Better Wise Up, 18 July 2021

Better Wise Up
Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 1:1-12

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: Wisdom is one of God’s greatest gifts, available for the asking.

If you could have anything in the world, what would you wish for? It sounds like something out of a Disney movie, but it really happened. The first book of Kings says,

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

This is King David’s son Solomon. How would you respond?

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. (1 Kings 3:6)

OK, Solomon, answer the question!

“Now, LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. (1 Kings 3:7)

We’re still waiting!

Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. (1 Kings 3:8)

He finally answers the question!

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9)

Solomon asks for a discerning heart, a heart of understanding. Some would call this—in a word—wisdom. I can think of no greater answer, especially from a leader responsible for making countless decisions that affect many lives. Oh that our leaders today would make such a request of the Lord! It’s obvious that Solomon made an excellent choice.The text says so!

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. (1 Kings 3:10)

So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. (1 Kings 3:11-12)

Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:13-14)

Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream. (1 Kings 3:15a)

And what a dream it was!

Today we’re continuing our series on the book of James: Faith Works. Our topic today is wisdom…and you better wise up!

Two weeks ago Jason Horton tackled the first four verses of the book of James. This is arguably the most practical book in the Bible, penned by Jesus’ half-brother. To review, the book begins:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings. (James 1:1)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

If you missed Jason’s sermon, please go to our app, website, YouTube channel, or Vimeo page. It was excellent. The subject of trials forms the context of what follows.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. It’s a promise. It’s not directed at a particular person, but rather “any of you” among the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.

The original Greek word for wisdom is
sophia. I had a boss once named Sophia. She was…pretty wise, I suppose! It’s not just that God grants wisdom, but that he gives it generously, bountifully, liberally. That’s His nature, especially with His children. He is a good, good Father.

This is especially true in the midst of trials when we often lack wisdom, those moments in which we are out of control. If you’ve ever asked God, “Why?” you know what I mean. Our District Superintendent, Thomas George, has encouraged me to change, “Why?” to “What are You up to, LORD?” “Help me see what You see.” “I need Your perspective and wisdom, Father.” Trials are for God's glory and our growth.

James is saying
ask God for wisdom and it will be given to you. Period. Well, almost period! There’s a dreaded “but” which follows, though it’s not all that dreaded, actually.

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:6-8)

To obtain wisdom, we need faith or, actually, commitment to God. James isn’t talk about someone who is uncertain God will answer their request or a person struggling with faith. Instead, it’s the person who is double-minded, a person who is not truly committed to God. They want to be successful in this world and want God to bless them now while also hoping to go to heaven when they die. They want to have their cake and eat it, too.

A close equivalent to this double-minded person is found in Psalm 12.

Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts. (Psalm 12:1-2)

Hypocrisy is nothing new! Does it describe you? Again this isn’t someone who is truly seeking God and asking for faith. It’s a reference to Sunday-only Christians who use God rather than worship Him. God will grant wisdom to those truly committed to Him who ask. Don’t ask for wisdom if you’re not prepared to act on it.

Knowledge used to be valuable, but you can find just about anything on Google or YouTube. Wisdom, on the other hand, is the right application of knowledge. Who needs wisdom? I certainly do. This past year and a half has demanded more wisdom from leaders than perhaps any time in our lifetime. Should we close? Should we open? Should we encourage masks? Should we mandate masks? Should we get vaccinated? Should we require the staff to get vaccinated? Should we use the drinking fountains?

When people ask how they can pray for me, my most common response is, “Wisdom.” I need God’s wisdom. Not conventional wisdom. Not politically-correct responses. Not tickle-the-ears advise. I desperate need God’s wisdom…in my professional and personal life.

It’s really hard following Jesus in our culture. There is a constant temptation to live like everybody else, despite the fact that everybody else seems to be so confused, so fickle, so selfish, and so unreliable.

Recently Bible scholar N.T. Wright was on the Catalyst Podcast and offered an outstanding explanation of our current society, Listen…

It seems to me we are in a very confused culture with a highly moralistic culture of one sort that our world—the western world—has sort of invented new moralisms to take the place of the old ones, but the trouble with the new moralisms is that there is never any redemption. If you’re caught out saying accidentally something which somebody else says was racist or crypto-Nazi or whatever it is then that’s it, you’re out, you’re cancelled, you’re in social hell, even atheist hell if you like. There’s no way back, there’s no chance for repentance or forgiveness and so on. That’s a very cruel culture.

People used to object to Christians banging on about sin but the point of banging on about sin was to say there’s a way back to God from the darkness of sin as the old hymn says it and to say we’re all sinners was actually a positive doctrine because the answer is we’ve got a diagnosis for the problem and what’s more we have a solution, we have a remedy, God has provided the remedy, whereas in the present social and culture climate everyone is nervous about tripping up over some hidden “thou shalt not” in the culture whether it’s about gender rights of one sort or another or issues to do with race and so on and the rules keep on changing and as the rules change, when you’re my age, it’s very hard to keep up with them. It reminds me of that Roman emperor

Who made new rules and printed them out or stuck them out very small and had them stuck on high walls where nobody could read them and then would punish people for not obeying these rules and sometimes our contemporary culture feels like that and we have to argue for the importance of genuine morality, yes, but what we have at the moment is a sort of pseudo-morality of this victim culture where if somebody feels upset by something somebody else has quite innocently said then they can blame the person who’s done it and once you blame them there is no way back, they are non-persons or they’re damned or whatever, so how we respond to that as Christians is very different from the kind of stuff that most of us grew up with which was assuming that most people around us were sort of crypto-Pelagians thinking they could behave themselves and, therefore, go to heaven when they die. That’s not what people are thinking out there on the street now and we have to get used to articulating the message of Jesus in a very, very different context.

I know that’s a lot, but I believe it’s a lot of wisdom. I love how Wright is able to wisely assess our cancel culture and contrast it so poignantly with the Kingdom of God, an alternative way of life filled with love, hope, forgiveness, and redemption.

I confess sometimes I get caught up in the issues of our day, filled with fear and uncertainty rather than wisely seeking the Truth in God and His Word. Although our nation may be one exception in the last half of the twentieth century, most societies throughout history have not Christian foundations. The world has always acted like the world and will always act like the world. We are called—as citizens of the Kingdom of God—to live differently, to be filled with love rather than fear, to exercise grace not revenge, to seek after those who make us uncomfortable when we’d rather play video games or watch movies.

I can’t say this enough: I need wisdom. You need wisdom. Following Jesus in our day requires supernatural wisdom, and the good news is it is promised to us…if we ask and believe.

Would you commit to praying for me? I need wisdom. Our staff and elders need wisdom, especially during these next several weeks as we prepare for our fall kickoff on August 29. Next week we’ll begin what may be the most important sermon series I’ve ever preached for First Alliance Church. We’re going to present our six core values, the result of literally years of prayer, research, and discussion. God has answered our cries for wisdom. He has given us a compelling mission, an exciting vision, and a fresh strategy to reach our city and world as we more or less relaunch First Alliance this fall. As excited as I am about our future, I don’t want to take a single step forward without God’s direction, God’s protection, unity, and passion—my four prayers for FAC. As our society considers a post-COVID world in the future, we’ve been working behind-the-scenes to be optimally ready for whatever opportunities God provides for us. It is my prayer that our most fruitful days are ahead, that our baptistry would get worn out, that God would raise up men and women to serve Him here and around the world.

Perhaps my greatest fear is that I get in the way of what God wants to do, which is why I pray for and ask for your prayers for wisdom. Since it’s promised, we can pray with confidence and eager expectation. I better wise up. You better wise up!

There are four more verses I want to look at before we conclude today that relate to wisdom.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. (James 1:9)

Does that even make sense? It does in the upside-down Kingdom of God where the first shall be last and where saving your life means losing it for Christ’s sake. A few chapters later, James will say,

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)

The world says you need a platform. Get famous on Tik Tok. Make a career out of YouTube movies. Grab as much money, sex, and power as you can. It’s all about you!

God says, “Surrender to me and I will lift you up.”

Some of you find yourselves in humble circumstances. Several in our church family are homeless, jobless, spouse-less, or even penniless. Take pride in your high position. Humble yourselves before the Lord. He sees you. He knows you. He loves you. Your story’s not over. Seek help. You are a masterpiece in need of restoration…like me and the rest of us. God’s doing beautiful work through Celebrate Recovery here on Wednesdays at 7 PM. Do life together with others in a Life Group. We have several new groups launching this fall and some meeting now.

But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. (James 1:10-11)

There’s a weather event in the Middle East called a sirocco. It is a very devastating hot wind that blows from the southern desert into Palestine, destroying flowers and plants. What an image!

Money is not the root of all kinds of evil. The love of money is. James reminds the rich—which is most of us compared to people around the world—it will all pass away someday. You can’t take it with you.

It reminds me of the man who was granted one wish—like Solomon—and he asked to see the next day’s newspaper so he could see the sports section and bet on the horse race. It was a great plan to get rich…until he noticed his name in the obituaries!

Rich or poor, young or old, black or white, wolverine or buckeye (!), …

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

James speaks often of trials because he knows they make us grow, they humble us, they bring us to our knees, and they develop our character. As he said at the beginning of the book,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

Erwin McManus recently said,

I’ve always wondered why the Bible says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Why do we want to fear God?

Whatever you fear has mastery of your life.

Whatever you are afraid of, that’s your master.

If you only fear God, then only God is your master.

Every other fear will use that fear to hold you captive.

But when you fear God, He destroys the fear because it says that perfect love casts out all fear.

When all your fear is directed at God, His perfect love casts out all the fear and now you can live a life that’s truly free.

Some of you have made a mess of your life. You haven’t made wise choices and you’re suffering the consequences. There’s no shame in that, but redemption is possible. God takes our failures and brokenness and restores us into masterpieces. If we humble ourselves, He will lift us up. If we seek His wisdom and Kingdom and will, like will not always be easy, but it will be satisfying in this life…and the next.

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

Send the Light, 11 August 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love God.
Love others as you love yourself.

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

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

We proclaim the gospel because we love Jesus.

Jesus said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We proclaim the gospel because we love people.

Jesus said to do two things:

Love God.
Love others as you love yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are to proclaim the gospel in deed and word.

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

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

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

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

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

Send the Light

Jesus said,

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

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

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

Right before Jesus departed our planet, Luke writes,

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

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

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

The Alliance has really focused on Acts 1:8.

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

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

Why Wait?

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

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

Don’t forget two essential tools:

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

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

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

In conclusion, Paul wrote,

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

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

One more thing…

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

Additional Resources

What about those who never hear the gospel? (we don’t know for sure!) (simple 3 circles evangelism tool)

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Because He Lives, 16 April 2017

    Because He Lives
    Series: A Love That Never Dies
    Matthew 28:1-10

    Series Big Idea:
    Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

    Big Idea: Because He lives, all fear is gone.

    Welcome to Resurrection Sunday! This is the greatest day of the year, the day we celebrate our living Savior, LORD, and King, Jesus Christ! Today we conclude our series, “A Love That Never Dies.” Even though Jesus died, his love for us never dies.

    Fear. We all experience it.

    We are afraid of failure.
    We are afraid of success.

    The most common command in the Bible is not love, but rather, “Fear not.”

    We are afraid of the betrayal of friends.
    We are afraid of the attack of zombies!

    What’s your greatest fear?

    We are afraid of death.
    We are afraid of life.

    Fear has been a part of the human condition from the beginning. I can’t imagine the fear on Good Friday. The gospel—or good news—of Matthew says,

    From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land (Matthew 27:45)

    For three hours in the middle of the day as Jesus is suffering on the cross, the whole land turned dark. That would freak me out! I know we have a lot of cloudy days in Toledo, but it doesn’t get dark at noon! A few verses later we read…

    Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:50-53, NLT)

    The moment Jesus dies, this huge curtain separating people from the most sacred place on the planet, the holy of holies, is torn from top to bottom. That’s weird! It was wonderful, by the way, because that meant Jesus’ death provided reconciliation between us and our Creator God.

    But that’s not all. The earth shook. Have you ever experienced an earthquake? Freaky!

    Rocks split apart. What? Have you ever seen that?

    And then maybe my favorite part…tombs opened. The dead were raised. It says bodies left the cemetery after the resurrection, went into the city, and appeared to many people. Grandma?!?!

    The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

    Do you get the picture? The crucifixion scene was awful. It was scary. Jesus dies. Nature freaks out. People are weeping. The smell of death is in the air. Roman soldiers are everywhere. Is it any wonder people were afraid?

    But that was Friday. People are afraid of death, but today is a day of life, right? Let’s look at our text for today, a verse verses ahead.

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

    These women go to the tomb. They probably had two sleepless nights. They were tired. They were overcome with grief and stress, watching an execution right before their eyes. Mary saw her son’s life drained in front of her. If she did sleep, I’m sure it was filled with nightmares.

    This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was such a good boy! He was darn-near perfect. Actually, he was perfect. Why would anyone want to kill him? A week ago a parade welcomed him in to the city of Jerusalem, and now he’s dead!

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

    It’s Sunday. Another earthquake? A violent one. An angel rolls back the stone. Talk about freaking out, the guards shake and become like dead men.

    These are the powerful warriors the women expect to be guarding the tomb. Instead, the women are terrified by someone else.

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

    First, the angel terrifies the guards. Now he terrifies the women. Can you blame them for being afraid?

    So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:8)

    Fear. Hope. Joy. Fear. Hope. Joy. They were surely an emotional mess! Jesus is alive?

    Suddenly Jesus met them.
    “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9-10)

    Why does Jesus say, “Do not be afraid?” Because they’re afraid! They’re overcome with emotion. Is this really happening? Have we finally fallen asleep and we’re dreaming? Dead people do not say, “Greetings!”

    Yet this is the account. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses. He ate with them. He talked with them. He showed them his pierced hands and feet. And for about 2000 years men, women and children have been experiencing a relationship with Jesus, a relationship possible only because Jesus is alive!

    He is risen! He is risen indeed!

    Followers of Jesus base everything on the resurrection. Everything!

    Paul, once an enemy of Jesus and his followers, remarked

    And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

    Friends, either the resurrection happened or it didn’t. If it didn’t—if Jesus is dead or never died—our faith is useless. Paul says “we are of all people most to be pitied.” We are hopeless. We have every reason to fear death, to fear life.

    But if Jesus is alive, we have hope. We have forgiveness. We can have the promise of eternity with God…and the assurance of salvation. We can experience peace, love, joy, and purpose.

    What are you afraid of? Death? Many people are afraid of death. You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. If you were to die tonight and stand before God and he asked you why you deserved to spend eternity in heaven, what would you say?

    I would say, “I don’t deserve to spend eternity in heaven. I deserve to go to hell because of my sins, my evil, my rebellion, my failures. But Jesus died for me. He confronted evil in all its forms and went into the darkness to take its full weight upon himself. And Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered sin and death.”

    As I said recently at the International Student Easter Dinner, the difference between our faith and that of religion is how they’re spelled.

    Religion is spelled
    D-O, what we do to try to make God like us.

    The message of Jesus is spelled
    D-O-N-E, it’s what he has done for us, dying and rising from the dead.

    What are you afraid of? Life? Many people are afraid of life. Tragedy, loneliness, sickness, terrorism. This world is messed up because of sin. But we need not fear because Jesus is alive. He experienced loneliness, temptation, pain, betrayal, and even death. He understands what you and I face every day. He sent the Holy Spirit to be present with us, to guide us, to comfort us, to encourage us, to empower us. He also gave us one another, a family to belong to, brothers and sisters to journey with.

    We are all afraid of being vulnerable, of trusting someone only to have them abandon us. It has happened to me and probably to you.

    Let me just state I’m sorry…sorry for the pain and disappointment you’ve experienced in life. I’m especially sorry for the behavior of so-called Christians who acted nothing like Jesus. I’m ashamed to say my life does not always look like Jesus—but that’s my desire. I want nothing to do with organized religion…and everything to do with Jesus.

    Because of Jesus—and because he lives—I have experienced peace, joy, satisfaction, hope, love, and purpose…and confidence about this life and the next.

    We’re going to close with a song that talks about the result of the resurrection. Because he lives, all fear is gone. The Bible says perfect love casts out fear. Jesus loves you. He died for you. He rose for you. He’s alive today and wants to calm your fears. He wants to be your Savior. He wants to be your LORD and King.

    Because He lives
    I can face tomorrow
    Because He lives
    Every fear is gone
    I know He holds my life, my future in His hands

    Because He Lives (Amen)

    Fear not!

    Credits: Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Angels, 25 December 2016

    Series: First Christmas
    Luke 2:1-14

    Series Big Idea:
    Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

    Big Idea: We need not fear angels…or anything but God.

    Merry CHRISTmas! My name is Kirk and I’m thrilled to be able to celebrate Jesus’ birthday with you!

    Throughout Advent—this season of waiting—we’ve been looking at the Christmas story through the eyes of various characters present at the First Christmas. We looked at the Wise Men, Elizabeth, the Innkeeper, Joseph, and today it’s the angels.

    Have you ever met or seen an angel? Our minds picture a person dressed in white with wings and a halo, but angels are real creatures. In fact, they’re mentioned nearly three hundred times in the Bible! Unless they suddenly became an endangered species, they are just as real and important today.

    We don’t have time to do a thorough study of angels today, but I want to look at two words they spoke: fear not.

    In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3)

    So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (
    Luke 2:4-7)

    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. (
    Luke 2:8-9)


    Why were they terrified? They saw and angel. They saw the glory of the Lord.

    It seems like often when angels appear, people are afraid. That makes sense, right?

    The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. (Matthew 28:5)

    But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. (Luke 1:13)

    But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)

    Sometimes people are already afraid and angels are sent to bring comfort and peace.

    God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. (Genesis 21:17)

    But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20)

    And we have the example in today’s text.

    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

    I have loved Charlie Brown for as long as I can remember. Being a musician, I should’ve identified most with Schroeder, but whenever I would read the Peanuts comics or watch the television specials I always connected with Charlie Brown.

    Charles Schultz, the creator of Charlie Brown, told so many wonderful stories, but the best story he ever told was not his, but taken from the Bible.

    Perhaps you’ve seen the Facebook post by Jason Soroski. I’m so grateful to Crystal who sent it to me. I nearly cried reading it…and I want to share it with you today.

    Last year, A Charlie Brown Christmas aired on national prime time television for the 50th time. In a world where the latest greatest technology is outdated in a matter of months, and social media trends come and go in a matter of days, 50 years of anything becomes quite meaningful.

    I am a fan of all things nostalgic and all things Christmas, and so when the two are combined I am hooked, and the Charlie Brown Christmas special falls squarely into that category.

    I was in the first grade back when they still performed Christmas pageants in schools (less than 50 years, but still a very long time ago), and our class performed a version of the Charlie Brown Christmas. Since I was kind of a bookworm and already had a blue blanket, I was chosen to play the part of Linus. As Linus, I memorized
    Luke 2:8-14, and that Scripture has been hidden in my heart ever since.

    But while working so diligently to learn those lines, there is one important thing I didn’t notice then, and didn’t notice until now.

    Right in the middle of speaking, Linus drops the blanket.

    Charlie Brown is best known for his uniquely striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all work to no avail to separate Linus from his blanket. And even though his security blanket remains a major source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he simply refuses to give it up.

    Until this moment. When he simply drops it.

    In that climactic scene when Linus shares “what Christmas is all about,” he drops his security blanket, and I am now convinced that this is intentional. Most telling is the specific moment he drops it: when he utters the words, “fear not.”

    Looking at it now, it is pretty clear what Charles Schultz was saying, and it’s so simple it’s brilliant.

    The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears.

    The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves.

    The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead.

    The world of 2016 can be a scary place, and most of us find ourselves grasping to something temporal for security, whatever that thing may be. Essentially, 2016 is a world in which it is very difficult for us to “fear not.”

    But in the midst of fear and insecurity, this simple cartoon image from 1965 continues to live on as an inspiration for us to seek true peace and true security in the one place it has always been and can always still be found.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    What are you afraid of? I know that’s an odd question to ask on Christmas Day, but what are you afraid of?

    The dark?
    Your credit card bill next month after Christmas shopping?
    Your health?

    God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1John 4:16-18)

    We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

    Fear not!

    The angels said it.

    It’s the most common command in the Bible.

    If we recognize the love and presence and power and wisdom and wonder and mystery of God, our other fears will diminish.

    Technically, the Bible doesn’t say the angels sang. It says they praised God.

    Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 

    “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (
    Luke 2:13-14)

    We can praise with words, but music has a special way of enhancing the worship.

    “Angels We Have Heard On High” has possibly the longest word in any piece of music! The 18-syllable word is "Gloria." Gloria, in excelsis Deo means simply, “Glory to God in the highest.”

    Fear Not

    The message of Christmas is Immanuel, God is with us.

    Fear not…God is with us.
    Fear not…the Prince of Peace is here.
    Fear not…you are not alone.
    Fear not…the baby will return soon as King Jesus.

    Happy birthday, Jesus! Merry CHRISTmas! God bless you!

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • When You are Suffering or Afraid, 13 December 2015

    When You Are Suffering Or Afraid
    Series: Be Here Now
    Psalm 139, 23, 56:3-4

    Series Overview:
    Christmas is the celebration of “presence.”

    Big Idea: God is with us…always…especially when we are suffering or afraid.


    This morning we continue our Advent series, “Be Here Now,” a series on presence.

    Perhaps the holidays for you are the most isolated time of year. You feel like the guy in the video, surrounded by people, yet empty inside, alone, and seemingly invisible to everyone.

    The first two weeks dealt with us being fully present with others and God. The next two weeks will address God’s presence with us. You are not invisible. You are not alone. Today we’ll briefly look at God’s presence when we are suffering and when we’re afraid. I have a few things to say, but mostly today I want to let the words of David from the Psalms refresh you.

    This past week I was invited to the offices of Proclaim FM 102.3 and their sign said, “Christmas is about three words: God with us.” That is the meaning of “Emmanuel.” God is with us. He is present. He is here…now.

    Do you know God is here? Perhaps you feel His presence right now. Maybe you don’t. It’s possible you’ve never felt God with you.

    But He is. Whether you feel it or not.

    Feelings are real. They are powerful. They cannot always be trusted. That’s why we need the Bible to guide us into truth.

    One of my favorite psalms, Psalm 139, beautifully describes God’s presence—even seeing us in the womb!

    Psalm 139

    For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
    You have searched me, LORD,
    and you know me.
    You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
    You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
    Before a word is on my tongue
    you, LORD, know it completely.
    You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

    Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
    If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
    If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
    even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
    If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
    even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
    For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
    My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
    Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
    How precious to me are your thoughts,
    How vast is the sum of them!
    Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.
    If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
    They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
    Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
    I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
    Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
    See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139)

    God is here. How do I know? “The Bible tells me so.” Is that enough? Sometimes.

    Often I find a conflict between my thoughts and feelings, between what I know in my head to be true and what I sense in my heart.

    I often think of God like
    radio waves. Whether you know it or not, this room is filled with radio waves. They are invisible, but real. You simply need to dial in to experience them. A television will be able to tune in television channels, a radio radio frequencies, and a laptop WiFi signals. You can deny their existence…or listen in. God is here whether you deny or embrace it, whether you feel it or not. Is your antenna up?

    Sometimes God seems very distant. I’ve had many
    “dark nights of the soul” where I cried out, wondering where I could find God. Perhaps you’ve had them. Perhaps you’re going through such a season right now. I promise you God is real and He loves you and He is with you. I don’t understand why He sometimes seems to play hard to get, but He promised to never leave us or forsake us, to be with us always to the very end of the age. Don’t give up. Tell a friend your struggles. Fill your mind with the truth of God’s Word. Beg Him to reveal Himself. Be assured He is worth the pursuit.

    When have you felt God closest to you?

    On September 21, 2006 a friend of mine sent me this e-mail while our daughter was in horrific pain in the hospital:
    It is hard to figure out where God is when we are sitting in the ash heap in suffering, but I really sense that God is sitting in the ash heap with you.  Along those lines, I encourage you to spend time in the place of mourning (even as you work on solutions to the problem) and I think that you will meet God there. 

    His words were truly prophetic. The next day, September 22, I found myself at one of the worst moments of my life, despondent over our suffering child who could get no relief from horrendous pain. I opened my Bible to Psalm 22—since it was September 22—and read these words

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1a)

    I instantly bawled like a baby, something highly unusual for me. The paradox was how close I felt to God at the moment. In fact, I’ve probably never felt close to the Father than when I read those words. I did not feel forsaken by God. Instead, my mind raced to the words of Jesus on the cross we looked at last week…

    From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Matthew 27:45-46)

    As I watched my child suffer excruciating pain, I was transported to Calvary and the pain the Father must’ve felt watching His child suffer excruciating pain.

    Where is God when you’re suffering? With you. He understands.

    Psalm 34:18 says

    The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

    There are many wonderful attributes of God. One is His presence. He is not only omnipresent—everywhere at once—He is especially close to the hurting, the suffering. Jesus knows pain and refused to watch us from a distance. The celebration of Emmanuel is God came near, God entered our world, God experienced pain, God understands.

    For the longest time I couldn’t turn to Psalm 22 without getting emotional. Those nine words pierced my heart, reminding me of that place of mourning and agony and yet joyfully reminding me of God’s presence.

    It was months later when I realized what follows the suffering of Psalm 22…Psalm 23. Perhaps you’ve heard it!

    A psalm of David.

    The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
    he leads me beside quiet waters,

    he refreshes my soul.
    He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

    Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
    I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

    You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
    You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.

    Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
    and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
    forever. (Psalm 23)

    Because David was able to fear God and not evil—he found God more awesome than his temptations or fears—he was not afraid. The presence of God brought him comfort.

    Every day we are tempted to be afraid as we read the news, talk with friends…look in the mirror! As we said several weeks ago, “Fear Not. Fear God.”

    Where is God when you’re afraid? With you. So we need not be afraid.

    A few chapters later in Psalms we read these words of David

    When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
    in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4)

    It’s great to know God is powerful, but it is His presence which is truly comforting. Whether you feel it or not, God is with us. Always. Everywhere. He’s with us in the midst of suffering. He’s with us when we’re afraid.

    The irony of Advent is during this season of waiting for Jesus, He is with us. He is here. At this time of year we look back at history, we look forward to the return of Jesus, but we must also be fully present in the moment, welcoming Jesus into our current reality.

    He wants to do life with us. Today. We are never alone. As we celebrate Emmanuel, invite Jesus into your life, your home, your school, your place of work, your recreation, and your commute. He not only wants to be your friend, He is the Almighty God of angel armies who is always by your side.

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