Psalm 148: Praise, 4 September 2022

Psalm 148: Praise!
Restoring Your Soul: Psalms

Series Big Idea:
The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul.
Big Idea: Let all of creation praise the Creator!
Praise the LORD! That’s the simple message of today’s scripture reading. Praise the LORD!
The original Hebrew word, which will be explained more fully later in a video, means to give glory, to sing praises, to go mad, to make fools, to boast. It has a connection to wedding songs and one reference says, “acted insanely.”
When is the last time you went bananas? When did you last embarrass yourself with your unbridled joy and enthusiasm?
Last night there were more than 100,000 people in
Columbus giving praise to young adults who were passing a pigskin. They sang praises. They boasted about their team. They gave glory to a university athletic program. To some, they appeared to be going mad, and to others they looked like fools.
Praise requires effort, passion, and energy…and an object. Praise the LORD!
This summer we’re in the book of Psalms, the song book of the Bible. We’ve looked at several themes about our relationship with God which all lead to praising Him.
Are you ready?
The heavens praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. (Psalm 148:1-4)
Have you ever witnessed this? I think you have! We might not see angels and heavenly hosts, but the sun and moon are quite spectacular, right? Were they created just for us, or could their movements actually be an expression of praise to their Creator?
What about the shining stars? We’ve mentioned them throughout this summer series. The more I learn about the
stars and galaxies, the smaller I feel!
I’ve shared the story before, but
William Beebe, the naturalist, used to tell this story about Teddy Roosevelt. At Sagamore Hill, after an evening of talk, the two would go out on the lawn and search the skies for a certain spot of star-like light near the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Then Roosevelt would recite: “That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” Then Roosevelt would grin and say, “Now I think we are small enough! Let’s go to bed.” (
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever—he issued a decree that will never pass away. (Psalm 148:5-6)
The name of the LORD is to be praised. It’s holy. It’s sacred. It’s powerful.
The earth and sea praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, (Psalm 148:7-8)
you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. (Psalm 148:9-12)
That includes you and me! The late Dallas Willard said,
“Sometimes we get caught up in trying to glorify God by praising what He can do and we lose sight of the practical point of what He actually does do.”
God is awesome. He can do great things, but He also does great things that deserve our praise. God is good…all the time! All the time…God is good!
We need to be reminded of this. We need to remember…because we so easily forget. We get freaked out by the news. Social media can cause anxiety. Life is filled with stress and trials and problems…and some are quick to blame God for all of their troubles rather than the sin which plagues our world.
All of creation—everything—is to praise the LORD!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. (Psalm 148:13)
We sang earlier about the name of the LORD. There are actually several names for God. We
often reference three because there is one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We call this the Trinity. This is a mystery
The ancient Greek Fathers of the Church likened the Trinity to a dance. A weaving in and out, back and forth with a harmony of Spirit and a unity of purpose.
I like this statement from InterVarsity’s website which speaks of the Dance of Equality:
There is no hierarchy in the Trinity. The Son glorifies the Father and the Father glorifies the Son.  The Spirit glories Jesus.  The gospel of John paints this picture of equality powerfully for us.
The Trinitarian doctrine that we affirm proclaims the one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit full of love and glory. Did you catch that in the doctrinal basis? “Full of love and glory.”
The Son and Spirit don’t lack glory. The Father doesn’t lack love. Far from it!  The New Testament says he lavishes his love on us by sending his Son! They highlight and spotlight and exalt and serve each other. The ancients called the relationship perichoresis, but the best way to describe it is to think of it as a dance.  They spin and whirl in a wild dance of love and trust until you can’t tell who’s leading and who’s following and all you know is that a great time is being had.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
The Trinity is certainly a mystery. I suppose if we completely understood God, we would be God!
The Bible gives numerous descriptions of the roles of the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. For whatever reason, I used to imagine the Father as the One who created everything, but John clearly states otherwise. Then again, Genesis 1:26 tells us that God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” If that doesn’t sound like more than one Person…
We praise the Father. We praise the Son. We praise the Spirit. They are all God. They are God. But on this communion Sunday as we prepare to remember the work of Jesus on the cross, I want to show you references to Jesus specifically in Psalm 148.
Jesus the Messiah can be seen in this psalm. He is the
-       Creator of all things (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17)
       Captain of the hosts of the LORD (Joshua 5:14)
       Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78)
       Morning Star (Revelation 22:16)
He demonstrated power over
-       Storms (Matthew 8:23-27; 14:23-33)
       Trees (Matthew 21:18-22)
       Animals (Mark 1:13; 11:1-3)
And he has raised up for his people a horn,  the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart.
Praise the LORD. (Psalm 148:14)

Credits: some ideas from Warren Wiersbe

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

God is Holy, 20 June 2021

God is Holy
Series—Exodus: Journey to Freedom

Series Big Idea:
The book of Exodus describes God’s gracious liberation of the Jews from slavery to freedom.

Big Idea: God is holy and deserving of our worship…and holiness.

The Bible is filled with amazing stories. They are so remarkable, they’re often referenced by non-Christians such as David and Goliath or even Noah and the ark. One of the most vivid occurs in the third chapter of Exodus, the book we’re studying this month.

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” (Exodus 3:1-3)

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4)

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

Holy ground. What is holy ground? How does a piece of wilderness become holy? What does it even mean when we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy?”

The original Hebrew word here for holy in Exodus 3 is
qodesh. It’s used over 400 times and means to be clean, ceremonially or morally. The idea is to appoint, bide, consecrate, dedicate, purify, distinct, set apart.

Growing up, we had everyday dishes and the special ones. Most nights I would see beige Pfaltzgraff plates and common silverware (that probably weren’t even silver!). But when company came over for a special dinner, the white china was used with the fancy silverware from the special silverware box! You might say it was holy, set apart, special.

I probably doubt I have to convince you that God is holy. He’s God! Of course He’s special, purified, set apart. He never sins. He never forget. He never sleeps. He never fails. His love is unlimited. His power is never-ending. His presence is everywhere.

We’re told in 1 Samuel…

“There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. (1 Samuel 2:2)

There are two things I hope to communicate today. First,
we need to expand our vision of God.

He is not your homeboy! He’s not your buddy. He’s God! He’s the Creator of the universe. We don’t worship an idol or a statue or a dead person or the sun and moon or the greatest idol…ourselves. No, we worship the holy God, the One unlike any other, the Rock. I’m reminded of the old Broadway Musical, Your Arms Too Short to Box with God!

He is God. You’re not. If we could just understand that simple truth, life would be radically different…and better. We say, “Jesus take the wheel” and then become a backseat driver! We love power. We crave control. We want it our way.

That’s an option! God has given us free will, the ability to make choices. How’s that working out for you? We see all around us evidence that making gods of ourselves is a catastrophe. COVID or not, depression and anxiety have skyrocketed as our churches have emptied. Homelessness and poverty are rampant in what may be the world’s most wealthy country. Incarcerations and injustice are off the charts. Violence in our land makes most nations look peaceful. We’ve rejected God and I don’t believe He’s punishing us so much as we’re simply suffering the consequences of that rejection.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of those who ignore God and do life on their own arrogant terms before saying,

But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts. (Isaiah 5:16)

I don’t know about you, but I need God! I need His wisdom. I need His love. I need His power. I need His grace. I need His joy and mercy and peace and kindness and…

Some of you don’t need God…until you do! I’m urging you, surrender to God! Daddy knows best! He can be trusted. Listen to these words from Psalm 99…

Psalms 99:1    The LORD reigns,
let the nations tremble;
he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
let the earth shake.
2 Great is the LORD in Zion;
he is exalted over all the nations.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name—
he is holy.
4 The King is mighty, he loves justice—
you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done
what is just and right.
5 Exalt the LORD our God
and worship at his footstool;
he is holy.
6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel was among those who called on his name;
they called on the LORD
and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud;
they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.
8 LORD our God,
you answered them;
you were to Israel a forgiving God,
though you punished their misdeeds.
9 Exalt the LORD our God
and worship at his holy mountain,
for the LORD our God is holy.

This is not news to most of you, but we need to be reminded of Who it is that we are talking about, talking to, talking with, worshipping. We don’t sing on Sundays because we’re some glee club!
A holy God deserves a response.

Last week the president met with Queen Elizabeth. He didn’t show up wearing flip flops and a graphic tee! Even though he is the leader of our nation, he recognized he was in the presence of royalty. He dressed, spoke, and behaved accordingly.

I’m not suggesting that God demands a dress code, but He is worthy of our respect, our attention, our worship. Our English word
worship comes from the (Anglo Saxon) word worth-ship (or Old English woerthship), to ascribe worth to something. God deserves our praise, our allegiance, our time, our talents, our treasures, and our devotion.

Do you worship God? I don’t mean do you attend a weekly worship gathering on Sunday morning. I mean does your life reflect God is worthy of your whole self? Although the numbers seem to be declining, most people in our country would say they believe in God, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. The Bible says even demons believe in God (James 2:19)! They used to work for Him! A holy God is worthy of our worship, 24/7/365.

I think most people are simply too busy for God, obsessed with acceptance, significance, and security from everyplace except the true source, our Holy God. They’ll run to God when they’re in crisis, but otherwise they want to be in control and feel they don’t need God. Even in crisis, they treat God as a cosmic Santa Clause. Tragically, so many turn away from God when they don’t get their way, when trials come, when life gets hard…as if God owes us anything.

I don’t want what I deserve from God! My sin, rebellion, selfishness, and pride make me intolerable to a holy God. I deserve eternal punishment for my unholy behavior.

But that’s where Jesus comes in! Jesus did live a perfect life and died in our place. That’s love. That’s grace. That’s something we could never deserve. It’s also why we love and worship Jesus. God could’ve been satisfied with watching us die in our sins, but out of His love and mercy He sent Jesus to show us what it means to be human, to die, and to rise from the dead.

We need to expand our vision of God. We need to get Him out of the box, restore the mystery, and be captivated by our Good, Good Father. One of the ways we can do that is simply to read and study the Bible. I must confess I often get to comfortable and complacent with God. I get disappointed when He doesn’t do what I want, when I want. Then I feel justified in ignoring Him…or worse.

God created us in His image…and we’ve returned the favor!

The last book of the Bible offers some brilliant images that the best CGI in Hollywood could never begin to adequately capture. One of my favorite verses says,

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“ ‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’

who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8)

There is so much to that verse I can hardly imagine! What I know is God is awesome—Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit. Supernatural creatures declare this day and night and never stop! You think our songs are repetitious!!!

That’s not the first time this refrain is mentioned in the Bible. Isaiah the prophet tells this story…

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

That’s quite a sight, right? Isaiah saw it. But that’s not all.

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:4)

This was a multi-sensory extravaganza! Not even Disney World can create experiences like this! Here’s how Isaiah responded…

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

The Hebrew word here in Isaiah for holy is slightly different than the first word I mentioned,
qodesh. That meant distinct or set apart. The word in this verse, used 118 times, is qadosh. It means sacred, morally separate, pure, or unstained. God’s perfection sets him apart. That’s why Isaiah said he was ruined. It wasn’t just that God was set apart, He is perfectly pure.

That’s a proper response. In the presence of a holy God, we are all ruined. We are all unclean. We’re unworthy to even speak to the Almighty, much less have a relationship with Him.

Again, that’s where Jesus comes in. He’s the path to the Father. His sacrifice grants us access. Hallelujah! We don’t worship a book. We’re not about religion. We’re not here for guilt and shame. We’re all about a Person…Jesus!

So What?

God is holy, yet He calls us to be holy. God told Moses,

“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)

We’ve already said we’re not perfect, so how can we be holy? Just as we need to expand our vision of God,
we need to examine our vision of ourselves.

We’re not perfect.
We don’t have all of the answers.
We have limited knowledge, even with Google!
We have not only weak bodies susceptible to viruses, we have weak minds.

We need God.
We need Jesus.
We are called to be holy, to be set apart, to be different…but also pure.

It’s no secret that Christianity is on the decline in the western world—though it’s growing in the developing world. The problem is not that the world is being the world, but rather that the Church is not being the Church. More precisely, the Church is being too much like the world. We’re not different. We’re not set apart. We’re not offering an alternative lifestyle to the broken, greedy, narcissistic, individualistic, consumeristic culture in which we live. If we live like everyone else and pretend to be holy for an hour on Sunday, we might as well just skip the Sunday charade and eat, drink and be merry…and suffer the consequences.

Family, we are called by God to be holy, to be set apart, to be pure. You and I were created by God to be masterpieces (Ephesians 2:10), special, sacred…not the everyday stuff, but the good stuff! His seeking holiness in us is not because He simply has rules He wants us to follow. It’s because all sin ends in destruction and pain.

I know there are some strange laws in our land, but God’s laws are all for our good and His glory. He is the definition of love and, therefore, has our best interest at heart. He’s calling us to a higher standard then the mediocrity of the world. That means we are to put away our idols, our pride, our selfishness, sexual immorality, prejudice, hatred, and greed. He doesn’t want us to live like everyone else because He knows what’s best for us. Like a good Father, He doesn’t want us to ruin our lives…yet He gives us the freedom to make—and hopefully learn from—our mistakes.

In a world that says truth is whatever you feel, God calls us to something objective, to something greater, to something real…holiness. Righteousness. A life devoted to His glory, not our own.

God is holy. He is set apart. He is pure. He is sacred. Any He invites us to follow Him, to do life with Him, to worship Him, to love Him and others well, and to experience what it truly means to be human…to be holy.

God declared the wilderness in which Moses was standing holy ground. This is holy ground, too, for the LORD is here and where He is is holy.

We close today with a song that declares God’s holiness, but remember worship is more than a song. It’s a lifestyle that reflect God’s holiness to Him and the watching world…not for our glory, but His. Worship and obedience are the natural response to a Holy God who invites us to be His sons and daughters.

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

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

The Rich Young Ruler, 21 February 2021

The Rich Young Ruler
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 10:17-31

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

Big Idea: Following Jesus involves total surrender, not just a one-time prayer.

Nearly four years ago we began a series called
Mark, the Real Jesus. We’ve been going verse-by-verse through the shortest of the gospels or “good news,” the four biographies of Jesus that include Matthew, Luke, and John. The purpose of the series is to know Jesus…not just know about him, but to know him, to have a relationship with him, to become like him by the power of the Holy Spirit we talked about last Sunday.

Before we look at today’s text in Mark chapter ten, we’re going to go back—way back—to the second book of the Bible. In Exodus chapter twenty, God delivers His Top Ten List, the Ten Commandments. How many of them can you name?

And God spoke all these words: (Exodus 20:1)   

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2)   

“You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)   

That’s the first one: no other gods. What is most important to you? Who is most important to you? What is the foundation of your life? What or who truly matters most?

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (Exodus 20:4)   

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, (Exodus 20:5)   

but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:6)

The second one is no idols. We often think of idols as religious statues, but it’s anything we love and worship more than God. Notice God makes incredible promises concerning these commands. He gives us great freedom, but there are consequences to both obedience and disobedience.  

If you’re keeping score, the rest involve misusing the name of the LORD, sabbath, honoring one’s parents, and the “shall nots” of murder, adultery, stealing, false testimony, and coveting.

Today, though, our focus will be on the first two commandments as we look at the gospel of Mark.

Are you rich? Whether you feel like it or not, most of you are rich. Sure, we are all rich in God’s love, but I mean financially rich. You’ve heard of the one-percent, those wealthy Americans who are frequently demonized in the media (despite many create jobs and opportunities for others as business owners). To be in the top one percent in the USA, you need to earn about $500,000 a year. For the record, that is NOT me!!!

To be in the top one percent in the
world, you need to earn about $60,000 a year. If you earn $45,000, you are in the top two percent, and if you only earn $38,000, you are in the top three percent of the richest people in the world. If you earn only $19,000 a year, you’re in the top ten percent.

Most of us are rich compared to the rest of the world. With blessings comes responsibility…and temptation.

We’re in the tenth chapter of Mark, beginning at verse 17.

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?” (Mark 10:17)

This guy sounds sincere. He runs to Jesus, falls on his knees, proclaims him to be a good teacher, and asks what it takes to inherit eternal life.

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. (Mark 10:18)

Maybe the man realized Jesus
was God!

Think for a moment about Jesus’ statement. If only God is good, we’re not. Sure, compared to some people we might be good, but we all sin. We are all deserving of eternal punishment for our wicked deeds. None of us is perfect, which is God’s standard for goodness, found only in Jesus, the sinless one.

You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:19)

These are commandments 6-9 if you’re keeping score, plus “don’t defraud,” and then 5. He skips 1-4 and 10…for now!  

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” (
Mark 10:20)

That’s a pretty bold statement, but the man didn’t list all ten. Like us, he was self-deceived. He overestimated his goodness after Jesus told him only God is good.

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.” (Mark 10:21)

I always missed the first sentence. Jesus loved him. Jesus loves sinners. It’s out of love that Jesus addresses the commandments related to God first. no idols, and covetousness or greed.

N.T. Wright notes,

When Jesus says ‘You will have treasure in heaven’, he doesn’t mean that the young man must go to heaven to get it; he means that God will keep it stored up for him until the time when, in the Age to Come, all is revealed. The reason you have money in the bank is not so that you can spend it in the bank but so that you can take it out and spend it somewhere else. The reason you have treasure in heaven, God’s storehouse, is so that you can enjoy it in the Age to Come when God brings heaven and earth together at last. And ‘eternal life’, as most translations put it, doesn’t mean ‘life in a timeless, otherworldly dimension’, but ‘the life of the Age to Come’ (the word ‘eternal’ translates a word which means ‘belonging to the Age’).

(Mark for Everyone, Westminster John Knox Press)

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

The rich, young ruler had good feelings for God, but loved wealth more. It’s important to remember most of us have great wealth, too. The world says that’s good, but it can become an obstacle. Do you possess money or does your money possess you?   

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

I’ve seen a number of people lately writing about downsizing and eliminating clutter in our lives. The more we have, the more we must work to protect, insure, store, and steward. Some in our church family are homeless, which is not a popular or comfortable position to be in, but there are certainly benefits to its simplicity.

As I said, sometimes we demonize the rich, as if their success is somehow evil. Perhaps it’s actually envy that leads to such criticisms.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Proverbs 30. It reads,

8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 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 30:8-9)

Do you recall someone teaching his friends to pray for daily bread? It’s in Jesus’ model we call the LORD’s Prayer (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3). It’s taken from these words by Agur son of Jakeh, a wise man indeed.

The rich are tempted to feel secure in their wealth and ignore God.
The poor are tempted to steal and dishonor God.

We are to pray for daily bread.

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

That’s a sobering statement, especially for USAmericans. We often think of the kingdom of God as a disembodied heaven, but rather it’s here on earth where God rules. Jesus taught us to pray for his kingdom to come now, on earth as it is in heaven. We don’t walk on streets of gold, but the Age to Come is emerging here and now, like a baby chick with its beak sticking through the egg shell, as N.T. Wright says. We are in-between.

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” (
Mark 10:26)

Many in Jesus’ day thought wealth was a sign of God’s favor and blessing, and that a place in the Age to Come could be purchased somehow. If the rich can’t get in, who can?  

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

Many of you have heard that expression, “All things are possible with God.” But look at the context. It’s about salvation. It’s about the rich entering the kingdom of God. We are saved by grace. It’s a gift. Praise God we have hope because of Jesus, his death, and resurrection!   

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” (
Mark 10:28)   

“Truly I tell you,” 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 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31)   

What a promise! This life—eighty years or so, on average—is so short compared to eternity. Why are we so attached to the cares of this world when it’s all so temporary? God’s kingdom is not of this world. It’s the upside-down kingdom. Jesus is saying anything we sacrifice for him will be worth it, both in the present age and in the age to come. He is inviting them—and us—to put away our idols and greed and follow him with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. There’s a price to pay for following Jesus, but it’s worth it.

So What?

Is money evil? No. Money is a tool used for centuries, a means of exchange. It can be used for good or bad.

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 6:10)

The love of money is dangerous. It is one of the most common idols in our culture. Most of us want more. In fact, one millionaire was asked how much money was enough and he replied, “Just a little bit more.” That’s because money will never truly satisfy, especially if your goal is to hoard it.

Contrast that with generosity. I remember hearing a wise man years ago say his goal was to make as much money as possible and keep as little as necessary for himself. He delighted in giving.

During my five years here at First Alliance I’ve seen many examples of radical generosity. God has blessed us with some wealthy members, and although I don’t see who gives what, I know our budget is met through men and women who are good stewards of their wealth, making eternal investments through their tithes—ten percent-and offerings week after week. But I’ve heard stories of anonymous homeless people giving generously, too. The best way to destroy the money monster—the greed machine, the idol of wealth—is generosity.
Giving is a gift. Paul instructed the church in Corinth,

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Do you want to be loved by God? Give! This isn’t a fundraising pitch, but an encouragement to share your wealth, invest your money, be generous. To those of you with little financial wealth, give something! If ten percent seems too much, start with one percent. Columbus takes seven percent! The federal government takes even more! What if you took a faith-filled risk and sowed some seeds, upped your giving, made a wild investment in God’s work, or simply began the godly discipline of generosity? Remember,
everything we have belongs to God, not just ten percent.

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)

We can see from today’s text how money easily becomes an idol. It becomes more important than God. In fact, I believe the reason Christianity has been in decline in the western world for decades isn’t politics or technology or education, but simply wealth. We don’t need God. We have doctors when we’re sick, heaters when we’re cold (until we lose power!), iPhones when we’re lonely, and entertainment when we’re bored. Who needs God? Who has time for God?

It’s amazing how different things are in the developing world. When they are sick, they pray. For many, there is no plan B. For our brothers and sisters around the world without religious freedom, they have no power or rights, but they trust completely on God. Many of us are so comfortable that truly pursuing God seems like work or an obligation rather than a privilege to commune with the Creator of the universe!

Is God first in your life?
What idols are between you and God? It might be money, but it could be your career, family, hobbies, or even religion. Anything more important to you than God is a sinful idol. Period. Those are God’s words…Old and New Testament!

Consider these words from the book of Hebrews:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Think about that for a moment. If we have God, what more do we really need? True contentment can only be found in God in the first place.

Listen to Paul’s instructions to Timothy:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2Timothy 3:1-5)

If this doesn’t sound like our country, I don’t know what does. But we’re called to be different! We’re called to follow Jesus, not the world. We’re called to live lives of contentment, peace, faith, hope, and love. We’re called to fully rely on God, not our 401k or bank account.


No other Gods. No idols. No covetousness or greed. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said the greatest commandment was:

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)

May it be said of each of us, “In God We Trust,” not the money upon which it is stated.

What is your foundation? What or who is your God. What is your first love?

We can build our lives on the stock market, but it can crash.
We can build our lives on a dream home, but a storm can destroy it.
We can build our lives on a career, but it can be lost in a pandemic.

“Build My Life”

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

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

The Holiness of God, 3 January 2021

The Holiness of God
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Isaiah 6:1-8

Series Big Idea: We are beginning—and spending—the year on our knees seeking God’s direction, protection, passion, and unity.

Big Idea: God’s holiness will lead us to worship…with our head, heart, and hands.

Happy New Year!
Aren’t you glad to get rid of 2020? Actually, if you joined us for our virtual New Year’s Eve celebration, you’ll know that God was faithful in 2020 despite all of the chaos…and I promise you, He will be faithful in 2021!

Today we’re beginning not only a sermon series but a forty-day campaign with the Christian & Missionary Alliance…
40 Days of Prayer.

I can’t imagine a better way to start a new year than on our knees. Our world is in transition with the pandemic, our nation is in transition in Washington DC, our church is in transition with new staff members, …we need God! I continue to pray that God would bring us—all of us—Christians and non-Christians—to our knees, seeking first His Kingdom, His will, His righteousness.

Today’s theme is holiness, and few things will bring you to your knees like experiencing the awe and wonder of God’s holiness.

What come to mind when you hear the word

The original Hebrew word for holy is
qadosh. It means ceremonially or morally sacred. It is set apart. Wayne Grudem defines holiness as “the doctrine that God is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own glory.” Holy is consecrated, hallowed, sanctified, venerated, revered.

The prophet Isaiah had an incredible experience he records in chapter six.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)

How do you imagine God? I’m quite sure Isaiah wasn’t able to see God’s face. God told Moses,

But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20)

Isaiah was able to see God’s glory, His throne. It must’ve been an awesome sight, yet there’s more.

Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (Isaiah 6:2)

The word “seraphim” means “fiery ones” to indicate their burning love. The appear to have been human with the addition of wings, which might be why angels are often depicted with wings. Isaiah’s eyes must’ve been overwhelmed. But this was more than a visual experience.

And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

The repetition may very well be a reference to the Trinity, one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:4)

This was a scene unlike any New Year’s Eve spectacular! I wish he had a video camera! This was no theatrical production, though. It’s just God. He is holy.

Holiness is displayed by God’s power.

There is no one like our God! He is holy, set apart, without equal, supreme. He is free from sin and Master of all. The seraphim declared it, and last book of the Bible tell us the refrain continues.

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

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

This is God stuff. We can’t fully comprehend it. It will require our resurrected bodies to be able to contain it. This is our God.

Holiness is displayed by God’s personification.

God is a Person. Isaiah doesn’t describe God as a force or spirit. He mentions God is seated on a throne dressed in a robe. He is above all, high and lifted up.

Holiness is displayed in God’s

Only God is worthy of continuous worship and adoration, both by humans and other creatures such as the seraphim. This text is truly awe-inspiring. There’s more to the story, but first I want to stop and focus on these words: holy, holy, holy.

Isaiah has this incredible encounter with the Almighty. It engaged all of his senses except, possibly, taste. He saw, felt, smelled, and heard God and His glory, leading him to say,

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

When you’re in the presence of greatness, it’s humbling.

When I was a young boy, my dad took me to a Detroit Pistons game on church night. After the game, there was a special event featuring the spiritual testimonies of some of the players. Somehow I noticed an empty seat in the audience next to 6’ 10” Kent Benson and I asked my dad if I could fill it. After gaining his approval, I sat next to this gigantic NBA star and could hardly contain my excitement. At one point we were asked to stand and I remember straining my neck just to see his head! I was humbled in the presence of greatness.

The greatness of God is infinitely greater than any athlete. Isaiah recognized not only his physical weakness, but his sinfulness in the presence of our holy God. The New Living Translation describes him saying,

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” (Isaiah 6:5, NLT)

That’s a proper response to the LORD…and to our own sin. We are doomed. We are wrecked. I don’t care how good you think you are, compared to God, you are but dust. You and I have no hope before a holy God…apart from God’s grace and mercy.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

Atone is an uncommon word in modern English, but it means to make amends or reparation. It’s making restitution. Isaiah is aware of his sin and unworthiness, yet God had mercy. This is an unusual event, yet the message is clear.

God offers forgiveness.

Jesus made forgiveness possible for all of us when he died on the cross. At one moment Jesus atoned for our sins. You might say he bridged the canyon that existed between a holy God and sinners like us. Regardless of what you’ve done, forgiveness is available through the death and resurrection of Jesus. No matter what you did in 2020—or even the first days of 2021—God offers forgiveness.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 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. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. (1 John 1:8-10)

Make no mistake, someday we will all stand before a holy God and give an account for our lives, but followers of Jesus will not stand alone. We stand with Christ…forgiven. Hallelujah! We celebrate that death, resurrection, and forgiveness today through communion.

God offers forgiveness. We respond with worship.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

We often reduce worship to singing songs as we did a moment ago, but worship is declaring God is worthy. It is showing honor and reverence to our awesome and holy God. We can worship with our lips in song. We can worship with our head in study. We can worship with our hands in service to others.

Isaiah had a truly awesome encounter with the holy God, it brought him to his knees, and led him to offer his life.

Have you encountered the holiness of God? If so, worship and service are the only appropriate responses. If we truly realize the extent of God’s holiness, power, and grace, we can’t help but declare, “I surrender all. Here am I. Send me!”

I can’t think of a better way to begin this year than on our knees in devotion to God. We may not have the experience the prophet had, but we can imagine the splendor and majesty of our God and responding in brokenness and humility like Isaiah did. God’s holiness will lead us to worship…with our head, heart, and hands.

Credits: some ideas taken from Steve Grusendorf and The Alliance

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

Good, Good Father, 21 June 2020

Good, Good Father
Series—What in the World is Going On?

Big Idea: In the midst of our chaotic world, our Father is good, loving, and trustworthy.

What in the world is going on? If you’re like me, you’ve asked that question a lot lately.

The deadly coronavirus is one thing. The lockdowns and ensuring chaos have been—at least for many—even worse.

The senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are one thing. The ensuring protests and violence are—at least for many—even worse.

What in the world is going on?

Our world is a mess. But this is actually not a new thing. Read the Bible! Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the Garden, we’ve all been involved in the deadliest force in the universe…sin.

Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love…and a great Dad!

Happy Father’s Day!

Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day can be bittersweet. Perhaps like me, your father is deceased and you’re left with memories, perhaps good, possible not-so-good. Maybe you never knew your dad…or he was abusive. Some of you are dads, and your heart breaks for your wayward, prodigal child.

Today I want to talk about a good Father. A good, good Father. Actually, He’s great, He’s awesome, He’s positively perfect! Yes, I’m talking about our heavenly Dad.
If the word “father” carries baggage, I encourage you to imagine the best dad you know…or maybe even the best parent you know. It might be a friend’s dad or even one from a movie or television show. No matter how ideal that dad is, our heavenly Dad is so much greater.

I have one simple prayer for today: that you would begin to understand how much your heavenly Dad really loves you. I know what you’re thinking: I know God loves me. But you can’t imagine how loved you really are. I can’t imagine. Why? Because none of us have experienced such extravagant love from a human. It is transformational. It is unconditional. It is life-giving. It is grace-filled.

Grace. Unmerited favor.

Nothing you can do can make God love you more than He does right now.
Nothing you can do can make God love you less than He does right now.

I want to be a dad like that. I want my kids—and grandkids—to be secure in my unconditional love for them. I love them. Period.

I don’t love them more if they get straight As.
I don’t love them more if they are the starting quarterback.
I don’t love them more if they become a CEO, launch a non-profit, or become a billionaire.

I don’t love them less if they flunk calculus.
I don’t love them less if they get cut from the basketball team.
I don’t love them less if they get addicted to opioids or end up in prison or get divorced.

Now imagine how much greater God’s love is for them…for me…for you!

God doesn’t love you more if you read the Bible every single day for the rest of your life.
God doesn’t love you more if you “go to church” every Sunday.
God doesn’t love you more if you go on a missions trip, live off 10% of your income, or lead a thousand people to follow Jesus.

God doesn’t love you less if you struggle with porn or alcohol.
God doesn’t love you less if you get arrested for speeding on I-75.
God doesn’t love you less if you get an abortion, are attracted to someone of the same sex, or commit adultery.

“But pastor, that’s not how a good Christian is supposed to behave!”

True, but have you ever met a truly good Christian? We all sin. We all miss the mark. We all fall short. We can compare ourselves to others, but the reality is we’re all sinners. We don’t want what we deserve from God…trust me! How many times did God threaten to wipe us all out? He did once—with Noah! Even then, God’s love won the day. There’s nothing like a good Father’s love.

For quite some time, churches have promoted the notion of sin management. We need to try harder to be a good person and stop doing bad things so God will like us.

In their book True Faced, Thrall, McNicol, and Lynch ask a rather provocative question:

Is it more important to please God or trust God?

The authors state quite properly, in my humble opinion,

Motives —> Values —> Actions

Pleasing God

God’s done so much for us. The least we can do is please Him, right? We need to work on our sin, engage in spiritual disciplines, and try not to mess up. We need to strive to be better, try harder, and certainly look good in front of others. It’s important to manage our sin, celebrate our progress, and make sure nobody knows the struggle, the secrets, the guilt and shame.

Pleasing God: the least we can do is please Him after all He’s done for us; good intentions (impressive, passionate people…wearing masks), working on their sin and disciplines; God loves you always, but He likes you a lot less when you mess up; God’s glad you’re doing your to-do list, but He’s not happy about your thoughts; nobody knows what’s behind the mask; you don’t believe you can really please God for a minute; you’re exhausted from faking;

Many Christians are motivated to please God. I’m not suggesting we should try to displease God, but if our primary motive is to please God, we will value perfection, realize our imperfection, and inevitably fake it. We join others with masks, believing God loves us, but He likes us a lot less when we mess up. He likes it when we read the Bible and pray, but He’s not happy about our thoughts. If we just try harder, if we just strive, if we do more…

More right behavior + less wrong behavior = Godliness


Motives —> Values —> Actions

If your motivation is to please God, you’ll value perfection and pursue it at all costs, even if it means pretending.

Trusting God

But there’s another option. It’s to trust God. It’s not as impressive, but it is infinitely more inviting. There’s not much to do. There are no masks to put on or people to please. It’s messy but honest and real. It’s about grace. The message on this road is God is delighted with you, wild about you regardless of how you behave. God loves you and likes you all the time, even when you mess up. God is here in the midst of your mess, enjoying you. He’s big enough to handle your stuff, and He’s never surprised when you fall. He says, “I am crazy in love with you…on your very worst day. I just want you to trust Me with who I say you are.” Embracing such love and acceptance is transformational…and contagious.

Jesus gave us a mission in Matthew 28:18-20 to go and make disciples, students, followers of Jesus. Discipleship is about being more than doing. It’s about becoming like Jesus, not impressing others. The true test of discipleship is how well you love…God and others. That doesn’t come from a seminar or sermon. It comes from being…with Jesus and with others who love Jesus.

Some of you are still stuck on pleasing God versus trusting God. Aren’t we supposed to please God? Yes! It is written,

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Trusting God pleases God!

We are to trust and obey, not obey and trust.

Some of you think faith is simply believing Jesus died 2000 years ago for your sins. That’s part of it, but it’s so much more. It’s trusting God…with everything! It’s jumping out of the airplane believing when you pull the parachute string, He’ll be there. It’s taking a risk and loving someone who intimidates you. It’s being wildly generous and believing you can’t outgive God. It’s letting go of your bitterness and forgiving that evil person who tried to destroy you years ago. It’s refusing to believe the lies that you’re worthless, shameful, unlovable, or simply a loser.

I’m NOT saying we should take sin lightly. It always leads to death. Every time we sin, relationships are broken. God doesn’t want that for us any more than a parent would want to visit their child in jail.

But motives matter. They determine our values which lead to our actions, our behavior. We can’t begin with behavior because we will always fail and fake. We need to trust God and what He says about us, living out of our true identity as sons and daughters of the Most High God, our good, good Father.

The authors of TrueFaced note, “Scientifically, according to every test, including DNA, (a caterpillar) is fully and completely a butterfly.”

I know, you don’t look like a butterfly today. Neither do I! We have warts and wrinkles, literally and figuratively! Inside, we’re full of pride, selfish ambition, and evil thoughts. The enemy loves to remind us of our failures and flood us with accusations and shame. We look at those around us with their beautiful masks and think we’ll never measure up, unaware that they are just as insecure and impure as we are, they’ve just become better at hiding.

Family, our heavenly Dad loves you. Period. We don’t need to please God to earn His love, His favor. He’s already nuts about us! How else could you explain sending Jesus? He didn’t even do it because we were good. He knows we’re not!

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

If our motive is pleasing God, we will strive to earn His approval.

If our motive is trusting God, we will live out of who God says we are.

This is the difference between religion and a vibrant relationship with God.

It’s the difference between works and grace.

It’s the difference between doing and being.

Should we sin? No! Never! It’s deadly!

But the goal isn’t to sin less. It’s to know Jesus more. It’s to follow him. It’s to do life with him. John 15 talks about abiding, being rooted in him, experiencing the joy of fellowship, relationship, freedom, and peace.

I could talk about the Father’s love all day, but I want to take five minutes and let Him tell you!

The Father’s Love Letter

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Paul wanted the church in Ephesus to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is God’s love. It’s nearly unbelievable!

Good dads love their kids. One of the things they do is give good gifts. As a dad, I love giving gifts to my kids and grandkid. It might be a hug, a word of wisdom, encouragement, or yes, even something from Amazon! Love gives. Jesus said,

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 7:11)

Dr. Luke recorded something similar from Jesus:

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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

God doesn’t just say, “I love you.” He proves it!

Psalm 103 says,

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)

That’s great news, family! He’s a good, good Father!

In the middle of our crazy world, despite our sins and failures, we can trust God. We can run to our good, good Father whose arms are wide open. He was there after David committed murder and adultery. He was there when the prodigal son destroyed his life and returned home. He was there after Peter denied Jesus three times. He was there after Saul was involved in martyring Christians.

He’s here for you, too. Run into his arms! Trust and obey. Your Daddy loves you…forever!!!

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

Trust God's Sovereignty, 22 March 2020

Patiently Trust God’s Sovereignty
Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
Jeremiah 12

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

Big Idea: God is sovereign and He can be trusted, despite what we see, think, or feel today.

Why? It might be the most common question asked by children.

Why do I have to get out of bed?
Why do I have to brush my teeth?
Why do I have to eat breakfast?
Why do I have to go to school?

Come to think of it, these are all questions adults ask, too!

One of the most universal questions throughout history has been, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” I’ve asked it. I’m sure you’ve wondered it. Job did (12; 21). The psalmists (37; 49; 73) and Habakkuk (chapter 1) and Malachi (2:17; 3:15) did. Jeremiah did, too.

I hope today we can answer that important question…and draw closer to Almighty God.

We’re in the middle of a series on the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a bullfrog…and a prophet! God’s chosen people, the Jews, had repeatedly broken their covenant with God. Last Sunday we looked at their disgraceful practice in the temple, worshiping other gods. The difficult life of a prophet involved speaking for God to disobedient people, warning them of the consequences of their actions.

In chapter one, Jeremiah was understandably reluctant to accept God’s call for him to be a prophet and obey the LORD. Last week in chapter seven, Jeremiah told the people their sins and evil were too much for God. They had willfully chosen to walk away from God.

Today we’re in chapter twelve. It begins,

You are always righteous, LORD, when I bring a case before you. (Jeremiah 12:1)

This is a great start. Jeremiah understands God is right. God is always right. God is always righteous. That’s His nature, His character. He can do no wrong. He cannot sin. He cannot fail or make a mistake. He is perfect in all of His ways.

It’s vitally important for all of us to understand God, to know God. We cannot fully comprehend Him, of course, but He is knowable. He wants to be known by us. He has given us the Bible to discover His wonderful attributes, including his righteousness.

I realize you might not agree with Jeremiah. You may think He’s forgotten you, made a mistake, or failed you. I can assure you though it may feel that way, you will someday understand why…

  • - Your loved one died
  • - You lost the job you loved
  • - That relationship failed
  • - You were born with those challenges
  • - There’s no toilet paper at the store!

Jeremiah acknowledged that God is always righteous, always right when a case is brought before Him. Now Jeremiah does just that; he brings a case before the LORD.

Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? (Jeremiah 12:1b)

There it is! Why do good things happen to bad people? Jeremiah admits God is righteous, but is He a God of justice?

It’s ok to question God. Some have been taught they should never doubt or question, but this is one of many good, honest questions directed toward God. He wants to hear from us. He can handle anything we throw at Him! He’s God!

Jeremiah continues,

You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. (Jeremiah 12:2)

They talk about You, but they’re far from You, LORD. Don’t you see what’s going on? They are religious but not righteous. They’re fakers, actors, hypocrites. Why don’t you punish them?

Yet you know me, LORD; you see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter! (Jeremiah 12:3)

How do you really feel, Jeremiah?! Jeremiah was set apart by God and he wants God to set apart the wicked…for their day of slaughter!

How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, “He will not see what happens to us.” (Jeremiah 12:4)

God had sent a drought, yet the people refused to acknowledge their sin and God’s judgment.

Why do you permit it, LORD? Perhaps a better question than, “Why?” is, “What are You up to, LORD? He is sovereign and in control, even when it doesn’t seem like it. He’s good and faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t ask a question for which you don’t want the answer! God responds to Jeremiah…and it’s not what he expected.

“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? (Jeremiah 12:5)

God says, “Jeremiah, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Your relatives, members of your own family—even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you. Do not trust them, though they speak well of you. (Jeremiah 12:6)

This is a disturbing verse. God warns Jeremiah to not trust his own family…or their words.

Warren Wiersbe notes, “Jeremiah was asking, ‘How can I get out of this?’ But he should have been asking, ‘What can I get out of this?’”

We are to live by God’s promises, not explanations. Of course, we don’t understand everything that happens in this world. If so, we’d be God!

We like easy, comfortable, and safe. We like sunny days at the beach, but the only thing that grows at the beach is your waistline! Growth requires testing, discipline, pain, challenge, and…change. Often the very things we want removed from our lives are the very things God is using to grow us, mature us, shape us, and make us like Jesus.

And life’s trials should always draw us back to God, enhancing our relationship with and dependency upon God. Maybe today’s trials are designed to create tomorrow’s miracles. Singer/songwriter Laura Story penned these words in her song Blessings:

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops/ What if Your healing comes through tears/ What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near/ What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Trials are an opportunity to trust.
Trials are an opportunity for others to pray and support us.
Trails are an opportunity for God to show His power.
Trials are an opportunity for us to grow.

But I still don’t like them…and neither did Jeremiah! God continues,

“I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies. (Jeremiah 12:7)

This may not seem like love, but sometimes love has to let go. For God, sin cannot be tolerated.

I know of someone who recently broke up with his girlfriend, not because he didn’t love her, but because he did. He knew he couldn’t meet her expectations and released her to pursue her desires. I think that’s what God is doing here. The people had broken their covenant with God. They turned their backs on Him. He tried and tried and tried to get their attention and urged them to repent—to turn back toward Him. They refused and chose to follow the ways of their ungodly friends and neighbors and finally God says enough. It’s sad. It’s tragic!

My inheritance has become to me like a lion in the forest. She roars at me; therefore I hate her. (Jeremiah 12:8)

They have been opposing God and He’s had enough. The Hebrew word for hate can also mean turn against. The people roared at God like an angry lion.

Has not my inheritance become to me like a speckled bird of prey that other birds of prey surround and attack? Go and gather all the wild beasts; bring them to devour. (Jeremiah 12:9)

Speckled or colored birds stood out from the other birds, and consequently the others would surround and attack the odd creature. This is Judah.

Now there’s a series of images God uses to describe the devastation that lies ahead.

10 Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard
and trample down my field;
they will turn my pleasant field
into a desolate wasteland.
11 It will be made a wasteland,
parched and desolate before me;
the whole land will be laid waste
because there is no one who cares.
12 Over all the barren heights in the desert
destroyers will swarm,
for the sword of the LORD will devour
from one end of the land to the other;
no one will be safe.
13 They will sow wheat but reap thorns;
they will wear themselves out but gain nothing.
They will bear the shame of their harvest
because of the LORD’S fierce anger.”

Can you image God saying these words to us? I sometimes wonder if He’s not! Our money says, “In God We Trust” but we seem to trust more in our money than in our God. We’ve marginalized faith in the public square, passed laws that are in direct violation of scripture, and become so self-absorbed that there’s no time or energy left for the relationship we were created to have with our Creator.

Is God angry with the USA? Is He angry with the world? Is the coronavirus a punishment? The best answer I can give is “maybe.” Keep in mind, this passage was not written to 21st century Christians in Toledo…but it was written for us. We’re told that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We’re told that if we disown Jesus, he will disown us before the Father (Matthew 10:33).

I have a pastor friend who posted this last week:

Pestilences (pandemics) and plagues don't come from satan. They come from God. There is not one instance in the 130+ mentions of pestilences and plagues in the Bible where they are attributed to the demonic realm. EVERY one is said to have come from God, even if it's by the agency of angels. We don't rebuke pestilences and plagues. We REPENT. (Joe Sazyc Sr.)

That’s what the Jewish people failed to do…repent. Will we?

This is what the LORD says: “As for all my wicked neighbors who seize the inheritance I gave my people Israel, I will uproot them from their lands and I will uproot the people of Judah from among them. (Jeremiah 12:14)

Is anybody ready for some good news?

But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country. (Jeremiah 12:15)

God has remembered the land. It’s His land, only loaned to the Jews. The people would spend seventy years in captivity and then be allowed to return to their land and restore the nation and temple…and their worship of God.

And if they learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the LORD lives’—even as they once taught my people to swear by Baal—then they will be established among my people. But if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 12:16-17)

In this instance, God is pro-choice! He gives the people the choice to follow Him or the false god Baal. They get to determine their own destiny, the consequences of their allegiance. Even today, nation who follow Jesus receive a certain blessing, while those who ignore Him will pay the price…now and/or in the future

So What?

What in the world can we learn from this dark chapter in a book written thousands of years ago? First,

We all experience suffering because of sin.

The good and the bad both experience pain, loss, and suffering. It’s easy to be envious of the wealth, pleasure, or power of others. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, right?! But as long as sin is a part of the human condition, we will be hurt and we will hurt others. Social media begs us to compare ourselves to the highlight reels of others, but that’s the point…we only see the highlights…the smiles…the Instagrammable photos. I promise you, ever person you’ve ever met or seen has suffered. They may be in agony at this moment, just unwilling to be honest and vulnerable.

Perhaps you could care less about others. You’re struggling now. You’re doubting or questioning God now. God for it! He’s listening. He cares. It might not feel like it, but He’s at work. He’s up to something.

Your story is not over.

Every good story has a moment of tension—the climax. Have you ever heard a good story where the main character is just happy, happy, happy from beginning to end? No! There are moments of suspense or crisis that are followed by resolution. The same is true for your story.

When you ask, “God, what are You up to?” you open up to the opportunity to see how God will heal, redeem, restore, or otherwise answer your prayers. We don’t like moments of trial, but that’s how we grow. Today may be excruciating, but there’s bright hope for tomorrow…and He is with you today, whether you like/know/acknowledge/feel it or not.

The same can be said for the wicked. Their story is not over. Judgment Day is coming…for all of us. “Vengeance is mine,” says the LORD (Romans 12:19). The bottom line is…

God is sovereign. He can be trusted,
despite what we see, think, or feel today.


If anyone had a right to ask why good things happen to bad people, it was Jesus. After all, he was the only truly “good” human to walk this earth. The people who denied, betrayed, sentenced, and executed him could all be considered “bad,” yet he loved them and prayed for them.

Jesus never asks us to do anything he wasn’t willing to do…and we have the same Holy Spirit to give us the love, grace, courage, and strength to do it.

There’s a question more common than, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” and that’s, “Why do bad things happen to good people.” The worst possible thing happened to the only good person as he was beaten, mocked, and crucified for you and me. We often say it’s all about Jesus and as we’ve gathered here to worship Jesus, we close with a song which talks about his life, death, and victory…a victory which is ours as we trust God and follow Jesus, regardless of the temporary injustices we may see around us. The best is yet to come!

Credits: some ideas from D6, Warren Wiersbe

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Restoring Masterpieces, 3 February 2019

    Restoring Masterpieces
    Series—Back to Basics
    Ephesians 2:1-10

    Big Idea: We are on a mission from God to love Him, others, and make disciples…restoring God's masterpieces.

    Welcome to Super Bowl Sunday!

    My favorite football story comes from the legendary coach Vince Lombardi for whom the Super Bowl winner’s trophy is named. He would begin each season by gathering his team together and saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

    Whether it’s football, cooking, parenting, driving, or ministry, it’s impossible to overemphasize the fundamentals, the basics.

    Today we’re beginning a new series entitled,
    Back to Basics. It’s essential for our church family to be on the same page, clear about our purpose, grounded in the Word of God, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

    When I was first approached by District Superintendent Thomas George about submitting my resume to the FAC Pastoral Search Committee, I went to the church website to find the mission statement. I saw several words and phrases such as “connecting with God, others and the world” which were good slogans, but I didn’t find a single, concise statement that was unique to First Alliance Church.

    I found three important things in our FAC 101 class for new members, all found in Matthew:

    The Great Commandment, Matthew 22:37-40

    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)

    The Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20

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

    The Great Compassion, Matthew 25:34-41

    “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)

    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ (Matthew 25:37-39)

    “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)

    We are to be about loving God, loving others, making disciples, and caring for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, sick, and imprisoned. This is basic, right? I found this:

    A great commitment to the Great Commandments and the Great Commission done with Great Compassion will grow a Great Church!

    I really like that statement. But I wanted something more. I wanted a clear description of what First Alliance Church is to be about, unique from our sister churches in the Christian & Missionary Alliance. All Alliance churches can embrace

    a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family

    All churches are to love God and others and make disciples. But what sets this local church apart from others? If there’s nothing distinct, perhaps we should just merge with another church.

    I have spent more than three years working with our leaders to craft a statement to bring clarity and focus to our FAC family. We used a tool called Church Unique which helped us to assess where we are, who we are, and where God is leading us. We reached out to people within our church family as well is in the surrounding neighborhood. We met, prayed, and discussed language for literally years until we finally settled on sixteen words which I believe will propel us forward on God’s mission.

    See, we are on a mission from God, to borrow a phrase from The Blues Brothers. It’s not that our church has a mission, but rather that God’s mission has a church. For more than 131 years, we have had a unique and special calling in this city and region, and our work is far from complete. In fact, I think we’re just getting started! To be clear, mission is not something we do, but who we are. Missions is not a program of the church, it is the reason the church exists. We are all called to be on God’s mission.

    A mission statement is not the end of our work. It’s just the beginning. Sixteen words don’t accomplish anything in and of themselves. Rather, they simply help us get on the same page and form the foundation for vision and strategy. They help us define a “win.” They say if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.

    Would you like to hear the mission statement?

    The first words out of my mouth as your pastor three and a half years ago were simple:

    Why are you here?

    If we’re honest, there are probably many reasons why we are together in this room at this moment, good and bad. Why are you here?

    Best-selling author Simon Sinek’s book title says it all:
    Start with Why.

    Why do you exist?

    Our District Superintendent, Rev. Thomas George, says, “We were made God, we were made for God, and we were made for God’s glory.” Why does First Alliance Church—its individuals and collective whole—exist? For God’s glory. It’s not about us. It’s about God.

    Why does First Alliance Church exist?

    for God’s glory

    The bottom line of First Alliance Church is not my pleasure, your comfort, or even the people in our city. This isn’t my church or your church. It’s God’s church. The bottom line is God’s glory.

    are we to function, live, and act? It’s all about Jesus. It’s not about religion or tradition. It’s about Jesus.

    We are Jesus-centered…for God’s glory

    are we? We’re a family. Everyone yearns for the love and intimacy of a healthy family, even if they’ve never experienced one. We’re not a perfect family, but we are more than a group of individuals. We were created to be interdependent. We were designed to do life together in community. We are a spiritual family helping biological families.

    We are a Jesus-centered family…for God’s glory

    are we? Toledo is our epicenter, our home, our primary mission field. Missionaries are sent overseas, but they’re also desperately needed here in our post-Christian culture. There are 500,000 souls here, many of whom are facing an eternity without Jesus. Acts 1:8 says we are to not only serve our “Jerusalem” but also Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. As part of the global Alliance family, our neighbor is both someone down the street and someone on the other side of the planet.

    We are a Jesus-centered family…in Toledo and beyond for God’s glory

    do we do? There are many churches in our community, but what makes us unique? How are we distinct from Westgate Chapel or Bedford Alliance besides our geography? What makes us different than The Tabernacle or The Vineyard or Cornerstone, neighbors in our city? Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus:

    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5)

    And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:6-10)

    We are God’s handiwork. Paul originally wrote in Greek, so all English versions are translations. The ESV and King James translations says we are his workmanship. My favorite version of this verse is found in the New Living Translation.

    “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” - Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

    You are a masterpiece! You are a work of art! You were created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. There is no one like you. Your size, shape, color, personality, and story make you a one-of-a-kind in a world of more than 7 billion people.

    The same can be said of everyone in our neighborhood. Regardless of their age, gender, race, religion, height, weight, education, or income, they are a masterpiece.

    Obviously this word “masterpiece” is not an image most churches would adopt, but part of what makes First Alliance Church unique is its location on Monroe Street, the Avenue of the Arts. Our defining landmark is being located next to the fantastic Toledo Museum of Art. Throughout our history, we have had rich musical performances, taught children at our sports and arts camp, promote family-friendly theater, and even worship in a building which I consider to be a work of art.

    God is an artist, and His greatest work came not in speaking or singing into existence the sun or stars or animals, but humans.

    So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

    I love the Toledo Zoo. I’m a member, in fact! I like the elephants and monkeys and giraffe. My favorite part of the zoo is the aquarium. I’m fascinated by fish and one of my all-time favorite things to do is snorkel. The diverse colors, shapes, and sizes of sea life are absolutely brilliant. But humans are unique among all of God’s creation. Only humans were created in God’s image. He saved the best for last during creation! You are a masterpiece. Really!

    A few months ago, I believe the LORD woke me up at 4:30 in the morning and dropped two words into my head. I wasn’t brainstorming or working on a mission statement. I was sleeping! But two simple words came to mind as I awoke. One was masterpiece.

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

    We are God’s masterpieces. But there’s one not-so-little problem.

    Unfortunately, we’ve all been broken by sin. We’re all messed up, some more visibly than others, but even the best of us—the most healthy and mature—is a work in progress. Fortunately, God is all about redemption, reconciliation, and healing. The work of Jesus offers opportunity, freedom, and hope. As our local partner, Cherry Street Mission, calls their facility, revitalization is possible in humans just as it is in the buildings in our city which are being renovated. Our community is filled with brokenness and desperation in every conceivable sense…economic, educational, moral, safety, family…and we are called to be conduits of God’s shalom—peace and wholeness. Transformation, repair, rehabilitation…it’s all about
    restoration. It’s about the restoration of masterpieces created by God, helping each person discover their potential, connecting with God, others, and the world.

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

    The two words God gave me were “restoring masterpieces.” That’s why we’re here, what we are to be about. First Alliance Church is not a members-only club. We don’t exist for the primary purpose of having a nice building in which to worship God. Our mission is not maintaining the status quo or distributing religious goods and services.

    We love God, we love others, and we make disciples by becoming like Jesus, by looking and acting like our Master and LORD. Each one of us is unique. We are a
    mosaic of different people, different masterpieces being restored by our Creator to become like Jesus. This includes Christians and pre-Christians, rich and poor, black and white, homeowners and homeless, dropouts and graduates.

    I know for some of you this is a radical vision. I’m reminded of Steve Taylor’s satirical song of long ago, “I Want To Be A Clone” in which he sings of how every Christian is supposed to look and act and dress exactly the same. But as I said last Sunday, unity does not mean uniformity. It’s ok for us to have different preferences and opinions, so long as they do not violate the Word of God. It’s good and healthy for us to listen and learn from one another. I don’t know about you, but I’ve changed my view on some things over the years, and will probably continue to do so as I learn and study the Bible and am guided by the Holy Spirit.

    Every masterpiece is unique and special…or else it’s not a masterpiece!

    When Jesus said he came “to seek and to save the lost” in Luke 19:10, he was expressing the heart of the Father to not only love His children, but also to pursue the lost sheep. The mission of the church goes beyond its members to include every man, woman and child created by God…and for whom Jesus died. “For God so loved the world.” The reason we remain here after surrendering our lives to Jesus is because we are on a mission from God. Every person you meet at the store, in your office, in your neighborhood, at the library, and at school is a masterpiece, whether they know it or not. Broken and flawed, yes. Covered by the dust and dirt of sin, yes. In need of restoration, absolutely! And what an honor and privilege to be commissioned by Jesus himself to make disciples, to reproduce his life in ourselves and others, to love our neighbors, and in doing so loving God.

    Restoring masterpieces. You are a masterpiece, and we all have need of some restoration, be it a dusting each day as we confess our sins or a massive work of revitalization needed by a person far from God. We were created to do good works, to love God and others, to make disciples, to help restore the broken masterpieces we encounter each day.

    Kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Some consider the restored art more valuable than the original unblemished piece. Although damaged, it is whole.

    What a picture of redemption! Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, God has been redeeming, repairing, rebuilding, and restoring humanity. The very best among us are nothing more than wounded healers. We are all in need of God’s grace, forgiveness, mercy, and restoration.

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

    This is our mission. This is God’s mission. We are His masterpieces, and it’s all about His glory.

    As we move into communion, I want you to think upon your value as a masterpiece. People are willing to spend thousands, even millions of dollars for works of art, but I’ve never heard of someone willing to die for a painting or sculpture. But God so loved the masterpieces He created that He sent Jesus to die to redeem us, to reconcile us, to restore us and our relationship with Him broken by sin. We celebrate His sacrifice and respond by not only remembering but also by seeking to restore God’s masterpieces that live in Toledo and beyond.


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

    This is one of my favorite verses, but the verse before it says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” If we think our masterpiece is not damaged by sin, it can never be restored. Everyone else knows we’re broken. Trust me! When we confess our sins and agree we need repair and forgiveness, He can go to work. He loves to shine His light through our cracks and brokenness (2 Cor. 4:7). Today I pray we can all get real with God, acknowledge our flaws and sins, and become restored masterpieces, pursuing purity and holiness and helping others encounter the great Artist, Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer.

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

    God is Unchanging, 27 May 2018

    God is Unchanging
    D6 Series—
    None Like Him
    Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17

    Series Overview:
    This topical series focuses on the attributes of God.

    Big Idea: God does not change…and that’s a wonderful thing!


    In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except…death and taxes.”

    There’s actually one more than that is certain in this world. It’s a word that
    will trouble some of you. It’s a word that will terrify some of you. It’s a four-letter word that actually has six letters, but it can disrupt like few words can do. It’s…


    You may think I’m being a bit facetious, but I’m quite serious. Many people hate change…of any kind. Sure, nobody likes change if it means a salary reduction, decline of health, or loss of a loved one. But even so-called good changes can be unwelcome or have negative consequences.

    Would you want a winning lottery ticket if I had one to offer you? You might be surprised at how many lottery winners later file for bankruptcy…or worse!

    I used to think stress only applied to bad change, but any change can be stressful. It can be disruptive to our lives. Many people tolerate miserable work conditions, unhealthy relationships, or even abuse because they’re simply accustomed to it and afraid of how even a change for the better may cause them a loss of the known.

    Since some of you are already uncomfortable at the mere mention of the word change, take a moment and think of the things that have changed in the past twenty years. Actually, let’s only say eighteen. We are approaching graduation season and these are a few things that can be said about the Class of 2018.

    1. They’ve never lived in a world with monthly texting limits.
    2. They might not understand if you say, “You sound like a broken record.”
    3. They’ve always had GPS.
    4. “Roll down your window” has no meaning.
    5. They’ve never untangled a phone cord or straightened an antenna for TV reception.

    Change. Personally, I love change…except when I don’t! I love changes I make, but not necessarily those imposed upon me.

    Whether you like it or not, this world is full of change.

    Our presidents change.
    Our weather changes.
    Fashion changes.
    Music changes.
    Our bodies change.
    Maps of the world change.
    Children change.
    Relationships change.
    Our favorite sports teams change.

    Fortunately, there’s one thing that never changes…or should I say one Person: God.

    We’ve been devoting several Sundays this month talking about the attributes of God. There is None Like Him. Amen? First, we looked at the holiness of God. We said God is holy, set apart, and we are to be holy, too, fully devoted to God while being present in the world, bearing witness to God’s presence, power, love, and glory.

    Last Sunday we looked at God’s sovereignty. Whether it feels like it or not, God is in control…and we’re usually not! In fact, control is just an illusion, a temporary state, but God is in control…and that’s a wonderful thing!

    Today we are looking at how God is unchanging—the technical word is He is immutable—and why that’s also a wonderful thing.

    “In a world of change and decay not even the man of faith can be completely happy. Instinctively he seeks the unchanging and is bereaved at the passing of dear familiar things.” - A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

    That’s the bad news, family. We live in a world of change and decay where not even followers of Jesus can be completely happy. And you thought you were the only one!

    But here’s the good news: God is unchanging.

    Charles Wesley wrote, “And all things as they change proclaim
    The Lord eternally the same.”

    But how do we know? The Bible declares it repeatedly. God declares it repeatedly.

    Our scripture reading for today featured not one, but three passages from various parts of the Bible.
    Moses wrote in the book of Numbers:

    God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
    Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)

    Humans can lie. Have you noticed?
    Humans can change their minds.
    Humans can be hypocritical, saying one thing and doing another.
    Humans can break their promises.

    But not God! If we stopped with this one verse, we would know enough about God to worship and adore Him for eternity.

    God cannot lie.
    God is consistent.
    God is trustworthy.
    God is unchanging!

    One of the frustrating things about change is when it wreaks havoc with our expectations. Have you ever gone to get gas for your car expecting one price, only to find the price went up? How does that make you feel?

    Have you ever had your heart set on food at a particular restaurant, only to arrive and find them closed?

    Have you ever waited for someone to arrive at an appointment, only to discover they forgot?

    God never does this! Although we were created in God’s image, He is not human! He is dependable. He is unchanging.

    In the last book of the Old Testament, God declares:

    “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (Malachi 3:6)

    God is speaking about His judgment of those who do not fear and revere Him, but God made a covenant with the nation of Israel…and that covenant will not change. They will be delivered in the day of the LORD. God is saying, “I keep my promises. My Word does not change. I do not change.”

    We also heard Jesus’ half brother, James, who 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)

    Our God who created the starry universe—the heavenly lights—gives good gifts to His children, including salvation and life. He is also unchanging. Because of the movement of our planet with relation to the sun, shadows move and shift…but not the One who created earth and the sun!

    Throughout the Bible we see evidence that God is unchanging.

    So What?

    OK, so God is unchanging, but what difference does that make? Let me count the ways!

    God cannot improve.

    He’s as good as He’s going to get. He is perfectly holy. He will never get stronger, wiser, or more perfect. He is the zenith of holiness, knowledge, and love.

    Most of us are seeking to grow and develop. Some of you spend time at the gym, seeking to improve your figure, reduce your waistline, or build your muscles. Others of you are in school, expanding your knowledge and understanding of the world and prepare for a career. The simple fact you are listening to me says you want to grow spiritually and improve your relationship with God and others. This past Wednesday I was honored to be in the company of courageous men and women who are committed to enhancing their mental and emotional health, attending Celebrate Recovery and dealing with their hurts, hang ups, and habits. I believe every one of us could benefit from Celebrate Recovery because we’ve all got stuff. We’re all messed up. We all face grief, loss, and/or addictions because of sin and living in a broken world.

    But not God! He’s not messed up! He doesn’t have room to grow. God cannot improve. As the saying goes, you can’t improve on perfection!

    Second, not only can God not get better,
    God cannot decline. He will never lose His mind, His love, His power. He won’t get Alzheimer’s, cancer, or the flu. He won’t stop being in control or begin to forget things. It’s impossible for God to get better—or worse—because God is unchanging.

    God is reliable. He doesn’t change His mind. He is consistent and reliable. If He says something, it’s true now and it will be true tomorrow.

    Since I got my driver’s license, I’ve studied the annual April car issue of
    Consumer Reports magazine. The top thing I look for in a vehicle report is reliability. I don’t really care how fast it goes, how comfortable the seats, or even how good the stereo sounds…if it’s going to break down, leave me stranded at the side of the road, and cost me a fortune to repair. I want a dependable vehicle, one I can trust with no surprises.

    That’s like God…except the brakes will never wear thin, the oil doesn’t need to be changed…He doesn’t even need gas or insurance!

    One reason I love the Bible is it is God’s Word and what God said and did in the Old Testament is true in the New Testament and is true today…because God is unchanging.

    If you were to read a biography on Bill Gates, you would learn about the founder of Microsoft, but no matter what you thought of him, it’s possible that if you were to meet him, he’d be different than you expected. In fact, it’s possible that he has changed since the book was published. People change, but God is unchanging and reliable.

    Perhaps you’re thinking, “But didn’t God change His mind when Moses asked Him to spare the people of Israel?” There are times it appears God changes, but I believe it’s a matter of perspective. Let me explain.

    When my children were little, I insisted they use manners when they spoke, especially when they asked for something. One of them might ask, “Dad, can I have some ice cream?” to which I would reply, “No.” Then if they said, “Please” I would say, “Absolutely!” Did I change my mind? No. Did I know what they wanted and what they would do in that situation? Yes.

    Because God is God and we’re not, it may appear that He changes, but in reality His character, His attributes, His Word, His promises never change. He is reliable. He doesn’t play guessing games or surprise us. He is consistent. He is unchanging.

    There’s another thing that doesn’t change about God that we should all find sobering.

    God’s justice and His hatred of sin never change. Have you ever been pulled over by a police officer, begging to be let off the hook? Did you ever try to weasel out of a punishment as a child? Have you ever bargained with someone, compromised, negotiated?

    God is always just. He always does the right thing. Always.
    God always hates sin. Public and private, big and little, He always hates sin.

    He doesn’t make exceptions.
    He can’t be bought or bribed.
    He doesn’t show favoritism.

    God always has and always will be just and He always has and always will hate sin.

    Is this a good thing? Yes.
    Is this a good thing for you? Maybe.

    See, we all want to see justice served. We want Hitler to be condemned. We want sex traffickers punished. We want murderers to be sentenced. One day, God will exercise the ultimate justice. On Judgment Day, all wrongs will be righted, all sins will be penalized, all of the guilty will pay.

    But where does that leave us? Sure, we want corrupt politicians and bank robbers to be served justice, but since all of us sin and all of us fail God’s standard of perfection, is God’s ultimate justice good…for us?

    This is where the gospel comes in. The gospel, or good news, is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. God sent His perfect Son, Jesus, to our planet to pay for our sin, to receive the punishment we deserve. Since God couldn’t bend the rules and make exceptions, He had to create an alternative to eternally separating sinful humans from His presence. His plan was Jesus. Grace. Unmerited favor.

    Today, every man, woman and child on our planet is given a choice to receive or reject Jesus Christ. Because God is just and hates sin, somebody has to pay the penalty of sin, which is death. We can accept Jesus’s payment or bear it ourselves.

    But make no mistake, you’re not good enough. You can’t buy it. You can’t negotiate it. You can’t achieve it by trying harder. Either you pay or you let Jesus pay. But God’s unchanging justice must be satisfied.

    This leads to my final point: because God is unchanging,
    God’s love is unchanging. Earlier we sang “One Thing Remains.” I love those lyrics:

    Your love never fails
    It never gives up
    It never runs out on me

    The Newsboys have a song with a similar message entitled, “Your Love Never Fails.” They sing:

    Nothing can separate Even if I run away Your love never fails I know I still make mistakes You have new mercy for me everyday Cause your love never fails
    You stay the same through the ages Your love never changes

    Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

    For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

    God’s love is unchanging, leading Philip Yancey to famously write,

    “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”

    Why? Because God is unchanging. God’s love is unchanging. And that’s truly good news!

    some ideas from D6, Robert Saucy, John Ortberg, A.W. Tozer

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God is Sovereign, 20 May 2018

    God is Sovereign
    D6 Series—
    None Like Him
    Romans 8:28-30

    Series Overview: This topical series focuses on the attributes of God.

    Big Idea: God is sovereign and in control…but we also must be responsible with our free will.

    We are spending several weeks this month talking about the attributes of God. There is
    None Like Him. Amen?

    Two weeks ago, we looked at the holiness of God. We said God is holy, set apart, and we are to be holy, too, fully devoted to God while being present in the world bearing witness to God’s presence, power, love, and glory.

    Today we look at another word frequently used in church but less often in the culture—sovereign. God is sovereign. Great, but what does that mean? Some dictionaries may use words like ruler, supreme in power and authority, or greatest. I’m going to suggest the best way think about God’s sovereignty is to say, “God is in control.” This is great news, but it can be difficult to understand. Hopefully our time together will engage your mind and heart and cause you to grow deeper in love with Jesus.

    True or false: God is in control of everything?

    True or false: God’s will is always accomplished?

    True or false: God controls history down to every detail, micromanaging individuals’ lives?

    The Bible is clear about many things, yet others are difficult to discern. We’re talking about God, after all, and while we can know God and know Him personally, we can’t fully grasp everything about God.

    Is God really sovereign? Is God in control? If so, why are children killed by shooters at school? How can sex trafficking thrive not only around the world but right here in Toledo? What about those victims of drunk drivers?

    I’m fascinated by people who will blame God for the sins and stupidity of people. After all, God has given us freedom. We have free will. We were not created as robots, but rather we have the capacity to love…and hate. Relationships cannot be authentic without choice. So God can be in control, yet allow humans the opportunity to do good or bad. Most of our suffering stems not from God, but the sins of others—or ourselves. God is in control, but He has also given us responsibility. Can you really blame God for an unwanted pregnancy? Is it His fault you failed the exam you never studied for?

    But why does God allow evil? Why did God create satan in the first place? Did He know Lucifer, the once-mighty angel, would rebel against God and be cast from heaven (Ezekiel 28:12-19; Isaiah 14:12-14)? These are great questions I’m not fully able to answer. Again, there are things we simply cannot know—yet—about God. But there’s one thing of which I am sure:

    God is sovereign and in control, He can be trusted, and He is working for the good of those who love Him. His plans and purposes are in process. It might not seem like it today, but just wait. God is not surprised by anything in today’s
    Toledo Blade. He’s not asleep or aloof, but there is a tension between His sovereignty and our responsibility. If we seek first His Kingdom and His glory—not merely our own pleasures—we will discover true meaning and purpose. Jesus said,

    So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

    God is in the process of working out His plans and purposes—not necessarily ours. He loves us, but His highest priority is our holiness, not our happiness; His glory, not our gratification. But let me say again God loves us. As His children, He has our best interest at heart…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

    All parents understand the tension of discipline. We’d love for our kids to always do the right thing, but when they don’t, we must punish…out of love, not hate.

    When I was a young boy, I was so frustrated with my parents. I wanted to have total freedom to play with my friends as long as I wanted and mom said I needed to be home by dark. “My friends can stay out as long as they want!” I said. My mom replied, “Because I love you, I want you home.” I didn’t understand the boundaries at the time, but I sure do now!

    It feels great to say God is in control…until we encounter trouble in life and we ask God, “Why?” or “Where are you?”

    I must say (again) there are many things I don’t understand. I have plenty of questions for God. But I’ve also learned as I read the Bible and get to know God personally He is good. His ways are not like my ways. His wisdom far exceeds mine. He is God and I’m not. He can be trusted. That has been true when I’ve unexpectedly lost my job, when my dad died after years of battling Alzheimer’s, when my daughter was hospitalized for months, when my son struggled through the teen years, when our daughter’s leg was amputated, when our family faced an array of mental illnesses, when friends have abandoned us, …do you want more?

    Oh sure, let me throw this one in…when your airplane fills with smoke and you have an emergency evacuation, climbing out the window onto the wing, and then jumping to the tarmac! Yes, that happened…to begin our vacation in Colorado. Fortunately, the plane had landed and nobody was seriously hurt, praise God!

    But what if the cabin filled with smoke midair? What if my mom, step dad, Heather and I all perished? Would we still praise God? Would He still be trustworthy? What about those families this morning in Texas planning funerals for their children? Are they singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” this morning?

    I want to encourage you an oft-abused passage of scripture, but one which is nevertheless true. Romans 8 says,

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

    Family, please think twice about quoting these verses when someone is in the midst of a sudden crisis. Timing is everything. The passage is always true, yet often people need to grieve. Quick answers are not adequate when someone is dealing with intense suffering. Job’s friends demonstrate often the best thing we can do when a loved one suffers is be present and quiet. But let’s look at this text.

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

    God is in control. He is at work, and because He loves us, He is working for our good. But there’s a condition. The condition is that we love him and have been called according to his purpose. Sometimes things take time. Tomorrow you might understand that which you cannot begin to fathom today. Your story is not over. You’re not abandoned, even if it feels like it. This too will pass. God sees you. God knows. God is with you. God loves you. And as we’ve learned from David in the Psalms, it’s ok to let Him know how you feel. He can handle your anger, questions, doubts, and even rage. But let me declare God is at work…accomplishing His purpose.

    Now this text raises one of the most hotly debated questions in theology, the study of God. Look at the rest of the passage:

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

    The Message translation declares

    God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. (Romans 8:29-30,
    The Message)

    God foreknew us. He predestined us to follow Jesus. He calls, justifies, and glorifies. Now here’s the question:
    does God choose us or do we choose God? If God is in control, does that mean we have no choice, no options? When God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, was it God’s fault the people of Israel remained in slavery throughout the plagues (Exodus 9:12)?

    Christianity is divided in many ways. For example, there are Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants and Messianic Jews, all deeply committed to following Jesus and the Bible, but doing so with differences in worship style, tradition, and sometimes even beliefs. There are charismatic Christians who are very demonstrative in their worship while others are very reserved.

    Another division in Christianity involves
    Calvinism and Arminianism. Have you ever heard of Calvinism? Arminianism? The issues behind the debate between the two began in the 5th century, but it wasn’t until the 17th century when it took its current form.

    Calvinism is named for John Calvin, a French theologian who lived from 1509-1564.
    Calvinism has at its core the belief that God chooses us to be saved. We really have no choice in the matter. Reformed, and Presbyterian churches generally follow Calvinism.

    Arminianism—which is not the same as being Armenian, which I am by my family of origin—places the emphasis on human choice. We can choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior. Jacobus Arminius gave his name to Arminianism. He was a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609.

    Who’s right, Calvinists or Arminians? It depends upon who you ask! In case you’re wondering, the Christian & Missionary Alliance does not take a position on the matter. You will find those in the Alliance who are Calvinists and others who are Arminians—and some who are something of a hybrid!

    A.W. Tozer, in his classic book
    The Pursuit of God, began by saying,

    Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man.

    Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.

    We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. "No man can come to me," said our Lord, "except the Father which hath sent me draw him," and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the out working of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: "Thy right hand upholdeth me."

    Does God pursue us? Yes.
    Do we pursue God? Yes.

    I actually believe it’s not an either/or but a both/and scenario. It’s two sides of the same coin. Like a dance, God leads, and we join Him…or not!

    Why am I married? Is it because I asked Heather to be my wife, or because she said yes?

    Since the Alliance refuses to take a position toward Calvinism or Arminianism, it behooves us to follow their example and say there’s room for both at First Alliance Church. God is in control. God can be trusted. Even if it doesn’t feel like it today.

    D6: The fact that God’s authority supersedes all other authority demonstrates that He is the Sovereign Lord of all.

    D6: God’s actions and characteristics in Exodus 15* illustrate that He is the Sovereign Lord of all.

    (*look it up!)

    We can rest in the fact that God is in control. He knows and understands all things and has the power to make all things work out for His glory.

    I know many of you at this moment are questioning God. Life is not what you expected. You can’t harmonize God’s goodness and sovereignty. If He’s really in control, why is He allowing my life to be such a mess—or maybe even causing my life to be such a mess? I get it. Really. I’ve asked God questions through tears. I’ve cried out to Him so many times, failing to understand Romans 8:28…or much of the Bible. At this moment I still have questions for Him…but I’ve learned He can be trusted. The things He allows today will not be permitted forever. Judgment Day is coming—for all of us—and I urge you to repent and trust Jesus Christ to be your Savior and LORD if you have not yet done so.

    If there’s any injustice, any scandal, anything that doesn’t make sense, it’s why God would send His only Son, Jesus, to live and die and receive the punishment for our sins. If anyone had reason to question God’s sovereignty, it was Jesus on the cross! But praise God the story of Jesus didn’t end on the cross…He rose from the dead and is alive today!

    Likewise, your story is not over. As Laura Story sings in her song

    Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops What if Your healing comes through tears What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

    I started to cry just reading those lyrics again as I reflected upon God’s faithfulness.

    Recently Pastor Soper in Mission 119 stated regarding Numbers 22-24:

    When God has determined to bless a people, nothing but nothing but nothing is ever going to interfere or block that plan.

    Nothing will ever thwart God’s purposes and plans. He may use a talking donkey, a pillar of fire, plagues, the changed heart of a leader, miraculous healing, …but God is ultimately in control.

    My friend Lewis Winkler writes in his blog

    Herein lies the secret to finding real safety, in the arms of a good and loving God.  But being in His arms is not actually intended to make us feel safe.  Sometimes it does, but at other times it feels like the most dangerous place on earth.  That’s because His goal is to make us more like Jesus, and that’s often an uncomfortable and unpleasant process.  It doesn’t necessarily feel fun or safe.

    It might not look or feel like God is in control today, but whatever we experience is shaping us—it is for our good if we are truly following God.

    So What?

    Because God is sovereign, we don’t have to be! I often say, “God is in control…and I’m not!” I don’t always appreciate that in the moment, but I’m certain it’s good.

    And God is good…even when it doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes we must simply wait.

    We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. (Psalms 33:20-21)

    God and His plans and purposes are worth the wait. I have many questions for God and I bet you do, too. There are some things we simply won’t understand today—or maybe in this life. That’s where trust comes in. That’s where faith comes in—not a blind faith, a leap of faith, but rather a step of faith which trusts God above our limited understanding.

    Still, there are other times when our questions
    are answered and we get glimpses of God’s will, His plan, His purposes in the midst of what appears to us to be anything but good.

    Here’s a great example:

    Alliance Video

    Credits: some ideas from D6, Robert Saucy

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God is Holy, 6 May 2018

    God Is Holy
    D6 Series—
    None Like Him
    Psalm 99:1-5

    Series Overview: This topical series focuses on the attributes of God.

    Big Idea: We are to be holy…because God is holy.

    We will be spending several weeks this month talking about the attributes of God. There is None Like Him. Amen?

    God is holy. Have you ever heard that before? What does it mean for God to be holy…and what difference does it make in our lives? That’s our focus this morning. If your small group is using D6, you’ll note we’re skipping ahead one week. Our scheduled message is on God’s love, a topic we have covered extensively in recent days, so we’re covering next week’s topic, the holiness of God.

    What comes to mind when you hear the word “holy?”

    Holy Bible
    Holy Spirit
    Holy Rollers
    Holy Cow!
    Holy, Holy, Holy
    Holy of holies

    Webster’s dictionary defines holy as

    1: exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness 

    2: divine • for the Lord our God is holy —Psalms 99:9 (King James Version)

    3: devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity • a holy temple • holy prophets

    4 a : having a divine quality • holy love
    b : venerated as or as if sacred • holy scriptureholy relic

    5 —used as an intensive • this is a holy mess
    —often used in combination as a mild oath • holy smoke

    Often, it’s difficult to merely look at an English dictionary to understand a biblical word. In our scripture reading passage, the word “holy” is qadosh, to be sacred, consecrated, dedicated, set apart.

    The Holy Bible is sacred, set apart from all other works of literature.

    God is holy, sacred, set apart. Jesus invites us to call the Father “Abba” or “Daddy” or “Papa,” but that doesn’t mean we are to ever be disrespectful or flippant. I’m afraid sometimes we treat God too casually. It’s been said that we take ourselves too seriously and we don’t take God seriously enough.

    Our scripture reading from Psalm 99 says

    The LORD reigns,
    let the nations tremble;
    he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
    let the earth shake.
    Great is the LORD in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations.
    Let them praise your great and awesome name—
    he is holy.
    The King is mighty, he loves justice—
    you have established equity;
    in Jacob you have done
    what is just and right.
    Exalt the LORD our God
    and worship at his footstool;
    he is holy. (Psalms 99:1-5)

    These are powerful depictions of God. He reigns. Let the nations tremble and the earth shake. He is exalted over all the nations. His name is great and awesome. He is mighty. Exalt the LORD. Worship Him. He is holy.

    The book of Isaiah has an incredible scene we’ll briefly examine. In chapter six, the prophet Isaiah writes,

    In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (Isaiah 6:1-2)

    And they were calling to one another:

    “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

    At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:4)

    “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

    That should be our reaction to the holiness of God—woe, awe, reverence.

    A.W. Tozer, in his classic
    Knowledge of the Holy, said,

    “God is not now any holier than He ever was. And He never was holier than now. He did not get His holiness from anyone nor from anywhere. He is Himself the Holiness. He is the All-Holy, the Holy One; He is holiness itself, beyond the power of thought to grasp or of word to express, beyond the power of all praise.

    Language cannot express the holy, so God resorts to association and suggestion. He cannot say it outright because He would have to use words for which we know no meaning. He would have to translate it down to our unholiness. If He were to tell us how white He is, we would understand it in terms of only dingy gray.

    It was a common thing in olden days, when God was the center of Human worship, to kneel at an altar and shake, tremble, weep and perspire in an agony of conviction.

    He continues…

    We come into the presence of God with tainted souls. We come with our own concept of morality, having learned it from books, from newspapers and from school. We come to God dirty; our whitest white is dirty, our churches are dirty and our thoughts are dirty and we do nothing about it!

    If we came to God dirty, but trembling and shocked and awestruck in His presence, if we knelt at His feet and cried with Isaiah, I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5), then I could understand. But we skip into His awful presence. We’re forgetting holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

    Then Tozer prays…

    O God, soon every person must appear before you to give an account for the deeds done in the body. Father, keep upon us a sense of holiness so that we can’t sin and excuse it, but that repentance will be as deep as our lives. This we ask in Christ’s name. Amen.” 

    Oh, that we would get a glimpse of the holiness of God—and be transformed as a result.

    Echoing the Isaiah text is a famous passage in the book of Revelation.

    Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

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

    What an image! Day and night the holiness of God is declared. It seems like the only appropriate response is for us to pause, meditate on God’s holiness, and declare it with the angels.

    “Holy, Holy, Holy”
    “Holy is the LORD”

    So What?

    I suppose we could go home now with the knowledge of God’s holiness in our heads, but I think God wants more. Sure, He wants our worship and adoration. He wants our respect and praise. But He also wants our hearts. He wants us. He wants our obedience. He wants us to be holy. God told Moses in the wilderness,

    “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2)

    Scot McKnight, in his new book
    Open to the Spirit, writes,

    Holiness is first and foremost devotion to God.

    We could translate the word holy as “devout” and we would be accurate. So we see that separation from the world is the impact or result, not the source, of holiness. Devotion to God doesn’t mean isolation or withdrawal, as one finds among some sects. Rather, holiness means that in this world one listens and dances to the music of the Holy Spirit instead of the music of the world.

    I love that! We are to be holy, not holier than thou! We are to be in the world—loving and serving our neighbors—but not of the world.

    McKnight suggests three dimensions to growing into holiness:

    1. Practicing spiritual disciplines or practices. These help us turn our eyes off of ourselves and focus on God. Spiritual disciplines include prayer, Bible reading, fasting, meditation and contemplation on God, and silence. In a world where we typically seek pleasure and comfort, the disciplines are often sacrificial activities not done to earn God’s favor, but rather to acknowledge it.

    2. Discipline ourselves to practice acts of goodness, holiness, justice, love, compassion, and beauty. This includes being mindful of what we consume—food, entertainment, social media, the news—and engaging in healthy friendships and activities.

    3. Remembering we do not make ourselves holy. We grow into holiness through the grace of the Holy Spirit in us, repenting of our sins and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

    As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

    Sound familiar? Holiness is primarily about being devoted to God. Not just for an hour on Sunday, but daily…always. And it means following Jesus in the world, not escaping from it. In the next chapter, Peter writes…

    Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)

    To be holy means to be separate, to cut, or to separate. God is a cut above the rest, and He invites us to be the other, to be outstanding, to be morally pure, and to be devoted to Him. Every act of loving God, others, self, or creation is holiness. To quote Scot McKnight, holiness is “love done well.”

    To be holy is to be devoted, and this morning we close with a song of devotion, of surrender, of awe and reverence, of worship to the holy One who gave it all for us.

    Credits: some ideas from D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God is Love, 1 John 3, 31 May 2015

    Big Idea: We are in the midst of a battle fought with love and prayer.

    What is your favorite book of the Bible? Why?

    What is your favorite chapter in the Bible? This may be a less popular question.

    As we continue our series “Love Illuminated” on the book of 1 John, we come to the fourth chapter of this essential letter from one of Jesus’ three best friends, John. While this may not be my favorite chapter in the Bible, few are loaded with more incredible, memorable verses. It’s packed with theology, challenge, encouragement, and insight.

    Its overarching theme is a four-letter word which best summarizes the entire Bible.
    It’s a four-letter word which best summarizes God.
    It’s a four-letter word which best summarizes what we are called to be as followers of Jesus and as the Church, the Body of Christ. The word is…love.

    Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

    There were and are false prophets, false teachers, false teachings. Test the spirits. Test me! The Bible is our authority. Jesus is our authority. The reason cults exist is people follow leaders that are not following Jesus.

    The question isn’t do you believe in God, but what do you believe about God. What do you believe about Jesus? We note previously how there were those in John’s day—and ours—who believed Jesus to be human but not God or God but not human. He is uniquely fully God and fully human.

    This the the third time John mentions antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22). We said antichrist can mean against Christ or instead of Christ. Jesus said many would come in His name and also there would be opposition. There are many antichrists but they are not the antichrist mentioned in Revelation.

    You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because
    the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:4-6)

    The spirit of antichrist is in the world. We are engaged in a real, cosmic battle between good and evil. Can I let you in on a little secret? We win!

    The Holy Spirit is given to all believers. The Holy Spirit teaches through the Word of God, the Bible. Believers have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, but unless we surrender to God we can still sin and rebel against God. If, however, we remain or abide in Christ (John 15) and invite the Holy Spirit to fill and guide us, we will have the mind of Christ and act like Jesus, bearing fruit.

    Imagine you’re in a bicycle race, hot and sweaty. You just happen to have a bottle of ice cold water, but never reach for it and drink it. Does it help you? No. Is it available? Yes. Would it be foolish to not take advantage of it? Absolutely! It’s not enough to have the Holy Spirit, which all believers do. We are to let the Spirit take control. Hands off! That’s hard for many of us who want to be in control. It’s not whether you have the Holy Spirit, but whether or not the Holy Spirit has you!

    Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

    Believers are to love one another. This is not sentimental, sexual, or social love but supernatural, unconditional agape. It says, “I love you. Period.”

    In 1984 the band Foreigner had a huge hit that said, “I Want To Know What Love Is.”

    When I was in high school our youth leader told the story about proposing to his wife. He knew he had feelings for this woman but struggled to define love. He was reading 1 John 4 and saw this verse (and verse 16).

    God is love.

    One of my greatest fears for us is that we become so familiar with the
    idea of love without actually receiving and/or giving it. We know about love, but do we love?

    Love is not being nice.

    Love is not avoiding conflict.

    Love not the absence of hate. In fact some have said the opposite of love is indifference, not hate, since love and hate are both intense. How often are we indifferent?

    Love is a verb. It requires action.

    This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:9-12)

    He is the propitiation for our sins. The word means mercy seat, the place where the priest met God in the Old Testament. The word atonement means to cover. Jesus is the mercy seat for our sins. He died. He conquered sin and death so we can come boldly into the presence of Almighty God.

    Do you love?
    Do you love believers?
    Do you love unbelievers?
    Do you love your enemies?

    The question is not can you but do you. The test of our faith is not our knowledge but our love.

    Don’t miss the last verse. No one has seen God but people can see God’s love in us, through us. This is what it means for us to shine, to reflect God’s love like the moon reflects the light of the sun.

    This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. (1 John 4:13-16a)

    This is not a human love. The fruit of the Spirit is love…Some believe love is the fruit and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit emerges from love.

    Who is Jesus? This question is hugely important! He is the Son of God. If Jesus is not who He claimed to be, His death was useless. He was arrested and crucified for claiming to be God…and He proved it by the resurrection!

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

    Here John says again, “God is love.” Love is made perfect or complete.

    1 John 4:8 God is love
    1 John 4:16 God is love

    You can’t say God is mercy or grace or justice, but God is love. God reveals His love at the mercy set, Jesus.

    I love the phrase, “Perfect love drives out fear,” but this is not any fear (although love probably has the capacity to drive out any fear). This is about fearing judgment, something we need not fear because Jesus died for us and showed us His love…in action.

    We love because he first loved us. 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 4:19-21)

    God loved us first. He took the first step, made the first move. Our love for God and others is always a response to knowing and experiencing His love for us. If your love tank is empty, only God can fill it up. He has plenty to share, just ask!

    How many claim to love God yet hate others?

    Love is a command.

    Do you love?

    I confess

    • not loving my enemies
    • not loving my friends
    • making it about me and my name rather than the Name of Jesus
    • failing to share God’s love with the lost


    Two weeks ago the Christian & Missionary Alliance held their General Council in Long Beach, California, a national gathering that occurs every other year. Viewing it online I heard President John Stumbo share for the first time as President his report, his state of the denomination address. His first word to us was simple: love.
    I realize this isn’t fancy, complicated, or trendy, but Jesus loves you and, therefore, you are to love Jesus and people, those Jesus loves.

    But what is love? God is love, but who is God? Love!

    Twenty five years ago this past week I said “I do” to my bride, and she returned the favor! During our ceremony, we had a chapter of the Bible read aloud. It was not written for a wedding. It is not about romance. It does not discuss eros love. It’s a great description of agape, however.

    These words were read that day:

      If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
      Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
      Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
      And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

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

    Miracles at Breakfast, John 21:1-14, 24 November 2013

    Big Idea: God will surprise and delight us if we look to Him and follow.


    Have you ever experienced a miracle? Perhaps we should begin with defining a miracle.

    - an unusual or wonderful event that is believed to be caused by the power of God
    - a very amazing or unusual event, thing or achievement

    The Bible is full of them. Well, our Bible is full of them. Thomas Jefferson literally cut all miracles out of his Bible, unable to acknowledge the presence of our Creator in our world, despite the gift of Emmanuel, God with us, and later the Holy Spirit who lives inside every believer.

    Do you believe in miracles?

    As we approach the conclusion of our series on the gospel or good news of John, we have read this compelling biography of Jesus, from His arrival on our planet to His death, resurrection, and two surprising appearances to His disciples in locked rooms. In John chapter 21, He makes a third appearance.

    Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (1-3)

    Why did Peter go fishing? Wasn’t he supposed to be fishing for men? Perhaps he thinks his ministry future is over since he denied Christ, returning to his former occupation.

    Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. (4)

    John may be reminding us of another recent even involving Jesus early in the morning, a time when Mary did not recognize Him in the garden. He’s about 100 yards—or a football field—away. They could not see Him from that distance.

    He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

    “No,” they answered.

    These were experienced fishermen. They knew the sea. They spent all night fishing with no success. They’re even less likely to catch fish in the daytime.

    He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. (6)

    They could’ve said, “Jesus, you’re crazy. We are professionals. The fish aren’t biting. What difference does one side of the boat make versus the other? Clearly this is a miracle.

    Have you been frustrated, unable to make progress in an arena of life? Maybe you just can’t land a job, fix a broken relationship, or break an addiction.

    I often find myself stressed about things—money, parenting, preparing a good sermon, a tough decision—only to discover Jesus waiting for me to notice Him, listen and obey. Pride tells me to do it my way, but His ways are far better than mine.

    Much earlier in an account recorded by Luke Jesus gave fishing lessons to His followers and they had an unbelievable catch of fish. Then, Peter begged Jesus to get away from him because he realized he was a sinner unworthy of Christ (Luke 5:1-10). This time he races toward Jesus.

    Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. (7)

    Peter had some unfinished business with Jesus which we’ll examine next Sunday. Days earlier he had denied Christ three times and was undoubtedly filled with shame and guilt. Here he impulsively jumps in the water, leaving the others in the boat to work with the fish.

    Note, too, that rather than taking off clothes to swim, he puts them on. Perhaps he was hiding his shame like Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden.

    The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. (8-9)

    Why did John mention the charcoal? Smell is the most sensitive of the senses. Visual recall is about 50% after three months. We can remember smells with 65% accuracy…after a year! Furthermore, 75% of emotions are triggered by smell which is linked to pleasure, emotion and memory. One survey found 85% of participants remembering their childhood when they smelled Crayola crayons.

    Do you think this charcoal fire triggered a memory for Peter? It was around a similar fire that he denied Jesus three times (John 18:18). Again, we’ll address that next Sunday.

    Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. (10-11)

    That’s a lot of fish! Miracles abound, not only in the size of the catch but the strength of the net.

    A first-century fishing boat was recently found by members of Kibbutz Ginosar in Galilee. I saw the boat, 26.5 feet long and 7.5 wide. If it was similar to Peter’s boat, it would be too small for seven men, so it is believed two boats may have been used.

    Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. (12)

    This is an odd verse. They knew it was him but they didn’t ask? N.T. Wright says this only makes sense if Jesus is recognizable yet somehow different. His body was obviously different, no longer subject to death or decay.

    Wright compares it to someone in the sixteenth century seeing someone surf the Internet. They didn’t have electricity, much less computers! Jesus’ risen body is something from the future—our future. It isn’t magic. It’s real, but different.

    God has blessed them with a huge catch of fish.
    He has blessed them with breakfast.
    He has blessed them with His presence.

    Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (13-14)

    God’s cooking breakfast! He didn’t need their fish. He had His own—and bread, too. Loaves and fish. That reminds me of another story!

    Jesus already had fish on the fire because He doesn’t need what we bring, but He wants it!

    While they ate, He was sending a message: I love you.

    So What?

    This story has some unusual moments. The fact that it appears after the previous chapter which seemed to wrap up the entire book is unique. Jesus cooking fish while the disciples fail to catch any and then become inundated with them is interesting, to say the least. What are we to make of it all?

    I think it’s a great reminder that God is alive, He is accomplishing His purposes, and we must always be ready to be surprised by God. At any moment He may ask us to do something crazy, like give away more money than is in our budget, engage in a conversation with someone that makes us uncomfortable, or sacrifice comfort and convenience for making space to serve strangers. We don’t always see God, we don’t always hear His voice, but He is here. He is with us. He lives inside us. How would our lives look differently if we truly pursued God and followed Him. Jesus provided daily bread—and fish—for His friends, and He still provides for us, today. So…

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

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

    No King But Caesar, John 19:8-16a, 15 September 2013

    Big Idea: Who is your king?


    Why are you? I didn’t ask who you are, but why are you who you are. Why did you become the person you are today, or put another way, how are you? I don’t mean how are you doing, but how did you become the person you are today.

    Why are you?
    How are you?

    A more conventional question might be who and what has made the greatest impact on your life? We are the product of people and experiences that have shaped us. Perhaps you love sports because your dad loves sports. Maybe you joined the military after being moved by a movie or a book. Some of you have devoted great resources to care for those in need because of the example of a mentor or friend. When you think of who you are, why and how are you you?

    These questions are almost irrelevant in many parts of the world. Freedoms are scarce. Occupations are given rather than chosen.

    In our culture, however, we make hundreds or even thousands of choices each day about what to wear, how to spend our time, what kind of toothpaste to buy, what music to listen to, and what sources of information we will consume.

    Some choices are easy.

    Pizza or tacos?
    iPhone or Android?
    Coke or Pepsi?
    Michigan or Ohio State?

    What is the most difficult choice you have ever made? Why? How do you decide?

    Last week we looked at Pontius Pilate and his inability to find guilt in Jesus despite the cries of the Jewish leaders who shouted for His crucifixion.

    Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” (19:4-5)

    As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

    But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

    The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” (19:7)

    This brings us to today’s text.

    When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (19:8-10)

    Notice Pilate’s fear. It has grown. He is beginning to panic. He is looking for any possible to way to decree a “not guilty” verdict and asks Jesus for help. He knows an innocent man stands before him, and a special man at that.

    Jesus answered,
    “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (19:11)

    Jesus uses this opportunity to teach about God’s providence! He doesn’t even discount Pilate’s authority, but refers to its source.

    There are different types and severity of sin.

    Pilate is again trying to release Jesus.

    From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (19:12)

    The Jewish leaders were going to report Pilate to Rome. Pilate is a politician, through and through. Power is dangerous.

    The Jewish leaders used threats to Caesar as their last resort, their secret weapon.

    When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

    “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

    Jesus is being delivered into the hands of religious and political sinners.

    The cross was a mercy seat where God could reach down and save sinners.

    The cross was a sacrifice for Jesus, an offering for sin, an act of obedience.

    The cross was a substitution for us as Jesus took our place.

    The cross was a triumph for satan (Genesis 3:15) and ultimately a defeat.

    The cross was a brutal murder to the world.

    But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

    “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

    He continues to question their judgment.

    “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

    Notice these are the religious leaders declaring their devotion to a human leader. They fail to recognize God in their midst, the Messiah they had been anticipating for generations.

    Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. (19:16)

    The oldest creed of the Church says that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He chose Caesar. The people chose Caesar.

    Who do you choose?

    Who is your king?

    It may seem like a silly question since we have no king in our nation, no Caesar, no Pilate. Not even the most ardent supporter of a president or governor would call them king or lord or offer the allegiance afforded a king. We know the right answer on Sunday morning is “Jesus.”

    But who do you really serve? Who is your God, your king? Who influences you? Whose voice do you hear? The world is loud. It screams that it’s all about you, your pleasure, your power, and your stuff. Phone companies have realized two years is too long to wait for a new cell phone. Your house is too small. You need more Facebook friends and Twitter followers. If it feels good, do it. He who dies with the most toys wins. Everything is relative. Don’t judge. We’re all supposed to be happy. As long as it doesn’t hurt someone, do whatever you want.

    Despite our culture’s journey away from the Bible, many know the Ten Commandments, or at least some of them. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t lie.

    What is the first and greatest commandment?

    You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

    No other kings. No greater influences. No higher allegiances.

    Who is your king? Prove it with your life.

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

    Awesome God: Who We Worship, 9 September 2012

    Big Idea: We worship and seek to glorify an awesome God.

    What does glorified mean?

    It means to make glorious!
    To make glorious by bestowing honor, praise, or admiration
    To light up brilliantly
    To give glory to, as in worship

    That’s the bottom line of why Scio exists...and why you were created.

    It has been often said that we live in a consumeristic culture. Thousands of messages bombard us every day telling that it’s all about us. Have it your way. You deserve a break today. Obey your thirst. Part of human nature is to glorify or worship ourselves rather than God.

    Have you ever heard of the Ten Commandments? What are they?

    We usually think first of don’t steal, kill, or lie. Those are important, but the first ones are most important.

    “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:3-11)

    1. No other Gods
    2. No idols
    3. Do not misuse the name of the LORD
    4. Take a Sabbath to the LORD your God

    These are not suggestions, but commands. These are more important than no adultery or coveting. The Ten Commandments begin with God. He wants to be LORD, King, Master.

    Why? Because He is insecure? He has an ego problem? He is arrogant? No, because He is God! He deserves it! As we sang earlier, He is the Creator of all things. He Created the game, He can set the rules! Even better, He initiated this thing we call life and humanity and the universe and He loves it! He wants it to thrive! He saved His best for last when it all began.

    Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

    In 1647, a gathering of English and Scottish theological writers set out to summarize the Bible in order to train people in the faith. For hundreds of years it has been used in countless churches. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with a question:

    What is the chief end of man?

    Why am I here? What is my purpose? What meaning is there in life? The answer follows...

    Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

    I love this statement because it provides two responses. The first is that we were created to glorify God. That is the purpose of this series. That is why Scio exists. That is why you exist! It is to glorify, honor, bless, love, serve, obey, recognize, follow God.

    There is a real danger, though, in being told, “glorify God.”

    Kids, have you ever asked your parents “why?” only to be told, “Because I said so!”?

    The fifth commandment is to obey mom and dad, but sometimes we naturally want more incentive than “just do it.”

    In two weeks, we’re going to focus on the why of worship. Today I want to show you one simple thing about meaning and purpose in life: it’s about God.

    Not long ago I mentioned John Piper’s definition of a Christian hedonist:

    God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

    How can we be satisfied in God? It begins with meditating on who He is.

    I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. (Psalm 145:1-12)

    Going back to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we were created to glorify God...and to enjoy Him forever.

    The more we know Jesus Christ, the more we not only learn of the command to love Him, the more we want to love Him. The more we understand His love, His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, His hope, His joy, the more we naturally want to love Him, know Him, obey Him, and enjoy Him...forever!

    Piper adds

    We all make a god out of what we take the most pleasure in. Christian Hedonists want to make God their God by seeking after the greatest pleasure—pleasure in him. By Christian Hedonism, we do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. We mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. We should pursue this happiness, and pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy you cannot love man or please God.

    We serve a truly awesome God. He spoke or possibly sang into existence the galaxies, the fish, the platypus, and humanity. The more we see how great God is, the more it puts into perspective our lives, our hopes, and our challenges.

    This week I was reminded of this yet again. We received one of those dreaded late-night phone calls that said that one of our children was being taken to the ER. Panic set in. Fear gripped. Our first tangible action was prayer, not simply because we wanted to fire off an SOS to God—though we did—but also to be reminded that God is good, He is faithful, He is trustworthy, He is all-powerful, He is the definition of love, He is sovereign and in control, He is all-knowing and wise, He is an ever-present help in times of trouble, He is great and mighty, ...and somehow what seems so difficult and overwhelming to us seems downright manageable to Him!

    A few days later I was meeting with a group of college students and one walked in, visibly stressed, and on the verge of despair. He said unless a miracle took place within a few hours, he would be unable to continue his education. His was a big deal! People were kindly giving advice, but it was obvious that no action on his part would solve the issue. We prayed, and a few hours later I received a phone call that a miracle had, indeed, occurred and that he would be able to stay in school.

    Sometimes God answers prayer in the manner in which we want, but not always. In the case of our child, we’re still uncertain as to the ultimate outcome. To be honest, I worry and fear, and then I am reminded that though those are natural temptations, it is in. Worry says I don’t trust that God is able. It often means I have forgotten Him or who He truly is, an awesome God who is worthy of praise and worship and glory—not because of what He does, but because of who He is. Circumstances don’t change God, nor do they change His worth.


    Our God is awesome. People use that word flippantly—that car is awesome, the Detroit Lions are awesome, that hamburger is awesome. I rarely use the word for anything but God. He awes me. He amazes me. His character and love and power and understanding and presence have no end. He is worth my time and talents and treasures. He deserves my devotion and love and obedience, just because of Who He is. The more I keep my eyes and ears and heart focused on Him, the more peace and joy and hope and purpose I inevitably experience as my attitude, priorities, and heart shift to the One who initiated it the beginning. He is my pleasure. He is my treasure.

    You can listen to the podcast

    John's Overture, 1:1-18, 29 April 2012

    Big Idea: the first verses of the Gospel tell us about the deity of Jesus, John the Baptist, the depravity of the world, and hope as they preview the rest of the book

    John 1:1-18

    Why Four Gospels?

    Just as marketing professionals use different approaches to communicate with different audiences, so the four Gospel writers uniquely wrote to various groups of people.

    Matthew wrote to the Jews. He depicts Jesus as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and emphasizes righteousness.

    Mark was intended to be read by Romans. He focuses on Jesus as servant and workman and speaks of miracles, strength and action.

    The Greeks were Luke’s target. He is the Great Physician and Friend of Sinners. Mercy, wisdom and humanity are emphasized.

    John was written to people of the east. Wise men came from the east to worship baby Jesus. Egyptians, Persians, Indians, Chinese, Babylonians. The mystery touched the misery of the world. We see Jesus as the Word of God, the light, life, and Living Bread. His divinity is prominent. John has more about the resurrected Christ than the other three put together. John mentions seven post-resurrection appearances.

    J. Vernon McGee says that John is written for the wretched man, believers who have met Christ but try to follow Him in their own strength. That’s you. That’s me. John wrote at the request of the church that already had three Gospels but wanted something more spiritual and deep that would enable them to grow (Augustine).

    The Overture of the Gospel

    A prologue is an introduction, but an overture has pieces of the songs that follow. We get a preview of what is to come.

    In The Beginning

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

    In the beginning. Where have we heard that before?

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

    John writes elsewhere

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

    Jesus is the Word (logos in Greek).

    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. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:2-5)

    In the beginning was the Word. It’s past tense. The word “was” is in the durative imperfect. It’s continued action. It doesn’t say in the beginning IS the Word. It says the Word was there in the beginning, the Ancient of Days. Eternal. Timeless.

    In the beginning was, not is. When was this? 6000 years ago? Millions of years ago? Who knows?!

    The Word was with God. The Word is not God the Father.

    The Word was God. God was the Word. The Greek could not be clearer.

    What is the Word? Who is the Word?

    The Word is Jesus. The Greek word is logos. It meant reckoning.

    Let’s look at it this way...

    In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus 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. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

    He created all things. Jesus was the Creator. Jesus was not created!

    The two most important questions you and I must answer are who am I and who is God. Many people believe in Jesus, but what do they believe? Who is Jesus? A good teacher? A prophet? An honorable man? He was an is God.

    Arianism was an early heresy. The Arians did not believe Jesus was God and man.

    He is life.

    He is light.

    There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (1:6-8)

    This is John the Baptist. We’re going to talk more about him next week.

    The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (1:9-13)

    Here we see that Jesus is the light.

    The Greek word for “world” is “kosmos.” It is not a place, but a reference to everything. If you recall, in the Garden at creation, God said that everything He created besides a lonely man was “good.” Years later, God nearly destroyed it all when He saw how wicked and wretched things had become. Only Noah and his family were spared when the Flood covered the earth and consuming all life that was not hidden in the ark.

    We often think of the world as a good place. We are taught that people are good. The reality is that we are all wicked and in rebellion toward God. We carry the DNA of Adam and Eve’s sin. We are messed up. One author has said, “Sin is not a series of bad choices, but a state of being from which bad choices continually come.”

    Even in Jesus, we rejected Him. We killed Him. People love the darkness rather than the light. Throughout John we will see how we have rejected God.

    We do not live in a nice world that God wants to make nicer. Instead, we live in an evil world that replaces the Truth of God for whatever man-made spirituality is politically correct.

    The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (1:14)

    John doesn’t take us to Bethlehem. This is the Christmas story in one verse.

    This week I’ve been meditating on this simple verse. It is simple but so profound. God came to earth. Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible,
    The Message, says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

    There are many ways in which God could’ve expressed His love for us, yet He chose to come and become one of us.

    Jesus is fully God, yet He also became fully human. God understands. Really!

    Are you tired this morning? God understands. He has been tired.
    Are you struggling with temptation? God understands. He has been tempted in every way.
    Are you discouraged? God understands. He was so discouraged that He sweat drops of blood!
    Are you sick or in pain? God understands. He experienced the most agonizing pain, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually.

    This is what Christmas is all about! God became human and moved into the neighborhood. He understands!!! Hebrews tells us that...

    For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to
    help us in our time of need.
    (Hebrews 4:15-16)

    (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father,
    has made him known. (1:15-18)

    The Word is personified in Jesus. Many Jews rejected Jesus, instead claiming to be followers of Moses. John notes here that Moses never saw God, but those that saw Jesus saw God. Jesus came to fulfill everything that Abraham and Moses and David and Isaiah and every other Old Testament character longed to see and experience.

    There is hope for our broken world. There is only one hope, and His Name is Jesus. One writer said, “Transformation and hope cannot be the fruit of some human endeavor. Only God can take the initiative, and men and women must see, receive, and believe the work he desires to do. And when they do, they are reborn to become God’s children.”

    We talk a lot about change and transformation, but it’s not a human work; it is a divine work.

    This passage “is not about a message that offers hope, but about The Message that is the only hope.”

    We see that Jesus is God, Creator, timeless, eternal.
    We see that we rejected Him.
    We see that Jesus came to bring light and life and hope. Transformation is possible, not through methods or principles, but through a Person.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Esther: Trust, 8 May 2011

    Big Idea: If you trust God, He can use you to change the world!


    You were created with value, dignity and worth...for a purpose. That purpose may be clear to you or you may be clueless. Regardless, God has blessed us with this life, this day, this breath.

    For Such A Time As This

    Andy Warhol famously said that everyone gets...15 minutes of fame. Rarely do we know when that moment will occur. Sure, Michael Phelps recognized as he traveled to the 2008 Olympic games that he would be on the world stage. Yes, Barack Obama knew on election day that he would be in the spotlight. Most of us, however, cannot anticipate our one shining moment.

    Be Prepared

    The key to greatness is not to seek it, but to be ready. The Boy Scout motto prepared. Do people take CPR classes in order to save a life on a pre-determined day? Of course not. Do you buy a fire extinguisher for a particular event? No! You want to be ready.


    Today we continue our series The Secret That Changes Everything. I’ll tell you the secret right now:

    If you trust God, He can use you to change the world.

    You. Not the person beside you. Not that celebrity you saw on TV, your favorite author, or a rock star. You. But you must be ready.

    The Story

    The story of Esther has been immortalized by films such as

    One Night With The King and, of course, the Veggie Tales classic Esther: The Girl Who Became Queen.

    For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s a summary:

    After a six-month drinking feast, a drunk king summons his wife. The queen refused to come so the king forbids her from ever entering his presence and begins the search for a new queen.

    A beautiful orphan girl, Esther, becomes the queen after more than a year of beauty treatments and overnight “interviews” with the king.

    Her cousin, Mordecai, learns of a plan by Haman to destroy the Jewish people. Mordecai tells Esther to help by seeking the king’s help. She sends a message back to Mordecai and says

    “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.” - Esther 4:11

    When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. - Esther 4:12-13

    For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” - Esther 4:14

    Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” - Esther 4:15-16

    In a surprising turn of events, Mordecai is honored and Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews is exposed by Esther at dinner.

    So the king and Haman went to dine with Queen Esther, and as they were drinking wine on that second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”

    Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life — this is my petition. And spare my people — this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”

    King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

    Esther said, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.”

    Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen. The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.

    Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.

    The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”

    As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A gallows seventy-five feet high stands by Haman’s house. He had it made for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”

    The king said, “Hang him on it!” So they hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

    - Esther 7:1-10

    The Feast Of Purim

    Thousands of years later, the Jews continue to celebrate the feast of Purim to remember Esther’s courage to approach the king and deliver the Jewish people from Haman’s plot to destroy them.

    Earlier I said that the secret is “If you trust God, He can use you to change the world!”

    What is God calling you to do?

    It might not be something heroic like saving the lives of thousands of people, but it may be to share your 2WordStory and be used by God to save the eternal life of a friend, neighbor or co-worker.

    This week a friend told me he was way beyond his comfort zone in sharing his faith with a friend. He said he was on the verge of giving up, but I encouraged him to press on.

    If you can do it, it’s probably not God’s will.
    If you can’t do it, it probably is God’s will.

    God has a habit of using ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

    Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. - 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

    You are here for a purpose, and it is to know God and make Him known.

    The problem is we fear for our future and we have trouble trusting God with the things we can’t control. While most of us wrestle with this tension, it is certainly true for moms. It was true for Esther as well. Mordeci convinced Esther that she was in her role for a purpose and a reason (like every Mom). She was told she was good enough to perform the task even when facing fearful circumstances that could have cost her life.

    The secret is trust. Trust God to take care of you when you need Him the most.

    God can be trusted. He can be trusted in the midst of the storms of life. He can be trusted in sickness and in health, in wealth and poverty, in life and death.

    The secret is “If you trust God, He can use you to change the world!”


    As I said earlier, you were created with value, dignity and worth...for a purpose. That purpose may be clear to you or you may be clueless. Regardless, God has blessed you with this life, this day, this breath. He has created you for such a time as this. Now it’s time to seize this moment and change the world.

    You can listen to the podcast here.