Day of the LORD, 26 March 2023

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

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

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

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

Love Well, 24 May 2020

Love Well

Big Idea: We must love—God, ourselves, one another, and others—well.

Scripture Reading:
John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:11

Love. It can be such a mushy word. Perhaps you’re sick and tired of me saying love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Blame Jesus! He’s the one who said those two commandments summarize the entire Law and the Prophets, the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament.

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

We often depict our love with a triangle (credit: Mike Breen, 3DM).

3DM-triangle with words

Love God (up). Love others (as we love ourselves; out). Love one another (in).

We’re taking a break from our series on the Gospel of Mark to examine some important and timely topics. Pastor Keith shared a good message with us last Sunday. Today I want to talk about what it means to
love well.

We love God. I hope that’s obvious…not only to us, but to the world. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We are to love God well, our “up” relationship.

On the surface, it can be easy to love God. Sing Him a song. Give Him an hour of your week on Sunday morning. Give a portion of your income. Spend some time in prayer and Bible study.

I want to suggest one of the primary ways we love God is much more challenging:
love your neighbor as yourself. If you like your neighbor, that might not be a big deal. We have great neighbors who live on either side of our house. I’m sad one family is moving away (they will either sell or possibly rent it; let me know if you want to be my neighbor!). The thing about loving others is you can sometimes get away from them! You can avoid other people in many cases. Tolerance—which is almost the opposite of love—is usually possible. We are to love others well, our “out” relationship.

Often the hardest people to love are…family—biological or spiritually, our “in” relationship. John wrote,

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:20-21)

We are a family. Family can be messy. People typically don’t leave family. They learn to do life together. In a spiritual family, our love for one another does three things:

  1. 1. It shows our love for God.
  2. 2. It shows our love for one another.
  3. 3. It is a witness to others, the watching world.

In our scripture reading for today, Doug Oliver read,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

When we love one another well, we prove our faith. It’s how people identify us as true believers, followers of Jesus. Healthy families love one another. Godly families love one another.

We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory. (Ephesians 2:10)

While this pandemic has been tragic for many and trying for all of us, I’ve seen God use it for His glory.

One man told me of incredible conversations he’s having with people in the marketplace as people search for hope. Several people have said they feel more connected to our First Alliance family than before the lockdown. We’ve been equipping you and your family with fresh, spiritual content six days a week. Corporate prayer has engaged more people, more often. People have seized opportunities to tutor children, feed the hungry, and help those in need…loving our neighbor as ourselves. Family, we have been living out our mission beautifully during these past two months. I thank you and praise God!

Our video question of the week for this upcoming week is, “How has God used the pandemic in your life?” Make a short, landscape (not portrait) video and send it to
abigail@factoledo.org using wispeo.com.

Church is not a building. It’s not an event. It’s a
family. You don’t “go to” family. You don’t “close” family. First Alliance Church has never closed! As I’ve said, this season may be one of the most fruitful. This “reset” has allowed us to examine everything we do in light of our mission. Our goal moving forward is not to return to the way things used to be. Everything we add to our menu must be driven by our mission. There are new things we need to create, old things we need to revive, and some things we simply need to leave behind. We need to begin with “why?” Does it further or distract from our mission?

In March, nearly everything on our menu was wiped out, immediately replaced with three items:

  • - FAC Online Worship
  • - Zoom Prayer (weekdays at 9 AM)
  • - Pastor Kirk’s Daily Briefing (4 PM weekdays on Facebook Live)

Soon afterward, we added three more:

  • - Zoom Small Groups
  • - Kids Club United Online (Wednesdays on Zoom)
  • - Elevate Youth Online (Thursdays on Zoom)

Our entire staff has been hard at work providing these six ministry vehicles as well as personal discipleship and preparations for the future, and I’m very proud of and grateful for them as well as our Elders, Deacons, Deaconesses, and Trustees who have continued to serve behind the scenes. Thanks not only to our leaders, but everyone who has been praying, supporting financially, and participating in the life of FAC.

On Tuesday, our Elders met to discuss—among other things—reopening our physical campus. We closed it in March not because the government required it, but rather because we believed it was the best interest of the health and safety of you and our neighbors. The church left the building because we love people, which is also one of the best ways we love God.

When COVID-19 began, I was encouraged by the unity that I heard as people proclaimed, “We’re all in this together.” Tragically, fake news, conspiracy theories, politics, pride, and fear have brought division…especially within the church.

I have four prayers I pray for First Alliance Church:

  1. 1. Direction. Jesus Christ is our Senior Pastor. We want to be led by the Holy Spirit. I am not the boss! Our staff and elders seek God’s wisdom, guidance, and will. We begin every meeting by celebrating wins and engaging in open-ended prayer. This is not my church. This is not our church. First Alliance Church is God’s.
  2. 2. Protection. We have a real enemy who wants to steal, kill, destroy, lie, and divide. He’s having a field day right now, not only here but also around the country. I pray God would protect us from the physical, mental, emotional, financial, and relational pain of the coronavirus.
  3. 3. Passion. I want to want God! I want my heart to sync with His. I want God to give all of us His heart for the lost, the unborn, the least of these, the widow, the stranger, and the orphan.
  4. 4. Unity. This is where I want to focus for a few moments.

I’m aware of only one prayer Jesus prayed specifically for us, his future followers.

“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)

Imagine you and I were as close as Jesus and the Father! It wasn’t necessarily easy and it required effort and prayer, but Jesus and the Father were on the same page. Along with the Holy Spirit, they are one God in three Persons, a mystery we call the Trinity. Jesus wants us to be like this…one church, one body in many persons. He wants us to be one.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the Church—the Bride of Christ—is not known for its unity. There are literally thousands of Christian denominations that have split off from what once was one church. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for Jesus to see his Bride so divided. I’ve often said my dream is for the global Church to be so unified and beautiful that Jesus would turn to the Father and beg Him to return to earth for us! Right now, we must look like a dismembered mess!

It’s not uncommon for such disunity to appear within a local church. Where two or more are gathered together, there’s bound to be conflict. Family is messy. When it’s hard, it’s really hard…and when it’s good, it’s SO good!

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and while many of you have been engaging passionately online, many of us long to be physically together. We were created for community, and while a letter is good, a phone call is better, and a video chat is better still, and being in the same room is even better.

As you may know, there are vast opinions about the pandemic, its legitimacy, and its consequences. Anyone who says they know and understand coronavirus is crazy! New discoveries are being made each day, and this is unlike anything in our lifetime. I’ve prayed more for our President and Governor this year than probably any year of my life! They are in a no-win situation, not matter what they say or do. In a small way, I’ve felt that, too. That’s one of the challenges of leadership. However, I don’t operate in a vacuum. We are led by a team of Elders of which I am the non-voting chair person. I’m grateful for the wisdom of our Elder Team: Rich Bradish, Jim Kirkman, Caine Kolinski, Jim Kujawski, Jim MacDonald, Doug Oliver.

Much like our church survey results, there’s a great diversity of views on COVID-19. Some of you wondered why we ever closed our physical campus and others are willing to wait a year or longer until a vaccine is available before resuming in-person worship. After surveying you and consulting with other churches, the Great Lakes District, the Governor’s office, a wide variety of medical experts, we met Tuesday and adopted
Phase One of our campus reopening plan.

We began with the “
why?” Does a physical gathering for worship further our mission? We said, “Yes,” especially for those who are tech-less and have been unable to connect with the FAC family. I miss our family members from Ohio Link, Cherry Street Mission, and others who may not have access to the Internet.

The next question was “
how?” One of our elders shared his three goals: safety, credibility to the unreached, and a quality experience. Put another way, we obviously don’t want people to become sick–or worse—by anything we do together, we don’t want to hurt our witness to our community by acting out of selfishness, recklessness, or rebellion, and we want to continue to create meaningful experiences for people, albeit different from what we did months ago.

Then we wrestled with the “
when” question, the one so many of you have been anxiously awaiting.

Beginning next Sunday, we will have Sunday worship in three venues. Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. It’s one of the most sacred days on the Church calendar, and one I can’t wait to commemorate. Our reopening coincides with the Catholic Church in Ohio and other congregations, as well.

Next Sunday at 10:30 AM we will offer three options. These three options reflect both the three different groups that presently exist within our family and allow for social distancing (we can’t all fit in the sanctuary together safely). Here are your options:

Safe. Youth Center Assembly Hall. Live stream. Touchless. Social distancing. Masks highly recommended, not for you, but for those around you. It is a proven tool for reducing the spread of disease to others. We love with masks! We will have them available if you don’t have your own.

Safer. Sanctuary. Live. Touchless. Social distancing. Masks required…and provided. This is a safer option, but still has risks. Spending an hour in a room full of people is not the same as being in a grocery store for a few minutes or picking up a pizza. Nobody knows exactly what the risks are, so we will continue to offer a third option.

Safest. Online. Live streaming. No restrictions. If you want to shake hands, hug, and socialize, have a watch party at your home! Likewise, if you are elderly, diabetic, or otherwise at risk, we urge you to stay home. We have no plans to ever discontinue FAC Online Worship. It will be our safest option for your physical health, and it will be your only option when you’re unable to reach our physical campus.

We plan to offer these three options for the foreseeable future.


This will obviously be a
different experience than anything in the past. There will be no child care. The restrooms will be available for emergencies, but our goal is for everyone to touch nothing but their individual seats. The new Sunday edition of the FAC Focus will serve as your bulletin. We’ll have offering boxes as you exit (or you can give online).

We won’t be in Phase One forever. We won’t worship in three venues forever. But this is what Sunday mornings will look like for a while. Thank you in advance for your grace, your patience, your prayers, and most of all your love for one another. We love God by loving others…well. Let’s love well, family!

How do we love well? Let me close with some suggestions:

  1. 1. Pray. There may be no greater way to love others than prayer. The FAC Focus which will be in your e-mailbox in a few minutes always has a link to our Prayer Connection. Let our office know how we can pray for you. We have Zoom Prayer each weekday at 9 AM and it will continue for the foreseeable future.
  2. 2. Give. I love the stories of how people have been giving meals to one another, giving time to one another, and even sharing resources via the Benevolence fund. Our family is so generous, and if you have a need, please let our office know.
  3. 3. Here’s a new one. Masks. There are conflicting reports about a great many things, but one of the most consistent things I’ve heard is masks protect others. They don’t necessarily help you, but they make it harder for you to spread germs and viruses to others. I know they can be uncomfortable. I recognize it’s not necessarily easy to sing with one. They limit non-verbals which is frustrating. But masks send a message that we love others, that we love one another.
  4. 4. Listen. We all have opinions on the pandemic. It’s easy to look at someone with whom you disagree and condemn them for being too fearful, reckless, cautious, or ignorant. One of the reasons we are offering three venues next week is you told us there are three distinct groups within our family when it comes to gathering together. We’re blessed to have the resources to serve all three during this season.

Family, let’s love well. Next Sunday will be a real test of our love, not only for God, but also for one another. None of us knows everything about COVID-19, but we know the One who does! As we gather next Sunday online and on our campus, let’s go the extra mile to extend grace, to respect one another, to do everything possible to set aside our own preferences and rights and privileges to humbly love others well.

We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory. (Ephesians 2:10)

I love you, family. Next Sunday is the beginning of a new First Alliance Church. It’s going to be different. The future is going to look different. But the best is yet to come!

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

You can watch this online worship experience

Hope in God’s Promise, 29 March 2020

Joyfully Hope in God’s Promise
Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
Jeremiah 31

Series Big Idea: Jeremiah was faithful despite his difficult prophetic task.

Big Idea: God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him.

I did it! It took a while, but I finally did it. I know I was given an extension, but seeing those two letters from the federal government for days—weeks?—led me to just do it. I went online and did the US Census!

I couldn’t remember what questions would be asked. It’s been ten years! I expected to answer my name and address. I wasn’t surprised by the race question. I marked the “White” box. But then it asked me for more detail. The Census website says,

The category “White” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. These groups include, but are not limited to, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Polish, French, Iranian, Slavic, Cajun, and Chaldean.

There was a blank under “White” and it wanted more detail. German? Yes. Irish? I don’t think so. Of course, many have been surprised by their AncestryDNA.com results. I’ve never taken one of those tests, but I’m fairly confident of the ethnic heritage of both of my parents.

What is your ethnicity? Do you know much about your family of origin, your nationality?

By the way, I believe there’s only one “race…” the human race!

Few people groups on the planet have endured more hardship and persecution than the Jews. They’ve had and lost land. They’ve had and lost their temple. Thousands of years after God’s covenant with Abraham, the Jews continue to follow and break that covenant. Fortunately, there’s a new covenant…and Jews and Gentiles alike are invited to participate in it.

This month we’ve been looking at the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to speak some uncomfortable truths to the Jewish people. After Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, God led the people of Israel to the Promised Land. The Jewish nation divided and became the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 11-12). Even worse than their relationship with one another was their relationship with God. It seemed to change like the weather. There were moments when they worshipped God and moments when they turned to worship idols…sometimes even in God’s temple! There were times when they were repentant of their sins—ashamed of their behavior—and other times when they were proud of their rebellion and evil. Like a roller coaster, their righteousness went up and down, and along with it, their relationship with God.

The remarkable thing about God is grace. He is a God of second-chances. He is a God of mercy and forgiveness. But we must repent. We must turn away from our sin and return to God. When we repent and return, He will restore us into a right relationship with Him. That’s where we find true joy—not in circumstances, but in a relationship with God.

Some people flippantly say God loves everyone. While that’s true—for God so loved the world—a relationship requires two parties. I may love you, but if you reject me, we won’t have fellowship. We’re all on God’s “bad list” until we repent and obey.

God and the Israelites have had a complicated history, a relationship that is sometimes hot, but usually cold. Quite simply, the people were usually more concerned about being like their neighbors than living a radical, counter-cultural lifestyle devoted to the LORD.

This might sound familiar. This might describe our nation. Whether or not we were ever a “Christian nation,” we seem to trust the money which bears the slogan “In God We Trust” more than God. That was, at least, until COVID-19. Is God getting our attention? Is God getting your attention?

He has a way of doing that! He gives us freedom. We weren’t created to be robots. Every day we choose whether to follow God or the world. Every hour we make such decisions.

Our text today is from the book of Jeremiah, chapter 31. God has expressed His displeasure with the people and begins to cast a vision for the future, for a time when the people will return to Him, trust Him, make Him LORD, and obey.

“At that time,” declares the LORD, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:1)

He declares they will be a united people. The sins of King Solomon and his foolish son Rehoboam which divided the Jewish nation will be reunited. The land will be restored. People will accept responsibility for their sins.

The next nineteen verses speak of a restored Israel. In the end times, God will restore the Jews to their land (Ephraim is a reference to the northern kingdom of Israel). Verses 21-26 talk about a restored Judah. People will experience the blessing of the LORD as people come together in harmony despite their past differences.

Are you with me? It’s about to get good!

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:31-32)

God had made a covenant with the Jews, but they repeatedly broke it. Unlike a contract, a covenant is a solemn commitment. In biblical times, it usually involved the sacrifice of an animal, the shedding of blood. God made such a covenant with Abraham. Abraham and his descendants would be God’s people, and through the Jewish people, all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). The old covenant was made with Abraham, but now God describes a new covenant, a future relationship.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

This was God’s plan from the beginning, to be LORD, to be their guide. In the old covenant, people would receive temporary blessings as they turned back to God (as they did under Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Hezekiah and Josiah). They had moments of revival, but they didn’t last.

The great evangelist Billy Sunday was once told revivals weren’t necessary because they didn’t last. He replied, “A bath doesn’t last, but it’s good to have one occasionally.”

This new covenant is more than just renewal or revival. It’s not just something for the people to obey, but something in both their minds and hearts, not on stone tablets. It’s personal. Instead of focusing on conduct, the new covenant changes character. God is saying in the future, a beautiful relationship will emerge.

The new covenant is internalized in minds and hearts.

No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

All the people will know God…not just about God, but actually know God, be in a relationship with God. The Hebrew word here for “know” is “yada,” implying a relationship more than just facts. Within that relationship, God will forgive—and forget—their sins. That’s good news! That’s great news!
The new covenant involves the forgiveness of sin.

I need to pause and say these words were not written to us, but they were written for us. Remember, God is speaking to the Jewish people.

This is what the LORD says,

he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the LORD Almighty is his name:

“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the LORD, “will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.” (Jeremiah 31:35-36)

If you know the story of the Prodigal Son, you know God is a loving Father who never gives up on His children, even when they walk away and break His heart.

This is what the LORD says:

“Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:37)

The imagery is beautiful. God will never break His promises to Israel.

The new covenant involves a new city, a new Jerusalem.

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the LORD. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.” (Jeremiah 31:38-40)

When I visited South Korea many years ago, I was surprised to learn the small peninsula had been invaded many times throughout history, some saying as many as 2000 times! While many historians disagree, South Koreans live with an awareness of both past invasions and the potential for a future disruption, demolition, uprooting.

The Jewish people were well-aware of such upheaval throughout their history. This prophecy is wonderful, the promise of God filled with hope.

So What?

The book of Jeremiah was written around 600 BC, so it’s about 2600 years old. Did God keep His promises to the Jews?

Yes…and not yet.

One of the challenges with biblical prophecy is discerning what has been fulfilled and what remains to be fulfilled. The story of humanity is not complete, as I hope you know! There are many events described in the Bible which remain in the future.

The great marker in history was Jesus. He ushered in the new covenant on the cross (Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20). Gentiles have been grafted in with the Jews to participate in the new covenant (Romans 11:12-32; Ephesians 3:1-6), which is why these ancient words have relevance for non-Jews today. All followers of Jesus share in the new covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13; 10:14-18). They are born again, made new, alive in Christ, new creations, regenerated into the family of God (John 3:1-21; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:11; Ephesians 2:13).

I mentioned biblical covenants involved blood. Jesus’ death on the cross involved blood. He was the perfect sacrifice. I often say First Alliance Church is not about religion, but a relationship…with Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you know Jesus? I don’t mean do you know about Jesus, but do you know him? He came to connect us to our heavenly Father. He showed us what it means to be human. He taught timeless truths which have literally changed the world. His death and resurrection conquered sin and shame, making it possible for all of our failures to be forgotten, all of our mistakes erased, all of our brokenness mended.

Jesus is the Messiah the Jews were anticipating. He’s the one prophesied in the Old Testament. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He’s seated now at the right hand of the Father (Luke 22:69; Ephesians 1:20), awaiting the moment when he is instructed to return to earth, not as a baby in a manger, but a triumphant king to rule and reign forever.

Some treat the gospel—the good news—as going to heaven when you die. If that’s the case, what do we do in the meantime? The gospel—the good news—is Jesus is LORD, and we get to go to heaven before we die. We get to experience joy, peace, meaning, satisfaction, and love now. Heaven is where God is, and He wants to do life with us now! He wants to lead us now! He wants to be with us now! When you follow Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too, God the Spirit living inside you to fill you with gifts and fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Many of the things described in Jeremiah have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, yet some things remain.

It might be simplistic to say, but the Old Testament was about the old covenant, given to Moses. The New Testament was about the new covenant, rooted in Jesus.

One thing that remains is God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him. I’m glad—especially as a Gentile—that I’m living on this side of the cross, a participant in the new covenant. I love grace—unmerited favor—and need a lot of it! I’m grateful for the cross and empty tomb and the forgiveness and freedom it offers.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ friend John who said,

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9)

This pandemic will eventually be over, but the greater enemy in our world is sin. The good news is there is a cure that can wipe away all of our sins…Jesus. He is inviting you and me today into a relationship with him that will last for eternity, both now and in the life to come.

Tragically, many people have rejected God. They did it in Jeremiah’s day and they do it in ours. They think they’re wiser and smarter than God, or they simply want to do things their way. I urge you, don’t be like the fools in the Bible who rejected God. Repent and receive the abundant life Jesus offers. Choose today, tomorrow, and every day to surrender to Jesus.

I don’t understand why COVID-19 is ravaging our planet, but I know who does. I think God might be trying to get our attention, reminding us of the things that really matter, and inviting us into a deeper relationship with Him.

The vision God paints for Jeremiah is beautiful…unity, righteous living, forgiven sins, a new city, and most of all a relationship with Him. Our scripture today is packed with hope for those who follow Jesus, the Messiah who ushered in the new covenant available to every man, woman and child on earth.

Today can be your day to begin your spiritual journey…or get back on the path. Don’t wait another moment to get right with God. He knows you, He loves you, He’s inviting you to do life with Him. God has promised a wonderful future for those who follow and obey Him. The best is yet to come.

Credits: some ideas from D6, Warren Wiersbe

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  • You can watch this online worship experience here.
  • Because He LIves, Easter 2015, 5 April 2015

    Big Idea: The resurrection changes everything!

    The Butterfly Effect

    chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.” So states Wikipedia.

    Put into plain English, the Butterfly Effect, attributed to Edward Lorenz, is a belief that a butterfly’s wings flapping eventually create a typhoon that hits land on the other side of the world.

    A snowflake by itself weighs nothing, but enough of them will collapse oak trees and roofs.

    A woman named Rosa Parks simply sat on a bus and sparked the Civil Rights movement.

    Ten years earlier, a man named Jackie Robinson was court-martialed (and acquitted) for not moving to the back of a bus.

    You might call this butterfly effect a chain reaction. One event can change everything. No event changed human history like the resurrection.

    Because He lives. One moment in history about two thousand years ago changed everything. You could argue there were two. The first was the death of Jesus.

    There is unanimous agreement among scholars that Jesus died. He was given an honorable burial. That the tomb was discovered to be empty. That there were post-mortem appearances of Jesus by the disciples. With the exception of Muslims who believe Jesus never actually died on the cross, virtually every scholar will tell you a historical person named Jesus lived, taught, and died. The primary controversy surrounds our celebration today—His resurrection.

    Church history is full of creeds, statements of faith. Perhaps the oldest creed of the Christian faith comes within three years of the death of Jesus (see James Dunn). It was recorded in Paul’s letter to the people in Corinth.

    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

    • Christ died for us
    • Christ was buried
    • Christ was raised again

    Much is made of the death of Christ, and rightfully so. We remember it each month as we engage in communion or the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist (call it what you like!). What Jesus accomplished on the cross was immensely important. But it was not enough.

    The cross seems to get most of the attention. People have turned the horrific object of torture into a religious symbol, even a celebrated piece of jewelry. The real focus should be on the empty tomb, an image that is, admittedly, a bit more complex to depict! Still, perhaps we should wear empty tombs rather than crosses around our necks!

    When I was in Jerusalem several years ago I was curious about the place where Jesus died. There are two common possibilities, one now inside The
    Church of the Holy Sepulcher and another outside the city, a hill that looks like a skull. Both are interesting sites, but I wanted to see the empty tomb!

    He is risen!

    Paul was a Jesus freak! He was a leading Jewish leader named Saul who persecuted Christians…until He encountered Jesus. His witness alone is tremendous evidence of the resurrection, for dead men are not known to speak, and only lunatics would be persecuted for a lie, a myth, or a mirage as he and so many others were, including countless martyrs…simply for the belief in the resurrection. Paul wrote

    But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

    There are many “ifs” in those verses! It’s hard for me to imagine life without the resurrection. Paul continues to state things in the positive.

    But* Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

    * when you see a “but” in a sentence, usually the only thing that matters is what follows!

    Our faith is based on not merely a life or a death but on the resurrection. The resurrection is not only the true center of the Christian faith, but it signals God's initiative in the renewing of creation. The resurrection both embodies and empowers the destiny of God’s people as divine image-bearers from now to forever.

    So What?

    The resurrection is everything!

    I recently bought a book called
    Risen: 50 Reasons Why The Resurrection Changed Everything by Steven Mathewson.

    1. To Give Us Eternal Life (John 11:25–27)
    2. To Show His Power over Death (Acts 2:24; Romans 6:9)
    3. To Heal Us (Acts 4:10)
    4. To Receive the Blessings Promised to David (Acts 13:34)
    5. To Forgive Our Sins (Acts 13:37–38; 1 Corinthians 15:17)
    6. To Elevate His Power and Authority (Romans 1:4)
    7. To Justify Sinners (Romans 4:23–25; Acts 13:39)
    8. To Give Us a New Way to Live (Romans 6:4, 8–11)
    9. To Unite Us with Him in His Resurrection (Romans 6:5–8)
    10. To Make Us Fruitful (Romans 7:4)
    11. To Give Life to Our Mortal Bodies (Romans 8:11)
    12. To End Our Obligation to the Flesh (Romans 8:12–13)
    13. To Provide Us with Future Glory (Romans 8:18)
    14. To Set Creation Free from Its Bondage (Romans 8:21–22)
    15. To Adopt Us into God’s Family (Romans 8:23)
    16. To Intercede for Us at God’s Right Hand (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:23–25)
    17. To Fulfill the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4; Luke 24:44–47)
    18. To Make Our Faith and Preaching Worthwhile (1 Corinthians 15:14–15)
    19. To Guarantee Our Future Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–23; 1 Thess. 4:14)
    20. To Destroy All Other Powers through His Reign (1 Corinthians 15: 24–27)
    21. To Destroy the Enemy of Death (1 Corinthians 15: 26, 54–57; Luke 20:36)
    22. To Give Us a Reason to Endanger Our Lives (1 Corinthians 15: 30–31)
    23. To Deliver Us from Self-Indulgence (1 Corinthians 15:32)
    24. To Give Us Heavenly, Imperishable Bodies (1 Corinthians 15: 42–48)
    25. To Clothe Us with His Image (1 Corinthians 15:49)
    26. To Give Us Immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53)
    27. To Overcome the Power of the Law (1 Corinthians 15: 56–57)
    28. To Make Serving the Lord Worthwhile (1 Corinthians 15:58)
    29. To Give Us Hope in Hard Times (2 Corinthians 1: 8–11)
    30. To Give Us a Greater Purpose in Life (2 Corinthians 5:15)
    31. To Let Us Experience God’s Mighty Power (Ephesians 1:18–20)
    32. To Display God’s Amazing Grace (Ephesians 2:6–7)
    33. To Bring Victory into Our Intimacy with Him (Philippians 3:10–11)
    34. To Make Us Full in Him (Colossians 2:9–12)
    35. To Reorient Our Desires (Colossians 3:1–2)
    36. To Let Us Appear with Him in Glory (Colossians 3:4; Acts 1:11)
    37. To Enable Us to Kill Our Old Way of Life (Colossians 3:5–10)
    38. To Rescue Us from Coming Wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
    39. To Serve as Our Eternal Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20; Revelation 7:17)
    40. To Give Us New Birth into a Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3; Acts 23:6; 1 Thess. 4:13–14)
    41. To Glorify the Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:18–21; Acts 3:13–15)
    42. To Show That Death Does Not Stop Us from Living (Matt. 22:30–32; Rom. 14:9)
    43. To Confirm His Words about Being Raised to Life (Matthew 28:5–7)
    44. To Continue the Mission of God (Matthew 28:18–20)
    45. To Share His Presence with His Followers until His Return (Matthew 28:20)
    46. To Teach More about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3)
    47. To Prove God’s Commitment to Justice (Acts 17:31)
    48. To Make Possible the Judgment of Wicked (Jn 5: 28-30; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:11-15)
    49. To Give Him Complete Supremacy (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:4–5)
    50. To Provide Life in the Unfiltered Presence of God (Revelation 21:3–4, 22; 22:1)

    Because He lives…we are alive.

    • literally true via creation (John 1:1-4)

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:1-4)

    • figuratively true in that we have abundant life (John 10:10)

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

    • eschatologically true (John 11:25-26; John 3:16)

    Jesus said to her [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (John 11:25-26a)

    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)

    • Because He lives…we have a future

    • a future with Him, forever

    Because He lives, resurrection is possible. All things are possible.

    Today is the greatest day on the calendar! It’s bigger and better than Christmas, your birthday, the Super Bowl, and Groundhog Day combined!

    Everything changed on Resurrection Sunday and because He lives, there is hope for all of us.

    • Because He lives…we have hope.

    To Show His Power over Death (Acts 2: 24; Romans 6: 9)

    • nothing is impossible for God
    • sin and death have been conquered
    • what should we fear?
    • bad news is temporary
    • the best is yet to come
    • God is working NOW (Jesus is alive!)

    As a pastor on Easter I’m supposed to tell you because Jesus rose from the dead,

    • there’s hope for you dead marriage
    • there’s hope for your dead financial situation
    • there’s hope for your dead relationships
    • there’s hope for your dead-end job
    • there’s hope for your dying body
    • there’s hope for your dead emotions

    Because He Lives (Amen)

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