Children of God

His now, 21 January 2024

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

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

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

Peacemakers, 23 August 2020

Blessed are the Peacemakers
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:9

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: God is on your side when you are complete in Him and help others experience shalom.

NIV: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

NKJV: Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)

The Message: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. (Matthew 5:9)


It’s not only a greeting, it’s one of my favorite words. Many simply translate it as “peace,” thinking, perhaps, of Richard Nixon fingers or a groovy, tie-dyed, hippie saying. Shalom is so much more than the absence of conflict.
Shalom is more than peace. It means wholeness, completeness, everything in its right place, mutual flourishing.

We’ve been looking at the Beatitudes this summer, eight invitations, eight announcements of blessing from the lips of Jesus. These are not instructions to follow, but rather they are declarations of reality, both present and future. What does it mean to be blessed? The greatest blessing is the presence and favor of God.

NIV: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

Blessed are the wholeness-makers.
Blessed are the shalom-creators.

What comes to mind when you think of peace? I may have tainted your answer by referencing images from the 1960s and 70s! Quite often we think of the opposite of war. Maybe you picture a quiet place near water—a peaceful location. A dove is a popular symbol for peace.

We’ve been blessed to live in a country that has been relatively peaceful for the past century or so. Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are the only physical attacks I’m aware of on our soil since the 19
th century. War is a foreign concept to most of us (and to those of you who have served in the military, thank you).

Let me say again, peace is not merely the absence of war or conflict. True shalom means wholeness, completeness, everything in its right place, mutual flourishing.

Inner Peace

We often sing a song called “It is Well.” Is it well with your soul today? Do you feel whole, complete, at peace? Before we talk about peacemaking, let’s begin with ourselves. If you don’t have peace, you can’t make peace. You can’t give away something you don’t possess.

Our mission, our hope, our purpose, our life as First Alliance Church is all about Jesus. We worship a Person, not a book. We are about a relationship, not a religion. As we saw last week, it begins with what’s inside—our heart—not a bunch of rules to follow. We are to be known for our love, not our politics.

Whenever I think about Christian maturity, I’m constantly drawn to the fifth chapter of the book of Galatians where it says the fruit of the Spirit is

…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a, NLT)

Where do we get love? It begins with God. God is love. You can’t create love, but you can receive and share it.

How can we experience joy? The joy of the LORD is our strength. Dallas Willard said, “God is the happiest, most joyful being in the universe. God is not mean, but He is dangerous.”

How do we experience inner peace? The prophet Isaiah wrote,

You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:3-4)

Trust in God is the pathway to true, personal peace. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Paul said, “He himself is our peace” in Ephesians 2:14). He has made peace between a holy God and sinners like us.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Followers of Jesus are engaged in a process called sanctification, becoming like our Teacher and Master. It’s a lifelong journey of death to our ego and agendas. It’s a process of growth, suffering, redemption, and maturity. It begins with time with God. You are your friends. You can’t follow someone you don’t know. This is why prayer, Bible study, and worship are so important. They are three of the many habits we engage in to know God…not just about God, but truly know Him. As we know Him, we trust, surrender, and become like Jesus.

George MacDonald wrote,

Christ died to save us, not from suffering, but from ourselves; not from injustice, far less from justice, but from being unjust. He died that we might live—but live as he lives, by dying as he died who died to himself that he might live unto God. If we do not die to ourselves, we cannot live to God, and he that does not live to God, is dead.
Put another way, Satan and God both want us dead…for different reasons!

Is it well with your soul? Do you have peace? If not, tell Jesus, the Prince of Peace. I don’t promise that a five-second prayer will instantly fix everything, but surrender is the first start, welcoming Jesus into your life. Additional steps may include eliminating certain media and social media, fellowship with other Christ-followers, Celebrate Recovery, and/or biblical counseling.

Making Peace

Once we have peace with ourselves, we begin to look at our relationships. Much of our own inner turmoil is due to unresolved conflict with others. Who do you need to forgive? Who needs to forgive you?

We cannot guarantee peace, but we can work toward it. You and I have a responsibility in our relationships, but we’re never one hundred percent responsible for the health of those relationships. It takes two to tango!

I’ve spent years working on reconciling broken relationships. It’s not fun! It’s not easy! It’s included a lot of prayer. I want to rush the process. I want to fix it. I’ve been encouraged by Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

We might not live a peace with everyone, but we can try. We can refuse to hold grudges. We can reject bitterness. We can extend grace. We can seek to understand. But sometimes peace is not possible.

Thankfully, we serve the God of the impossible!

My Story: Lynn Kampfer

Peacemaking is costly, but ultimately worth it.

You can hear that in Lynn’s story. Driving to Wisconsin is costly enough (do you know how expensive the tollways are, to say nothing of gas?!). The emotional expense was far greater, yet God clearly rewarded her for her efforts.

Peacemaking can be messy. If you think about it, most anytime you make something, you create something, you get involved with something, there is risk and sacrifice. If you make a cake, it takes time, money, and some dishes to clean! If you make a campfire, you may get slivers or encounter wildlife as you acquire wood…and may even burn yourself lighting it. Relationships are arguably the most risky, complicated, messy things we can create, yet nothing has a greater reward. There is no great gift you can offer than yourself.

Peacemakers are countercultural, accepting God’s invitation to join Him in the upside-down reality. When we engage as peacemakers, we are blessed, but clearly others experience the joy of reconciliation, of wholeness and completeness, of shalom, too.

The Telos Group

I was introduced to The Telos Group through Stu G and The Beatitudes Project. They are a stunning example of peacemaking. Their mission is to “form communities of American peacemakers across lines of difference, and equip them to help reconcile seemingly intractable conflicts at home and abroad. In the Middle East, they are pro-peace, Pro-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian.

So What?

Your next step today might not be to travel to the Middle East and make peace between Israelis and Palestinians! But I can’t let you off the hook, either.

Like each of these Beatitudes, the applications are endless…and unique. Begin with yourself. Where is it not well with your soul? Where are you experiencing conflict, tension, unrest? What keeps you up at night? What makes you anxious? Who do you need to forgive? What broken relationship needs to be reconciled?

Thinking beyond yourself, where do you see or find yourself in the midst of conflict? It might be at work, in your home, or even on social media. How can you promote listening, respect, dignity, and even love among others, perhaps even among enemies? This is especially timely as two political parties and their followers are at war with one another. Cancel culture frames everything into binary categories. Nuance is eliminated and attacks are made, often without any basis in fact or reality.

I think about the old song, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” C.S. Lewis said, “The fingerprint of God is in the present.” It is now. In this moment we can know God and be transformed by the peacemaking God who is the God of peace.

Shalom—wholeness—and healing are both incremental processes. They take time. It’s a journey of a million miles that begins with one step What is your next step?

The first place to start, of course, is on our knees, praying not only for God to bring peace, but for Him to reveal how we can participate, how we can respond to this invitation, how we can be an answer to our own prayer…and that of so many others.

Family, now is a brilliant time for true believers in Jesus Christ to put down our weapons of “rightness,” debate, and attack against whomever you consider the enemy…and set an example of peace, of love, of grace. I’m not saying there’s no place for healthy, respectful dialog, but even if you’re right, an arrogant spirit will repel rather than engage another.

Children of God

NIV: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

There is no greater title or identity than child of God. This is the reward. This is the promise.

Your primary identity is not in your occupation, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or even citizenship. You are a child of the Most High God, created in His image with dignity, value, and worth. That identity is affirmed and confirmed when we are peacemakers. As we become like the Prince of Peace, we experience, keep, and make peace.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. (Matthew 5:9,
The Message)

God is on your side when you are complete in Him and help others experience shalom.


LORD, bring more wholeness and healing into my heart that I might live in more harmony with others, that I could be self-giving and others-centered just as Jesus, the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), did. LORD, may our hearts be filled with shalom, the multi-faceted wholeness you want to bring to us and through us to the world. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project

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

Rags to Riches, 18 March 2018

Rags to Riches
D6 Series— By Faith Alone
Galatians 4:1-31

Series Overview:
The purpose of this series from the book of Galatians is to emphasize the vital role of faith in our lives.

Big Idea: Followers of Jesus are God’s children and heirs…and need to live like it!

Rags to riches. It might be the ultimate story, whether it be Little Orphan Annie, Cinderella, Rocky, or even historical figures such as Genghis Khan, Andrew Carnegie, Ben Carson, LeBron James or Oprah Winfrey, we love to hear of people whose lives have experienced transformation.

Often, people achieve greatness by their own efforts. Others are advantaged by their family of origin, whether by birth or adoption. Such is our subject today in Galatians chapter four.

I’ve often said I believe the two most important questions in life are

- Who is God?
- Who am I?

How you answer those questions will literally change your life. As we study the Bible, we obviously learn about God. We can’t know everything about God because…well, if we did, we’d be God! God is beyond our complete comprehension, but we can know enough about Him to love and worship and have a relationship with Him.

Today we’re going to learn about God, but our focus will be on the second question: Who am I? Or perhaps we should say, “Whose am I?”

Welcome to week three of D6, our church-wide study of the Bible. This month we are studying the book of Galatians, a letter written to churches in the city of Galatia in modern-day Turkey by Paul, one of the leaders of the early church. These people began following Jesus, but religious people deceived them into believing works were necessary to earn God’s favor. Friends, the cross is enough. Jesus is enough. We are saved by grace through faith. Hallelujah! The book of Galatians is filled with the simple message that Jesus is greater than religion. All of our good works can’t begin to compare to the work of Jesus on the cross. It’s all about Jesus.

Just a reminder that you can text questions…Last week I received
a question we will answer today: Are we sons of God because of creation or Christ?

As we turn to chapter four of Galatians, Paul reminds the people of Galatia of their identity.

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:1-5)

Paul is saying minors cannot receive an inheritance. They might as well be slaves, much like the Jews under the old covenant. Before Jesus, people were enslaved. Jews were enslaved to the Mosaic Law. Gentiles were enslaved by pagan religions. Today many Christians are enslaved by legalism, rituals, good works, and moral achievement. Rather than bondage, at just the right time, Jesus came to redeem us, to adopt us.

These words are truly remarkable. Many of us have heard them so many times, the wonder of them has worn off, but I urge you to reflect with me.

The Creator of the universe sends Jesus to our planet who dies and resurrects for us. He ascends into heaven and sends the Holy Spirit to every believer, giving us the power to become like Jesus. That’s what “Christian” means—little Christ. Paul tells us we are God’s children. Who’s your Daddy? God!

We’ve all heard stories of children famous not because of what they’ve done, but rather their parents. The children of Jay-Z and Beyonce have been on magazine covers. Every addition to the royal family in Britain is global news. Can you imagine having a last name like Gates or Vanderbilt or Rockefeller…or Trump? Your family matters. Parents provide opportunities for their children—or not!

Now imagine what it’s like to be in God’s family! Don’t miss the last word of this text—heir. We are not only children, we have an inheritance…greater than anything Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet could leave.

Who are you? What is the source of your identity? Your occupation? Education? Race? Social status? Member of an elite club? Political party?

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a child of God. That must come before any other descriptor. Before American. Before evangelical. Before doctor or Toledo Rocket or even husband or mother. You are no longer a slave to sin and this world but are now a child of the most high God.

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba , Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:6-7)

Note the Aramaic word “Abba.” In Jesus’ day, nobody would’ve addressed God as “My Father.” It would have been considered disrespectful, yet Jesus not only did it, he taught his followers to do so. He taught us to pray, “Our Father.” God was considered the Father of the nation of Israel, but never considered as father to an individual. The religious in Jesus’ day were widening the distance between man and God, something Jesus reversed. In all of Jesus’ prayers except for on the cross, Jesus uses the word “Father,” and “Abba” is the term a small child would call their father, not unlike our word for “daddy.”

Do you think of God as daddy? I do. I sometimes use the word “daddy” when I pray. Sometimes it seems weird when I’m praying out loud in a group, but I still love it when my adult kids call me daddy and, therefore, it is a meaningful, intimate word I use for God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Galatians 4:8-11)

Paul’s so frustrated! He taught them the truth, and now they’re backsliding, believing lies about religion rather than seeking a deeper relationship with God. They know about God, but they don’t know God. Like so many throughout history, they worshiped the creature rather than the Creator. Paul feared they would return to false gods, following religion, or returning to paganism. Note as Christians we are not required to follow the Jewish calendar of festivals. The observances are not bad. In fact, they can be quite meaningful, but they are not celebrated to gain favor with God.

I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. (Galatians 4:12-14)

We don’t know much about Paul’s illness. It may have been eye trouble epilepsy, or even Malaria! Regardless, he reminds them of their time together and his delivery of the gospel, good news. Now they’ve changed their attitude, instead following the religious Judaizers.

Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Galatians 4:15-16)

Can you feel the tension? The angst? Paul can’t believe how these people have changed.

Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Galatians 4:17-20)

He’s in a battle for the truth. Spiritual warfare is real and it is not always Christianity against Satanism. It can be religion and legalism versus grace and freedom. Again, grace and freedom do not give us license to sin. They merely remind us of our salvation, not from our works but the work of Jesus. The more we understand the work of Jesus, the more we will love God and want to obey, serve, and glory Him.

And now he contrasts Abraham’s two sons as an allegory for slavery and freedom.

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. (Galatians 4:21-23)

Abraham had a son through his wife Sarai’s slave, Hagar. His name was Ishmael. Later, Sarai miraculously became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac. Needless to say, the family tree and family life were complicated!

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:24-26)

For it is written:

“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.” (Galatians 4:27)

Genesis 16, 17, and 21 tell us more about Ishmael and Isaac. The Galatians have become God’s children by God’s work, not theirs, just as Isaac become Abraham’s son by God’s miraculous work.

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:28-31)

Ishmael persecuted Isaac. Jews persecuted Christians.

So What?

First, know who you are. Know Whose you are. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are an heir of God. You have been adopted into God’s family. You are loved, cherished, and special, not because of anything you’ve done, but just because of who you are.

I often say I learned more about God the day our first child was born than any other day of my life. Parents, whether your child arrived naturally or via adoption, there’s a special bond, a unique love, a powerful commitment a mom or dad has with their son or daughter.

If I could have one with for you, church, I think it
would be that you could understand just how loved you are. Paul would write to the church in Ephesus:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

I’ve met so many insecure Christians. Their insecurity is expressed in a variety of ways. Some are legalistic and judgmental, quick to point out the flaws of others while being unaware of the pride and self-righteousness in their hearts. Others strive for the approval of others instead of being secure in the love of their Heavenly Father. Still others take themselves so seriously that they’re easily offended. If we could be secure in God’s love for us—remember, nothing you can do can make God love you more and nothing you can do can make God love you less—I believe our lives would be so much more attractive to our broken, fear-filled, hope-starved world.

This past week I found myself in three different meetings regarding children. One discussed the problem of infant mortality, another the horror of abortion, and the third foster care and adoption. We live in a culture of death. We are entertained by violence in movies, television, and video games. Is it any wonder it appears for real in our streets and homes? Life is precious. All life. In the womb. Young. Old. Black and white. Christian, atheist, and Muslim. Gay, straight, abortion doctors, politicians, the homeless, the incarcerated, teachers, …even pastors. Ronald Reagan once said, “God’s greatest gift is human life.” God is pro-life. Are you? Prove it!

Being pro-life is
far more than voting for a few people once every four years. It means caring for the least of these, treating everyone with love and respect, and protecting the unborn and the elderly and everyone in between. And it might involve getting really messy, ensuring others in our community are able to experience the abundant life Jesus promised by letting them know they are loved by God, helping them receive education, protecting them from abuse, making sure they have food and shelter, and ensuring opportunities for jobs and freedoms. By being adopted into God’s family, we’ve become heirs, given unimaginable opportunities. We can respond today by loving others as we’ve been loved by God.

Perhaps the most radical thing you can do in response to God’s love and His adopting you into His f
amily is to consider becoming an adoptive or foster parent, beginning with free classes from Lucas County. Last Sunday’s Blade reported the dire need for families to foster and adopt. There are more than 140 more children needing foster care now than a year ago, mostly due to the opioid epidemic which is ravaging families not only in our city but especially in the suburbs.

If you can’t foster or adopt, find someone who is and help them. Is there any greater gift you can give than your home, heart, and
love. We’ve been adopted into God’s family, not because we deserved it or earned it or were good people, but just because.

Are we sons of God because of creation or Christ? We were all created by God, but we become sons and daughters through Jesus who allows us to be reconciled to our Father and join His family despite
our sins and failures. From slaves to sons, from rags to riches. That is truly good news!

Credits: some ideas from: D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Gift of Adoption, 17 December 2017

    The Gift of Adoption
    Series—The Gifts of Christmas
    Ephesians 1:1-6

    Big Idea: God sets a beautiful example of love and grace by adopting us as His children.

    Skit Guys Video


    Adoption is a very important and often emotional topic. I remember hearing a wonderful story of a boy being teased for being adopted. He turned to his peers and said confidently, “Your parents had to take you. My parents chose me!” While his attitude may have been a bit over the top, one thing’s for sure: adoption changes lives.

    In the video, the mother utters three powerful words as she’s about to pick up her baby. She says, “We decided that’s the way it was going to be” and then says with a smile, “But it wasn’t.”

    Our world is full of brokenness and pain. Bad news assaults us every day, prompting fear, worry, and anxiety. It’s so easy to give up, embrace the discouragement, settle for the status quo, and say, “That’s the way it’s going to be.” And then God whispers, “But it’s not.” During this Advent season of arrival, of waiting, we have looked at the gifts of expectancy, grace, and reconciliation. Today we turn to one of the most remarkable gifts of all…adoption. It changes lives. Has it changed yours?

    In eight days we will celebrate the birth of Jesus, His entrance into our world…and into the family of Joseph and Mary. There are few things in this world more exciting than the birth of a baby. I’ve often said the only part of hospitals I like is the maternity ward. Families can grow two ways: through birth and adoption.

    The Bible is filled with metaphors describing spiritual truths with physical realities. Words like family, born again, and new birth appear numerous times. One of my favorite verses—which we examined recently—was written by Jesus’ close friend John to some of the first Christians, followers of Jesus. He writes…

    See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

    I love this verse—pun intended. It’s not just love, but great love. It’s not just a stranger, but the Creator of the universe. It’s not just that He gives love, but He lavishes it. It’s not just anybody, it’s us! It’s not just servants or acquaintances or even friends, it’s children. And that is what we are…children of God…if we follow Jesus. If we embrace the “reason for the season.” If we surrender our will to God’s, believing that Daddy knows best.

    I know many of you struggle at this word “Father” because your earthly dad was…less than stellar. Maybe you never knew him. Perhaps he abused you. That’s not our heavenly Father, though. He loves His kids. He loves you!

    Our text for today was written by Paul, a remarkably passionate man who once persecuted Christians before encountering Jesus and becoming one of His followers. He writes,

    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, 

    To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 

    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1-2)

    This is a letter to the church in the city of Ephesus in modern day Turkey. His introduction is similar to his other writings. Then he begins to talk about their identity—who they are. I think we can safely say although this was not written to us, it was written for us and applies to all followers of Jesus.

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

    Paul offers praise to God. We praise God as we sing and pray, adoring Him for His greatness, power, majesty, faithfulness, and most of all love. It also says we’ve been blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. I’m not even sure I understand what every spiritual blessing means exactly, but I know it’s all good! In Christ—that’s the key phrase—we have access to God, to blessings, to faith, hope, and love. We are entitled to the benefits of being children of the King, the LORD of the universe. What’s more, followers of Jesus are “in Christ,” God the Father sees in us the things He sees in Jesus.

    For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

    The Greek word for “adoption” is huiothesia. When Paul uses the word it serves to distinguish the believer’s relationship as a daughter or son of God from that of Jesus.

    Look at the New Living Translation of this Greek text:

    Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. (Ephesians 1:4-6, NLT)

    That’s incredible!

    God loved us.
    God chose us to be holy.
    God chose to adopt us into his own family.
    And that was all before he made the world!

    There’s more: it says he wanted to adopt us…and it gave him great pleasure. So what’s our response? We praise God. We praise the Father for sending the Son, Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate in eight days.

    Have you heard this before? If so, share it. Listen as if you have to share this with a friend tomorrow…and then do it! This is a great time of year to ask, “What does Christmas mean to you?” Then listen. Maybe they’ll return the favor and you can say, “It means Jesus came as the greatest gift in human history, living a perfect life, dying for us, rising from the dead, and now he’s preparing a place for us. Do you know Him? He loves you.”

    Love. There’s that word again. Everything in the video points to love. Everything about this season points to love. Baking cookies, buying or making gifts, hosting meals, sending cards, giving to charity, even singing songs of praise are all expressions of love.

    But what is love? Contemporary philosopher-theologian Tom Oord says, “To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promise overall well-being.” I think that works. Theologian H. Richard Niebuhr said, “By love we mean at least these attitudes and actions: rejoicing in the presence of the beloved, gratitude, reverence and loyalty toward him [or her].”

    Last week we read God is love. My professor, Scot McKnight, sees four elements in divine love:

    God’s love is a rugged covenant commitment.

    Beginning with Abraham, God relates to humans through covenant, a deep commitment, greater than a contract. Often people will say they fell in or out of love, but that’s just emotion. A commitment is a decision, a choice, a promise. God’s love is permanent. It is rugged and is able to withstand anything we may do or fail to do.

    God’s commitment is to be present, or to be “with.”

    I love this idea of presence. Jesus came as Emmanuel which means “God with us.” He doesn’t love us from afar, but enters our world, our pain, our suffering, our hopes. In the absence of Jesus—who left our planet but promised to return soon—He sent the Holy Spirit to live and dwell within each of His followers. God is committed to be with us, and He lives inside many of us through the Spirit. Someday He will dwell with His people in the new heavens and the new earth.

    God’s commitment is to be an advocate, or to be “for.”

    Have you ever had a friend that believed in you? Hopefully all of our friends like us, but I mean a special friend who supported you. About a decade ago my friend Ramsey came up to me and said, “I’ve got your back.” I’ve never forgotten those simple words. He was for me. Again, we see love expressed through a commitment. Throughout the Old Testament, God says to the Israelites, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

    God’s commitment has direction: God’s love is “unto” kingdom realities.

    God loves the whole world. Every human was created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. If only we would always see others that way! Jesus is King and kings have kingdoms and kingdoms have rules. God’s kingdom mission establishes churches, communities marked by righteousness, the cross, and love.

    The Family

    Which brings us to right here and right now. We are a family, a faith family. In God’s family, we are all adopted…into grace…into love.

    When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he said…

    For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:14-15)

    The word “abba” is Aramaic, a word used by children for their father, not unlike “daddy” or “papa.” It implies both intimacy and respect. What a joy to call the Almighty “Abba, Father.” When I talk with Him, I always want to maintain a reverence, but not a distance. Some are too formal with God…others too casual. Suffice it to say, it’s a huge honor and privilege to be able to talk with God at all, much less address Him as one of His children.

    Heather and I watched the first episode of “The Crown” this past week. I’m not necessarily recommending it as we’ve just begun, but it’s the story of Queen Elizabeth. She is introduced in the television program shortly before she is married, and soon thereafter they fast-forward several years until she has two small children, Charles and Anne. These kids are shown riding their bikes and interacting with their parents, seemingly unaware that they are in the presence of royalty…that
    they are royalty.

    It’s easy for me to take my relationship with Abba Father for granted. I’m used to Him being my Dad, especially after the death of my earthly dad. I don’t deserve to be adopted as His son any more than Charles deserves to be Prince or Little Orphan Annie deserved to be adopted by Daddy Warbucks. What a privilege!

    Paul continues…

    The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-17)

    If you think Prince Charles is heir to a lot, think about what God’s children receive! We are co-heirs with Christ. But we are not yet able to enjoy all of the inheritance now. For many followers of Jesus throughout the centuries there has been suffering, persecution, and even martyrdom. Jesus was killed for speaking the truth, what makes us think following Him will lead to a safe, comfortable life? We’ve been blessed in this country with great freedoms, but as long as we live in a sinful, broken world there will be opposition from the author of hate and death, satan.

    If you recall in the video, the mother reads the verse in the Advent calendar which says, “God has chosen me…” God has chosen us to be His children, to join His family, to participate in His mission to seek and save the lost, to serve the poor, widow, stranger and orphan, to make disciples of all nations who will follow Jesus, to love God and others. Family brings both privileges and responsibility. We have been given salvation, hope, peace, love, joy, and the Holy Spirit to love and serve our world.

    Our Heavenly Father is greater than any earthly parent. He invites all humans to become His children, yet He gives us the choice of joining His family or rejecting Him. If you have not experienced a great human family, meditate on this simple verse:

    Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me. (Psalms 27:10)

    That’s adoption language. That’s love. He will never turn us away.

    So What?

    Maybe this is the Christmas when you say yes to God’s invitation to be adopted into His family. It simply involves surrendering control of your life, believing Daddy knows best. It means saying, “God, I want You to lead my life, be my LORD. Thank You for sending Jesus to die for my sins and offer me forgiveness and life. I want to join Your team, Your mission, Your family.”

    Maybe this is the Christmas when you follow God’s example and adopt someone into your family. Heather and I completed foster care classes last year and continue to seek God regarding possibly fostering or adopting in the future. Some of you have experienced the tremendous joy of adoption. Even if you’re not ready to foster or adopt, you can help someone who is by praying for them, babysitting, or any number of things. The need in Lucas County for foster homes right now is staggering, especially with the opioid epidemic. There are brochures at the information center kiosk if you’re interested.

    Maybe this is the Christmas when you simply adopt a person or family to join you at the Christmas table, buy them a gift, send them a hand-written note of encouragement, or simply say, “I love and appreciate you.”

    How will you celebrate the Gift of Adoption this year? May Abba Father lead and guide you and your loved ones today, during these next eight days, and for years to come.

    Credits: title, drama, and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

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