Evangelize now, 11 February 2024

Evangelize now
40 Days of Prayer
Matthew 28:18-20
Series Big Idea: We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Big Idea: The “e-word” is not only a command of Jesus, it’s a joy…sharing good news.
“What would be good news in Toledo? What headline would you love to see in the Blade?”
I asked those questions to some of the most prominent people in our community several years ago when I was working on my doctoral thesis. What do you think? What would be good news to you? A big going-out-of-business sale at the mall? The birth of a baby? Your favorite team winning the big game? A job promotion with a big raise? A new car? An outstanding meal? A budding romance?
In 1985, there was a movie called Brewster’s Millions. Monty Brewster, a minor league baseball player, must choose between a $1 million inheritance upfront or an entire estate if he can spend $30 million in 30 days. There are several catches to the deal (he can’t give it away except for 5% to charity and 5% in gambling losses), but perhaps most challenging, he must keep it a secret.
Generally speaking, I don’t like secrets. I can keep a secret, but I usually don’t like to do so, especially when it’s good news. Good news needs to be shared!
Good news needs to be shared. Church people often talk about the gospel. We mentioned this last Sunday. Gospel simply means “good news.” Sharing the gospel, proclaiming the gospel is all about good news. When I interviewed people in UpTown about good news, I was trying to discern what it would mean to bring the gospel to our neighborhood. Many of the things shared answered that question. They spoke of jobs, safety, and health. Are those good? Yes! Does the gospel address them? Yes! Ultimately, the gospel is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. Jesus is King and wants all of humanity to submit to his Lordship, not because he wants to oppress us, but rather he wants to liberate us from the bondage of sin, addiction, poverty, and violence. He wants to be LORD of your life and mine…every day…every moment. Sometimes we let him!
The last recorded words in Matthew’s gospel—his biography of Jesus—say this:
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18, NLT)
Jesus is LORD. This is the gospel. This is good news! He has been given all authority.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NLT)
Because Jesus is LORD, because he has all authority, he can commission his friends to go. The original Greek word here is poreuomai. It means to traverse, to travel, to depart, to go! We can’t do it from our La-Z Boy recliners! We must take action, move, go! This is the calling of every follower of Jesus. This is the commission of every disciple of Jesus.
Which begs the question: what is a disciple? It is a student, an apprentice. I often hear people talk about how this football coach is a disciple of another one…a student becoming like his teacher. It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for people to ask the rabbi to disciple them. It’s fascinating to me how Jesus chose his twelve rather than act upon their request.
The only way we can make disciples is by being a disciple. Who is discipling you? Who are you discipling? Do they know it?
Generally speaking, this can’t happen on Sunday morning. We gather to worship and study the Bible, which is great, but discipleship…spiritual formation…life transformation is “slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others” as Alliance leader Richard Bush used to say.
What is the first step to becoming a disciple? It’s meeting Jesus!
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15, NLT)
Boom! There it is! Going and tell the gospel, the good news. That’s not written to professional clergy. That’s what disciples do. Disciples make disciples. Disciples share good news. Disciples go and make disciples…of all nations, which is why we’re so committed not only to Toledo but also Germany and the Dominican Republic and every nation, tribe and tongue…until all have heard the good news!
Imagine living your entire life and never tasting ice cream. I can’t imagine! How sad!
Imagine living your entire life having never experienced air conditioning or heat or running water or motorized transportation.
Imagine never hearing the name of Jesus, knowing nothing of this historical figure who changed the world. Imagine never knowing about the cross, the crucifixion, and the empty tomb. Imagine being completely clueless about God’s love, the invitation of salvation, the pathway to peace, and the opportunity to experience forgiveness and grace. I can’t imagine, but as I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve encountered people who have not rejected Jesus…they’ve never been introduced to him!
That’s our job! That’s our mission! The first part of disciple-making is evangelism, proclaiming good news, inviting people into the Kingdom of God, introducing them to Jesus!
I have two friends who were born in other countries and knew almost nothing about Jesus before we met. I can’t tell you how much joy I have sharing my story and His story. They are not my projects. I’m not trying to force anything upon them…but I want them to know my best friend. I want to faithfully represent what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and encourage them to follow him, too. It takes time. I’ve known one friend for several years, the other for almost a year. I love to get together with both of them, hang out, talk, play sports…It’s not scary or intimidating…it’s just being intentional. GO and make disciples.
What about you? How many unbelieving friends do you have? I’m not saying I have a lot, but I deeply love these two men and I’m committed to them…again, not because they’re projects, but they’re my friends. I like them! I like being with them! I have been praying for them and believe someday they will surrender their lives to Jesus and tell others, disciple others. That’s how we’ve gotten here after more than two thousand years…disciples making disciples, proclaiming Jesus in word and deed, living radical, alternative lifestyles filled with faith, hope, and love.
I know for some of you it’s hard to GO and make disciples. You’ll never travel to east Germany where less than 1% are Christians. Can you pray for our trip in June? Can you help us pay for the plane tickets? Can you volunteer at Mud Hens games and help us raise money for the trip?
Not all of you are called to go to Germany, but you can probably go next door. You can probably go across the street and meet your neighbor. It amazes me how many people don’t know their neighbors…even the people who live right next door!
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NLT)
GO and make disciples…of all nations. The Internet has certainly allowed us to reach people far away, and let’s not forget the hundreds (thousands?) of international students, immigrants, and refugees living right here in Toledo. You don’t need a passport to do global missions! Volunteering with Water for Ishmael would be a great first step.
The rest of Jesus’ commission says that once people are introduced to Jesus and surrender to him, then…
Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NLT)
Discipleship is more than praying a magic prayer so you can go to heaven when you die. It’s a lifestyle of obedience. Christianity is not a spectator sport! Disciples make disciples, and it begins with proclaiming good news…evangelism.
Author and pastor Ed Stetzer says of this text, “Jesus’ last words should be our first priority.” Family, we’re on a mission from God. The mission is not to sing a few songs and listen to a sermon once a week. It’s not to be busy distributing religious goods and services. We’re on a mission to make disciples, to restore God’s masterpieces, to love God and others well. The greatest way to love another human is to introduce them to Jesus, to share good news…evangelism!
As we finish our 40 Days of Prayer series with our Christian & Missionary Alliance family, our subject is Evangelize Now. The “e-word” is not only a command of Jesus, it’s a joy…sharing good news.
Sharing good news is a joy! Sure, there are those who are imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for their faith. I don’t want to make light of that. In fact, I want to pause and remember those who truly suffer for Jesus. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a classic collection of such stories, and Persecution.com has wonderful resources to help you pray for the persecuted church.
But we’ve been blessed with freedoms in this nation we must never take for granted. Instead, we should seize every opportunity to share good news. Not everyone will accept it, but that’s not the point. Sharing good news is a joy! I love to talk about my grandkids, even if the only person who is as excited as I am is their grandma!
We naturally talk about what we love—our family, pets, sports teams, hobbies…why not our faith? I know, we’re not supposed to talk about religion or politics, but what if it’s not about religion at all? What if it’s simply sharing the good news of what Jesus has done in our lives? We don’t need a megaphone. We don’t need to pressure anyone. Evangelism can be as easy as sharing our story…His story. At the end, I’m going to give you several tools to help you share good news, but first you need to see the urgency of doing so.
Our world is broken, desperate, and dark. People are lost, searching, and hopeless. I often say we are called to be hope dealers! Not everyone wants hope, but many people today are struggling with anxiety, fear, depression, loneliness, and a lack of purpose. We have the solution! We have good news! We have Jesus! I don’t know about you, but I’m so glad I’m living in this moment, this election year, this time in history where things seem to be falling apart. The darker the world, the brighter the light of Jesus can shine in and through us!
I used to hear people say the greatest time to introduce people to Jesus is when someone is in crisis…a divorce, a job loss, the death of a child…some life event that has them seeking, asking questions, looking for help. Sometimes that window is very small and once people get back to busyness, they won’t have time for or sense a need for God.
But right now, virtually everyone you meet is in crisis! COVID has been disorienting for all of us, but there’s more. In a 2018 Cigna health study—before the pandemic—nearly half of Americans said they sometimes or always feel alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent). More than one in four (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
In fact, loneliness is so bad, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in terms of lifespan, loneliness is equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day! People are dying because they need a friend…just a friend!
Can you be a friend to someone? It’s not just going to happen. You can’t do it playing games on your phone. You need to go…and make disciples.
Before we get to some practical tools, let me remind you of the urgency. We need to evangelize now because people are dying…physically, but even more tragically physically. If you still don’t believe me, Barna released a report this past week which showed the top thing urban churches like ours can address is…loneliness. Church and unchurched people said loneliness is the top thing we can address…and the Surgeon General is urging faith communities to do so. We are uniquely equipped to meet one of the greatest needs in our city. Let’s go!
So What?
What now? How do I make a friend? How do I start a conversation? First, pray. Ask God to show you someone to love, to befriend. It might be someone next door, but it could be a co-worker, a family member, the cashier at the grocery store…it could be any human. Each is a masterpiece, and many are hurting, lonely, living in fear.
Last fall I was introduced to Heather and Ashley Holleman. Heather’s a professor at Penn State and she wrote a book called The Six Conversations. It might be the best tool I’ve seen for engaging people in relationships. This is for introverts and extroverts, by the way! She said the four most critical things to do to foster a warm and connected conversation are:
-       Be curious
-       Believe the best
-       Express concern
-       Share your life
It’s really a great book on how to ask good, engaging questions, build relationships, and love well. That’s the first step to evangelism. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. In our present day when the church has a PR crisis, we have to earn the right to be heard. Tragically, church and Christianity do not sound like good news to many in our culture. They sound like politics. They sound like judgment and condemnation. They sound like guilt and shame. They sound like boredom and stuffiness (as Kenny said last Sunday). Let’s change that, family!
“What would be good news in Toledo? The Gospel! Jesus is LORD! He loves and died for every man, woman, and child in our city and beyond. He offers abundant life, eternal life, forgiveness, mercy, grace, peace, meaning, and purpose. He’s not as concerned about where we’ve been but where we’re headed. He is the perfect example of what it means to be human, and he’s where the joy is!
I want to challenge you with three things:
1.    List three names of people you know that need salvation. If you can’t, pray that God leads you to some. Pray for them.
2.    Look for “divine appointments.” Commit to praying for them and asking God to provide you with an opportunity to share the gospel with them.
3.    Go and evangelize to someone! Share your story. Invite them to Dinner Church and Celebrate Recovery. Invite them to our Easter celebration next month. Invite them to our next Alpha Course.
Family, we have good news to share. Don’t hoard it. Don’t keep it to yourself. Let’s let the whole world know in word and deed that Jesus is LORD! 
Preach the gospel…it’s necessary to use words…and deeds!
You don’t have to have all of the answers to share the gospel. Just share your story. We just sang about it. Pray…Go…be intentional…take a risk…make a friend…share your story…share His story…for His glory!

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

Lost and Found, 1 May 2022

Lost and Found
Series—Alliance Core Values
Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 15; 19:10; Romans 10:14-15
Series Big Idea: After a 2021 reveal of our First Alliance Core Values, this series is a presentation of the Christian & Missionary Alliance Core Values.
Big Idea: Lost People Matter to God. He Wants Them Found.
Have you ever been lost? I’m sure we have all had such an experience, whether it was as a child in a store, hiking in the woods, or even driving in a strange city. Think about one such moment. How did you feel? Anxious? Scared? Ready for an adventurous challenge?
How did you feel when you were no longer lost? Relieved? Happy? Overjoyed? Our theme today is lost and found.
Last year we introduced the newly-created core values of First Alliance Church. Today we begin a series presenting the core values of our Christian & Missionary Alliance family. Although the Alliance is not among the largest denominations in the US like the Catholics, Southern Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, or Presbyterians, it is a thriving, global movement guided by seven dynamic values which provide clarity and focus to our mission as followers of Jesus. These are not only the Alliance Core Values. I think they are values of Jesus.
Although they are presented in no particular order, our first core value states,
“Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.”
Lost people are those who do not have a relationship with Jesus.
I confess I can’t imagine life without Jesus. I was raised in a Christian home and was introduced to Jesus as a child. I was told Jesus loved me, lived a perfect life, died to pay the penalty for my sins and failures, rose from the dead, and invites me to follow him, to love him, and to love others. A relationship with God is the essence of life’s meaning and purpose.
Some lost people don’t know they’re lost.
They think this life is all there is. They’ve heard he or she who dies with the most toys wins. What hope does this world offer? Suicide statistics show many are so desperate they can’t even tolerate this life (if you’re thinking about it, please tell somebody and call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255). I believe especially today people are searching for peace, for hope, for meaning, for purpose. If we’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s that science can’t fix everything, politics can barely fix anything, evil is all around us, and nothing of this world is secure. Come to think of it, I think most people on the planet at least know humanity is lost!
All of us were lost at one time.
As I said, I was a child when I began my journey with Jesus. I can barely remember being “lost,” but I was. When we say “lost people matter to God,” it’s important to remember it’s not us versus them. We’re not looking down at “those people.” Because of the sins of our ancestors, Adam and Eve, we’re all born with a sin nature, a rebellious streak, selfish and prideful. We all need forgiveness. We all need mercy. We all need Jesus.
Saul persecuted Christians before his miraculous conversion. He wrote to the church in Ephesus,
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (Ephesians 5:8)
There’s an old song that says,
I once was lost/but now I’m found/was blind but now I see
All of us were lost at one time.
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were a group of religious people who criticized and condemned “those people,” unaware of their own sinful self-righteousness.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matthew 23:25-26, NIV)
Our attitude toward the lost should never be judgment, but love. That’s how Jesus approached us.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)
It’s important to realize…
Some lost people don’t want to be found.
This is true for some kids lost in the woods and it’s true for the spiritually lost, too. Many have heard the “good news,” the gospel, and rejected it. There are those who simply want to live life their way, on their terms. They think they can control life…and do so effectively.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. (Psalm 14:1, NIV)
Ouch! I don’t write the news…I just deliver it!
It’s not our job to convert people, to pressure or coerce or sell. Only the Holy Spirit can change a human heart, but He uses ordinary people to deliver the message.
The example of Saul—whose name was changed to Paul—is a reminder no person is beyond God’s reach. We can pray for those who are far from God in hopes that they will desire a relationship with God.
Perhaps the most important message I have for you today is…
It is a joy to seek and find the lost.
This was Jesus’ mission. It is found throughout the Bible, but especially in Luke chapter 15 where He teaches about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and most famously the lost or prodigal son. Jesus said of himself,
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
Obviously, our mission is not to die on a cross and rise from the dead, but it is to deliver good news, to offer a map to the lost, so to speak. You know the old adage
you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. We can lead people to Jesus but we can’t make them follow him. We can’t force conversions. We can’t change a human heart. We can’t manipulate someone to surrender their lives and make Jesus the leader of their lives.
But we can make an introduction. We can extend an invitation. Then the ball’s in their court.
One of the most disturbing words for many Christians is “
evangelism.” It comes from the Greek word euangelion, announcing good news. The word “angel” is inside the word. An angel is a messenger.  
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15, NIV)
At this point you might be thinking, “That’s the job of the pastor, the missionary, the professional Christian. I could never preach. I could never lead someone to Jesus. I don’t have the gift of evangelism. I’m not qualified to talk about Jesus.”
One of the great lies of the enemy is seeking the lost is only the work of clergy…pastors. If it’s up to clergy—and we are surrounded by Christians all day—the lost don’t stand a chance to be found! You are qualified. Jesus’ final words recorded by Matthew were to a group of men and women, none of whom to my knowledge were professional Christians. We call this the Great Commission:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Jesus didn’t say make converts or “do evangelism.” He said make disciples, but the first step in discipleship is repenting and making Jesus LORD. That can only happen when someone is introduced to Jesus and invited to follow him.
What do you love? Your family? Your hobbies? Maybe sports or entertainment. Do you talk about those things? Sure. We talk about the things we love. It’s natural.
Do you love Jesus? Do you talk about Jesus? I know, we’re told to avoid talking about politics and religion…that doesn’t seem to stop people, does it…at least politics?
If you love Jesus, it should be natural to talk about Jesus. I want to give you a few tips (write them down):
1.    Build relationships with non-Christians (the lost).
    Pray for your friends (they are not projects!).
    Share your story. Nobody can argue with it. It’s personal.
    Listen to their story. Find ways to connect theirs to yours…and God’s
    People in crisis are especially open to help from God. We are all in crisis!
    Share the gospel, the good news, the love of God. Here are key points:
a.    We were created for a purpose…to know our Creator
    God is holy and perfect and our sin and failures destroyed the relationship
     Jesus lived a perfect life and died to reconcile us to God
    Jesus rose from the dead, offers forgiveness and new life to those who follow him
    You can make Jesus the leader of your life
      Trusting Jesus with your life and repenting—turning away—from your sin does not mean an easy life, but guarantees an exciting, satisfying, and eternal life filled with faith, love, hope, peace, and joy
7.    Involve others, if desired, including our church leaders.
    Don’t worry about having all of the answers. None of us does.
    Be patient. It usually takes time for people to surrender to Jesus.
Have fun! You’re delivering good news! You’re introducing people to Jesus. You’re a potentially a part of changing their eternal destiny! What could be better?!
Let me say it again,
It is a joy to seek and find the lost.
It’s not an obligation. There’s no guilt or shame involved. It’s a privilege. I admit my list of non-Christian friends is short, but I love making new friends and I love talking about Jesus.
Don’t you like good news? Don’t you like it when people tell you good news? How would you feel about me if I gave you a website where you could download a free $100 gift card? Sorry, I don’t have one!
But I can give you something far better than a gift card…I can give you life…abundant…eternal! I can introduce you to the Author of joy, love, peace, and satisfaction. I can tell you about the meaning of life and announce you are loved and forgiven because Jesus died and rose from the dead to prove his love to you and he wants to lead your life. This isn’t about a magic prayer to simply go to heaven when you die. It’s about experiencing real life NOW!
Two weeks ago, we celebrated the resurrection. He is risen!
He is risen indeed! Jesus is alive! He will one day return and every man, woman, and child will stand before God and declare their eternal destiny, either eternity with God through Jesus’ death and resurrection or eternity without God. He will honor our choice, our decision, made in this life.
Tragically, many have never heard the good news. Maybe they’ve never heard about Jesus…or maybe all they heard was religion and hypocrisy. We have the joy and privilege to share good news and introduce people not to religion or even church, but Jesus. The lost who have been found sing hallelujah, which means praise the LORD. Let’s do everything we can to make that chorus as loud as possible…for their sake and the sake of our LORD.
Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

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

Reawakening to the Mission of Christ, 30 January 2022

Reawakening to the Mission of Christ
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Luke 14:12-23

Series Big Idea: The aim of this 40-day focus is to fix our gaze on Jesus, remember who He is, what He has done, what He has given us to do, and what He will do in the future.

Big Idea: We’ve been invited to join Jesus on his mission to seek and save the lost.

My all-time favorite movie is The Blues Brothers (the TV version!). I love music, comedy, and Chicago and it blends them together seamlessly. Perhaps the most famous line in the movie is the mantra of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd: “We’re on a mission from God.”

What is your mission? Why on earth are you here? What is your calling?

Today we’re continuing our
40 Days of Prayer series with The Alliance. The theme is awakening and we’ve talked about awakening to the glory of Christ, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, and the Church of Christ. Today we’re going to reawaken to the mission of Christ…and you might reawaken to your mission in the process.

Many of you know the story of Zacchaeus, the wee little man who was the chief tax collector in the region, a rich, greedy, despised man who climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus over the crowd. How surprised he must’ve been when Jesus not only sees him but invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house.

Have you ever invited yourself to someone’s house?!
Has anyone ever invited themselves to yours?!

Zacchaeus has a truly life-changing encounter with Jesus, declares his intention to pay back everyone he has cheated four times and give half of his wealth to the poor. Is that a transformation or what?!

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:9-10, NLT)

Did you catch it?

The mission of Christ is to seek and save the lost.

I realize
lost can be a negative term, but it’s the most common English translation of the Greek word apollumi used by Jesus, a word also indicating destroy, die, lose, mar, perish. They are the ones Jesus came to seek and save. They were his mission. They are his mission today. If you can sing the words of Amazing Grace—“I once was lost/but now am found”—it’s your mission, too.

The mission of Christ is to seek and save the lost.
The mission of Christ’s followers is to seek and save the lost.

Obviously, you and I can’t save the lost on our own, but we can introduce them to the one who lived, died, and rose from the dead, offering them an opportunity to be with God for eternity and inviting them to the greatest party in history!

Why don’t we have the reputation of being the greatest partiers on the planet? It seems like Christians are known as the most boring, judgmental, self-righteous people! How did that happen?

For thousands of years, the Jews have thrown some of the best parties, measured not in hours, but days! In the eighth chapter of 1 Kings, there’s an account of a week-long party to celebrate the temple’s dedication. Then it was extended another week! Have you ever been to a fourteen-day party?

I’ve run a DJ business for more than eighteen years as a side hustle and I can tell you my favorite events are Jewish weddings…by far!

The mission of Christ is to seek and save the lost.

The heart of his message is literally an invitation to a party, a feast, something the book of Revelation calls “the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Some have said his first miracle—turning water into wine at a wedding in John chapter two—was an example of the marriage feast. Jesus himself tells a similar story in Luke chapter 14 while he is at a fancy dinner.

Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. (Luke 14:12, NLT)

Back in the day—and often still today—hosts invited guests either to pay them back for a past invitation or to put them under their debt in order to receive an invitation in the future. The motivation was not selfless hospitality, but rather social status.

Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
(Luke 14:13, NLT)

What? Who does that? Kingdom people! People on the mission of Christ. In the first century, it was not proper to invite the handicapped and poor to a public banquet…or women, by the way! Jesus’ teaching is radical! What kind of repayment can these outcasts offer to the host?

Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” (Luke 14:14, NLT)

Someone once said, “You can’t get your reward twice!” We either earn the applause of people or God.

Not long ago I was asked to do a favor. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was inconvenient and involved some expense of time. I wrestled with whether to say yes or not and then I thought of that word I mentioned a few weeks ago…die. Someone told me they’ve now made that their word for the year! Death is the first step in following Jesus, but we don’t remain dead. When we give, serve, love, sacrifice for others, God sees. There may be no financial benefit or social reward now, but God sees everything we do…even those done in secret. This is what separates worldly people from Jesus people. They are motivated by present returns rather than eternal treasures.

Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15, NLT)   

Amen! Family, this is a sneak preview of what’s ahead for us. Remember three weeks ago I said although are present is not certain, our future is! Many think heaven will be angels playing harps on clouds! Jesus’ Jewish peers saw the future kingdom as a great banquet featuring Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets at the table.

Jesus replied with this story:
“A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ (Luke 14:16-17, NLT)   

In Jesus’ day, invitations stated the day, but not the hour of the meal. The host needed people to RSVP so he knew how many animals and food to prepare. The guests in this parable had already said they were coming.

What was the servant’s job? Was it to get people to come to the banquet? No! It was to let people know the banquet was ready. The master did the heavy lifting, buying the food and preparing the great feast. He represents God in the story. We are the servants told to let people know it’s time to party! Who wouldn’t respond to that, right?

But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’
Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ (Luke 14:18-20, NLT)

You’ve got to be kidding! These people are choosing to miss this great feast? What an insult to the host! It’s not like they got a flat tire on the way! They were given plenty of notice. The invitations were sent out days ago, probably weeks ago. Maybe longer. But they made excuses. Lame excuses! Billy Sunday once said an excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie!
“The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ (Luke 14:21, NLT)

Did you catch the emotion of the host—of God? He’s furious! God gets angry. He never sins, but those who reject His invitation will suffer the consequences.

This food will not be wasted! The show must go on, with or without the invited guests. If they’re too busy, it’s their loss! I’m fascinated that it doesn’t say go and invite anyone. It specifically says the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Maybe even Gentiles!

That’s the Kingdom of God!

The reason Jesus cautioned the rich is because they can become busy with their wealth and toys. They can turn money into an idol, a tool for power, an object of pride. The people in the parable making excuses were consumed by their field, their oxen, their marriage. Like so many today, there’s no room in their lives for God.

The poor can certainly make money and other things idols, too, yet they often recognize their needs more readily than those insulated by comfortable living. Is it any surprise the early church grew largely through down-and-outers being shown love and compassion? Steve Taylor once sang, “Jesus is for losers,” and he’s right, though winners are welcome to follow him, too.

So What?

Jim Sappia, an Alliance International Worker, notes three things about this passage. First,
we are invited to the party (Luke 14:16-17), and what a party it will be! He wants you there. He wants everyone there (1 Timothy 2:4). God so loved the world, not just Americans or people from a particular class. You are invited to the table, the place where we can connect with Almighty God. Jesus said,

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. (Revelation 3:20)

Have you opened the door? Have you responded to the invitation? Do you have a relationship with God? If not, you can begin by simply saying, “Jesus, I give you my life.” Doing so won’t make your life instantly easy, but it will launch the greatest adventure imaginable. Life with Jesus is…the greatest!

Many make excuses. Believe me, no job, spouse, child, hobby, addiction, tv show, social media app, or treasure can compare to the Jesus journey. As I said a few weeks ago, let go and let God. Joining God’s family, coming to His party is the greatest blessing. Remember what the man said?

Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15, NLT)   

we are sent to be a blessing (Luke 14:21).

There’s no need for a scarcity mentality. We don’t need to hoard it like toilet paper or N95 masks! There is no end to the abundance, the banquet, the party! It’s a never-ending, all-you-can-eat buffet! The greatest gift you can give another human is an invitation to the party. The greatest blessing to others—and us—is introducing people to Jesus. I love that God shows no favoritism. You don’t have to be special to receive an invitation…and yet so many have never received theirs. Many have no clue a party is being prepared at this very moment. Billions have never even heard the name of Jesus! That’s why…

we are called to go and compel (Luke 14:23). The servant invited the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.

After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. (Luke 14:22-23, NLT)

We are to go! Jesus said in Matthew 28 to “go” and make disciples…of all nations. That’s what we do in the Alliance. You might need to go around the world, fly across the country, …or simply walk across the street. There’s a place for mail, e-mail, and texting, but the master said to go…and urge them to come. The NIV translation says compel them to come. We can’t force them, but we can implore them. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NLT)

He wants everyone at the feast. You. The poor. The rich. The lame. The doctors. The orphans. The single parents. The widows. The refugees and immigrants. Even the Republicans and Democrats!

God wants us to go and take the invitation to everyone…both here and around the world.

We’ve been invited to join Jesus on his mission to seek and save the lost.

Will you respond?

One more thing…

Tony Campolo story read by Mark Clark: https://youtu.be/JMWa24DdY2Y

We’re on a mission from God. Maybe you need to go…throw some parties. Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The Christian life is a feast, not a funeral, and all are invited to come.” We all need to go invite people to the ultimate party.

Invite people to dinner. Invite them to your table, whether that’s at the Mac Café, in your home, the school cafeteria, or your favorite restaurant. Meals are one of the greatest places to share stories, to listen well, to love well, and to share God’s story. Sharing meals makes disciples.

Our friends at Bowling Green Alliance are planning to share 1000 meals this year, mostly just inviting friends and neighbors over for dinner. We could do the same.

In addition, you can invite people to our Dinner Church table on the second Sunday of the month. We have an exciting opportunity to welcome Afghan refugees to our tables in partnership with Water for Ishmael (contact the office for details).

I confess I don’t know a lot of people to invite, so this month I took on a new, very part-time job for the purpose of rubbing shoulders with non-Christians and inviting them to meals and parties.

For God so loved the world. I’m so glad that includes you and me…and our neighbors.

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

Equipping the Next Generation, 25 July 2021

Series—Getting to the Core (values)
Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:2

Series Big Idea:
Our core values guide us in our mission of family restoring God’s masterpieces for His glory.

Big Idea: We mobilize the next generation to fulfill the Great Commission.

What is First Alliance Church? It’s more than a building. It’s about people…on mission. God’s mission. It’s about knowing God and making Him known. It’s about loving God, one another, and others. It’s about making disciples.

But that should be said of every church…and there’s a lot of churches in Toledo!

So what’s special about First Alliance? What did A.B. Simpson envision when he started a Bible study in Toledo in 1887? What is God’s unique plan for
this church? What is our vision? How will we get there?

After years of research, conversations, and prayer, our staff and elders have gotten clarity around what we believe is God’s direction for First Alliance, including our core values:

Equipping…the next generation to fulfill the Great Commission
Faithfulness…to prayer, the Word of God, and following Jesus
Family…a mosaic of people loving God and doing life together
Generosity…trusting God with open hands and open hearts
Missional…taking faith-filled risks in launching new ministries to love our neighbors
Synergy…collaborating for the sake of the Kingdom of God

It’s who we’ve been.
It’s who we are.
It’s where we’re going.

We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory.

Are you ready?

Let’s go!

The first words I spoke on this stage nearly six years ago were, “Why are you here?” Why? Simon Sinek’s bestselling book is titled, “Start with Why.”

It’s important to understand the “why” of things. Children love to ask the question. Sometimes we’re embarrassed by the answer. Why are you here? Why are we here?

Today we’re going to look at the first of six core values. Our value this week is

We mobilize the next generation to fulfill the Great Commission.

Let’s work our way backward.

The Great Commission is a famous mandate given by Jesus Christ. You might say it was the assignment he gave his followers as he was preparing to ascend into heaven.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

This is one of the most important scriptures in the Bible. Entire sermons have been written on it. Entire books have been written on it! At its core, it says we are to go and make disciples. A disciple is a follower, much like a student or protege. Jesus is saying reproduce him in others. Go—that’s an action word!—and make disciples, students. Follow Jesus and—by definition—get others to follow Jesus, too.

How do we know we’ve made a disciple? They are baptized: they make a public confession of faith. They are taught to obey God’s Word. They look like Jesus!

Who discipled you?
Who is discipling you?
Who are you discipling?

Discipleship is not a program. It’s not a book. It’s the life-long process of becoming like Jesus.

It’s important to recognize Jesus was given all authority…and promised to always be with us. Discipleship is about surrender, not striving. It’s about letting God lead and control our lives…and inviting others to let go and let God. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the Great Commission. It’s our assignment. It’s our mission. We are to go and make disciples. It’s what we’re all called to do…and throughout this series there will be some next-steps for you to take in making disciples.

This is not a church staff thing. Paul said to a church in modern-day Turkey,

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Equipping is a vital function of a healthy church. The leaders are to equip the people to do ministry. They’re not professional Christians paid to do the ministry, but rather equippers who equip others who equip others.

There may be no more clearer verse about discipleship than Paul’s words to Timothy.

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2)

How many generations are in this scripture? Four! Paul tells Timothy to entrust to people who will teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2 covers four generations. This is a picture of discipleship. It’s a portrait of equipping. It’s a vision for ministry, for obedience to the Great Commission.

Our first core value is equipping: we mobilize the next generation to fulfill the Great Commission.

The Church is one generation away from extinction. This isn’t news. It has always been true. I’m amazed that God has sustained this church for more than thirteen decades. The baton of faith has been passed from one generation to another many times…praise God! We need to be intentional about passing it on to the next.

When we say “next generation,” we mean two things:

- the next
spiritual generation
- the next
biological generation

I’ve observed many things in thirty-one years of vocation ministry and one is how easy it is to focus on one’s own needs without looking out for others. You can call it selfishness or consumerism or whatever, but it’s easy to forget it’s not all about us! Paul didn’t tell Timothy to be a good person. He said find reliable people who will teach others…who will teach others…who will teach others.

By the way, teach didn’t mean Zoom calls. It didn’t mean a classroom or chalk board or even a school. The method of training in Jesus’ day was life on life. It was personal discipleship. Jesus did it with a group. He did life with them. Show
and tell was his method.

Family, we need to look out for the next generation. We need to value the next generation of Christians. One of the core values of The Alliance describes it this way:

Alliance: Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

Jesus tells three stories in Luke chapter 15. One is about a lost sheep. Another is about a lost coin. The third is about a lost son, known as the Prodigal Son. The message is the same: God loves the lost. He goes after the lost. His love is extravagant and even appears reckless for the lost. Jesus said of himself,

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

We value lost people—the next generation—because Jesus values lost people.

I pray we fill our baptism this year…with new converts!

We’re committed to reaching the next generation of Christ-followers, including

- Celebrate Recovery, Wednesdays at 7 PM
- Dinner Church, 2
nd Sundays
- Jeep Fest outreach, August 7
- Soulmates for Life this fall/winter
- Alpha Course?

There’s another way to describe the next generation and it’s

Equipping: we mobilize the next generation to fulfill the Great Commission.

We are committed to equipping our children and youth so they can make disciples. Remember, the church is always one generation away from extinction…and right now the numbers don’t look good in our nation.

There has been a consistent generation gap of faith between the Builders to the Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. In 2018, only 49% of those born between 1981 and 1996 identified as Christians (versus 84% for those born before 1946). Perhaps the most alarming headline I’ve read this year said, “43 percent of Millennials Don’t Know If, Care or Believe God Exists.” (Arizona Christian University). That number is 28% for Boomers.

I don’t think I’m “crying wolf” to say we’re losing the next generation. We’re losing the next generations. We’re losing our own kids and grandchildren. Why?

Could it be our faith is not attractive?

Last week I was talking with a friend from First Alliance and they said their adult child who grew up here wouldn’t even visit with them here because of the past legalistic culture. This is a person who loves Jesus but was so damaged by religion here they wouldn’t even attend…years later! I hope a lot has changed.

I don’t say that to critique our past, but to simply say our faith has not always been attractive. The next generation will not blindly follow the faith of previous generations. They want to know if our faith is real. Does it work? Does it have answers for the big questions of life? Or are we really just a bunch of hate-filled, close-minded, science-denying, racist, bigoted, homophobic, self-righteous hypocrites?

May it never be! I declare and decree

We mobilize the next generation to fulfill the Great Commission.

We must…or we have no future. We have no present! Our youth and children are not the church of tomorrow. They are the church of today!

This is why we have made tremendous investments in our children’s ministry.

Sue Trumbull has been faithfully serving the next generation for nearly sixteen years, equipping not only students but also adult leaders and parents. Under her leadership, we are equipping through

- Kids Church
- Kids Club United
- Vacation Bible School
- Sports & Art Camp
- Right Now Media

We took a faith-filled risk last month to hire a full-time, ordained Associate Pastor,
Mike Pierce, to lead our Junior High, Senior High, and college students. Our investment in Pastor Mike is proof that we’re serious about the next generation. In addition to youth group on Wednesday nights, the students are already preparing for next year’s LIFE Conference in Orlando. We are praying for God to raise up future entrepreneurs, international workers, government leaders, and pastors.

In addition, we continue to equip the next generation through

- After School Klub
- Act 2 Productions

According to extensive research, by the time someone turns eighteen, the chances of them following Jesus are slim
. Most people become Christians as a minor.

Efforts at evangelizing adults are not futile, but challenging.

So What?

Give! When you support First Alliance, you support our investment in the next generation.

Grace. Grandparents, what would you do for your grandchildren to know Jesus? Would you give up some money? Would you donate some time? Would you give up your musical preference on Sundays? Don’t worry, we’re not adding a disco ball to the sanctuary, but valuing the next generation may mean helping First Alliance become their church and not just yours. I hope in the coming days your children and grandchildren would beg you to bring them here…and not just here, but also to any gathering of the church.

Serve. We are always looking for volunteers to equip the next generation. Tomorrow begins the fourth and final week of Sports & Art Camp.

Research shows one of the most important features of young adults who love Jesus is an adult mentor who’s not a parent. It takes a village. Discipleship is primarily done in the home, but others vital to the spiritual development of the next generation.

Pray! We need to pray for our students and the students in our city. I pray God would raise up a radical generation of young people who would put us to shame spiritually! I pray for revival among our students. I pray for God to give us wisdom in how to equip and disciple them.

Sue Trumbull's prayer requests:

VBS workers for August, Fall Kids' Club United volunteers  - Bible lesson teachers and Shop workers (Pinewood Derbys, and wood working projects, etc.) Elementary Helpers or Bible teachers for Sunday Worship Hour.

Pastor Mike's prayer requests, hopes and dream for students (EVERYWHERE). 
+ That they say yes to Jesus even if that leads them to places they’ve never been
+ That they know who they are matters more than what they do
+ That they know how important they are to the church and how important the church is to them (in other words, that they need others and others need them)
+ That the view and live life with/ from an eternal perspective
+ That they hate sin

Pastor Mike's prayer requests, hopes and dreams for our specific students at FAC.
+ Of course all of the above!
+ Build relationships and understanding with other local youth groups/ community
+ Every student is involved in long term discipleship/ mentoring with an adult
+ That they are active in serving and using their gifts to build God’s Kingdom

Pastor Mike's prayer requests, hopes and dreams for our leaders at FAC.
+ That our leaders love Jesus
+ That our team would be like minded in what God is calling the youth ministry to be and do
+ That our leaders open up and share their lives with our students
+ That our leaders model to our students what it looks like to pursue Jesus
+ That our leaders use their gifts and serve the church/ community/ God’s Kingdom

Personally, I have a heart for the next generation of leaders…equipping and sending church planters, international workers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, government officials, teachers, scientists, etc.

Honestly, the research on the next generations is discouraging. No, it’s downright depressing! But God is able! It has never been about us or our programs. The only thing that can change a human heart is the power of God. If we are ready to truly love these younger masterpieces, God will do the rest.

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

More Signs of the End, 30 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survival is more important than stuff.

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

They will be the most vulnerable. They usually are!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But in those days, following that distress,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The disciples wanted signs. Jesus gives them one.

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

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

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

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

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

Be on guard! Be alert!

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

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

Keep watch!

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


So What?

Be on guard! Be alert! Keep watch!

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

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

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

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

Signs of the End, 23 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus says watch out for calamities of human origin.

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

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

Now Jesus moves to the next sign: persecution.

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

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

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

The parallel in the book of Matthew says,

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

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

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

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

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

The reporter's poised notebook gave the ready promise.

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

"Yes, what more?"

"Nothing more."

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

“Just that.”

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

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

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

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

Jesus continues…

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

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

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

The persecution would expand beyond the government.

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

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

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

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

So What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The e-word, 24 January 2021

The e-word: Evangelism
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Colossians 4:2-6

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: It is a joy to pray for and proclaim good news to the lost.

After a break for Home Missions Sunday last week, we’re returning to our 40 Days of Prayer campaign with the Christian & Missionary Alliance. I hope you’ve been enjoying the adult, youth, and children devotionals, Wednesday online prayer gatherings, and our Sunday topics.

Today’s topic is one that makes many uncomfortable. I call it the e-word. It is… evangelism. What comes to mind when you hear the word
evangelism? It’s another “church” word uncommon in our cultural vocabulary. Maybe you picture door-to-door harassing, aggressive preachers with megaphones, or simply fear of not knowing what to say.

Evangelism is proclaiming good news. Many years ago, Guy Kawasaki was hired to be an Apple evangelist. His passion for their computers led him to make promoting Apple his vocation. Sure, there were Windows users uninterested in his message, but he considered it an honor to proclaim good news about the products he loved.

Have you experienced the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ? If so, why would you keep it to yourself? Why would you deprive others of the life you’ve encountered, the joy, the peace, the love? Why wouldn’t you be a Jesus evangelist, proclaiming good news—great news—to those around you?

Our text today is from Colossians chapter four. Paul is writing from prison to a church in modern-day Turkey.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4:2)

What a fitting verse during 40 Days of Prayer! He doesn’t say pray. He says to be devoted to prayer. Are you devoted to prayer? What would that look like?

In another letter, Paul wrote,

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Pray continually. That’s being devoted to prayer! We often think of prayer as a highly formal, religious activity with closed eyes and folded hands. You can certainly take that posture, but it’s not necessary. I used to think prayer was talking to God. Then I began to see prayer as talking with God…a conversation. Now I view prayer as life with God, a 24/7/365 relationship in which I am pouring out my heart to God and I’m listening for His voice, seeking to discern His will. There are times when I pray without distraction, giving God my undivided attention, often through journaling. At other times, I’m aware of His presence and grateful for the relationship we have. I’ve never heard His audible voice, but He speaks loudly through His Word, the Bible, as well as through people, circumstances, dreams, and occasional spiritual hunches which may require confirmation from others to determine if it’s from God or bad pizza!

While we’re on the subject of God’s will, some see it as this highly mysterious plan in which God picks out your socks each morning, tells you what to eat for breakfast, and what toothpaste to buy. I’m not sure He cares too much about that, but there is a brilliant way to discover God’s will contained in these three verses. God wants you to rejoice…always. He wants you to pray continually. He wants you to give thanks in all circumstances. That’s God’s will! Of course, there’s more, but that’s a great start. How are you doing with those? Back to Colossians…

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (Colossians 4:3)

If you were in prison asking people to pray, what would you request? “Get me out of here!” Paul doesn’t say that. He doesn’t even write, “Send me a care package” or “stop by and pay me a visit.” He says pray for opportunities to proclaim good news, to evangelize, to do the very thing that got him into prison in the first place! Is this guy crazy? He’s passionate.

Paul had an encounter years earlier which changed his life. It prompted repentance, a u-turn. It led him to set aside his religious agenda and devote the rest of his life to promoting Jesus Christ, to letting the world know they are loved by a God who proved it on the cross. Paul says pray so he can evangelize, so he can proclaim good news.

Have you ever asked someone to pray for you so you could be effective in sharing your faith with others, so you can proclaim good news? If you’re going to evangelize, prayer is the best place to start.

Jason Horton delivered a powerful message last Sunday on evangelism, on sharing good news. Somehow we’ve got this idea that it’s a scary thing. Well, it got Paul in prison, but in our culture, we’re blessed with freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Do you take advantage of it?

Evangelism is not sales. I worked a sales job in college…on straight commission. I sold carpet, tile, and blinds and some weeks my sales were so bad, they had to pay me minimum wage because my sales weren’t even enough to cover the $3.35/hour!

Evangelism is not sales. There is no manipulation, shame, or pressure required.
Evangelism is an invitation. It’s proclaiming good news and inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, the one who loves them and proved it.

Jesus Christ is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. The more I understand how sinful I am and how incredible God is, the more I love Jesus and want others to follow him.

I think most people share what they love. Don’t you? All of my friends know I love my wife, ice cream, roller coasters, music, …and Jesus. They don’t have to love those things, but if they haven’t experienced them, I want them to do so.

This might be a stretch, but although I rarely drink pop (not soda!), Vernors is my favorite. I realize not everyone likes it, but everyone should at least try it once to make an informed decision about whether or not they like it. How can you reject something you’ve never tried…and yet people reject Jesus all the time. I’m amazed at people who say they don’t believe the Bible…but they’ve never read it! Come on!

Tragically, many people haven’t rejected Jesus because they’ve never even heard his name. We’ll talk more about that in the next two weeks. What I want you to understand is evangelism is an invitation…to a relationship…to a lifestyle of abundance…to a party that will last for eternity.

Honestly, I don’t understand how someone could reject the love of Jesus…except that the enemy has blinded the eyes of people. His mission is to steal, kill, and destroy and that’s physical and spiritual. I think it takes satan to keep someone from following Jesus…and unfortunately, he does a good job!

Evangelism is an invitation, but there are spiritual forces at work urging people to reject Jesus and do whatever makes them happy for the moment. You can follow God or yourself, but not both. No one can serve two masters. In order to overcome the spiritual forces, we…pray! Paul says to
pray for open doors. We might call that open hearts.

I was with a group of friends last week and I asked them what keeps them from proclaiming good news, for sharing their faith, for evangelizing. The number one response was fear of failure. What if I invite someone into a personal relationship with Jesus and they say no? My response: move on! Jesus’ response: move on! See Matthew 10:14. We begin by praying for open doors. Some people simply aren’t ready to experience the love, joy, peace, and purpose found in a relationship with Jesus. They’re too busy trying to do life their way. But many people are searching for answers…for the Answer. It would be so selfish, so cruel to deny them the opportunity to be forgiven, to be reconciled to their Heavenly Father, to know abundant life. Evangelism is a joy. Proclaiming good news is an invitation, but don’t take rejection personally. Most people rejected Jesus Himself! But many people right now are open. Pray for open doors, open hearts.

Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Colossians 4:4)

He says pray for clarity. Pray for the right words. Have you ever tried to communicate an idea to someone and they just didn’t get it? Maybe you were in sales and the potential customer had no interest. Maybe you tried to communicate a difficult concept to a child who simply couldn’t understand. Or maybe, like me, you process out loud, use too many words, and struggle to get to the point!

Paul is very specific. He’s saying, “I’m in prison for sharing good news. I want to reach more people, and I want the message to be clear. It’s more than information, though. It’s a life-transforming announcement that Jesus is LORD…not Caesar, not money, not your own feelings or pleasures.” It’s a polarizing message drawing followers and opponents who have thrown him into prison.

Two thousand years later, there are people in prison for proclaiming good news. We have brothers and sisters who are tortured for simply inviting people into a relationship with their Creator. It seems crazy, but it’s true. We often think we’ve got it rough, but we’ve been given so many resources, freedoms, and opportunities. We need to proclaim Jesus Christ clearly.

Perhaps the best way to do that is to share your story. Nobody can argue with it. You don’t need to prove anything historical. “I once was blind, but now I see.” If you don’t have a story, you have nothing to proclaim…and I’d love to talk with you about what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

He loves you. He proved it by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. He offers forgiveness for everything you’ve done wrong, He is the ultimate example of what it means to be human, and He’s inviting you into a life-giving relationship filled with meaning, purpose, freedom, hope, and joy. You can choose to continue to do life your way, on your terms, with you in control…or experience life the way it was meant to be lived, following the wisdom of your Creator. Would you like to give your life to Jesus?

Was that clear? Was it in invitation. Actually, that wasn’t even my story. He’s my story, which is another way to proclaim good news:

I grew up in a religious home. I was taught to always do the right thing. I believed in God and went to church, but although I knew a lot about God, I didn’t know God personally. I didn’t really follow God, just my parents’ instructions. When I was a teenager, I encounter peers who really followed God. They found ancient wisdom and life in studying the Bible. They discovered prayer is not just talking to God, but with God. They encouraged me to make Jesus the leader of my life and ever since, I’ve been seeking to know and follow Jesus, the One who proved his love for me by coming to earth, dying for my sins and failures, and rising from the dead. It’s not about religion and what we do. It’s about a relationship and what Jesus has done. I love Jesus and I’d love to invite you to follow Jesus, too.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5)

Actions speak louder than words, and sometimes the messenger is the message. One of the top obstacles to people proclaiming good news is they don’t want to be a hypocrite…or they’re concerned about the reputation of Christians. This is a huge one for me. It’s absolutely evil that we are known for politics, self-righteousness, and even hate rather than the love we were instructed to exhibit. I’m not saying every Christ-follower is guilty, but many so-called Christians have not acted well toward outsiders, toward those Jesus called the lost, the unbeliever, the non-Christian. Jesus is our focus. Jesus is our message. But if our lives are not attractive, nobody will want to hear. We are to pray for the right actions…and love well. Peter wrote,
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)
We are to be in the world but not of the world. Paul’s concerned about their behavior not only within the church, but also among non-Christians who he calls “outsiders.” Rather than telling them to ignore them and stay in a holy huddle, he tells them to be intentional, to engage, to seize every opportunity…to do what? To proclaim good news. To evangelize!

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

In other words, love others so well that they ask questions. Faith is expressed in actions
and words. Another top obstacle to sharing one’s faith is fear of not having the right answers. There’s a simple solution: pray for the right answers! That’s Paul’s point, speak and act with love. People can tell if you care or if you’re just trying to earn points or make a sale. Again, tell your story. Invite them into a relationship with Jesus. If they ask a question you don’t know, say, “That’s a great question. I don’t know. I’d love to do some research and get back with you.”

Most people aren’t going to respond to an invitation with philosophical arguments or demands for archaeological proofs. If they do, there are great responses. There’s fantastic evidence for our faith. Christianity is filled with some of the most brilliant minds, the most successful resumes, the most creative arts, and the most loving people. Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus. The gospel is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. That’s the message we proclaim. Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship with a Person who is inviting every man, woman, and child of every nation, race, religion, sexual orientation, political party, and language give up control and follow him.

Who is your best friend? If I’ve spent any time with you at all, I’ve probably heard about your best friend, especially if you are married. It’s natural to talk about our spouse, our kids, our best friend. If you know Jesus, he should naturally show up in your conversations, too. I want everyone to meet my wife because I think she’s the most amazing woman on the planet. Even more, I want everyone to meet Jesus because he’s the most amazing human in history…and he lived not only for his sake, but ours.

A Confession

Perhaps this subject of proclaiming good news causes you to feel guilt and shame. I’m with you! I struggle with evangelism, not because I’m necessarily afraid, but because most of my conversations are with Christians. That tends to happen when you work at a church! I love to talk about Jesus, but I rarely get the opportunity. Or I rarely take the opportunity. I confess that to you and ask you to pray for me, that God would open doors for me to proclaim good news.

I’ve heard research studies which say the longer one is a Christian, the fewer non-Christian friends they have as they hang around with Christians. We certainly need one another, but we must never neglect the lost, the hurting, the broken, the hopeless around us. It goes back to praying for open doors…and being prepared to take action. One of my favorite conversation starters is, “Where are you at on your spiritual journey?” You could begin with, “What do you think of Jesus?” or “What do you think our world needs more than anything?” If you want to go really deep, ask, “What do you think is the meaning of life?” And listen! Discover where someone is before you suggest a path for them to take.

God is on the move. Jesus is the answer for the world today, and many are seeking answers. If we don’t offer Jesus, they’ll stumble into any number of false gods, religions, philosophies, or simply follow the path of consumerism, individualism, and narcissism. Pray for open doors. Pray for clarity. Pray that the Holy Spirit would fill you with attractive fruit and God-honoring actions, and pray for the right words in your conversations. We need actions and words. When we are weak, He is so strong! It all begins on our knees.

It is a joy to pray for and proclaim good news to the lost.

Credits: some ideas taken from Ivån Marti’ and The Alliance

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

Salt & Light, 6 September 2020

Salt & Light
Matthew 5:13-16

Big Idea: Jesus follows the beatitudes with a vision for the Church to be salt and light to our sinful world.

Last Sunday we finished our series on the Beatitudes, the blessings announced by Jesus in the fifth chapter of Matthew. Today we’re going to look at the next four verses which continue his famous Sermon on the Mount, a message delivered on a hill near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus offers a vision for us—his followers—and in doing so an invitation to participate in his redemption and renewal of all things.

Our world is in trouble. I know, that’s hardly news! In fact, it has been in trouble since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden thousands of years ago. You don’t need the Internet or even a TV to know sin is rampant, our enemy satan is on the move, and we see evidence daily of his schemes to steal, kill, and destroy.

At the same time, God is on the move, too. Chronicles of Narnia fans know Aslan is on the move! We’ve been enlisted in God’s army to be soldiers of love, makers of peace, examples of joy, mediators of mercy, and agents of redemption.

To refresh our memories of what Jesus has spoken, here’s a review of the beatitudes from the New Living Translation:

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:3-10)

Remember, these are not instructions to follow, but announcements of the reality of the Kingdom of God, now and in the future. After elaborating on the blessing that comes from persecution, Jesus says,

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Matthew 5:13)

What’s the first thing you think of when salt is mentioned? French fries? Icy roads in the winter? Ocean water in your mouth? A doctor’s orders to reduce it in your diet?

Salt is a necessary ingredient in life. It serves many purposes, but in the context of this text,
the purpose of salt is preserving.

Imagine a world without freezers, refrigerators, or even dry ice. If you’ve ever been to the Middle East, you know natural ice is hard to find! If you purchased a piece of meat at the market, it would not last long in the hot sun. The best way to ensure it didn’t go bad was to use salt. The purpose wasn’t to melt snow or even to make food taste better, but rather to keep it from spoiling.

Our world is spoiling. It is decaying. We hear about death, destruction, and despair daily. We are on a mission from God to preserve God beautiful creation. This includes the physical planet, yes, but also the message and mission of Jesus…seeking and saving the lost, the renewal of all things, sharing good news in word and deed, representing God and embodying His goodness, holiness, grace, and justice in the world.

Salt is useless in the salt shaker.

My grandma used to collect salt and pepper shakers. They were fun to look at, especially a pair of pigs with magnetic noses that stuck together. I loved that as a kid.

While salt shakers may be decorative, their real value is what they contain…salt. Salt itself is useless unless it is distributed, unless it exits the shaker and makes contact with meat or whatever it is preserving.

When Jesus said we are the salt of the earth, the original language seems to indicate he was speaking of the literal earth, the land of Israel. His mission included the Jewish people. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. Part of our mission is to reach out to the Jews and help them see Jesus as Messiah. They don’t have to give up their Jewishness, but rather embrace Yeshua—Jesus—as LORD. The Messianic Jewish movement that resurfaced about fifty years ago is actively becoming salt among the people of Israel and continuing the mission of Christ.

Now Jesus turns his attention to light.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

The purpose of light is visibility. Everything is invisible in total darkness, but light shines brightest in the dark.

We all understand this. The reason we turn off the lights in a movie theater is to make the light of the film more visible. I’ve never been to a drive-in movie theater at noon!

Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). He declared,

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

In the next chapter of John, he says it again.

While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5)

When predicting his own death,

Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them. (John 12:35-36)

A few verses later Jesus said,

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (John 12:46)

Since Adam and Eve at the fruit, this world has been in a state of darkness. It desperately needs light. The Bible and ancient world saw light as related to truth, knowledge, revelation, and love. It describes the good things we do. You might know John 3:16, but listen to what follows:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:16-21)

Jesus is the light of the world. When we follow him, when we re-present him, we offer light in the darkness. I like to say that we are called to be the moon. I’ve often been amazed at the brightness of the moon on a clear night. It not only lights up the sky, it lights up the earth! A full moon away from the electric lights of a city is especially vibrant. In some instances, you don’t even need a flashlight!

We are not the light, in and of ourselves. We shine the light of Jesus. We reflect the light. We are containers of the light as the Holy Spirit dwells within us. I like to think of us as the moon because the closer the moon is to the light and the more focused and aligned, the brighter it will shine.

If you and I are close to Jesus, we will shine brightly. Our lives will pierce the darkness. The enemy won’t stand a chance!

St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish priest and poet, wrote about light and darkness. He pictured our physical bodies as stained-glass windows through which the interior presence of God shines…Christ in us, the hope of glory. His divine light appears through our lives. Jesus said, “When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” In a similar way, followers of Jesus are the temple of God where He dwells on earth. We are tabernacles of the living God. Where is God? Here! What a truly awesome thought!

Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” He is commissioning them, giving them an assignment, inviting them into his mission. The word “world” speaks of the Gentiles. Followers of Jesus are to be salt and light…reaching Jews and Gentiles.


There are warnings in both the passage on salt and that of light. Saltless salt is thrown out. It is “road dust” as John Stott called it. Our salt, sodium chloride, does not lose its saltiness, but first-century Palestinian salt could.

Covered lights have no value, either.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

So What?

We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. That’s what it means to follow Jesus, to participate in his mission, to be his agents of reconciliation and redemption. It makes me so sad when I hear Christians talk about how they’re just waiting for Jesus to return when, in fact, he may be waiting for us to get busy, to be salt, to shine. We’re on a mission from God, love crusade to seek and save the lost, to proclaim good news, to love others, to extend grace, and to deliver shalom.

All of the blessings in the beatitudes were a prelude to the assignment he has given us to be salt and light.

Are you?

Maybe you are salt that likes to stay in the salt shaker. It may be comfortable, but salt is useless until it is poured out.

Maybe you’ve covered your light. You’ve been ashamed of Jesus, perhaps fearful of the persecution we discussed last Sunday. Or maybe you’re simply like those lamps at the home improvement store, a huge collection of lights with no real purpose. Lights need to be in places where it’s dark. We are not to be of the world, but we need to be in it. We need to get to know our neighbors. We need to interact with co-workers and classmates. We can’t constantly surround ourselves with Christians.

I confess I’m not the best at this. Working at a church is an occupational hazard for evangelism! That’s why we need one another. I’m here to equip you, to charge up your batteries so your light can shine brightly this week.

Family, our world desperately needs salt and light. They need to experience Jesus in word and deed in our lives. They’re never going to find what they’re looking for in technology, politics, business, or entertainment. The world needs Jesus, and we are his agents. We must impact other people for His glory.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

The Church doesn’t have a mission. God’s mission has a Church! That’s us! Let’s be salt. Let’s shine the light of Jesus. Let’s be faithful and obedient in following Jesus. The world will be better for it…and so will we.

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

Resurrection Sunday: Finding the Cure, 12 April 2020

Resurrection Sunday: Finding the Cure

Big idea: Resurrection Sunday is all about a cure for sin and death.

Welcome to First Alliance Church Online Worship on this Resurrection Sunday. On Friday, we remembered Jesus experiencing death, a brutal crucifixion on the cross.

Many of you are experiencing pain, loss, and grief today. Jesus certainly knows those emotions. He understands.

You may be filled with fear and anxiety. Today we want to fill you with hope. The message of Easter is that God is with us, miracles do happen, eternal and abundant life is available, and Jesus is alive!

My name is Kirk and this morning our parking lot is empty.
Our sanctuary seats are empty.
But so is the tomb of Jesus Christ!

He is Risen! He is risen, indeed!

We want you to not only watch today…we want you to engage. You can chat, request prayer, give, even raise your hand online. Just for fun, can you chat your zip code right now. I think it’ll be fun to see who’s with us this morning.

I want to offer a warm welcome to our First Alliance family. I miss being with you in person, but great things are happening online. A special shout-out goes to family and friends joining us today, including international friends from the University of Toledo. Go Rockets!

COVID-19 has postponed the baseball season. It has cancelled the British Open golf tournament and the Wimbledon tennis tournament. It has disrupted all of our lives. But it can’t change the greatest story ever told, a story that continues to transform lives thousands of years later, for people all over the globe. Welcome to Resurrection Sunday!

It’s time to celebrate! It’s time to sing! Wherever you are, please join us!


If you could be famous for one thing right now in our world, what would you want it to be? In these interesting times, being a great actor doesn’t really matter. Athletes are irrelevant at the moment. Politicians should be worried about serving people rather than…well, let’s not go there! If you want to earn the attention and praise of humanity, there’s one simple thing you need to do: discover a cure for the virus.

Can you imagine what it would be like to find the cure? I don’t mean a vaccine, but a cure. Lives would be saved. Fear would diminish. The economy would rebound. We could find toilet paper! Perhaps best of all, I could see and hug our granddaughter again!

Although it’s hard to believe, there is something more devastating to our planet than coronavirus. It not only impacts every person on the planet, it has affected every human who has ever been on earth. It’s so common, we often fail to recognize it, though we encounter it every single day. The word itself has drifted from our vocabulary, yet its presence has never been more real. The greatest problem in our world is…sin. And there’s something greater than a vaccine. There’s a cure!

Pastor Kirk, it’s Easter and you want to talk about sin? Yes! It’s the reason we have Easter. Let me back up just a bit.

Why are you here…on this planet? Have you ever stopped to think about the meaning of life? Until recently, most of us have been so busy going to work, watching sports, being with friends, attending concerts, catching a show at the movies…do you remember those things?!?!?

We’ve been so busy…yet now (I’m told!) many people have extra time on their hands, time which inevitably leads us to think, to ask questions, to consider the deeper things in life. Why are you here?

Despite my workload growing through the pandemic, I’ve been pondering the meaning of life more recently. I’m grateful to have answers, but perhaps you’ve discovered there’s more to your identity than your job, hobbies, friends, or wealth.

Though it has its critics, I’ve found the Bible to be the best explanation for reality, the finest source of wisdom, the greatest collection of timeless stories, and the most satisfying book of hope.

In the beginning, God created. That’s how the Bible begins (Genesis 1:1). God made everything we see, from the sun and moon to the trees, dogs, and ants. Then He made man and woman…to take care of creation and—most of all—to have a relationship with us. We were created to know God. I don’t mean know God like we know about our governor or we know about Thomas Edison or we know about Tiger Woods. I mean we were created to know God like we know our best friend or favorite relative.

It seems hard to believe the Almighty would want to have a relationship with us, but that’s at the heart of why we’re here, why we were created, the meaning of life.

One famous document, the Westminster Shorter Catechism from 1648 states the chief end of man “is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.” Here are some of the supporting verses:

All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. (Psalm 86:9)

For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11)   

Unfortunately, relationships can be broken. You probably have experienced that in your own life. Is there anything more painful than a broken relationship?

Our relationship with God was broken by sin. The book of Genesis talks about how God created Adam and Eve and they had a wonderful relationship until the tragic event known as The Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, eating fruit from the one tree in the beautiful Garden of Eden that was forbidden. The sinned, they rebelled, and that broke the relationship. It introduced pain and suffering for humanity. It started the mess we know in our world, a planet filled with hunger, homelessness, violence, and—yes—viruses.

We were created to know God, but sin destroyed that relationship. Our sin is worse than any virus.

There are vaccines for virus’. We all know many men and women are hard at work right now trying to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, something that will make our bodies resistant to the virus.

But no vaccine has ever been developed for sin. We all sin. None of us is perfect. We all fail, mess up, forget, fall, rebel, make mistakes…sin. We rationalize it and call it a little white lie. We justify it by saying everyone does it. We mask it by pretending it wasn’t that big of a deal. We blame by saying it was someone else’s fault.

But we all sin. I sin. You sin. And the problem with sin is it eventually leads to death. The sin of a drunk driver might lead to the death of a human body. The sin of adultery might lead to the death of a marriage. The sin of a gambling addiction might lead to the death of a bank account. Worse of all, sin leads to the death of our relationship with God because He is intolerant of sin. He is holy and perfect…He’s God! He can’t get within six feet—within six yards–within six miles of sin!

There’s no vaccine for sin, but there’s a cure.
Jesus is the cure. He is the only person who was perfect, who was sinless. He came not only to teach and set an example for us of what it means to be human, He came to die for us, to become the cure for sin. His death on the cross paid the price, the penalty for our sin. The most famous verse in the Bible says,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

The cross is the symbol of Christianity. It reminds us of the suffering and agony Jesus endured, not because he did anything wrong, but because we did. He died to offer forgiveness to us. He died to reconcile us to our heavenly Dad. When he died, it looked like hope was lost. It appeared that sin had won. It seemed that evil would rule. But that was Friday.

Jesus’ friends and family who watched him suffer and die didn’t understand what was taking place before their eyes. They didn’t realize death couldn’t hold him. They didn’t know the grave couldn’t keep him. They couldn’t imagine Sunday was coming!!! Here’s what happened…

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1)

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2-4)

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

Jesus defeated death.
Jesus defeated sin.
Jesus is the cure.

Here’s what Paul wrote to a church in modern-day Turkey…

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

Jesus destroyed death
He shamed sin!
He made a spectacle of satan.
He eliminated evil.

Jesus is the cure for sin.

Here’s the thing about cures: they don’t happen automatically. You need to receive the cure. Usually that means taking medicine, receiving a shot, or undergoing a treatment.

Jesus is the cure for sin, but you must
experience the cure. You must believe Jesus died for you and rose from the dead…and prove that belief by following Jesus, making him not only Savior but also LORD. The cure is not simply about going to heaven when you die. It’s about experiencing heaven—God’s presence—before you die.

You can experience the cure for sin by simply receiving the gift, by saying, “Jesus, I give you my life.” Jesus’ invitation was simple, “Follow me.” Have you experienced the cure? If not, today is a fantastic day to do so. As we celebrate Jesus conquering death, it’s a perfect day for you to experience abundant, eternal life.

I know many of you have been too busy for God. You’ve had no need for God. But now? It’s amazing how one virus can change our world…and us.

I urge you today to experience the cure. Say yes to Jesus. Surrender your life. Repent—turn away—from your sins and follow Jesus. I’m not talking about religion. It’s all about that relationship with God, the meaning of life, the purpose of our creation.

You were made by God.
You were made for God.
You were made for God’s glory.

Some of you have experienced the cure. Maybe you prayed a prayer decades ago in Sunday School or at church camp. Maybe you’ve let your relationship with God drift and it’s time to reconnect. Today would be a great day to do that!

Regardless of where you on your spiritual journey, I want to encourage you to
share the cure. Imagine if someone had the cure for COVID-19 and decided to keep it to themselves. How selfish! How stupid!

Followers of Jesus have the cure for sin, Jesus Christ. We can’t keep it to ourselves. We need to share it—especially now! People all around us are dying—literally and figuratively. Our neighbors are searching for hope. Our friends are desperate for peace. Our families are filled with fear. Jesus is hope. Jesus is the Prince of peace. Jesus is the cure for fear and sin.

Share the cure. Share this video. Share your story. Share God’s story.

I want to give you an action step. On your screen, you can raise your hand. If you’d like to begin your journey today and experience the cure for the first time, please raise your hand now.

If you’ve experienced the cure but your relationship has drifted and you want to reconnect with God, raise your hand now.

If you’ve experienced the cure but kept it to yourself and you want to share it with others, raise your hand now.

Before you go, we want you to know God loves you—that’s what the cross and the empty tomb are all about. Jesus proved his love for you, now you just need to experience and share it.

We love you, too. Our campus is closed, but our staff and leaders remain committed to serving you and your family. More than anything, we want to help you get to know and become like Jesus.

If you’re not on our e-mail list, you can text your e-mail to 419.318.2066.

We have Zoom prayer each weekday morning at 9 AM.

I do a devotional each weekday at 4 PM on Facebook Live…and have some special guests joining me in the coming weeks.

We’ll be back here for FAC Online Worship next Sunday at 10:30 AM, continuing our series on the life of Jesus from the book of Mark.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • You can watch this online worship experience here.
  • Hope for our Broken World, 25 August 2019

    Hope for our Broken World
    August 25, 2019
    1 Cor. 6:9-11; John 3:16-17; 2 Peter 3:8-9

    Series Big Idea:
    The gospel—“good news”—is powerful and transformative.

    Big Idea:
    Our broken world desperately needs to experience the Gospel.

    Jesus is the hope of the world! Our politicians, scientists, educators, or entertainers will never bring the healing our nation and planet desperately need. Only the love, grace, mercy, and redemption of God can cure what ails us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus and his power, not the evil of our world.

    Today we’re concluding our series The Power of the Gospel. We said the gospel—or good news—is ultimately about Jesus, Jesus is LORD. He is the good news. His life, death, and resurrection have wonderful implications for those who follow him, but the gospel is so much more than going to heaven when you die. It’s about Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life…now!

    We talked about how the good news needs to be shared, and last Sunday we saw an example of a remarkable transformation because of the gospel as Saul—an enemy of Christianity—encountered Jesus and became arguably the most important figure in the movement Jesus began. Today we conclude our series in a message entitled
    Hope for Our Broken World.

    Our world is desperate for hope. This is not only obvious, it’s nothing new.

    I know, some of you want to return to the good ol’ days, but did they ever really exist?

    What if today is tomorrow’s good ol’ days?

    I don’t know when America was actually great (though I heard a rumor that Queen Elizabeth has a hat which reads, “Make America Great Britain Again!”).

    Has there ever been a moment when our world was truly at peace?

    Our world is broken because of sin. It is desperate for hope.

    If you study world history—and especially church history—you’ll see how desperate humanity has been for hope. Consider this excerpt from a letter written to the church in ancient Corinth in Greece:

    Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NLT)

    As someone once said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Our world is desperate for hope.

    They seek it in the strangest places.

    • - Politics
    • - Entertainment
    • - Science
    • - Drugs and alcohol
    • - Sex
    • - Religion
    • - Greed and consumerism
    • - Adventure and danger

    The problem is none of those things will truly satisfy. Sure, they may bring temporary happiness, but they will all eventually fail to live up to their promises…and in many cases will create their own problems such as addiction or even death. Amazingly, people have been “lookin’ for hope in all the wrong places” for centuries!

    If my first statement would delight Captain Obvious, I’m even more convinced of my next declaration…

    Jesus is the hope of the world.

    Unfortunately, this is not obvious to everyone. In fact, billions of people know nothing about Jesus. They’re not offended by him. They haven’t had a bad experience with him. They’ve never even heard his name, much less met him!

    If we turn back to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, it continues…

    Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11, NLT)

    Only Jesus offers real cleaning.
    Only Jesus can make us holy.
    Only Jesus can make us right with God.
    Only Jesus offers real hope.

    Many of you have heard this a thousand times, but listen again…

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

    The meaning of “so” is not about the amount of God’s love. It literally means the qualitative aspect of God’s love, the manner in which He loved the world. It is stating, “This is what the love of God looks like”…a sacrifice, a gift, …action!” To follow Jesus means we follow his example of sacrifice, of action, of sharing good news.

    How in the world did Jesus-followers get the reputation of being filled with hate when God loved?

    How can we be known as people who are after people’s money when God gave so generously to us, sending Jesus?

    How is it that so-called Christians can judge unbelievers when Jesus came to save them, not condemn them?

    Jesus is the hope of the world.

    Hope is good.
    Hope is attractive.
    Hope doesn’t need to be sold, only offered.

    For some Christians, there are only two dates that matter: the date they were saved and the date they die and go to heaven. What a tragedy!

    Jesus is not just the hope for you. God loved the world! Jesus is the hope of the world! It is a responsibility and a joy to proclaim the gospel…good news…Jesus…to the world!

    Some pathetic Christians are sitting around waiting for the world to end so they can get out of here, but that’s not God’s heart. That’s not a Jesus’ attitude. He sent us on mission, family. He commissioned us to make disciples, to love, to proclaim the Gospel. Peter wrote,

    But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)

    Do you know how many of my kids I love? All of them!

    Jesus said he would return soon, and I think he’s a little slow, which is why I’m grateful for these words from Peter. See, if anything, God’s waiting for us. It’s not that He’s slow, but that He is love. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. He wants everyone to repent, to turn from their sin, to surrender to Jesus. He’s not eager to judge us—though we will all be judged—but wants all to repent, to turn from sin, to follow Jesus. But…

    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

    If the only thing that mattered was your salvation, you’d get zapped to heaven as soon as you surrendered your life to Jesus. But you’re still here! You’ve got work to do, and so do I.

    We are here to re-present Jesus.

    Followers of Jesus—Christians—are to look like and act like Jesus. He passed the baton to us. He told us to go and make disciples. This requires action. It’s not a suggestion. It’s why we’re here!

    What would happen if we really loved Jesus…and proved it not with our head but with our hearts and hands? What if we really took him seriously, got out of our comfort zones and loved this city that way Jesus would love it? Imagine if every person in Toledo was given an invitation to know and follow Christ? Wouldn’t it be great if we could participate in an earth-shaking spiritual awakening in our world which began here in Holy Toledo?

    I’m done with status quo, mediocre, boring Christianity. I want more of God! I want more of the Holy Spirit! I want to see revival…in me…in you…in our city…in our world. I’m sick of satan grabbing all of the news headlines! I want some good news! I’ve got some good news!

    We are called to be hope dealers!

    If Jesus is the hope of the world, we become that hope as we re-present Jesus, as we are the hands and feet of Jesus today.

    Our nation has had some revivals, including the Great Awakening.

    There’s a fascinating video called
    Transformations which documents communities transformed by the Gospel, by Jesus, by a miraculous move of the Holy Spirit when people come together in unity repentance, prayer, and evangelism.

    I want Him to do it again…here!

    Is anybody with me?

    This is our day. This is our world. Previous generations experienced revivals, but what about us? God never changes, friends. I believe He’s ready to pour out His Spirit on us, our city, and our world if we will repent, pray, and share the gospel. We have to go and make disciples. We have to proclaim in deed and word good news. We have follow Jesus and practice what we preach, 24/7/365.

    So What?

    “Great, pastor. You had too much caffeine this morning, you’re getting all excited, but now what?”

    I’m so glad you asked! I want to offer a few, simple, next steps. In a word, BLESS.

    BLESS your neighbor.

    Begin with prayer

    You don’t have to be a spiritual giant to share good news, to offer hope to our broken world, one life at a time. You can bring someone to Dinner Church tonight. You can ask open-ended questions to stimulate conversation such as, “Where are you at on your spiritual journey?” You can invite your neighbors over for a BBQ. You can buy someone a cup of coffee and chat.

    This fall you can be a conversation partner with Water for Ishmael.
    You can volunteer at the After School Klub and Rosa Parks Elementary.

    Barna research has concluded 97% of church members will never share their faith, yet I bet most of you want to. You want your neighbors to experience good news. You want them to have faith, hope, and love. You just feel awkward. I know. I don’t walk up to total strangers and say, “Hi, I’m Kirk. Do you know Jesus?” Some people actually do that! But you don’t have to do it alone. We’re a family. We partner together. We literally set the table once a month at Dinner Church. Our Christmastime gatherings will create great opportunities for people to encounter the Hope of the world.

    But there’s one more thing I want to tell you about. Coincidentally, this past week was the beginning of a movement which could be a catalyst to revival in our city and nation.

    Saturate Toledo

    We have been invited to join Toledo area churches in distributing bags to reach all 500,000 souls in our area. What an opportunity! We will pray, stuff bags, and deliver them to our neighbors. It’s that simple…and all of the resources have been donated!

    Area pastors are invited to a free lunch on October 1 at The Premiere Center. If you know a pastor—besides me!—make sure they know about it. Our plan is to assemble and distribute bags this fall. If you can walk, talk, and/or pray, you can participate.

    The goal is 60 million homes by the end of 2020. So far, 28 million have been adopted and nearly 13 million have already been saturated…that’s 40 million people who have received a bag in 45 states!

    One of the exciting things is donors are making this available to our church and city for free! All we have to do is assemble the materials and pass them out to our neighbors.

    Saturate Toledo is a simple way we can make sure everyone has a chance to encounter the Hope of the world, Jesus Christ.


    Our world is desperate for hope. They’re never going to find it in Columbus or Washington, Hollywood or Broadway. Money, sex and power will never truly satisfy. It won’t come through Facebook or Apple or Instagram.

    Jesus is the Hope of the world…and we get to re-present him to every person we encounter, online or in person.

    It’s time for us to rise up and proclaim good news. No pressure, no manipulation, just love. BLESSing. Hope. Our world desperately needs it. It couldn’t be more obvious. What are we going to do about it?

    LORD, give us Your heart for the lost, the lonely, the least of these that we may re-present Jesus, the hope of the world.

    Credits: series outline from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Transformed, 18 August 2019

    Series—The Power of the Gospel
    Acts 9:1-31

    Series Big Idea:
    The gospel—“good news”—is powerful and transformative.

    Big Idea:
    Every person you encounter is a masterpiece with tremendous potential, regardless of their present condition.

    Several years ago, my late mother-in-law invited Heather and I to her new home in central Michigan. She had warned us it was a fixer-upper, but we were not prepared for the mess she purchased. I have been in nicer tents! Perhaps we should’ve planned on sleeping in the car!

    Rather than embarrassment, she was proud of her purchase. She described in detail all of the things she was going to do to this shack. Any person in their right mind would’ve done exactly one thing: knocked it down and started over! She didn’t have another place to stay, so she lived in this structure for months and months while it was renovated around her. The woman had vision, and the end result was nothing short of amazing.

    Have you met people like that cottage? Their physical health might be a train wreck. Their finances are in shambles. Their relationships are a disaster. They need serious mental and emotional help.

    Perhaps the person is you…or it used to be you.

    In our series “The Power of the Gospel,” we’ve noted how the gospel—or good news—is, indeed, powerful. It’s all about Jesus, and this world needs Jesus. I need Jesus. We all need Jesus, whether we know it or not. It’s both a responsibility and a joy to share good news, to introduce people to Jesus. It’s up to them what they do with Jesus, but at this moment there are literally billions of people on our planet that have never been introduced to Jesus. Many have never even heard his name. This is why it’s so important for us to go and make disciples, to proclaim good news.

    But what if you proclaim Jesus to someone who wants to kill you because of Jesus? We’re going to look at a true story about just such a man today. His transformation may be the greatest in human history…and it offers hope for everyone.

    It’s the first century. That Jewish man Jesus has died and then resurrected. He ascended into heaven and his followers are telling everyone about him and his promised return. The early Christians are seeking to follow Jesus’ two primary commands, to love God and to love others as they love themselves. It’s a radical faith, spreading rapidly, among both Jews and Gentiles. But there’s opposition. Many of the Romans could care less about religion, but the Pharisees—the religious leaders who wanted Jesus killed in the first place—are attacking these early believers in Yeshua, Jesus. One of their leaders is a man named Saul.

    Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

    How would you like to run into this guy? The first Christians were called people of the Way, and Saul was threatening to kill them while taking them as prisoners. This is not a nice man, though he thought was doing the right thing. He was religious, and he saw these Christians as opponents of his Jewish religion. Persecuting them was doing God’s word, he thought.

    As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him,
    “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:3-4)

    Has this ever happened to you? You’re on your way to visit the high priest and you’re confronted by a bright light and a voice speaking your name! It must’ve been quite the scene. After all, it literally changed the course of history.

    “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

    “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6)

    Do you think Saul had a choice?!

    Although this is an unusual miracle,

    God still speaks today.

    He speaks primarily through the Bible—which is why we must read and study it—but He does use other things to communicate with us. In my life, God has spoken through other people, circumstances, an idea at 3 o’clock in the morning, and His still, small voice. Others have experienced life-changing dreams. Prophecy, music, prayer, and nature are all conduits of God’s messages. He is speaking. Are you quiet enough to hear?

    One thing that’s essential to know is
    God will never contradict Himself. In other words, He’ll never tell you something which goes against the Bible. If you’re not sure a message or idea is from God, I’d recommend sharing it with someone who knows God and the Bible and see what they think.

    Back to our story…

    The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9:7-9)

    Saul was blind for three days. That’s a popular period of time in the Bible!

    In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision,

    “Yes, Lord,” he answered. (Acts 9:10)

    The Lord told him,
    “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” (Acts 9:11-12)

    Normally if God speaks, the appropriate response is, “Yes, LORD!”

    The actual response is sometime, “What?!”

    “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13-14)

    Even without radio, tv, or even newspapers, Ananias knew about Saul. His picture was posted at the Christian post office (ha!). The thought of going to Saul made as much sense to Ananias as an American scheduling a meeting with Osama bin Ladin when he was alive. You’ve got to be crazy! This guy’s on a man hunt…for you and your people!

    But the Lord said to Ananias,
    “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

    If I’m Ananias, I’m thinking “must suffer” is appropriate after all the Christians persecuted and killed on Saul’s watch. God said “go!” and Ananias obeyed, even though he must’ve been scared stiff!

    Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Acts 9:17-19a)

    This was a miracle! Saul’s conversion is—to this day—one of the most radical in history. This religious Jew encounters Jesus and becomes not only a follower, but one of the two leaders of the early Church, along with Peter.

    What follows in Acts chapter 9 is a descriptions of Saul’s first days as a Christian, preaching and proclaiming the gospel, the good news, Jesus is the Son of God. His transformation was so amazing, the Jews conspired to kill him! A verses later,

    When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:26-27)

    It took Barnabus to convince the others that Saul had really joined their team. Sure, it seemed too good to be true, but

    The Gospel can reach anyone. There is no such thing as a hopeless causes with our God. There’s no person on earth Jesus’ blood can’t forgive. Good news is for everyone.

    About two thousand years ago, some shepherds were in their fields when an angel appeared and terrified them.

    But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

    Good news…Jesus…the Gospel…for all the people. The Gospel can reach anyone. Kirk Franklin sings in a song, “I’m the reason why God made grace.” I love that! I am that reason. We are all in need of grace, of love, of God’s forgiveness, of reconciliation with God and one another, and that’s why Jesus came. He is the ultimate good news in a world full of bad news. And this is why I want the world to know about Jesus!

    I mentioned Osama bin Ladin earlier, but I prayed many times for his salvation. I thought if he were to follow Jesus, countless lives would be influenced for good rather than evil. As far as I know, bin Ladin never trusted Jesus with his life, but even though he had done terrible things, he was forgivable. The 23
    rd chapter of Luke tells of a criminal on the cross next to Jesus.

    Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

    Jesus answered him,
    “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

    Is that even fair?! Does he spend eternity in the same place as Mother Theresa and Billy Graham? We don’t know the details for their afterlife, but Jesus seems to be telling this criminal in his final moments his faith is valid. God can reach anyone; even your boss, your son or daughter, your friend, your enemy. God so loved the world, which includes everyone in the world. In God’s eyes, there’s no such thing as a hopeless cause. God can reach anyone. Even me. Hallelujah!

    So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,
    but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:28-30)

    Saul’s ministry grew, as did his Jewish opposition.

    Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31)

    This was a brilliant, yet dangerous, time in the life of the early Church. The opposition was real, yet the testimony of one Pharisee who would later be known as Paul was a game-changer.

    So What?

    I want to challenge you today with a simple next step: pray for your greatest enemy. It might be a parent or child or some other family member. Maybe it’s your boss or neighbor. It could be a political figure you’ve never met, or a prisoner who wronged you. Whoever it is, they would be a better human being to themself and the world if they would surrender their life to Jesus. You may seek revenge, but you surely don’t want their bad behavior to continue. What if they had a Damascus Road encounter with God like Saul? Imagine their testimony for the Kingdom of God.

    You might be thinking, “They don’t deserve God’s grace after all they’ve done,” but that’s a misunderstanding of grace. They
    don’t deserve it. Neither do we. Grace is unmerited favor, so by definition, you cannot earn or deserve it. Jesus said to

    …love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44b)

    Love and pray for your enemies.
    Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”
    But seriously, Jesus commands us to love and pray for them. That’s not easy, but it is possible with the power of the Holy Spirit. And there’s not greater power than love. There’s no force which can transform like love. We can pray for anyone to encounter Jesus! That’s the first step in proclaiming the gospel, the good news, Jesus. If the greatest gift we can give anyone is Jesus, prayer is like wrapping the gift. It’s getting it ready to be received. We can’t guarantee acceptance of Jesus, but we can pray and ask God to open their hearts, to use our deeds and words, and to transform the person.

    Many people think of Christianity is all about not doing bad things. I was once told Christians don’t drink, smoke, chew, or go with girls who do! Avoiding bad behavior—or worse, hiding bad behavior—is not what it means to follow Jesus. Yes, there are many things harmful to us and God which are never good for us, but Christianity is not just about what we’re against. It’s also what we’re for. It’s about
    who we’re for. We are for people. We are for sinners. We are for saints. We are for Toledo. Why? Because Jesus is, and a real Christian is someone who acts like Jesus. They love…even their enemies. They pray…for their friends and even their enemies. They aren’t afraid to get dirty, uncomfortable, or inconvenienced. They know the value of listening, even when they want to speak. They are generous, even when it might seem extravagant. They care for the least of these—the stranger, orphan and widow. You might say the SOW into the stranger, orphan, and widow. They engage with the “least of these.”

    They know every person they meet is God’s masterpiece, created in His image with dignity, value and worth. Broken? Yes. Waiting for restoration? Yes.

    The gospel changes lives…for eternity! You might see a mess—like what I saw in my mother-in-law’s house—but God sees potential. He has a plan and a purpose for every member of the human race, if we’ll only let them know…and if they’ll only surrender.

    And one more thing…Jesus died for you, too. He’s good news for you. His grace—unmerited favor—means nothing you can do can make him love you more, and nothing you can do can make him love you less. He wants to be Savior, but also LORD. Let’s all obey him this week, proclaiming the gospel, praying for the not-yet-saved, and watching the greatest miracle of all take place right in front of us, the transformation of a human life.

    Credits: series outline from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Send the Light, 11 August 2019

    Send the Light
    Series—The Power of the Gospel
    Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:6-11; Romans 10:8-17

    Series Big Idea:
    The gospel—“good news”—is powerful and transformative.

    Big Idea:
    Proclaiming the gospel is a joy because we love God and people.

    Words are powerful. They’re loaded with meaning; sometimes multiple meanings. This is why we are sometimes misunderstood. One simple word can trigger thoughts and feelings instantaneously.

    I’m not going to yell it in a public building, but if someone were to yell f-i-r-e, a very important message would be conveyed. Perhaps no word seizes your attention more than your name.

    This morning I want to talk about a word that is frightening to many. It’s not “change.” It’s not “evil.” The word is…evangelism.

    We’re in the middle of series entitled “The Power of the Gospel.” Last week we noted the Greek word
    euangelion means “good news,” a word we often translate “gospel.” We said the gospel is all about…Jesus. It’s more than personal salvation or going to heaven when you die. The gospel—according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 and in seven sermons in the book of Acts and 2 Timothy 2:8 and Romans 1 and other places in the Bible—is Jesus.

    Although the word “evangelism” does not appear in most English translations of the Bible, the Greek word “euangelistes” or evangelist shows up in Acts 21:8, Ephesians 4:11, and 2 Timothy 4:5 and it simply means one who announces glad tidings. Evangelism, then, is simply proclaiming the gospel, proclaiming good news. That’s not so scary, is it? Actually, I would think proclaiming bad news would be far more difficult.
    I hope today you’ll be encouraged and equipped to proclaim the gospel, to introduce people to Jesus, to make disciples…who make disciples.

    Jesus famously took the 613 laws of Moses and boiled them down to two commands:

    Love God.
    Love others as you love yourself.

    - Matthew 22:37-40
    - Mark 12:29-31

    I want to offer you two simple reasons why we proclaim the gospel, why we invite people to follow Jesus.

    We proclaim the gospel because we love Jesus.

    Jesus said,

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

    What did he command? During his final hours on earth before ascending into heaven, Jesus gathered his friends together.

    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

    We’ve looked at this text many times, and we will continue to do so. This is known as the Great Commission. It’s what Jesus told them to do under his authority. This is not a suggestion. It’s not an option. It’s not just for pastors or professional Christians.

    Go. The word is a participle. It means “going” or “as you go.” There’s no mention of sitting, status quo, indifference, or being passive. This is an action word. It’s a word in Greek, poreuo, that is sometimes translated “to pursue after, be devoted to, to go after.”

    Make disciples. In a word, reproduce. Disciples follow Jesus and help others follow Jesus. This alone is good news! Imagine a world filled with people who act like Jesus. Yes, please! This is the heart of the command: make disciples.

    Part of the process of becoming a disciple and making disciples is being baptized. A Jesus-follower who hasn’t been baptized—publicly declaring their faith in Jesus—is like a person who has a secret wedding, ashamed to announce their marriage. It’s also disobedient! Disciples are to be baptized. They are also to be taught to obey. That’s the mark of spiritual maturity: obedience. It’s not religious activity. It’s disciple-making. It’s action. It’s helping others become like Jesus. It’s love. The hallmark of our faith is love for others. Therefore,

    We proclaim the gospel because we love people.

    Jesus said to do two things:

    Love God.
    Love others as you love yourself.

    Love is others-centered. It’s caring for another person. It’s looking out for their best interests. If you truly love someone, there’s no greater gift you can give them than an introduction to Jesus.

    Think for a moment about what you do for those you love. Maybe you speak kind words to them. Perhaps you buy or make them gifts. You might spend quality time with them. I like to tell them about good deals I find (bargains is one of my love languages!). You can let them know about opportunities that could enrich their lives.

    But there’s not opportunity, no person, nothing that can add more value to them than Jesus.

    It’s not your job to convert anybody. You’re not selling anything. There’s no force, no pressure, nothing weird. You don’t need a megaphone or photos of fire or scary movies. If you love Jesus and you love people, network! Bring them together. Introduce people to Jesus.

    Matchmaking is one of my favorite things to do. I don’t mean romantic matchmaking—though that can be fun…and risky! I mean connecting good people with employers who are searching for quality talent. Although I’ve never received a finder’s fee, I’ve been delighted to make introductions which led to career opportunities.

    I love introducing people to Jesus, too. I love talking about Jesus. I’m not especially good at it—and I often struggle to meet unchurched people working in a church office—but when I get the opportunity, I love to talk about my faith and how it’s all about Jesus, not a religion or a bunch of rules.

    It is both a responsibility and joy to proclaim the gospel.

    Jesus commands it. He commissioned us to make disciples who make disciples…assuming we are disciples, we are following Jesus, the one who “
    came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10b), the one who was called a friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34).

    I love roller coasters. I love the thrill, the energy, the speed, the excitement…yet seeing someone seek after God is even greater. Watching someone meet and surrender to Jesus is exhilarating. Sure, the birth of my kids and my grandbaby were beyond words, but the spiritual birth of a person—and playing a role in it—is such a joy.

    My favorite days on our church calendar are the International Easter Dinner, baptisms, and Dinner Church. All three are opportunities to proclaim the gospel, for people to meet Jesus.

    We are to proclaim the gospel in deed and word.

    People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

    You don’t have to be a genius to know organized religion is in decline in our country…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m glad people are finally holding church leaders accountable for their bad behavior.

    I’m certainly not a perfect example, but I’m a living example of someone trying to follow Jesus. I’m accountable to our elders and our District Superintendent, Rev. Thomas George. My desperate prayer is for wisdom. I know I’m inadequate to re-present Jesus. Fortunately, God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualified the called. And that includes you.

    I believe actions speak louder than words. Years ago, I attended a conference where a well-respected Christian leader said, “The greatest obstacle to people coming to Jesus is the church.” I wanted to throw my chair at the guy, but he was right! Our reputation in our society is not good. We’re known not for our love—according to researchers—but for our hatred of people. Many believe we love our politics more than our faith, judging rather than extending grace, talking rather than listening, and converting rather than caring.

    The medium is the message. If we aren’t loving, our message of love—our God of love—will never be heard. Please don’t give God—or the church—a bad name. And don’t expect non-Christians to act like Christians!

    Send the Light

    Jesus said,

    “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

    Why don’t we send the light? Why don’t we shine? Why don’t we proclaim the gospel and introduce people to Jesus? I think the primary reason is fear. We fear rejection. We fear embarrassment. Perhaps most of all, we fear failure. What if I introduce someone to Jesus and they reject him?

    It’s not your job to convert people! Just like a matchmaker isn’t responsible for a couple falling in love and getting married, your job is just to make the introduction. You don’t have the power to change a human heart from their selfish pride to surrender…but the Holy Spirit does! If we do our part, He’ll do His!

    Right before Jesus departed our planet, Luke writes,

    Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

    They thought Jesus came to restore a physical kingdom in Israel, but the Kingdom of God is global.

    He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

    The Alliance has really focused on Acts 1:8.

    The Holy Spirit does the word. We are to be God’s witnesses—even martyrs—in Jerusalem (Toledo), and in all Judea and Samaria (Ohio and the unwanted and outcasts…the widows, strangers, refugees, immigrants, orphans, disabled, poor, …), and to the ends of the earth.

    Most of us like the ends of the earth. It’s exciting to hear what spiritual heroes are doing in other countries. It’s easy for many of us to write checks to support their work. We may even pray for our International Workers, but that’s not the only way we fulfil the Great Commission. Jesus wants everyone involved, including you! We’re all called to be missionaries…in Toledo or Timbuktu! Every Sunday is a missions conference where we get equipped to live out the mission of God…to seek and save the lost, to make disciples, to love God and to love others as we love ourselves.

    Why Wait?

    Billy Graham said, “The evangelistic harvest is always urgent. The destiny of men and of nations is always being decided. Every generation is strategic. We are not responsible for the past generation, and we cannot bear the responsibility for the next one; but we do have our generation. God will hold us responsible as to how well we fulfill our responsibilities to this age and take advantage of our opportunities."

    Family, people are dying because of gun violence and random shooting. They are committing suicide (the suicide hotline is
    800.273.TALK). Our tomorrow is not guaranteed, nor is it certain for those around us. What are you waiting for?

    Next Steps

    I know, it can be difficult to talk about Jesus. Some of you feel like you don’t have enough knowledge, which didn’t stop the woman at the well from telling those in her town about her encounter with Jesus on the same day she met him (John 4). Share your story! Why do you love Jesus? If you can’t share it, maybe you don’t have one!

    Get out. Go! The light shines brightest in the darkness. It’s great to gather together on Sunday mornings, but the rest of the week is for scattering. We need to love our neighbor. Don’t worry about slick presentations. Build friendships. Join a club. Take a co-worker out for coffee. Every person you see this week is a broken masterpiece for whom Jesus died. Do they know how loved they are by God? By you? Take a risk. Introverts, use social media, if desired. Starts some conversations. If all of your friends are Christians, you might not be one! Jesus was a friend of sinners. Followers of Jesus go, they get out, they do not become of the world, but they go into it. They love and serve the people in it. I’m not a perfect example, but I’m thrilled to say in recent days I have been having some great conversations with spiritual seekers.

    Here are a few simple next-steps you can take to connect with non-Christians:

    - Dinner Church
    - Coffee or a meal
    - English conversation partners through Water for Ishmael
    - Volunteer to tutor at Rosa Parks Elementary with you this fall
    - Volunteer at the After School Klub (ASK) this fall

    Don’t forget two essential tools:

    Prayer. It’s not about our eloquence or knowledge, but the Holy Spirit’s power.

    If you spent your entire life rooting for the Michigan Wolverines, do you think a five-minute conversation will cause you to change your allegiances to that team down south? I can tell you the answer; no! It takes time for seeds to produce fruit, even when there’s plenty of rain, fertilizer, and sunshine. It takes some people years—even decades—to get off the throne of their lives and submit to Jesus as LORD.

    If you were raised in the church, faith might be second-nature to you. For adults who have lived their entire lives doing things their own way, it takes time to see the wisdom and value of surrendering control to Jesus.

    In conclusion, Paul wrote,

    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
    (Romans 10:14-15)

    Proclaiming the gospel is a joy because we love God and people. Let’s demonstrate that love this week as we engage in spiritual conversations and introduce people to Jesus.

    One more thing…

    Jesus never said to make converts. He said to make disciples. Evangelism is the front end of the discipleship process. It’s not the end. The goal isn’t getting people to pray a prayer. It’s to become like Jesus and help others become like Jesus.

    Additional Resources



    What about those who never hear the gospel? (we don’t know for sure!)



    https://vimeo.com/158982114 (simple 3 circles evangelism tool)

    The main reasons Christians do not evangelize—according to Thom Rainer—are:
    1. 1. Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.
    2. 2. Many Christians and church members do not befriend and spend time with lost persons.
    3. 3. Many Christians and church members are lazy and apathetic.
    4. 4. We are more known for what we are against than what we are for.
    5. 5. Our churches have an ineffective evangelistic strategy of “you come” rather than “we go.”
    6. 6. Many church members think that evangelism is the role of the pastor and paid staff.
    7. 7. Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.
    8. 8. Church members are in a retreat mode as culture becomes more worldly and unbiblical.
    9. 9. Many church members don’t really believe that Christ is the only way of salvation.
    10. 10. Our churches are no longer houses of prayer equipped to reach the lost.
    11. 11. Churches have lost their focus on making disciples who will thus be equipped and motivated to reach the lost.
    12. 12. Christians do not want to share the truth of the gospel for fear they will offend others. Political correctness is too commonplace even among Christians.
    13. 13. Most churches have unregenerate members who have not received Christ themselves.
    14. 14. Our churches have too many activities; they are too busy to do the things that really matter.
    Credits: series outline from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Seeking the Savior, 28 April 2019

    Seeking the Savior
    Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
    Luke 19:1-10

    Series Big Idea:
    Love is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture, yet it is at the heart of the two greatest biblical commandments: love God, love neighbor.

    Big Idea:
    Lost people matter to God and He wants them found.

    One of the greatest controversies among students of the Bible is whether God chooses us or we choose God. If you are a follower of Jesus today, why? Is it what God did or what you did? Did God seek you to follow Him or did you seek out God?

    My short opinion—if you’re wondering—is yes!

    On the one hand, we are told to seek after God, to pursue a relationship with our Creator.

    Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. (Psalms 105:3)

    Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. (1 Chronicles 16:11)

    The Hebrew word used in both verses is
    baqash. It means to seek, search, look for, inquire about.

    God wants us to seek Him. But ever since sin entered the world, we naturally want to pursue our own pleasures. We want to be god, the master of our own universe. We like to be in control. This led Paul to write to the church in Rome:

    As it is written:

    “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:10-11)

    Here the verb “seek” is Greek, ekzeteo, meaning “to seek out, investigate diligently, scrutinize.” It’s as if we need God to pursue us because left to our own devices, we’ll selfishly do life our way, oblivious to the wisdom of the Almighty.

    A moment ago, I said my answer is yes—I believe we seek after God and God seeks after us. Who is responsible for my being married, my wife or me? Our relationship requires the participation of two parties, and I believe that’s the same for those in a relationship with God through King Jesus.

    Two weeks ago, we noted again how

    Lost people matter to God and He wants them found.

    Luke chapter 15 tells of the pursuit of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son where God pursues.

    Today we’re going to look at two spiritual seekers, people who pursued God. Both are rich men who want to follow, yet they end up with two very different outcomes.

    A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18)

    “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” (Luke 18:19-20)

    “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. (Luke 18:21)

    When Jesus heard this, he said to him,
    “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)

    When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said,
    “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:23-25)

    This man seeks after God, but he became very sad because he was ultimately seeking money more than God.

    Our text for today in the following chapter is similar.

    Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. (Luke 19:1-2)

    Zacchaeus means “righteous one,” but this man was anything but righteous. He was not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector, hated and despised. The tax system was oppressive to the people (some things never change!). But seriously, he could charge taxes on most anything he wanted, at most any rate he wanted. The comment about his wealth is hardly necessary.

    As Zach walked around town, the people saw their money…used to purchase fancy clothes and expensive food. He could raise taxes and pocket the increase. To make matters worse, if you couldn’t pay the taxes, tax collectors would loan you the money at a huge interest rate, making even more money for themselves. If that wasn’t enough, the taxes went to pay for the unwanted Roman army to occupy your village.

    Zacchaeus was, no doubt, greedy and selfish. His world revolved around himself. Have you ever met someone like this? Maybe it’s your boss or a co-worker or neighbor. They’re climbing to the top and could care less about whatever is in their way, even if it’s you! They’ll beg, borrow or even steal to get what they want. Tragically—as we noted recently in our series on Ecclesiastes—they never have enough. They are never satisfied. They may seem to be beyond hope and help. But he was a masterpiece in the eyes of God.

    He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. (Luke 19:3-4)

    Kids love Zacchaeus. He was short like them. If you’ve ever taken a child to a parade, they usually struggle to see, not unlike Zacchaeus in this crowd. When I was little, I loved it when my dad put me on his shoulders at a parade so I could see over the tops of all of the adults. Zach takes advantage of tree to get a height advantage.

    Luke is the only biblical writer who tells us about Zacchaeus, though it’s a perfect story since he had just written about the problem of riches…and an encounter with Jesus.

    You might call this man a seeker. It says he ran, something unusual for a man in the culture, especially a wealthy government official. He may not have been seeking after God, but Jesus was a celebrity and perhaps he wants an autograph or even a selfie with the Messiah. That would look great on his social media account, right? Although it says he simply wanted to see who Jesus was, I believe God was at work in his heart.

    God the Holy Spirit draws people to Jesus.

    Only God can change a selfish, human heart, and that’s exactly what happens.

    When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him,
    “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (Luke 19:5-6)

    Did Jesus just invite himself to Zacchaeus’ house? Yes he did, and Zacchaeus was happy to welcome him.

    Let’s face it, there are some celebrities who can do just about anything they want. I’m not suggesting Jesus had selfish motives because he had an agenda far greater than a free meal. But if Lebron James or Julia Roberts or David Jeremiah or Taylor Swift wanted to come over to your place, you’d probably welcome them gladly, right?

    Did Jesus seek after Zach or did Zach seek after Jesus? Yes! It’s a beautiful story! But then religion enters the scene.

    All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)

    Zacchaeus wasn’t just any sinner. This is the man who has been stealing from them, padding his wallet with extra fees and taxes. He was a crook! I’m sure some were jealous simply because they would’ve liked Jesus to invite himself to their house. But beyond that,

    Jesus was criticized for being a friend of sinners.

    Tragically, many godly men and women today experience the same judgment from self-righteous religious people. Like Jonah or the older son in the Prodigal Son story, they want exclusive access to the Father, shunning the lost, the sinner, the broken…even when they come to their senses, repent, and follow God, which is exactly what Zach does here.

    But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

    What a statement! This is extravagant repentance. Zacchaeus doesn’t simply say, “I’m sorry everyone. I won’t let it happen again.” He makes amends. He turns and does what he can to not only pay back what he had taken, but also make fourfold restitution. Wow!

    Under the Mosaic law, restitution for a theft meant returning what was stolen plus twenty percent. The greatest penalty was if what was stolen could not be restored, then a fourfold repayment was required. Zach self-imposed the harshest penalty.

    The rich young ruler refused to sell his possessions, yet Zacchaeus seemingly gives away all of his cash. In Jesus, he has found something more valuable than all of the gold in the world, and he is forever transformed by his encounter with the Messiah.

    Jesus said to him,
    “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)

    Salvation comes to those who follow Jesus…with not only their heads but their hands. Faith without works is dead. Zacchaeus is a new man, a found man, a saved man, and now a truly rich man because of the gift of salvation.

    God encounters are transformative.

    Jesus mission was not only to die on the cross. It also included seeking the lost sheep. It involved spending time with sinners far from God. It required intentionality and action and pursuit. Jesus is the one that saves and changes us. It’s all about Jesus!

    I have two questions for you today. First,

    Are you a God-seeker?

    Really. Would you sell everything you have if God called you to do so? Do you generously give now? I believe 10% is the starting point—not the goal—for financial stewardship, giving to your local church.

    Singles, are you willing to honor God with your body and remain sexually pure?

    Does your calendar reflect your pursuit of God, or are your days filled with screens and personal pursuits?

    I know a lot of long-time Christians and I’ve seen spiritual newborns and there’s something exciting about a new believer. They’re hungry, eager to learn and grow. Are you? I pray we will all be God-seekers, regardless of where we are on our spiritual journey.

    How can you serve God-seekers?

    I believe the greatest way you can serve those pursuing God is to share Jesus, share your story, listen to their questions, guide them to the cross…and empty tomb.

    This past week a research study revealed although 56% of Protestant churchgoers said they pray for opportunities to share the Gospel—or good news—with non-Christians, 55% said they haven’t engaged in an “evangelistic conversation” in at least six months. One researcher replied, “Sharing the good news that Jesus paid for our sins through His death on the cross and rose again to bring us new life is the mission of the church, but it does not appear to be the priority of churchgoers.”

    Perhaps even more concerning is a recent report that 47% of Millennials agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith. We’re never supposed to shove God down anyone’s throat, but there are people all around us who are asking questions, they’re seeking meaning and purpose in life, whether or not they define their search as seeking God.

    Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and he invites us to follow him. After all,

    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

    I’m so grateful for this church. For more than thirteen decades we have been seeking and saving the lost, serving Toledo and the world. We have been local and global. We’ve had people serving as missionaries in our city and the ends of the earth. I want to challenge you with three simple yet powerful ways you can help seekers in Toledo and beyond.
    Pray. This is the primary work of God’s people. We are a praying church and I can’t imagine where we’d be without prayer. Transformation will not occur through great sermons and dynamic music alone. It comes through the power of God unleashed when we get on our knees and pray. Imagine what would happen if the Holy Spirit prompts people in Toledo like Zacchaeus to come and see, to pursue God through First Alliance Church. It has been exciting seeing new people join us, many simply because they saw our sign and beautiful campus. We pray that God would draw people to Himself. We pray for our city, its leaders, its churches, and ministries. We pray for spiritual awakening among the 500,000 souls in Northwest Ohio.

    On a global level, you can adopt an International Worker and pray for them. There’s a list of them in each week’s
    Prayer Connection which can be found both in the Information Center kiosk and in each edition of our e-newsletter, The FAC Focus. Please pray for Heather and me as we travel to Africa, not only for our health and safety but effective ministry to youth, leaders, and pastors.

    Give. Today is Great Commission Sunday. We promote the Great Commission Fund regularly because it is the way we support International Workers in The Alliance. Some groups ask individuals to do months of personal fundraising. We prefer to do the work for them so they can be involved in seeking the lost, sharing Jesus, inviting people to experience abundant life. You can give today, next week, or any week. You can put the Great Commission Fund in your estate and will, ensuring your wealth will be invested in people for eternity.
    This year The Alliance is sending 60 International Workers, the most we’ve ever sent in our history! We praise God for 60 people responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to go, but now we need people to respond to the call to support them financially through the Great Commission Fund.

    On a related global note, thank you to those who have invested in our trip next month to Burundi, Africa. I don’t know who contributed, but I can’t wait to share stories of God’s faithfulness as we train youth, leaders, and pastors next month.
    On a local level, you can also give to First Alliance Church and our Faith Missions and Home Missions partners. Our books are always open and I can assure you every dollar is spent carefully to maximize effectiveness.
    …to West Virginia or the Dominican Republic or Africa. Maybe God is calling you to leave Toledo for another state or country in the future. He does that sometimes! Maybe God is calling you to go launch a new ministry or church. I’d love to talk with you about that!
    You can go to your next door neighbor or co-worker or family member. Ask them where they are on their spiritual journey. Take them out for coffee and listen to their story. Show them love through random acts of kindness. Take a risk! It can be as simple as inviting them to…
    Dinner Church?

    I know there are some questions about Dinner Church and I want to do my best to address them now. We start with why, and it’s simply to seek and save the lost, following Jesus. He is the one who said,

    Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20)

    Who is going to set the table? We are! We are creating space for sinners, seculars, and strangers to have dinner with Jesus. He said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” What if he wasn’t speaking metaphorically?

    Although I first heard about the Dinner Church movement two years ago at a conference, it’s nearly identical to the church Heather and I started in Ann Arbor twenty years ago, Frontline. We sat at round tables, met on Sunday evenings, began with dinner, and offered a non-traditional, interactive God experience for people young and old, rich and poor, religious and non-religious. I could spend hours telling stories of the transformed lives we witnessed during those fruitful years.

    Dinner Church is not a soup kitchen, but a community meal for the mind, body, and soul. From 5-6 PM we’ll gather in the Fellowship Hall at round tables, eating together, extending hospitality to our guests, just hanging out with these masterpieces in need of God’s restoration, just like each of us needs.

    The 6 PM hour will include music and the arts, an interactive teaching, Q&A, and prayer. Kids are welcome, though we will have child care available for those who need it. The entire evening will be kid-friendly, casual, and engaging. I’m praying God brings spiritual seekers like Zacchaeus to connect with us and with Him.

    As we’ve said, this is designed for the unchurched, whether they be Christians or not. If you’re a regular on Sunday morning, we’d love for you to either serve or bring an unchurched friend. We want to make sure there’s room for God seekers.

    If you have such a friend, please prayerfully invite them. You might say, “My church is doing an experiment called Dinner Church and we’d love your feedback. Would you come as my guest and tell me what you think, kind of like a mystery shopper? We’ll even treat you to dinner!”

    Next Sunday, Cinco de Mayo, will be our sneak preview gathering. On May 26, we’ll begin meeting on the last Sunday of the month from 5-7 PM.

    Pray. Give. Go.

    What a privilege we have to join God in His work seeking and saving the lost. Amen!

    One more thing

    Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. We have the privilege of joining him in that mission, the mission of restoring masterpieces, of making disciples, of sharing good news. And according to Matthew 24:14, this is not merely good for the sake of the lost and for the sake of God, but it will hasten the return of the King.

    A New York reporter once asked Alliance founder A. B. Simpson, “Can you tell us when Jesus will return?” Simpson replied, “Yes, I will tell you, as long as you promise to print what I say word for word.” The reporter agreed, at which time Simpson quoted Matthew 24:14: “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.”

    More than 4,000 people groups have not yet had opportunity to receive and respond to Christ’s invitation to experience life with Him now and evermore. Who’s going to tell them?
    VIDEO: The Kingdom Now Snapshot

    I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for Jesus to return, but in the meantime, we’re on a mission from God! Let’s get to work, let’s follow Christ and his mission of seeking and saving the lost.

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

    Get (the) Lost! 14 April 2019

    Get (the) Lost!
    Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
    Luke 15:1-32

    Series Big Idea:
    Love is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture, yet it is at the heart of the two greatest biblical commandments: love God, love neighbor.

    Big Idea:
    We are to love everyone and perhaps the greatest way we can love someone is to introduce them to Jesus.

    This morning we’re continuing our look at the gospel or good news of Luke in our series “The Quest of the Good Shepherd.” Today we’re in Luke chapter 15 where Jesus tells three stories of something lost and found. I’ve entitled my message, “Get (the) Lost!” God’s heart is truly for the lost. If we are to love God—and love our neighbor—we are to pursue the lost and guide them toward the Good Shepherd so that they may be found and experience the amazing love of our Creator God.

    One of the Alliance core values states,

    Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

    Do you believe that? Does your life reflect that value?

    I believe every soul needs Jesus. It is not merely an obligation but actually a privilege to introduce people to the source and definition of love, Almighty God.

    Last week we were reminded of the Great Commandments: love God and love your neighbor. One of the ways in which we love God is by loving our neighbor, even when that neighbor is an enemy.

    If we truly love God, what matters to God must matter to us.

    Every person you encounter this week is masterpiece created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth.

    This Friday we will gather at 7 PM to remember God’s unbelievable love in action through the death of Jesus on the cross, an act so outrageous it is literally the definition of the word “passion.” Is it any wonder that after such a sacrifice, the LORD is

    …not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9b)

    Last Sunday we said love is not just a feeling, but a rugged commitment to another person which requires action. Love is a verb.

    Lost Things

    Have you ever lost something of value?

    I pride myself in keeping track of my stuff, ensuring that I don’t misplace or drop my keys or other such objects. So imagine my surprise when I was at a Detroit Tigers game last year and couldn’t find my phone. It’s a very old phone, but its contents are very valuable to me, especially my photos. One moment I was using my phone and seemingly moments later it was lost. I was so surprised. I had a moment of panic. My pride was squashed (not a bad thing!). What to do?

    After some discussion with people nearby, I learned it had fallen on the ground, someone took it to the lost and found, and I was able to retrieve it, safe and sound!

    I could’ve sat in my seat the entire game, waiting for my lost phone to fall out of the sky onto my lap, but that’s not how we usually find lost things! We need to take action, to search, and even pray!

    If a piece of gum fell out of my pocket or a tissue, I never would’ve gone to the trouble of finding it, but when it was something of value, it was worth the pursuit. Let me say again,

    Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

    Our text for today actually includes three stories of lost things. The first is the lost sheep.

    Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

    Then Jesus told them this parable:

    “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ (Luke 15:3-6)

    Sheep and shepherds are not popular in our culture, but the Bible is filled with them. Psalm 23 tells us the LORD is our shepherd. Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd in John chapter 10.

    The celebration is not merely for the sheep, but also for the shepherd who found the lost animal. He doesn’t simply say, “The sheep has been found,” but “I have found my lost sheep.” Sheep are not the brightest creatures on earth, and when they’re lost, there’s not much they can do to be found.

    Why would the shepherd risk the safety and well-being of ninety-nine good, healthy, “obedient” sheep to find one stray? Jesus continues,

    I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:7)

    Does this mean Christians don’t matter to God? Hardly, but our Heavenly Father will not be satisfied until all of His children are adopted, reconciled to Him, found. To further make his point, Jesus talks about a lost coin.

    “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)

    Married Jewish girls often wore a headband of ten silver coins, similar to how women in our day wear wedding rings. Losing one of the coins necessitated a search. Again, it’s not just that the coin has been found, but rejoice that “I have found,” she says.

    Are you getting the point? Angels rejoice over lost person who is found. I’m not sure how angels rejoice, but I bet they know how to throw a party! Imagine how they must’ve partied when you repented and began to follow Jesus…if you have done so.

    If the messages of the lost sheep and lost coin were unclear, the lost son—also known as the prodigal son—surely conveys God’s love for the lost.

    Jesus continued:
    “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. (Luke 15:11-12)

    “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. (Luke 15:13)

    Far or distant country didn’t just mean a place a long ways away, but Gentiles—a different worldview, a different culture.

    After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:14-16)

    “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ (Luke 15:17-19)

    So he got up and went to his father.

    “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

    It would've been unusual for the father to run. The wayward boy brought disgrace to his family and could've been stoned to death in the culture. The father running possibly kept the neighbors from stoning the boy. What a picture of Jesus on the cross!

    “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 15:21)

    “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:22-24)

    The lost son has returned home and there is a celebration. I know of several prodigals in our church family, men and women who have walked away from the faith and/or their family. The pain is heartbreaking while the prayers seem unending. I have first-hand experience with this and beg God to bring reconciliation to my family. I have the fattened calf ready to go!

    I wish the story ended here. I really do. Lost and found. Lost and found. Lost and found. But there’s more to the story of the prodigal son. It involves the ninety-nine sheep. It’s about the nine silver coins which were not lost. It’s about the older son. We might call him the good Christian boy who went to church every Sunday, never said cuss words, and got straight A’s on his homework while his brother partied until he was broke and hungry.

    “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ (Luke 15:25-27)

    “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:28-30)

    “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ” (Luke 15:31-32)

    So What?

    Family, I love you. I truly love you, and I know God loves you, too. He loves each and every one of you. He loves our brothers and sisters at Westgate Chapel, the Vineyard, the Tabernacle, Bedford Alliance, That Neighborhood Church, and Cedar Creek.

    But God also loves the lost. Jesus died for the unchurched. He sacrificed his life for atheists. His blood was shed for Muslims. His body was broken for Buddhists.

    Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. Do you? Do we?

    Perhaps there was a day when we would ring the bell and everyone would rush into our church building, but that’s clearly not the case today. Our competition is not Harvest Lane Alliance Church or Calvary Church. Our competition is the television, the golf course, the Internet, and the pillow.

    Our city is packed with people searching for hope and meaning. Some are so depressed and discouraged that they’re taking their own lives…or those of others. Countless men, women, boys, and girls feel unloved, rejected, and worthless. They are lost.

    Sure, I would love for God to appear to them in a dream and reveal His love for them—and that is happening, especially among Muslims—but more often than not God uses people like you and me to go and make disciples, to search for the lost, to introduce people to Jesus. Yes, God can use billboards and radio programs and television shows, but most people are following Jesus because a friend or family member shared their story and God’s story.

    Perhaps the greatest way we can love someone is to introduce them to Jesus.

    John Wesley said, "The church has nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore, spend and be spent in this work."

    This is so important, family, not to get more people to attend First Alliance Church, but rather to get more people into the Kingdom of God! Jesus gave us three examples of lost and found to show us his heart and our mission…our commission.

    I realize it can be difficult to just walk up to a stranger and say, “Hi! Are you lost?” I want to offer some simple, tangible next steps you can take in the next few weeks to get (the) lost!

    1. Breakthrough movie. Opens Wednesday.
    2. Easter. Next Sunday. 9:00 and 10:30 AM
    3. Dinner Church. Preview on May 5, 5-7 PM.
    4. Celebrate Recovery. Relaunches on May 8

    Before you make invitations, please do one important thing: pray. Pray about who to invite. Pray for the person to accept the invitation. Pray for the Holy Spirit to open their eyes to the truth and their heart to Jesus.

    Lets’ get (the) lost!

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

    Reach, 23 September 2018

    Series: FAC-DNA
    Acts 17:24-28

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

    Big Idea:
     Do we have eyes to see People on the Move, People Overlooked, and People Lacking Access?

    One of my favorite songs as a kid was about a wee little man. Have you heard this one?

    Zacchaeus was a wee little man, And a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree For the Lord he wanted to see.
    And as the Savior passed that way He looked up in the tree and he said,  'Zacchaeus you come down, For I'm going to your house today!' For I'm going to your house today!
    The nineteenth chapter of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, a man so short he climbed a tree to see Jesus as he was Jesus passed through a crowd in Jericho.

    When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (Luke 19:5-6)

    Did I mention Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector? Imagine an IRS agent who works on commission…and can charge whatever he wants. Needless to say, he was not popular with the people, especially the religious people. Why is Jesus giving this guy the time of day? This is a hated man, the scum of the earth.

    All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)

    Who was upset? All the people! Jesus, do you know who this guy is? He has robbed us all? I wonder if they intentionally pushed Zacchaeus away from Jesus, forcing him to climb the tree for a better view.

    But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

    That was an incredible promise! This guy cheated everybody…out of most everything they had! How could he pay back four times the amount? It actually doesn’t matter, because he’s not the key character in this story.

    Jesus said to him,
    “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)

    My name is Kirk and we’re in the middle of series addressing the “why” question of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, our global family. Why do we exist? What’s in our DNA? The Zacchaeus story shows us why Jesus came to earth—to seek and to save the lost.

    He didn’t come to start a new religion.
    He didn’t come to win a preaching contest.
    He didn’t come to give us a list of rules to follow.
    He didn’t even come for the righteous and holy people of his day.

    He came to seek and to save the lost. This is expressed beautifully in one of the core values of The Alliance.

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

    If Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and he asks us to follow him, what should we do? We should seek and save the lost! Obviously, we can’t save them, but we can point the way to salvation, to the cross, to the empty tomb, to Jesus the Messiah. We can let them know about the King and His reign.

    It’s interesting to note this year The Alliance has done regional events called
    Seek. They are all about us seeking God, yet it was God who first sought us. Jesus’ mission was to go and seek the lost.

    Seek is a verb. It’s an action verb. It’s hard to seek in the La-Z-Boy unless you are seeking a tv show with your remote control! It’s hard to find something lost by relaxing on the beach or lying in bed. You need to go. We need to go. We’ve said throughout this series we’re guided by the Great Commandment (love God and love your neighbor as yourself) and the Great Commission…go and make disciples. Some have translated it “as you are going, make disciples.” In either case, we love God and others by reaching out to the hurting, the broken, and the lost.

    The “why” is to glorify and obey God.

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

    But how? In the first two weeks of this series, we heard Alliance president, Dr. John Stumbo, talk about love and proclaim. We are to proclaim good news with love. Everything we do should be done with love—"a rugged commitment to be with another person, to be for another person, and to grow together in Christ-likeness” as Scot McKnight likes to say. It’s not just a feeling, but involves action, presence, advocacy, and transformation. That transformation comes through the proclamation of the gospel with word and deed as we show and tell. Here’s Dr. Stumbo on our third verb:

    Stumbo video transcript:

    I’m calling us to three things when I say reach. Reaching the overlooked. In every community, there’s somebody being missed. I experienced it when I was in a wheelchair that often the disabled are overlooked. And for some communities it’s the deaf. For some it might be children. For some it’s senior citizens.
    I don’t know who it is that’s being missed in your community. It might be the immigrant who’s come to your town. Would you ask God to give you eyes to see and to reach those who are currently being overlooked, missed, in your own community?
    Reaching not only the overlooked but also those that are
    on the move. Never before in human history have there been so many people in transition, no longer living in the home of their origin. And when we first started speaking of this four years ago, it was just seeming to arise as a significant worldwide trend. And now it’s amazing how many people are in transition, and some of those have come to your community.
    And I challenge us to be people who reach those who are overlooked and not get so caught up in the political wrangling on so many issues that center around immigration that we miss the simple fact that The Alliance from pre-day one—Dr. Simpson, in his earliest days in New York City—[has been] ministering to the immigrant. And so who are we to think that we’ve grown past that or that our issues are more complicated this day and age, so we can forget that? Friends, let’s reach those who are on the move.
    And thirdly, under that category of reach, I’m concerned there’s still people that do not have access to the gospel of Jesus, and so . . . reaching the overlooked, those on the move, and
    those lacking access.
    This is a justice issue, is it not? Is it not unjust that you can still live in this world and still not know that forgiveness is available to you? You don’t have to accept that message, but to not even know that the Christ has come to provide that? It’s not satisfactory, it’s not good enough. So, happily, you’re part of a family that’s doing something about it. You’re part of a family that is reaching those [who] are lacking access, and I’m continuing to ask the Alliance family to engage further in that process.
    Let me state again,
    • Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. Luke 19:10

    As the classic songs says, “I once was lost/But now am found.” Hallelujah! Someone reached out to you and me. Someone loved us. Someone proclaimed good news to us. In many cases, it was a family member.

    Perhaps it was a friend.

    We’ve been blessed in this nation to have a robust history of faith. Although Christians in this country have not always acted like Jesus, religious freedom in our great land has made it possible to have access to the Bible. We even have Christian radio stations and television stations and thousands of books and videos to help us find God and grow in our relationship with Him.

    But it’s easy to take that access for granted. It’s easy to assume everyone knows about Jesus, his death, his resurrection, his love, and his coming return. The truth is, there are people in our city and around the world who have no clue they are loved. They only know Jesus as a swear word, if at all. They know nothing of grace, forgiveness, joy, or hope. And like Jesus’ pursuit of Zacchaeus, it is a privilege for us to reach out.

    Paul spoke…

    “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. (Acts 17:24-26)

    There is so much packed into this paragraph. In fact, Heather and I stood on the very place in Athens, Greece where Paul spoke to a group of Greek philosophers and leaders at a place called Mars Hill or the Areopagus. As I often say, our faith is based upon historical events and real people.

    God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:27-28)

    We need to reach out to others because God reached out to us. It’s not hard to find people in need of God’s love and our love. It used to be expected that people in our nation would spend Sunday mornings attending a worship gathering like ours here today. As fewer and fewer people are exposed to the gospel—the good news—they are remarkably unaware of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Put another way, our world, our nation, our city is filled with unreached peoples. They’re right here! You don’t need a passport to reach the nations. They’re in line with you at Kroger, they’re pumping gas beside you, they live on your street. Will you reach out? Will you offer them a smile? A cup of coffee? Jesus the Messiah?


    As much as I want to challenge you to reach out to the overlooked, people on the move, and those lacking access, I want to offer some encouragement.

    As a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, we have been actively involved in reaching our Jerusalem—Toledo—as well as our Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. For thirteen decades we have been reaching out to the overlooked, those on the move, and those lacking access. Through the Great Commission Fund, Envision trips, overseas projects, partners like Water for Ishmael, Cherry Street Mission and the After School Klub, and spiritual conversations we are living out our mission and calling. It is such an honor and privilege to serve such a vibrant church committed to outreach…reaching out. And we’re just getting started!

    But I want to add as a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, we’re also committed to reaching in. We need both. In almost thirty years of vocational ministry, I can never remember being a part of a church with so much grief, loss, hospitalizations, and suffering. For whatever reason, we are in a season of pain and trial, pruning, reflection…yet I continue to hear stories of our family members loving and serving one another. Hospital visits, cards, meals, prayers…we are a family of love and I’m humbled and blessed to be a part of it. Family first.

    But healthy families grow. It’s a both/and. We want more and better family members. It’s not about building the Alliance family or the FAC family, but rather God’s family, God Kingdom. We want to enhance the quality and quantity of God’s family, God’s Kingdom.

    We are to love.
    We are to proclaim.
    We are to reach.

    Will you join us?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Proclaim, 9 September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family

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

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

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

    Acts 1:8 says

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

    We exist to obey and worship and glorify Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

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


    The “why” is to glorify and obey God.

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

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

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

    Stumbo video transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Paul wrote,

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

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

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

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

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

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

    So What?

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

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

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

    Family, loving God, loving others as we love ourselves, and make disciples necessitates proclamation. Good news needs to be shared. Will you proclaim?
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • 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.
  • Sent: Preaching & Anointing

    Sent: Preaching & Anointing
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:6-29

    Series Big Idea:
    The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Following Jesus is radical and dangerous…but worth it!


    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. According to the Declaration of Independence, these are our unalienable Rights endowed to us by our Creator. Despite its countless flaws, I love the United States, but Thomas Jefferson’s words are not taken from the Bible. In fact, following Jesus may result in the loss of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…but it will be worth it.

    Today we continue our look at Jesus from Mark’s biography of him. Last week we saw Jesus’ amazement at the lack of faith among those in his hometown of Nazareth. The text continues…

    Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. (Mark 6:6)

    I want to pause and analyze Jesus’ leadership. Contrary to popular belief, leadership is more than a title or position. At its core, leadership is influence. We all have some influence on others. The best leaders do not merely have followers, but rather they develop leaders. Perhaps my favorite verse describing this comes to Timothy from his mentor Paul:

    And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2)

    Four generations are found in one verse: Paul, Timothy, reliable people who teach others.

    Here’s Jesus’ model as outlined by Dave Ferguson in his book

    1. I do. You watch. Jesus was teaching and healing and the disciples observed.

    2. I do. You help. At some point Jesus told them he had a purpose for them beyond companionship. He wanted them involved, helping.

    3. You do. I help. We talk.
    This is the point of action. The baton is being passed; not thrown, but passed. Debriefing is important, too. Feedback can be so valuable, especially when we are doing something new.

    4. You do. I watch. We talk.
    Not the leader does not assist except to coach afterward.

    5. You do. Someone else watched.
    Now the student becomes the teacher, the apprentice is the leader. Things have come full circle.

    This process works if you are teaching your kids how to load the dishwasher, training your apprentice small group leader, or equipping a new employee at the office.

    John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus who is preparing his twelve disciples to transform the world…without cable tv, Twitter, or even the newspaper.

    Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. (Mark 6:7)

    It sounds like Noah’s ark, doesn’t it, two by two? It’s not good for man to be alone, God said after creating Adam. There’s strength in numbers. A partner helps protect against the dangers of temptation and attack. Who does two by two well? The Mormans and JW’s! They have it mastered, undoubtedly drawing their inspiration for this verse. If only the entire Bible was followed as carefully by them. Notice Jesus gave them authority. He equipped them. He didn’t shove them out the door and say, “Good luck!”

    These were his instructions:
    “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. (Mark 6:8-9)

    They are to travel light. They can’t even run to the ATM and get some cash! He wants them focused on the mission and dependent upon God for daily bread. Personal comforts are not a priority for Jesus. Now this is not meant to be a universal plan for missions work. Today we raise money to provide for ministries around the world, but this particular mission was dependent upon the hospitality of others.

    Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.
    (Mark 6:10)

    I want to suggest perhaps Jesus is saying, “Get to know the people. Build relationships. Don’t rush off. Preach repentance. Drive out demons. Heal the sick. You’ve seen me do it. Now it’s your turn.”

    And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
    (Mark 6:11)

    This is an odd instruction in our culture, but he’s saying if they ignore you, let them know the consequences. Let them know judgment would eventually fall on them…they’ve been warned. The disciples were commissioned to preach repentance, to urge people to turn from their selfish desires and follow God. Repent means to turn, to do a 180. Not everyone is eager stop what they’re doing and surrender to Jesus. This is obviously just as true today. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but to make dead people come alive…but first they must die…to themselves. This is where I struggle with Thomas Jefferson. I’m not against life, liberty or happiness—nor is God—but those are not God’s highest values for us. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, submit to Jesus as LORD, and pick up our cross and follow him. It is not always easy, fun, or comfortable.

    I get worried when I see Christianity sold to USAmericans as just another self-help alternative. Pray this prayer and God will make you happy. Have enough faith and you’ll be rich. The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. UGH! What garbage!

    Jesus gave up everything—including his own life—and he asks us to do the same…because it will be worth it in the end. He doesn’t promise is safety and comfort and pleasure now. We have work to do. We are in the middle of a war…between good and evil. So many so-called Christians are lounging by the pool unaware there’s a battle on the other side of the gate. Look around, friends.

    Heroin. Sex trafficking. Racism. Hunger. Homelessness. Violence. Hatred. Injustice.

    Jesus didn’t come and die so we could sit in comfy seats for an hour a week with our nice leather-bound Bibles and fancy clothes…and I’m not against any of those things. But following Jesus must take precedent over life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Kingdoms collide.

    One final thought on this verse: we are not to coerce, threaten, entice, or pressure people to follow Jesus. The command for the twelve was to preach repentance, to invite people to turn from their pleasure to seek God’s kingdom. And if they don’t listen, move on.

    They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:12-13)

    They did it. They obeyed Jesus. The miracles authenticated their message. I wish I had a recording of their conversation with Jesus afterward. The stories must’ve been amazing! God obviously provided despite their lack of provisions. Ministry was accomplished. Lives were changed. The twelve began to get a glimpse of what it truly meant to proclaim truth and follow God.

    And then Mark inserts a bizarre flashback, a story that reminds us the risks of obeying God.

    King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Mark 6:14)

    Herod hears rumors about Jesus and begins to think perhaps John the Baptist was back, resurrected.

    Others said, “He is Elijah.” 

    And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

    But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” (Mark 6:15-16)

    Remember, the central question in our series is, “Who is Jesus?” Herod thinks the only one who can preach with authority and heal is John, whom he beheaded! He killed John but has enough faith to believe in the resurrection, even though John was still dead! Yet he does nothing to pursue Jesus.

    For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:17-20)

    Herod liked John the Baptist even though John spoke out against the king’s marriage. He married Herodias, his niece, who is already the wife of his half brother, according to scholars. It’s rather confusing because Herod was a family name, not one man’s name. This was not Herod the Great. This was his son, Herod Antipas. He was banished to southern France by AD 39 and his kingdom was given to Herodias’ brother Agrippa. Mark calling him “King” Herod was ironic and sly.

    Let me be radical and politically incorrect and say despite what some say, our culture does not believe any two people in love should be able to marry. What if one is a minor? What if one is a relative (eww!)? What about polygamy? Then again, it may just be a matter of time.

    Herodias hates John because he criticized her marriage, likely a plot of hers to gain power by marrying Herod.

    Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. (Mark 6:21-22a)

    This was not some Chuck E. Cheese birthday party. Jews saw birthdays as pagan celebrations, and this occasion was filled with paganism: dancing girls at a stag party, a drunken king, …you get the idea. Most likely the amoral Herodias sent her teen daughter to perform erotically for her uncle and these other powerful men.

    The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” (Mark 6:22b-23)

    This must’ve been quite a dance! Herod actually can’t give half of the kingdom away because he’s merely a puppet of Rome. Jesus, however, gives his disciples the power of the kingdom of God which brings healing and salvation.

    She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” 

    “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered. (Mark 6:24)

    At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Mark 6:25)

    I’ve played that genie game many times, the one where you ask, “If you could have three wishes, what would they be?” I’ve never heard someone mention a person’s head on a platter!

    The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:26-29)

    What an incredible story.

    So What?

    What do we do with it? Be careful what you ask for!

    It might seem odd, but look what Mark says next.

    The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

    This is the only time Mark calls the twelve “apostles.” They are sent ones who have completed a commission. It seems like Mark is connecting the dots between John, Jesus, and the disciples. Their mission to preach repentance is the same. Their fate as martyrs is the same. They are hated like the prophets of old. David Garland notes that “what happened to John the Baptizer presages what will also happen to any who preach the same message of repentance in a hostile world. They too will be handed over. They too will have to stand before kings. While Jesus’ ministry began after John’s imprisonment, the disciples’ preaching begins after John’s death.”

    Paradoxically, this is how the kingdom of God has grown for thousands of years. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Kierkegaard stated, “The tyrant dies and his rule ends, the martyr dies and his rule begins.” Mark shows us a cowardly man, Herod, with wealth and no character. He also shows us brave men with character and no wealth. One enjoys life now, the others for eternity.

    A choice must be made. Following Jesus is risky business. Sure, we’re blessed with tremendous freedoms in this nation today, but tomorrow offers us no such guarantees. One report I read this past week said a Christian was killed every six minutes last year for their faith. Over 90,000 of our brothers and sisters, slaughtered for following Jesus. That doesn’t include those arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.

    It’s a radical thought, but might God be preparing you for a life of suffering, of radical living, of dangerous adventure for the sake of eternity? Jesus never promised us a successful career, good health, or a stocked 401k. He never said obedience would result in popularity, comfort and pleasure. Jesus taught and modeled the denial of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the glory of God, for the kingdom of God.

    Credits: some ideas from Stephen Leston, Mark Strauss, Ian Fair, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Messenger: John the Baptist, 30 April 2017

    Messenger: John the Baptist
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:1-8

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: John prepared the way for Jesus’ coming…and so can we.

    Holy Spirit

    Last night I returned from the Missio Alliance conference near Washington DC. It was a great opportunity to connect with new and old friends, hear from world-renown theologians, and be reminded of the most misunderstood member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

    If you are a follower of Jesus, you were given the Holy Spirit. God dwells within you. What an amazing reality, one we often forget. I have much to say at a later date about the Holy Spirit, but for now I simply want to welcome and acknowledge the Spirit’s presence here.

    Would you please take a moment of silence and pray, inviting the Holy Spirit to open your heart to the Word of God and to give me words to speak?


    Many years ago, I heard about this new rock group that allegedly had one or more Christians in it named Bourgeois Tagg. They were the opening act for singer Robert Palmer’s concert at Pine Knob, now DTE Music Theatre in metro Detroit. Some friends of mine asked if I wanted to go to the show, not to see the headliner, but to check out the opening act. We all liked their performance, and before I knew it we were backstage meeting the band! It was surreal for a teenager to be backstage with rock stars! They were excited to have fans thousands of miles from their Sacramento home. It was a memorable night for all of us.

    Over the years I’ve spent enough time talking with touring musicians to know being an opening act can be a tough gig. You usually stand between the fans and the headliner. It can be great exposure for a new artist, but it can also be a struggle.

    Have you ever been an opening act? Maybe you played on the junior varsity team before the varsity team took the court or field. Perhaps you introduced a keynote speaker at a big event, aware that people did not come to see you!

    Today we’re going to look at Jesus’ opening act, his cousin John.


    In Jesus’ day, a messenger would precede the arrival of any important person. Today, the media lets us know if a rock star, celebrity, or politician is coming to town. Imagine a world without the Internet, TV, radio, or even newspapers. Messengers would ensure the roads were in good repair (good luck in Toledo!), make arrangements for food and lodging, and announce the arrival of the dignitary. This is what John did for Jesus.

    Last week we looked at the first verse of the book of Mark in our quest to discover the real Jesus. Charles Carter told me if we take one verse each week we’ll be studying the book for more than ten years! Today we’ll tackle seven more verses, but first, let’s review verse one:

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)

    Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He is God. Jesus is 100% and 100% human. This book is the gospel—or good news—of Mark. Jesus is the gospel. The gospel is Jesus is LORD.

    The comma at the end of the verse is not a typo. The sentence continues in verse 2:

    as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: 
    “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way” — 
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
    ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’ ” (Mark 1:2-3)

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the reasons I trust Jesus is the hundreds of prophecies he fulfilled. This is actually a collection of three different Old Testament books—Exodus (23:20), Malachi (3:1), and Isaiah (40:3). These writings said hundreds of years before the birth of Christ a messenger would come before Jesus. John the Baptist is that messenger.

    And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)

    Were there baptism before Christian baptism? Yes!

    In first-century Judaism, people would cleanse themselves according to the book of Leviticus when they were impure from things such as touching a leper or a corpse. Later, when Gentiles converted to Judaism, the meaning of baptism was extended as a sign of the covenant given to Abraham.

    This does not fully explain John’s “baptism of repentance.” One group at Qumran, the people known for creating the Dead Sea scrolls, believed a person could not become clean if they disobeyed God’s commandments. Their manual stated,

    "For it is through the spirit of God's true counsel concerning the ways of man that all his sins be expiated, and when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water, it shall be made clean by the humble submission of his soul to all the precepts of God."

    To enter their community, one would need to “go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, ‘Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a path for our God.” The wilderness is key in Jewish history, the place where they were tested, where they rebelled against God, and where they sinned and repented.

    John preached repentance, urging people to turn away from their sins. To repent is to turn away, to do a 180. The Greek word is “metanoia” and means a change of mind or direction. John was preaching of the need for people to change, to get off the throne of their lives and surrender to God. He was obviously very effective.

    The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:5)

    People traveled to see this preacher. It had been more than 300 years since a prophet was active in Israel. They were convicted of their sins, confessed them, and were immersed in water, in the Jordan River.

    Water is a powerful image throughout the Bible. It begins at creation, as God separates the waters from the earth. It covers the earth during the days of Noah. God miraculously parts the sea through Moses, allowing the people to walk on dry ground with water on either side. Huge crowds of people (the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem; not literally, of course!) were visiting John. He must’ve been quite popular. As opening acts go, he was developing his own fan base, perhaps partly because of his appearance.

    John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:6)

    Just think about that for a moment! Notice the detail. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four, a book of headlines. When you vivid descriptions, don’t miss them. John is quite the fashion statement! There’s more than meets the eye. This description is similar to that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). His unusual diet was part of the prophetic tradition. Locusts were kosher. But remember, he had a greater mission, to prepare the way of the LORD. He was a messenger.

    It’s interesting to note there were other messengers announcing Jesus’ arrival. Old Testament prophets predicted it. The angel Gabriel told Mary. Now John is the messenger.

    Let’s not forget John had a messenger, too. The angel Gabriel first appeared to John’s father, Zechariah, to announce his birth. This was a big deal since John’s parents were elderly, surprised, and somewhat doubtful about having a son. We have messengers all over the stories of John and his six-month younger cousin, Jesus.

    And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. Mark 1:7

    John knows he’s just the opening act. He’s preparing the way. He’s getting people ready for the coming of the Messiah. Despite his popularity as the first prophet in 300 years, he humbly acknowledges his role as messenger and the arrival of someone much greater.

    I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

    Baptize means to immerse, to overwhelm, to submerge. This is what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives. As John prepares the way for Jesus, Jesus prepares the way for the Holy Spirit. Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus said

    But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

    Have you ever wished Jesus was here? Me too! Jesus said it was good for Him to leave, though, to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us—all of us. Do you trust Jesus? He prepared the way for the Holy Spirit, a wonderful gift available to all of us who surrender to the Spirit.

    Now catch this! Jesus said

    Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

    I want to give you an assignment for this series. As we go through the book of Mark, think about what it would mean for us to do what Jesus is doing in the text.

    Let’s review:

    Gabriel announces the births of John and Jesus
    John prepares the way for Jesus first coming
    Jesus prepares the way for the Holy Spirit
    The Holy Spirit fills us.
    We are invited to prepare the way for Jesus’ second coming
    We are called to be messengers. We are to prepare the way for the return of the King. We are to announce His arrival.

    I know the idea of being a messenger for Jesus may sound scary or weird. What do we do, go door-to-door and tell everyone to get ready for Jesus? That’s one way to do it! Perhaps another way is to stop, be still, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the name of a person, pray for them, and ask the Spirit for an opportunity to talk with them about Jesus. Here are a few simple starter questions:

    Do you believe in God? Why or why not?
    Who is Jesus?
    Who is Jesus to you?
    Where are you at on your spiritual journey?
    When have you felt the most loved?

    When it comes to proclaiming the truth of Jesus, it should never feel forced. We’re not sales people for Jesus, getting others to sign up for church membership or fire insurance. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit to guide us, to lead us, to allow us to re-present God in word and deed to our world. It’s not about us. We’re just the opening act. We’re only the messengers preparing the way for the coming of the King of kings, Jesus Christ. We are privileged to let the whole world see our risen King!

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Vision Sunday, 5 March 2017

    Vision Sunday
    Matthew 28:18-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

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

    Love God
    Love your neighbor

    And he has given us one mission

    Make Disciples

    Simple? Yes.
    Easy? No.

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

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

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

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

    Are you still with me?

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

    1. Toledo

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

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

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

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

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

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

    2. The Next Generation

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

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

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

    When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
    The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:19-22)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    So What?

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

    The next generation needs Jesus.

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

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

    Will you join me?

  • You can listen to messages at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Toledo: Get Ready, 28 August 2016

    Toledo: Get Ready
    7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
    Revelation 1:1-8

    Series Overview

    Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

    Message Overview

    Toledo is not mentioned in the Bible, but we are a part of the universal Church. How are we like the seven churches in Revelation? What is Jesus saying to us in 2016? Our baptistery has been empty. Who will be an advocate for the lost? The focus will be on hospitality and outreach: pray, serve, share.

    Big Idea

    Jesus loves Toledo and is alive and active in our city inviting us to join him.


    Welcome to First Alliance Church. The Bible often refers to the Church as the Bride of Christ. For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at Jesus’ words to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. We examined…

    • - Ephesus (First Love)
    • - Smyrna (Persecution)
    • - Pergamum (False Teaching)
    • - Thyatira (Sexual Sin)
    • - Sardis (Wake Up)
    • - Philadelphia (Faithful)
    • - Laodicea (Lukewarm)

    Each week in the series we’ve tried to apply the messages of these seven ancient churches to our own lives, church, and city…which begs the question,

    “What is God saying to us in Toledo?”

    This series has focused on the second and third chapters of Revelation. Today I want to go to the beginning, back to chapter one. It begins

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

    As we have often said, First Alliance Church is about Jesus. We do not exist to make a name for our church, for the Christian & Missionary Alliance (our denomination), or even Toledo. We are all about Jesus Christ. He is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King.

    Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

    Do you want be blessed? Read God’s Word. Study it. Read it aloud, it says. Most of all, obey it. Put it into practice. Take to heart what is written in it. This is true not only for the book of Revelation but the entire Bible.


    To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

    Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Revelation 1:4-5a)

    As we said, Jesus speaks to John who writes the book of Revelation.

    To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5b-6)

    There’s so much here! Jesus has freed us from our sins. Hallelujah!

    Jesus has made us to be a kingdom and priests. We are all called to be ambassadors of Jesus to our city and world.

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

    Jesus will return and all will see him. What a day that will be!

    “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

    This is our God. He is Almighty. He transcends time and space. He has always been. He is. He will always be. Our God is truly awesome.

    Revelation 7:9-10

    If we skip ahead several chapters, we get a glimpse of what appears to be the future:

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

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

    We are on God’s mission to make disciples of all nations. What a privilege! What a responsibility! How are doing?

    Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. All of life is about relationships. I like to think of it like a triangle:

    UP: relationship to God
    IN: relationship to one another (the church)
    OUT: relationship to the world

    I’ve been at First Alliance Church for less than a year. I have made a conscious decision to spend this first year listening, learning, and making as few major decisions as possible. People have asked me what my vision is for our church and I’ve said

    1. a. It’s not about my vision, it’s about God’s vision. Jesus is our Senior Pastor
    2. b. I need to know where we are before I can imagine a destination

    Therefore, what I’m about to say is preliminary. This is my sense of what Jesus is saying to First Alliance Church. This is not “thus saith the LORD” and is not to be taken as scripture. Would you like to hear it?

    “To the angel of the church in Toledo write:

    These are the words of the Son of God, who has a throne in front of what looks like a sea of glass.

    Did you catch that, Glass City?!

    I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance. I know you love Me. You are faithful in worship, generous with your money, and eager to serve. You eat together (as evidenced at last week’s picnic) and fellowship together on Sundays and in small groups. Your UP and IN relationships are commendable.

    Nevertheless, I have this against you: Your passion for the lost is weak. Sure, some of you reach OUT, but you went two years without a baptism and there are those right outside your doors desperate for salvation, hope, and healing. Go and make disciples!

    Allow me to elaborate.
    UP: relationship to God

    I believe our church truly loves God. Many of you have been faithfully attending on Sunday mornings for years, even decades. For more than twelve decades we have been worshipping in UpTown Toledo, praying, giving financially, and committed to the Word of God.

    One part of our church’s story is the creative arts. God is an artist and we were created in His image. We have had choirs, orchestras, handbells, and bands along with drama, musicals, and even this building which I believe is a work of art. We are geographically on the Avenue of the Arts next to one of the nation’s greatest art museums just blocks for dozens of art galleries. For years we have even trained future artists at our summer arts camp. I’m excited to announce today a new addition to our team to help enhance our worship. Charlie Flack has been hired as our Creative Arts Consultant. His part-time role will include mentoring Hayden Bewley, our outstanding young worship intern, and developing other artistic ministries such as tech and video. Our elders initiated the idea earlier this month after Charlie blessed us as a guest worship leader and we are thrilled to welcome him.

    I might add we have a growing staff, though only two of us—Josh and myself—are full-time. God has blessed us with an incredible staff whose job is NOT to do the ministry, but rather to equip the saints (that’s you!) for the ministry.

    IN: relationship to one another (the church)

    Our church loves one another. Truly! One of my four prayers for us is unity and I’ve experienced a sense of oneness during my months here. Heather and I deeply love being a part of this family…and if you’re new around here, welcome! I might add these gatherings are vital, but the real connections occur in groups: Sunday School, Bible studies, and small groups. If you’re not in one, you’re missing out on possibly the richest dimension of First Alliance. There’s a list of groups at the Information Center in the lobby.

    By the way, I love our groups. I love when they relate UP to God. I love when they relate IN to one another. Today I want to challenge every group to do some kind of OUT activity. Throw a party, serve at Cherry Street Mission, set up a prayer booth,…do anything that will help you build relationships with the unchurched. Do it once a month, once a quarter…once a year!

    Which leads us to

    OUT: relationship to the world

    Making disciples ideally begins in the home, but today in our city so many are growing up with no understanding of God and His love. Our church has chosen to be in the city of Toledo, even when others fled to the suburbs. We are uniquely positioned in UpTown to reach out to not only the underprivileged but also the up-and-coming artists and young professionals who will become our neighbors over the next few years. Would you like a sneak preview of what’s ahead?


    Sue Trumbull is an exception leader leading an exceptional team of people committed to children’s ministry. Each Sunday they love kids during Sunday School and the worship hour. They produce special events. They have Wednesday night programs for students. And then there’s sports and arts camp.

    For months people told me about sports and arts camp…and then I experienced it. Wow! It was so exciting to see dozens of kids from the neighborhood exposed to faith, hope and love. It may have been the best week of the year for me.

    But then I began to think about the 51 weeks until next summer’s camp. So many of the seeds scattered will surely be snatched up or choked by the weeds and rocks of this world. What can we do to build lasting relationships with these precious children?

    I’m glad you asked! First, the After School Klub (ASK) starts up again in October serving many of these kids two days a week. That’s great! I praise God for everyone involved in Toledo Urban Impact and the After School Klub.

    Recently Charles Carter has had a burden to get these kids here on Sunday mornings. Imagine what a difference it would be to go from one week to 52 Sundays a year. We need two things to make this happen: more children’s ministry workers and van drivers to pick up the kids. Is God calling you to invest in the next generation? They need you!

    We are also in conversations with the local YMCA about ways we can expand our partnership. They assist with sports and arts camp but we could do so much more for these kids if we work together.

    Perhaps the most exciting development is Keep Watch: Praying for the Hearts of Our Children. I don’t know how this is even possible in our day of political correctness, but we’ve been invited to pray in and through Rosa Parks School on Cherry Street once a week. This pre-school through grade eight school has 250 students who test in the lowest 5% of all students in Ohio. The principal, Ms. Richburg, is asking for us to adopt her school, read to students, encourage teachers, and pray…pray in the school! This seems like an incredible opportunity for us, an opportunity that could close in the future if TPS staffing changes.

    Imagine if we had weekly—even semi-weekly—influence on the lives of children in our city? It could literally change our city. Studies show kids are far more likely to follow Jesus than unchurched adults. We have a unique invitation to build relationships with those outside our church family, extending God’s love and hospitality.


    Speaking of relationships and hospitality, we have been working hard to enhance our hospitality—welcoming the stranger, the guest, the newcomer—on Sunday mornings. However, long before I arrived at First Alliance a group of people realized no matter how dynamic our gatherings in this building, many in Toledo will never walk through our doors. We need to go to them. In fact, Jesus said

    “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

    He said go! He didn’t say, “Ring the bell and watch everyone come to church.” He said to go under his authority into the world and make disciples.

    After some considerable, unavoidable delays, we are weeks—maybe days—from opening CLARO Coffee Bar, our new hospitality ministry in UpTown at Adams and 18
    th. Many have asked how we intend on using this space for ministry and the answer is simple: relationships. We are intentionally creating space for spiritual conversations. This means listening, learning, and loving. Christians are, unfortunately, known for monologue rather than dialog. Whether it’s fair or not, many picture a guy with a megaphone rather than someone truly concerned for their welfare.

    CLARO will be serving amazing coffee and tea. It will be staffed by caring, friendly baristas seeking to develop friendships with guests, not just taking orders from customers. Tables will be open for you to engage with people, listening to their story, and sharing yours. I heard someone talking about putting tracts or leaflets in the bathroom and my first thought was to use them in dialog with a person, not monolog on a sink. We want people building relationships with us, not a toilet!

    Research indicates the longer someone is a follower of Jesus, the fewer unchurched friends they have, which makes sense on one hand but is unfortunate. We are to be salt and light in our dark world. We must always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus…but it begins with relationships.

    How many unchurched people do you know? How many of your neighbors can you name? When is the last time you had a meal with a non-Christian?

    OUT need not be scary or painful. Buy someone a cup of coffee. Go to Rosa Parks school and pray. Throw a Labor Day party and invite your neighbors. Join a local parks and rec team. Become a conversation partner with an international student through Water for Ishmael. Serve with Cherry Street Mission or Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission.

    I’ll make this extremely simple: pray, invite, and listen. Pray for your unchurched friends—or pray FOR unchurched friends—and invite them over for a meal or out for a cup of coffee. And listen. Don’t make them your project. Don’t preach to them. Just love them like a human being. Have fun with them. Be a friend to them. Ask them about their spiritual journey.

    If and when it seems appropriate, invite them to the Alpha Course…or Sunday morning here. This fall we’re doing a six week series entitled, “What happens when you die?” It’s about heaven. We’ll talk about hell, too, but people are fascinated with heaven. Movies have been made about it. Best-selling books talk about it. We all have questions about it, but we’re going to look at what the Bible actually says (and doesn’t say) about heaven. But it all begins with conversations, with friendships, with intentionally reaching OUT.


    Months ago I sensed God saying two words to me regarding our church: Get Ready. We are equipping leaders, building our staff, and preparing for a great harvest. The cobwebs are off the baptistery and I hope we fill it often. God is blessing us with incredible opportunities to connect with children and our UpTown neighbors. Get ready, church. Get on your knees. Pray and invite…and make disciples for the glory of God.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Be Prepared! 11 October 2015

    Be Prepared!
    Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 3:8-17

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

    Big Idea: Always be ready to give a reason for the hope you have in Jesus.


    This morning we continue our series on 1 Peter, “What In The World Is Going On?” This short letter to the early, suffering church is a powerful message not only to an ancient people but is increasing relevant to modern Christians as we face persecution. We may never face the horrors of ISIS victims, but nevertheless we can—and perhaps should—feel in the minority as followers of Jesus in a world consumed with money, sex and power. The theme of this book may well be called hope and grace in the midst of suffering. We’ve looked at hope, holiness, and harmony. Then we looked at the unpopular word of submission, first at the marketplace, then at home, and today in the church.

    Before we dive into today’s text, however, I want to acknowledge the elephant in the room. This is my last Sunday as your pastor, something that affects me deeply, far beyond words. I’ll talk a bit about that later, but being this is my final Scio sermon, i thought it might be a great opportunity to briefly share some of my favorite passages of scripture, concluding with 1 Peter 3:8-17. This is not my greatest hits but what I think are some of the Bible’s greatest hits!

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

    If I could only tell you one thing, that’s it. That’s my life verse. Make Jesus LORD. Submit—there’s that word—everything to God. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. It’s not just praying a prayer. It’s not just studying a book. It’s knowing, loving, and obeying God. Trust is not easy, but Daddy knows best. He is good and faithful.

    The second passage—or passages—are found in John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    Belief requires action. It’s not simply mental agreement, but authentic faith. Jesus said the two greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor…and one way we love God is by loving our neighbor. 1 John 3:16 says

    This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

    I have been delighted to both see and receive this love at Scio. There are some incredibly generous, servant-hearted people in the Scio family and that’s fantastic. The first series I did almost five years ago was a continuation of a series about “one another.” The greatest of all of them was to love one another. Peter said it a few weeks ago in our text

    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. (1 Peter 1:22)

    The next passage I want to share was preached by our previous District Superintendent, Jeff Brown, at my pastoral installation. The simple message: be filled with the Holy Spirit.

    Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

    When you receive Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too. Many feel they can’t come to Jesus until they clean up their act. Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus is a friend of sinners. He died to show His love and grace and provide forgiveness so we can know our Holy Father. The Holy Spirit—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead—is available to all followers of Jesus.

    And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)

    The Holy Spirit—when we confess our sins and exhale the junk and then inhale the Spirit—fills us with beautiful fruit.

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

    Now we turn to Scio’s mission. My first words to you as pastor were…why are you here? There are many answers to that question—if we’re honest—but here’s our purposes in existing:

    We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 
    • serving our communities
    • sharing our story
    • sending disciples to bless the nations

    so that God is glorified.
    The Great Commandment is to love God and love your neighbor. The Great Commission was spoken before Jesus ascended into heaven.
    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

    Make disciples. Of all nations. Reproduce the life of Jesus in others. Fill this world with people who look like Jesus, who act like Jesus, who love like Jesus, who know Jesus.

    Great! So how do we make disciples? How do we become disciples? Today’s passage offers a secret.

    1 Peter 3:8…

    Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. (3:8)

    If I had one challenge for you, Scio, one verse upon which to meditate and practice it could very well be this one. I have prayed four things for Scio since I arrived nearly five years ago:

    Direction: wisdom to hear from God
    Protection: we are engaged in a battle against satan
    Unity: Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17

    Peter tells us to be united. He doesn’t promote uniformity but unity. We are different—by design—but we are to work together. We are to love and serve one another.

    We may not always agree on how to do things, but we should always be united regarding what to do and why. That’s the mission. That’s the Great Commandment. That’s the Great Commission.

    D.L. Moody was once criticized for his evangelism methods. He responded, “Well, I’m always ready for improvement. What are your methods?” The man had no answer so Moody said, “Then I’ll stick to my own.”

    Unity, not uniformity.

    Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (3:9)

    We are to bless others. The Golden Rule. Turning the other cheek. Community 101.

    Returning evil for good is satanic.
    Returning good for good and evil for evil is human.
    Returning good for evil is divine. Jesus set the ultimate example for us.


    “Whoever would love life
    and see good days
    must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
    They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.
    For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
    but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (3:10-12)

    Peter quotes Psalm 34:15-16 and Ecclesiastes 2:17. There’s so much here.

    We choose to love life. It is truly a gift…and the next one will be even better!
    We must control our tongues, the source of so many of our problems.
    We are to do good and hate evil.
    We are to seek and pursue peace, though it is not always possible (Romans 12:18).

    Let’s live it up…doing good!

    God is watching. God is listening. He hears the prayers of His children.

    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.” (3:13-14)

    We talked about suffering in chapter two. Suffering for being right should bring us joy, not because we enjoy suffering, but because God is watching and doing the right thing brings Him glory.

    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. (3:15a)

    How do we make disciples? It begins with a conversation. It might be at a picnic, a party, a water cooler chat, or an online encounter. If we are truly following Jesus, our lives will be different. They will radiate love, joy, and peace. They will be filled with hope, and people will ask.

    But you have to be ready. We must know the Bible. Even more, we must know Jesus and always “be prepared” (the Boy Scout motto!) to introduce others to HIm. The word “apology” is from the Greek word “answer.” It’s not regret or saying you’re sorry, but rather like a defense in a court. Apologetics is defending the faith.

    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. (3:15b-17)

    I love this passage! We are to treat everyone—Republicans, Democrats, even Buckeyes—with gentleness and respect as they are created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. They’re lost and Jesus wants them found (Luke 15). There’s no greater thrill than introducing people to Jesus! But it’s not just what we say that’s important, but how we say it. Megaphones are not always the best tool for evangelism and discipleship!

    We must keep a clear conscience in the process. This word “conscience” comes from two Latin words, “con” which is “with” and “scio” which is “to know.”

    (Did you catch that? Scio means “to know”!). Conscience enables us “to know with.”

    Peter closing this section by reiterating what he has said so many times before: sometimes we will suffer for doing good, and that may be God’s will. We pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If you suffer for Jesus, rejoice. Great will be your reward. Our enemies may hurt us, but they can never harm us.

    Closing Thoughts

    It might be cliche but appropriate to challenge you to

    love God
    love your neighbor
    make disciples

    That’s our mission as a church. How are you doing? How are we doing?

    I want to close by saying thank you. I love you, Scio. You have blessed me in my family in ways you cannot begin to understand. You embraced us when our arrived in the midst of suffering and remained faithful with us during many storms. You have been generous, encouraging, and kind. I will cherish these years together and delight in knowing this is not goodbye, but simply “see you later.” We will remain in the Great Lakes District of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. Although we’re crossing the border, we’re only an hour away—and near a great zoo, the Toledo Mud Hens baseball team, and the Walleye minor league hockey team!

    When Heather and I visited nearly five years ago, her comment to me in the car was, “I think they need us and we need them.” Jeff Brown uttered the exact same words at the conclusion of my licensing prior to starting at Scio. I think both Heather and Jeff were right. Hopefully we have added value to your lives and you have certainly been a blessing to us.

    I will continue to pray for you, your search for a new pastor, and my big four:


    LORD, may Your kingdom come and Your will be done at Scio as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

    Thank you, Scio. Shalom!


    Some ideas from

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

    Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

    1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

    Parable of the Sower, 19 July 2015

    Matthew 13:1-23

    Series Overview: this summertime series will examine the various parables of Jesus recorded in thirteenth chapter of Matthew.

    Big Idea: spiritual seeds produce a variety of results


    Stories. Life is filled with stories. In many ways, life itself is a macro story with a nearly infinite number of micros stories contained within.

    What is your favorite childhood story? Why?

    What is your favorite Bible story? Why?

    Stories are powerful. They’re so powerful, in fact, that they’re strategically used to prompt you to spend money. The success of Tom’s Shoes lies largely in the story behind them; for every pair purchased, another is given to a shoeless person in another country. I have a friend, Joelle McNamera, who started a company as a teenager called Badala, which means “instead.” She employs former sex slaves to produce jewelry and sells it at market rate, providing alternative employment for these women “instead” of their former work. Purchasing a Badala product does more than just provide you with another piece of jewelry; it changes lives, and that story is getting noticed, now even available at some Chicagoland Target stores. Author Donald Miller has begun a consulting business showing companies like Intel, Chick-fil-A, and Steelcase how to use story in their marketing.

    Stories are powerful in other ways. Most movies would be dreadful without a good story. Many songs tell moving stories in their lyrics. Ghost stories at a campfire, stories of the good old days told by the aged, or even the infamous fishing stories capture our imagination and seize our attention.

    Some have found stories to be unnecessary, preferring nothing more than hard data. “Just the facts. Get to the point,” they say. Jesus vehemently disagrees. He used the sacred texts, He was straightforward in much of His preaching, but so much of His teachings focused on stories, parables in particular. For the next several weeks we’re going to look at one chapter of the Bible, Matthew 13, and the parables of Jesus recorded for us.

    Lectio Divina

    There is a real art to telling a great story. Listening to one is quite a different experience from silently reading one. Lectio Divina is an ancient practice of simply listening to a passage of scripture read repeatedly, asking the Holy Spirit to speak through the text.

    We have done this a time or two in the past. Today’s text will be read aloud three times. Please sit comfortably still as the text is read. Consider these two questions:

    1. What word or phrase grabs my attention?
    2. What question about the text would you ask a New Testament scholar?

    Remember, the text will be read three times. Be still and listen to God’s Word and ask Him to speak to you now.

    Matthew 13:3-9

    Then he told them many things in parables, saying:

    “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”


    1. What word or phrase grabbed your attention?
    2. What question about the text would you ask a New Testament scholar?

    It is essential that we read the Bible, but things get especially exciting when the Bible reads us!

    Our text today will be especially familiar to those who were a part of the Envision DR trip two weeks ago to the Dominican Republic. Our team presented this parable to various groups of students at a Compassion International site hosted by one of our Alliance Churches near Santiago. We used readings, songs, drama, and even puppets to present this account. I’m sorry, but I don’t have the puppets today!


    There’s a bit more to this parable that what was read. The previous verses provide the context.

    That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. (Matthew 13:1-2)

    Jesus then begins with the first parable, a story of a sower scattering seed.


    We take food for granted. It seems like it’s everywhere—grocery stores, roadside stands, coffee shops, in our pantries and refrigerators, drive-thru windows, …We are very blessed to live in a land of abundance and plenty, yet so many in our country and countries around the globe will go to be hungry tonight. May we always be grateful and generous.

    In the midst of our wealth, I have heard stories of urban children actually believing food was produced in the grocery store, unaware of its agricultural origins (or chemical laboratory origins in the case of our processed foods!). Food is important to us, but in Jesus’ day it was not as convenient to obtain as it is for us. Jesus taught His followers to pray not for a full refrigerator and freezer but for daily bread. Needless to say, agricultural metaphors are not powerful in our culture as in Jesus’ day, but the parable is no less powerful.

    Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (Matthew 13:3-4)

    What is needed to grow a crop?

    • seed
    • sun
    • water
    • soil

    This is a parable about sowing seeds, but the attention is on the soil. It’s commonly understood that the same type of seeds, sun, and water are used in each of the four accounts. Notice these were not gardens. People often grew crops in open areas with footpaths.

    A footpath was not a good place for seeds. Even if it was once good soil, the feet of travelers and their possessions would compress the soil, making it hard. It’s no wonder the birds were able to eat the seeds. You can’t grow many crops in a hard road!

    Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. (Matthew 13:5-6)

    It’s not enough to have soil. You need an adequate amount of soil for the roots to grow deep. Each time I add a new plant to our small rose garden I read how deep I must first dig. A seed in shallow soil will not last. A plant is only as strong as its roots.

    Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. (Matthew 13:7)

    Have you ever touched a thorn? They’re terrible! It’s no wonder they made a crown of thorns for Jesus during His torture. They destroy everything they touch, including plants.

    Finally Jesus saves the best for last.

    Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:8-9)

    Good soil is essential to good crops. It always amazed me how tiny seeds can produce huge crops in months or even weeks.

    Story: my tree Herman

    What Does It Mean?

    Besides basic gardening techniques, what is Jesus’ point in talking about the sower? We can know because we can read ahead, but often (usually?) Jesus’ parables were not understood. In fact,

    The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10)

    Jesus spends several verses answering their question before addressing what must’ve been their primary question: what does this parable mean?

    “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. (Matthew 13:18-19)

    Perhaps this is like drive-by evangelism, the megaphone guy yelling at people he doesn’t know and will never see again. Although some claim fruit, many hear and leave confused, hurt or angry. Like a baby or a plant, growth takes time.

    The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (Matthew 13:20-21)

    I’ve seen this in people. It’s like the old expression, “Easy come, easy go.” They get excited about everything, so they can quickly move from Jesus to Buddha to whatever the latest fad may be. They may also be sincere in their faith until storms come, they blame God, and renounce their faith. I’ve heard so many tragic stories of people who used to follow Jesus…until a priest abused them, a Christian betrayed them, a storm destroyed them, or they simply weren’t willing to pay the price to follow Jesus. We take our freedom of religion for granted in this country, yet most Christians on our planet pay a dear price for their faith—and they have since Jesus arrived and experienced the ultimate persecution. Following Jesus is not just praying a prayer, getting a “get out of hell free” card, and living in guaranteed health and wealth. It’s a 24/7 fully surrendered life to Jesus as LORD, as King. We must die in order to experience the abundant life He offers.

    The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)

    This is so common in our culture, too. We are obsessed with consumerism and stuff, working crazy hours to be able to maintain lifestyles we don’t need and even buying things we can’t afford. Jesus said we cannot worship God and money.

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

    Many crops are contagious. One planted seed might produce multiple plants over the years. That’s what happens when we are infected by the love virus of God’s Word: it spreads to others. Good news must be shared!

    So What?

    I believe we are to both sow the Word of God into the lives of others and also tend to our own soil.

    The sower had a job to do. He took action. It may have been hot! I’m sure it was in the Middle East! He couldn’t run up to Meijer and grab a bag of salad or an apple. He sowed seeds…but seemed careless about where he was placing the seeds, especially the seeds that fell on the path. It’s easy to be discouraged when people don’t respond positively to your faith. I believe the key to all sowing of spiritual seeds is prayer. It’s like supernatural fertilizer for the soil. There are many you and I know who simply are not interested in matters of faith today. We must persevere in prayer for the Holy Spirit to soften their heart and prepare the soil of their soul. Others, however, are ready, their soil is prepared, they are receptive and it’s a joy to plant and cultivate those new crops!

    How is your soul’s soil? What are the thorns in your life? Worry? Wealth? Busyness? Consumerism? Work? Social media? Politics? Religion? What is keeping you from becoming a “little Jesus,” a choice fruit, a reproducing crop?

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

    Great Commission Sunday, 22 June 2014

    Big Idea: We are all called to make disciples.

    Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

    We are on a mission. The church doesn’t have a mission. The mission has a church! The mission includes a commission—a command, an order, an assignment.

    We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 
    • serving our communities
    • sharing our story
    • sending disciples to bless the nations

    so that God is glorified.

    To learn more about Great Commission Sunday including two videos and how to give, click here.

    We are all called to make disciples. How? Time, talents and treasures.

    Time: pray, build relationships online and in person, serve our global missionaries
    Talents: go overseas short-term or long-term, study, serve in and through Scio & C&MA
    Treasures: give financially (offering later)

    Please pray for recent Global Missions Conference guests:

    - the Volstads
    - the Hanscomes
    - The Careys

    Please also pray for the Burns family, transitioning from an overseas assignment to a domestic one.

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

    Best Kept Secret, Resurrection Sunday 2014

    April 20, 2014

    Big Idea: Jesus is alive but does anyone really know? If you’ve encountered Jesus, you cannot keep Him to yourself. Love isn’t love until you give it away.


    Happy Resurrection Sunday! He is risen! He is risen indeed!


    You know the story. You know why we celebrate. Just to summarize the events of the past few days that we have commemorated, the Apostle’s Creed states that Jesus

    Suffered under Pontius Pilate
    was crucified
    dead and buried
    He descended into hell
    The third day he rose again from the dead

    We serve a living Savior who is in the world today. Jesus is alive!!!

    So what? What does the resurrection mean to you?

    After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1)

    There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2-4)

    The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

    So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:8)

    Best Kept Secret

    How does it feel when someone tells you a secret? Can you keep a secret?

    One phrase I’ve often heard people use to describe a business is “the best kept secret in town.”
    Have you ever said or heard that about a business? What business? Why?

    One of the primary fields within business is marketing. One of my undergraduate degrees is in marketing. What is marketing? According to Wikipedia it is “the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service.” Communicating value. What are some tools used in marketing to communicate value? Billboards, television commercials, spam e-mails, radio spots, newspaper ads, storefront signs, product placement in a movie, direct mail postcards…

    What is the most effective form of marketing? Word of mouth!

    If a business is the best kept secret in town, there are only a few possible reasons:

    1. The product or service is mediocre, despite the owner’s opinion!
    2. Few people have experienced the product or service so few can communicate.
    3. The people that have experienced the product or service don’t tell others.

    In a recent survey, people tell an average of nine people about a good experience and sixteen about a poor one.


    With social media, it’s possible to communicate with more people than ever. A simple Facebook or Twitter post praising or trashing a company can impact countless others.

    Here’s the point:
    nobody wants to be the best kept secret in town—unless they are doing something illegal! If you have a great restaurant, you want the world to know. If you sell Amway or Pampered Chef or Mary Kay you want to make sure your friends know to buy from you. If you have a chiropractic office, you want the community to be aware of the health benefits they can experience under your care.

    Marketing Jesus?

    Many have balked at the idea of marketing Jesus. He’s not a business or a product to be sold. Remember the definition of marketing? Communicating value.

    Do you value Jesus? Do you value His love? Do you value the sacrifice He made dying on the cross for you?

    I believe Jesus Christ is the best-kept secret in town. It should not be!

    You may think, “Everyone knows about Jesus,” but that’s simply not true. Many think they know about Jesus, but are there understandings correct?

    A few years ago a group of churches in our region got together to form
    EACH: Everyone A Chance to Hear. The goal was and remains to allow every man, woman and child in southeastern Michigan to hear about Jesus—the real story.

    The goal has not been to get everyone in the area to attend church, pray a prayer, or give money. The goal is simply to give everyone a chance to hear about Jesus, to receive an invitation to follow Jesus which they can choose to accept or reject.

    Good News

    Sharing Jesus is not selling Jesus. It’s not a consumerist exercise. It is sharing good news.

    Everyone likes good news. Unfortunately, what is good for one person is not always perceived as good for another.

    For example, I love the
    Philadelphia Phillies (they play baseball!). When I was a boy our family took a trip out east to visit the 13 Original Colonies. George Washington and Ben Franklin were among my boyhood heroes and my favorite city was Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. That same summer I started getting interested in sports and collecting baseball cards and being the strange kid that I was—am!—I adopted Philadelphia’s sports teams as my favorites (I cheer for my Detroit home teams, too).

    If I told you the Phillies won their game last night (they did/didn’t), would that be good news to you? Probably not. It would be great news to me…and the more you get to know and love me, the more you may grow interested in the Phillies. Over time, she has gotten to know me, the things and people I love, and is now a raging fan of the Fightin’ Phils! In my dreams!

    Several weeks ago I was at the greenroom and I realized two friends of mine, Vince and Brad, had never met. Knowing they both played guitar, loved music, and had a passion for the poor, I was thrilled to introduce them to one another. You might call me a matchmaker, in a sense, and it brought me great joy to see them connect.

    Sharing our faith is not about selling a product. It’s about introducing friends. It’s about introducing our best friend, Jesus, to those we know and love. It’s about sharing our story—His story—and encouraging others to journey with us toward knowing, loving, serving and obeying the One who demonstrated what it means to be truly human.

    If you can’t get excited about Jesus, you’ve never truly encountered Him. You can’t know Jesus and not be changed. For many of us, it happened so long ago we can’t remember life without Him and we take Him for granted.

    Meanwhile, our world is messed up, desperately searching for answers to life’s most challenging questions regarding purpose, meaning, peace, contentment and joy.

    If you know Jesus and you keep Him to yourself, you are selfish! There, I said it! Good news is meant to be shared!

    Why is sharing the good news of Jesus so much more difficult than talking about our favorite sports team, announcing a new job, or sending out party invitations?

    1. Never discuss politics or religion. The problem with such discussions is they usually become debates with a winner and loser rather than a dialogue that seeks to build on common ground and further a relationship.

    2. Fear of rejection. It might happen. In many parts of the world, merely talking about Jesus can get you arrested or even killed. We enjoy immense freedoms in this nation…and most of us take them for granted. You might get rejected. Jesus was rejected. There is a price to pay in following Jesus, but it is SO worth it!

    Some of you have heard this quote:

    “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

    Do you know who said it? There is a legend that states it was said by St. Francis of Assisi, but it is, in fact, just a legend. St. Francis never said such a thing because it is simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behavior.

    It is true that our credibility is vital. Some have said we are the only Bible many will ever read. One of the greatest objections people have with Christianity is how so-called Christians live and behave.

    Let’s face it, Christians don’t have a great reputation in our culture, especially in Ann Arbor. We’re associated with hate, hypocrisy, and politics far more than faith, hope and love. We can change that. We MUST change that. We do it by living out our faith every day. We’re not perfect examples, but we’re living examples. When we screw up, we admit it, say we’re sorry, and seek forgiveness.

    In some instances, our lives will be so radical, people will ask what’s different about our lives. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, said

    But in your hearts set apart 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. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

    Of course, if we only spend time with Christians, it’s tough. Have you ever told someone some exciting news only to discover they already knew! Ugh!

    Friends, we must
    Love the lost. The word “lost” sounds negative, but Jesus used it. Perhaps you want to call it not-yet-found! We must know people that don’t know Jesus. Who do you know that is far from God. Love them. This is an area in which I struggle. I say that I love lost people, but I have few friends in my life that do not follow Jesus. I am striving to be more intentional about building friendships with non-Christians. Being a pastor can be an occupational hazard!

    Pray for the lost. Last week we looked at these words from Paul in the book of Ephesians:

    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

    Some people are afraid to talk about Jesus because they might not say the right things. There are two reasons not everyone on the planet follows Jesus:

    1. They’ve never been introduced to Him.
    2. They have rejected Him.

    When we talk about Jesus, we can address objection one and often deal with objection two as well. Do they really know the Jesus of the Bible or just the aroma of religious people? We’re dealing with spiritual realities. It’s important to know the Bible, but few follow Jesus because someone answered all of their intellectual questions. Most just get to know Jesus and discover His plans, love, and will are far better than our own.

    We are not called to be sales people sent to get people to pray a prayer. We have been sent on a mission to seek and save the lost. We offer a compelling
    invitation and leave it up to the Holy Spirit of God to guide them to accept it. The greatest miracle is not when the sick are healed or the crippled can walk but when a sinner surrenders their life to Jesus. We can’t make that happen; we can only extend the invitation.

    Talk with the lost. I did not say talk to them! We have two ears and one mouth. Listen. Inquire. One of my favorite questions is, “Where are you at on your spiritual journey?” You might ask simply, “Do you believe in God?” and ask why or why not. The goal is not necessarily to get them to repent on the spot and surrender their life to Jesus! The objective is to invite others to meet Jesus and take one step toward Him. It might be the defining moment or it might be an opportunity for one of many barriers between them and God to be removed. Actions may speak louder than words, but we need words, too. What do you say? Tell your story. That’s one of the best parts of baptism—hearing before and after stories. Nobody can argue with your story.

    “I was blind but now I see.” (John 9:25b)

    “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and violent man, I was shown mercy. (1 Timothy 1:13a)

    “I was depressed and suicidal and Jesus has given me purpose and hope.”

    “I was addicted and out of control and now I have peace in my life.”

    What has God done in your life? Anything? If so, share it!

    Give to the lost. I don’t mean money; I mean ourselves and our community. Following Jesus is not a solo effort but a team activity, a family experience. Throw parties, inviting Christians and not-yet-Christians to connect. Tell people about our weekly gatherings where others like myself can join you in teaching others about the truths of God’s Word, the Bible. Without time and energy, no relationship can survive, much less thrive.

    Welcome to the Family

    This is all about family. Without babies, families will eventually die. Jesus’ message was simple: love God and love our neighbor. He said as we go about our lives to make disciples, and there’s nothing more loving than living like Jesus and inviting others to join us on the journey. It’s not about morality, rules, or organized religion. It’s about being a family on mission, living lives filled with faith, hope and love.

    I believe as our world gets more chaotic, the search for meaning and purpose is only going to increase. We have an incredible opportunity to invite others to join us on the journey, to join us as adopted children of our Creator God in following our big brother Jesus who died and rose again to give us life—radical, abundant life now and forever (John 10:10).


    A few weeks ago as I was walking into one of my favorite stores I saw “Store Closing” signs everywhere. I was saddened to learn this great business will soon be gone. Perhaps it was the best kept secret in town and, although I shopped there frequently, I rarely told others about my good experiences.

    Good news must be shared.

    It’s one thing to remain quiet about a store or restaurant but quite another to be silent about the greatest news ever, the love of God. John 3:16 says

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    Jesus did not die just for us. He died for the world.
    Jesus was not raised from the dead just for us. He was raised for the world.

    But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? (Romans 10:14,
    The Message)

    We have good news. We’ve got great news! Don’t keep it to yourself. Let’s share it!

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

    Mary Magdalene and the Risen Jesus, John 20:11-18, 3 November 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus is alive! Let’s tell the world!

    We often approach communion with great reflection, and well we should. However, the story does not end on the cross. Last week we saw Mary Magdalene and others shocked to find the tomb of Jesus empty.

    Jewish people spent seven days mourning the loss of a loved one. This meant they could not wash, work, study the law, or even have intercourse for a week. They knew how to express grief! An empty tomb prevented final acts of love to be done to Jesus. Even tomb raiders would usually leave behind the body.

    We know “the rest of the story,” but those at the empty tomb

    still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. (20:9)

    What does this mean? It means they did not understand! Have you ever read the Bible and seen something you never saw previously? Some Scriptures require experience to fully understand.

    Jesus had said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? (John 16:19b)

    Jesus had said, “You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:20b)

    Jesus had said, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22)

    Sometimes we are just filled with disbelief.

    When we ended last Sunday, we read that

    Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. (10)

    Jesus died. The tomb is empty.

    Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. (20:11-12)

    Imagine the week Mary has had. This is a woman that deeply loved Jesus. He had expelled numerous demons from her. He showed her great compassion. She cried at the foot of the cross as her hope literally died.

    His body was buried quickly and two days later she comes with friends to bring spices for the body. The tomb is empty. Peter and John leave. Now she is crying outside the tomb…and she encounters two angels, two angels dressed in white, hardly appropriate during a time of mourning!

    Where were the angels when the boys were around?

    They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” (13a)

    Why do they ask? They’re angels! They know. Jesus is alive, but Mary remains clueless.

    “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

    She thinks someone moved the body.

    At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

    Mary didn’t recognize Jesus. Unbelief is blind. He was the last Person Mary expected to see. Did her tears mask His face?

    He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” (15a)

    Jesus echoes the angels, asking the reason for her tears. She hears His voice now and still has no idea who is before her.

    Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (15b)

    Was it common for gardeners to open tombs and hide bodies? Hardly! They were at the bottom of the social ladder and tended to gardening.

    Jesus said to her, “Mary.” (16a)

    The most important word in the world is your name. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. One word changed everything for her.

    She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). (16b)

    This means “my teacher” or “master.”

    It’s easy for us to miss images and symbols John’s initial readers would recognize.

    John is the only Gospel writer that tells us these events take place in a garden, a garden filled with spices, suggesting the imagery of the Song of Songs. Mary is a woman who finds the one she loves in a spice-filled garden and wants to be with Him.

    Dr. Gary Burge notes,

    “Miriam was the most famous sister of Moses, who oversaw her little brother’s journey down the Nile. In an ancient Jewish synagogue at Dura Europos on the Euphrates a fresco depicts this scene carefully. The floating bed of Moses becomes a coffin and tomb from which the baby Moses is raised to life (thus avoiding death).42 Old Testament Miriam even becomes a prophet (Ex. 15:20–21; Num. 12:1–2) who bears a message to Israel. While John refers to Mary in the narrative with the Greek word Maria, when Jesus (the new Moses) meets her in 20:16, oddly, he employs the Hebrew form of the name: Miriam (Gk. Mariam, Heb. Miryam). He names her “Miriam Magdalene”— where Magdalene connotes the Hebrew noun migdal, “tower.” This caretaker of the new Moses, this intimate helper, is now transformed from a mere “Mary” into a Miriam, into a migdal that now bears a prophetic message to the apostles.” (The NIV Application Commentary, John)

    A woman in “paradise” encounters the Creator and Ruler of the Garden, Jesus.

    Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” (17)

    Why did He say not to touch Him? Scholars have wondered for two thousand years. Some believe Jesus literally meant don’t touch His body, but Thomas would soon. Some have translated it “do not fear,” but that seems unlikely. Others suggest it is preparation for His ascension, His return to the Father. In other words, He may be saying, “Do not cling to Me. Go tell the disciples I will soon return to the Father.” He will leave our planet, but also leave the Holy Spirit, an even more intimate expression of God who will live inside every believer.

    Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (18)

    John records her as the first one to see the resurrected Messiah.

    She has seen the empty tomb.
    She has seen the LORD.

    So What?

    Mary Magdalene told the disciples the good news: Jesus is alive.

    It is our privilege to tell our friends, neighbors and co-workers the good news: Jesus is alive!!!

    Last week it struck me how the Gospel is good news. Who doesn’t want to share good news? It’s hard to deliver bad news, but it should be a joy to announce good news.

    This text perhaps raises more questions than it answers, but one thing is clear…Jesus is alive! The One who died for us, who redeems us from sin and death, lives.

    We don’t worship an idea, a concept, or a book. We worship a Person who entered human history and transformed it.

    Listen to the words of John Updike in his poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter.”

    Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body;
    if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse,
    the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
    the church will fall. . . .

    Let us not mock God with metaphor, Analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
    Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
    Let us walk through the door.

    The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché, Not a stone in a story,

    But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will eclipse for each of us,
    The wide light of day.

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

    King of Love, John 19:16b-24, 22 September 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus held out His arms and said, “I love you THIS much!” Does everyone know?

    What is love?

    This week I was talking with a friend who told me about a family that has no faith in God because they only believe in science, that which can be proven. I asked about love. Can you prove that love exists? What is it?

    This is a question I return to again and again because it is used so often in our culture to describe so many different things. Frequently it is just a word used to manipulate someone into doing something, but love itself requires doing and action. Love is a verb.

    Our text for today could actually be a short passage referenced months ago in the third chapter of John. It says

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    We continue our series on the Gospel or “good news” of John, a biography of Jesus written by one of His best friends. The next several weeks will address the final hours of Jesus before His burial. I must warn you that some of the content will be graphic and disturbing. Parents, be advised we have some short videos that involve the crucifixion. The suffering we have examined in the past few weeks was excruciating, but Jesus willingly experienced crucifixion, the ultimate Roman torture.

    Before we look at
    what Jesus did, I want to be crystal clear about why He suffered and died. He did it for you and for me.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    For God so loved you and me that He sent Jesus to die for us.

    Centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah wrote

    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
    (Isaiah 53:5)

    So begins Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, the most successful rated R movie in history, grossing over $370 million.

    He was pierced, crushed, punished, and wounded…because He loves us.

    Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

    So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.

    If you recall, Pilate desperately wanted to release Jesus as He found no reason for Him to be arrested, much less executed. Bowing to the pressure of the Jewish leaders and their threats of involving Caesar, Jesus was handed over to be crucified by the soldiers.

    Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). (19:17)

    They took Jesus outside the city to crucify Him. This is a fascinating detail because the traditional place of Jesus’ death is now a church, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, but it is inside the city. Personally, I found it to be something of a religious freak show, a series of buildings that actually house multiple churches, religious artifacts, and a large box built in 1810, the edicule of the Holy Sepulchre that is supposed to commemorate the tomb where Jesus was buried! I found the whole thing to be very strange, dark, extremely religious (and not in a good way) and depressing. I found it a very odd way to celebrate a living Christ!

    There is another site outside the city that is believe to have possibly been the location because of its name, the place of the Skull.

    John tell us…

    There they crucified him, and with him two others —one on each side and Jesus in the middle. (19:18)

    John does not give us details of the crucifixion.

    One detail found in the other Gospels (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) is Jesus quoting Psalm 22:

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
    (Psalm 22:1)

    When you understand a bit about crucifixion, you quickly understand why Jesus felt forsaken. In order to understand the agony from a medical perspective, I found this video.


    Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” (19-21)

    It was fairly common for condemned criminals to wear signs around their necks while on their way to execution to serve warning to others.

    Jesus died for all and the sign was in multiple languages, the three most understood at the time. For God so loved the world. Even the declaration of Jesus’ Kingship was announced to all.

    Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

    Pilate infuriated the chief priests. He probably doesn’t believe Jesus is a king any more than they do, but he makes fun of them, a “calculated snub,” in the words of scholar N.T. Wright. Regardless, the words were true. Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and He died for every man, woman and child from every nation, tribe and tongue.

    May he rule from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
    (Psalm 72:8)

    May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

    For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
    He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
    He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.
    (Psalm 72:11-14)

    Anyone familiar with the Scriptures had to see the promised Messiah, yet it was the most religious that had Jesus arrested and crucified.

    When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. (23)

    “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

    This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

    “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”

    Indeed Psalm 22, which we mentioned earlier, continues

    Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce my hands and my feet.
    All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
    They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.
    (Psalm 22:16-18)

    So this is what the soldiers did. (24b)

    So What?

    I struggled to prepare this message because it involved many disturbing images and accounts. At times, I found myself getting sick when I thought about the agony involved in crucifixion…but it was all part of Jesus’ ambition and plan to seek and save the lost, to offer hope to the hopeless, to offer forgiveness to us sinners, to offer reconciliation between us and our heaven Father we have rejected.

    This is a love story. This is passion.

    Have your received His love?
    Have you shared His love?

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

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

    Share Your Story, b.l.e.s.s., 3 February 2013

    Share Your Story

    Big Idea:
    Share your story—HiStory

    Scriptures: 1 Peter 3:13-16; Matthew 28:18-20


    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. Week three’s challenge was to eat with a lost person. Last week’s challenge was to study Jesus.

    These are not one-time challenge, but rhythms, patterns for the new year, every week. Some would call them spiritual practices or disciplines. As our series logo illustrates, none of these five steps are a “have to” in order to kill guilt, but rather a “get to” privilege that comes from being so blessed and filled by God that it overflows to others. Put another way, Jesus said in John 15:14 that we must remain in Him. When we are connected to Jesus, we will bear fruit. Blessings will leak. The more we practice disciplines such as prayer, listening, eating with the lost, and studying Jesus, the more natural it will become. The more we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the more the Spirit will overflow to others around us.

    Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4)

    The final letter is “S” and it stands for
    story. Everyone loves a good story. Whether it is a nursery rhyme, a movie, a book, or even a conversation, there’s nothing like an engaging story. The content of a story is obviously its most important feature, but the storyteller is vital, as well. Can you think of some good storytellers? What makes them good? We are all part of God’s story. Life is HiStory.
    Story is built into our mission statement:

    We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 

    - serving our communities

    - sharing our story

    - sending disciples to bless the nations

    so that God is glorified.

    Jesus was a master story teller. Much of His teaching was not through verse-by-verse analysis of the ancient Scriptures, but rather through parables—stories.

    What’s your favorite Bible story? One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John. A blind man was healed by Jesus. The Jews were furious and envious of Jesus and refused to believe Jesus had, indeed, allowed this man to see.

    A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

    He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

    Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

    He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” (John 9:24-27)

    The man said, “This is my story. End of discussion...unless you want to follow Jesus, too!” They couldn’t argue with what happened to this man when he encountered Jesus.

    Your Story

    What is your story? One of the great things about your story is that it’s yours and nobody and deny it. Sure, if your story involved unicorns and candy clouds and talking bunnies, you might get some strange looks, but for the most part your story is indisputable. What God has done and is doing in and through you does not need archeological artifacts, scientific laboratory proofs, or journals of scholarly evidence. Either God is at work in and through you or He’s not, and if He is, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and the same power that is at work transforming you to be more like Jesus is available to every man, woman and child.

    Words...and actions

    Although there are those that dispute it, many believe St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and If necessary, use words.” Have you heard that quote? The original quote was actually, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” Do you see the difference? We need words. We need to share our story. We need deed and word, serving and story. It’s yet another “and.” Whether he said it or not, what does it mean? We know that often actions speak louder than words. Our acts of kindness and blessing go a long way toward establishing credibility and trust with others that grant us permission to share our story and truly be heard.
    Imagine someone saying, “Feed the hungry and if necessary, use food” or “Love your children and if necessary, spend time with them.” Words are necessary, but they are not necessarily where we begin.

    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

    A Privilege For All Of Us

    Some Christians think story telling is for paid professionals. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in the eighth chapter of Acts everyone
    except the apostles spread the message of Jesus.

    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 what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart 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. (1 Peter 3:13-16)


    One of the challenges with sharing our story relates to our expectations. Personally, I want everyone to follow Jesus, not because I get brownie points, but because I can’t imagine a better way to live. If I truly love someone, I will want them to experience the ultimate love from the Author of love. Like many of you, I’ve shared my story in hopes that others will become followers of Jesus. I’ve had the privilege to see people begin their journey with Jesus, but most of the time my story is one of many steps in their spiritual adventure. Paul made this very clear in his letter to the people of Corinth:

    What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

    Actions and words plus time and the power of the Holy Spirit will produce fruit.

    This Week’s Challenge: Share your story.

    Why is it so scary for many of us to share our story? Perhaps we fear rejection. Maybe we wonder if it will raise questions we can’t answer. It is possible that we are just shy and don’t like to talk to anyone about anything!

    Don’t forget there are many ways to share your story. It could be through a conversation, but it might be via a letter, an e-mail, a card, a Facebook post, or even a blog. We need actions, but we also need words. Both are required to truly bless the world…and God.


    So how do you share your story? It’s really quite simple. What was your life like before following Jesus, how did you encounter Him, and what has happened since? It doesn’t have to be a radical transformation account. For some of you, your story is colorful. That’s great. If not, that’s fine, too. Here’s mine:

    I was raised in a Christian family. In fact, my parents named me “Kirk” which means “church” or “church dweller.” They wanted me to experience the faith, love, peace, joy, and purpose that they had found in Jesus. I was a pretty good kid and went to church, but didn’t get much out of it until I encountered peers that were passionate for God. They inspired me to pursue God, to not just know about Him, but to actually know my Creator through prayer and Bible study and community with others. That was the spark I needed to ignite my faith. In college, I tested my faith, explored other religions and world views, and kept returning to Jesus, the only One who died for me, demonstrated His love, and offers grace—unmerited favor. I deserve eternal death for the sins and failures in my life, but I’ve learned that it’s not what I DO, but what Jesus has DONE for me by dying for me that gives my life meaning and hope and a future with Him forever. Our family has spent the last six years dealing with a series of tragedies, but even through the storms, we have had peace and joy knowing the God is with us. I want everyone to experience the radical, exciting life that only comes through following Jesus.

    What’s your story? If you’ve truly encountered Jesus, you have a story!

    Maybe you don’t have one...yet. Perhaps you’ve never fully surrendered your life to Jesus. If that’s the case, I urge you to do so. Simply tell God you are sorry for your past sins, receive His love and forgiveness, and follow the words and deeds of Jesus.

    Let His story become your story.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    How To Fish, 1 April 2012

    Big Idea: We can learn how to fish by seeing how Jesus sent out the 70.

    Passage, Luke 10:2-12:  

    He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
    “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

    “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.


    What does it look like to go “fishing for men”? The best way for us to learn how to do this is by looking closely at the life of Christ and to explore how he trained his disciples for the important task of “fishing for men.”

    The need is great (10:2)

    This past week the world population reached 7 billion people! Millions and millions of people have never heard of Jesus. Billions more are skeptical, blinded by sin, have rejected Christ, or have never encountered an authentic Christian.
    Before Jesus sends out the 70, He tells them to pray for more workers.

    The mission is going to be dangerous (10:3)

    John Piper recently made this observation: “Brothers are being beheaded for what we believe. The difference is location. O Lord, make us real.”
    "Enemy-occupied territory - that is what the world is." –CS Lewis
    Oh that God would give us courage to join Him on this dangerous mission. May the Holy Spirit give us courage and boldness (see Acts 4:23-31)!!!
    Obedience is radical...and dangerous.

    The mission will require dependency on the Holy Spirit (10:4)

    Imagine Jesus sent you on a mission but said to leave behind your cell phone, wallet, purse, and money. What else is there, right?! They had to fully rely on God.
    Do we? When is the last time you truly prayed, “LORD, I’m desperate for You. I’m lost without You?”

    "The great people of the earth today are the people who pray. I do not mean those who talk about prayer; nor those who can explain prayer; but I mean those people who take time and pray. They have not time. It must be taken from something else. This something else is important, very important and pressing, but still less important and less pressing than prayer." S.D. Gordon

    Look for receptive people (10:5-7)

    As we engage pockets of people with the good news of the Kingdom Jesus instructs us to go looking for receptive people. A “receptive person” or a “person of peace” is a man or woman who God has sovereignly prepared to receive the gospel message. Jesus instructs us to stay with that person and receive their hospitality and welcome. This is a revolutionary concept/strategy that we see all throughout the New Testament.

    Mike Breen (author of “Launching Missional Communities”) offers the following advise:
    o Find the person of peace, the person who is open to you, interested in you, likes you, wants to be around you...
    o Go to their turf, where they’re comfortable...
    o Allow them to serve you, show you hospitality...
    o Spend intentional time with them...
    Be ready to do the works of the Kingdom and speak the words of the Kingdom. ...
    This is exactly what Jesus did this with
    Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, and Matthew Levi! They were all very open to Jesus. Jesus met them on their turf (household) and allowed them to serve/host him...it was in this context that Jesus did His kingdom work and spoke His kingdom words. Look for and invest in receptive people.

    He sends us out to serve/bless/meet needs (10:8-9a)

    Our mission statement includes the line that we serve our communities. Actions speak louder than words. We are on a mission with words and deeds. Speaking of words...

    He sends us out to proclaim/declare the gospel of the Kingdom (10:9b)

    Another part of our mission is sharing our story. It is God’s story. It is both God’s plan for all of humanity as well as your story. Nobody can argue with your story. How is your life different because of Jesus?

    There is no greater time of year to share your story. 2WordStory restarts next Sunday, which is also Easter. Wear your 2WordStory shirt. Invite people to join you next Sunday for Easter, the day people are most likely to respond to an invitation.

    If Jesus has done nothing in your life, why celebrate it? I don’t celebrate Mexican independence on September 16 (not Cinco de Mayo!). It is irrelevant to me. I appreciate it, but it’s not personal. I do celebrate Independence Day on July 4 because I have personally experienced the benefits of living in a nation of freedom, liberty, and opportunity.

    The word “gospel” means “good news.” We are to proclaim the good news that there is hope and freedom and forgiveness and life available to every man, woman and child on our planet. If we all go to heaven because we’re good, Jesus was a lunatic for being butchered on a cross for us.

    “The Greek term “gospel” distinguished the Christian message from that of other religions. An ‘ev-angel’ was news of a great historical event, such as a victory in war or the ascension of a new king, that changed the listeners’ condition and required a response from the listener. So the gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God.” –Tim Keller

    Celebrating Jesus’ birthday on December 25 is great, but the real celebration occurs this week as we remember the greatest demonstration of passion and love on the cross (as we did earlier) and our risen LORD, Savior and King.

    Every kingdom has a king. The subjects dutifully serve the king and obey whatever he says. Most kings are tyrants and rule out of fear. Our king is benevolent and rules with love.

    Much of this message was created by E.A.C.H., everyone a chance to hear,

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Where Fish, 25 March 2012

    Big Idea: We must go to where the fish are rather than waiting for them to jump into the boat.

    Passage, Mark 2:13-17:  

    Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

    While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

    On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


    They say that the key to real estate is...location, location, location. Any fisherman (or woman) knows that there are good and not so good places to fish. If you’re fishing in a boat and catch nothing, you’re likely to move to another part of the lake or ocean in hopes of finding fish.

    I have seen fish jump out of the water, but I have never seen fish jump into a fishing boat! Half of the fun of fishing is going out to where the fish are, right?

    We talk a great deal around here about Jesus’ final words, often called the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:18-20 He said

    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

    Did you notice that word “go?”

    That might be the most challenging part of fishing.

    Jesus Went

    Our passage this morning shows Jesus in action. He is not content to merely hang out with his friends or spend HIs time shopping at the Jerusalem Mall. He goes out to the people.

    Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:13)

    We could take a great deal of time to examine this passage, but suffice it to say that Jesus went to a hated tax collector and invited him into His life. This was so...radical!


    Back in the day, the Jewish Model of Discipleship began with children around age 6 in schooling called Beth Shefer where they spent five years memorizing the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They knew how to “hide God’s Word in their hearts.” How many of you have memorized the first five books of the Bible?

    You would think that an 11 or 12 year-old with five books memorized would certainly be prepared for lifelong service to God, but most kids stopped there and returned to the family trade, be it fishing, blacksmith, construction, etc.

    A few of the best students continued their education in schooling known as Beth Midrash. There they memorized the rest of the Tanakh (Old Testament). In addition to memorizing the actual text, they learned the different Rabbinic interpretations on the text. This is while they were 10-15 years old!

    Most graduates of the program would return home, but the very, very best went to a third school called Beth Talmid. The Rabbi did not look to merely transfer knowledge to his student, but actually transfer his life. The goal was for the student to become the teacher. The young man would travel with the rabbi from age 15 to age 30. The student became a shadow of the rabbi, walking so close with him that they would literally be covered in the dust of the rabbi.

    Needless to say, those that survived the 25 year learning process could become rabbis, the highest honor in the culture (like a movie or rock star today!). Discipleship was not simply knowledge transfer, but life transfer. It happened while doing life with the rabbi.


    Do you see how radical it was for Jesus to choose an ordinary, outcast tax collector like Matthew to follow Him? He did not memorize the Scriptures. He was not on anyone’s most likely to succeed list. Nevertheless, Jesus invites him into His inner circle.

    This is how God works!

    Consider this: Jacob was a cheater... Peter had a temper... David had an affair...Noah got drunk... Jonah ran from God...Paul was a murderer... Gideon was insecure...Mary was a worrier...Thomas was a doubter...Elijah was moody...Moses stuttered... Zaccheus was short...and Abraham was old...
    In fact, Luke records this incident in the book of Acts:
    “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13, NLT)
    Where Do You Fish?

    Maybe you’ve been looking for the perfect person to introduce to Jesus. You know, that really nice, friendly person with good morals and values that everyone likes. You think, they’re so great, but with Jesus, they’d be even better!

    That’s not what Jesus did. He approached THAT guy!

    Maybe rather than avoiding ordinary people, you avoid others because YOU are so ordinary. Perhaps you think that you’re JUST a stay at home mom, a high school student, an average guy. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things for the Kingdom of God when they follow Jesus!

    Getting There

    How many of you enjoy vacations? How many of you enjoy long drives or flights to get to your destination?

    I often find myself in a place that I enjoy, yet there were obstacles to overcome in order to be there. For example, I love to see the Detroit Tigers, but I have never been a season ticket holder. Why not?

    • cost of tickets
    • travel time
    • travel expense
    • finding companions
    • possibility of bad weather
    • finding a parking place
    • parking expense
    • walk to stadium
    • walk inside stadium to my seat

    Some of these may seem lame, but the point is I always enjoy the games once I’m seated, but it can require great effort to arrive there.

    The same is literally true with fishing, both for fish and for men. It doesn’t happen while you’re on the couch watching TV (or worse, watching a fishing show on TV!). You must go.


    Let’s face it, some people make us uncomfortable. We might not like their attitude, language, personality, or even their smell! It feels safer to surround yourself with Christians that have similar values and beliefs. Jesus never said to stay in the temple. He didn’t intend for the Church to be a country club for members, but rather a mission outpost. His entire purpose on earth was to “seek and save that which was lost.” One of the three parables He told in Luke 15 tells us that He left the 99 that He had to go after the one lost sheep.

    Our text today says

    While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

    On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
    (Mark 2:15-17)

    Where did He go? He went where the people lived. Today He would probably spend most of His time in coffee shops, night clubs, parks, bus stops, and malls. He went to where people were at. I know of no Scripture that describes Him at home playing video games or even reading a book. In fact, at one point He describes Himself as homeless, spending his time amongst people. His culture was obviously different from ours, but I wonder how many of us would’ve criticized Him.

    A hospital is for the sick! The Church was created to reach the sick and transform them into wounded healers that can reach others.

    Statistics tell us that the longer someone is a follower of Jesus, the fewer non-Christian friends they have. Some of you have virtually no interaction with the very people we are on the planet to reach! Again, this is not about pressure or force or getting points for yelling and hating people, but it is about preaching the Gospel through your words and deeds, presenting an alternative story that says there is something much greater to live for than money, fame, and power.

    A Confession

    This part of the message is especially challenging for me. My family, neighborhood, and job is filled with Christians. I have to make a conscious effort to build relationships with non-Christians, and I’ve been working on it. My moonlighting DJ business has given me opportunities to have conversations with spiritual seekers. I spend several hours each week in a coffee shop that serves as my remote office where I’ve been intentionally getting to know the staff and, on occasion, talk with other patrons. I’m hardly a model fisherman, but I’m striving to be.

    The Heart of the Matter

    I believe the real reason we aren’t more involved in fishing for men is not that we don’t know how (though we’ll talk about that next week) or even that we don’t have the time, it’s that we don’t care. We really don’t love our friends, neighbors, and co-workers enough. Sure, there’s fear of rejection and our own egos and images, but at the core if we really loved others like Jesus does, we’d take more risks, engage in more conversations, and at the very least spend more time praying for the spiritual lives of others.

    Where do you spend your time? Who do you spend it with? What pre-Christians can you invite to your graduation party? BBQ?
    Presence is everything. Be present in the lives of pre-Christians. Chat with them on Facebook. Grab a cup of coffee with them. Be close to them.

    “God became a man and entered the world through a birth canal just like the rest of us. He chose to come to us on our turf, rather then expecting us to rise to His. Jesus preached everywhere that the kingdom of God has come near. He came to seek and to save the lost, and He now invites us to join Him.” –Neil Cole
    In the words of the great theologian, Winnie the Pooh,
    "You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes." -­‐Winnie the Pooh

    Much of this message was created by E.A.C.H., everyone a chance to hear, www.eachtoday.com

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Why Fish, 18 March 2012

    Big Idea: Fishing (for men and women) is joining God on His mission to seek and save the lost.

    To really understand the idea of spiritual fishing, we need take a look at our mission at Scio Community Church:

    We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by

    - serving our communities
    - sharing our story
    - sending disciples to bless the nations

    so that God is glorified.

    This is the reason we exist—to follow the Great Commandment (love God and your neighbor) and fulfill the great commission which involves Jesus’ final command in Matthew 28:18-20

    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

    Go..make disciples...of all nations. That’s the command. Put another way...go fish!!!

    As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matthew 4:18-19)

    Notice the three verbs in that last sentence.


    We are to go and be people of action. We are to love God, love our neighbors, and make disciples of all nations.

    Today’s question is, “Why Fish?”

    For many of you, you’re already bored. You’re thinking, “Been there, done that. Here’s another series on evangelism where we feel guilty for not getting everyone “saved” when I have my own doubts and questions and fears and don’t even know how to, uh, fish.”

    Brothers and sisters, fishing is what Scio is about. It’s what Jesus is about. We’re on a mission...from God! If you’re actively engaged in the mission, great! I’d love to hear your stories. We’d all love to hear your stories. If not, let me remind you of THE story, His story. Our story. It’s pretty simple, actually, but we need to go back to the beginning!

    It all began in a beautiful garden. He created an amazing planet for us to enjoy. Then He created man and woman. Then sin entered the world, first through a piece of fruit, and later through murder, deceit, and every imaginable sin. Death, violence, separation, and wickedness fill the earth and defile the image of God in man.

    The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5)

    He establishes a covenant with a man name Abraham (Genesis 12:1-­‐3). He promises to bless all the peoples of the world through the seed of Abraham. We discover that God chooses his people by grace (not by any merit of their own) (Deuteronomy 7:7-­‐9) God rescues His people from slavery/oppression (Exodus 3:7) God gives the law/sacrificial system to show Israel how to live with him as their God (Deuteronomy 30:19) Israel was to be a people who display God’s glory to the nations (Isaiah 49:6).

    They rebel again and live in their own ways (the definition of sin)—doing what was right in their own eyes. This cycle continues throughout the Old Testament (Isaiah 53:6; Judges 21:25; Jeremiah 2:12)

    To summarize, Hugh Halter said, “Though the majority of the Old Testament focuses on God’s work with the Jewish people, spaced strategically throughout are windows to God’s larger redemptive plan with outsiders.”

    The Old Testament is often viewed as more harsh than the New. We see God’s wrath and anger when the people of Israel rebel.

    As we’ve been reading, God keeps HIs promises. He said to the Israelites, “Obey Me and be blessed, disobey and be cursed.”

    God’s story is all about outreach, second chances, grace, and redemption. It’s also very inclusive. Jesus came not only for the Jews, but He radically loved Gentiles, too, infuriating the Jewish leaders of His day.

    After 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments, God sends a Savior.

    Hugh Halter, again, says, ““Like the first sprout of a beautiful tulip emerging from the dark, cold days of winter, God’s story of blessing pokes out of the ground again.”

    John 3:16 famously tells us that “
    God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

    Jesus enters our world.
    At just the right time God puts his plan of reconciliation and redemption into action. Jesus is born of a virgin (fully human and fully God) (Matthew 1:22; John 1:1,14). He is baptized (identified with sinful humanity) (Matthew 3:13), led by the Spirit (Matthew 4:1), tempted (Matthew 4:10), lived a perfect life (He did what Adam didn’t do by overcoming the tempter and living a life of faith/trust), became a substitutionary atonement (John 1:29), offers forgiveness of sins (Luke 5:20), was crucified, raised from the dead, and declares Himself to be Lord over all (Matthew 28:18-­‐20).

    Halter again writes, “Are you beginning to see how these stories fit together? God’s plan to bless, reach, include, adopt, reclaim, and redeem has not been abandoned or forgotten. It is about to touch down in every neighborhood, village, and town.”

    But why fish? It’s all because God invites us to join Him on mission. It’s not a burden, but a privilege.

    In a few months, athletes from all over the world will represent their nation in London for the Olympics. They don’t have to. It’s an honor. Jesus passed the baton to His disciples who over the past 2000 years have passed it to us.

    Jesus commissions his disciples to join Him on this incredible mission of reconciliation and restoration (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:18-­‐20). His church will be made up of men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and language (Revelation 5:9). The church has been commissioned to bring the blessing (gospel) of God to all the peoples of the earth in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:1-­‐3). The disciples of Christ wait for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14), the Holy Spirit is sent to empower the church for the mission (Acts 1:8), the gospel is proclaimed (Acts 2:36), the church multiplies, is scattered, and the gospel message spreads throughout the known world awaiting the return of King Jesus who bring full and final judgment and restoration.

    Do you see it? Can you step back and see the greater picture? The beautiful mosaic that is the Word of God in its fullness. Do you see what God is calling us to be as HIS church? Do you see that you are a part of the on going story of God?

    We are a church on mission because we serve a God on mission.
    God is calling us to join Him on the incredible mission to reconcile all things back to Himself through Christ! Peter made this declaration...

    But 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)

    “The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, and sermons...are simply a waste of time. God became a Man for no other purpose.” - C.S. Lewis


    Much of this message was created by E.A.C.H., everyone a chance to hear, www.eachtoday.com

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Radical Urgency, 9 October 2011

  • Big Idea: The time is now to share our story and fulfill our mission. Our days are numbered.

  • John 4:27-42

  • Introduction

  • We are in the middle of a series called Radical, largely inspired by the David Platt book of the same name. It’s really an attempt to fulfill our church’s mission:

  • We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 

  • - serving our communities
  • - sharing our story
  • - sending disciples to bless the nations

  • so that God is glorified.

  • This week’s message title—planned many weeks ago—is Radical Urgency.

  • I was deeply moved by an event that occurred this past week. Our generation’s Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, passed away. I don’t think a more influential human being has died in my lifetime. As many of you know, I’ve been an avid Apple user since 1994. I love Pixar films, too, a company that Jobs launched.

  • As I was reading a tribute to Jobs in USA Today, I was gripped by two sentences. The first one said

  • Jobs was a Buddhist.

  • The second one said

  • After a stint as a video-game designer at Atari, Jobs trekked to India in 1974, where he embraced Eastern culture and religion.

  • At age 19, Steve Jobs was searching for meaning and truth and he encountered Buddhism.

  • I have great respect for Buddhists. Our dear neighbors open their home each week for Buddhist services and are wonderful people. However, Buddhism will not lead you to heaven. In fact, they don’t even believe in an eternal heaven.

  • Here’s my point: what if Steve Jobs encountered fully-devoted followers of Jesus at age 19? What if a friend introduced him to Christ as a teenager?

  • I told Heather that of all of the people I have never met, I hope Steve Jobs is in heaven. God only knows where Steve will spend eternity, but the Bible makes it clear that without Jesus, it won’t be pleasant.

  • Platt tells of a conversation with two friends.

  • I remember sitting outside a Buddhist temple in Indonesia. Men and women filled the elaborate, colorful temple grounds, where they daily performed their religious rituals. Meanwhile, I was engaged in a conversation with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader in this particular community. They were discussing how all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different. “We may have different views about small issues,” one of them said, “but when it comes down to essential issues, each of our religions is the same.”

  • I listened for a while, and then they asked me what I thought. I said,“It sounds as though you both picture God (or whatever you call god) at the top of a mountain. It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place.” They smiled as I spoke. Happily they replied, “Exactly! You understand!” Then I leaned in and said, “Now let me ask you a question. What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are? What would you think if I told you that God doesn’t wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?” They thought for a moment and then responded, “That would be great.” I replied, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.” This is the gospel.

  • This is the gospel, friends. It’s a gospel that Steve Jobs needs. It’s a gospel that you and I need. It’s a gospel that the world needs.

  • We don’t have time to waste. Our days are numbered. You can be a world-famous, creative genius billionaire and your days are still numbered.

  • We must have a radical urgency for the things of God and the two things He cares most deeply about are the lost and the poor. The Bible is jam-packed with God’s heart for the spiritual and physically needy.
  • The Gospel demands radical urgency. It is something we are all given the privilege to share. If you have encountered Jesus, there’s no way you could remain unchanged.

  • One of my great frustrations as a pastor is the myth that you pay me to do ministry. The reality is we are all Christ’s ambassadors. I get paid to equip you to do ministry.

  • A related myth is that you are unqualified to do ministry. Since I’ve been to seminary and you have not, I’m the expert and you don’t know enough.

  • Radical urgency does not come from what we know; it only comes from who we know.

    There’s a great story of Jesus encountering a woman at a well. She is a Samaritan woman, a group despised by the Jews. Jesus had a radical disregard for the prejudices and hatred of men. His radical urgency transcended tribal boundaries. As I said a moment ago, you cannot encounter Jesus and not be changed, and this woman was no exception.

    John 4:27 begins

    Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” (John 4:27)

    Did I mention not only did Jews not talk to Samaritans, men did not usually talk to women, certainly not alone, and certainly not rabbis. Jesus’ radical urgency for the lost person trumps all of our cultural and religious traditions.
    Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. (John 4:28-30)

  • She shared her story with everyone she knew. How long was she a follower of Jesus? Minutes! How long did she attend seminary? Zero! She was not even a righteous woman, yet God used her.

  • Have you ever felt too ordinary to be used by God? Have you ever felt unqualified? Check out this video.

  • In the next verses, Jesus has a conversation with His disciples about food.

  • “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (John 4:34-38)

  • We often think that no one is particularly interested in hearing—let alone responding to—the Gospel, the good news.

  • This week I met a woman who told me after 38 years, she knew nothing about Jesus. At age 38, here in the United States, someone finally told her the story. His story. The simple story that God created, man destroyed, Jesus restored, and He is returning to establish a new heaven and a new earth. That’s it. That’s the story. It’s not good news, it’s great news! We’re not worthy. He is. We deserve death for our sins. He did it for us if we believe and accept the gift of His life and follow Him.

  • What does Jesus say here? The fields are ripe for harvest now. This is an appropriate time of year to talk about harvest. Last week we noted that harvest often refers to judgment, but here Jesus is clearly saying some plant seeds, other water, and others bring in the fruit. We all like to pick the fruit, but each person in the process is critical. You don’t just stick a seed in the ground and eat its fruit the next day. In the same way it’s unlikely that your first conversation with someone will lead to them dropping to their knees in surrender to Jesus. Then again, it might happen if others have been planting and watering the spiritual seeds in their life.

  • In today’s scripture, Jesus does not go into a town, have a revival meeting, and count the conversions. A despised, sinful Samaritan woman is a vital part of the process. She is not guilted into sharing her story. She doesn’t take a class. She is overjoyed to let others know what Jesus has done in her life. She simply invited people to meet Jesus. Should we also be just inviting people to encounter Jesus? What would that look like for us? What would that look like for you?

  • Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. (John 4:39-41)

  • They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42)

  • God used a woman—a rather sinful woman, at that—to bring the Gospel to her town. It had nothing to do with her education. It had nothing to do with her character. She encountered Jesus and had to share her story.

  • What’s your story? Earlier this year we developed two-word stories. Of course, it helps to have someone to share it with.

    This week I was reminded of radical urgency. My days on earth are numbered and when they end I have to give an account of how I spent them. There is a radical urgency that I do not waste a precious second.

    Those around us are also going to face judgment someday. One conversation be all that is needed for their eternities to be transformed. Most of us live as if we’re indestructible with at least 80 or 90 years before we reach our expiration date, but some may die at 70 or 60…or 56.

    This week you might encounter a 19 year-old searching for meaning and purpose in life. They may choose to follow Jesus because of your conversation or they may choose an alternate path, change the world, and spend eternity apart from God.

    Steve Jobs, in his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, said some timely words about his life and ours.

    "No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

  • Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

  • We must serve our communities NOW.
  • We must share our story NOW.
  • We must make disciples to send to the nations NOW.
  • Tomorrow may be too late.

  • You can listen to the podcast here.

    Radical Compassion, 2 October 2011

  • Big Idea: The Gospel demands we sacrifice our lives for the sake of people who do not know Christ.

  • Matthew 9:35-10:42

  • Introduction

  • For the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring our annual theme, Radical. Jesus said

  • …any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)

  • I am going to make some huge assumptions—that you’ve encountered Jesus Christ, experienced His presence and power and love and forgiveness, and you are filled with the Holy Spirit. You believe the Bible to be true and are committed to following it, including the radical teachings of Jesus.

  • In a word, we are to die! I know that doesn’t tickle any ears, but I want you to understand what is at stake.

  • Our world needs us. Seriously. Let me rephrase that: our world needs Jesus! There’s just one problem—He isn’t here. In case you didn’t notice, about two thousand years ago He passed the baton to us. We’re it. We’re His ambassadors. We’re His representatives. There is no plan B. Look around the room. We’re it! Say to the person next to you, “We’re it!”

  • There are two ingredients of Radical Compassion:
    - Supernatural awareness of the condition of the lost
    - Sacrificial obedience to the commission of Christ.

  • Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36)

  • Jesus was interacting in a region of about 3 million people. How did Jesus encounter the people? He saw the crowds. He had compassion on them.

  • There are crowds all around us. Nearly 7 billion people. 1/3 claim to be Christian. That leaves 4.7 billion people.

  • Jesus saw their size, their sin, and their suffering. Do we? We often see sin, judge, and shun.

  • Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (9:37-38)

  • Harvest is used as an image of judgment in places like Isaiah 17:10, 11; Matthew 13 (wheat and tares) and Joel.

  • This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power. (2 Thessalonians 1:7)

  • If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

  • You cannot follow Christ and receive some words and ignore others. Do we believe Jesus? If so, we need to ask God to open our eyes to see the lost.

  • Do we care?

  • We need God to move us from natural affections to supernatural affections.

  • Jesus didn’t say to pray for those who were lost. Instead he told the disciples to pray for the church.

  • When Jesus looked at the harassed and helpless multitudes, apparently his concern was not that the lost would not come to the Father. Instead his concern was that his followers would not go to the lost.

  • Then Jesus sends them out.

  • I pray that God would send out workers in this room to businesses and schools and homes across Washtenaw County and ultimately to the nations. I pray for people to leave Scio…and go to the nations.

  • God delights in answering prayers like this.

  • Jesus says pray and go. We’re not in a position to ask questions and express opinions. We are to obey orders.

  • In this chapter, Jesus is giving specific commands to specific disciples, but the application is universal in different ways.
  • Go To Great Need

  • These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:5-8)
  • “preach,” the Greek word means to to preach, proclaim, tell, often urging acceptance of the message, with warnings of consequences for not doing so.

  • Go to the sick, not the healthy.
  • Go to the dying. Spend time with those near death.
  • Go to the diseased and despised.
  • Go to the demon-possessed.

  • Jesus sends them to the people of greatest need.

  • Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. (Matthew 10:9-10)

  • As you go to the needy, you will have to trust God’s provision.

  • “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (10:11-16)

    Jesus tells them to go to the dangerous.

    What does the shepherd do? He protects sheep from the wolves. Why does the Good Shepherd send the sheep to the wolves?

    Be as foolish as sheep but as smart as snakes. Go without reservation into areas of danger and be wise.

    We do not need the power of God to live comfortable, safe lives.

    “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:21-23)

    The Kingdom of God is divisive.

    When you are persecuted…not if.

  • “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ (Matthew 10:34-36)
  • At this very moment there are men and women around the world choosing between Jesus and their families. I had an acquaintance in college who was a new Christian. He said if he returned to his Muslim family, they would disown him if not kill him. Some of you heard applause when you accepted Jesus but for so many it involves death, socially or literally.

  • You may be hated to the government, by your family, or even by religious people. They will hate us because they hated Jesus, not because we are evil.

  • The danger of our lives increases in proportion to the depth of our relationship and identity with Christ. Don’t follow Jesus if you want an easy life.

  • Persecuted. Betrayed. Hated.

  • USAmericans are among the few that don’t understand this. It’s easy to be a Christian here. We think that the more we mimic and appeal to the world, the better. The more this church becomes like Christ, the more difficult they will get.

  • A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)

  • Does that scare you? It scares me!

  • Do we really want to be like Christ?

  • Jesus is saying this is dangerous.

  • “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:26-28)

  • What really matters?

  • Fear God, not man.

  • “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)

  • Why is this so hard? There were 3 million people back then and today there are nearly 5 billion people that don’t know Jesus. They don’t see Christ today.

  • What’s best for me? What’s best for my family?

  • We have a Gospel that demands radical compassion.

  • Lose yourself. Lose your life. Die! Then you will live!

  • This message and this series is all about life, satisfaction, joy, and the ultimate reward. It’s not just about you finding Christ, but others, too.

  • “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42)

  • David Platt writes,

  • You know that in the end you are not really giving away anything at all. Instead you are gaining. Yes, you are abandoning everything you have, but you are also gaining more than you could have in any other way. So with joy—with joy!—you sell it all, you abandon it all. Why? Because you have found something worth losing everything else for. This is the picture of Jesus in the gospel. He is something—someone—worth losing everything for.

  • The reward of the American dream is safety, security, and success found in more comfort, better stuff, and greater prosperity. But the reward of Christ trumps all these things and beckons us to live for an eternal safety, security, and satisfaction that far outweigh everything this world has to offer us.

  • This is more than just storing up treasures in heaven, though it is that, too. It is finding true freedom by letting go of your life and truly letting God take over.

  • The great theologian Jonathan Edwards said

  • I claim no right to myself - no right to this understanding, this will, these affections that are in me; neither do I have any right to this body or its members - no right to this tongue, to these hands, feet, ears, or eyes. I have given myself clear away and not retained anything of my own. I have been to God this morning and told Him I have given myself wholly to Him. I have given every power, so that for the future I claim no right to myself in any respect. I have expressly promised Him, for by His grace I will not fail. I take Him as my whole portion and felicity, looking upon nothing else as any part of my happiness. His law is the constant rule of my obedience. I will fight with all my might against the world, the flesh, and the devil to the end of my life. I will adhere to the faith of the Gospel, however hazardous and difficult the profession and practice of it may be. I receive the blessed Spirit as my Teacher, Sanctifier, and only Comforter, and cherish all admonitions to enlighten, purify, confirm, comfort, and assist me. This I have done. I pray God, for the sake of others, to look upon this as a self-dedication, and receive me as His own. Henceforth, I am not to act in any respect as my own. I shall act as my own if I ever make use of any of my powers to do anything that is not to the glory of God, or to fail to make the glorifying of Him my whole and entire business. If I murmur in the least at afflictions; if I am in any way uncharitable; if I revenge my own case; if I do anything purely to please myself, or omit anything because it is a great denial; if I trust to myself; if I take any praise for any good which Christ does by me; or if I am in any way proud, I shall act as my own and not God's. I purpose to be absolutely His.
  • - Jonathan Edwards, The Works Of Jonathan Edwards

  • You are not your own. If you belong to Jesus, you are to sacrifice everything for the sake of those who don’t know Christ.

  • Prayer. Make us a church that sacrifices everything for the sake of the lost.

  • Note: Many ideas borrowed from David Platt and his book Radical.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Celebration, 24 April 2011, Easter

    I was once looking at a book on world religions. It talked about Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism and other faiths and I was curious what it had to say about Christianity. It began by stating that Christianity is an historical religion. It did not begin with a philosophy or dream or vision. In fact, we are here today not even because Jesus was a wise teacher and healed people. It’s all about the resurrection. Period.

    Few people argue that Jesus lived. Most acknowledge that He was crucified. Everything about our faith rises and falls on the resurrection. If Jesus is dead, we are wasting our time this morning. In fact, if Jesus is dead, we are wasting our lives!

    The Account (Matthew 28)

    After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

    There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
    - Matthew 28:1-4

    The stone was like a giant wagon wheel. This particular stone is inside a track. What was the purpose of the stone?

    • contain the smell
    • contain the body

    This was not an ordinary burial, though. Let’s go back a few verses to the previous chapter:

    As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. - Matthew 27:57-61

    The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” - Matthew 27:62-64

    “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. - Matthew 27:65-66

    So Jesus’ dead body was placed in the tomb, the tomb was covered with a stone, the stone had a seal, and a guard was posted.

    I’ve always found it fascinating that the chief priests heard Jesus say He would rise again after three days, yet His followers were clueless.

    Back to the story...

    The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” - Matthew 28:5-7

    They entered the tomb. They saw where Jesus lay, yet He was not there!

    So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” -
    Matthew 28:8-10

    Why were the women afraid?

    The first thing Jesus says is “fear not.” This is the most common command in the Bible, given to us 366 times, one for every day of the year, including leap year! Fear not. Why? We’ll see in a moment.

    While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. - Matthew 28:11-15

    Matthew tells us why some would not believe in the resurrection. A plan was devised to turn it into a myth.

    For two thousand years people have been devising ways to explain away the resurrection. Maybe His body was stolen. One of my favorites is that maybe Jesus never died and just walked away (if you’ve ever seen “The Passion of the Christ” you know that was impossible, to say nothing of His heart being pierced and blood and water flowing out).

    There’s one huge problem with anything that explains away the reality of the resurrection—hundreds of eyewitnesses with identical accounts. Some people have said it was just a hallucination on the part of His followers, but remember one thing: many of these people died for their belief in the resurrection. It’s one thing to make up a story or experience a vivid dream, but people don’t become martyrs over fairy tales.

    Friends, the resurrection is not merely an important part of our faith. Everything rises and falls on it!

    And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. - 1 Corinthians 15:14

    Finishing our story, it says

    Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” - Matthew 28:16-20

    We recently looked at this passage as we talked about Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations. Remember He told the women to fear not? Here’s why—I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

    So what?

    Some of you are Christ-followers. Without the resurrection there is no Easter, no Christianity, no church, no eternal life, no heaven, no hope, no joy, and no peace. Everything depends upon the resurrection. If we serve a dead God, our faith is no different than any other religion.


    There’s only one tomb that is empty!

    If you are truly a follower of Jesus, He tells us two things—go and fear not. We are on a mission that as we are going through life, we are to make disciples. We are to let others know about the incredible life that Jesus offers.

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

    Tomorrow is the beginning of the E.A.C.H. campaign at 2WordStory.com. I hope you are ready to share your story...and His!

    Some of you are not Christ-followers. I urge you to seriously consider Jesus. This is not about His teachings or miracles, it’s about His With all due respect to other religions, only Jesus died for you. Only Jesus demonstrated His love to you.

    But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8

    Only Jesus conquered sin and death and the grave. Only Jesus’ tomb is empty.

    Jesus said to Martha

    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
    - John 11:25-26

    Jesus said

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. - John 10:10

    He said

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. - John 14:6

    He is the way, the truth, and the life.


    Today is a day of celebration. On Friday we remembered the murder of an innocent man who was also God, Jesus Christ. Today we celebrate His resurrection. Today we celebrate life—His and ours. The word celebration means to make public and that’s what Jesus told us to do. He didn’t tell His followers to keep His life and resurrection a secret. He told them to go! He told them to go public! We celebrate in this building today, but the real celebration begins as we leave this place to go public. That’s what 2WordStory is about. That’s what Scio is about. That’s what the Church is about—letting the whole world know that Jesus is alive!

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    2WordStory, 27 March 2011

    Big Idea

    The upcoming E.A.C.H. campaign is about God’s story...and yours!


    “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” - Matthew 28:18-20

    But in your hearts set apart 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. - 1 Peter 3:15-16

    Always be prepared to share your story. Can you share it in an hour? 30 minutes? 3 minutes? Two words?

    Now is the time to order our gear and prepare our story. Beginning on Easter Sunday, billboards, bus signs, coffee sleeves, and other tools will promote 2WordStory. When someone sees you with your 2WordStory t-shirt, mug, or other gear, they will likely ask about it and then, BOOM!, you have an opportunity to share your story...and ask them about their story.

    The E.A.C.H. strategy which focuses on your 2WordStory. If you missed it, I urge you to watch this video and/or listen to the podcast in order to prepare for this historic 40-day campaign that begins on Easter Sunday. You can get your 2WordStory gear here.

    April 16, is the E.A.C.H. Prayer Walk. It starts at 9 AM at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit.

    You can listen to the podcast here.