Following Jesus

Day of the LORD, 26 March 2023

Day of the LORD
Honor: The Book of Malachi
Malachi 4

Series Big Idea:
The last book of the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) offers challenging words about bringing honor to the LORD.
Big Idea: God’s final judgment is coming for each of us on the day of the LORD…get ready!
When I was a kid growing up in the Church, one of the most popular songs declared,
This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24, NKJV)
Are we rejoicing? Are we glad?
Today we’re concluding our verse-by-verse exploration of the last book of the Jewish Bible—the Old Testament—written by the prophet Malachi. This is the day the LORD has made, but today we are going to look at the day of the LORD, something referenced throughout the Bible.
The day of the LORD. The Hebrew word yom means “day.” It’s one of the most common nouns in the Old Testament. You’ve probably heard of Yom Kippur, day of atonement. Yom Yahweh is the day of the LORD. This isn’t a reference to what some call the LORD’s day, the sabbath, the day of rest, but rather a period of time, not necessarily 24 hours. It could mean the daylight hours or a special event. Part of the challenge in defining the day of the LORD is it means different things throughout the Bible. Here are some examples of its usage:
Scream in terror, for the day of the LORD has arrived—the time for the Almighty to destroy. (Isaiah 13:6, NLT)
For this is the day of the Lord, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, a day of vengeance on his enemies. (Jeremiah 46:10a, NLT)
for the terrible day is almost here—the day of the LORD! It is a day of clouds and gloom, a day of despair for the nations. (Ezekiel 30:3, NLT)
The day of the LORD is near, the day when destruction comes from the Almighty. How terrible that day will be! (Joel 1:15, NLT)
Yes, the day of the LORD will be dark and hopeless, without a ray of joy or hope. (Amos 5:20, NLT)
“That terrible day of the LORD is near. Swiftly it comes—a day of bitter tears, a day when even strong men will cry out. (Zephaniah 1:14, NLT)
Let’s take a look at some New Testament references:
The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the LORD arrives. (Acts 2:20, NLT)
But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:4, NLT)
Before we address today’s text, know this: God’s final judgment is coming for each of us on the day of the LORD…get ready! This is an urgent message for every generation. The prophet Malachi begins his final chapter:
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all. (Malachi 4:1, NLT)
For centuries, people have debated whether or not the evil will be exposed to literal fire or if they will burn “like” a furnace. Will the torment be eternal, or will humans somehow be annihilated? The details are not as important as the big idea:
sin kills and we need Jesus.
“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. (Malachi 4:2, NLT)
This is a prophetic vision of the Messiah, of Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 84:11, NIV)
Jesus the Messiah brings more than just forgiveness of sins, but victory and healing.
“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. (Malachi 4:2, NLT)
This is where I wish the book ended, with joy and leaping!
Have you ever seen calves let out to pasture? It’s nothing like straw being burned up!
This is the fate of those who fear the name of the LORD, who know and love God, who are obedient, faithful, and righteous. They will go free, leaping with joy! But there’s more.
On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 4:3, NLT)
How would you like God to walk all over you? In this life, there seem to be few things that are black and white, but plenty of gray. The day of the LORD, however, appears to be binary: the wicked and the righteous, with two very different outcomes. Which group describes you, wicked or righteous?
“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel. (Malachi 4:4, NLT)
This describes the righteous, those who obey God’s law, those how love God and speak His love language of obedience. We can obey or suffer.
Now we come to the end of the chapter, the end of the book, the end of the Old Testament.
“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. (Malachi 4:5 NLT)
John the Baptist was the prophet sent, according to Jesus in Matthew 11:14. He prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah. But some see this as the second coming of Elijah. Regardless, God desperately wants to give everyone ample opportunity to follow Him. He’s not tricky or deceitful.
He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9b, NLT)
He has given each of us the mission—the commission—to proclaim good news as we go and make disciples. We want to give every man, woman, and child in this world not only a chance to escape eternity without God, but also eternity with God. Look what Peter says next:
But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. (2 Peter 3:10, NLT)
Are you ready for the day of the LORD? Are you preparing others for the day of the LORD?
“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. (Malachi 4:5 NLT)
His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. (Malachi 4:6a NLT)
The angel of the LORD quotes this when telling Zechariah about his forthcoming son, John the Baptist.
He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” (Luke 1:17, NLT)
His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:6, NLT)
And thus ends the book of Malachi and the Old Testament. It ends with a curse!
There were about four hundreds of years of silence between Malachi and John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah.
So What?
Understanding biblical prophecy can be challenging. Much of it is focused upon Jesus the Messiah…His first coming about 2000 years ago, His return, …or perhaps even both! Many of the things in Revelation, for example, were fulfilled when the temple was destroyed in AD 70, though some have yet to occur (though Revelation is more apocalyptic than prophet, but that’s for another discussion). Does the mention of Elijah in today’s text literally mean Elijah, the prophet who never died (he was taken into heaven in a whirlwind)? Was it actually speaking of John the Baptist? Or both! Applying prophetic writings to our lives can be challenging, but some things are universal, including the unchanging God Pastor Donald spoke of last Sunday.
Two weeks ago I reminded you that judgment day is coming…for everyone. It’s a sobering reality, and I feel like each time we gather, it’s important to be reminded of who God is, who we are, and how our present impacts our future.
Some have said the Day of the LORD is similar to a coin with two sides, one positive and one negative. We’ve seen here in Malachi chapter four the Day of the LORD will be good for some and terrible for others, perhaps not unlike final exam week!
For the true members of God’s people, the Day of the LORD is blessing. For those who are not God’s people, it is judgment. Amazingly, the Old Testament is filled with passages which suggest it will be a day of judgment for Israel. They will not be alone, of course, as both then and now men and women have ignored or even rejected the Almighty, thinking themselves beyond the need for a relationship with God. The Day of the LORD refers to a variety of things, judgments, blessings, seasons, and the upcoming time when He will reestablish His rule over the earth.
Throughout our study of Malachi, we’ve seen a people who have robbed God by their greed and lack of stewardship. We’ve encountered rationalization…calling evil good. We’ve seen offerings of leftovers rather than the first fruits, their best. The Jews have been unfaithful despite the faithfulness of God. In many ways, it sounds like the Church in the United States today. I’m not trying to be critical. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem, both personally and professionally.
I think this challenging book gives us all a lot to reflect upon and consider. Where are you? I know you’re in this room or watching on a screen, but where are you? Where are you in your relationship with God? The first question in the Bible (Genesis 3:9) was God asking Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” It wasn’t that God couldn’t find them. He’s God. He wanted them to identify where they were relationally.
Where are you? It matters both now and for eternity.
You may think a church gathering would be an odd place to ask these questions. After all, most of you would say Jesus is your Savior and LORD. But saying so isn’t enough. Jesus asked,
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46, NIV)  
47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:47-49, NIV)  
The Day of the LORD will bring blessing for the true believers, but judgment for the self-sufficient, the busy, the unfaithful, the wicked.
Family, I don’t want any of you to be in that later category. I love you. I plead with you to surrender and follow Jesus with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Worship with your time, talents, and treasures. Love God and your neighbor and yourself well. Knowledge is not enough. Our actions provide evidence for our faith. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
God’s final judgment is coming for each of us on the day of the LORD…get ready! Get others ready!

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

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

Psalm 1: Blessed, 3 July 2022

Psalm 1: Blessed
Series—Restoring Your Soul: Psalms

Series Big Idea:
The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul.
Big Idea: True blessings are found in seeking and following the LORD.
Shortcuts. We all love short cuts. The modern expression is hacks. How can do have it our way…now? Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everybody wants to be rich, but nobody wants to work. Everybody wants a fit spouse, but nobody wants to be the one going to the gym. Everybody wants a degree, but nobody wants to study. Everybody wants to play the piano, but nobody wants to practice.
I realize everybody and nobody are exaggerations, but it’s true, right? We all want hacks to make life easier. Here’s one for you:
Everybody wants to be blessed, but nobody wants to obey the LORD.
Today we’re beginning a summer series on the Psalms called “restoring your soul.” Psalms may be my favorite book of the Bible. It is the songbook of scripture, though we don’t have the original music, unfortunately. I recently learned of an Australian musical group called The Sons of Korah who are trying to put all 150 psalms to music! They have dozens completed thus far.
The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul from a number of different writers. It is my prayer that they will speak not only to your mind, but also your heart and soul
A blessing is literally “God’s favor and protection.” Who doesn’t want that?
Today we’re beginning our series with Psalm…one! Its first letter is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. I learned in studying for this sermon the Psalms have five sections or books just like the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses that begin the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible. Psalm one is something of an introduction to the entire songbook, but it’s a simple yet profound piece of wisdom. The big idea is
true blessings are found in seeking and following the LORD. Don’t look for shortcuts. You can pray for blessings—for yourself or others—but we can participate with our lives.
The New International Version of Psalm 1 begins
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, (Psalm 1:1, NIV)
That’s a mouthful. We’re going to use the
New Living Translation this morning, but I want you to catch the “blessed.” Some versions say “happy.” The original Hebrew word is “Asheri.” That doesn’t mean much to most of you, but the NLT translates it
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. (Psalm 1:1, NLT)
I used to tell my kids, “You are your friends. Choose wisely.” Perhaps you’ve heard, “Birds of a feather, flock together.” Paul said,
“Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33). We are all influenced by others, whether it’s family, friends, or even social media. Who do you hang with? Are they wicked? Do they sin without regret or repentance? Do they mock others? Are they filled with pride? What comes out of their mouth? Would it be appropriate around children?
The very first sentence of the very first Psalm says one is blessed not when they ask God to bless them, but rather when they don’t let the wicked influence them. There is effort involved. There is self-control involved. It may mean thinking twice about how you spend your time…with whom you spend your time!
This does not mean we should never develop relationships with non-Christians. It does mean in doing so we need to shine light into the darkness, not let our light get snuffed out by the darkness. Notice the progression: walk/follow, stand, sit/join. The righteous don’t have time to stand around and mock and gossip because they’re delighting in the LORD.
The LORD said to Joshua,
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)
You’ll be blessed!
The psalmist continues the thought in verse two:
But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. (Psalm 1:2, NLT)
This is what a blessed person does. If you want to experience joy, this is what you do. You fill your mind with truth. You meditate not on your navel, but on the scriptures! According to numerous studies, biblical illiteracy has been on the increase for decades. Even many so-called Christians don’t know what the Bible says…or act like they don’t! I’ve been amazed—especially in the past few years—at the ungodly attitudes of so-called Christians. I expect the world to act like the world, but the lack of love, peace, compassion, empathy, courage, sacrifice, patience, and goodness of many who claim to follow Christ is evidence many simply don’t meditate on the Word of God. They’ve been more influenced by political parties or trendy ideas than on the law of the LORD.
Family, we need to meditate on the Bible day and night. Just reading it isn’t sufficient. Thirty minutes on Sunday morning is not enough. Most people I know eat more than one meal a week…more than one meal a day! We need to not only feed our bodies, we need to feed our minds. We need to feast on God’s Word, especially when we’re exposed to countless lies every day on billboards, television, and the Internet.
The Hebrew word for meditate,
hagah, means to moan, growl, ponder. The same word is found in Isaiah 3:14 for a lion’s low growling and later for the cooing of a dove. Perhaps you’ve tried to memorize something, repeating it quietly out loud. Day and night the blessed, the happy, the joyful marinate their minds on God’s Word. It is their delight. By the way, the Hebrew word for “law,” Torah, is more than just rules. It’s all of the stories, prophecies, and instructions in the Bible, provided for us to know and understand God and reality.
It's no wonder our world is filled with so many opinions and perspectives. People are reading different books…literally! What is your basis for faith? For truth? For understanding life?
We’ve given you several tools to help you meditate on God’s Word. Let me remind you of some of them:
1.    Mission 119. This free app will guide you through the entire Bible over about 20 months. Alliance Pastor John Soper will give you scriptures and offer a daily audio commentary on the passage, which is especially helpful in those difficult texts. I’m doing it for the third time now and it’s one of the best habits I’ve ever done.
    Lectio 365. This is another free app which has both a morning and an evening meditation on God’s Word. It provides space for prayer and reflection as well as biblical content. Heather and I do it most every day together and it’s one of the best investments we’ve made in ourselves and our marriage.
    RightNow Media. First Alliance pays for you to have a free subscription to this huge library of videos, all available on your mobile device or streaming box. There are resources for children, small groups, and personal Bible study from some of the best teachers on the planet.
    YouVersion. This is so much more than a Bible app. It’s packed with Bible reading plans, videos, a verse of the day, and the “live” section has First Alliance Church each week!
    Life Groups. The heart of First Alliance is not actually Sunday morning in rows, but in circles with small groups. It’s difficult to interact with my preaching live (unless you’re online; chat away!), but doing life together with others is a terrific environment to not only feed on the Bible but also digest it into your soul.
Of course, there are many other ways to get God’s Word in your heart, letting it fill your mind. The best Bible translation is…the one you read! I like the New Living Translation and the New International Version, but if you prefer a different one, go for it! I like my
NIV Study Bible and my Life Application Bible.
One core value of our Alliance family states, “Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success.”
One of this church’s core values says, “We are committed to prayer, the Word of God, and following Jesus.” Don’t miss that last part. It’s not enough to know it in your head. It needs to leak into your heart and hands, too!

Arguably the best chapter in the Bible about the Bible is Psalm 119. It’s the longest chapter in the Bible (176 verses!). If you want a great place to start meditating on God’s Word, read it slowly. Those who delight in God’s Word, those who meditate on it…
They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. (Psalm 1:3, NLT)
Have you ever slowed down long enough to observe trees? God designed them to get nourishment through their roots and the results can be seen in the leaves. It seems like trees near water have an advantage! Even when the weather is dry, a tree near water is able to drink. They are able to bear fruit. I love fruit, especially fresh fruit!
But have you ever had bad fruit? Moldy fruit? Those who feed on God’s Word, those who meditate on the LORD, will produce good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a, NIV)
This is the fruit of doing life with God, filling our minds with truth and righteousness. Note trees don’t eat their own fruit, but produce it to benefit others. That’s true for the righteous.
But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. (Psalm 1:4, NLT)
I’m no gardener, but I know the wheat and chaff are separated. One has value, the other is worthless trash. The kernel falls to the threshing floor and saved while the chaff blows away. Imagine a watermelon. You eat the fruit and throw away the rind, right? This is how God describes the wicked, those who ignore God and His wisdom. It gets worse.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. (Psalm 1:5, NLT)
Judgment Day is coming…for all humans. Are you ready? I know our culture is filled with gray, but scripture repeatedly talks about the sheep and the goats, the wide and narrow road, heaven and hell. There are two paths. Which have you taken? It’s never too late to repent, turn, and follow Jesus.
For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1:6, NLT)
Which path are you choosing?
Jesus once said,
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28, NIV)
It’s not enough to hear it. It’s not enough to read it. We must live it!
Do you want to be blessed? There’s something you can do about it! To experience God’s favor, you need to seek and follow Him. It’s not enough to say, “Bless me, LORD!” There are no shortcuts. You need to spend time with Him, meditate on His Word, surround yourselves with others who will speak the truth in love and model a Jesus lifestyle. Garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out!
The message today is quite simple, yet we’re so easily enticed by the lies of this world and miss the pathway to blessings. It’s ultimately about seeking and following the LORD. It’s about building your life around Jesus. It’s about Christ being our cornerstone…our life!
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance. (Psalm 33:12, NIV)
May God bless the United States of America this week as we celebrate our freedom…and may He bless every nation on earth!

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

Authority, 21 March 2021

Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 11:27-33

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

Big Idea: Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth…and he has given it to us for God’s glory.

When one of our children was little, they were given a time-out for poor behavior. Not long after, my wife discovered they had gotten up with plans to return to playtime. Heather said, “Who told you to get up from your time-out?” They replied, “God!”

While I doubt God really did that, it’s a perfect introduction to today’s topic: authority.

When I think back to my own childhood, I can remember asking, “Who gave you permission?” to do something. Maybe you’ve said, “Who put you in charge?” or even, “Who made you God?”

As we’ve been looking at the life and teachings of Jesus—our example, the one we follow, the whole purpose of First Alliance Church—we’re blessed to be able to eavesdrop on some of his conversations. As we saw last week, they’re not always cordial! When he finds the sacred temple in Jerusalem turned into something of a shopping mall, he expresses his anger—without sinning—in words and deeds. Although he addressed inappropriate behavior, he was especially confronting the wicked hearts of the religious leaders who—consequently—wanted to have him killed. The crucifixion on Good Friday was no accident. It was all part of God’s plan to seek and save humanity.

Before we look at today’s text in Mark chapter eleven, I want to declare

Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. He studied and knew the Jewish Bible, amazed the religious teachers when he was only twelve years old (Luke 2:47), and the first chapter of this gospel or “good news” of Mark told us

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:22)

Ouch…for the teachers of the law!
Jesus possessed authority. Not only were his words filled with truth and wisdom, they came with authority.
If you have truth but no authority, you’re like a little boy trying to direct traffic at a busy intersection. Good luck!

If you have authority with no truth, you’re likely to be corrupt and act unjustly.

Truth and authority, however, is a powerful combination that can lead to transformation.

We need authority in our world. Without it, we’d have chaos. Imagine if drivers were allowed to drive as fast and reckless as they desired without any threat from police (or speed cameras!). How could we have March Madness without a little authority from the refs in the striped shirts? What would happen in the home or school if children did as they pleased? Imagine a workplace with no boss to enforce the employee handbook. It would be anarchy before long.

There’s a popular saying in our culture from Rich Remender which says, “There is no authority but yourself.” How long can civilization survive with that mantra?

We’re told in the book of Romans,

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

God is the ultimate authority. Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus has the ultimate authority. This word, authority, in the original Greek is exousia (ex-oo-see-ah). It means jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength, …authority.

Let’s look at our text for today in Mark chapter eleven.

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:27-28)

They’re challenging Jesus. We learned last week they were afraid of Jesus because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. They wanted to do anything possible to discredit him…including killing him. In modern terms, they were probably saying, “Who do you think you are, God or something?”

One of Jesus’ favorite tools was to respond to a question with a question.

Jesus replied,
“I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. (Mark 11:29)

One question. That’s reasonable, right?

John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”
(Mark 11:30)

Zinger! If you don’t understand the question, don’t worry. Mark explains.

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) (Mark 11:31-32)

Jesus set them up. Remember, he’s the smartest man who ever lived! More than an intellectual argument, he was really concerned about their hearts. He knew they were up to no good.

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
(Mark 11:33a)

At least they were honest!

Jesus said,
“Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Mark 11:33b)

Jesus sounds a little snarky, doesn’t he? That’s not very nice, Jesus. But perhaps it was necessary to get their attention…or get them even more riled up to kill him!

Jesus possessed authority in heaven and on earth.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:16-18)   

Followers of King Jesus are under his authority.

This might be the primary difference between the world and Christians. The world will always act like the world. They’ll do what they want…or what they can get away with.

Followers of Jesus submit…to God’s authority. Paul wrote,

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

You don’t have to like everything in the Bible, but by definition, followers obey. We are told to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ. In other words, we die to ourselves, our agendas, our sin and seek first God’s Kingdom, His will, His ways.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)   

We are under the authority of King Jesus who then said,

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 28:19-20)   

We call this the Great Commission because they are the instructions Jesus gave to his followers before leaving earth, ascending into heaven. It’s our mandate, our purpose, our mission.

John records these powerful words from Jesus:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:15-21)

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
(John 14:22)

Jesus replied,
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

In this passage, Jesus declares his authority comes from the Father. He also repeatedly states love equals obedience.

If you love me, keep my commands.
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.
Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.

Do you love Jesus? Do you really love Jesus? If so, we need to obey his commands. While the two greatest are general—love God and love your neighbor as yourself—the Great Commission brings some clarity, some specificity.

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 28:19-20)   

This is the assignment. Jesus has the authority—all authority—and this is what he does with it. He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations.

What does that mean? Ultimately, it means
we are to become followers of Jesus who help others become followers of Jesus. We are to live like Jesus, become like Jesus, and guide others to Jesus.

There are two parts to this idea of discipleship. First, we are to live like Jesus. It begins with surrender. There are no shortcuts. It’s a daily rhythm of dying to yourself and seeking first God’s Kingdom. This is especially hard in our culture where we’re bombarded by messages from social media, billboards, and nearly omnipresent advertising about how it’s all about us. But it’s not! The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It’s not about our desires, our rights, our pleasure. I’m not saying self care is wrong, but self-worship is!

Satanism is a real thing. Its essence is not the worship of satan as some believe, but the worship of self. Here’s a quote from a website about Satanism:

“…instead of relying on some moral code meant for those who belong to religion, the Satanist is free to choose who they will love or who deserves their punishment. This places the satanist at the center of their own world, their own universe with the self being the most important aspect of all.” (

Our culture is obsessed with self worship. It’s as old as satan himself, the prideful one who began his tempting spree with Eve and Adam in the Garden. He told Eve,

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

It’s the top two commandments again: no other gods, no idols (Exodus 20). Who’s the leader of your life? Who’s in charge? What drives your decisions? What inspires your words, your budget, your social media activity, your calendar? Most people do what they want to do with little regard for others and less regard for God. That’s why any talk of restraint, self-control, obedience, submission, or discipline is met with horror and disdain. We all want to be gods! We all want it our way! Tragically, I don’t think people inside the church are often all that different from the world. We just follow what everyone else is doing to “keep up with the Joneses” and fit in.

But that’s not the way of Jesus. That’s not discipleship. That’s not what it means to live under God’s authority. I know this sounds harsh. I know sounds radical. It is! While it may make you feel uncomfortable, I will make you a promise:
you will ultimately not regret following Jesus.

Jesus is the smartest human ever. You’re not. Sorry!
Jesus is the wisest human ever. Not even Solomon can claim that.
Jesus is the most powerful human ever. He has all authority. Our president doesn’t.

is God. He didn’t try to self-actualize or evolve into a god. He is God. Capital G!

And he is good. His ways are good. His life is good. His teachings are good. His love is good. He is the only one worth following in this world.

In our current culture, authenticity is the new authority. The constant message is let your emotions dictate your actions. Do what feels right. Get what you want. It’s all about you. Be true to yourself. You do you. Speak your truth. Tragically, we often do what we think others want, what will get the most likes on social media, what is trending. Popularity won’t last! Following your momentary emotions and desires will not lead you to lasting happiness.

Your authentic self is who you were
created to become. You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. God was not made by you for your glory!

We all need an external guide in order to experience human flourishing. We need something to build our lives upon. We need the rock of Jesus Christ, the one true authority who loves us, proved it, the way, the truth, and the life who will lead us into all truth, all peace, all joy. We need Jesus!

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

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

The Quest for Power, 28 February 2021

The Quest for Power
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 10:32-45

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

Big Idea: The Kingdom of God is upside-down where the greatest serve.

What comes to mind when you think of power? What is power? Is power good or evil? Yes!

It seems that some want power, some are afraid of power, some need power, …and we all have a certain measure of power, though all of us have limited power.

Andy Crouch has called power “the ability to make something of the world.” I think we all want to make something of the world…and so does God!

Last Sunday we returned to our study of Jesus from the book of Mark. The more we know about Jesus, the more we will know Jesus. He came to earth to create a path not for religion, but relationships. Do you know Jesus? He wants to be known, yet there are so many obstacles that stand in the way, most notably our other gods and idols we discussed last week, such as our love for money, sex, and power.

John Mark, the writer of this gospel or “good news,” tells us

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. (Mark 10:32)

The Passover celebration is near. Jesus is with his disciples and others. He had told them twice already that he would die, though they will seem to be clueless about the prophecies later. He tells them a third time…

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)   

No wonder there was astonishment and fear. Jesus couldn’t be more clear about what was going the happen, and everything occurred exactly the way he predicted.

I understand there are skeptics who may think Mark simply took historical events and wrote Jesus’ words back into the story. While that may technically be possible, it is impossible for ancient prophets centuries earlier to rewrite the events. One of the greatest proofs of our faith is Jesus and the multiple prophecies he uniquely fulfilled. God knows the future. God is omniscient—all-knowing. The crucifixion was no accident. It was part of God’s plan, even though it didn’t make any sense at the time to the disciples.

This is true in our day, too. Josh Kaiser—pastor of OneHope Church—was telling me last week how one of his goals is to communicate God’s goodness to his congregation and generation.
God is good…all the time. All the time…God is good!

“But how can God be good when I’m going through this…?” I don’t know, but your story is not over. As Tony Campolo famously said, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming!”

God is good. God can be trusted. It’s okay if it doesn’t feel like it in this moment. You’ll see! In the meantime, faith fills in the gaps. “I believe, LORD. Help me in my unbelief.”

Now we move to a most interesting conversation.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35)   

They want a blank check! Can you imagine?! What audacity! Jesus is willing to play along.

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. (Mark 10:36)   

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
(Mark 10:37)   

Translation: we want the two best seats in heaven, in the next life. To be fair, James and John were two of Jesus’ three best friends, along with Peter. But this is quite the request.

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38)   

Jesus knows what lies ahead for himself…death. Following Jesus—being with Jesus—means following him everywhere…including the cross. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people come alive. It’s not all fun and games. You take the good with the bad, the hard with the easy, the suffering with the comfort, the pain with the glory. But whatever price you pay in this life for following Jesus will be rewarded in the next…for eternity!

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them,
“You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, (Mark 10:39)   

Jesus says they will suffer and die…and they did. It’s believed that all of the disciples died as martyrs except John…who was boiled in hot oil. Jesus doesn’t invite us to a life of pleasure and parties. The invitation is come and die…so you can truly live. Any sacrifice for Christ will be worth it…for eternity. James and John died for their faith…

but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (Mark 10:40)

We don’t know who will sit beside Jesus…or if it really matters.   

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. (Mark 10:41)

Can you blame them? I would be angry, too! Now Jesus seizes this incredible teaching moment.

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)

If you thought the lust for political power is a new thing, you haven’t been reading the Bible! Two thousand years ago, people were seeking to rule over others. They had agendas they wanted to implement, power they wanted to exert, and most likely people they wanted to oppress. This is the way of the world…money, sex, and power.

It’s easy to criticize politicians, but don’t you want power, too? Have you ever put someone else down so you could feel better about yourself? Have you ever silently thought you’re glad you're not like
that person? Have you ever felt justified cutting in line or cheating because you felt better than another? Have you ever experienced a feeling of entitlement?

I thought so! Me, too! But Jesus says,

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:43-44)   

God’s Kingdom is upside down. Jesus turns the tables. In his world, the greatest serve. The first are last. The word “slave” here is not like our nation’s understanding of slave, but rather a bondservant, someone who is working off a debt for a specific time. They often owned property and could obtain freedom.

Jesus always backs up his words with action. He practices what he preaches!

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 10:45)   

Here’s Jesus with his disciples on the way to his crucifixion. He has just told them exactly what would happen. He knows his life will be given for theirs, a ransom or payment for their sins…and ours. God became flesh and spent more than three decades serving. God served us! What kind of God would do that? Furthermore, God died for us! Show me any religion with that love, that mercy, that grace!

Only a God like You/could be worthy of my praise/and all my hope and faith

That’s our God! That’s our King!

So What?

In his book Playing God: Redeeming the gift of Power, Andy Crouch writes,

Power is all about image bearing—reflecting and refracting the creative power of the world’s Maker into the very good creation. And image bearing is for flourishing. But as idolatry fills the world with false images, and as those false images proliferate, the image bearers lose their capacity to bear the true image. The more the image bearers lose this capacity, the more creation itself is diminished, reduced to utilitarian means to bitter ends. Idolatry is the true failure of power.

This flows perfectly with last Sunday’s sermon on money. Our hearts are drawn to money, sex, and power…for our benefit. There’s actually nothing inherently wrong with any of them. Money can be used to bless others. Sex is one of God’s most wonderful ideas, a remarkable experience for a husband and wife in bonding and celebration of their relationship, to say nothing of procreation. Power can bring about freedom for the powerless and justice for the weak.

The issue is the heart. Why do you want money? Is it for yourself or others?

Why do you want sex? Is it for your personal pleasure or strengthening your marriage?

Why do you want power? Is it to bless or oppress others?

Andy Crouch adds,

Every Maundy Thursday, the night before Good Friday in the Western liturgical calendar, Christians around the world gather to wash one another’s feet. Two thousand years after the Teacher and Lord knelt with a towel around his waist, his followers, servants and messengers continue to imitate his example. There is no act of culture-making power more extraordinary than creating a ritual, an act that continues to bear witness to truth from generation to generation, long after the first persons who experienced it lay in the dust of death. The persistence down to this day of the act Jesus performed at that table, and the acts from that night that the other Gospels report—taking, blessing, breaking and giving the bread and wine—is the ultimate test and sign of his power. In this moment, Jesus creates culture, forever transforming the meaning of towel, loaf and cup, forever altering the way teachers and masters will see their roles, and the way their students and servants will see them.

Following Jesus means following his example of service, of washing feet, of daily sacrifice, of putting others first, of praying for one’s enemies, of blessing those who curse you. Could anything be more counter-cultural?

I wish I could say Christians model this well, that we never seek power, that we put others above ourselves, that we are content to go last, that we are known as servants.

The great theologian (!) Jimi Hendrix famously said, "When the power of love takes over the love of power, that's when things will change.”

Tony Campolo notes, “A basic sociological principle is you can’t express love and power at the same time. Whenever you love, you lose power. Love makes you vulnerable … We have a God who loves us so much he was willing to become vulnerable.”

I have to admit I’ve been embarrassed by so-called Christians who clamored for power, especially during this past political season, as if either candidate was the Messiah, the Savior, the answer to the world’s problems…and that somehow their guy would give them power.
Washington’s got nothing on the Kingdom of God! I know politics is messy, but our allegiance must never be to a president but to a Priest, the great high Priest, who is also a Prophet, and King, Jesus Christ. His mission wasn’t to seek power for himself. He came with all authority on heaven and earth. He came for the world. In fact, he gave us his power and authority…for the sake of others.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

What does Jesus do with power? He sends his followers on a mission.

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, 20 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 28:19-20)

One final passage from Andy Crouch:

There is no point in this story where Jesus gives up power—instead, it is the culmination and demonstration of his power. What Jesus gives up in this story is not power but privilege and status…

For those of us preoccupied with protecting our privilege and raising our status, this indifference of Jesus is terrifying. It prompts the kind of outburst that came from Peter. It is holy power, utterly purified, without an ounce of self-protection or self-regard. Jesus’ only use of power was to create, never to protect himself or to exalt himself. Perhaps this is the deepest explanation of his nonviolence. Violence, even when used in justifiable self-defense, does nothing to restore, redeem or create. It only damages in return. And Jesus simply never had a thought except to restore, redeem and create a new community among whom power would be used always and only for flourishing. In such a community, privilege and status can only be disdained and discarded. They are distractions from the real calling of image bearers: to be fruitful and multiply, far as the curse is found.

To follow Jesus means rejecting the world. It involves dying to self. It requires you to think—and act—differently. There’s no keeping up with the Joneses, giving them what they had coming to them, or even telling them to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Some people don’t have bootstraps!

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. (Proverbs 31:8)

This includes the unborn, yes, but it also includes the marginalized, the forgotten, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the refugee. We all have a certain measure of power, given not for our own sake, but for the sake of others. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. Everything we have—our money, time, talents, energy, power, influence, relationships—is a gift, on loan from God. We are to be good stewards and will one day given an account for what we did with what we’ve been given.

This is not a message about trying harder. It’s not a message about abusing yourself and being a doormat, either. Love your neighbor…as yourself.

It is a message of surrender, of letting go, of leveraging what you have for others, as Jesus did.

The Kingdom of God is upside-down where the greatest serve, where the first are last, and where power is poured out for others as Jesus poured out his life—and blood—for us.

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

One more thing…

I want to offer a final challenge to you today. Last week I said generosity kills the money monster, the temptation of greed. Likewise, there are three spiritual practices which kill the power monster, the temptation to selfishly use power. They are solitude, silence, and fasting. These classical disciplines—along with sabbath rest—allow us to disconnect from busyness, achievement, and striving and put our faith and trust into action. Dallas Willard’s classic The Spirit of the Disciplines and John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted are two recommended titles.

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

Hell is for Real, 1 November 2020

Hell is for Real
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 9:38-50

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

Big Idea: Hell is real…and avoidable!

Hell. There are few words which conjure up more images, more controversy, more fear. It’s a word found in English Bibles which has been used both as the name of a Michigan community and a swear word.

There are a lot of myths about hell, and while we won’t probably answer every question, our text today as we continue in the book of Mark will reveal some of Jesus’ teachings on hell.

More people believe in heaven than believe in hell.
More people believe in angels than believe in demons.
More people believe in God than believe in satan.

What does that tell you? We are optimists!

It may not be politically correct, but the Bible is abundantly clear that there are two roads, two teams, two sides, two armies at war with one another…good and evil. Spiritual warfare is real, and we’re in the middle of it every day.

However, there is much we don’t know for certain about the spiritual world. There are many things we don’t know about heaven and hell. Theories about the afterlife abound, but the Bible is not as clear about some things as we may have been led to believe.

Let’s begin with our scripture for today.

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” (Mark 9:38)

John is worries about someone performing an exorcism. I can just see it: “Jesus, the guy is from a different denomination! He’s not on our team! He probably hasn’t even been ordained yet or gone to seminary! We need to stop this, right?”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:39-40)

Wait, is it “whoever is not against us is for us” or “whoever is not for us is against us?”

Twice Jesus says, “Whoever is not against you/us is for you/us,” here and in Luke 9:50.

Twice Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23).

Which is it, Jesus? Actually, the context matters. “Whoever is not against you is for you” applies to other believers, while “whoever is not with me is against me” is a reference to those who are anti-Christian. The point is, you cannot be neutral about Jesus. Are you with Jesus or against Jesus?

It’s not a question of do you like Jesus or do you believe intellectually some events in history. The question is are you with him. If so, you need to be all in…heart, soul, mind, and strength; time, talents, and treasures; 24/7/365. He’s not looking for fans. He is seeking followers. Disciples.

Back to our text, Jesus continues,

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
(Mark 9:39-41)

I think this is a statement of unity. As we stated last Sunday, there are theological arguments which separate followers of Jesus, yet we are all children of God. We will spend eternity with God and one another. We need to be careful about judging other believers simply because we have disagreements. But that doesn’t mean we can be careless about our theology, our study of God.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42)

A quick read may cause you to think of children, but I think the reference is to those new to the faith. A biblical millstone was huge. Jesus is graphic about the consequence of causing others to stumble, to fall into sin. Now Jesus gets even more graphic.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43)

Some people have taken this verse literally! The message is following Jesus demands sacrifice. Anything that gets in the way of following Christ must go. Jesus is saying the consequences of sin are real. Hell is for real.

The original Greek word translated here as “hell” is “geena” from the valley of [ge] Hinnon or Gehenna in southwest Jerusalem, used figuratively as a place or state of everlasting punishment. I’ve been there! Gehenna was the place where idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to the pagan god Molech, and later where bodies of the dead were disposed. In the first-century, it was a garbage dump with everything set on fire, hence Jesus’ phrase, “Where the fire never goes out.”

Does this mean hell is a literal lake of fire that will burn forever? Maybe.

Much of our understand of hell—fire and brimstone—comes not from the Bible, but rather from art and an Italian poem by Dante called Divine Comedy. Inferno is the first part, describing Dante’s journey through hell with vivid language.

Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven as a present reality, not merely something in the afterlife. In the same way, our choices now can create what many call “hell on earth.” Sin has consequences. Hell is real, I don’t want anyone to experience it. God doesn’t want anyone to experience it. Jesus’ friend Peter wrote,

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

C.S. Lewis said,

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done”, and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”
All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find to those who knock, it is opened.”

There are so many things we don’t know about heaven and hell, but my simplest definitions are

Heaven is where God is present.
Hell is where God is absent.

To restate C.S. Lewis,

God does not send people to hell. We choose to be present with God now and for eternity or we choose to ignore God now and He will honor that choice for eternity.

Some of your Bibles are missing verse 44. That’s because many of the oldest manuscripts of the Bible lack this phrase:

“Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
(Mark 9:44, NKJV)

This is a quotation from Isaiah 66:24. Some believe the worm represents internal suffering and the fire external. This is added detail to verse 43. Together they read in the NKJV,

It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where
“Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
(Mark 9:43b-44, NKJV)

Let’s look at a few more verses and you’ll understand why there are missing verses.

And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. (Mark 9:45)

Verse 46 is missing in most translations, too. The NKJV reads exactly the same:

“Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
(Mark 9:46, NKJV)


And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
“ ‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:47-48)

Verses 44, 46, and 48 are exactly the same in the NKJV. The translators likely added 44 and 46. The meaning of the text doesn’t change with or without them. It’s as if the NKJV did a copy-and-paste for emphasis. This is one of a small number of textual discrepancies in the Bible. Since we don’t have the original manuscripts, there are some variations, but virtually all of them are like this, having no bearing on the meaning. If someone tells you the Bible is full of errors, they are literally correct, but those errors are inconsequential to the meaning, reliability, and authority of the Bible. Out of 66 books, there are a few occasions where the copyist was unsure whether something was a semi-colon or a comma with a speck of dust on the page. No big deal.

To my knowledge—I am not an expert on the original, ancient documents—there are absolutely no controversies surrounding any essential truths of our faith such as the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Any problems are extremely minor such as punctuation.

Tony Evans says hands represent things we handle, the foot represents where we go, and the eye symbolizes things we look at, all potential doors to sin. Jesus continues,

Everyone will be salted with fire. (Mark 9:49)

Fire can destroy, but it can also test and purify. Salt purifies, too. Old Testament sacrifices were offered with salt, which both preserves and purifies.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)

So What?

The Alliance Statement of Faith says,

Man was originally created in the image and likeness of God: he fell through disobedience, incurring thereby both physical and spiritual death. All men are born with a sinful nature, are separated from the life of God, and can be saved only through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The portion of the unrepentant and unbelieving is existence forever in conscious torment; and that of the believer, in everlasting joy and bliss.

The verse used to support “the portion of the unrepentant and unbelieving is existence forever in conscious torment” is Revelation 21:8…

“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

My purpose today isn’t to debate nuances of hell, but merely to encourage you to avoid it! The Bible never describes it as a wild party for demons and rock stars. It’s the one place in the universe where God is absent. I can’t imagine how dreadful it is. You think this world is bad?! Imagine our planet without God. Literal or figurative fire, eternal or temporary…does it really matter?!
Alliance pastor Skye Jethani writes, “An afterlife in heaven or hell is the residue of tradition, but it is decidedly not the emphasis of the New Testament. Scripture has a far more physical and terrestrial vision of the future. It depicts a renewed earth in which God dwells with his resurrected people in a redeemed, glorified creation. The Lord is focused on redeeming his world, not abandoning it to the enemy. The goal of the New Testament is not disembodied souls escaping the earth and occupying a celestial heaven for eternity…Its emphasis is not heaven or hell but on a choice between life or death.”

I know this isn’t the most uplifting of subjects, but there’s good news. That’s the meaning of the word “gospel.” The good news or gospel is Jesus.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)

Without Christ, our sins would automatically condemn us to hell, separation from God. He is allergic to sin. But Jesus died to pay for our sins, to forgive us, to wipe the slate clean, to reconcile us to the Father. If we choose to follow Jesus, we will not perish, but will have everlasting life. Could there be any greater news?

Today we remember the sacrifice Jesus made, leaving heaven to come to earth for about thirty-three years to live, die, and resurrect.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)


If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us
our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Hell is for real…and avoidable…not because we are good enough, but because of Jesus.

But as I said, Jesus isn’t looking for fans. He wants followers. If you want Jesus simply for a “get out of hell free” card, you’re in the wrong place. He wants to give you life—abundant life, everlasting life, real life…now and forever. You simply need to say “yes” and respond to his gift, the gift of himself. Repent and turn away from your sins…and follow Jesus.

While there is much we don’t know about hell, one thing is certain: God will judge evil.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

You are not ready to live until you’re ready to die.

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

Dead Man's Journey, 3 May 2020

Dead Man’s Journey
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 8:31-9:1

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

Big Idea: Following this King is a death sentence…which leads to abundant life.

Unlike you, my dad has not been affected by coronavirus. He’s not been worried about losing his job. Not once has toilet paper been a concern. There’s no fear of catching or spreading the virus. He hasn’t even given a thought to death. Why?

He died six years ago this week!

I miss my dad terribly. He was the greatest man I ever knew. The best thing about my dad was his love for God and the way he followed Jesus. He loved the LORD. He worshipped with his time, talents, and treasures. He surrendered most everything to God, living not for himself, but for Jesus. You might say he died long before his death…and we should, too.

Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived. His investment in a small group of people forever changed the world. His words are quoted every day by people from most every nation, tribe, and tongue. The wisdom he delivered is revered, even by those of other religions.

As I’ve studied Jesus’ teachings, I’ve come to the conclusion that many are difficult, if not impossible. Love your neighbor as yourself is daunting, even if you have a good neighbor! The first shall be last is curious, to be sure. But our scripture today includes what may be the most radical and controversial of all of his statements: die…in order to live.

In the eighth chapter of Mark’s gospel—good news—Jesus has just healed a blind man and listened to Peter’s declaration of faith, that Jesus is the Messiah, the King. Verse thirty stated,

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:30)

It wasn’t time for his true identity to be revealed to the world. He already had people trying to kill him. There were things he needed to tell his friends.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

Jesus predicted his own death…and resurrection! He told the disciples exactly what would happen, and how. They got the message about suffering, but they all seemed to forget the resurrection prediction, but that’s for another sermon!

They were clearly confused. Why would the Messiah suffer? He’s supposed to reign. Some rabbis even thought there would be two Messiahs, one who would suffer and one who would reign. We now understand the fascinating relationship between the cross and the crown. God transformed suffering into glory while satan tempted Jesus to experience glory without suffering.

Not only did Jesus tell them what would happen in the near future,…

He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark 8:32)

Say what you want about Peter, he’s not afraid to speak him mind! He rebukes Jesus!

He has just proclaimed Jesus is the Messiah and he can’t believe the King of the Jews is going to suffer. Kings don’t give themselves up to be killed. And dead people certainly don’t come back three days later!

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33)

Do you think Peter meant well? He was seeing with physical eyes rather than seeking spiritual vision. God had a plan, albeit unexpected.

Sometimes I take matters into my own hands instead seeking first His kingdom. Proverbs tells us to seek wise counsel, but sometimes God leads us to do things that violate conventional wisdom. Following Jesus might mean learning a new language and moving to the others side of the world. It could involve radical generosity.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

Mic drop!

Jesus, I thought you died so I could go to heaven when I die and all I need to do is pray a prayer!

Family, a Christian is not someone who simply prays a prayer. A Christian is not another word for American, though much of the world tragically thinks they’re synonymous. A Christian is not someone that goes to church—or engages online! A Christian is not someone with Bible knowledge, mental belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, or even someone who gives money to a local church.

A Christian is someone who follows Jesus. The word literally means “little Christ.” It’s a disciple, a student, a protégé, an apprentice, an imitator of Jesus. Jesus is defining what it means to follow him:

- deny themselves; surrender to our will and determine to obey his
- take up their cross (as in suffering and death!)
- follow Jesus obediently, wherever he leads

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

Jesus, you can’t be serious. You want me to die?

God wants us to die…to ourselves. He wants us to let go of our ego, our agenda, and even the illusion we have of control.

Just to clarify, Jesus continued,…

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35)

It’s been said that you only live once, but I disagree. In this life, sixty, eighty, or even a hundred years seem like forever, but it’s not.

Think about the pandemic. It hasn’t even been two months, yet for some of us it feels like two years!

This life is short. Compared to eternity, you couldn’t even see it on a timeline. How we live this life will impact the life to come.

This verse is one of the hardest statements in the entire Bible. It’s one of the most challenging verses ever written, and yet it’s not only true, it’s liberating.

If we die for Jesus—figuratively or even literally as millions of martyrs have done—we don’t have to worry about this life. We can let go and let God. What’s the worst thing that can happen to you? What’s the worst thing that can happen during this pandemic?

If you live for yourself, you might lose your job, your money, your health, even your life.

If you live for Jesus, you recognize everything in life is a gift, on loan from God. You don’t deserve your job, even if you worked hard to acquire it. The same goes for your money, but how quickly can your 401k become a 201k? Every good and perfect gift is from above, from God (James 1:17).

Jesus isn’t promoting suicide. He’s not saying you shouldn’t have fun, pleasure, hobbies, or recreation. He is saying…

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Mark 8:36-37)

The eternal matters. The next life is infinitely longer than this one! If your entire focus is on this life, this world, this body, it’s not going to matter in a hundred years. We have all come from dust and to dust we will return. That’s the message of Lent. Again, it can all be gone in a moment.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

Yikes! That’s more than a little scary, isn’t it?

Jesus was speaking to a group of people, most of whom would become martyrs. They would die for their faith. We’ve enjoyed bountiful religious freedom in this country since its founding, but many of our brothers and sisters haven’t enjoyed such liberty.

Millions of men, women and children have been martyred—killed for their faith in Jesus, a faith that was proven by action and a willingness to die.

Jesus never asks us to do anything he doesn’t model for us.
He hung up for you and me. Can we stand up for him?

It’s easier when you have nothing to live for…except Jesus. Dead people don’t fear death.

Many years ago, the gold vehicle I was driving began to take on more of a rust color! To say it was falling apart would be about right. Every member of my family urged me to get rid of it (I’m not sure if it was because they were embarrassed by its looks or afraid it would break down in the middle of nowhere!).

I liked the vehicle. I’m not even ashamed to admit it was an old minivan. I liked the sleek design and didn’t even mind the gold color. It previously belonged to my grandfather, so it had a little sentimental value. The fact that it was paid for was certainly endearing. But maybe what I loved most about it was the fact that I wasn’t afraid of getting in an accident. If someone ran into me, I wouldn’t be out much! As long as it ran, I didn’t worry about it getting scratched or damaged or even stolen. It was nearly dead so there wasn’t much to lose.

Contrast that with minivan I rented on vacation a few years ago. After getting the keys and starting it up, I looked at the odometer and I think it read about 80 miles. This was a brand new car, worth ten times more than my bank account! I drove so carefully, aware that I could actually be a perfect driver and still return it totaled if someone else was careless.

If we have nothing to lose—if we’ve already died to ourselves—there’s no fear in loss, in death.

If we have everything to lose, we live in fear, anxiety, and scarcity.

In the final verse for today, Jesus said to them,…

And he said to them,
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 9:1)

Eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples saw the resurrected Christ. They got a sneak preview of what their future bodies will be like, and they saw satan and death defeated, hallelujah!

So What?

Our world is in turmoil. Fear abounds. Anxiety is running rampant. One report said half of the restaurants closed will never reopen. People have labored for years building businesses that are vanishing because of something that began on the other side of the world. Perhaps you’re among those who are at the end of your rope, at the bottom of the barrel, desperate. Maybe you’re engaging online right now because you don’t know where else to turn. I’ve got great news!

You can’t lose what’s not yours…and nothing is truly ours. It’s all a gift on loan from God. Our health. Our jobs. Our family. Our skills. Our talents. Our dreams.

If we truly let go and let God, we can let go of worry, fear, and anxiety. This doesn’t mean we sit around all day playing video games, but we can seek first God’s agenda, His plan, and watch Him do what only He can do.

Perhaps today is your day to let go and let God, to die to yourself and allow Jesus to give you a new life, a new heart, a new future, a new destiny. If you want to begin to follow Jesus today, you can “raise your hand” on the church online platform. If that’s you, please let us know your phone or e-mail so we can give us you some free resourced to help you get started with Jesus. Dying doesn’t sound like an attractive proposition, but it’s the only path to really living, letting Jesus “take the wheel” and be the leader of your life.


As I said, Jesus never asks us to do something he has not already modeled for us. He died…so we could live. He was the least-deserving person in history to die, much less be crucified, yet it was part of God’s plan to redeem us, to restore us, to reconcile us to Himself.

As we sing this next song together, The Wonderful Cross, if you’re a follower of Jesus, this is the time to eat the bread and drink the cup, reminders of Jesus’ body and blood sacrificed for you and me.

As we survey the wondrous cross, I want to call your attention to these lyrics:

Oh the wonderful cross
Oh the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live

This is an incredible paradox, yet it’s so true.

The Wonderful Cross

What does it mean for you to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus this week? It might mean a financial sacrifice, an extravagant gift, a kind note, or a generous act of service to someone in need. It might be putting others above yourself, wearing a mask when you don’t want to (they won’t make you safe but they might protect others). Denying yourself could involve listening when you want to speak, reading the Bible when you’d rather post on social media, or seeking forgiveness from someone you have wronged.

Someday, it might involve a greater sacrifice, a greater death to yourself. Maybe God will call you to relocate, change careers, or maybe—just maybe—die for your faith.

The dirty little secret about Christian martyrs is they really do go to a better place!

We can live for ourselves or we can live for Jesus. It’s a choice we make every day.

Family, I haven’t mastered this. It’s a daily struggle. I want to be in control. I want to be my own god. I want it my way. But when I stop, trust God, surrender, put things into His hands, and let go, there’s so much relief, satisfaction, peace, and joy.

This entire message can be described with two simple gestures. A closed fist represents our desire to hold on, to cling, to protect, to hoard. That’s what it’s like to do life in the flesh. An open hand releases everything, it signifies surrender, it’s scary because it allows everything we have to be taken away…yet it also creates space for God to bring new blessings into our lives.

Perhaps a more familiar image is water baptism,
which I hope we will be able to do soon. It’s a beautiful symbol of a person dying (in a water grave) of their old life, their sinful, selfish nature and then coming out of the water resurrected, a new life in Jesus, proclaiming in word and deed that Jesus is LORD.

I want to close with two scriptures. Jesus said,

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

Paul wrote,

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

Death is not the end. It’s only the beginning. What follows death for every follower of Jesus is live…abundant life…freedom…and ultimately resurrection.

Following Jesus is more than a prayer and a few adjustments in our ordinary lives. It’s a dangerous adventure filled with risk…and eternal rewards.

Jim Elliot—who was a Christian martyr—said,

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Someday this life, this body will end. Salvation through Jesus Christ is forever.

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

You can watch this online worship experience

Clean & Unclean, 16 February 2020

Clean and Unclean
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 7:14-23

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

Big Idea: Looks can be deceiving, especially when it involves matters of the heart.

Are you are rule-keeper or a rule-breaker?

Whether you like them or not, laws are a part of life. There are scientific laws like the law of gravity which says if you drop a bowling ball on your foot, it’s going to hurt. There are human laws, those rules designed to help us flourish such as stop at a red light, pay your taxes, and don’t hurt animals.

Some laws have a shelf-life and become outdated over time. For example,

In Missouri, you can't drive down the highway with an uncaged bear in your car.
When parking your elephant at a meter in Orlando Florida, you must deposit the same amount of change as you would for a regular motor vehicle.
It's against the law in North Dakota to serve beer and pretzels at the same time.
In Winona Lake, Wisconsin, it is illegal to eat ice cream at a counter on Sunday. 

In Arizona, it is illegal for donkeys to sleep in bathtubs.

In Michigan, it’s illegal for women to cut their own hair without their husband’s permission.

In Ohio, it is illegal to get a fish drunk.

Last Sunday we returned to our study on Mark’s biography of Jesus and looked at the Pharisees and religious leaders who were so devoted to tradition and laws that they missed God in the process…especially when he was standing in their midst! They were determined to stop Jesus…at all costs.

Our text for today in Mark 7 is discussion of clean and unclean. Those words in our culture might describe one’s clothes or car, but here it’s a reference to the Jewish laws which governed everything from diet to fabrics to a woman’s menstrual cycle. Are you clean or unclean? Looks can be deceiving, especially when it involves matters of the heart.

We live in a binary world of us versus them. Black or white. Republican or Democrat. Love or hate. In or out. Our divisions usually pale compared to the Jew and Gentile separation. The laws created by God to enhance the welfare of the Jewish people became—over time—nothing more than a checklist of external rules to obey with little regard to the internal heart or love for God. Last week we saw Jesus address the issue of hand-washing. There were religious customs for hand-washing that had nothing to do with hygiene and everything to do with determining who’s in and who’s out, who is a Jew and who is a Gentile.

One of the most common ways Jews distinguish themselves is through their diet. Today we call it…kosher. It’s based upon Old Testament restrictions on certain animals including pork and shellfish. Halal among Muslims is somewhat similar. Keep in mind, the issue behind the dietary laws is not necessarily physical health, but rather distinguishing one’s self from others. We said last Sunday the word “Pharisee” meant “separated ones.”

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” (Mark 7:14-15)

This was a radical statement, one of many that would rile up the Pharisees and religious leaders. Though it is not explained to the crowd here, Jesus is declaring the entire kosher system null and void. As we’ll see, it’s not that the laws were bad, but they were for a season…and Jesus’ arrival signaled a new season. It goes without saying that Jesus changed the world. He changed how we relate to God…and one another.

I must admit Old Testament laws can be confusing, especially to modern Christians. Much of the New Testament controversies and debates in the early church dealt with the role of Jewish laws for Christians. These matters are still discussed today. Recently, Pastor Andy Stanley wrote a somewhat controversial book, Irresistible, which examined the role of the Old Testament and its laws on modern Christians.

Verse 16

If you’re paying close attention, some of you may notice verse sixteen is missing from some of your Bibles. What happened? We don’t have the original writings or autographs of the Bible books. We do, however, have very reliable copies. Before the invention of the printing press, people would hand-copy the Bible for their occupation, often on scrolls. Every letter was crucial, and if a mistake was made, they would often destroy their work and start over.

Over the years, the Bible has come under tremendous scrutiny…more than any other text in history. There is tremendous evidence to conclude it is about 99% reliable with perhaps thirty or forty errors. Pastor Soper discussed this on Friday’s devotional. Thirty or forty errors might sound like a lot, but when you consider that’s less than one per book and most of the errors involved a piece of punctuation, spelling, or a slight numerical variation, you quickly realize there is no historical book even remotely close to the reliability of the Bible. In fact, there are more errors and discrepancies in Shakespeare’s works than in the Bible.

Some—but not all—manuscripts of the book of Mark include verse sixteen which adds Jesus saying,

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 7:16, NKJV)

This was a common expression which Jesus said on more than one occasion, including Mark 4:23. Did he say it again here or was it added by the copyists? We’re not sure. Does it change the meaning of the text? Not one bit…nor do the other minor errors scholars have found after comparing about 5000 different manuscripts of the books of the Bible.

(Back to our story!)

Jesus spoke in parables, simple stories used by Jesus to teach a moral or spiritual lesson. It was not uncommon for him to tell a story his disciples failed to understand. It may seem obvious to us, but the Jewish traditions were so ingrained in the disciples, they were clueless about any alternative.

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. (Mark 7:17)

I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they were clarifying the meaning of Jesus’ teachings or they wanted to hear more, but Jesus’ response makes it obvious they missed the point.

“Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? (Mark 7:18)

In case you didn’t know, Jesus is fully human. He’s fully God, too, but he’s fully human. We often picture him as some flakey, angelic white guy with blonde hair and blue eyes whose feet never really touch the ground, but that’s just artistic fantasy. He’s a real person with real emotions. He has never sinned, but he was not always “nice.” Sometimes tough love is necessary in relationships. Often we do things to get the attention of others. In this instance, he spoke the truth plainly, calling out their ignorance.

“Are you so dull?” I love that!

For those of you who like the Shakespearean King James, it says,

Are ye so without understanding also? (Mark 7:18a, KJV)

The New King James reads,

“Are you thus without understanding also? (Mark 7:18a, NKJV)

The New Living Translation says,

“Don’t you understand either?” he asked. (Mark 7:18a, NLT)

I like the New International Version, though!

“Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? (Mark 7:18)

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you fill your body with junk food, you’ll probably regret it…eventually. If you fill your mind with trash, most likely trash will come out of your mouth and life.

The Jewish culture—especially the religious people like the Pharisees—were less concerned about physical health, though, and more concerned about how other people viewed them. One writer put it this way: the old legalism was, “What’s in your refrigerator?” If you had pork or shellfish or anything non-kosher, you were considered unclean, tainted, a bad Jew. Kosher became a test, not about one’s relationship with God, but rather one’s relationship with the religion.

Similarly, many legalistic Christians have forbidden any use of alcohol…and condemned anyone who has even a sip of wine at a special occasion.

I’m not encouraging the consumption of alcohol. I can’t stand the taste of alcohol, but the Bible never explicitly prohibits alcohol. In fact, Jesus made some great wine (John 2)! Under-age drinking is a sin. It’s against the law. Drunkenness is a sin…and if you can’t stop with one glass, don’t start! But some judgmental Christians will put you in one of two categories: drinker or non-drinker, sinner or saint. It’s not about the health benefits of alcohol, but what they personally think about you and your character as a result of your beverage preference. This attitude was similar to that of the Pharisees and their dietary laws.

By the way, the writer who called old legalism “what’s in your refrigerator?” describes the new legalism as “what’s in your driveway?” Think about that for a moment.

Back to our text,

“Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? (Mark 7:18)

For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7:19)

This was a radical statement Mark makes to his readers. Kosher is no longer necessary. The traditions related to diet were no longer relevant because the rules were no longer the pathway to God. Jesus was! Matthew records him saying,

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus brought the Old Testament to a new completion, a new fulfillment. The laws were signposts. When you arrive at your destination, you don’t need signposts, not because they have no value, but because they were correct. The laws led to Jesus the Messiah.

We don’t need to offer animal sacrifices in the temple, thank goodness. We don’t need to avoid eating pig (though I do since I’m allergic to pork!). We are no longer under the Old Testament laws, not that they are bad or wrong, but they’re obsolete.

I encourage you to follow the Ten Commandments, but if you break the Sabbath, you need not fear the death penalty given to Old Testament Jews who did so. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), hallelujah! We’re not saved by our good works, our mastery of the law, our outward perfection. We’re saved by God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Does this mean we should eat, drink and be merry, doing whatever we want? Hardly! It does mean we start from the inside, not the outside. We begin with our hearts. What matters most is the inside, not the outside.

It’s Black History Month in the USA and I’m reminded of Dr. King’s brilliant statement,

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

I think Jesus would say,

I have a dream that my friends will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by the food in their refrigerator, but by the content of their character.

He went on:
“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:20-22)

This is not a comprehensive list of sins, of course, but what we might call a dirty dozen.

Sexual immorality is all kinds of inappropriate sexual activity outside of marriage. Theft and murder are obvious. Adultery is sexual immorality by a married person with someone other than their spouse. Greed or coveting involves inappropriate cravings for what belongs to another. Malice is another term for wickedness or simply evil.

Deceit is trickery, cheating, or dishonesty. Lewdness is lustful, rude or profane desires. Envy is similar to greed and jealousy. Slander is hurting someone or God with your words. Arrogance is pride, exalting yourself above others. Folly is moral and spiritual insensitivity or foolishness.

None of these just happen. They begin in our heart.

All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:23)

Elsewhere, Jesus said,

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45)

Sin begins inside, not outside. It begins with temptation, a thought, an idea. You don’t accidentally walk up to someone and murder them. You don’t randomly commit adultery. You don’t rob a bank without a plan (unless you want to get caught!).

Jesus’ half-brother, James, described the four-step process of sin:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

Desire – deception – disobedience – death

It’s not a pretty picture…and it describes all of us. So many people today talk about getting in touch with your feelings, listening to your heart, being true to yourself, finding yourself. That’s a certain path to destruction, family, because our hearts are dark and depraved. The problem in our world is not them, it’s me. The solution is not trying harder because the solution is not within me. It’s Jesus. True holiness is internal, not external, and it begins with surrender, making Jesus LORD.

What Jesus is addressing with all of these statements is religion. Religion is human attempts to earn God’s favor. It involves personal expressions of perfection and a holier-than-thou attitude which elevates one’s self while putting down those around you. It usually involves pride, judgment of others, and an attitude which isolates. The New Testament if filled with accounts of the self-righteous, and I’m not aware of a single instance where Jesus praises their behavior.

On the contrary, Jesus highlighted the humility of the broken. He applauded the meek and weak. He encouraged the sinner to pursue righteousness, but never promoted religion. He simply invited people to follow him, to make him both Savior and LORD. He’s still doing that today. He said all of the laws of the Old Testament and the 613 laws of Moses could be summarized in two: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Perhaps you’ve made a mess out of your life. I’ve got great news for you! Nothing you can do can make God love you any more than He already does, and nothing you can do can make God love you less than He already does. He made you, He knows you, He loves you, and His arms are open wide to welcome you into His family, to forgive you, to heal you, to make you new. What do you say? I know, it sounds too good to be true, but that’s grace. That’s why Jesus came. He knew we couldn’t perfectly follow all of the rules, no matter how hard we might try. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to obey God and become like Jesus. He came to die for us…lost sinners…all of us!

Perhaps you’ve tried to follow all of the rules, and done pretty well. Nobody’s perfect, but most people think you are. It feels good to be around sinners because you are so superior. Unfortunately, in the eyes of God your pride undermines all of your good works. As I said again last week, I’m a recovering Pharisee. I’ve struggled with pride, a sin which can be hidden from others.

We all need repentance. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, His standard of perfection. Big sins or little sins all lead to death. They separate us from God and others. They may be visible or invisible sins. They made be sins of commission which we commit or sins of omission, failing to not do the right thing.

This isn’t just about individuals. As a church, we’ve sinned, too. I’ve heard so many stories about the great things First Alliance Church has done. We’ve held onto the truths of the Bible while other churches have “watered down the gospel.” If that’s true, it’s a good thing, but how easy it is to take pride in our good deeds, our good theology, our righteousness (see Isaiah 64:6). As we saw in last week’s text, it’s easy to make our human-made traditions more important than God’s timeless Word. We can easily slip into legalism and drive away the very people who are seeking God.

God’s desire for First Alliance Church is a broken and contrite family, a religion-free church, a group of humble, desperate, God-fearing, masterpiece-restoring, Jesus-following men, women and children who are more concerned about their own hearts than the behavior of others. They begin inside, with themselves. King David wrote,

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23)

He also wrote these famous words when he acknowledged his sin with Bathsheba,

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

You can wash your hands with water, but the only way you can have a clean, pure heart is through repentance and Jesus.

The world says you are what you do. Jesus says you do what you are. It begins with your heart.

How is your heart. Clean or unclean?

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Leave Behind, 5 January 2020

    Leave Behind (stop doing)
    Series—A Fresh Start

    Series Big Idea: As we begin this new year/decade, it’s out with the old, in with the new.

    Big Idea: There are many things we need to stop doing in order to love God and others.

    Welcome to Sunday. Welcome to 2020. Welcome to the Roaring 20’s!

    A new year is a time for new beginnings, whether it’s a new diet, exercise plan, or goal. Who’s still going on their new year’s resolutions?!

    If you’re like me, you’ve spent some time these past few days reflecting upon the past and pondering the future.

    Dave Ramsey encourages entrepreneurs to work in their business, but also work on their business. Do you see the difference? Working in my business might mean making coffee, selling shoes, or repairing cars. Working on my business might involve creating a website, meeting with my accountant, or brainstorming ideas for a new product. The problem many in business have is they’re so busy dealing with the day-to-day operations of working in their business, they forget to step back and assess the big picture. They’re too busy to reflect, dream, think, or even pray.

    The same can be said with life. We are so busy and distracted that if we don’t stop, we’ll find our lives only becoming more chaotic. So today I want to offer you a challenge: develop a stop doing list.

    How many of you have a to-do list? How many of you have a stop doing list?

    I got this idea from best-selling author Jim Collins. He says since we are finite humans, if we add things to our lives, we must also remove them. For example, he decided on day to stop watching television and was thrilled at the time it created for reading and thinking. Before we talk about new year’s resolutions and goals, I want to challenge you to develop a stop doing list.

    Author Bob Goff often talks about how he quits something every Thursday. I’m not sure I could do that, but he claims it has changed his life.

    Sure, we could just say, “Stop sinning” and be done! But think for a moment about what you’d like to stop doing. What do you want to leave behind as you begin 2020?

    I must confess it’s easier for me to add things to my to-do list than it is to delete. One of the most rewarding things in the past year and a half for me has been the Alliance Life on Life retreats. I’m not terribly good at slowing down, listening, solitude, silence, or even prayer. I know they’re important, but if I don’t get results in the first five seconds, I begin to wonder if I’m wasting my time.

    I want to look at a few passages of scripture which talk about stopping, quitting, leaving behind. Jesus’ half-brother, James, is quite clear when he writes,

    My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1:19-21)

    We could easily camp out on this for the rest of the morning.

    Quick to listen. Stop distractions.

    If I could master this, I’d be thrilled. So would you! It’s sometimes hard for me to listen, especially if someone is speaking slowly. I listen to most podcasts at double-speed and love it. I’m trying to maximize, but it can backfire, especially if I’m trying to consume too much at once and I miss important nuggets. Listening means I am fully present. I give you my undivided attention. I look you in the eye. I feel like this is a rare art form in our culture, yet we have the power to make it common again.

    Slow to speak. Stop talking.

    I only want wholesome words coming out of my mouth. “Umm” doesn’t count! Recently I caught a few minutes of Jerry Seinfeld when he was at the Stranahan. He was talking about one of his pet peeve phrases: “it is what it is.” I say that all the time, yet does it really add any value to the conversation?

    I’ve often been the one to fill silence just to avoid the awkwardness that often comes with silence, unaware that some relish every moment of the quiet it offers.

    Slow to become angry. Stop (sinful) anger.

    This is easier said than done, right? Just stop it (to quote Bob Newhart). Why do you get angry? When do you get angry?

    Anger is not a sin, but it often expresses itself as a sin. We should be angry about injustice such as sex trafficking, but how we deal with it is the issue. Jesus got angry when he realized the sacred Temple had been turned into a flea market (Matthew 21, Mark 11, John 2), but he never sinned. Note he wasn’t particularly “nice,” either! Paul wrote,

    “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, (Ephesians 4:26)

    Jesus managed to deal with the sin of others without sinning himself.

    Get rid of all moral filth. Stop evil.

    The Greek word for filth means pollution. We don’t hear the word filth much anymore. Maybe it’s not politically correct to call something trash. Get rid of filth…porn, gossip, grumbling, violence, profanity, racism, pride, arrogance, pride…!

    The passage ends with something for the to-do list!

    Humbly accept the word (Bible).

    Read it. Listen to it. Study it. is a great, free tool to assist you.

    So What?

    There are many things from the past we need to stop doing. Debt. Bitterness. Striving. Addictions. Regret. Worry. Fear. Many times, we dismiss them because they’re so common.

    For example, can you imagine going a week without worrying…yet it’s clearly a sin! It might be considered an acceptable sin—unlike adultery—but it’s still a sin. I’ll prove it to you. When is the last time worry added value and energy to your life? Jesus repeatedly said, “Don’t worry.”

    “Great,” you say, “how do I leave it behind? How do I stop doing X? How do I stop sinning?”


    Realize you can’t stop sinning…on your own!

    There’s only one human who has never sinned. Jesus. The rest of us turn to sin as a temporary relief from anxiety. Temptation isn’t sin, but we often succumb to it. Apart from God’s power, we are hopeless. We need the Holy Spirit to overcome our sin addiction. Take responsibility for your sin. Don’t play the blame game.

    Receive God’s grace and forgiveness

    When you fail, confess—admit it—and repent—turn away.

    I almost surprised myself last week during Dinner Church with this simple statement: Because of Jesus, we don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to say yes to God. We have to trust Jesus as not only our Savior but our LORD.

    Spend time with God

    You are your friends. Choose wisely. When we cease striving and meditate on God, our attitudes and thoughts will shift. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard to sin in the middle of a Bible study. This is why scripture says to cease striving (Psalm 46:10). The NIV translation reads:

    He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

    Dwell on the LORD. Worship Him. Praise Him. Declare His goodness and faithfulness. Be fully present.

    Put on the Armor

    Ephesians 6 tells us about the armor we can wear to fight the enemy and his lies.

    Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:13)

    Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17)

    Belt of truth
    Boots of peace
    Shield of faith
    Helmet of salvation
    Sword of the Spirit


    Ephesians 6 continues,

    Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. (Ephesians 6:18)

    Ask God for strength. Jesus taught us to pray for God to deliver us from the evil one. The Holy Spirit can enable us to let go and let God.

    Know your weaknesses

    I’m a fan of the acronym HALT. I am must vulnerable to sin when I am hungry, angry (together they make hangry!), lonely, or tired. I am also the most grumpy!

    Phone a friend

    Let someone know your struggle. Invite them to challenge you, to hold you accountable.

    Just do (stop) it!

    It’s nearly impossible to quit a habit cold turkey. You need to replace it with something. Recovering alcoholics often smoke. Recovering smokers often chew gum. Recovering gum chewers often…

    When I was a kid, there was a movement to burn rock and roll record albums because people said rock music was created by the devil. By the way, satan does not have the power to create anything! He can only mess up the good things God has created. Many people in the 1980’s burned their music only to later buy it all back again! For many, it was Led Zeppelin or Lawrence Welk! Instead, they could’ve replaced their rock music with Christian rock…similar sounds which glorify God.

    If you want to quit worry, begin a journal of gratitude.
    If you want to quit judging others, start listing your own sins.
    If you want to quit debt, focus on the material blessings you already own.
    If you want to quit hurry, set your alarm for 5 minutes and be still. Then increase it.

    Press On

    When the enemy reminds you of your past, remind him of his future!

    If you think you’ve done some bad things, consider Paul. He supervised the murder of Christians! Years later, he wrote,

    I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

    When you fall, get up! Keep running to Jesus. He’s not angry with you. He’s just hoping next time you’ll go even further without falling, much like a loving parent with a baby beginning to walk. His arms are outstretched to love you, to encourage you, never to celebrate your sin, but to offer forgiveness and hope and encouragement.

    It’s my prayer for all of us that we would leave behind sin in this new year. We can’t sorta stop! We can’t simply sin less. We need to leave it behind, leave it in 2019.

    I pray we would leave behind shame from our past. I pray we would leave behind bitterness and unforgiveness. I pray we would leave behind bad habits which lead to debt and poor health, instead developing new positive habits which we’ll talk about next Sunday.

    Family, I love you. I want to see you thrive in this new year, not only for your personal peace and satisfaction but also for God’s glory. We’re all been commissioned by Him to go and make disciples, to love Him, and to love others as we love ourselves.

    We cannot think like everyone else!
    We cannot live like everyone else!
    We re-present Jesus every day! People are watching us. They want to know if Jesus is real, if he really is the answer, if we live lives worth living and following, if Jesus makes any real difference.

    We can’t do that well if we’re burdened by guilt and greed, debt and defeat, selfishness and sin, distractions and discouragement. Obviously none of us is perfect, but we must be intentional. We’re saved by faith, yes, but as Dallas Willard once remarked,

    “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.”

    We need to make the effort to

    Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)


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

    Someday we’re going to leave this world behind, so we might as well leave behind the desires of this world…to make room for greater things (which we’ll talk about next Sunday).

    Recommended Resource(s): Overcomer by David Jeremiah.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Everyday Discipleship, 3 November 2019

    Everyday Discipleship
    Series—Links in the Chain (Discipleship)
    Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Luke 9:23

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

    Big Idea:
    Discipleship begins in the home…but doesn’t stay there.

    Kingdom over everything.
    Living in light of eternity.

    What do you do every day?

    Wake up.
    Get dressed.
    Brush your teeth.
    Go online.

    Today we begin a new series,
    Links in the Chain. Our topic is discipleship. Discipleship is one of those words commonly found in the church, yet rarely used in our culture. What is discipleship? How do I become a disciple? How do I make disciples? We’re going to answer these and other questions throughout this series.


    As Jesus was preparing to ascend into heaven, he gathered his friends together and said,

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

    This is one of the most famous passages in the entire Bible. It’s often called the Great Commission. Jesus gave marching orders to his followers, and they remain relevant and mandatory for us, too.

    Make disciples. What’s a disciple? How do we make one?

    A disciple is simply a student, a protégé. Jesus is saying become like him. A student often becomes like their teacher. That’s usually the goal.

    We’ve come a long way since Jesus called the Twelve to follow him, and that’s not necessarily a good thing! The culture two thousand years ago in the Middle East was certainly different than it is today here in Toledo.

    Discipleship was a common practice among the Jews. A young man would pursue a rabbi and essentially watch and follow their every move for several years, shadowing him in hopes of becoming like him. Listen to this description from John Daugherty:

    In the days of Jesus, all young boys were taught the Torah and the Prophets beginning at age 5; meaning that at age 5, they began to memorize the Torah and the Prophets! Every day they would rehearse the Scriptures until it came to them by rote. At the age of 12, after 7 years of memorizing the Bible, boys were apprenticed to craftsmen. Some became carpenters, some stone masons and others farmers; but those that were exceptional in their studies of the Scripture were apprenticed to a Sage. His trade was to become a Rabbi. He would leave his home and move in with the Sage. He studied everything about him! Not just his thoughts on the Scripture, but He studied the Sage’s marriage, his business affairs, the way he judged certain cases—everything! It’s the belief of the Sage that the Torah affects every aspect of life, so the disciple is learning to imitate his Master’s disciplined life in order to mimic it in every regard! This is Biblical discipleship.

    To a disciple, his Master is more than just a teacher. In fact, a disciple’s Master was regarded more highly than his own father. This is because an earthly father brought you into this world in which we live, but the Sage was able to usher you into the World-to-Come, or Paradise. The Sage became the new Father of the disciple, hence we find in the rabbinic writings references to the “House of Hillel”, or the “House of Shammai”. The Sage was seen as Father, and his a disciples were his well-trained sons. It’s not that the disciple’s family was abandoned, but his family loyalties took second place to his Master. This sentiment is echoed in the words of our Master, Jesus:
    “If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea even his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (Lk. 14:26)

    The language of “hate” employed in this verse is not hatred like we generally think of it. Jesus is using a Hebraic idiom that demonstrates comparative language. In other words, the love for the Master must be so great, that all familial love (usually our strongest love) must look like hatred in comparison. Each and every one of us is called to this radical practice of discipleship! We can’t be disciples of Jesus because our family has a strong Christian tradition. And we can’t be disciples of Jesus because of cultural pressures. We can only be a disciple of Jesus if we’re willing to abandon all other affections to second place, setting Jesus the Messiah squarely in the preeminent role of our lives!

    Wow! Jesus’ Great Commission to go and make disciples is a far cry from what one person has called “The functional Great Commission”

    “Go into all the world and make more worship attenders, baptizing them in the name of small groups and teaching them to volunteer a few hours a month.”

    Doing church stuff is not the same as following Jesus. Yes, I’m thrilled you’re here on Sunday morning. Yes, small groups are a primary tool of discipleship and community, doing life together. Yes, we need volunteers to accomplish our mission of restoring God’s masterpieces.

    But discipleship should never be relegated to a class or program. It’s not ultimately about acquiring information, but about experiencing transformation. Discipleship is becoming like Jesus, imitating Jesus…and helping others become like Jesus.


    Some of you know we have been using a curriculum for our student ministries and some of our small groups called D6. I have often used the scriptures in my sermons to synchronize the content across all ages so children, youth, and adults have a common topic to discuss on Sunday afternoon and throughout the week. The name “D6” comes from the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Pentateuch, a collection of books written by Moses. Deuteronomy chapter six begins…

    These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you. (Deuteronomy 6:1-3)

    Moses is speaking to the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. These are critical instructions for God’s people. He wants everyone to know them—men, women, and children. God wants them to obey, and in order to obey, you must know the instructions. Discipleship is both learning and teaching. It’s more than a Bible study; it’s a way of life. What follows is arguably the most important passage in the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible. It is known as the Shema, which means “hear” or “listen.” It’s a Jewish prayer said in the morning and evening:

    Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
    (Deuteronomy 6:4)

    Throughout history, civilizations have worshipped multiple gods, also known as polytheism. Israel’s neighbors worshipped the sun god, the moon god, the god of fertility, and countless others. God wanted the Jews to know there is only one God, the LORD. He exists in three Person—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This reality called the Trinity can be confusing—one God in three Persons—but they are one, “echad” in the original Hebrew.”

    The rest of the prayer—including a passage quoted by Jesus in Mark 12:28-30—says,

    Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

    Moses continues,

    These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

    Today if you go to Israel, you will see multiple expressions of these commands. Homes and even hotel rooms have small scrolls—called a mezuzah—in the doorframes with these instructions.

    Some Jewish men wear scriptures in little leather boxes called phylacteries on their left arms close to their heart and on their heads, close to their minds.

    The point is God’s commandments must never be forgotten. The faith is always one generation from extinction, and each parent and grandparent and great grandparent who follows God must pass along their faith, in word and deed, teaching and example. This is discipleship. Moses, who wrote these words in Deuteronomy, would transmit his faith and leadership to Joshua to passed it onto the elders to passed it to the prophets and so on.

    The sages and rabbis of Israel had disciples they taught and mentored. One of the most famous, Hillel, was said to have had 70 disciples. Rabbi Yeshua HaNatzerim (Jesus of Nazareth) had twelve main disciples and many more who followed him to hear his teachings. He said,

    The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. (Luke 6:40)

    Discipleship is the art of imitation. It often occurs within a biological family, but practically occurs when any person follows Jesus and helps others follow Jesus.

    Discipleship is about following Jesus, but it’s also about helping others follow Jesus. My favorite discipleship verse is spoken by Paul to his protégé Timothy:

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

    How many generations are in this verse? Four: Paul, Timothy, reliable people, others. Who disciples you? Who are you discipling?

    I must confess I usually stop at verse two, but the next verse sounds a lot like Jesus.

    Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:3)

    Join me in suffering? What kind of invitation is that? It’s the path of Jesus. That’s what it means to deny yourself, to pick up your cross, to be a disciple.

    One of the core verses of the Christian & Missionary Alliance is another message from Jesus to his friends:

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

    The word “witnesses” in Greek means martyr.

    If you want to be a disciple, you must count the cost. Jesus doesn’t want fans. He’s not looking for likes. He’s seeking disciples who will call him LORD. Jesus said,

    Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

    Jesus offers two challenges to disciples. First, they need to deny themselves, take up their cross, be willing to surrender everything, and follow Jesus. That’s a huge commitment. That’s discipline. That means Jesus is not just Savior but LORD. King. Master. He’s the boss! Second, this is something we must do daily. The original Greek word means…daily, a 24-hour period. Discipleship is not a Sunday thing but a way of life. Everyday discipleship. There’s no other kind.

    Following Jesus for many is something they did years ago. Maybe they are disciples on Sunday mornings or whenever they feel like it. But that’s not discipleship. Disciples follow Jesus every day. They deny themselves and set aside their preferences and pleasures daily.

    Die daily. That won’t sell many books or attract many crowds, but that’s what Jesus said. That’s what Jesus requires. That’s everyday discipleship.

    I am not a perfect example, but I’m a living example. I have had several people in my life who have discipled me. They have mentored me. They have helped me know Jesus. It’s my desire to disciple others, training them and modeling for them what it means to imitate Jesus.

    I’ve been very influenced by a book by Mike Breen called
    Building a Discipling Culture. It has helped me focus on the way of Jesus who chose his disciples, met with them as a group, prepared them for ministry, and then sent them out to do what he did.

    So What?

    Are you a disciple? Absolutely! We all imitate others, be it our parents, friends, celebrities,…or Jesus. The question is, whose disciple are you?

    Are you a disciple-maker? Who is imitating you?

    Paul said,

    Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

    That’s discipleship.

    Throughout this month, we’re going to talk about Links in the Chain, tools for discipleship. I want to equip you to equip others to become like Jesus. It doesn’t happen overnight. It literally takes a lifetime…one day at a time. Everyday discipleship. Not just Sunday. Not just an hour or two a week. Discipleship is following Jesus 24/7/365.

    I want to conclude with two questions:

    Who is discipling you? Who are you imitating? Perhaps it would be worth the risk to ask someone to be your mentor, to teach you, to disciple you.

    Who are you discipling? If you’re new to the faith, it may seem premature to consider such a question, but each day that you follow Jesus is one day in which you are growing to love and serve him. Many Christians have kept their faith private rather than sharing it with others, investing in younger believers, inviting others into their life. Some of you have so much to offer, especially those of you who are empty-nesters. Jesus said, “Follow me.” Paul said, “Follow my example.” We don’t have to be perfect examples, but we can offer ourselves to the next generation as we follow the example of Jesus.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Choose Wisely, 14 July 2019

    Choose Wisely
    Series—All The King’s Choices
    2 Chronicles 17:3-13; 18:1; 21:1-6; 22:1-12

    Big Idea:
    Our daily choices create the future for us…and sometimes others, too.

    Choices. We love choices…until we don’t!

    One of my undergrad degrees was in marketing, and since college I’ve been fascinated by brands, products, and the ways in which companies sell their goods and services. A quick walk through any Meijer, Super WalMart, or Kroger Marketplace store would be enough to convince you that we love choices. Do we need dozens of different toothpastes, types of milk, brands of orange juice, or varieties of pop?

    Aldi thinks not! If you’ve ever been there, you have almost no choices to make. If you want peanut butter or granola bars or ice cream you don’t have to spend hours deciding which one to purchase. You usually have one option!

    Life, of course, is far more complicated than a trip to the grocery store. We make decisions from the moment we wake up in the morning until we begin to drift off to sleep. We make choices about what we wear, eat, and drink. We have to decide how we spend our time and money. Our cell phones are loaded with apps inviting us to spend time reading, writing, and playing.

    No wonder we’re so busy and stressed!

    One of the most important things I told my children was, “You are your friends.
    Choose wisely.” Today we’re talking choices in our series “All The King’s Choices” and my simple message to you is make wise choices, because

    Our daily choices create the future for us…and sometimes others, too.

    The Bible is packed with historic stories of people who made good and bad choices. It’s easy for us to see the good from the bad because we have the benefit of looking back at their lives and the consequences of their actions. If only we could get a sneak preview of the outcomes of our choices!

    Our daily choices create the future for us…and sometimes others, too.

    Today we’re going to look at a few passages from the book of 2 Chronicles, found in the Old Testament or what we might call the Jewish Bible. It tells the story of several kings, beginning with Solomon.

    If you’ve ever read the books of Kings and Chronicles, you’ll almost certainly see a pattern emerge. The pattern goes something like this:

    God blesses the kings who follow God.
    God does not bless the kings who ignore God.

    Unfortunately, most of the kings of Israel ignored God…and they paid dearly for their disobedience. You would think with the history of these kings recorded, new kings would want to learn from the predecessors.


    They often responded the same way we tend to deal with tragedy.

    “It will never happen to me.”
    “I’m different.”
    “I’m special.”
    “You don’t understand.”

    The older I get, the more I see this story repeat itself. We’re tempted to see ourselves as the exception to the rule.

    “If you don’t get to bed soon, you’ll be sorry in the morning.”
    “Be careful who you date because they might become your spouse someday.”

    Here’s one I still struggle with:

    “Make sure you leave a few minutes early in case there’s traffic.”

    We all learn from mistakes: ours or the mistakes of others. In the book of 2 Chronicles, we see Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, the southern kingdom which was vulnerable to attacks by the northern kingdom of Israel.

    In chapter 17, it says,

    The LORD was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him. He did not consult the Baals but sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel. (2 Chronicles 17:3-4)

    Was Jehoshaphat a good king or a bad king? A good one. He followed the ways of David who was a man after God’s own heart. He sought God rather than idols. He followed God rather than the people. What’s the result?

    The LORD established the kingdom under his control; and all Judah brought gifts to Jehoshaphat, so that he had great wealth and honor. His heart was devoted to the ways of the LORD; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah. (2 Chronicles 17:5-6)

    An Asherah pole was a sacred pole or tree that was used to worship the pagan goddess Asherah. The Israelites were drawn away from their worship of the one true God to the worship of the false gods of other nations after they entered the land of Canaan.

    In other words, Jehoshaphat cleans house and reinstitutes the worship of YHVH, the LORD God almighty.

    In the third year of his reign he sent his officials Ben-Hail, Obadiah, Zechariah, Nethanel and Micaiah to teach in the towns of Judah. With them were certain Levites—Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah and Tob-Adonijah—and the priests Elishama and Jehoram. They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the LORD; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people. (2 Chronicles 17:7-9)

    Teaching was extremely important, especially before technologies like the printing press, to say nothing of the Internet!

    What is the result of the king’s obedience to God?

    The fear of the LORD fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, so that they did not go to war against Jehoshaphat. Some Philistines brought Jehoshaphat gifts and silver as tribute, and the Arabs brought him flocks: seven thousand seven hundred rams and seven thousand seven hundred goats. (2 Chronicles 17:10-11)

    That’s a lot of animals!

    Jehoshaphat became more and more powerful; he built forts and store cities in Judah and had large supplies in the towns of Judah. He also kept experienced fighting men in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 17:12-13)

    God blesses those who follow Him.

    This makes sense, right? We see it in history, but we also see it practically. When children obey their parents, they are often rewarded in some way…allowance, more trust and freedom, acts of appreciation. Disobedient children, on the other hand, are punished.

    Paul wrote,

    Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)

    This does
    not mean followers of Jesus will always be happy and that God-haters will always be miserable. But our choices have consequences, sometimes immediate, sometimes into the future, and sometimes eternal.

    Jehoshaphat was a good king who followed God. He commanded the judges to be just (what a concept! 19:6-9). He trusted God for victory in chapter twenty. But like all but one person in the Bible, he wasn’t perfect. He’s a prime example that

    Godly people can make unwise choices.

    King David is another example.
    Solomon is another example.

    In many ways, we see Jehoshaphat indeed following his forefathers. The next chapter begins…

    Now Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage. (2 Chronicles 18:1)

    This was what my dad used to call a “no no.” Ahab was not a godly king. His wife, Jezebel, threatened to kill Elijah the prophet who we discussed last week. The people of God—then and now—are to never make alliances with the ungodly. We are to love them. We are to introduce them to Jesus. But we must be careful about lasting partnerships with those who have a different worldview. Paul also wrote,

    Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

    This verse is often used to discourage Christians from marrying non-Christians, which seems to fit, though the context shows its application much broader.

    Do you remember what I told my kids? “You are your friends.
    Choose wisely.” This is true in marriage. This is true in business. This is true in family.

    What was the result of Jehoshaphat’s one poor choice to align with ungodly Ahab? Let’s jump ahead to chapter twenty-one, after his death (sometimes it takes time to see the true effect of our actions).

    Then Jehoshaphat rested with his ancestors and was buried with them in the City of David. And Jehoram his son succeeded him as king. Jehoram’s brothers, the sons of Jehoshaphat, were Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Azariahu, Michael and Shephatiah. All these were sons of Jehoshaphat king of Israel. Their father had given them many gifts of silver and gold and articles of value, as well as fortified cities in Judah, but he had given the kingdom to Jehoram because he was his firstborn son. (2 Chronicles 21:1-3)

    Naturally, Jehoram is a good king like his dad, right?

    When Jehoram established himself firmly over his father’s kingdom, he put all his brothers to the sword along with some of the officials of Israel. Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD. (2 Chronicles 21:4-6)

    Did you catch that? Who led Jehoram away from God? The house of Ahab, including Ahab’s daughter that he married. Do you see a pattern?

    This expression “evil in the eyes of the LORD” appears 50 times in the NIV translation of the Jewish Bible, many describing various kings, including Solomon, Judah, Nadab, Ahab, and the Israelites.

    Perhaps you think God grades on a curve. If you’re pretty good, above average, everything will be ok. The reality is all of our choices have consequences, good or bad, immediate or future. Your past successes and failures are impacting you today, and today’s decisions will be more fully realized tomorrow, in your life and/or the lives of others, including your children and grandchildren.

    Last month I met a man in Toledo who was telling me about his son. He said something that shocked me. He said, “I don’t want my son to turn out like me.” The man had made many poor choices in life…though none of them are beyond the power of God to forgive! I appreciated his self-awareness and love for his son. He was able to recognize how his choices affect not only himself but also his offspring.

    We’re going to look at one more story which shows us how…

    We can make the right choices, even in difficult times.

    The people of Jerusalem made Ahaziah, Jehoram’s youngest son, king in his place, since the raiders, who came with the Arabs into the camp, had killed all the older sons. So Ahaziah son of Jehoram king of Judah began to reign. (2 Chronicles 22:1)

    Jehoshaphat’s grandson is on the throne. All of his older brothers had been killed, so he became king.

    Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem one year. His mother’s name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri. (2 Chronicles 22:2)

    He too followed the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him to act wickedly. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as the house of Ahab had done, for after his father’s death they became his advisers, to his undoing. He also followed their counsel when he went with Joram son of Ahab king of Israel to wage war against Hazael king of Aram at Ramoth Gilead. The Arameans wounded Joram; so he returned to Jezreel to recover from the wounds they had inflicted on him at Ramoth in his battle with Hazael king of Aram. (2 Chronicles 22:3-6a)

    Then Ahaziah son of Jehoram king of Judah went down to Jezreel to see Joram son of Ahab because he had been wounded. (2 Chronicles 22:6b)

    Ahaziah leads the people into idolatry and war.

    Through Ahaziah’s visit to Joram, God brought about Ahaziah’s downfall. When Ahaziah arrived, he went out with Joram to meet Jehu son of Nimshi, whom the LORD had anointed to destroy the house of Ahab. (2 Chronicles 22:7)

    We finally have a “good guy,” Jehu, who follows God’s instructions to put an end to the madness.

    While Jehu was executing judgment on the house of Ahab, he found the officials of Judah and the sons of Ahaziah’s relatives, who had been attending Ahaziah, and he killed them. (2 Chronicles 22:8)

    This is extreme, right? Thankfully God doesn’t give such instructions today, but remember, God hates sin, so much that he destroyed nearly everyone on the planet in the flood. I’m so thankful we live on this side of the cross, of Jesus.

    He then went in search of Ahaziah, and his men captured him while he was hiding in Samaria. He was brought to Jehu and put to death. They buried him, for they said, “He was a son of Jehoshaphat, who sought the LORD with all his heart.” So there was no one in the house of Ahaziah powerful enough to retain the kingdom. (2 Chronicles 22:9)

    Next in line was Ahaziah’s son Joash, but he was but an infant.

    When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah. (2 Chronicles 22:10)

    What a nice lady! She regins as queen for six years…and her life is summarized in only three verses! The author of Chronicles all but wipes her out of the history books!

    But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Because Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and wife of the priest Jehoiada, was Ahaziah’s sister, she hid the child from Athaliah so she could not kill him. He remained hidden with them at the temple of God for six years while Athaliah ruled the land. (2 Chronicles 22:11-12)

    Jehoshabeath risked her life to save a life, hiding the infant Joash who would later become king (2 Chronicles 24:1) and maintain the lineage of King David out of whom would eventually come Jesus, the Messiah.

    We can make the right choices, even in difficult times.

    So What?

    I know none of you have the wealth or power of a king, but we all have influence.

    Our daily choices create the future for us…and sometimes others, too.

    I often wish our choices were as simple as right or left! Every day we’re faced with so many options for how we spend our time, our money, our energy, our thoughts, our technology, our relationships, …

    Someone said it takes years to earn trust and seconds to lose it, and that’s so true. Even people who passionately serve God and love others can make one tragic mistake that can impact the rest of their lives…and the lives of others. This is why we all need this reminder…to choose carefully until our last days on earth. Last week we saw the faithfulness of Elijah and Elisha who both made it to the finish line, not perfect, but with their character intact. I desperately want that for you and for me, but it requires daily discipline, alertness to temptation, accountability, and positive influences.

    Jesus’ half brother eloquently described the tragedy of sin:

    When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

    Sin leads to death.
    Desire leads to sin.
    Temptation leads to desire.

    None of us is exempt. We are all capable of heinous sins. We are in a battle. We need our spiritual armor one (which we talked about two weeks ago). We need godly friends who can guide us into truth and righteousness when the world screams lies of selfish pursuits and pleasures.

    Our daily choices create the future for us…and sometimes others, too.

    What kind of tomorrow do you want to experience? It begins today.

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

    Life's Contradictions, 24 March 2019

    Life’s Contradictions
    Series—The Meaning of Life
    Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

    Series Big Idea:
    The human heart is wired to pursue meaning in life…and the meaning of life itself only truly understood through our Creator.

    Big Idea:
    Money and stuff will never satisfy like knowing God and investing in eternal things.

    Contradictions. Life is full of them…or so it seems. Thomas George, our District Superintendent, wrote last week,

    “Isn't it interesting how many contradictory things we desire, e.g. Absolute freedom & safety; predictive services & privacy; same life & different outcome; public services & no taxes, home cooking restaurant, good quality cheap, quick spiritual formation.”

    Some have said the Bible is full of contradictions, and while I would admit some things appear to be in conflict, the real tension is between life under the sun and life over the sun.

    Today we are finishing our look at passages from the book of Ecclesiastes, likely written by King Solomon. While he ultimately concludes life over the sun—life with God—is precious, life under the sun—lived according to the world’s standards—is meaningless. Specifically,
    money and possessions will never truly satisfy.

    We began our series referencing those famous words from Mick Jagger: I can’t get no satisfaction. There might be nothing more ultimately unsatisfying than money and possessions. People work so hard to be able to buy stuff, only to find out they need to store it, maintain it, insure it, and protect it. Our text for today begins:

    If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9)

    And you thought crooked politicians were something new!

    Why would anyone want to oppress the poor, denying them justice and their rights? Could it be power and money?

    Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

    Materialism is nothing new, either.

    As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. (Ecclesiastes 5:11-12)

    I find these verses fascinating. Hard work can lead to good rest, but if you’ve got a lot of stuff, you might worry about it getting stolen or damaged. Have you ever been lying in bed at night wondering if you locked the front door…or the car door?

    I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:

    wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners, or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when they have children there is nothing left for them to inherit. Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands. (Ecclesiastes 5:13-15)

    Job, in the midst of tremendous anguish, famously declared,

    “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
    The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21)

    He’s saying we can work and accumulate all kinds of stuff, but life is short, we enter the world with nothing, and we’ll take nothing physical with us into the next life.

    This too is a grievous evil:

    As everyone comes, so they depart, and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind? All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger. (Ecclesiastes 5:16-17)

    It all sounds so meaningless, doesn’t it?

    The world says money and stuff will make you happy, but it’s always temporary. We’ve seen this before. It bears repeating, because for the rest of our lives we will be bombarded by this lie that money will satisfy.

    Not only will money never satisfy, the path to acquiring money is often unsatisfying. I don’t just mean the free trip in the back of the police car if you try to rob a bank! Have you ever taken a promotion for more money, only to find the new work less fulfilling than the old? This isn’t always the case, but I’ve had friends who stepped out of their passion and calling for more money. One was a fantastic school teacher who was lured into the principal’s office by more money, only discover he was a better teacher than he was a principal.

    When my dad was alive, I used to ask him about his work. He had many opportunities to move from salesman to sales manager. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t accept the promotion and the raise until he explained how he loved to sell. He didn’t want to sit at a desk all day, preferring to travel in the area, meeting with customers, and addressing their needs.

    Not only is money never enough, the path toward getting more can be disappointing.

    Investing in eternal things will be bring both temporary happiness and eternal joy.

    There is one use of money which is truly satisfying: investing in eternal things. I love to give to First Alliance Church. I know first-hand every dollar is spent carefully, not only to serve you, but also to reach out to our city, to support our ten Home Missions partners, to impact lives through our Faith Missions partners, and to literally change the world through the Great Commission Fund and the international work it funds.

    Obviously, I don’t give 100% of my money to First Alliance Church. I like to eat and live indoors! However, I know every time I buy food, it is for something temporal; necessary, but temporal. I’m grateful for a car, but I know it won’t run forever. Even if it did, there will come a day when I cannot drive it. I can buy the latest gadgets and gizmos, but next year they’ll be outdated and soon obsolete.

    Investing in eternal things will be bring both temporary happiness and eternal joy.

    The same can be said for our time, too. I realize some of you have more time than money. How do you spend it? How do you invest it? There’s nothing wrong with hobbies and recreation, but will your golf score, movie trivia knowledge, or stamp collection matter in a hundred years? Discipleship—following Jesus and equipping others to do the same—is eternal work. Souls matter…forever. The time and energy you invest in the next generation—be it the next spiritual generation and/or the next physical generation—can change the destinies of people…even generations of people.

    Solomon often returns to the subject of work.

    This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

    Is work a good thing or a bad thing? It can be!

    Work is a gift. We were created to work—not work ourselves to death, but when we serve God rather than the boss, we can experience satisfaction in work.

    Note to young adults: don’t expect your first job out of high school or college to be your dream job! Your elders spent years getting to where they are, and it’s unlikely you’ll get there overnight. You have to pay your dues. Be faithful in small things and you’ll be given more.

    There will be work in heaven. We will be given tasks, but they will not be burdensome. What kind of work would you like to do in the next life? I was thinking maybe testing ice cream flavors would be—heavenly!

    We don’t have time to delve deeply into this, but work matters. Your work matters, no matter what title or position you hold. Some people think the work of a pastor is more important than that of a student, teacher, doctor, mechanic, or homemaker. Nothing could be further from the truth! We are all called by God to do something, not only for a paycheck, but also for our personal growth and development along with serving others.

    Work matters.

    Is work a good thing or a bad thing? It can be!
    Is wealth a good thing or a bad thing? It can be!

    I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2)

    I know, wouldn’t it be great if God gave you wealth, possessions and honor? Not so fast!

    First, what do you have? Let’s set aside health and freedom and Jesus and family and just think about our stuff. What do you have?

    One of the startling things about being in Africa was working with kids that had nothing. Well, that’s not quite true. One boy had a t-shirt. That’s literally all he had in the whole world. No shoes. No socks. No pants. He had a t-shirt. Every person in this room has far more than this precious masterpiece.

    I know that sounds extreme, but consider again this number:

    If your annual income is at least $32,400, you are in the wealthiest 1% in the world. That
    means you are wealthier than 99% of the people on this planet! See, you have possessions, but perhaps like Solomon says, you don’t enjoy them. Why not?

    One thing that robs us of our joy is comparison. Why do we pay so much attention to what others have? Why do I judge people who have more than me…while looking down on those who have less?

    Perhaps the opposite of comparison is contentment.

    Paul—who wrote many books of the Bible—wrote,

    I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

    This almost sounds like marriage vows—better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Paul’s point is contentment can only be found in knowing God, and we are so easily distracted toward other things the Bible calls idols.

    Look at Paul’s words to Timothy:

    But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

    Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It often becomes an idol, a god, something we value above all else. And it will never truly satisfy. Do your possessions possess you?

    A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man—even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place? (Ecclesiastes 6:3-6)

    Every good and perfect gift is from above…from over the sun…from God. Wealth and possessions can be a gift from God to be enjoyed and shared, though tragically many simply want more and hoard.

    Work can be a gift from God to bring contentment and meaning, though tragically many simply grumble and complain or abuse their bodies and relationships trying to climb to the top.

    Next, Solomon dispenses several more declarations of the meaninglessness of life under the sun, life without God, life without an eternal perspective.

    Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied. What advantage have the wise over fools? What do the poor gain by knowing how to conduct themselves before others? Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 6:7-9)

    Have you ever noticed no matter how much you eat or drink, you eventually become hungry and thirsty?

    Have you ever noticed no matter what shopping list is completed, another one is created days later?

    It’s like chasing after the wind!

    Whatever exists has already been named, and what humanity is has been known; no one can contend with someone who is stronger. The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone? (Ecclesiastes 6:10-11)

    For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone? (Ecclesiastes 6:12)

    Even if we are content and satisfied and accomplish great things for humanity, we’ll be gone in about 80 years and forgotten soon thereafter…if we only concern ourselves with money and possessions.

    So What?

    If we jump to the end of this somewhat depressing book, we see a hopeful conclusion about life over the sun:

    Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

    Fear God and keep his commandments.

    We were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.
    We are God’s masterpieces, created for His glory (Ephesians 2:10). No masterpiece exists for the sake of the masterpiece, but rather the creator and/or owner. If I paint or buy a painting, I hang it where I want it. It’s mine.

    Although God gives us free will—the ability to make choices—His plan is for us to submit to His will, His desires. That can sound scary and sinister, but no good, loving Father would choose anything but the best for His child. Your human father may have been foolish—and even abusive—but our Heavenly Father is perfect. He loves you and me. He wants the very best for us. He can be trusted.

    There’s a huge difference between life under the sun—without God—and life over the sun—with God. Comparing the two reveals huge contradictions. It’s almost as if the opposite of following God is following the world!

    The bottom line of this entire book—and really the entire Bible—is it’s all about Jesus.
    Only a relationship with God will truly satisfy. This doesn’t mean money and stuff won’t make us happy for a while—or that following Jesus is always rainbows and lollipops—but true peace, true purpose, true joy, true contentment, true meaning can only be found over then sun, counting our blessings, and loving God and others as we love ourselves.

    In the words of C.T. Studd,

    Only one life 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last.

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

    Jesus is our Sanctifier, 4 February 2018

    Jesus is our Sanctifier
    The Gospel Truth
    John 15:1-8

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

    Big Idea: Jesus is our Sanctifier, making us holy and set apart for God’s glory.


    Last Sunday we began a new series, The Gospel Truth. Our church’s founder, A.B. Simpson, described four unique aspects to Jesus: he is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. This is known as the Fourfold Gospel. Gospel means “good news” and if I were to describe the gospel in one word, it would be Jesus. In three words, Jesus is LORD. The gospel involves us, but it is first and foremost about Jesus—his life, death, burial, resurrection, appearances, ascension, and promised return.

    Is Jesus your Savior?

    Unlike other religions which teach if you are good enough, you can go to heaven when you die and spend eternity with God, the Bible teaches none of us is worthy of God’s perfect standard which is why He sent Jesus to our planet to live a perfect life and die for us. He took our punishment on the cross if we receive his gift of salvation. As a gift, you can’t earn it, you can’t do enough religious things to work for it, you simply have to believe and receive.

    For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

    Luke wrote

    Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

    Jesus died for you…and rose from the dead. Is he your Savior? If not, I invite you to simply trust Jesus today. Surrender your life to him. Thank him for his life, death on the cross, and resurrection. He paid for all of your sins—past, present and future—on the cross. He wants more than anything to know you, love you, and spend eternity with you. They way to heaven is simple—believe in Jesus. Here’s a sample prayer:

    Jesus, thank you for your death and resurrection. I believe you love me and died for me and I want to receive you into my life. I want you to be my Savior and LORD. I want to follow you from this moment forward and let you lead my life. Amen.

    There is nothing magical about that prayer, but it can be the beginning of your spiritual journey. However, it’s only the beginning. Tragically, many people stop with Jesus as their Savior and go about their normal lives with the benefit of “fire insurance.” Beginning your faith adventure is much like being born. Actually, Jesus says to be “born again.” A newborn baby has not reached the end of their life, but rather it has just begun. In the same way the life of a new believer is just beginning. They need to grow from infancy to spiritual maturity, with Jesus as the ultimate example.

    Have you been underwhelmed by the change in your life since you were “saved?” Many have done a great disservice to people in “sharing their faith,” communicating false hope that if you just “pray a prayer and receive Jesus,” you’re done. You’re saved…and when you die, you’ll go to heaven. End of story.

    Perhaps you have begun your spiritual journey and you are “saved” but, like the man in the video, you haven’t experienced the abundant life Jesus spoke of in John 10:10.

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10, ESV)

    Perhaps you know Jesus is your Savior—our topic last Sunday—and you know you’ll go to heaven when you die, but you wonder if there is any value to your faith before you die.

    I’ve got great news for you! Jesus is not only our Savior, he is our Sanctifier.

    Jesus is our Sanctifier

    The word “sanctify” is another one of those often misunderstood words like “gospel.” It simply means to make holy, set apart as sacred, to purify, to consecrate. In a word, sanctification means separation.

    Separation from sin: “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” 1 Peter 1:15-16.

    Separation to God: “(He) has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father…” Revelation 1:6.

    Some believe sanctification occurs the moment we are saved, when we receive Jesus. A baby Christian is made holy and set apart. Others believe sanctification is a lifelong process of growth and maturity, something no newborn can possess. Our understanding as a church and the Alliance movement is it is both.

    The Alliance Statement of Faith says

    It is the will of God that each believer should be filled with the Holy Spirit and be sanctified wholly,(22) being separated from sin and the world and fully dedicated to the will of God, thereby receiving power for holy living and effective service.(23) This is both a crisis and a progressive experience wrought in the life of the believer subsequent to conversion.(24)
    [22] 1 Thessalonians 5:23[23] Acts 1:8[24] Romans 6:1–14,

    Laver—or basin—represents the daily cleansing from sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. To clarify three theological words,

    - I have been saved: Justification
    - I am being saved: Sanctification
    - I will be saved: Glorification

    God’s Will

    Do you want to know God’s will? I hear people often say they are trying to discern God’s will for their lives. After all, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” Paul wrote to the church in Thessaloniki, Greece these words:

    It is God’s will that you should be sanctified:(1 Thessalonians 4:3a)

    It is God’s will for you to be sanctified. That’s pretty clear. He continues to elaborate on what sanctification looks like.

    It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.
    (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6a)

    To stress the importance of sanctification, Paul adds:

    The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:6b-8)

    It is God’s will for you to be sanctified, to be set apart, to be holy, to become like Jesus.

    We can only become like Jesus if we know him, spend time talking with him in prayer, spend time learning about him through the Bible, and spend time surrendering our lives to God the Holy Spirit. That requires…time! It requires intentionality. It doesn’t just magically happen any more than your body just magically grows muscles or your mind just magically earns college degrees. Growth—except, perhaps, for your belly—requires discipline, training, effort, and dare I say work. All relationships take work. If you’re waiting for me to have you over for dinner, maybe you should invite me over for dinner. If you want me to send you an e-mail, perhaps you should initiate and send me one. And just like it takes time to truly know me or a friend, it takes time—a lifetime—to know Jesus.

    And you are your friends. Over time, it is almost a certainty you will become like your friends. If you hang out with Philadelphia Eagles fans, you’re likely to become an Eagles fan. If you hang out with people who work out or ride bikes or watch movies, it’s likely you’ll be inclined to work out, ride bikes, or watch movies. If you hang out with Jesus, you will become like Jesus.

    When we receive Jesus as our Savior, we also receive the Holy Spirit, the most underrated Member of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit draws us to God and then leads us to mature in our faith. The reason so many people call themselves Christians and act nothing like Jesus is because they are not filled with the Spirit, connected to God, following Jesus our Sanctifier.

    In today’s text, Jesus paints a beautiful picture of what it means to truly be a Christian.

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

    When I was a young boy, I was fascinated by a large tree in our front yard. I was equally fascinated with the discovery of a hatchet amongst my dad’s tools in the garage. For some reason, I thought it would be great to use the hatchet on the tree!

    I don’t think I ever thought of actually chopping down the tree with the hatchet. I knew that would take hours, but if memory serves correct, I used the blade to carve my name in the trunk of the tree. When my parents saw what I was doing, they were horrified and sent me a not-so-subtle message to stop. Fortunately the tree survived after some treatment, but imagine what would’ve happened to the tree if I had chopped it down. Would it grow? Would branches grow? Would leaves grow? Without a connection to the trunk, the entire tree would die. The trunk and roots supply food to the branches as well as stability in storms. It is impossible for fruit to grow on a dead tree.

    Some people pray a prayer to receive Jesus as Savior and expect to instantly bear fruit, to immediately be changed. Sometimes miracles occur at one’s spiritual birth. Some people trust Christ and instantly lose their desire for alcohol or temptation to be violent, but regardless of the sanctification at the moment of surrendering to Jesus, there is a need for ongoing maturity and sanctification which takes time…a lifetime. I have never met a person who has become perfect. We are all in process, growing one day at a time…if we remain in Jesus, if we follow Jesus, if we confess our sins daily and invite the Holy Spirit to fill us with the fruit of the Spirit.

    …the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)

    One of my favorite questions at the end of the year to ask myself and others is are we more like Jesus than at the beginning of the year. Look at this list. Are you growing in love? What about joy? Are you becoming more peaceful? Would those around you say you are becoming a more patient person? Kind? Good? Faithful? Gentle? Self-controlled?

    Jesus continued in the fifteenth chapter of John:

    “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)

    If we remain, abide, do life with Jesus, we will bear fruit.

    John 15:7 is a popular verse:

    If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

    This does not mean God is a genie who does whatever we want. On the contrary, when we do what God wants, when we follow Jesus, we will desire only what God wants to give us.

    Many Christians understand Jesus as Savior. They know he died on the cross to save them from the punishment of their sin. But they do not experience the ongoing sanctifying work of Jesus Christ in their lives. God is not in control of their lives.

    The book of Romans has incredible truths about God and his wisdom and power and chapter twelve begins:

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

    Worship is not just singing songs. It’s a lifestyle. It’s surrender, sacrifice, sanctification. That might not sound as fun as a trip to Cedar Point or an evening of binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix, but actually following Jesus, abiding, remaining, doing life with Jesus offers more than a temporary thrill or a momentary distraction from the pains of life.

    Knowing Jesus brings love. I have experienced God’s unconditional love, and it’s amazing. I know I don’t deserve it, but God’s loves me—and you—because he created us and wants more than anything else a relationship with us—forever.

    Knowing Jesus brings joy. Our founding fathers believed in the pursuit of happiness, but joy is so much more. It’s deeper and not so temporary.

    Knowing Jesus brings peace. I sleep well at night knowing God is in control and I’m not.

    Knowing Jesus brings patience. I’m certainly not the most patient person but Jesus has all of the time in the world. I can trust his perfect timing.

    Knowing Jesus brings hope. I know regardless of what happens today, one day I will spend eternity with Jesus in a perfect world.

    I could go on and on.
    Steps To A Spirit-Filled Life

    The path to the Spirit-filled life involves faith-filled risks that always involve change.

    - Surrender: You cannot make yourself holy any more than you can make yourself saved. 
    Romans 6:11Romans 12:1–2

    - Accept: Christ is your Sanctifier in the same way that He is your Savior! 
    Colossians 2:6Galatians 2:20

    - Abide: Maintain a continuous relationship with Jesus through obedience to His Word. 
    John 15:1–11

    Here’s artist and author Lecrae describing what it means to experience Jesus as Savior and Sanctifer.

    So What?

    Jesus is our Sanctifier. He has set us apart to live holy lives. Sanctification is a process of becoming like Christ as we surrender our will to God’s and are filled with the Holy Spirit who produces fruit in our lives.
    It could be said that in contrasting Jesus as Savior and Sanctifier…

    Savior: Deliverance from penalty of sin
    Sanctifier: Deliverance from the power of sin

    Savior: Freedom from death
    Sanctifier: Freedom to live

    Savior: Release from the guilt of the past
    Sanctifier: Equips for the temptations of the future

    Savior: Christ’s righteousness is imputed (credited) to us
    Sanctifier: Christ’s righteousness is manifest in us

    Savior: Jesus lives in us
    Sanctifier: Jesus lives through us

    Is Jesus your Savior? Have you received the gift we celebrate today in communion, his body and blood broken and poured out for you on the cross?

    Is Jesus your Sanctifier? Are you seeking to live your life for the glory of God? None of us is perfect, but true believers are growing, abiding, remaining, doing life with Jesus and looking increasingly like him.

    Jesus said,

    “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:9-14)

    Credits: Some ideas from A.B. Simpson and John Soper.

    For further study, listen to Thomas George’s sermon at FAC on January 22, 2017.

    For the Alliance statement regarding Jesus as our Sanctifier:

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Fan or Follower, 21 January 2018

    Fan or Follower?
    John 1:40

    Big Idea:
    Are you a follower of Jesus or just a fan?

    I’ll never forget the day I met Kirk. No, I don’t mean myself. I actually don’t remember the first time I met myself, though I’m quite sure I was very young! It was a warm day in Chicagoland and I met my neighbor, Kirk. Two things were memorable. First, his name was Kirk…and he couldn’t believe another Kirk would be his neighbor. It was almost as if he wanted me to change my name so he could be the only Kirk in the neighborhood!

    The second thing was even more remarkable. He told me he loved the Chicago Bears. I didn’t find this terribly surprising given we were in a suburb of Chicago, quite close, actually, to the training camp for Chicago’s professional football team. He was wearing a Bears shirt, ended a previous conversation with, “Go Bears!” and he had a huge Bears logo on the hood of his car (it looked like the eagle on an old Trans Am). And this wasn’t even football season!

    Before I go any further, you need to understand Kirk did not appear to be a very wealthy individual. His car was aging, his clothes looked well-used, and he lived in a small apartment above an old garage which looked like it could collapse at any moment! He very well could’ve been nearly homeless for all I could tell.

    Kirk continued to tell me about his passion for the Bears. “I go to every game,” he said. “And I don’t just mean the home games.” He went on to describe how for years he had driven his car from Illinois to every away game including Seattle, California, Miami, and the east coast. Then he uttered nine words I might never forget: “I even went to the exhibition game in Berlin.”

    To call Kirk a fan of the Bears may be the understatement of the year. He lives, breathes, and sleeps the Chicago Bears and is a fully devoted follower.

    Contrast that with one of the students I met Thursday at the After School Klub. We were playing a game and the question was posed, “Who’s going to win the Super Bowl?” One of the kids said, “I love the Broncos!” The trouble is, there are only four teams left this year, two games today will determine who goes to the Super Bowl, and the Broncos are already out of the playoffs. This Denver Broncos fan had no idea this was a losing season for their favorite team. Needless to say, there’s a huge difference between the Bronco fan and the Bears follower.

    Are you a fan or follower of Jesus?

    Most USAmericans identify themselves as Christians, but what does that really mean? The word is commonly used to identify a political party. It is viewed by many as a group of people who are always against things and are filled with hate. Many within the church think because they believe in God and devote an hour a week to religious activity they are guaranteed a mansion in heaven when they die while others who haven’t prayed the prayer burn in hell for eternity.

    Many are fans of Jesus, content with belief in historical events, but unwilling to devote their daily lives to the One who invites us to follow Him. It’s one thing to pray a prayer and ask Jesus to be your Savior and quite another to fully surrender and make Jesus your LORD.

    Are you a fan or follower of Jesus?

    Happy New Year! I know, we’re three weeks into the new year but this is my first chance to preach in 2018. How many of you are doing well with your new year’s resolutions? Oh never mind!

    Actually, I was interviewed for an article
    The Toledo Blade recently did on new year’s resolutions related to reading the Bible. Just over 60 percent of American adults say they want to read the Bible more than they do. I’m excited so many of you are using the free Mission 119 app and website to not only read but study and apply the Bible.

    But why? Why read the Bible? What’s the purpose of prayer? Why give money and time to the church? Why are we here week after week?

    I have enjoyed the Mission 119 readings in Genesis, beginning with God’s amazing creation and moving to the fall of Adam and Eve, the covenant with Abraham, and the outrageous behavior of Abraham’s family. You just can’t make up some of those stories! The entire Old Testament creates anticipation for the Messiah to come and heal the brokenness, forgive the sin, and renew all things.

    Jesus comes, models a perfect life, offers supernatural wisdom, performs miracles, dies on the cross for us, crushes sin and death, rises from the dead, ascends into heaven, and promises to return. Among his final words were these:

    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)

    It’s almost cliché around here to talk about discipleship, making disciples. That’s the mission. That’s the Great Commission. Make disciples.

    But what’s a disciple? We know Jesus had twelve disciples. What did that mean? Simply, they were fully-devoted followers. They weren’t fans, though Jesus had thousands of fans, fair-weather people who wanted to see him do tricks and critique his lectures. But these twelve—or at least eleven of them—were true followers, real disciples.

    That journey began with a simple, two-word invitation: follow me.

    Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

    Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter ).

    The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 1:40-43)

    We don’t know if all twelve were invited this simply, but the invitation continues to this day, offered to every man, woman and child: follow me.

    Tragically, many have flirted with Jesus but never truly followed. They put a fish on the back of their car or checked the “Christian” box in an application asking for religious preference, but never fully surrendered. Many have actually done many religious things, but missed the bottom-line message.

    That message? Four words:

    Love God
    Love Others

    When asked the greatest commandment,

    Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God
    with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

    Love God
    Love Others

    This is not new. It is not complicated. But before we get too deep into 2018, I want to challenge you with the simple question

    Are you a fan of Jesus or a follower?

    One dictionary defines fan as “an enthusiastic admirer.” That describes so many so-called Christians. They say they believe in God (satan believes there is a God, too!). They consider themselves to be good people. They might even be able to answer some Bible trivia from their time in church, but Jesus never said, “Admire me.” He never said, “Believe in your head I died and rose again.”

    Jesus defined what it means to be a follower.

    Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:23-25)

    Last Sunday Jake was baptized. He was immersed in what is symbolically a water grave, dying, surrendering his will and desires before coming out of the water symbolizing resurrection, his new life in Jesus.

    Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came so dead people can come alive!

    The world “Christian” only appears three times in the Bible, each in reference to Jesus’ disciples. However, “disciple” is found more than 250 times. A disciple does everything to know and model the one they are following. They are a learner, but not just a head learner. Their heart and hands are changed, too, to love God and love others. They not only follow the Golden Rule of treating others as they want to be treated, they live out the Platinum Rule, loving others the way God loves you and me.


    I would like to suggest one way to love God and love others. It’s not popular. In fact, it’s quite rare. I believe it is a pathway to peace, a bridge to unity. In our culture of division, hatred, and violence, one simple character trait would transform conversations and relationships. I must confess I have struggled my entire life to embody this word so nobody is more challenged than yours truly. The world is humility.

    Paul wrote to the church in Philippi these radical words:

    Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

    Brothers and sisters, so much is at stake. Our city, nation and world are growing weary of Christians who don’t follow Jesus, they’re just fans. To be honest, there are atheists who are fans of Jesus, appreciating the wisdom of his teachings without embracing his resurrection or invitation to follow.

    I see so much pride in the USA church today. Close-minded critics blast their spiritual siblings on Facebook and blog posts for controversial theological differences. So-called evangelicals seemingly more concerned with acquiring and supporting political power than emulating the homeless Messiah who said we would be judged by how we treat the least of these. I’m sick of self-righteous Pharisees concerned about the speck in the eyes of others while refusing to acknowledge the log in their own eye. This is nothing new, obviously, but I believe it needs to be said: we need more people to follow Jesus, our model for humility.

    And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)

    The invitation to follow Jesus is not easy. It’s not for the faint of heart. It involves nothing short of complete surrender—death to yourself and possibly even martyrdom. But I can tell you there’s nothing greater than knowing Jesus Christ.

    In the next chapter Paul wrote

    I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

    Those are words from a follower, not a fan.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic book,
    The Cost of Discipleship, wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Then the new life begins!

    Jesus said

    Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

    That’s a disciple.

    Are you a follower of Jesus or just a fan?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Invitation: Repent & Believe, 14 May 2017

    Invitation: Repent & Believe
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:14-20

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

    Big Idea: Jesus invites us to repent, believe, and follow Him.


    What’s the greatest invitation you’ve ever received?

    • - Attend a birthday party
    • - Sit with someone in the school cafeteria
    • - Join a sports team
    • - Participate on a ministry team
    • - Graduation celebration
    • - Wedding proposal
    • - Job opportunity

    It’s usually nice to receive an invitation, though some are better than others. My Facebook account is often filled with invitations from people I barely know for events I know next to nothing about. Contrast that with an elegant, “snail-mail” wedding invitation. Yes, some people still use paper!

    Often we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into when we accept an invitation. Agreeing to stand up in that wedding means I have to shell out a hundred bucks for a tuxedo rental? Joining that board requires ten hours a week of volunteer team outside of the monthly meetings? Taking the job involves several weeks a year of travel? Marrying that person means…?!?!?!

    We’re in the middle of a series from the gospel or “good news” of Mark in our pursuit of knowing “The Real Jesus.” In the first verse of the book we see Jesus introduced as the Messiah and Son of God. Then we examined John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for His arrival. Last week we discussed Jesus’ preparation for public ministry through baptism and temptation. Today we look at an invitation from Jesus, an invitation He is still making to us thousands of years later.

    After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. (Mark 1:14)

    Mark is our “headline” gospel. He gets right to the point. John’s in prison. Jesus is in Galilee.

    Why was John put in prison? See John 1:19-4:54.

    What is the good news of God? It’s the gospel. What’s the gospel? In a word, Jesus. In three words, Jesus is LORD.

    The gospel is not you’re bad, Jesus is good, He died, pray a prayer, and go to heaven when you die. That might be a part of the gospel, but the gospel is so much more than life after death.

    It’s about life before death.
    It’s about faith, hope and love.
    It’s about loving God and neighbor.
    It’s about knowing and being known by your Creator.
    It’s about being a part of an eternal family.
    It’s about coming home.

    Can I preach for just a moment?

    There are too many people loved by God that don’t know it because they aren’t being loved by us.

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    This verse summarizes the teaching of Jesus. God’s kingdom is near. What is the kingdom of God? This was the focus of Jesus’ proclamation. It wasn’t about dying and going to heaven, it was about heaven coming down to earth, heaven kissing earth, God’s kingdom coming near. First-century Jews would have understood the kingdom of God to mean “the day of the Lord.”

    To enter the kingdom, we must repent and believe. This is easier said than done. It means laying down our lives and picking up the cross.

    Repent is from the Greek metanoia. Like metamorphisis, it means to change…one’s mind. Repent is not about condemnation or shame, just a change of mind and heart that results in a change of behavior and lifestyle. All of our actions begin in our mind. Repent means to change, to do a 180. It’s not optional for followers of Jesus. We are to turn from our selfish, sinful ways and turn to God’s generous, perfect ways.

    Repentance does not mean we change. It simply means to change one’s mind. Then the fun begins!

    Jesus said repent and believe.

    The most famous verse in the Bible is…John 3:16. It says

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

    The Greek word for believe is “pisteuo.” The English translation, believe, frustrates me because many “believe” if they agree with the historical notion Jesus died and rose again they are, therefore, going to heaven when they die and can continue in their sinful, God-dishonoring ways. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Believe is a verb. The noun form means faith. Believe means to commit or to trust. That’s action. In this context it means to trust in Jesus, to commit to the charge of Jesus. It means to surrender and follow Jesus. Here’s how one writer put it:

    It is the act whereby a person lays hold of God's resources, becomes obedient to what He has prescribed and putting aside all self interest and self-reliance, trusts Him completely. It is an unqualified surrender of the whole of one's being in dependence upon Him. It is wholly trusting and relying upon Him for all things. It is not just mental assent to the facts and realities of truth, it must come from a deep inner conviction.

    Believing that there is a God is no big deal. Even the demons believe that, we’re told in James 2:19!

    This kind of belief is trust. Surrender. Dying to yourself and becoming a new creation, resurrected with Jesus. This is the image of baptism we’ll all witness shortly.

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    Repent and believe.
    Turn and follow.

    This is how we change to become like Jesus.
    This is how we grow in our faith.
    This is discipleship.

    People have wrongly said repentance is about changing your outer behavior and belief is something that is inward and private. Jesus says to transform the inside first and then the outside follows.

    I want to introduce you to the Learning Circle, one of the most valuable tools I’ve encountered in following Jesus.

    LifeShape: circle video,

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    The Learning Circle is based upon this verse. We can’t change alone. We need others to help us observe, reflect, and act as we repent. We need others to help us plan, account, and act in order to truly become like Jesus.

    The Learning Circle shows us:

    •what it means to live a lifestyle of learning as a disciple of Christ;
    •how to recognize important events as opportunities for growth; and
    •how to process these events.

    The Learning Circle—which is just a tool you can use with others—is based on two questions:

    What is God saying to me?
    (This will help change the inner parts of me)
    What am I going to do about it? (The inner change has to produce an action)

    Now we turn to two sets of brothers who chose to repent and believe.

    As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 
    “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)

    The gospel of John tells us this is not their first encounter with Jesus. Notice He didn’t say join a cult or help Him start a religion. He offered an invitation of relationship. They responded. He didn’t say, “Follow God.” He said, “Follow me,” which was the same thing.

    These brothers are fishermen. They were not religious scholars, gifted speakers, or special leaders. They were ordinary people like you and me. They may have been to poor to afford a boat, casting their nets from shore. Jesus does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called. His invitation is simple: follow Me.

    When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.  (Mark 1:19-20)

    Simon and Andrew were fishing brothers. James and John were, too.

    They left their nets. They left their boat. They even left their father to follow Jesus.

    What do you need to leave behind to follow Jesus? What will it cost you?

    Following Jesus…

    It’s more than a prayer you pray.
    It’s more than knowledge you believe.
    It’s more than sin you avoid.
    It requires trust and action.

    What is God saying to you?
    What are you going to do about it?

    Credits: some ideas from Mike Breen, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Laodicea: Lukewarm, 21 August 2016

    Laodicea: Lukewarm
    7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
    Revelation 3:14-22

    Series Overview

    Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

    Big Idea

    The Laodicean church was lukewarm…which made Jesus sick!


    We are nearing the end of our series on the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Jesus sent letters to some of the first Christian communities, all located in modern-day Turkey. We have examined…

    • - Ephesus (First Love)
    • - Smyrna (Persecution)
    • - Pergamum (False Teaching)
    • - Thyatira (Sexual Sin)
    • - Sardis (Wake Up)
    • - Philadelphia (Faithful)

    Today we look at the church in Laodicea.

    Before looking at our text, you must understand a few things about Laodicea.

    1. 1. It was the region’s banking center. It had gold in abundance.
    2. 2. It had a fine medical school, specializing in ophthalmology, eye-healing
    3. 3. It was known for its fashion, particularly clothes made from Laodicean wool
    4. 4. It had bad water. The river Lycus was not strong and often dried up. The city seemed to have everything except that vital liquid H2O.

    It’s important to understand its geography. Southeast of the city was Colosse. It had great water. In fact, it had cold, Alpine-quality water from Mount Cadmus. To the north is Hierapolis. Heather and I spent some time in this area which looks snow-covered but, in fact, it is merely mineral deposits. Hierapolis also contains wonderful hot springs that are still enjoyed today.

    Since the Laodicea lacked good water, aqueducts were built to bring water several miles to the city.

    Revelation 3:14-22

    “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

    These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. (Revelation 3:14)

    This is the only time in the Bible “Amen” is a proper name, the name of Jesus. The word “amen” means “so be it.” Jesus is the Amen. He has the last word. He alone will reveal all and tell all as the faithful and true witness.

    I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (Revelation 3:15)

    Jesus commends many of the other churches for their good works, but not Laodicea. I used to hear people say this means our faith should be cold or hot. We should be really bad or really good. We should serve satan or serve God. But why would Jesus say he wants people to serve satan? The people of Laodicea understood the refreshment of cold water from Colosse. They loved the hot springs in Hierapolis. But the water they received in their city was neither. The cold water became warm as it moved through the aqueduct and the hot water cooled. When I order a drink at Starbucks I either order it hot or cold. Do you like lukewarm coffee or tea?

    So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)

    Jesus is trash-talking. Literally. He’s saying their actions are pathetic. They are sickening. This NIV translation of the Greek is rather tame. Jesus is saying this church makes him want to throw up! Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, says

    You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. (Revelation 3:16, The Message)

    This is not encouragement! And he’s not done!

    You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)

    They are delusional! They’re clueless! They’re pitiful. They are known for healing the eyes yet they’re blind. They are known for their fashion and special wool yet like the emperor with no clothes, they don’t even know they’re naked!

    They are not self-aware! Jesus offers a solution, though.

    I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:18)

    He doesn’t walk away, he offers to provide for them…if they turn back to him.

    Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. (Revelation 3:19)

    He loves them and, therefore, he is rebuking and disciplining them. He doesn’t abandon them. Instead he urges them to repent, to turn around, to do a 180. Repent is to change. It’s to go in the opposite. Jesus is saying, “Come back! You’ve walked away from me but I’m still here. I still love you. Return home!”

    Jesus continues with one of the most famous verses in the Bible.

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

    He’s saying, “I’m here. I want to enter your world, but I’m not going to break in. I’m not going to force myself upon you. No pressure. But I’m here. I have so much to offer you. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. Will you let me in?”

    Notice he doesn’t just say he wants to come in. He wants to join them at the table. He wants to eat with them. In the culture, eating with another person was a big deal. You didn’t just grab fast food. Meals took hours to enjoy. Eating together was a sign of friendship, in some instances a deep commitment. It declared a special relationship (which explains why Jesus got into so much trouble for eating with sinners). He doesn’t want to just share a meal. He wants to share a life.

    This letter was written not to an individual but to a church. Some have suggested Jesus had been shut out of the church of Laodicea, out of their fellowship. Perhaps they had abandoned his teachings and example. Like many churches today that have Jesus in their name, perhaps Jesus wasn’t alive inside, the center of their worship, their savior, and their Lord.

    To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:21-22)

    Jesus goes even further, expressing his deep love and commitment to those who would follow him.

    So What?

    I think the message to us is obvious. Jesus wants us passionate. He wants us to be devoted to him. He wants us on fire to burn brightly, to be like hot, healing springs in a spa or refreshing like a cold drink in the middle of a hot summer day. Most of all, he wants to be in our church. He wants to be at our table. He wants to do life with us, not just on Sunday mornings but 24/7/365.

    Jesus didn’t come to start a religion. He came to offer us life…every day!

    What would Jesus say to First Alliance Church? What would he say to you? Are you passionate for Jesus? He is passionate for you. He gave everything he had—his very life—for you! He wants nothing less than total surrender, not because he needs you or wants to manipulate you, but because he loves you and his plans and purposes are far greater than anything you could ever imagine. He wants to be savior, yes, but also Lord. Master. King.

    I think his message to Laodicea was this: surrender it all. Not just Sunday mornings. Not just when there’s extra change in your pocket when the offering plate is passed. Not just when it’s popular, comfortable, and convenient. Jesus wants it all. He wants you to be all-in. He wants your life to be refreshing like cold water. He wants it to be a source of life and healing like hot springs. Are you fully surrendered to Jesus?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Smyrna: Persecution, 10 July 2016

    Smyrna: Persecution
    7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
    Revelation 2:8-11

    Series Overview:
    Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

    Big Idea: The church at Smyrna was commended for enduring persecution.

    is the third-largest city in modern-day Turkey, now called Izmir. It presently has about 2.5 million people. Heather and I were blessed to have been able to visit it earlier this year. It’s about 35 miles north of Ephesus. Smyrna/Izmir is a cultural center which claimed the poet Homer as a native son. The name, Smyrna, means “myrrh,” an ordinary perfume also used as anointing oil in the tabernacle and for embalming dead bodies (a prophetic gift given to Jesus). Unlike Ephesus, there are Christians in Izmir today, though perhaps only two churches in Izmir have more than one hundred people. Turkey may be the most unchurched nation on the earth.

    Revelation was written at the end of the first century around AD 95. At this time the movement of Jesus was still relatively new and spreading across the Roman empire. Emperor worship was required for all Roman citizens. Disobedience was punishable by death. Needless to say, it was not an easy time or place to be a follower of Jesus.

    Revelation 2

    “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

    These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
    (Revelation 2:8)

    Revelation is about Jesus. He is eternal. He was, is, and always will be. He endured horrific suffering, died a brutal death, and was resurrected from the grave. Jesus is the First and the Last. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

    This church was told to worship the emperor or die. As they faced death, they heard from the One who both experienced and conquered death. Earlier Jesus had said

    Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

    This life is short and temporary. I know…it’s easy for me to say today in an air-conditioned building in a nation who celebrated freedom this past week. It’s quite another to be a refugee fleeing ISIS. Nevertheless, Jesus knows suffering…and He knows the suffering in Smyrna.

    I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9)

    N.T. Wright notes:

    “…the Jewish synagogue in Smyrna has become a ‘satan-synagogue’ – not just in a vague, general, abusive sense, but in the rather sharply defined sense that, as ‘the satan’ is, literally, ‘the accuser’, the synagogue in town has been ‘accusing’ the Christians of all kinds of wickedness. In particular, in a city where Roman imperial presence and influence was everything, the Jews would have been exempt from taking part in the festivities of the imperial cult . . . and they may well have been accusing, to the authorities, the Christians who were claiming that exemption as well. Perhaps it was accusations like that, with social and political consequences, that had given Smyrna’s Christians a taste of poverty in an otherwise rich city (verse 9). All this is at the heart of the message to Smyrna.”

    Jesus was aware of their suffering. They were very poor, likely because of their faith. Jesus is aware of our lives, too. He sees every sacrifice we make to honor Him. He knows when you take the high road, resist temptation, and speak the truth in love. Following Jesus was not and is not politically correct.

    Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. (Revelation 2:10)

    If you could know the future, would you want to? Jesus is predicting persecution for ten days. Many scholars believe this is not 240 hours but rather figurative since a ‘day’ in literature like this sometimes means a year or more (which may explain why it has taken Jesus more than 2000 years to return “soon!”).

    I love how Jesus blames the devil for the persecution.

    Our enemy is not Trump or Clinton or Obama.
    Our enemy is not blacks or whites or police.
    Our enemy is not Muslims or Hindus or atheists.
    Our enemy is not Buckeyes or Wolverines or Spartans.
    Our enemy is the devil, satan, whose playbook is simple: steal, kill and destroy.

    Satan used Roman soldiers. He used Hitler and the KKK. He is using secular humanism, ISIS, and violent religion. But people are not the enemy.

    Smyrna was considered a city with a crown due to its architecture and location. Jesus never criticizes the Smyrna church, instead urging them to remain faithful when the persecution comes.

    They did. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna was burned alive in AD 155 or 156 after refusing to sacrifice to Caesar. A student of the apostle John, Polycarp refused to renounce Christ, saying, “For 86 years I have served Christ, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my king and my Savior?”

    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

    There are two types of death. The first is the death of the body. We will all experience this within a hundred years or so. Jesus has “been there and done that” already. The second death, though, is more significant. It will do for the entire personality what the first one did for the physical body. John will address this in chapter twenty.

    His point, though, is fear not. What’s the worst that can happen? You die and spend eternity with God! For the Christian, this life is as close to hell as we will ever get. For the non-Christian, this is the closest they will get to heaven! To be victorious may mean to die a martyr, eliminating any fear from the second death. To be victorious is certainly to know and follow Jesus.

    So What?

    The persecution of Christians is growing in the United States. It should come as no surprise to us. While I don’t particularly long for suffering, Jesus never promised us rainbows and lollipops in this life. Instead, he told His first followers

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

    There MAY be a message in this text for us, to prepare for persecution and to be faithful no matter the cost.

    There is definitely a message in this text for many of our brothers and sisters who daily face poverty, persecution, and even martyrdom. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

    If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

    Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:26-27)

    21 Martyrs video

    What Can We Do?

    The burden is overwhelming. This past week Russia essentially made it illegal to talk about Jesus anywhere but inside a church. Our brothers and sisters—including those in the Alliance—could face persecution for simply sharing their faith online or even in their own home!

    Great Commission Day is a reminder not only of God’s activity in our world to seek and save the lost but also satan’s activity to steal, kill and destroy. We can give to the Great Commission Fund and support our spiritual siblings who are on the frontlines in other lands.

    We can pray.

    Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

    Fear Not

    This is not a happy topic, but it is not without hope. The battle is real but Jesus will ultimately win the war. But we must remain faithful.

    My friend Lewis Winkler wrote,”
    The worst thing that can happen for Christians is to forsake their Lord and compromise their calling just to retain some tattered vestige of public praise and cultural power. Christianity’s power does not come from the accolades of societal approval and respect from those who don’t love God. It’s a power that at its weakest is stronger than the strength of men, and it comes only from being faithful to Jesus Christ, no matter what the cost. To know the supernatural power of His resurrection, we must be willing to suffer humiliation and shame. We must be willing to die with Christ. There is no other way.

    Each morning Pastor Craig Groeschel declares a number of affirmations. One of them says, “
    Pain is my friend. I rejoice in suffering because Christ suffered for me.”

    That’s an attitude we can all embrace. We need not fear suffering or pain or persecution. We need not fear death. We serve a Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King who has conquered sin and death. And He is with us! Therefore, whom shall we fear?!!!

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Develop a Rule of Life, 5 June 2016

    Go the Next Step to Develop a “Rule of Life”
    Series: Go Deeper—Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
    Acts 2:42-47

  • 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 seventh pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is to develop a “Rule of Life.”


    We conclude our series Go Deeper. We’ve said like an iceberg, many of us have so much hidden that others don’t really know us. Sometimes we don’t really know ourselves, or at least we hide our past, guilt, shame, addictions, and struggles…but they can never be hidden from God.

    The problem with hiding is you can only hide for so long. Like a beach ball at the bottom of a swimming pool, the more we bury, the greater the burst when you can no longer stuff the embarrassment or pain.

    Perhaps another way to say Go Deeper is to Get Real! Of course that’s easier said than done, yet many churchgoers are the worst when it comes to living in denial, wearing masks, and overspiritualizing the challenges of life.

    As a review, we’ve looked at

    The 7 Pathways

    1. Know Yourself that You May Know God (David & Goliath)
    2. Going Back in Order to Go Forward (Joseph)
    3. Journey Through the Wall (Abraham)
    4. Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief and Loss (Jesus)
    5. Discover the Rhythms of the Daily Office and Sabbath (Daniel)
    6. Grow into an Emotionally Mature Adult (Good Samaritan)

    Today I want to share with you some tools for living a radical, passionate life in the footsteps of Jesus and

    7. Take the Next Step to Develop a “Rule of Life.”

    We live in a narcissistic world. Have you noticed? The message of the culture is, “It’s all about you!” Consumerism is so prevalent that we often “go to church” in order to receive, yet we call it a worship service. We use prayer to get God to serve us. We expect God to be a cosmic genie, doing whatever we want…and we get upset when He doesn’t. I’ve got some disturbing news for you: it’s not all about you! In fact, it’s all about God.

    I’ve got some exciting news for you: you and I have been invited to participate in God’s mission on our planet, in our city. It’s not that God’s Church has a mission, it’s that God’s mission has a Church. That’s us! We’re called to follow Jesus. We’re called to radically obey the sacred scriptures.

    For too long the church has focused on orthodoxy—right thinking. I’m all about good theology. I leave tonight for my final doctorate class at Northern Seminary before working on my dissertation. I love the Bible and theology, but there’s something even more important than orthodoxy: orthopraxy. I know, that’s a fancy word. It simply means right practice, right behavior.

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

    People don’t care what you believe until they know how you you live your life.

    But how? How do we look and act like Jesus instead of the sitcom characters? How do we remain pure in a polluted society? How do we love when we’re surrounded by hate?

    Three weeks ago we talked about spiritual disciplines or habits. Like brushing your teeth or jogging, the goal is not the disciplines themselves. That’s legalism. The goal is to develop your relationship with God in order to…love God and love others, our subject last week. Focusing on God throughout the day—the Daily Office—is one helpful discipline. Whether it’s at morning and night, three times a day, five times a day, or more, spend focused time with God. It can be brief. It may be a short prayer, meditating on a Bible verse, or singing a song. It could be journaling—writing out your prayers. It might involve appreciating God’s creation, being still and asking God to speak, or doing an act of kindness in the name of Jesus. There are many ways throughout our day we can “pray without ceasing” and avoid the temptation of becoming Christian atheists, Christians who truly live as if God isn’t with us.

    We also talked about Sabbath, a daily 24-hour period of rest and renewal. It can be Sunday, Saturday, or any day, but scheduling time to be unproductive in the eyes of the world and center yourself on God, His Word, and appreciating His world.

    The third anchor that can help us focus our lives on God is called a Rule of Life.

    “RULE” of LIFE

    - from the Greek word

    - a tool to help you grow upward and outward

    - a framework or structure to help enable us continually pay attention to God and keep Him the center of our lives

    Throughout history, people gathered together in communities around a rule of life. Some were as large as 5000 people in the Egyptian desert.

    At this moment, around the world, people are gathering in churches. Why? There are a variety of answers to that question, but hopefully they—and you—are seeking to know and become like Jesus.

    As we noted last week, maturity and growth don’t just happen. In fact, I’m told the only thing that will naturally grow as I age is my nose and ears (and probably my gut!).

    Going deeper is not about simply filling your head with more information. Throughout history there have been religious leaders who could ace any Bible knowledge test…but they didn’t look like Jesus. In fact, some of them killed Jesus!

    What is your plan for spiritual growth?

    Many of you have plans for physical growth. You count calories. You work out in the gym. You run marathons. Whether it began as a new year’s resolution or through some other event you have a goal…and you’re working toward it.

    Next Sunday we will honor those whose plans for mental and academic growth have been fulfilled…or at least reached a milestone we call graduation. They had a plan to take classes, write papers, complete exams…and their mission has been accomplished.

    Perhaps you have plans related to your work. Sales goals, bonuses, or standards of excellence. These typically have a plan with action steps.

    What is your plan for spiritual growth?

    Acts 2:42-47 shows us the trellis or framework for the early church.

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

    “Devoted” to

    1. Apostle’s Teaching

    We’re a school of the LORD’s service. We are under the Scriptures.

    2. Fellowship (Greek: “sharing”)

    A new family/community is formed. Following Jesus is not an individual experience.

    3. Breaking of Bread

    They did it corporately and at home.

    4. Prayer

    a. Talking to God
    b. Listening to God
    c. Being with God


    The early church was intentional. It was difficult. It required sacrifice. Many became martyrs. Their entire lives were God. They were breaking away from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

    Just as the one thing that occurs naturally in nature is weeds, the one thing that occurs naturally within us is sin.

    This is about resetting your entire life. David wrote:

    One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. (Psalms 27:4)

    I’d like to show you a a sample Rule of Life:

    a. Scripture (through the Bible in a year; memorization)
    b. Silence and Solitude

    c. Daily Office (Psalms, personal prayer, writing out your prayers)
    d. Study (reading, learning, exploring)

    e. Sabbath
    f. Simplicity
    g. Play and Recreation (fun!)

    h. Service and Mission
    i. Care for the Physical Body

    j. Emotional Health
    k. Family
    l. Community (Companions for your journey)

    Here are some other ideas:

    • - Be a lover of God, seeking to live in the love of Christ above all else.
    • - Befriend silence.
    • - Allow Holy Scripture to shape and form Christ in me.
    • - Value my own dignity as a human being made in God's image through self-respect and self-care.
    • - Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.
    • - Remember God’s history of faithfulness with each new challenge.
    • - Receive God’s limits as a gift.
    • - Love my neighbor as I love myself— embracing my singleness as I bond with others,
    or in marriage, giving first priority to my spouse and children.
    • - Walk in community while respecting each person’s uniqueness.
    • - Apply emotionally healthy practices in order to love well.
    • - Listen more than I speak.
  • - Live in truth, asking the hard questions.
  • - Bridge racial, cultural, economic and gender barriers for Christ.
  • Work/Activity
    • - Point others to a deep, personal relationship with Jesus.
    • - Savor the sacred in all I do—at work, rest or play.
    • - Remember the poor and marginalized.
    • - Share my gifts, talents and resources, in and beyond our community.

    What is your next step? It may be something on this list. It may be something else.

    It must be a heart thing, not a to-do list. The goal is not to check things off. The goal is to take intentional steps to know and become like Jesus. None of us is perfect, but we can help encourage one another to become more like Jesus. We can be disciples and make disciples. That’s our mandate.

    “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way. The love of Christ must come before all else.” -Benedict

    Luke 18:9-14 is a very sobering passage for me, especially as a “religious leader.”

    To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ (Luke 18:9-12)

    “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13)

    “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

    Are you growing in your love for your enemies?

    The goal of a rule of life is a heart transformation, not self-righteous behavior. It’s a journey, not a destination.

    What is your trellis? What is your plan to follow Jesus?
    What are your next steps?

    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.
  • No reserve. No retreat. No regrets. 31 December 2015

    No reserve. No retreat. No regrets.
    New Year's Eve

    Big Idea: Live your life with no reserve, no retreat, and no regrets.


    Happy New Year’s Eve! In a few hours 2015 will be history. How was it? In a few moments you’ll have a chance to answer that question. While much attention is placed upon the new year (they don’t call it new year’s eve for nothing!), this is a wonderful hour in which to reflect, to look back, to celebrate the goodness of the LORD.

    For some of you, 2015 was a difficult year. For others, a great year. For most, a mix.

    The past 365 days have been filled with births and deaths, wins and losses, successes and failures. There’s nothing you can do with the past besides reflect and learn.

    The psalmist wrote

    Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

    I have a number of pastor friends who prefer doing funerals over weddings. I’m not among them, but I do appreciate their perspective. Funerals are one of the few times people pause to reflect upon life.

    Today is another such time. It has been said we overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year. What did you do in 2015? How is your life different than it was 365 days ago?

    I must confess my life hardly resembles it from a year ago, though I can hardly take any credit for it. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be living in Toledo, Ohio…and loving it!

    What did you do in 2015? How is your life different than 365 days ago? How is the world different than it was 365 days ago because of you?

    That might be a grandiose question, but if you’re like me you want to change the world. You want to make a difference. Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me.

    This week I was praying with some dear senior saints that gather here each Tuesday morning. After hearing some very kind words from them, I said as the face of First Alliance I get far more recognition than I deserve. A football player can only score a touchdown if others do the unsung work of blocking. In the same way, they do vital work on their knees, praying for you, me, our church, and our city. Their work is done in secret, but it is changing the world.

    You can change the world with your prayers. You can change the world with your encouragement, your smile, your time, your simple gift, your story, …your love.

    As you reflect on 2015, what do you see?

    One of the most powerful series of sermons I ever heard was at a Campus Crusade for Christ Christmas Conference in college. It must’ve been five years ago! OK, it was nearly 30 years ago…and I remember it like yesterday. There were three talks:

    No reserve
    No retreat
    No regrets

    I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no reserve, no holding back. Passion. The word itself stems from Jesus’ wholehearted act on the cross, giving everything. 110%.

    I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no retreat, no turning back. The armor of God described in Ephesians 6 contains a belt, breastplate, boots, shield, helmet, and sword…but nothing to cover the back. There’s no running away, no backing down, no retreat.

    I determined at that conference I wanted to live my life with no regrets. I’ve made countless mistakes, but a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes…and the mistakes of others.

    No reserve
    No retreat
    No regrets

    Did you give your absolute best in 2015? If so, fantastic! Do it again in 2016. If not, no worries. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Tomorrow will be a new year, a new beginning, yet there are no guarantees. Tomorrow itself is not a guarantee for all of us. We all have an expiration date, and none of us knows what it is. William’s was only 25 years.

    This week I read about an acquaintance of mine who was riding his bicycle to a Christmas Eve service near Ann Arbor. On the way, he was hit by a car and died. It’s still surreal to think he’s no longer with us.

    It is critical that we pause, we reflect, we consider how life is sacred, precious, and fragile. Every day is a gift from God.

    Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

    My prayer for myself and all of us is that on December 31, 2016 we’ll gather again and say, “To God be the glory for the great things He has done in and through our lives.” But it requires action on our part. We were not created as puppets He manipulates. We make choices every day that affect our lives and the lives of others.

    I’m not going to challenge you tonight to make any New Year’s resolutions.

    Well, except for reading the Bible with us. If you haven’t heard about the One Story reading plan there are copies at the Information Center and links in our weekly
    FAC Focus e-newsletter.

    There was a famous religious leader named Saul. He was so passionate he was at least an accomplice in the martyrdom of many early Christians. His conversion to Christianity was miraculous, to say the least. After his name was changed to Paul, he wrote much of the New Testament of the Bible. Reflecting upon his sordid past, he wrote,

    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

    I encourage you to press on in 2016. Follow Jesus with your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbors. Live with intentionality.

    No reserve
    No retreat
    No regrets

    Happy New Year!