Citizens, 13 November 2022

JOY: The book of Philippians
Philippians 3:17-4:9

Series Big Idea:
Paul’s letter from prison to the church in Philippi is filled with joy.
Big Idea: Paul challenges followers of Jesus to live as citizens of heaven, filled with joy, prayer, and peace.
Have you ever been in another
country? Maybe you’ve taken the Ambassador Bridge or the tunnel to Windsor. It’s usually not a huge transition, but customs, the red maple leaves on signs, and the currency are constant reminders you’re not in the USA.
Mexico, though bordering the USA, is an even more radical experience. Once I was in San Diego and I rode the trolley train south to the border where I was a able to simply walk into Tijuana without any effort. Once there, the language, the music, and the food were noticeably different…and getting back into the USA was a minor ordeal!
I’ve been privileged to have been able to travel around the world, and whether it’s Bolivia, Burundi, or Britain, there’s no place like home, where I know the language, the culture, and where I am a
Home is a special place. Where do you call home?
If you’re new around here, welcome! We’ve been examining a letter written by Paul—one of the early Church leaders—wrote to a congregation he started in the city of Philippi in Greece. He’s covered a number of topics and today’s text begins with pastoral words.
Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. (Philippians 3:17, NLT)
Those are bold words! Do you want others to live like you?
I don’t think Paul’s saying he’s perfect, but he’s a follower of Jesus and followers of Jesus are called to not only follow Jesus, but also help others follow Jesus. We call this…
Most of you are familiar with Jesus’ final words in the book of Matthew. It’s known as the Great Commission. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not an optional thing.
Discipleship is not only for professional Christians. It’s the mission—the commission—of everyone who claims to follow Jesus. He said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18b-20, NIV)
Go and make disciples. That’s the mandate, the assignment. A disciple is a devoted follower—an apprentice—and part of being a disciple is making disciples…following Jesus and helping others follow Jesus.
Who are you following? Who influences you? We all have people who influence us, and we probably all have people we influence. Side note: my favorite definition of leadership is influence. That makes us all leaders. You might not have a title or position, but if you influence, you lead. It might be a friend or co-worker or a child, but if you have influence, you lead.
When Paul says, “Pattern your lives after mine,” that’s a high level of influence. Let me ask again, who influences you? Who are you influencing?
Jesus’ simple invitation was, “Follow me.” He didn’t force it. There were no seminary degrees required, no tests to take, no pre-requisites. John Mark records several examples.
Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Mark 1:17, NLT)
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:14, NLT)
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. (Mark 8:34, NLT)
This whole thing—First Alliance Church, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, Christianity—is all about following Jesus…and helping other people follow Jesus. Paul seemed to do this quite well. What about you?
Who is influencing and discipling you?
Who are you influencing and discipling?
I dream of a day when every person in our First Alliance family is engaging in the lives of others, both as a disciple and discipler. I’m doing my best to equip and disciple you on Sunday mornings, but I can’t disciple each of you intimately in this large-group environment.
iscipleship and spiritual formation—according to the late Richard Bush—is slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others.
Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. (Philippians 3:17, NLT)
I could easily do a sermon on verse 17 alone! Paul explains why he wants them to follow his example:
For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. (Philippians 3:18-19, NLT)
Just because you read it on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true.
Just because someone called themselves a Christian doesn’t mean it’s true.
I hate to say this, but there are many so-called Christians and even pastors who are not following Jesus. But by the grace of God so go I. This is why Jesus said
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. (Mark 8:34b, NLT)
You can’t follow Jesus and your desires. Which is it?
Family, I love you. I must warn you there are a lot of dangerous pastors and Christian celebrities out there. There are people trying to sell books, make money, become famous, and Paul would say “they are really enemies of the cross of Christ.”
But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. (Philippians 3:20-21, NLT)
Are you following your desires or Jesus?
Are you a citizen of this world or a citizen of heaven?
There’s so much talk about heaven…what it will be like, when we get to go there, who will be there with us,…I did an entire sermon series on heaven a few years ago, but here’s my simple definition of heaven:
Heaven is where God lives. Paul says that explicitly in verse 20. If heaven without God sounds attractive, you don’t belong there. Seriously. Heaven is where God lives, and that’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” There are moments when heaven kisses earth, where God’s presence is unmistakable. Understand, God is omni-present, meaning He’s everywhere at once, but there are special times when you know He’s real.
But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. (Philippians 3:20-21, NLT)
If heaven is where God lives, are you doing life with God or are you merely a citizen of the USA? I love this country, but this body and this country will not last. I’m looking forward to a glorious body and the new earth. How about you? Chapter four begins…
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work. (Philippians 4:1, NLT)
Now we know what the therefore is there for! Church family, I feel the same way about you. Stay true to the LORD. Many are abandoning the faith these days. Deconstructing is what all of the cool kids are doing, and deconstruction itself is not a bad thing. We need to regularly pause and take inventory of our lives, our beliefs, our heart. Why do we do the things we do? Why are you here this morning? But stay true to the LORD. You can deconstruct religion, but don’t leave Jesus. Don’t buy into the prideful lie of satan that you are somehow above the Almighty. Someone recent said the problem with our country is we are one nation over God instead of under God.
Stay true to the Lord. I love you. You are my joy. I appreciate you. Thank you!
Now Paul offers more notes about his friends.
Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. 3 And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life. (Philippians 4:2-3, NLT)
These two women had been proclaiming the gospel, the good news, but as so often happens, they experienced conflict. Paul’s saying, “Don’t cancel one another! Work it out. Extend grace. Love well.” Could we use that message today?
Now he returns to simple, clear instructions.
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! (Philippians 4:4, NLT)
Paul is under house arrest while writing this letter. He’s not at the beach! Yet he emphasizes the theme of this entire letter: joy. Are you full of joy? It doesn’t come from trying harder, but rather from being with Jesus. Joy…in the LORD! Despite circumstances, we can have joy knowing we are loved, forgiven, accepted, and adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High God. We have hope. We have a guaranteed future with the LORD forever in paradise. We have meaning and purpose. That’s what people need today. They’re searching…often in strange places! We are called to be hope dealers, and it begins with our attitude, with our time with Jesus, with experiencing joy and contagiously sharing it with others.
Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. (Philippians 4:5, NLT)
Would people say you are considerate? There were a lot of so-called Christians who weren’t exactly considerate during last week’s election!
Paul reminds them the Lord is coming soon. I know, it’s been 2000 years, but we need to be ready. We need to get others ready. Jesus is coming soon.
Now Paul issues one of the most challenging statements:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. (Philippians 4:6a, NLT)
Do you ever worry? I do! Heather had to put a sign in our bathroom to remind me of this simple message. I worry. It’s a sin. It shows my lack of faith. I take matters into my own hands rather than trusting God, praying, seeking His help. This would be a great passage to memorize.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6b-7, NLT)
What a great passage for this month of Thanksgiving! Thank him. Then we’ll experience peace.
Our world desperately needs peace. Our government needs peace. Our streets and homes need peace. It is found in Jesus, and it comes by living in Christ Jesus. I think the rest of today’s text offers a pathway to peace.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9, NLT)
Did you catch that? Think about good stuff, follow Paul who followed Jesus, and the God of peace will be with you. You want a formula, there you go!
Think well. Find peace.
So What?
There’s so much in this passage! Let’s review:
Discipleship is not only for professional Christians.
Who is influencing and discipling you?
Who are you influencing and discipling?
“Spiritual formation (discipleship) is slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others.”
– Richard Bush
You can’t follow Jesus and your desires. Which is it?
Heaven is where God lives.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Think well. Find peace.
Which of these is the most radical? The most challenging?
Maybe you’ve thought discipleship is only for the paid staff instead of getting in the game. Perhaps you’ve been influenced and discipled by social media or your co-workers or classmates rather than godly men and women. Maybe you’ve become impatient with the growth of others or even yourself, frustrated by sins or addictions. Your desires win over Jesus’ desires. It could be that—like me—you worry when you could be praying. Very often our problem boils down to our thoughts which stem from what we watch, read, hear, or surf. Shut off the junk, think well, and find peace.
This is not how the world lives, but we’re
primarily citizens of heaven. We shouldn’t live like everyone else. It’s not about striving, but rather surrender. We don’t have to be in control because God is in control. We are called to be in this world, but not of it, citizens of heaven on God’s mission on earth to make disciples of all nations.

Honestly, it’s an impossible task…apart from God’s supernatural love. I don’t know about you, but I need more faith. I need to be with you each week to be reminded God will come through, no matter the challenges before me. We’ve been given an incredible assignment to proclaim good news, but sometimes I’m afraid. I can even freak out about the news of this world, yet joy and peace are hallmarks of the Kingdom of God. We serve a God of miracles who is on the throne inviting us to enjoy Him and challenging us to go and make disciples.

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

Thanks, 25 September 2022

Series—JOY: The Book of Philippians

Series Big Idea:
Paul’s letter from prison to the church in Philippi is filled with joy.
Big Idea: Paul greets the people of Philippi with blessings, prayers, and thanks.
Thanks! There are few words more powerful to say. There are few words more encouraging to hear. In a hurried culture filled with self-obsessed, materialistic individuals, it’s refreshing to experience a “thank you.” I must admit I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people that thank me when I usher at the Stranahan Theater. You might say it has restored my faith in humanity a bit!
We’re still two months away from
Thanksgiving, but thanks is our theme this morning. Today we begin a new series on the book of Philippians. It’s called an epistle, a short letter written by Paul and Timothy to the church in Philippi, a town in modern-day Greece which you can visit to this day.
One thing I love about the Bible and our faith is it’s based upon real events in real places throughout history. Several years ago Heather and I were able to
travel to Philippi where Paul founded the first European Christian church around AD 50.
If you look closely at the
logo of our series, it shows a person in handcuffs. The book of Philippians was written in prison!
Have you ever been to a
prison? Some of you have been as residents, others as visitors. Regardless, it’s not the most uplifting of environments! Our modern-day prisons can’t even begin to compare to those in the first century Roman Empire.
Paul was in prison for preaching the good news of Jesus. It still amazes me how people then—and now—can be persecuted for peacefully speaking the truth. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are precious gifts we enjoy in the United States.
If you were in prison—for honoring God—what would your message be to your friends? I can think of three words:
get me out! I would surely be tempted to whine, complain, describe the horrors of sharing my dwelling with other creatures, great and small. The smell, the food, the sounds, the sights…a multi-sensory nightmare, to be sure. But those ideas cannot be found in Philippians. In fact, quite the opposite. If there’s one word to describe the book, it’s joy!
Thanks is our theme today, but the theme of this book is joy. Our nation talks a lot about the pursuit of happiness, but joy is not dependent upon circumstances. It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit. It’s a deeper contentment, found in knowing Jesus. Joy is something I desire for myself and for you and I believe this series will help us experience God’s joy to a greater degree.
Philippians begins with a clear announcement of its authors.
This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:1a, NLT)
Paul and Timothy describe themselves as slaves of Christ Jesus. They don’t identify as prisoners here. There’s no description of their surroundings. They don’t even use titles such as pastor or apostle or even “mister.” They are slaves…of Christ Jesus.
Are you a slave of Christ Jesus? Obviously the word “slave” has terrible connotations, especially given both our nation’s history and the current trafficking in our society (a UN Report this month shows modern slavery is at an all-time high, tragically). But the original Greek word, doulos, can also be translated “servant,” someone devoted to another, one pledged or bound to serve. These men were not kidnapped. They chose to follow Jesus, and their identification as slaves makes clear their commitment to following Jesus.
Again I ask, are you a slave of Christ Jesus? That’s the invitation. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he’s not looking for part-time lovers. It’s not enough to give him an hour on Sunday morning and a quick prayer at mealtime. Praying a sinner’s prayer isn’t the end. Jesus is looking for men, women, and children to give up everything to follow him…and many have done so (including Paul and Timothy).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was arrested, imprisoned, sent to a concentration camp, and eventually hanged in for his refusal to follow Hitler, said, “Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death.”
Who wants to follow Jesus?
Before you turn away, let me remind you of something Jesus himself said.
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:38-39, NIV)
We live in a world where people are trying desperately to find life, to find meaning, to discover purpose, to define their identity, to experience satisfaction, to achieve peace. Not surprisingly, their pursuit of money, sex, power, and pleasure leaves them anxious, frustrated, and discontent.
You were made for a relationship to God, and any other quest will fail you. It might make you happy for a while, but any idol—anything you give your attention to other than God—will ultimately leave you seeking more.
Today we’ll witness several people entering a
water grave, symbolically dying to their own selfish desires before being resurrected as a new creation in Jesus Christ. It’s a public declaration that they are now slaves of Christ Jesus, committed to following him and not the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
Christianity is not primarily a set of beliefs or a religion, but a way of living a life filled with the Holy Spirit shaped around the death and resurrection of Jesus.
I often compare following Jesus to
marriage. My wedding day was the beginning, not the end of the journey. I’m not married only when we’re on a date, but marriage is a 24/7/365 adventure (and what an adventure it has been!). I am committed to my wife, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…until death! That’s what it means to follow Jesus. Baptism doesn’t make you “saved” any more than a wedding ring makes you married. It’s an outward declaration of an inward commitment.
This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:1a, NLT)
Are you a slave of Christ Jesus? Are you committed to following Jesus, 24/7/365? Paul and Timothy made such a statement. It’s bold, brash, and radical. Jesus isn’t seeking fans. He’s not about getting “likes” on social media. He is inviting men, women, and children to take up their crosses—daily—to surrender everything so they can be fully devoted to him.
I must confess this is a struggle for me. Every day is filled with countless opportunities to live for myself or Jesus. My calendar, checkbook, and credit card bill reflect what truly matters to me. What about you?
I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons. (Philippians 1:1b, NLT)
Paul’s writing to the people, the holy people, the set-apart people in this church he started, specifically mentioning the leaders.
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. (Philippians 1:2, NLT)
Grace and peace was a common greeting and one rich in meaning.
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. (Philippians 1:3, NLT)
There it is: thanks.
Paul is thankful for this church, for these people. First Alliance, I thank God for you…and I’m not even in prison! You have become family…you are family. I love you.
Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. (Philippians 1:4-5, NLT)
Joy. We’ll see that word throughout the letter. The original Greek work is chara (khar-ah), cheerfulness, gladness, calm delight, joy. The church in Philippi has been supporting Paul with love, prayers, finances, and perhaps even letters.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6, NLT)
I love this verse. He is certain that God will finish what He started with them, and I believe the same is true for you. God’s not done with you yet!
So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7-8, NLT)
This is a love letter from Pastor Paul to the people in Philippi.
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. (Philippians 1:9, NLT)
This is my prayer for you, too, First Alliance. I identify so much with this letter! No matter if you’re a new Christian or you’ve been a saint for decades, I long for you to keep on growing!
For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. (Philippians 1:10, NLT)
What really matters? What matters to our world? Money, sex, and power?
What really matters to you? It’s obvious what matters to Paul…Jesus Christ. In next week’s text, Paul will say,
For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. (Philippians 1:21, NLT).
Jesus was everything to Paul, regardless of whether he died in prison or lived for decades longer. Jesus was the center, the purpose, the foundation, the direction, and power, and the meaning of his life. Does that sound radical? Does it describe you?
For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. (Philippians 1:10, NLT)
What really mattered to Paul was Jesus, and he wanted Jesus to be so real in the lives of his readers and listeners that they would live pure and blameless lives until Christ returned. Pure and blameless. Does that sound old fashioned to you? Does anyone live pure and blameless? I hope so! That’s what it means to follow Jesus. I believe obedience is God’s love language. More than that, it’s what’s best for us. I don’t mean boring, dull lives. I mean a wild, exciting relationship with God filled with challenges and adventures beyond your wildest dreams.
Earlier this month I was in
New Orleans and I took a walk with two friends through Bourbon Street on a Friday night. I knew it would be terrible, and it was! In addition to the noise, the smell, the crowds, and the witchcraft, there were even live snakes, which made me literally feel like I was walking through hell. There was nothing appealing to me at all, yet for thousands of people this was the purpose of their travels from around the world. This was what really mattered to them…getting drunk, high, and whatever else they would probably regret doing hours later.
In care you’re curious, the purpose of our trip was to watch our alma mater, Eastern Michigan University, play the University of Louisiana in
football (which was a great, wholesome experience besides a brutal defeat of EMU!).
What really matters to you? Paul concludes today’s text:
May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. (Philippians 1:11, NLT)
It’s not about trying harder. It’s not about being perfect and saying no to fun. It’s about being filled with the Holy Spirit, abiding with Jesus, growing in your relationship with Christ, and becoming like him. Why? For God’s glory. That’s the bottom line of First Alliance’s
mission statement…God’s glory. That’s why we’re here. It’s not about me, my sermons, singing your favorite songs, or even obtaining Bible knowledge. It’s about loving God, loving others, and making disciples…for God’s glory.
God is good. God is great. He is everything to me. He was everything to Paul. Over the next several weeks, we’ll read the rest of this letter from a pastor to a church. He begins by giving thanks to God for them and encouraging them to make Jesus what really matters. I feel the same way!

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

Joy to the World , 12 December 2021

Joy to the World
Luke 2:8-11; Psalm 96:9-13; Psalm 98

Series Big Idea: Carols are the soundtrack of the season as we celebrate Advent.

Big Idea: Baby Jesus brought joy to the world, and his life continues to transform lives today.

Joy to the world! It’s one of my favorite Christmas carols. It’s hard to sing it with a frown on your face! It has a certain energy, a simple melody, and positive, uplifting lyrics. Are you joyful…and triumphant?

Today is week three of Advent and our Advent series,
Carols. In the first two weeks, we looked at two somewhat obscure songs. In contrast, today’s carol, Joy to the World, is the most-published Christmas hymn in North America! It was written in 1719 by an English hymnwriter and minister named Isaac Watts and the music comes from an 1848 arrangement by American Lowell Mason (side note: the first four notes are identical to those in “Lift up your heads” from Handel’s Messiah). While we’re giving credits, Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, and Matt Gilder wrote the modern chorus we sang earlier.

The theme of the carol is obviously…joy. What exactly is joy…and how does the world experience it? We’re about to find out!

In today’s scripture reading from the second chapter of Luke, an angel delivered a message to terrified shepherds who were watching their flocks at night.

“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 2:10b-11)

The announcement stated the good news would cause “great” joy…for all the people. Let’s unpack this.

First, “good news.” The original Greek word is euaggelizo (yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zo) which means to announce good news (“evangelize”) especially the gospel. It’s to declare/bring/show glad or good tidings, to preach the
gospel, which means “good news.”

Today in church circles, there’s a lot of discussion about the gospel, what it is and what it isn’t. In three words, I believe the gospel is, “Jesus is LORD.” That’s good news. It’s great news if you understand who Jesus is, and what a thrill it is to call him not just Savior, but LORD, Master, King, the Boss! There are some today who say the gospel is about praying a prayer so you can go to heaven when you die, but nobody in the early church would’ve thought that at all. It doesn’t begin with me, but with Jesus.

The gospel is good news, which could vary from person to person, right? Think back to that football game a few weeks ago! But in this case, the gospel is good news for all people.

“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 2:10b-11)

The angel said, “…great joy for all the people.” That’s tremendously important.

The Jewish people were known as God’s chosen people, so much so that they copped an attitude toward Gentiles, those who were not Jewish. I think it’s incredible how God used the Jewish Messiah to cause great joy for all the people, all nations. Jesus was not an American! I don’t think he was white, he didn’t speak English, and he certainly wasn’t born into wealth, freedom, or power.

Speaking of which, I don’t want to miss the
shepherds in this story. They were, after all, the ones to whom the angel spoke. They were lowly caretakers of lambs and considered untrustworthy and ceremonially unclean because of their work. Yet their lambs would be used for temple sacrifices in Jerusalem. Dr. Tony Evans notes,

The shepherds were responsible for making sure that newborn lambs had no defects since the sacrificial animals had to be without spot or wrinkle. So the shepherds would tightly wrap the lambs in cloth to keep them from becoming blemished and injuring themselves. This explains why Luke makes the point that Jesus was wrapped tightly in cloth, since at his birth he was the sinless Lamb of God whose substitutionary sacrifice would take away the sin of the entire world (see John 1:29; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 1:19-20; 1 John 2:2).

Virtually everything about the arrival of King Jesus was the opposite of any other royal birth. God has a special place in His heart for the outcasts, the stranger, the widow, the poor, the orphan. I hope this is an encouragement to many of you…even those of you who consider yourselves average, normal, unremarkable. God sees you. If you’re in the sanctuary this morning, I see you! You matter. You belong here.
Your life has meaning and a purpose. You were created in the image of the Almighty with dignity, value, and worth. Next Sunday evening, the kids will sing,

Good News for to the poor!
Good News for the broken hearts!
Good News for the captives.
Good News for those who cry!

That’s all of us, family! We’re all captives to sin. We’ve all experienced pain, suffering, and broken hearts. We’ve all been poor, if not financially, then emotionally, spiritually, relationally. This is one of the things I love about our faith…it’s for everyone! Young, old, rich, poor, immigrant, refugee, black, brown, peach, American, Asian, African, European, male, female, …everyone!

Some have called Christian an exclusive religion. Jesus did say,

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

But the gift, Jesus, is inclusive. He came for everyone, yet many have refused to accept the gift. No gift is truly yours until you take it. If I sent you a brand new Apple Watch and you left it in your mailbox, it’s really not yours. Jesus is the gospel, the good news. Jesus is LORD is good news…for all people! We don’t have to wallow in our fear, shame, addictions, habits, insecurities, anxiety, or depression. Jesus came to give us life, freedom, hope, peace, love, and joy!

That’s the word of the day, so what does it really mean? We often compare and contrast it with happiness. After all, Thomas Jefferson said we have the right to the pursuit of happiness…right?! As a culture, we obsess about happiness, doing whatever makes us happy and avoiding anything that would involve pain, suffering, inconvenience, or sacrifice. Sheryl Crow even had a hit song years ago singing, “If it makes you happy.” In a culture where truth is what I feel and I have to feel good and happy, people are making some crazy choices. Add the trauma of the multiple crises in our land and it’s understandable why everyone seems to be on edge, stressed, anxious, and fearful.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to be happy, but it was never God’s design that our ultimate pursuit be happiness. That would make it an idol. Our ultimate pursuit should be the LORD and His glory.

The original Greek word for joy in our text, chara (khar-ah), means joy (of course), calm delight, cheerfulness, gladness, and in some cases “greatly joyful.” Joy is a part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians chapter 5. It’s used throughout the book of Philippians by Paul who—despite being in prison—is filled with joy.

It is possible to have inner joy in the midst of external suffering…and we need to express sadness, anger, and other negative emotions. Even in the midst of trials, we can experience hope and strength through the joy of the LORD (Nehemiah 8:10). I think the most amazing verse about joy speaks of Jesus’ purpose in becoming Emmanuel, God with us. The writer of the book of Hebrews says,

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2b)

I don’t think Jesus was happy hanging on a cross, but even during the crucifixion, he had hope. He chose joy. He knew there was more to his story. He was obedient and faithful to the Father and had you and me in mind when he endured the cross.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;

The birth of Jesus never made CNN, FOX News, or Facebook, but eventually word would spread that the Messiah, the LORD had come, had arrived.
Let Earth receive her King;

Jesus is not merely the King or Rome or England or Scotland, but the King of the Earth! He is the King of kings and the LORD of lords. He rules and reigns, and though he is allowing satan this season to be the prince of this world, the King is coming back soon!
Let every heart prepare him room,

We talked about this last Sunday, making room in our hearts—and calendar, budgets, minds, and lives—for Jesus. I failed to mention last week how this is a struggle for me, too. I wrestle with busyness, to-do lists, distractions, and temptations which keep me from fully abiding and remaining with Jesus. Whenever I slip into fear instead of faith, I’m not making room. Whenever I think I selfishly deserve something rather than seeking to steward my many blessings, I’m not making room. Whenever I do things my way rather than seeking first His Kingdom, I’m not making room. I’m a living example of someone trying to follow Jesus, but I’m not a perfect example.

Is there room in your heart and life for Jesus?

Unfortunately, two thousand years later, billions of people still haven’t heard about the birth of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, or anything about Jesus! They are living in darkness, hopeless and lost. We’re on a mission to make disciples, to restore God’s masterpieces, to proclaim the gospel, the good news, that Jesus is LORD.

And what’s the natural response of those who
have encountered the joy of Jesus?
And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.
I love these verses from Psalm 96:

9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.”
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Psalm 96:9-13)

He rules the world with truth and grace. King Jesus is LORD of all creatures, heaven and earth, land and sea. No wonder we are commanded to sing in Psalm 98:
Psa. 98:1    Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
2 The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
3 He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
4 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the LORD, the King.
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:1-9)

That’s good news. That’s joy-inducing truth. That’s something worth telling on the mountain and everywhere!

“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 2:10b-11)

The last verse of Joy to the World declares,

He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.

King Jesus rules.
King Jesus reigns.
King Jesus loves.
King Jesus lives.

Let’s receive our King this Christmas…and spread joy to the world!

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

O Come, All Ye Faithful, 13 December 2020

O Come, All Ye Faithful

Series Big Idea: Carols are the soundtrack of the season as we celebrate Advent.

Big Idea: Joy is the result of focusing our attention upon Jesus the Messiah who is worthy of our adoration.

Last week we began our Advent series, Carols. This season has its own soundtrack, a diverse collection of songs ranging from the silly (Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer) to the sacred (last Sunday’s theme, O Holy Night). Today we’re going to look at a seventeenth century song originally written in Latin, Adeste Fideles. We know it as O Come, All Ye Faithful.

What do you think about when hear the word “faithful?” Couples promise on their wedding day to be faithful to one another until death. We sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” as we worship our trustworthy LORD. lists these definitions for the adjective

  • - Strict or thorough in the performance of duty
  • - True to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.
  • - Steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant
  • - Reliable, trusted, or believed
  • - Adhering or true to fact, a standard, or an original; accurate

Then it lists the definitions of the noun

  • - The believers, especially members of a Christian church or adherents of Islam
  • - The body of loyal members of any party or group

True. Steady. Loyal. Reliable. Trusted. Believed. Accurate. Do these words describe you? Do they describe us? If so, come. O Come, All Ye Faithful.

The root of the word faithful is…faith. There is a belief, a conviction behind the faithful. The faithful are full of faith. Are you?

One of my favorite stories in the Bible involves a boy possessed by a spirit. He would be thrown to the ground, foam a the mouth, gnash his teeth, and become rigid. It’s a disturbing situation. John Mark writes about his encounter with Jesus.

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. (Mark 9:20)

Jesus asked the boy’s father,
“How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered.
“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:21-22)

“ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

This is one of my personal prayers—
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.

Put another way, LORD, help me trust You more. Give me faith. Strengthen my faithfulness and loyalty to you.

The challenge to faithfulness is distraction. This is true for a married person whose eyes wander. It is true for the religious person who explores another faith. It can be true for Christians who become more devoted to the things of this world rather than the things of God.

One of the most famous Christmas carols begins
O come all ye faithful
Are you among the faithful? Are you a fully-devoted follower of Jesus Christ? Based upon my aforementioned prayer, I want to be, though I sometimes fail. The next line describes the manner in which God’s faithful people are to come.
Joyful and triumphant
Our Advent candle this week is joy. We are taught by the Declaration of Independence to pursue happiness. I want to be happy, but it’s hard to sustain. It comes and goes. It’s usually based upon circumstances, many of which we cannot control.
I am very happy today because my Michigan Wolverines did not lose to that team down south yesterday!
Unfortunately, a loss in the future is inevitable and I will be unhappy!
But joy is different. Happiness is external, where joy is more internal. The Greek word,
chara, means gladness, calm delight. We can pursue joy. We can choose it. C.S. Lewis said,
“No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
He called joy “the serious business of heaven,” noting, “Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is,” wondering, “whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.” In our text last week, we read,

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)
Nehemiah famously said in the book (8:10) that bears his name, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Joy is found in the LORD, not shopping malls or Hallmark Christmas movies! C.S Lewis wrote,
“If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone.”
The faithful are joyful and triumphant. Although it didn’t look like it as Jesus was crucified, he was actually winning, destroying sin and death forever. He is the victor, the champion, the greatest…and being with him, being for him, being faithful to him allows us to be joyful and triumphant.

Joy is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If you want joy, you must get close to the LORD. The message of today’s carol is just that…get close to the LORD, come and behold God in a manger.

O come ye O come ye to Bethlehem Come and behold Him Born the King of angels
Obviously, we are not instructed to fly to Israel and visit Bethlehem, though you can. It’s a real city. The message is for God’s faithful to come and worship.
O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him Christ the Lord
What do you adore? What do you worship or honor or admire? What do you think about, spend time on, give your money to, focus your energies upon? “You are what you love (James K. A. Smith).”
The original Latin version of O Come, All Ye Faithful may have been written by St. Bonaventure, John Francis Wade, John Reading, King John IV of Portugal, or anonymous Cistercian monks somewhere between the 13
th and 18th century. We are more certain that the English translation was done by the English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley in 1841, with three additional verses added by William Thomas Brooke. First published in Murray’s Hymnal in 1852, Oakeley originally called the song, “Ye Faithful, approach ye.” The musical tune has been attributed to several musicians.
My favorite part of the song has always been the dynamics of the chorus. After joyfully singing the verses, there is a hush when the chorus begins,
O come let us adore Him, then getting louder each time until the crescendo of the song’s subject, Christ the LORD. Our response to knowing God is worship and adoration.
The second verse reflects the second chapter of Luke we examined last Sunday.
Sing choirs of angels Sing in exultation O sing all ye bright Hosts of heav'n above Glory to God all Glory in the highest
What a site that must’ve been for the shepherds who witnessed it.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (Luke 2:13)   

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

There’s a difference between Advent songs and Christmas songs. We are in the middle of Advent, the season of waiting for the coming, a time of anticipation. We are expecting the return of Jesus soon, though we also reflect back upon those who were waiting for his first coming. Perhaps the most famous Advent song is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The title says it all. Come, LORD! We are waiting, we are anticipating. We are waiting until December 25…waiting to open presents, waiting for Christmas dinner, waiting for the day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. O Come, All Ye Faithful is best sung on that day, especially the third verse.
Yea Lord we greet Thee Born this happy morning Jesus to Thee be all glory giv'n Word of the Father Now in flesh appearing
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)   

Eugene Peterson captured this so brilliantly in
The Message when he translated,

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)   

Emmanuel, God with us. Flesh and blood. One of us. God with skin on. Amazing!

So What?
Once again, our response to knowing God is worship and adoration. When we ponder who He is and all that He has done, how can we not praise Him? How can we not come and adore Him?
I know some of you love to sing…and others would just as soon skip to the sermon! Worship is so much more than singing songs. It is one way we adore the LORD, and the angels set a great example on the night of Jesus’ birth.

Last week we talked about posture, particularly the humble act of kneeling. I’ve been in places where the awe of God has caused people to clap, raise their hands, kneel, lie on the floor, dance, weep, and shout. I’m not talking about putting on a show, drawing attention to one’s self, being a charismaniac, or feeling peer pressure to perform for others. I’m simply talking about our response to God.

There’s a powerful scene in Luke’s gospel where Jesus is having dinner at the home of a religious Pharisee.

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:37-38)

This disturbed the host who was quick to label her a “sinner,” as if he wasn’t! Jesus used it as a teaching moment.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47)

Then Jesus said to her,
“Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49)

Jesus said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)

She was faithful. She was full of faith. She came to adore Jesus.

She also had many sins. She received great forgiveness. She expressed great love.

That describes some of you. You know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the barrel, and you’ve experienced the thrill of forgiveness, the outlandish—some call it reckless—love of God. You can’t help but sing, shout, wail, dance in response to all God has done for you.

Some of you are more…reserved! It may be culture. It may be tradition. It may be your personality. That’s fine. But perhaps it’s because you’ve simply lost the awe, wonder, mystery, and majesty of Almighty God. You’ve forgotten the price paid for your salvation. You’ve reduced your faith to some beliefs in your head rather than a transformation of your heart. I want to encourage you to take time this Advent to read, reflect, and become captivated by the joy of the Messiah, the wonder of the season, the love that came down at Christmas. We are told to remember because we so easily forget, we get comfortable, things become familiar and we lose our passion.

We’ve all sinned—a lot—and our reflection upon the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb should lead us to fall to our knees, to be joyful and triumphant, to come and adore Him! He is worthy!

O Come, All Ye Faithful

One more thing…

Worship and adoration is more than singing songs on Sunday morning. It’s how we live our lives, what we do with our time, talents, and treasures. We worship through our generosity, kindness, love…heart, soul, mind, and strength. Family, go worship the King!

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

Joseph: Joy, 22 December 2019

Joseph: Joy
Series—Away in a Manger
Luke 2:10, 21; John 16:33; Hebrews 12:2; Matthew 1:20-24; 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27
Philippians 4:4, 8; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Series Big Idea:
The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

Big Idea: Although they experienced pain and suffering, Joseph and Jesus were both filled with joy.

Does Jesus bring you joy?

I can tell you my first child brought me joy. Although we had been together for more than six years, the first time my wife saw me bawl like a baby was when I held our baby for the first time. Sheer joy! I did the same with our other two kids…and our grandbaby last year!

Joy. It’s one of those Christmas words we don’t often mention the rest of the year. We’re all pursuing happiness. That’s our right in this country, according to the Declaration of Independence.

But joy is different. Much different. We sing “Joy to the World,” but what does that really mean?

We have sanitized the Christmas story. I don’t know if it’s the Christmas pageants at churches with girls dressed in blue bathrobes or sweet songs like Silent Night or even beautiful stained glass and paintings depicting Mary riding gently on a donkey with her man, Joseph, at her side, but the scene was hardly one of comfort…though there was joy. Great joy.

Joy has been defined as,

  • - the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation
  • - a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated
  • - the expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety.
  • - a state of happiness or felicity.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

The word “joy” mentioned here in Luke 2 by the angel is the Greek word “chara” (khar-ah) which means cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness, exceeding joy.

What makes you glad?
Who makes you cheerful?
When do you experience calm delight?

We are so often disappointed in our pursuit of happiness because life isn’t fair. Bad things happen. People let us down. Our expectations are not met. This is especially true this time of year.

This past week I learned of a pastor friend in Chicagoland who had a Blue Christmas service at his church yesterday, the longest night of the year. They called it, “A time to name and offer our darkness and grief to the God of Advent hope.” I love that. While it is “the most wonderful time of the year” for many, others are struggling—even now…in this room—with loneliness, financial concerns, stress, and anxiety. Many will sing along to Elvis about their
Blue Christmas. But that doesn’t make joy impossible.

Joy stems not from life’s circumstances, but the knowledge that although our world is
broken, God is in control. In a rare example of a good “but,” Jesus said

“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)

We looked at this passage last Sunday when we focused on peace. But there’s great joy knowing Jesus has overcome the world. God’s light is greater than the world’s darkness. God’s truth is greater than all human lies. God’s love is greater than death.

One of the most amazing verses in the entire Bible says of Jesus,

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2b)

Joy and cross don’t usually belong in the same sentence. What this means is while Jesus was tortured and brutally murdered, he experienced joy. Not happiness. Not comfort. Not pleasure. But joy. He was able to look beyond his momentary troubles and recognize God the Father was up to something good. Redemption was coming for all humanity, along with reconciliation, forgiveness, salvation, and shalom.
Yesterday many of us gathered to mourn and grieve the loss of our dear brother Willie Heidebrink. He was a great man who loved Jesus, loved his family, and added value to so many lives. We hurt. We cry. We struggle. But we have joy looking beyond ourselves to Willie’s new reality. We have joy looking beyond this moment of grief—and we must grieve!—and anticipate a future reunion.

Author Mike Frost notes, “The message of Christmas is that God’s love comes to shine light into our darkness. That knowledge might not eliminate the darkness you’re struggling with now, but I trust it reminds you that God knows the despair, the pain, the anguish you’re currently enduring.” He is with us, which raises the question, “If God’s here, why doesn’t He do something about this pain/loss/grief/situation?”

He does. He’s given us the Holy Spirit. He’s given us one another to be the hands and feet of Jesus. He’s given us hope for an incredible eternity with Him. He’s giving us opportunities to trust, to identify with Jesus, the suffering servant. I don’t usually understand why, but I know God has a plan. He never wastes anything. He’s up to something. I believe He’s inviting us all to trust Him. In fact, if He’s spoken anything to me in 2019, it’s two words: “trust Me.”

I’ve heard them in the midst of some of the darkest moments of my vocational life this year. I’ve heard them as I am estranged from two family members. I’ve heard them as I seek the right words to share with you.

Choose Joy

There’s not much we can truly control in life, but we can control our attitude. We can choose joy. Henry Nouwen wrote,

To choose joy does not mean to choose happy feelings or an artificial atmosphere of hilarity. But it does mean the determination to let whatever takes place bring us one step closer to the God of life. Maybe this is what is so important about quiet moments of meditation and prayer. They allow me to take a critical look at my moods and to move from victimization to free choice.

Pain is not an end. It’s not permanent. It’s temporary. It’s an invitation to world without pain. Joy is knowing there’s more to life than this moment. There’s more to reality than this world. This does not mean to deny our pain, but to remember we can have joy in the midst of it—just like Jesus—if our perspective is right.

In today’s scripture reading (Matthew 1:20-24), Joseph learns he is having a son…not from an ultrasound, but from an angel!

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.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

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 1:22-23)

We don’t give Joseph much credit. Sure, he walked for about 90 miles to Bethlehem while Mary rode on a donkey—at least that’s what some painters think—but he was more than chivalrous.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

Joseph trusted God. He stayed with Mary and married her—which was no easy task given the culture’s take on babies out of wedlock. He was willing to be stepdad to the Messiah. He accepted the name given to him for his stepson. He would obey God’s orders to become flee to Egypt to spare the life of Jesus and making refugees out of his family. Yes, Jesus was a refugee. But that’s not until the second chapter of Matthew!

Jesus had joy, even while enduring the cross.
Joseph had joy, even though this baby wasn’t biologically his.

In both cases, joy was based upon obedience and bringing glory to the Father rather than happiness in the moment.

Paul is another example of a joy-filled man despite difficult circumstances. Not only did he have a mysterious “thorn in the flesh” which tormented him every day of his life (2 Cor. 12:7), he wrote that he had

“…been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-27, MSG)

Through all of Paul’s sufferings, he was a man of joy. He said,

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

The entire book of Philippians is about joy, not from Paul’s circumstances, but because he had confidence in God’s sovereignty and a hope in heaven. He had joy because of his focus, his perspective.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Where are your eyes? Where’s your focus? Is your glass half-full or half-empty? Are you thinking about the things you don’t have or the blessings you do? Can you choose joy or do you prefer to complain and compare?

Paul’s joy began in his head, with his thoughts. He famously said,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

There was joy at the birth of Jesus. The long-awaited Messiah had arrived. Nobody delivers joy like a baby.

The story doesn’t end there.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. (Luke 2:21)

We usually end the story with the newborn King in the manger, but there was surely great joy for Joseph just days later as Jewish sons became included in the covenant relationship with God on their eighth day. This tradition called b’rit milah would set Jesus apart for God following Genesis chapter seventeen. The circumcision occurred on the eighth day since God worked six days, rested on the seventh, and day eight is a new cycle of a new week of new life set apart for the glory of God.

Baby Jesus wouldn’t remember the occasion, but Joseph surely did. It was a special moment for families to welcome their Jewish son into the covenant God had established with all of Israel throughout the generations. While there was, for Jesus, a moment of pain—hurt, not harm—joy surely filled Joseph’s heart.

One writer (Skit Guys) put it this way:

It was the joy of Joseph to call his son’s name “Jesus” during the covenant of circumcision celebration. As Joseph looked into the face of Jesus, the first time his son would bleed and cry out in pain, He would be looking into the eyes of His earthly father as Jesus was being welcomed into the covenant of God’s people. The final time Jesus would bleed would be thirty-three years later. Upon a Roman cross, Jesus would cry out for the last time while looking up toward the eyes of His Heavenly Father as He made a way for all people to enter into a covenant with God throughout eternity.
God saves.
Jesus saves.
And the joy of a father, both on earth and in heaven, remains more than we possibly can imagine this Christmas. But rest assured, the hopes and fears through all the years still are met in Jesus tonight, because he still saves. And it still is His joy to do so today.
The question is,
Does Jesus bring you joy?
We used to sing this song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” True and lasting joy won’t come from the new Star Wars movie or good seats at a Walleye game. You won’t find it under the Christmas tree or even on Amazon.
Real joy comes from seeking God’s glory, knowing He is with us—Emmanuel—even when we feel alone.
Real joy comes from knowing our story’s not over. There are more chapters to be written and the best is yet to come.
Real joy comes from serving others, knowing you are serving Jesus at the same time.
Real joy comes from surrendering control rather than fighting for something unattainable.
Real joy comes from the Son of God who came as a baby but will return soon as King of kings and LORD of lords.
In the meantime, as we wait for Advent—his second coming—we can fix our eyes on Jesus. We can stand amazed at his love for us—broken, imperfect sinners he left heaven for, he died for, he rose for, and that at this moment he is praying for.
How marvelous!
How wonderful!
How amazing!
Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.
  • 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


    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.

  • Jesus Prays For Himself & His Disciples, John 17:1-19, 28 July 2013

    Big Idea: We can learn much from listening to someone’s prayers.


    Have you ever eavesdropped on a conversation? Why? Perhaps you wanted to obtain some secret information or learn what is being said behind your back.

    I believe you can learn much about a person by eavesdropping…on their prayers! I love listening to people pray because it often expresses their deepest thoughts and feelings, especially when those prayers are unedited.

    Children are, of course, the greatest example of this. Their prayers are brutally honest. Imagine overhearing some of these actual prayers from kids:

    "Dear God, I went to this wedding and they were kissing right there in church. Is that OK?"

    "Dear God, thank You for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy."

    "Dear God, it must be super hard to love all the people in the world, especially my brother. I don't know how You do it."

    "Dear God, I love Christmas and Easter. Could you please put another Holiday in the middle, there's nothing good in there now."

    "Dear God, are you actually invisible or is that just a trick?"

    "Dear God, I want to be just like my daddy when I grow up but without so much hair all over."

    "Dear God, I wish you would not make it so easy for people to come apart I had to have 3 stitches and a shot."

    "Dear God, did you mean for giraffes to look like that or was it an accident?"

    "Dear God,maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they each had their own rooms. It works out OK with me and my brother."

    "Dear God, I heard the moon was made of cheese. Tonight half of it is missing. Did you get hungry?"

    "Dear God, if You can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it. I'm having a real good time like I am!"

    "Dear God, I say your prayer every night, 'lead us not into temptation and deliver us some e-mail' but I never get an e-mail from you. Do you have my right address?"

    John 17

    Today we turn to the seventeenth chapter of John, one of four biographies of Jesus. If you have a red-letter Bible with Jesus’ words in red, you’ll notice this entire chapter is a quote, but unlike His teachings, this is a record of His prayer to the Father before His arrest and crucifixion, the longest prayer in the Bible.

    In Deuteronomy 32-33 we read Moses’ farewell prayer and Jesus’ here is similar.

    The prayer has three sections that have parallel themes. We will look at the first two parts of the prayer today—Jesus’ prayer for Himself and His disciples—and examine His prayer for us in two weeks.

    What is the LORD’s Prayer? It’s not “Our Father.” That is what He taught His followers to pray, but it was not His prayer. He had no sins to to be forgiven.

    This is the prayer of our LORD Jesus Christ, a prayer that will summarize Jesus’ heart and ministry.

    Jesus Prays For Himself

    After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

    Before we look at His words, notice His posture. For some reason, evangelical Christians tend to ignore our bodies when we pray, yet people from other traditions and even religions are conscious of the physical when they engage the spiritual. It says that Jesus looked toward heaven, a common Jewish prayer posture. Although it is not explicit in the text, He likely raised His hands as well (Ex. 9:33; 17:11; Ps 28:2).

    “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (1-5)

    Prayer is not about you. It’s about the Father, our loving Father. Jesus’ Aramaic title for God was
    Abba. He’s Daddy. Even the adult children of my friend, Clark, call him Papa. I love that! It’s not a distant, formal “Father” but Daddy. He’s the focus. Jesus prays first for Himself. We can pray for ourselves, too.

    What do you need? What do you want? Tell Daddy!

    My kids have developed the ability to communicate what they want/need!

    Jesus prays to the Father and knows it is time for Him to die.

    The hour comes for all of us, our hour of suffering and/or death. We usually pray that suffering doesn’t come. Where do you go when you face trials? Alcohol, food, sex, gossip,…the best place to go is to your Daddy.

    Jesus didn’t pray, “Get me out of this” but rather “get me through this.”

    If you’re going to suffer, don’t waste it! Use it to honor and glorify God. To glorify means to praise or bring homage. Jesus was preparing for the cross, the most shameful place imaginable, yet for Jesus a place of honor as He is obedient to the Father’s mission.

    Jesus has been given all authority…all authority! He even has the authority to forgive sins and reconcile sinners with their heavenly Father.

    An integral part of our mission is the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20. The key to the commission is to make disciples, but we are only able to make disciples because Jesus has all authority.

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

    Notice that “eternal life” comes from knowing God—not possessing knowledge about God as the religious leaders did, but rather the Hebrew knowing which includes experience and intimacy, obedience and love for God.

    In verse five, Jesus clearly states He was with the Father in the beginning, Genesis 1:1, before the world began. Only God has glory (Isaiah 42:8).

    Jesus prays for Himself, that He would suffer so sinners would know and follow Him.

    “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. (6-8)

    Here again we see this intimate relationship between Jesus and Daddy.

    Verse 9 shifts to His followers. We see Him speaking like a shepherd about to lay down His life for His sheep.

    Jesus Prays For His Disciples

    I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.
    All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. (9-12)

    The word “world” in the Greek has several different meaning. Here it’s not that Jesus doesn’t love everyone—He will die for everyone—but that He doesn’t love the world’s system that hates Him.

    Here again we see the intimate, shared relationship between the Father and Son.

    Protect them. Jesus knows that there is a very real enemy that wants to steal, kill and destroy (Jn 10:10). Sheep without a shepherd are especially vulnerable. Daddies know their kids and keep an eye on them. God’s a good Daddy.

    Make them one. There is one God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This prayer for unity will be echoed later. A house divided cannot stand. The goal is not unity for unity’s sake, though, but rather a common focus, mission, and relationship with the Father. We are to reconciled to God and to one another as Christians. Sometimes we fight and sin against one another but unity is God’s desire for us.

    Many people in our culture see everything through the lens of “me.” What’s in it for me?

    Jesus wants us to glorify Him first and think “we” next. Families have to love and submit to one another. Jesus prays that we are one.

    What about Judas? He betrayed Jesus and hung himself. Judas never loved Jesus. He stole money from Jesus and sold Him out for thirty pieces of silver (see Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 27).

    “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. (13-19)

    The mark of the Christian is joy, not the pursuit of happiness. As we said last week, joy comes from the Holy Spirit. It is not dependent upon our circumstances. When, not if, we suffer and die, it can glorify God and be used to grow us and others. Joy only comes from the LORD. Jesus said in chapter sixteen that He would send the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). The world is not where we find joy, but where we love and serve others. This world is not our home.

    Jesus prays that He would suffer well and that His disciples would suffer well.

    We can’t do everything. We need wisdom to know how to live within our many limits.

    Again He prays that the Father would protect them.

    His final prayer is that they be sanctified, separated, made holy for a divine mission.

    “For them” Jesus was sanctified and set apart. He was about to give His life for His followers…and us.


    Jesus’ prayers reveal His true heart and mission. He wants to glorify the Father, Daddy. He affirms His deity and intimacy with the Father as one-third of the Trinity, one God in three Persons. He underscores what it means to know God and have eternal life. Joy, mission and unity are strong themes, and finally sanctification, being set apart.

    We live in the now and the not yet, citizens of heaven yet residents of earth, called on mission to be in the world and love the people of the world but not become of the world and its systems and values that refuse to glorify God.

    We are in the midst of a very real tension between heaven and earth, good and evil. In this life we will have trouble, Jesus said in the previous chapter, yet when we fix our eyes and hope on Jesus, we can pursue His mission for His glory.


    Some ideas from The High Priestly Prayer sermon by Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church and The NIV Application Commentary, John by Gary Burge.

    You can listen to the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    O Come, All Ye Faithful, 1 Peter 1:1-9, 9 December 2012

    O Come All Ye Faithful
    1 Peter 1:1-9

    Big Idea: Jesus can make us faithful, joyful and triumphant.


    Welcome to the second 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’re 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.

    This morning’s carol is
    O Come All Ye Faithful.


    "Adeste Fideles," the original Latin name for the song, was likely written in the 13th century, most likely by John Francis Wade. The original four verses of the hymn were extended to a total of eight, and these have been translated into many languages. The English translation of "O Come, All Ye Faithful", by the English Catholic priest, Frederick Oakeley is widespread in most English speaking countries.

    O come all ye faithful Joyful and triumphant O come ye O come ye to Bethlehem Come and behold Him Born the King of angels
    O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him O come let us adore Him Christ the Lord
    Sing choirs of angels Sing in exultation O sing all ye bright Hosts of heav'n above Glory to God All glory in the highest
    Yea Lord we greet Thee Born this happy morning Jesus to Thee be all glory giv'n Word of the Father Now in flesh appearing
    - C. Frederick Oakeley | John Francis Wade

    O come, all ye faithful
    Joyful and triumphant!

    Have you been faithful to God’s calling? Have you been obedient to everything He has asked you to do? Has your faithfulness matched His?

    Let’s move to the second line. Joyful and triumphant.

    Are you joyful? Triumphant?

    If you’re like me, you often feel more defeated than triumphant.

    I can’t say I’m always joyful—certainly not always happy.

    Uh oh!!!

    Are you ready for the good news? Jesus rarely calls the joyful and triumphant.

    He calls the weary and burdened!

    “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

    Can you relate?

    Wait, just in case you thought Jesus was talking about eggs, a yoke is a device that harnesses oxen together.

    Why does He want the weary and burdened? They need rest. They need Him! Have you ever tried to share Jesus with someone who had everything together? There are exceptions, but it seems that the people most likely to follow Jesus are those that are broken and desperate. One of the reasons that serving those in need is so powerful is because those that have physical needs often have the most glaring spiritual needs…and openness.

    He not only calls the weary and burdened, He calls sinners.

    While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

    On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

    That’s me!

    Here’s even better news: He not only calls the weary and burdened sinners, He doesn’t leave us weary and burdened.

    He doesn’t leave you that way!

    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

    He helps us to become a new creation. He is in the transformation business!

    How does that happen, you might ask?

    First, Jesus helps us to become more faithful.

    After the faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11, Paul writes

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

    If you’re waiting for God to just zap you with faith and power and discipline you’ll be greatly disappointed. We must join Him in His work. Action is required on our part.

    First, get rid of the junk. The sin. The time wasting. The selfish spending. The addictions.

    On Thanksgiving Day—upon the invitation of my oldest daughter—I participated in my first race. Well, technically it was a Turkey Trot. Both words were appropriate for me! I didn’t just wake up on Thanksgiving and jog 5K. I had to train. First I had to make it to the end of my short driveway! Later I got up to a mile, then two, then three and I was nearly there.

    I did not carry a backpack with me!
    I did not carry a bag of groceries with me!
    I didn’t even carry my iPad with me!

    Runners want to be as light as possible and free from distractions.

    I also learned that they need focus. They need a goal.

    I ran with a program called Map My Run that would call out when I reached a mile…and two...and three. I set a target distance each time knowing that otherwise I’d just jog to the mailbox and then go eat gingerbread cookies!

    On the final days of my training I determined in advance how far I was going to jog (you can hardly call my pace running!) and I refused to stop until I reached that goal. It’s about focus.

    Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

    We have to focus on Jesus, not Oprah or ESPN or Facebook…but Jesus. Only Jesus can help you become a new creation. Only Jesus brings true joy. Notice this verse. He experienced joy while He was on the cross. Is that crazy?

    Joy is not happiness. It is far deeper. Joy comes from a right relationship with God, and that’s what Jesus had on the cross. His joy was not in the pain and agony He experienced, but knowing that He was glorifying the Father and doing His will.

    One of the great things about fixing our eyes upon Jesus is He understands. We’re going to talk about this more in two weeks, but He knows suffering. He knows grief. He knows pain. He knows weary and burdened. He conquered sin and death.

    What does it mean to fix our eyes on Jesus? It starts with the Word of God.

    Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

    As we saw a few months ago in John 1…

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

    Maybe your faith is being tried by the loss of a loved one, a dream, a job, health. Look to Jesus. Get in the Word. There is power and hope and joy in the Word.

    If it’s hard to read, grab the New Living Translation or the Message. If you don’t know what to read, join us as we read through the entire Bible together at If you missed the first 49 weeks, not problem! Finish this year in God’s Word. Start up again in January. The Word is life. The Word is power.

    As an example, a few weeks ago I was discouraged, living in Cleveland, spending my days in a hospital waiting room with my daughter. The Scio Journal passage for the day included this…

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
    We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; 4:8-10)

    Wow! My faith began to rise. I was reminded that God was with me, that He understood, and that there was a purpose in my trouble—to let Christ overflow in my life and comfort others.

    We need to fill our minds with the Word of God. The word of the world too often fills our minds with lies.

    As we are in His Word, our faith grows. Jesus helps us to become more faithful.

    Jesus helps us to become more joyful.

    Our joy comes from a right relation with God, not something we produce.

    Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy (depends on Jesus) and happiness (depends on happenings) are worlds apart.

    In Luke 2—the most detailed account of Jesus’ birth—it says

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
    (Luke 2:8-11)

    Good news of great joy. For all the people. That’s Jesus!

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

    Peter and Paul had a thing about long sentences! Notice that he is speaking in the present tense.

    They have been given new birth into a living hope.

    “That’s great,” you may be thinking, “but that was then and this is now. You don’t understand my messed-up life.”

    Peter is writing to people that are in the midst of suffering. Look at the next verse:

    In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6)

    How can they rejoice in the midst of suffering? How can we? It’s really quite simple: what is your hope?

    Pastor Tim Keller says this so beautifully: any hope that is a finite object will disappoint. If your hope is in your health, family, job, wealth, fame…it can and will eventually be gone. For most people hope is a circumstance that can change, but if our hope is a living hope, it is fixed; it is not based upon circumstances.

    Let’s go back for a moment to the previous verses…

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

    Without the living hope, you either have joy or sorrow.

    These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

    When you put gold into the fire, it gets brighter and more refined. A living hope not based upon circumstances means the sorrow actually drives you into joy and into Christ. Sorrow kicks on the joy. Sorrow doesn’t kill the joy because it’s not circumstantial.

    The joy enables the sorrow. When most people experience grief, they run into indifference or anger.

    With a living hope, sorrow makes you wiser. You don’t run from it, it deepens you. The joy gets brighter with the sorrow like the stars get brighter as it gets darker.

    Your heart with a living hope is always great and growing.

    Earlier we looked at Jesus’ joy on the cross.

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

    He sweated blood. He screamed on the cross. He had a living hope.

    is the living hope?

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

    It is an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

    It is kept. It is secure. It is guaranteed. It cannot be removed.

    It is the coming of the salvation…the last time, the end, but what is it?

    These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

    Those who believe…praise, glory and honor…we will praise, glory and honor Jesus, right?

    No! It says your faith may be proved genuine. The Greek grammar is not referring to praise, glory and honor to Jesus, but
    from Jesus.

    We are going to get praise, glory and honor on the last day!

    Jesus prayed at the end of His time on earth…

    I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:23)

    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)

    Jesus took everything that we deserve. If you believe in Jesus, you get everything that He deserved.

    This isn’t about what you have done, but what the death and resurrection of Jesus did. At the end, you will receive everything that Jesus deserved! Love, applause, approval, perfection, and purity.

    It is kept! It is secure.

    This is the new hope. What’s coming is the ultimate wealth, the approval of the King.

    The foundation of your character is not your personality but your hope.

    The Gospel is not if I try hard, maybe God will bless me someday. It is because Jesus died for me, I have a hope that is kept for me and someday I will be changed forever and even now it gives me hope so I can handle anything.

    Religion: trying to be good, gambling that someday God will accept them; you’re saving yourself; I give God a righteous record and He owes me

    The Gospel: live in the light of being accepted; you receive and rest in His salvation; God gives me a righteous record in Jesus Christ and I live for Him

    To be born again is to live in the living hope that it is kept.


    Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

    Unspeakable joy!

    Jesus was even able to have joy at the cross. What was Jesus’ living hope?

    After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)

    Us! Being with us forever!

    You being His living hope is what makes Him your living hope.

    Love Him!

    Is this just for superstar Christians?

    Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

    To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: (1 Peter 1:1-2a)

    Peter is writing to all of the Christians in the region. It’s for everyone. It’s for you!

    Jesus helps us to become more triumphant.

    We often feel defeated. Life is hard…but God is good. Our God is an awesome God. Our God will someday soon right all wrongs. The enemy may be winning some battles, but our LORD will win the war!

    Isaiah understood Jesus was not just an 8 pound, 6 ounce sweet baby Jesus.

    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

    That’s our God. That’s our King! He will rule and reign forever!

    The baby in the manger is the Creator of the universe, the King of kings, …

    There is power in the presence of God.
    There is faith in the presence of God.
    There is joy in the presence of God.
    There is victory in the presence of God.
    He is born the King of angels.
    We have come to adore Him.

    Come all ye faithful (He is faithful even when we are not)
    Joyful and triumphant
    He is Christ the LORD


    Jesus calls the weary and the burdened. Some of you need to come back to God.

    Credits: Series theme and various ideas from Craig Groeschel,

    Some notes from Tim Keller,
    Born Into Hope sermon

    You can listen to the podcast here.
    You can view a music video of
    O Come All Ye Faithful from here.

    Trials, 10 July 2011

    Big Idea: Trials are meant to help us grow, not harm us.


    First, it was written by...James! That may seem obvious, but many New Testament books are named after their recipient, not their author. In fact, most of Paul’s writings such as Titus and Ephesians, were written to a man named Titus and a church in the city of Ephesus.

    James is the author, believed by most to be Jesus’ half-brother. Imagine the sibling rivalry in that family! Actually, James was skeptical of the deity claims made by Jesus and later in life became a devoted follower.

    James is probably the earliest of the New Testament writings. Where Paul wrote about inner saving faith from God’s perspective, James wrote about outward saving faith from the perspective of man.

    I love the book of James because it is very practical and easy to understand, though challenging to completely obey. Many biblical books are written to a particular person or group in response to a particular situation. Therefore, we can’t just read and apply without understanding the context. James, however, begins with a very clear and broad audience.

    The early church was the recipient, those Christians in churches around the world. In other words, James writes universal truths that are essentially for all people. It was clearly written for public reading as a sermon and authoritative. In fact, there is, on average, a call for action in every other verse in the book! It is both passionate and picturesque with rich metaphors, similes, and dozens of references to Nature.

    He begins...

    James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

    To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:


    Here we see that he is clearly a Christ-follower. He was a well-known, authoritative figure in the early Church. He actually led the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15). He calls himself simply a servant, the Greek word “doulos” meaning a bond-slave. He was God’s property.

    He is writing to the twelve tribes, a reference to the Jews that were scattered from their homeland among the Gentiles.

    He then writes, “Greetings.” He is obviously a friendly man!

    Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (1:2)

    Wait a minute! Did we read that correctly?

    Did he write joy and trials in the same sentence? Are you kidding me? If you’re like me, you do everything to avoid trials. My flesh wants life to safe, comfortable, and convenient. I want things to go smoothly. Any unexpected interruption to my life is not a joy but a pain in the rear end! Trials in my life are met with groans and complaints.

    Do you know what I mean? Perhaps that is why James needed to write these words!

    The Greek word for trial here is
    peirasmo/ß, peirasmos, It means trial or temptation or test.

    How many of you like to take tests in school? If you’re like me, there have been one or two tests that you actually looked forward to taking, the ones you studied hard for and felt confident and prepared. The purpose of a test is not to be a hardship or reveal your stupidity, but to show what you know. A test is given to see if a student can pass, not pass out! Trials are not to be seen as tribulations but tests. Our attitude is critical in the midst of trials.

    James does not say to be happy, but to be joyful. He doesn’t say to be joyful for the trials, but in the midst of trials.

    How do we find joy in trials?

    ...because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (1:3-4)

    Tests have a purpose. If you pass your third-grade tests, you demonstrate your readiness for fourth-grade. If you pass the bar exam, you prove that you can be an attorney. James reminds us that endurance is one product of trials. James’ readers know this (notice “because you know”) but I’m afraid we’re not so quick to think about the benefits of trials in our culture. Athletes might be the exception.

    No pain, no gain.

    In this case, the testing is not done to prove our faith but to approve it. We develop endurance, but the goal is to be mature and complete. I think we all want to be complete, but it doesn’t just happen. Even physical maturity requires growing pains. It’s all part of God’s plan for our lives. He wants us to grow and mature and becoming complete in Him so He allows trials and testing to accomplish His purposes.

    “But wait,” you might say, “I thought God loves me.” He absolutely does. Love is looking out for the best interest of another. He wants you to grow, become strong, and be a blessing to others.

    Five years ago if you told me about your trials, I would’ve done my best to be kind and understanding, but I had no idea what real testing was all about. Through several events in the past few years, I have a completely different perspective. I know suffering. I know testing. It has changed me. It has transformed me. I’d like to think that I’m done, but I know there are more trials ahead.

    Friends, you are either in a trial, coming out of a trial, or about to experience one. Don’t face that as bad news. It’s all part of God’s plan to make you more like Jesus, the One who faced the ultimate trials and testing.


    The testing of our faith produces patience and perseverance. Faith is like gold. Gold endures no matter how hot the fire. Peter—who understood trials as did all of the early church leaders, most of whom died as martyrs, wrote

    In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

    When gold is heated, the impurities rise to the surface. The metal worker cannot take their eyes off of the gold, knowing that it is pure when they can see their face reflected in it. That’s what God does. He refines us through trials until all that is seen in us is Jesus.

    Let me pause for a moment and say that there are two types of trials—those that come to us and those that are self-inflicted. I’m always amazed when I hear of teenage girls that say, “God, how could you allow me to get pregnant” or the person angry at God because they got caught speeding or stealing. Our actions have consequences. There are other things, however, like tsunamis, diseases, and the drunk driving of others over which we have no control.

    We can face trials with joy because it will mature us and our faith to the point where we lack nothing.

    But that’s easier said than done, right? How?! Fortunately, James continues….


    If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (1:5)

    Wisdom is not merely knowledge but the application of knowledge. Do you seek wisdom?

    King Solomon had an Aladdin experience. He was given one wish from God.

    That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
    (2 Chronicles 1:7)

    Solomon said

    Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

    God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”
    (2 Chronicles 1:10-12)

    What does this verse promise us about asking for wisdom? God gives it generously to those who ask.

    My greatest prayer is for wisdom. I pray daily for God to give me wisdom as I seek to lead my family, Scio, and most of all myself!

    Keep in mind that the context of this request is in the midst of trials. If you’ve ever asked “why?” you have sought Godly wisdom to understand your situation. God loves it when we ask for wisdom. He loves to hear us pour out our hearts. He loves honest, authentic prayers.

    Perhaps you’ve been told that there are certain things that appropriate to tell God. He knows it all! Keep it real! He can handle the truth!

    But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (1:6-8)

    We must seek God and His wisdom in faith. One writer says that our answer from God depends upon our assurance in God.

    I can tell you from experience that God can be trusted. He is love. Following Jesus doesn’t mean life will always be easy, but it will be satisfying. It will be filled with purpose. It will contain hope and meaning.

    If you’re in the midst of a trial right now, I want to remind you that God is real. God cares. It might not feel like it, but I promise you that He does. I often think about a child at the doctor’s getting immunizations. Love is the last thing that they feel, yet the shots are actually the most loving thing a parent to can allow, providing endurance and strength to avoid devastating diseases.

    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
    (Jeremiah 29:11)

    We may experience hurt that God allows to shape us but never harm. There is one that wants to harm us, though.

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

    The Rich

    How many of you are rich? Compared to the rest of the world, the poorest in this room are filthy rich.

    If you make $25,000/year, you are in the top 10% richest on the planet!
    If you make $50,000/year, you are in the top 1% richest on the planet!

    Of course, rich does not always refer to finances. We can be rich in health, friends, or spirit. James continues…

    The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. (1:9-11)

    Most of the Jewish converts were poor and perhaps considered their lowly position a hindrance in enduring trials. James reminds them that God honors the persistence of even the lowliest of people. The rich, on the other hand, are trusting in their riches which will whither and fade away. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

    Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (1:12)

    And everybody said…amen!

    To summarize,

    • - trials DO arrive in our lives
    • - our attitude is critical, seeking joy and God
    • - God is not out to harm us, though we may hurt
    • - we can ask for wisdom when we ask “why?” during trials
    • - we will be blessed by enduring trials and transformed through them
    You can listen to the podcast here.