Jesus

Upside Down (Easter), 31 March 2024

Upside Down (Easter)
John 19:30

Big Idea:
Because of the resurrection, our world and future are radically transformed.
 
I love roller coasters. As a young boy, they terrified me, but a $20 bribe from my grandpa got me convinced to ride one a few years later and I was hooked (on roller coasters, not the $20!!!). Despite my early love for roller coasters, there was one thing I wouldn’t ride…a coaster that goes
upside down. I don’t know if I thought I would fall out or just thought it would be a weird sensation but I refused to do a loop for several years…until my grandpa bribed—no, he wasn’t involved this time, but when I was at King’s Island, I faced my fear and went upside down for the first time on a roller coaster, and while I didn’t want to stay upside down, I loved it!
 
We’re not here to talk about roller coasters (though I can’t wait to ride Top Thrill 2!), but the subject of Easter—of Resurrection Sunday—is filled with surprises, with irony, with
upside down reality. It’s really a picture of life in the Kingdom of God, the life of a follower of Jesus. He is risen!
 
 
The resurrection of Jesus has been celebrated since…well, since it occurred in the first century. I wish we had time today to unpack all of the reasons why I believe in the resurrection. I do realize dead people do not usually come back to life…especially when they are exposed to the horror of crucifixion
. Nobody’s been able to locate the place where Jesus’ body was placed or buried, so whether you believe Jesus rose from the dead or not, just imagine for a moment that he did. What if it’s true?
 
The subject of Resurrection Sunday is filled with surprises, with irony, with
upside down reality. Our scripture reading text is filled with such moments!
 
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. (Matthew 28:1, NLT)
 
Nothing special here.
 
Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. 3 His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. (Matthew 28:2-4, NLT)
 
Earthquake. Angel. Shining face and white clothing. Of course, the guards were afraid and fainted. Have you ever seen an angel? It seems like they always say the same thing…
 
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. 7 And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7, NLT)
 
The crucified don’t rise from the dead! That’s as
upside down as it gets!
 
The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. (Matthew 28:8, NLT)
 
Frightened and joyful. That’s upside down!
 
The Kingdom of God is upside down from the kingdoms of this world.
 
But let’s back up. How did we get to this scene? Many of you know the story of Good Friday which we remembered two days ago. One of Jesus’ three best friends, John, wrote regarding Jesus on the cross…
 
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, NIV)
 
I’m grateful to pastor Erwin McManus for introducing me to the true meaning of this simple verse and its relevance to Easter. Jesus did three things.
 
First, he said, “It is finished.” This was moments before he died, making this declaration look like one of defeat. It appears his life is finished. His friends certainly saw it that way. Usually when people die, it’s a tragedy. The Hebrew word for
death does not mean the absence of life, but rather the separation of two things that never meant to be separated. Death feels wrong because it is. My father-in-law died on Monday and we’ve been surrounded by preparations for next Sunday’s funeral. But when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he wasn’t talking about the end of his life. He was referencing his completed mission to seek and save the lost. What appeared to be a failure was upside down. Jesus fulfilled the scriptures written centuries earlier. The cross was viewed as a symbol of powerlessness, but on the cross Jesus had total confidence in his power to accomplish the mission. At the cross, defeat is victory.
 
Then he bowed his head. This is the same language found when he said,
 
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20, NIV)
 
Jesus had no place to rest his head, but he did on the cross. There is rest at the cross. He takes an act of violence and turns things
upside down, making it a place of peace.
 
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, NIV)
 
Thirdly, the text says Jesus “gave up his spirit.” This doesn’t mean he lost it, but rather he gave it up, he made a choice—a decision—with his last act. Nobody took Jesus’ life, it was a gift, an act of grace, unmerited favor.
 
Do you see how
upside down the story of Jesus is? In this one verse, we see defeat is victory, violence is peace, failure is conquest. It’s not the death of Jesus that makes Good Friday good. Yes, he died to offer forgiveness to every man, woman, and child that responds to his simple invitation, “Follow me.” But if there was no resurrection, we wouldn’t be celebrating today.
 
Some of you today are exploring what it means to follow Jesus. Welcome! We welcome people of all faiths, backgrounds, ethnicities, …all humans are welcome here! We’re not about becoming a big church or famous, but we are about helping people discover Jesus and what you might call the upside-down Kingdom of God. Our faith is not built on philosophy or someone’s dream or a dead person’s wisdom. It’s on the living person of Jesus, a real human who changed the world, who showed us what it means to be human.
 
In many ways, following Jesus is the opposite of following the world—both the religious world and the culture. Religious people have always tried to be good enough for a perfect God, but it doesn’t work. It’s always tempting to keep up with the Joneses, to pursue the American Dream, to just do it, to have it your way, to do you and be true to yourself (what slogans am I missing?!), but how’s that working for you? It’s no secret that we live in a cancel culture that then struggles with loneliness (I wonder why?!). Money, sex, and power are like a mirage in the desert, an illusion of satisfaction which quickly fades away. I like these words from the late J. Oswald Sanders:
 
“Because we children of Adam want to become great, He became small. Because we will not stoop, He humbled Himself. Because we want to rule, He came to serve.”
 
Jesus died for you and for me. His blood poured out of his beaten body, his head covered in a crown of thorns, nails in his wrists and feet, eventually a spear in his side. He took our punishment. That’s upside down!
Jesus left heaven to come to earth. That’s upside down!
His blood washes us white as snow. That’s upside down!
He brings us from darkness into light. That’s upside down!
  
And it wasn’t because we’re good people.
 
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8, NIV)
 
That’s really upside down! That’s the message of the gospel, the good news. Jesus died for us…not only to experience forgiveness and grace, but also a relationship with God.
 
Jesus turned everything upside-down. Consider a few of his choice statements:
 
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 10:39, NIV)
 
Six chapters later, he says it again.
 
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matt. 16:25, NIV)
 
Perhaps you’ve heard this one:
 
But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. Matt. 19:30
 
Perhaps the most radical of commands is found in chapter five of the same book.
 
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor  and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matt. 5:43-44   
 
Love your enemies? That’s so upside-down. It sounds ridiculous to our culture. Cancel your enemies. Harm your enemies. Treat them the way they treat you. At the very best ignore your enemies. But love them?
 
One of the things I love about Jesus is he gets us. Perhaps you’ve seen the tv commercials! But he really gets us. He spent 33 years on our planet, getting sick, cold, tempted, and enduring the most horrific pain imaginable on the cross.
 
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
 
I love that so much! When he says things like “love your enemies,” he walks the talk.
 
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. 34 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) 
 
Paul, who had a life-transforming encounter with the risen Jesus, notes:
 
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. (1 Corinthians 15:3-6, NLT)
 
It's not like one or two people had a hallucination or something!
 
The resurrection is everything to the follower of Jesus. Paul, who met Jesus, wrote,
 
And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:15-17, NLT)
 
Without the resurrection, our faith is useless.
Without the resurrection, we are guilty of our sins.
Without the resurrection, we have no hope.
Without the resurrection, we have no peace.
Without the resurrection, Christianity is just one of many religions trying to get to God.
Without the resurrection, we’re wasting our time praying to a dead God.
Without the resurrection, we have future of death.
Without the resurrection, this is as good as it gets (and that’s tragic!)
Without the resurrection, we have no purpose (he who dies with the most toys wins)
 
But because he lives, I’m alive!
Because he lives, I can face tomorrow
Because he lives, every fear is gone
  
So What?
 
In a moment we’re going to hear stories of people who have said, “Jesus, I give you my life.” If you’ve done that, let this be a moment to remember your surrender and recommit to follow Jesus and his upside-down, radical, alternative way of life.
 
If you’ve never said, “Jesus, I give you my life,” I urge you to do so today. It’s the most amazing experience to surrender, die to your own selfish ways, and be resurrected in Christ. When you do so, Christ lives in you! When you die, you can really live. That’s upside down…and it’s amazing!

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

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

Love, 24 December 2023

Love
The Season of Advent

Big Idea:
The heart of Christmas is love…not a feeling, but a Person!

Merry Christmas Eve!
 
We’re in week four of our series
The Season of Advent. We’re launching from the traditional candle theme of each Sunday, today being love…and tonight we will light the Christ Candle, the conclusion of Advent, a season of waiting, expecting, anticipating.
 
Love must be the most misunderstood word in the English language. It replaces multiple words in other languages. I love my friends. I love First Alliance. I love my wife. I love tacos. I love riding roller coasters. They hardly mean the same thing!
 
What do you think of when you hear the word
love? One of my favorite definitions is “looking out for the best interest of another.” It requires more than candy hearts or mushy words. It’s certainly not mere lust or even a feeling. Love is a verb, a rugged commitment to a person, and it’s the best word to describe God.
 
 
When I was in high school, our youth group leader once told the story about how he searched for a good definition of love. He found a young lady he wanted to marry, but wanted to know what the Bible said about love. He came across these words:
 
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8, NIV).
 
God is the definition of love! That word in the original Greek, agape, means “affection or benevolence, charity, dear, love.”
 
Do you think of God as love…or do other images and words come to mind? I’ve often said the two most important questions in the world are “Who are you?” and “Who is God?” Tragically, many are afraid of God, thinking He’s out to get them, ready to zap them with lightning if they ever make a mistake. Others picture God as some cosmic grandpa who’s taking a nap in a rocking chair or too busy to notice what’s happening on our planet.
 
God is love, and the most famous verse in the Bible declares His rugged commitment to you and me, a commitment which involved the ultimate sacrifice, the most drastic action.
 
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)
 
God loved. He so loved. He loved the whole world…every gender, ethnicity, nation. He gave. Giving is a sign of love. Gifts are one of Gary Chapman’s five love languages. HE gave His son, His one and only son. He sent him away for 33 years to our planet…to show us what it means to be human, to love, to heal, to teach, and ultimately to die on purpose…for us…and then rose from the dead, conquering sin and death.
 
Do you know that one and only Son, Jesus Christ? He’s what this season is all about. It’s his birthday we celebrate tomorrow (what are you getting him for his birthday?).
 
Jesus embodied God’s love, being fully God and fully human. There’s more that John wrote.
 
God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17, NLT)  
 
That was his mission. He came to die for our mistakes, our sins, our rebellion, our selfishness and pride. He is the greatest gift you can ever receive. It comes with peace, joy, hope, meaning, purpose, and contentment. But a gift is only yours if you receive it. God’s love is only yours if you believe, if you trust, if you surrender. Without Jesus, we live in darkness, without hope.
 
“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” (John 3:18-21, NLT)   
 
Light or darkness. You choose. That choice has consequences, both now and forever.
You can choose to be with God now and forever…or choose to be without God now and forever.
 
As C.S. Lewis put it: sin is a human being saying to God throughout their life, “Go away and leave me alone.” Hell is God’s answer: “You may have your wish.” Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it” (The Great Divorce [New York: Macmillan, 1946], 72).
 
God loves you. Really. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done. He’s crazy in love with you, and nothing can change that love…but again, if you don’t receive it, you can’t experience it.
 
What are you getting Jesus for his birthday? What he wants most is you…your heart…your surrender…your acceptance…your obedience…your worship. Going back to the words of one of Jesus’ three closest friends:
 
And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. 4 If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. 5 But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. 6 Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6)
 
He continues later…
 
God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
 
To summarize the reason for our faith in one sentence…
 
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NIV)
 
That’s what Christmas is all about…love…God’s love for us…our response of love toward Him…and others.
 
Two weeks ago, we looked at a story that occurred shortly after Jesus was born. His parents took him to the temple for the customary dedication. It was there that they met Simeon and Anna. Simeon was overjoyed at seeing the infant Messiah, an experience promised by the Holy Spirit. He most certainly spoke through tears of joy as he prayed.
 
“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:29-32).
 
The text continues.
 
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:33-35)
 
What a bittersweet blessing! Now we come to the prophecy of Anna. Before we read, prophecy is a spiritual gift that is alive and well today to be used not for the prophet, but rather for the benefit of the Church. Bible.org notes:
 
Most prophecy is forth-telling, not foretelling. A Christian prophesying will normally “tell forth” God’s word as an encouragement or exhortation for the whole congregation. Only on rare occasions will prophecy predict some future event When it does, the biblical test is in the prophecy: fulfillment, or lack of it (Deut. 18:22).
 
Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. (Luke 2:36)   
 
We’re about to see just how old she was.
 
Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. (Luke 2:37)   
 
That’s a woman devoted to the LORD! One benefit to being single is the ability to invest your time and energy in the LORD rather than a spouse. For decades, Anna was serving the LORD.
 
She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)   
 
True love requires action. Talk is cheap. Simeon and Anna were both great lovers…of the LORD. They experienced God’s love and responded accordingly. Although they weren’t at his birth, they gave Jesus special gifts of worship, devotion, time, prayer, energy, and attention. Think about how rare these gifts are today. We are so busy…doing what? Staring at screens? Buying things we don’t actually need? Worrying about outcomes which will never occur? Stressing about unnecessary tasks?
 
That’s just part of
my list!
 
Jesus summarized every command in the Bible when…
 
He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)
 
There’s that agape love again. God is agape love and we are to agape love Him. Always. With all of our being. The second part is often more challenging…loving others as we love ourselves. After all, Jesus clarified his statement by saying your neighbor may even be your enemy, yet they are to be loved…not because they deserve it, but rather because we’ve been so loved. Remember…
 
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NIV)
 
We love God because he first loved us.
 
We love our neighbors and enemies as we love ourselves because he first loved us.
 
So What?
 
Who do you need to love?
How do you need to love?
 
I mentioned Dr. Gary Chapman’s book
The Five Love Languages. In it, he states we all have ways in which we want to receive love, and that’s how we usually express love. Those languages are
 
    • 
Words of Affirmation: Expressing affection through spoken words, compliments, or words of appreciation.
    • 
Acts of Service: Demonstrating love by performing actions or tasks that show consideration and thoughtfulness.
    • 
Receiving Gifts: Expressing love through the giving and receiving of tangible gifts as symbols of affection.
    • 
Quality Time: Spending meaningful and focused time together, giving each other undivided attention.
    • 
Physical Touch: Showing love through physical gestures such as hugs, kisses, or other forms of physical intimacy.
 
These languages are spoken in marriage, with children and parents, among friends, and even with co-workers. Again, we normally give through the language(s) we like to receive, which might not make the other person feel as loved as we might desire.
 
The point is, Jesus said to love others, and these are practical ways in which we express love. He also said the greatest command is to love God, and one way we do that is by loving others.
 
Christmas is about love. It’s about God’s love, showing us how to love, setting a perfect example for us. Jesus said,
 
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NIV)
 
That’s what Jesus did for us. He came into our world in the humblest of circumstances, as a baby into a poor family. No hospital maternity ward. No car seats, Pampers, pacifiers, or bottle warmers! He became one of us, moved into the neighborhood and experienced the trials and thrills of life, the joys and sorrows, temptation and victory. This season is about so much more than Amazon boxes, letters to Santa, Mariah Carey songs, and gingerbread cookies (though I love gingerbread cookies!). The heart of Christmas is love…not a feeling, but a Person! His name is Jesus.

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

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

Peace, 10 December 2023

Peace
The Season of Advent

Luke 2:22–35, Isaiah 26:3
 
Big Idea: Our world desperately needs to experience shalom…peace and well-being.
 
One of my favorite words in the world is shalom. It’s a popular Hebrew word for many reasons, often translated peace. Many of us have been praying for peace in the Middle East, particularly Jerusalem, especially during the war between the Jews and Palestinians.
 
But
shalom is more than the absence of war and conflict. It is wholeness, well-being, completeness, and safety. Do you need more shalom in your life?
 
We’re in week two of our series
The Season of Advent. We’re launching from the traditional candle theme of each Sunday, today being peace. Advent is not exactly Christmas, but rather a time of waiting, expecting, preparation, arrival, anticipating…much like children (and some adults) are looking forward to those gifts under the tree!
 
It seems like advent calendars have recently become popular in the USA, but when I was in Germany a few weeks ago, I was amazed at how widespread they are…and how many different “gifts” are offered each day…some small chocolates, others little toys, and still others things like clues to an escape room game, puzzles, and even beer!
 
As much as we may yearn for December 25, the Jewish people spent not days, weeks, months, or years waiting, but centuries…anticipating the promised Messiah. Can you imagine? Generation after generation had been looking forward to the arrival of Jesus Christ. They were waiting for God to user in His Kingdom and overthrow the kingdom of Caesar Augustus.
 
The second chapter of Luke records the birth of Jesus, but today’s text records what happened shortly after.
 
Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 23 The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the LORD.” (Luke 2:22-23, NLT)   
 
It was only a five mile journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Today, we dedicate children to the LORD, following both the Old Testament example and that of Mary and Joseph…though we don’t sacrifice animals!
 
So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:24, NLT)   
 
The creator of the universe was born into a family so poor, they could not afford the regular sacrifice of a lamb. A pair of birds was all they were able to bring. Dr. Luke includes this important detail. Jesus was not only born in a humble place, he was born into a poor family.
 
At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25-26, NLT)   
 
Imagine God telling you that you will not die until you see something or someone. Wow! What a promise! Simeon was a special man who loved the LORD.
 
That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. (Luke 2:27-28a, NLT)
 
I love how the text says the Spirit led Simeon to the Temple. Did the Spirit lead you here today? I think so! About 33 years later in Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit would be given to all followers of Jesus to lead and guide us. It’s not always easy to discern the Spirit from our own minds, but I’m here to tell you God still speaks, and angels are not the only vehicle. In fact, the primary way God speaks today is through the Bible. We have been blessed with tremendous instructions, poetry, songs, history, and stories, yet we’re so easily distracted by other things. I think it’s amazing how the Spirit led Simeon to the Temple.
 
He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
 
 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
                        as you have promised.
30         I have seen your salvation,
31                     which you have prepared for all people.
32         He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
                        and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:28b-32, NLT)
 
Here, the word for peace is “eye-ray-nay” in Greek. It speaks of peace, quietness, rest, not unlike the R.I.P. we see on tombstones…rest in peace. Simeon is overjoyed that he was able to see and hold the Messiah, promised and prophesied for hundreds, thousands of years. I can’t imagine what could possibly come close today.
It’s easy for us to miss, but Simeon reveals God’s plan is both for the Jews—Israel—and us gentiles, the nations. This is so important, especially as Israel is back in the news. Jesus the Messiah is Jewish, yet he came to expand God’s family to include gentiles. For God so loved the…world. I’m so glad I don’t have to be Jewish to be God’s child.
 
A common question among Christians is why don’t the Jews view Jesus as the Messiah. If he was Jewish and fulfilled the prophecies, how did they miss him? There are many answers to that question, but one is simply that the prophecies speak of two different times in history…the first coming (as a baby) and the second coming (soon as the King of kings). Jesus disappointed many Jews by not overthrowing the Roman government and liberating them as they thought he would do the first time he walked the earth. As I’ve often said, we live between the two “comings” of Jesus. Christmas is the celebration of his first coming, and we are waiting for his promised return.
 
If you’re a parent, you know how wonderful it is when someone says something kind about your children. Imagine being Mary and Joseph hearing Simeon’s words, yet further confirmation that their baby is no ordinary boy.
 
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. (Luke 2:33, NLT)   
 
But the news was not all happy.
 
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35, NLT)
 
I guess you could say Mary was warned! She would witness the torture and execution of this baby, arguably the most controversial person in history.
 
So What?
 
Simeon was able to rest in peace knowing that God’s promise to him had been fulfilled.
 
What about you? Is it well with your soul? Do you have peace? The prophet Isaiah said,
 
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)   
 
The Hebrew word for peace is…shalom. True peace cannot come from politicians, treaties, or deals. It can only come from knowing Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Earlier in his book, Isaiah penned these words which are commonly recited at this time of year:
 
For a child is born to us,
                        a son is given to us.
            The government will rest on his shoulders.
                        And he will be called:
            Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
 
Have we seen the complete fulfilment of this? Of course not, but the day is coming.
 
In the meantime, I want to go back to my question…do you have peace?
 
This past week I read an article that suggested what people in our culture—especially young people—need is inner peace. It’s no secret that mental health, addictions, isolation, anxiety, and despair are rampant in our nation. I think it’s easy to see why, with social media and even conventional media bombarding us with distorted messages, unrealistic expectations, and outright lies that lead to discontent and even suicide. The writer of the article, Mindy Caliguire, believes if those struggling would encounter Christians who have inner peace, it could lead to transformation. She wrote, “We could impact millions!” but then asked, “Are we marked by peace?”
 
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s Kingdom is filled with peace. Where God rules, there is peace. Where the enemy rules, there’s all of the stuff that makes the news every day. Family, we are here to bring about what is good, to help people experience God’s Kingdom now. As one person said, our mission is not to help people go to heaven when they die, but rather for them to experience heaven before they die. Heaven is where God is present, ruling, reigning. When we submit to King Jesus, we participate in Kingdom life.
 
Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, said,
 
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6, NIV)
 
That’s Kingdom language. It all begins in our head…with our minds ruled by the same Spirit who spoke to Simeon all those years ago. We’re told the evidence or fruit of the Holy Spirit is
 
…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22b-23a, NIV)
 
There it is…peace.
 
Know Jesus. Know peace.
No Jesus. No peace.
 
This does not mean Christians can’t struggle with loneliness, mental illness, or anxiety, but rather we have hope. We know the Prince of Peace. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul also wrote these words:
 
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15, NIV)
 
We get to choose who rules our hearts. We can pay attention to cable news and social media or fill our minds with the truth and our souls with the Holy Spirit. Peace rules over toxic thoughts and anxious thinking. It’s the result of time with God in prayer, reflection, Bible study, and surrender. It’s not always instant, but over time—with God—we will experience an inner peace that will speak volumes to the anxious world around us.
 
Listen to these words of King David from Psalm 29:
 
Honor the LORD, you heavenly beings;
            honor the LORD for his glory and strength.
Honor the LORD for the glory of his name.
            Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Psalm 29:1-2, NLT)
 
The voice of the LORD echoes above the sea.
            The God of glory thunders.
            The LORD thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
            the voice of the LORD is majestic. (Psalm 29:3-4, NLT)
 
The voice of the LORD splits the mighty cedars;
            the LORD shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
            he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox. (Psalm 29:5-6, NLT)
 
The voice of the LORD strikes
            with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the LORD makes the barren wilderness quake;
            the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. (Psalm 29:7-8, NLT)
 
The voice of the LORD twists mighty oaks
            and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!” (Psalm 29:9, NLT)
 
The LORD rules over the floodwaters.
            The LORD reigns as king forever.
The LORD gives his people strength.
            The LORD blesses them with peace. (Psalm 29:10-11, NLT)
 
The LORD blesses those who seek, follow, and honor Him shalom…peace. It’s not only for us, though.

Peace is meant to be shared. Once it’s experienced, it needs to go viral. Peace on earth!
 
Now this prayer from Eli Pfau:

Father God, would You show me what it means to rest in You. Would the fragrance of Your peaceful Spirit continuously fill me as I seek Your face. Lord, as I lean into the peace that only You can give, draw me to Yourself more than anything. Allow me to come before You, humbled, grateful, and hopeful. I love You. Amen.
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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

Worthy is the Lamb, 30 April 2023

Worthy is the Lamb that Was Slain
Handel’s Messiah
Revelation 5:9-14

Series Big Idea: Handel’s Messiah may be the greatest work of music ever created, bringing praise and glory to the Creator.
 
Big Idea: Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb that was slain for us, is worthy of our eternal worship, praise, and devotion.
 
Today’s the day, the grand finale, the big conclusion to our series on Handel’s
Messiah that began with Advent last year and resumed on Resurrection Sunday. Hallelujah! If you’re new around here, Handel created this magnificent work around lyrics taken from the Bible. Virtually every word is scripture! For years I had this crazy idea to do a sermon series on it and we finish it today…and get a glimpse of the future!
  
Of all of the sermon requests I get, perhaps none is greater than people wanting to hear about Revelation. There is no book more fascinating, mysterious, or misunderstood than the last book of the Bible. Some of you may recall several weeks ago a woman interrupting my sermon to say nothing in Revelation has happened yet, despite that it begins with John writing to the seven churches in the province of Asia…about 2000 years ago! Much of Revelation may lie in the future, including our text for today, but it’s worth noting the context before we dive in.
Revelation is a special type of literature called apocalyptic which means revelation or unveiling. You read it differently than Romans, for instance, a teaching on theology, or Matthew which is essentially a biography of Jesus.
 
We all understand science fiction is not to be understood the same as
The Toledo Blade, right? You don’t interpret The Babylon Bee the same as The Wall Street Journal. Poetry is read differently than a science textbook, and comic book has a different purpose than a car owner’s manual. You might say that how you read depends upon where you are in the library. The Bible is a library, and we can’t read Genesis, Song of Solomon, James, and Revelation the same way. They’re all God-inspired, valuable, and true, but understanding them and applying them vary from book to book.
 
I said Revelation is apocalyptic literature.
Here’s The Bible Project explaining what that means.
  
Although much of Revelation is challenging and controversial, today’s text is rather clear. It speaks of Jesus as the lamb mentioned in the video. He is sometimes depicted as a lion (you may know C.S. Lewis used a lion named Aslan to be a symbol for Jesus in the Narnia series) and sometimes a lamb, causing me to often say during election time
our allegiance is not to an elephant or a donkey, but to the Lion of Judah who is also the Lamb of God.
 
In Revelation chapter five, there is a wonderful scene that is a preview of what is to come.
 
Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it. (Revelation 5:1-3, NLT)
 
Jesus’ friend John continues…
 
Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. 5 But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:4-5, NLT)
 
Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. 7 He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. 8 And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. (Revelation 5:6-8, NLT)
 
The video said sometimes symbolism is identified. Here, gold bowls filled with incense are the prayers of God’s people. Did you know that about your prayers?
 
Many have used Revelation like a treasure map or a secret decoder ring, trying to solve every mystery and make it into a simple story, often using numerology to predict events and dates. This is where people often get off track…and why many are fascinated with Revelation.
 
Another challenging factor is this was written about 2000 years ago. Imagine 2000 years from now there is a political cartoon which shows a crying bald eagle with the numbers 9/11 below. We understand the bald eagle as representing the United States and the tears representing the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Similarly, there are images and symbols in Revelation that are literally thousands of years old. John’s original readers likely understood them better than we can, at least at first glance.
 
Is Jesus returning this year? Is so-and-so the anti-Christ? Are we living in the last days? Is that new Amazon technology the mark of the beast? One of the most popular books in the 1980s was
88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988. There was a big sale on them in 1989! By the way, Jesus himself said he didn’t know when he would return. He said…
 
However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. (Mark 13:32, NLT)
 
If someone tells you a date, they think they’re greater than Jesus! Run!
 
And by the way, rapture is a word that isn’t even found in the Bible. It is common in one eschatology or end times theory known as dispensationalism which sees history as divided into multiple ages or "dispensations" in which God acts with humanity in different ways.
 
This theological system began in 1833 with writings by John Nelson Darby and was spurred on by Cyrus Scofield who added study notes to the King James Bible in 1909 which essentially became the first study Bible. Tragically, some people confused the notes with the scriptures themselves! Many believe the Scofield Bible was the single most influential Bible in American History.
 
I’m not going to say everything written by Scofield was wrong. I’m certainly not going to say everything her wrote is right. What I am saying is since many didn’t understand the difference between scripture and his notes, those notes became very influential.
 
If you want a quick summary of how this dispensational theory spread, Israel becoming a nation in 1948 was a catalyst for people trying to see modern events in the book of Revelation. Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth became the best-selling non-fiction book of the 1970s and was the subject of a television special in 1974 and 1975 and even a 1978 film. The Left Behind books introduced in 1995 have sold more than 65 million copies.
 
I’m not necessarily saying these theories are wrong, but they are certainly controversial and relatively new way of viewing Revelation…and they have made publishers very rich!
 
Dispensationalism is a theory and must always be treated as such. The problems people have with the Bible and theology and God often have nothing to do with the Bible and God…and everything to do with our interpretation of the Bible. 
 
I must admit there are parts of the Bible which are difficult to understand, which is why we were meant to be in community, to study the Bible together. First Alliance has Elders to help discern what God is saying to us, both through the Bible and through circumstances. It’s really more than one person can handle.
 
Mark Twain famously said, ““It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it's the parts that I do understand.”
 
Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Go and make disciples of all nations. Don’t worry about when Jesus will return. Just get ready…and help others get ready.
 
If you’re still fascinated with Revelation, I have two and a half books to recommend to you. The first is
Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael Gorman. Gorman notes several problems with the “Left Behind” approach including (and I quote):
 
The series misunderstands the NT references to the “end times.” For the NT, the “end times” is the period between the first and second coming of Jesus.
 
It reduces the primary reason for conversion to fear.
 
It is escapist and therefore has no ongoing ethic of life between the times, between the first and second comings. There is no compulsion to love one’s neighbor, practice deeds of mercy, work for peace and justice, etc. Contrast the hope of imminent return and the ethic in 1 Thessalonians, which actually has an ethic for life in the hope of the second coming.
 
The second book I would recommend is
Revelation for the Rest of Us by one of my seminary professors, Scot McKnight. Neither Gormon nor Mcknight  claims to be the sole, perfect authority, but they present a broader understanding of various interpretations of Revelation.
 
I said two and a half books. I say half because
The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism by Daniel Hummel will not be released until May 4, but I’ve read excerpts from it and it sounds enlightening.
 
The point is there are many different views on Revelation, here are some you may not have encountered, and don’t become overly concerned about the future. We’re one day closer than yesterday.
 
The purpose of Revelation—and all of the Bible—is to bring comfort and help us prepare for the future. Get ready! These things will happen someday. We don’t know when. It could be today. It could be 1000 years from now. But get ready…and now we’re ready for our text for today from Handel’s Messiah.
 
And they sang a new song, saying:
 
            “You are worthy to take the scroll
                        and to open its seals,
            because you were slain,
                        and with your blood you purchased for God
                        persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10         You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
                        and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10, NIV)
 
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. (Revelation 5:11, NIV)
 
Can you imagine? What a sight! What a sound!
 
In a loud voice they were saying:
 
            “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
                        to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
                        and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12, NIV)
 
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
 
            “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
                        be praise and honor and glory and power,
                                                for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, NIV)
 
Don’t miss this: it says every creature. This isn’t just an announcement from an angel. These aren’t words spoken by a group of saints. It says every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea. Does that mean fish and birds and giraffes and puppy dogs will declare this?
 
There may be many things we don’t understand about Revelation, but the Lamb that was Slain is certainly Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who came, lived, died, and rose again. He is worthy—worth—all power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. Hallelujah! Praise the LORD!
 
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:14, NIV)
 
That’s the natural response to an encounter with God…humility and worship. That’s one reason we gather each week…to be reminded He’s God and we’re not and He deserves our worship, our allegiance, our time, our talents, and our treasures. He is in control, we’re not. He is LORD. He is worthy of our worship.
 
Do you want to know when all this will happen? I don’t know, but we’re done day closer to it today than yesterday…and it will be amazing!
 
Amen. Yes, LORD. Let it be!
 
Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb that was slain for us, is worthy of our eternal worship, praise, and devotion.

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

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

Reawakening to the Mission of Christ, 30 January 2022

Reawakening to the Mission of Christ
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Luke 14:12-23

Series Big Idea: The aim of this 40-day focus is to fix our gaze on Jesus, remember who He is, what He has done, what He has given us to do, and what He will do in the future.

Big Idea: We’ve been invited to join Jesus on his mission to seek and save the lost.

My all-time favorite movie is The Blues Brothers (the TV version!). I love music, comedy, and Chicago and it blends them together seamlessly. Perhaps the most famous line in the movie is the mantra of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd: “We’re on a mission from God.”

What is your mission? Why on earth are you here? What is your calling?

Today we’re continuing our
40 Days of Prayer series with The Alliance. The theme is awakening and we’ve talked about awakening to the glory of Christ, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, and the Church of Christ. Today we’re going to reawaken to the mission of Christ…and you might reawaken to your mission in the process.

Many of you know the story of Zacchaeus, the wee little man who was the chief tax collector in the region, a rich, greedy, despised man who climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus over the crowd. How surprised he must’ve been when Jesus not only sees him but invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house.

Have you ever invited yourself to someone’s house?!
Has anyone ever invited themselves to yours?!

Zacchaeus has a truly life-changing encounter with Jesus, declares his intention to pay back everyone he has cheated four times and give half of his wealth to the poor. Is that a transformation or what?!

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:9-10, NLT)

Did you catch it?

The mission of Christ is to seek and save the lost.

I realize
lost can be a negative term, but it’s the most common English translation of the Greek word apollumi used by Jesus, a word also indicating destroy, die, lose, mar, perish. They are the ones Jesus came to seek and save. They were his mission. They are his mission today. If you can sing the words of Amazing Grace—“I once was lost/but now am found”—it’s your mission, too.

The mission of Christ is to seek and save the lost.
The mission of Christ’s followers is to seek and save the lost.

Obviously, you and I can’t save the lost on our own, but we can introduce them to the one who lived, died, and rose from the dead, offering them an opportunity to be with God for eternity and inviting them to the greatest party in history!

Why don’t we have the reputation of being the greatest partiers on the planet? It seems like Christians are known as the most boring, judgmental, self-righteous people! How did that happen?

For thousands of years, the Jews have thrown some of the best parties, measured not in hours, but days! In the eighth chapter of 1 Kings, there’s an account of a week-long party to celebrate the temple’s dedication. Then it was extended another week! Have you ever been to a fourteen-day party?

I’ve run a DJ business for more than eighteen years as a side hustle and I can tell you my favorite events are Jewish weddings…by far!

The mission of Christ is to seek and save the lost.

The heart of his message is literally an invitation to a party, a feast, something the book of Revelation calls “the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Some have said his first miracle—turning water into wine at a wedding in John chapter two—was an example of the marriage feast. Jesus himself tells a similar story in Luke chapter 14 while he is at a fancy dinner.


Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. (Luke 14:12, NLT)

Back in the day—and often still today—hosts invited guests either to pay them back for a past invitation or to put them under their debt in order to receive an invitation in the future. The motivation was not selfless hospitality, but rather social status.

Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
(Luke 14:13, NLT)

What? Who does that? Kingdom people! People on the mission of Christ. In the first century, it was not proper to invite the handicapped and poor to a public banquet…or women, by the way! Jesus’ teaching is radical! What kind of repayment can these outcasts offer to the host?

Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” (Luke 14:14, NLT)

Someone once said, “You can’t get your reward twice!” We either earn the applause of people or God.

Not long ago I was asked to do a favor. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was inconvenient and involved some expense of time. I wrestled with whether to say yes or not and then I thought of that word I mentioned a few weeks ago…die. Someone told me they’ve now made that their word for the year! Death is the first step in following Jesus, but we don’t remain dead. When we give, serve, love, sacrifice for others, God sees. There may be no financial benefit or social reward now, but God sees everything we do…even those done in secret. This is what separates worldly people from Jesus people. They are motivated by present returns rather than eternal treasures.

Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15, NLT)   

Amen! Family, this is a sneak preview of what’s ahead for us. Remember three weeks ago I said although are present is not certain, our future is! Many think heaven will be angels playing harps on clouds! Jesus’ Jewish peers saw the future kingdom as a great banquet featuring Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets at the table.

Jesus replied with this story:
“A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ (Luke 14:16-17, NLT)   

In Jesus’ day, invitations stated the day, but not the hour of the meal. The host needed people to RSVP so he knew how many animals and food to prepare. The guests in this parable had already said they were coming.

What was the servant’s job? Was it to get people to come to the banquet? No! It was to let people know the banquet was ready. The master did the heavy lifting, buying the food and preparing the great feast. He represents God in the story. We are the servants told to let people know it’s time to party! Who wouldn’t respond to that, right?


But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’
Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ (Luke 14:18-20, NLT)

You’ve got to be kidding! These people are choosing to miss this great feast? What an insult to the host! It’s not like they got a flat tire on the way! They were given plenty of notice. The invitations were sent out days ago, probably weeks ago. Maybe longer. But they made excuses. Lame excuses! Billy Sunday once said an excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie!
  
“The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ (Luke 14:21, NLT)

Did you catch the emotion of the host—of God? He’s furious! God gets angry. He never sins, but those who reject His invitation will suffer the consequences.

This food will not be wasted! The show must go on, with or without the invited guests. If they’re too busy, it’s their loss! I’m fascinated that it doesn’t say go and invite anyone. It specifically says the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Maybe even Gentiles!

That’s the Kingdom of God!

The reason Jesus cautioned the rich is because they can become busy with their wealth and toys. They can turn money into an idol, a tool for power, an object of pride. The people in the parable making excuses were consumed by their field, their oxen, their marriage. Like so many today, there’s no room in their lives for God.

The poor can certainly make money and other things idols, too, yet they often recognize their needs more readily than those insulated by comfortable living. Is it any surprise the early church grew largely through down-and-outers being shown love and compassion? Steve Taylor once sang, “Jesus is for losers,” and he’s right, though winners are welcome to follow him, too.

So What?

Jim Sappia, an Alliance International Worker, notes three things about this passage. First,
we are invited to the party (Luke 14:16-17), and what a party it will be! He wants you there. He wants everyone there (1 Timothy 2:4). God so loved the world, not just Americans or people from a particular class. You are invited to the table, the place where we can connect with Almighty God. Jesus said,

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. (Revelation 3:20)

Have you opened the door? Have you responded to the invitation? Do you have a relationship with God? If not, you can begin by simply saying, “Jesus, I give you my life.” Doing so won’t make your life instantly easy, but it will launch the greatest adventure imaginable. Life with Jesus is…the greatest!

Many make excuses. Believe me, no job, spouse, child, hobby, addiction, tv show, social media app, or treasure can compare to the Jesus journey. As I said a few weeks ago, let go and let God. Joining God’s family, coming to His party is the greatest blessing. Remember what the man said?

Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 14:15, NLT)   

Secondly,
we are sent to be a blessing (Luke 14:21).

There’s no need for a scarcity mentality. We don’t need to hoard it like toilet paper or N95 masks! There is no end to the abundance, the banquet, the party! It’s a never-ending, all-you-can-eat buffet! The greatest gift you can give another human is an invitation to the party. The greatest blessing to others—and us—is introducing people to Jesus. I love that God shows no favoritism. You don’t have to be special to receive an invitation…and yet so many have never received theirs. Many have no clue a party is being prepared at this very moment. Billions have never even heard the name of Jesus! That’s why…

Finally,
we are called to go and compel (Luke 14:23). The servant invited the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.

After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. (Luke 14:22-23, NLT)

We are to go! Jesus said in Matthew 28 to “go” and make disciples…of all nations. That’s what we do in the Alliance. You might need to go around the world, fly across the country, …or simply walk across the street. There’s a place for mail, e-mail, and texting, but the master said to go…and urge them to come. The NIV translation says compel them to come. We can’t force them, but we can implore them. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NLT)

He wants everyone at the feast. You. The poor. The rich. The lame. The doctors. The orphans. The single parents. The widows. The refugees and immigrants. Even the Republicans and Democrats!

God wants us to go and take the invitation to everyone…both here and around the world.

We’ve been invited to join Jesus on his mission to seek and save the lost.

Will you respond?

One more thing…

Tony Campolo story read by Mark Clark: https://youtu.be/JMWa24DdY2Y

We’re on a mission from God. Maybe you need to go…throw some parties. Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The Christian life is a feast, not a funeral, and all are invited to come.” We all need to go invite people to the ultimate party.

Invite people to dinner. Invite them to your table, whether that’s at the Mac Café, in your home, the school cafeteria, or your favorite restaurant. Meals are one of the greatest places to share stories, to listen well, to love well, and to share God’s story. Sharing meals makes disciples.

Our friends at Bowling Green Alliance are planning to share 1000 meals this year, mostly just inviting friends and neighbors over for dinner. We could do the same.

In addition, you can invite people to our Dinner Church table on the second Sunday of the month. We have an exciting opportunity to welcome Afghan refugees to our tables in partnership with Water for Ishmael (contact the office for details).

I confess I don’t know a lot of people to invite, so this month I took on a new, very part-time job for the purpose of rubbing shoulders with non-Christians and inviting them to meals and parties.

For God so loved the world. I’m so glad that includes you and me…and our neighbors.

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

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

Reawakening to the Glory of Christ, 2 January 2022

Reawakening to the Glory of Christ
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Matthew 19:27-30; Exodus 20:3; Habakkuk 3:2

Series Big Idea: The aim of this 40-day focus is to fix our gaze on Jesus, remember who He is, what He has done, what He has given us to do, and what He will do in the future.

Big Idea: The bottom line of our mission is God’s glory, not ours.

What’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen, the most majestic, beautiful, splendid thing? Maybe it was a vibrant sunset, the birth of a child, the Grand Canyon, or a starry night away from the city. There are things so beautiful, so honorable, so incredible words can’t begin to describe them. You might say they are glorious.

Happy New Year!

We’re beginning 2022 on our knees…literally. Today we begin a series along with Christian & Missionary Alliance churches across the country. For the next forty days, we’re going to pray like never before. One of the Alliance Core Values says “Prayer is the primary work of God’s people.” For the next 40 Days we’re going to fix our gaze on Jesus, remember who He is, what He has done, what He has given us to do, and what He will do in the future. We often say around here it’s all about Jesus…not religion or rules or being perfect, but Jesus.

I’m frequently heartbroken when I hear the tragic stories of people walking away from the faith because of an abusive priest, a corrupt pastor, or other sins committed by so-called Christians. If that’s you, I’m deeply sorry. But no matter what has been done to you or those you love, I can assure you Jesus has never harmed you. In fact, he was harmed
for you! We don’t worship tradition or even the Bible, but Jesus Christ who lived, died, and rose from the dead…for you and me. That’s amazing! That’s marvelous! That’s glorious!

Much of what I plan to say today I’ve said before, but it bears repeating…especially as we begin a new year. Much of what I plan to say is incredibly challenging…especially for me! So let’s begin with prayer!

The key word during these 40 Days is
reawakening. It means to emerge or cause to emerge again; awaken again. I think that’s obvious looking at the word. It implies sleep or slumber followed by a renewal of an interest or feeling.

The late Keith Green penned these prophetic lyrics in his song
Asleep in the Light:

Do you see, do you see all the people sinking down? Don't you care, don't you care are you gonna let them drown? How can you be so numb not to care if they come? You close your eyes and pretend the job's done Open up, open up and give yourself away You see the need, you hear the cries so how can you delay? God's calling and you're the one but like Jonah you run He's told you to speak but you keep holding it in Can't you see it's such a sin? The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can't fight 'Cause it's asleep in the light How can you be so dead, when you've been so well fed Jesus rose from the grave and you, you can't even get out of bed
I believe the problem in our world today is not the world, but the Church. We can complain about the evil and darkness “out there,” but the world is simply acting like the world. The problem is the Church is, too! We’ve fallen for the idols of money, sex, pleasure, and power. We’ve become obsessed with our rights rather than loving others well. By many measures, the Church in the United States is dead…just like the world…filled with individualistic, narcissistic, consumeristic people who will do anything possible to be happy. If we’re not dead, we’re at least asleep, apathetic…maybe even pathetic!

We need an awakening! We need to wake up from our comfortable, selfish ways of living. [I’m sorry, hopefully I’m just preaching to myself!]

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Great Awakenings in our nation’s history. God used people like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield to wake up the lukewarm Christians, convict the godless, and stir the first of two major revivals in the US and England. The stories are remarkable. Christianity.com notes,

The Great Awakening in America in the 1730s and 1740s had tremendous results. The number of people in the church multiplied, and the lives of the converted manifested true Christian piety. Denominational barriers broke down as Christians of all persuasions worked together in the cause of the gospel. There was a renewed concern with missions, and work among the Indians increased. As more young men prepared for service as Christian ministers, a concern for higher education grew. Princeton, Rutgers, Brown, and Dartmouth universities were all established as a direct result of the Great Awakening. Some have even seen a connection between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution --Christians enjoying spiritual liberty in Christ would come to crave political liberty. The Great Awakening not only revived the American church but reinvigorated American society as well.

If I have one prayer for 2022, it’s that we would experience a spiritual awakening. By “we,” I mean First Alliance Church. I mean the Church of Toledo. I mean the USA. I mean our world. I’ve been praying for spiritual awakening for years, but I was especially hopeful when the pandemic began nearly two years ago. I thought the fear, sickness, death, uncertainty, and chaos of COVID-19 would be the perfect opportunity for the light of Jesus to shine through His Church, for His people to come together and unite to bless the unchurched, to offer faith, hope, and love to a desperate world.

Instead, …well, you know what happened. Tragically, the world sees the Church as part of the problem rather than part of the solution! I often go back to one fundamental question: do we look like Jesus? That’s what a Christian is! Does my life and yours look like Jesus? If not, we need to change our lives…or our label!

I don’t mean to beat up anyone—except perhaps myself—but I do want to acknowledge the state we’re in. It’s not good. I have four prayers I’ve been praying for years…direction, protection, unity, and passion. I want God to lead us. We need protection from the very real enemy who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. He loves to bring division—and he’s doing a very good job these days—which is why I specifically pray for unity (which was also Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17). Finally, I pray for passion, a hunger for God, a thirst for righteousness and justice, a zeal for the widow, the stranger, and the orphan. I long to see us known as the most humble, kind, generous, loving people on the planet!

I believe praying for awakening is the first step, but we can’t stop there. Prayer is not simply asking a genie for wishes. It’s so much more than talking to God. It’s even more than talking with God.
Prayer is doing life with God. It’s relational, not religious. It’s about knowing and obeying God, trusting that He has a better vision for our lives than we could ever imagine. When it comes to spiritual awakening, I can pray, but I also need to take action.

There’s an old story about a man who prayed, “God, why don’t you feed the hungry people in the world?” to which God replied, “Sir, why don’t you feed the hungry people in the world?” We must pray for spiritual awakening, but we’ve also been invited to participate with God in His plan for the renewal of all things. In a famous interaction with Jesus,

Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27, NLT)

This is a classic, selfish, human response, isn’t it? What’s in it for me? What do I get out of the deal? Why should I follow you, Jesus? I want to do things my way!

Jesus said to them,
“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28, NIV)

I love that phrase “the renewal of all things” in the NIV translation. The original Greek word for renewal, paliggenesia, (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee-ah) is from two words:

paling, “again”
genesia, “beginning”

Jesus is speaking of the world made new, recreated. It’s not a picture of clouds in the sky, but all things being renewed, including our planet. Scripture refers to new heavens and a new earth (Is. 65:17, 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1).

Jesus is saying a day is coming when there will be no more sickness, pain, viruses, political stalemates, violence, tears, hatred, homelessness, injustice, or apathy. Jesus will sit on his glorious throne, and for all followers of Jesus, it will be glorious! He invited his followers—and continues to invite his followers today—to participate with him in the renewal of all things.

And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29, NLT)

Jesus is casting an eternal vision for them, saying if they truly surrender their lives to following Jesus, they will ultimately experience something truly remarkable…for eternity! It will be glorious! Then he utters these famous words:

But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then. (Matthew 19:30, NLT)

We all like that verse…until we are the ones going last! We like the idea of loving our enemies…until we have one to love. We all believe in the value of forgiveness…until there’s someone to forgive. What Jesus is really saying—and what his overall message was—is summarized in one, simple, three-letter word. I believe this is the secret to true satisfaction. It’s the pathway to meaning and purpose. It’s the way to experience the abundant life Jesus spoke of, and the most important step in following him. It’s a very unpopular word, but if you can grasp it, you will be able to not only experience reawakening and renewal in your life, it will be contagious for the benefit of others, too. If we can take this one step, it will change everything for us in 2022…and beyond. Are you ready?

Die!

Happy New Year! I know death is the one thing most of us avoid at all costs—except for those struggling with suicidal ideation (please call 800.273.8255). Of course, I’m not speaking of physical death. That will eventually happen for all of us. I’m speaking of dying to yourself.

I haven’t heard much about it recently, but there have been some court cases over the Ten Commandments and their placement in certain public places. We don’t have time to explore God’s Top Ten today except to say I struggle with the first one…every day! No, it’s not “thou shall not murder.” You can relax, it’s not “thou shall not steal.” It’s actually the first one:

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

I want to be God. I want to be in control. I want it my way. I want to be happy at all times and do whatever possible to avoid suffering and pain. But despite my ability to fool myself, I’ve recognized I’m not god! Hopefully you’ve come to the same realization about yourself! No offense! Here’s the mantra of my boss and dear friend, Rev. Thomas George, our District Superintendent:

You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

Most of you can probably accept that you were made by God. Even if you believe in certain types of evolution, every creation has a creator, and God the Artist created you in his image with dignity, value, and worth. For details, see Psalm 139.

You were made for God. That means you have a purpose, which is greater than your own desires. It’s not that God
doesn’t want you to be happy, but His higher priority is for you to be holy, to be set apart, to trust and obey, not because He’s a control freak, but because Daddy knows best. His will and plans for you are far greater than anything you could imagine.

There have been numerous movies about robots taking over the world, somehow gaining enough intelligence to overrule their programming to cause destruction rather than assistance. If you had the ability to design a robot, how frightening would it be if it turned against you and did whatever it desired?

God has created us. He has designed us. Yet we’re not robots. He has given us free will, the ability to make choices. Just like I can’t make you love me, so God can’t make us love Him, obey Him, follow Him…but that’s His desire for us. There’s nothing God wants more than your heart. In fact, every commandment, rule, and law in the Bible was summarized by Jesus.

He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

That’s my new year’s resolution! But I’ve learned it’s not about trying harder. I can’t achieve it on my own strength. Even though spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible study, and fasting are useful tools, the first step is to die.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

I have the hardest time with the word “daily” here! I wish I could say a magical prayer, get a Get Out of Hell Free Card, and be done with it, but that’s not what it mean to follow Jesus. It means every day we are to pick up our cross…die to ourselves, our rights, our will…and follow Jesus.

The good news—the great news—is that following Jesus is the pathway to true greatness, true purpose, true meaning, true life. He’s not out to get you, but rather died to prove his love for you. The message of Christmas is that God became one of us, lived on our planet, showed us what it means to be human, gave everything for us, and shows us the pathway to enlightenment, wisdom, peace, freedom, hope, and joy.
Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people come to life.

I know of no greater picture of this than baptism. Some churches sprinkle, which is fine, I guess, but the ancient tradition involves dunking a person completely in what is symbolically a water grave. They die to their old self, their sinful nature, and then are resurrected with Jesus, new life in Christ, recreated, reawakened. In one sense, we need to die daily…and be renewed daily.

To borrow a phrase, we need to
let go and let God. Some of you have been trying so hard to be good, striving, and struggling. You can’t impress God. You can’t manipulate God. You certainly can’t compete with God. But you can love Him. You can let go and surrender. You can trust and obey. You can seek first His Kingdom rather than your pleasure.

You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

As long as you pursue your own glory, you’ll be frustrated. Despite what all of the self-help gurus want you to believe, it’s not all about you. It’s all about God! We need to reawaken to the glory of Jesus, and what a glory it is!

In the Old Testament, the word for glory is hod. It means splendor, majesty, beauty, vigor, authority. The prophet Habakkuk wrote,

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2, NIV)

I can’t think of a more timely prayer…and that was written around the 7th century BC!

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

The bottom line of First Alliance Church’s mission statement is the glory of God.

As we begin this new year, I want to challenge you
to make God’s glory your highest priority. It goes against everything the media and social media want you to believe. It is counter-cultural. It is radical. It is the true alternative lifestyle!

Yet I believe if we reawaken to the glory of Jesus rather than our own glory, it will transform our lives, it will transform this church, it might transform our city, and it could even change the world. Jesus said,

…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, NIV)

You can seek your glory or God’s glory, but not both! What will you choose in 2022?

The Wonderful Cross (song)

O the wonderful cross bids me come and die and find that I may truly live 

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

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

The Tenants, 11 April 2021

The Tenants
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 12:1-12

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

Big Idea: Jesus—the rejected cornerstone—challenges religion once again while predicting his own death.

I love stories! Do you? There’s nothing like a great story…especially one with surprises. There are few things more exciting than suspense…and few thing more boring than a predictable plot. I think that’s one reason I rarely watch a movie more than once. If I know the ending, there’s no mystery to solve.

The Bible is packed with stories. After all, it’s not a book, but a library…of 66 books! Some parts of the Bible are filled with poetry, others with instructions, and still others with history. Today we’re returning to Mark’s story, gospel, good news, biography of Jesus. Chapter twelve is between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The religious leaders are becoming so envious and agitated with Jesus that they are literally finding a way to kill him. In the previous chapter, Mark tells us

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. (Mark 11:18)

The Jews were God’s chosen people, but they were frequently led astray by corrupt kings and self-righteous religious leaders who were more concerned about their own glory than God’s. Jesus repeatedly confronted them, leading to their hostility. Spoiler alert: they succeed in killing the Messiah. But…

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

The Jewish chief priests and teachers of the law knew the scriptures we call the Old Testament. You could call it the Jewish Bible. Many memorized long sections and even entire books. They were so passionate about the rules they often missed the purpose behind the rules…a deeper relationship with God.

Jesus repeatedly spoke of the law and the prophets in reference to the Hebrew Bible. The five books of Moses—known as the Pentateuch—are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The prophets covered the other books, though some put the psalms or other writings in a third category.
Before we look at Jesus’ words in Mark, I want to examine a passage from the prophet Isaiah. This is a poem…a love song.

Isaiah 5:1 (NLT)    Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
2 He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter.

Isaiah 5:3    Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,
you judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not already done?
When I expected sweet grapes,
why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?

Isaiah 5:5    Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
6 I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.

Isaiah 5:7    The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.

In case you missed it, the vineyard owner is God and the vineyard is Israel. The vineyard failed to produce good fruit in the same way the people of Israel abandoned justice and righteousness for oppression and violence. It sounds a bit like our world today, doesn’t it?

It’s likely that this passage had been memorized by some of Jesus’ audience when

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. (Mark 12:1)   

I’m sure they were saying to themselves, “We know this story. We know how it ends. We can reenact it right now.”

This was actually a common arrangement. Vineyard owners would rent their land to farmers in return for a share of the harvest.

There’s a lot of talk these days about tenants, people who rent land or property from a landlord. The COVID-19 pandemic led the government to make it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants who lost their jobs and were unable to pay their rent.

The relationship between tenant and landlord can often be a little tricky. As I mentioned last month, expectations are crucial in any relationship. This is why we have contracts that spell out the arrangement.

At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. (Mark 12:2)   

There is no surprise here. This was exactly what was supposed to happen.

But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. (Mark 12:3)   

This was not supposed to happen! What kind of tenants would do such a thing?

Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. (Mark 12:4)   

The original Greek word for “struck on the head” is similar to the word for beheaded, which could be a subtle reference to John the Baptist.

He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. (Mark 12:5)   

These tenants are ruthless! They not only pay the crops to the vineyard owner, they violently attack every member of the collection agency!


“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ (Mark 12:6)   

Does this seem a little naïve? The owner is going to send his son? His only son? His son whom he loved? In the culture, a family member of a wealthy household would be respected far more than a servant.

If the son shows up, the tenants might assume the owner is dead.

“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:7-8)   

These are evil tenants! How dare they reject the son! They surely thought they would lay claim to the property if the owner and His son are dead. In the Jewish culture, squatters could claim the property of a deceased person who had no inheritor.

In this case they not only killed the owner’s only son, they threw him unburied, a terrible offense to Jews.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. (Mark 12:9)   

Is that harsh? Is that fair? In Isaiah, God punished the vineyard or Israel for not producing good fruit. Here, the tenants are clearly to blame. The religious leaders caused Israel’s corruption…and now they will be removed.

10 Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

“ ‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:10-11)   

This is another Old Testament quote, this time from Psalm 118:22. Many believe this was sung at the dedication of the second Temple or Jerusalem’s rebuilt walls. It was sung on Palm Sunday in the previous chapter!

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Jesus is the son. The stone was a symbol for the Messiah. God sent his son to earth, knowing he would be killed. Jesus is the rejected one. He is the cornerstone. Up until this point, the religious leaders thought the tenants were the evil Romans, but now they realize Jesus is saying they are the tenants, the violent ones in charge of the vineyard (Israel). The tenants in the story are the leaders of Israel.

The surprise in the story is the good guys—or at least the righteous-looking religious leaders—are actually the bad guys. The servants in the story, by the way, are the prophets sent by God. If you know anything about biblical prophets, they were hated and persecuted.

There are three special offices or positions in the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. Jesus is all three…the greatest prophet, our great high priest, and the King of kings.

Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away. (Mark 12:12)   

The religious leaders would kill Jesus soon. He would die. But he is risen! He is risen indeed!

So What?

I wrestled for a while this past week trying to discern what relevance this story has for us today. Here are a few reflections:

  1. 1. The Old and New Testaments are two parts of the same story. This might not be news to some of you, but Jesus updating Isaiah’s story shows both his knowledge of the ancient account and his masterful use of retelling.

  1. 2. Biblical prophecy gives credibility to the Bible. This is one of many account in which Jesus predicted his own death. This parable became reality on Good Friday. We don’t worship the Bible. We worship Jesus, but the Bible is a reliable tool we have to know and understand God and His plan for humanity. It’s not just a bunch of fairy tales or the result of a dream (or indigestion). It’s a historically accurate, archaeologically-verifiable library of books assembled in multiple languages from multiple continents over hundreds of years…with one overarching metanarrative of God’s love for us and His desire for us to respond in obedience.

  1. 3. God wants a relationship with us. He wants a relationship with you. Does He have one? This is where the religious leaders missed the boat. They tried to be good, moral people but failed to do the only two things God requires: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

  1. 4. In the story, the Jews were God’s chosen people. They were the fruitless vineyard. Today, the Church is understood to be God’s people. God—the vineyard owner—gave the vineyard to the Church. If we are God’s vineyard today, what kind of fruit are we bearing? What kind of fruit are you bearing? If you look at the passages that surround today’s text, you’ll get an idea of what God requires of us.

  1. a. Our place of worship is to be a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17)
  2. b. We are to be a forgiving family (11:25)
  3. c. We are to give to God what belongs to God (12:17)
  4. d. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (12:30)
  5. e. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (12:31)

The fruit we owe the owner—God—is our obedience. We are to be an accepting, prayerful, devoted, forgiving, and loving fellowship built around Jesus, the cornerstone that binds everything together. Otherwise, we may face God’s judgment. Good fruit comes from being connected to vine…Jesus (John 15).

The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes. (Psalm 118:22-23)

Jesus was hated and rejected. He was pierced, crushed, and crucified. But he conquered sin and death. He is risen! He is risen indeed! The LORD has done this! It is marvelous! This is the greatest story ever told!

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

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

New in Christ, 22 September 2019

New in Christ
Series—A Love Supreme
Colossians 3:1-17

Series Big Idea:
Christ is above all others. This is a study on the book of Colossians.

Big Idea:
When we put to death our old, sinful selves, we can become new in Christ.

New. For decades, marketers have been using it to sell their products. Try the new and improved cleaner. Taste the new burger. Drive the new car. Buy the new fashion. As an entrepreneur, I love new. But not everyone is so wired.

Some people are afraid of the new. “It’s an oldie but a goodie,” they might say. But when it comes to humanity, we’ve all been tainted by sin. We’re all broken. We’re all in need of grace, forgiveness, and salvation. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, you can be made new in Christ.

We’re continuing our series A Love Supreme, looking at Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. Chapter three is loaded with contrasts between old and new, before Christ and after Christ, sin and Spirit-filled, selfish living and christoformity.

I may have just introduced you to a new word:
christoformity. Jesus invites us to be like him, to be formed to the pattern of his life. That’s radically different than self-actualization. Perhaps you noticed that our “tolerant” culture accepts the most outlandish behavior and identities…except for godliness. We have become a culture of self-idolatry, not only doing but being whatever or whomever we feel like, with no regard for our Creator and His vision and will for our lives.

This is why Christianity is revolutionary. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people come to life! But first, they must die to themselves, their agendas, their preferences, their desires. The first two commandments in Exodus 20 are no other gods or idols. In our self-absorbed society, nothing could be more offensive.

For two chapters, Paul has been telling this early church community about the supremacy of Christ. He has written about their freedom from sin and religion. He begins chapter three by saying,

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Some Christians are so heavenly-minded, they’re no earthly good! But too many of us live so focused on this life—on this moment—that we fail to see what’s ahead. This is obviously in the presence of little children. They can’t see the next minute, much less the next day, week, or year.

College students work for four years—or more!—in their quest for a piece of paper.

Olympic athletes train just as long for a piece of medal. As they lose sleep, sweat, endure injuries, and bleed, they’re not focused on the moment. They are looking ahead to that moment when crowds will cheer them to what they hope will be victory.

In the same way, we must set our minds on things above. Sure, we need to eat and find shelter and care for our health, but our focus should not be the same as that of unbelievers. We are in Christ. We are citizens of heaven. We need to be training for eternity, preparing for the next life while fully living this one for the glory of God.

What do you have your heart set on? Maybe it’s a new car, a home improvement project, or a job. Perhaps you’re consumed with stress over your debt, worried about your health, or counting down the days until vacation. None of those are necessarily bad things, but they’re all so temporary. In a hundred years—maybe in one year—it will be forgotten. Paul’s not saying don’t see earthly things, but rather don’t seek earthly things.

I’m speaking to myself here, too. Don’t think for a moment I’ve mastered this! Unlike many in this world, we have many choices to make, especially about our time, maybe our money, possibly our energy. Most of us don’t spend all day hunting for food to eat. We’re blessed with wealth in this nation, but that wealth can so easily become an idol.

New in Christ means we are dead to our old selves.

Is anyone else convicted? We need to put to death our old self, our sinful nature. You can’t serve God and yourself at the same time. There’s no such thing as a part-time LORD, even on Sunday morning! We need to see things from His perspective before we make it all about us, our pleasures, our desires, our will. It’s not about empty religion or self-righteousness, either. We are to be with Christ.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. (Colossians 3:5-7)

I’m glad no one in here has ever dealt with any of these sins! To put these to death means we should desire them as much as a dead person! It doesn’t say avoid them or manage them or not to play with them too often. Paul says put to death the earthly nature. Kill them!

There is no room for sexual immorality in the life of Christ-follower. Period. That means sexual activity is sacred and reserved for the marriage covenant, husband and wife. If you don’t believe me, there’s twenty more mentions of sexual immorality in the New Testament. Google it!

Impurity. That’s an umbrella term. The funny thing is, most of us know when we encounter something that is impure, whether it is entertainment, conversation, materialism, or even workaholism. Is your mind pure? Are your relationships pure? Are your words pure?

What about lust? Evil desires? Greed? Put it to death! You
used to be into that stuff, but you’re new in Christ.

New in Christ means we are dead to our old sins.

We can kill our sins or our sins will kill us! Literally. All sin leads to death, ultimately.

There are two reactions we can have toward our sin:

  1. 1. We can struggle and try to put it to death.
  2. 2. We can rationalize it and embrace it. I urge you to skip this option! All sin leads to death, ultimately.

If you are struggling with your sin, you’re not alone. This is why we need one another. I think it’s why Jesus’ half-brother said,

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

We can’t run this race alone. We need to help one another. Pray for one another. Encourage one another. We need to put to death our old sins, but that may take a lifetime to be fully realized. The struggle is real. Paul himself said,

…the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19)

Admitting and confessing our sins, Celebrate Recovery, small groups, one-on-one relationships, scripture memorization, Christian counseling, and quality time with God are all useful in helping us stay on the path of godliness. Spiritual practices—sometimes called spiritual disciplines—are proactive steps we can all take to grow closer to God. One of my favorite books on the subject is John Ortberg’s
The Life You’ve Always Wanted. He has some great insights on prayer, confession, celebration, servanthood, scripture, and even suffering.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. (Colossians 3:5-7)

The wrath of God is coming, family. Paul’s saying put sin to death. You used to do those things.

Maybe you’ve mastered this list of sins. You’re not off the hook!

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:8-11)

The invitation to be new in Christ is available to everyone…Jews and Gentiles, men and women, black and white, young and old…we’re all invited to follow Jesus…and die to our old selves and our old sins. Jesus transcends all barriers and unites us as one family.

New in Christ means we put on the new self, we become a new creation. What does that look like?

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Let’s camp out here for a bit! It’s nearly impossible to simply stop a habit. You need to replace it with something else. A new focus is required. If I say, “Don’t think of a purple elephant,” how many of you are thinking of a purple elephant?

But if I said imagine the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen…

Paul provides a great list to describe the new self.

Compassion
Kindness
Humility
Gentleness
Patience
Forgiveness
Love

New in Christ means we are alive to love.

I really wish we had another word for “love” in the English language. It feels too soft and mushy. Some equate it with fondness or even lust. I love ice cream. I love the Mud Hens.

Scot McKnight offer what may be my favorite definition of biblical love:

Love is a rugged commitment to be with other people, to be for other people, and to grow together in Christ-likeness.

Love is a rugged commitment (covenant).
Love is a presence. It is “with.” It’s not expressed from afar.
Love is advocacy. It is “for.” It has their back.
Love is transformation. The goal is for us and them to become like Jesus.

I believe the only way you can truly love is to first experience love. You can’t give what you don’t have.

Have you experienced God’s love? Really? Put on love. Wear it. Share it. That’s what “the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” is all about. Love.

Is that what Christians are known for in our culture?

Paul understands the struggle to love, to obey. He wrote,

For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:15b)

Again, the struggle is real, but if we allow Him access to our lives, if we truly surrender, if we pursue God, we will gradually become more like Jesus.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Peace.
Unity.
Thanksgiving.

Is that what Christians are known for in our culture?

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16)

I love the image of Christ dwelling among us. He is here! The Holy Spirit lives inside every man, woman and child who is new in Christ. This is why we gather, we teach, we admonish one another, we sing, and we are filled with gratitude. We’re no longer dead. We’re not taking our cues from the culture. We’ve put to death our sin, selfishness, and idolatry. We’re new in Christ, alive in Christ, followers of Christ, and we are becoming like Christ.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

Whatever you do, it’s all about Jesus.

You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

How does your work reflect this?
How do your relationships declare this?
How does your calendar and checkbook reveal this?
How does your heart communicate this?

So What?

Every Sunday, sermons are preached all around the world with the same basic message expressed in an old song by Mylon LeFevre: Love God, Hate Sin. If only it were that easy! Life is a struggle. Following Jesus is battle…because we have a real enemy who wants us to sin, who tempts us to disobey God, who literally is trying to kill us. But we’re not powerless.

We’ve been given the Holy Spirit. It comes when you invite Jesus to be your leader, your master, your LORD. In a word, it’s about surrender. That’s what this entire passage is about…dying to self and being made new in Christ. There are two parts. We must surrender and die…
and we must allow the power of God to be unleashed in our lives.

Our actions do not earn salvation, but they do follow salvation. Christoformity—and sanctification—occur as we die to ourselves and become like Jesus.

Perhaps today is the day for you to begin your journey with God. You can do so with a simple prayer:
Jesus, I give you my life. That’s it. Total surrender.

Maybe today is the day for you to put to death your sin. Kill it! No more white lies, pornography peeks, greedy thoughts, or toxic words. Total surrender.

You might think you’re a good Christian, avoiding sin, but are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Would others use words like compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, peaceful, and loving to describe you? Total surrender.

Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people come to life! It’s a process. It’s ongoing.

It involves our focus. It starts in the mind.
It involves our actions. It moves to our hands.

New in Christ. It’s not about trying harder. It begins with total surrender.

Credits: series outline from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Jesus is LORD, 1 September 2019

    Jesus Is LORD
    Series—A Love Supreme
    Colossians 1:9-23

    Series Big Idea:
    Christ is above all others. This is a study on the book of Colossians.

    Big Idea:
    The Messiah is above all, and that has huge implications for our lives if he is not only Savior but also LORD.

    How many of you like
    music? How many of you like jazz?

    Our world is filled with opinions about the greatest rock band, the best gospel singer, the finest classical composer, and the most talented rapper, but when it comes to jazz, most people seem to agree on two things:

    1. The greatest jazz album of all-time is Miles Davis’
    Some Kind of Blue.
    2. The second great jazz album of all-time is John Coltrane’s
    A Love Supreme.

    Today we begin a new series on Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae, a small city in modern-day Turkey. Unlike nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis, Colossae has never been excavated, though plans are in the works. The theme of the book is the supremacy of Christ, but since that seemed a bit foreign to our modern lexicon, I’ve chosen to entitle this series
    A Love Supreme. It’s not about jazz, but about Jesus, the definition of love. He is supreme. His love is supreme. His lordship is supreme. As we noted in our last series, the gospel is Jesus. The good news is that Jesus is LORD. He will be our subject throughout our study this month in the book of Colossians. Jesus is supreme!

    A few weeks ago we looked at the radical conversion of Saul. Because of his calling to the Gentiles, he went by the name of Paul and, as prophesied, suffered for his faith in Jesus. He wrote four prison epistles—or letters: Ephesians, Philemon, Philippians, and Colossians. This letter was written while under house arrest in Rome in AD 61. Paul begins his letter to this church with eight verses of introduction and then he continues…

    For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. (Colossians 1:9a)

    This is a beautiful statement. The “reason” is their faith in Christ and love for all God’s people. The “we” here is Paul and Timothy. They have not stopped praying for the Christians in Colossae.

    Who are you continually praying for? Some of you have told me you pray for me weekly, or even daily. I’m so grateful. I can’t imagine where I would be—
    who I would be—without prayer.

    In the Christian & Missionary Alliance, we believe
    prayer is the primary work of God’s people. It is powerful and effective. It’s not talking to the wall, but rather communicating with the Creator of the universe! We’ve seen God answer countless prayers…and He’s not going to stop now!

    We can’t stop now, either. We need to pray for our church family, for our neighbors, our city, nation, and world.

    Have you ever wondered
    what to pray?

    “LORD, I pray for everyone in the whole world to be blessed today!” That’s a nice prayer, but if you want to be just a bit more specific, Paul’s example is helpful.

    We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,
    so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9b-12)

    What a great list! When we pray for others, we can ask God to grant them

    • - Knowledge of His will (we often learn by doing, by obeying; deed and knowledge)
    • - Wisdom and understanding
    • - Fruit in every good work
    • - Growth in the knowledge of God
    • - Strength
    • - Endurance
    • - Patience

    Would you pray that for me? Would you pray that for our elders and staff? Would you pray that for First Alliance Church. This isn’t my church. It’s not our church. We are God’s church. We are fully dependent upon His power, His grace, His favor.

    I want to remind you we have three weekly prayer gatherings here—Sundays at 9 AM, Thursdays at 7 PM, and a wonderful men’s group on Tuesdays at 8:30 AM.

    I can’t imagine where we would be without prayer!

    The heart of Paul’s prayer is that the lifestyle of the people. He was concerned about their theology, of course, but he specifically prays that they would live lives worthy of the LORD. He prays that they would bear fruit. Likewise,

    Our lives should bear fruit.

    Notice this doesn’t happen because we try hard, but rather because of prayer, because of God’s power, because of Jesus. He is the one who said famously,

    “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

    What kind of fruit do we bear when we are connected to the vine of Jesus? The fruit of the Spirit:

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

    Do we produce this fruit? Do we earn it, strive for it, work for it, make it happen? No! We surrender and submit to the Lordship of Christ. We let him lead our lives. We confess our sins, repent and turn away from them, and invite the Holy Spirit to fill us, change us, transform us to become more like Jesus. This is why prayer is so critical. It’s a daily thing. It’s an hourly thing. It’s a moment-by-moment thing.

    Paul ends verse twelve by saying they give joyful thanks to God…

    For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

    Have you ever been rescued? We’ve all heard of people being rescued at sea, after being trapped in a cave, or after a natural disaster. I can’t recall ever being in such a situation, but I imagine it’s incredible. We’ve been rescued from darkness into His glorious light. He have redemption. We have forgiveness. We have freedom!

    Now Paul begins to describe Jesus.

    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15-16)

    You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

    These verses declare that all things were created through Jesus and for Jesus. He is the image—or literally
    icon—of the invisible God. He makes God visible! Jesus told Philip that when you’ve seen him, you’ve seen the Father (John 14:9).

    He had no beginning, for he is the Creator! He has all authority and rights over His creation.

    He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Colossians 1:17-18)

    Jesus is
    supreme.

    He is above all things. He is before all things. He holds together all things. He’s the head of the church. He is our Senior Pastor. He is the beginning. He is the firstborn among the dead. He’s the LORD of lords and the King of kings. Jesus is supreme!

    Is it any wonder this passage may have contained remnants of an early Christian hymn?

    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)

    All of the fullness of God dwells—permanently lives—in Jesus. Then Jesus died to reconcile us to God. He created, and then after we sinned He re-created, He redeemed, He reconciled sinners who repent, making peace, wholeness, completeness.

    Someone recently asked me why I talk so much about Jesus instead of God. It was a terrific question! I explained Jesus is God. We worship one God who is in three Persons. We call this the Trinity. It’s a word not found in the Bible, but the idea behind it is present throughout scripture. God the Father, God the Son—Jesus—and God the Holy Spirit. They are all God, yet they are different Persons.

    Many have tried to explain the Trinity with analogies, which might be the best thing we can do to attempt to understand God. After all, He’s God! He doesn’t fit in a neat box.

    An egg has three parts: shell, yolk, white. They are all egg, three-in-one.

    Another common illustration is a clover. Each leaf is 100% clover, yet each is unique.

    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)

    Throughout church history, some have recognized Jesus as God but not human. This is called the heresy of Docetism. They believed Jesus only appeared to have a body but did not actually suffer on the cross or rise from the dead.

    Some recognized Jesus as created by God the Father but not himself God. This is called the heresy of Arianism.

    What we see in these two verses is that the fullness of God dwells in Jesus. He is fully God. The Father sent the Son, Jesus, to earth to die, to shed his blood on the cross, to reconcile all things to himself. That includes us, hallelujah! Our sin separated us from the holy God, yet Jesus died to reconcile us to the Father, and only Jesus could do that because Jesus is the only human to walk this earth who is also fully God.

    This is such good news, friends!

    Jesus reconciled us to God by his death.

    Paul further explains…

    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)

    If Jesus never actually died—as some believe—we are hopeless. We cannot be reconciled. We remain alienated from God because of our sin. But there is plenty of evidence not only that Jesus died, but also that he rose from the dead and is alive today.

    Jesus is not only our Savior, but also
    LORD.

    The gospel is not just that Jesus died, but that Jesus is LORD. He is above all. He is supreme.

    I’ve often spoken of vampire Christians who only want Jesus for his blood. They want a Savior, but not a LORD.

    They want to be saved, but they don’t want to serve.
    They want to be forgiven, but they don’t want to follow.
    They want to go to heaven when they die, but they don’t want to live for Jesus now.

    True faith will lead to faithfulness over time. We will grow. We will mature. We will look and act more like Jesus. We will love God and love others as ourselves. We will experience real peace, true joy, abundant love, and deep contentment. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

    How can we not sing?
    How can we not praise?
    How can we not rejoice?
    How can we not celebrate?

    We have a love supreme!

    Credits: series outline from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Hope for our Broken World, 25 August 2019

    Hope for our Broken World
    August 25, 2019
    1 Cor. 6:9-11; John 3:16-17; 2 Peter 3:8-9

    Series Big Idea:
    The gospel—“good news”—is powerful and transformative.

    Big Idea:
    Our broken world desperately needs to experience the Gospel.

    Summary:
    Jesus is the hope of the world! Our politicians, scientists, educators, or entertainers will never bring the healing our nation and planet desperately need. Only the love, grace, mercy, and redemption of God can cure what ails us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus and his power, not the evil of our world.

    Today we’re concluding our series The Power of the Gospel. We said the gospel—or good news—is ultimately about Jesus, Jesus is LORD. He is the good news. His life, death, and resurrection have wonderful implications for those who follow him, but the gospel is so much more than going to heaven when you die. It’s about Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life…now!

    We talked about how the good news needs to be shared, and last Sunday we saw an example of a remarkable transformation because of the gospel as Saul—an enemy of Christianity—encountered Jesus and became arguably the most important figure in the movement Jesus began. Today we conclude our series in a message entitled
    Hope for Our Broken World.

    Our world is desperate for hope. This is not only obvious, it’s nothing new.

    I know, some of you want to return to the good ol’ days, but did they ever really exist?

    What if today is tomorrow’s good ol’ days?

    I don’t know when America was actually great (though I heard a rumor that Queen Elizabeth has a hat which reads, “Make America Great Britain Again!”).

    Has there ever been a moment when our world was truly at peace?

    Our world is broken because of sin. It is desperate for hope.

    If you study world history—and especially church history—you’ll see how desperate humanity has been for hope. Consider this excerpt from a letter written to the church in ancient Corinth in Greece:

    Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NLT)

    As someone once said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.


    Our world is desperate for hope.

    They seek it in the strangest places.

    • - Politics
    • - Entertainment
    • - Science
    • - Drugs and alcohol
    • - Sex
    • - Religion
    • - Greed and consumerism
    • - Adventure and danger

    The problem is none of those things will truly satisfy. Sure, they may bring temporary happiness, but they will all eventually fail to live up to their promises…and in many cases will create their own problems such as addiction or even death. Amazingly, people have been “lookin’ for hope in all the wrong places” for centuries!

    If my first statement would delight Captain Obvious, I’m even more convinced of my next declaration…

    Jesus is the hope of the world.

    Unfortunately, this is not obvious to everyone. In fact, billions of people know nothing about Jesus. They’re not offended by him. They haven’t had a bad experience with him. They’ve never even heard his name, much less met him!

    If we turn back to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, it continues…

    Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11, NLT)

    Only Jesus offers real cleaning.
    Only Jesus can make us holy.
    Only Jesus can make us right with God.
    Only Jesus offers real hope.

    Many of you have heard this a thousand times, but listen again…

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

    The meaning of “so” is not about the amount of God’s love. It literally means the qualitative aspect of God’s love, the manner in which He loved the world. It is stating, “This is what the love of God looks like”…a sacrifice, a gift, …action!” To follow Jesus means we follow his example of sacrifice, of action, of sharing good news.

    How in the world did Jesus-followers get the reputation of being filled with hate when God loved?

    How can we be known as people who are after people’s money when God gave so generously to us, sending Jesus?

    How is it that so-called Christians can judge unbelievers when Jesus came to save them, not condemn them?

    Jesus is the hope of the world.

    Hope is good.
    Hope is attractive.
    Hope doesn’t need to be sold, only offered.

    For some Christians, there are only two dates that matter: the date they were saved and the date they die and go to heaven. What a tragedy!

    Jesus is not just the hope for you. God loved the world! Jesus is the hope of the world! It is a responsibility and a joy to proclaim the gospel…good news…Jesus…to the world!

    Some pathetic Christians are sitting around waiting for the world to end so they can get out of here, but that’s not God’s heart. That’s not a Jesus’ attitude. He sent us on mission, family. He commissioned us to make disciples, to love, to proclaim the Gospel. Peter wrote,

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

    Do you know how many of my kids I love? All of them!

    Jesus said he would return soon, and I think he’s a little slow, which is why I’m grateful for these words from Peter. See, if anything, God’s waiting for us. It’s not that He’s slow, but that He is love. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. He wants everyone to repent, to turn from their sin, to surrender to Jesus. He’s not eager to judge us—though we will all be judged—but wants all to repent, to turn from sin, to follow Jesus. But…

    How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

    If the only thing that mattered was your salvation, you’d get zapped to heaven as soon as you surrendered your life to Jesus. But you’re still here! You’ve got work to do, and so do I.

    We are here to re-present Jesus.

    Followers of Jesus—Christians—are to look like and act like Jesus. He passed the baton to us. He told us to go and make disciples. This requires action. It’s not a suggestion. It’s why we’re here!

    What would happen if we really loved Jesus…and proved it not with our head but with our hearts and hands? What if we really took him seriously, got out of our comfort zones and loved this city that way Jesus would love it? Imagine if every person in Toledo was given an invitation to know and follow Christ? Wouldn’t it be great if we could participate in an earth-shaking spiritual awakening in our world which began here in Holy Toledo?

    I’m done with status quo, mediocre, boring Christianity. I want more of God! I want more of the Holy Spirit! I want to see revival…in me…in you…in our city…in our world. I’m sick of satan grabbing all of the news headlines! I want some good news! I’ve got some good news!

    We are called to be hope dealers!

    If Jesus is the hope of the world, we become that hope as we re-present Jesus, as we are the hands and feet of Jesus today.

    Our nation has had some revivals, including the Great Awakening.

    There’s a fascinating video called
    Transformations which documents communities transformed by the Gospel, by Jesus, by a miraculous move of the Holy Spirit when people come together in unity repentance, prayer, and evangelism.

    I want Him to do it again…here!

    Is anybody with me?

    This is our day. This is our world. Previous generations experienced revivals, but what about us? God never changes, friends. I believe He’s ready to pour out His Spirit on us, our city, and our world if we will repent, pray, and share the gospel. We have to go and make disciples. We have to proclaim in deed and word good news. We have follow Jesus and practice what we preach, 24/7/365.

    So What?

    “Great, pastor. You had too much caffeine this morning, you’re getting all excited, but now what?”

    I’m so glad you asked! I want to offer a few, simple, next steps. In a word, BLESS.

    BLESS your neighbor.

    Begin with prayer
    Listen
    Eat
    Serve
    Story

    You don’t have to be a spiritual giant to share good news, to offer hope to our broken world, one life at a time. You can bring someone to Dinner Church tonight. You can ask open-ended questions to stimulate conversation such as, “Where are you at on your spiritual journey?” You can invite your neighbors over for a BBQ. You can buy someone a cup of coffee and chat.

    This fall you can be a conversation partner with Water for Ishmael.
    You can volunteer at the After School Klub and Rosa Parks Elementary.

    Barna research has concluded 97% of church members will never share their faith, yet I bet most of you want to. You want your neighbors to experience good news. You want them to have faith, hope, and love. You just feel awkward. I know. I don’t walk up to total strangers and say, “Hi, I’m Kirk. Do you know Jesus?” Some people actually do that! But you don’t have to do it alone. We’re a family. We partner together. We literally set the table once a month at Dinner Church. Our Christmastime gatherings will create great opportunities for people to encounter the Hope of the world.

    But there’s one more thing I want to tell you about. Coincidentally, this past week was the beginning of a movement which could be a catalyst to revival in our city and nation.

    Saturate Toledo

    We have been invited to join Toledo area churches in distributing bags to reach all 500,000 souls in our area. What an opportunity! We will pray, stuff bags, and deliver them to our neighbors. It’s that simple…and all of the resources have been donated!

    Area pastors are invited to a free lunch on October 1 at The Premiere Center. If you know a pastor—besides me!—make sure they know about it. Our plan is to assemble and distribute bags this fall. If you can walk, talk, and/or pray, you can participate.

    The goal is 60 million homes by the end of 2020. So far, 28 million have been adopted and nearly 13 million have already been saturated…that’s 40 million people who have received a bag in 45 states!

    One of the exciting things is donors are making this available to our church and city for free! All we have to do is assemble the materials and pass them out to our neighbors.

    Saturate Toledo is a simple way we can make sure everyone has a chance to encounter the Hope of the world, Jesus Christ.

    Conclusion

    Our world is desperate for hope. They’re never going to find it in Columbus or Washington, Hollywood or Broadway. Money, sex and power will never truly satisfy. It won’t come through Facebook or Apple or Instagram.

    Jesus is the Hope of the world…and we get to re-present him to every person we encounter, online or in person.

    It’s time for us to rise up and proclaim good news. No pressure, no manipulation, just love. BLESSing. Hope. Our world desperately needs it. It couldn’t be more obvious. What are we going to do about it?

    LORD, give us Your heart for the lost, the lonely, the least of these that we may re-present Jesus, the hope of the world.

    Credits: series outline from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Power in the Blood, 4 August 2019

    Power in the Blood
    Series—The Power of the Gospel
    1 Cor. 15:1-8; Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 3:1-14, 23-29; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5


    Series Big Idea: The gospel—“good news”—is powerful and transformative.

    Big Idea: The gospel—“good news”—is powerful because it’s all about Jesus.

    What’s the best thing that has happened to you so far this summer? Think of one highlight and share it with someone.

    Our world is filled with bad news. I still think one of the most depressing things you can do is watch television news—it doesn’t even matter what channel! They’re all filled with doom and gloom. Meanwhile, babies are being born, the beauty of God’s colorful creation is on full display, poverty in Africa is falling, families are experiencing reconciliation, Toledo is tied for the fifth-fastest growing construction job market in the country, you’re in an air conditioned building…

    Today we’re beginning a new series entitled The Power of the Gospel. The word “gospel” simply means “good news” and that’s something we all could use more of, amen?

    Before we go any further, let’s begin with a seemingly simple question:

    What is the gospel?

    The Greek word euangelion means “good news,” but what comes to mind when you hear the word “gospel?”

    Here are some common expressions I’ve heard:

    Gospel music (black gospel and southern gospel)
    Full gospel
    Gospel truth
    Preach the gospel

    I’ve heard people explain the gospel by saying if you pray a special prayer, you’ll go to heaven when you die. Salvation for sinners is good news, but the gospel is so much more. Paul once wrote to a church in the Greek city of Corinth these words:

    Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

    Okay, Paul, what is the gospel?

    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

    The gospel is not merely justification by faith. It’s not just personal salvation. There’s more to it than who’s in and who’s out, though many Christians have reduced the gospel to who gets to go to heaven when they die and who goes to hell, which is tragic.

    If you imagine a theatrical play, some of said the Bible unfolds like six acts:

    God creates His Kingdom
    Rebellion in the Kingdom
    The King chooses Israel
    The Coming of the King
    Growth of the Kingdom
    Return of the King

    The word “gospel” belongs to the biblical story. It is the announcement, the heralding, the declaration that Jesus is Messiah, the goal of the narrative, the climax of Israel’s story.

    There are seven gospel sermons in the book of Acts (2, 3, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17), each a narrative of Israel which climaxes in Jesus as LORD and Messiah.

    The gospel is all about Jesus.

    It’s about who he is and what he did. It’s the story of the Messiah, the preexisted Son of God becoming king.

    Paul wrote to Timothy,

    Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, (2Timothy 2:8)

    Scot McKnight writes,
    “The gospel is the redemptive story about what God has done in Jesus the Savior Lord. It is the story about the redemptive Jesus. First Christology, then soteriology. Not either or, but both, in that order. When the second is first, Jesus becomes a means; when the first is first, Jesus becomes the subject and our redemption the effect of Jesus.”

    In other words, the gospel is first about Jesus, and then our salvation. Jesus is LORD and our Savior.

    Many have reduced the gospel to the plan of salvation, yet nobody in the New Testament would’ve ever thought of the gospel in such a narrow way.

    I’m not suggesting the Four Spiritual Laws or the Romans Road or anything other “plan of salvation” is bad. For those unfamiliar with the plan of salvation, it goes something like this:

    God loves us and wants a relationship with us.
    Our sinful rebellion breaks the relationship.
    Jesus died on the cross to reconcile us to God, paying for our sins.
    We can choose to accept or reject Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, receive forgiveness and eternal life, and be reconciled to the Father by faith.

    This month we’re talking about the gospel and I want you to understand it’s more than a prayer you pray to go to heaven when you die. It’s all about Jesus. The good news is the Messiah came to earth, showed us what it means to be human, taught timeless truths and wisdom, died for every man, woman, and child who follows Him, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will return soon.

    We have four books in the Bible that are called the gospel…the gospel of Matthew, the gospel of Mark, the gospel of Luke, and the gospel of John. They are all about…Jesus! They are four biographies of Jesus. Jesus is the gospel. He is the good news. He preached good news and is good news.

    The gospel is the power of God.

    Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

    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. 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 1:16-17)

    The context is important. The Roman empire was the definition of power. The Greek word for power, dunamis, speaks of supernatural power, miracles or mighty works. The gospel is more than just words or religion or ideology or dogma. It is powerful.

    Jesus is the power of God, God in the flesh, God incarnate. Jesus came as a Jew into a Jewish culture that often despised Gentiles, but Jesus came, died, and rose for Jews and Gentiles. This might not seem like a big deal today, but it was radical 2000 years ago.

    Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, of Jesus. He risked his life to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God which Jesus brought to our planet, making righteousness–right living—is available by faith to everyone. They can go from death to life, from hopeless to hope-filled, from condemned to redeemed.

    It’s not about what we do. It’s about Jesus has done. It’s not about our works, but faith in Jesus.

    There’s power in the name of Jesus.
    There’s power in the death of Jesus.
    There’s power in the blood of Jesus.
    There’s power in the teachings of Jesus.
    There’s power in the resurrection of Jesus.

    And that power, that Jesus, that

    …gospel is for everyone.

    Praise God, that means you and me. That means black and white, rich and poor, male and female, Republican and Democrat. The gospel—Jesus—and his bride—the Church—should be the most unifying, healing, welcoming people on earth.

    So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

    We’ve looked at this text before and it’s truly wonderful. The entire third chapter of Galatians tells us we are all invited to follow Jesus, regardless of language, geography, gender, or ethnicity. This is why racism is satanic. This is why denominationalism is satanic. This is why looking down upon the poor or judging the rich or hating anyone is satanic.

    Jesus came for everyone.
    Jesus died for everyone.
    Jesus loves everyone.

    But we all choose whether to make Jesus the leader of our lives or push him to the side and live life our way. The consequences are eternal, so this is a big deal. We can do now and eternity with God or we can do this life and the next without Him. It’s our choice.

    I don’t know how anyone could reject God, His love, His grace and mercy, His forgiveness, His power, His relationship, His freedom, His joy, …

    Some simply don’t know any better. They’ve never heard about Jesus or have a distorted view of who Jesus is based upon the poor witness—in word and/or deed—of his so-called followers…Christians.

    Tragically, here and around the world the gospel—the good news, Jesus— has been replaced by rules, legalism, and religion. People have been led to believe it’s about going to church rather than being the church, that is, doing life together in radical community. They think it’s about what we’re against instead of what we’re for…them!

    #ForToledo

    Jesus is for Toledo. Jesus is for the planet.
    We must be for Toledo. We must be for every man, woman and child on earth.

    That includes those in prison, immigrants, refugees, those with AIDS, Muslims, atheists, child molesters, human traffickers, and terrorists. Jesus is for them, too. Their only hope is Jesus. The only way they can change is Jesus. The only power available to them is through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

    Some Christians get frustrated when non-Christians act like…non-Christians! They wonder why non-Christians don’t change. It’s because without Jesus and his supernatural power, they couldn’t change if they wanted to!

    If you remember one thing today, remember there is supernatural power in Jesus Christ…and we are all invited to trust in God and His supernatural power.

    The gospel is not merely good news, it’s great news! Why in the world would you want to keep it to yourself?

    The gospel must be shared.

    For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19)

    As humans, we naturally want to do things, accomplish things, earn things. This is why so many in our culture believe they’ll go to heaven when they die because they’re “good” people. God doesn’t grade on a curve, though. Any sin, mistake, failure on our part is enough to separate us from a holy God. The gospel reveals Jesus and his mission to seek and save the lost, to die for us, to shed his blood, to pay our debt, to create an invitation so compelling it seems unbelievable. Grace—unmerited favor—it truly amazing!

    Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:20-21)

    The Jews were following 613 laws from centuries earlier, hoping their religion would earn them favor with God. Paul’s saying Jesus changed everything. He shattered their expectations with his life and teachings. He shocked them with his death and resurrection. He said the first will be last, to save your life you have to lose it, the greatest is the servant, the wisdom of man is foolishness compared to God. Jesus turned everything upside down.

    Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

    I wonder what Paul would say to us in the USA today, given our knowledge, technology, and philosophy.

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

    I love this! I’m privileged to have been raised in a stable home, given a good education, never deprived of food, and live in a country that has given me freedom and opportunity. Yet many of you and certainly many of our brothers and sisters around the world have been foolish, weak, lowly, or despised by the world’s standards…yet they are precious, loved, powerful children of God.

    It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)

    And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:1-3)

    My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

    Paul said it’s all about God’s wisdom, God’s power, Jesus Christ, the gospel. May the evidence of the gospel be the way it transforms lives, including ours!

    Credits: some ideas from Scott McKnight, D6.

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

    Feeding: Loaves & Fish, 12 May 2019

    Feeding: Loaves & Fish
    Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:30-44

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

    Big Idea:
    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    Spoiler alert. There are few word couplets that seize our attention more than someone about to reveal the ending to a movie or a sporting match. Humans love suspense, and anyone destroying the surprise is likely to be criticized for doing so.

    Recently a youth pastor made headlines for spoiling the ending of
    Avengers: Endgame in front of his youth group. In a few short weeks, this film has become the number two movie of all-time as it approaches the reigning champion Avatar.

    Spoiler alert. If you are at all familiar with the Bible, your knowledge can be a deterrent to fully engaging with its stories. For example, the sorrow of our Good Friday remembrances is always tempered by our understanding of the resurrection. We know what happens next. This is true of most any biblical account.

    So today I want you to forget what you know about today’s text, assuming you know anything at all. Pretend you are a follower of Jesus and you have no clue about the following events which are recorded in all four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. To set the scene, earlier in Mark chapter six, we’re told of Jesus,

    Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. (Mark 6:7)

    He sent them on a mission trip!

    These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:8-11)

    They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:12-13)

    As we continue our series Mark: The Real Jesus, we’re seeking to know about and ultimately know King Jesus, the Messiah. Last week we saw Herod’s confusion about his identity as people thought perhaps Jesus was a resurrected Elijah or John the Baptist. Who is Jesus?

    Jesus sent out his dozen followers two by two, gave them supernatural authority, told them to trust God for their provisions (take only a staff), and God did amazing things in and through their lives, including exorcising demons and healing the sick as they preached repentance.

    The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

    I wish this on YouTube! Can you imagine their excitement?

    “Jesus, you’ll never believe what happened!”

    Jesus: “Try me!”

    We begin every staff and elders meeting at First Alliance with “wins,” sharing stories of what God has done in and through us.

    We need to celebrate God’s goodness.

    I’m not very good at celebrating. I find it easy to start my prayers with wants and needs rather than praise and thanksgiving.

    My mind is usually on the next thing to accomplish instead of pausing to celebrate the goodness of the past.

    Earlier you heard about the upcoming events and opportunities on the church calendar, but what about last week?

    Many years ago I was reading John Ortberg’s book
    The Life You’ve Always Wanted. It’s about spiritual disciples, also known as spiritual habits or practices. I knew the importance of prayer and Bible study. I was a little uneasy about the thought of fasting or silence or solitude, thinking they were like eating your veggies—good for you but unpleasant (I hope to do a series on these practices sometime soon; they are truly wonderful pathways to God). I was really surprised when early in the book Ortberg talked about The Practice of Celebration.

    (Some of us could use a bit more celebration!)

    (The book is excellent, by the way, and I recommend it.)

    The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. (Mark 6:30)

    I’m sure there was some celebration in their midst.

    I want to pause and celebrate God’s goodness at the sneak preview of
    Dinner Church last Sunday. Many of you served in beautiful ways—inviting, prayer, food prep, greeting—and God used our efforts to do amazing things. We had people from several continents exposed to the gospel, kids riveted to the message, adults engaging in unique ways, friendships forming, and an energy which could only be the Holy Spirit. I believe…

    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    Thank you, family, for surrendering your time, talents, treasures, and energy last week. We’ll do it again on the last Sunday of each month, beginning May 26, and I can only imagine what God will do.

    Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31)

    Vance Havner said, “If you don’t come apart and rest, you will come apart.”

    Because God is at work, we can—and must—rest.

    Are you rested this morning? Our culture can drive us insane—literally—with its non-stop, 24/7, on-demand, bigger is better, climb the ladder of success mentality. We were not created to work seven days a week. We do not have the capability of doing great work 12 or 15 hours a day. Science has proven this repeatedly. We need rest.

    If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, you must rest. You must be with Jesus in a quiet place. You must be still and know that He is God.

    I’m preaching to myself here, family. I don’t do this well, but I think I’m making some progress.

    We need to rest daily…time with God.
    We need to rest weekly…a Sabbath.
    We need to rest annually…vacations and staycations.

    We are human beings, not human doings.

    Pastors are one of the greatest culprits of workaholism. Many of us have this strange notion that if we’re not taking care of every need of every person in the local church, the world is going to end. I’ve seen insecure, co-dependent pastors run themselves ragged and, sometimes, destroying themselves and/or their families in the process. I know God doesn’t need me to accomplish His plans. I feel very privileged to have been invited to serve in His Kingdom—as all of you have been—but He doesn’t need me.

    Today’s text has echoes of Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd. It begins,

    The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalms 23:1-3)

    There’s nothing there about busyness, demands, schedules, or achievement. Ultimately, we were created for relationships—with God and others. I’m afraid many cultures understand this better than USAmericans.

    We need rest. Life is a marathon, friends, not a sprint. You can only make it to the finish line with rest. When is the last time you were led by the Good Shepherd to quiet waters and refreshing rest?

    So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. (Mark 6:32)

    This is a beautiful, tranquil lake in Israel, known today as the Sea of Galilee. I’ve been there in a boat and I’m sure the twelve were looking forward to some quality time with Jesus.

    But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. (Mark 6:33-34)

    Jesus—the Good Shepherd—can’t avoid the paparazzi! The problem with being in a boat on a lake is people on the shore can see you…and where you’re headed! Jesus invites his disciples to get rest and then turns around and starts teaching the crowds. I’m sure the twelve were upset. After all, they had all of these great stories to tell! If only Jesus wasn’t so compassionate! Remember, the Good Shepherd is willing to leave the 99 to look for the one lost sheep, or in this case disrupt the solitude of the dozen for the thousands of lost people in the crowd.

    Do you see people as greedy or needy? Are people an interruption to your day or the purpose of our mission? Are you compassionate…or just comfortable?

    By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” (Mark 6:35-36)

    I’m sure the disciples were hungry, too, but remember they wanted that quiet time with Jesus. Send the people away, Jesus!

    But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37a)

    What? Jesus, we’re hungry, too! This isn’t our problem. Let’s send them away, get back in the boat, catch some fish, and have a nice, quiet dinner together. We’re getting hangry, here!

    They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37b)

    I know that would be my answer! I can call Domino’s or Grub Hub, but I don’t know if my credit card limit will cover it!

    It’s easy to fault the lack of faith of the disciples, but again, they didn’t know what followed. If we were at the Mud Hens game, they ran out of food, and I told you to feed the crowd, what would you say?

    The disciples saw the problem but not the potential.

    “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

    When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” (Mark 6:38)

    [I have some fish. Are there any moms who would like some fish?]

    We know from another account of this story (John 6:9) the twelve disciples apparently had no food at all and, therefore, they searched the crowd and found a boy with a small lunch. Imagine being the only person in a crowd with food and someone asks you for it. Would you surrender it or keep it?

    What do you have to offer God?

    It might be your lunch. Literally. Would you give it to Jesus? He said essentially,

    “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

    When we show kindness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re showing kindness to Jesus. Giving to the benevolence fund is an excellent way to offer your lunch—or your wealth—to Jesus.

    What do you have to offer God?

    Remember, the boy had no idea what would happen to his lunch, but he surrendered it.

    If you knew by putting $100 in the offering today, you’d get an unexpected refund in the mail this week for $500, of course you’d do it. But faith is expressed through obedience without knowing the outcome. I’m not promising you $500, but can you outgive God?

    If you knew volunteering your time and talents to help on church work day would result in getting an extra week’s vacation at work the next week, you’d be foolish not to invest those hours.

    We don’t know how God will use our offering, but I can almost guarantee there will be no regrets.

    Think of it this way: is it generally wiser to invest retirement funds yourself or have someone with thirty years of successful experience do it?

    Do you trust God to do more with your time, talent, and treasures than you could ever do on your own?

    The exciting things is you might not have much to offer, in the eyes of the world. Some of us are not wealthy. Some of us are not healthy. Some of us aren’t especially attractive or talented or educated, but God can use anything and anyone He chooses to accomplish His will and plans…if we’re available.

    What could Jesus possibly do with a little bread and fish? Shhh. No spoilers, please!

    Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. (Mark 6:39-41)

    There are so many layers of symbolism in these verses.

    - Moses wasn’t sure how to feed all of the people in the wilderness
    - Green grass: the Good Shepherd (green pastures; it is springtime in Galilee)
    - Groups of hundreds and fifties: Jethro telling Moses how to delegate (Ex. 18)
    - Looking up to heaven, giving thanks, breaking bread: Passover

    Jesus was demonstrating signs the new creation, the kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God. Here we see God’s love and power blended together.

    They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mark 6:42-44)

    We have no idea how many women and children were fed, too, but Michael Card makes an interesting observation, saying, “In every account of the feeding of the five thousand, the word used is kofinos. It indicates a small lunch-pail-sized basket.” It’s likely the crowd didn’t even realize the miracle that occurred right before their very eyes, a miracle more of perfect provision than overflowing abundance. They had enough…their daily bread (and a little midnight snack for each of the twelve disciples).

    God is able to provide for our daily bread as we seek Him and surrender what we’ve been given to Him.

    Sure, Jesus could’ve had manna and quail fall from the sky to feed the crowd. God did this to the people of Israel in the wilderness, feeding them for forty years!
    Jesus could’ve taken stones and turned them into bread as satan had tempted him to do in the wilderness when Jesus was fasting for forty days.

    Jesus could’ve prayed a hunger prayer which instantly removed hunger from the crowd.

    Instead, Jesus wanted participation. He allowed a boy to be involved. He engaged his disciples. Instead of creating something from nothing—as he has done many times before—he chose to work in and through others. I love that!

    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    How do you think that boy felt at the end of the day? Can you imagine the story he told his mom when he got home? What about what he said to his dad he arrived home from work?

    It is a thrill to be used by God. But first, we must surrender. God can bless and multiply whatever we give to Him. He used

    - an old man named Abraham to become a dad at 100 and father the Jewish nation
    - a stutterer named Moses to lead His people for decades in the wilderness
    - a prostitute named Rahab was so important she is in Jesus’ genealogy

    God often asks us to do the impossible…so He can receive the glory. Forgive without limit? Love our enemies? We are totally dependent upon Him…and that’s a great place to be.

    Sometimes we cry out to God and say, “Do something” and God replies, “You give them something to eat. What’s in your hand? I’ve placed you there in Toledo for such a time as this.”

    A man once asked God, “Why aren’t you feeding the hungry?”
    God replied, “Why aren’t you feeding the hungry?”

    I don’t know what God is calling you to surrender today, but I know it’s a thrill to be obedient, to be used by God to impact lives for eternity, to have a front-row seat to watch God at work. Some of you experienced this last Sunday at Dinner Church. Others were blessed by serving at the Rosa Parks Elementary Carnival. Still others were involved in Celebrate Recovery, bringing hope and healing to the hurting. I saw many of you at the TUI After School Klub banquet, celebrating another year of investment in our city’s kids. Next month you’re all invited to participate in Sports & Arts Camp, possibly our biggest event of the year.

    God is able to do amazing things in and through our lives if we truly surrender.

    What are you doing with your lunch? Hoarding it, or offering it to God?
    What are you doing with your wealth? Your time? Your talents? Your life?

    Prayer:

    “God will you let us see people the way You see people, as masterpieces in need of love and restoration? Let us have compassion like You do. Will you take our time, talents, and treasures and multiply them for Your glory? I believe, LORD, but help me in my unbelief, that I may trust You completely with my heart, soul, mind, and strength. In Jesus’ Name, amen.”

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

    Dinner Church: Victory, 5 May 2019

    Dinner Church: Victory

    Today is Cinco de Mayo, a celebration which, interestingly, is celebrated more in the United States than Mexico. What does this day commemorate?

    The Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It is not Mexico’s Independence Day, but it has become a day for us to eat tacos and burritos! Leave it to USAmericans to take a solemn occasion and turn it into a food feast!

    Our them tonight is victory. We’ve all had victories and defeats, wins and losses. We will throughout our lives. Not even the New England Patriots or New York Yankees—or that team down south—win every year!

    I love sports. I love to play sports. I love to watch sports. And I’m very competitive. I’ve never been fast, but I want to be! I want to win…and I want my teams to win.

    Many years ago, I discovered the key to watching sports is to cheer for a person or team.

    The most important part of a game is the…end. As many people have found out, it doesn’t matter the score with one second left on the clock or in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs. Anything can happen in those final moments.

    As much as I love basketball, for instance, I rarely sit and watch the first half of a game, even if it’s one of my favorite teams. However, if I know the Pistons or Sixers are in the fourth quarter and the score is tied, get out of my way! Some of the great moments in sports history came when a certain defeat became a miraculous victory.

    What is one victory you’ve experienced in your life? It could be field day as a kid, a little league game, watching your favorite team win on tv, getting a job you wanted, winning an award, etc.

    How did it feel?

    How is a victory different from a defeat?

    What does it take to be victorious?

    I want to suggest often victory requires defeat. I’ve rarely met anyone who is just a born winner and effortlessly succeeds at everything.

    Last month Christians around the world celebrated a day called Good Friday. It was actually terrible. Jesus spent about three years creating a movement, a movement which continues to this day, a movement of faith, hope, and love. He spent three years teaching, healing the sick, raising the dead, attracting crowds, mentoring men and women, and then all of a sudden he allows himself to be arrested on false charges, refuses to defend himself, and goes from celebrity status to that of a criminal. Imagine the horror of all of his friends and fans as he is crucified, nailed to a cross, butchered for all to see in the most humiliating and excruciating of executions.

    In a word, all was lost.

    The life of Jesus. Lost.
    The hope of his followers. Lost.

    That’s not all. As Jesus died on the cross, the universe began to shift. Literally.

    From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. (Matthew 27:45)

    Even with all of the cloudy, rainy days we have in Toledo, it’s not dark from noon until three in the afternoon! These were the hours Jesus was dying on the cross. Matthew, the writers of one of Jesus’ four biographies called the gospels, wrote,

    And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. (Matthew 27:50)

    He died. There’s no way anyone could’ve survived the beating, torture, mocking, thorns, and nails.


    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. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:51-53)

    Did you know zombies were in the Bible? When Jesus died—and a spear was shoved into his side causing blood and water to flow, proving he was dead—the whole universe went crazy. All was lost. Or so it seemed.

    Have you ever had a moment like that? Maybe it was a day, a week, a month, or even a year. Maybe that moment is right now. Life feels like one big loss.

    It could be a literal loss, like the loss of a job or a relationship breakup. Maybe your physical health is failing or your finances are a wreck.

    If it feels like Friday, I’ve got good news for you. Your story’s not over. In fact, this very moment of pain, struggle, and storm may actually be preparing you for the greatest victory in your life.

    Here’s the thing about Jesus and the cross: it wasn’t a loss. Sure, for a couple days all seemed loss, but something was going on behind the scenes. The crucifixion wasn’t an accident. In fact, Jesus had predicted he would die. He told people he would die. Ancient prophecy from hundreds of years earlier predicted he would die. What looked like a loss was just part of a plan.

    On the cross, Jesus died to forgive you and me of all of our sins, our mistakes, our junk. Nobody’s perfect, right? Except Jesus.

    See, the bad news is God is perfect and demands perfection from all of us. He doesn’t grade on a curve! If our lives are not 100% perfect, he has to reject us. It’s like the measles that are spreading in parts of the country. Nobody wants to get close to someone with measles because it’s very contagious. If you’ve got the measles—even if you’re a nice person and get good grades in school and make a lot of money and volunteer at the Humane Society and support the Toledo Symphony—you’ve got to be quarantined. You’re contagious.

    Sin is contagious, and we’ve all got it…and God can’t get close to it. We were all—all—destined to go to hell when we die. Don’t get freaked out about a place with guys in red suits wearing horns and carrying a pitchfork. Hell is simply where God is not present. It’s not a good place, but it’s where we all deserve to go because we’ve all got sin.

    But the amazing thing is Jesus—perfect Jesus—died to forgive our sins, to bring our score to 100%, to cure our sickness, our measles, so we can know God, so we can be with God, so we can go to heaven. Heaven is where God is, and you can experience heaven before you die, and even more after you die in the next life.

    But heaven is not for people who are good. You have to be perfect…or know someone who is! Jesus came, lived, and died so you could know God, do life with God, and experience the love, joy, peace, freedom and hope that come only from God.

    One of my favorite verses in the Bible says,

    And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15, NIV)

    On the cross as Jesus died, the real loser was sin, evil, and death. He made a public spectacle over satan and demons.

    Jesus took the beating. His body was broken. His blood poured out. For you. For me.

    The cross was actually a victory for all of humanity, anyone who would say yes to Jesus, say yes to the cure he offers for our sin disease. And guess what? It’s a gift! You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. You can’t do enough good things to deserve it.

    If someone offers you a gift—a wonderful gift—what do you have to do? Take it!

    Tonight I want every one of you to experience sweet victory. I’m not talking about self-help, positive thinking, cheerleading. I mean take your junk to Jesus…your fears, failures, hurts, habits, and hangups. Let go and let God.

    “Our God loves triumphing over what looks impossible.” – Lisa Bevere

    On the third day—the day we celebrate on Easter—Jesus came back to life. He rose from the dead.

    Dr. Tony Campolo famously said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

    There’s a lot of talk about Christianity dying in this country. I think some of it has to do with abusive priests, power-hungry pastors, and hypocritical Christians. I’m very sorry for that, by the way. Christian means “little Christ” and a lot of Christians don’t look like Jesus…including me, sometimes. I’m very sorry.

    But a lot of people have no need for God. They say they don’t need a crutch. They feel like they’re experiencing victory. But it never lasts. Eventually every team loses, every champion retires, every dollar is spent, every breath is breathed.

    If you don’t need God, thanks for coming tonight. I hope you enjoyed dinner and made some friends.

    But if there is any part of your soul that needs healing, any part of your heart that needs love, any part of your mind that needs truth, or any part of your body that needs healing, I know where you can find victory tonight. It might not be instant victory, but surrendering your life to Jesus, receiving his forgiveness, repenting and turning away from your past life and running to God will change you forever. Forever!

    This isn’t about religion or even church. It’s about Jesus.

    Steph Curry’s favorite verse is Philippians 4:13


    For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

    If you want to experience victory in your life, I have a short prayer I want to invite you to pray tonight. It’s simply this: Jesus, I give you my life. I believe for some of you, tonight is your night. This prayer is not the end, it’s just the beginning. Jesus, I give you my life.

    At the end of the Bible is a somewhat mysterious book called Revelation. It begins with letters to churches and Jesus speaks to an ancient church in what is now Turkey says this to those who followed Jesus:


    All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. (Revelation 3:5, NLT)

    That’s victory! That’s eternal victory! And that’s the victory we can experience with Jesus is greater than any Mexican war victory on Cinco de Mayo, greater than any NBA Finals championship, and even greater than winning the lottery!

    Amen!

    Birth: Woman of Danger, 23 December 2018

    Birth: Woman of Danger
    Series—Mary Christmas
    Luke 2:6-20

    Series Overview: Mary may be the most underrated, godly character in the Bible (at least for Protestants!).

    Big Idea: Mary was real, raw and dangerous…and so is King Jesus.

    In January of 2003 the Discovery Channel began airing a show called MythBusters. It has continued as one if its oldest and most popular shows. Originally from Australia and now on the Science Channel, it has become a global phenomenon testing various popular beliefs and Internet rumors to see if they are true. The myths are ultimately rated “buster,” “plausible,” or “confirmed.”

    It’s one thing to hold beliefs about sunburns, explosions, traffic patterns, or boarding airplanes. It’s quite another to entertain myths about the Bible and, ultimately, God. One of the most frustrating things for me as a follower of Jesus is hearing so-called Biblical quotes that are simply not, such as:

    God helps those who help themselves.
    Jesus turned water into grape juice instead of wine.
    I’m good and, therefore, will go to heaven when I die.
    Always pray with your eyes closed.
    Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God.
    Suffering is always the result of sin since true believers are rich and healthy.
    The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.

    These are all myths. They are false.

    This Advent season is filled with its own myths.

    We’re in the middle of an extended series on Mary, the mother of Jesus. It seems that she is possibly overrated by Catholics and underrated by us Protestants. She is arguably the most important female to ever walk this earth, not only for giving birth to Jesus but also for enduring the consequences of being pregnant out of wedlock, raising the Messiah, and witnessing His brutal death. She was specifically chosen by God to be Jesus’ mom for reasons we don’t entirely know, but good reasons nonetheless.

    The center of God’s will is not the safest place to be, but often the most dangerous. Mary is often depicted as a sweet, innocent, almost angelic figure. The real Mary, however, was dangerous. She was dangerous to Augustus and Herod, claiming her son was born to be king. She had a dangerous mission that threatened the Jewish society and the Roman Empire. Rather than a somber-faced girl in a baby-blue robe, Scot McKnight says, “Mary was a muscular, wiry woman whose eyes were aglow with a dazzling hope for justice and whose body evoked a robust confidence in the God who was about to turn the world upside down through her son.”

    To fully understand the story, we need to understand the context. We’ve sanitized the account, making it so quaint and comfortable. Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than nativity scenes.

    Unlike the myths of the season, Mary was real. Joseph was real. Jesus is real.

    We’re using Luke’s biography of Jesus as our text this year, but the first two chapters of Matthew’s gospel or “good news” convey a less than idyllic scene surrounding the “silent night.” Joseph nearly divorces Mary, Herod is scheming, babies are slaughtered, Joseph and his family become refugees in Egypt, and people are waiting for the king to die. Have you ever seen those scenes on Christmas cards?

    Caesar Augustus was literally considered “son of God” in the lineage of his dad, Julius Caesar who was officially declared to be a god. Augustus brought peace to Rome and was considered its savior. His rise was considered good news or “gospel.” Perhaps you’ve heard words like god, lord, and gospel in the context of church, but these were words used of this political leader, the worshiped king of the Roman empire.

    Last Sunday we examined the first five verses of Luke chapter two, the journey to Bethlehem. Dr. Luke continues…

    While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

    You’ve heard there was no room for them in the inn, right? There are actually two meanings for our English word “inn.” The first is a place you would stay, but the other is a guest room as translated here. There’s no innkeeper. It was likely Joseph and Mary went to a relative’s home. There’s nothing in the Bible about a stable or barn—just a manger. The manger may have been in an open-air living area like a patio. Many believe this was a house where people typically stayed upstairs with the ground floor used for animals…though there is actually no mention of any animals. The upstairs was probably full of people doing exactly what Joseph and Mary were doing—registering in the census. They’re likely in the bottom area of a full house. Baby Jesus may have been held by his aunts, uncles and cousins on his birthday.

    Why does Luke mention the manger? It was a sign to the shepherds.

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:8-9)

    Angels are often scaring people. I suppose if I encountered one, I might freak out a bit, myself!

    But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

    Shepherds are not exactly common in our culture today, but in biblical times many cared for sheep. You might know the 23rd Psalm which begins, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The birth of the Good Shepherd—Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah—was announced to shepherds long before the news hit CNN or Twitter!

    This is familiar language to the shepherds who knew Augustus as savior. They were now confronted with two kings; Augustus and Jesus. The conflict between them is beginning, between God and the powers of this world. Within a century or so, this baby would be so threatening to the successors of Augustus that followers of Jesus would be persecuted and martyred, simply for their faith.

    Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

    “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)

    Augustus didn’t exactly have angels announcing His birth.

    When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15)

    They needed to do something to respond to the celestial symphony! Here’s a tip: if an angel guides you to something historic, go!

    So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:16-18)

    Lowly shepherds were the first to meet the Messiah and the first to spread the word. We can’t imagine the significance of this news. The Messiah had been prophesied for centuries. It was a bigger deal than us waiting for someone to cure cancer…or for the Detroit Lions or Cleveland Browns to make it to the Super Bowl! Generations had waited! The King of kings had arrived, but in the most humble, unexpected manner.

    But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

    These are common words in Judaism for thinking about events in one’s life so one could make sense of and narrate what God was doing in history. This wasn’t silent meditation, but rather reflecting to interpret. She was figuring out what God was doing in the world while people were singing and dancing and dreaming of the end of Augustus’ rule. She would tell the story orally, a tale of two kings. Much of what we read in the Bible most likely came from her lips.

    The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20)

    The natural response to an encounter with God is praise and worship. This is why we sing when we gather. This is why we give thanks. This is why we devote ourselves to God and His commands. He’s God and we’re not.

    I often say the two most important questions in the world are

    Who is God?
    Who am I?

    They are questions of identity. How you answer those two questions will impact everything you do and define who you are.

    So What?

    There are many myths about the Christmas story. Does it really matter if the manger was made of wood or rock? No. Is it a game-changer to have wise men or magi in the nativity scene or not? Of course not. Can we observe Jesus’ birthday on December 25 even if he was almost certainly born in the springtime? Sure.

    Perhaps the greatest myth of all in the account of the birth of Jesus is that somehow the characters are super-human. They aren’t real. It’s fantasy. Jesus was God so therefore never pooped or cried, Mary floated above the earth like an angel, effortlessly giving birth without a whimper or tear. Joseph—well, Joseph just stood there watching while his wife and step son get all of the attention. The animals smelled like Febreze. The night was silent and perfect, tranquil and sweet.

    But our understanding of Mary is important. She wasn’t an angel, hovering just above the ground. Nor was she a weak girl who disappears after the birth of Jesus—as we will see next Sunday. She was a gritty, godly young woman who encountered angels, brought God into our world, spoke out about injustice, and would experience the joys and sorrows of motherhood throughout the 33 years of Jesus’ life.

    Our understanding of Jesus is even more important. His birth wasn’t a myth. You can visit Bethlehem today in Israel. He didn’t stay in the manger, meek and mild. His birth was highly unusual, yet the perfect fulfillment of centuries-old prophecies. And the birth was just the beginning. He didn’t stay the tiny, infant Jesus Will Ferrell prayed to in Talladega Nights. He became a man…but not just any man. The God-man. Jesus is fully human and yet fully God.

    It might not have been a silent night, but there were no paparazzi or bloggers at his birth. Yet God came to earth, Emmanuel, God with us. The word “incarnation” is often used this time of year. It means to embody, to exemplify, to manifest. One of Jesus’ best friends described the incarnation of God this way:

    So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (John 1:14)

    The late Eugene Peterson used these words:

    The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. (John 1:14a, The Message)

    Christmas was just the beginning of the story. That little baby in the pictures came to live, teach, model for us what it means to be human. Then he died for our sins and failures, and rose from the dead

    We often call this season “advent,” or waiting. Many of you are eagerly waiting and anticipating the opening of those gifts under the tree. Maybe you’re excited about being with loved ones. Perhaps you’re anxious about the loneliness, depression, or sadness you expect this Christmas. Regardless of your attitude toward Tuesday, I want to you to know we are waiting for something even greater than Christmas dinner or gifts from Amazon. We are waiting for the return of the King.

    Today we stand between the first arrival of Jesus—as a baby—and the promised second coming of Jesus—as the King of kings and LORD of lords.

    Christmas is not really about a baby or presents or even family. It’s about a dangerous woman giving birth to a dangerous man who would threaten the kingdom of this world with the Kingdom of God. It’s not about us, but about God, his love for his creation, and his audacious plan to seek and save humanity from the curse of sin and death. Herod had every right to be threatened by the birth of King Jesus, even though he appeared tender and mild. For two thousand years, men, women and children have been given the opportunity to follow the kings of this world or King Jesus. Even today, we choose each morning whether we will be subjects of our desires or God’s.

    Don’t buy the myth that Jesus is a fairy tale figure or some spineless wimp. He began a revolution of love that grows each day, leading a rebellion against fear, evil, and destruction. He sacrificed his own life to prove his love was real, and he’s inviting you to follow him.

    There’s a popular Christmas figure called Elf on a Shelf. Don’t let Jesus be your God on a shelf…or baby in a manger. He wants to be your King, your leader, your LORD. And he’ll change your life if you let him. He doesn’t guarantee lollipops and rainbows, but He promises to never abandon you. He will be with you through life’s storms. He’ll give you peace, hope, joy, and love. It will be the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received.

    Credits: some ideas from
    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

    Absolute Truth, 5 August 2018

    Absolute Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    John 14:1-7

    Series Overview: God is truth and the source of all truth.

    Big Idea: Despite statements to the contrary, absolute truth exists; truth is a Person and his name is Jesus.

    Questions. I love questions. I love asking questions.

    I love it when people ask me questions. I don’t always know the answers, but those are often my favorite questions because I can do research and learn, too.

    When it comes to questions, children are notoriously good at both asking and answering.

    Do you like questions?

    I’ve often said the two most important questions in life might be

    • - Who is God?
    • - Who am I?

    Those questions do not exactly appear in the Bible, but there is one question which might be the most brilliant question of all time.

    What do you think it is?

    See, I asked another question!

    The setting is Jesus’ trial. He is standing before Pilate on account of religious leaders who want Jesus crucified, though Pilate cannot understand why. There is a discussion about Jesus being called the King of the Jews.

    “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

    Jesus answered,
    “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

    Then Pilate asks the zinger, the question, maybe the most important question in the Bible.

    “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. John 18:38

    What is truth?

    It’s a simple question with profound implications, especially in a world drowning in information and data. How can you discern fake news from the real stuff? If you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, what can you believe?

    What is truth?

    Many today say there’s no such thing as absolute truth. Is that true? Isn’t saying absolute truth does not exist a statement of absolute truth?

    What is truth?

    In a world where billions of people practice Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism and even atheism, how we do we know Christianity is true?

    Even the realm of science is slippery.


    This Is Why Eating Healthy Is Hard (Time Travel Dietician). Written by Charles (Chuck Armstrong & Charlie Stockman). Directed by Elliot Dickerhoof. Produced by Darren Miller for Funny or Die. Used by Permission. http://funnyordie.com/CharlesComedy
    What is truth?

    We are devoting this month of August to addressing this fascination question. Are you ready?

    What is truth?

    The dictionary uses words such as “fact,” “reality,” and “honesty” to describe that which is true or truthful.

    It’s easy to be skeptical of things today. How many times have we heard a story about something in the news, only to determine it was fabricated?

    Not only can you not believe everything you hear or read, thanks to Photoshop and other tools, you can’t believe everything you see!

    If you’ll allow me to get philosophical for a moment, one of the problems with true involves language. Words have meaning and that meaning is derived from our interpretation.

    In the 1990’s Stanley Grenz offered “A Primer on Postmodernism,” a book about the emerging post-Enlightenment philosophies influenced by Nietzsche who famously asserted “the death of God.”

    Grenz writes, “Nietzsche claims that there is not truth as such but only relative truths for a certain sort of creature or a certain society. Because all knowledge is a matter of perspective, knowledge is really interpretation—and all interpretations are lies.”
    Words and language have limits, which is why we often find ourselves misunderstood. Here’s a simple example: he is old. What does that mean? If I’m talking to a group of toddlers, I might be referring to a seven year-old. If I’m talking with my step dad, it could be someone in their nineties or later. What does the word “old” mean? It might even mean 200 years old if we’re touring Boston or 2000 years old if we’re in Egypt.
    Stay with me! When we speak of truth, we’re looking for something universal and timeless. If you drop a bowling ball on your foot, it will not be comfortable, no matter if you’re in Toledo or Timbuktu, in 2018 or 1818 or 18 BC (if they had bowling balls back then) because gravity is a universal truth.
    Tensions arise when competing worldviews or scriptures or philosophies claim to be true over and against others. Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “What’s true for you isn’t true for me.” That would describe relative truth, a reality based upon a context or individual. I could claim the Mud Hens are the best team in baseball, but surely others would disagree. We could all agree, however, that the Philadelphia Eagles are the 2018 Super Bowl Champions. That’s a fact. That’s true.
    But what about God? Christianity? The Bible? Is it true? How do we know? If the Bible is true, why do so many people interpret it different ways? How can it be trustworthy? How do I know my understanding of God and the Bible is correct?
    We will spend much of our time in this series talking about the Bible, but I want to begin by saying truth is not a religion, a philosophy, or even a book. It’s a person.
    In a conversation with Thomas, one of Jesus’ twelve closest friends—the doubting one…

    Jesus answered,
    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

    Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Truth is a Person. Jesus is the truth. God is the truth. Let’s back up a moment and look at the context (something that often gets people in trouble, failing to look at the context of a verse). Jesus is talking to his disciples, his followers, and says,

    “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

    Jesus equates himself with God. This was radical. Who does he think he is, God or something? Yes!

    Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5)

    Jesus answered,
    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

    Again, Jesus says he and the Father are one. There is mystery to the Trinity, one God in three Persons—Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

    I’m going to make a radical, politically-incorrect statement: God exists. I know church is a shocking context for such a declaration, but I’m feeling a little edgy today! Seriously, though, either God exists or He doesn’t. If God exists and He created our universe, we can safely say He makes the rules.

    It amazes me how many people have the audacity to ask God to conform to their will, rules, and desires when God is…God. We can trust God and His will and word knowing He’s God and we’re not. You can deny His law of gravity and jump off a cliff but you’ll quickly realize there are consequences to doing so, whether you believe in gravity or not.

    Parenthetically, if you don’t believe in God, God still believes in you!

    How do we know God exists? There are two types of revelation, things that reveal God to us. The first is called general revelation. God speaks through creation. Psalm 19 says,

    The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
    Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
    They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
    Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
    In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. (Psalms 19:1-4)

    Centuries later Paul wrote to the church in Rome,

    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 1:20)

    Special revelation refers to God revealing Himself through supernatural means, including dreams, visions, physical appearances, the Bible, and most of all Jesus.

    Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is filled with declarations about God’s Word.

    Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalms 119:89)

    Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true. (Psalms 119:142)

    All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal. (Psalms 119:160)

    That’s the God that we serve. His words are true. He is true. Jesus is truth.

    So What?

    If God is true, He can be trusted. He wrote the rules. He knows best. Obviously this does not mean we can’t doubt or question God. In the midst of our grieving, we all have plenty of questions for God…and He welcomes them. But we must recognize God is God and we’re not. God is in control and we’re not. God can be trusted. He has been good and faithful from generation to generation and He’s not about to change now.

    You can build your life around what is popular or politically correct, but just like “science,” it is likely to change. I’d think twice about devoting yourself to the lifestyle or teaching of any celebrity, author, or expert. Even pastors such as myself are far from perfect. At FAC, I am not the authority, nor are our elders or District Superintendent or C&MA President. Our authority is Jesus. God, through His Word and example of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, shows us how to live. As Jesus prepared to return to heaven, He said to the Father,

    “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (John 17:13-19)

    Finally, God’s truth can set us free…free from lies, bondage, sin, and death.

    To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

    Do you know the truth? It is contained in God’s Word, the Bible, but ultimately truth is a Person—Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.

    Credits: some ideas from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • He Shall Reign Forever! 8 April 2018

    He Shall Reign Forever!
    D6 Series—
    Songs from the Heart (Psalms)
    Psalm 72

    Series Overview: The Psalms reveal hearts poured out in inspired song.

    Big Idea: We are to honor, serve, and submit to King Jesus…who is coming soon.

    What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word…king?

    Chess?
    Burgers?
    The British Royal family?
    The Lion King?
    A fiction writer?
    A tennis player?
    A Cleveland basketball player?
    Elvis?

    This past week we remembered the horrific assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 years ago.

    We really have nothing in our culture quite like a king. No mayor, movie star, president, or billionaire CEO possesses the authority of a king.

    Human Kings

    The Bible is filled with kings, queens, and kingdoms. In the Old Testament alone, the word
    melek or “king” in English appears almost 2700 times! Human kings first appear in Genesis 14. Saul, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah are just a few of the biblical kings. Wealth and power surrounded them, though they often faced opposition from other kings and kingdoms.

    The kings of Israel had to meet several strict criteria, according to Deuteronomy 17:14–20:

    chosen by God
    not a foreigner
    must not accumulate horses (i.e., build up and trust in military might)
    must not accumulate many wives
    must not accumulate wealth for himself
    must write a copy of the law for himself
    must read it and obey it

    Unlike foreign kings who were often considered to be gods themselves, the kings of Israel were not to be above the law, but rather subject to God’s law. The king was to be an example of a humble servant of God leading the people in keeping God’s law. Oh that all of our leaders would have such a posture!

    In his book
    Kingdom Conspiracy, Scot McKnight argues that in the Bible, “kingdom” implies five things

    - A king
    - A rule
    - A people
    - A law
    - A land (Israel)

    In short, the biblical understanding of “the kingdom’ is a people governed by a king. Today, the Kingdom of God, then, is the church.

    Psalms

    Today we continue our month-long look into the book of Psalms. Last Sunday we began with Psalm 22 and those unforgettable words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

    The book of Psalms was Israel’s hymnbook. I’d love to hear the melodies of these songs! It probably won’t surprise many of you to know Psalms is my favorite book of the Bible, at least in the Old Testament. The passion, authenticity, and artistry of these lyrics are so real, relevant, and inspiring…thousands of years after their writing.

    Just as there are different types of hymns, there are different types of Psalms. Psalm 72 is a Messianic Psalm, viewing the Messiah—which literally means “the anointed one”— as King. It was written by or for Solomon (by his father David) as a prayer, also prophetically speaking of Jesus the Messiah. They helped prepare the saints of the Old Testament for the coming of Christ. What’s fascinating about this Psalm is it’s written by a king…about King Jesus.

    Of Solomon.

    Endow the king with your justice, O God,
    the royal son with your righteousness.
    May he judge your people in righteousness,
    your afflicted ones with justice. (Psalms 72:1-2)

    I love the heart of the writer. The king has power, but wants it used wisely, benevolently. He seeks to be righteous and just. Of course, everything he seeks will ultimately be fulfilled in King Jesus.

    May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
    the hills the fruit of righteousness.
    May he defend the afflicted among the people
    and save the children of the needy;
    may he crush the oppressor. (Psalms 72:3-4)

    Does anyone have a problem with this? Of course not. We all want to see prosperity. We want the suffering defended, the children saved, and the oppressors crushed. That’s justice. And I might add the subjects of the king carry out the wishes of the king.

    May he endure as long as the sun,
    as long as the moon, through all generations.
    May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
    like showers watering the earth.
    In his days may the righteous flourish
    and prosperity abound till the moon is no more. (Psalms 72:5-7)

    A common theme in kingdom language is longevity and legacy. A member of the British royal family has been on the throne for centuries. Spoiler alert: King Jesus will rule forever!!!

    May he rule from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
    May the desert tribes bow before him
    and his enemies lick the dust. (Psalms 72:8-9)

    Verse 8 is similar to Zechariah 9:10. I love the imagery, especially in verse nine. May his enemies lick the desert dust!

    May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
    bring tribute to him.
    May the kings of Sheba and Seba
    present him gifts. (Psalms 72:10)

    One day we will present King Jesus with gifts, laying our crowns before him (Revelation 4:10-11).

    May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.
    For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
    He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death. (Psalms 72:11-13)

    King Jesus will rule over all nations! Once again we see references to the needy, weak and afflicted. The Bible is loaded with concern for the vulnerable.

    He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.
    Long may he live!
    May gold from Sheba be given him.
    May people ever pray for him
    and bless him all day long. (Psalms 72:14-15)

    There’s a lot in these two verses which pretty much speak for themselves. Note the prayers. The psalmist recognized the need for prayer, for divine intervention. While we pray to Jesus more than pray for Jesus, we can certainly pray for our human leaders. The Presidential Prayer Team has a website where you can learn how to pray for our president and his colleagues. Our mayor, city council, governor, judges, and congress all need our prayers.

    May grain abound throughout the land;
    on the tops of the hills may it sway.
    May the crops flourish like Lebanon
    and thrive like the grass of the field. (Psalms 72:16)

    We would probably never think to pray for grain and crops in a nation so agriculturally rich, yet we are not beyond drought, floods, and other natural disasters which could spoil our food supply.

    May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.

    Then all nations will be blessed through him,
    and they will call him blessed. (Psalms 72:17)

    Again we see all nations impacted by the royal son of David, the Messiah, not just Israel. Thus concludes the prayer. The rest of the chapter is a doxology, the response of the people.

    Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does marvelous deeds.

    Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
    Amen and Amen.
    This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse. (Psalms 72:17-20)

    The LORD God is the One we are to praise. He is the source of all blessings, provisions, gifts, and wisdom.

    May the name of the LORD be forever praised!
    May the whole earth be filled with the glory of the LORD!

    So What?

    Although we may not be ruled by an earthly king, we are subjects to a heavenly King. He longs to see the vulnerable cared for, the oppressed released, and justice served. Every follower of Jesus has a duty, a responsibility, an obligation, and a privilege to glorify the King by carrying out His will, His desires in our world today. In His absence, we are to re-present the King well to our broken world.

    Our Messiah, King Jesus, will one day return to rule and reign forever. Listen to these words most commonly recited around Christmastime:

    But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

    Do you hear echoes of Lamentations?

    You, LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. (Lamentations 5:19)

    There’s more to Christianity than the cradle and the Cross. There’s also the crown. Chiseled into the cornerstone of the United Nations building is an unfulfilled quotation from Isaiah in the Bible. It reads,

    They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)

    Won’t that be the day?! This is a prophecy of when the Messiah will reign over the earth. The prophet Ezekiel wrote,

    A ruin! A ruin! I will make it a ruin! The crown will not be restored until he to whom it rightfully belongs shall come; to him I will give it.’ (Ezekiel 21:27)

    The King is coming!

    The NIV translation of the Bible includes 365 mentions of the word “kingdom.” Perhaps the most famous is in what we call the LORD’s prayer: Jesus said,

    “This, then, is how you should pray:


    “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

    The late Dallas Willard said we ask that the kingdom would “take over at all points in the personal, social and political order where it is now excluded.”  

    This should be our constant prayer, for the rule of the King to be real and present in our lives. As subjects to the King, we are to seek the will of the King. We are to pray for heaven to kiss earth. We are all aware that we are in the now and the not yet, the in between time, the space where good and evil battle…but not forever!

    Someday Jesus will return to the earth he created, the earth he visited, the earth where he lived, died, and rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven but promised to return. When he returns, he won’t come as a baby. His mission won’t be to surrender his life. He won’t ride a donkey. No, the return of the King will be much different. He will come back as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Revelation tells us there will be a battle.

    They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” (Revelation 17:14)

    In fact,

    On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

    KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:16)


    In possibly the greatest musical composition of all time, The Messiah, George Frideric Handel wrote

    The kingdom of this world
    Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
    And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
    And He shall reign for ever and ever.
    King of kings, and Lord of lords,…
    And He shall reign forever and ever,
    King of kings, forever and ever,
    And Lord of lords,
    Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

    Conclusion

    Dallas Willard explains in The Divine Conspiracy, “God’s own ‘kingdom,’ or ‘rule,’ is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done. The person of God himself and the action of his will are the organizing principles of his kingdom, but everything that obeys those principles, whether by nature or by choice, is within his kingdom.” This kingdom is among us, and is accessible now. Jesus said,

    So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)

    May we seek first his kingdom, bringing honor and glory, praise and worship to the king of Kings and the lord of LORDs. He shall reign forever! Amen!

    Credits: some notes from Dallas Willard, Scot McKnight, D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • One Way, 4 March 2018

    One Way
    D6 Series—
    By Faith Alone
    Galatians 1:1-12; 2:15-21

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series from the book of Galatians is to emphasize the vital role of faith in our lives.

    Big Idea: Despite claims to the contrary, Jesus is the only way to God, not works or religion.

    Introduction

    Today we begin not only a new series but a new church-wide curriculum designed to take us strategically through the entire Bible over the next six years. D6 is based upon the Deuteronomy 6 command to teach God’s Word to one’s children:

    Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

    At First Alliance, we believe the Bible is God’s timeless Word, our source of authority, and a living, breathing document guiding us to know and love God and others. We want to know and follow God’s commandments, teaching them to future generations. The free
    Mission 119 app, Right Now Media, our Sunday gatherings, our small groups, and our children’s and student ministries are all grounded on the Holy Bible.

    D6 is synchronizing the subject of our sermons with our children, youth, and many of our small groups. Parents, we’re going to explore the same scriptures your kids are studying today, and if you’re in one of our midweek small groups using D6, don’t sleep during my sermon! I’m going to feed you God’s Word and your group will be a great place to digest it, so to speak, interacting with the text and letting the Bible transform you from the inside out to become more like Jesus, our example for what it means to be human.

    This month we’ll look at the New Testament book of Galatians. In April, we will examine several of the Old Testament Psalms. May will include a study of various attributes of God. Our series on Galatians is entitled, “By Faith Alone.” Before we look at today’s text, it’s important for us to understand what we’re reading. Context is vital when reading the Bible—or anything, for that matter.

    Paul is a brilliantly educated man who was so committed to Judaism, he was a part of the execution of Christians…until Jesus miraculously introduced Himself to the man then known as Saul. Because God has a sense of humor, this Christian-hater became one of the most devoted and influential Christ-followers in history, writing many books of the Bible including this epistle or letter to a group of churches in a region called Galatia around AD 50, most likely when Nero is Emperor of Rome.

    The Christian faith was relatively young. Jesus had arrived, died, resurrected, and ascended into heaven and the early church was trying to figure out what it meant for both Jews and Gentiles to follow Jesus. Many false teachers were polluting Jesus’ message. Some things never change! Paul begins

    Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me,

    To the churches in Galatia: (Galatians 1:1-2)

    Paul begins by defending his authority as an apostle, a term that in Greek means “one who is sent.” He had seen Jesus and experienced a remarkable transformation as a result. His authority comes from Jesus and God the Father who raised Christ from the dead.

    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

    Jesus gave himself for our sins. He died for you and me. Hallelujah!

    I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6-9)

    We recently talked about this word “gospel.” It means good news. In a word, the gospel is Jesus. In three, Jesus is LORD. Paul’s astonished, he marvels at people turning to a different gospel. He uses strong language. What’s going on here?

    It might be helpful to look back. The Mosaic Law was a group of 613 commands, 365 negative and 248 positive. These Old Testament regulations covered moral, social, and ceremonial matters. Much controversy in the early church surrounded the relevance of Jewish laws upon Gentile Christians…and even Jewish Christians, for that matter. Paul writes later in Galatians:

    For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

    Prior to the coming of the Messiah and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, obedience to God centered on the Mosaic Law. Jesus said

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

    The people in Galatia were beginning to think their salvation came from their works, their good deeds, following the law, something only Jesus was able to do perfectly. Paul’s message is simple: there’s one way to salvation and that’s through Jesus.

    False teachers begin by causing confusion. Then they try to get one to leave their faith, and then they introduce a perverted gospel. In Galatia, the false teachers told Gentiles to become Jews. They added religion and works to the requirements, but Paul is saying faith in Christ alone is what is required to be accepted by God. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote

    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. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

    Works will come, but they are they flow from our relationship with God, they don’t establish it.

    We are saved by grace through faith, a gift from God for us to accept.


    Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

    Throughout history, many have tried to please people rather than God. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz started the AO1 Foundation “to demonstrate the love of God by providing opportunities and support for the less fortunate and those in need.” What I love about AO1 besides the mission is the meaning of AO1: Audience of One.

    Every day we can choose to follow the world or follow God. What will you do today? What will you do tomorrow?

    Clearly Paul is trying to establish his authority over the false teachers.

    I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)

    I wish we had time to cover the entire text, but jump to the next chapter, Galatians 2:15. Here Paul addresses the lies of works for salvation after a sharp disagreement with Peter regarding circumcision for the Gentiles and the simplicity of the gospel.

    “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16)

    Justified is a legal term meaning “to declare righteous,” the opposite of condemnation. We are all condemned sinners but we can be justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Unless you’re perfect, your good works will not be enough to satisfy God’s judgment. Only faith in Jesus can do that.

    Paul abandoned some Jewish observances, causing alarm among the religious.

    “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. (Galatians 2:17-18)

    God’s grace doesn’t mean we are encouraged to sin. Quite the opposite. In fact, the more we understand God’s grace and sacrifice for us, the more we want to obey God and live lives that bring Him honor and glory. If our emphasis is on doing good things, the temptation to be arrogant, judgmental, and self-righteous like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day is staggering. If our focus is on Jesus and what he has done for us and our desperate need for his mercy, his kindness will lead us to repentance and righteousness.

    “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:19-21)

    When we trust Jesus, we participate in his victory over sin.

    Let me make this as simple as I possibly can:

    1. Jesus died to pay the price of our sins and bring us abundant life now and eternal life with God beyond the grave.

    2. It’s all about Jesus. You can’t get to heaven—or experience the ultimate life now—without Jesus.

    3. With all due respect to other religions, our faith is unique in that it’s not what we do but what Jesus did that gives us life. If there were other ways to know God, Jesus would’ve gladly skipped the cross and let us earn salvation through our good works.

    4. Jesus is the way, the one way to God. Jesus is the way, the one way to God.

    D6 Doorposts: The fact that no one can earn justification through works of the Law demonstrates that I cannot save myself; I need a Savior. God offers salvation and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.

    So What?

    A few days ago, I met two twentysomething men at the UpTown Association Annual Meeting. I told them I hate organized religion—which often gets a response, especially after I told them I’m a pastor! I said, “I’m all about Jesus, but I hate religion.”

    Some church people have told me, “That’s a little harsh.” But the recent Mission 119 study of the book of Luke has reminded me of Jesus’ attitude toward the religious people who piled rules and regulations upon people, missing the point of God’s quest for a relationship with us. I’m reminded of these precious words from the late Billy Graham:

    “It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.” ― Billy Graham

    Love the sinner and hate your own sin!

    Religion is all about humans trying to earn God’s favor. Faith in Jesus demands we confess our sins, repent, and receive God’s amazing grace through Jesus. The cross was enough!

    Essentially our text for today is Paul’s attack on religion. It’s all about Jesus, not our good works.

    Some things never change. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will take tradition and culture and turn them into idols. In Paul’s day, it was eating kosher and circumcision, among other things.

    Tragically, we have sent a message to our culture that we’re against everything.

    We’re against abortion.
    We’re against smoking.
    We’re against drinking.
    We’re against swearing.

    Now I’m not saying I encourage those things, but I just wonder how often we add things to the gospel. And what if we became known for what we are for? We are for life, love, peace, joy, kindness, goodness, generosity…people!

    As I’ve said before, religion says

    Behave
    Believe
    Belong

    Do the right things (or appear to do the right things), believe like us, and then you can belong.

    Jesus reversed it time and time again. I was reminded of this several times during our Mission 119 study of Luke.

    Belong
    Believe
    Behave

    The message I long to send to our city is, “You belong here.” Jesus welcomed everyone into a relationship with him…and the Father. “Come as you are…but don’t stay that way” might be another way to say it since we are all called to grow, mature, and follow Jesus.

    When people feel loved and belonging, the gospel becomes almost irresistible. Jesus saw it and I’ve seen it…people belong and want to believe. They ask the reason for the hope we have. Few in our post-Christian culture will respond to megaphone-touting street preachers, but when we are in relationship with people far from God, our faith will leak. If we live lives worth following, belonging will lead to belief. People begin their journey of following Jesus…and get the Holy Spirit who then gives them the power to behave.

    When we focus on the external behavior without the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s almost impossible for someone to change. When the focus is on belonging, belief and behavior will follow.

    So here’s the challenge: do you have a relationship with an unchurched person? Let me be more specific: have you shared a meal or coffee with a non-Christian in the past six months? I don't mean a religious conversation; just a simple friendship.

    If not, perhaps legalism and religion have kept you from engaging with people Jesus died to save. It’s not by your good works or theirs that salvation is achieved. It’s only by God’s grace and the work of Jesus on the cross. That’s good news…and good news needs to be shared!

    If you’ve never trusted Jesus with your life, why not begin today? He loves you and proved it by dying for you. You can try to earn your way into God’s favor, but you’ll never succeed because we’re all sinners. Jesus died so we can live! You can’t save yourself. We need a Savior and that’s why we love and worship Jesus.

    Credits: some ideas from: D6, Galatians (Hippo/Africa Bible Commentary Series)

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Jesus is our Savior, 28 January 2018

    Jesus is our Savior
    Series—
    The Gospel Truth
    Romans 3:21-26

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

    Big Idea: Jesus is our Savior, saving us from sin and death.

    Introduction

    In the classic film
    The Princess Bride, Vizzini the Sicilian repeatedly calls things “inconceivable.” After hearing it said several times, Inigo Montoya utters a line which has become iconic among moviegoers. He says,

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    Often, we use words
    we don’t fully understand. Take, for instance, the gospel. What is the gospel?

    Today we begin a series entitled,
    The Gospel Truth. I think we all understand the concept of truth, but what is the gospel? The Greek word is euaggelion and it literally means “good news.”

    When I was working on my doctorate, I interviewed several leaders in our neighborhood. I wanted to know what it would look like to bring the gospel to UpTown Toledo. Recognizing how odd it would be to ask strangers, “What would be the gospel for our community?” I asked, “What would be good news here?”

    Parenthetically, nearly everyone said development, new businesses and housing to bring new life to Toledo…something we are doing through Claro Coffee Bar. I’m pleased to say there are many in our neighborhood grateful for First Alliance Church and our investment on Adams Street.

    What is the gospel?

    Here's rapper/pastor/artist Trip Lee's take on the gospel.

    What is the gospel?

    Perhaps like me you’ve heard the gospel is Jesus died so you can go to heaven when you die. It’s a get out of hell free card. The gospel is about being saved.

    Let me give you the slightly longer version of what many have called the gospel:

    - God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.

    - People are sinful and separated from God, so we cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.

    - Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for our sin, and through him we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.

    - We must individually receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord in order to know and experience his love and plan for our lives.

    These four statements are from a booklet called
    The Four Spiritual Laws written by Bill Bright in 1965 and has been shared around the world in hundreds of languages. I’ve actually shared it with people in both English and Spanish over the years. There is good news in those statements and elements of the gospel are found here, but calling this the gospel would’ve seemed odd to the first Christians. It would’ve seemed odd to great church leaders like Finney and Wesley.

    What is the gospel?

    I think a good place to start might be the Bible. Here’s what Paul said…

    Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,
    and then to the Twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)

    Paul says this is the gospel:

    - Jesus died
    - Jesus was buried
    - Jesus was raised from the dead
    - Jesus appeared to people

    What is Paul’s focus when he describes the gospel? Jesus. He says it again to Timothy.

    Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, (2Timothy 2:8)

    The gospel is about remembering Jesus is the Messiah, raised from the dead. The gospel is first and foremost to the story of Jesus, not the story of how to get saved.

    Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and Bill Bright—the three Bills—talked a lot about salvation, our topic for today. But before we focus on soteriology—salvation—I want you to understand the gospel is first and foremost about Christology…it’s all about Jesus.

    The gospel is all about Jesus. In a word, the gospel is Jesus. In three words, the gospel is Jesus Is LORD.

    In Acts 2:14-36, Peter declares the gospel is all about Jesus.
    In Acts 10:34-43, Peter again declares the gospel is all about Jesus.
    The Bible declares the gospel is all about Jesus.

    There’s a temptation in our USAmerican culture to make the gospel all about us.

    God loves us.
    We sinned.
    Jesus died for us.
    We need to believe.

    These are all true. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying salvation is not important or we’re not important, but simply that the gospel begins and ends with Jesus.

    Jesus is the King.
    Jesus is the LORD.

    That’s the central gospel of the New Testament. We need to focus on Jesus, not how we can be happy when we die or what happens when we die. The story is not about us. It’s about Jesus and we are called to tell this story. In fact, the first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—are called gospels because they tell the story of Jesus.

    For the next four weeks, we are going to examine Jesus. Actually, every Sunday is an opportunity to learn about, get to know, and become like Jesus. But this new series, The Gospel Truth, borrows from something called the Fourfold Gospel.

    Our church was founded by a remarkable man, Albert Benjamin Simpson. He influenced not only the launch of our church but also the Assemblies of God, the Foursquare Church, and our denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance.

    Perhaps you’ve seen the logo of the Alliance. It depicts Jesus as our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King.

    Jesus is our Savior

    What does it mean for Jesus to be our Savior? As we saw earlier, our sin separates us from God. Sin leads to death, including the death of our relationship with a perfect, holy God. Jesus came to this earth to show us what it means to be human and also to die—instead of us—for our sins.

    None of us is perfect and righteous like God, but Jesus is fully human and fully God, holy and without sin.

    But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for 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. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

    That’s quite a passage! Here it is in a slightly more modern translation:

    But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. (Romans 3:21-22, NLT)

    For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26, NLT)

    This is, indeed, good news.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

    Many have heard of John 3:16, but the next verse is powerful, too. Jesus came to save us…from our sins, from ourselves.

    Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends, proclaimed…

    Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

    This is why Jesus is such a big deal. It’s why we don’t believe all religious roads lead to God. If we get to heaven by being good, Jesus was stupid for being crucified. Instead, he alone suffered and died for you and me. Paul wrote,

    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. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

    We praise him for his sacrifice on the cross, for salvation, for God’s gift of Jesus.

    Conclusion

    Many the gospel is about going to heaven when you die. I would like to suggest the gospel is going to heaven before you die. If heaven is where God is, we can experience God in the here and now. Through the Holy Spirit, God is present here with us, living inside of every believer.

    Do you love Jesus? I’m afraid we’ve often turned Jesus into a product to sell so people can avoid hell. Believe these propositions, pray a prayer, and you’re done. Jesus never said make decisions. He said to make disciples. He said to follow him, not merely be a fan.

    Although the gospel is more than just salvation, Jesus
    is our Savior and that’s a wonderful truth. No matter your past, Jesus loved you, and he proved that love by dying on the cross to offer forgiveness for all of yours sins and mistakes—past, present, and future.

    Jesus is our Savior. Hallelujah!

    Credits: Some ideas from Scot McKnight.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Gift of Jesus, 24 December 2017

    The Gift of Jesus
    Series—The Gifts of Christmas
    Luke 2:1-11

    Big Idea: The greatest gift in human history was Jesus Christ.

    Skit Guys Video

    Introduction

    Christy, I bought you a gift. I hope you like fruitcake! Merry Christmas!

    Who loves Christmas cookies? I’m sorry, I don’t have any to throw out this morning, but I sure love them better than fruitcake! I’ve rarely met a cookie I didn’t like. I love sugar cookies, shortbread, …yes, I love buckeyes…but to clarify, I love to EAT buckeyes! My favorite cookie is gingerbread. I LOVE gingerbread!

    Have you ever eaten cookie dough?

    Have you ever made chocolate chip cookies and then poured the final chips from the bag into your mouth?

    Have you ever poured the extra flour from the bag into your mouth? Of course not! But the flour and baking powder are essential. Skipping that tiny teaspoon of baking powder can destroy a batch of cookies.

    History is filled with tiny things making a huge impact on our world. As Christy said in the drama, “Big things can come from really little places.” Jesus Christ, whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow—and today—came from a “little town” of Bethlehem two thousand years ago. The greatest gift came from the smallest place.

    What are some of your favorite Christmas gifts? What are some of your least favorite Christmas gifts? That list might be more interesting!

    One of my favorite Christmas traditions is the white elephant gift exchange. I’ve received some very interesting gifts at those parties! I think we can all agree there are some gifts we really don’t want!

    During this Advent season of arrival, of waiting, we have looked at the gifts of expectancy, grace, reconciliation, and adoption. None of those can be wrapped or shoved into a gift bag, but those who choose to receive those gifts experience things far greater than an iPhone which will be obsolete in a few years or a sweater which will be eventually sent to Goodwill.

    Today we conclude our series,
    The Gifts of Christmas. It has been my experience that there is no greater gift than the gift of Jesus. But like all gifts, you must choose to receive it or not.

    The Christmas Story

    Most of us have heard the Christmas story read by a friend, family member, someone at church, or even Linus on A Charlie Brown Christmas. A doctor named Luke wrote a biography of Jesus and our text for today comes from the gospel—or good news—of Luke.

    In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3)

    The scene is the Roman empire about two thousand years ago. Transportation was difficult, yet required by the government.

    So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2:4-5)

    Joe and Mary travel about eighty miles to this little town of Bethlehem. The timing of the census was terrible as Mary was eight or nine months pregnant, although it is possible they were in Bethlehem for some time before the birth, as stated in the next verse.

    While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

    That nativity set you may have in your home might not be 100% accurate, though the same can be said for many things regarding our understanding of the Christmas story. I like the biblical account as it is ancient, tested, and trusted around the world. Most likely Bethlehem was filled with travelers and with no guest room available, they slept with the animals in the downstairs of a home. Tim Chaffey writes,

    Archaeologists have excavated first century homes from the Judean hill country. They have discovered that the upper level served as a guest chamber while the lower level served as the living and dining rooms. Oftentimes, the more vulnerable animals would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold and theft. This sounds strange to many of us, since we wouldn't dream of bringing some of our cattle into the house at night, but even today in some countries of Europe (e.g., Germany and Austria), the farmhouse and the animal quarters are often different parts of the same building.

    There was no inn, no innkeeper, no stable…they were probably staying with family in an overcrowded house.

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)

    What a scene! There are scholars who believe these weren’t just any shepherds, but rather Levitical shepherds tending to animals which would be used for Passover sacrifices in the Jewish rituals. These were special lambs who had to be without defect, creatures given great care, even swaddled by their shepherd in order to be acceptable in the temple as a payment for the sins of the owner. What an image for Luke to highlight while telling the story of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would be in swaddling cloths. These shepherds were in for a big surprise!

    An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:9-11)

    There are so many ancient prophesies fulfilled in these eleven verses. I wish we had time to explore them, but suffice it to say this was no ordinary baby and no ordinary birth, though the event occurred among ordinary people in a small, ordinary town.

    The prophet Micah wrote about 700 years before the birth of Jesus these words:


    “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

    There is so much solid evidence for faith in Jesus, including dozens of Old Testament prophesies uniquely fulfilled in Christ hundreds of years later. This is one. You can’t choose where you’re born, but Jesus’ birthplace was prophesied. O little town of Bethlehem! Big things can come from really little places.

    Boaz, Barley, and Jesus

    Jesus came from a little town that means “house of bread” as Christy mentioned in the drama. There are more than 5000 biblical references to baking bread…from unleavened bread during the Exodus to Jesus breaking bread and saying to His friends, “This is my body.” Ezekiel Bread can be found in grocery stores nationwide, a unique recipe found in the Bible.

    One of the most fascinating stories in the Bible involves two women, Ruth and Naomi, distance ancestors of Jesus.

    Naomi’s husband dies, her sons had died, and she is alone with her two daughters in-law. She urges them to find new husbands. One does but Ruth stays with her mother in-law, Naomi. They travel to Bethlehem…1000 years before Jesus is born.

    At the time, if you owned a field, you were not allowed to harvest the corners of it, instead making it available to the poor and hungry. One day Ruth “gleans” from the field of Boaz, gathering ingredients to make bread. Boaz sees her, likes her, gives her more food, and eventually Boaz marries her. Ruth goes to Bethlehem and finds not only the gift of bread but the gift of a bread winner. Ruth and Boaz have a son named Obed, a blessing to not only them but also grandma Naomi. She was overjoyed at the gift.

    The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (Ruth 4:14-15)

    Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.  Ruth 4:16
    The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:16-17)

    Ruth was King David’s great-grandmother and Naomi was his great, great-grandmother! The little town of Bethlehem became known as the City of David, and centuries later that label will be used by angel’s announcement to the shepherds.

    Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

    A Kinsman-Redeemer of all people was arriving in Bethlehem. Jesus came to rescue and redeem humanity in the same town where Boaz had redeemed His ancestor Ruth. If you’ve ever read through the Bible, you know there are some genealogies that can be extremely boring, but this one is quite fascinating:

    Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. 

    David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, (Matthew 1:5-6)

    Two of Jesus’ ancestors met during the barley harvest and a part in the ongoing gift-giving which would lead to the birth of Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

    So What?

    We can talk all day long about big things coming from really little places. We can read the Christmas story of the birth of the Messiah. We can sing songs, exchange gifts, and eat cookies, but what difference does Jesus make two thousand years later? Jesus is the greatest gift. The story doesn’t end with a baby in a manger. Sweet baby Jesus would grow up, teach with wisdom which amazed the most brilliant minds of His day, perform countless miracles, willingly surrender His own life on a cross for the sake of every man, woman and child who follows Him, rise from the dead, ascend to heaven, and promise to return.

    Jesus is the greatest gift. He came as Emmanuel, God with us. He came to our world to be with us, to relate to us, to love us, to show us what it means to truly be human. And He’s coming back for all who receive the gift, who receive Him, who follow Him.

    Jesus is the greatest thing in my life. He has given me life—bountiful life! I live every day knowing my sins are forgiven which gives me peace. I know He is returning someday to our broken world which gives me hope. He is present here and now by the Holy Spirit living inside of me which gives me great joy. I’ve experience meaning and purpose for life, surrendering to the Creator God who knows me and still loves me.

    And all of this can be true for you, too. There’s nothing special about me. I just said, “Yes” to the gift. And you can, too. The most famous verse in the Bible says

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

    That’s a promise of eternity with God after you die, but also the promise of His presence and power and peace in this life, here and now. It’s not about religion or even being good. It’s simply about welcoming Jesus into your heart, your life, your world and inviting Him to lead and guide Your life. It’s about a relationship with Almighty God, a journey in which you can actually know your Creator, be adopted into a faith family of love, receive a fresh start in life, conquer your fears, and truly experience joy. If Jesus is not the main ingredient in your life, you’re missing out on the greatest ingredient, the greatest gift. I urge you to receive the gift, the gift of Jesus. Let Him lead and guide you and who you through His Word, the Bible, real wisdom, life, and joy.

    One of my favorite songs of the season is “Joy to the World.” One of the lines says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Is there room in your heart for Jesus? He’s the main ingredient in my life and He can do incredible things with yours if you let Him in, if you receive the greatest gift this Christmas, the gift of Jesus.

    Credits: title, drama, and some ideas from The Skit Guys.

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

  • Healing: Woman & Girl, 3 September 2017

    Healing: Woman & Girl
    Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 5:21-43
     
    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
     
    Big Idea: Jesus healed—and still heals—those who believe.
     
    Introduction
     
    Faith. Do you have it? Sure you do. We all have faith…in something…or someone! The book of Hebrews states
     
    Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
     
    As we continue to look at the life of Jesus through Mark’s biography, we come to two stories of faith…and physical healing.
     
    They are very similar. They both involve females. Both of their stories began twelve years prior.
     
    They are very different. One female is young, the other old. One is the daughter of an important synagogue officer, the other an anonymous woman. The officer was about to lose a daughter who brought him twelve years of happiness while the woman lost an affliction that brought her twelve years of grief.
     
    These are documented, historical incidents but God never changes…and He continues to heal today.
     
    Jesus is the Son of God, the way, the truth, and the life.
     
    Two weeks ago, we saw his power over the natural world, calming a huge storm.
    Last week we saw his power over the supernatural, exorcising demons.
    Today we will see his power over sickness and death.
     
    PRAY
     
    When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet.  He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”  So Jesus went with him. (Mark 5:21-24a)
     
    We’re back in Jewish territory, probably Capernaum. The crowds are back. They religious leaders are back. Instead of being a critic, Jairus is a believer. He’s obviously desperate, willing to lose his religious friends who despise Jesus in his quest to save his twelve-year-old daughter’s life. He has faith that if Jesus only touches his dying girl, she will be healed and live.
     
    Note all healing in this life is temporary. Lazarus was raised from the dead but eventually died again. If Jairus’ daughter is healed from her deadly condition, she will eventually die. We are constantly praying for the sick in our church family and beyond, but even the most miraculous healing of diseases or cancers merely prolongs life in these mortal bodies. Of course, each day we are both closer to the death of these temples and to the new bodies that will resemble Jesus’ resurrected form.
     
    So crowds surround Jesus, a religious leader begs Jesus to come to his home and touch his daughter, and Jesus goes.
     
    A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (Mark 5:24b-26)
     
    This woman had been suffering with a bleeding condition for twelve years. That means for twelve years she was probably considered unclean. She couldn’t touch people. She couldn’t be around people, yet here she is in a crowd, desperate. She wasn’t passive about healing. She had spent all of her money and likely most of her time seeing doctors…and only got worse. How frustrating. Some of you can relate. Health care is not a new problem!
     
    When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:27-29)
     
    What faith! She merely wanted to touch Jesus’ clothes. She didn’t need him to touch her. She didn’t need Jesus to pray for her. She didn’t even feel the need to touch Jesus—just his clothes. She was instantly healed. Praise God! But then look what happens next.
     
    At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30)
     
    Jesus knew power had gone out, but even he notices it was not his flesh but rather his clothes that were touched. Then the disciples say what I would’ve said…and if you’re honest, you probably would’ve thought it, too.
     
    Jesus once said,
     
    Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)
     
    Paul tells us in Philippians (2:5-11) that Jesus “made himself nothing” when he came to earth, “taking the very nature of a servant.” The power he had was the Holy Spirit, the same power available to all followers of Jesus.
     
    “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” (Mark 5:31)
     
    Jesus ignores his disciples!
     
    But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:32-34)
     
    She’s caught touching Jesus’ clothes! How embarrassing! She’s trembling with fear and confesses, but instead of a rebuke, she receives a blessing…and healing. What a wonderful gift. What a great story she has for her friends of the healing power of Jesus. He heals her body and soul, granting her peace—
    shalom, completeness—and calling her “daughter” while commending her faith.
     
    But what about that girl?
     
    While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” (Mark 5:35)
     
    She’s dead? Jesus, if you weren’t listening to that lady’s story maybe you would’ve been able to save my daughter. You’re too late now. So much for your perfect timing.
     
    Jesus missed the death of Lazarus.
    Jesus missed the death of Jairus’ daughter.
     
    Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mark 5:36)
     
    Easy for you to say, Jesus. You don’t even know this girl. And what do you mean, “Just believe?” What good is faith? We were hoping you could just touch her but now she’s dead!
     
    Before moving on, I want to focus on those words: don’t be afraid; just believe. That’s faith. Max Lucado wrote,
     
    “Faith is trusting what the eye can’t see. Eyes see the prowling lion. Faith sees Daniel’s angel. Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah’s rainbow. Eyes see giants. Faith sees Canaan. Your eyes see your faults. Your faith sees your Savior.”
     
    Don’t be afraid; just believe.
     
    He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. (Mark 5:37-40a)
     
    Here we see Jesus’ three best friends—Peter, James and John—receive a special invitation. The crowds aren’t allowed to follow. Perhaps even the other nine disciples were snubbed. They arrive on the scene of this twelve year-old girl’s tragic death. It’s a hot mess of commotion and wailing. It’s interesting to note in the culture professional mourners were often hired to wail at funerals. The Jewish Mishna, completed around 220 AD, quotes Rabbi Judah as saying even the poorest in Israel should hire two or more flutes and one weeping woman for a burial.
     
    Then Jesus makes the laughable suggestion that she’s merely asleep…and they laugh…at Jesus. They go from wailing to laughing. Why not? They’re probably there just to “perform” with no real attachment to the girl.
     
    Then Jesus gets to work!
     
    After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). (Mark 5:40b-41)
     
    Jesus kicks everyone out—except for his three friends and the parents. Six adults encounter the girl, Jesus touches her and commands her to get up. It’s a private moment for those with considerable faith, not a public spectacle to rile up the fans and critics.
     
    Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:42-43)
     
    They were completely astonished! Amazing!
     
    We have noted before the seemingly random details Mark includes, such as Jesus telling them to grab a granola bar for the girl (or whatever they ate then!). It’s an incredible scene, yet Jesus wants them to keep quiet about it (like that’s going to happen!).
     
    When I was in college, I spent a summer in Bolivia with Campus Crusade for Christ—now known as Cru—showing the Jesus film. It is based upon the Good News Translation of the book of Luke, but it is very similar to Mark’s account. My favorite moment in the film—besides the resurrection—is the healing of Jarius’ daughter. I’d like to take a moment and share it with you.
     
    https://www.jesusfilm.org/watch.html
     
    In the original language Jesus said, “Lamb, get up!” What a tender wake-up call.
     
    So What?
     
    Jesus spoke to the sea and it calmed.
    Jesus spoke to the demons and sent them into the pigs.
    Jesus spoke to the girl and she was raised…after healing a woman.
     
    Someday Jesus will say, “Wake up” to the dead.
     
    Does Jesus still heal today? Yes! How do I know? I have heard countless stories throughout my life…and I’d like you to hear one now!
     
    My Story: Kendra Sankovich
     
    The fifth chapter of Mark is quite remarkable.
     
    Jesus casts out demons.
    Jesus heals the woman.
    Jesus raises the dead girl.
     
    And he’s not done yet!
     
    Perhaps you would like healing…for yourself or even for someone else. If Jesus were here, you’d reach out and try to touch his clothes in hopes of being healed. His power and presence are here through the Holy Spirit. Do you believe he can heal? Do you have faith? The woman had faith. Jairus had faith. Jesus still heals.
     
    Credits: some ideas from Stephen Leston, Mark Strauss, Ian Fair, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Power: Winds & Waves, 20 August 2017

    Power: Winds & Waves
    Series— Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 4:35-41


    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!
     
    Big Idea: Jesus has command over all things—natural and supernatural.
      
    As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we’ve seen Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious. Mark records several of Jesus’ parables but one lingering question remains…who is Jesus?
     
    As I often say, this may be the most important question for any human to answer. Who is God and who are you? If you ask people today, “Who is Jesus?” you are likely to get a variety of responses: a good teacher, a prophet, a famous figure in history…
     
    In today’s text it’s obvious those closest to Jesus don’t truly realize Jesus is God, Jesus is the Messiah.
      
    That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. (Mark 4:35-36)
     
    Why did Jesus cross the lake? To get to the other side, of course! But seriously, the crowds followed him everywhere and he likely wanted a break, among other things. The departure seems sudden. Perhaps Jesus said, “Let’s get out of here…now!” Jesus is fully human. He is tired. He also has confidence in God that allows him to fall asleep.
     
    A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:37-38)
     
    This body of water is beautiful, surrounded by mountains which make it susceptible to sudden storms. This wasn’t just a common thunderstorm, though, but rather a furious squall.
     
    Have you ever been in boat in a storm? It can be pretty scary.
     
    The most violent storm I’ve ever experienced on water was on a cruise ship. I know, poor me! We were in the Caribbean with my extended family and this huge ship was really rocking. I found it relaxing, but then again I was inside, safe, and immune to any seasickness so I was not terribly worried.
     
    I have, however, been in the middle of some serious turbulence on airplanes. Even though I know the odds of a plane crashing due to weather are almost zero, I still find myself scared sometimes when I feel like I’m on a roller coaster…with no track!
     
    These squalls came suddenly so even veteran fishermen could be surprised by them, and there were at least four seasoned fishermen in the group, which makes this story even more significant. They understood the difference between rough weather and deadly storms.
     
    Jesus is exhausted, sleeping on the cushion that was usually placed under the steersman’s seat. It’s a great image Mark includes in his biography. He must’ve really been tired to sleep through this squall. No cushion could be that comfortable in such conditions!
     
    I find the reaction of the disciples to be startling. They wake up their exhausted leader and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Did they think he would teach his way out of the situation? They probably wanted him to help bail water out of the boat before it sank. They certainly had no idea he would respond as he did.
     
    He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
     
    He uses the same words he spoke to silence the demons. The original Greek might best be translated, “Put the muzzle on and keep it on!”
     
    In Jewish thought the ocean represented chaos, the unpredictable place where evil originates. In fact, Genesis 1:2 is commonly translated, “Now the earth was formless and empty” but has also been translated, “The earth was chaos.” Only God had authority over chaos. He seized it and created our beautiful world from it. The disciples likely knew only God could control the sea, the chaos, the storm.
     
    He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
     
    “How can you be such cowards? Don’t you have any faith?”
     
    And then what? For all we know, Jesus went back to sleep!
     
    They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
     
    Who is this? Who is Jesus? The answer is obvious: Jesus is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. No magician could do this. It wasn’t the result of a knowledgeable teacher. It certainly wasn’t a coincidence. There is no other explanation: they are in the presence of God!
     
    You may recall Mark began his book with these words:
     
    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)
     
    Jesus did things only God can do. I doubt they thought it at the time, but as they reflected upon this miracle, perhaps Psalm 107:29-30 came to mind:
     
    He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. (Psalm 107:29-30)
     
    Note: other examples of God’s dominion over the waters can be found in Job 26:12-14, Nahum 1:34, Psalm 65:5-7; 74:12-14; 89:8-9; 93:4; 104:5-9.
     
    They knew Jesus had power, but they never imagined this type of power could exist.
     
    Yet their faith remained weak.
     
    You would think it would be enough to see demons exorcised.
    You would think it would be enough to see the sick healed.
    You would think it would be enough to see storms stopped.
     
    People often say, “I would believe in Jesus if I could see him,” but they’re wrong. So many people saw Jesus and witnessed miracles and still dismissed him…or worse.
     
    They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) 
     
    Who is this? Who is Jesus? I’ve met him, friends! The great song, “My Redeemer Lives,” has this wonderful line which says, “I spoke with him this morning.” Yes! I did. You can. Our faith is not built upon rules and checklists but rather upon a person, a living person, Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God. Through the Holy Spirit he is alive and well on this planet, living inside every one of his followers.
     
    Some have ignored the literal nature of this story, finding the miracle too…supernatural! There were, however, many eyewitnesses to this and Jesus’ other miraculous activities. Mark records various details such as “there were other boats with him” (verse 36) which would be unnecessary if he was simply telling a myth or allegory.
     
    So What?
     
    The most common command in the Bible is…fear not. Fear not. Don’t worry. God is sovereign—he is in control of the supernatural world. He’s also in control of the natural world.
     
    I know, if he can control things why doesn’t he wipe out every evil leader, every bad guy, every hater? I can’t say I always understand, other than the simple fact he is in control but gives us freedom. We’re not angels on assignment, but rather people given choice. He allows us to cherish our blessings or waste them away, pursue him or pursue money, sex and power, to be filled with hate or love, to support life or death. We can even choose to be afraid and worry, but Jesus says it’s a waste of time and energy because he has given us power, authority, and his presence. He is with us. The only one we should fear—and ultimately revere—is Him.
     
    What storms are in your life today?
     
    A stormy marriage? Physical health issues? Depression? You’re not alone.
     
    Struggles with addictions to alcohol, porn, or drugs? You’re not alone.
     
    Same-sex attraction and gender struggles, greed, envy, pride? You’re not alone.
     
    Financial chaos? Job challenges? Broken relationships? You’re not alone.
     
    Grief and loss? Uncertainty about the future? Learning disabilities? You’re not alone.
     
    I say you’re not alone for two reasons. First, you’re not alone in this room. There are people here in the midst of every storm I mentioned. This is why we have been given the gift of family, the opportunity to do life together, to weep when one weeps and to rejoice when one rejoices. We weren’t made to do this thing called life alone.
     
    Second, if you are a follower of Jesus, he is with you. The Holy Spirit is living inside of you and you need only to empty yourself, surrender, confess your sins, and welcome the Spirit to take control of your life. Let go and let God. It may not be an instant cure-all, but raising the white flag is the first step toward truly experiencing the presence and power of God in your life.
     
    In Jesus’ famous Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, he sends out his followers to make disciples. But he doesn’t end there. He concludes by saying
     
    And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
     
    He is with us. He can calm the storm. He’s got this…even if his timing may be slower than our timetable.
     
    To quote composer Scott Krippayne, “Sometimes he calms the storm and other times he calms his child.”
     
    He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)
     
    Jesus may need to say to your storm, “Quiet! Be still!”
     
    Jesus may need to say to you, “Quiet! Be still!”
     
    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Sower: Soils & Spoils, 6 August 2017

    Sower: Soils & Spoils
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 4:1-20

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

    Big Idea: Not everyone is ready to enter the kingdom of God…are you?

    Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. (Mark 4:1)

    Jesus is so popular he can’t even just stand up and speak. The crowds will mob him so he does his teaching from a boat.

    He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. (Mark 4:2-3)

    One hundred years ago the most common occupation in the United States was farmer. Today, of course, it is rare to meet a full-time farmer, but everyone in Jesus’ audience knew about farming. If they wanted to eat, they needed to farm—or live near someone who did! Jesus begins by commanding them to listen. Not everyone would. Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. Unlike today’s sophisticated farms, the ordinary Jewish farmer had a small plot of land, used every inch, scattered seed everywhere and then plowed it under along with the thorns, weeds, and anything else on the ground.

    As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. (Mark 4:4)

    Those stinkin’ birds! Okay, some birds are wonderful, but others are annoying. If you scatter seed without caring for it, they will disappear!

    Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. (Mark 4:5-6)

    This is common, too. Plants start to grow but die without strong roots.

    Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. (Mark 4:7)

    Here we see another crop killer…thorns.

    Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” (Mark 4:8)

    Obviously this is what is supposed to happen, though Jesus surprised the crowd with these numbers since an average harvest was only seven or eight times the amount of seed sown and a good harvest would be about ten times.

    Then Jesus said,
    “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9)

    He says again, listen! He knows not everyone will hear. Parables reveal the truth to some while concealing it from the rebellious.

    Jesus is not giving instructions on agriculture. There’s a much deeper message, but it wasn’t obvious. In fact…

    When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 

     
    “ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:10-12)

    They missed it! Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10.

    In revelation, God’s people are trained about the requirements of the kingdom.
    In concealment, those who oppose God never understand the kingdom.

    Much of Jesus’ teachings was about the kingdom of God, a radical contrast to the kingdoms of this world. Jesus was a revolutionary declaring an alternative reality, a different society, casting visions for a counter-cultural life.

    His enemies rejected his teaching.
    The crowds were interested in his miracles but not his teaching.

    Parables allowed those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness would be filled. It separated the curious from the true seekers. Seek and you will find.

    By the way, I love how Jesus explained the parable not only to the Twelve but also the others who stuck around to hear the exposition. The only thing that seems to separate those on the inside of Jesus’ explanation and those on the outside is their pursuit of God.

    However, as it is written:

    “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—

    these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. 

    The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

    Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to lead us, teach us, and guide us.

    Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? (Mark 4:13)

    I wish I could hear his tone of voice! He was, of course, intentional about how he coded his message but maybe did too good of a job since his closest friends were clueless!

    The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. (Mark 4:14-15)

    Israel has been in exile and this is a picture of Go sowing Israel again in her own land, restoring their fortunes, making the family farm fruitful again. They expected the Messiah to come and rescue Israel in an explosive way, not slowly like farming.
    This is about the word of God, the inauguration of the kingdom. It is coming, but it won’t be as they expect it. It won’t happen instantly, but it will eventually become a reality…and we are in the midst of that today, heaven kissing earth, God’s kingdom coming and his will being done here as it is in heaven. It is not done with power like a military coup, but rather humbly, unobtrusive, and coexisting with evil, an unpopular message with patriotic Jewish seeking revolt.

    Satan loves to steal. He is a deceiver. His goal is to keep us from God.

    Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.
    But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (Mark 4:16-17)

    Easy come, easy go. I love God until life gets hard and then I blame him for my trials and walk away. This is so tragically common today as it was then.

    Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-19)

    Can you relate? I can’t imagine anyone in our culture tempted by wealth or worries! Ha! The world can be very attractive, yet never truly satisfying. Money will make you happy…for a while. But only following Jesus the Messiah will bring true satisfaction, peace, hope, and joy.

    Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
    (Mark 4:20)

    That’s where I want to sow…into the good soil.
    That’s what I want my life to be…good soil.


    So What?

    First, we must be intentional when we sow. We need to work smart, not just hard. A few weeks ago I mentioned six words to define our mission:

    Love God.
    Love Others.
    Make Disciples.

    Making disciples means following Jesus and helping others follow Jesus, passing the baton of faith, mentoring and investing in the lives of others.

    If you recall I mentioned how Jesus spent time praying before choosing his twelve disciples. Similarly, we are not to just randomly scatter seed. We are to love everyone, but we are not supposed to invest equally in the lives of everyone we meet. Some people are FAT: faithful, available, and teachable. They are good soil. They will pass the baton of faith to others (2 Timothy 2:2) and reproduce. Other people have no interest in following Jesus. They’re too busy, too selfish, too prideful, too distracted. Two weeks ago I challenged you to ask, “God, who do You want me to disciple?”

    Obviously not everyone you devote time and energy to will yield the same results. Some people, like Judas, will not produce good fruit. Others, however, will yield a great harvest.

    Second, we must be patient and persevere when we sow. You can’t scatter seed today and expect a harvest tomorrow. Jesus warns the soil must receive attention. Even today farmers water, weed, fertilize, and pray for adequate sunshine in order for the seeds to form deep roots and abundant fruit.

    Many of you served at this summer’s Sports & Arts Camp and I want to say our work is not done. It’s just beginning! We sowed seed, but we need to water it, weed it, fertilize it, and persevere until it produces a harvest.

    Finally, we must give attention to our own soil. How is your heart? Are the investments of others into you paying off? Are you a good disciple? Are you pursuing God, studying the Bible, devoted to prayer, sharing your faith, serving the poor, living a generous life, and discipling others? Or are you distracted with screens, busy with hobbies, and growing a personal garden of weeds?

    It is my prayer for you, myself, and all of us at First Alliance that we would know, share, and experience the kingdom of God and that God would produce a great harvest in and through us in Toledo and beyond for His glory.

    The Lord’s Prayer

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Preparation: Baptism & Temptation, 7 May 2017

    Preparation: Baptism & Temptation
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus\
    Mark 1:9-13

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

    Big Idea: Baptism and temptation prepared Jesus for the ministry that would follow.

    Preparation

    One of the most rewarding parts of my childhood was Boy Scouts. As a scout, I learned about nature, how to tie knots, rappelling, wilderness survival, and so much more. The Boy Scout motto is short yet powerful: Be prepared.

    Preparation. It’s one key to success in life. Anything worth doing is probably worth preparation which is why doctors devote more than a decade of their lives to education before performing their first surgery. It’s why an athlete will train for four years before entering Olympic competition. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden famously said, “When the opportunity arises, it is too late to prepare.”

    What kind of preparation would be necessary to revolutionize the world? No human has had a greater impact on our planet than Jesus Christ did in the three years of His public ministry. We know almost nothing about the first three decades of His life, but Mark tells us about two significant events in Jesus’ preparation—baptism and temptation. And it leads to one truth that will blow your mind!

    We’re in week three of an extensive series on The Real Jesus based upon the gospel or good news of Mark. This biography of Christ is short and sweet, the headlines, so to speak, of the life of Jesus.

    In week one, we saw Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies, the Son of God, one of three Persons of the Holy Trinity, yet fully human.

    Last Sunday we looked at the messenger, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for Christ. Today we see Jesus encountering John—and satan.

    At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. (Mark 1:9)

    John Mark, the writer of Mark, finally brings Jesus to the stage. His message is short and sweet. Jesus comes from an obscure village in Galilee and gets baptized.

    Last week we said baptism had several possible purposes in the first century. It was used for cleansing the body, publicly demonstrating one’s faith, or perhaps symbolically purifying one as they turn away from their sins. It can also represent turning toward God, not just away from evil.

    Baptism doesn’t remove sin. Jesus had no sin to remove. John had been baptizing in the Jordan River in the wilderness drawing crowds from the countryside and the city of Jerusalem, preparing the way for Jesus of Nazareth who finally arrives in Mark’s narrative, baptized by His cousin, John.

    Today, baptism is a ceremony we do for people who want to go public with their faith in Jesus. They enter the water and are dunked in what is symbolically a water grave, dying to their own selfish will and desires before emerging out of the water resurrected as a new creation, seeking to devote their lives to following Jesus.


    Jesus is dunked by John, and the original Greek clearly puts John in the background. The spotlight is on Jesus.

    Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (Mark 1:10)

    Notice the details here. First, Jesus saw heaven being torn or ripped open as He was coming out of the water. The verb for “torn open” will be used again by Mark when he describes the temple veil being torn in two from the top to the bottom. What is opened can be closed, but what is torn is more permanent. Both episodes give us a glimpse into God’s kingdom. Remember, heaven is where God is. In the Bible, it often means God’s dimension behind ordinary reality. All heaven breaks loose when Jesus is baptized! The hope of Isaiah has come to pass: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you” (Isaiah 64:1).

    The Holy Spirit is then introduced, descending on Jesus “like” a dove. Can you think of any doves in the Bible? One brought an olive branch after the flood (Genesis 8). This doesn’t say a dove landed on Jesus, though. It says the Spirit descended on like a dove. It is as if the Spirit came upon Jesus, perhaps entering Him. We clearly see God the Son and God the Spirit together. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1 now descends on Jesus as a sign that new creation has begun.

    The dove never came back: he was looking for some place to land. He tried to land on Noah, but Noah got drunk. He tried to land on Abraham…Moses…David…Solomon…Isaiah…Jeremiah…landed on Jesus.

    And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

    The voice of God the Father is heard. It will later be heard at the transfiguration when He says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him! (Mark 9:7). As one might expect, Jesus’ baptism was special. Heaven was torn open, the Holy Spirit came on Him like a dove, and the Father spoke, announcing Jesus as His Son.

    The Trinity

    One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is the Trinity, one God in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They exist in community.

    When we say, “God is love,” it’s not abstract. God is the community of love. The Father, Son, and Spirit interact as one. God rooted God’s communal identity in the core of our being as humans. We were made by community, for community. (Ruth Padilla Deborst)

    I can’t emphasize this enough— we struggle in our individualistic culture to understand and appreciate the community of love that is the Trinity.

    Artists have long depicted the Trinity with visual art. Some see a dismembered relationship between the three Persons while others see Them as a family, a community, relating to one another (Rublev).

    (art examples)

    How do we understand one God in three Persons? It is a mystery. No metaphor is adequate to describe God, but I like to think about an egg. The yolk, whites, and shell are all equally egg, yet distinct. We pray to the Father in the Name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Modalism

    There is a sect of Christianity which denies the Trinity. It’s called modalism. They believe in one God in one Person who changes modes, one moment being the Father and then shifting to become the Son and then suddenly appearing as the Holy Spirit. I can’t begin to tell you how troubling this belief can be, especially when considering this text. How can God be in the water, in heaven, and a dove at the same time? Although the word “trinity” does not appear in the English translations of the Bible, the concept is vivid, especially here. It’s why we sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy” last week instead of “Holy.”

    The doctrine or belief in the Trinity is a beautiful picture of community, cooperation, and complementary collaboration.

    John the Baptist introduces Jesus.
    The Father identifies Him.
    The temptation will initiate Him.

    Temptation

    At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:12-13)

    There’s no mention of a baptism celebration, but rather the Holy Spirit sends Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. That’s a long time, friends. The wilderness is a harsh, rocky desert region. The wilderness was a place of testing for the people of Israel, and they often failed. Jesus never fails.

    Forty is a special number in the Bible. It rained forty days and forty nights during the great flood (Genesis 7:12). The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses spent forty days and nights on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28). Elijah spent forty days and nights journeying to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).

    Jesus has been prepared for ministry by baptism and now it’s time for testing, for a face to face encounter with satan. Have you ever encountered satan? I doubt it. He has bigger fish to fry than you and me, I believe. He does, however, have an army of demons—fallen angels—who tempt and wreak havoc on our lives and world. The Greek word peirazo can mean tempt or test. In Hebrew, satan means adversary or enemy.

    And what about the wild animals? Some see them as satan’s allies in contrast to the angels that attend to Jesus. Some see an allusion to Psalm 91:11-13.

    For he will command his angels concerning you 
    to guard you in all your ways;
    they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
    You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent. (Psalm 91:11-13)

    I like animals, but not necessarily “wild” animals. They don’t usually make good pets!

    Matthew and Luke tell us more about the temptation but Mark simply gives us an image of Jesus and satan, angels and wild animals, good and evil. It will be a constant theme in the book…and all of human history.

    Jesus has been baptized and tested. He’s prepared and next week we’ll see Jesus’ ministry begin.

    One More Thing

    Occasionally I come across as reading so profound it’s not worth paraphrasing; it simply needs to be read. Listen to N.T. Wright:

    It happens all the time, in families, businesses, all over. Many children grow up in our world who have never had a father say to them (either in words, in looks, or in hugs), ‘You are my dear child’, let alone, ‘I’m pleased with you.’ In the Western world, even those fathers who think this in their hearts are often too tongue-tied or embarrassed to tell their children how delighted they are with them. Many, alas, go by the completely opposite route: angry voices, bitter rejection, the slamming of doors. 

    The whole Christian gospel could be summed up in this point: that when the living God looks at us, at every baptized and believing Christian
    , he says to us what he said to Jesus on that day. He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ. It sometimes seems impossible, especially to people who have never had this kind of support from their earthly parents, but it’s true: God looks at us, and says, ‘You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you.’ Try reading that sentence slowly, with your own name at the start, and reflect quietly on God saying that to you, both at your baptism and every day since.

    How does this come about? It will take the whole story, particularly Jesus’ death and resurrection, to explain. But this is what the Christian gospel is all about.

    It is true for one simple but very profound reason: Jesus is the Messiah, and 
    the Messiah represents his people. What is true of him is true of them. The word ‘Messiah’ means ‘the anointed one’; and this story tells how Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, marked out as God’s son. The Messiah is called ‘God’s son’ in a few biblical passages, including the one that the heavenly voice seems to be echoing here (Psalm 2.7). Though the early Christians realized quite quickly that Jesus was God’s son in an even deeper sense, they clung on to his messiahship for dear life. It was because Jesus was and is Messiah that God said to them, as he does to us today, what he said to Jesus at his baptism. And without that word from God all we often hear, in our mind’s ear, is doors being slammed.

    -
    N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) Westminster John Knox Press; bold are my highlights

    Your Team

    How can that be? Let me tell you a story about two men named Chris—Coghlan and Bryant. Last fall, they both played for the Chicago Cubs who finally won the World Series. Kris Bryant is arguably the best player on the team. He hit two home runs during the World Series and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Chris Coghlan batted three times in the World Series, struck out twice, and never made it to first base. There’s a tradition in baseball where every player on the championship team gets a diamond-covered ring worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every player gets the same ring, whether they are superstars or bench-warmers.

    That’s how I like to think about what it means for us to be “in Christ,” a phrase used more than a dozen times in the book of Ephesians to describe followers of Jesus. We are on His team, we wear His uniform. The Chicago Cubs are World Champions which means every player on the team is equally a World Champion. When we are in Christ, everything the Father says about Jesus He says about us.

    Author Bob Goff said,
    "On the day of your worst screw-up, Jesus sees you and still calls you 'Beloved'!"

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


    His baptism and temptation were preparation for a greater test…and a greater victory. Today is a great day to reflect upon your own journey, your own baptism if you’ve followed Jesus’ command to go public with your faith, something you can do next Sunday if you haven’t. It’s a great day to reflect upon your own temptations—those you overcame and those tests you failed. Jesus’ body was pierced and broken on the cross, His blood was poured out to offer forgiveness of your sins; past, present, and future. Hallelujah! Because of Jesus, the Father says, “You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you."

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • On Your Mark, 23 April 2017

    On Your Mark—An Intro to the Gospel of Mark
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:1

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

    Big Idea: Mark wrote a stunning biography of Jesus, our Messiah and God.

    Introduction

    He is still risen! He is still risen indeed!

    Welcome back! My name is Kirk and last Sunday we had a fantastic celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But listen to these profound words from N.T. Wright:
    But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

    …Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

    …we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins…

    …if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again—well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative…. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.”

    As I said, last Sunday we had a fantastic celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. He is alive! But who is Jesus, really?

    If you ask ten people who Jesus is, you may end up with ten different answers. But how can we know for sure? I submit to you two things:

    - The Bible provides us with four biographies of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
    - Jesus is alive and knowable—personally—through prayer and the Bible

    One of my greatest frustrations as a pastor is reading about “biblical scholars” who are atheists. It seems like every Eastertime they get busy promoting another book, another theory, hoping to make a buck off some naïve shopper in line at the grocery store with tabloid headlines about another new discovery, a new theory, a secret revealed. With all due respect to intellectuals who study the Biblical texts, the atheists among them miss the point. Jesus is a living Person. He wants us to know Him. He wants to know us. The first thing I want to know about a Bible scholar is if they know the Author…of the Bible, of life. Our faith is completely dependent upon the cross and the empty tomb. If you know the Bible but don’t know Jesus, it’s as useless as analyzing the penmanship of a love letter, missing its message.

    The Bible is, in fact, a love letter. It is not written to us, exactly, but for us. Today we’re going to look at the background of the Gospel—or good news—of Mark and the most important question in life.

    Why Four Gospels?

    Matthew: Hebrew, religious audience, “Son of David,” advertising and announcements
    Mark: Roman, strong, rulers, power, emphasizes Jesus the suffering Servant, headlines
    Luke: also wrote Acts, Gentile author, historian, “Son of Man,” special features
    John: emphasizes deity of Christ, Savior, “Son of God,” editorials/columns

    This biography of Jesus will inspire, inform, and hopefully transform you and me to become more like Jesus.


    Before we dive into the Gospel of Mark, I want to give you some background.

    It’s the first gospel written, one of the first NT books to be written

    It was written by John Mark. He was not an apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, but he was an important figure in the early Church

    He appears in the book of Acts

    When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. (Acts 12:12)

    He was a cousin of Barnabus.

    My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) (Colossians 4:10)

    He was the spiritual son of Simon Peter.

    She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. (1 Peter 5:13)

    This has long been considered Simon Peter’s gospel. John Mark traveled with Paul and later Barnabus.

    Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. (Acts 15:37-40)

    John Mark made good. Paul later called for him in his letter to Timothy.

    Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11)

    Mark learned about Jesus from Peter and Paul. Mark was also an eyewitness to the events in the life of Christ.

    Mark emphasizes Christ as the suffering Servant, the One who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. Mark likely wrote this book in Rome. A servant needs references, not a birth certificate (no genealogy as in Matthew).

    Here’s J. Vernon McGee’s outline of the book:

    John introduces the Servant
    God the Father identifies the Servant
    The temptation initiates the Servant
    Works and words illustrate the Servant

    It’s filled with more miracles than the other gospels.

    Healing: Physical
    Nature: Natural
    Casting out of demons: spiritual
    Raised from the dead: supernatural

    Mark 1

    The book begins with what might be the most important verse in the entire book. It answers what might be the most important question in all of life:

    Who is Jesus?

    John Mark’s gospel or “good news” begins…

    The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1 (NIV)
    The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1, NASB)

    The purpose of the book of Mark is not history. It’s not merely a biography of Jesus. In fact, Jesus’ birth and childhood are omitted. The book begins with Jesus around age 30. No manger. No puberty. No teenage years! Mark begins with the gospel or “good news.” His purpose is “good news.”

    The original Greek word for gospel,
    euaggelion, was often used in a military context. The army would send a message back to the city and proclaim, “A victory has been won. We are not going to die! We are going to live!”

    That’s what Mark does. He tells us Jesus is alive and, therefore, a victory has been won for you and me. Life is available for us. Not just survival, but abundant life (John 10:10).

    He also tells us two things about Jesus’ identity. First, Christ is not Jesus’ last name! The word means “an anointed, royal figure” in Greek. In Hebrew, it is translated, “the Messiah.” A victory has been won for us by Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed, royal figure proclaimed for generations. Some English translations of this verse replace “Christ” with “The Messiah.”

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1, NIV 2011)

    Second, Jesus is the Son of God. He’s not just the Messiah, He’s God!

    Jesus is Messiah and God. This statement is a dividing line of faith. You can accept or reject the claim. If you believe Jesus is God, the miracles and teachings and resurrection are not difficult to accept. If you don’t believe Jesus is God, the rest of the book of Mark—the rest of the New Testament—will not make much sense.

    If you don’t believe Jesus is God, there’s no shame. You belong here. Keep seeking. Keep asking.

    Some contemporary Jews believe Jesus is not the Messiah because He did not bring the Kingdom to Israel. He was a failed Messiah. There have been hundreds, maybe thousands of people who claimed to be the Messiah. You’ve probably never heard of any of them.

    If Jesus is just another failed Messiah, how would you explain His influence two thousand years later? His Church is still growing, His Name is being worshipped in every part of the world.

    What if Mark was correct? Let’s assume Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God. Let’s assume He really died and rose again. Why do I believe that and others don’t?

    When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)

    They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)

    “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

    Who do you say Jesus is?

    Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

    Look at how Jesus replies.

    Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)

    If you believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, it was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by God the Father. It’s not because of your intellect or morality or a great argument. It’s because your Heavenly Father revealed it. The original Greek word for “revealed” here means “to take the cover off of something.”

    Simon Peter is blessed by God.

    Believers in Jesus Christ are blessed by God. The truth has been revealed.

    The greatest longing in any heart may be to receive the blessing of their father and mother.

    If you believe Jesus is the Christ, it’s because God the Father blessed you. Followers of Jesus are blessed sons and daughters of the King of kings.

    Who is Jesus?

    This is the question we will be answering each week in this series as we examine the gospel of Mark.

    Listen to Jesus' answer to the question from the gospel of John:

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

    Jesus is the way…to truth, to life, to the Father.
    Jesus is the truth.
    Jesus is life. He is alive. He conquered death. He offers you and me eternal life. He offers us abundant life.

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1, NIV 2011)

    Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the LORD of all.

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

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

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

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

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

    Irony.

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

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


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

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

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

    Here are some others:

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

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

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

    Our text today from Luke 23 begins at verse 39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What a request. What faith!

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

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

    Another irony comes from the crowds who taunted and shouted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    So What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Sin Knows No Strangers, 12 March 2017

    Sin Knows No Strangers
    Series: A Love That Never Dies
    Romans 5:6-11

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

    Big Idea: Because of Jesus, we can be friends of God rather than enemies.

    I believe the two most important questions in life are

    -
    Who am I?
    - Who is God?

    Our text today addresses some powerful issues of identity we must all ponder carefully in order to answer those two questions.

    What words describe you?
    What words describe God?

    A Love That Never Dies. Ever so briefly yet dramatically, these words describe our Lord’s love for us, and they serve as our overarching theme in these weeks leading up to Easter. God’s love for us is a love that never dies, and that’s a good thing! For “sin knows no strangers.” Sin is pervasive, powerful, and persuasive. In both its global and most intimate forms, sin seeks to draw us away God.
    Listen for those truths in today’s text:

    Paul, once known as Saul of Tarsus, is in the midst of writing to the first Christians in Rome. He offers them rich insight into their identity.

    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

    For whom did Christ die? The ungodly.

    When did Christ die? When we were still powerless.

    Why did Paul mention “we” and then “ungodly?” You’re a good person, right? You’re in church. Most of you haven’t murdered anyone or robbed a bank. Jesus died on the cross because we’re good people, we are loveable, and he loves us.

    I think most people think they’ll go to heaven when they die because they’re good people. They pay their taxes. They vote. They brush their teeth!

    Jesus died for the ungodly. That’s me!

    Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. (Romans 5:7)

    Let that sink in for a moment. Would you die for someone? Your child? Your best friend? Your spouse? What about LeBron James? President Trump? Putin?

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

    This is stunning. I’ve heard it 100 times, but it is truly remarkable.

    Jesus died for the powerless and feeble (v. 6)
    Jesus died for the ungodly (v. 6)
    Jesus died for sinners (v. 8)
    Jesus died for his enemies (as we will see in verse 10)
    Jesus died for you and me.

    Drop the mic! That’s incredible!

    You don’t have to hope God loves you.
    You don’t have to wonder if God loves you.
    God loves you. He demonstrated it. He proved it. His actions speak as loud as his words.

    He loved you and me while we were unrepentant sinners.

    Isn’t this good news? Isn’t this great news?

    We celebrate the death of Jesus last Sunday. It’s called Good Friday because Jesus dying for us—hopeless, helpless sinners—provided a pathway for forgiveness, reconciliation with our Heavenly Father, peace, joy, and hope.

    But it gets better…and worse.

    God’s Wrath

    When you mentioned words to describe God, how many said, “Wrath?”

    God is love.
    God is kind.
    God is forgiving and gracious and merciful.

    Yes. But God is also just. And justice includes wrath.

    Does God hate people? Absolutely not…but He hates sin. He hates sin! And we are sinners. You know this. Earlier in chapter three, Paul states the obvious:

    …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)

    That’s one of the most depressing verses in the Bible.

    Have you ever felt short?

    God is perfect. 100% pure. He has a zero tolerance policy for sin. Zero! So when we sin—and we all sin—where does that leave us? Separated from God.

    That’s the bad news. But the good news is Jesus’ death covered all of our sin.

    Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11)

    We have been justified. That means God approves of us because of Jesus, an acquittal that sets of free from the penalty of our sin. Justification happens now. On judgment day we will be saved from God’s wrath. It will be awe-inspiring to see and be spared of God’s wrath.

    Because God is just, He must judge. He must be fair. We will all get what we deserve…unless we follow Jesus and receive grace—unmerited, undeserved favor.

    Have you ever thought of yourself as an enemy of God? Paul says that’s what we were, enemies of God.

    You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

    But Paul says we’re reconciled. That’s becoming one of my favorite words. We don’t hear it often because it doesn’t happen often. It’s easier to remain bitter, angry, or even silent. Reconcile means

    - Restore friendly relations between
    - Cause to coexist in harmony; make or show to be compatible or consistent
    - To compose or settle (a quarrel, dispute)

    It’s as if we wore white t-shirts, our sin stained them with dirt, and Jesus wraps a white robe around us, allowing us to stand before God perfect and pure. Jesus does the heavy lifting. We just open our arms and say yes.

    Hallelujah!

    To summarize…

    Sin has made us enemies of God.

    God’s grace, mercy, and never-ending love have rescued us.

    Through Jesus, we can be friends of God.

    I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

    And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”  and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:23)

    This is a truly amazing reality. We weren’t always friends of God. We were enemies, yet through Jesus we can be reconciled. We can know God…not just about God, but truly know God.

    Are you a friend of God?

    Credits

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Messiah Mess, 19 February 2017

    Messiah Mess
    Series: Ideal Family
    Luke 2:41-46

    Series Big Idea:
    All families are messed up, including biblical families.

    Big Idea: The Messiah lived in a messed-up family, too, and was even “left behind.”

    Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a family; at least one. Ever since God said it was not good for man to be alone, humans have lived with others…for better or worse. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a biological father and a biological mother. Most people have siblings. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are a vital part of life for many of us. Family is God’s design. It was His idea.

    There are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses. The drama pretty much summed it up, didn’t it?!

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

    I love to travel. I was blessed to travel to dozens of states during childhood vacations (perhaps my favorite being the celebration of my February birthday at Sea World in San Diego, California…while it was snowing at home in Michigan!). In my undergraduate years, I studied international business and spent a summer in Bolivia. It has been a thrill for me to experience many different countries and cultures, filling my passport with stamps from around the world.

    One thing I don’t particularly enjoy about travel is flying. I absolutely love flying itself. I would love to get my pilot’s license if it ever made sense to do so. I love soaring above the clouds, moving quickly through the skies, and thrill of landing. But like many of you, I could do without the meat-market experience of being herded onto a small plane, cramming into a tiny seat, only to have the person in front of me recline his seat into my lap!

    When I fly alone, it’s not uncommon for me to be among the last to board the plane. My philosophy is I’m going to be packed into that seat long enough, so I savor every moment of space, whether it’s standing, walking, or even stretching out in a seat near the gate. I typically have a backpack I place under the seat in front of me so I have no need to rush for overhead compartment space. I leisurely walk to my seat, the cabin door is shut, and we prepare for takeoff. Simple and sweet!

    There was, however, one time when my lingering in the terminal nearly became a serious mistake. I was in the airport talking to my wife on the telephone when I heard my name called on the PA system. They were preparing to close the door and noticed my name on the “not-yet-boarded” list. As you can imagine, I quickly said goodbye to my bride and raced to enter the plane before I was left behind.

    Have you ever been left behind?

    I’ve heard stories of people missing flights, trains, and buses but perhaps my favorite “left behind’ story involves Jesus. It is told in six, simple verses:

    Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (Luke 2:41-46) 

    There are so many things I find troubling about this text! How about you? I know, it was a different time, a different culture…but seriously!

    Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

    This is an annual event. We know they did it at least a dozen times because…

    When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. (Luke 2:42)

    Some of you have annual trips. You go to the cottage up north. The family makes a pilgrimage to the same campground each year. You celebrate the 4th of July in a particular town. There’s a bike trip you do every summer. In the case of Mary and Joseph, it was their faith tradition which prompted them to travel to Jerusalem for Passover.

    After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. (Luke 2:43)

    This was not thirty year-old Jesus. He was twelve. I love the phrase “the boy Jesus.” Did he know his parents were leaving? How many children did they have to wrangle as they headed back to Nazareth? It’s about 90 miles from Jerusalem. These journeys were done in a group to guard against robbers, though we don’t know how many were in their caravan.

    Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. (Luke 2:44)

    “Thinking” he was in their company. That’s what we call an assumption, friends! Can you imagine the conversation? “Where’s Jesus?” “Is he with you?” “No!” “I thought he was with you!”
     
    When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. (Luke 2:45)

    This has to be one of the most obvious verses in the Bible! I would hope they would go back and look for their lost boy…the boy they left behind! Can you imagine what Child Protective Services would say to Mary and Joseph?!?!?

    After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. (Luke 2:46)

    I can’t imagine looking for a lost child for three days! I can remember times when I’d lose one of my kids for a few seconds in a story and be on the verge of panic. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t worried. It never says he even knew he was lost! We’ve often spiritualized this entire story by pointing out how devoted Jesus was to studying the scriptures, which is true.

    But what happened? How did he miss the flight—err, the journey—back to Nazareth? What kind of communication breakdown caused his absence to be unnoticed for an entire day? Why did it take them three days to look for Jesus in the temple courts when they were in Jerusalem for a religious festival?

    Jesus’ Not-So-Perfect Family

    Perhaps no other story shows us how Jesus did not come from an Ideal Family. He was sinless, but his parents were not perfect. His siblings weren’t perfect. In fact, it wasn’t until years later that his half-brother, James, acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah…and they lived together! How did James miss the clues:

    • - The family dog died…until Jesus brought it back to life!
    • - Mary ran out of bread…until Jesus multiplied the loaves until there were leftovers
    • - Wine was served at every meal…even when they only had water to drink!
    • - Jesus won the Fantasy Football league every year!
    • - His brother seemed to have a Messiah complex and thought he was perfect!

    I’m being facetious, just playing a bit, but seriously, Jesus’ family wasn’t perfect. Like ours, they surely had struggles, conflicts, and parental mistakes.

    Perfect Parents

    I used to think perfect kids came from perfect parents.
    I used to think “bad” kids came from “bad” parents.
    I used to think some crazy thoughts!

    The truth is parenting matters, but there are no guarantees. Some of the most godly people I know came from seriously broken homes…and some of the most godly homes have produced some seriously wayward children. Despite the flaws of Mary and Joseph, I’d say Jesus turned out pretty good!

    So What?

    As we close out this series, there are a few things I want you to remember…

    1. 1. You and your family are messed up.
    2. 2. You are not alone. We’re all messed up.
    3. 3. We need God’s amazing grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness.
    4. 4. God loves to extend that grace to us. We don’t deserve it.
    5. 5. We need to encourage one another to follow Jesus, every day. As Thomas George said a few weeks ago, we need to be sanctified…daily filled with the Holy Spirit to become more like Jesus. The true test of our growth is not biblical knowledge or church attendance but how well we love…God and others.
    6. 6. Loving others begins with our family. It’s often easier to love strangers than those gathered around the dinner table.
    7. 7. Finally, we are all family. We are members of both a biological family and a spiritual family. Look around. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have spiritual siblings. If God is your Father, He has given you brothers and sisters…for better or for worse!

    Jesus said the world will know we are His disciples by the love we have for one another.

    As members of God’s family, we fail and sin, but our Dad is perfect. He perfectly calibrates discipline, work, and play. He provides us with tough and tender love. Daddy knows best.

    Throughout this series, I hope you’ve been encouraged regarding your own family. I hope you’ve been challenged regarding your own family. How can we avoid the tragic mistakes of others? How can we bask in the forgiveness and grace—unmerited favor—when we mess up? How can we fully embrace our roles as moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins?

    Families can be messy…but they also provide us with the greatest opportunities to learn, grow, serve, and experience joy.

    As your brother in Christ, I’m grateful for you. I love your encouragement, appreciate your constructive criticism, and need your prayers. Together we are seeking to know and love God and His children…and welcome new spiritual siblings into the family.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Learning from Noah, 17 January 2016

    Learning from Noah
    Series: What in the World is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 3:18-22

    Series Overview: God’s grace is present in the midst of suffering.

    Big Idea:
    Noah was saved in the ark, the waters of baptism symbolize death and resurrection, and Jesus understands suffering and is now in heaven praying for us until He returns.

    Introduction

    This morning we continue our series on 1 Peter, “What in the World is Going On?” This short letter to the early, suffering church is a powerful message not only to an ancient people but is increasing relevant to modern Christians as we face persecution. We may never face the horrors of ISIS victims, but nevertheless we can—and perhaps should—feel in the minority as followers of Jesus in a world consumed with money, sex and power. The theme of this book may well be called hope and grace in the midst of suffering. We’ve looked at hope, holiness, and harmony. Then we looked at the unpopular word of submission, first at the marketplace, then at home, and in the church.

    One of the advantages of going verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible is we are able to hopefully get a glimpse of the context. We also avoid the temptation to skip difficult passages. Today’s text is one of the most challenging in the New Testament to understand. If you’ve been with us in the series you know Peter presents a variety of topics to his readers, sometimes in what may appear to be random order. We do know Peter is trying to encourage who are experiencing difficult days.

    Peter begins by reminding them again of the sufferings of Jesus.

    For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)

    Jesus was and is the perfect example. He not only died for our sins and reconciled us to God, He showed us how to live, how to glorify God, how to surrender, how to let go, and even how to die. He came to die for the unjust, the unrighteous, the sinners…us! He did was not punished for what He did, He was punished for what we did, for what we do. He did nothing wrong.

    Jesus is what we’re about at First Alliance. Not organized religion. Not programs and church services. Not even the Bible as literature. We’re about a Person, about Jesus. My greatest desire for our church is we would follow Jesus…24/7. I pray people would confuse us with Jesus! It’s amazing how many people have left the Church but respect Jesus. There are countless people who will never walk into our building who are curious about Jesus. The same Holy Spirit that was alive in Jesus is available to us.

    But we must choose to intentionally follow Jesus, to do life differently than our neighbors, to spend our time differently, to spend our money differently, to surrender our safety and convenience and comfort, perhaps.

    Peter’s message here to early Christians who were suffering is Jesus understands, Jesus knows suffering, Jesus suffered for THEM…and for us!

    Jesus suffered without sinning. He did not complain.

    He came to bring us to God, a technical term that means “gain audience at court.” We can be reconciled with our good, good Father because of what Jesus—the Man of sorrows—did on the cross for us. We can enter the holy of holies, the throne of the Almighty. This is a very big deal! We can also experience the presence of God, the power of God, the mercy and grace of God each day.

    We are accepted by the Father. We don’t need the world’s acceptance.

    The righteous Jesus died for us unrighteous…to bring us to God. We can know the Almighty. We can know our Father, our Daddy. God wants to know us. God wants to love us. The Father sent Jesus who came, lived, died, and rose from the dead for us.

    Do you know Jesus? I don’t mean do you know about Jesus like you know about George Washington or LeBron James. Do you know Jesus, like you know your best friend? I admit it’s different knowing someone you can’t see, but He speaks primarily through the Bible and we can speak with Him through prayer—anytime. He’s alive. He’s with us through the Spirit.

    Now we come to a rather interesting section.

    After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, (1Pet. 3:19-20)

    The body of Jesus died.
    The spirit of Jesus died when He was made sin.

    Who were these spirits? What did He proclaim to them?

    Who were these spirits? Humans are never called spirits. If the reference was to lost sinners in Hell, they would probably be called souls.

    We are never told Jesus went to Hell. He went to hades, the realm of the unbelieving dead, a temporary place where they wait for the resurrection (Acts 2:31).

    Hell is the final, permanent place of judgment for unrepentant sinners. Hades is a temporary place.

    When followers of Jesus die, they go to heaven to be with Jesus (Phil. 1:20-24)

    Jesus likely visited fallen angels—imprisoned spirits—who existed before the flood. We don’t know what Jesus proclaimed to them, but since angels cannot be saved, it was probably a declaration of victory over satan and his hosts (Col. 2:15; 1 Peter 3:22).

    These spirits may be “the sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4. Many things were different prior to the flood.

    What is clear in the midst of this difficult passage is God saving humanity through Noah and his family in the ark. Eight people survived the flood. Noah became quite the hero. Granted, he built a huge boat on dry land which had never experienced rain! We are told

    “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” (Genesis 6:22)

    In the very next chapter of Genesis it says…

    And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him. (Genesis 7:5)

    And let’s not forget this one small detail:

    Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. (Genesis 7:6)

    That is not a typo! He was 600 years old when he finished building the ark and the rain began.

    Noah is mentioned in Genesis, of course, but also in the books of Numbers, Joshua, 1 Chronicles, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Matthew, Luke, Hebrews, 2 Peter, and of course here in 1 Peter.

    But he wasn’t perfect. After the flood he gets drunk and naked! One thing I love about the Bible is it’s so real. Even the heroes have flaws. Nearly every biblical character is presented as a screw-up…like me!

    But the point is eight people were saved from water in the ark and then Peter speaks of a different water…

    and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21)

    Death occurs when the spirit leaves the body (James 2:26).

    Resurrection occurs when the spirit returns to the body (Luke 8:55).

    So much of our faith is based upon the resurrection of Jesus. We have a “living hope.” Jesus proved He is God. Salvation has been accomplished for us. Death has been conquered.

    A dead God cannot save.
    A dead God cannot heal.
    A dead God cannot forgive, love, serve, bless, guide, encourage, or challenge.

    We just celebrated Jesus’ birthday—which is great— but in my opinion it’s nothing compared to Resurrection Sunday!

    I mentioned last week how baptism is symbolic of our death in a water grave, dying to ourselves, and coming up out of the water, resurrected in new life in Christ.

    Our text concludes speaking of Jesus…

    who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Peter 3:22)

    Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, the place of exaltation (Ps. 110:1; Acts 2:34–36; Phil. 2:5–11; Heb. 12:1–3).

    Jesus is in heaven at God’s right hand. He has angels, authorities and powers at His command.

    Listen to what Warren Wiersbe concludes:

    Believers are seated with Him in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:4–6), and through Him we are able to “reign in life” (Rom. 5:17). He is ministering to the church as High Priest (Heb. 4:14–16; 7:25) and Advocate (1 John 1:9–2:2). He is preparing a place for His people (John 14:1–6) and will one day come to receive them to Himself. But the main point Peter wanted to emphasize was Christ’s complete victory over all “angels and authorities and powers” (1 Peter 3:22), referring to the evil hosts of Satan (Eph. 6:10–12; Col. 2:15). The unfallen angels were always subject to Him. As Christians, we do not fight for victory, but from victory—the mighty victory that our Lord Jesus Christ won for us in His death, resurrection, and ascension.

    So What?

    Noah was saved in the ark, the waters of baptism symbolize death and resurrection, and Jesus is in heaven. So what?

    There’s a message of vindication here. As Peter writes to the persecuted, he reminds them of Jesus’ suffering, of Jesus’ position in heaven, and implies Jesus’ return. He promised to return…soon!

    When you suffer, you can empathize with Jesus who suffered…for you and me.

    One of my professors, Scot McKnight, has said of Peter…

    He knows how difficult it is to fight off pressures for acceptance and conformity; he knows that Christians seek to live holy and good lives and so refrain from sinful behaviors; and he knows that you will need to have special faith and courage to endure. My contention is that Peter wants you to focus on the final day when God will bring about ultimate justice. He wants you to say: (1) I will not conform to the sinful habits of my peers and friends; (2) I will remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus by living faithfully and obediently; (3) I will endure lonely nights and few friends; (4) I will find my friends in those who seek, with me, to be obedient; and (5) I will look forward to the day when God shows that faithfulness rather than acceptance is the truer virtue.

    We need to learn, with Jesus, to be just; we need to listen to Peter and seek to be obedient. And we especially need to get our eyes off the problems of acceptance and get them focused squarely on God’s final day of vindication, when all will be made right and all true virtues will appear for what they are: the will of God, now done on earth as it is heaven.

    Credits

    Some ideas from

    Be Hopeful (1 Peter): How to Make the Best of Times Out of Your Worst of Times (The BE Series Commentary) by Warren

    1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

    The Greatest Gift, 24 December 2015

    The Greatest Gift
    Christmas Eve 2015
    First Alliance Church

    Big Idea:
    Jesus is the greatest gift…but all gifts must be received.

    Merry Christmas Eve!
    This might be the most exciting, anticipated night of the year. Kids, are any of you looking forward to tomorrow? Adults, are any of you looking forward to tomorrow?

    How many of you have a tradition of opening a gift on Christmas Eve?

    Oh, I better hurry so you can get home and open that present!

    Christmas is all about presents. On Sunday we finished a series called “Be Here Now” which reminded us of the need to be fully present with one another and with God…and also of God’s presence with us.

    In ancient days, names were more than words on a birth certificate. They conveyed deep meaning. Rather than naming children after celebrities or trendy names, parents would often choose names of honor and character.

    My parents named me Kirk, not only because they liked the name (despite not being Star Trek fans!) but because it means “church dweller” and they hoped and prayed I would someday spend time in church. It worked!

    One of my favorite names for God is Emmanuel, God with us. He is present.

    The thing about being present is your presence must be acknowledged. Have you ever tried to scare someone, sneaking up on them? I usually try to NOT scare people, often making gradually louder noises as I enter a room when they have their backs turned to me. This happened recently with Sue. I didn’t want to scare her so I started gently knowing on her door until she turned around in surprise! I was in her office but she didn’t know it.

    Tragically, it is like that with God for many of us. Sure, you might believe in God. You might believe Jesus came as a baby 2000 years ago. You might even believe He died—most people eventually die!—and perhaps you even believe He rose again. But what difference does history make in the 21
    st century?

    “Jesus is going to return someday,” you might add. Yes, that’s true, but if our faith is only about the past and the future, our present is meaningless. We either reminisce about the good old days like retirees in Florida or we dream about the future like students on graduation day.

    But Jesus is here now. December 24, 2015. He wants you to know Him…not just know
    about Him, but have a relationship with Him. I’d be the first to admit it can be unusual having a relationship with someone you can’t see or hear, but over time I’ve been able to hear His voice, not His audible voice but His words. The Bible is arguably the best way to hear His voice, and if you want to know God it’s the best way to get to know Him.

    He also loves to listen. I believe the most beautiful sound in the world to God is the sound of your voice. Prayer is not merely talking to God, but talking
    with God. Have you done that lately?

    Jesus is here. He is alive. He wants to live inside you, giving you peace, joy, meaning, purpose, hope, and love. But you have to receive Him.

    Christmas
    is about presents, about gifts. It’s about a gift. The gift was a baby, but He became so much more. He loves you so much He spread His arms and said, “I love you this much.” He died to pay the punishment of your sins, everything you’ve done wrong. He died to reconcile—reconnect—you to your Creator, Almighty God who hates sin.

    The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

    He wants every man, woman and child to receive the gift, the gift of Himself, of Jesus.

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

    Jesus is not exclusive. He died for everyone, young and old, male and female, American, Asian, Arab, and Australian. He died for teachers, tennis players, and even terrorists.

    But like any gift, you have to receive it to experience it. Knowing about it is not enough.

    $10 Bill

    Let’s pretend for a moment I had a $10 bill. Actually, we don’t need to pretend! This $10 bill is available to any child who wants it.

    When you receive a gift, it’s yours to experience.

    Have you received Jesus?

    This is not about organized religion. Jesus hated organized religion, man’s quest to know God. Instead being fully God He became a man to show His love to us and invite us to experience real life. He said

    I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b)

    Jesus is the ultimate example of what it means to be human. He showed us how to live. He showed us how to love.

    Have you received Him?

    The best gift you’ll ever receive is Jesus. The best gift you can give Jesus for His birthday is your heart…you…all of you. If you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus, I urge you to do it tonight. It’s the most liberating, life-giving thing imaginable. Let go and let God.

    You can begin a relationship with God through a simple prayer like this:

    God, I’m sorry for the sins and mistakes in my life. I believe Jesus came as a baby, grew up and died for my sins, and rose from the dead. I want Him to be my Savior—saving me from my sins—but also my LORD, the leader of my life. I surrender my life and welcome Jesus into my life to take control and guide my life. Thank you for the gift of eternal life and abundant life. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

    If you’ve just invited God into your life, please tell someone. Tell me or a friend. You’ve just begun the journey of knowing Jesus. The adventure begins tonight! We have free Bibles at the Information Center in the lobby—written in modern English, not Shakespeare! Just ask for one. They’ll help you get to know Jesus.

    At First Alliance, we’re all about Jesus. We’ve seen Jesus heal the sick, restore broken marriage, get finances in order, bring peace to the disturbed, and provide hope to the hopeless. Every day of the year He’s at work in our lives giving us meaning and purpose, challenging us toward generosity and kindness, and reminding us of His infinite, unconditional love.

    Jesus was born for you.
    Jesus died for you.
    Jesus is alive for you!

    If you don’t know Him—personally—I urge you to receive the gift tonight.

    If you’re not ready to let God lead your life, that’s ok. There’s no pressure. Gifts are never meant to be forced upon someone. But know Jesus’s arms remain outstretched, inviting you to do life with Him.

    If you’ve invited Jesus into your life in the past, how’s it going? Is He a gift you’ve tossed aside and forgotten about like an old VHS movie or flip phone, or a precious treasure you appreciate every day of your life?

    This Christmas, I pray you will experience the gift of life, the gift of love, the gift of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

    God With Us, 20 December 2015

    God With Us
    Series: Be Here Now
    Matthew 1:18-23

    Series Overview:
    Christmas is the celebration of “presence.”

    Big Idea: God is fully present with us…and Jesus will return soon.

    Introduction

    This morning we conclude our series “Be Here Now,” a series about presence. The first two weeks we talked about how important it is for us to be fully present with one another and with God, a challenge in our multi-tasking, screen-filled, noisy world…especially during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

    Last Sunday we shifted from our presence to God’s presence with us. We read several passages from the Psalms written by David where he declares the presence of God even in the midst of suffering and fear. His faith in God was stellar…and yet the Messiah had not yet come to earth. In fact, it would be hundreds of years until Isaiah prophesied…

    Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

    David—and Isaiah—could only imagine the events we celebrate this week.

    Proclaim FM’s sign is correct. Christmas is about three words: God with us.

    In his book
    Radical, David Platt tells this fascinating story:

    I remember sitting outside a Buddhist temple in Indonesia. Men and women filled the elaborate, colorful temple grounds, where they daily performed their religious rituals. Meanwhile, I was engaged in a conversation with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader in this particular community. They were discussing how all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different. “We may have different views about small issues,” one of them said, “but when it comes down to essential issues, each of our religions is the same.” I listened for a while, and then they asked me what I thought. I said, “It sounds as though you both picture God (or whatever you call god) at the top of a mountain. It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place.” They smiled as I spoke. Happily they replied, “Exactly! You understand!” Then I leaned in and said, “Now let me ask you a question. What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are? What would you think if I told you that God doesn’t wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?” They thought for a moment and then responded, “That would be great.” I replied, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.”

    I get frustrated when I hear religions lumped together. Religion is man’s search for God. Jesus did not come to start another religion. He came to bring God to us.

    This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

    But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

    All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:18-23)

    Let’s set aside the fact a virgin named Mary become pregnant.

    Let’s set aside the fact an angel visited Mary…and Joseph.

    Let’s set aside the fact this baby fulfilled prophesies that were hundreds of years old.

    Let’s even set aside the fact this baby would become the most famous and controversial figure in human history, teach the most quoted truths ever recorded, model for us what it means to be truly human, perform miracles, die for us, conquer sin, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven.

    God is with us.

    God was with us. God will be with us. God is with us now.

    Jesus came. Jesus is coming. Jesus is here.

    Jesus came.

    Advent and Christmas are similar yet different. Advent is a time of waiting. The Latin word means “coming.” The first meaning of Advent refers to the first coming of Jesus the Messiah. He uniquely fulfilled hundreds of prophesies, about 324 to be exact. Here they are:

    Gen. 3:15.....He will bruise Satan's head.....Heb. 2:14, 1 Jn. 3:18
    Gen. 5:24....The bodily ascension to heaven illustrated....Mk. 6:19 Gen. 9:26,27...The God of Shem will be the Son of Shem...Lu. 3:36 Gen. 12:3...As Abraham's seed, will bless all nations...Acts. 3:25,26 Gen. 12:7...The Promise made to Abraham's Seed...Gal. 3:16 Gen. 14:18...A priest after Melchizedek...Heb. 6:20 Gen. 14:18........A King also........Heb. 7:2 Gen. 14:18...The Last Supper foreshadowed...Mt. 26:26-29 Gen. 17:19.......The Seed of Isaac.......Rom. 9:7 Gen. 22:8...The Lamb of God promised...Jn. 1:29 Gen. 22:18...As Isaac's seed, will bless all nations...Gal. 3:16 Gen.26:2-5..The Seed of Isaac promised as the Redeemer..Heb.11:18 Gen. 49:10...The time of His coming...Lu. 2:1-7; Gal. 4:4 Gen. 49:10.......The Seed of Judah.......Lu. 3:33 Gen. 49:10......Called Shiloh or One Sent......Jn. 17:3 Gen. 49:10...To come before Judah lost identity...Jn. 11:47-52 Gen. 49:10...To Him shall the obedience of the people be...Jn. 10:16 Ex. 3:13,14........The Great "I Am".......Jn. 4:26 Ex. 12:5...A Lamb without blemish...1 Pet. 1:19 Ex. 12:13...The blood of the Lamb saves from wrath...Rom. 5:8 Ex. 12:21-27...Christ is our Passover...1 Cor. 5;7 Ex. 12:46...Not a bone of the Lamb to be broken...Jn. 19:31-36 Ex. 15:2...His exaltation predicted as Yeshua...Acts 7:55,56 Ex. 15:11...His Character-Holiness...Luke 1:35; Acts 4:27 Ex. 17:6...The Spiritual Rock of Israel...1 Cor. 10;4 Ex. 33:19...His Character-Merciful...Lu. 1:72 Lev.14:11..The leper cleansed-Sign to priesthood..Lu.5:12-14; Acts 6:7 Lev.16:15-17...Prefigures Christ's once-for-all death...Heb. 9:7-14 Lev.16:27...Suffering outside the Camp...Mt. 27:33; Heb. 13:11, 12 Lev.17:11...The Blood-the life of the flesh...Mt. 26;28; Mk. 10:45 Lev.17:11...It is the blood that makes atonement...1 Jn. 3:14-18 Lev.23:36-37...The Drink-offering: "If any man thirst." ..Jn. 19:31-36 Num. 9:12...Not a bone of Him broken...John 19:31-36 Num. 21:9...The serpent on a pole-Christ lifted up...Jn. 3:14-18 Num. 24:17...Time: "I shall see him, but not now."...Gal. 4:4 Deut. 18:15..."This is of a truth that prophet."...Jn. 6:14 Deut. 18:15-16..."Had ye believed Moses, ye would believe me."...Jn. 5:45-47 Deut. 18:18...Sent by the Father to speak His word...Jn. 8:28, 29 Deut. 18:19...Whoever will not hear must bear his sin...Jn. 12:15, Deut. 21:23...Cursed is he that hangs on a tree...Gal. 3:10-13 Ruth 4:4-9...Christ, our kinsman, has redeemed us...Eph. 1:3-7 1 Sam. 2:10...Shall be an anointed King to the Lord...Mt. 28:18; Jn. 12:15 2 Sam. 7:12...David's Seed...Mt. 1:1 2 Sam. 7:14a...The Son of God... Lu. 1:32 2 Sam. 7:16...David's house established forever...Lu. 3:31; Rev. 22:16 2 Ki. 2:11...The bodily ascension to heaven illustrated...Lu. 24:51 1 Chr. 17:11...David's Seed...Mt. 1:1; 9:27 1 Chr. 17:12, 13a...To reign on David's throne forever...Lu. 1:32, 33 1 Chr. 17:13a..."I will be His Father, He...my Son."...Heb. 1:5 Job 19:23-27...The Resurrection predicted...Jn. 5:24-29 Psa. 2:1-3...The enmity of kings foreordained...Acts 4:25-28 Psa. 2:2...To own the title, Anointed (Christ)...Acts 2:36 Ps. 2:6...His Character-Holiness...Jn. 8:46; Rev. 3:7 Ps. 2:6...To own the title King...Mt. 2:2 Ps. 2:7...Declared the Beloved Son...Mt. 3;17 Psa. 2:7, 8...The Crucifixion and Resurrection intimated...Acts 13:29-33 Psa. 2:12...Life comes through faith in Him...Jn. 20:31 Psa. 8:2...The mouths of babes perfect His praise...Mt. 21:16 Psa. 8:5, 6...His humiliation and exaltation...Lu. 24:50-53; 1 Cor. 15:27 Psa. 16:10...Was not to see corruption...Acts 2:31 Psa. 16:9-11...Was to arise from the dead...Jn. 20:9 Psa. 17;15...The resurrection predicted...Lu. 24:6 Psa. 22:1...Forsaken because of sins of others...2 Cor. 5:21 Psa. 22:1...Words spoken from Calvary, "My God..." Mk. 15:34 Psa. 22:2...Darkness upon Calvary...Mt. 27:45 Psa. 22:7...They shoot out the lip and shake the head...Mt. 27:39 Psa. 22:8..”He trusted in God, let Him deliver Him"...Mt. 27:43 Psa. 22:9......Born the Savior......Lu. 2:7 Psa. 22:14...Died of a broken (ruptured) heart...Jn. 19:34 Psa. 22:14,15...Suffered agony on Calvary...Mk. 15:34-37 Psa. 22:15........He thirsted........Jn. 19:28 Psa. 22:16...They pierced His hands and His feet....Jn. 19:34,37;20:27 Psa. 22:17,18...Stripped Him before the stares of men...Lu. 23:34,35 Psa. 22:18.....They parted His garments.....Jn. 19:23,24 Psa. 22:20,21...He committed Himself to God...Lu.23:46 Psa. 22:20,21..Satanic power bruising the Redeemer's heel..Heb. 2:14 Psa. 22:22.....His Resurrection declared.....Jn. 20:17 Psa. 22:27...He shall be the governor of the nations...Col 1:16 Psa. 22:31.....“It is finished"......Jn. 19:30 Psa. 23:1....“I am the Good Shepherd"....Jn. 10:11 Psa. 24:3......His exaltation predicted......Acts 1:11; Phil. 2:9 Psa. 30:3......His resurrection predicted......Acts 2:32 Psa. 31:5...“Into thy hands I commit my spirit"...Lu. 23:46 Psa. 31:11...His acquaintances fled from Him...Mk. 14:50 Psa. 31:13...They took counsel to put Him to death...Jn. 11:53 Psa. 31:14,15..." He trusted in God, let Him deliver him"...Mt. 27:43 Psa. 34:20.....Not a bone of Him broken.....Jn 19:31-36 Psa. 35:11....False witnesses rose up against Him....Mt. 26:59 Psa. 35:19...He was hated without a cause...Jn. 15:25 Psa. 38:11.....His friends stood afar off.....Lu. 23:49 Psa. 40:2-5...The joy of His resurrection predicted...Jn. 20:20 Psa. 40:6-8....His delight-the will of the Father....Jn. 4:34 Psa. 40:9....He was to preach the Righteousness in Israel....Mt. 4:17 Psa. 40:14...Confronted by adversaries in the Garden...Jn. 18:4-6 Psa. 41:9.....Betrayed by a familiar friend.....Jn. 13:18 Psa. 45:2...Words of Grace come from His lips...Lu. 4:22 Psa. 45:6...To own the title, God or Elohim...Heb. 1:8 Psa. 45:7...A special anointing by the Holy Spirit...Mt.3:16; Heb.1:9 Psa. 45:7,8...Called the Christ (Messiah or Anointed)...Lu. 2:11 Psa. 55:12-14...Betrayed by a friend, not an enemy...Jn. 13:18 Psa. 55:15...Unrepentant death of the Betrayer...Mt. 27:3-5; Acts 1:16-19 Psa. 68:18...To give gifts to men...Eph. 4:7-16 Psa. 68:18...Ascended into Heaven...Lu. 24:51 Psa. 69:4...Hated without a cause...Jn. 15:25 Psa. 69:8...A stranger to own brethren...Lu. 8;20,21 Psa. 69:9...Zealous for the Lord's House...Jn. 2:17 Psa. 69:14-20...Messiah's anguish of soul before crucifixion...Mt. 26:36-45 Psa. 69:20...“My soul is exceeding sorrowful."...Mt. 26:38 Psa. 69:21...Given vinegar in thirst...Mt. 27:34 Psa. 69:26...The Savior given and smitten by God...Jn. 17:4; 18:11 Psa. 72:10,11...Great persons were to visit Him...Mt. 2:1-11 Psa. 72:16...The corn of wheat to fall into the Ground...Jn. 12:24 Psa. 72:17...His name, Yinon, will produce offspring...Jn. 1:12,13 Psa. 72:17...All nations shall be blessed by Him...Acts 2:11,12,41 Psa. 78:1.2...He would teach in parables...Mt. 13:34-35 Psa. 78:2b...To speak the Wisdom of God with authority...Mt. 7:29 Psa. 88:8...They stood afar off and watched...Lu. 23:49 Psa. 89:27...Emmanuel to be higher than earthly kings...Lu. 1:32,33 Psa. 89:35-37...David's Seed, throne, kingdom endure forever...Lu. 1:32,33 Psa. 89:36-37...His character-Faithfulness...Rev. 1:5 Psa. 90:2...He is from everlasting (Micah 5:2)...Jn. 1:1 Psa. 91:11,12...Identified as Messianic; used to tempt Christ...Lu. 4;10,11 Psa. 97:9...His exaltation predicted...Acts 1:11;Eph. 1:20 Psa. 100:5...His character-Goodness...Mt. 19:16,17 Psa. 102:1-11...The Suffering and Reproach of Calvary...Jn. 21:16-30 Psa. 102:25-27...Messiah is the Preexistent Son...Heb. 1:10-12 Psa. 109:25...Ridiculed...Mt. 27:39 Psa. 110:1...Son of David...Mt. 22:43 Psa. 110:1...To ascend to the right-hand of the Father...Mk.16:19 Psa. 110:1...David's son called Lord...Mt. 22:44,45 Psa. 110:4...A priest after Melchizedek's order...Heb. 6:20 Psa. 112:4...His character-Compassionate, Gracious, et al... Mt. 9;36 Psa. 118:17,18...Messiah's Resurrection assured...Lu. 24:5-7;1 Cor. 15:20 Psa. 118:22,23...The rejected stone is Head of the corner...Mt. 21:42,43 Psa. 118:26a...The Blessed One presented to Israel...Mt. 21:9 Psa. 118:26b...To come while Temple standing...Mt. 21;12-15 Psa. 132:11...The Seed of David(the fruit of His Body)...Lu. 1:32 Psa. 138:1-6...The supremacy of David's Seed amazes kings... Mt. 2:2-6 Psa. 147:3,6...The earthly ministry of Christ described...Lu. 4:18 Psa. 1:23...He will send the Spirit of God... Jn. 16;7 Song. 5;16...The altogether lovely One...Jn. 1:17 Isa. 6:1...When Isaiah saw His glory... Jn. 12:40-41 Isa. 6:9-10...Parables fall on deaf ears...Mt. 13:13-15 Isa. 6:9-12...Blinded to Christ and deaf to His words...Acts. 28:23-29 Isa. 7:14...To be born of a virgin...Lu. 1:35 Isa. 7:14...To be Emmanuel-God with us... Mt. 1:18-23 Isa. 8:8...Called Emmanuel...Mt. 28:20 Isa. 8:14...A stone of stumbling, a Rock of offense... 1 Pet. 2:8 Isa. 9:1,2...His ministry to begin in Galilee...Mt. 4:12-17 Isa. 9:6...A child born-Humanity...Lu. 1:31 Isa. 9:6...A Son given-Deity...Lu. 1:32; Jn. 1;14; 1 Tim. 3:16 Isa. 9:6...Declared to be the Son of God with power... Rom. 1:3,4 Isa. 9:6...The Wonderful One, Peleh...Lu. 4:22 Isa. 9:6...The Counsellor, Yaatz...Mt. 13:54 Isa. 9:6...The Mighty God, El Gibor...Mt. 11:20 Isa. 9:6...The Everlasting Father, Avi Adth...Jn. 8:58 Isa. 9:6...The Prince of Peace, Sar Shalom...Jn . 16:33 Isa. 9:7...To establish an everlasting kingdom...Lu. 1:32-33 Isa. 9:7...His Character-Just...Jn. 5:30 Isa. 9:7...No end to his Government, Throne, and Peace...Lu. 1:32-33 Isa. 11:1...Called a Nazarene-the Branch, Netzer...Mt. 2:23 Isa. 11:1...A rod out of Jesse-Son of Jesse...Lu. 3:23,32 Isa. 11:2...The anointed One by the Spirit...Mt. 3;16,17 Isa. 11:2...His Character-Wisdom, Understanding, et al....Jn. 4:4-26 Isa. 11:4...His Character-Truth...Jn. 14:6 Isa. 11:10...The Gentiles seek Him...Jn. 12:18-21 Isa. 12:2...Called Jesus-Yeshua...Mt. 1:21 Isa. 25:8...The Resurrection predicted...I Cor. 15:54 Isa. 26:19...His power of Resurrection predicted...Jn. 11:43,44 Isa. 28:16...The Messiah is the precious corner stone...Acts 4:11,12 Isa. 29:13...He indicated hypocritical obedience to His Word...Mt. 15:7-9 Isa. 29:14...The wise are confounded by the Word...I Cor. 1:18-31 Isa. 32:2...A Refuge-A man shall be a hiding place...Mt. 23:37 Isa. 35:4...He will come and save you...Mt. 1:21 Isa. 35:5...To have a ministry of miracles...Mt. 11:4-6 Isa. 40:3,4...Preceded by forerunner...Jn. 1:23 Isa. 40:9..."Behold your God."...Jn. 1:36;19:14 Isa. 40:11...A shepherd-compassionate life-giver...Jn. 10:10-18 Isa. 42:1-4...The Servant-as a faithful, patient redeemer... Mt.12:18-21 Isa. 42:2...Meek and lowly... Mt. 11:28-30 Isa. 42:3...He brings hope for the hopeless... Jn. 4 Isa. 42:4...The nations shall wait on His teachings... Jn. 12:20-26 Isa. 42:6...The Light (salvation) of the Gentiles...Lu. 2:32 Isa. 42:1,6...His is a Worldwide compassion... Mt. 28:19,20 Isa. 42:7...Blind eyes opened... Jn. 9:25-38 Isa. 43:11...He is the only Savior... Acts. 4:12 Isa. 44:3...He will send the Spirit of God... Jn. 16:7,13 Isa. 45:23...He will be the Judge... Jn. 5:22;Rom. 14:11 Isa. 48:12...The First and the Last...Jn. 1:30;Rev. 1:8,17 Isa. 48:17...He came as a Teacher...Jn. 3:2 Isa. 49:1...Called from the womb-His humanity...Mt. 1:18 Isa. 49:5...A Servant from the womb...Lu. 1:31;Phil. 2:7 Isa. 49:6...He is Salvation for Israel...Lu. 2:29-32 Isa. 49:6...He is the Light of the Gentiles...Acts 13:47 Isa. 49:6...He is Salvation unto the ends of the earth... Acts 15:7-18 Isa. 49:7...He is despised of the Nation... Jn. 8:48-49 Isa. 50:3...Heaven is clothed in black at His humiliation... Lu. 23:44,45 Isa. 50:4...He is a learned counsellor for the weary... Mt. 11:28,29 Isa. 50:5...The Servant bound willingly to obedience... Mt. 26:39 Isa. 50:6a..."I gave my back to the smiters."... Mt. 27:26 Isa. 50:6b...He was smitten on the cheeks... Mt. 26:67 Isa. 50:6c...He was spat upon... Mt. 27:30 Isa. 52:7...To publish good tidings of peace... Lu. 4:14,15 Isa. 52:13...The Servant exalted...Acts 1:8-11; Eph. 1:19-22 Isa. 52:13...Behold, My Servant... Mt. 17:5; Phil. 2:5-8 Isa. 52:14...The Servant shockingly abused... Lu. 18:31-34; Mt. 26:67,68 Isa. 52:15...Nations startled by message of the Servant... Rom. 15:18-21 Isa. 52:15...His blood shed to make atonement for all... Rev. 1:5 Isa. 53:1...His people would not believe Him... Jn. 12:37-38 Isa. 53:2a...He would grow up in a poor family.... Lu. 2:7 Isa. 53:2b...Appearance of an ordinary man... Phil. 2:7-8 Isa. 53:3a...Despised.... Lu. 4:28-29 Isa. 53:3b...Rejected... Mt. 27:21-23 Isa. 53:3c...Great sorrow and grief... Lu. 19:41-42 Isa. 53:3d...Men hide from being associated with Him... Mk. 14:50-52 Isa. 53:4a...He would have a healing ministry... Lu. 6:17-19 Isa. 53:4b...He would bear the sins of the world... 1 Pet. 2:24 Isa. 53:4c...Thought to be cursed by God... Mt. 27:41-43 Isa. 53:5a...Bears penalty for mankind's transgressions... Lu. 23:33 Isa. 53:5b...His sacrifice would provide peace between man and God... Col. 1:20 Isa. 53:5c...His back would be whipped... Mt. 27:26 Isa. 53:6a...He would be the sin-bearer for all mankind...Gal. 1:4 Isa. 53:6b...God's will that He bear sin for all mankind... 1 Jn. 4:10 Isa. 53:7a...Oppressed and afflicted... Mt. 27:27-31 Isa. 53:7b...Silent before his accusers... Mt. 27:12-14 Isa. 53:7c...Sacrificial lamb... Jn. 1:29 Isa. 53:8a...Confined and persecuted... Mt. 26:47-27:31 Isa. 53:8b...He would be judged... Jn. 18:13-22 Isa. 53:8c...Killed.... Mt. 27:35 Isa. 53:8d...Dies for the sins of the world... 1 Jn. 2:2 Isa. 53:9a...Buried in a rich man's grave... Mt. 27:57 Isa. 53:9b...Innocent and had done no violence... Mk. 15:3 Isa. 53:9c...No deceit in his mouth... Jn. 18:38 Isa. 53:10a...God's will that He die for mankind... Jn. 18:11 Isa. 53:10b...An offering for sin... Mt. 20:28 Isa. 53:10c...Resurrected and live forever.... Mk. 16:16 Isa. 53:10d...He would prosper... Jn. 17:1-5 Isa. 53:11a...God fully satisfied with His suffering... Jn. 12:27 Isa. 53:11b...God's servant... Rom. 5:18-19 Isa. 53:11c...He would justify man before God... Rom. 5:8-9 Isa. 53:11d...The sin-bearer for all mankind... Heb. 9:28 Isa. 53:12a...Exalted by God because of his sacrifice... Mt. 28:18 Isa. 53:12b...He would give up his life to save mankind... Lu. 23:46 Isa. 53:12c...Grouped with criminals... Lu. 23:32 Isa. 53:12d...Sin-bearer for all mankind... 2 Cor. 5:21 Isa. 53:12e...Intercede to God in behalf of mankind... Lu. 23:34 Isa. 55:3...Resurrected by God... Acts 13:34 Isa. 55:4...A witness... Jn. 18:37 Isa. 59:15-16a...He would come to provide salvation... Jn. 6:40 Isa. 59:15-16b...Intercessor between man and God... Mt. 10:32 Isa. 59:20...He would come to Zion as their Redeemer... Lu. 2:38 Isa. 61:1-2a...The Spirit of God upon him... Mt. 3:16-17 Isa. 61:1-2b...The Messiah would preach the good news... Lu. 4:17-21 Isa. 61:1-2c...Provide freedom from the bondage of sin and death... Jn. 8:31-32 Isa. 61:1-2...Proclaim a period of grace... Jn. 5:24 Jer.23:5-6a...Descendant of David...Lu. 3:23-31 Jer. 23:5-6b...The Messiah would be God... Jn. 13:13 Jer. 23:5-6c...The Messiah would be both God and Man... 1 Tim. 3:16 Jer. 31:22...Born of a virgin... Mt. 1:18-20 Jer. 31:31...The Messiah would be the new covenant... Mt. 26:28 Jer. 33:14-15...Descendant of David... Lu. 3:23-31 Eze.17:22-24...Descendant of David... Lk. 3:23-31 Eze.34:23-24...Descendant of David... Mt. 1:1 Dan. 7:13-14a...He would ascend into heaven... Acts 1:9-11 Dan. 7:13-14b...Highly exalted... Eph. 1:20-22 Dan. 7:13-14c...His dominion would be everlasting... Lu. 1:31-33 Dan. 9:24a...To make an end to sins... Gal. 1:3-5 Dan. 9:24b...He would be holy... Lu. 1:35 Dan. 9:25...Announced to his people 483 years, to the exact day, after the decree to rebuild the city of Jerusalem... Jn. 12:12-13 Dan. 9:26a...Killed... Mt. 27:35 Dan. 9:26b...Die for the sins of the world... Heb. 2:9 Dan. 9:26c...Killed before the destruction of the temple... Mt. 27:50-51 Dan. 10:5-6...Messiah in a glorified state... Rev. 1:13-16 Hos. 13:14...He would defeat death... 1 Cor. 15:55-57 Joel 2:32...Offer salvation to all mankind... Rom. 10:12-13 Mic. 5:2a...Born in Bethlehem... Mt. 2:1-2 Mic. 5:2b...God's servant... Jn. 15:10 Mic. 5:2c...From everlasting... Jn. 8:58 Hag. 2:6-9...He would visit the second Temple... Lu. 2:27-32 Hag. 2:23...Descendant of Zerubbabel... Lu. 3:23-27 Zech. 3:8...God's servant... Jn. 17:4 Zech. 6:12-13...Priest and King... Heb. 8:1 Zech. 9:9a...Greeted with rejoicing in Jerusalem... Mt. 21:8-10 Zech. 9:9b...Beheld as King... Jn. 12:12-13 Zech. 9:9c...The Messiah would be just... Jn. 5:30 Zech. 9:9d...The Messiah would bring salvation... Luke 19:10 Zech. 9:9e...The Messiah would be humble... Mt. 11:29 Zech. 9:9f...Presented to Jerusalem riding on a donkey... Mt. 21:6-9 Zech. 10:4...The cornerstone... Eph. 2:20 Zech. 11:4-6a...At His coming, Israel to have unfit leaders... Mt. 23:1-4 Zech. 11:4-6b...Rejection causes God to remove His protection.. Lu. 19:41-44 Zech. 11:4-6c...Rejected in favor of another king... Jn. 19:13-15 Zech. 11:7...Ministry to "poor," the believing remnant... Mt. 9:35-36 Zech. 11:8a...Unbelief forces Messiah to reject them... Mt. 23:33 Zech. 11:8b...Despised... Mt. 27:20 Zech. 11:9...Stops ministering to the those who rejected Him... Mt. 13:10-11 Zech. 11:10-11a...Rejection causes God to remove protection... Lu. 19:41-44 Zech. 11:10-11b...The Messiah would be God... Jn. 14:7 Zech. 11:12-13a...Betrayed for thirty pieces of silver... Mt. 26:14-15 Zech. 11:12-13b...Rejected... Mt. 26:14-15 Zech. 11:12-13c...Thirty pieces of silver thrown into the house of the Lord... Mt. 27:3-5 Zech. 11:12-13d...The Messiah would be God... Jn. 12:45 Zech. 12:10a...The Messiah's body would be pierced... Jn. 19:34-37 Zech. 12:10b...The Messiah would be both God and man... Jn. 10:30 Zech. 12:10c...The Messiah would be rejected... Jn. 1:11 Zech. 13:7a...God's will He die for mankind... Jn. 18:11 Zech. 13:7b...A violent death... Mt. 27:35 Zech. 13:7c...Both God and man.. Jn. 14:9 Zech. 13:7d...Israel scattered as a result of rejecting Him... Mt. 26:31-56 Mal. 3:1a...Messenger to prepare the way for Messiah... Mt. 11:10 Mal. 3:1b...Sudden appearance at the temple... Mk. 11:15-16 Mal. 3:1c...Messenger of the new covenant... Lu. 4:43 Mal. 4:5...Forerunner in the spirit of Elijah... Mt. 3:1-2 Mal. 4:6...Forerunner would turn many to righteousness... Lu. 1:16-17
    Did you catch all of them?!

    Jesus Is Coming

    The first meaning of Advent was the first coming of the Messiah. We look back at it. Christ has come.

    The second meaning of Advent is the second coming. Jesus promised to return. He said

    “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

    We wait for His return, His second coming. He said He would return soon, which doesn’t fit our definition of soon, but compared to eternity what’s 2000 years?

    Jesus Is Here…Now!

    Perhaps the most important meaning of Advent is His desire to come into our lives now. Today. Make no mistake, God is here now. When Jesus left the planet physically He sent the Holy Spirit to live in every believer. The transformation many of us have experienced is evidence God has not left us to fend for ourselves here on earth. Miracles occur. Bodies are healed. Hope is found. Broken relationships are mended. Finances are restored. The disturbed find peace. All because of God with us.

    We are in the middle of history, looking back at Jesus’ first visit to our planet—a day we call Christmas, when Christ entered our world—and looking forward to His return, His second coming. While we cry “Maranatha! Come quickly LORD Jesus,” we also seek to be fully present with one another and with our God who is both here and there, on earth and in heaven. In fact Jesus taught us to pray

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

    We long for those moments when heaven kisses earth, where God’s presence and power are visible and unleashed. When love conquers indifference and hatred, when peace overcomes violence, when life trumps death, when good wins over evil, when beauty defeats the mundane.

    As we live in the in-between—this period between the first and second comings of Jesus—we find hope not in the created but the Creator, not in presents under the tree on Friday but in God’s presence with us every day.

    God is with us…and that changes everything.

    It means we’re never alone. He’s with us, especially when we’re afraid or suffering.

    It means we have power. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to us as we make disciples, reproducing the life of Jesus to live abundant, fulfilled, exciting lives.

    It means we can experience heaven, moments of supernatural wonder, miracles.

    It means we have access to an unending supply of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control—the fruit of the Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that filled Jesus.

    It also means we can die to ourselves and invite Jesus into our lives to become not only Savior but LORD. It means we give up control and “let Jesus take the wheel.” It means surrendering to our need to be God and submitting our lives to Him, truly seeking His kingdom and His will here and now.

    We have an ancient and sacred practice called baptism in which a person is ceremonially dunked in water—symbolic of a water grave where their old self dies. That sounds harsh, but then they are lifted out of the water signifying resurrection and new life in Jesus Christ. You can’t renovate these temples. You must destroy them first and start from the ground up. You can’t have a resurrection without a death.

    So What?

    Jesus came. Jesus is coming. Jesus is here. Do you know Him? Does He live in you?

    Jesus is the greatest gift you could ever receive. He’s the reason for the season. Do you know Him? He’s here.


    c

    Jesus our Healer, The Gospel Truth, 22 March 2015

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

    Big Idea: Jesus is our Healer. He created us and is able to recreate us.

    What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “healer?”

    I usually think about the miraculous physical healings Jesus performed. Here are a few mentioned by Matthew:

    Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. (Matthew 4:23-24)

    Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. (Matthew 9:35)

    Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. (Matthew 12:15)

    When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14)

    Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. (Matthew 15:30)

    Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. (Matthew 19:2)

    The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. (Matthew 21:14)

    These are just the general mentions of healing from Matthew. They don’t include any of the specific encounters Jesus had with the sick, blind, lame…or even dead!

    Jesus healed. That’s clear to everyone…except those who disbelieve miracles and the Bible!

    But our topic today is Jesus
    our Healer. Does God still heal today? Does He only do it on TV with wild preachers and people falling down? Why don’t we go to U-M and St. Joe’s hospitals and close them down through prayers of healing?

    In The Beginning

    In the beginning…God created…and it was good. Sure, it wasn’t good for man to be alone, but God remedied that and therefore Adam and Eve lived in a pain-free, disease-free paradise called Eden.

    And then all hell broke loose, quite literally.

    The serpent got Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit and God said to Eve,

    “…I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

    God said to Adam

    “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:17)

    Pain entered the world that horrific day. It was the consequence of sin. It came under the influence of our enemy, satan, who comes

    …only to steal, kill and destroy. (John 10:10a)

    As a result, we live in a broken world, a world with broken bodies, broken relationships, broken finances, broken souls, broken governments, broken homes, broken…toilets! You get the idea!

    It will not always be like this. Someday…

    ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

    I can’t wait! Maranatha! Come quickly, LORD Jesus!

    But what do we do in the meantime? How do we deal with pain and brokenness?

    1. First, God does still heal today. I will attempt to prove it shortly! It does not require a televangelist or sending money to help buy a private jet for a faith healer. God heals, but sometimes chooses to say wait or no when we ask.

    On the one extreme there are those who do not believe in healing or miracles. There are Christians who believe healing was only for biblical times; we have the Bible so we don’t need the power of God. I’m overstating, somewhat, but the essence is they believe the Holy Spirit is on vacation. There’s plenty of recent and historic evidence to suggest healing is real today. I believe there are many doctors who once believed only medicine could heal, only to experience miracles first-hand with no explanation.

    On the other extreme there are those who believe God always heals and any sickness is the result of the person’s personal sin…or lack of faith. This is a common message today in the “name it and claim it” movement that essentially says if you’re not healthy and rich it’s because you need more faith. It’s your fault! This is nothing new.

    His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:2-3)

    The entire book of Job is about a righteous man who experienced horrific pain.

    Jesus, the most righteous Person in history, endured the most horrific suffering.

    Pain and sickness is the result of sin, but not necessarily the sin of the sick. For example, hospitals are filled with the innocent victims of drunk drivers. It has been alleged that some allergies are caused by man-made chemicals and pollution.

    Jesus was a healer and He continues to heal today.

    Even during His years on earth Jesus gave others the authority to heal.

    Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. (Matthew 10:1)

    Perhaps the most radical statement on healing is found in the fourteenth chapter of John.

    Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

    He was going to the Father and would send the Holy Spirit.

    2. The power to heal comes from Jesus

    We do not believe in faith healing. It’s not from our faith, but from Jesus. Faith is a precious gift from God, but we are not healed by our faith. We are healed by God. Jesus healed in a variety of ways. Sometimes He spoke, sometimes He touched, sometimes He simply announced healing for a person not even in His presence. He still heals in a variety of ways today. In some instances faithless people are healed through the prayers of others praying for them. Healing can occur through the laying on of hands and the anointing of oil. Sometimes it comes through medicine, doctors, and other health care tools.

    It should be noted that healing is not always a physical change. Our sinful world has left many of us broken spiritually, emotionally, financially, and relationally. We are blessed to have godly biblical counselors available to help people heal from a variety of pains and struggles, trials that can be every bit as wounding as a car accident or cancer.

    3. The purpose of divine healing is to glorify Jesus.

    Jesus’ miracles authenticated the message and the Messenger. He also healed to show His compassion. Furthermore, Jesus healed to show salvation now. The Kingdom of God is here now…but we haven’t experienced it all yet. It’s like a down payment on what is to come, the now and the not yet. We have something, but not yet everything that will be ours when Christ returns.

    My Story: Rachel Schneemann

    When this subject came up, I immediately knew who I wanted to speak on this subject, our daughter Rachel.

    What comes to mind when you think of Jesus our Healer?

    Has God healed you? How? Have you participated in the healing process?

    Why doesn’t God instantly heal every person who asks for healing?

    Is sickness the result of sin? Unbelief?

    Has God only healed you physically?

    What would you say to someone who wants to be healed?

    So What?

    Do you want to be healed? Why?

    When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

    If you want to be healed,

    1. Ask

    Jesus’ half brother James wrote,

    You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. (James 4:2)

    He added

    Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (James 5:13-15)

    2. Confess.

    Some brokenness is the result of sin. Bitterness, for example, has been shown to have physical consequences. The passage from James continues…

    Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

    3. Persevere. Sometimes God says, “Yes.” Sometimes He says, “Wait.”

    As a dad, I don’t instantly give my kids everything they desire. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I say no or later.

    Rachel’s story has involved years of prayers.

    Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

    As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:11)

    In discussing prayer, Jesus said

    “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

    4. Trust. Daddy knows best. He can be trusted. His timing is never late but rarely early!

    Why Doesn’t God Heal Everyone?

    Great question! It’s in my top ten questions for God!

    Paul had a thorn in the flesh. We don’t know what it was, perhaps an issue with his eyesight. Three times God said no to his request to have it removed. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10)

    The purpose of healing is always about the glory of Christ.

    Whether in giving or witholding, it’s about His glory.

    Often it’s about His timing. The sisters of Lazarus thought Jesus was 4 days late to the scene, yet the delay facilitated a resurrection that brought greater glory to God than a conventional healing (John 11).

    We live in the now and the not yet. There are beautiful moments when heaven touches earth, when God reveals His presence and power in amazing ways, giving us a taste of and a deeper longing for heaven.

    Jesus promised us,
    “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

    He is with us…always. I don’t pretend to understand why He says “no” or “later,” but I know God is good, He is faithful, and
    nothing is impossible with our God.

    “Healer” (reprise)

    Prayer

    For Further Reading

    Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

    Pain, The Gift Nobody Wants by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey

    Where Is God When It Hurts?
    By Philip Yancey

    Credits

    Some material taken from
    The Fourfold Gospel, a C&MA/DNA publication.

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

    Jesus our Sanctifier, The Gospel Truth, 15 March 2015

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

    Big Idea: Jesus is our Sanctifier, making us increasingly holy like Himself.

    Introduction

    This week we continue our series
    The Gospel Truth. We began last week looking at Jesus as Savior. Today we continue our look at the Fourfold Gospel examining Jesus as Sanctifier.

    It’s not uncommon for song lyrics and passages of scripture to contain unusual words. Sanctifier is one of those Christianese words that few outside of the faith understand…and few inside the faith understand! When we say Jesus is our Sanctifier we are expressing that He makes us like Himself. A year ago we said that followers of Jesus are “in Christ.” What can be said of Jesus can be said of us in the eyes of our heavenly Father, not because we are God or perfect like Christ, but because we essentially wear Jesus’ uniform. His blood purifies our sins and we can stand before a holy God who cannot tolerate sin, not because of what we’ve done but because Jesus is our Savior which we studied last week.

    Sanctification then is that God wants to make us in reality what we’ve already been declared to be in Christ. In other words, following Jesus is more than praying a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart so you’ll go to heaven when you die. Following Jesus is just that—following Him. Jesus is perfect. We are to be perfect. Jesus is holy. We are to be holy. Jesus has power and authority. We are to have power and authority.

    To be sanctified is to be holy, set apart. In one sense it occurs when we surrender our lives to God, yet it is a progressive process in which we become increasingly like Him—separated from sin and evil.

    Right about now you may be asking, “Why don’t I look like Jesus?” or “How is it possible for me to be like Christ?” That’s our topic today: sanctification, becoming holy and set apart like Jesus.

    Fruit

    What is your favorite food? Although my favorite dessert is ice cream, my favorite food is fruit. I love fruit! I’m not sure if it’s because most fruits are sweet or colorful or uniquely shaped or the texture but I love fruit. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a fruit I didn’t enjoy…unless it was bad fruit!

    Where does fruit come from? Meijer! Believe it or not, it does not just appear in the produce section!

    The Bible is filled with organic metaphors. God created our world, so it should come as no surprise He would use physical things to help us understand spiritual realities.

    Gardening is a powerful way to understand life. I’m an expert gardener…in growing weeds! I admire people who understand soil and plants and who can grow things
    other than weeds!

    Last week I listened to a brilliant podcast interview with Christine Sine in which she described the numerous parallels between the cultivation of her garden and the cultivation of her soul. Producing beautiful fruit requires preparation of the soil, generous fertilizer and water, enough sunlight, protection from hungry creatures, and the eradication of weeds that can choke the plants.

    Likewise if we want our lives to bear fruit we must confess our sins, flee temptation, fill our minds with the Word of God, feed upon Jesus, the Bread of Life, receive support from godly brothers and sisters, and pursue a deeper relationship with God and others. Jesus said it plainly in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of John.

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

    How do we become like Jesus? We know Him.
    How do we know Jesus? We spend time with Him.
    How do we spend time with Jesus? We pray. We study the Bible. We spend time with people who know Jesus.

    They say many old couples look alike after years of marriage. They can finish each other’s sentences. They know what the other is thinking. That’s what happens when two people do life together, spend time with one another, know each other, and grow together. That’s what happens when we do life with Jesus—we begin to resemble Him!

    It takes time. It requires intentionality. It involves effort.

    When I placed a wedding ring on my bride’s finger nearly 25 years ago that wasn’t the end of our relationship. It was a tremendously significant moment, yet it was just the beginning. More than two decades later we’ve both invested in our relationship, and it has produced fruit (including three amazing children!). I didn’t just say vows and then tell her, “Have a nice life!” Over the years I have grown to be like her, and she has grown to be like me. We are both works in process, becoming like one another, but most of all both seeking to be like Jesus.

    “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

    It’s great to ask What Would Jesus Do? It’s far better to know Jesus so intimately and be so filled with the Holy Spirit that you don’t stop and ask—you instinctively do it! It’s natural. That’s sanctification. Jesus is our Sanctifier means He wants us to become like Him. He wants us to become Christians—little Christs. He wants us to love Him and love others, re-presenting Him to our desperate world.

    Are you connected to the vine? Do know know what God is saying to you? Are you obediently following Him?

    If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:6-8)

    If you know anything at all about plants, you know every branch must be connected to the trunk which must be connected to the roots. Any disconnect will result in poor or no fruit.

    When I was a kid I remember enjoying a pretty substantial tree in our front yard. One day I had the brilliant idea of taking a hatchet and carving my name into the tree. When my parents realized what I had done, they weren’t very pleased! Fortunately I did no permanent damage to the tree, but I could’ve killed it!

    Like many of you, I witnessed first-hand the destruction of trees by a very small bug known as the emerald ash borer. The nasty beetle from Asia was first formally identified in Canton, Michigan in 2002, believed to be introduced by overseas shipping materials. They attack ash trees through larval feeding that disrupts the flow of nutrients and water. This small bug is responsible for the destruction of literally tens of millions of ash trees and threatens to kill most of the 8.7 billion ash trees throughout North America.

    What a perfect metaphor for sin! Small, unsuspected sins invade our life, slowly disconnecting us from our source of life, Jesus. Sure, robbing a bank or killing your neighbor will damage your relationship with God—and keep you away from others as you sit in prison—but most often it’s small temptations that cause us to drift from our nourishment. We get too busy to pray, too busy to study the Bible, too busy to attend worship and Life Groups, too busy to share Jesus with others. We get greedy, buying things we don’t need until we can no longer be generous and serve those in desperate need. We compromise in small things like taxes, speed limits, truth-telling, and pride until we are able to rationalize the most blatant of sins.

    A Healthy Tree

    The first words of the Psalms paint an entirely different picture.

    Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

    That’s what I want my life to depict!

    What kind of fruit are you bearing? It could be no fruit, the result of disconnect from Jesus. It could be bad fruit such as

    sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:21-22)

    Or it could be the fruit of the Spirit:

    love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

    If we abide in Jesus, if we devote ourselves to Him, we will bear much, good fruit.

    The Alliance website says it like this:

    Many Christians understand God’s promise of salvation but do not experience the ongoing sanctifying work of Jesus Christ in their lives. For those who neither understand nor allow the Holy Spirit's control in their lives, the results have a profound effect.

    Unsuccessful struggle against sin and a lack of power in life and ministry frustrate those who have asked Jesus to be their Savior but not their Sanctifier, resulting in a lack of joy in their walk with Christ. At the point when we are born again, we become members of God’s family. We believe He paid the price for our sin and that his followers are—set apart from those are not born again—and are seen as holy because of what Christ has done.

    The Bible is filled with biological metaphors. We are a family—brothers and sisters. We are dead in our sins and resurrected with Christ as beautifully illustrated through baptism. In the book of Romans we read these powerful words:

    In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

    Some mistakenly think Christianity is a morality-based religion in which we are supposed to do good and be good. They see Jesus as someone who makes bad people good. Friends, the reality is Jesus came to make dead people come alive! Following Jesus is not merely an exercise in doing the right things. It is a vibrant, joy-filled journey in which possess—and are possessed by—the Holy Spirit. How?

    1. We thirst. We desire God, or at least want to want God.
    2. We ask. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you. Daily. Maybe hourly!
    3. We surrender. In essence, let go and let God. This means letting go of your time, talents and treasures. It means placing everything on the altar. Open your hands!
    4. Abide. Love is spelled T-I-M-E. There are no shortcuts.

    Semi-circle

    Most of us live busy lives. God created us to work, but also to rest. Most people work hard during the week and crash on the weekend. We are designed to work from a place of rest, not rest from work.

    Semi-circle copy

    The semi-circle depicts a pendulum moving from rest to work and back. There are daily, weekly, monthly and annual rhythms of rest and work. When Jesus speaks in John 15 of remaining or abiding, He’s speaking of resting in Him. We need times of rest and recreation with Jesus and our our families. If we ignore Sabbath and rest with God, we will eventually crash. If we allow Him to prune us and renew us as we abide with Him during times of rest, we will bear much fruit when we work.

    Are you abiding in Christ? Are you resting with Him? Are you spending quality time with Jesus, letting Him invite you into a deeper life of intimacy and faith while challenging you to greater levels of obedience and trust?

    When we talk about Jesus as fully God yet fully man, it’s easy to think since Jesus was God He was never really tempted. Sure, Hebrews 4:15 says He was tempted in every way like us, but didn’t He brush it away like a mosquito and then do all of His magic tricks, healing the sick and opening the eyes of the blind and raising the dead?

    Jesus said no to temptation and did supernatural works because He was filled with the Holy Spirit…the same Holy Spirit available to you and me. If we abide with Jesus, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will change. We will grow. We will bear fruit. We will look increasingly like Jesus.

    Paul wrote these words to the Church in Corinth:

    Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

    That’s remarkable!

    Conclusion

    Dallas Willard famously referred to those seeking salvation apart from sanctification and lordship as “vampire Christians” who only want a little blood but have no interest in following Jesus now. It’s one thing for Jesus to be our Savior and another to be truly LORD.

    A few weeks ago we said one of our family rules is the Make Disciples. Disciples are students or imitators of their discipler. We are to be students and followers and imitators of Jesus.

    It’s a life-long process, but if we hunger after God, if we ask the Holy Spirit to fill us, if we confess our sins and surrender our will, and if we abide, He will make us new. He will transform us into new creations like Jesus. He is able to take whatever mess we offer Him and make it beautiful. That’s our Sanctifier!

    Credits

    Some material taken from
    The Fourfold Gospel, a C&MA/DNA publication.

    Semi-circle LifeShape from Mike Breen and 3DMovements.com.

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

    Jesus Our Savior, The Gospel Truth, 8 March 2015

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

    Big Idea: Jesus is our Savior, saving us from sin and death.

    What is the
    gospel? It is good news.

    Many have said the gospel is the plan of salvation. It often goes something like this:

    1. God loves you.
    2. You sinned and are separated from God.
    3. Jesus died to reconcile you to God.
    4. If you pray to ask Jesus into your heart you’ll go to heaven when you die.

    I literally spent years telling a version of that story to students in both the United States and Bolivia. Pray to receive Christ and you’re guaranteed a “Get Out Of Hell Free” card.

    That is certainly good news, but the gospel is more. Much more. Pastor Bruxy Cavey defines the gospel with these thirty words:

    “The gospel is the good news that God has come to us through Christ to show us His love, save us from sin, set us in community, and shut down religion.”

    Last week we noted scholar N.T. Wright’s description of the grand story of history as a play with multiple acts:

    Act 1: creation
    Act 2: the Fall
    Act 3: Israel
    Act 4: Jesus
    Act 5: New Testament and the people of God (the Church)

    Some have suggested we are in Act 6, with Act 7 being the new heaven and new earth mentioned in Revelation.

    If we skip Act 3, we miss a huge part of human history. Jesus was, Himself, a Jew, after all.

    One of my professors wrote

    “…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.” (Scot McKnight,
    King Jesus Gospel)

    In three words, the gospel is Jesus is Lord. In one word, the gospel is Jesus.

    Today we begin a new series, The Gospel Truth, looking at Jesus.

    The Fourfold Gospel

    Last week I mentioned A.B. Simpson, the founder of The Christian & Missionary Alliance, our denomination. After doing some research on his life a few years ago I was surprised to learn his influence not only in the C&MA but also the founding of the Assemblies of God and Foursquare denominations.

    The Fourfold Gospel is the Christological summary on which the core values of The Alliance is based. Simpson saw Jesus as not only Savior—our focus today—but also his Sanctifier and Healer and Coming King. As we saw in the video earlier, it’s all about Jesus.

    Who Is Jesus?

    Last Sunday CNN began a series called Finding Jesus. I was pleasantly surprised at both its research and results. Part 2 will be shown tonight at 9 PM and you can view episodes at CNN.com.

    Our faith is built upon Jesus—not a dream, not an idea…not even a book. It’s built upon a Person. I realize most of you are familiar with Jesus. If you’re like me you might be overly familiar with Him. This is a huge danger in any relationship. We can become so familiar and so comfortable with someone—a parent, spouse, child, friend—that we take them for granted and forget just how unique and special they are to us. That’s why we remember them by celebrating their birthday, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, or some other occasion.

    Who is Jesus? So much can be said about Jesus. In fact, John concluded his biography of Jesus by saying

    Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25)

    There are, in fact, four biographies of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We refer to them as the four gospels because they are good news. They are about Jesus.

    Savior

    This week I was talking with our daughter about her favorite names for children. People name their kids after movie stars, athletes, biblical characters, and for a host of other reasons. Ancient Hebrews chose names that would speak prophecy about the mission or character of their children.

    When my parents named me Kirk, they liked the sound of the name, but also its meaning: “church dweller.” They were quite prophetic!

    In a similar way Jesus was not simply a name Mary and Joseph liked, but one carefully chosen to convey His mission. An angel of the LORD came to Joseph and said of Mary:

    She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

    He is our Savior, saving us from our sins. Luke expressed this, as well, quoting Jesus:

    For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

    Romans 3:21-26

    The third chapter of Romans provides us with one of the clearest portraits of Jesus as Savior.

    But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for 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. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

    God loves us. We all sin and fall short of His standard of perfection. Jesus shed His blood and died on the cross to save us, to forgive us, to enable us to be reconciled to a perfect and holy God.

    Because Jesus is our Savior.

    1. Our sins have been forgiven. (Colossians 1:14)
    2. We have peace with God. (Romans 5:1)
    3. We have been declared righteous. (Romans 5:19)
    4. We are new creatures. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
    5. We have eternal life. (John 3:16)
    6. We have been adopted by God. (Ephesians 1:5)
    7. His Holy Spirit lives in us. (Galatians 4:6)
    8. Jesus is our advocate. (1 John 2:1)
    9. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:35)
    10. Death has no more power over us. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
    11. We have an inheritance that can never perish. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

    That’s quite a list! Which is the most meaningful to you?

    Universal and Exclusive

    Jesus is both a universal Savior and an exclusive Savior. John 3:16 says

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

    God loves the whole world and died for the whole world, but salvation is for those who believe in Jesus.

    By the way, believe is not something simply done in your head, like you might believe in the Easter Bunny or that the Detroit Lions will win the next Super Bowl. Biblical belief requires action. It’s like believing a parachute will work and therefore you jump out of the airplane. You believe the odd-looking food is nourishing so you eat it. Faith is never passive.

    Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

    Contrary to what contemporary culture tells us, there are not multiple paths to God. There is only one—Jesus Christ. Only One died for us. Only One conquered sin and death. Only One is alive thousands of years later!

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

    This is, admittedly, politically incorrect. It can be downright offensive, except for the fact that Jesus died of all. He offers Himself as a gift to all…who receive the gift.

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

    In his book
    Radical, David Platt tells of a conversation outside a Buddhist temple in Indonesia with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader. One said, “We may have different views about small issues, but when it comes down to essential issues, each of our religions is the same.” Platt said, “It sounds as though you both picture God (or whatever you call god) at the top of a mountain. It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place.” They smiled as I spoke. Happily they replied, “Exactly! You understand!” Then I leaned in and said, “Now let me ask you a question. What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are? What would you think if I told you that God doesn’t wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?” They thought for a moment and then responded, “That would be great.” I replied, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.”

    This is the gospel. The gospel is Jesus. He is our Savior who lived and died and rose for us. He offers each of us Himself as the greatest gift, a gift we can reject or receive.

    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. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

    We don’t deserve it; that’s grace, unmerited favor. It’s amazing!

    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.

    Introduction

    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.

    Covenant & Kingdom: The Cross, 5 October 2014

    Big Idea: The Cross is about a substitutionary death―our Covenant, and the victory of God over our enemies― the Kingdom.

    Key Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

    Introduction

    In previous weeks we said the Bible is a big book. It’s actually a library of 66 books. We usually study it verse-by-verse, like looking through a microscope. This series will look at it through a telescope, examining the big idea of the Bible.

    Covenant and Kingdom are woven throughout the Scriptures like a
    double helix is woven in DNA.

    Covenant is a sacred treaty in which two parties become one. In ancient times, this always involved the shedding of blood by an animal to imply consequences for failure to fulfill the agreement.

    God made a covenant with Abram, promising blessings to him and his offspring in order for them to bless the world.

    Covenant is about relationship. Being. Invitation.
    Kingdom is about responsibility. Doing. Challenge.

    Life is filled with tension between being and doing, relationship and responsibility, being invited into relationship with God while also being challenged to represent Him and bless the world.

    As we look at this idea of challenge, of kingdom, of doing God’s work in the world we are going to look at the most important week in human history, the Passion Week.

    In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20)

    Did you catch that? Jesus introduces a new covenant in His blood. Remember, covenants required the shedding of blood for two parties to become one.

    For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (2 Corinthians 5:14)

    As we have said throughout this series and our earlier series on Ephesians, followers of Jesus are “in Christ.” Whatever is true of Jesus is true of us. We’re on His team. We wear His uniform. Because Jesus died, we have died. Jesus is the Son of God. We are Sons of God (it’s not a gender issue).

    And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

    Jesus gave His life for us. The only appropriate response is to give ours in return.

    So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

    This is not an instant thing. Jesus actually likens it to a birth. The moment you are born, you are completely human, but not fully developed. We are not perfect. Our world is not perfect. We can, however, live in peace in the midst of chaos knowing we are never alone and one day we will rule and reign with our Father the King forever.

    All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: (2 Corinthians 5:18)

    God the Father gives us the same ministry of reconciliation He gave Jesus because we are His, too! A human brought sin and death into the world and, therefore, God became human to conquer sin and death through Jesus. He became One of us. Last week we talked about how He understands temptation. He also understands pain and suffering.

    Have you ever looked at our broken world and thought, “Why isn’t God doing something?”

    He is.

    You’re it!

    …that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19)

    We begin in covenant with the Father and then He enlists us to serve in His Kingdom, to announce the good news that Jesus is LORD. We are His team. There’s no plan B! He’s our Father. He’s the King. We have royal blood and represent Him.

    We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

    We are on a mission from God. We are His ambassadors, His representatives. When people see us, they see Him. You are the only Bible some people will ever read!

    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) 

    That’s the cross. Jesus had no sin, yet God dumped our sin upon Him. It killed Jesus! By Jesus’ blood we get the antibody for the disease of sin. He became Sin and we become Sons (again, not gender). We become, to God, exactly as Jesus is. When the Father looks at you, He looks at you as if it was Jesus because we are one with Christ.

    Covenant gives us value.
    Kingdom gives us vision.

    On the cross, Christ extends His arms as if to welcome us. He was suspended between heaven and earth, the vertical bar an image of our covenant relationship with the Father and the horizontal bar a picture of our kingdom responsibility to love our neighbor.

    ʻAt that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!"ʼ (Matthew 27:51-54)

    The day of Judgment came because God the Father judged sin. He declares His judgment upon Jesus. The earth shook. Rocks split. Tombs broke open. The universe was forever changed.

    On the cross Jesus died instead of us.

    His body was broken instead of ours.

    His blood was shed as a new covenant.

    He gave everything for us. It’s only appropriate that we return the favor.

    ʻWhen you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the Cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.ʼ (Colossians 2:13-14)


    The early church fathers described it this way: God tricked the devil! Satan thought he won when Jesus was put into the tomb, but Jesus had one final play!
    Jesus entered the world of the dead and announced to the spirits captive there that He had won. Jesus has the keys to death and hell. He won them. He’s our champion!
    You see, the Gospel is really really good! He has died in our place so that we might be in Covenant with God, so that we might be ONE with him, so that we might be connected again. And he has defeated the principalities and the powers of darkness, bringing forth the brightest of light and healing and is asking us to do the same.

    Credits

    Ideas for this series taken from book of the same title by Mike Breen and 3DMovements.com.

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

    Covenant & Kingdom: Temptation, 28 September 2014

    Matthew 4:1-11

    Big Idea: Jesus was tempted just like us—and He overcame it as we can by remembering who and Whose we are.

    Introduction

    In previous weeks we said the Bible is a big book. It’s actually a library of 66 books. We usually study it verse-by-verse, like looking through a microscope. This series will look at it through a telescope, examining the big idea of the Bible.

    Covenant and Kingdom are woven throughout the Scriptures like a
    double helix is woven in DNA.

    Covenant is a sacred treaty in which two parties become one. In ancient times, this always involved the shedding of blood by an animal to imply consequences for failure to fulfill the agreement.

    God made a covenant with Abram, promising blessings to him and his offspring in order for them to bless the world.

    Covenant is about relationship. Being. Invitation.
    Kingdom is about responsibility. Doing. Challenge.

    Life is filled with tension between being and doing, relationship and responsibility, being invited into relationship with God while also being challenged to represent Him and bless the world.

    As we look at this idea of challenge, of kingdom, of doing God’s work in the world we are going to look at the most important character in the Bible—Jesus.

    The story of the temptation of Jesus is familiar to many. After 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, Jesus refuses satan three times. If you’re like me, you may have thought it was easy for Jesus to stand up to temptation because He was God. However, He set aside the God-stuff when He came to earth in order to truly become one of us, to understand our struggles. In fact, Jesus giving in to temptation and seizing superpowers is exactly what satan wanted.

    Jesus is able to represent the Father, the King, well because He understood His identity. He knew who He was.

    Satan repeats one phrase: “IF you are the Son of God.” Specifically, he attacks Jesus in three areas:

    Appetite:
    turn stones into bread
    Affirmation:
    prove God’s protection by jumping from the Temple
    Ambition:
    worship me and receive the kingdoms of the world

    What is your greatest temptation? What is your most common sin? Chances are, you are bombarded by one, two, or all three of these temptations.

    Appetite

    Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:1-3)

    Here we see one of my favorite verses in the Bible. Jesus did not eat for 40 days and was hungry. Surprise!

    We all have appetites—for food, love, sleep, purpose…Cravings are not necessarily wrong. In fact, without some—like food—we would die. The issue is how we respond to our desires. It often involves control. We question whether God can be trusted.

    Jesus knew God could be trusted and did not seize control in the situation. He was obedient to the Father who called Him into the wilderness for an essential season of prayer prior to selecting twelve disciples. He knew God was good. The Father could be trusted.

    What do you crave? Food? Alcohol? A perfect body? Sex? Comfort? Security? Facebook?

    There are not all bad, but if they control you, they become your idol, your god.

    Perhaps you’ve tried unsuccessfully to rid yourself of addiction. The early church fathers used to say that if you say no to one appetite, you can say no to something else. Dallas Willard said it this way: “Do the things you can so you can do the things you can’t.” Use your will to give up something you can control so God’s Spirit will give you the power over the other.

    One example of this is Lent, 40 days of saying no to an appetite to concentrate on your identity as a child of God.

    To be honest, addictions can be nasty. It’s not as simple as giving up meat for 40 days in order to destroy all cravings. It’s a step, but others may be necessary, including support groups, accountability, and prayer.

    Jesus was tempted, and He responded with Scripture.

    Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” (Matthew 4:4)

    Jesus had spiritual food upon which He was nourished. He knew the truth and it set Him free.

    Affirmation

    Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

    “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” (Matthew 4:5-6)

    Now satan gets nasty. He starts misusing the Bible. Don’t miss this! People often flippantly say, “The Bible says…” What is the context? What did it originally mean? What does it mean today? You can’t pick and choose verses any more than you can pick and choose ingredients in a recipe (oops, I forgot the sugar in the cookies!!!).

    Our identity must come from somewhere outside of us. We are prone to seek the approval of others. Instead of waiting to hear the Father say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant,” we want to be affirmed now.

    Do people think I’m smart?
    Do people think I’m pretty or handsome?
    Do people think I’m a good parent?
    Do people think I’m a good worker?
    Do people like me?
    Am I popular?

    Approval can be an addiction. The crazy thing is often the people we want to affirm us are only temporarily in our lives. We are tempted to base our value on people that won’t even be in our lives in a few years…or maybe months.

    What if we lived for an audience of One?

    I struggle with this. I want people to like me. I want you to like me! I want to do things that make you happy…so you will like me! I want this sermon to be great so you’ll think I’m a great preacher and pastor! I’ve been tempted to ignore tough passages of the Bible, speaking only about things that will make you feel good.

    But ultimately I have to answer to God. He loves me. He accepts me. I’ve been rejected many times by people—and it always hurts. The voice that really matters is the Father’s voice, and Jesus understood that.

    Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (Matthew 4:7)

    Jesus did not need to impress satan or win his approval. He was confident in His identity as the Son of the Most High God.

    Ambition

    Success. It has been one of the most daunting words for me. Defining success has been a decades-long struggle. I want to be successful. I want to make a difference in this world. I want to do great things for God…and sometimes for my own glory!

    Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)

    What is success? Achieving goals? Knowing and doing what God tells you. Sometimes we are obedient and look like failures. The Bible is filled with such stories, but they continued to believe God is good and faithful.

    God calls us to be faithful and obedient which does not always look like success in the eyes of the world that celebrates big, popular, and excellent.

    I’m not saying winning or success is necessarily wrong, but it can be if it is the source of our identity. If your success in life is tied to your performance, something’s wrong—and for so many this is the case…especially artists. As an artist, I can say this! If I write a song and you don’t like it, I’m tempted to think you are rejecting me, which is idolatry. Some athletes believe if they don’t win, they are…losers—not in a game, but life. When we seek to win for our glory, we have made ourselves lord rather than God. We’ve worshipped the created rather than the Creator.

    I’m a very competitive person. A few years ago on an elder retreat we had some competitive games of doubles ping pong. It was not televised on ESPN, but there were some close games. Unbeknownst to the others, my team was winning every game, and I was quite pleased…until my team lost. I hid it, but I was inappropriately overjoyed during the victories and agonized in the defeat. When we were done, I confessed my hidden sin to the others, exposing my wicked, prideful heart.

    Perhaps the most obvious sign of this is the comparison game. Someone recently said all reality TV is designed to either make us feel good about ourselves or bad about ourselves as we compare ourselves to the winners and losers.

    I’m probably most insecure about other pastors, especially pastors of large churches that have written books and speak at conferences. A part of me secretly—well, not now!—wants to be a Christian celebrity, be invited to speak in front of large crowds, and “do great things for God.” Do you see the shadow motive? God wants us to be involved in His mission on earth, but He wants us to serve Him rather than the other way around. Our motives are critical, though there is no such thing as completely pure motives!

    Would you like a remedy? Try this:
    choose to lose.

    If an argument is going a certain way―choose not to have the last word. Lose the argument.
    Choose relational harmony over winning an argument.
    If youʼre playing golf or a board game or basketball―make the point of playing to bless your opponent and donʼt care if you win. Play for fun.
    Go above and beyond at work but donʼt let anyone know. Chose to lose the opportunity to get credit for extra work.
    Another way you can address this issue is to anonymously give—money, time, expertise. Give without seeking credit or reward. The Father is watching!
    The Father was watching Jesus in the wilderness…with approval.

    Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ” (Matthew 4:10)

    Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:11)

    We’re not exactly sure what those final five words mean, but they’re pretty cool! Jesus passed the test. His preparation to begin His public ministry was complete, at least the wilderness part. He knew who He was. He had just heard the Father say at His baptism, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

    Luke’s gospel account of the temptation of Christ ends with these words:

    When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13)

    Jesus passed this test, but it was hardly the end of temptation. He experienced every day of His life as we do.

    So What?

    Where you are being tempted. Is it your appetite? Your ambition? Affirmation? What way do you need to intentionally press into your identity as Godʼs child?
    Your Daddy loves you. He’s nuts about you! He is so near you. He believes in you. He’s proud of you. Don’t forget Whose you are. You are a King’s kid!
    Is there any desire in you for the accolades of men and women around you?

    If so, take the words of the Father spoken over Jesus in the gospels and substitute your name for Jesus and allows those words to sink into your heart. 

    The desire of approval is the commitment to remove shame. Shame in the world's eyes is removed by acclaim. We long for things that shout down the voice of shame. What is the alternative to acclaim for shame? Allowing the Word of God to speak and give faith.

    "You are my son/daughter and I love you and I'm proud of you.” If He said it over Jesus it is true of us. 

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

    appetite: give us this day our daily bread
    affirmation: lead us not into temptation
    ambition: Yours is the kingdom, not mine

    Credits

    Ideas for this series taken from book of the same title by Mike Breen and 3DMovements.com.

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

    King David, 22 December 2013

    Big Idea: The only greater king than David is Jesus. Will He be your King?

    Scripture Reading, 1 Samuel 16:4-13

    Introduction: Kings

    What do you think of when you hear the word King? We struggle in our culture to understand royalty. Most USAmericans probably think of celebrity when words like “prince” or “lady” or “royal family” are mentioned. In England, there is great wealth in Queen Elizabeth’s family, but limited power. Unless something unexpected takes place, we will soon see King Charles, King William, and King George.

    Imagine a land where one man ruled. He is sovereign and in complete control. He creates the law and is above it. He has unlimited riches…and power.

    Would you prefer to live under such a person or dwell in a democracy like our nation? Why? It depends upon who is on the throne. Today millions are oppressed by dictators in nations such as North Korea. They can submit or die.

    On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we are waiting for Jesus. For thousands of years, the world awaited the Messiah who arrived on the day we celebrate as Christmas. For the past two weeks we have examined agents of God that were forerunners of the Messiah. Each person radically changed history in anticipation of Emmanuel, God with us.

    From the beginning of time, God has wanted to pursue us and be our king. Some have called Adam the first king. He and Eve were given dominion over creation in the Garden of Eden. They failed, of course. Two weeks ago we talked about Adam, our first father. He co-created with God but also introduced sin to our world through the Fall. Jesus is called the second Adam because He reversed the curse of death through His own.

    Generations later, God makes a covenant with Abraham—our agent from last Sunday. Like Adam, Abraham was a deeply flawed man, yet God used him mightily. Out of Abraham the nation of Israel was born. God was their king, guiding Moses and the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Despite God’s goodness and faithfulness, the people begged for a human king like the surrounding nations have, ultimately rejecting God as their LORD.

    Today we’re looking at our third and final biblical character, a king. The scripture read moments ago records the search for a new king. Saul is the first king of Israel, but God told the prophet Samuel to find his successor, a shepherd boy who is both an unlikely yet a perfect choice to become king. His name is…David.


    David was an agent of God. Few in human history have been more successful than the giant-killing shepherd boy who became the most famous king of Israel and, arguably, the most famous leader in human history other than Jesus. In fact, no person is mentioned more in the Bible besides Christ. To say that David was legendary is a great understatement.

    There are three things to know about David.

    First, he was immensely successful. Before thwarting Israelite slavery by killing Goliath, he had killed a lion and bear…without a gun (1 Samuel 17)! That was just the beginning. Women met King Saul, dancing and singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands. (1 Sam. 18:6-7)” He was a respected, powerful, magnificent ruler.

    The second thing to know about David is he was immensely sinful. Other than Adam and Eve’s infamous fruit snack, David’s lust, adultery, rape, and murder are the most notorious evil in the Bible. It has been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. David is Exhibit A.

    The third thing to know about David is he was a man after God’s own heart.

    After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ (Acts 13:22)

    He wrote most of the psalms, many filled with praise and others lament and question. He is my favorite Bible character other than Jesus. I love his passion, his honesty, and his musical skills. Many have wondered why a man with such a track record could be considered a man after God’s own heart. Psalm 51 reveals a broken, repentant man seeking reconciliation and restoration with the God he loves.

    Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
    according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
    Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

    For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
    Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
    so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.

    Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
    Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
    Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
    (Psalm 51:1-4; 10-12)

    David confessed his sins and repented. Despite his great power, he needed forgiveness. He needed a Savior. He needed a King.

    King Jesus

    For generations people waited for the true King. Not surprisingly, this Messiah was a descendent of King David. In fact, the very first words in the New Testament, Matthew 1:1, says

    This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

    We won’t take the time to read the entire genealogy today, but verses 2 through 16 conclude with the record of

    …Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. (Matthew 1:16b)

    Jesus was a descendent of King David, though He hardly looked like a king during His thirty three years on our planet. He was born in a barn in a small town called Bethlehem. We know almost nothing about his first thirty years of life. When He goes public, the carpenter’s son teaches, performs miracles, and enters Jerusalem, not on a horse, but a humble donkey. The most surprising moment came when this promised King freely surrendered Himself to executioners who crucified Him, dashing all hopes that this Man was the Messiah who would set the people free from Roman tyranny. Or so they thought.

    Although hijacked by Santa and shopping, this season celebrates a king,
    the King. He visited our planet once and will return soon to rule and reign over sin, death, and evil forever. Here’s a description of what is to come:

    I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

    KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
    (Rev. 19:11-16)

    So now we wait for the return of the King. In the very last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, we find these words…

    “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

    “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:12-13, 16)

    King Jesus is the root and the offspring of King David, the bright Morning Star. Jesus—the little baby we see in Nativity scenes—will rule and reign forever…with us, imparting to His followers His own glory and a share in His royal dominion. He is coming soon!

    But wait, He’s here. We can’t see Him, but some of the greatest things in the world cannot be seen, like the wind, love, joy, or peace. But He’s here. He sent the Holy Spirit to live on our planet. Where? Inside every believer.

    It’s easy to look back at the birthday of King Jesus.
    It’s easy to look forward to the return of King Jesus.

    We struggle with the in-between.

    God is called
    Emmanuel which means “God with us.” We’ve sung it. We know it. But King Jesus is here…now…in this room. Yes, His physical body left the planet, but He sent the Holy Spirit to live and rule and reign…in us!

    Challenge

    In three days we will celebrate the birthday of a King. Will it be just another holiday, a day off work and reason to throw a party, or will it be a time to truly remember the King who became one of us…and who will return soon to rule and reign forever?

    This Christmas as we celebrate the birth of a King, I encourage you to do two things:

    1. Welcome Jesus into your life, your heart, your home. He is alive and wants nothing more than you—all of you. Kings do not have part-time subjects. Many love Jesus as Savior, but refuse to recognize Him as LORD. He gave everything for you when He died on the cross. He loves you so much, regardless of your past. Jesus is a King who willingly died for His subjects, asks everything in return, but then exchanges our broken, messed-up lives for abundant life filled with hope, joy, peace, purpose, and love. It’s the greatest gift ever!

    2. Prepare for the return of the King. He will return on a white horse, not a donkey. He will rule the world with truth and grace. Forever. Are you ready?

    Joy To The World

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

    Adam, 8 December 2013

    Big Idea: The “birth” and life of our oldest ancestor, Adam, has affected every human being since.

    Introduction

    On this second Sunday of Advent, we are waiting for Jesus. For thousands of years, the world awaited the Messiah who arrived on the day we celebrate as Christmas. For the next three weeks we will examine three agents of God that were forerunners of the Messiah. Each person radically changed history in anticipation of Emmanuel, God with us.

    Before we look at today’s agent, I want to take a moment and review the story of God. Last week we finished a lengthy series that looked at the Gospel of John verse by verse. In this series we’ll examine the big picture.

    What is the Gospel?


    This is actually a hotly discussed topic these days. Many will say it is “good news,” which is the literal translation, and that it relates to God’s love for sinners like me. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. The Bible does not begin at the cross, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, or even at His birth. It began thousands of years earlier.

    In the beginning. If you recall, this is not only how Genesis begins but also John.


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

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

    What is the greatest thing you have ever created? Parents, your kids don’t count! It might be a song, a building, a business, a painting, or website.

    God is an artist, He has given us the ability to be creative, and we are His greatest masterpiece.


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

    The Greek word for handiwork,
    poi÷hma or poihma, means creation, workmanship, what is made.

    Scholar N.T. Wright recently said, “It is God’s purpose, God’s mission, God’s aim, God’s project to make this creation a wonderful, flourishing, fulfilled, joyous place full of His love and His glory and His purpose and His wisdom.”

    The story of God begins at creation in a garden. He has plenty of angels to lead, but He creates humans in His image with the ability to accept or reject Him, full will. God created humans for relationship. You can’t have a relationship with a robot, at least not a meaningful one. Relationships are forged through love, respect, honesty, and communication.

    God’s first agent was a man named…Adam. Adam was born around 4004 BC. Wikipedia lists his birthday as October 23 at 9 A, but I wasn’t around to confirm that! Actually, the date was identified through a study by a group of theologians and scholars in 1630.

    It’s really not important when Adam was created, but why. He was created to know God.

    Adam was also created to know his wife, Eve, and create children. This is not merely for their benefit, but God’s. His agenda is to see a world filled with people He can love and that can love Him. Adam and Eve become His agents, co-creating with Him the miracle of life and co-ruling over creation. They represent creation to God and are supposed to reflect God to creation.

    N.T. Wright says that when God created us in His image, it’s not like looking in a mirror but like an angled mirror so that God’s love and wisdom is reflected out into the world and the praises of creation are reflected back to God.

    All of us can ultimately trace our ancestry back to Adam and Eve. In fact, last week the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3 was read, tracing His roots back to Adam.

    the son of Enosh,
    the son of Seth,
    the son of Adam,
    the son of God.
    (Luke 3:38)

    One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Genesis 2:25…

    Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

    They knew God and one another and enjoyed life together. They enjoyed creation…and co-creating with God. Twice in Genesis chapter one it says

    God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number. (Genesis 1:22a; 1:28a)

    Further more, they were to

    …fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
    (Genesis 1:28b)

    Adam and Eve are God’s agents of creation, co-creating and co-ruling with Him in paradise.

    The End. Right?

    The Garden of Eden was paradise…until satan entered the story, tempted Eve, and paved the way for sin to enter our world and introduce death and destruction. Our forefather failed and we’ve been suffering ever since, both humans and the planet itself, now filled with decay and pain.

    To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

    “Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
    (Genesis 3:17)

    Adam was created, walked with God, sinned, was kicked out of the Garden, fathered many children, and…

    Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.
    (Genesis 5:5)

    It’s not the most inspiring story, is it?

    Ever since sin entered our world through Adam and Eve we’ve been trying to make sense out of life, struggling to survive in a broken, messy world. For about 4000 years after Adam, God continued to pursue a relationship with humans, some of whom returned the favor and many others who rejected Him.

    You might recall at one point He became so frustrated with evil that He destroyed the world with a flood, sparing only the lives of those who entered the ark built by Noah.

    From generation to generation, God remained faithful, but nothing could truly address the sin issue. We needed a Savior. Romans 5:14 says that

    …death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

    Fortunately, about 2000 years ago God took the radical step of becoming one of us to show us what it truly means to be human. Sin has more than tainted the image of God we were created to bear.

    With Adam came not only life but death. With Jesus, however, His death brought us life. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth

    For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)

    and

    So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being” ; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45)

    Jesus can stand as representative for all of creation, and His faithfulness can redeem all of creation, just as He receives the punishment which belonged to all of creation.

    So What?

    It’s impossible to ignore Christmas in our culture. We are inundated with music, parties, food,…and shopping! I want to give you some homework.

    Meditate on creation. Our world is amazing. God made it for us to enjoy.

    Take a trip to the Toledo Zoo and
    admire God’s handiwork. Stare at a sunset, admire snowflakes, or capture beauty with a camera.

    Think about how you and others have co-created with God. Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts. Attend tomorrow’s greenroom gathering in downtown Ann Arbor. Go to a musical concert or just listen carefully to your favorite album. Write a poem, paint a picture, or make a craft. Use your God-given imagination. The arts are a way to the center of truth. Handel and Bach set the Christian story to music. God wants creativity and imagination. He will make this world even more powerful and beautiful. He wants us to put up signposts that redemption and His return is coming.

    Reflect upon ways in which you and your sin have damaged your relationship with God…and others. Confess your sins, repent and turn from evil, and bask in the forgiveness of the second Adam whose death brings life.

    Wait for the return of Jesus. The true Human is coming back soon to bring healing and wholeness to our broken world. We pray, “Maranatha! Come quickly, LORD Jesus.”

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

    Blood & Water, John 19:31-37, 13 October 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus died, predicted centuries prior in amazing detail lending credibility to the Bible and its message.

    If you could know the future, would you want to?

    Heather and I decided we did not want to know the sex of our children until they were born. Well, we almost decided! Actually, when our girls were born, it was a surprise. In fact, my mother-in-law was so convinced that our second child was a boy that she made blue outfits for him—uh, her. When I said, “It’s a girl!” she was in denial!

    With our third, we wanted to keep it a surprise…until the doctor asked us if we wanted to know since she was 100% sure from the ultrasound. I said, “That must mean it’s a boy” and she said, “Not necessarily. The baby is just perfectly positioned.” The doctor left the room, Heather asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to know?” and in a moment of weakness when the doctor returned, I said, “OK, tell us!” much to the surprise of my wife. I cried tears of joy when I learned a baby boy was joining our family.

    In that moment, I was able to know the future. We told one couple our news, but it was a complete surprise to the rest of the world when Trevor entered the visible world seventeen years ago.

    If you could know the future, would you want to?

    What about your death? If I could tell you when and how you would die, would you want to know?

    Jesus knew. “Sure,” you say, “He’s God,” but any Jew familiar with the Old Testament had clear descriptions of the Messiah, how He would be conceived, where He would be born, and how He would die. Just to give you an idea, here is one list of Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus:

    http://www.bibleprobe.com/365messianicprophecies.htm

    Simply put, Jesus uniquely fulfilled hundreds of prophecies that were written hundreds and even thousands of years before His birth.

    John 19:31-37

    Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. (31)

    The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. (32-33)

    Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. (34-35)

    These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” (36)

    he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. (Psalm 34:20)

    and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (37)

    “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. (Zechariah 12:10)

    Jesus probably did not die of a broken heart but with a broken heart. I declare Jesus fulfilled hundreds of prophecies, and even in His death many came to pass. Oh, and one more thing…
    Jesus died. This may not sound radical, but to many, it is unimaginable. The Muslim Quaran, for example, states…

    And [for] their saying, "Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah ." And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. (Surat An-Nisa 4:157)

    They believe someone that looked like Jesus died that resembled Him, but if Jesus did not die, we have no hope. If Jesus did not die, the ten martyred disciples wasted their lives, and the countless since. If Jesus did not die, we cannot know God, experience forgiveness, or have eternal life.

    But John, an eyewitness, was there and saw what happened. He said plainly that Jesus died.

    Believe it or not, some believe Jesus survived the crucifixion, which is utterly ludicrous. It is true that crucified people often remained alive, or half alive, for days, but Jesus was so badly beaten prior that it is little wonder He hung for three hours before declaring, “It is finished.”

    No Roman soldier would let a condemned criminal escape death. It would cost them their life.

    Jesus really died—so that we could live—and today we remember His death as He told his original twelve to do. We take the bread and remember His body that was broken and pierced for us. We drink the cup and remember His blood that was poured out for us. Jesus really died, and John was an eyewitness of the tragic yet wonderful event. Jesus died to show His love for us, to reconcile us to a holy God who cannot tolerate sin, to provide forgiveness of our messed up lives, to offer mercy and amazing grace.

    Water and blood are so symbolic, not only in the Jesus story but the entire Bible, pointing to life, cleansing, purification, and forgiveness. Moses inaugurated the first covenant with blood and water. Jesus inaugurates another covenant through His death.

    Jesus is the true Passover lamb who takes away the sin of the world, a lamb that, according to Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12, could not have any broken bones.

    It has been said that we don’t know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future. Actually, the holy Scriptures tell us much about the future, and among its revelations is that we will one day stand before a holy God and have to give an account for our lives. How did we live them? Who did we serve? How did we use our time, talents and treasures?

    Jesus came and died…but that’s not the end of the story. Hallelujah! Because He lives, we can face tomorrow…and today…and prepare for His return.

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

    Here's The Man! John 19:1-7, 8 September 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus is the ultimate man, the ideal human.

    Introduction

    We have been looking at the life of Jesus through the lens of John, one of His best friends. We are in the nineteenth chapter of his Gospel or “good news.” We will spend five weeks in this chapter exploring the final hours of His pre-resurrected life.

    Last week Jonathan Hurshman taught on Jesus’ first encounter with Pilate in chapter eighteen. The Jewish leaders bring Jesus to the Roman governor’s palace and…

    Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” (18:31)

    Later, Pilate asks

    “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (18:38-39)

    They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising. (18:40)

    Pilate wants to punt. Clearly Jesus is no threat to his authority and wants the Jewish leaders to go away and leave him alone. Hoping to satisfy them

    Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. (19:1)

    There were three types of flogging done by the Romans.

    • the fustigatio, a beating that served as a warning for smaller offenses
    • the flagellatio, a more brutal punishment for more serious crimes
    • the verberatio, the most heinous punishment

    This flogging is believed to be the first and least severe punishment. Pilate sees nothing wrong with Jesus and wants to pacify the Jewish leaders.

    Flogging was typically done with a whip of several strips of leather with bone and lead imbedded. The Jews had a limit of forty lashes, though they usually did thirty-nine in case of a miscount. The Romans, however, had no limit and their flogging often resulted in death.

    The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. (19:2a)

    The crown of thorns was possibly taken from a Sayla Tree with long, thick spikes, not small thorns from a rose stem. The thorns would not only cause bleeding, they would distort a person’s face as they sunk into the victim’s skull.

    In Genesis 22, a ram’s head was caught in a thornbush and was offered up instead of Isaac as a sacrifice, a moving parallel to Jesus’ crown of thorns as He becomes our sacrifice.

    They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face. (19:3)

    Purple dye was rare and expensive, usually drawn from shellfish. It signified royalty. Note they repeatedly mocked Him, again and again.

    If His body was not in enough agony, the emotional abuse He took was unimaginable. They say that sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you. What a lie! Words are sometimes more powerful and painful than sticks and stones. Jesus is experiencing it all, and He’s totally innocent…and He
    is the King of the Jews. He is being mocked with the truth.

    He did it all for you and for me.

    Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” (19:4)

    Again, Pilate says, “Not guilty.”

    Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” (19:5)

    His intent was likely, “Look at the poor man? How can he be a threat to the government or anyone, for that matter?”

    John repeatedly shows the humanity of Jesus and this is another example. Here is the man. Jesus is the man. He is the Son of man. He is the ideal man. He is the ultimate example of what it means to be human.

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


    But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” (19:6)
    Pilate offers a third “not guilty” verdict (see also Luke 24:4, 14,22). He is sarcastic in his response for he knew the Jews lacked the authority to crucify but he was desperate to get them out of his sight. He just wants the whole situation to go away.

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

    Leviticus 24:15-16 states blasphemy as a capital offense.

    Who is the real man in this account? Is it Pilate with power and authority or the humble Jesus who actually possessed all authority? Is it the politically correct, people-pleasing Pilate or the Biblically correct, God-pleasing Jesus? Which best describes your life?

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

    Arrested Development, John 18:1-14, 18 August 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus willingly surrendered Himself for us.

    Introduction

    After months of studying the life of Jesus, we turn a sharp, dark corner. For the next few weeks, we will be examining those final, bloody hours before His death. As one of Jesus’ best friends, John gives a unique account of this scandalous expression of God’s love for us.

    In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) the humanity of Jesus is emphasized, His sufferings. John emphasizes the deity of Jesus, the God man. The emphasis is on His glory and His return to the Father.

    When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it. (1)

    The 17th chapter of John records Jesus’ prayer for Himself, His disciples, and us. If you missed them, I urge you to listen to the podcast or read the message notes at PastorKirk.com.

    John does not record the agony of Jesus sweating drops of blood, instead focusing on His glory, His ability to be in complete control.

    David fled his son, Absalom, in 2 Samuel 15 after crossing this same Kidron Valley. Another interesting parallel is David’s counselor, Ahithophel, betrayed him and later hung himself, the person in the Bible besides Judas to hang himself. The agony of David and Jesus are oddly similar. Coincidence?

    The scene is dark, both literally and figuratively.

    Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. (2-3)

    Earlier, Jesus eluded his enemies because it was not yet time. Now is the time for His arrest. A detachment is a tenth of a legion or as many as 1000 soldiers! It is unlikely that they all came, but imagine dozens or even hundreds of armed soldiers going after one man…one unarmed man!

    One writer noted how they bring torches and lanterns to search for the Light of the World; they bring weapons against the Prince of Peace.

    Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” (4)

    Jesus approaches them! What kind of person goes out to their enemies?! I love that He knew all that was going to happen, yet He asks who they want.

    Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of John were “What are you seeking?” (1:38). These people are seeking Jesus, not to know Him but to kill Him.

    “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. (5a)

    “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (5b-6)

    Twice Jesus calls Himself “I Am.” John has given us many “I Am” statements already such as, “I am the bread of life” and “I am the resurrection and the life.”

    Jesus is divine, yet notice they didn’t fall forward to worship Jesus but backward in fear and confusion in the presence of the LORD they do not know or recognize.

    Psalm 27 says

    The LORD is my light and my salvation —whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. (Psalm 27:1-2)

    Again he asked them,
    “Who is it you want?”

    “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.
    (7)

    Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” (8-9)

    Jesus remains in complete control. He tells the crowd to let the disciples go and they obey Him. He issues orders to those arresting him! He is the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep.

    Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) (10)

    Peter was a fisherman, not a soldier. He probably went after the neck and only got the ear! Why didn’t they go after Peter? Luke tells us Jesus healed the ear of Malchus (22:51). As is so often the case, Peter is clueless. He is out of control. He takes matters into his own hands. Then he is scolded by Jesus!

    Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (11)

    There is the cup of salvation (Psalm 116:13), consolation (Jeremiah 16:7), but this is the cup of judgment that Jesus will bore for us on the cross. He is willing to drink the cup given to Him by the Father.

    Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people. (12-14)

    They didn’t need to bind Him. He willingly went with them. He went alone. His friends have all fled the scene.

    Caiaphas was the one the Roman government accepted. Annas was the head of the religious leaders, their high priest.

    Notice the final sentence. John shows us that it was predetermined that Jesus would die (see John 11:43-53). Jesus knew the plan and was in complete control of every moment. The true high priest will be put to death by the religious high priest.

    So What?

    In the beginning, there was a beautiful, perfect garden. Generations later, sinful men arrested the only perfect Man in a garden in order to restore humanity, in order to bring healing and reconciliation rather than violence and bloodshed.

    Despite the nightmare He was about to face, He chose to follow the Father’s plan of seeking and saving us—broken, messed up sinners. Jesus willingly surrendered Himself for us. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

    You can listen to the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    The Vine & The Branches, John 15:1-17, 2 June 2013

    Big Idea: We must remain in Christ, even when we are being pruned.

    Introduction

    As we continue our series on the Gospel of John, Jesus continues His farewell address to His eleven disciples. They were in the Upper Room together before Jesus said, “Come now, let us leave” (14:31).

    Now they are probably between the Upper Room and the Garden of Gethsemane. John 15 and 16 are likely describing their conversation during their walk.

    Vines

    Jesus may have walked by the gates of the temple. The gates were gold and woven with vines that stood for the nation of Israel.

    There are several instances when vines are mentioned in the Old Testament as a symbol of Israel. In each, however, Israel was lacking somehow.

    You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. (Psalm 80:8-9)

    I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (Isaiah 5:1-7)

    I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? (Jeremiah 2:21)

    Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones. (Hosea 10:1)

    Jesus is going to talk about the vine, an image of the nation of Israel. Notice what He says.

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. (15:1)

    Jesus is not just any vine but the true vine. It’s easy for us to see this as merely a gardening metaphor but its symbolism is even more rich. If the vine is Israel and He is the true vine, He’s making a very bold statement.

    True can be the opposite of false or the opposite of a counterfeit. Jesus is saying, “I’m the genuine vine.” Religion is not enough. Ceremonies and church attendance and giving to the poor is not enough. We need to identify with Jesus.

    We must be joined to Jesus, the vine, in order to bear fruit.

    He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (2-4)

    “In” when it precedes Jesus refers to being in Christ, trust Him as both Savior and LORD. This passage is about believers.

    Every unfruitful branch is cut off. Ouch!

    He prunes/purges/cuts or washes it. The Word of God is a cleansing power.

    “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (5-8)

    The Parable of the Sower describes planting and harvesting.

    What is fruit? The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

    J. Vernon McGee said the fruit is

    Prayer effectual (8)
    Fruit perpetual (8)
    Joy celestial (11)

    How does God remove the branch? He takes them from the place of bearing fruit. They’re no longer effective in their ministry or they die (Ananias and Sapphira are an example).

    Purge or pruning actually means “to cleanse” in the Greek. They used water to wash the vine from bugs and debris.

    Pruning can be painful but it’s done to promote growth. We rarely grow through success, health, and happiness. Our greatest growth comes in the midst of defeat, loss, and suffering. A popular TV show years ago was called “Growing Pains.” No pain, no gain.

    Pruning is not a sign that God is against us but that He loves us, He wants the best for us. As difficult as it is, we need to embrace pain.

    The closer we get to the LORD, we less pain we feel. If you are ever in a fight, step toward the person.

    Several years ago around New Year’s Day I was driving I-75 from Florida to Michigan. It’s a long drive, nearly 24 hours, and with everyone else in the vehicle sleeping I took some time to prayer, seeking God, His voice, and direction. I still remember five distinct words, not audible but clear: the tree will be pruned. I immediately knew He was speaking of the church where I was a pastor. It was a powerful, prophetic word that guided me throughout that year. We saw people leave our church, the numbers decreased, but the church became more healthy and strong.

    Sometimes less is more. Sometimes God wants to clear out the baggage in our lives in order for us to produce more fruit—love, obedience and faithfulness in our lives.

    Speaking of love, now we come to some love verses. Don’t mistaken these for greeting card sentiment. Jesus is going to tell us what love really is.

    As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (9-11)

    He again connects love and obedience.

    He also mentions joy, part of the fruit of the Spirit.

    My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. (12-17)

    We can’t…unless we are connected to the Vine.

    Conclusion

    I have one simple question: are you connected to the true Vine?

    The metaphor is clear: if we’re disconnected, we die.

    There are many good things in our world that will give you inspiration and energy, but connecting a branch to a can of Coke or an electric socket or an iPhone or even the Bible won’t allow it to grow. The only way a branch can grow is if it is connected to a living, breathing vine, in this case Jesus Christ.

    I want to conclude with some thoughts from A.W. Tozer’s class book
    The Pursuit of God. Notice what he says about knowing Jesus Christ.

    There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives…Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold "right opinions," probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the "program." This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.…The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word. We have almost forgotten that God is a Person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can.
    -
    A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, quoted in Intuitive Leadership by Tim Keel (p. 125)
    How is your relationship with Jesus? Living things grow. Remain in Him!

    You can listen to the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    Son of God, John 10:19-24

    Big Idea: We are sheep in desperate need of the Good Shepherd, the Son of God.

    Introduction

    We are continuing our series, The Gospel of John, a biography of Jesus written by one of His closest friends, John. Two week ago the scene had Jesus offending the religious leaders by healing a blind man on the Sabbath, something that was considered work by the scholars who knew the letter of the law but had no clue about the spirit of the law. They were envious of Jesus, His miracles, His teachings, and most of all the crowds He was attracting. Their insecurity continually rises from jealousy to rage as we will see yet again in a moment.

    Last week we began John 10 where Jesus uses the common metaphor of a shepherd and sheep to illustrate Himself and His followers. The sheep of the Good Shepherd—mentioned in Psalm 23—know, listen and obey to the voice of their Shepherd.

    It’s critical to understand a sheep before we move into today’s Scripture. Sheep are not the sharpest tool in the shed. They’re not the most brilliant animal on the farm. They aren’t the wisest beast in the field. They aren’t the smartest creature at the zoo. You get the idea!

    Beyond their lack of intelligence, a sheep is weak and vulnerable. They cannot run fast. They don’t have poisonous venom, sharp teeth, or even dangerous claws. In other words, without the shepherd, they are one thing…dinner for a hungry animal!

    In the first half of John 10, Jesus speaks of His Father—God the Father—and the authority given to Jesus by the Father. This infuriates the religious Jews all the more. It is here that we begin.


    At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”

    But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (19-21)

    Jesus is the most divisive Person that has ever walked the face of the earth. He is the most controversial Figure in history. Some thought He was a demon and others divine.

    When Paul went to Athens, some believe and some do not believe.

    Jesus explained why a few verses earlier from last week’s text.

    When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (4-5)

    These religious leaders do not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd even though He’s right in front of them!

    Blue Like Jazz Author Donald Miller notes several things about these people.

    1. “They have a strong pre-conceived notion as to what the Christ will look and like like, and Jesus isn’t fitting that notion at all.” Jesus isn’t a member of their club. He dresses differently, talks differently. He’s doesn’t interpret the Scriptures the way they do, likely with a self-serving agenda.

    1. 2. “He threatens their power.” This is obvious. It’s also relevant to us. It was Jesus that said the first shall be last, to save your life you must lose it, and a host of other radical, uncomfortable things.

    1. 3. “These are zealous men.” All law, no grace…to the death…literally!

    1. 4. “…they would likely be threatened with physical retribution from their own community if they followed Christ.” How often do people succumb to peer pressure?!

    1. 5. “They are people who want clarity.” As Miller says, “They don’t like all this vague hippie talk coming from Jesus.” Everything is black and white to them.

    6. “Jesus likes their enemies.” He loves sinners. They love Him! There are two common ways groups can form and unite—the first is to demonize a common enemy and the second is to take on a victim mentality, causing everyone to feel like the world is against them. If Jesus is a friend of sinners, He certainly cannot join their tribe.

    Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (22-24)

    Winter in Jerusalem is cold! It is 3000 feet above sea level.

    This feast is also called the Festival of Lights. It is not found in the Old Testament because it celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucids in the second century BC. It is known today as Hanukkah! Jesus celebrated Hanukkah.

    They ask, “Jesus, who are you?”

    Who do you say that I am?

    For hundreds of years the people were awaiting a liberating king. They were expecting God’s Anointed to free them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire. The people were awaiting a Messiah.

    Jesus often revealed Himself to others in private settings but He resisted publicly proclaiming Himself the Messiah because the people were expecting the Messiah to come as a warrior and overthrow the government. They couldn’t imagine Him coming to suffer and die. The Messiah will, actually, come and rule as the King of kings, but that remains in the future!

    Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (25-27)

    Jesus says His works prove His identity. Actions speak louder than words.

    The brand on the sheep is obedience.

    Sheep hear His voice.

    I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (28-30)

    Did you catch that promise? No one can snatch them out of God’s hand. That’s great news! Remember, though, who Jesus is talking about. It’s not just anyone but those who follow Him (verse 27).

    Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
    (31-32)

    I love this question! Jesus is playing with them. He knows the source of their rage. It’s His claim to be God that made them hysterical, and even though He dances around the issue and doesn’t explicitly say, “I am God,” the message is clear and affirmed by His audience.

    “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (33)

    God became man, yet they accuse Jesus of being a man who made Himself God.

    There are many liberal Bible scholars that deny that Jesus was God, or that He ever claimed to be God. They can accept that a man named Jesus was a good teacher and perhaps could even do a miracle every now and then, but they fail to see Jesus as God. It was, of course, this very claim that put Jesus on the cross. Jesus claimed to be God, and then proved that He is God by conquering sin and death, resurrecting from the dead.

    Jesus responds…

    Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came — and the Scripture cannot be broken — what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. (34-39)

    Verse 34 quotes Psalm 82:6, a reference to judges that act on behalf of God as His representatives.

    Verse 35 notes that “the Scripture cannot be broken.” He is affirming the authority of the Bible.

    Jesus is in full control. Repeatedly in his Gospel, John describes Jesus’ ability to escape from the raging Jews that want to kill Him. It was not yet hIs time.

    God is sovereign. That means He is in control. Even at His trial He was in control. He created everything so it stands to reason that He is sovereign over creation, time, and space. He was on a mission to die for us, but it was not yet time.

    Our passage ends rather simply.

    Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus. (40-42)

    Jesus just shows up and people believe. In many circles it was popular to believe, but that was always subject to change. We read that many followed, but many later deserted Jesus, too…especially as He died.

    Yet many died for their belief. Throughout history millions of men, women and children have willingly surrendered their lives simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

    What about you? Who do you say Jesus is? Do you live it or just believe it in your head? Maybe you’re like the religious leaders, finding it easier to judge others rather than examining your own life. Perhaps you have mental belief about Jesus, but your mouth remains closed for fear of rocking the boat and losing friends.

    I’m humbled by the thought that one of Jesus’ best friends betrayed Him, another denied Him three times, and others doubted He was raised from the dead.

    Conclusion

    Whether you know it or not, we are all stinky sheep. We are weak, vulnerable, and very limited in the wisdom department. Left to our own devices, we will die. That’s where Jesus come in. Where religious is spelled “D-O,” what you do, Christianity is all about “D-O-N-E” and what Jesus has done for you. He died on the cross in your place and my place. Like a good shepherd, He sacrificed everything for dumb sheep like us. Today we celebrate that sacrifice. We celebrate not only His words, but His actions. Unlike celebrities in our culture, He didn’t gain fame and notoriety for His own sake, but rather to willingly be butchered in one of history’s most horrifying forms of torture so that we could experience grace, forgiveness, hope, purpose, and joy.

    You can listen to the podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    Vision, John 9, 17 February 2013

    Big Idea: God wants us to see.

    Introduction

    There are several themes in this lengthy account. Religious leaders show their lack of vision while a blind man is able to see. The Sabbath, suffering, religion, and the influence of Jesus are all presented.

    Scripture

    As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (1-2)

    Some Hindus believe disabilities are punishment for sins committed in a previous life.

    The book of Job is clear about this. Though God does discipline those that He loves, often our pain and trials are not the result of sin.

    When our child was first hospitalized six years ago, there were those that subtly and not-so-subtly implied that her pain was the result of our sin. We were being punished for secret sins. My wife and I searched our hearts and came to the conclusion that if there was secret sin in our lives, it was so secret that we were unaware of it. We acknowledged that we were far from perfect, but there was nothing unusual in our actions that caused our child to be in excruciating pain.

    So why do bad things happen to good people? We don’t have time to fully unpack that question, but let me briefly suggest two things. First, none of us are truly good. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. Second, sin is the reason. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, all of creation has been a mess.

    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (3-5)

    Don’t misunderstand this text.

    God is not cruel, inflicting pain on people to glorify Himself.

    At the same time, God is not fair. Bad things do happen to good people. But God is good and He can be trusted.

    Daddy knows best…really!

    “So that the work of God” likely refers not to what precedes it but rather to what follows. See how different it looks...

    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus. “But so that the work of God might be displayed in his life, as long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (3-5)

    God did not make the man blind to show His glory.

    Rather, God sent Jesus to do works of healing to show His glory.

    I want to pause here for a moment because many of you are experiencing pain and suffering. You might not be blind, but you or a loved one are in the midst of a disability, a shattered dream, or an overwhelming trial.

    I’m with you!

    I’ve tried to take the letter “Y” out of the alphabet because I find myself asking it all the time. Why God? Sometimes we discover why, sometimes we don’t, but God can be trusted.

    Today I prayed for vision to see what God is doing. I don’t understand, but I know He is at work in and through me, my family, and the storm we are experiencing. I want Him to just change the situation. Sometimes He does. Sometimes He doesn’t. Daddy knows best.

    Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (6-7)

    This would not be my preferred method of healing! Spit was thought to be a curse. Jesus was essentially cursing the blindness. The man is healed. This is great news, right? The man was blind, now he sees. Praise God! End of story.

    Not so fast!

    His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.

    Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

    But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

    “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. (8-10)
    The people are demanding to know what happened.

    He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

    “Where is this man?” they asked him.

    “I don’t know,” he said.
    (11-12)

    The man didn’t know, but the entire Gospel of John is written so that we can find Jesus.

    They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” (13-15)

    Whenever the Pharisees are involved, you know it’s going to get ugly!

    Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

    But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.

    Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

    The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
    (16-17)

    This poor guy has been miraculously healed and all they can do is subject him to an interrogation.

    The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” (18-19)

    Talk about a lack of faith! They don’t believe that the man was ever blind.

    “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

    A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” (20-24)

    This is a huge deal! Getting kicked out of the synagogue was not like being asked to leave a local church. It was like getting kicked out of the city. Even today, the synagogue is not merely the place of worship, but the social center of the Jewish community.

    The Pharisees hated Jesus—as we have seen in previous weeks. They are jealous of Him and the crowds He is attracting from His miracles and teaching. The healed man’s parents are afraid.

    He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

    Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

    He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

    Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

    The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

    To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

    Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (25-35)

    We were all steeped in sin at birth, but the self-righteous Pharisees continued to believe that this man and his parents were responsible for his blindness.

    “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

    Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

    Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

    Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

    Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

    Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. (36-41)

    The story ends the opposite of its beginning. The blind man can see and the accusers claim to see clearly when, in fact, they cannot.

    The religious leaders that are supposedly righteous are filled with pride and envy while the supposed sinner is seen worshiping Jesus.

    Which bring us to my favorite question about any text...so what?

    Jesus healed a blind man and they both attracted self-righteous critics. So what?

    Here are a few things to consider:

    1. Suffering is part of our world. It is to be expected, yet it seems to surprise us.

    It all goes back to the Garden. Sin entered the world—not just Adam and Eve—when they ate of the fruit.

    2. We are addicted to comfort and safety.

    2/3 of the world suffers daily...constantly.

    This season of Lent and the very nature of fasting can help us empathize with others that have no food or those that are blind.


    3. Following Jesus often makes life more difficult, not less. Jesus said clearly to His followers

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

    Jesus never promised us safety and comfort, but He did promise His presence. He said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

    1. We need one another.

    It is a lie to think that it’s just about you and Jesus. We were created for community. I need you and you need me. That’s a message for another time, but suffice it to say that we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those how mourn.

    5. God may be seem distant or even absent in the midst of suffering, but He is always at work healing our inner lives (see Ephesians 3).

    It is through suffering that I have felt the closest to God. Nobody knows pain like Jesus. Nobody. The apex of human history was Jesus hanging on the cross. He recognized how we had messed up this beautiful world and He came to reverse the curse. He conquered sin and death. It’s hard to experience peace when you are comfortable.

    6. The more we can let go of the idols in our lives and cling to Jesus, the more joy we will experience.

    Some of us look to our health, our bank account, our careers, or even our family members to bring us joy, but Jesus said to follow Him means we need to hate our family and even our own lives in comparison to our love for Him (Luke 14:26).

    We need to live with our hands open—to give and receive.

    Song: Blessed Be Your Name

    7. The best is yet to come. Really.

    We live in the space between the first and second comings of Jesus. We have been given the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is powerful and active. God still heals the blind. There are documented cases all over the world. God still causes the lame to walk. I’m praying that for a special girl right now. Sometimes God says yes to our prayer requests, sometimes no, and sometimes wait. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have easy answers. I can recommend a pile of books. I can tell you to study the book of Job. I can quote you verse after verse of Paul telling us to rejoice, endure, and embrace suffering. I have plenty of questions myself, but I know God is in control, God is good, and God is faithful. This world is not the end. The best is yet to come.

    In the Lord of the Rings film
    The Two Towers, there is a famous quote from Sam in which he says,

    “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

    They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. What are you holding on to? Who are you holding on to?

    Open our eyes, LORD, to see You at work in and through our lives...for Your glory.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Who's Your Daddy? John 8:31-59, 10 February 2013

    Big Idea: We are all slaves to sin and need freedom through Jesus.

    Intro

    This passage is loaded with background that is essential in order to fully grasp and apply. The Jews were descendants of Abraham, the one with whom God made a covenant. If you’ve been around at all this year we’ve mentioned it every week—Abraham was blessed to be a blessing. The people of Israel had a relationship with God, a relationship that tragically turned into yet another religion filled with rules and regulations, stripped of intimacy, authenticity, and love.

    To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (8:31-32)

    Who is Jesus’ audience? Jews who believed Him. What did they believe? Keep in mind that throughout His life, Jesus had followers that deserted Him. Many walked away, His best friends fell asleep when He needed their support, His closest friend denied Him three times, one betrayed Him. Believing in Jesus is just the start.

    There is a huge difference between professing faith and saving faith. Anyone can pray a prayer, but that doesn’t mean we are true believers and possess faith. R.C. Sproul says, “We must possess what we profess.” Notice what Jesus says about discipleship: it’s not about knowledge, but obedience. This is huge! Real disciples follow Jesus’ teaching and then they are set
    free.

    Freedom

    We love freedom, don’t we? Our nation was largely founded upon the idea of freedom, though ironically and tragically slavery has been a prominent feature in our history. Many of our founding fathers who valued freedom owned slaves!

    We take our freedoms for granted—until they are threatened or removed. There’s a lot of talk these days about the freedom to bear arms and other freedoms that may be in jeopardy, but that pales in comparison to what many face.

    Tragically, slavery is alive and well in our nation. Watching the film Lincoln a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but appreciate the incredible courage and dedication of Abraham Lincoln and others who abolished slavery in the USA, but tragically it is very real today.

    In fact, there are more slaves today in our world than at any time in human history, between 10 and 30 million people! I urge you to visit
    www.EndItMovement.com. Sign the petition. Tell others about it. Most people are shocked to learn that slavery exists...right here in Washtenaw County!

    They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” (8:33)

    I’ve heard many say, “I’m a Christian. I went to church as a kid. I was born in the USA. Of course I’m a Christian.” Nobody enters the Kingdom of God because of their ancestors. We must all be born again (John 3:3).

    The Jews understood slavery—in their history. Their ancestors were slaves, working in Egypt under Pharaoh until God called Moses to lead them to the Promised Land. Understandably, Jesus’ hearers couldn’t fathom being slaves.

    Isn’t it interesting how many people are in bondage but don’t realize it? Millions are enslaved to alcohol, food, or work. Countless lives have been destroyed by debt, fear, or the approval of other people.

    Next Jesus acknowledges the obvious—or not so obvious: we are all messed up!

    Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.” (8:34-38)

    Sin sounds like such an old-fashioned word, doesn’t it? Sin destroys, yet it is an addiction for all of us.

    Jesus makes it clear that being a child of Abraham is not the same as being a child of God. Tragically, the Jewish people that were to be a blessing and shine the light to the rest of the world were in the dark.

    If the light is dark, we’ve got a problem!

    Do you remember that song, “This Little Light of Mine”? What if we don’t shine?

    “Abraham is our father,” they answered.

    “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.”

    “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
    (8:39-41)

    Sonship is not about biology, but obedience. The conversation is getting a little heated now. Perhaps you’ve heard of father Abraham. He was the patriarch, you might say the original Jew. It was understood that tradition and heritage would bring freedom, but Jesus says it is truth that sets us free, but we can’t be freed from something until we are in bondage to something. You can’t set a bird that is in the wild free. It must first be taken captive.

    Jesus is telling them that circumcision and diet and family heritage are not what brings freedom and a right relationship with God. True Jewishness is inward.

    Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (8:42-47)

    We are naturally born without a desire for God. Our human nature is sinful and wicked, which is why it’s such a miracle when the Holy Spirit brings conviction and repentance. The greatest miracle, in fact, is a transformed man, woman or child that follows Jesus rather than making an idol of themselves and their desires.

    Jesus tells some important truths here about satan—he is a liar and the father of lies.

    This is not an excerpt from Andrew Carnegie’s book
    How To Win Friends and Influence People!

    We need to back up for a moment and remember that Jesus is a wanted Man—wanted by His followers, yes, but also His enemies. His ultimate enemy, of course, is...satan.

    Ironically, Paul said in his first book to the people of Corinth (11:14) that “satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” Do you remember a moment ago, “this little light of mine”? What if satan’s plan was to have the most pious, respected leaders in the community destroy Jesus? Who would ever suspect such a thing? Murderers committing murder is so passé, but the religious people? Who would ever see that coming?

    Spiritual warfare is real. We have a real enemy. He wants to steal, kill and destroy. He not only acts like an angel of light, he is full of lies. He is sneaky. He knows the Scriptures better than anyone in this room (remember the temptation of Jesus?). He is real.

    Satan is a murderer and the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus!

    Notice, too, the politically incorrect teaching of Jesus. He doesn’t say all roads lead to God, but rather that we cannot have the Father and not have the Son, and we cannot have the Son and not the Father because the Father sent the Son. As we will see in a few weeks, Jesus said, “I am
    the way, the truth, and the life.”

    Do you hear what God says? Do you belong to God?

    Jesus claims the devil as their father. They return the favor.

    The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

    “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (8:48-51)

    You have to admit that’s a bold statement, especially on the surface. As usual, Jesus speaks the truth. He is the truth, but He is not always clearly understood.

    He’s not so much talking about himself, but the ‘father who sent’ Him.

    At this the Jews exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” (8:52-53)

    Notice here they claim Abraham as their father, though Jesus is speaking of God the Father.

    Who do you think you are?
    This is one of the greatest questions in the entire Bible. Repeatedly I have said that the two most important questions in life are who are you and who is Jesus.

    Jesus asked His follower, “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:13-15; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20)

    You can understand the Jews getting riled up about this. Jesus is shattering their paradigm of what it means to be righteous.

    Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (8:54-56)

    These are audacious claims, right? He’s saying that Abraham—who was blessed to be a blessing—was looking ahead to Jesus Himself and the life and resurrection that He would offer us. Jesus Himself is embodying what Abraham’s God promised centuries earlier.

    It gets better!

    “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” (8:57)

    Good point, right?

    “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (8:58)

    That may seem like bad grammar, but here’s what Jesus was really saying—I am God. He speaks in the Name of the Father, the secret and holy Name of God, YHWH. He refers to Himself clearly as God. I created everything. John’s first words in this book say...

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. (1:1-2)

    John is reminding us again in chapter 8 that Jesus was in the beginning. Through Him all things were made (1:3).

    Needless to say, claiming to be God made the religious leaders go crazy! This was blasphemy, a capital offense—as was breaking the Sabbath earlier.

    Jesus was no weak, gentle guy prancing in the woods. He was a radical revolutionary, unafraid of conflict, confronting His enemies, and turning upside down not only tables in the temple (another story) but everything the Jews understood about God Himself and the Way to HIm.

    Predictably...

    At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (8:59)

    Our story ends with an angry mob of Jews that believed in Jesus at the beginning of the narrative, but are now ready to kill HIm. Jesus, meanwhile, slips away because it wasn’t yet time for Him to die.

    Our Story

    Here’s my concern: I have a feeling if we were characters in this story, we’d be the Jews, grabbing stones at this controversial figure who is turning conventional wisdom upside down. He offends them. He literally introduces a completely different worldview to them, one that is not centered around being a privileged descendent, but rather one who radically obeys.

    Does this sound familiar? It could be said that I’m a religious person devoted to Sunday worship gatherings, tithing 10% to the local church, driving the speed limit, and a daily Bible reader.

    What would Jesus say to me? What we He say to you?

    I think He would say, “Do you know me? Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Take care of the stranger, the widow and the orphan. Be a blessing to the nations. Listen to My voice like all good sheep listen to their Shepherd and know his voice. Practice hospitality and eat with those far from Me. Study Me. Share Me. Sound familiar?

    I want to go back to where we began.

    To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (8:31-32)

    If you obey Jesus—and He said a lot of hard things—You are really His disciple. Then you will know the truth and it will set you free...from the bondage of sin and death.

    Author Gary Burge said, “
    The deepest paradox of John 8 is that Jesus suffers religious persecution.” He goes on to say, “The paradigm of the passage is then set: Jesus steps into a religiously devout environment and immediately splits his audience. Those who follow him become passionate believers. Those who stand opposed, who defend their traditions with zeal, suddenly become zealous opponents, enemies of God’s work in the world. This passage warns the custodians of tradition that their defense of these spiritual habits and rituals may well be their undoing.” Later he writes, “If Jesus stepped into our century, if he walked into our evangelical churches, if he picked up a religious symbol (as he did at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles) and challenged the symbol’s original meaning, would we cheer or would we fight? Suddenly we might find ourselves defending Christendom instead of the Christian faith. We might explain that the old meaning, the old songs, the old forms had worked just fine for generations. We might challenge this newcomer and demand that he verify that he was indeed a messenger from God. And when he pressed his claims powerfully, suddenly we would be forced either to let go of our former position and become a believer or argue and rebel.”

    Disciples of Jesus study Jesus, spend time in the Word, know the truth, and are set free. Tragically, the rest of the world is in slavery to sin, lies, and death that originate with satan.

    What about you? Do you know Jesus? I didn’t ask if you were religious. I didn’t ask if you go to church and smile on Sundays. Do you know Jesus? If you do, there is freedom...from sin, death, and despair.

    If you don’t know Jesus, I want to introduce you to Him. He’s Your Creator. He loves You so much that He gave His very life to give you life, freedom, purpose, joy, forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation to a God that finds sin completely unacceptable. Period. That’s why Jesus, His death, and resurrection are so important. Without Jesus, we’re hopeless. We’re slaves to sin. But because of Jesus, we can express life, joy, meaning, and freedom from sin...and religion.

    You can listen to the podcast
    here.

    O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Carols, 23 December 2012

    O Come O Come Emmanuel

    Big Idea: God is with us. Are you with God?

    Welcome to the fourth Sunday of Advent. Advent is about expectant waiting and preparation. For generations, the Israelites awaited the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We are awaiting His return. We are in between His first and second visits to our planet. We look back
    and forward.

    During these four weeks during our preparation for Jesus’ birthday celebration, we’ve been looking at four classic Christmas Carols, their lyrics, and their biblical message. It is my hope and prayer that as you hear these songs, you’ll not only hum the melody, you’ll think about the timeless message.

    We began with the line in O Holy Night that says, “A thrill of hope/the weary world rejoices/for yonder breaks/a new and glorious morn.”

    Then two weeks ago we looked at
    O Come, All Ye Faithful and discovered that we can be joyful and triumphant despite the hardships of life.

    Last week we said that although
    Away In A Manger mentions the “little LORD Jesus,” He is no longer an 8 lb. 6 oz. little baby Jesus but the King of kings and LORD of lords who warrants our attention, allegiance, devotion, and complete surrender.

    Today we are looking at the key word in the carol
    O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

    History

    The lyrics were written between the 8th and 12th century. They would sing or chant these phrases that began with the letter “o.”

    The key word is Emmanuel, God with us.
    God was, God is, God will be with us.

    Emmanuel: God with us. What does that mean to you?

    Have you ever prayed for God to be with you?

    We’ve all had moments of loneliness and desperation. I wonder how many S.O.S. prayers God hears each day!

    It has been said that the essence of religion is man’s search for God.

    One of my favorite stories is from David Platt, author of the book Radical that has been Scio’s theme this year. While in Indonesia, he engaged in a conversation with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader. He said,

    “It sounds as though you both picture God (or whatever you call god) at the top of a mountain. It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place.” They smiled as I spoke. Happily they replied, “Exactly! You understand!” Then I leaned in and said, “Now let me ask you a question. What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are? What would you think if I told you that God doesn’t wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?” They thought for a moment and then responded, “That would be great.” I replied, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.” This is the gospel.

    The Gospel, or good news, is just that. God is with us, Emmanuel.

    One of the things that I love about the gospel message is its history. We are involved in a story that began thousands of years ago and has transformed lives around the world for generations.

    The prophet Isaiah around 700 BC wrote...


    Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

    How many virgins have been with child?

    More than 700 years before the birth of Christ, it was announced that Emmanuel would enter our world.

    In Matthew chapter 1, an angel came to Joseph—who was engaged to a woman who was pregnant—and said


    “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

    All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” — which means, “God with us.”
    (Matthew 1:20b-23)

    People had waited centuries for this announcement.

    This was the most earth-shattering news possible.

    Before Jesus, people couldn’t handle the presence of God. They would die if they encountered Him.

    The mere idea of God being with us—much less becoming One of us—was radical! It still is today.

    We’ve been studying the Gospel of John. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in
    The Message tells it all in the first chapter.

    The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14, The Message)

    You may not feel Him, but He is with us.

    He was, is, and will be with us.

    That’s Emmanuel. That’s Christmas. That’s the Gospel.

    I don’t know about you, but if I were God in heaven, I’d stay there! I’d delegate to angels, write words in the sky, or do something safe and comfortable to connect with humanity.

    Fortunately I’m not God! The real image of Christmas is not a baby, but a King who came, died, conquered sin and death, and who lives! God is still with us today!

    Sometimes it’s easier to see God in the past than in the present. We can read that God was with Joseph, Moses, David, and others.

    Jesus made a promise to His followers. During His final moments with them, He said

    And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b)

    That wasn’t just a metaphorical statement. When Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem into heaven, He said it was actually good that He left because His departure would pave the way for the Holy Spirit.

    But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

    In Acts 2, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit arrives and lives inside followers of Jesus.

    Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

    Do you need more proof?

    You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)

    Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

    Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you — guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1:14)

    No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

    If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.
    (1 John 4:12, 15)

    If you are a follower of Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too!

    God is with us. God is within us!

    This does not mean that we are God, but rather that God lives in those who welcome Him.

    One of my favorite promises in the Bible comes from the book of Romans. Paul wrote

    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

    What can separate us from God’s love? Nothing. No thing.

    Not a criminal record.
    Not a divorce.
    Not anything done to you.
    Not your mistakes.
    Not your sins.

    All you have to do is receive the gift of Jesus Christ who became one of us to demonstrate His love for us.

    As we said last week, the greatest gift you can give Jesus for His birthday is you, your heart.

    Most of you would say you believe in God. You believe Jesus came as a baby. Great, but belief is not enough. The Bible says that demons believe that!

    The question is have you fully surrendered your life to the LORD Jesus Christ? He came for you, but like any gift, it’s not yours until you receive it, embrace it, own it.

    Emmanuel, God is with us.

    Advent is about waiting. People waited for Jesus’ first visit to our planet. We await His return, but in the meantime, Emmanuel is not merely an historical figure. It’s not that God WAS with us. Through the Holy Spirit, He is with us right here, right now, right in this place, this Christmas.

    God is with us.

    Are you with God?

    God is here.

    Like love, you can’t see Him or touch Him, but you can experience Him, not only on His birthday, but every day of the year. For followers of Jesus Christ, every day is CHRISTmas, Christ’s day.

    I urge you to truly make this Christmas about Christ. He is with us and wants nothing more than for you to be with Him.

    Credits: Series theme and various ideas from Craig Groeschel, LifeChurch.tv

    You can listen to the podcast here.
    You can view a music video of
    O Come, O Come Emmanuel from LifeChurch.tv here.

    Saints & Sinners, John 8:1-11, 2 September 2012

    Big Idea: Are you a saint or a sinner?

    This text is one of the most famous stories of Jesus. It has been the subject of countless studies and sermons, both for its context and content. By context I mean it is not included in all of the early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. The Bible was not given to us by God leather-bound with gold page edges! The process is a fascinating one and the subject for another time. However, we have very reliable copies of the original documents, but virtually all of the originals are long gone.

    You might wonder why these verses are included in our Bible. The overwhelming consensus among Bible scholars is that the account is authentic, though it may not have been written immediately after the seventh chapter of John.

    While we’re on the subject of John’s writing, he wrote three letters in addition to this Gospel. The first of his letters offers a fascinating declaration that Pastor Judah Smith of The City Church in Seattle pointed out. John begins

    My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. (1 John 2:1a)

    Here’s his purpose. We all sin (Romans 3:23). We all know sin is not good for us or our world. John is going to tell us how to avoid sin. Surprisingly, he doesn’t judge, condemn, yell, or shame. He doesn’t go postal on a megaphone. Instead, he takes a completely different approach. He points to Jesus...

    But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1b-2)

    John 8:1-11

    At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. (John 8:2)

    Jesus is teaching early in the morning, seated as was the custom. We know He had become incredibly popular—and controversial.

    The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:3-5)

    The teachers and Pharisees were two different groups of people. The teachers or scribes were experts in interpreting the Old Testament. The Pharisees were a party, a movement of conservative religious practice. Pharisee actually means “separated one.”

    These verses raise all sorts of questions that are never answered.

    Who caught her? What were they doing? Where was the man? We can come up with a variety of theories, but they are actually incidental to the text because they really weren’t trying to stone her. They were trying to stone Jesus!

    They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. (John 8:6a)

    If Jesus said to stone her, He would be in trouble with the Romans who had the authority to execute, not the religious leaders (which is why Caiaphas the high priest sent Jesus to Pilate).

    If Jesus said to let her go, He would be accused of denying the law of Moses.

    As is typical for Jesus, His response is unconventional and surprising.

    But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. (John 8:6b)

    This is the only biblical account of Jesus writing. He bends down and writes in the dirt.

    What did He write? Nobody knows for sure, but many commentators relate this action to Jeremiah 17:13

    O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water. (Jeremiah 17:13)

    He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t look at them. He doesn’t look at the woman. He just writes in the dust.

    It is thought by many that He started writing down their sins.

    Rabbi Joe, greed.
    Rabbi Sam, gossip.
    Rabbi Frank, envy.

    He knew their hearts and secret sins. He knew their stories.

    When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. (John 8:7-8)

    Jesus says very little in this story, but every word is choice!

    Did this woman sin? Yes. Jesus makes it very clear in a moment.
    Did these leaders sin? Yes. Jesus knew their wicked hearts.


    The next verse fascinates me.

    At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. (John 8:9)

    This is why many believe He was writing out their sins. The elders left first, either because they were wiser or Jesus began with their sins!

    Now Jesus and this desperate housewife are the only ones left. He finally looks at her. How did she feel? Scared? Relieved? Grateful? Preparing for Him to personally read her the riot act? Was He going to grab a stone?

    Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10)

    Sometimes we like it when others sin because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We like to accuse, to criticize, to condemn, whether it be toward a movie star or neighbor or another Christian. The problem is we have all sinned. We are all broken. We are all messed up and desperately in need of the grace of Jesus, the Cross.

    Jesus has a sense of humor!

    The accusers are gone. In Revelation 12:10 satan is called the accuser. He lays on the guilt and shame.

    “No one, sir,” she said.

    “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)

    Honestly, I don’t think He needed to tell her to leave her life of sin. First, it probably made her miserable. We don’t know the circumstances, but it’s hard to sleep at night when you are living a life of sin.

    Second, she didn’t need a lecture. She probably knew the law, or at least knew that what she was doing was unacceptable, both to God and society.

    Third, condemnation is not a good motivator. How many of you like to be judged?

    As we noted earlier, John himself said the way to avoid sin is to look to Jesus.

    The more we recognize how much He loves us, the more we want to honor and bless and obey Him. This is one reason we gather—to be reminded of how high and deep and wide is the love of Jesus Christ.

    Jesus was not an accuser but an advocate, an intercessor, a consoler, a defender.

    This woman did some terrible things. She was a sinner. So are we!

    Jesus did not embrace her sin. He called a sin a sin! He embraced her, though.

    I pray that we are an advocate for everyone in our communities.

    We’re so blinded by our own sin. We accuse others but we condemn ourselves in the process with legalism. How did they find her?!

    An advocate is slow to speak. Jesus is. God, make us slow to speak...and quick to pray.

    Jesus is the great leveler. He sits, then He gets down in the dirt while the leaders stand with rocks. We need churches filled with people in the dirt with the broken, not standing in judgment. All of us have sin and fall short of God’s glory.

    Is our Gospel big enough to welcome sinners?

    I want to pastor the church in the dirt!

    We need compassion and grace and love.

    Grace sets people from sin, not traditions or laws or judgment.

    Where are your accusers, Ann Arbor? Not in this church!

    There’s a common expression I’ve heard many Christians say, love the sinner and hate the sin.

    Brothers and sisters, we are all sinners. We are saints because of what Jesus has done for us, but we are sinners.

    Love the sinner, hate your own sin!!!

    You can listen to the podcast
    here.

    Identity Crisis, John 7:25-53, 26 August 2012

    Big Idea: Perhaps the most important question in all of life is, “Who is Jesus?”

    Have you ever been mistaken for someone else?
    Have you ever mistaken another person?
    Friend who thought a man with long hair was a woman from behind!

    Do you believe in Jesus Christ?

    That’s not a very good question. Last week we heard about how Muslim people believe in Jesus. Mormons believe in Jesus. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in Jesus. Many atheists believe in Jesus. Satan and demons believe in Jesus.

    What do you believe about Jesus? Put another way, “Who is Jesus?

    At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

    They misunderstood what the prophets had said.

    Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

    At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”

    The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.

    Jesus said,
    “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

    The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What did he mean when he said,
    ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

    Here’s the climax of the passage:

    On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

    They poured out water during the feast of tabernacles. He may have been standing ankle-deep in water when He said this. They were celebrating Moses getting water from the rock. We see free will here—anyone. Here’s election—the thirsty. If you are thirsty today and tired of drinking at the mud holes of this world, come to Jesus.

    Jesus wasn’t talking about H2O, of course. He was talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit that occurred in Acts 2.

    By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

    The image of flowing water may have come from Isaiah 58:11

    The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:11)

    This may be related to the theme of the Feast of Tabernacles:

    With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3)

    While this references personal salvation, Isaiah 58:11 speaks of believers being a blessing to others.

    When we receive salvation through Jesus, we get the Holy Spirit, too. The purpose of the Holy Spirit is not merely for our own pleasure, but to fill the earth with fruit and gifts, to bless others.

    Just as God provided for His people in the wilderness—the purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles—so Jesus fulfills this symbolism, eventually providing both salvation and the Holy Spirit, who could not come until Jesus was glorified.

    Notice the response of the people:

    On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

    Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

    Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

    Here again we see people confused about Jesus’ identity.

    Jesus was born in Bethlehem but He didn’t stay there.

    They couldn’t touch Him? Why? His hour had not yet come.


    Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

    “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

    Many have been impressed with His teaching, including many today, but that wasn’t the ultimate purpose of HIs visitation to our planet.

    “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

    Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

    Nick defends Jesus.

    They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
    (52)

    They were mocking Nick. Galilee was a hick town compared to the city.

    Then each went to his own home. (53)

    Today
    Jesus is on trial, too. There are believers, skeptics, seekers, and enemies. Just as His followers risked identification with Jesus, so today those that bear His Name risk consequences.

    While we share Jesus in word and deed, don't expect people to quickly follow Jesus. The world is in rebellion against God. They are skeptical. Even those in the Church are often skeptical…is grace real? Don't we have to earn God's love? Should we judge those for whom Jesus died?

    Who is Jesus? How does your life reflect your belief? Would others agree with your personal assessment?

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Do You Want To Get Well? John 5:1-47, 8 July 2012

    Big Idea: Do you want to get well?

    John 5:1-47

    What do you want? Really.

    Yesterday I was listening to a podcast in which the hosts reflected upon what they’d do if they won the lottery.

    If you found a lamp with a genie inside, what would be your three wishes?

     
     Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
     
    “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
      Then Jesus said to him,
    “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:1-9a)

    Do you find anything unusual about this passage?

    Jesus’ asks this paralyzed man if he wants to get well. Why?

    Sometimes we don’t know what we want.
    Sometimes we don’t really want what we think we want.
    Sometimes we don’t want what we really need.

    Most of us have heard stories about people who refuse to leave an abusive relationship.

    Maybe you know someone struggling with an addiction but they won’t seek help. They don’t really want to change.

    Change. That’s a loaded word!

    Why is change so hard?

    We fear the unknown.
    The status quo is often comfortable.

    Carl Sandburg once said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”

    Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to get well?”

    Jesus asks the best questions. They not only lead to an answer, they usually change the entire story.

    How many loaves do you have?
    Who touched Me?
    Whose face is on this coin?
    Will you give Me something to drink?
    My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

    Notice the man’s response. All he can see are the obstacles. He lacks vision.

    These pools were believed to have had magical powers when they were stirred by an angel, but only the first person in the pool could be healed. This man could not walk, much less be the first one in the pool.

    The man waited thirty-eight years to be healed in the pool. He never asked to be healed, but Jesus shows up, blows his mind, and heals his body...without the pool!

    That sounds like Jesus...the friend of sinners, the compassionate One.

    Look at the man’s response to Jesus’ question again. He does not say yes. He explains why he has not been healed.

    Change is hard. If he is healed, he has to work rather than beg. He has to pay taxes. He has to buy a pair of shoes! Everything he has known for nearly 40 years is radically altered.

    Jesus simply tells him to get up. That’s it! No prayer, no mud, no magic wand, no altar call, no plea for money. Get up!

    There’s more to this story, though. One simple verse changes everything...

    The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, (John 5:9b)

    Uh oh! The rest of the chapter shows how religion got in the way of the relationship God wants to establish with us.

    The rulers completely missed the point.

    We’ve talked about the importance of the Sabbath. It is in God’s top ten list...the Ten Commandments. It was created for us to rest and know God.

    Jesus heals...on the Sabbath. Ooohhh!

    Jesus tells him to carry his mat...and it is the Sabbath. Ooohhh!

    Jesus runs into the man again, though.Jesus tells the man to stop sinning, but rather than following Jesus, he blows the whistle on Him.

    Was his sickness the result of sin? We don’t know, but it is possible that there was a correlation.

    So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:16-18)

    Here Jesus is on trial.

    They are prosecuting Jesus.
    They are persecuting Jesus.

    Jesus was not merely unpopular. It says that they tried to kill Him! Why?

    1. He was breaking the Sabbath
    2. He was accused of blasphemy by calling Himself God (which is why He had the authority to break the Sabbath)

    Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (John 5:19-23)

    That cleared it up, right?

    The rest of the chapter continues with red-letter words of Jesus to the religious leaders that ultimately call for Jesus’ execution.

    These are very important statements in which Jesus declares that He is God. He is LORD of all, including the Sabbath. The seeds that lead to the crucifixion are clearly sown here in the fifth chapter of John.

    But I want to go back to the beginning...I want to end where we began...

    What do you want?

    Do you want to be healed?
    Do you want a spouse?
    Do you want a job?
    Do you want peace?
    Do you want to impact the lives of others?
    Do you want God to do great things through—and in—you?

    Don’t let your dreams fade!

    Perhaps a more important question before going there is...

    Do you want to be well? Maybe you think you
    are well. We’re all messed up. Each person in this room is sick. We are sick with sin. In fact, if you think you are well, you are more messed up than the rest of us because you are living in denial...and undoubtedly judging the rest of us...but we talked about that two weeks ago with the Samaritan woman.

    It all begins with surrender. Perhaps you are thinking about what you have to do to be healed, but the Living Water has come to us.

    There were various people at the pool:

    Lame: in pain
    Paralyzed: numb
    Blind: no vision

    This sounds like many in the Church. We lack vision, we are hurt and in bondage from our past, or feel detached.

    Jesus doesn’t want us to merely survive like the sick man. He wants us to experience all of the life that He came to bring. That is not to say that there won’t be trials and persecution, but He has a vision for you...for me...for us...that He and only He can accomplish if we allow Him to do so.

    Nothing is impossible with God...especially if you are pursuing His vision for your life.

    It probably won’t happen as you expect it. The paralyzed man thought the pool was the only way to health, but Jesus surprised him.
    It probably won’t happen when you expect it. He was paralyzed for thirty-eight years! Don’t give up. His timing is perfect, but usually slow in our estimation.

    Can you let go of your own fear of change and allow God to make all things new? A new life, a new way of living, that is the Good News of God in Christ.

    Get up and walk, in Jesus’ Name. Get your eyes up and look to Him. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and get them off of yourself!!!

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    The First Recruits, John 1:35-51, 20 May 2012

    Big Idea: Jesus recruits four disciples: Andy, Pete, Phil and Nate

    John 1:35-51

    The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

    When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

    They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” (John 1:35-38)

    We talked about this last week. Jesus is again called the Lamb of God.

    Because of John’s witness, two of his own disciples leave him and start to follow Jesus. John realizes he is number two. What humility!

    Bestselling author Jim Collins who wrote
    Good To Great says that the highest form of leadership requires leadership. His formula is Humility + Will = Level 5 Leadership.

    As we said previously, John prepared the way. He humbled himself for the sake of helping people encounter Jesus. That’s our role today.

    This wasn’t a case of them getting a better offer, but John saying, “He’s the One I’ve been preparing you to meet.” They shift their allegiance from John the Baptist to Jesus...and it’s ok. It’s great. It’s supposed to happen.

    Jesus asks why they are following Him! “What do you want?”

    “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

    So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
    (John 1:39)

    Jesus says, “Come and see.” John includes a detail about it being 4:00. He was likely an eyewitness, and maybe one of the unnamed disciples in the previous verses.

    Jesus invites them to spend the day with Him.

    Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).
    42 And he brought him to Jesus.

    Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
    (John 1:40-42)

    Was Andrew excited about finding the Messiah? Had he heard Jesus was in the neighborhood?

    “The first thing” Andrew did...

    Andrew is often seen bringing people to Jesus (6:8; 12:22). What about you?

    Cephas is also known as Simon and is renamed Peter which means “rock.” The Greek is petros. This is a nickname more than a common name, like we would call someone “Rocky” today.

    Jesus’ authority to change Simon’s name is significant. He is casting a vision for what Simon will become, a rock.

    The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 1:43)

    Galilee is about one hundred miles north.

    Jesus “finds” Philip and invites him to follow.

    Philip is a popular Greek name that means “horse lover.”

    It’s a simple invitation. He doesn’t beg, coerce, force, or yell. He just invites.

    Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote —Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
    (John 1:44-46)

    Philip recruits Nathanael, who might also be called Bartholomew.

    Andrew recruits his brother Peter.

    “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
    (John 1:46a)

    Nazareth obviously does not have a good reputation! Actually, it was probably not bad, just small. Nathanael was from Cana, a rival village. He had seen others claim to be the Messiah.

    Don’t judge a book by its cover!

    Philip replies...

    “Come and see,” said Philip.
    (John 1:46b)

    Do you see how Philip is already following Jesus. He says what Jesus said earlier: “Come and see.”

    When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

    “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

    Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
    (John 1:47-48)

    How do you know me?

    Jesus knew Nathanael before Nathanael knew Him.

    Jesus knows you, too, whether you are aware of it or not.

    Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” (John 1:49)

    Nathanael gets it! He changes his tune about Jesus. He experiences a miracle and believes.

    In one sentence we see three names for Jesus:

    Rabbi, which we saw earlier literally means “teacher”
    Son of God (deity)
    King of Israel

    Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
    (John 1:50-51)

    The “you” is plural. He is no longer just speaking to Nathanael.

    There is another instance of angels ascending and descending in Genesis 28.

    Jesus is the stairway to heaven. He is greater than Jacob and greater than the ladder. He is the place where we meet God!

    John is telling us in the first chapter of his Gospel that the entire Scriptures point to Jesus. He sees history through the story of Christ.

    Conclusion

    We have come to the conclusion of the first chapter of John. Only 20 more to go!

    We have seen John the Baptist prepare the way for Jesus.

    We have seen Jesus’ first recruits, though we know little about them. The focus is on Jesus.

    We see that contact with Jesus leads to self-denial. This is true for John the Baptist and the first disciples of Christ.

    Note that conversion is not about merely learning information; it is about personally taking action and following Jesus.

    This passage shows us that loving God must be connected to knowing God. Christian faith is both commitment and content.

    Who is Jesus? We have been introduced to Him in several ways...

  • Messiah (20, 41)
  • the Prophet (21)
  • Jesus (29)
  • Lamb of God (29, 36)
  • one who baptizes with the Spirit (33)
  • chosen [Son] of God (34)
  • rabbi/teacher (38, 49)
  • Christ/anointed one (41)
  • son of Joseph (45)
  • Nazarene (45)
  • Son of God (49)
  • King of Israel (49)
  • Son of Man (51)

  • In conclusion, we have been introduced throughout John’s first chapter to Jesus. He is God. He is human. He created everything. He came on mission. He invites others to follow Him, but doing so is not a casual thing. We must commit both our minds and our hearts.

    The great news is that when we fully surrender to Jesus, He remains faithful to us...always. We don’t risk devoting ourselves to someone who will betray, abandon, or harm us. When we draw near to Him, He promises to draw near to us and be with us always, to the very end of the age.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

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

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

    John 1:1-18

    Why Four Gospels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Overture of the Gospel

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

    In The Beginning

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

    In the beginning. Where have we heard that before?

    In the beginning God created the heavens