Faithfulness

Finding the Love You Want, 21 April 2024

Finding the Love You Want
Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary
Ruth 1:19-2:14

Series Big Idea:
God does extraordinary things in and through the ordinary.
 
Big Idea: God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people.
 
Marriage has changed a lot in our culture, just in my lifetime. Its literal definition changed in 2015 in the USA. Cohabitation is seen as an alternative to marriage for many. In the last five decades, marriage rates have dropped nearly 60%. But our text today is about—spoiler alert—a woman meeting her future husband. They didn’t meet on a dating site or at a bar, but it’s a great story.
  
Two weeks ago, we began our series on the book of Ruth. If you missed Pastor Mike’s sermon, the first chapter of the book introduces us to a woman named Naomi. She’s from Bethlehem—yes, that Bethlehem, though centuries before the birth of Jesus—and her family leaves during a famine and lives in Moab for about a decade. While there, her husband and two sons died, leaving her without the three men in her life, surrounded by her two daughters-in-law who are also widows. Naomi tells them to return to their mothers. One does…
 
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more. (Ruth 1:16-18, NLT)   
 
Ruth and Naomi are widows, a great challenge in our day, but far more treacherous in their culture. Ruth is so committed to Naomi she gives up her cultural and religious identity to be with her. It’s possible she was impressed not only with Naomi, but her God. This vow is so compelling, Heather and I had it read at our wedding as a declaration of our dedication to one another.
 
Speaking of weddings, today’s message is entitled, “Finding the Love You Want.” We’re going to look at the incredible way God led Ruth to find a husband after the death of her first one. Before we continue, let me make a few important disclaimers. First, married life is not superior to single life. Some of you unmarried people like being single. Others think a spouse will “complete you” and idealize marriage. God doesn’t want everyone married, though it was His design for some of us to marry in order to reproduce, but with 8 billion people on the planet, I think we’re doing a pretty good job at that! There are many reasons why people are single, but it is not a curse. I’m deeply sorry for the way some church people have treated singles, whether it be unwanted match-making, a what’s-wrong-with-you attitude, or creating meat markets called “singles ministries.”
 
We are family, and we need one another. Singles can learn from marrieds and vice-versa and we need to do life together. Our Life Groups are a great tool for this…diverse, small communities where the young and old, married and unmarried, parents and those without kids, rich and poor…can experience life together, serving one another, loving one another. There are two single men in our church family who have each been “adopted” by a family and it brings me great joy to see them live life in such a community, despite not having a spouse. Paul wrote in the Bible,
 
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. (1 Corinthians 7:8, NIV)
 
Jesus was unmarried. There’s no shame in singleness. But if you need help finding a mate, you might want to pay attention to this.
 
VIDEO
 
You’re welcome!
 
Ruth and her mother-in-law have lost their husbands…and they never had the privilege of seeing that video to aid in finding new ones!
 
So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. (Ruth 1:19, NLT)   
 
Naomi had lived here and must’ve made quite an impression for “the entire town” to be excited to see her.
 
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21, NLT)
 
This is kind of dark, but I love her honesty. In this culture, names had tremendous meaning. Naomi’s life had changed so much she wanted to be called “bitter.” She felt God was punishing her, perhaps for leaving Bethlehem to live in a foreign country that worshipped other gods. While I can see why she felt it was a punishment, the Bible is filled with refugees, immigrants, and aliens and cares deeply for them. Guess what the name Ruth means? It means friendship or clinging. How appropriate! And Naomi? It means pleasant! Note in these two verses Naomi says, “I” or “me” eight times! She so fixated on herself she doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of Ruth, saying “the LORD has brought me home empty.”
 
It’s easy to pick on Naomi, but as Pastor Mike said two weeks ago, there’s much we don’t know about her, and there are things that reveal both her godliness and imperfections. One writer noted the similarities between her and Job. They both experienced tremendous loss and suffering, though Naomi did it as a woman, a widow, and a foreigner while living in Moab, things Job never experienced.
 
So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest. (Ruth 1:22, NLT)
 
Harvest time has always been important, but especially in an agrarian society. They couldn’t run up to Kroger and grab a frozen burrito or pick up fast food. If you don’t harvest, you die. Chapter one began with Naomi leaving Bethlehem and ends with her returning.  
 
Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1, NLT)   
 
Hello Boaz! He’s a relative of Naomi’s late husband and is wealthy and influential. The book of Matthew mentions he is the son of Rahab, the former prostitute in Jericho who hid Israel’s spies in the book of Joshua.
 
One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
 
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” (Ruth 2:2, NLT)   
 
They were hungry and needed food.
 
So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:3, NLT)   
 
“As it happened.” The author is telling us this is not chance or coincidence, but God’s providence. He is at work in this situation, and He’s far more active in our lives than we realize. Ruth is a hungry, desperate widow, but God sees her. God sees you, too. This story is remarkable, but the greatest impact of Ruth and Boaz will not occur in their lifetime. God is doing something that will impact generations for centuries…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
 
This process of picking up leftover grain was known as gleaning (see Leviticus 19:9-10). There’s a food bank in metro Detroit called Gleaners.
 
While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The LORD be with you!” he said.
 
            “The LORD bless you!” the harvesters replied. (Ruth 2:4, NLT)   
 
This seems like a nice guy! He’s a wealthy, influential man who takes time to greet the poor collecting his leftovers.
 
Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?” (Ruth 2:5, NLT)
 
He notices Ruth…because she’s new? Because she’s young? Because she’s beautiful? The culture was patriarchal where every woman must belong to a man, whether it’s a husband or father. Unfortunately, some of these attitudes remain today, where women are treated as second-class citizens and single women are incomplete.  
 
And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2:6-7, NLT)
 
She’s a hard worker. That’s a good character trait.   
 
Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.” (Ruth 2:8-9, NLT)   
 
This is probably not typical treatment of a gleaner. Either Boaz is very kind, he has an interest in her, or both.
 
Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” (Ruth 2:10, NLT)   
 
Remember, Naomi was from Bethlehem, but Ruth was from Moab,
 
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12, NLT)
 
Boaz is kind, but he’s also heard about the kindness of Ruth…without social media! Could this be a match made in heaven? We’ll see!  
 
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” (Ruth 2:13, NLT)   
 
All Ruth is seeking is food for her and her mother-in-law, Naomi. But she is a vulnerable widow, as is Naomi.
 
At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over. (Ruth 2:14, NLT)   
 
Now she has food, all right, but not from gleaning. These aren’t leftovers. She’s eating with the master of the house, so to speak. Not only did she have quality food, she’s dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I hope there’s a doggy bag for her to take some food to Naomi!
 
And that’s where we end today! Come back next time for the continuation of the story and see what happens between Ruth and Boaz.
 
So What?
 
The moral of this story is if you want to find love, glean from the nearest farm and hope the owner sees you and shows you favor! Not quite, but it is a truly remarkable story. It’s important to see that God is the main character. LORD—the all-caps sacred name for God—is mentioned several times. This is much more than a tragedy becoming hopeful or the search for a spouse.
 
There are some principles that apply not only to dating, but all friendships. First and foremost, God is sovereign. He is in control. Although He didn’t force these events to take place, He had a plan for Ruth…and Naomi…and Boaz…and an even bigger plan that we’ll see later in the series that impacts us today!
 
Second, God sees needs. He saw these widows. He hasn’t forgotten them. And He sees you, too. We have many actual widows in our First Alliance family. God sees you. We do, too, and want to love and serve you in your loss, grief, and loneliness. I read a remarkable statistic that 90% of wives will be widows for at least part of their lives. Throughout the Bible, we see three vulnerable people groups God instructs us to care for: widows, strangers, and orphans.
 
Third, God sees deeds. He not only sees our needs, He sees our deeds! Ruth showed radical love to her mother-in-law. She could’ve listen to Naomi who said, “Go find a husband. I don’t want to be a burden to you,” but instead, Ruth was committed to Naomi. God saw this, and others did, too, which is why Boaz heard about it and a primary reason why he showed such kindness to Ruth.
 
I’m not sure who needs to hear this today, but listen to these words from Paul:
 
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT)
 
Ruth didn’t explicitly stay with Naomi for the Lord, but her devotion was an expression of love. Ruth was a woman of faith who loved God. This was clear in verses 1:16 and again in 2:12.
 
It’s easy to feel hidden and unnoticed. Sometimes the work we do takes weeks, month, years, even decades before it’s noticed, but God is always watching…and in time, it’s likely that your good deeds will be noticed and rewarded. Don’t give up. Don’t worry about human applause. You will be rewarded for eternity for the things you do for the LORD.
 
By the way, we don’t do good works to get saved. We do good works because we’ve been saved. Faith without works is dead. As Dallas Willard said, God’s not opposed to effort. He’s opposed to earning. Serving God and others should be the natural response to the cross, the empty tomb, and God’s amazing grace toward us.
 
Ultimately, God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people. That blessing may be finding the love of your life. It might be experiencing the joy of a deep friendship. What we do matters. Who we worship matters most of all…and my heart is full of gratitude for our amazing God and His faithfulness. 
 
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
here.

Unfaithful, 26 February 2023

Unfaithful
Honor: The Book of Malachi
Malachi 2:1-16

Series Big Idea: The last book of the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) offers challenging words about bringing honor to the LORD.
 
Big Idea: Our faithful God calls us to be faithful…to Him and one another.
 
What is your favorite attribute of God? We know God is love. He is holy. He is righteous and just. He is ever-present, all-powerful, and all-knowing. My favorite aspect of God’s character is His faithfulness. My favorite hymn declares
Great is Thy Faithfulness.
 
Faithful. Full of faith. Remaining loyal and steadfast. True. Devoted. Unwavering. Constant. Does that describe God? Does that describe you?
 
 
Last Sunday, Pastor Donald kicked off Honor, our series on the book of Malachi, the last book in the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament. It’s important to understand the context. Malachi is a powerful, prophetic message to God’s people who have been unfaithful to Him…and chapter two begins with a warning to the priests.
 
“Listen, you priests—this command is for you! (Malachi 2:1, NLT)
 
I wish priests, pastors, Christian leaders were known as the most godly people in the community. It breaks my heart every time I hear of the moral failure of minister…and yet I know I fall short. I’m not perfect. I need God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy for my pride, my selfishness, my lack of faith, my worry,…
 
Listen to me and make up your minds to honor my name,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “or I will bring a terrible curse against you. I will curse even the blessings you receive. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you have not taken my warning to heart. (Malachi 2:2, NLT)
 
One role of Old Testament priests was pronouncing blessings on God’s people, but God threatens to turn them into curses.
 
I will punish your descendants and splatter your faces with the manure from your festival sacrifices, and I will throw you on the manure pile. 4 Then at last you will know it was I who sent you this warning so that my covenant with the Levites can continue,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 2:3-4, NLT)
 
God doesn’t sound happy! God hates religion, or at least half-hearted, when-it’s-convenient, going-through-the-motions activity. Have you ever done this? Maybe you’re there right now…here not to truly pursue God, but to do your religious duty for the week. The priests were not honoring God, so God was threatening to make them unclean, literally and figuratively.
 
This text was not written to us, obviously. It was written to a people almost 2500 years ago, but there are common patterns humans seem to engage, regardless of time or culture.
 
Back in November, I mentioned Pastor Soper’s summary of the cycle the people of Israel went through during the Old Testament.

Israel forgets God >>> Israel forsakes God >>> Israel worships other gods >>> God sends judgment upon Israel >>> Israel cries out to God >>> God raises up a deliverer >>> God saves Israel >>> Israel pledges to serve God >>> [repeat]
Perhaps this same cycle is relevant today. If so, where are we? Where are you?
I want to stress we’re still looking at warnings to the priests.
 
“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6 They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. (Malachi 2:5-6, NLT)
 
That’s what Old Testament priests were supposed to do. They were to teach the Law and acts as messengers of God. Today, the role of the priests and clergy is first to set an example for others to follow (“Follow me as I follow Christ,” Paul wrote) and then to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. This is known as the priesthood of all believers.
We are all called to be priests, to be missionaries, to make disciples, to worship God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. We are all called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
 
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. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10, NLT)
 
But back to the Old Testament priests…
 
“The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 2:7, NLT)
 
Then we have that all-too common preposition.
 
But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. 9 “So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” (Malachi 2:8-9, NLT)
 
This is sobering, especially for a professional Christian like me! But this is relevant for you, too. Have you caused anyone to sin? Have you wandered from the LORD? Is your life one worth imitating?
 
Now the message shifts from the priests to all believers, what is known as the third oracle of Malachi…three questions.
 
Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors? (Malachi 2:10, NLT)
 
These people have one Father, a reference to God or possibly Abraham. They are all masterpieces created by the same God, but they’ve been unfaithful not only to God, but to one another.
 
Judah has been unfaithful, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. The men of Judah have defiled the LORD’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols. 12 May the LORD cut off from the nation of Israel every last man who has done this and yet brings an offering to the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 2:11-12, NLT)
 
They have been detestable! History is filled with people—men and women—who have been led astray by their spouses. The Jews were not to marry those of other faiths because God knew their hearts would be led astray. There are many examples of this, both then and now, and the penalty was strict…cut off from the nation, either a literal death or that they would have no descendants. The reference to offerings is yet another declaration that religious activity without obedience is worthless. To obey is better than sacrifice. God wants all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength…24/7/365, not just an hour on Sunday. But let’s go back to the point of this detestable thing…intermarrying with pagans, with those who worship other gods.
You are your friends. Choose wisely. This is why Paul wrote,
 
Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NLT)
 
We often apply this to dating, forbidding Christians from marrying non-Christians. This is so vital. There are some unusual examples of “missionary dating” being successful, but too often well-meaning Christians dating non-Christians are lured into abandoning their faith. This command could be relevant in other relationships, too. This does not mean we are to avoid unbelievers. We are simply not to be influenced by them. Light should penetrate the darkness, not the other way around. Someone said,
“When Jesus hung out with sinners…they changed. He didn’t.” We are to be in the world, but not of it.
 
When we talk about the holiness of God, we’re speaking of how He is set apart, distinct, different. It is our calling, too…all of us. We are not supposed to act like the world. We are not supposed to do what they do, but rather live an alternative lifestyle of righteousness, integrity, generosity, compassion, and most of all love.
 
I get angry when I hear accounts of so-called Christians behaving just like the world, seeking power for their sake, ignoring those in need, embracing lifestyles forbidden in scripture, spewing pride, and even promoting violence. There’s a great scene in the tenth chapter of Mark. James and John, two of the disciples, asked Jesus if they could sit on his right and left in his glory.
 
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (Mark 10:42, NIV)
 
Power is seductive. It is attractive. It’s one of the greatest temptations. Jesus continues,
 
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45, NIV)
 
The Bible is true. Every word. Problems arise when we ignore the Bible or misunderstand it. Some statements—especially in the Old Testament—applied to particular people in a particular time, but Jesus’ words are usually universal, and this is clearly the case here.
 
Most of us love the idea of being a servant…until we’re treated like one! Jesus is our perfect example, and its only by knowing Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit that we can become like Jesus. It’s not about trying harder. It’s not the result of a new year’s resolution or a self-help book. You are your friends. Choose wisely. Choose Jesus. Now another subject emerges.
 
Here is another thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. (Malachi 2:13, NLT)
 
When is the last time you cried out to God? What makes you weep? What causes you to groan in desperation? Sometimes God’s response to our prayers is related to our obedience…or disobedience. I am
not saying if you’re a good boy or girl God will grant your every wish. I’m not saying if your prayers aren’t answered how and when you want, it’s the result of sin. But in this case, God identifies the problem with their worship. Their crocodile tears are not the result of sincere worship. They have been unfaithful.
 
You cry out, “Why doesn’t the LORD accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the LORD witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. (Malachi 2:14, NLT)
 
Wait, God cares about my marriage? He cares about my faithfulness to my spouse? In a word, yes!
 
Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. (Malachi 2:15, NLT)
 
Most of you who are married made vows, not only to your spouse, but also to God. It’s one thing to break a promise to a person, but another to be unfaithful to God.
 
If you’re married, are you honoring your vows? Are you faithful in sickness and in health? I have to admit when I spoke those words almost 33 years ago, I didn’t imagine pushing a wheelchair all winter. I never imagined COVID. I didn’t anticipate surgeries. And I have no regrets!
 
Better or worse. We never really think about the worse part. What if a child is seriously sick. What happens when a career change is made, a job relocation, a car breakdown, or mental illness in the family? How do you respond when your husband drives over your foot with your Jeep in front of the church building?!
 
Richer or poorer. I suppose this one is easy for young couples to envision since they’re often poor as church mice like Heather and I were when we got married.
 
Married people, guard your heart. Protect your marriage. Kindle your romance. Remain loyal to your spouse…even when you don’t feel like it. Be faithful.
 
I want to pause for a moment and address those of you who are not married. If you’ve never been married, I want to say I’m sorry…not because you’re single, but because of the way Christians and churches often treat singleness as some kind of disease…when the Bible clearly teaches it is better for some not to marry. Marriage is not the fix-all, cure-all guaranteed to “complete you.” It’s hard work. It can take your focus off God if you’re not careful. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re single, whether you choose it or haven’t met the right person yet. Married people, let’s stop treating singles as second-class citizens. Instead, let’s welcome them into our families. Let’s do life with them.
 
Some of you are unmarried as a result of death. I’m so sorry for your loss and pray God floods your life with peace and comfort.
 
Some of you are unmarried as a result of divorce. Malachi addresses you, too.
 
“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Malachi 2:16, NLT)
 
God hates divorce, but He does not hate divorcees. There are many reasons why people get divorced, some permitted by scripture, others not. Many divorcees never wanted a divorce. Those seeking divorce to end all of their problems are often disappointed. Divorce is messy…and expensive…and often inevitable. God hates it because He knows the pain it causes. It violates His plan for a man and woman to be one and, frequently, create a family together. Marriage is a beautiful symbol of His relationship with His people.
 
If you’re married, guard your heart and be faithful to your spouse.
 
If you’re single, embrace the benefits of your marital status. Single parents, I realize this is especially challenging. You have the toughest job in the world, but remember you’re a part of a family. Get connected to a
Life Group. Take some initiative. If you’re new around here, come to the After Party today. We see you. God sees you. You don’t have to do this by yourself. You weren’t meant to do this by yourself. We were all created for community. We are different part of the body of Christ and we need one another, We need to be faithful to one another, and faithful to God.
 
If you are seeking a perfect mate, focus on being the perfect mate…and be patient.
 
If you’re divorced, receive God’s grace, mercy, and healing.
 
God hates divorce because it hurts people. It may be necessary, but it still causes pain.
 
God’s vision is for family is clear from the opening pages of the Bible: one man and one woman may marry, which often leads to children. Single people are to remain committed to celibacy.
 
But the message of this text is more than the faithfulness of a husband and wife. It’s about the relationship between God and Israel. The prophets spoke numerous times about God divorcing Israel, His “wife,” for unfaithfulness.
 
Our faithful God calls all of us to be faithful…to Him and one another. He is good. Hallelujah!

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
here.

O Come, All Ye Faithful, 13 December 2020

O Come, All Ye Faithful
Series—Carols

Series Big Idea: Carols are the soundtrack of the season as we celebrate Advent.

Big Idea: Joy is the result of focusing our attention upon Jesus the Messiah who is worthy of our adoration.

Last week we began our Advent series, Carols. This season has its own soundtrack, a diverse collection of songs ranging from the silly (Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer) to the sacred (last Sunday’s theme, O Holy Night). Today we’re going to look at a seventeenth century song originally written in Latin, Adeste Fideles. We know it as O Come, All Ye Faithful.

What do you think about when hear the word “faithful?” Couples promise on their wedding day to be faithful to one another until death. We sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” as we worship our trustworthy LORD.

Dictionary.com lists these definitions for the adjective
faithful:

  • - Strict or thorough in the performance of duty
  • - True to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.
  • - Steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant
  • - Reliable, trusted, or believed
  • - Adhering or true to fact, a standard, or an original; accurate

Then it lists the definitions of the noun
faithful:

  • - The believers, especially members of a Christian church or adherents of Islam
  • - The body of loyal members of any party or group

True. Steady. Loyal. Reliable. Trusted. Believed. Accurate. Do these words describe you? Do they describe us? If so, come. O Come, All Ye Faithful.

The root of the word faithful is…faith. There is a belief, a conviction behind the faithful. The faithful are full of faith. Are you?

One of my favorite stories in the Bible involves a boy possessed by a spirit. He would be thrown to the ground, foam a the mouth, gnash his teeth, and become rigid. It’s a disturbing situation. John Mark writes about his encounter with Jesus.

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. (Mark 9:20)

Jesus asked the boy’s father,
“How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered.
“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:21-22)


“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)


This is one of my personal prayers—
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.

Put another way, LORD, help me trust You more. Give me faith. Strengthen my faithfulness and loyalty to you.

The challenge to faithfulness is distraction. This is true for a married person whose eyes wander. It is true for the religious person who explores another faith. It can be true for Christians who become more devoted to the things of this world rather than the things of God.

One of the most famous Christmas carols begins
O come all ye faithful
Are you among the faithful? Are you a fully-devoted follower of Jesus Christ? Based upon my aforementioned prayer, I want to be, though I sometimes fail. The next line describes the manner in which God’s faithful people are to come.
Joyful and triumphant
Our Advent candle this week is joy. We are taught by the Declaration of Independence to pursue happiness. I want to be happy, but it’s hard to sustain. It comes and goes. It’s usually based upon circumstances, many of which we cannot control.
I am very happy today because my Michigan Wolverines did not lose to that team down south yesterday!
Unfortunately, a loss in the future is inevitable and I will be unhappy!
But joy is different. Happiness is external, where joy is more internal. The Greek word,
chara, means gladness, calm delight. We can pursue joy. We can choose it. C.S. Lewis said,
“No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
He called joy “the serious business of heaven,” noting, “Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is,” wondering, “whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.” In our text last week, we read,

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)
Nehemiah famously said in the book (8:10) that bears his name, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Joy is found in the LORD, not shopping malls or Hallmark Christmas movies! C.S Lewis wrote,
“If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone.”
The faithful are joyful and triumphant. Although it didn’t look like it as Jesus was crucified, he was actually winning, destroying sin and death forever. He is the victor, the champion, the greatest…and being with him, being for him, being faithful to him allows us to be joyful and triumphant.

Joy is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If you want joy, you must get close to the LORD. The message of today’s carol is just that…get close to the LORD, come and behold God in a manger.

O come ye O come ye to Bethlehem Come and behold Him Born the King of angels
Obviously, we are not instructed to fly to Israel and visit Bethlehem, though you can. It’s a real city. The message is for God’s faithful to come and worship.
O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him Christ the Lord
What do you adore? What do you worship or honor or admire? What do you think about, spend time on, give your money to, focus your energies upon? “You are what you love (James K. A. Smith).”
The original Latin version of O Come, All Ye Faithful may have been written by St. Bonaventure, John Francis Wade, John Reading, King John IV of Portugal, or anonymous Cistercian monks somewhere between the 13
th and 18th century. We are more certain that the English translation was done by the English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley in 1841, with three additional verses added by William Thomas Brooke. First published in Murray’s Hymnal in 1852, Oakeley originally called the song, “Ye Faithful, approach ye.” The musical tune has been attributed to several musicians.
My favorite part of the song has always been the dynamics of the chorus. After joyfully singing the verses, there is a hush when the chorus begins,
O come let us adore Him, then getting louder each time until the crescendo of the song’s subject, Christ the LORD. Our response to knowing God is worship and adoration.
The second verse reflects the second chapter of Luke we examined last Sunday.
Sing choirs of angels Sing in exultation O sing all ye bright Hosts of heav'n above Glory to God all Glory in the highest
What a site that must’ve been for the shepherds who witnessed it.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (Luke 2:13)   

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)   

There’s a difference between Advent songs and Christmas songs. We are in the middle of Advent, the season of waiting for the coming, a time of anticipation. We are expecting the return of Jesus soon, though we also reflect back upon those who were waiting for his first coming. Perhaps the most famous Advent song is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The title says it all. Come, LORD! We are waiting, we are anticipating. We are waiting until December 25…waiting to open presents, waiting for Christmas dinner, waiting for the day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. O Come, All Ye Faithful is best sung on that day, especially the third verse.
Yea Lord we greet Thee Born this happy morning Jesus to Thee be all glory giv'n Word of the Father Now in flesh appearing
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)   

Eugene Peterson captured this so brilliantly in
The Message when he translated,

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish. (John 1:14,
The Message)   

Emmanuel, God with us. Flesh and blood. One of us. God with skin on. Amazing!

So What?
Once again, our response to knowing God is worship and adoration. When we ponder who He is and all that He has done, how can we not praise Him? How can we not come and adore Him?
I know some of you love to sing…and others would just as soon skip to the sermon! Worship is so much more than singing songs. It is one way we adore the LORD, and the angels set a great example on the night of Jesus’ birth.

Last week we talked about posture, particularly the humble act of kneeling. I’ve been in places where the awe of God has caused people to clap, raise their hands, kneel, lie on the floor, dance, weep, and shout. I’m not talking about putting on a show, drawing attention to one’s self, being a charismaniac, or feeling peer pressure to perform for others. I’m simply talking about our response to God.

There’s a powerful scene in Luke’s gospel where Jesus is having dinner at the home of a religious Pharisee.

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:37-38)

This disturbed the host who was quick to label her a “sinner,” as if he wasn’t! Jesus used it as a teaching moment.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47)

Then Jesus said to her,
“Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49)

Jesus said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)

She was faithful. She was full of faith. She came to adore Jesus.

She also had many sins. She received great forgiveness. She expressed great love.

That describes some of you. You know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the barrel, and you’ve experienced the thrill of forgiveness, the outlandish—some call it reckless—love of God. You can’t help but sing, shout, wail, dance in response to all God has done for you.

Some of you are more…reserved! It may be culture. It may be tradition. It may be your personality. That’s fine. But perhaps it’s because you’ve simply lost the awe, wonder, mystery, and majesty of Almighty God. You’ve forgotten the price paid for your salvation. You’ve reduced your faith to some beliefs in your head rather than a transformation of your heart. I want to encourage you to take time this Advent to read, reflect, and become captivated by the joy of the Messiah, the wonder of the season, the love that came down at Christmas. We are told to remember because we so easily forget, we get comfortable, things become familiar and we lose our passion.

We’ve all sinned—a lot—and our reflection upon the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb should lead us to fall to our knees, to be joyful and triumphant, to come and adore Him! He is worthy!

O Come, All Ye Faithful

One more thing…

Worship and adoration is more than singing songs on Sunday morning. It’s how we live our lives, what we do with our time, talents, and treasures. We worship through our generosity, kindness, love…heart, soul, mind, and strength. Family, go worship the King!

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
here.

Persecuted, 30 August 2020



Blessed are Those Who are Persecuted Because of Righteousness
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:10-12

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

Big Idea: Persecution is often a part of following Jesus, but He is worth it.

NIV: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

NLT: God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:10)

NKJV:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

The Message: “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. (Matthew 5:10)

Today we conclude our eight-week series on the Beatitudes, the blessings announced by Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. As a review, here’s what we’ve covered thus far:

Matthew 5:3    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Today’s text might be somewhat irrelevant to us today in the United States of America, though some of you watching in other countries might be able to relate…and the future is uncertain.

NIV: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

There’s a scene in the movie Courageous where an employee is asked to lie about a shipment. He’s told he will receive a promotion if he does so. He refuses, putting his job on the line, only to discover it was only a test. His integrity results in a raise and new responsibility with the company. It’s a powerful example of honesty, truth, and righteousness.

But what if the outcome were different? What if Javier lost his job for being disloyal to the company? What if he was persecuted because of doing the right thing?

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

According to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven would be his. Unfortunately, we presently live in the kingdom of this world, a planet plagued by sin, death, and destruction. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belonged to those poor in spirit (the first beatitude) and the persecuted.

Have you ever been persecuted because of righteousness? Wearing a mask to love your neighbor is not persecution. Someone saying, “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” doesn’t count! I mean have you ever paid a steep price for doing the right thing? It’s been said that no good deed goes unpunished, and yet God will have the final word on Judgment Day.

It’s important to remember Jesus isn’t saying you have to be persecuted in order to experience the kingdom of heaven. The beatitudes are not instructions to follow, but rather announcements of reality. It seems like some people throughout history have acted like fools in order to be persecuted, as if foolishness is noble. If you stand on a street corner and yell at people, people will mock you, not because of your righteousness, but because of your lack of love. We are not to seek out persecution, but neither are to be surprised if we genuinely encounter it due to our obedience to Jesus.

This verse has served as a comfort to our brothers in sisters for the past two thousand years ago, those tortured and even martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Jesus adds a bit more to his declaration.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

The words “be glad” literally mean “leap much!” I love that! We are to rejoice and leap much when we are persecuted.

We’re in the midst of an ongoing, spiritual battle between God and satan, good and evil. Sometimes we follow Jesus, other times the ways of the world. Make no mistake, though, they are polar opposites. God’s story is upside-down from the world.

Jesus never promised us happiness, or even the pursuit of happiness. He never said, “Fight for your rights,” “You deserve a break today at McDonald’s” or “Have it your way at Burger King.” The American Dream is not in the Bible! I often confuse my calling with our culture. It’s easy to forget God’s Kingdom while building our own. As USAmericans, we feel entitled to certain liberties and freedoms, and for good reason, but they’re not promised to us by God. Jesus said the opposite.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

The blessings—the real blessings—is not health and wealth. It’s not name it and claim it. It’s not financially prosperity, feel-good spirituality, self-actualization, or comfort on earth. As we’ve said throughout the series, the real blessing is God’s presence and favor. The greatest thing about heaven is God’s presence. Period. Are you pursuing God or pleasure?

Is anyone else uncomfortable? We might need to do more study on the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not for the faint of heart. He basically says do the opposite of our culture. Here are some examples:

And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22b)

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32)

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
(Matthew 5:42)

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44)

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:15)

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

Wow! Maybe we should skip that Sermon on the Mount stuff! Jesus couldn’t be serious, right? Let’s get back to our text.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

I want to offer a few thoughts on persecution.

We need to pray for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted.

In the decade of the 2000s, there were over 1.6 million Christian martyrs. Many predict at least one million will be killed because of their faith in Jesus in this decade. Can we put a human face on those who are suffering? God is present to those who are persecuted. That’s the blessing. Can we be present? To learn more about the Persecuted Church, go to
Persecution.com.

We need to expect persecution.

I’m not suggesting we should seek persecution, but we need to expect it. Paul told Timothy,

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12)

Jesus was certainly persecuted! Following Jesus means following him into death, too, whether it’s literal or figurative. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. He said,

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:18-20)

We need to endure persecution.

Paul wrote,

We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. (1 Corinthians 4:12)

This would not be a good recruiting tool for Christianity on a billboard! But this is what it means to follow Jesus.

We need to embrace persecution.

Peter set a great example for us. It is believed that when he was martyred, he was supposed to be crucified like Jesus, but he didn’t feel worthy so he requested that he be crucified upside down! He wrote,

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16)

So What?

Are we conspiring with the things of this world—money, sex, power—or God?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

People often ask about how to know God’s will. There it is! Turn away from the world, fill your mind with Jesus, and you will be able to test and approve God’s will. It might be messy. It could cost you your job. It’s possible that your life will be disrupted. But it will be so worth it in the end.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Holy troublemakers live with prophetic imagination. They refuse to go with the crowd. They take the high road, do the right thing, love well, and honor God in everything they do.

If you were on trial for following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

´╗┐Stu G of The Beatitudes Project asks some great questions:

Who and what am I colluding with? The dominant powers at play in the world—or the one who shared the message of the Beatitudes?

What am I resisting?

Are there situations in everyday life where I’m being forced to go with the flow? What would happen if I said no?

Who am I speaking out for? The homeless in my town? The woman at work on the receiving end of sexual jibes? The effeminate guy at school who’s getting bullied?

If I speak out—if I resist—am I willing to suffer for it? Because it might just happen.

One holy troublemaker, Mother Teresa, had this pinned to her wall in India:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Live a life worthy of persecution. And remember, no matter what the cost, Jesus is worth it. You are blessed. God is on your side.

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project, Life.Church

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
here.

Faithful to the Finish, 7 July 2019

Faithful to the Finish
Series—All The King’s Choices
2 Kings 2:1-15

Big Idea:
God is faithful…and blesses our faithfulness.

What is your favorite attribute of God?

I am in awe of God’s power, grateful for His grace, thankful for His love, amazed by His wisdom, …but I think my favorite attribute of God is His faithfulness.

Moses wrote,

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4)

The original Hebrew word for faithful here is “emunah,” meaning faithfulness, steadiness, trustworthiness. The same word is used in the book of Lamentations:

Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

My favorite hymn is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Although Heather and I have experienced countless storms, incredible pain, and more than a few surprises in life, we’ve found God to be faithful. We’re not always happy. We’ve been disappointed many times. But ultimately God has always proven Himself to be faithful to us.

A different, yet similar, word is used in this psalm:

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. (Psalms 146:6)

The Hebrew word here is “emet” which is faithfulness, reliability, trustworthiness truth.
Communion is a reminder of God’s faithfulness as recorded by John:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

The Greek, pistos, used here indicates God is faithful, true, and trusty (it’s a word!).

This is our God! He is faithful!

God is faithful…and blesses our faithfulness.

Faithfulness is growing increasingly uncommon in our contemporary vocabulary. For one thing, faith seems to be in decline, whether that’s actually true or not. Full of faith might only describe the truly zealous.

I looked up the word and definitions include

- Loyal
- Constant
- Steadfast
- Devoted

Is that quality you desire from a friend? A family member? A Father?

Today we’re going to look at two men who were faithful, not only for a season of their lives, but faithful to the finish. They had experienced God’s faithfulness and returned the favor! These two men had similar roles and similar names…Elijah and Elisha. In the book of 2 Kings, we see the prophet Elijah nearing the end of his days on earth. He was faithful to God throughout, and God blesses his faithfulness.

When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. (2 Kings 2:1)

Faithful servants remain faithful to the finish.

I often say it doesn’t matter who’s winning the game or the race in the final seconds. What matters is the end. The first to cross the finish line is the winner. The team with the most points when the buzzer goes off is the victor.

I’m so tired of hearing about gifted, talented, charismatic pastors who crash and burn before the finish line. They might be best-selling authors, megachurch leaders, or popular conference speakers who talk a good talk, but then self-destruct. Virtually every instance involves money, sex, and/or power. Success in the middle of the race is not enough. We must all finish well.

On more than one occasion I’ve heard people say they only read books by dead authors. They know how they finished!

Elijah’s story begins in 1 Kings chapter 17 in the 9
th century BC. His highlight reel included raising someone from the dead, calling down fire from the sky, and defending the worship of the Hebrew God against the false god Baal. He was so significant that he is mentioned in several books of the Bible and even other religious books such as the Quran and the Book of Mormon. In one miraculous scene, Elijah appears with Moses in the Transfiguration of Jesus in Luke chapter 9.

One of the greatest moments in Elijah’s life occurs in what could only be described as a near-death experience…because Elijah never dies! He’s one of two people in the Bible taken up to heaven before ever dying (the other is Enoch, Genesis 5:21-24). We’ll get to that in a moment.

One of the most important questions my late dad ever asked me is,
“Who is your mentor?” Throughout my life, I had no greater mentor than my dad, and I have missed him for many years.

Who is your mentor? Who are you mentoring?

Among the most humbling moments in my life have been the times young pastors in Burundi asked me to be their mentors. Another e-mailed me this past week.

Who is your mentor? Who are you mentoring?

The question could be plural. Different people can mentor us in different areas of life. For example, you might have someone who is showing you how to be a good spouse, another person modeling parenthood for you, a financial coach, a home-improvement guide, and a person teaching you how to play tennis.

In the days of Jesus, the most outstanding students would leave home and travel with a rabbi for months or even years. These “talmidim” or disciples did more than acquire knowledge. They sought to become like their teacher, eventually becoming teachers themselves.

Centuries earlier, young prophets learned from mentors like Elijah. They would gather in groups and be trained in guilds in places throughout Israel. Elijah knows he’s about to end his ministry on earth and he is with his protégé of seven or eight years, Elisha. The baton pass from Elijah to Elisha is nothing short of remarkable as Elijah embarks on his farewell tour.

Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. (2 Kings 2:2)

Elisha is deeply devoted to Elijah.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.” (2 Kings 2:3)

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho. (2 Kings 2:4)

Did Elijah forget Elisha’s devotion? He’s not leaving his mentor!

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.” (2 Kings 2:5)

Everyone seems to know Elijah’s leaving soon, and they all want Elisha to know. First, the prophets of Bethel. Now the prophets of Jericho.

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on. (2 Kings 2:6)

Elijah, take a hint! Elisha’s not leaving your side!

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. (2 Kings 2:7-8)

That’s amazing, not unlike God’s work in parting the Red Sea or the Jordan River for the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land, perhaps marking a parallel between Joshua succeeding Moses and Elisha succeeding Elijah. Here the cloak was more than a piece of clothing. It was symbolic of one’s authority. In Elijah’s case, it was powerful.

This is all setup. It’s just a reminder that

Faithful servants remain faithful to the finish.

Where are you at on your life journey? We’ve all made mistakes, but the fact that you’re here today means you have at least a basic interest in following God. I long to be faithful, and I desire that for you, too. That means devoting ourselves to prayer, to the scriptures, to generosity and obedience. Most of all, it means loving others—even our enemies—as we are filled by the Holy Spirit.

It can also be said that

Faithful servants seek God’s power
(for the spiritual battle, not for themselves)

Power is one of the most enticing things on earth. We have a natural craving for control. I used to think it was unique to USAmericans, but it seems people all over the world desire power…and it’s as old as humanity.

Is power good or bad? It depends upon how it’s used.

We all have some amount of power, control, influence. The question is how do you use power for your own pleasure or to serve others.

I confess I have struggled, at times, with the power I have as pastor of First Alliance Church. We’re not a huge church, but we have been a flagship congregation within the Great Lakes District over the years. God has done incredible things in and through the people of FAC. As the lead pastor, I have been granted an amount of power and authority. I don’t pretend to be the most powerful or influential person in our church family, but my position affords me a certain degree of power…to be used for my selfish benefit or to serve others. I strive for the latter, and I hope that’s been your experience!

Last Sunday we talked about the very real war being waged in the heavenly realms, good versus evil. We need God’s power, not to do tricks and impress people, but to bring God’s kingdom into reality here on earth as it is in heaven. We need God’s presence, the fruit of the Spirit, and spiritual gifts to bless others.

Our story continues…

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. (2 Kings 2:9)

Elisha knows about the spirit of God given to Elijah. He recognizes the need for supernatural power if he is to serve others as a prophet. This isn’t a selfish request. In the day, the firstborn son received a double portion of the inheritance of his father. Elisha is expressing his devotion to Elijah as his spiritual son as well as his desire for God’s power to serve others.

“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” (2 Kings 2:10)

Elijah couldn’t give the double portion, but he was saying the evidence of the double portion from God would be if Elisha saw Elijah depart.

Now Elisha’s really going to stay close to Elijah’s side!

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. (2 Kings 2:11-12)

Wow! I’d love to see that scene on Netflix! Elijah goes us in a chariot of fire. Hollywood’s got nothing on that image! Horses and chariots were not merely transportation, but symbols of warfare, with fire and wind being signs of God’s presence, perhaps a storm with lightning and thunder.

For Elisha, the bad news is Elijah is gone. The good news is he witnessed an incredible miracle, which also meant he would be given a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Now it’s up to Elisha to continue the work started by his mentor, Elijah, whose death he mourned through the tearing of his garment.

Through it all, Elisha was faithful to Elijah…and God.

Faithful servants do the work God assigns them.

God’s love language is obedience. Servants serve. It might be in a school, home, office, or church. It might be a public role or a private one. It might impact one life or millions. When we’re faithful with small things, prepare to be given greater opportunity. Such was the case for Elisha.

Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. (2 Kings 2:13-14)

The baton—or cloak—has been passed. The transition is complete. The mantle of authority has been transferred from Elijah to Elisha. Just as Joshua parted the Jordan River like Moses, Elisha sees God part it as Elijah had experienced.

The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. (2 Kings 2:15)

The other prophets were eyewitnesses of the beginning of the powerful ministry of the prophet Elisha, a fruitful work that would continue for about six decades! He would be known for his humility, love for the people of Israel, and, of course, his faithfulness.

So What?

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. How you run the race matters, and how you finish is most important.

God is faithful…and blesses our faithfulness. Elijah and Elisha are both examples of this. A reading of 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 13 is a great study of these two godly yet imperfect men, prophets of God. They were blessed by God for being a blessing to others.

It’s unlikely God will call any of us into a ministry which will be remembered for generations, but each day we make choices. We choose to follow God or the world. We choose to use power for ourselves or others. We choose to take short cuts and live for the moment or make sacrifices for the long run, knowing life is a marathon and we want to finish well.

On a personal note, I’m so grateful for your prayers. No child dreams of going to prison, yet there are pastors from Toledo there today. No seminary student thinks about resigning from their church because of moral failure, yet that’s been the story of some of my colleagues. Better men and women than me have fallen before they reached the finish line, and but by the grace of God so go I. I really need and appreciate your prayers, and I know our staff and elders do, too. We’re in a battle and one mistake can be costly. I want to finish well. I want you to finish well.

God is faithful…and blesses our faithfulness. What is your next step? What is God calling you to do? Who do you need to mentor and disciple? Who do you need to mentor you? Discipleship is a multi-generational process that we’re all commanded to participate in. May all who come behind us find us faithful…for the glory of God!

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

Life-Altering Circumstances, 25 November 2018

When Life Throws A Curve (Life-Altering Circumstances)
D6 Series—When Life Gets Hard
Matthew 3:1-17; 14:1-12; 11:1-19

Series Overview: In this world we will have trouble, but we are never alone.

Big Idea: Although life is full or surprises, God is good, faithful, and in control.

So it’s officially the “most wonderful time of the year.” You know, that time when people jack up their credit cards buying gifts which will end up in next year’s garage sale. The season when greedy, selfish people feel generous for dropping a quarter in the Salvation Army bucket. The season when families gather only to argue about politics and eat more food than some small countries consumer in a year.

The time when your football team…oh, never mind about that!

I love Thanksgiving.
I love Christmas.

But despite being the most wonderful time of the year, for many it’s the most depressing, frustrating, financially-draining, emotionally exhausting, lonely time of the year.

My name is Kirk and this month we’ve been in a series entitled
When Life Gets Hard. We talked about broken relationships and mental illness. Jason, our guest from Indonesia, unknowingly contributed to our series two weeks ago when we spoke on failure. On this last Sunday before Advent, we’re talking about When Life Throws A Curve.

Occasionally we have open mic times when we share about God’s faithfulness. Our next such gathering will be on New Year’s Eve.

But imagine if we had an open mic to share about life-altering circumstances. We’ve all had them…or will. It might be a car accident (like the photo) but it could be a phone call, a conversation with a doctor, a letter in the mail, or even a text message.

What do you do when you life looks nothing like you ever imagined or hoped? Perhaps even more important, how is your soul?

If you ask God one question, what would it be?

One national survey revealed the number one question people have for God is, “Why is there suffering in the world?”

Some religions deny the existence of evil, calling pain and suffering mere illusions. Jesus, however, truthfully declared,

In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33b)

An Alliance pastor once said, “It is right that things are wrong in a wrong world. It would be wrong for everything to be right in a world gone wrong.”

Our scripture reading for today tells a remarkably vivid and tragic story of John the Baptist. Like Job and Joseph and other godly people before him, John was devoted to following God. If anyone “deserved” good things in life as a reward for his obedience, it was Jesus’ cousin John. Yet he was hardly exempt from suffering.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14:6-12)

It was bad enough that John was in prison…for speaking God’s truth (after Herod took his brother’s wife). I’m sure he never imagined being beheaded on account of a birthday dance! Although John went “to a better place,” it must’ve been catastrophic for his friends and family…including Jesus.

We all recognize ever since Adam and Eve sinned against God we have lived with brokenness and pain.

Great! So what now? What do we do when life throws a curve? Here are some ideas:

Recognize God is not the creator of evil and suffering.

Love always involves a choice. Free will. Entire books have been written on the subject, but suffice it to say satan chose to rebel against God and took other angels with him. From they moment, a spiritual war has been raging between good and evil, life and death. Spiritual warfare is real. We have a real enemy. He may not be red with horns and a pitchfork, but we are all in the middle of a battlefield.

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)

It’s easy to blame God for all of the problems in the world. Some simply encounter evil, blame God…and then stop believing in God. This makes emotional sense, but not logical sense. How can you fail to believe in someone you blame? Then again, the word “believe” has been misconstrued, especially in our use of John 3:16. What I do understand are people who followed God, encountered trouble, and removed their trust in God as a result. When you encounter the effects of sin, blame satan! God did not create evil and suffering.

God can redeem suffering, using it for good.

We were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. Life is not about our pleasure, but God’s glory. That’s hard for me to embrace sometimes—especially when life gets hard. I want to do things my way, but Dad knows best.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This verse has been abused perhaps more than it has been used appropriately, but the fact remains. God is at work when we submit to Him. Suffering is one means the work of God is displayed.

Earlier in Romans—as we saw several weeks ago—it says,

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

I admit I want perseverance, character, and hope in my life. But do we need suffering? I suppose I could also say I want a fit, healthy body, but do I need to watch what I eat and exercise? Obviously, we don’t choose suffering, but it’s a part of life, and it’s a tool God uses to shape us and draw us close to Him.

The worst pain I ever endured was a kidney stone. I’m told childbirth is bad, too, but you have less to show for it in the end!

A few years later, God revealed to me the purpose of my kidney stone. I was shocked, but I realized the one night of hospitalization opened up space for a conversation I had with a visitor, a conversation that greatly impacted the next twenty years of my life. Had I not been in the hospital, he never would’ve visited me and we never would’ve had that talk. It sounds odd, but I’m grateful for that kidney stone (and even more grateful I haven’t had another one!).

None of us has a complete understanding of our present reality, much less the future.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

We can pray not only for God’s will and glory, but an understanding of His perspective. The story’s not over.

Tony Campolo used to say, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming!” For many of us, today is unbearable, yet tomorrow may not only be better, we may come to actually appreciate our suffering.

Our temporary suffering will pale in comparison to eternal glory.

Paul wrote of his very serious persecution,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
British church leader Galvin Reid tells about meeting a young man who had fallen down a flight of stairs as a baby and shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life—and yet he made the astounding comment that he thinks God is fair. Reid asked him, "How old are you?" The boy said, "Seventeen." Reid asked, "How many years have you spend in hospitals?" The boy said, "Thirteen years." The pastor said with astonishment, "And you think that is fair?" And the boy replied: "Well, God has all eternity to make it up to me."
That’s perspective! Listen to these words of encouragement:
However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” —the things God has prepared for those who love him— (1 Corinthians 2:9)

I want to return to Jesus’ words in John 16.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus knows suffering. Jesus conquered suffering and death. He has the final word!
Jesus brings peace.
Jesus brings courage.
Jesus brings presence…through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus brings hope…the promise of heaven.

Count Your Blessings

We are all so blessed. The simple fact that you can understand what I’m saying is a blessing. The freedom to have access to the Bible, to be alive, to know about Jesus, to know Jesus…

Someone once said the only thing you can control is your attitude. It could always be better, yes, but it could always be worse. Count your blessings. Last week we looked at this powerful verse which is so convicting to me:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Pray with thanksgiving. That’s appropriate after this past Thursday, right? Count your blessings!

Don’t Go Alone

Get in a small group. Attend Celebrate Recovery. Reach out to a friend. Church is not a building. Church is not a gathering. Church is a family of messy, broken people pursuing Jesus Christ, the ultimate example of what it means to be human, and the one person who understands pain, suffering, grief, and loss better than anyone.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible says,

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

God created us for community. We need one another. We need to lean on one another, celebrate with one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, cry with one another, laugh with one another.

This is especially true at this time of year. The holidays are truly the most wonderful time of the year for some, and the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking time for others. Family, this season is a wonderful opportunity to give and receive help, to give and receive love. Let’s rejoice—and mourn—together.

Don’t Give Up

Research has shown often people quit right before their greatest breakthrough. No matter how you are feeling, not matter the challenges you face, or the pain you are enduring, you might be days or even hours from a miracle.

Jesus himself taught us to persevere in our prayers, to not give up. He said,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

What you might not know—unless you know Greek—is this is a conditional promise. It could be literally translated, “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.”

Keep praying. Keep praising. Even in the storm. I can tell you from experience God is good. He can be trusted. If it doesn’t feel like it now, just wait. Don’t give up. You may be on the verge of a miracle. And even if God says wait a little longer, He is near. His ways are higher than our ways. He is faithful.

It Is Well

Horatio Spafford established a very successful legal practice in Chicago. A devout Christian, he lost his fortune in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, shortly after his son died. He planned a much-needed rest for his remaining family in Europe in 1873. When last-minute business kept him in Chicago, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead with plans to catch up with them days later.

The ship was struck by another vessel and sank in twelve minutes. When the survivors finally landed days later in Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, “Saved alone.”

On his voyage to join his wife, he penned profound lyrics as he approached the area of the ocean floor where it was believed his four daughters had sunk.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

How is your soul?

Credits: some ideas from D6, Lee Strobel, In The Midst by John Stumbo

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

A Song of Distress, 22 July 2018

A Song of Distress
D6 Series—More Songs from the Heart (Psalms)
Psalm 44

Series Overview: The Psalms reveal hearts poured out in inspired song.

Big Idea: God is good and faithful…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Last Sunday in a skit, I played the part of a man tempting someone toward self-harm, first through cutting, then with a gun. I must admit it was a fun part to play as we performed the drama in the Dominican Republic, knowing how the skit would conclude, with Jesus pushing back the temptations and bringing freedom to the lead actress. The greater the evil, the greater the victory when satan is defeated (and one day he will be defeated for eternity).

But although the acting was fun in the DR, I struggled to reprise the part last Sunday. Just hours before—late Saturday night—I was trying to stop a loved one from committing suicide. 911 was called. EMS and the police were involved. It was one of the worst nights of my entire life.

Have you ever had one of those nights? Days?

What do you do? Where do you go? Who do you call? How do you cope?

Let me be clear, some of life’s pain is the result of our disobedience to God. Poor choices do not deny us the right to seek grace and healing, but we know where to place the blame.

But what happens when you obey God and your life is turned upside down?

When you devote your life to serving God overseas and find yourself unexpectedly returning to the States due to a health issue?

When you pray for your children before they are even conceived, take parenting classes, invest in Christian schools, model a Christ-like home, …and they abandon your family and/or faith?

When you exercise, eat healthy, prioritize sleep, …and the doctor delivers an incurable diagnosis?

When you utilize every resource at your disposal in making a project succeed…and it collapses?

When you do the right thing, tell the truth, refuse to compromise…and you find yourself in the unemployment line?

What do we do when we pursue Jesus, obey God, and our world falls apart? When we find ourselves dialing 911? When God seems asleep? When we can’t find God? That’s our subject for today.

Today we’re looking at Psalm 44, a passionate plea from God’s people in the midst of distress.

The word
distress means “extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain.” We’ve all experienced it one way or another, and let me restate there are two types of distress: those that are the result of our poor choices and those that are the result of…life.

I must confess when someone comes to me in self-inflicted distress, I’m tempted to judge…and I often yield to the temptation in sin. You need money for your prescription and you just bought a bunch of Mountain Dew? You verbally abuse your girlfriend and she broke up with you? You skipped class every day and failed your exam?

But what about when you do the right thing and suffer?

Let’s turn to Psalm 44.

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil.

This is not a psalm of David, but nevertheless it appears to be related to music, perhaps lyrics to a song or poetry. A maskil is a Hebrew term found in thirteen psalms with an unknown meaning. We do know a group of people, the sons of Korah, wrote it.

We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. (Psalms 44:1-2)

This is sounding like a psalm of praise to God.

It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. (Psalms 44:3)

These are accounts of God’s faithfulness to Israel. So far, so good.

You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. (Psalms 44:4-7)

God is their King and God. He has led the Israelites to victories. The writer says His trust is not in his bow or sword, but in the LORD…where it should be!

In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.
(Psalms 44:8)

I’m sure the psalmist wanted to end here. Don’t we love to sing songs of worship and praise? Our God is an awesome God. How great Thou art. Praise to the LORD the Almighty. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name. To God be the Glory. How Firm a Foundation. Crown Him with Many Crowns.

And then comes that word…that small word which slams on the brakes and makes a u-turn.

But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy and our adversaries have plundered us. You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations. (Psalms 44:9-11)

Yikes!

You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale. You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us. (Psalms 44:12-14)

These are strong accusations against God. Look at the results.

I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me, because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge. (Psalms 44:15-16)

Okay, what happened? Did the people abandon God? If you’re going through Mission 119 with us, you know in the book of Judges—and throughout the Bible—the people follow God, forget God, suffer, and return to God…over and over and over again. So this shift must be God’s punishment for their disobedience, right? Not so fast.

All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. (Psalms 44:17-18)

They were faithful to God, …

But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals; you covered us over with deep darkness. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart? Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. (Psalms 44:19-22)

Have you ever felt crushed by God? I have. I hate it! I don’t like pain. I avoid discomfort. I like safe, simple, and secure. I don’t like darkness, facing death all day long, or the idea of being a sheep to be slaughtered.

What do you do when you feel crushed, abandoned?

My Story: Lynn Kampfer

When in distress, I hope you’re honest—with yourself, with others, and most of all with God.

I don’t know where we get the idea that life is supposed to be easy. I do think it’s a western thing, maybe even a USAmerican thing. After all, we’re promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of…happiness, right?

We don’t suffer well, or at least I don’t suffer well. I moan and complain. I get bent out of shape. I wonder what I did wrong, which is not necessarily a bad step to take, by the way, since sometimes we do reap what we sow.

But we’ve believed the lie that following Jesus means life will be happy, happy, happy. But that’s hardly biblical.

Abram and Sarai suffered for nearly a century waiting for a promised child.
Noah was mocked as he spent decades building a floating zoo.
Job lost everything. Everything.
Joseph is thrown into prison and forgotten…for saying no to sin.
John was boiled alive.
The other disciples died as martyrs.
Paul…he had lists of his distress, including shipwrecks and beatings, and stonings.
And most important of all, Jesus, of course was crucified.

It’s a long, long list. What do you do when you are in distress? I hope you’re honest, like today’s scripture reading passage.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love. (Psalms 44:23-26)

I love these verses. I’m glad the psalmist didn’t stop with praise. He kept it real. He got messy. He poured out his heart to God. We can, too. Here’s another translation of the Hebrew text:

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Why do you look the other way? Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression? We collapse in the dust, lying face down in the dirt. Rise up! Help us! Ransom us because of your unfailing love. (Psalms 44:23-26)

I especially love the final sentence: ransom us because of your unfailing love. He is reminding God of his love! “Don’t forget, LORD, You love me! You wouldn’t sleep while I suffer. You can’t forget Your children.”

I remember “reminding” God of His goodness and faithfulness as I drove to and from the hospital countless times to see our daughter. It was a good reminder for me, too, for God
is good and faithful and His love is unfailing.

So What?

But what do we do when we are in distress? How are we to respond to crisis?

First,
pray. I know, it sounds cliché, but prayer works. It changes circumstances. It changes us. Sometimes all we can do is pray, and that’s both frustrating and liberating, knowing some things are simply beyond our control. If you are in a place to make a decision—such as choosing a hospital for a friend or seeking a job after an unexpected loss—pray for wisdom. Psalm 44 is a prayer to God. The Bible is filled with prayers. God loves to hear your voice. Always. Sure, He knows your heart, but He loves to hear your voice.

Have you ever been so distraught you didn’t even know what or how to pray?

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26

Last weekend in the midst of despair, I didn’t even know what to say except, “Help!” I said, “Holy Spirit, please groan!”

As we pray, we need four things:

We need
perspective. This was Sue Trumbull’s word this past week, emerging from her lips multiple times as she dealt with a variety of people and situations. It’s not always helpful to think, “It could be worse,” but then again, I’ve often found it comforting. As Rev. Thomas George says, we were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. Does God want us happy? Sure, but His higher priority is to make us holy. He uses trials and suffering to grow us and shape us to be used for His glory. I don’t always understand why He gives sometimes and takes away at other times, but I know He can be trusted. He’s God. He’s perfect. No matter how challenging life becomes, a hundred years is a blink compared to eternity. That’s perspective!

We need to
look back. God has always been good and faithful, and He never changes. The people of Israel were constantly forgetting God’s past activity. A prayer journal is a great tool for building your faith, seeing what God has done.

We need to
look forward. Your story is not over. Your breakthrough may be just days away…or even hours away. It’s easy to become discouraged or even depressed about this moment, but God is in control and there’s more to come.

We need
one another.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Family, there’s two parts to this. First, we need to be willing to serve and support our brothers and sisters in need. Pray. Visit. Buy gift cards. Deliver meals. Babysit. Be present. We have some incredible shepherds in our family who are quick to respond to the needs of others.

But there’s a second part to this, and it is asking for help. I’m sick of hearing about people who tell the world nobody cares, yet they never bother to join a small group, reveal their pain to others, and swallow their pride and ask for help. Family, we can’t carry your burdens if we don’t know what they are!

We have a team of deacons and deaconesses who provide resources—visitation, skilled labor, and even financial help through our benevolence fund which they oversee.

We’re not a perfect family. No family is, but we are committed to helping one another on the journey. We have a benevolence fund to help with financial matters, but a deacon or deaconess needs to know of the need. Call or e-mail the office. Share your situation with your small group. And if you’re not in a small group, you’re missing out on community, relationships, and care. There’s a list of groups on our website, the weekly
Focus e-newsletter, and the information kiosk in the lobby.

Conclusion

God can be trusted. He may feel distant, but His promise is to be with us always, to the very end of the age. Call out to Him. Cry out to Him. And let us love you, serve you, and support you, too.

Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God is Unchanging, 27 May 2018

    God is Unchanging
    D6 Series—
    None Like Him
    Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17

    Series Overview:
    This topical series focuses on the attributes of God.

    Big Idea: God does not change…and that’s a wonderful thing!

    Introduction

    In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except…death and taxes.”

    There’s actually one more than that is certain in this world. It’s a word that
    will trouble some of you. It’s a word that will terrify some of you. It’s a four-letter word that actually has six letters, but it can disrupt like few words can do. It’s…

    change!

    You may think I’m being a bit facetious, but I’m quite serious. Many people hate change…of any kind. Sure, nobody likes change if it means a salary reduction, decline of health, or loss of a loved one. But even so-called good changes can be unwelcome or have negative consequences.

    Would you want a winning lottery ticket if I had one to offer you? You might be surprised at how many lottery winners later file for bankruptcy…or worse!

    I used to think stress only applied to bad change, but any change can be stressful. It can be disruptive to our lives. Many people tolerate miserable work conditions, unhealthy relationships, or even abuse because they’re simply accustomed to it and afraid of how even a change for the better may cause them a loss of the known.

    Since some of you are already uncomfortable at the mere mention of the word change, take a moment and think of the things that have changed in the past twenty years. Actually, let’s only say eighteen. We are approaching graduation season and these are a few things that can be said about the Class of 2018.

    1. They’ve never lived in a world with monthly texting limits.
    2. They might not understand if you say, “You sound like a broken record.”
    3. They’ve always had GPS.
    4. “Roll down your window” has no meaning.
    5. They’ve never untangled a phone cord or straightened an antenna for TV reception.

    Change. Personally, I love change…except when I don’t! I love changes I make, but not necessarily those imposed upon me.

    Whether you like it or not, this world is full of change.

    Our presidents change.
    Our weather changes.
    Fashion changes.
    Music changes.
    Our bodies change.
    Maps of the world change.
    Children change.
    Relationships change.
    Our favorite sports teams change.

    Fortunately, there’s one thing that never changes…or should I say one Person: God.

    We’ve been devoting several Sundays this month talking about the attributes of God. There is None Like Him. Amen? First, we looked at the holiness of God. We said God is holy, set apart, and we are to be holy, too, fully devoted to God while being present in the world, bearing witness to God’s presence, power, love, and glory.

    Last Sunday we looked at God’s sovereignty. Whether it feels like it or not, God is in control…and we’re usually not! In fact, control is just an illusion, a temporary state, but God is in control…and that’s a wonderful thing!

    Today we are looking at how God is unchanging—the technical word is He is immutable—and why that’s also a wonderful thing.

    “In a world of change and decay not even the man of faith can be completely happy. Instinctively he seeks the unchanging and is bereaved at the passing of dear familiar things.” - A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

    That’s the bad news, family. We live in a world of change and decay where not even followers of Jesus can be completely happy. And you thought you were the only one!

    But here’s the good news: God is unchanging.

    Charles Wesley wrote, “And all things as they change proclaim
    The Lord eternally the same.”

    But how do we know? The Bible declares it repeatedly. God declares it repeatedly.

    Our scripture reading for today featured not one, but three passages from various parts of the Bible.
    Moses wrote in the book of Numbers:

    God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
    Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)

    Humans can lie. Have you noticed?
    Humans can change their minds.
    Humans can be hypocritical, saying one thing and doing another.
    Humans can break their promises.

    But not God! If we stopped with this one verse, we would know enough about God to worship and adore Him for eternity.

    God cannot lie.
    God is consistent.
    God is trustworthy.
    God is unchanging!

    One of the frustrating things about change is when it wreaks havoc with our expectations. Have you ever gone to get gas for your car expecting one price, only to find the price went up? How does that make you feel?

    Have you ever had your heart set on food at a particular restaurant, only to arrive and find them closed?

    Have you ever waited for someone to arrive at an appointment, only to discover they forgot?

    God never does this! Although we were created in God’s image, He is not human! He is dependable. He is unchanging.

    In the last book of the Old Testament, God declares:

    “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (Malachi 3:6)

    God is speaking about His judgment of those who do not fear and revere Him, but God made a covenant with the nation of Israel…and that covenant will not change. They will be delivered in the day of the LORD. God is saying, “I keep my promises. My Word does not change. I do not change.”

    We also heard Jesus’ half brother, James, who wrote:

    Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

    Our God who created the starry universe—the heavenly lights—gives good gifts to His children, including salvation and life. He is also unchanging. Because of the movement of our planet with relation to the sun, shadows move and shift…but not the One who created earth and the sun!

    Throughout the Bible we see evidence that God is unchanging.

    So What?

    OK, so God is unchanging, but what difference does that make? Let me count the ways!

    First,
    God cannot improve.

    He’s as good as He’s going to get. He is perfectly holy. He will never get stronger, wiser, or more perfect. He is the zenith of holiness, knowledge, and love.

    Most of us are seeking to grow and develop. Some of you spend time at the gym, seeking to improve your figure, reduce your waistline, or build your muscles. Others of you are in school, expanding your knowledge and understanding of the world and prepare for a career. The simple fact you are listening to me says you want to grow spiritually and improve your relationship with God and others. This past Wednesday I was honored to be in the company of courageous men and women who are committed to enhancing their mental and emotional health, attending Celebrate Recovery and dealing with their hurts, hang ups, and habits. I believe every one of us could benefit from Celebrate Recovery because we’ve all got stuff. We’re all messed up. We all face grief, loss, and/or addictions because of sin and living in a broken world.

    But not God! He’s not messed up! He doesn’t have room to grow. God cannot improve. As the saying goes, you can’t improve on perfection!

    Second, not only can God not get better,
    God cannot decline. He will never lose His mind, His love, His power. He won’t get Alzheimer’s, cancer, or the flu. He won’t stop being in control or begin to forget things. It’s impossible for God to get better—or worse—because God is unchanging.

    God is reliable. He doesn’t change His mind. He is consistent and reliable. If He says something, it’s true now and it will be true tomorrow.

    Since I got my driver’s license, I’ve studied the annual April car issue of
    Consumer Reports magazine. The top thing I look for in a vehicle report is reliability. I don’t really care how fast it goes, how comfortable the seats, or even how good the stereo sounds…if it’s going to break down, leave me stranded at the side of the road, and cost me a fortune to repair. I want a dependable vehicle, one I can trust with no surprises.

    That’s like God…except the brakes will never wear thin, the oil doesn’t need to be changed…He doesn’t even need gas or insurance!

    One reason I love the Bible is it is God’s Word and what God said and did in the Old Testament is true in the New Testament and is true today…because God is unchanging.

    If you were to read a biography on Bill Gates, you would learn about the founder of Microsoft, but no matter what you thought of him, it’s possible that if you were to meet him, he’d be different than you expected. In fact, it’s possible that he has changed since the book was published. People change, but God is unchanging and reliable.

    Perhaps you’re thinking, “But didn’t God change His mind when Moses asked Him to spare the people of Israel?” There are times it appears God changes, but I believe it’s a matter of perspective. Let me explain.

    When my children were little, I insisted they use manners when they spoke, especially when they asked for something. One of them might ask, “Dad, can I have some ice cream?” to which I would reply, “No.” Then if they said, “Please” I would say, “Absolutely!” Did I change my mind? No. Did I know what they wanted and what they would do in that situation? Yes.

    Because God is God and we’re not, it may appear that He changes, but in reality His character, His attributes, His Word, His promises never change. He is reliable. He doesn’t play guessing games or surprise us. He is consistent. He is unchanging.

    There’s another thing that doesn’t change about God that we should all find sobering.

    God’s justice and His hatred of sin never change. Have you ever been pulled over by a police officer, begging to be let off the hook? Did you ever try to weasel out of a punishment as a child? Have you ever bargained with someone, compromised, negotiated?

    God is always just. He always does the right thing. Always.
    God always hates sin. Public and private, big and little, He always hates sin.

    He doesn’t make exceptions.
    He can’t be bought or bribed.
    He doesn’t show favoritism.

    God always has and always will be just and He always has and always will hate sin.

    Is this a good thing? Yes.
    Is this a good thing for you? Maybe.

    See, we all want to see justice served. We want Hitler to be condemned. We want sex traffickers punished. We want murderers to be sentenced. One day, God will exercise the ultimate justice. On Judgment Day, all wrongs will be righted, all sins will be penalized, all of the guilty will pay.

    But where does that leave us? Sure, we want corrupt politicians and bank robbers to be served justice, but since all of us sin and all of us fail God’s standard of perfection, is God’s ultimate justice good…for us?

    This is where the gospel comes in. The gospel, or good news, is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. God sent His perfect Son, Jesus, to our planet to pay for our sin, to receive the punishment we deserve. Since God couldn’t bend the rules and make exceptions, He had to create an alternative to eternally separating sinful humans from His presence. His plan was Jesus. Grace. Unmerited favor.

    Today, every man, woman and child on our planet is given a choice to receive or reject Jesus Christ. Because God is just and hates sin, somebody has to pay the penalty of sin, which is death. We can accept Jesus’s payment or bear it ourselves.

    But make no mistake, you’re not good enough. You can’t buy it. You can’t negotiate it. You can’t achieve it by trying harder. Either you pay or you let Jesus pay. But God’s unchanging justice must be satisfied.

    This leads to my final point: because God is unchanging,
    God’s love is unchanging. Earlier we sang “One Thing Remains.” I love those lyrics:

    Your love never fails
    It never gives up
    It never runs out on me

    The Newsboys have a song with a similar message entitled, “Your Love Never Fails.” They sing:

    Nothing can separate Even if I run away Your love never fails I know I still make mistakes You have new mercy for me everyday Cause your love never fails
    You stay the same through the ages Your love never changes

    Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

    For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

    God’s love is unchanging, leading Philip Yancey to famously write,

    “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”

    Why? Because God is unchanging. God’s love is unchanging. And that’s truly good news!

    Credits:
    some ideas from D6, Robert Saucy, John Ortberg, A.W. Tozer

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Grace is Greater than Your Circumstances, 24 September 2017

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    Grace Is Greater Than Your Circumstances
    Series: Grace is Greater
    I Thessalonians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 11:21-23, 12:7-10; Romans 8:18-30

    Series Big Idea: No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. This 3-week series, based on the book Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, explores what the Bible teaches about grace, developing a deep understanding of the life-changing power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For more resources and information on the book, visit https://www.graceisgreaterbook.com/.

    Big Idea: Circumstances and obstacles will attempt to drown out God’s grace in our lives; we must trust in him anyway.

    Life is hard. God is good.
    That’s all I want to say. Life is hard. God is good.

    We’re continuing our series Grace is Greater, including some ideas borrowed from Kyle Idleman’s book of the same name. We said grace is unmerited favor, a free gift, an undeserved blessing. As a review, in week one we said grace is greater than your mistakes.

    The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace.

    God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness.

    God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets.

    And quoting author Philip Yancey,

    Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.

    That’s amazing! That’s grace!

    Last week we said
    grace is greater than your hurts.

    We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God.

    We Must Release the Person Who Hurt Us Over to God.

    Reconciliation May Not Always Be Possible or Appropriate, but It Can Reflect God’s Grace and Forgiveness Toward Us.

    In other words, if we’ve received grace and forgiveness, we must extend grace and forgiveness.

    Today we’re talking about circumstances…trials and suffering. Grace is greater. This hits close to home for all of us because we live in a broken, messed-up world infested with sin. We are a long way from the paradise of the Garden of Eden. But God is with us…and God is good…all the time…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

    Some of you are in the midst of brutal
    storms. Like the barrage of earthquakes and hurricanes south of us, your life is shaking. Your body may be failing. Your relationships might be eroding. Your finances might be draining. Your addictions and temptations might be overwhelming. Whatever storm you’re experiencing, grace is greater…really.

    Like many things in life, our approach to life’s storms are a matter of perspective. Take snow storms, for example. As a kid, we all loved snow days, right? I may complain of slow traffic, treacherous driving, and the necessity of shoveling but my grumbling will do nothing to change the circumstance. What I may perceive as a hassle is a gift to every student, tow truck operator, ski resort, and snow blower dealer. And no matter how miserable you may feel, it can always be worse. The only thing you can control in life is your attitude.

    Thankfulness Helps Us Trust God and Acknowledge His Grace in Our Lives.

    I’ve heard so many people inquire about God’s will for their lives. Would you like to know it?

    …give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

    It doesn’t say give thank for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. If we took time to list all of our complaints and concerns we’d be here all day, but no matter what storm you’re facing, there is much for which to be thankful.

    But there’s a slight problem with my mention of this verse…the context…the dots! Here’s the rest of the sentence.

    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)

    Paul is writing to the church in the city of Thessaloniki. Here’s Gods’ will:

    Rejoice always
    Pray continually
    Give thanks in all circumstances

    Idleman writes, “God takes complaining personally, because complaining overlooks the greatness of the grace we have received.” A recent study revealed the more people complain, the more they find things about which to complain. Thankfulness destroys complaining, negativity, and ungratefulness.

    The Bible tells us to “give thanks” dozens of times. Thankfulness can shift your focus and actually change the way you think and behave.

    Do you know anyone who constantly complains? Would you like to vacation with them?
    Do you know anyone who is thankful and positive? Do you like to be around them?

    God is God. He wants us to be honest. We can be real with our struggles and cares, but we must set those in the context of God’s grace and faithfulness. One of my favorite prayer tools is ACTS

    Adoration
    Confession
    Thanksgiving
    Supplication (requests)

    When I align my prayers with ACTS, often by the time I finish thanksgiving my requests seem so small, so easy for God.

    Are you thankful?

    Second,

    We’re Able to Receive God’s Grace Only to the Extent We’re Able to Recognize Our Need for It

    I believe the single greatest reason for the decline of the movement of Jesus in the western world is we don’t need God…or we don’t think we need God. Think about your prayer life. When was it most vibrant? Probably in crisis. It’s funny how we pray when storms come and often quit when the coast is clear. This has even been true during the past few weeks. People who never mention God have been suddenly asking people to pray when a hurricane is headed their way.

    Friends, we need God, and the sooner we recognize that and act like it, the sooner we will experience the joy of a true relationship with God.

    Our youngest daughter went through nine years of nasty storms that included chronic pain, blindness, an eating disorder, lymphedema, and a leg amputation. She spent a lot of time crying out to God…and so did her parents! I remember vividly one moment when I prayed, “LORD, thank You for calming the storms in her life. Thank You for the remission of pain, the restoration of her sight, the control of her diet, and a prosthetic leg. I want to replace my petitions with praises. I don’t want to get up off my knees. I never want to forget your grace. Great is Thy faithfulness.”


    Being desperate for God is the most wonderful place to be, even when it’s the most uncomfortable. Sore knees lead to soothed souls. Paul, who wrote to Thessaloniki, also wrote to the church in Corinth. He said,

    in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me,
    “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

    We don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was—some say a physical pain, a birth defect, an addiction, …we don’t know. We do know he begged God three times to calm the storm in his life and God said no. He said His grace was sufficient. God knew as long as Paul relied on God, Christ’s power would be celebrated rather than Paul’s gifts.

    I’ve experienced this countless times in my preaching. There are some weeks when I drive onto our campus excited about my message, prepared and ready to go. Sure, it’s God’s Word and the Holy Spirit who have given me the ideas and words, but I’m tempted to take the credit for a job well done as I shake hands in the lobby afterward. I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I am strong, my flesh wants to be recognized and applauded. That’s the ugliness of pride.

    There are other Sundays, however, when I’ve done my very best to prepare but am woefully aware of my inadequacies. Maybe the week was filled with unexpected interruptions or I’m not feeling well or I’m personally so challenged by the topic I can’t imagine offering much to others. Whatever the reason, I simply cry out to God, begging Him to speak through me knowing I have little to offer on my own. Is it any surprise those are the Sundays that generate the most positive feedback? I really don’t want you to hear from me. I want you to hear from God!

    The more we are able to acknowledge our weakness, the more we can experience God’s strength, presence and power. And today I feel very weak after a packed week launching Act 2 Productions, so if you benefit from this morning, praise God!!!

    Finally,

    We Must Trust God’s Goodness, Even When Life Is Difficult

    The early church experienced harsh persecution. Think North Korea. Think death and martyrdom. In fact, most of our brothers and sisters around the world today face suffering for their faith much greater than anything we will encounter. Paul wrote to the first Christians:

    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21)

    For Paul, it’s all about perspective. Today’s suffering will produce tomorrow’s glory. Olympic athletes experience this every day. No pain, no…gain.

    We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)

    Creation has been groaning. Sin impacts our planet and all of its inhabitants, but there’s hope for tomorrow.

    In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. . (Romans 8:26-27)

    I love this passage. Have you ever tried to pray and you were so distraught, so weak, so desperate you didn’t know what to say? I have, and in those moments I’ve often cried out, “Holy Spirit, please groan!” I wish we had time to unpack this more fully, but finally we turn to one of the most used and abused verses in the Bible.

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. . (Romans 8:28-30)

    This does not say all thing work together for good. It says God works for the good of those who love him. That’s called redemption. No matter what you’re experiencing today, God can use it for his glory. He can turn ashes into beauty. Even better than recycling, he can turn your trash into a treasure.

    I love our friends at Cherry Street Mission. They recently gave a title to many or all of their staff: ministers of redemption. I love that! They partner with God to see lives revitalized.

    I don’t want to make light of any hardship you are facing today, but I want to encourage you to persevere.
    Your story is not over. This chapter might be messy, but turn the page! The world is full of cheap inspirational sayings, but I especially liked Michael Jr.’s quote from the Global Leadership Summit Instagram account this week:

    “Like a slingshot, the further you’ve been set back, the further you can go.”

    We Must Trust God’s Goodness, Even When Life Is Difficult

    God is in control. He has a plan. He has a purpose. He is the God of redemption.

    Tony Campolo has a great sermon he made famous years ago about Holy Week, the death and resurrection of Jesus. I love the title: It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming! There is no greater example of God’s redemption. God’s grace is greater than your circumstances. Today might feel like death and crucifixion but tomorrow may be the day everything changes…for His glory.

    GRACE!

    God’s
    Redemption
    At
    Christ’s
    Expense

    So What?

    We must trust that God is good, even when life is hard. This isn’t easy, but this is where we need one another. We don’t need cheesy cliché’s, but encouragement.

    I am with you. You are not alone.
    I’ll bring over dinner.
    We can watch the kids for you.
    I’m on my way.
    Here’s a small gift.

    God is good…all the time…and he works through his people. Yes, we need to pray for one another, but what else can you do?

    Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

    Grace is greater than your circumstances. We need to receive grace, experience it, and share it. Life is hard. God is good.

    Credits: outline, title, and some ideas from Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God is Good…All the Time, 31 December 2016

    A Year To Be All In
    Tabernacle of Praise – First Alliance Church
    Psalm 25:1-5

    Big Idea: God is good…all the time. He is true, present, and faithful. God was faithful in 2016. Will we be faithful in 2017?

    Welcome to the end of 2016!

    Life is full of endings and beginnings, have you noticed? The stores have clearance sales on summer clothes while introducing winter fashions. The end of college basketball occurs on or around baseball’s opening day. Heather and I once attended her grandmother’s funeral with news of our pregnancy and an upcoming baby.

    Sometimes it’s hard to let go. We want to hold onto the past, but we can never move forward if we’re stuck in park.

    Tonight, I have a simple message for you. You may have heard it before. Are you ready?

    God is good…all the time.
    All the time…God is good.

    God’s been good…in 2016.
    God’s gonna be good…in 2017.

    How do I know? God’s character does not change. He’s always doing new things, but His character does not change.

    What can we say about God’s character, His being, His essence? How much time to we have?!

    I want to look at three aspects of God’s character tonight: true, present, faithful.

    God is true.

    King David, perhaps the most powerful man in the world in his day, wrote these words:

    In you, LORD my God, I put my trust. (Psalm 25:1)

    He didn’t say he put his trust in his power or his army or his wealth. His trust was in the LORD, his God. Can that be said you…really? Sure, we talk about trusting God. We nod when the preacher says God’s trustworthy, but do we really live like it?

    Pastor Craig Groeschel recently wrote a book called
    The Christian Atheist. He says many so-called Christians have biblical knowledge, but we practically live as if God doesn’t exist. Let me give you an example. A few weeks ago I decided to address an ongoing problem in our house—a leaky toilet. For the uninitiated, if a toilet leaks from the bottom, it usually means the wax ring between the toilet and floor is failing. It’s a $4 part to replace, but requires a bit of work to remove the toilet, clean out the old wax, and reset the toilet with the new wax ring. Seeing that I’m not Mr. Handyman, I watched a YouTube video which showed how the $4 part could be installed in about thirty minutes.

    Have you heard of Murphy’s Law? Let me recite it to you. It says, “A $4, thirty minute home improvement project will surely cost at least $100 and take a week or more to complete.” Actually, Murphy’s Law states if anything can go wrong, it will…and it did! (Do you know the corollary to Murphy’s Law? Murphy was an optimist!).

    The point really isn’t my toilet installation, but rather how I ignored God in the process. I was waist deep in—well, never mind that—I was in the middle of the project when it occurred to me to pray about this situation. It was far more complicated—and costly—than I expected and I needed help…divine help. Until I prayed, I was living as a practical atheist.

    King David continues…


    I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. (
    Psalm 25:2-3)

    He says it again, he trusts in God. And he needs to trust in God. He has real enemies. His enemies aren’t a mean school teacher who grades hard, gossipers on Facebook, or even an angry boss. People want to kill him. People want his kingdom. Armies have been formed to defeat him.

    Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. (
    Psalm 25:4-5)

    I don’t know about you, but I want that to be my prayer. I want God to show me His ways. I want Him to teach me His paths. I want Him to guide me in truth. The more I know God—not just about God, but knowing God—the more I experience peace, joy, and contentment. It’s so cliché but it’s true:

    Know God. Know Peace.
    No God. No Peace.

    The recent celebration of Christmas is a celebration of Jesus, God’s son who is fully God but also fully human, a wonderful mystery. Jesus said

    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6b)

    He is the truth. Speaking of Jesus,

    God is present.

    The word “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” John 1:14 says

    The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

    That’s a fine translation from the Greek, but I really like the way Eugene Peterson translates it in
    The Message:

    The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14, The Message)

    God moved into the neighborhood. He came here. He didn’t remain in heaven, feeling sorry for the mess we’ve made of this world. He sent Jesus to be born in a cave or some primitive shelter likely made for animals. Jesus spent about thirty years doing normal life out of the spotlight. Then for three years he taught and healed, lived and died for us, rose again, ascended into heaven, and now he’s awaiting the Father’s signal to return. Maranatha! Come quickly, LORD Jesus! Maybe he will return in 2017. Are you ready?

    Even though Jesus is not physically walking the earth today, God is here. God is present in this place. The Holy Spirit is a gift given to every follower of Jesus. God no longer lives in fancy tabernacles or cathedrals. He lives in me. Is he living in you? This means God is present. He is still Emmanuel, God with us. You can’t see him, but he’s still present. You can’t see the WiFi in this building, but it’s still real. Some of the most powerful realities of life are invisible, yet present—love, the wind, radio waves, thoughts…God is present.

    Finally,
    God is faithful.

    My favorite hymn is
    Great is Thy Faithfulness. It has been the theme song of our marriage for more than 26 years. Our family—like many of yours—has endured job loss, deaths, mental illness, a sick child for nearly a decade requiring treatments in five different states, childish rebellion, strained and even broken relationships, …but God has been faithful. Even when it feels like He’s distant, He’s still present. He’s still active. He still hears our prayers. Sometimes our will aligns with His and other times He has a higher purpose, a better plan, perfect timing.

    Let me link some ideas together. How many of you have prayed a prayer and God didn’t answer the way you wanted? All of us experience this regularly. Did you know Jesus did, too?

    The night before Jesus was arrested, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a real place, in Jerusalem. I’ve been there. Jesus knew he would be crucified and die for you and me, but he wanted Plan B. He prayed…

    “Abba , Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)

    That’s a tough prayer to pray—God, this is what I want, but I will trust You if Your will is different. I’ll obey You. You are good and faithful, even if it doesn’t feel like it in this moment.

    Can I get an amen?!

    That’s faith. It’s easy to trust God when the sun’s shining, the bills are paid, the family’s getting along, and there are leftover Christmas cookies to eat! Praise God!

    But can you praise Him in the storm? Is He any less faithful at the hospital, the attorney’s office, the police station, or the frustrating job site? He’s really not.

    The prophet Jeremiah had a pretty rough life. God told him to proclaim unwanted news to the people of Jerusalem, and warned Jeremiah he would be rejected! Wow! His life was so challenging, he wrote a book of laments—words of deep grief and sorry—called Lamentations. He said this:

    I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. (Lamentations 3:19-20)

    You might as well call him Eeyore! But he wasn’t necessarily complaining, just being honest with God. You can be honest with God, too. He can handle it!

    Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (
    Lamentations 3:21-23)

    Let me turn again to The Message:

    But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
     

    GOD’S loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:21-23, The Message)

    Listen to what follows:

    I’m sticking with GOD (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.

    GOD proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. (
    Lamentations 3:24-25, The Message)

    I love that! I’m sticking with God! He’s all I’ve got left.

    Maybe you feel that tonight. 2016 has left you in a tough place and you hope 2017 will be better.

    Perhaps 2016 was a banner year and you’re nervous 2017 won’t be as good.

    Regardless of how you feel in this moment, God is still God. King Jesus is on the throne. He’s not a little baby any longer. He’s preparing to return to us soon. He is true. He is here. He is faithful.

    God is good…all the time.
    All the time…God is good.

    He is true, present, and faithful. God was faithful in 2016.
    Will we be faithful in 2017?

    Journey Through The Wall, 24 April 2016

    Journey Through The Wall
    Series: Go Deeper
    Genesis 22:1-14

    Series Theme
    “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

    The Big Idea: The third pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is journey through the wall and know it’s all about Jesus.

    Introduction

    This morning I’d like to take you on a journey. It’s a familiar journey for some of you. It goes like this:

    We're goin' on a bear hunt,
    We're going to catch a big one,
    I'm not scared
    What a beautiful day!
    Oh look! It's some long, wavy grass!
    Can't go over it,
    Can't go under it,
    Can't go around it,
    Got to go through it!

    We’re not actually hunting bears today, but we are talking about encountering a wall we cannot go over, under, or around. We must journey through the wall.

    There are many types of walls but they all usually lead to one question:
    Why?

    Today we continue our series Go Deeper: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. We have said our lives are like an iceberg. There is more beneath the surface than we allow others to see…or sometimes even acknowledge ourselves. We’re all messed up because we live in a fallen, sin-filled world. You are messed up. I’m messed up. In fact, if you don’t think you’re messed up, you’re the most messed up!

    Tragically, many people live their lives in denial…of their weaknesses, their family of origin, pain from their past, or their own emotions. God created us with both thoughts and feelings. We have both a mind and a heart. To live in denial is to prevent growth and change. To get real about our stuff is the first step toward healing and wholeness.

    Let me say again we all have stuff. For some reason there are acceptable and unacceptable things in the church. For instance, addiction to alcohol is bad, but addiction to applause and compliments is generally acceptable, perhaps because it’s often hidden. Cursing is bad, but gossiping through prayer requests is not only acceptable, it is encouraged in some circles. A family with a history of divorce is bad, but generations of religious, self-righteous people is sometimes admired, even though Jesus directed most of His criticism at the religious leaders of His day who stood in judgment of the “sinners.”

    I mentioned the propensity of some to wear masks. We may wear holiness masks so others will think we’re more spiritual than we really are. Another thing some mask is their emotions. I remember a certain Christian DJ who seemed to talk about tragedy in her life and then dismiss it with something like “all things work together for good so I’m just happy! Praise the Lord.” She was not real.

    Let me just say it: life is hard. It was hard for Jesus. It’s hard for us.

    Where did we get the idea we should be happy, happy, happy? Jesus said

    “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (
    John 16:33b)

    The Wall

    The Wall appears through a crisis. When we hit the Wall, we cry out “God – Where are You?”

    It’s ok to ask God questions. It’s ok to have doubts. It’s ok to ask, “Why?” God can handle it!

    David cried out to God for years when Saul and his men pursued him, and he was forced to hide in caves (see Psalms 69, 70, 71 and others).

    Consider Job. Satan challenged God to take away Job’s wealth, animals, children, and good health, all as a way to see if Job would continue to be upright. At first, Job cries out to God, but God does not answer right away (Job 13: 20-26). Eventually, God speaks up and Job repents and relents (Job 42:1-6).

    Abraham: Genesis 22:1-15

    After looking at Saul and David, today’s character is Abraham.

    Abraham had his share of Walls in his life. He was asked to leave his family and travel to an unknown land. He arrived and encountered a famine, had a conflict with his nephew Lot, his wife was unable to have children, he bounced off that wall and had a son with his wife’s servant.

    At age 110 he hit another wall. His promised son was finally born and then God asks him to do the unthinkable.

    Genesis 22...

    Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

    “Here I am,” he replied.

    Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

    God does not tempt, but tests Abraham to confirm his faith and prove his commitment.

    This seems so bizarre to us, yet in that day child sacrifices were commonly offered to pagan gods.

    Tragically, 1/3 of my generation has been killed, but that’s another issue for another time.

    Mount Moriah is now the covered with the Dome of the Rock in Israel, a Muslim structure.

    Abraham faces a Wall, a test that he causes a crisis of faith.


    Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

    Imagine that journey!

    Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

    “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

    “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

    Good question!

    Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

    When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

    “Here I am,” he replied.

    “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

    Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:1-14)

    God tested Abraham.
    God allowed Job to be tested.
    God often allows trials and testing in our lives…for two purposes

    1. His glory
    2. Our growth

    This past week I was at the C&MA Great Lakes District Conference and Rev. Thomas George, our District Superintendent, reminded us of three things:

    1. We were made by God
    2. We were made for God
    3. We were made for God’s glory


    Our consumeristic culture says it’s all about us.

    The Bible says it’s all about God. This is a very difficult message for us to grasp. Just to prove this, one of our worship songs was critiqued. It says, “The God of angel armies is always on my side.” While there may be a way to understand this correctly, our natural response is to be comforted knowing God is always on our side…but He’s not! He never makes that promise. He promises to love us, but it’s not about Him being on our side. He asks us to be on His side. It’s about His will, not ours. It’s about His plan, not ours. It’s about His glory, not ours.

    Sometimes this means we find ourselves in very difficult places, asked to sacrifice a child, fleeing those who are supposed to be supporting us, suffering for doing good, or experiencing horrific pain despite seeking to follow Jesus.

    Rachel Video

    You can find Rachel's blog at
    https://myelephantsintheroom.wordpress.com

    Get Real!

    I urge you, family, to be real. There’s no shame in suffering. There’s no shame in feeling. There’s no shame in discouragement, depression, disappointment…or even doubting God. It’s His clear will for us to do life together. We need one another, especially when we face the wall. We need prayer, encouragement, and often tangible assistance from others. We’re often too proud to admit it but all need help sometimes, if not always!

    One of the most sobering verses in the Bible is found in Hebrews 11. After commending many great characters such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, it says

    All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

    Conclusion

    Like you, when I face the wall my flesh wants to go over it, under it, or around it. The only way God gets glory and we grow is when we go through it, not alone but with His strength and the help of others.

    One of the best tools we have at First Alliance is prayer. We have prayer in small groups, Bible studies, and Sunday School. We also have men’s prayer here on Tuesdays at 8:30 AM and Wednesdays at 7 PM. We have women’s prayer Wednesdays at 6 PM. We have open prayer Thursdays at 7 PM.

    There’s power in prayer. There’s freedom in sharing your Wall with others. There’s joy in bearing the burdens of others. We weren’t made to do this alone. We were created to journey with one another and with God…for His glory. He is here, whether it feels like it or not. He can be trusted, even when life doesn’t make sense. He loves you—really—and He is a mighty fortress.

    Questions for Discussion

    Are you “stuck” at the Wall? Have you been at the Wall some time before? Has someone you know and love been at the Wall?

    What is it like?

    What have you learned? What have you rejected?

    Has it been difficult connecting with God and seeing His purposes for you?

    How can we help people who are struggling at the Wall?

    What does this text tell us about God?

    What does this text tell us about ourselves?

    Credits and Stuff

    Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

    Series outline and ideas from
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

    Some study questions from Lyman Coleman (
    The Serendipity Bible and The Serendipity Student Bible). Used with permission from the author.

    Other study questions from
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Workbook by Peter Scazzero (Center for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 2007).

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful, 1 Peter 1:1-9, 9 December 2012

    O Come All Ye Faithful
    1 Peter 1:1-9

    Big Idea: Jesus can make us faithful, joyful and triumphant.

    Intro:

    Welcome to the second Sunday of Advent. Advent is about expectant waiting and preparation. For generations, the Israelites awaited the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We are awaiting His return. We are in between His first and second visits to our planet. We look back and forward.

    During these four weeks during our preparation for Jesus’ birthday celebration, we’re looking at four classic Christmas Carols, their lyrics, and their biblical message. It is my hope and prayer that as you hear these songs, you’ll not only hum the melody, you’ll think about the timeless message.

    This morning’s carol is
    O Come All Ye Faithful.

    History

    "Adeste Fideles," the original Latin name for the song, was likely written in the 13th century, most likely by John Francis Wade. The original four verses of the hymn were extended to a total of eight, and these have been translated into many languages. The English translation of "O Come, All Ye Faithful", by the English Catholic priest, Frederick Oakeley is widespread in most English speaking countries.

    Lyrics
    O come all ye faithful Joyful and triumphant O come ye O come ye to Bethlehem Come and behold Him Born the King of angels
    O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him Christ the Lord
    Sing choirs of angels Sing in exultation O sing all ye bright Hosts of heav'n above Glory to God All glory in the highest
    Yea Lord we greet Thee Born this happy morning Jesus to Thee be all glory giv'n Word of the Father Now in flesh appearing
    - C. Frederick Oakeley | John Francis Wade

    O come, all ye faithful
    Joyful and triumphant!

    Have you been faithful to God’s calling? Have you been obedient to everything He has asked you to do? Has your faithfulness matched His?

    Let’s move to the second line. Joyful and triumphant.

    Are you joyful? Triumphant?

    If you’re like me, you often feel more defeated than triumphant.

    I can’t say I’m always joyful—certainly not always happy.

    Uh oh!!!

    Are you ready for the good news? Jesus rarely calls the joyful and triumphant.

    He calls the weary and burdened!

    “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

    Can you relate?

    Wait, just in case you thought Jesus was talking about eggs, a yoke is a device that harnesses oxen together.

    Why does He want the weary and burdened? They need rest. They need Him! Have you ever tried to share Jesus with someone who had everything together? There are exceptions, but it seems that the people most likely to follow Jesus are those that are broken and desperate. One of the reasons that serving those in need is so powerful is because those that have physical needs often have the most glaring spiritual needs…and openness.

    He not only calls the weary and burdened, He calls sinners.

    While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

    On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

    That’s me!

    Here’s even better news: He not only calls the weary and burdened sinners, He doesn’t leave us weary and burdened.

    He doesn’t leave you that way!

    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

    He helps us to become a new creation. He is in the transformation business!

    How does that happen, you might ask?

    First, Jesus helps us to become more faithful.

    After the faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11, Paul writes

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

    If you’re waiting for God to just zap you with faith and power and discipline you’ll be greatly disappointed. We must join Him in His work. Action is required on our part.

    First, get rid of the junk. The sin. The time wasting. The selfish spending. The addictions.

    On Thanksgiving Day—upon the invitation of my oldest daughter—I participated in my first race. Well, technically it was a Turkey Trot. Both words were appropriate for me! I didn’t just wake up on Thanksgiving and jog 5K. I had to train. First I had to make it to the end of my short driveway! Later I got up to a mile, then two, then three and I was nearly there.

    I did not carry a backpack with me!
    I did not carry a bag of groceries with me!
    I didn’t even carry my iPad with me!

    Runners want to be as light as possible and free from distractions.

    I also learned that they need focus. They need a goal.

    I ran with a program called Map My Run that would call out when I reached a mile…and two...and three. I set a target distance each time knowing that otherwise I’d just jog to the mailbox and then go eat gingerbread cookies!

    On the final days of my training I determined in advance how far I was going to jog (you can hardly call my pace running!) and I refused to stop until I reached that goal. It’s about focus.

    Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

    We have to focus on Jesus, not Oprah or ESPN or Facebook…but Jesus. Only Jesus can help you become a new creation. Only Jesus brings true joy. Notice this verse. He experienced joy while He was on the cross. Is that crazy?

    Joy is not happiness. It is far deeper. Joy comes from a right relationship with God, and that’s what Jesus had on the cross. His joy was not in the pain and agony He experienced, but knowing that He was glorifying the Father and doing His will.

    One of the great things about fixing our eyes upon Jesus is He understands. We’re going to talk about this more in two weeks, but He knows suffering. He knows grief. He knows pain. He knows weary and burdened. He conquered sin and death.

    What does it mean to fix our eyes on Jesus? It starts with the Word of God.

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

    As we saw a few months ago in John 1…


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

    Maybe your faith is being tried by the loss of a loved one, a dream, a job, health. Look to Jesus. Get in the Word. There is power and hope and joy in the Word.

    If it’s hard to read, grab the New Living Translation or the Message. If you don’t know what to read, join us as we read through the entire Bible together at sciojournal.wordpress.com. If you missed the first 49 weeks, not problem! Finish this year in God’s Word. Start up again in January. The Word is life. The Word is power.

    As an example, a few weeks ago I was discouraged, living in Cleveland, spending my days in a hospital waiting room with my daughter. The Scio Journal passage for the day included this…

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
    We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; 4:8-10)

    Wow! My faith began to rise. I was reminded that God was with me, that He understood, and that there was a purpose in my trouble—to let Christ overflow in my life and comfort others.

    We need to fill our minds with the Word of God. The word of the world too often fills our minds with lies.

    As we are in His Word, our faith grows. Jesus helps us to become more faithful.

    Jesus helps us to become more joyful.

    Our joy comes from a right relation with God, not something we produce.

    Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy (depends on Jesus) and happiness (depends on happenings) are worlds apart.

    In Luke 2—the most detailed account of Jesus’ birth—it says

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
    (Luke 2:8-11)

    Good news of great joy. For all the people. That’s Jesus!

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

    Peter and Paul had a thing about long sentences! Notice that he is speaking in the present tense.

    They have been given new birth into a living hope.

    “That’s great,” you may be thinking, “but that was then and this is now. You don’t understand my messed-up life.”

    Peter is writing to people that are in the midst of suffering. Look at the next verse:

    In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6)

    How can they rejoice in the midst of suffering? How can we? It’s really quite simple: what is your hope?

    Pastor Tim Keller says this so beautifully: any hope that is a finite object will disappoint. If your hope is in your health, family, job, wealth, fame…it can and will eventually be gone. For most people hope is a circumstance that can change, but if our hope is a living hope, it is fixed; it is not based upon circumstances.

    Let’s go back for a moment to the previous verses…

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

    Without the living hope, you either have joy or sorrow.

    These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

    When you put gold into the fire, it gets brighter and more refined. A living hope not based upon circumstances means the sorrow actually drives you into joy and into Christ. Sorrow kicks on the joy. Sorrow doesn’t kill the joy because it’s not circumstantial.

    The joy enables the sorrow. When most people experience grief, they run into indifference or anger.

    With a living hope, sorrow makes you wiser. You don’t run from it, it deepens you. The joy gets brighter with the sorrow like the stars get brighter as it gets darker.

    Your heart with a living hope is always great and growing.

    Earlier we looked at Jesus’ joy on the cross.

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

    He sweated blood. He screamed on the cross. He had a living hope.

    What
    is the living hope?

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

    It is an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

    It is kept. It is secure. It is guaranteed. It cannot be removed.

    It is the coming of the salvation…the last time, the end, but what is it?

    These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

    Those who believe…praise, glory and honor…we will praise, glory and honor Jesus, right?

    No! It says your faith may be proved genuine. The Greek grammar is not referring to praise, glory and honor to Jesus, but
    from Jesus.

    We are going to get praise, glory and honor on the last day!

    Jesus prayed at the end of His time on earth…

    I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:23)

    God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

    Jesus took everything that we deserve. If you believe in Jesus, you get everything that He deserved.

    This isn’t about what you have done, but what the death and resurrection of Jesus did. At the end, you will receive everything that Jesus deserved! Love, applause, approval, perfection, and purity.

    It is kept! It is secure.

    This is the new hope. What’s coming is the ultimate wealth, the approval of the King.

    The foundation of your character is not your personality but your hope.

    The Gospel is not if I try hard, maybe God will bless me someday. It is because Jesus died for me, I have a hope that is kept for me and someday I will be changed forever and even now it gives me hope so I can handle anything.

    Religion: trying to be good, gambling that someday God will accept them; you’re saving yourself; I give God a righteous record and He owes me

    The Gospel: live in the light of being accepted; you receive and rest in His salvation; God gives me a righteous record in Jesus Christ and I live for Him

    To be born again is to live in the living hope that it is kept.

    How?

    Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

    Unspeakable joy!

    Jesus was even able to have joy at the cross. What was Jesus’ living hope?

    After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)

    Us! Being with us forever!

    You being His living hope is what makes Him your living hope.

    Love Him!

    Is this just for superstar Christians?

    Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

    To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: (1 Peter 1:1-2a)

    Peter is writing to all of the Christians in the region. It’s for everyone. It’s for you!

    Jesus helps us to become more triumphant.

    We often feel defeated. Life is hard…but God is good. Our God is an awesome God. Our God will someday soon right all wrongs. The enemy may be winning some battles, but our LORD will win the war!

    Isaiah understood Jesus was not just an 8 pound, 6 ounce sweet baby Jesus.

    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

    That’s our God. That’s our King! He will rule and reign forever!

    The baby in the manger is the Creator of the universe, the King of kings, …

    There is power in the presence of God.
    There is faith in the presence of God.
    There is joy in the presence of God.
    There is victory in the presence of God.
    He is born the King of angels.
    We have come to adore Him.

    Come all ye faithful (He is faithful even when we are not)
    Joyful and triumphant
    He is Christ the LORD

    Prayer

    Jesus calls the weary and the burdened. Some of you need to come back to God.

    Credits: Series theme and various ideas from Craig Groeschel, LifeChurch.tv

    Some notes from Tim Keller,
    Born Into Hope sermon

    You can listen to the podcast here.
    You can view a music video of
    O Come All Ye Faithful from LifeChurch.tv here.

    Deserting Disciples, John 6:60-71, 5 August 2012

    Big Idea: Following Jesus is not easy, but it’s worth it.

    Introduction:

    Who do you follow, and why?

    Who do you follow on Twitter?
    Whose blog do you read?
    Whose
    radio or television show do you listen to or watch?
    What authors do you read?

    Why?

    I would like to propose that most everything that we do is based upon what we hope to get in return. For example, we eat so we are not hungry. We buy cars that we expect will transport us safely and effectively. Even our generosity has some measure of personal pleasure to it, that good feeling that we are helping someone in need.

    One writer put it this way: “We use relationships for what they can do for us and what they can get us, but not for what we give to others and receive from them. We keep our distance from intimacy and trust through our cynicism and calloused hearts.”

    Last week we looked at Jesus’ claim to be the Bread of Life.

    Jesus feeds thousands of people. They not only enjoy the free lunch, they assume He will overthrow Rome, set them free, and be the ultimate political leader creating a utopian society. Quite simply, they liked Jesus for what they could get from Jesus.

    Jesus knows us all too well. Nobody knows the human heart like its Creator. As He is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, He tells them

    Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. (John 6:54-58)

    Last week each person was offered a generous piece of bread. Would anyone like some of the leftovers? Of course not! Jesus says don’t pursue things that spoil. The bread you ate last week has gone bad. Jesus does not go bad. In fact, He is eternal.

    While you may not be here today for physical bread, there are many that pursue fast-food spirituality. Give me a spiritual diet pill, minimize my inconvenience, serve me, feed me, tickle my ears, make me feel good, promise me that I will be blessed and rich and happy.

    John 6:60-71

    On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

    Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:60-63)

    Deep, authentic relationships are costly. They don’t always taste sweet. In fact, sometimes we have to swallow bitter pills. Sometimes, though, those difficult conversations help us grow. They help us become more like Christ. Sometimes, like a horse pill prescribed by the doctor, we need to take a big gulp and endure the momentary discomfort for long-term health.

    The cup for us is sweet, but it was bitter for Jesus.

    As we said last week, Jesus isn’t promoting cannibalism or Twilight vampires. He doesn’t mean to actually eat Him for lunch! The words are Spirit. Remember John 1:1, in the beginning was the Word, the logos, Jesus?

    Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” (John 6:64-65)

    Whosoever will may come.

    From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:66)

    Can you imagine deserting Jesus?

    This doesn’t just say the crowds, but disciples. Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Why? Is it because of what Jesus can do for you?

    This verse shows that it is not necessarily a permanent condition.

    The Bible was not written with chapter and verse numbers. They were added much later to aid study. Nevertheless, notice the reference of this verse—666. This may be the only 6:66 in the Bible!

    “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)

    Why did Peter stay? He was chosen. John 6:37, 44, 57.

    As a fisherman, Peter had to learn patience. He knows sometimes the net is empty and you endure hunger. He’s also seen Jesus perform miracles, feed crowds, and even instruct him on where and when to fish, to the point of his nets breaking from the weight of the fish!

    One author wrote, “Whereas Judas steals form the money bag, Jesus has stolen Peter’s heart. Peter has both torn nets and a torn and broken spirit A broken and contrite heart before God is the most beautiful thing in the world. The true Christ-followers or disciples, like Peter, hold tightly to Jesus’ hard teaching, even if they don’t get what Jesus is saying. No doubt it’s because Jesus holds tightly to them. But it’s also because such followers have come to the end of themselves, the end of their resources, the end of self-sufficiency.”

    People are searching today.

    Do you want to leave Jesus? Check out the alternatives. We’re the only ones with grace! It’s the best deal in town! Only Jesus has the words of eternal life. Only Jesus died for you and proved His love.

    Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.) (John 6:70-71)

    John gives us a sneak preview of what is to come.

    Jesus chose a devil to follow Him!

    “I came from heaven. I came to give you life. I want you to surrender your life.”

    Are you going to leave Jesus? When God doesn’t make sense, when our understanding of God goes south, are we going to desert Him?

    Who are you going to live for? Who are you going to follow?

    What areas of your life do you need to surrender to Jesus? He wants everything, not just your scraps and leftovers.

    Conclusion
    There’s an old expression that says, “You are what you eat.” I like to say that I love fruits and nuts!

    We can feed on Jesus or on the things of this world. Think about this past week. How much time did you spend feeding your brain Jesus? How much time did you spend with Him, talking with HIm, reading His world, praising Him, talking about Him? How much time did you spend feeding your brain the things of this world? Music, movies, television, websites, advertising? Some of it is hard to avoid, but we are what we eat. We become what or Whom we follow.

    You can listen to the podcast
    here.
    E13U796O04I5BEO0