Passion & Unity, 10 February 2019

Passion and Unity
Series—Back to Basics
Romans 12:9-13; Malachi 3:10; Mark 12:30; Romans 15:1-7

Big Idea: We are discussing two of my four prayers for FAC: passion and unity and the stewardship and praise which result from them.


What do you love?
Who do you love? Really!

I know, it’s Sunday so God must be the answer, right? If you have a family, your spouse or kids or parents should probably be mentioned. But what do you really love?

I know some of you are passionate about sports. You practice, play, and watch games. Others prefer the electronic variety and devote themselves to video games. Some of you are committed to cooking, your Facebook posts, caring for your pets, traveling, fashion, reading, Netflix, coffee, charity work, entertaining people in your home, going out to eat, cars, …

To quote John Maxwell,

What do you sing about?
What do you cry about?

These are things that we are passionate about today.

What do you dream about?
This speaks to what you hope will bring you fulfillment tomorrow.

In the first part of my message today, we’re talking about passion. It has been described as fuel for the will. It motivates us. It drives us to do—or not do—things. What do you love? What’s your passion?

In our February series, we’re going Back to Basics. Last week we talked about mission, why we exist as a church. Although it is just the beginning of the process of living out God’s mission, we unveiled a mission statement for First Alliance Church.

We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory.

You are a masterpiece, God’s masterpiece. Like everyone in our city and world, we’re broken by sin and in need of restoration. We are privileged to partner with God in our own transformation into the image of Jesus as well as helping others become like Jesus. It’s all about Jesus and God’s glory, not our own, though it’s a wonderful—albeit often painful process—to be restored, redeemed, reconciled, repaired.

Last month we looked at the first eight verses of Romans chapter twelve. It continues,

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)

Did you catch that in the middle? Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the LORD. That’s passion!

Family, one of my four prayers for First Alliance Church is passion…passion for God and the things that matter to God. In case you’re not sure what things those would be, let me draw your attention to one of our Alliance Core Values:

Lost people matter to God and He wants them found. (Luke 19:10)

This relates to our mission of restoring God’s masterpieces, loving our neighbors, caring for “the least of these,” extending hospitality to widows, strangers, and orphans.

The reason I pray for passion is because I can’t give it to you. I can model passion, I can preach about it, I can try to motivate you and challenge you, but passion is something that you have or you don’t. Either you were excited about watching the Super Bowl or you fell asleep during the big game. Either you devote yourself to politics or music or prayer or your kids or parents or neighbors or you don’t.

What’s your passion? Who’s your passion? Prove it!

One of the ways we can prove our passion is with our money. This week is Valentine’s Day, a day in which consumers will spend around $20 billion on flowers, candy, dinner, and gifts. That’s a lot of love!

If your passion is video games, you no doubt spend a lot of money—and time—on entertainment. If your passion is fitness, you probably have a gym membership in your budget and calendar. If you love shoes or pets or family, your Visa bill or bank account will reveal that passion.

See, love is a verb. It requires action. It’s more than just a word or two on a chalky candy heart (which you can’t even buy this year because of a change in manufacturer; don’t worry, they’ll be back next year!). Love requires commitment, sacrifice, cost. Show me your calendar and checkbook and I’ll instantly see your passion. Your time, talents, and treasures reveal what we truly love…and worship.

Where does God fit into your life? Most of you know Jesus stated the greatest command is to love God, but do you? Really?

Author N.T. Wright said,

“When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.” (Surprised by Hope)
Remember, we were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

I want to offer a simple, practical challenge to you regarding passion. It involves your treasures. Just to be clear, we ended 2018 in the black. This is not a backdoor, passive aggressive fundraising tactic. I simply want to ask, “Does your budget reflect your passion for God?”

Some of you may be asking, “What’s a budget?” If so, I urge you to talk with me, Google search “budget,” watch some free Dave Ramsey videos on Right Now Media, or take a class on personal finances.

Like any challenge, this question is more relevant to some of you than others. To all of you who are faithful in your generosity, I want to say thank you on behalf of God. Thank you for honoring God with your finances. Thank you for declaring your allegiance to Jesus every time you write a check, put cash in the offering plate, or give online. I can think of no greater investment than in God’s Kingdom…and our family’s budget reflects that.

Everything We Have Belongs To God; We Are His Stewards (1 Chronicles 29:14)

The word “tithe” means 10% and was established in the Old Testament as a starting point for generosity and stewardship. 100% of what we have is from God and belongs to God. As this Core Value of The Alliance states, we are His stewards.

When you give with passion to your local church, three things happen:

You honor God. You put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. The only time in the Bible I know of where God says, “Test me” is with our finances. In the book of Malachi, the people were instructed to give at least a tithe—ten percent—to God. They were stingy, giving God their scraps and leftovers. Unfortunately, many do this today. When the offering plate comes by, if there’s some spare change in the pocket or purse, they’ll drop it in. If not, nothing. It’s really their loss. God told the people,

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10)

There have been many days when Heather and I could not afford to give, but we did anyway in obedience to God…and every time God provided. If you think you can’t afford to give, I’m here to say you can’t afford to not give. The dollar amount is not as important as the percentage. The city and state take 7¼% of everything we buy. Washington takes even more. And some of us give God nothing?

If ten percent—which I believe is God’s minimum—seems overwhelming, start with 5% or even 1%. If your boss came to you tomorrow and said you’d have to take a 10% pay cut, most of you would find a way to make that work. This isn’t a pay cut, though. It’s an investment in God’s Kingdom. Test Him! See how God honors your faith and obedience.

To be clear, I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll get $100 in the mail tomorrow after you put $100 in the offering plate today. But God honors those who honor Him. Don’t miss out on God’s blessing.

2. You bless our church, city, and world. God is at work in and through First Alliance Church. We are seeing broken marriages healed, the sick receiving care, the hungry fed, those in prison visited, children tutored, artists trained, youth challenged, meals delivered, and the homeless housed. Because of your generosity the gospel is proclaimed—both here and around the globe. God has used this church—His church—to send missionaries around the world, to plant churches, to launch ministries such as Cherry Street Mission and Proclaim FM, to bring hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, and peace to the troubled. We are a family on mission, God’s mission, and I can’t imagine a greater investment.

Let’s face it, our world is messed up. It needs help, and our government, schools, and businesses are not the answer, though they do good work. There’s no force on our planet like the power of God moving in and through His people.

3. Thirdly,
you experience freedom. So many people live paycheck-to-paycheck with a scarcity mentality, hoarding and living in fear. When you give to God before you pay your bills, you put your faith in action, trust God, and can truly pray for your daily bread. Remember, God says to test him. He can be trusted. In nearly 29 years of marriage, He’s never failed us (and we’ve been through some massive financial storms!).

As James K.A.Smith’s book title states,
You are what you love.

When Jesus was asked the greatest commandment, He replied,

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

What’s missing? Nothing! He said if we are his friends, we’ll do what he commands (John 15:14). He wants us to love him with ALL our heart, ALL our soul, ALL our mind, ALL our strength. When you are passionate about something, you give it your time, your attention, and your money. The word “passion’ means several things, including “a powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, a strong or extravagant desire, or a strong love,” but another definition is “the sufferings of Christ on the cross.” Jesus suffered because he is passionate about you and me. His love is so great that he gave everything for us—even his own life. That’s passion! That’s commitment. That’s love.

One of the primary ways we love God, one of the tools we have for surrendering to the Holy Spirit, one of the best expressions of trusting God, one of the most practical declarations of our faith is how we invest our money. I pray that your greatest passion in the world would be for God, and that your time, talents,
and your treasures would truly reflect your worship and allegiance to Him.


Before we enter a time of worship through music in this slightly unusual Sunday morning gathering, I want to talk about another prayer I pray for First Alliance Church in addition to passion. It’s unity.

Two weeks ago we saw from Romans chapter 14 how judging and condemning others can threaten unity…and even cause people to leave our church family. After all, who wants to be with people who are critical, negative, and self-righteous? Tragically, I’ve learned of several people who no longer attend First Alliance Church because of judgmental attitudes and rejection. One Connection Card from two weeks ago said a young persons, “First Alliance peers no longer come because they say they are judged and spoke to as sinful ‘lost sheep’ when they visit so they go to different churches now, or not at all. So sad.”

Family, I don’t want to “judge and condemn” you, but we’ve got work to do. Actually, the Holy Spirit has work to do…on our hearts. I want to return to the book of Romans, this time chapter 15. Some preachers have spent years going through this incredible book of the Bible. Two weeks ago, we were in chapter 14 and it continues…

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. (Romans 15:1-2)

In chapter 14, Paul tells the church in Rome to avoid quarrelling over disputable matters (14:1). Furthermore, we must be sensitive to those whose faith is weak, not causing them to stumble. Love means looking out for the best interest of another person, and for me to truly love you, I must be willing to sacrifice my freedoms for your conscience. I used the example of a person choosing not to drink a glass of wine around their friend who is an alcoholic. We’re naturally selfish creatures, but love means thinking of others.

This is radical! This is counter-cultural. This is the way of Jesus. He did not come to be served, but to serve. He did not come to save His life, but to offer it up for us. He set a perfect example for us to follow…an example that requires surrender to God, a filling of the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to die to our own selfish desires for the sake of loving God…and others.

This Saturday I’m performing a wedding ceremony in Michigan and one thing I often say to couples is marriage is not 50/50. It’s 100/100. If your attitude is to go halfway, that might be fine in some situations, but there are times in life when the other person—a spouse, child, parent, friend—simply can’t go halfway themselves. Maybe they are sick or struggling in some area of life and they need you to go the extra mile, so to speak. Jesus went all the way with his love. It was unconditional. He didn’t say, “I love you if” or “I love you because,” but “I love you. Period.” As we remembered last Sunday, he gave everything for us, even his very life on the cross.

For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Romans 15:3-4)

I’m so glad Jesus did not live a selfish life. Aren’t you? Paul continues,

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)

You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. When we live for ourselves, any hope of unity is lost. When we humbly gather together at the foot of the cross, bowing in adoration of Almighty God, seeking to love God and one another, unity is certain.

The ultimate purpose of unity is to glorify God, to worship and praise Him.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7)

This doesn’t mean to accept sin, but to accept sinners…that’s all of us. We’ve been accepted by Jesus, despite our brokenness. His love is amazing, and he commands us to love one another, to accept one another, and in doing so, we praise God, in word and deed.

This is really hard. It’s easy to disagree with one another. It’s easy to gossip, slander, and judge. It feels quite natural to be critical, negative and be divisive…especially in our current culture. I’m sorry to say I’ve witnessed this repeatedly within our church family…and it must stop. Now. Our mission is not to about a donkey or an elephant. What brings us together is not having similar educational or economic backgrounds. Our purpose in gathering is not to “have our needs met” or to enjoy the music or feel good about the preaching (especially today, right?!). We are a Jesus-centered family and we exist for the glory of God. Period.

Even if you were an only child, you know family can be difficult. You won’t always agree on what restaurant to visit on vacation, what color to paint the living room, or what to name the puppy. But God uses others to shape us, teach us, and transform us. Others help us to become patient, kind, generous, loving, and selfless…to become like Jesus.

Today we’re going to close with not one song but several. We want to create space for your voice to join others. You can download sermons all day long. You can give money online. You can chat with friends on Facebook. One thing that is unique about our gatherings is corporate worship. You can sing in your car, but there’s something so beautiful about praising God together. This isn’t glee club or choir hour, but rather singing songs to God. He’s the audience. The people on stage are not the performers. We all are performers, together, for God. As a symbol of our unity, of loving God and one another, as a family, we praise God.

Worship Music

I pray for passion, expressed in our time, talents, and treasures.
I pray for unity, expressed in our love for one another, encouragement, sensitivity to one another, and lack of condemnation.

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

Gift of Expectation, 26 November 2017

The Gift of Expectancy
Series—The Gifts of Christmas
John 3:16-21

Big Idea: The gift of Jesus is worth waiting for…and worth sharing.

Skit Guys Video


Do you ever feel like that dad? Thanksgiving’s over and now it’s full throttle until Christmas? It’s quite a transition, dominated, of course, by Black Friday which apparently begins before Friday and continues past Friday. Tomorrow is Cyber Monday followed by Giving Tuesday and…

Do you have rules about Christmas music? When I met Heather, she wouldn’t listen to Christmas music until December 1. I thought that was a bit extreme, but so are those radio stations that begin November 1. For me, Christmas begins when I see Santa in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. What rules do you have in your home about Christmas music and decorations? Often they are passed down from generation to generation. Do you hide a baby Jesus?

Advent. We commonly associate it with Christmas. Years ago our family had Advent calendars and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see Advent calendar gaining popularity. The term “advent” comes from Latin and means “coming” or “arrival.” With any arrival, there is anticipation and expectancy which means waiting.

At this very moment, what are you waiting for? Complete this sentence:

“I can’t wait for _________________.”

Today we begin a five-week Advent series called
The Gifts of Christmas. Do you like gifts? Of course, we all love gifts! They are great to receive and even better to give.

Today we’re looking at the gift of expectancy. Sometimes expectancy doesn’t feel like a gift. In fact, it may feel like torture. As I child, I couldn’t wait for Christmas, to open those colorfully-wrapped boxes…and hopefully find more toys than clothes! But the more anticipation, the greater the reward when the waiting is over and the arrival is experienced.

It’s impossible for us to understand how great the expectancy of the Messiah, Jesus. People waited for hundreds of years for this baby. Announcements were made. Clues were given. Finding baby Jesus was different than looking for a hidden nativity set piece. Dr. Luke described the clues given about two thousand years ago.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

How do you think these shepherds reacted to their angelic encounter? After calming down from the shock, I’m quite sure they said, “That was strange, now let’s get back to shepherding.” No! They probably wanted to run and see this gift from the Heavenly Father which was good news “for all the people.”

Can you imagine good news for all the people today? That would be so great, and yet that’s why we’re here. That’s why we exist…to proclaim the gospel, the good news. Jesus is the greatest news in human history, and we stand at a special time between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus. We look back at Bethlehem two thousand years ago, but we also anticipate His return.

I’ll tell you how the shepherds reacted to the news that the Messiah was coming. A few verses later it says,

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:16)

Jesus’ half-brother wrote,

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

The greatest gift of all is Jesus. Have you received the gift? Do you know Jesus? Many know about Him, but you can know Him personally.

Jesus is the greatest gift, sent from the Father
of the heavenly lights. God created the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars…and they reflect His beauty, genius, and creativity. He is a loving Father who loves to give good gifts to His children. Many tragically think of God as a mean creature with the personality of The Grinch. Instead, He is the most loving Dad. His generosity makes Santa Claus look downright stingy! Jesus said

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

We’ve been given good gifts since the creation of our magnificent world. When we messed it up, God realized we needed help—serious help! Our sins—those things which offend God and His perfection—created a wall between us and God. But since God is all about relationships, He offered a gift to us to knock down the wall, to allow us to know our Creator, have our sins forgiven, experience real joy and purpose, and engage in real life. The most famous verse in the 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)

But there’s more!

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:17-21)

The Father of Lights gives good gifts…great gifts…the most excellent gifts! He loves the world. He loves you and me. He demonstrated His love by sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world, saving us from sin and death, mediocre living, evil, and hopelessness. People waited for generations for Jesus’ first arrival even as we await for his second arrival…which could be any day! Even though Jesus is not physically present, make no mistake…he is here! He is transforming people through faith, hope and love. Do you know him?

Which Jesus?

There was a woman named Charlotte who ran a Christian pre- school. She bought a plush Jesus toy. He was happy and smiling and all squishy; the way a cuddly toy should be. Some of the parents objected. They thought it was “inappropriate.”

Charlotte didn’t hesitate. She knew the question she needed to ask. She asked “Which Jesus do you want your kids to know? The breakable Jesus on the high shelf who’s always looking down on them OR the Jesus who’s huggable and sits with them on the
comfy couch, the one they can talk to, the one that comforts them when they’re hurt, the one they tell all their secrets.

Which Jesus are we actually expecting at Advent. The one who plays games with us and brings us life or the one who sits on the shelf until it’s time to go back in the box?

Wise Men Still Seek Him

My prayer for you, regardless of where you find yourself today on your spiritual journey, is that you would look for Jesus. I don’t mean the plastic figure from the nativity set—though you might want to hide him until December 25—but the real Jesus, the one the shepherds pursued, the one who lived a perfect life, died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and promised to return. He came to show us what it means to truly be human. He demonstrated true love, the kind of love that gives until there’s nothing left to give. He said,

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

Wise men—and women—still seek him. Ask. Seek. Knock. You are invited this advent to know your Creator. This is not about religion. It’s not even about the Bible. It’s about knowing a Person, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the greatest gift.

Will you seek him this season? Will you pursue him? We are awaiting his return, but he has been waiting for some of you to surrender your life to him, to embrace him as the greatest gift.

If you’ve already received the gift, know Jesus is not slow in keeping his promise to return. He hasn’t forgotten you. Rather, he has a mission for you, a mission to proclaim the gospel, the good news, the gift.

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)

We often think of eternal life as referring to a length of time, but some scholars understand the original Greek to be qualitative, not quantitative. Following Jesus means we can have an amazing, fulfilling, satisfying life now. Don’t just sit around and impatiently wait for his return. Be ready, but use these precious moments to help people discover the missing piece in their Nativity set, the missing Person in their life.

So What?

How can you bring Jesus to Toledo? Maybe you can do it through Christmas caroling, delivering cookies, inviting a neighbor out for coffee, or even inviting a friend to join us next Sunday or any Sunday in December. For the next four weeks we’ll be talking about the gifts of Christmas. This is a season of expectation. If you’ve received the gift, it’s time to share it until He returns.

Credits: title and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • The Money Mess, 13 March 2016

    The Money Mess
    1 Timothy 6:6-10

    Big Idea: Money is not the root of all evil, but it can mess up our lives if we allow it.


    Today we’re going to talk about a subject Jesus loved to discuss, a subject He talked about more than heaven and hell combined…money!

    Money. Is it a problem for you? It clearly was in the drama.

    In our culture we have problems earning money.
    We have problems spending money.
    We have problems saving money.
    We have problems sharing money.

    We have a money mess.

    In the next thirty minutes I will not solve all of our money problems, but as Tax Day approaches and you’ve had multiple opportunities to invest in God’s work in Toledo and beyond, I’d like to briefly address some money matters with plans to go more in depth in the future.

    Earning Money

    I was recently privileged to interview more than a dozen Toledoans for a doctorate research project. One question I repeatedly asked was, “What would be good news in Toledo?” A common answer was, “Jobs.” It’s no secret our city has struggled in the midst of the Rust Belt as manufacturing jobs have gone overseas during the past few decades. Although our unemployment rate is only 6.6%, many are underemployed and many have given up entirely on employment and are no longer included in unemployment statistics.

    Work is a good thing. Although a burden for many, it was present in the Garden of Eden and I believe will be a part of our eternal lives.

    What was Adam and Eve’s work before The Fall?

    God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)

    That’s quite a responsibility, ruling over the fish, birds, and living creatures. But there was another task assigned.

    Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. (Genesis 2:19-20a)

    Adam—and possibly Eve—had to name the animals. Sure, maybe that wasn’t as stressful as dealing with your boss, but think about how creative they had to be after they got through dog, cat, cow, pig, and horse. Rhinoceros. Hippopotamus. That took effort! Seriously, Adam and Eve worked before they sinned and were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. God designed us to work. We will work in heaven.

    In the midst of our crazy election circus, allow me to be political for a moment: if you don’t work, you should not eat.

    Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty. (Proverbs 28:19)

    This verse is significant not only because it appears in the Old Testament but also because it is reiterated in the New.

    For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

    I’m not including, of course, those who cannot work, but every able-bodied person in our nation who wants to eat needs to work. They need to earn money. They need to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well-done, whether it is in a store, the home, an office, or a classroom.

    Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, (Colossians 3:23)

    We are to work for the Lord…and to earn money to provide for ourselves and, in some instances, others.

    Spending Money

    This is where USAmericans often get into trouble. Simply: we spend more than we earn.

    Non-housing debt is $3.38 trillion. The average household owes $7283 on their credit cards, and only 51% of Americans have enough cash in their emergency accounts to clear themselves of credit card debt.

    Debt is a tremendous burden. We’re all aware of the student loan crisis and the earlier housing loan crisis. Proverbs famously states

    The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)

    Experts disagree whether or not it is ever appropriate to have debt such as a student loan or a mortgage. The point is simply debt is a burden, and credit card debt, in particular, is a tremendous burden because

    1. a) Interest rates are ridiculously high
    2. b) Many are tempted to only pay the minimum, which only increases your debt
    3. c) Often credit card debt is the result of poor money management and self-control, buying products that depreciate
    4. d) Rarely is there a plan to eliminate the debt

    The solution is simple but not always easy: budget. I admit budgeting has been challenging for me, especially when I was creating annual budgets. I prefer monthly budgeting since incomes and expenses are rarely the same twelve months of the year. has some excellent, free tools for creating a budget and managing your finances.

    Dave Ramsey also has a great, free
    guide to budgeting.

    Saving Money

    This is one area where we have struggled as a family. Many financial experts advise a six-month emergency fund plus additional savings for retirement and large expenses such as college, cars, and weddings.

    As a matter of full disclosure, our family has never had credit card debt. We had a car payment for one year. We have a mortgage on our home of less than 40% of the home’s value. We have largely avoided debt and lived within our means, but we have little savings. Our emergency fund is small. While I personally wish we had six months of income or more in the bank, there is a benefit to our condition. Again, turning to Proverbs:

    Two things I ask of you, LORD;
    do not refuse me before I die:
    Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.

    Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
    Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

    Unexpected bills have kept us from amassing a great savings account, but they have also kept us dependent upon God for our daily bread. I’m grateful for that. He has never failed us. There have been so many stories throughout our marriage of God supplying our needs—and often our wants—it’s absolutely silly that I have any money worries at all…but I do.

    A friend on our trip told me about his least-favorite verse. He finds it so convicting, and so do I!

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

    Do you worry about money? Speaking from experience, it usually boils down to our trust in God. Often our worries stem from lack of fail and/or poor stewardship on our part, spending more than we can afford and then feeling the pressure of mounting debt.


    Sharing Money

    Paul wrote to Timothy…

    Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

    Perhaps you’ve read this verse and taken exception. “I’m not rich,” you say. Take a look at this…


    I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but if you earn this much money per year you are in the richest 1% of the world. It will not rank you in the top 1% in the USA, of course, but most of us are in the richest 1%.

    But regardless of your income,
    are you generous? Or are you stingy?

    Do you have an abundance mentality that recognizes the vast resources available to us or a scarcity mentality that clings to every penny?

    I must tell you I planned the timing of this message on money months ago, long before I knew we would be raising money for Claro Coffee Bar or our local and international missions partners. I promise you there’s no hidden agenda here, just to be good stewards of God’s gifts.

    Imagine my surprise when yesterday I did my daily One Story reading and came across this passage from the Exodus as the people were wandering for 40 years in the wilderness:

    Now the Lord sent a wind that brought quail from the sea and let them fall all around the camp. For miles in every direction there were quail flying about three feet above the ground. So the people went out and caught quail all that day and throughout the night and all the next day, too. No one gathered less than fifty bushels! They spread the quail all around the camp to dry. But while they were gorging themselves on the meat—while it was still in their mouths—the anger of the Lord blazed against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. So that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah (which means “graves of gluttony”) because there they buried the people who had craved meat from Egypt. (Numbers 11:31-34, NLT)

    They were gluttons. They were hoarders. 50 bushels per person? That’s a ton of meat!

    We have been blessed with a ton of resources. We have not only dollars but freedom, opportunity, brothers and sisters in Christ, education, the Internet, transportation, technology, health,…and let’s not forget the power of prayer and the presence of God.

    So What?

    We looked at part of Paul’s letter to Timothy. Timothy was in Ephesus, a huge port city filled with great trade and wealth.

    Heather and I both found it to be our favorite of the dozen or so cities we visited. This huge city was once buried under dirt and archaeologists keep excavating the area, uncovering incredible relics of this city of at least 50,000 but possibly as many as 200,000 people.

    Paul writes to Timothy in Ephesus

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

    Money is not the root of all evil. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

    Do you love money? Do you hoard money? Or are you generous?

    We often talk about tithing, which literally means giving ten percent. The great thing about a percent is we can all give. We all give a percentage to Columbus and Washington whether we like it or not! The reality is one hundred percent of what we have is a gift from God, a loan from God, if you will. We are to be good stewards of it. We have been blessed to be a blessing. We are not supposed to feel guilty about our wealth, but rather be grateful and generous.

    We are to live open-handed, allowing God to give and take away. It’s all His so we can clench our fists and let Him pry things out of our lives or we can freely surrender, knowing He can be trusted with our time, our talents, and our treasures.

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

    Rebel (and spend less), 11 December 2011

    Big Idea: one way to make this Christmas season different is to spend less and give more.

    We are in the most chaotic season of the year, businesses are doing whatever possible to lure us into their stores or onto their websites, credit cards are being used more than snow blowers in Alaska, and calendars are filled with parties and special events. So much for, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

    We continue
    Advent Conspiracy. The conspiracy is to do the season differently. The celebration of a king’s birth, lying in an animal food trough on a silent night has become the most stress-filled, debt-producing, narcissistic season of the year. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Each week we are focusing on one word. Last week it was
    worship. We said to do the season differently we need to worship more, focusing our attention on the one who is worthy and deserving of our affections and attentions—Jesus Christ.

    Today’s word is
    rebel. Does this surprise you? What comes to mind when you think of rebel? I don’t think most people in our culture would think of Jesus-followers as being rebels, yet for centuries, many have led radical, counter-cultural lives. The context of Jesus’ birth itself was filled with rebels.

    Rebellion is part of our tradition as followers of Jesus. I often talk about the importance of context when reading the Bible, and the Advent narratives are no exception.

    We talk a lot about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, but one of the dominant characters in the story is Herod. Herod was a nasty man. Actually, there several people named Herod as there were several names Caesar or the Pope. Herod was a governor appointed by the Roman Empire. He began his rule at age 25. He was obviously a friend of Rome and extremely insecure about his empire. He killed three of his sons, a wife, his mother-in-law, siblings, and even one of his key advisors. His empire was built on power and might. Even though he wasn’t Jewish, he held the title “king of the Jews.”

    He was an impressive man. He built stadiums and coliseums. He built a palace on a huge hill that he had built even higher. He even rebuilt the temple, super-sizing it and placing a Roman eagle on it. The temple then became a huge business, with people selling sacrifices. Do you remember the story? Jesus goes postal and knocks over their tables.

    After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

    When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
    (Matthew 7:1-6)

    We looked at this passage last week. Jesus had the right to be on the throne according to the genealogies in Matthew, so rather than seeking Jesus to destroy, he kills all baby boys.

    Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

    After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:7-12)

    Jesus is very aware of Herod, his power, and his influence. His cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded by Herod.

    At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

    He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day — for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
    (Luke 13:31-33)

    Jesus knows He is going to die a political death. He is aware of Herod. We need to be aware of Herod. We need to be aware of our culture. Jesus wants us to pledge allegiance to a different empire. Which kingdom will we pledge allegiance to? That is the real question today. We can follow Jesus—the real King of Kings—or we can follow the kings and rules and marketers and leaders of this world.

    Christ-followers for generations have been rebels. They have lived radical, counter-cultural lives. Many have given their lives for their faith, refusing to bow down to the idols and gods of this world.

    What about us? Do we worship the idols of our world—money, success, power—or humbly surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ?

    On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

    When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.
    (Luke 23:6-9)

    Herod wants Jesus to entertain him!

    Zealots were activists. They were protestors. Jesus did not join them.

    How do we ignore the kingdom? We focus on another Kingdom.

    Jesus ignored Herod because He was living for a different Kingdom.

    My challenge to you is ignore Herod and our materialistic culture that says more and bigger is better. Do you need all of that stuff? Do you need to buy all of that stuff? Do you need to go into debt to get all of that stuff?

    I’m not going Scrooge on anyone! I love to give and receive gifts. In fact, I’ve already done my part this year to stimulate the economy, but I’ve also done so challenged by the idea of spending less.

    Are there gifts I can offer that aren’t found at Target? Can I give my presence rather than just a bunch of presents? Why do I give gifts? Really.

    In 2007, film maker Morgan Spurlock of “Supersize Me” fame made a movie called “
    What Would Jesus Buy.” It’s makes quite a statement.

    An article in this week’s noted that the
    Prosperity Gospel preached in many churches is to blame for some of the overspending. According to a Time magazine survey, more than 60 percent of Christians agree that “God wants people to be financially prosperous.”

    Let’s be rebels this Christmas. Let’s be radical! Let’s give thought and care into not only what we buy, but why. Will it matter in six months? Will we still be paying for our gifts in six months? 50% of the people charging their purchases still owe for last year’s Christmas! Despite the recession, “
    the average American plans to spend $751 on gifts this year, up 22 percent from last year’s spending plans.”

    Here’s a few questions to think about the next time you’re at the mall...

    - why am I here?
    - do I need this?
    - how will I pay?
    - what if I wait?
    - where will I put it?

    I want to offer two gift suggestions that will not end up in next year’s garage sale.

    The first is a gift to
    Hope Clinic, our local ministry partner. We have catalogs of gifts you can purchase—everything from hot meals to medical care to prescriptions for needy in our community.

    The second is clean water. Thousands of men, women and children die every DAY just because they lack clean drinking water. A
    gift to The Water Project can literally save lives.

    We can serve MasterCard or the Master.

    We can serve the king of this world or the King of kings.

    We worship and live radical lives because He is worthy of our complete and total devotion.

    Let’s worship more, spend less, give to Hope Clinic and the Water Project, and make this Christmas matter.

    You can listen to the podcast

    Radical Abandonment, 30 October 2011

  • Big Idea: Jesus abandoned everything in heaven for you and for me. He invites us to radically abandon everything on earth for Him.

  • Mark 10:17-31

  • If there is one key verse for the series, it is Luke 14:33 where Jesus says,

  • …any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

  • For those of you looking for a loophole in the Greek, the word for everything—pas—means “all, everything, whole, always.”

  • Jesus demands radical abandonment—of everything: our time, talent, treasures, relationships, future, education, work, dreams, spouse, children, family…He wants it all!

  • Jesus’ teachings are filled with paradox. They defy conventional wisdom and political correctness. They are the polar opposite of the American Dream that says our highest aim in life should be the pursuit of happiness.

  • Look what Jesus said a few chapters earlier in Luke 9:24

  • For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

  • A few chapters later, He repeats a similar thought

  • Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Luke 17:33)

  • He wants all or nothing.

  • Today’s text is found in Mark’s biography of Jesus.

  • As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

  • “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good — except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

  • “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” (10:17-20)
  • Maybe you could say this. You’ve been a good boy or girl. You have lived a good life, never killed anyone, played by the rules, avoided speeding tickets, been a devoted Michigan football fan…!

  • Where did Jesus get this list of commandments? From the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Let’s review them together:

  • 1. No other Gods (Exodus 20:3)
  • 2. No idols (4-6)
  • 3. Do not misuse the name of the LORD (7)
  • 4. Remember the Sabbath (8-11)
  • 5. Honor your father and mother (12)
  • 6. Do not murder (13)
  • 7. Do not commit adultery (14)
  • 8. Do not steal (15)
  • 9. Do not lie (16)
  • 10. Do not covet (17)

  • How did you do? Most people that I’ve met would say they are pretty good—after all, they haven’t killed anyone! To be honest, I struggle daily with the first two. I find myself putting my desires above God’s, longing for health and wealth and happiness and doing just about anything to be safe and comfortable despite the needs around me. I look at my favorite idol every time I stand in front of a mirror. But that’s just me!

  • This man was a good man. He obeyed all of the commandments. He probably could’ve been a pastor or elder himself. He had arrived…almost.

  • Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (10:21)

  • Was that in God’s top ten list? I missed that!

  • At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (10:22)

  • Wait! Let’s go back to those first two commandments.

  • 1. No other Gods (Exodus 20:3)
  • 2. No idols (4-6)

  • Do you see what happened?

  • Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (10:23)

  • You are rich. Across the country at this very moment there are people occupying Wall Street and other public venues with one slogan. What is it? We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.

  • Here’s the truth, though: I’m in the 1%. Many of you are, too. No, we’re not among the richest 1% of USAmericans, but we are among the richest 1% on the planet. If you earn $48,000 or more, you are in the top 1% of the richest people in the world. $32,000 places you in the top 6 %, and if you only earned $12,000 you’re still in the top 13%!

  • The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (10:24-25)

  • Why? It’s all about need. It’s about dependence upon God.

  • The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

  • Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (10:26-27)

  • Many of us know this famous verse—all things are possible with God. Look at the context, though. It’s about salvation. Jesus is saying that we can be saved despite our wealth and idols.

  • I recently heard an interview with a highly educated Muslim man talking about his Islamic faith. When asked if he had any certainty about his eternal destination, he replied that God only knows. He is spending his entire life trying to be good enough to earn God’s favor in hopes that he will pass the test on judgment day and go to heaven rather than hell.

  • Maybe some of you are like that. You’ve been trying hard to be good so God will love you. You have more in common, perhaps, than Muslims. The religion of Christianity has said we must behave a certain way in order to believe and ultimately belong, but Jesus came to abolish religion. He came to offer grace, allow the unworthy to know God, invite sinners to heaven, and provide joy and peace and love to the unlovable.

  • The amazing thing about Jesus is grace, unmerited favor.

  • This past week I had a dear friend call me. We hadn’t talked in many months—maybe even years—but he was concerned that because he had turned away from God in the past, he was destined to hell despite his desire to follow Jesus again. I had him read the end of Romans 8 to remind him that nothing can separate us from the love of God—not even the terrible things we do.

  • That’s grace! If we want God, He will always welcome us with open arms as did the Father in the prodigal son. That’s the good news! That’s the Gospel! It’s not about what we do, but what was done on the cross for us. None of us can be saved—not rich or poor—apart from Jesus and the cross.

  • “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.” - Dallas Willard

  • Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”

  • “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. (10:28-30)

  • What does this say about those who radically follow Jesus? It will be worth it.

  • Jesus then concludes with one of His most famous paradoxical statements:

  • But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (10:31)

  • Play now and pay later or pay now and play later. The choice is yours. You can cling to this world, or invest in the world to come.

  • We use a lot of words to describe God. Jesus. Teacher. Savior. King. Son. Prince of Peace. Father. Perhaps the most challenging is LORD. He gives us commands, not considerations or suggestions. He’s not out to get us, though. He knows that if we lose ourselves, we will find. If we give, we will receive. If we surrender, we will discover freedom. If we die, we will truly live.

  • The Apostle Paul, arguably the most important figure in the New Testament after Jesus, said

  • I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

  • Paul is either insane or he is saying that by dying, he can experience resurrection and new life. When we die to ourselves, God can begin to recreate us. As the prophet Ezekiel wrote,

  • I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36:26

  • You’ve got to let go, though.

  • Never Alone

  • This is a challenging message. This has been a challenging series. I’ve been reminded each week that I need to die, and just when I feel like every part of me has been surrendered, I discover another place where I’m holding on. Death can be scary, especially when everyone else around us is living their normal lives.

  • This is where the Church becomes so vital. We are a family. We are a community. We need one another. We need to encourage one another. We need to mentor and disciple one another. We need to spur one another on toward our own death and Christ’s life.

  • Perhaps the most graphic description of this is found in the second chapter of the book of Acts.

  • They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

  • Do you see it?

  • They were radically committed to the Word of God and the apostle’s teaching.
  • They were radically committed to fellowship together, in public and in homes.
  • They were radically committed to prayer, experiencing miracles.
  • They were radically generous, giving to anyone as he had need.
  • They were radically committed to one another, meeting together daily.

  • This was not a perfect church, but it was a radical one. I cannot imagine a more compelling vision for Scio—a group of normal but radical people, passionately committed to loving Jesus, one another, and their neighbors.

  • It doesn’t just happen, though. We can’t wish it into reality. It requires total surrender, but it’s worth it.

  • We are not alone. He is not only with us, He has given us one another to encourage each other. This world is not our home. We are just visiting this planet...together.

  • Radical abandonment is about giving up anything that gets between us and God’s leadership. Do you trust Him…with everything? 

  • Jesus abandoned everything in heaven for you and for me. He invites us to radically abandon everything on earth for Him.

  • You can listen to the podcast here.