Forgiveness

How to Live, 1 October 2023

How to Live
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity
Ephesians 4:29-32

Series Big Idea:
The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
 
Big Idea: Life in the Kingdom of God is radically different than in the world around us.
 
Who are you?
 
We’ve been going verse-by-verse through the book of Ephesians, a letter sent to a church in modern day Turkey that reveals our true identity…in Christ! Tragically, many draw their identity from their job, politics, education, net worth, sexual orientation, friends, addiction, worst mistake, or even family. Those things contribute to who we are, but our primary identity should come from being in Christ. Thirteen times in the NIV translation of Ephesians, the phrase “in Christ” is used. Paul used the idea more than 200 times in his writings. Do you know what those two words mean? One pastor wrote,
 
“As Christians, we live from our identity, not for our identity. We are defined by who we are in Christ, not what we do or fail to do for Christ. Christ defines who we are by who he is and what he’s done for us, in us, and through us. Understanding this information is the key to your transformation.”
 
We are in Christ or in idolatry…anything that takes a higher priority. I’m saying all of this as an introduction because we’re about to read some challenging words which we cannot follow, at least not on our own. We need a higher power. We need God…because life in the Kingdom of God is radically different than in the world around us.
 
Don’t use foul or abusive language. (Ephesians 4:29a, NLT)
 
What does this really mean? The New International Version translates it this way:
 
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, (Ephesians 4:29a, NIV)
 
Foul language. Abusive language. Unwholesome talk. The entertainment industry has assembled a list of words that it deems inappropriate, at least for children. They can change a G-rated movie into a PG, PG-13, or even an R just by those words alone.
 
When our kids were younger, we had some good conversations about language. Why are some words acceptable and others not? Are “Christian swear words” ok? Is it really such a big deal when everyone is saying it? How did some words that even appear in the Bible become profanity?
 
The issue isn’t so much the articulation of one word or another. It’s about the meaning of the words. A word in one culture may have a different meaning in another. I infamously used a word in a sermon years ago with multiple meanings, one of which was unsuitable for a sermon…or any other usage! I had no idea and went on an apology tour the next week!
 
In college, I went on a trip to England where I used a particular word which I was told meant something quite different across the pond than it does in the USA!
 
The thing about language is it’s a communication tool. What are you communicating? What do you intend to communicate? What is in your heart…and will it be received that way? The verse continues…
 
Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29b)
 
My parents used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I think that’s generally good advice, and the point Paul is making to this church. Let every word that comes out of your mouth be good, helpful, and encouraging. The message isn’t simply, “Don’t cuss.” It means don’t gossip. Don’t be unnecessarily critical. Or as we used to joke in youth group, “Edify, stupid!”
 
That was only a joke, but that reminds me of something my dad used to tell me all the time when I got in trouble: it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it. Some researchers believe 60-70 percent of human communication is non-verbal…loudness, pitch, style, tone…to say nothing of eye contact, gestures, and body language. There’s a huge difference between a child (sweetly) saying, “I’m sorry” and (yelling) “I’m sorry!!!”
 
Human speech can communicate virtually any emotion, and be constructive or destructive in the process. Do you remember the old line, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but…words will never hurt me”? What a lie!
Words can be devastatingly toxic…or they can transform a life for the good. 
 
I imagine most of you can recall something said many years ago that was encouraging or destructive. Maybe it was a parent, teacher, or friend. To this day, my mom still offers encouraging words to me, while others I know never knew such positivity, struggling to even believe they are loved…by God or anyone else.
 
Jesus literally got to the heart of the matter in one of his famous interactions with the religious Pharisees.
 
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34, ESV)
 
Let’s take a look at a bit of the context:
 
“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. 34 You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. 35 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. 36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37 The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” (Matthew 12:33-37, NLT)       
 
Words are powerful. They convey meaning. Communication is built through them. Yet today, it seems harder and harder to find words that are good, beautiful, and true. From fake news to racist song lyrics, from profanity saturated tv shows and movies to slander and lies online, Paul’s letter sounds almost prudish, if not unimaginable.
 
Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29b)
 
This is another example where Christ-followers can live the ultimate alternative lifestyle. When people tell inappropriate jokes, we need not repeat them. When music contains parental warnings, we can opt to listen to something else. When “everybody’s doing it,” we can choose to consume and produce the good, helpful, and encouraging.
 
It sounds simple, right? I can’t say I’ve heard much profanity on Sunday mornings here, but what about Monday morning? The message is not simply, “stop cussing.” Jesus said out of the heart the mouth speaks, so get to the heart of the matter. Fill your mind and heart with the good, beautiful, and true. But know growth and maturity take time.
 
One of the great myths of the Christian faith is you need to clean up your act in order to come to Jesus. What a lie from the pit of hell! The amazing thing about our faith is all are welcome…come as you are…but don’t stay there. Grow! We’re all on a journey. Where you are today is less important than where you’re headed…what you’re becoming…how you are growing. My twelve week-old grandson
should be filling his diapers…but if he’s wearing them when he’s twelve years old, we’ve got a problem! If you’re new in your faith, of course you’re going to sin and screw up, but hopefully as you spend more time with Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, your head, heart, and hands will begin to change.
 
The book of Romans offers us a glimpse at spiritual maturity regarding the mouth.
 
Before Christ,
 
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” (Romans 3:14)
 
Then
 
If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
 
A changed heart will result in changed speech…from profanity to praise, from gossip to glorifying God, from hatred to holiness, from bitterness to blessing, from…you get the idea! The Bible is filled with examples of transformation, which is why we believe people can change. We
know people can change! Masterpieces can be and are being restored. Hallelujah! But as I often say, it’s not about striving, but surrender. It’s about letting the Holy Spirit fill you with good fruit and gifts. But it’s also about making good choices.
 
It has been said you are your friends. Choose wisely. Garbage in, garbage out. If you hang out with people who encourage and bless, chances are you’ll do the same. If you fill you mind with trashy entertainment, don’t be surprised if it leaks out of you. Jesus said,
 
A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. (Matthew 7:17-18, NLT)
 
The word
bad used here in the original Greek referred to rotten fruit. It might not be poisonous, but it’s worthless. We need to fill our hearts and minds with Jesus, with the truth of the Bible, with the encouragement of godly friends, and with that which is good and beautiful. The overall message of verse 29 is not to have a swear jar to penalize yourself every time you say a bad word. It’s to fill your heart with good fruit, good ideas, good words, constructive messages to bless others. For more on the tongue, see James chapter three. Our words are powerful, for good or bad. Let’s re-present Jesus well with our lips.
 
Now that we’ve finished the first verse of today’s sermon, let’s continue!
 
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30, NLT)
 
Some translations say don’t grieve the Spirit. This reminds me of the parent who said to their child, “Whatever you do is a reflection upon our family.” People are watching us…even if you don’t have a fish on the rear bumper of your car! When you surrendered your life to Jesus—if you have, and I urge you to do so if you haven’t yet—you became his. Jesus wants to be LORD, Master, not just buddy or consultant. We are Christ’s ambassadors. We’ve been called to re-present God to the world. If our words aren’t constructive, we give God a bad name.
 
We can grieve or glorify God by the way we live. If you have more than one child, you know that awful feeling when your kids don’t get along, fighting and arguing. You may also know the joy of seeing them get along. Imagine our Heavenly Father and what He feels when He sees how we live with one another.
 
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. (Ephesians 4:31, NLT)
 
Bitterness. It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die! I read an amazing story from Warren Wiersbe.
 
A handsome elderly man stopped at my study one day and asked me if I would perform a wedding for him. I suggested that he bring the bride in so that we might chat together and get better acquainted, since I hesitate to marry strangers. “Before she comes in,” he said, “let me explain this wedding to you. Both of us have been married before—to each other! Over thirty years ago, we got into an argument, I got mad, and we separated. Then we did a stupid thing and got a divorce. I guess we were both too proud to apologize. Well, all these years we’ve lived alone, and now we see how foolish we’ve been. Our bitterness has robbed us of the joys of life, and now we want to remarry and see if the Lord won’t give us a few years of happiness before we die.” Bitterness and anger, usually over trivial things, make havoc of homes, churches, and friendships.
 
Bitterness, rage, anger (which is not necessarily a sin, by the way). Paul has already spoken about our words. If our actions and words aren’t enough, he throws in “all types of evil behavior.” Stop it! How? Begin spiritual habits, simple rhythms. Join a Life Group. Read a chapter a day in the Bible (maybe start in Ephesians or John). Invite someone out for coffee to engage in a spiritual conversation. Access the free Right Now Media subscription resources. Download the YouVersion app and begin a Bible reading plan. Take one small step toward growth. If all else fails, send me an e-mail and we’ll discuss it together.
 
Remember, though, “spiritual formation is slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others” (Richard Bush).
 
We’ve seen the negative list. Here’s a positive vision for how Christians are to behave.
 
Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32, NLT)
 
What a vision! Who wants to be a part of a family like that?
 
Perhaps the opposite of bitterness is forgiveness, and this is a radical thing in our culture where we are prone to either cancel someone or take them to court. There may be a time and place for that, but forgiveness takes things to another level. We can’t forgive people on our own strength, but when we see how God has forgiven us, with His power we can forgive. The most famous prayer in history states, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Paul is echoing that here in verse 32. What if we don’t forgive? First, it will probably harm us more than the other person.
 
We all love the idea of forgiveness…until we have someone to forgive. Who do you need to forgive? They don’t deserve it. Forgiveness is never earned. It’s a choice you make to set them—and yourself—free. It doesn’t mean you trust them. It doesn’t mean everything goes back to the way it used to be, but it means you’re done with bitterness. You’re letting go.
 
Family, we’re always going to hurt one another. Hopefully there will never be harmful intent, but where two or more are gathered, there is bound to be conflict. If you hurt me, you want forgiveness, right? We need to be a community of faith, hope, and especially love filled with grace and forgiveness. We need to silence the lie of the enemy that wants us trapped in the pain of the past and press on toward the abundant life Jesus promised us. This is not easy. It might involve professional help. The wounds will take time to heal. But we can choose, declare, decide God will be the judge and we can forgive them because we’ve been forgiven so much by God. Let it go! For God’s sake, forgive!
 
Conclusion
 
I would love to stand in front of you each week and encourage, sharing good news. The reality is, sin is a part of each of our lives. We need to be reminded of the bad and the good, the prohibitions and the positive instructions.
 
Life in the Kingdom of God is radically different than in the world around us.

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

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

The Relational Divide, 25 October 2020

The Relational Divide (We Need One Another)
Series—The Great Divide

Series Big Idea: Our world is filled with division, yet Jesus prayed that we would be one.

Big Idea: The Kingdom of God is diverse, multi-generational, and beautiful

Today we conclude our series “The Great Divide.” We began with the political divide and said our focus must be on the Lion and the Lamb, not the elephant or donkey. We are a politically diverse family and we need to offer respect, grace, and love to one another. Period.

Last Sunday we talked about the racial divide. We noted how there is only one race, the human race, and although we are all created with equal value, we are not all treated with equal value.

[I hope you took some time this past week to educate yourself through the Phil Vischer videos]

Today we’re going to talk about the relational divide…those other things which come between us as spiritual siblings…and how we can overcome them by building bridges.

The mission of First Alliance Church is to be a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory.

It’s important to note the church doesn’t actually have a mission, but rather God’s mission has a Church! We are here for God’s glory. That’s the bottom line. We’re not a social club for the benefit of its members. We are not to be consumers of religious goods and services. We are a family on mission. We are here to glorify God. What does it look like to bring glory to God? Jesus said to the Father,

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

I often reference this essential scripture, but why does Jesus pray this? Is it to give us more work to do? Is it about making peace in the family? The bottom line is God’s glory, that the world will know Jesus and God’s love.

I know I’ve said this many times before, but if we did our job, I believe the world would be in much better shape. The world is going to sin, create division, hate, judge, lie, condemn, …but while we are in the world, we are not to be of the world. We are to be Kingdom people, citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).

Eleven times we’re commanded to “love one another.” That’s more than a suggestion!

Unity does not mean uniformity. We are all different…by design. Like musicians in a trio or quartet, we must learn to play our notes in harmony with one another, complementing one another, adding to the beauty, not causing conflict or division.

What is the root of all division? I believe it is pride, arguably the root of all sin. Think for a moment about any tension, any conflict, any disagreement. Imagine if one of the persons put this into practice:

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

or…

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

Imagine if both people put that into practice! I said last week…

We are all created with equal value, but we are not all treated with equal value.

Even inside the Church, inside the family, it’s tempting to show favoritism, to look down on some people, to judge or condemn or simply avoid a brother or sister. But we can’t let the enemy win! We are spiritual siblings. We must love well, not only for our sake, not only for the sake of others in the family, but for the sake of the gospel, the good news, Jesus! Loving well brings God glory. In His eyes…

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Besides politics and race, what divides us? What keeps us from experiencing full, agape love with one another? What threatens unity? First, I think it’s our focus.

C.S. Lewis said, “Seek Unity and you will find neither Unity nor Truth. Seek the light of truth, and you will find Unity and Truth.” Indeed, we must focus on Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit, guided by the holy scriptures, and seeking the glory of God.

We need to focus on Jesus, not ourselves.
Not our favorite candidate or author. Jesus. The enemy wants us divided. A house divided cannot stand.

So besides losing our focus on Jesus, what problems create divisions in the family? We’re going to briefly look at nine…and some practical solutions.

Problem: gossip
Solution: Matthew 18

It is amazing how gossip can spread…even innocently…even in a prayer meeting…even out of genuine concern. I love Dave Ramsey’s take on gossip. It’s poison. He has a no-gossip policy at his company, and I have one for our church family. Ramsey defines gossip as discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem. The solution is simple. It’s found in Matthew 18.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

The next one is closely related.

Problem: lies
Solution: truth

Someone recently asked me a question about some gossip they heard. It was a total lie! Had the original person simply come to me or someone who could answer the question rather than guess and accuse, countless people would’ve be spared of misinformation which was negative and alarming. Get the facts. That goes for social media, too. Don’t believe everything you read online…especially if it’s from the Babylon Bee (which is a satire site!). It seems so obvious to tell the truth, but intentionally or accidentally, so much division is caused by data that is simply not true.

Problem: judging
Solution: help me understand

I think we’re all guilty of judging others, despite the clear commands of scripture. Even non-Christians like Jesus’ words in Matthew 7…

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,
Judgement is the forbidden objectivization of the other person which destroys single-minded love. I am not forbidden to have my own thoughts about the other person, to realize his shortcomings, but only to the extent that it offers to me an occasion for forgiveness and unconditional love, as Jesus proves to me.
What do we do when we smell something fishy, pastor? Here are three words: help me understand. We are so quick to make assumptions without knowing the full story.

Problem: worship preferences
Solution: submit to one another

This one gets personal. Let’s face it, we all like certain songs, certain styles of music, certain fashion, certain types of sermons, certain expressions of worship, certain volume levels, certain lengths of sermons, …

There’s no perfect church. There’s no perfect pastor…or sermon or worship leader or…

The larger the family, the more we must love well, compromise, and even submit to one another.

We don’t like that word “submit.” It goes against our rugged individualism. Frank Sinatra sang, “I Did It My Way!” But the Bible said something entirely different.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

When is the last time you took a deep breath and shift the focus from your preferences to…Jesus? I remember the “worship wars” of the 90’s…and probably every generation. Hymns, no choruses. Modern, no ancient. Slow, no fast. Worship’s not for you!!! Again, where is your focus? We’re here for Jesus! It shouldn’t matter if we repeat the song fifty times…it’s not for us! OK, actually, I do sometimes tire of endless repetition of song lyrics, but then again, we’re told of each of the four living creatures in Revelation,

Day and night they never stop saying:

“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8b)

Problem: cultural differences
Solution: celebrate diversity

This often gets lumped into the race conversation. Is the issue skin color or economic class or cultural differences. Regardless, we can celebrate our diversity. I admit, I’m weird! I’m a variety junkie. My favorite restaurant is the one I’ve never been to before. I’d rather travel to a new place than a frequented one. I love people, and I’m especially drawn to the—uh—unique ones. Birds of a feather…!!!

I’m glad we’re different! It can create conflicts, but it can also create growth, understanding, and friendships. How boring would it be if everyone was just like me?! God created each of us unique and special. Let’s celebrate His masterpieces!

Problem: bitterness
Solution: forgiveness

This one’s a biggie. We obviously can’t unpack this fully today, but so much of the relational divide in our society involves bitterness. Sometimes the offense—or the alleged offense—occurred decades ago, yet the wedge of bitterness remains, penalizing both parties with a missing relationship.

The solution is forgiveness. Nobody deserves to be forgiven. It’s a choice. When the choice is made, beautiful things begin…for both people. Forgiveness doesn’t mean trust. It doesn’t mean forget. It means let go of the grudge. It means move on. Often this is a miracle only possible by the Holy Spirit, but we serve the God of the impossible!

Problem: theological differences
Solution: grace and essentials

There’s a great line that says, In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. If, like me, you don’t know Latin, it means, “in necessary things unity; in uncertain things liberty; in all things charity.” It’s often attributed to Augustine, but it was likely first used in 1617 by Archbishop Marco Antonio de Dominis. There are open-handed and closed-handed issues when we talk about God. Although we often debate which are open and which are closed, there are some things like the virgin birth, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible which we would say are essential, non-negotiables, while some matters such as the age of the earth, whether or not there will be pets in heaven, and appropriate alcohol use we might call important but not essential. The point being “in all things charity.” We need to exercise grace with one another and focus on the essentials.

One thing I love about the Christian & Missionary Alliance is its theological diversity. We have a lot of opinions about a lot of things and we are free to respectfully discuss them while maintaining a statement of faith which is biblical and simple.

Problem: busyness
Solution: sabbath

In many relationships, the greatest divide is time. We’re so busy, we simply fail to take the time to get to know one another. We need rest, we need sabbath, we need to slow down, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and be together. Love is often spelled t-i-m-e.

Problem: generation gaps
Solution: mentoring (both benefit)

Finally, generation gaps often create division between people, even Christians. Some of this may be cultural differences or worship preferences, but just like it’s easy to stereotype based upon ethnicity, it’s also common to think or say, “Oh you Millennials” or “You old people” or “You amazing GenXers!” This has even resulted in single-generation churches of twentysomethings or retirees rather than a multi-generational congregation in which mentoring is active, the older teaching the younger. This was commonplace in the early church. Paul told Titus to teach the older women so they can mentor the younger women (Titus 2:3-5). Spiritual parenting or even grandparenting can be mutually beneficial and enhance the life of any congregation, bridging generation gaps with love, dignity, respect, and understanding.

So What?

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:2-6)

Benediction:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

For Further Reading

The Fellowship of Differents by Scot McKnight

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

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

Merciful, 9 August 2020

Blessed are the Merciful
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:7

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

Big Idea: Mercy is an undeserved gift to experience and share.

NIV: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

NLT:
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

NKJV:
Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

The Message: “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘carefull,’ you find yourselves cared for. (Matthew 5:7)

Mercy is an uncommon word in our vocabulary and a foreign concept in our culture. I think it has become a “churchy” word that is easily dismissed without pondering its meaning. We say “LORD have mercy” or read “grace and mercy” without pausing to reflect upon what’s being communicated.

Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. – Oxford Dictionary

Synonyms include leniency, clemency, compassion, grace, pity, and charity.

It’s different than forgiveness. You deserve to punish them, but you don’t.

It’s different than grace. D.A. Carson notes, “Grace answers to the undeserving; mercy answers to the miserable.”

The original Greek word for merciful,
eleemon, means actively compassionate. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for mercy, rachamim, contains within it a three-letter word which means “womb,” that which is the most powerful and sacred female reality, denoting birthing and bearing mother love. One rabbi has thus related mercy to God’s womb-love for His people (remember, male and female were both created in the image of God).

Before we talk about being merciful, let’s look at our own lives for a moment. It’s unpleasant to hear, but we all need compassion. We’re all sinners. We’ve all failed, offended God, messed up, and rebelled against our Creator.

We don’t want what we deserve from God!

I often grow weary of people talking about what they deserve, their rights, their entitlements. According to the Bible, what I deserve is eternal separation from a holy God because of my sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.”

We all deserve death, both physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal. You may be a better person than the person who lives down the road, but you’re not perfect…and that’s God’s standard. Good isn’t good enough! That’s why we need mercy. I need mercy.

Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. – Oxford Dictionary

It is within God’s power to punish me…and you. Instead, He chose to offer a way for us to experience mercy and compassion. The reason we’re so into Jesus is he accepted the Father’s mission to leave heaven, come to our planet, and die to pay the penalty we deserved to pay for our sins. He proved his sacrifice was adequate by rising from the dead, conquering sin and death and reconciling us to our Heavenly Father.

Part of the gospel or the “good news” is we can experience mercy. We can be forgiven. We can receive compassion. We all need it!

There’s an ancient Christian prayer called “kyrie, eleison.” It’s especially common in Eastern churches and found in several psalms and three times in the book of Matthew. In English, it’s translated, “Lord, have mercy.”

Earlier in our reading of Psalm 136 (NKJV), we repeatedly read, “His mercy endures forever.”

You can’t give something you don’t possess. If you haven’t experienced love, how can you love? Until you’ve received mercy, it’s hard to discuss sharing it.

Part of Christian worship for the past two thousand years has involved confession…acknowledging our sins and our need for mercy. One recent song expressed “kyrie, eleison” beautifully and I invite you to sing it with me.

LORD, Have Mercy

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have received forgiveness and mercy. If you are not yet a follower of Jesus, I want to encourage you to simply pray, “Jesus, I give you my life.” By surrendering your life and making Jesus your LORD and leader, you can receive the joy of forgiveness, eternal life, and perfect peace. Following Jesus doesn’t make life easy, but it makes it satisfying because you are blessed by His presence and favor. You are free from the laws of sin and death. You can know your Heavenly Father. You can begin a journey that allows Him to lead as you follow.

Many of us fail to recognize the significance of God’s mercy in our own lives. Maybe we don’t think we need much compassion because we’re such good people, but we’re all desperately in need of mercy. The most religious among us probably need it the most!

Carson notes, “It is sometimes said that an alcoholic who won’t admit he’s an alcoholic hates all other alcoholics. Similarly, it is generally true that the sinner who won’t face up to his sin hates all other sinners. But the person who has recognized his own helplessness and wretchedness is grateful for whatever mercy is shown him; and he learns to be merciful toward others.”

So What?

There are three ways we can respond to God’s mercy.

  1. 1. Express thanks to God for His mercy.

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget, to get busy, to move on with life. We need to regularly pause and give thanks, not only on communion Sunday, but ideally as part of our daily rhythms. Because of the cross and the empty tomb, we’ve been given so much. It’s worth celebrating. It’s one of the reasons we worship.

A second way you can respond to God’s mercy is to

  1. 2. Show mercy to yourself.

While some Christians think too much of themselves, others have the opposite problem. They believe they are worthless trash. That message sometimes comes from a parent. It could be spoken by a teacher, a classmate, or a boss. Tragically, some pastors have communicated the heresy that God hates them. He hates our sin, but you were created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. You are unique and special, worthy of love. Jesus went to extraordinary lengths—even death—to prove his love to you. If he loves you, forgives you, shows you mercy, and accepts you, doing otherwise to yourself makes him out to be a fool. Jesus is no fool! Remember who you are…and Whose you are. You are a cherished child of the most high God! Someone once said, “The only time you find God in a box is when He crawls into ours to meet us.” That box may be made out of pain, abuse, and neglect.”

Of course, the heart of this beatitude or blessing announced by Jesus is to

  1. 3. Extend mercy to others.

We’ve been blessed to be a blessing.
We’ve been loved so we can love.
We’ve been shown mercy so we can show it to others.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

Salvation is not the result of being merciful.
Being merciful is the result of your salvation.

Are you a merciful person? Are you compassionate?

Perhaps the best illustration of mercy in the Bible—besides the cross—is found in the tenth chapter of Luke. Jesus tells as shocking story which we cannot fully appreciate in our culture. A man is conversing with Jesus about the command to love one’s neighbor.


But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
(Luke 10:29)

In reply Jesus said:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. (Luke 10:30)

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:31)

So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:32)

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. (Luke 10:33)

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. (Luke 10:34)

The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:35)

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36)

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him,
“Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)

Dr. Matt Carter notes there things about this story:

  1. a. Mercy sees. When he “saw him,” he had compassion. It begins with our eyes.
  2. b. Mercy feels. He felt compassion. We often skip this step. We need to empathize. Jesus had compassion on us. He had sympathy.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

  1. c. Mercy acts

Mercy is a feeling that moves you to action.

Mercy is when you see the need, feel the need, and act.

Are you a merciful person? It’s more than just something you do in your head. It involves your heart and your hands.

Who do you assume the worst about? It might an individual or a group. Maybe it’s a political party or government official. Are they beyond God’s love? What would mercy and compassion look like toward them?

Are you holding a grudge against anyone? What would mercy and compassion look like toward them?

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

Jesus’ teachings were not meant to be hypothetical. The Beatitudes are not impossible ideals meant for God alone. They are announcements of both present and future realities as the Kingdom of God and the will of God is expressed on earth as it is in heaven. These are not things to do, but declarations of what it means to be, to follow Jesus, to live a radical, counter-cultural life.

The LORD’s Prayer asks God to forgive us as we forgive others. We receive and we give. We show mercy and will be shown mercy. It’s a both-and.

But mercy always costs something. Time. Money. Reputation. Comfort. It cost Jesus his life!

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

God is on your side when there’s no reason He should be on your side…and we are to be on the side of others who don’t deserve it.

A few notes on forgiveness from Lysa TerKeurst from the Global Leadership Summit 2020

The real payoff of forgiveness is that you deserve to stop suffering because of what other people have done to you.

Forgiveness is that God’s forgiveness has flowed to me and now we cooperate with it and let if flow through us. It’s not made because of my determination but because of my cooperation with what Jesus has already done.

Sever your suffering by making a choice to forgive. You have the right to make this decision. You’ve changed even if they haven’t changed. Your healing is not tied to them.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘carefull,’ you find yourselves cared for. (Matthew 5:7, The Message)

Finally, meditate on these ancient words from the prophet Micah:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project, D.A. Carson, Lysa TerKeurst, and Dr. Matt Carter.

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

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

God Shows Compassion, 27 October 2019

God Shows Compassion
Series—Jonah
Jonah 4:1-11

Series Big Idea:
The prophet Jonah reveals God’s grace for all nations.

Big Idea:
God showed compassion to the Ninevites…and Jonah…and He shows it to us, too.

Do you like the LORD’s prayer? It would seem sacrilegious to say no. Jesus said,

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ’ (Matthew 6:9-13)

Many of us have prayed the Lord’s Prayer countless times, either out of tradition and ritual or in seeking to earnestly pursue God and His participation in our lives.

But since all relationships require participation from both parties, I want to draw your attention to verse twelve.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

Do you see it? There’s an assumption, a condition. Jesus tells us to seek forgiveness as we forgive others. Do we deserve forgiveness any more than another?

Before we finish the book of Jonah today, I want to give a quick summary of the first three chapters. The book of Jonah begins…

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

Jonah disobeys God and hops aboard a boat going the opposite direction from Nineveh. He hates these people. God causes a terrible storm which results in Jonah confessing his disobedience and being thrown overboard.

God causes a huge fish to swallow Jonah, sparing his life. Jonah prays during his three-day stay in the fish’s belly before God commands the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land (you can’t make this stuff up!). Jonah learns his lesson, he goes to Nineveh, the people repent—turn from their evil ways—and

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

What great news…right?

God relented.
God forgave.
God showed mercy.
God offers compassion.
God loves.

That’s our God!

I’m going to say something very radical, maybe controversial, and certainly outrageous…

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. He really does. He loved the evil Ninevites. He loves sex traffickers and drug dealers, atheists and even politicians! He doesn’t just love Christians! God doesn’t just love church people! He loves sinners…which includes you and me and the other 7+ billion people on the planet. And catch this: He doesn’t love us because we’re good…which is good…because we’re not good!

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Our culture is so binary, forcing people into categories: Republican or Democrat, Christian or non-Christian, embrace and endorse and celebrate LGBTQ+ or hate them, black or white, rich or poor. We’ve got to get beyond labels. We’ve got to go beyond friend or enemy. That’s the way the world operates. God says we’re all sinners, we all need forgiveness, we all have an opportunity to receive mercy and grace, and we all choose now how we’ll live eternity—with God or without God. We all choose now who we will worship—God or our desires.

I love the late Dallas Willard who said, “
The sinner is not the one who uses a lot of grace... The saint burns grace like a 747 burns fuel on take off.”

Just because I made a decision more than forty years ago to trust Jesus as my LORD and Savior doesn’t mean I don’t need God grace or love…or that I deserve it more than anyone else. This might be the big idea of the entire book of Jonah.

God shows grace to Jonah by giving him a chance to preach to Nineveh.
God shows grace to Jonah by sparing his life through a fish.
God shows grace to Jonah by giving him a second chance to preach to Nineveh.
God shows grace to Jonah by giving him a front-row seat to witness revival.

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1)

Jonah hates the Ninevites. They were enemies of Israel. He wants God to destroy them. He wants them gone! Instead, God forgives them. He shows mercy. He is compassionate. That’s who God is, and He loves the whole world. Period.

Does that mean everyone will spend eternity with God. No. Many choose hell, eternity apart from God. But my Bible says

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

The world. Whoever. Anyone who believes…trusts…surrenders will have eternal life. Anyone who surrenders to Jesus Christ and receives the love and grace and mercy and forgiveness provided by the cross and the empty tomb will spend eternity with God, which, by definition, is what we call heaven…it is where God is present.

God was willing to spare Nineveh, but to do so He could not spare His own Son.

Jonah actually knew God is forgiving, gracious, compassionate, and love.

In chapter one, he was like the Prodigal Son, rebelling against God. Now he’s like the elder brother, angry that God would extend forgiveness and love to others.

In chapter one he asked God to spare his life.
In chapter four he asks God to take his life.

He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3)

Are you kidding me?! Jonah should’ve died when he was thrown overboard. He deserved to die for his disobedience, but God still uses him to deliver a message of repentance which is successful. Jonah think God only loves his people, his kind…or that he should.

But the LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4)

God is compassionate. Jonah is angry.
God spares Jonah’s life. Jonah wants to die.

The story continues with one of the most interesting accounts in the entire Bible.

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. (Jonah 4:5-6)

He wants to see God change His mind and destroy the city. He’s hoping he misunderstood God and that his people, the Israelites, would celebrate the destruction of their enemies. And then Jonah is excited about a plant. A plant! No, it was weed for him to smoke or even food for him to eat, but shade. It says the plant made Jonah very happy! Have you ever had a plant make you very happy because of its shade?

Here’s another sign of God’s grace, His unmerited favor toward Jonah.

But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:7-8)

God provided the plant.
God provided the worm.
Now Jonah is suicidal again…because of a worm!

This guy is a hot mess, proving yet again that God can use anybody.

He can use a murderer and stutterer like Moses to speak to Pharaoh, leading the Israelites for forty years.

He can use a loose-lipped, compulsive person like Peter who denied Jesus three times to build His Church.

He can use a suicidal, prejudiced patriot like Jonah to lead a great city to repentance.

He can use you and me whenever and however He chooses…if we make ourselves available…if we say yes…if we surrender.

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9)

What audacity!

But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

And the book ends there—somewhat abruptly—with a question. Jonah’s angry and wants to die. God is compassionate and forgiving and the great city of Nineveh becomes a repentant, God-fearing city. And don’t forget the animals!

So What?

Warren Wiersbe writes, “When reputation is more important than character, and pleasing ourselves and our friends is more important than pleasing God, then we’re in danger of becoming like Jonah and living to defend our prejudices instead of fulfilling our spiritual responsibilities. Jonah certainly had good theology, but it stayed in his head and never got to his heart, and he was so distraught that he wanted to die!”

Ouch!

What makes you happy?
What makes you angry?
What makes you want to give up?

Jesus’ half-brother, James, said that Jonah was “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8,
NKJV). What about you?

If we return to Jesus’ words following his prayer instruction, he adds…

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

I know it’s hard to love…especially people who are different.
I know it’s hard to forgive…especially people who don’t deserve it (which is everyone!).

But this is the test of our faith, of our devotion to Jesus, of our obedience.

Agreeing with a statement of faith does not make you a Christian.
Going to church does not make you a Christian.

The only thing that makes you a Christian is repenting of your sins and following Jesus. Acting like Jesus. Loving like Jesus. Forgiving like Jesus.

Jason Horton: https://levithepoet.bandcamp.com/track/keep-forgiving

Keep forgiving. It doesn’t mean you forget. It doesn’t mean you necessarily trust. But forgiving frees you from bitterness and anger.

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. He wants them forgiven.

Do lost people matter to you? Do you have compassion for those far from God? Do you have a passion for the broken masterpieces in Toledo that need to be restored? Do you rejoice when sinners repent and trust Jesus?

Tragically, Christians are often known more for what we’re against instead of what we’re for…which should be God…and people. All people.

We’re beginning a series next week on discipleship…becoming like Jesus. It’s easy to get sucked into the binary arguments of our day, seeing everyone as a friend or enemy, us versus them. Jesus looks at all of us as broken, sinful, selfish, messed-up people…and he proved is love for us by giving his very life, dying in our place, taking our sin upon himself, crucified on a cross so we could experience forgiveness, reconciliation with our Heavenly Father, peace, faith, hope, joy, and love. How can you resist that?

Many have, not because of Jesus, but because of those of us who claim to follow him.

Don’t be a Jonah. Be like Jesus (who himself taught about Jonah in Matthew 12 and Luke 11). Forgive. Show compassion.

We may have impeccable doctrine, perfect Sunday School attendance, and give generously to the church, but if we don’t have compassion and forgiveness, we don’t share in the life or character of God.

"God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, we are to love." -Billy Graham

Credits: some ideas from Warren Wiersbe.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God Forgives the Repentant, 20 October 2019

    God Forgives the Repentant
    Series—Jonah
    Jonah 3:1-10

    Series Big Idea:
    The prophet Jonah reveals God’s grace for all nations.

    Big Idea:
    God is a God of second chances, which is good news for us and others.

    I love sports! October is one of the best months of the year because it might be the only month you can watch baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. I’m not much of an athlete, but I love to play as well as watch sports, especially with friends. Although it’s not my favorite sport, I enjoy an occasional golf game (and when I say occasional, I mean the annual First Alliance men’s golf outing!).

    I’m a terrible golfer, but there’s two things I love about playing golf: nature…and mulligans! For those unfamiliar with the sport, a mulligan is when you swing at a golf ball and…the result is embarrassing! The ball ends up in the woods, the water, or simply a few inches from where you tried to hit it! Forgiving golfers will often say, “Take a mulligan,” which means a do-over…a second chance.

    Wouldn’t it be great if life were like that? Actually, I’m here to declare that

    God is a God of second chances, which is good news for us and others.

    We’re in the middle of a study of the book of Jonah, a short four-chapter book made famous by a fish. Our text for today, the third chapter of Jonah, is a wonderful story of people repenting and God relenting. The short book of Jonah begins with these words:

    The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

    Nineveh was an evil city. The people were known for their violence and ruthlessness, impaling live victims on sharp poles, beheading by the thousands, stacking skulls by the entrances to the city, skinning people alive, and killing babies and young children. It was a great city, not because of its godliness, but its notoriety and size.

    Who do you hate? I know, Christians aren’t supposed to hate, but who do you despise? If you’ve served in military combat, you had an enemy. If you’ve been abused, you have a perpetrator. If you’ve been wronged, you have someone you’d like to see God judge.

    Jonah despised the Ninevites. Israel’s rival was Assyria and Nineveh was its capital. In fact, it’s somewhat surprising that he disobeyed God and
    didn’t go preach fire and brimstone on these people, watching God destroy this evil city.

    As we saw in chapter one, Jonah disobeyed God, heading in the opposite direction of Nineveh. A massive storm led to his transport into the sea where found himself in the belly of a fish for three days before being launched onto a beach.

    We don’t know if anyone saw Jonah vomited from the fish.
    We don’t know if word spread about his journey.
    We don’t know if his appearance was bleached by his home for three days!

    We do know Jonah’s learned his lesson and he’s ready to go to Nineveh.

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it.

    Chapter three begins

    Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” (Jonah 3:1-2)

    If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again! God has Jonah’s attention now! It’s time to resume the mission. But the mission has slightly changed. The first word of the LORD in chapter one, God said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it.” Now God says to proclaim to it.

    God is the God of second chances. God forgives the repentant, the one who turns away from sin, does a 180, and runs to God seeking mercy and forgiveness.

    God forgave Noah the drunk.
    God forgave Abraham the liar.
    God forgave Jacob the cheater.
    God forgave Moses the murderer.
    God forgave Rahab the prostitute.
    God forgave David the adulterer (rapist?).
    God forgave Peter the denier.
    God forgave Martha the worrier.
    God forgave Saul the persecutor.

    God gave Jonah a second chance. He offers us a second chance, too.

    How many of you are glad God is the God of second chances?

    Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. (Jonah 3:3)

    Jonah obeyed. It’s about time! He finally goes to Nineveh after taking a three-day, dark detour. Perhaps we should call it “alternative transportation!” We’re not sure if Jonah felt like it this time, but he goes. He knows the alternative is not pretty!

    It says

    Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. (Jonah 3:3b)

    That’s huge! It was founded by Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10) and could’ve been about the size of the Toledo metro area in both population and land mass. One wall of the city had fifteen hundred towers and a circumference of eight miles, according to one researcher. Nineveh was built near the Tigris River and the Khoser River ran through it.

    Nobody is sure if three days meant the amount of time to preach to the entire city or to travel through it. Regardless, it was a very large and significant city.

    Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4)

    This is not a way to make friends and influence people…but when God says go…

    The life of a prophet was not easy. It is truly a calling to “call” people to repentance, to turn away from their sin, to change.

    I might add this must be done with love, genuine concern for others. Standing at a street corner yelling at people, judging and condemning does not count!

    Issuing warnings before disaster because you care about the potential victims is another matter entirely.

    Alliance president Dr. John Stumbo recently reminded us of the importance of show and tell. We need to live attractive, grace-filled lives
    and proclaim the truth lovingly to others. We need to demonstrate the gospel—the good news of Jesus—and verbalize it, too.

    A popular myth is that St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” He did not say that! Words
    are necessary. The book of Romans declares,

    “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:13-14)

    We need words. We need to proclaim, one of the four verbs emphasized by the Christian & Missionary Alliance.

    I realize words can be difficult. Some of you love the
    idea of evangelism—of sharing good news—but you’re nervous about what to say. Maybe you’re an introvert. Perhaps you’re a new follower of Jesus and feel insufficiently trained. First, share your story. If you don’t have a story, don’t worry about it. I’d love to introduce you to Jesus. Let’s talk!

    Second, there are tools to help. Sunday mornings right here. Dinner Church on the last Sunday of the month. And next month,
    Saturate Toledo.

    Imagine what will happen when every household in the five-county area is given a chance to experience the gospel!

    You might look at people in our area the way Jonah looked at Nineveh. Let’s face it, our city is filled with needy people, broken people, and evil people. This might surprise you, but there are sinners in Toledo…and in this room…including me! But God is a God of second chances.

    We don’t really know Jonah’s attitude, but he nevertheless is obeying God.
    If you’ve spent any time reading the Bible, you’ll know the number forty appears frequently, usually connected to judgment. Noah and his family were in the ark while it rained forty days and nights. The Jewish spies explored the Promised Land for forty days. Goliath mocked God for forty days before his demise.

    Jonah obeyed God and warned the people of judgment with five Hebrew words (eight in English)…and then something happened.

    The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (Jonah 5)

    Was this supposed to happen? People actually repented? They turned away from their sins? They fasted and put on sackcloth, a symbol for mourning and repentance. It wasn’t just the commoner who repented.

    When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. (Jonah 3:6)

    Can you imagine the king repenting? Can you imagine any politician acting out of such humility?

    Oh that our leaders would repent.
    Oh that we would repent.

    We all sin…and we must mourn our sin. We must repent. Yes, Jesus died to forgive us our sins, but that doesn’t give us a license to sin. It doesn’t mean we should be flippant about it? We must acknowledge and mourn over our sin…and be grateful for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

    This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

    “By the decree of the king and his nobles:

    Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:7-9)

    What a leader! What repentance! Even the animals were included! Notice the kind didn’t simply say, “We’re sorry, God.” He decreed that the people change, that they turn, that they give up their evil ways and their violence. Some would call that revival!

    Jonah (finally) obeys God and it truly makes a difference. A huge difference! The people of Nineveh—like the sailors in the boat in chapter one—don’t want to perish. God doesn’t want them to perish.

    God is the God of second chances.

    John 3:16 says that those who believe and trust in Jesus will not perish. Peter reiterates God’s attitude toward sinners:

    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)

    Some Christians can’t understand why Jesus hasn’t returned yet. I long for him to return soon, too, but God is waiting for us to make disciples of “all nations.” He doesn’t want anyone to perish. He wants everyone to come to repentance. Everyone. Young and old. Communist and capitalist. Rich and poor. GED and PhD. Married and single. Gay and straight…and other. Homeless and home owner.

    God is the God of second chances.

    He sends Jonah to utter five Hebrew words:

    “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4b)

    Instead, they repent.

    When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

    God relented. He responds to their repentance.

    God is the God of second chances.

    There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.
    There’s nothing you can do to make God love you less.

    This is great news…and it needs to be shared. We can’t keep it to ourselves.

    God showed compassion upon the wicked but repentant Ninevites.

    God has shown compassion to you and me. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6).

    But we must repent. We must confess our sins. We must agree with God when we have sinned and disobeyed and return to obedience. No excuses. No compromise.

    Where do you need to repent? Where do you need to turn and do a 180? Where do you need to obey?

    Part of obedience—of following Jesus—is to proclaim. It is to let others know God is the God of second chances. There’s hope for them, too. We’ve all been called to make disciples. We’ve all been called to love others…in word and deed. We need to let the world know…

    There’s nothing they can do to make God love them more.
    There’s nothing they can do to make God love them less.

    Family, we must show and tell. We must proclaim in word and deed.

    God is a God of second chances, which is good news for us and others. Praise God!

    Credits: some ideas from Warren Wiersbe, Jeremy Myers.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Grace is Greater than Your Hurts, September 17 2017


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    Grace is Greater Than Your Hurts
    Series: Grace is Greater
    Acts 7:54-60; 2 Timothy 4:14-18; Colossians 1:19-23


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

    Big Idea:
    We receive freedom from our past wounds when we choose to forgive.

    Introduction

    We’re in the middle of a three-week series called “Grace Is Greater” based on the outline of Kyle Idleman’s book of the same title. Last week we said grace is unmerited favor, an undeserved gift. Grace is Greater Than Your Mistakes. God’s amazing grace is available to everyone, regardless of their past.

    The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace. (Romans 3:23)

    God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness (John 4:1-30)

    God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets (John 21:15-19)

    And quoting author Philip Yancey,

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

    That’s not only good news, that’s incredible news! It’s almost unbelievable.

    But receiving grace carries with it an important opportunity…extending grace.

    I love to clean. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I love to clean toilets, wash windows, dust furniture, or scrub the floor. I like cleaning the garage, purging junk from my desk, and even getting rid of unnecessary computer files.

    Heather and I lived in our childhood homes from birth until college. When we were married, we lived in eight homes during our first eight years of marriage. What a change! The bad news was moving is always a huge hassle. The good news was every year or so we were able to throw out stuff we no longer needed. It was a great feeling to be lean and mean! Then we bought a house and lived in it for 17 years. Imagine the accumulated mess we faced two years ago as we prepared to move to Toledo! Wow!

    Like computer hard drives, closets, and car trunks, our hearts need periodic decluttering. Over time, hurts and raw sin can accumulate in the form of anger, bitterness, and rage.

    We all love to receive grace, but how easy is it to share? Put another way, we’ve all been forgiven, but how easy is it to forgive others?

    In the most famous prayer in history, Jesus taught his disciples to pray

    And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

    You may have prayed, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

    Have you ever stopped to think about that? The next verse clarifies Jesus’ intention.

    For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14)

    That’s good, right? When we forgive, God will forgive us. Then Jesus really gets serious.

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

    I want grace for me and justice for others. I want God to forgive my sins but I want others to pay when they hurt me and those I love. “Revenge is mine,” says me!

    But Jesus says forgive. Last week we talked about Jesus’ friend Peter’s denial and restoration. Here’s another memorable encounter.

    Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)

    Jesus answered,
    “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:22)

    Some translations say seventy times seven. Peter thought he was being generous, saying up to seven times. Jesus essentially says there is no limit. There’s no limit to God’s forgiveness of us and there should be no limit to our forgiveness of others. That’s only fair, right? But oh so hard!

    Jesus continues by telling a story about a man forgiven of millions of dollars who refuses to forgive another who owed him a few thousand dollars. Every sin we have committed has offended God. We have all been forgiven of much more than we could imagine, yet how easy is it to refuse to forgive those who have wronged us?

    Jesus says forgive…and he never asks us to do something he hasn’t already done.

    When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34)

    I know what you’re thinking. It’s Jesus. He’s God. He used superpowers to forgive. Maybe he wasn’t really in that much pain—dying on a cross!!!

    I know some of you have been deeply hurt. People have betrayed you, abandoned you, abused you. Some of you have endured violence, rape, molestation, and neglect. Love was broken, trust was shattered, hope was destroyed. Maybe you’re thinking, “Kirk, you have no idea how they hurt me!” You’re right, but God knows. And he instructs us to forgive.

    We Must Release Our Feelings of Anger, Bitterness, and Rage Over to God (Acts 7:54-60)

    Perhaps you’re thinking, “Ok, Jesus forgave those who were violently tortured and murdered him, but still, that was Jesus.” Listen to this story of one of the early church leaders.

    When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:54-56)

    In all fairness to the religious leaders, Stephen was rebuking them. He called them out on their self-righteous religion and their murder of Jesus (yes, religious people killed Jesus!). But Stephen was speaking the truth in love.

    At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:57-58)

    Here we get a glimpse at Saul’s persecution of Christians, the man who would encounter Jesus, be renamed Paul, and write much of the New Testament.

    While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)

    While they were stoning Stephen, he echoes Jesus’ prayer on the cross, Father forgive them. And then he died (the meaning of “fell asleep”).

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

    Notice Jesus and Stephen don’t actually say to their murderers, “I forgive you.” Rather, they release their agony to God, asking God to forgive them. Maybe if you struggle to forgive, begin by asking God to forgive them.

    Forgiving others honors God. He instructs us to forgive.

    Forgiving others is an undeserved blessing to the offender. Who doesn’t appreciate being forgiven.

    But forgiving others changes us…in more ways than one. In yet another example of the Bible being relevant and practical, scientific research has repeatedly shown the harm caused by bitterness. It has been linked to creating or exacerbating ulcers, lupus, skin problems, and sleep issues. It can lead to problems with relationships. Simply, not forgiving can destroy us. Someone once said refusing to forgive another is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Often when we are bitter the other person doesn’t even know! They’re moved on and we’re the ones suffering.

    In the words of Elsa, "Let It Go!"


    I know, easier said than done. How often do we want to do something yet struggle to do so? We need God. We need God’s grace. The more we experience it, the more we can share it. You can’t give what you don’t have.

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

    Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It simply means releasing the hurt to God.

    Forgiving does not mean trusting. There are dangerous people who are not worthy of trust. We need to establish healthy boundaries. For example, forgiving an abusive spouse does not mean we allow them to continue to abuse. It just means we refuse to be bitter about their past sin.

    In addition to release our feelings to God,

    We Must Release the Person Who Hurt Us Over to God (2 Timothy 4:14-18)

    The aforementioned Paul told his disciple Timothy

    Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. (2 Timothy 4:14-15)

    Alex is dangerous. He is not to be trusted. Paul tells Timothy to establish healthy boundaries with him.

    At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:16-18)

    The Lord stood by Paul’s side. God was present.

    Where was God when you were hurt? Right with you. That’s both comforting and frustrating. “Great, God, thanks for just standing there while I was being fired, betrayed, raped, beat up, or abused.” We’ll talk more about this next week but God gives us free will, choices. He doesn’t stop all evil—though one day all evil will be stopped.

    God’s grace is greater than anything you’ve ever done…and greater than anything done to you.

    But how do we forgive? Consider these four steps:

    1. Acknowledge our hurt. It happened. Don’t sugar-coat it. Don’t deny it. Don’t spiritualize it.
    2. Release Our Rights. We can be bitter, angry, and seek revenge…but why?
    3. Pray for Our Enemies. Jesus did. Stephen did. Did Stephen’s prayer impact Saul?
    4. Give it to God. He can be trusted. Let him judge.

    Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:17-19 [Deuteronomy 32:35])

    God’s wrath will be greater than any revenge you can imagine!

    Finally,

    Reconciliation May Not Always Be Possible or Appropriate, but It Can Reflect God’s Grace and Forgiveness Toward Us (Colossians 1:19-23)

    As I said, forgiveness does not necessarily mean trusting. Some relationships are permanently severed, but in many cases reconciliation is possible.

    Jesus came to reconcile the relationship between us and our heavenly Father severed by our sin.

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

    Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—  if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23)

    Hallelujah! This is the gospel: Jesus is LORD and has reconciled us to God.

    We have been reconciled to God and, if possible, we are to be reconciled with others.

    On October 2, 2006, the world was stunned to learn of a gunman entering an Amish one-room schoolhouse, shooting ten girls, killing five, and then taking his own life. The gunman’s mother, Terri Roberts, wrote a powerful book called
    Forgiven. Listen to the response of one Amish family member toward the parents of the killer:

    When my driver Sam took me to the Robertses’ home, I was concerned to see that they were all alone. In contrast, there were thousands by now—media, family, and spectators—gathered at Nickel Mines to be there for the victims’ families. My heart was moved because it seemed to me that Chuck and Terri were suffering just as much as the parents of Roberts’ victims.

    When others challenged me as to why I should feel this way, I answered, “What would be worse? Would you rather have lost a child, or have your son have done something like this?”

    It is my belief that more good is going to come out of this sad tragedy than bad. After all, what is the most unjust thing that you can think of? The answer is the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet what should be the most wonderful thing you can think of? The best thing that has ever happened? Our crucified Savior Jesus Christ rose again.


    Wow! That’s redemption…and God is really good at redemption!

    True reconciliation requires both repentance from the offender and forgiveness from the offended. Obviously you cannot reconcile with someone who is deceased or unwilling to reconcile,

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

    But God is able to heal even the most broken of relationships, even reconciling a shooter’s victims with his parents. That’s grace!

    My Story: Crystal Howald

    We could spend hours telling the stories of those who have chosen forgiveness over bitterness, but what about you? Who do you need to forgive? A family member? An enemy? Yourself? Who have you avoided praying for? What broken relationship needs to be reconciled? Maybe you can’t do it, but God can. Grace can. Grace is greater than your hurt.

    Maybe it’s time to get rid of that junk in your heart, the bitterness and anger. Take it to the curb and enjoy the freedom and peace of a cleansed soul.

    Bonus content: Matthew West, Forgiveness

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Great is Greater than Your Mistakes, 10 September 2017

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    Grace Is Greater Than Your Mistakes
    Series: Grace is Greater
    Romans 3:23; John 4:1-30; John 21:15-19
     
    Series Big Idea: No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. This 3-week series, based on the book Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, explores what the Bible teaches about grace, developing a deep understanding of the life-changing power of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. For more resources and information on the book, visit https://www.graceisgreaterbook.com/.
     
    Big Idea: Our sin is ugly, but God’s grace is greater than any past mistake or regret.
     
    Introduction
     
    I love words. Obviously! I’m fascinated by the use and meanings of words…and the creation of new ones. In his book, Grace is Greater—the source of our title and series outline—Kyle Idleman mentions a few new words.
     
    Phonesia
    The affliction of dialing a phone number and forgetting whom you were calling just as they answer.
     
    Disconfect
    To sterilize the piece of candy you dropped on the floor by blowing on it, assuming this will somehow remove all the germs.
     
    Blamestorming
    meeting intended to determine why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible. 
     
    Unlike these words, “grace” is a term we’ve heard countless times. People sing about amazing grace. They say grace before meals. People have named their daughters grace. Businesses often talk about a grace period with payments. But what is grace…and what does it matter? This will be our focus during these three weeks.
      
    Grace. It’s a word Jesus never used in the Bible, yet His entire life demonstrated it. The original Greek word is charis (χάρις). It is where we get our word charm. It is simply is unmerited favor. A free gift. It is not deserved. It is not earned. It truly is amazing for those reasons. God’s grace is more beautiful, freeing, and altogether greater than we could ever imagine. I’m no expert on the subject but I know I love it. But before we get to the wonder of grace, we need to begin with a harsh reality…
     
    We’re not ok.
     
    Let me say it in a way I often say: we’re not perfect. No perfect people are allowed at First Alliance…except Jesus. If you are perfect, you are invited to get up, grab some great Claro coffee in the lobby and head home. There’s not much here for you! But the Bible says that
     
    …all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
     
    See, God is perfect. He is God and we are not. The sooner we grasp this, the better. I’m messed up…really messed up. I’m selfish. I’m prideful. I’m judgmental. The Bible calls it sin. I don’t have time to list all of my sins—past or present—but it’s a long list. And God hates it.
     
    The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace. (Romans 3:23)
     
    If you’ve got your act together, don’t worry about God. New York City’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg apparently feels he doesn’t need to worry about God. In a New York Times interview, Bloomberg stated, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” He felt his good deeds were greater than his bad deeds so he can waltz into heaven.
     
    Here’s the problem: we all sin—even politicians, if you can believe it!—and one sin is enough to keep us from God.
     
    Let me reiterate a statement I made several months ago:
     
    Heaven is where God is present.
    Hell is where God is absent.
     
    Let me add: God is absent where sin is present. Period.
     
    How much sin? It doesn’t matter. How much cyanide in your water is enough to kill you? A drop will kill you! It doesn’t matter if you place a teaspoon, a tablespoon, or a half-cup of cyanide in your water, you’re dead regardless. You wouldn’t knowingly drink water with any cyanide and God won’t tolerate even a little sin. Maybe you think you’re a better person than the leader of North Korea or Charles Manson or a serial killer but that’s beside the point. Your sin and my sin have offended God enough to separate us from Him.
     
    It’s not that God sends us to hell, it’s that our sin separates us from God. Do you see the difference? God wants to be with us. Just like you might want to drink water on a hot day…but you won’t touch it if you know it’s laced with poison. We try to convince ourselves that we’re not that bad, but any bad, any imperfection, any sin is too much for a perfect, holy God.
     
    And if you think you’re a really good person, let me remind of what Paul said:
     
    Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)
     
    Paul—he wrote much of the New Testament…what’s on your resume?—announces he’s not only a sinner, he’s the worst of sinners. No, he doesn’t say I was the worst when I persecuted Christians as Saul, he declares to Timothy he is the worst of sinners. That makes me the second worst of sinners since I’m not arguing with Paul. Seriously. I’m the second worst of sinners. I desperately need grace. I want to go back to that verse in Romans 3 which ended with a comma.
     
    …all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
     
    Grace! Jesus died to reconcile us to God. He died to offer forgiveness of our sins through his blood and broken body. I hate religion—man’s futile quest to be good enough for God—but I love Jesus. He not only showed us what it means to be human, he sacrificed his life for us…not because we’re so good, but because we’re so loved.
     
    One of my favorite passages in the Bible two chapters over, says
     
    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
     
    Jesus died for us because of our sin. He recognized how we are not good, yet his love for us compelled him to make such a sacrifice.
     
    Parents understand this in a small way. We make tremendous sacrifices for our kids, beginning with sleepless nights and diaper changings for infants that are so good, so talented, so capable that…all they do is sleep, cry, and fill their diapers! But it’s out of love. Things don’t get any easier when they learn to talk—back—and drive and…well, many of you understand! We invest countless time, money, and energy on our kids often not because they’re so good but because we love them so much. I have often said the day I became a dad was the day I began to truly understand the great love my heavenly Dad has for me…and you…although we can only imagine it.
     
    God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness (John 4:1-30)
     
    There are two types of people distant from God—those who feel they’re so good they don’t need God and those who feel they’re so bad they can’t have God.
     
    If you think you don’t need God because you’re so good, you are more messed up than you can imagine! Pride is killing you…literally.
     
    Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
     
    I love that quote from Philip Yancey. You can’t do enough good things. You can’t earn your way to heaven. You’re not perfect—which isn’t a license to just intentionally be a jerk and do evil—but all of your good works the Bible calls “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
     
    Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
     
    But you may feel like you’re not worthy of God. You’ve done so many awful things. “Kirk, if you only knew what I’ve done.” God knows! And I’ve got wonderful news for you:
     
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
     
    Philip Yancey said that, too. There’s a great story in the fourth chapter of John’s biography of Jesus. I wish we had time to study it in detail. It’s a great personal study. In fact, if you have a Bible, turn to John 4. Jesus—a Jew—goes to Galilee through Samaria, a region no Jew ever entered.
     
    When we lived in Ann Arbor I used to joke whenever we drove to Florida we would drive around Ohio! It was just a joke—and I obviously don’t tell it anymore now that I live in Ohio (don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!)—but some people do avoid certain cities or neighborhoods, even today. But back in the day Jews hated Samaritans, but here’s Jesus going through Samaria around noontime and sits by a well.
     
    When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) (John 4:7-8)
     
    The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. ) (John 4:9)
     
    Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
     
    “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” (John 4:11-12)
     
    Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
     
    The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15)
     
    He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (John 4:16)
     
    “I have no husband,” she replied. 
     
    Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (John 4:17-18)
     
    “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. (John 4:19)
     
    That’s an understatement! He didn’t learn about her past on Facebook! It’s nearly impossible for us in our culture to understand just how radical it is for Jesus to engage this adulterous Samaritan in conversation. She is so sinful, so disgraced, so shamed that she goes alone to the well in the middle of the day to get water. First, you never traveled alone and second you don’t go in the desert heat…unless you’re hoping to avoid being seen. She has messed up her life, yet Jesus responds with grace and love.
     
    How do you respond to sinners? It’s a trick question because we’re all sinners! But how do you respond to those “really bad” sinners? Do you avoid people who don’t look like you, act like you, talk like you, or smell like you? I admit there are people that make me uncomfortable and my first thought is usually not to engage them. I want to be safe. I want to mind my own business. I often want to ignore those different from me.
     
    But that’s not what Jesus did. He demonstrated grace…and sets an example for us to follow. I’ve said First Alliance is not to be a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners…and we’re all sinners!
     
    Jesus engages the woman in conversation and later the text says
     
    Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. (John 4:28-30)
     
    When God’s mercy and grace collide with our guilt and shame it’s messy but it’s beautiful. Jesus knows everything you’ve ever done…but his grace is greater.
     
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
     
    In the words of Kyle Idleman, “The worst thing that could happen is that you spend your life trying to outrun God because you think he’s chasing you to collect what you owe—when he’s really chasing you to give you what you could never afford.”
     
    Finally…
     
    God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets (John 21:15-19)
     
    If you could go back in time, what would you change? Maybe a selfish act, a harmful word, a lack of self-control, the beginning of an addiction? It might be a split second or a decade.
     
    I’m pretty sure I know what Peter would do over. He was one of Jesus’ three best friends and despite Jesus even predicting it, Peter denied he even knew Jesus not once, not twice, but three times…all during Jesus’ most desperate hours. Some friend!
     
    After Jesus dies and is resurrected, he cooks breakfast for his friends.
     
    When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” 
     
    “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” 
     
    Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
     
    Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
     
    He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 
     
    Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
     
    The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
     
    Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” 
     
    Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19)
     
    Peter denied Jesus three times and Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” He knows Peter has great regret about the denials and yet Jesus offers grace. He doesn’t want Peter imprisoned by his regrets. He has a great plan for Peter, a man who will become one of the greatest leaders in the history of the Christian Church. Grace has the power to redeem regret—to save it, to recycle it, you might say. Grace takes our trash and makes it useful, valuable.
     
    We all have regrets, and ever since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, we often try to hide our sins, thinking they are unforgiveable. Our regrets should lead to remorse, but God doesn’t leave us in our mess of sin. He doesn’t shame us. God’s grace most often finds us in the midst of our remorse and redeems us, forgives us, restores us.
     
    If one of my best friends denied even knowing me three times when I needed him most, I’m not sure I would assign him to be the president of my company, but that’s grace. Remember…
     
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
     
    And God doesn’t tolerate you. He loves you. He forgives you. He embraces you. He redeems you.
     
    I wish I had time to share all of the times I’ve messed up—well, maybe not! That would be the longest sermon I’ve ever preached! But seriously, God has taken my arrogant, wicked heart and a lifetime of failures and done some things in and through me I could never take credit for. Even standing before you today I feel incredibly inadequate and unworthy. I am continually reminded that when I am weak, He is strong and His grace is enough. It is sufficient.
     
    So What?
     
    I desperately want you to know and experience God’s grace.
     
    If you’re like me, you’re not even aware of how bad you are, how sinful you are. We need grace.
     
    Others of you are on the other end of the spectrum, feeling unworthy. You are! That’s grace!
     
    Nothing you can do can make God love you more than he already does.
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less than he already does.
     
    Don’t let your past mistakes destroy your future. Become a trophy of God’s grace, trust Jesus, and allow him to transform your life.
     
    Credits: outline, title, and some ideas from Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman. Other ideas from Philip Yancey.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Identity: Family & Foes, 30 July 2017

    Identity: Family & Foes
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 3:20-35

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

    Big Idea: Jesus’ followers are his true family…and you are welcome to join it!

    Earlier this year we did a series entitled Ideal Family. Throughout the series I said there are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

    The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families.


    As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we are told Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—is growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious.

    Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

    As I said, all of our families are messed up. All of them. If you don’t think yours is messed up, yours is REALLY messed up! Jesus is trying to eat, a huge crowd mobs him, and his family think he’s crazy. They want to get him in line! “Make Jesus stop,” they say! Jesus’ family wants Jesus to stop his ministry because they don’t understand what he’s doing.

    On the other hand the religious people know what he’s doing…and they’re hostile.

    And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Mark 3:22)

    This must be one of the dumbest statements in the Bible! I’m not saying the Bible is stupid, of course, but the religious leaders accuse Jesus of being demonic…and driving out demons. Huh?

    So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables:
    “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. (Mark 3:23-26)

    This is just common sense…but Jesus obviously needed to say it. A divided kingdom or house cannot stand. You may have noticed our nation is a bit divided these days. It’s scary to think what could happen if we remain this way. It seems like the options are to be overtaken by another country or find ourselves in civil war…because a house divided cannot stand. This is why unity is one of my top four prayers for First Alliance Church. United we stand, divided we fall (a phrase possibly used first by Aesop in his fable of “The Four Oxen and the Lion”). When we rally around a common mission, vision, strategy, and LORD, there is no limit to our potential. If we experience division, the ballgame is over. And we see this all the time…well-intended Christians arguing over things that often lead to awful results, including church splits and even people losing their faith in God altogether.

    Satan knows this. He knows if he can divide us, he can conquer. And again I say we need to always be praying for unity. I pray for direction, protection, passion, and unity. I know unity is a God-honoring prayer because it is Jesus’ prayer for us…right now. In John chapter 17, he says

    “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

    Jesus is praying that we would be one…so that the world may believe!

    As if Jesus has not already made his point about division and unity clear, he adds these words:

    In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. (Mark 3:27)

    It’s easy to miss his message. Satan is like a strong man. Jesus is a stronger man! Jewish listeners may have been reminded of this passage in Isaiah:

    Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce?

    But this is what the LORD says: 

    “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. (Isaiah 49:24-25)

    Jesus also may have been thinking about this text:

    After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
    by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
    Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, 
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
    because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
    For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12)

    The Messiah is right before their eyes, yet they are unable to see.

    Returning to the verse…


    In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.
    (Mark 3:27)

    We have a real enemy, brothers and sisters. He is a liar, a thief, an accuser, a big fat jerk! He is powerful and destructive…but our God is greater!!! Be encouraged. There are battles, but we will win. Love prevails. Truth reigns. Peace conquers. Jesus rules!

    I want to add one more thing about unity…Dave Ramsey’s five enemies of unity. These five destroyers are true in the marketplace, but they can be found in churches and even homes, too.

    1. Poor communication
    2. Lack of shared purpose/mission/goals
    3. Gossip (Ramsey’s employees are warned once and fired if it occurs again)
    4. Unresolved disagreements
    5. Sanctioned incompetence (John Maxwell), keeping poor performers on the team

    That was just for fun! Back to Jesus…

    Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter,
    but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:28-29)

    Throughout my life I’ve heard people talk about these verses. Did I commit the unforgivable sin? If you have to ask, the answer is a resounding no.

    Nobody disputed Jesus’ miracles. They were real. The healings were real. The exorcisms were real. The resurrection was real. Since the religious leaders couldn’t deny Jesus’ power, the only way they could discredit him was to attack the source of his power, claiming it is satanic. They knew better, but they were obviously desperate.

    Jesus presents a paradox, a self-contradictory statement. He says all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven and then says the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Which is it?

    Forgiveness of sins comes only from God. If you claim God is evil, who can forgive your sins?

    If you choose to deny God, it’s impossible to receive his forgiveness.

    Jesus doesn’t even say these religious leaders have committed the unforgiveable sin, but it’s a stern warning.

    He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” (Mark 3:30)

    Now we see Jesus’ family again.

    Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” (Mark 3:31-32)

    When is the last time someone said, “Where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you!”? Mary and the boys are outside, unable to get to their popular son and brother. Then Jesus asks a simple question.

    “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. (Mark 3:33)

    No wonder they thought Jesus lost his mind! He couldn’t even identify his mom and siblings?

    Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said,
    “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

    Wow! That’s radical! Jesus is starting a new family, a holy people. He’s willing to sacrifice his biological family for a new tribe, club, group. This is shocking!

    Growing up in a “good, Christian home,” I always felt close to my sister and parents, my grandparents, and even my aunts, uncles, and cousins. If we were visiting family out of town, we would always attend church with them on Sundays, reinforcing our Christian heritage and bond in Jesus. I married into a family that was…different. Church was generally reserved for Christmas and Easter.

    So imagine my surprise at my life in 2017. Two weddings last year led to major division among my Christian family members, while many members of Heather’s family are closer to me than my own flesh and blood. I keep reminding myself all families are messed up…including mine!

    I’m beginning to better understand Jesus’ words about family. Perhaps what matters most isn’t your blood but your relationships. I’m certainly not saying family doesn’t matter. Quite the opposite. Family is incredibly important, but to Jesus’ point, relationships matter more than family. Jesus did not abandon his mom and brothers. He merely extended his family to include all God seekers, or more accurately all God followers.

    So What?

    Are you a part of Jesus’ family? I didn’t ask if you attend this church or believe in God or were born in the USA. I’m asking if you are part of Jesus’ family. Do you do God’s will? Do you obey God? Are you truly a follower of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his teachings. I’m not talking about religion, but rather righteousness and relationship.

    Jesus invites you and me to join his family. We are welcome to become sons and daughters of the Most High God, thus becoming the brothers and sisters of Jesus. In fact, if we follow Jesus today, we are closer kin to Jesus than even his mother and brothers! That’s incredible! No matter your family of origin, you can be born again, become a new creation, receive the gift of eternal life…and an abundant life now. I’m so glad I’m a part of God’s family…not because of anything I have done, but rather because of what Jesus did in inviting us to follow him.

    See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

    Credits:
    some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing, 4 June 2017

    Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:1-12

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

    Big Idea: Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

    A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. (Mark 2:1)

    Jesus’ headquarters moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. If you recall, Jesus healed a leper, told him to keep quiet, and instead the healed man told everyone about Jesus. The crowds loved to see physical healing but cared less about the spiritual messages Jesus preached.

    Jesus left Capernaum…and later returned to Simon Peter’s house. Most homes had 1-4 rooms so it would’ve gotten crowded quickly.

    But wait. Some scholars believe this was probably Jesus’ own house. Have you ever heard that before? That was news to me, and it shifts the story a bit.

    They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. (Mark 2:2)

    Preaching the Word of God was Jesus’ primary ministry. It is powerful. Whether it was his own house or not, he was obviously trapped. I’ve never been the subject of TV news, fortunately, but we’ve all seen private homes overrun with paparazzi when overly-zealous reporters try to get an exclusive interview. It’s chaos. In this case, it’s not media but people. Jesus is preaching to a crowd that gathered without any press release, billboards, or direct mail invitations. Did they want to hear…or just get healed?

    Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
    “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:3-5)

    Five guys show up, can’t get to Jesus, and take things into their own hands!

    It was a thatched roof made of straw, but getting the man on the roof must have been challenging, though many first-century homes had an outside staircase leading to a flat roof made of sod and branches.

    How would you feel if someone put a whole in your roof? Jesus says, “All right, I forgive you!” Of course, this was a deeper forgiveness than just necessitating a home improvement project! But if it is Jesus’ house, it makes his forgiveness a bit more interesting, don’t you think?

    Whose faith? The faith of the men. Their faith led to the man’s sins being forgiven? It’s not their faith that saved him but their faith led to the man meeting Jesus.
    Our city is filled with sick people—physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. We need stretcher bearers, people who will bring people in to hear the gospel.

    Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7)

    Only priests could declare forgiveness, speaking in the name of God. Of course, if that’s what his friends were seeking, they would’ve taken him to the temple in Jerusalem, not to a guy preaching in a home.

    Mark tells us what they were thinking. Only God can forgive sins. They’re right about that, but Jesus is not blaspheming. He’s God. He came to earth to provide salvation. Isaiah the prophet had said the Messiah would forgive sins, restore the broken hearted, and bring healing to the lame (chapters 29; 35; 61).

    The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
    because the LORD has anointed me 
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1)

    Today’s story is a micro version of the entire gospel of Mark: Jesus teaches, heals, is condemned for blasphemy, and vindicated.

    Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,
    “Why are you thinking these things? (Mark 2:8)

    He knew what they were thinking. They were speechless!

    Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? (Mark 2:9)

    Only God can do either one! Jesus will do both.

    But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:10)

    This is the first time in Mark where Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” This is the key sentence in today’s text. Daniel 7 said “one like a son of man” would be the representative of God’s true people. He would be opposed by evil, vindicated and rescued by God, proved right, and given authority to dispense God’s judgment.

    “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

    Jesus has authority, even the authority to forgive sins.

    Mark 2:10 also points to Jesus’ answer to Caiaphas in chapter fourteen:

    Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

    “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

    Jesus declares himself to be the Son of Man. He also forgives, the most powerful thing in the world.

    So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:11)

    The paralyzed man obeys. Incredible!

    He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:12)

    I love how this story ends with people praising God.

    So What?

    We are called to be stretcher-bearers for others. The man had great friends!

    The greatest healing is spiritual, not physical. Even healed bodies will eventually decay, but the soul is eternal. Jesus addressed the paralyzed man’s spiritual brokenness before addressing his body.

    God is not done healing souls. He offers forgiveness for all of your sins. All of them!
    God is not done healing bodies. His timing is perfect, even when it is slower than ours.

    Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

    We can receive forgiveness and healing.
    We can proclaim forgiveness and healing.
    We can bring people to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Irony, 2 April 2017

    Irony
    Series: A Love That Never Dies
    Luke 23:39-43

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

    Big Idea: Jesus’ death was filled with irony…and hope for all sinners.

    Irony.

    The bald guy’s name is Curly.
    The huge weightlifter is called Tiny.
    The psychic’s presentation is cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
    The name
    Judas means praise.

    Irony involves a contrast between appearance and reality, between expectation and occurrence.


    My name is Kirk and we’re in the middle of Lent, the season leading to our remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This series is entitled, “A Love That Never Dies” and to demonstrate a love that will never die, Jesus died. He died a gory, horrific death…because He loves you and me.

    There are so many ironies in the crucifixion account. Dennis sang about many of them.

    Why did a friend betray Jesus?
    Why did he use a kiss?
    Why did King Jesus have to wear a crown of thorns?
    Why did the only perfect human die on a cross like a thief?

    Here are some others:

    The Romans usually nailed each criminal’s charges to his cross. They wanted everyone to know what they did…and the fate of those who try to do the same thing. Crucifixion was meant to be a deterrent. The message was, “If you steal, this will happen to you. If you murder, this will happen to you.”

    Jesus’ charge? First, it was written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Tri-lingual! Latin for the Romans, Greek for those in commerce. Hebrew for the Jews. And the charge said, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The irony is the charge was true. He is the King of the Jews. He’s also the King of the Romans, King of the Gentiles, He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. And the King of all hung dying for those who rebelled against his rule and that of His Father.

    He wants to be king over you and me, too. He’s not an insecure ruler seeking power and control. Instead, He rules benevolently, with love and grace, mercy and forgiveness. He is a good King. The best King!

    Our text today from Luke 23 begins at verse 39

    One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

    Yes, Jesus is the Messiah.
    Yes, Jesus is the Savior.
    Yes, at the very moment he was in the midst of saving every man, woman and child who would choose to follow him as LORD.

    This passage reminds me again of the layers of suffering Jesus endured.

    He wasn’t just stripped naked.
    He wasn’t just beaten.
    He wasn’t just pierced with nails.
    He wasn’t just betrayed by one of his closest friends.
    He wasn’t just tired from a night of prayer while his disciples were sleeping.

    He gets insulted by a criminal hanging beside him. I can only imagine the tone. Most of communication is non-verbal.

    “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

    On the other side of Jesus was a criminal with a completely different attitude.

    But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

    Do you feel the irony? The criminals were punished justly, but Jesus had done nothing wrong. Obviously this criminal had faith. He feared God. We don’t know exactly what he did to deserve execution, but people have faith have been known to make mistakes…and even commit crimes.

    Some of the most vibrant followers of Jesus live behind bars. Their sins, like those of the criminals on Calvary, are known. They are branded—child abuser, thief, drug dealer. They don’t have the option of putting on a fancy suit and parading around on Sunday mornings pretending to have the perfect life, the perfect spouse, the perfect kids. They are humble. They are broken. They are desperate for redemption.

    Oh how I wish that were the posture of every Christian. We all need a Savior, a Redeemer, a King. Just because my sins haven’t put me on death row doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus. Just because many of my sins are “acceptable” sins like worry and anger doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus. Just because my sins are not always visible like pride, judgmentalism, jealousy, and impatience doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus.

    Jesus was without sin so He could pay for the sins of the world.

    God became a human so He could pay for the sins of humanity.

    Both criminals heard Jesus’ first words on the cross, a prayer for the very ones who nailed Him there:

    Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:34)

    They should’ve been the ones seeking forgiveness. They knew what they were doing—obeying Pilate’s orders and securing the empire against insurrection and rebellion. They were executing a blasphemer, a troublemaker, a radical.

    But only Jesus truly knew what he was doing: providing a path of forgiveness and salvation for anyone who would repent and surrender their lives to him, to the King.

    The faith-filled criminal beside Jesus realized forgiveness was possible for those who nailed him to the cross. That gave him hope, despite his own sins. He said

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

    What a request. What faith!

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

    If Jesus could forgive this criminal—this person who probably never went to church, read the Bible, gave money to the poor, or went on a mission trip—he can forgive you and me. If Jesus wanted those who pounded the nails to be forgiven, you and I have hope.

    Another irony comes from the crowds who taunted and shouted

    “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. (Matthew 27:40-42)

    The religious people got involved. Jesus didn’t just die for criminals. He died for the self-righteous, for the proud. They said, “If you are the Son of God.” That’s what Satan hurled at Jesus when he was tempted in the wilderness.

    …“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3)

    “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: 
    “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6)

    The so-called people of God were mouthing Satan’s temptations!

    They urged Jesus to save himself at the very moment he was dying to save them!

    To save us, Jesus could not save himself. In a love that could not die, Jesus died. His love kept him on the cross. Love for you. Love for me.

    So What?

    Some of you see yourself like the criminal, paralyzed by guilt and shame. You blew it this week. You lashed out at your kids. You indulged in porn. You drank yourself silly. You lied to your boss.

    You need forgiveness. You need grace—unmerited favor. You need Jesus.

    Some of you are on the opposite extreme. You’re religious, self-righteous, and a really good person. Your reputation is so stellar you think you’re almost perfect. You’re here every Sunday, always put money in the offering plate, and have even memorized parts of the Bible.

    You need forgiveness. You need grace—unmerited favor. You need Jesus.

    I’m a recovering Pharisee. Pride is arguably the worst of all sins, the root of them all. It’s subtle because it’s usually unseen…and rarely punished. But it kills relationships. It separates us from others…and God. I need Jesus.

    Perhaps the greatest irony of the crucifixion is God’s love for sinners. As we recently saw

    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

    He didn’t die because we were good.
    He died because we were bad. We were sinners. We are sinners.

    I believe some of you still struggle with God’s ability to forgive you and truly love you. I struggle to fully comprehend God’s grace. But whether you believe it or not does not make it true or false. I have discovered the Bible can be trusted. It has been tested. It works.

    The good news, the gospel, the message of our faith is Jesus is LORD. He is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. His love never fails. His arms are reaching out to embrace you…but He won’t force Himself upon you. He simply invites you to follow Him. I accepted the invitation decades ago and I’ve never regretted it for a second.

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Is It I, LORD? 26 March 2017

    Is It I, LORD?
    Series: A Love That Never Dies
    Matthew 26:21-25

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

    Big Idea: Lent reminds us of our need for forgiveness…and its availability.

    Betrayal. Have you ever experienced it? Have you ever had a friend turn against you? That’s not what friends are supposed to do!

    My name is Kirk and we’re continuing our Lent sermon series, “A Love That Never Dies.” Every day should be a day to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, but this season leading up to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is an especially good time to focus on Holy Week, including the cross and empty tomb. We contemplate our sins which caused Jesus to endure a horrific death…and remember the love of God can never die.

    Death. It’s the one subject most USAmericans hate to discuss. It makes us uncomfortable, even fearful. Sure, many Christians say they’re ready to die, but that doesn’t remove the uncertainty of when…or how.

    For some of us it will be soon. But we don’t know.

    For some of us it will be quick and easy, while others will agonize for years.

    Are you uncomfortable yet?

    There are so many unbelievable aspects of Jesus’ death. We’re all aware of the physical anguish of being beaten, wearing a crown of thorns, carrying a cross, and the nails. Those three spikes.

    Most of us pay less attention to the emotional and mental anguish Jesus endured…because he loved us so.

    First, Jesus spent thousands of years preparing to die. He knew before the foundation of the world we would exist…and need a Savior (Ephesians 1:4). That means before he spoke the universe into existence, he knew about the plan to enter our world and die.

    Have you ever anticipated pain? It can be worse than the pain itself! At this very moment I’m anticipating the pain of the vaccinations I need to travel to Africa this summer to train pastors (I’ll share more about that soon). I don’t like shots. I’m dreading the needle. If you just randomly walked up to me and gave me the shot, I wouldn’t have any anxiety (though I’d be startled and momentarily quite upset with you!).

    Imagine anticipating pain…forever. Imagine spending 33 years on this planet knowing you would willingly die. We’re all going to die—the odds are 100%—but Jesus died intentionally. He died to demonstrate his love for us…not because we’re good, but because we’re desperate. We saw two weeks ago…

    But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

    In today’s text, Jesus is celebrating Passover, the pinnacle of Jewish festivals. Thirteen men gather around food and drink to commemorate the exodus from Egypt of their ancestors. It was a huge deal.

    And then Jesus drops a bomb.

    And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (Matthew 26:21)

    What? That’s not party talk! Betrayal? How did Jesus know? Can he predict the future?
    Who would possibly betray a friend, much less Jesus? And why?!?!?!

    They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22)

    “Is it I, LORD?”

    In case you need a definition, one dictionary described betrayal as

    1: to give over to an enemy by treason or treachery
    2: to be unfaithful
    3: to tell in violation of a trust


    Is it possible to “accidentally” betray someone? The betrayer knew. So did Jesus.

    Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:23-24)

    That’s an understatement, though it was all part of God’s plan.

    Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” 

    Jesus answered,
    “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:25)

    “Is it I, LORD?”

    “Yes, Judas.”

    Betrayal

    Is there any emotional pain greater than betrayal? It takes years to establish trust, to develop a deep friendship…and an instant to lose it.

    Judas betrayed Jesus shortly thereafter…with a kiss. That simple gesture we reserve for loved ones became the signal that would begin the series of events leading to the gory execution of the only perfect human in history. Judas sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver, about four months’ wages for a common laborer.

    What was Judas thinking?!

    What must he have been thinking when the mob cried out, “Crucify him!”? (Matthew 27:23)

    When they said to Pilate, “His blood is on us and on our children,” he knew the blood of Jesus was on his hands. (Matthew 27:25)

    Imagine how Jesus’ words must have echoed in the mind of Judas.

    But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24)

    We all want to make a difference in this world. You want your life to matter, right? Imagine hearing God—not an ignorant fool, but GOD—saying your life was wasted.

    Is it any wonder Judas committed suicide?

    I don’t think Judas was a lost cause. Jesus’ words reflected his own sorrow and pain more than a personal statement toward his friend, Judas.

    Jesus loved Judas. Jesus’ love never dies. He says to Judas and to me and to you

    “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
    Jesus would have forgiven Judas, just as he forgave Peter when he denied Christ three times. And he forgives you and me.

    In the book of Romans, we read

    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
    As it is written: 

    “For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  (Romans 8:35-36)

    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

    I want to close with one simple verse I love to quote.

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

    So What?

    I want to give you an opportunity to respond today. We’ve all sinned. We’ve all offended God. We’ve all disobeyed. Maybe you have not denied Christ or betrayed him—or maybe you have—but Jesus died to forgive you of your sins—past, present, and future. It says, “If we confess.”

    The altar is open every Sunday, but occasionally we draw particular attention to it. To close today, I simply want to invite you to come forward and offer personal prayers of confession. You can do so in your seat, if desired. You are also free to quietly exit the sanctuary. Just know if you are a follower of Jesus, you are forgiven. That’s why Jesus died. That’s what Lent is all about. That’s why we possess and share good news. Hallelujah!

    Questions for individual or group reflection

    1. What examples of betrayal can you cite from recent movies, books, or current events What makes betrayal such a disgusting, shameful act in almost every era, every culture?
    2. Why do you believe Jesus chose Judas to be one of the disciples?
    3. The name Judas means “praised one.” How does this add to the irony of Judas’s life story?
    4. Compare John 13:18 with Psalm 41:9. Based on these verses, what do you deduce about the meaning of eating together in the culture of both Old and New Testament times?
    5. Who initiated Judas’s act of betrayal? We can only guess, but what motives might have been behind this? (See Matthew 26:14–16 and John 12:4–6.)
    6. Compare Matthew 27:1–8 and Acts 1:18–20. What do you think lay behind Judas’s suicide?
    7. Together with everyone in your group, brainstorm these two questions:
    8. - In what ways were Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:69–75) and Judas’s betrayal alike?
    9. - In what ways were they different?
    10. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:48–50 and his warning in Mark 3:29. Would Jesus have forgiven Judas as he later forgave Peter? How does this make Judas’s death even more tragic?
    11. Where in the events we have been considering do you see Jesus’ love, a love that never dies?
    12. Based on all this, what would you say to someone who might say to you, “I’m so ashamed. What I’ve done is unforgivable”?
    13. What one key point will you carry away when you leave today? Explain.
    14. What will you ask Jesus to do in and through you in response to what you’ve heard?
    Credits: Questions and some sermon ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Fresh Start, 1 January 2017

    Fresh Start
    Psalm 90

    Big Idea: Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

    Life is full of milestones. Defining moments. Some are unexpected. We don’t usually know when we’ll meet our spouse or best friend. It’s often months or years later when we look back and realize that day was special.

    Other milestones we can anticipate.

    When I was about eight years old I opened a Christmas gift from my aunt and uncle. They knew I was a big sports fan so it made sense they bought me a football jersey. However, the color didn’t represent any of my favorite teams. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but it seemed somewhat random…until they mentioned the number. 86. Why was that significant? They told me it was the year of my high school graduation! From that moment on, I anticipated the year 1986!

    Have you been anticipating 2017? Some of you know this will be the year you will graduate—from high school or college. I know a few of you have wedding planned this year. This year will be the birth year of new First Alliance babies! And maybe this will be the year that you—get that dream job, get engaged, or finally win your fantasy football league!

    Others of you are anticipating 2017 for a different reason. You’re just glad 2016 is over. You couldn’t wait to turn the page and have a fresh start. 2016 was a year of pain, disappointment, struggle, or loss. The 2016 election exposed the great tensions of our nation. The entertainment world lost so many stars, a GoFundMe account was established to raise $10,000 to protect Betty White from 2016!

    Regardless of whether 2016 was fantastic or forgettable, I have great news for you: Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

    Life is a gift. Musician Randy Stonehill penned these words:

    I'm gonna celebrate this heartbeat
    Cause it just might be my last
    Everyday is a gift from the Lord on high
    And they all go by so fast
    Amen! Actually, a quick note to parents of young children: the years go by fast, even though the days often seem like they last forever! Diapers, crying, pediatrician visits, packing for trips, …

    But every day is a gift. Our days are numbered, but none of us knows how many we get. Moses famously wrote,

    Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

    Many of us take life for granted—until it’s snatched away suddenly. We simply don’t know our expiration date. It could be today. It could be years from now. Are you ready? They say you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die.

    On a more cheery note, how will you use this fresh start? It may or may not include written resolutions, but how do you want to live 2017? How do you want to grow? Where do you want to find yourself 365 days from now as 2018 begins?

    I’m reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous Serenity Prayer

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference.

    Oh that we would all have that wisdom!

    Psalm 90

    Most of the psalms were written by…David. One was written by Moses: Psalm 90. It
    begins

    A prayer of Moses the man of God. 

    Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations. (Psalm 90:1)

    This is such a comforting thought. Yesterday we remember the life of Bob Carson, an incredible member of this church for decades. God was his dwelling place and will be to his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

    Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2)

    From everlasting to everlasting He is God. Hallelujah! Think about that for a moment. He was present before the mountains—before this planet! Our God spoke our universe into existence! And He loves you and me! Sometimes we forget these simple yet truly awesome truths.

    You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” (Psalm 90:3)

    That’s our God! Sometimes we’ve worked so hard to make God personal, we think He’s just like us. We’re created in His image, and some of us have returned the favor! God is awesome. We are but dust. 2016 provided us with many reminders that one day all of us will die—including Prince and Princess…Leah!

    A thousand years in your sight 
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:4)

    This verse has been quoted often to speak of the return of Jesus. He said he would return soon, yet 2000 years does not seem soon to us…though it may only be two days to God. Peter wrote

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

    Moses continues

    Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
    In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:5-6)

    Now the reality of our sin moves into focus:

    We are consumed by your anger 
    and terrified by your indignation.
    You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
    All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
    Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
    yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
    If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. (Psalm 90:7-11)

    We don’t like to talk about God’s wrath, sin, death, or judgment…but a holy God demands perfection, which is why we desperately need Jesus. His perfect life made his death on the cross for us the perfect and acceptable sacrifice, payment for our sins.

    Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

    Here’s one of the most popular verses in the Bible. In the context of life and death it is deeply profound. Wisdom comes from God…and from understanding our lives are fragile. What is your expiration date? It could be today. It could be sometime this year.

    Relent, LORD! How long will it be?
    Have compassion on your servants.
    Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
    Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble. (Psalm 90:13-15)

    Remember, this is Moses. Pleading with Pharaoh. 40 years leading complainers in the desert. He knows trouble.
     
    May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.
    May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:16-17)

    I love Moses’ conclusion. He doesn’t merely say, “Bless us, LORD. Make us rich. Keep us from sickness.” He gets involved. He wants to do life with God. He wants to partner. He’s willing to work, but realizes he needs God’s favor as he works.

    So What?

    Today is the first day of the rest of your life. How will you live it?

    Today is a fresh start. We’ve all made mistakes in 2016…and we will in 2017, too. But today is a new beginning. It’s a great time to reflect upon what’s truly important; how we want to live; who we want to become.

    Some of you have dreams you’ve buried. Maybe 2017 is the year to revive them, to take baby steps toward their fulfillment.
    Without burdening you a list of new year’s resolutions, consider a few things:

    1. 1. The message of Jesus is a fresh start.

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

    In a few moments, we’ll celebrate communion communally, together. We remember Jesus died, his body broken, his scarlet blood shed to make us as pure as wool.

    “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the LORD.
    “Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
    though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

    Leave behind the guilt and shame of 2016. It’s a new day. It’s a new year!

    One of the great struggles for followers of Jesus is satan’s lies. He’s the accuser, and he loves to keep you shackled in your past failures rather than released to pursue God’s future plans. It is often said when satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future!

    Seriously, though, if you have trusted Jesus Christ as your LORD and Savior, he has forgiven you of all of your sins. All of them! Yes, even that one!

    The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love. 
    He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
    he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities. 
    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
    as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:8-12)

    That’s good news. That’s great news!


    1. 2. Be reconciled

    Jesus boiled the entire Bible down to two commands: love God and love others. One way we love God is by loving others. As 2017 begins, you need to get right with God. Receive His love and forgiveness. It’s there for the taking. Surrender everything—time, talents, treasures—to Him.

    You also need to get right with others. Jesus said…


    “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister  will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

    “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24)

    My interpretation is, “Get right with others.” Don’t drag bitterness into 2017. Forgive. Let it go. Let go and let God. Seriously. We’ve all been wronged…and we’ve all wronged others.

    Relationships can be messy. I learned that in a whole new way in 2016…unfortunately. There are two people with whom I have unsuccessfully tried to reconcile. Actually, I’ve struggled trying to figure out what I did to deserve the brokenness of the relationship. I’ve asked. I’ve done my best to humble myself. I have been encouraged by these words in the book of Romans…

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

    Despite our best efforts, we may not be able to live at peace with everyone, but “if it is possible” we are to do so.

    They don’t deserve forgiveness. Neither do you! That’s why grace—unmerited favor—is so amazing! Paul wrote to the church in Corinth

    For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

    So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)

    Today is the first day of the rest of your life. How will you live it?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God Is Light, 1 John 1, 12 April 2015

    Big Idea: God is light and we are walk with Him.

    Author: John writing on behalf of the Apostles

    Audience: the early Church

    Date: 85-90 AD

    Introduction

    We examined John’s gospel.
    We examined John’s second and third letters.
    We have not examined John’s vision much, a book called Revelation.

    Background

    John is one of Jesus’ three best friends. He wrote the gospel of John. His purpose in writing was clear:

    Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

    The gospel of John was written around 65 AD, maybe 75-80 AD. Perhaps twenty years or so have passed and we come to 1 John.This is commonly regarded as a letter or epistle, but the form is more like a homily, like a sermon. Some have called it a “letter-essay.”

    Imagine being an early follower of Jesus. Maybe you actually encountered him or had friends who witnessed a miracle or even the crucifixion. This new movement called The Way, now known as Christianity, is involving both Jews and Gentiles, two vastly opposing groups. New Christians were being expelled from the synagogues, some of whose colleagues denied Jesus as Messiah and returned to the synagogue. They needed encouragement. Christianity was a startup religion in the shadow of an established, powerful Judaism. It was bold and risky to follow Jesus.

    There were other challenges for early believers beyond social and religious rejection. Heresy was growing, including idolatry and the emergence of false prophets.

    Docetists believed Jesus was divine but never human.

    Cerinthians believed the Christ-Spirit merely came on Jesus but He was not the Christ.

    Some Gnostics believed they could not commit real sins.

    The real challenge was “secessionists,” people who were Christians but withdrew from the community. John offers two ways to test the spirits: a moral-ethical test (obedience to the commandments) and a faith test (proper view of Jesus).

    Who is Jesus? Last month we looked at our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King. He is fully God yet fully human. Many claim to believe in Jesus, but what do they believe?

    We often get excited when someone says they believe in God. But what God? What do they believe? Jesus’ half-brother said

    You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19)

    Even demons believe in Jesus…but they do not follow Him as LORD. That’s huge.

    It’s easy to romanticize the early church, being in the presence of the likes of Peter, Paul, and John. Yet it was a messy time. There were antichrists, gossip, heresy, division, church splits…some things never change! John addressed this letter to one community, but it was probably intended to be shared with the other churches.

    2 John was likely written soon after, a book with warnings about false teachers.

    The purpose of this writing is expressed in the fifth and final chapter.

    I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

    This is written to believers in Jesus to encourage them and assure them of their salvation.

    That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. (1 John 1:1)

    This may refer to creation, but more likely John is speaking of his eyewitness relationship with Jesus, the beginning of the gospel proclamation. He saw and touched Jesus. He is not a historian writing about an ancient figure, but rather a biographer describing his personal friend.

    Some believed Jesus was God but not human.
    Some believed Jesus was human but not God.

    John touched Jesus. He wasn’t a ghost or vision or a divine apparition like Greek gods.
    John witnessed the crucifixion and saw the risen Jesus.

    We see echoes in this verse of John 1:1.

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

    Jesus is the Word. Jesus is God.

    The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:2-4)

    Jesus appeared. This is a reference to the Incarnation, God becoming one of us.

    John’s message is passionate. He proclaims Jesus! Why? Fellowship and joy.

    This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

    Light and darkness was a common image of contrast. Imagine life without electricity. Fire (from the sun or a flame) was the only source of light. Light and darkness is the perfect contrast between sin and righteousness. The Old Testament condemned the mixing of light and darkness, right and wrong. God is light.

    Peter also spoke of the contrast between light and darkness, sin and righteousness.

    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

    The Old Testament described obedience as walking.

    The Old Testament spoke of sacrificial blood as purifying for sins.

    If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

    Some believed they had become sinless…of their sins were not sinful.

    Notice how John essentially repeats his message about sinlessness…and places one of the most beautiful verses in the entire Bible right in the middle.

    God required confession and repentance.

    So What?

    First and foremost, we are all sinners.

    Second, we need Jesus. Jesus is God. Jesus is human. Jesus is real. Jesus is alive!

    Third, we can experience forgiveness and purification. Hallelujah!

    Fourth, we are to walk in the light. We are to obey.

    Fifth, if we obey, we have fellowship with one another.

    The Moon

    The moon contains no light, yet it beautifully reflects the sun so brightly that it illuminates our night skies.

    We are not the light. Jesus is the light. We are the moon. We reflect the light…if we walk in the light.

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    The Comparison Game, John 21:15-25, 1 December 2013

    Big Idea: There is no reason to compare yourself to others—only Jesus, the One who loves and accepts you.

    God wants you. Jesus said to Peter, “I still want you.” He still wants you, regardless of your past.

    Introduction

    The comparison game.
    We’ve all played it. We look at someone and judge ourselves better or worse, richer or poorer, more physically attractive or not as good looking, more or less mature, talented, smart, …the list is endless.

    Am I the only one that does this?!

    It used to be the first question asked at a pastor’s conference after, “What is your name?” was “How big is your church?” In other words, are you more or less successful than me based upon Sunday’s attendance. Can you see anything wrong?

    I recently heard someone say every
    reality TV show is designed to make us feel really good about ourselves or really bad. If you’ve ever watched an early season episode of American Idol you know what I mean. They tend to highlight the best and worst singers, placing viewers in the middle.

    This happens among Christians, too. There’s a never-ending temptation to gauge the spirituality of others, either feeling smug and arrogant toward “sinners” or we screw up and feel inferior to others who have their act together—or so it appears. We either commend or condemn ourselves.

    Let me remind you once again…

    Nothing you can do can make God love you more.
    Nothing you can do can make God love you less.

    This is how I feel about my kids. They are mine. They will always be mine. I love them. I will always love them. Sure, they will disappoint me, but my love is unconditional. I always want what’s best for them.

    When they screw up, there’s no shame. There’s not guilt. There’s forgiveness and grace. At least on my better days!

    We are all messed up…but loved. If you don’t believe me, imagine denying Jesus…three times?

    Back in John 18, Peter tastes his foot. Three times does exactly what Jesus said he would do—deny Him (John 13:38). These denials are so significant they are recorded in all four Gospels.

    Have you ever hurt someone? How did you feel the next time you saw them? Guilt? Shame? Avoidance? Even if the interaction included an apology, it’s often uncomfortable for a while, right?

    When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (15a)

    Jesus had given Simon the name Peter (Matt. 16:18) which means “rock.” If you recall, last week Jesus had cooked breakfast for him and six other disciples. Now the conversation Peter knew was inevitable was occurring. He had denied Jesus three times and it’s time for reconciliation. The aroma of charcoal is still in the air, reminding Peter of that dreadful night.

    What is “these?” The other disciples? Fish? The other disciples’ love for Jesus? We don’t really know, but clearly Jesus is engaging the one who denied Him three times. He asks Peter, “Do you love me?” The Greek word for love here is “agape,” the highest expression of love in the New Testament.

    Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

    Peter actually uses a different Greek word for love, “phileo” or brotherly love. This is why Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love. These words were likely used interchangeably.

    Jesus said,
    “Feed my lambs.” (15b)

    A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Dr. Gary Chapman. Some of you may be familiar with his classic book
    The Five Love Languages. It is essential reading for everyone. He talks about how each of us speaks one of five primary love languages, though our spouse or others may not and, therefore, we need to discover their love language in order to effectively communicate with them.

    Chapman has discovered there are five languages of apology:

    a. Expressing regret with "I'm sorry that I..." but explain what and why you are sorry without "but" in the apology; erase the but! Luke 15:21; Psalms 51
    b. Accepting responsibility. "I was wrong..." 1 John 1:9. This is the first step in teaching children to apologize
    c. Making restitution. "How can I make this right?" Luke 19:8
    d. Genuinely repenting. "I don't want this to keep happening." Acts 2:38
    e. Requesting forgiveness. "Will you please forgive me?" Psalms 51:2

    Not long ago my wife and I read about the importance of restitution. Often just saying “sorry” is insufficient; further action is required. This is clearly the case with Peter. Jesus could have simply said, “Peter, are you sorry for denying me?” and Peter could’ve said, “Yes” and the story would have ended, but Jesus wants more than an apology; He wants Peter to take action and feed His lambs.

    Last week was about fish. This week Jesus talks about lambs. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Psalm 23) and He wants Peter to be a good shepherd, too. He wants Peter to take care of
    His lambs. Jesus Himself is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, including ours and Peter’s.

    Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

    He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

    Jesus said,
    “Take care of my sheep.” (16)

    It’s amazing that after such a dramatic failure, Jesus would entrust His sheep to Peter. He would entrust the responsibility of His mission to this knuckle headed disciple and his ten ragamuffin colleagues.


    The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

    Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time,
    “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

    Jesus said,
    “Feed my sheep. (17)

    Three denials, three questions, three response, three commands.

    Notice the heart of the question is love for Jesus. If you are going to do anything for Jesus, you must love Him first. It’s so tempting to “do great things for God” and lose your first Love in the process. It’s easy to play religious games and fail to know and love Jesus. Sadly, I say this from experience. Each day I need to examine my own heart and my love for Jesus and let my “ministry” and life flow out of it.

    Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (18-19)

    Jesus may be referring to crucifixion. It is believed that Peter was sentenced to crucifixion for his faith in Jesus, yet refused to die a similar death and asked to be crucified upside down.

    Jesus’ invitation to His disciples back in John chapter 1 was simple: “follow me.” In chapter ten He said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

    This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not about how often you attend church or how much of the Bible you have memorized. The true measure of your faith is how you follow Jesus. It might lead to martyrdom and death as it did for Peter.

    The problem is we are easily distracted. We start comparing ourselves to others that are less mature and we commend ourselves. We get prideful when we should be looking to our perfect Example, Jesus.

    It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others that are less mature—or more mature, in which case we condemn ourselves. One of the great hindrances of coming to God with child-like faith is shame. We know how we’ve screwed up and we wonder if God still loves us. The story of Peter is a great reminder that we’re sons and daughters by birth, not worth. Jesus says, “You’re mine. you’re forgiven. I love you I’m with you.”

    If you get nothing out of this message, get this: ignore the temptation to play the comparison game. You will always lose. Revel in the fact that Your Daddy loves you. Period. Don’t commend yourself. Don’t condemn yourself. Just keep your eyes on Jesus. Listen to His voice and obey.
    Follow Jesus.

    John concludes with three final things.


    Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” (20-21)

    Here we see Peter is still competing with John.

    Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (22-23)

    Like the rest of the chapter, this is an interesting thing to include. Again, we’re quite sure the disciple Jesus loved was…John, the author of this Gospel. Of course, Peter and John both died.

    Notice how Peter plays the comparison game and Jesus’ responds twice with the same question: “What is that to you?”

    Have you ever envied someone else’s life? Have you ever wished you could be in their shoes?

    Jesus has one invitation for you. He says,
    “Follow Me.” He doesn’t say be religious, join a church, or be a professional Christian. He doesn’t say to follow Billy Graham. He doesn’t necessarily say sell everything you have and move to Africa. He says to follow.

    What is He calling you to do today? It may look different than what He is calling me to do. It may look different than what He called you to do in the past.
    When we compare ourselves to others, we take our attention off Jesus.

    Next, John says,

    This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
    (24)

    John states again the truth of his experience and testimony. This is not a novel. It is an historical record of real events and a real Person. He takes a solemn oath of truth. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never wrote a book? In fact, we only know for sure of one thing He wrote and that was in the dirt in the midst of religious people accusing a woman of sin (John 8).

    Finally, he recognizes the impossibility of recording everything Jesus did.

    Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (25)

    Jesus was and is larger than life. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

    And with that, we conclude the Gospel of John, the good news biography of Jesus Christ!!! He experienced Jesus like no other. He suffered as a result, but appears to have no regrets. He wants everyone to know—even us 2000 years later—that Jesus is good. Jesus is God.

    Unlike other biographies, we don’t have to rely exclusively on second-hand information. Jesus is alive and He wants your life to become a book in which His love is written on your heart. He doesn’t want you to compare yourself to others, but rather follow Him.

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    Zacchaeus: Forgiven, 15 May 2011

    Big Idea: God gives us unconditional forgiveness so that we can give it to others!

    Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. - Luke 19:1-4

    Jesus was a celebrity. He was the most controversial figure of His day—or any day! The text says that Jesus was “passing through.” Crowds gathered around Him and Zach wanted to catch a glimpse.

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

    What do you think Zach was thinking? What would YOU be thinking?

    Jesus obviously knew Zach’s heart, just as he knew Nathanael’s in John 1:48. He knows your heart, too...and mine!

    Notice the intensity of Jesus’ command—come down “immediately” and “I must” stay at your house. Why did He have to go to Zach’s house?

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

    It should be noted earlier that Zach is not only a tax-collector but the wealthy, chief tax-collector. He worked on commission—and set his own commission schedule, undoubtedly milking the people of excessive amounts of money. Jericho was a wealthy area and Zach was possibly the most hated man in the city.

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

    What happened?

    When Jesus enters your home, things change!

    We obviously don’t know everything that took place, but we do clearly see the transformation of a hated, wealthy man through his encounter with Jesus.

    I doubt Jesus told him he had to be generous. I don’t think Zach was guilted into making changes in his life. In fact, I don’t see any indication that Jesus was angry or condemning of Zach, but rather loving and kind toward this hated man. It says in Romans 2:4 that God’s kindness leads us to repentance.

    Most of us are not drawn to angry people, but to love and kindness. Zach experienced the kindness of Jesus and that led him to repent and change.

    Jesus said in Luke 7:47 that the woman who poured oil on His head and feet had many sins that were forgiven, but “he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

    Friends, you and I have been forgiven by Jesus, and it is His forgiveness that allows us to forgive others.

    Others don’t deserve our forgiveness, and neither do we deserve God’s forgiveness.

    It seems clear that Zach had many sins that were forgiven that day, leading him to respond greatly.

    The arrogant religious leaders preferred to judge and condemn Zach without realizing their own sin in the process.

    Forgiveness is not about justice or fairness, but about experiencing and then passing on mercy and grace.

    The passage concludes

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

    Salvation came not only to Zach, but also all members of his household. The Jewish concept of the family under the Old Covenant meant that now Zach was a true son of Abraham, a child of the promise, and forgiven by Christ.

    Note the purpose of Jesus’ mission in the final words—to seek and to save what was lost. Remember the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son that we examined a few weeks ago in Luke 15? God cares about the lost. Do we?

    In many cases the lost are not attractive, loving people. They may be filled with anger, greed, or addictions. Like Zach they may be despised by the world and unworthy of love and forgiveness in human eyes. Nevertheless Jesus died for them, and our love and compassion and kindness may be exactly what they need in order to repent and change and encounter the transformational power of Jesus Christ.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    You can listen to Joel Sherey’s story—Forgiven? Forgiven—here.

    Forgive One Another, 30 January 2011

    Big Idea:

    We are created to live in community. Part of being a family is forgiving one another.

    Scriptures:

    Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the lord forgave you. - Colossians 3:13

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

    Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    - Romans 12:19-21

    Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the lord forgave you. - Colossians 3:13

    “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
    -Ephesians 4:26-27

    For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

    - Matthew 6:14-15

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

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

    Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. - Colossians 3:13-14

    He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” - Luke 11:2-4

    Notes:

    Forgiveness is NOT forfeiting justice but it is appealing to a higher court.

    Forgiveness is NOT something you do when you feel like it but a decision.

    Forgiveness is NOT weakness but the ultimate portal to power.

    Forgiveness is to release someone of a debt that they owe you because of the pain they caused you.

    The forgiven forgive! We don’t forgive because it is deserved. We forgive because we have been forgiven.

    You can listen to the podcast here.
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