The Relational Divide, 25 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problem: gossip
Solution: Matthew 18

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

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

The next one is closely related.

Problem: lies
Solution: truth

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

Problem: judging
Solution: help me understand

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

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

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

Problem: worship preferences
Solution: submit to one another

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day and night they never stop saying:

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

Problem: cultural differences
Solution: celebrate diversity

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

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

Problem: bitterness
Solution: forgiveness

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

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

Problem: theological differences
Solution: grace and essentials

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

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

Problem: busyness
Solution: sabbath

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

Problem: generation gaps
Solution: mentoring (both benefit)

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

So What?

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


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

For Further Reading

The Fellowship of Differents by Scot McKnight

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

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

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

Dinner Church: Grace, 26 May 2019

Dinner Church: Grace

Big Idea:
Grace is truly amazing, a gift from God which needs to be received.

What is grace?

It’s a name.

It’s what some people say before a meal.

In two words, grace is unmerited favor. It’s getting a good thing you did nothing to earn or deserve.

People often confuse grace with mercy or justice. I like to think of it this way:

Justice is when you smash my car and I make you pay for the damages.

Mercy is when you smash my car and I say, “Don’t worry about it.” You’re off the hook.

Grace is when you smash my car and I say, “Don’t worry about it. Let me buy you some ice cream.”

What? That’s crazy, right? Who does that?


We live in a world that seeks justice. We don’t always get justice, but we want it. We like things to be fair. If you break something, you should fix it. If I wrong you, you want me to fix it, to make amends, to make it right. We like to see criminals punished. Justice.

However, when
we are the guilty party, we seek mercy.

When have you experienced grace?

Last Sunday, billionaire tech investor Robert F. Smith announced at Morehead College’s graduation ceremony he’s paying off the student loans of the entire 2019 graduating class. $40 million. That’s grace!

Tonight I’ve got some bad news and some good news for all of us.

Here’s the bad news: the Creator God is perfect. Holy. Set apart. Intolerant of evil, sin, imperfection, mistakes, …us!

Contrary to popular belief, God does not judge on a curve. Our good deeds don’t cancel our flaws. We all mess up…every day. God calls that sin. It might be something awful like murder or something seemingly innocent like a little white lie. It doesn’t matter. We all do it. We have lustful thoughts, greedy intentions, cheat on our taxes, break the speed limit on I-75, gossip, …the list goes on and on!

For some reason, our culture believes if you do more good things than bad things, everything’s ok. That’s like saying if you put enough sugar in your coffee, it will cancel out the drops of poisonous cyanide someone put in it!

How many of you would drink that?

God’s standard is perfection, and since none of us is perfect, we’re all hopeless on our own. There’s a really good chance someday you will die! Me, too! Jesus talked several times about Judgment Day, the moment when we will stand before God and have to give an account for how we lived our lives…and what happens next.

Judgment Day is coming. Are you ready?

Oh, Kirk, forget about the future. Live for the moment!

I can tell you plenty of stories of friends who are living today the consequences of their actions from years ago.

Judgment Day is coming. Are you ready?

The truth is, none of us can be ready…on our own. All of our good works—while important—can’t begin to overcome the death of sin, of our bad deeds. Paul, who wrote much of the Christian Bible, said to some of the first Christians in what is now Turkey,

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. (Ephesians 2:1-3, NLT)

This is not a pretty picture. Every day we make choices, choices to follow God or follow satan, the devil, the world, the culture. Every day we’re bombarded with messages that say ignore God and do what feels good, what makes you happy.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) (Ephesians 2:4-5, NLT)

Usually I don’t like the word “but.” It’s a setup, like, “I’d love to come to your party, but I might have to binge-watch something on Netflix” or “I’d really like to help, but I’m broke.” This is a good “but.” Here’s the good news! Paul is saying Paul’s speaking to Jesus-followers. He’s saying on our own, we’re hopeless, but God. God is merciful. He loved us. He saw us dead in our sins and hopeless, which is why He sent Jesus to die and be raised from the dead. This is what the Christian faith is all about: the death and resurrection of Jesus.

If our good can outweigh the bad, there never would’ve been a need for Jesus to leave heaven, come to earth, be born as a baby, live and teach, die for your sins and mine, and then come back to life, proving his power to conquer sin and death (the victory we spoke of at our last Dinner Church). In other words, if we can know God and go to heaven by being good, we don’t need Jesus. But we do! Because we can’t!

Do you see the note at the end of the verse? It is only by God’s grace—unmerited favor—that you have been saved. Paul is saying it’s a gift you must receive. You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. The only way you can know God and spend eternity with him is to let the sacrifice of Jesus deal with it. Jesus died so you can live. Forever. With Him.

Do you want that? It’s a choice. We can choose to follow God now and forever or reject God now and forever. He has given us the freedom to choose. But choose carefully. Your life depends upon it. Your future depends upon it. Your destiny depends upon it.

For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7, NLT)

This is a beautiful picture of what it means to follow Jesus. I’m not talking about religion or tradition or even church. This is about reconciling with your Creator, confessing your sins and mistakes, asking Jesus to forgive you, and make him the leader of your life. If we surrender and die to ourselves, our will, and our agenda, he will take over, do life with us, and lead us now and forever.

This morning across the street we did a baptism where a woman was dunked in water to symbolize dying to her old life and then when she came up out of the water, it symbolized she is born again, she is resurrected like Jesus, she has new life. She is not instantly perfect, but her faith in Jesus means her sins are completely removed and forgiven. She has freedom. She has peace. She has experienced amazing grace, the gift of God of Jesus the Messiah.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT)

I love these two verses. They remind me I can’t experience salvation or peace or a relationship with God by being a good person or becoming a pastor or going to church or praying or reading the Bible or doing anything religious. It’s as simple as letting go and letting God. It’s about experiencing amazing grace.


No matter where you are in your spiritual journey, I’ve been praying that tonight you might take a next step. It might be to ask more questions and discover Jesus further. It might be tonight’s your night to say for the first time, “Jesus, I give you my life.” Maybe you have been calling yourself a Christian but you’re not really following Jesus. You’ve been living for yourself, filled with pride and selfishness and maybe even hate. Jesus said the true sign of his followers is simply love. Followers of Jesus are to be filled with love—and grace—and extend it to others. Think about your next step with God. He’s here and He’s calling you closer, inviting you into a deep relationship with Him, possible only because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, His gift of grace.

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.

The Curse of Sin, 7 October 2018

The Curse of Sin
D6 Series—Romans: Faith’s Foundation
Romans 1:16-32

Series Overview: Romans is packed with the gospel and truths about our spiritual condition.

Big Idea: Sin has destroyed what once was paradise, and threatens us every day.

If you recall the story of creation in the opening pages of the Bible, God created a universe so vast scientists have only scratched the surface on its size and beauty. God called it good.

What happened?

In a word, sin.

My name is Kirk and today we’re beginning a new series,
Faith’s Foundations, looking at selections from the book of Romans. Rather than a deep examination of every word, this will be more of a run through Romans, capturing the big ideas. I encourage you to read a chapter or two each week, digging deeper to mine for nuggets of wisdom and application.

Many a preacher has spent years preaching through the book of Romans. While each of the 66 books of the Bible is God-breathed truth, many people have their favorites, and Romans is often on their list.

Martin Luther said, “It is the chief part of the New Testament and the perfect gospel… the absolute epitome of the gospel.”

Samuel Coleridge, English poet and literary critic, called it, “The most profound work in existence.”

Warren Wiersbe writes,

“When you study Romans, you walk into a courtroom. First, Paul called Jews and Gentiles to the stand and found both guilty before God. Then he explained God’s marvelous way of salvation—justification by faith. At this point, he answered his accusers and defended God’s salvation. “This plan of salvation will encourage people to sin!” they cry. “It is against the very law of God!” But Paul refuted them, and in so doing explained how the Christian can experience victory, liberty, and security.”

The year is AD 57. Saul, the great Jewish leader and persecutor of Christians, has converted to follow Jesus. His name is changed to Paul and he writes from Corinth in Greece to early Christians in Rome, Italy, a place he had never experienced but one he was hoping to visit on his way to Spain after delivering money to the Jerusalem church.

I must confess I wrote this sermon and felt very unsettled by it. There’s a lot of bad news, quite frankly. Our text for today is not the warm, positive, happy stuff that tickles the ears, but sometimes the truth hurts.

After further wrestling, I felt led to change the order, so if you turn to Romans chapter one, we’re going to jump ahead and then back up…not unlike a movie that time shifts. Romans 1, beginning with verse 18. Paul’s talking about sinners who have rejected God.

Rather than teaching evolution—the idea of humanity advancing through increasingly favorable characteristics, our passage today teaches devolution, starting high and sinking because of the curse of sin dating back to the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. First, Paul describes the devolution of intelligence.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

God’s wrath. I told you this isn’t pretty! Paul’s saying God has revealed Himself to people yet they reject Him.

Paul’s writing about general revelation. Even people who have never touched a Bible can look around at nature and acknowledge this couldn’t have been an accident. Someone must be behind the universe. It says truth is plain and clearly seen—a paradox given the reference to God’s invisible qualities! They are also understood, ongoing, and it reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature.

We are born with some understanding of right and wrong.
We are born with the ability to choose right and wrong.
But our moral standards are always better than our behavior.

This is devolution of intelligence. Next, we see devolution from ignorance.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23)

You might recall the first two of the Ten Commandments: no other gods and no idols. Those sound so simple, yet every day I want to make myself god. I want control. I might not worship statues of animals, but there are other things I’m tempted to worship, things to which I give my time, money and energy which might not glorify God. It’s easy to replace God with the worship of success, wealth, or even family. It’s tempting to devote too much time, money and energy to even good things like travel, leisure and career while subtly turning them into idols above God.

Indulgence is the next step of devolution.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:24-25)

It says “amen,” so let’s pause for a moment. Does this happen anymore? The media has had a field day with people—many so-called godly people, including pastors, who have gone out of control.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

Is homosexuality in the Bible? Here’s but one example. Do I need to help you understand what Paul is saying? I don’t write the mail, I just deliver it!

When we continually reject God, at some point He rejects us. He “gives us over” to our sinful desires, our shameful lusts. I’ve heard some people describe their behaviors and say, “I don’t feel any guilt or shame so God must be ok with it,” unaware that God has left them. There’s no conviction because there’s no Holy Spirit! That’s a scary place to be!

I must add no person is hopeless. No one is beyond God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Prodigals can always come home. Hallelujah!

But when God gives you over to your sinful desires, watch out!

Sexual sins—both heterosexual and homosexual—are frequently highlighted in these discussions, and for good reason. Elsewhere, Paul wrote,

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)

I must add sex is a beautiful gift of God, but like any gift it has boundaries. A new car is great, but don’t drive on the left side of the road (unless you’re in England!). Medicine might be useful, but don’t down the whole bottle. Sex is wonderful…in a marriage.

But family, the list of sins goes far beyond sexual immorality.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28)

Here we come to devolution through impenitence, the opposite of repentance, having no shame or regret. They not only commit sin, they virtually celebrate it.

It’s as if God just throws in the towel and says, “You’re on your own.”

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. (Romans 1:29-30)

That’s a harrowing list! Who does that remind you of? None of you, I’m sure!

There’s one phrase in there that I’ve always found fascinating: they invent ways of doing evil. That’s a whole new meaning of the word “creative!” When I first heard about partial-birth abortion this phrase came to mind. Who could imagine such a procedure on a baby just moments from birth? It’s like something from Nazi Germany. Thank goodness it was banned in 2003.

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:31-32)

It’s as if they say, “Let’s have a festival, throw a parade, celebrate our sin!”

Imagine the Father’s heart.

Who is Paul describing in all of this? It could very well describe our world today, couldn’t it? In virtually all western nations, there is a significant decline in Christianity, whether you measure church attendance, baptisms, Bible reading, or whatever. Some have declared their opposition to God, but I think far more have simply drifted away from God as a true priority in their lives. This week I was listening to a podcast about a church plant—a new startup church—and the host was troubled by the reality he considered himself to be a Christian, but he hadn’t been to church in over a year. He wasn’t even sure why he stopped feeding his faith, but I bet he just got busy with work, social media, entertainment, friends, and life.

It's a slippery slope, family. One missed Sunday becomes a month becomes a year. One day without listening to God through the Bible can easily become a dusty book. Disciples of prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, celebration, worship, and giving are radical, counter-cultural, and easily lost. Temptation lurks all around, and so many people “out there” used to be “in here.” Let me be clear, the goal isn’t going to church. We
are the church! But the goal is to love God, love others as we love ourselves, and make disciples—and you simply can’t do that alone. Following Jesus is a team sport. It’s a family matter.

So what are we to do with these frightening words from Paul? What are we to do about the crazy world in which we live? Should we just all move to South Carolina, take over the government, and succeed from the Union? I actually heard someone suggest that several years ago!

No! We are to lean into God, acknowledge His holiness, repent of our sins, and be fully engaged in His mission…to seek and save the lost. We’re on a mission from God! As we noted last Sunday in stating one of the core values of the Christian & Missionary Alliance,

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

So let’s go back to verse sixteen of Romans chapter one.

Paul says,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

What is the gospel? We’ve examined this before.

Tragically, when many hear “gospel” they jump to personal salvation. They might say, “The gospel is I get my sins forgiven” or “I get to go to heaven when I die.” The gospel is first and foremost about Jesus, not us. We benefit from the good news of the gospel, but it is fundamentally about King Jesus the Messiah. The original readers of Romans never would’ve thought of the afterlife when Paul mentions salvation, instead bringing to mind deliverance, whether personal or national in the Roman empire.

The gospel is good news
In a word, the gospel is Jesus.
In three words, the gospel is Jesus is LORD.

One of my seminary professors, Scot McKnight, has said,

“…the word gospel was used in the world of Jews at the time of the apostles to announce something, to declare something as good news — the word evangelion always means good news. “To gospel” is to herald, to proclaim, and to declare something about something. To put this together: the gospel is to announce good news about key events in the life of Jesus Christ. To gospel for Paul was to tell, announce, declare, and shout aloud the Story of Jesus Christ as the saving news of God.”

Good news needs to be shared, declared, shouted. We need to proclaim King Jesus in our words and deeds to our city and world.

Do you know Jesus?
Do your friends know Jesus?
Do your neighbors know Jesus?
Do your enemies know Jesus?

This is really serious, especially in a culture filled with violence, suicide, overdoses, and fatal accidents. I’m not trying to be morbid, but merely point out tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us—ourselves or those around us.

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

The righteousness of God is the theme of Romans. It may sound distant to our modern ears, but you’ll hear it often. The idea of righteousness is used over sixty times in this letter. Some scholars view righteousness as the gift of right standing given by God to those who believe. Others see it as the activity of God by which He saves His people. Suffice it to say the theme involves the act of God giving and humans receiving. As the gospel is preached and people repent and believe, transformation occurs. A new relationship is established between us and Holy God. It’s because of faith—by faith unto faith.

“The righteous will live by faith” may seem obvious and insignificant, but those in Rome would be very familiar with this phrase, a quote from Habakkuk 2:4. Life before God demands our complete allegiance to God. It means we trust Him and are given a new life and a new lifestyle.

Why does Paul make such a big deal about righteousness? It’s because the Roman world was filled with unrighteousness. Perhaps not unlike ours, the news was not good, the people were not godly, the world seemed to be headed in the wrong direction.

So What?

It’s easy to think these verses apply to “those people,” the drug dealers and prostitutes and whatever. The reality is my heart is wicked. My hands are dirty. I’m greedy. I’ve committed murder and adultery by Jesus’ definitions. The pride and arrogance that got Lucifer kicked out of heaven is in me. I’m a self-righteous recovering Pharisee. I fail to love others, instead caring about my best interests.

God’s standard is perfection. That includes what you did or didn’t do today as well as every moment of your past. I want to ask you one simple question: are you right before God? One day you and I will stand before the Almighty and have to give an account for how we lived this one life—how we cared for the poor, treated the orphan, welcomed the stranger, visited the imprisoned, spent our money, invested our time, loved our neighbor. It’s sobering to think about, but Judgment Day is coming. I don’t like to talk about it, but because I love you I must. The reality is we all far short of God’s mark of perfection. One sin or a million, big or small, it doesn’t matter. We’re all hopeless…without Jesus.

The bad news is we’re all messed up.
The good news—the great news—is Jesus loved each of us enough to die on the cross for us. He offers to pay in full our debt, our punishment for our sins. He offers to clean our slate if we repent and believe, turn and follow, seek and surrender.

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

This includes heterosexual sins, homosexual sins, greed, gossip, self-righteousness, murder, abuse, addiction, lying, deceit, theft, porn, rage, drunkenness, whatever! Hallelujah!

The righteous will live by faith and we can only be righteous because of the body and blood of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice we remember today.

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

Grace is Greater than Yourself, 1 October 2017


Grace Is Greater Than Yourself
Series: Grace is Greater
John 13:33-35

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

Big Idea: We receive grace every day…and need to share it every day, loving one another.


A pastor recently sent me an e-mail which contained this question:

“Why is it that so many Christians make such lousy human beings?”
In other words, why are so many of us judgmental, defensive, unapproachable, and touchy?”

This might not apply to you, but I have met some Christians who are…not graceful.
We receive grace every day from God…and need to share it every day, too.

We’re concluding our series,
Grace is Greater. To review, grace is unmerited favor, a free gift, an undeserved blessing. It’s not fair! We all want to receive grace but often struggle to extend it to others for whom we naturally want justice.

In week one, we said
grace is greater than your mistakes.

The More We Recognize the Ugliness of Our Sin, the More We Can Appreciate the Beauty of God’s Grace.

God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness.

God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets.

And quoting author Philip Yancey,

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

That’s amazing! That’s grace!

Then we said
grace is greater than your hurts.

We must release our feelings of anger, bitterness, and rage over to God.

We must release the person who hurt us over to God.

Reconciliation may not always be possible or appropriate, but It can reflect God’s grace and forgiveness toward us.

Last week we saw how
grace is greater than your circumstances.

Thankfulness helps us trust God and acknowledge His grace in our lives.

We’re able to receive God’s grace only to the extent we’re able to recognize our need for It.

We must trust God’s goodness, even when life Is difficult.

Since life is filled with storms, I want to remind you of two resources. First, we have a list of Christian counselors available at the information kiosk and in the
FAC Focus e-newsletter each week. My family has benefitted greatly from Christian counseling and you may, too. Second, we are excited about launching Celebrate Recovery soon. See Dennis Belkofer, last Sunday’s “my story” presenter, for details.

Grace is greater than your mistakes.
Grace is greater than your hurts.
Grace is greater than your circumstances.

I want to suggest to you that
grace is greater than yourself. That’s right, sometimes we get in the way of God’s grace. Like a dam holding back rushing water, our own sin, pride, selfishness, condemnation, and insecurities can keep others from experiencing the flow of God’s grace. Listen to these words from Jesus:

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:33-35)

The world will know we are followers of Jesus if we…

have our theology correct?
attend Sunday School every week?
volunteer in the church nursery?
wear Jesus t-shirts?
are for the poor?
pray and read the Bible daily?

No. The true sign of the Christ-follower is if we
love one another. He says it twice in these three verses. The message is restated several times later in the New Testament, including

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22)

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

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 4:11-12)

I think we can all agree it’s a good idea to love one another. I’ve never heard anyone around here argue against love. After all, Toledo loves love.

But what is love? It’s not always nice. It’s not necessarily about sex. The Golden Rule is a start:

Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

We can make excuses all day long—I don’t feel well, I’ve had a bad day, my mom was not nurturing enough, that was a stupid question, you caught me at a bad time, it was a full moon last night—but Jesus doesn’t leave us any loopholes:
love one another.

Before I continue, I must say I am speaking to a wonderful group of people. Heather and I are so glad God called us to First Alliance Church. You are family, we have been loved deeply, and we love you deeply. Many of you extend grace generously, giving others the benefit of the doubt, asking clarifying questions when uncertain about something, and offering
constructive criticism when appropriate.

occasionally I’ve heard unkind words spoken, harsh tones expressed, and fingers pointed. How we treat one another matters. Jesus said so. And it not only impacts us, it announces things to the world.

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Imagine if Gandhi had become a follower of Jesus.

Steve Jobs had a similar impression of Christians. He told biographer Walter Isaacson,
“The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it.” Imagine if Steve Jobs had become a follower of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, people are watching us, and if we can’t even love one another, why would anyone want to join us? Years ago I was attending a conference and the speaker said, “The greatest obstacle to people coming to know Jesus is the Church.” I wanted to scream, “Foul” but he may have been right.

Is your life attractive?
Are you known for your love?
Do people ask the reason for the hope you have?
Is our reputation in the community one of love for one another?

We all know actions speak louder than words. It’s not enough to agree with the idea of loving one another. We must do it! So just do it! Love!

Putting this message together, I was tempted to offer a few choice words, such as

Don’t be mean.
Stop being so critical.
Shaming is not godly.
Get the log out of your own eye.
Turn that frown upside down.
Who made you God?
Or my favorite…edify stupid!

Then I realized none of those would be all that graceful!

Love one another. It sounds so simple, yet it can be so challenging. Our lack of love can be expressed in so many ways:

- Complaining about the music being too traditional or modern, loud or soft
- Posting divisive thoughts on Facebook
- Offering gossip disguised as prayer requests
- Rolling our eyes or other non-verbal expressions of disgust
- Behaving selfishly rather than putting others first
- Jumping to conclusions rather than graciously giving others the benefit of the doubt

Here’s one of my favorite passages for weddings…and for our church family:

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

Humility is a rare commodity these days. What if we took the lead? People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

We all agree we need to love, but let’s go back to that original question:

“Why is it that so many Christians make such lousy human beings?”

Here’s Pastor Pete Scazzero’s response:

A large part of the reason is a faulty, compartmentalized understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were passionate about holiness and purity in their relationship with God. They memorized books of Scripture, fasted twice a week, gave generously, evangelized, prayed three times a day, attended worship without fail, and kept Sabbath.

The problem was that in their zeal to love God, they were not equally zealous to love people. This put them on a collision course with Jesus.

A Pharisee in Jesus’ day would say, “First, complete your worship to God, and then be reconciled to your brother. God is more important than humans.” Jesus said, “Leave your gift at the altar. Go first and get right with your brother or sister” (Matthew 5:23-24).
- A Pharisee would say, “Obey the commandments and do not murder people.” Jesus said that even angry and dismissive words towards another person are equivalent to murder. We may think calling someone idiot
 or stupid doesn’t matter. Jesus argues it is a hell-deserving crime (Matt. 5:21-22).
- A Pharisee might say: “It is important to forgive.” Jesus says forgiveness is so indispensable that if we don’t forgive, our heavenly Father will
 not forgive our sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).
- A Pharisee would say, “Be holy by separating from sinners.” Jesus, quoting Hosea 6:6 said, “Discipleship is about being merciful and kind to people, especially our enemies. That is the heart of what it means to follow me” (Matt. 8:13).
- A Pharisee might say, “You will be evaluated at the Final Judgment on your faith evidenced by acts of holiness before God.” Jesus says, “You will be evaluated at the Final Judgment on your faith evidenced by your love for the people the world discards” (Matt 25:31-46).

Jesus summarized the entire Bible as an unbreakable union of loving God and loving people (Matt. 22:37-40). This was a difficult teaching in the first century and it remains a difficult teaching today.

You cannot love like Jesus if you don’t know Jesus.
You cannot love like Jesus without the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment…

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

Sometimes it’s much easier to love a God we cannot see than a brother or sister right in front of us who may say something we disagree with, act in a way which offends us, look different than we look, or simply has different preferences. We are to love our enemy. We are to love our neighbor. But most of all we are to love one another. We’re going to spend a lot of time together—eternity—so we might as well get used to one another, and that means extending grace.

Jesus never talked about grace, he simply modeled it.
Many Christians talk about grace but fail to model it.

I confess this is me. I fail to love. I fail to extend grace. I jump to conclusions when I should say, “Help me understand.” I speak when I should be listening. I have agendas and want to be in control when I should discern and submit.

Who do you need to love more graciously?

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    And quoting author Philip Yancey,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Forgiving others honors God. He instructs us to forgive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In addition to release our feelings to God,

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

    The aforementioned Paul told his disciple Timothy

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But how do we forgive? Consider these four steps:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    My Story: Crystal Howald

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

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

    Bonus content: Matthew West, Forgiveness

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

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

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Parable of the Pearl, 16 August 2015

    Matthew 13:45-46

    Series Overview: this summertime series will examine the various parables of Jesus recorded in thirteenth chapter of Matthew.

    Big Idea: Jesus gave up everything for us.


    Today we continue our series on the parables of Jesus, timeless stories Jesus used to challenge, instruct, and provoke. Many were about the kingdom of heaven, sometimes referred to as the kingdom of God. As we are in that space between heaven and earth, between the past and the future, in the now and the not yet, we long for heaven to touch earth, for signs of God’s rule and reign breaking in amidst the rhetoric of Obama, Clinton, Bush, and Trump!

    Perhaps the central theme of Jesus’ legendary teaching was the kingdom. His early message was

    “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17b)

    Jesus taught his followers to pray

    …your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

    Last week we looked at the first of twin parables about selling and buying.

    “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)

    A hidden treasure is found. This week’s parable is slightly different.

    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

    The merchant is searching for something special. He’s on a quest. Nothing is lost. Nothing is hidden. He is a hunter!

    How many of you are hunters?

    • deer
    • fish
    • bargains
    • shoes

    My hunting experience is rather slim! I once shot a CD out of a tree. That’s it!

    Perhaps when you hunt, you’re not exactly sure what you’re hunting for, but you’ll know it when you find it!

    I do remember a different kind of hunt I undertook in 1978. I was nine years old, began following sports, and started a baseball card collection. Topps created a set of 726 cards. I would go to the store, buy a back of cards, carefully open it like a Wonka bar possibly containing a golden ticket, and admired the precious cards, hoping for a superstar like Reggie Jackson, a rookie card like Eddie Murray, or players of my favorite teams, the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. To this day, I cherish those cards, including the rookie cards of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. But there’s one card in the set which I hunted for more than Pete Rose, Nolan Ryan, or even my all-time favorite player, Mike Schmidt. His name is Mike Cubbage.

    Have you ever heard of Mike Cubbage? Even most baseball fans wouldn’t know he played third base for the Minnesota Twins. His card value is listed among the “commons,” today valued at less than a dollar, but I would’ve payed most any price for his card…because after tearing open dozens—maybe hundreds—of packs, I had 725 of the 726 card set and I was missing one card: Mike Cubbage.

    I would’ve done just about anything for that Mike Cubbage baseball card! I didn’t have the Internet, a neighborhood hobby store, or even a large network of baseball card-collecting friends to assist me in finding this treasure. I could only buy more packs of cards, at 20 cents each, hoping to see the only face I had yet to see behind the red wax.

    And then the moment came. Those glasses! The scuffed batting helmet! The baby blue Twins uniform. I held that piece of cardboard in my hand as if it were a million dollar bill! The hunt was over!

    The Bible never spoke of baseball cards, but pearls were among the most valuable items on the planet.


    Pearls are a fascinating treasure. Wikipedia describes them this way:

    A pearl is a hard object produced within the soft tissue (specifically the mantle) of a living shelled mollusk. Just like the shell of a clam, a pearl is composed of calcium carbonate in minute crystalline form, which has been deposited in concentric layers. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes (baroque pearls) occur. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries. Because of this, pearl has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, admirable and valuable.

    Pearls are mentioned several times in the Bible. Keep in mind many in the Bible had never seen a pearl as they were rare, a sign of beauty, wealth and extravagance. Paul cautioned God-fearing women in their display.

    I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, (1 Timothy 2:9)

    This does not mean women should never wear pearls, but simply they are valuable.

    One of the most vivid images of pearls is found in Revelation in the description of the city of New Jerusalem.

    The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass. (Revelation 21:21)

    Can you imagine? Wow!

    Suffice it to say, pearls are precious. They are beautiful.

    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

    Selling all he had. I was reminded last Sunday of a man challenged by Jesus to sell all he had.

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

    “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘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.’”

    “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

    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.”

    At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

    Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:17-23)

    We could stop there. The man was unwilling to sacrifice earthly treasure for heavenly treasure. He valued his wealth over the kingdom of God. This is still true today. In my experience it is the rich who think they have no need for God, while the poor recognize their lack and are often more willing to surrender what little they have for the things of God. This passage makes many of us uncomfortable, doesn’t it? We hope Jesus never asks
    us to sell everything…and give it to the poor. How would that work? Where would we live? What would we wear? How would we get on Facebook?

    Mark continues…

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

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

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

    Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

    “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 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. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:24-31)

    For what would you sell everything? A hot spouse? Your children? Eternal life? Jesus?

    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

    Merchants have money to buy goods to sell for a profit. Of course, if you sell everything for one item, your inventory becomes rather small! One interpretation of this parable is the sinner as merchant and Christ is the pearl, the sinner sells all he has to buy Christ. There’s a problem, though, because sinners don’t look for salvation. They also can’t sell all they have because salvation is not for sale, it’s a gift.

    My best understanding of this parable is the merchant is Jesus. He left His home in heaven to come to earth. He died for sinners, giving up everything. He became poor.

    Jesus was made sin for us. He was wounded for our transgressions. He put His white robe of righteousness around us and our sin. He makes us white as snow—white as pearls! Impurities made pure. We are HIs workmanship created in Christ Jesus. He sees us as we will be someday without spot or blemish. He sold all He had to gain the church, the Bride. When He shall appear, we shall be like Him.

    Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

    You are precious, friends, not because of who you are, but because of Who’s you are. Jesus gave everything—even HIs own life—for you and for me. It’s outrageous. It’s incredible. It’s amazing. It’s grace.

    I have about 100,000 baseball cards collected since childhood. That sounds like a lot, and my collection is probably worth a few thousand dollars, but I would gladly sell them all to buy one card…a 1910 Honus Wagner. The rarest of all baseball cards is valued at $2.8 million.

    Of course $2.8 million is nothing compared to eternal life, peace with God, reconciliation with the Creator, forgiven sins, endless hope, and unconditional love. As great as my love is for God, it pales in comparison to His love for us. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

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

    Welcome Strangers, Family Rules, 25 January 2015

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to cast a vision for a healthy church family, noting particular strengths and weaknesses of Scio in the process.

    Big Idea:
    A healthy church family shows hospitality by welcoming strangers.


    When I was a little boy, one of the commands of my parents was to never talk to strangers. This is certainly good advice for a young child, but it tragically carries over into adulthood.

    Since I’ve lived in the midwest my entire life, I don’t know if this is true elsewhere, but I’m always amazed at how people walk past one another on the sidewalk and look down as they approach, as if to either ignore the other human or pretend they are invisible from them. Can we not simply say, “Hi!” as we pass? I do this sometimes when I’m jogging, often startling the person who seems surprised they are recognized. Yes, I talk to strangers…or at least greet them occasionally.

    We’re in the middle of a series called “Family Rules,” a double entendre. We began with the admonishment to
    know thyself. Last week we talked about how important it is to keep it real…no perfect people allowed (except Jesus!). Today’s rule is welcome strangers.

    Think of a time when you were in an unfamiliar place. Maybe you were in another city, state, or even country. It could be a local business or even a home. How did you feel upon entering? What happened when you were noticed?

    Being a stranger can be awkward, uncomfortable, and even frightening. Extroverts are perceived to be more calm about interactions with new people, but even they can experience anxiety when they enter a new environment. Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home,” and the further removed we are from those places we know, the more likely we are to be stressed or nervous.

    Last fall we did a series entitled
    Covenant and Kingdom. The gist of the series was God invites us into a covenant relationship with Him and then challenges us to go and serve in His Kingdom. It began with God inviting Abram—later Abraham—into a covenant relationship that birthed Israel.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, our culture is radically different than that of the early church in the New Testament, to say nothing of the Old Testament. Several weeks ago we talked about the birth of Jesus and the search for a place for that event. Hospitality was largely taken for granted.

    In the Old Testament, hospitality was more than just a custom. It demonstrated faithfulness to God. In one instance—from a passage we read this week via One Story—Abraham welcomed three special strangers:

    The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

    He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

    “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

    So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

    Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. (Genesis 18:1-8)

    Sure, it was a different culture. There were no Motel 6s, much less Ritz Carltons. Travelers would die without the hospitality of hosts on their journey. In fact, it was a serious offense to not provide for strangers.

    No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt…(Deuteronomy 23:3-4a)

    We could talk for hours about hospitality in the Old Testament.

    Here are some examples of people welcoming strangers in the Old Testament:

    Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18)
    Abraham (Genesis 18:3-8)
    Lot (Genesis 19:2, 3)
    Laban (Genesis 24:31)
    Jethro (Exodus 2:20)
    Manoah (Judges 13:15)
    Samuel (1 Samuel 9:22)
    David (2 Samuel 6:19)
    Barzillai (2 Samuel 19:32)
    Shunammite (2 Kings 4:8)
    Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5:17)
    Job (Job 31:17, 32)

    In the New Testament, hospitality remained a priority. Sometimes this involved water for a guest’s feet and oil for their head. It could include a kiss of welcome or food.

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

    Here are some examples of people welcoming strangers in the NewTestament:

    Zacchaeus (Luke 19:6)
    Samaritans (John 4:40)
    Lydia (Acts 16:15)
    Jason (Acts 17:7)
    Mnason (Acts 21:16)
    People of Melita (Acts 28:2)
    Publius (Acts 28:7)
    Gaius (3 John 1:5, 6)

    Jesus’ ministry required the hospitality of others as He and His followers traveled. (Mk. 1:29ff.; 2:15ff.; Lk. 7:36ff.; 10:38–41)

    Jesus told them

    If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Luke 9:5)

    One of the most sobering passages in the entire Bible makes reference of welcoming the stranger. Jesus said

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33)

    “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. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ (Matthew 25:41-43)

    “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ (Matthew 25:44)

    “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:45)

    “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)

    Could Jesus be any clearer? When we welcome strangers, we welcome Jesus. When we serve the poor, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner…we are serving Jesus.

    And that must be our motivation, our vision. Welcoming strangers is not done because it necessarily brings us pleasure, happiness, or comfort. At its most primal essence hospitality is an expression of love.

    The writer of Hebrews said

    Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:1-2)

    If you met Jesus in the flesh, and you knew it was Jesus, would you treat Him differently than an immigrant with a thick accent in the airport?

    If you met an angel, and you knew it was an angel, and you weren’t freaked out by it, would you treat them differently than a pan handler on the street?

    A special emphasis is placed upon serving other believers, especially because many were persecuted, driven from their homes, and fighting to survive.

    Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10)

    We are family. Family takes care of family.

    The Shadow Side of Family

    It has been said that every strength has a corresponding weakness. A close-knit family is great…until someone wants to break in and join! Virtually every married person knows the thrill of joining a new family, meeting the in-laws, encountering that strange uncle, and trying to learn everyone’s name. That’s just the beginning! For years—decades—you are surrounded by stories that are as foreign to you as Siberia.

    The majority of our Scio family has been together for more than ten years. That’s a long time, especially in the Ann Arbor area. Some of our youth have literally grown up together. You have stories, you have inside jokes, you have close friendships…and possibly cliques, too.

    This month marks four years for me at Scio. In most churches, that would be considered quite a while, but honestly, I still feel rather new around here. Many of you have been a part of our family two, three, four, or five times as long as Heather and I have…some even longer! If I feel new, imagine how first or second-time guests feel.

    The Good News

    I believe we are getting better at welcoming the stranger. I don’t have pages of data to support my belief, but last year’s Flip of our Sunday gatherings and our transition from academic Sunday School to interactive Life Groups has clearly enhanced not only our family life but created natural environments for newcomers to get connected. Many of you are diligent about introducing yourselves on Sunday morning to guests. The development of our coffee ministry by Dea, Janet, and now led by Emily not only serves our family members but provides refreshment for our guests. Thank you!

    Did you know our monthly second-Sunday potlucks were started to welcome strangers? Food is powerful. Even more than coffee, a meal can create a tremendous setting for conversation. As you meet newcomers—especially on second Sundays—encourage them to join your Life Group…and stick around for lunch.

    So What?

    Newcomers frequently tell us in surveys we are a friendly church. That’s great! As we have discovered, however, people aren’t looking for a friendly church. They are looking for friends! May I offer a few additional possibilities for welcoming the stranger…beyond Sunday?

    1. Invite someone to meet you for coffee or a meal at a restaurant or coffee shop
    2. Invite someone to your home for a meal
    3. Invite someone to your midweek Life Group
    4. Connect on social media online (this can be especially good for introverts)

    Speaking of introverts, if Jesus showed up, how would you respond? Really now! I’m not saying any of this is easy, but whoever said following Jesus was easy? He said to pick up your cross daily and follow Him.

    1. Ask open-ended questions to allow them to talk about themselves
    2. Ask how you can pray for them
    3. Pray for them, in person and/or privately
    4. Find a common interest or hobby and plan something together

    Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m busy!” Yes. What if you could be busy
    with someone.

    9. Invite someone to go grocery shopping with you
    10. Workout together
    11. Run errands together

    You get the idea.

    Family, we’re on a mission from God. It’s not that the church has a mission, but that the mission has a church. We—the people of God—are here, and we’re not simply here to encounter God. Were that the case, we’d be swept away to paradise with God the moment we begin to follow Him. We are still here to re-present Him to those in our world that have not yet encountered their Creator, experienced rich community, surrendered their lives to Jesus making Him not only Savior but LORD, and proclaimed in word and deed His presence and power to others.

    Our mission:

    We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 
    • serving our communities
    • sharing our story
    • sending disciples to bless the nations

    so that God is glorified.
    Making disciples begins with meeting people. We are blessed to have a website, a sign on a busy road, and a visible building, all of which attract visitors to our gatherings. Those strangers that arrive on our campus knowing no one take a huge risk when they walk through the front doors, something many of you have done almost unconsciously hundreds or even thousands of times. Wouldn’t it be great if their risk paid off, they made connections with us, were equipped to make connections with our community, and all the while making connections with God?

    If you are challenged or even frightened at the thought of talking with a first-time guest on Sunday morning, of shaking their hand, of even looking them in the eye and offering them a warm smile, imagine how
    they feel? This is our home. It is not theirs…yet!

    There has been much discussion amongst church leaders in recent years concerning the difference between attractional and missional church strategies. In other words, the difference between getting people to come to us versus us going into the world where they are and being Jesus with skin on, serving our communities. We need both. God has blessed us with a fantastic building and property. I’d love to see it used more often, by us and even by the community. What if our back yard became a community garden…or a park for dogs? Scio Township is trying to build a walking trail that might end on our property, a perfect destination for residents who bike, jog, or walk. We presently host music lessons, Girl Scouts, and elections. If you have ideas on how we can use our real estate to serve our community, please speak to myself or one of the elders.

    But we also need to go into all of the world and make disciples. We need to get out of our comfort zones and enter the worlds of others. We need to become the strangers, taking the risks, and enriching the lives of others with the words and deeds of good news. This summer a team of us will travel to the Dominican Republic, certainly not our home! We are going to serve, to love, to re-present Jesus…yet we will surely be blessed far greater than any blessing we could ever hope to deliver. Please give, pray, and/or go…to the Dominican Republic…and to your neighborhood.

    One More Thing

    Jesus set the ultimate example for us to follow:

    For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

    Jesus welcomed us, messy sinners, into His family. We were strangers and aliens and now we are His brothers and sisters. We didn’t deserve it, which is why it is grace—undeserved favor. To whom much has been given, much is required. Let’s seek out the lost, the strangers, the aliens, the broken, the hurting, the poor among us and truly show them love.

    Let’s welcome strangers…until they become friends!

    By the way, kids, you still need to be careful around strangers!

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

    Jonah, 6 July 2014

    Big Idea: God can be trusted and obedience is His love language.

    Series Introduction

    Do you like books?

    The Bible. It’s a great book. It’s a big book. Actually, it’s 66 books.

    Over the past three and a half years since I’ve served as your pastor, we’ve examined several of these 66 books. Specifically, we have studied James, John, and Ephesians. They are all popular books found in the New Testament.

    But what about the other 63? What about the Old Testament and those short New Testament books nobody every seems to talk about?

    Recently a list was assembled of the least-read books of the Bible according to This series will look at several of them, beginning with a popular story in an unpopular book…Jonah.

    Most of you know the story. God sends Jonah to Nineveh, but Jonah runs from God. He's swallowed by a great fish, puked back up, and then goes to Nineveh to obey God…sorta! There’s a lot more to the book of Jonah than a whale—and there might not have even been a whale!

    Before we look at the text of these books, we will briefly examine the context. This is essential when reading anything, especially the Bible. It has been said that you can make the Bible say anything you want, and that’s largely true, especially if you ignore the context, miss the big picture of the story of God, and merely extract sound bites. So here’s a little context:

    First, the
    genre or type of literature is narrative. It tells a story. It is not poetry or a scientific textbook or a history book.

    Second, the
    author was likely Jonah.

    Third, the
    date of the writing is between 782 and 745 BC.

    location of the beginning is the city of Joppa.

    Jonah is one of the minor prophets.

    Veggie Tales made Jonah the subject of their first feature film.

    Many know the main story. God tells Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, a wicked city but not a pagan city. They knew and worshipped God…at least they did at one point. This was not an evangelism mission to proclaim good news to unbelievers but a prophetic mission to call backslidden believers to repentance.

    The story

    The book of Jonah can be summarized in twenty words. Are you ready?

    God decrees

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

    Jonah flees

    But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. (1:3)

    Storms follow

    Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (1:4)

    Fish swallows

    But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. (1:17)

    The book of Jonah is either historical or allegorical/parabolic. For thousands of years it was believed to be a true account of actual events. In the 19th century, however, some began considering it a parable or allegory because of the alleged impossibility of surviving 3 days and nights in the belly of a fish.

    It seems many now believe the events were possible and large fish—not necessarily whales—have been discovered. Some say it was a shark. There is an account of a sailor in 1758 that fell overboard in the Mediterranean and swallowed by a shark (Carcharias). Upon being hit by a cannon ball, the shark vomited out the sailor who was picked up by a boat with little injury. (Haupt:
    Jonah’s Whale in American Philosophical Society, vol. 46, 1907)

    Some used to believe there were no whales in the Mediterranean, but sperm whales are found there and are large enough to swallow a man. The head of a giant sperm-whale may be more than 30 feet long!

    I believe it is an historical account, but even if it was merely a story designed to teach like Jesus’ parables, it packs a punch! It’s also worth noting how Jesus referred to Jonah (Matt 12:38-41, Luke 11:29-30, 32).

    Second chances

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

    Jonah advances

    Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city — a visit required three days. (3:3)

    God relents

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

    Now we come to the part of the story I want to emphasize.

    Jonah’s lament

    But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.

    Why? He hated the Ninevites. They were like Buckeyes! LOL! Seriously, though, they turned away from God and he didn’t want God to waste His love and blessings on those who abandoned the faith. It sounds a lot like the older brother in the story of the Prodigal son, doesn’t it?

    Jonah is so upset about God showing grace—unmerited favor—to the Ninevites that he wants to die!

    Jonah’s case

    Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (4:3)

    These are strong words! Fortunately for the people of Nineveh, God wins the debate!

    God’s grace

    But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:11)

    So What?

    Jonah disobeyed, obeyed, and was angry that God was gracious (ironic!). So what?

    Are you obeying God? Obedience is His love language. Obey and avoid the detour!

    Are you compassionate for others? Regardless of how they look, smell, vote, talk or act, they are created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. Jonah wanted the Ninevites destroyed. God had other ideas. It’s not our place to judge. The Great Commandment is to not only love God but to love others, and, of course, we love God by loving others.

    God is in control. We are not. The book of Jonah is about God’s all-sovereign power and care. He is the God of second chances. He’s the God of mercy and grace.

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

    We Are Saved, 2 February 2014

    Big Idea: We are saved by grace. We were dead but now we’re alive. Hallelujah!

    Ephesians 2:1-10


    One of my many weaknesses is my propensity to see things in black and white in a world of grey. I tend to be all or nothing, going to extremes. I’ve learned this about myself and I am working to avoid the tendency but when I was younger it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to turn the volume of the radio down to 1 when someone complained that 11 was a little much, or if someone said I talked too much I would resort to silence.

    Although much of life is grey, some things are clearly black or white, on or off, yes or no, Seattle or Denver!

    The Wrath of God

    Our series on the book of Ephesians is called
    Who Do You Think You Are? This is one of the most important questions in life. How you see yourself determines how you think and act and live. We live in a culture where most people see themselves as good people, at least in comparison to the criminals we see paraded in front of us on the nightly news. People will say, “I haven’t killed anyone, I paid—most of—my taxes, and I’m kind to animals so I’m pretty good.” But they’re not. I’m not. Romans 3:23 says that

    “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

    We tend to focus on the first part, but what about the latter. God’s glory is perfection. He is holy. He is righteous. He hates sin—all sin!

    I want to begin today with God’s wrath. It’s politically incorrect to discuss, but it’s real. We can deny it but does not change it. God hates sin and

    “…the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)

    Ephesians 2 could’ve begun like this:

    You are dead in your transgressions and sins in which you live, following the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also live among them, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we are by nature objects of wrath.

    Objects of wrath. That means all sin will be destroyed. It’s like cancer. You wouldn’t want a doctor to remove 10% of your cancer or even 90%. The goal is to live 100% cancer free. God can only live in a sin-free environment. His wrath will come and destroy all sin…and that’s a good think—unless we are sinners. But we are! We are all sinners.

    Celebrate Jesus

    Today is a day of celebration. We’re not celebrating my birthday or yours. We’re not celebrating a Super Bowl championship since it is hours away. Today we are celebrating Jesus, and every day should be a celebration of Christ. Our text for today actually begins

    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 sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

    It’s all past-tense because of Jesus!!!

    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 2:4-5)

    But God. God butts in! He invades our broken planet that has been decimated by sin like our state has been invaded by snow and cold temperatures.

    We were dead. Now we’re alive…with Christ. We are alive…in Christ.

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

    I didn’t do it. You didn’t do it. Jesus did it!

    We were dead and then Jesus made us alive!

    I have a friend, Tony, who died six years ago at St. Joe’s Hospital. His heart was the worst the hospital had ever seen, but then a miracle occurred; he came back to life, and has never been the same since—in a good way. He was dead and now he’s alive.

    What did Tony do to move from death to life? Nothing! He laid in the hospital bed and was healed in the midst of an ocean of prayer and a supernatural event not even the doctors can explain.

    It’s the same way with us. We were dead and then Jesus made us alive. That’s grace!


    Grace is unmerited favor. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair. You can’t do anything to get it. It’s amazing!

    A week ago I was DJing with a friend and I explained it this way:

    If you recklessly smash your car into mine (please don’t!), justice means you pay to get my car fixed—and me, too, if I’m injured.

    Mercy means I shrug it off, forgive you, and pretend the accident never happened. Who likes mercy?!

    Grace means I not only refuse payment to fix my car, I offer to pay to fix yours…and take you out for ice cream!

    That’s insane, right? That’s grace! That’s what Jesus offers every man, woman and child.

    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. (Ephesians 2:6-7)

    We are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. This means we are invited to spend eternity with Almighty God. We are welcomed into His Kingdom, not because we were good, but because of grace.

    Notice again the phrase “in Christ” and “with Christ.” It’s all Jesus. We’re just along for the ride. Literally.

    I have a friend who owns a Ferrari. It’s a beautiful car probably worth more than my house. He has two sons and if he were to ever let them drive the Ferrari into town, it would be obvious that there is only one reason they were driving such nice wheels—their dad! They did nothing to deserve the privilege except be born.

    That’s grace!

    Don’t miss these next two verses. This is one of the most important passages in the entire Bible.

    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

    What is our role in salvation? Nothing! It’s all a gift. Even faith is a gift of God!

    We all deserve God’s wrath. You, me, Billy Graham, and—fill in the blank!

    Religion has always tried to work hard to make God like us. Every religion I have ever encountered is spelled
    D-O; it’s about what we do. The problem is our works compared to God are like me trying to jump from here to the moon. It doesn’t matter how much I practice or how hard I work, there’s no way I could ever jump to the moon.

    What I love about the movement of Jesus is we are the only ones with grace. Grace is spelled
    D-O-N-E. It’s not what we do, but what’s been done by Jesus. I’ve encouraged my three kids to check out other religions. Explore. We’re the only ones with grace. It’s amazing, it’s extravagant, it’s almost unbelievable!

    For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

    There’s so much that can be said about this verse but I want to briefly highlight a few thoughts

    We are God’s workmanship, His masterpiece, His creation, His treasure. He doesn’t make junk!

    We were created “in Christ.” We were created by Christ and then recreated in Christ because of grace.

    We were created to do good works. We don’t do good works and then get in. We encounter Jesus and do good works as a result. Our lives are lived not out of obligation but gratitude. One of the most important works we can do is
    let dead people know they are dead, and how they can become alive in Christ!

    God knew us in our mother’s womb and prepared good words for us to do. He wants us to do two things: love Him and love others. When you ponder grace, don’t you want to dance, sing, and then obey whatever He says?!

    We were dead. Because of Jesus we’re alive!


    Some ideas from

    J.I. Packer, Ephesians (sermon series audio)
    Mark Driscoll,
    Who Do You Think You Are (book and podcast series)
    GLO Bible
    Louie Giglio, Passion City Church sermon series
    J. Vernon McGee
    , Thru The Bible,

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

    We Are Saints, 12 January 2014

    Big Idea: We are saints, God’s people set apart for His purposes, blessed with grace and peace.

    Ephesians 1:1-2

    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

    To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


    Good morning, saints! Good morning, sinners!

    Today we continue our new series, Who Do You Think You Are? It is a series about identity, and identity is one of the most important aspects of life. I believe theology and anthropology—understanding God and humans—are the two most important fields of study, for the more we understand God and ourselves, the more we will flourish.

    Who are you? Who are we? These are the primary questions we will seek to answer throughout our study of the book of Ephesians.

    As a review for those who braved the snow last week and a summary for those who didn’t, we noted that Ephesians…

    • - was written by Paul in prison in Rome
    • - to the church in the city of Ephesus, a cosmopolitan city not unlike Ann Arbor
    • - it was written not only to the church at Ephesus but to all in the region
    • - it is, therefore, one of the most universal books of the Bible, filled with timeless truths
    • - frequently speaks of what it means to be “in Christ,” our primary, true identity

    I want to note a few additional things about this book.

    • - It is about “the Church which is His body,” of which Christ is the head
    • - Paul founded the church in Ephesus during his second missionary journey
    • - Paul stayed in Ephesus for three years during his third missionary journey (Acts 19:8-10; 20:31)
    • - This may be the epistle referred to in Colossians 4:16
    • - Like many New Testament books, Ephesians has an Old Testament parallel—Joshua
    • - The church in Ephesus had many great preachers including Paul, Apollos, John and Timothy; what a legacy!

    Ephesians 1 begins…

    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

    This is a letter written by Paul from a Roman prison. Paul was once a religious zealot named Saul.

    Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 8:2-3)

    His conversion may be the most remarkable in history, an encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 9). Later he goes by the name of Paul (Acts 13:9).

    Paul, an
    apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

    The word “apostle” is interesting. The Greek word means “messenger” or “envoy.” I like to say there are two types—Apostle and apostle. An Apostle is the highest office of the Church. They received their commission directly from Jesus. Even though Paul did not know Jesus during His earthly ministry, the glorified Jesus commissioned Paul. They also saw Jesus after His resurrection, often wrote scripture, and performed signs, wonders, and miracles (2 Cor. 12:112). They also started churches.

    Today there are people that are called
    apostles. I consider myself an apostle. I have been involved in starting or planting churches. I’m a spiritual entrepreneur.

    Paul, an apostle
    of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

    As we said last week, the core message of Ephesians is that our identity is in Christ. Paul is a messenger of Jesus. He has no personal agenda. The messenger only delivers—they don’t create—the message. As he was repeatedly arrested and beaten, he must’ve thought, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”

    Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus
    by the will of God,

    It was clearly God’s will that Paul become an apostle. He was called for a very special purpose, specifically to write much of the New Testament and be the most prominent figure in it after Christ.

    Note that God does the calling. He still calls people today. He calls people to start churches, to travel to foreign countries, and to become pastors. He calls people to be beacons of light amidst the darkness at factories, schools, offices, and homes across our county. Be ready for His call. Be ready to respond. Be ready to obey.

    Jonah received a calling, did not obey, spent three nights in a fish, and eventually got on board with God’s will!

    You may be waiting—patiently or impatiently—for His call. I had a friend who spent years asking God to show him what to do. Silence meant to continue to be faithful to his current assignment until the time was right for something new, something that eventually came. He now leads a church God called him to plant in Chicagoland.

    You might not like your calling. Take it up with God!

    To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

    I began with the greeting, “Good morning saints.” When you think of saints, perhaps you think of a New Orleans football team or a bunch of dead guys that have churches named after them!

    A saint is a holy person.

    The word “sinner” is used about 300 times in the Bible, often in conjunction with the 600 references to God’s wrath. It occurs no more than three times in reference to believers. God sees us as saints. Why don’t we? When we begin following Jesus as Lord, we become genuinely new creations, though not totally new. We are given a new nature, the nature of Jesus Christ when we identify with Him. That’s incredible!

    Paul writes to the church…

    To God’s holy people
    in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

    …in Ephesus and to those in the region and calls them “God’s holy people” or saints.

    A saint is not a perfect person. Saints (
    haggais) means separated or set aside for the sole use of God, holy vessels like those in the tabernacle.

    J. Vernon McGee used to say there are two types of people today: saints and ain’ts!

    We have been set apart for God’s use. Isn’t that incredible?!

    We are saints
    and sinners. Notice what is next…

    To God’s holy people in Ephesus,
    the faithful in Christ Jesus:

    We are not saints because of how we act but because we are “in Christ.” Last week we briefly looked at nine uses of this phrase “in Christ” in the first thirteen verses of Ephesians. We are saints or God’s holy people “in Christ.” We are the faithful “in Christ.” We are full of faith.

    You might be thinking, “I’m not always faithful.” True. This is where the faithfulness of Jesus kicks in. Paul wrote to Timothy an incredible truth.

    Here is a trustworthy saying:

    If we died with him,
    we will also live with him;
    if we endure,
    we will also reign with him.
    If we disown him,
    he will also disown us;
    if we are faithless,
    he remains faithful,
    for he cannot disown himself.
    (2 Timothy 2:11-13)

    Because we are in Christ, we are faithful. It’s not about what we do, but what He has done.

    Imagine that your name was chosen in a radio contest and you’ve been given a
    backstage pass to a rock concert. You go backstage, someone asks your name and then asks you to leave. When you flash them your backstage pass, everything changes. You’re “with the band!” You are on their team. You didn’t sing or play an instrument or even setup the stage, but you’re with them. You have special privileges not because of who you are or what you’ve done but who you know.

    Being in Christ is so much more. It’s having a backstage pass to heaven, not because of anything you’ve done, but because you’re with Jesus.

    It’s actually much more.

    The bird is in the air and the air is in the bird.
    The fish is in the water and the water is in the fish.
    The believer is in Christ and Christ is in the believer.

    That’s radical!!!

    Paul continues this idea when he says…

    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Grace and peace. These are two of my favorite words.

    What is grace?

    It is unmerited favor.

    was the Gentile form of greeting.

    Grace is the means by which God saves us. You must know God’s grace in order to have peace. The world can never know true peace until it knows God’s grace.

    Outside the church we see “love” and “peace” but rarely “grace.” It is that amazing!

    Peace was the religious word, shalom in Hebrew.

    Peace means peace with God, to have our sins forgiven. It is more than the absence of war. Shalom means “to complete, to make sound.” It was used to describe the temple when it was finished (1 Kings 7:51). It is used to describe tranquility. The word was also used as a greeting, as it is here.

    Last year our daughter, Kailey, talked about how she was going to focus on a word in 2013. I decided to follow her lead and have declared “peace” as my word for 2014. I have far more self-inflicted anxiety and fear and I’m choosing to embrace peace. Jesus is the Prince of peace. Paul blessed us with peace. I’m declaring peace on my life and I want to do the same for yours.

    Grace and peace are two things you can have regardless of life’s circumstances. They’re yours if you accept them, much like salvation and God’s love.

    Paul is greeting his friends and blessing them with grace and peace, not from Himself, but…

    Grace and peace to you
    from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    The Holy Spirit was already present in Ephesus. Now Paul ensures that the Father and Son are recognized.

    Notice how often Christ Jesus is mentioned in this short section.

    Christ is the title. Jesus was His human name. That’s why they’re used interchangeably. You can call me Pastor Kirk or Kirk the pastor. You can call Him Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. Paul goes a step further and acknowledges Jesus as LORD. All glory and honor and praise is due Him for He is God, He deserves our praise, He is worthy of our worship.


    We’ve spent a great deal of time on two short verses, just the greeting. If you’re reading through Ephesians with us, perhaps you blew past this passage, anxious to get to “the good stuff.” It’s here! In Christ we are saints. In Christ we are declared faithful. In Christ we are blessed with grace and peace.

    This week I had this thought of Jesus talking to me. I didn’t have a vision or hear an audible voice, but I simply had the realization that Jesus truly loves me. He knows me. He is my friend. He’s God, but I’m on His team. He has given me His identity. I am in Christ and Christ is in me. Wow!

    Every day we have a choice—to be saints or aints! We can choose to be lord of our lives or surrender to the LORD Jesus Christ. We can we His badge or risk it going alone, doing it our way. I urge you to embrace Jesus and the identity that is offered to you in Christ. It is truly a joy to say “Your will, Your way!”


    Some ideas from

    J.I. Packer, Ephesians (sermon series audio)
    Mark Driscoll,
    Who Do You Think You Are (book and podcast series)
    GLO Bible
    J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible,

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

    Hurt: The Death of Jesus, John 19:25-30, 29 September 2013

    Big Idea: We are hurt, we hurt one another, and we hurt Jesus with our sin.


    Have you ever been hurt? Of course! What hurt first came to mind? Physical? Emotional?

    We all hurt others. They say that hurt people hurt people. Sometimes we intentionally hurt others, sometimes it is accidental, and sometimes we don’t even know we hurt someone. Have you ever learned after the fact that you hurt someone unknowingly?

    There is a difference between hurt and harm. A vaccination shot at the doctor’s office hurts, but it is not meant to harm.

    Last week we looked at the crucifixion of Jesus. The physical pain and agony He suffered is hard to imagine, yet the harm done to Him was more than physical.

    Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)

    It is believed by most that John is the disciple mentioned. What is noteworthy is the likelihood that John was the only one of the eleven disciples that watched Jesus die.

    In many wars and conflicts, while women are free to come and go since they are not viewed as a threat and they need to maintain the household including shopping. Men, however, are vulnerable to attack, kidnapping, or even murder.

    In this scene, we see women at the foot of the cross, but John, too. He was probably very young and not viewed as a serious revolutionary. He may not have even had a beard, a common feature of grown men.

    Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. (John 19:28-29)

    Here we see another Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in the Messiah. In Psalm 69:21 it says

    They put gall in my food
    and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
    (Psalm 69:21)

    The symbolism in these two verses is vast.

    Jesus often spoke of water. Sign one was Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into premium wine, providing for the thirst of others (John 2). Now he receives low-grade sour wine. He offered living water to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). In John 7 He invites the thirsty to come to HIm and drink (7:37).

    N.T. Wright sees a series of signs in Jesus’ ministry, beginning with the first miracle during which He made wine at a wedding, revealing His glory. The second sign is the healing of the nobleman’s son at Capernaum (4:46-54). The third is the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool (5:1-9). Then He multiplied the loaves and fishes (6:1-14), healed the man born blind (9:1-12) and raised Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44).

    Seven is a biblical number and Wright believes the seventh sign to reveal God’s glory is Jesus being lifted up. It is fitting then that…

    When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (19:30)

    In the original language, this phrase means, “It’s all done!” It’s a single word that is written on a bill after it has been paid. The price has been paid. Jesus’ work is complete. It’s finished. It’s done. Jesus has accomplished His mission.

    So much happened in that moment. Although I’ve focused this series on John’s Gospel, Matthew records fascinating details.

    And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

    At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (Matthew 27:50-52)

    Let’s go back to Jesus’ mission that He accomplished. The hurt Jesus experienced was not only physical, but profoundly spiritual. The writer of Romans tells us

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

    Paul is explicit in his letter to the people in the city of Corinth.

    God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

    I killed Jesus.
    I nailed Jesus to the cross.
    It was my sin that prompted His agonizing mission.

    Hurt by Johnny Cash (originally by Nine Inch Nails)

    The sins of others hurts me.
    My sin causes others to hurt.
    Our sins caused Jesus to hurt.

    I killed Jesus.
    I nailed Jesus to the cross.
    It was my sin that prompted His agonizing mission.

    Reflection and Confession

    It’s easy to reflect on the cross and appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus for us without acknowledging our sins that necessitated it.

    Each of us has a long history of sin. Big sins, small sins, public sins, hidden sins. Sins of things we did. Sins of things we failed to do.

    Sin separates us from God. Sin is deadly to relationships and sometimes even human life.

    That guilt you feel…it’s probably the result of sin. The number one reason people feel guilty is because they are guilty! There is false guilt, but Romans 3:23 tells us that all of us sin and fall short of God’s glory. All of us. You. Me. Billy Graham. All of us.

    This isn’t about shame, but it is about honestly assessing our lives. How have we loved or hated God? How have we loved or hated our neighbor? How have we loved or hated ourselves?

    Kyrie eleison (Greek: Κύριε, ἐλέησον "Lord, have mercy"). The phrase predates Christian usage.

    There’s an old prayer of the Church that says, “LORD, have mercy”

    I urge you to reflect upon your sin. Confess it to God. Repent and turn away from it. Experience His love and forgiveness. That’s why He died. That’s why we call it Good Friday.

    LORD, Have Mercy

    John later wrote

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

    That is truly Good News! Hallelujah!

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

    Unquenchable Thirst, John 4:4-41, 24 June 2012

    Big Idea: God gave. Seekers can find.

    Big Idea: We are all in need of God’s amazing grace, but we must be thirsty.

    John provides us with several narratives...and conversations. We have looked at Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Now He encounters a sinful Samaritan woman.

      Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

    The first sentence is significant. Jews hated the mixed race of the Samaritans. They would go around Samaria when they traveled.

    This was an important place, Jacob’s well. The well has been active for almost 2000 years!

    Jesus is tired, He’s in the middle of the desert at noon. He’s hot. He’s thirsty. He pulls off the road to go to a rest area.

    Are you tired? Jesus knows what it’s like to be tired.
    Are you thirsty? Jesus knows what it’s like to be thirsty.

    Normally women came in the morning as a group to get their water for the day. She came at noon, alone, which tells us about her social status.

      When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her,
    “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) (4:7-8)

    Jesus surprised her for several reasons:

    1. She wasn’t expecting to see anyone at the well. Normally women came in the morning, as a group to get the family’s water for the day. She came at noon, alone, which tells us about her social status. It’s hot in the Middle East, especially at noon, and she was used to a solitary journey.

    2. This was especially awkward because He was a man and she was not. Men and women rarely had any interaction unless they were married, and even then rarely in public. Single men never spoke to or touched a woman.

    3. This man and woman were alone, which was even more unusual.

    4. Jesus was a Jew and she was a Samaritan. Samaritans were second-class citizens. Jews were far superior.

    When Jesus enters your life, expect the unexpected.

      The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

    Actually, Jews did associate with Samaritans, but they were business dealings. They would never share water or vessels.

    A Rabbinic law from A.D. 66 said that Samaritan women were considered as continually menstruating and always unclean. A Jew drinking from a Samaritan woman’s vessel would become ceremonially unclean.

    She knows this is not normal. Jesus goes there!

    They did associate with Samaritans, but they were business dealings. They would never share water or vessels.

      Jesus answered her,
    “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (4:10)

    How’s that for a response?! If you only knew. Most people don’t really know who He is because most people never ask. He created an interest, a thirst.

    Living water did not come from a well. It refers to flowing, moving water from a spring or river. It was precious and the only water that could be used for ritual, cleansing washings. There were no rivers or streams in this area, though, which is why Jacob had to dig a well 2000 years earlier to water his flocks.

    The prophet Jeremiah said

    “My people have committed two sins:
    They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
    and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
    (Jeremiah 2:13)

    Our story continues...

    “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” (4:11-12)

    Now she addresses Him as “sir.” The animals drank from this well. Jesus knows all about this well! All she could think about was the physical.

    Many of us are like that. Many scientists are like that, too.

    Just like Nicodeus, earthly questioners cannot understand heavenly things.

    He doesn’t have a bucket!

    Are you greater than Jacob? In Greek, this question expects a negative answer, but He surprises yet again.

      Jesus answered,
    “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (4:13-14)

    He’s not talking about H2O, of course. He’s talking about something—Someone—who can satisfy like nothing else, the Holy Spirit.

    The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (4:15)

    He was thirsty. Now she is thirsty.

    How thirsty was she? How empty was her life? How empty was her soul?
    She’s ready for it.

    She has been desperately seeking something or someone to satisfy her thirst.

    Her five husbands have not satisfied her...or vice versa.

    She hates coming to the well, every day, alone, at the hottest time of day.

      He told her,
    “Go, call your husband and come back.”

    That’s an odd request? The water is available to all, but there must be a thirst. She had a quick response.

    “I have no husband,” she replied.

    She must have been thinking, “It’s hot, You’re weird, why do you care about my husband, and where’s this great water?”

    Jesus said to her,
    “You are right when you say you have no husband.
    The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

    OK, this is really getting creepy. She didn’t even post this information on her Facebook page! She knows He’s special.

    “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
    “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
    The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
      Then Jesus declared,
    “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

    I love how she changes the subject and gets theological with Jesus!

    Have you ever started talking with someone about something uncomfortable and they change the subject? Look, a squirrel!!!

    Many people love to talk about religion but refuse to live it. They use it as a smokescreen.

    Five husbands. This was not Elizabeth Taylor. In this culture, she did not divorce her husbands. They divorced her. Men could divorce women for any reason whatsoever and just kick them out of the home, leaving them destitute.

    This woman was most certainly broken.
    She was lonely. She was desperate.
    She may have given up on marriage.
    The man she was with may have been merely for survival.

    She finally meets a man that respects her.

    It’s a good thing it wasn’t a judgmental Christian but Jesus that she encountered.

    We often say 3 strikes and you’re out. She had five husbands and was loved and accepted by Jesus. He did not give her a righteous lecture but an unfathomable offer.

    Jesus reveals His true identity to this outcast woman.

    She wanted to know where to worship. We are to worship everywhere, always! God is no longer limited to one place as He was in the Old Testament.

    She is expecting the Messiah. Imagine what she thought when He identified HImself!

    It’s a good thing it wasn’t a judgmental Christian but Jesus that she encountered.

    We often say 3 strikes and you’re out. She had five husbands and was loved and accepted by Jesus. He did not give her a righteous lecture but an unfathomable offer.

    Our worship must come from deep within our souls.

    Are you just going through the motions? It’s not about our lips, but our hearts.

    Are you worshipping 24/7 or just an hour?

      Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

    No one asked!

      Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
      Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
      But he said to them,
    “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

    She left her water. Jesus is focused, so concerned about this woman. He is fully present.

    She can’t wait to tell everyone.
    This is probably what she was thinking.

    Who did she tell? What kinds of people?

    We are to be a hospital, not a country club.

    Who do you think you are? I’m one beggar telling others where to find bread.

    This sketchy woman tells her village, “I met a man!” What else is new?!

    Men and women of passion are contagious following a defining moment.

    Do people know you have met Christ?

    Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
      “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

      Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

    It doesn’t say all of them, but many. Jesus couldn’t get the whole town, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the entire office. Just tell them what Jesus is doing in your life.

    He stayed two days. He wasn’t in a hurry.

    She was a vibrant evangelist. New Christians are often the most excited and contagious. God uses cracked pots.

      They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

    This is what we want people to say to us!

    We get healed and He gets lifted in this worship.

    The condition is thirst. We must be thirsty. Are you thirsty? Are you desperate for God? Do you need God?

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