all moms, she loved her child in a way unlike anyone else. She gave birth, nursed Him, and did everything possible to provide a good life for Him, all the while knowing He was special, yet not at all what she or anyone was expecting from the King of the Jews.

    Next week we’ll look at the most unexpected moment in Mary’s life.

    So What?

    Moms, you can relate to Mary better than anyone. You know the joys and heartache of not only parenting but doing what only moms can do. Just as I learned more about our heavenly Father the day I became a dad, moms can identify with Mary.

    We can only imagine the conversations she had with Jesus, the questions she asked, the haunting words of Simeon throughout His growth, and the mystery of His identity.


    Just for the record, there are a few things I like to watch more than once, but it’s not so much for the intrigue and wonder but rather the tradition. A Charlie Brown Christmas comes to mind. The beauty, of course, of familiar shows is you can be interrupted by a bathroom break or phone call/text without missing anything. You also notice new things each time you experience it.

    The more you read the Bible, the more familiar it becomes, but the more the Holy Spirit can guide you into truth. We are constantly changing and God’s Word has the power to encourage, convict, challenge and transform us.

    I’ve read it cover to cover—many times. We have together as a church. This year we’ve read through Psalms and Proverbs each day. In 2015 we have a new reading plan. It’s called One Story and it will cover the major themes of the Bible with six readings each week. If you have a smart phone, the readings can be easily obtained with the YouVersion app as well as There are free videos, Experience study guides, and Let’s Discuss It discussion guides for your family and/or Life Group.

    As we prepare for the new year, it’s my hope and prayer that we would passionately pursue God like never before, as individuals and as a family together.

    For Further Study

    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

    Women in the Bible, 16 November 2014

    Big Idea: Mary is not just for Catholics, but a crucial Biblical character worth imitating alongside many other godly women.

    Key Scripture: Matthew 1:1-16


    I want to talk about
    women. I’m particularly fond of one beautiful woman, my wife, my best friend, and the mother of our three adult children. We have been married for more then 24 years and there’s (at least) one thing I’ve never heard her express: complaint about being a woman.

    It’s no secret that throughout history women have been treated as second-class citizens. The exact origins are unclear to me—aside from the possibility that average men are more physically strong and capable of using and abusing force and violence to achieve their objectives.

    Although we think nothing of women owning property, voting, or leading corporations, women are often paid less than men for similar work…and we have yet to have a woman lead our nation as president. According to one
    Newsweek study, the USA ranks eighth in the world in terms of opportunity for women (Iceland is first followed by Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, and Norway). The worst country is Chad, followed by Afghanistan, Yemen, The DR of Congo, and Mali. (

    Today women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia and are killed for honor in Pakistan.

    It’s easy to point fingers at the “world,” but the church has not always treated women favorably. In many churches and denominations, women are restricted in areas of leadership, understandably on the basis of some of Paul’s writings in the New Testament. What has always bothered me, however, is the double standard when women can go overseas and lead churches but are forbidden from doing much of anything in a USA congregation.

    Just for the record, I have struggled more with the issue of women in leadership than any other issue. I respect many that hold to a conservative view and many that are very progressive. We’re not going to delve into Paul much today, but I want to suggest the restrictions he placed upon women were specific women in specific churches at a specific time, not necessarily universal instructions for every woman for all times. Were that the case, we would be in great violation at Scio. For instance,

    Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? (1 Corinthians 11:13)

    As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35)

    A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (1 Timothy 2:11-13)

    Men and women
    are different.

    Male and Female

    So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

    He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man.” (Genesis 5:2)

    “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ (Matthew 19:4)

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

    “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” wrote one bestselling author! We are different, but it cannot and should not be said that men are superior to women.

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

    Here’s the formal statement by our denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance:

    Women may fulfill any function in the local church which the senior pastor and elders may choose to delegate to them consistent with the Uniform Constitution for Accredited Churches and may properly engage in any kind of ministry except that which involves elder authority.

    • from the Manual of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, H1, Statement on Church Government, 4. Form of Government, d. Local Church, (5)


    Years ago I wrote a paper on the subject of women in ministry when I was doing my master’s degree. I received an “A” but the professor wrote, “What is your opinion on the subject?” I tried to faithfully present both sides of the argument—and the spectrum. Apparently I presented the viewpoints without revealing mine. My paper was based upon one verse in the last chapter of the book of Romans.

    Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Romans 16:7, NIV 1984)

    There’s one problem with this verse. The fourth word is actually
    Junia. There is no evidence that any man had the name Junias! This verse says Junias is outstanding among the apostles. Since apostles were thought to not be women and Junia was a woman, the name was changed to Junias, therefore making it a male name.

    So Junias is a man who didn’t exist with a name that didn’t exist in the ancient world!

    Early translations of the New Testament into other languages showed Junia as a woman but Martin Luther turned her into a man! He wasn’t the first, but was influential in the name/gender change.

    The Bible we possess is not in the original language, nor do we have the original manuscripts. We have English translations derived from composites of various manuscripts. This does not mean the Bible is unreliable, but it does mean the 66 books didn’t fall from heaven, leather-bound in English!


    Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Romans 16:7, NIV 2011)

    Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. (Romans 16:7, NASB)

    Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. (Romans 16:7, KJV)

    My professor, Scot McKnight, and most scholars “are reasonably confident” we have the original words in about 98% of the New Testament, and the few questionable issues do not deal with essential matters of our faith.

    So Junia is an outstanding apostle. Priscilla taught Apollos. Phoebe was a deacon.

    Women in the Bible

    Why are we talking about Junias in a series about Mary? Mary is not the first prominent woman in the Bible. Throughout this series we will examine her story, her character, and her significance. We all know she was Jesus’ mom, but let’s look at His family tree.

    A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:1-16)

    Here is the family tree of Jesus. It’s not too exciting at first, but notice the women included—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba…and Mary.

    Tamar and Rahab were prostitutes. Ruth was a foreigner. Bathsheba committed adultery—or was a rape victim. It’s startling that these women would be specifically mentioned (since each man listed had a mom!).

    The repeated phrase “The father of” shifts with Jesus since Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, but He was born of Mary.


    Each year we celebrate Mother’s Day. It’s a special day filled with emotions for most of us, feelings of warmth and love for some, grief and loss for others. Moms are special. We honor them. If your mom is special, imagine how special Jesus’ mom must be.

    Series Introduction

    With few exceptions, “Mariam” has been tossed aside by Protestants except for the month of December when we let her sit in the nativity scene beside the baby Jesus. Not wanting to “worship” her as Roman Catholics are often accused of doing, we ignore her faith, obedience, and important role throughout the life and death of Jesus. This series will strive to uncover the character and narrative of one of the Bible’s most underrated figures and one we are to call “blessed” (Luke 1:48b).

    Why do we virtually ignore Mary? For some it is a reaction to Catholics.

    As Scot McKnight says, “We are Protestants; we believe in the Bible; Mary is in the Bible; we need to believe what the Bible says about Mary.”

    For Further Study

    The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

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

    Study Jesus, b.l.e.s.s., 27 January 2013

    Study Jesus

    Big Idea:
    Study Jesus

    Scriptures: Psalm 119


    Three weeks ago we began our new year with our new series and annual theme, b.l.e.s.s. We said that we have been blessed to be a blessing. This is a theme throughout history, most prominently in God’s covenant with Abram (Genesis 12:1-3)

    Our first week’s challenge was to bless one person.
    Week two’s challenge was to spend one hour listening to God.
    Last week’s challenge was to eat with a lost person.

    These are not one-time challenge, but new rhythms, patterns for the new year, every week. Some would call them spiritual practices or disciplines.

    Today’s letter is “S” and it stands for Jesus.

    Do you like to study?

    When I think of study, my mind jumps back to finals weeks in college, cramming facts and data moments before heading to class, hoping to remember the right formula, date, translation, or concept in order to pass the class. While striving for an “A” was something of a game, the whole thing was rather stressful and usually not meaningful to me. I’ve long ago forgotten the periodic table of the elements, the capital city of every nation in Africa, how to say “administrator” in Spanish, or our ninth vice-president.

    For many, Bible study is done similarly. The pastor says to read a chapter a day, so we do it. The goal is to finish. It’s all about the destination.

    The challenge this week is not to merely study or even study the Bible, but study Jesus. Study a Person.

    Perhaps you remember the story of Steve Jobs’ biography. When Jobs asked Walter Isaacson to write a biography of his life, he said to tell everything—good and bad—so that his children could know their dad. That makes me so sad—that they would need a book to get to know their dad—yet it would be even more tragic if his kids had no interest in reading it!

    We have God’s Word to help us know about God, but also to know God. We can study the life and teachings of Jesus in order to ultimately know Him, His heart, and become like Him...because unlike Jobs, Jesus is alive!

    The Word of God

    We’re going to look at a few verses in Psalm 119. There are two things unique about this chapter. First, it is the longest chapter of the Bible, 176 verses! Second, it is divided up into sections, each beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, from aleph to taw. It begins

    [Aleph] Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me. (Psalm 119:1-8)

    Have you ever read passages like today’s scripture reading and wondered what all the fuss was about? Consider this passage:

    Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. (Psalm 119:97-104)

    King David loved the Scriptures. He didn’t have a leather-bound copy of the Old and New Testament—obviously since he lived centuries before the advent of Jesus and the New Testament—but he recognized the wisdom of God and was desperate to know it. Oh that all of our political and military leaders—and business and entertainment and education get the idea—would have such a desire to know not only the information contained in the Bible, but its main character, Jesus Christ.

    One of the great distinctions between Christianity and most other religions is that we pursue a living person, not merely the teachings of a dead man—or woman. Truth is a Person. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    The word “Christian” means “little Christ,” so in order to authentically call yourself a Christian, you must be like Jesus, and in order to be like Jesus you must act like Jesus, and in order to act like Jesus you must know how Jesus acted, and in order to know how Jesus acted you must know the Bible and in order to know the Bible you must study it...not merely read it.

    As much as I love the attitude between the old W.W.J.D. bracelets—What Would Jesus Do?—it’s often too late to ask the question. Our lives are filled with split-second decisions and actions that don’t allow time to prepare. If someone cuts me off on the expressway, I don’t have time to pause and reflect upon what Jesus would do (perhaps He would wave!).

    The key to living like Jesus is to know Jesus—not just about Him, but actually know Him. The Bible is our primary source—as I mentioned two weeks ago when we talked about listening to God—but we can’t stop there. Many have read the Bible and remained skeptics. There are atheists that have read and even memorized much of the Bible! There is a difference between just reading the Bible and studying Jesus.

    Love Letter

    I have saved every letter and card that my wife has given me since I met her more than 27 years ago. Every one! Why? They are valuable to me because she is valuable to me. I never read a single word in order to fill my head with facts about her. I read them to know her, her heart, her essence. Her letters and cards were not written like a dictionary or encyclopedia. They are all communication vehicles to enhance our relationship. The same can be said of the Scriptures.

    Psalm 119:9-16

    [Beth] How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:9-16)

    How did David study the heart of God? The goal of David’s study was not information, but transformation.

    I often struggle in studying the Bible. For me, it’s almost too familiar. I am tempted to skim through it like I would a children’s book that I’ve read to my kids one hundred times. The reality is, there are new things to glean from the Bible each time I open it. Reading it for knowledge is one thing, but asking the Holy Spirit to speak through it—and for me to be still and listen to it—is something entirely different. Our attitude and approach are critical. Oh that we could all be like David, who wrote

    [Gimel] Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me. My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times. You rebuke the arrogant, who are cursed and who stray from your commands. Remove from me scorn and contempt, for I keep your statutes. Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees. Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors. (Psalm 119:17-24)

    What was the result of David’s pursuit of God? Twice he is called a man after God’s heart. He got it! As he got to know the heart of God, he became more like God. I can tell you three things that are on God’s heart: widows, orphans and strangers.

    Many have memorized parts of the Bible, gone to church for decades, pray before every meal, and put a check in the offering, but that doesn’t mean we know the heart of God, much less have the heart of God. When we study Jesus, we discover the heart of God. John wrote

    No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1:18)

    Jesus, in the incarnation and crucifixion, makes the heart of God known to us.


    One of the most beautiful passages about God’s Word is found in the book of Joshua. Moses has just died, the baton has been passed to Joshua, and God gives him leadership instructions including the following:

    Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)

    What is God saying here?
    1. Know it and speak it. Keep it in your mouth.
    2. Meditate on it day and night. Keep it in your mind.
    3. Do what it says. Keep it in your actions and life.

    1. Huddle

    1. For the past year, I’ve been beta-testing a discipleship tool called a Huddle with several men, including our elders. At the heart of the gathering are two simple questions:

    1. 1. What has God been saying to you?
    1. What are you going to do about it?

    1. It all starts with knowing Him, with reading about Him, with studying Him.

    1. This Week’s Challenge

    1. Which brings us to this week’s challenge. You already know what it is—study Jesus this week...every week! Engage in God’s Word and invite Jesus to be the center of your life.

    1. For some of you, Jesus is too familiar to you. You’ve spent decades with Him and you almost forget He’s with you. This happens often in marriage—we take our spouse for granted since they’re just always there.

    1. Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you in fresh ways. Seek first His Kingdom, not your own desires. Before your feet hit the ground, lie in bed and say, “Jesus, I want to do today with You. You lead and I will follow. You speak and I will listen and obey.” Spend time every day in God’s Word. The Scio Journal on our Facebook page makes this particularly simple as we read one chapter of the New Testament together each day and then interact. I love what Wayne Cordeiro says, that being in God’s Word each day is like receiving fresh bread. Do you like fresh bread? Jesus is the bread of life and as we sit at His feet, follow His example, and participate in His mission to seek and save the lost and care for the widow, orphan and stranger we will know Him more daily.

    1. Most of you have no problem eating food each day. Make sure there is spiritual food in your daily diet, too. Jesus wants to know you and be known by you. Study Jesus.

    1. Your Word

    1. [Nun] Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

    1. Credits: some materials borrowed from Charles Kiser (

    1. You can listen to the podcast here.

    The Radical Experiment, 6 November 2011

    Big Idea: the conclusion of our Radical series offers five next-steps for knowing Jesus more deeply.

    Opening Video

    We are concluding our series
    Radical based somewhat on the book of the same name by David Platt.

  • Last week I issued two cautions. One was that we would not take Jesus’ hard teaching seriously, rationalizing them away. The other is that we turn them into a legalistic to-do list that will get us to heaven or make God love us more.

  • Nothing you can do can make God love you more. Nothing you can do can make God love you less.

  • What I’m about to share with you has an additional caution—apathy. Jesus’ brother said simply...

  • Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. – James 1:22

  • It’s easy to hear challenging teachings and nod our head or even compliment the preacher at the end, but what matters is not merely what we know but how we respond. Jesus was not merely a good teacher, He came to be LORD. Action is a natural response to love.

  • We have celebrated communion together, remembering all that Jesus has done for us. Anything that we do in obedience to Him is nothing more than a response, a privilege! The amazing thing is that when we obey Jesus, we are blessed. We experience what it means to be fully human. We encounter a depth in our relationship with our Creator that we can discover no other way. We are filled with joy and peace and satisfaction found nowhere else.

  • Today I want to invite you to The Radical Experiment. There are five parts to the Radical Experiment and they are just that, an experiment. These are five things that I believe will draw you closer to Jesus. They reflect His heart, His passion, and His commands. These five things are not magic, but I believe they can change your life, our church, and ultimately our world.

  • Pray for the entire world

  • This week the 7 billionth person entered our world. Billions have never even heard of Jesus. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, Jesus said in Luke 10:2. “Ask the LORD of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.”

  • We can join God in His mission on our knees. Our denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, states in its Core Values

  • Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. (Philippians 4:6-7)

  • will be our main tool for praying for the entire world. They have a book, a website, and other resources where you can learn about a different nation each day and pray for them.

  • We want God to bless America, but also all of the nations of the world. John 3:16 says that God so loved! The first step in being a blessing to the nations is to pray for them.

  • Read through the entire Word

  • This relates to another value of the Christian & Missionary Alliance:

  • Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success. (Joshua 1:8)

  • We can’t know it if we haven’t read it. Spiritual warfare is real. We need to know the Truth of God’s Word. The purpose, again, is not to perform a task but to know our Father.

  • Steve Jobs asked Walter Isaacson to write a biography of his life so that his children could know their dad. That makes me so sad, yet it would be even more tragic if his kids had no interest in reading it!

  • Our Father has given us not only information about Himself, but also wisdom for living, exciting stories, history, poetry, prophecy, and so much more. I want to challenge you to read through the Bible in 2012.

  • You may be saying, “2012? It’s not even December 2011!” You can use the next several weeks to practice or get a head start. We have a tool for this, too.

  • Dr. George Guthrie ( developed the Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

  • This plan takes the material of the Bible and organizes it to flow in chronological order. Since exact dating of some materials or events is not possible, the chronology simply represents an attempt to give you the reader the general flow and development of the Bible's grand story. Some passages are placed according to topic (e.g., John 1:1–3 in Week 1, Day 2; and many of the psalms). There are six readings for each week to give you space for catching up when needed.

    In addition to the website and book, free apps are available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch and it is fully compatible with the
    YouVersion website and apps. You can listen to the audio, read the book, visit online, or view the app. However you do it, we want to read through the entire Bible...together.

    Imagine what it would be like if you told a friend about what you read that morning and they said, “Hey, I read that, too!” As a church family, we will all be able to read the same chapters each day and grow together. We’ll even build some of our Sunday morning texts from the reading plan.

    In addition to the verses, offers podcasts and videos with Michael Card and others that will help you read, understand, and apply God’s Word.

    Sacrifice our money for a specific purpose

    Everything that we have belongs to God—not 10%, not 50%, but 100%. As we have noted, every person in this room is financially rich compared to the other 7 billion people on the planet. What would happen if we committed to free up resources for urgent spiritual and physical needs around the world? Do you think God would honor our generosity if we take what is from Him and sacrificially use it for His purposes?

    Instead of asking how much we can spare, what if we asked, “What will it take?”

    The needs of our world are so overwhelming. Bob Pierce, the former president of World Vision said,

    "Don't fail to do something just because you can't do everything."

    Each of us can do
    something, whether it is to skip a meal, cancel cable, increase the percentage of our giving, sponsor a child with Compassion International, or even make a micro-finance loan through

    It has been said that Christians spend more money on dog food than missions! Seriously?

    Everything we have belongs to God; we are His stewards. (1 Chronicles 29:14)

    The world is not our home. Let’s stop living like it is.

    Give our time in another context

    I challenge you—and myself—to spend 2% of your time—or one week—in another context. This could be a missions trip to Africa or a week next summer in Detroit. We’ll be presenting opportunities in the coming days for youth, individuals, and families or you can create your own.

    Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. (Luke 19:10)

    Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully-devoted disciple. (Matthew 28:19)

    That means you!

    Commit our lives to a multiplying community

    Be a committed member of a local church, here or elsewhere.

    Following Jesus is a team sport. We need each other. God created us to be interdependent. Just as the Father, Son and Spirit exist in community so we are to, also.

    In 2012 we are going to pray for the world together, read the Word together, give together, and serve together.

    The point is not to follow Christ but to follow Him together.

    They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
  • - Acts 2:42-47

    Do you see it?

    They were radically committed to the Word of God and the apostle’s teaching.
  • They were radically committed to fellowship together, in public and in homes.
  • They were radically committed to prayer, experiencing miracles.
  • They were radically generous, giving to anyone as he had need.
  • They were radically committed to one another, meeting together daily.

  • This was not a perfect church, but it was a radical one. I cannot imagine a more compelling vision for Scio—a group of normal but radical people, passionately committed to loving Jesus, one another, and their neighbors.

  • It doesn’t just happen, though. We can’t wish it into reality. It requires total surrender, but it’s worth it.

  • You might ask why we’re talking about 2012 in November of 2011. As I said with the Bible reading, this will give you some time to experiment. I urge you to prayerfully consider the challenge, especially as we head into the crazy holidays.

  • Finally, let me say once more that we must avoid legalism, thinking we need to follow man-made rules or even God-given commands in order to earn salvation or approval before God. Nothing you can do can make God love your more/less. God’s favor in your life is not based on your performance but on Jesus Christ and what He did for you. That’s what we celebrated earlier with communion. That’s also why do serve Him. We love and serve Him because He first loved and served us. This is our response.

  • Concluding Video

  • You can listen to the podcast here.
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