Love Others

The Greatest Investment, 17 March 2024

The Greatest Investment
God Cares More About Your Money Than You Do

Luke 12:13-34

Series Big Idea:
Money matters…to God, to us, and to those we love.
 
Big Idea: The greatest investments will last forever.
 
Although I love this country, the older I get, the more I see its many flaws. No nation is perfect, of course, but despite our financial wealth, our culture has many weaknesses. One of them is we are impatient. Would you agree? When we stare at the microwave clock wishing it would cook faster…!!! Speaking of fast, have you driven on I-75 lately? If you’ve ever put money in the stock market, hoping the value would double overnight…It reminds me of my grandkids who once planted a garden and checked on it the next morning!
 
The late Dallas Willard famously gave this advice to his disciple, John Ortberg: “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.” Good luck!
 
As we conclude our three-part series “God Cares More About Your Money Than You Do,” we are talking about the greatest investment.
 
What’s the greatest investment you’ve ever made?
 
I’m pretty happy with the Apple stock I bought in 2005 before I worked for the company. I bought 4 shares, spending $367. That $367 is now worth over $44,000. Imagine if I bought 100 shares instead of only 4! Truthfully, I’ve done very little investing in the stock market. Most of my very modest retirement account is in mutual funds.
 
All fruitful investments require time. By definition, the returns are not instantaneous. If you buy something from a vending machine, we call that a transaction. No waiting is required (unless the machine is broken and you have to kick it!). When you order fast food at a drive-thru, you hope and pray it won’t take an hour to receive your order!
 
But investments are different. There is no instant gratification. This is why many use financial investments to fund their retirement. They know it is years or decades away. They also recognize the value of compounding interest. The Bible has over 2000 references to money. Don’t worry, we’ll only look at half of them today!
  
God gives us many gifts for our good…that the enemy uses to destroy. Our planet was created filled with beauty, yet pollution taints its splendor. Relationships are God’s design, yet they often bring the greatest pain. Sex is a wonderful gift…within God-given boundaries designed to protect us. Money is another tool that can be used for good or harm.
 
In case you missed our message two weeks ago, we said
 
-       If you spend less than you earn, you will never be broke.
-
       Work hard
-
       Spend wisely
-
       Give generously
 
Those are principles for building financial wealth. They also bring us great joy when we honor God with our money, no matter how much we possess…so long as our money doesn’t possess us.
 
I want to talk about another dimension of money and that is investing. Saving is not only a financial principle, it’s a healthy discipline. Because we live in an on-demand, have it now culture, the mere mention of the word “wait” might be enough to cause some of you anxiety. Who has time to wait?
 
The same is true with money.
It’s hard to wait sometimes. We either see something we want, but it before we have the money, and pay outrageous interest fees (by the way, making the minimum monthly payment will rarely if ever lead to the payment of the debt!)…or we cash our paycheck and spend it all before the next one arrives…with no thought of savings, much less investment.
 
Many of you have heard of an emergency fund or a rainy day fund. So-called experts differ on exact formulas, but before you spend every penny you own, consider the fact that
emergencies will arise. It’s a fact of life. Rain will fall (especially in Toledo). And all of us have a limited number of days on earth…and days when we are able to work.
 
I realize our church family is very diverse. Some of you know more about money than I do. Many of you
have more money than I do! And some of us struggle to save even a little, much less invest. We are so focused on surviving today that we can’t even imagine planning for tomorrow. Then the rain comes and we’re in crisis mode.
 
I want to remind you of the “spend wisely” principle from two weeks ago. We need to differentiate between our wants and our needs. Advertisements are designed to destroy your contentment. People are paid to convince you that desires are necessities. And you need that new (fill in the blank) now! And if now won’t work, perhaps you can wait for Amazon to deliver tomorrow (or later today!).
 
Since each household is unique, I want to simply remind you that
a budget brings freedom, not bondage…and savings should be in your budget. Whether you save $1/paycheck, 1%, 10%, or more, it’s essential to save…and then invest that money so it can grow.
 
Jesus told a great story about three men who were given money to invest. In the 25
th chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells of a man going on a long trip.
 
He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip. (Matthew 25:15, NLT)
 
“The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money. (Matthew 25:16-18, NLT)
 
“After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’ (Matthew 25:19-20, NLT)
 
“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’ (Matthew 25:21, NLT)
 
“The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’ (Matthew 25:22, NLT)
 
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’ (Matthew 25:23, NLT)
 
“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’ (Matthew 25:24-25, NLT)
 
“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’ (Matthew 25:26-27, NLT)
 
“Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:28-30, NLT)
 
There’s so much that could be said about savings and investments. A great resource is
https://faithandfinance.org, a ministry of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. Of course, some of you will be meeting with David Munn of Munn Wealth Management today at noon. His company is built upon biblical principles and has been extremely generous to First Alliance and many Christian organizations throughout our community. David is a personal friend and a great resource. There are many others, too, including the Ron Blue Institute which partners with Orchard Alliance.
 
But I want to go back to Jesus’ story of investing. It’s a great picture of investing money—silver—
but the greatest investment in the world is people.
 
A biblical example of investment
 
Who wrote the book of Timothy? Actually, there are two books called Timothy…1
st and 2nd Timothy…and they were written by…Paul. These short letters were written from a mentor to an apprentice, a teacher to a student, a discipler to a disciple.
 
Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. (2 Timothy 1:3, NLT)
 
Paul invested prayer. Night and day he prayed for Timothy.
 
I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again. (2 Timothy 1:4, NLT)
 
Paul invested passion. He cried when they parted and longs for a joyous reunion.
 
I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. (2 Timothy 1:5, NLT)
 
Grandma and mom invested, too.
 
This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. (2 Timothy 1:6, NLT)
 
The Holy Spirit invested in Timothy with a spiritual gift.
 
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)
 
That’s the fruit of the investment…power, love, and self-discipline. Who doesn’t want that?
 
A few verses later, Paul tells Timothy to…
 
Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. 14 Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:13-14, NLT)
 
So What?
 
The greatest investment you can make is not in real estate, Bitcoin, or Microsoft. It’s in people. We do that through our
time, talent, and treasures.
 
We must spend
time with people. This is the core of discipleship, of investment, of friendship. Love is spelled t-i-m-e! There are no shortcuts or hacks. You simply need to invest time in people, listening to them, eating with them, having fun with them! When is the last time you chose to spend an hour with a non-Christian with no agenda, just to be with them?

Another way to invest in people is through your talents, your abilities. This might include volunteering with one of our Home Missions partners from last Sunday, cooking food for Dinner Church, assisting on the next Alpha Course, joining the music or tech teams, or any number of other things to get involved around here. What do you love to do? How can you do that with others, for others, for God’s glory?
 
You can also make a financial investment in people through giving your treasures to First Alliance, FAC Missions, and the Alliance Great Commission Fund. These three accounts are used to impact lives for eternity by supporting this local congregation, serving our ministry partners in our city and world through church planting, Home Missions, and Faith Missions, and contributing to the global work of our Christian & Missionary Alliance family, including Germany and the Dominican Republic.
 
Conclusion
 
Financial investments are great, especially as we age and become unable to work and earn income. Starbucks stock was worth more than eleven times its year 2000 value in 2016. Monster Beverage stock was worth 24 cents in 2001 and grew to $150 in 2015.
 
But despite the bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” there’s only one investment that’s eternal, and it’s not about money. It’s about people…and Jesus. The greatest investment you can make is investing in people, loving people, serving people, praying for people, introducing people to Jesus.
 
Several weeks ago, my sermon was entitled
evangelize now, meaning “share good news now, tell others about Jesus now.” It is true that tomorrow could be too late…for you or them!
 
Investing in people always
begins with prayer. Pray that God would lead you to the right people, that He would prepare their hearts, and that He would give you wisdom and words.
 
The next step is to
listen…listen to them. Don’t bombard them with information. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
 
Eat with them. Grab coffee. There’s something powerful about food and relationships. The Bible is packed with examples, including the very manner in which we are to remember the death of Jesus.
 
Serve them. Put your faith into action.
 
Finally,
share your story. After you’ve listened to theirs and served them, you’ve likely earned the right to share your story…God’s story. If you began the process with praying for them, there’s a good chance they’ll be interested in learning more.

B.L.E.S.S.

There's even a free BLESS app for your smart phone. Search for it.
 
But we must be intentional. It takes time. Sometimes years or decades! It requires sacrifice. This is true of all investments, but I promise you there is no greater investment than people. The returns are eternal!
 
British missionary C.T. Studd (what a great name!) penned a powerful poem entitled, “Only One Life, Twill Soon Be Past.” Here’s a sample:
 

Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way; Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done; Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, the still small voice, Gently pleads for a better choice Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears; Each with its clays I must fulfill. living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
When this bright world would tempt me sore, When Satan would a victory score; When self would seek to have its way, Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Give me Father, a purpose deep, In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep; Faithful and true what e’er the strife, Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Oh let my love with fervor burn, And from the world now let me turn; Living for Thee, and Thee alone, Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, yes only one, Now let me say, “Thy will be done”; And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
  

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

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

Armor, 5 November 2023

Armor
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity

Ephesians 6:7-24

Series Big Idea:
The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
 
Big Idea: We need to fight the good fight of faith with armor…on our knees.
 
Today we’re finishing our series on the book of Ephesians! We’ve been looking at this letter written by Paul to a church in modern day Turkey, and it’s a doozy! If we could embrace even a fraction of the instructions, we would be a healthier, more fruitful, and more satisfied congregation…so let’s pay attention!
 
Two weeks ago we looked at this gem:
 
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21, NLT)
 
We saw how that related to husbands and wives, submitting to one another. Last Sunday Sue shared how this relates to parents and children—children are to obey and fathers are to avoid provoking their children to anger. The next section relates to slaves and masters, though it’s not exactly the Civil War era antebellum slavery we imagine, but rather servants who often had to work off a debt. In our context, a parallel would be workers and bosses.
 
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. 6 Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. 7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8, NLT)
 
Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites. (Ephesians 6:9, NLT)
 
Masters and slaves are hardly equals, but they are both worthy of dignity and respect if they are followers of Jesus. We could devote an entire sermon to this, but we must move on to our subject today, the Armor of God.
  
The Bible is filled with metaphors, parables, and images designed to help us understand spiritual concepts through the lens of physical objects. Paul’s final teaching in Ephesians introduces a battle motif.
 
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10, NLT)
 
We all want to be strong. Action movies are filled with men and women with bulging muscles, powerful weapons, and a mission to conquer the bad guys. Notice Paul doesn’t stop with “be strong,” but continues “in the Lord and in his mighty power.” None of us have what it takes to do battle on our own. It’s only in the LORD and in His power that we can stand a chance against the forces of sin, evil, and destruction.
 
Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11, NLT)
 
The devil is our enemy. He’s powerful. He’s very powerful. We see it in the news every day. Death. Abuse. Hunger. Corruption. Racism. Injustice. Violence. The list goes on and on.
 
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)
 
This is where I want to focus. You can’t see the enemy, but the enemy is real. There are spiritual forces that want steal, kill, destroy, and lie and they are powerful. It says they are mighty powers. We often refer to them as demons. I’ve always found it interesting that more people believe in angels than in demons, but both are realities according to the Bible. The enemy is real, but unseen. The enemy is not flesh-and blood. That means…
 
-       Our government leaders are not the enemy
-
       The gang leaders are not the enemy
-
       Drug dealers are not the enemy
-
       Sex traffickers are not the enemy
-
       Abortionists are not the enemy
 
They are all masterpieces created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth…broken by sin, pawns of the enemy, at times, but not the enemy.
 
Family, we must get this. I must get this. Every time I look into the eyes of another human, I’m looking at a masterpiece. Sure, they need work. They need restoration. So do you and I. It occurred to me there may have been times when I was a pawn of the enemy, falling into temptation, failing to love others, thinking impure thoughts, dishonoring the God I claim to love and serve. Put another way, there’s a beautiful lyric in the musical
Les Miserables that says, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
 
I need to linger here for a moment, especially during election season. It’s so tempting to demonize the other, whoever or whatever is the other. I expect the world to be arrogant, disrespectful, and filled with hate, but
real Christians don’t hate. Real Christians love. Who has ever changed their mind about something because someone yelled at them…or worse?
 
Can I be real with you? I’m so sick of politics. I’ve got people telling me we’re too political and others telling me we’re not political enough. I refuse to talk partisan politics because we serve the Lion and the Lamb, not an elephant or donkey. Here’s the bottom line: we need to follow Jesus and do what would bring him glory.
 
This means caring for and protecting life, from the womb to the tomb. This is why we support the fine work of Bella Vita and the Pregnancy Center, who not only provide alternatives to abortion, they equip parents with the resources they need to thrive.
 
This means caring for the least of these—the widow, the stranger, the orphan, the poor. This is why we support the fine work of Water for Ishmael, Cherry Street Mission, and Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission.
 
This means speaking up for those whose voice is not heard, whether it’s the unborn, children, the elderly, the refugee, or the disabled.
 
Do you want me to continue? I feel like I’m preaching to the choir!
 
This means loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves…in every circumstance.
 
Family, sin is rampant in our world, but
people are not the enemy. They are pawns in a cosmic battle between good and evil. Should you vote? Absolutely. It’s a privilege. But do your homework. Don’t blindly believe a tv commercial or lawn sign. Stand up for what is good, beautiful, and true. But no matter the results of the election, God is on the throne, fear not, and love your neighbor…and enemy.
 
But there’s so much more we can do…so much more we need to do…
 
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:13, NLT)
 
We need to put on every piece. An hour on Sunday is not enough. A quick prayer before bedtime is insufficient. We’re in a war, family!
War is not a hobby or part-time endeavor. It’s a lifestyle.
 
Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. (Ephesians 6:14, NLT)
 
We need truth, righteousness (not self-righteousness!), justice. The Christian message isn’t true because it works, but it works because it’s true. Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
 
For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. (Ephesians 6:15, NLT)
 
We have good news to proclaim: King Jesus is LORD! The Prince of Peace will return soon, and sent the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and peace in the midst of the chaos in this world. We bring the gospel of peace wherever we go.
 
In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. (Ephesians 6:16, NLT)
 
These aren’t just arrows from the archery range. They’re fiery! We need faith to guard against temptation, despair, adversity, lies, hateful thoughts, pride, etc.
 
Back in the day, the shield was made of wood, covered with leather, and about 2’ by 4’. It was common in the day for soldiers to bring their shields together, forming a wall and even a covering to defend against flaming arrows.
 
Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17, NLT)
 
The helmet protects the mind, where our actions begin. The sword of the Spirit is the one offensive weapon, piercing the heart. It brings healing and life…except when we cripple the enemy. Note there’s no covering for the back side. That means we’re to advance…never retreat! We must be strong…in the LORD…and in His mighty power!
 
These images are great, especially with children. Sue is probably dressing them up right now in Glass City Kids! God has given us the armor, the tools, but we must wear them. We must use them. When you put it all together, it sounds a lot like king Jesus. He is the Truth, our righteousness, our peace, our salvation, the Word of God, the faithful one. We are “in Christ” and we are to put on Christ each day, living for him and his glory, never our own. Now Paul gives us the real secret sauce.
 
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. (Ephesians 6:18, NLT)
 
At all times. On every occasion. For all the saints. The real battle is fought on our knees.
 
Paul wrote to his apprentice, Timothy…
 
Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12, NLT)
 
We need to fight the good fight of faith with armor…on our knees.
 
I want to invite you to Zoom Prayer, weekday mornings at 9 AM.
I want to invite you to Sunday morning prayer here at 9:30 AM.
I want to invite you to pray with your Life Group, your spouse, your family.
 
I know many of you are fearful of the future. Let me restate the big idea of my first sermon here eight years ago: Fear not. Fear God.
 
Remember, what you fear most is your god.
 
Consider these profound words from one of Jesus’ three best friends…
 
But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. (1 John 4:4, NLT)
 
We’re on the winning side! We know how the battle ends. There will be casualties. There will be losses, especially if we’re not alert and armed. But we win! Our God is greater, our God is stronger, the enemy is a fraud! He has power, but can’t hold a candle to King Jesus. He proved that on resurrection Sunday!
Fear is a powerful motivator, and media is filled with hype and alarm. That’s how they make money! When you feel afraid, get on your knees and do something about it!
 
Paul continues…
 
And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20, NLT)
 
When we go through a book of the Bible, I like to make sure every word is read, so here are Paul’s final greetings.
 
To bring you up to date, Tychicus will give you a full report about what I am doing and how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper in the Lord’s work. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you. (Ephesians 6:21-22, NLT)
 
One of the things I love about the Bible is it’s a library of books written by real people in real places.
 
Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. 24 May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 6:23-24, NLT)

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

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

Favoritism, 24 October 2021

Favoritism
Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 2:1-13

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: We are to show love and respect to all…period!

There are three types of kids in this world. There are those picked first on the playground for the kickball, basketball, volleyball, or whatever team. These are the athletes, the skilled ones, the ones with speed. Some are naturally gifted while others have spent time developing their abilities. There are those middle-of-the-pack kids who are good players on a team. And then there’s that kid picked last. Nobody wants them, either because they are slow, clumsy, or just unliked.

Where did you find yourself?

Depending upon the sport, I think I’ve been in all three groups. I was solid at kickball in elementary school, but remember being among the last to finish the running on field day, watching the school buses pull up to the school, anxious that they might leave before I could finish my race! I was cut from the seventh-grade basketball team and couldn’t make the team in eighth grade, either.

Today we’re continuing our series
Faith Works, the message of James. It’s perhaps the most practical book of the Bible, written by Jesus’ half-brother James. Chapter two begins with important instructions related to favoritism and the simple message that We are to show love and respect to all…period!

Prejudice is simply pre-judging
someone. It’s a pre-conceived idea or opinion based not on experience or rational thought, but rather appearances and impressions. Prejudice can occur based upon the color of a person’s skin, their attire, or even their accent. In one sense it is very understandable. After all, when we encounter a person for the first time, we have limited data…and use what little information we have to form thoughts. It’s natural. However, like the temptation we spoke of last week, we must be careful what to do with those impressions while we seek to truly understand the masterpiece in front of us.

The heading for chapter two in the NIV version of the book of James says it all:

Favoritism Forbidden

The text begins…

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. (James 2:1)

Any questions? That’s pretty clear, but James elaborates.

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4)

Favoritism is a sin.
Again, it’s nearly possible to not pre-judge someone…yet looks can be deceiving. Often the person who looks wealthy with a fancy car and nice house is actually just using items that belong to the bank! So many people who look rich are actually in debt up to their eyeballs!

The opposite may be true, too. I have a friend who’s a multi-millionaire after selling his successful business, yet he often looks like he just came in from chopping wood! One time he went into a car dealership with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, ready to buy a car, and he couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to him!

We all want the best seats at the concert or movie or sporting event. In our culture, people can pay extra to have VIP seats, but in church? Actually, church might be the only place where people don’t want to sit up front, close to the action. What’s up with that?! Regardless of your wealth, you can sit in the front row of most any church in America (just don’t show up late and distract every person in the house!).

We looked at the end of chapter one back in July, but the verse the precedes our text for today says,

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

That’s true religion. The Pharisees had it all wrong, looking impressive on the outside while having proud hearts. We are to look after the orphans and widows. Are they poor? They frequently are. We are not to become polluted by the world, acting like the culture. That’s what they were doing in James’ day…and sadly today, too. James is saying regardless of what happens “out there,” we should never discriminate in here, in the family. Every part of the body is valuable. Every member is important. We’re all sinners saved by God’s amazing grace. We’re all hopeless apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One of the things I love about First Alliance is we are a mosaic, a diverse family. Doctors sit next to homeless people who sit next to single moms who sit next to attorneys who sit next to ex-cons. Some are rich, others poor. Some are educated, some are high school dropouts. Some are young and others quite elderly. We have widows and widowers. We are here to serve orphans. All are welcome. Everyone belongs here. The only rule is no perfect people allowed!

James’ half-brother, Jesus, had a lot to say about the poor…and the rich.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

This doesn’t necessarily mean poor in finances, but any use of the word “poor” implies a lack, a need. This is why James continues in verse five…

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (James 2:5)

It’s worth noting
there are many reasons people may be poor. Some have experienced unusual hardship such as a disability. Others are the victim of injustice. Many lack basic education, struggle with mental illness, some are simply lazy, and there are some poor who prefer doing life on their terms, no matter the results. This is why Jesus famously asked an invalid in John chapter 5…

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

There are some poor persons who don’t want to get well. They want free stuff. They want to milk the system. They want sympathy. But they’re not willing to take the courageous steps necessary to change.

Many in our First Alliance family want to get well, and they prove it every Wednesday at
Celebrate Recovery. They demonstrate it by their involvement in one of our fifteen Life Groups. They welcome accountability. I’m excited to announce we’ve been working behind-the-scenes for many months on a system to help people who truly want to get well. It’s not quite finished, but we’ll be looking for life coaches or mentors to come alongside men and women coming out of prison, homelessness, addiction, poverty, or just lacking basic skills such as money management or parenting. Stay tuned for details.

I don’t want to make too much out of this, nor do I want to make too little. In our culture—and apparently the first century, too—the rich were used to getting the best seats in the house, the best service from the host, the most attention. Yet God has a special place in His heart for the poor, the needy, those truly seeking help.

James continues,

But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:6-7)

In the first century, many of the rich were nervous about this new messianic movement we now call Christianity. They had no respect for King Jesus.

Our political system is very binary, right or left, conservative or progressive. One preacher recently described it something like this:

The right says the rich are good and the poor are lazy.
The left says the rich are greedy and the poor deserve the money of the rich.

The fact of the matter is there are not two categories—good or bad—but four. There are “good” rich people who are generous and create jobs and there are “bad” rich people who are greedy. Likewise, there are “good” poor people who try hard when experience hardships and there are “bad” people who are entitled and refuse to work.

James has obviously encountered some “bad” rich who were exploiting, suing, and blaspheming the holy name of Jesus. He adds,

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. (James 2:8)

Jesus said the instructions of the entire Bible can be summarized in two commands: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the true test of your faith, your maturity, the caliber of your discipleship. Note, too, that we are not merely to obey the law, but to keep it. That means we are to put it into practice. So often we judge ourselves based upon the sins we don’t do or commit, but what about the sins of omission? What about our lack of love for others? What about our lack of generosity, compassion, or kindness? What about our indifference, our self-righteousness?

I’m getting convicted here!

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (James 2:9)

Obviously, favoritism is not a way to show love! Sometimes it’s done unconsciously. I know none of YOU would ever deliberately show favoritism, right?! Nobody at First Alliance has EVER been biased, prejudiced, racist, discriminated, or shown favoritism, right?!

The first step in change is awareness of the need. If I had a nickel for every justification and rationalization I’ve heard for favoritism, prejudice, or any sin, for that matter. I’ve been guilty, too. But what would happen if we truly viewed every person as a masterpiece created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth? Broken? Yes! In need of restoration? Yes! That’s why we’re here! That’s why we partner with the Creator of the universe to restore His masterpieces! And even the best of us are also a work in progress. I love these words from the late Dallas Willard,

Saints use up more grace than sinners. Many Christians view God’s grace as something only for sinners. That is just not true. God’s grace is better defined as God’s power at work within us to do what we normally can’t do on our own. The reality is that saints burn through grace like a 747 burns through Jet-Fuel.

We are not to show favoritism because we all need God’s grace. We all need love. We all want to be picked for the team, welcomed in the family, and given a chance.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (James 2:10-11)

I love that! Can you imagine someone appearing before a judge for murder and their defense is, “I didn’t sleep with anyone!”? Someone once said the law is like a sheet of glass. Once it’s broken, it’s broken. It doesn’t help to say it’s only a little bit broken! When we sin, we break the law, we are no longer perfect, we need God’s amazing grace and mercy, offered by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hallelujah!

The point is favoritism is a sin, just like adultery and murder. They may all have different consequences, but James is saying, “Stop it!” Christians are “little Christs,” and Jesus did not show favoritism. He did not commit adultery or murder, either!

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13)

Oh how I need God’s mercy. I don’t want what I deserve, punishment for my sins. That’s mercy, it’s not getting the punishment deserved. N.T. Wright says,

‘Mercy’ isn’t the same as a shoulder-shrugging ‘tolerance’, an ‘anything goes’ attitude to life. ‘Anything’ doesn’t ‘go’. ‘Anything’ includes arrogance, corruption, blasphemy, favouritism and lawbreaking of all kinds. If God was ‘merciful’ to that lot, he would be deeply unmerciful to the poor, the helpless, the innocent and the victims. And the whole gospel insists that in precisely those cases his mercy shines out most particularly. So must ours.

In other words,

The true measure of our faith is how we speak, act, show mercy, and love.

We are to show love and respect to all…period!

You will never encounter a person Jesus doesn’t love. You will never meet a person His blood can’t forgive. You will never see or hear a human who is not a masterpiece, no matter what you see or hear.

When we show favoritism, we insult the dignity of others and judge them. By doing so, we set ourselves up for being judged by God, and that’s a terrifying thought.

Instead of judging, what if we showed mercy?
Instead of hatred, what if we loved?
Instead of curses, what if we extended blessing?

We can’t all be picked first on the team. Even if we’re the captain, we can’t pick everyone first. But we can speak, act, show mercy, and love in a way that honors people and glorifies God. Instead of cursing, criticism, and favoritism, we can offer blessing.

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

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

Marginalized People, 31 January 2021

Marginalized People
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Luke 18:1-8

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

Big Idea: We are to pray for and serve those who are unlike us, including those who make us feel uncomfortable.

What comes to mind when you think of
marginalized people? Jesus announced to his friends in Acts 1:8.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Last Sunday we talked about the e-word: evangelism. We said evangelism is proclaiming good news. It’s about introducing others to know our best friend, Jesus Christ. We’re inviting people to an eternal party. That often occurs in our Jerusalem—where we live, work, and play. Where is your Jerusalem? Where do you do life? Chances are, much of your time is spent with people who look, act, speak, and earn like you.

Many people are content to stop there, being witnesses in their Jerusalem. Honestly, I wish more followers of Jesus were committed to their Jerusalem, proclaiming good news to their friends and neighbors where they feel comfortable. But there’s more. Judea meant the next step beyond, not unlike our Home Missions Sunday two weeks ago. Samaria to Jesus’ listeners in Acts 1:8 meant the marginalized people, those who make us uncomfortable.

Jews and Samaritans did not get along. I’m not sure what the modern-day equivalent would be, but religious Jews saw Samaritans as impure and second-class. Most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10 and how this supposedly ungodly man showed more compassion and love toward a stranger than the two religious Jews that saw him first and ignored him in his hour of need.

Who makes you uncomfortable? For some of you, the wealthy make you uncomfortable. You might be put off by the successful CEO, the corrupt politician, or the flamboyant celebrity.

When we think of the marginalized, it’s often someone on the margins of society, someone who doesn’t fit in with the mainstream. It could be a person from another country or another faith. The man covered in tattoos and piercings? The person with poor hygiene? The lady with the cardboard sign at the exit ramp? The members of the LGBTQ+ community? A woman who doesn’t speak English? An angry protestor?

Marginalized people are God’s masterpieces. Jesus died for them. Jesus loves them. Following Jesus means we are to love them, too…even if they make us uncomfortable.

But this is series on prayer. Our text for today is the beginning of Luke chapter 18.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)

Dr. Luke tells us what’s about to happen. Jesus is going to tell a parable—a story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Before recording even a word of the parable, Luke tells us the big idea of the parable.

We should always pray and not give up. We could stop right now! Always pray. Never give up. Why would Jesus want us to understand this? It’s because we don’t always pray and we often give up, we grow impatient or tired, we think God doesn’t hear us, we assume He’s ignoring us or saying, “No.”

I suppose if there’s one thing I want you to get out of these 40 Days of Prayer it’s simply this: pray! Develop a habit of prayer, a rhythm of prayer. Pray continually as we said last week. Always pray and never give up.

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. (Luke 18:2)

Jesus taught us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. This judge neither loved God nor his neighbors. He did life his way.

And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ (Luke 18:3)

Widows today in our culture face great challenges, but in Jesus’ day, they may have been even greater. Without family or remarriage, they could easily become destitute. The fact that this woman was fighting for justice makes her condition even more dire.

Have you ever been a victim of injustice? We hear a lot about injustice in our world today, yet it’s tragically nothing new. Social media has allowed some injustice to be exposed—which can be good—but it has also allowed fake news to spread, creating new expressions of injustice.

At this moment, there are men, women, and children crying out to God, begging for justice, for help. It might be you! Many of us are marginalized. Perhaps it’s a single mom overwhelmed by the mess inherited after her husband abandoned her and her children. It could be the homeless person who lost everything after a lie convicted them of a felony and turned their life upside down. Maybe it’s the woman struggling with same-sex attraction after multiple men abused her and left her fearful of any male.

I’ve heard that once you’ve heard someone’s story, they can never be an enemy. God told the prophet Samuel,

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b)

I find it so easy to look at someone’s outside and make conclusions about what’s inside. We call this prejudice…pre-judging. I think we all do it, at times. If you don’t know what’s inside, all you can go on is what you see. We must be careful. Sometimes things are not as they appear…or even if they are, there’s a story that may need to be heard.

The person may be felon, but could’ve been wrongfully accused.

The atheist doesn’t believe in God, but may have lost their faith after being abused by a priest.

The annoying co-worker may be arrogant and narcissistic, but may have struggled their entirely life to get attention from parents who abandoned them.

Suffice it to say every human is a masterpiece with a story and a need for God. We’ll never know the silent prayers of others, yet so many pray for justice daily. If we stop and listen, we may discover we have more in common with “that person” than differences.

In Jesus’ parable, this likely-marginalized widow keeps coming to the judge for justice.

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ” (Luke 18:4-5)

I never noticed these last two words! I knew the judge became sick of her petitions, but he’s worried she’ll attack him if he doesn’t get her justice!

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. (Luke 18:6)

I’ve often interpreted this parable to mean we are to bug God until He answers our prayers the way we desire. Certainly the message is to always pray and not give up, but there’s another angle to this. After all, God’s not worried about us attacking Him!

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words a few chapters back in Luke 11.

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

If evil fathers love their children, imagine how much our Heavenly Father loves us.

If unjust judges are willing to honor the persistence of a victim of injustice, imagine how much our just Heavenly Father will respond to cries for help. Always pray and don’t give up.

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? (Luke 18:7)

Why does God allow injustice in the first place? How could a loving God permit the abuse, violence, poverty, and hatred in our world? There are mysterious we can’t easily explain, but God wastes nothing, including opportunities for His followers to be agents of blessing, healing, reconciliation, and restoration. The real question is how could God love any of us?

Fortunately, this life is short…compared to eternity. Someday, God will bring about justice for His chosen ones, those who cry out to Him in prayer. We are often comforted by the words of Revelation 21 which says someday in the new heaven and the new earth,

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

But what about now? Does God care for victims of injustice today? Does He do anything about the cries of the widow, the stranger, and the orphan? Can He hear the silent screams of the unborn who are never given a chance to live? Is He unaware of the wrongfully accused who are rotting away in a prison cell despite being innocent? Does He see the violence committed in our streets?

I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

The issue isn’t God’s justice but our perseverance in prayer…and obedience.

A man prayed, “God, why don’t you feed the starving children of the world” to which God replied, “Why don’t
you feed the starving children of the world.”

We are to pray for the marginalized…and be prepared to be the answer to the prayer.

It’s the same with evangelism. We are to pray for the lost, but also proclaim good news. We need to get in the game! We need to get on our knees…and then obey what the LORD instructs us to do. It might be share our story or listen to theirs. It could be take someone out for lunch, help them fix their broken car or house, or babysit their kids. Maybe God wants you to volunteer, give money, or just spend time with someone very different from you.

Obviously we can’t be involved in the lives of every person on the planet, but could we start with one? Could you befriend one person who is different, hear their story, and help them out? One of my favorite quotes from Pastor Andy Stanley is, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”

Can you solve world hunger, racism, injustice, despair, homelessness, and hopelessness? Of course not, but you might be able to help someone.

So What?

We all have bad days. Life is hard. Jesus promised his followers trouble (John 16:33). But some of us have spent most or all of our lives on the margins of society, trying to fit in, get ahead, given an opportunity, or even find a friend. Every day God hears the cries for justice among the least of these Jesus spoke of, including the widow, the stranger, and the orphan.

The news is filled with stories of immigrants—legal and illegal—who are all masterpieces in need of restoration. I don’t have the answers to the challenges facing lawmakers, but I know there are refugees—many of whom are our Christian brothers and sisters—who are literally fleeing for their lives. Again, I’m not trying to get political because some issues are complicated, but can we recognize every masterpiece—every human—as created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth? Can we pray for their peace and safety? Can we ask God how we can help? Can we get involved?

It might be as simple as volunteering with Water for Ishmael to help an English student in Toledo. They are always looking for conversation partners. Toledo is filled with people from other countries who are here to study at the university or simply taking refuge legally from persecution abroad. They are lonely. Many are scared. Many will eventually return to their homelands without a single American friend, which is tragic!

They are praying. Maybe we are the answer to their prayers. They may be as close as the person sitting next to you right now.

Some of you do this so well. You pray. You give. You serve. You love. Thank you!

Others of us—myself included—have some work to do. The message isn’t, “Try harder.” It’s trust God more. Trust God more fully with your time, talents, and treasures. Trust Him with your fears, insecurities, and discomfort. Trust that still, small voice which may be nudging you right now to take one step toward a marginalized person. Trust Him to provide the words you need to say or hear.

We can pray for others. We can answer the prayer of others. We can stand with the marginalized and speak up for those without a voice…the unborn, the oppressed, the violated, the abandoned, the afflicted, the suffering. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing.

One more thing…

Jesus was marginalized. The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. (Isaiah 53:2b-3a)

Is it any wonder that he said of our treatment of the marginalized,

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

When we love others well, we love Jesus well.

Credits: some ideas taken from Rosilio Roman and The Alliance

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

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

The e-word, 24 January 2021

The e-word: Evangelism
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Colossians 4:2-6

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

Big Idea: It is a joy to pray for and proclaim good news to the lost.

After a break for Home Missions Sunday last week, we’re returning to our 40 Days of Prayer campaign with the Christian & Missionary Alliance. I hope you’ve been enjoying the adult, youth, and children devotionals, Wednesday online prayer gatherings, and our Sunday topics.

Today’s topic is one that makes many uncomfortable. I call it the e-word. It is… evangelism. What comes to mind when you hear the word
evangelism? It’s another “church” word uncommon in our cultural vocabulary. Maybe you picture door-to-door harassing, aggressive preachers with megaphones, or simply fear of not knowing what to say.

Evangelism is proclaiming good news. Many years ago, Guy Kawasaki was hired to be an Apple evangelist. His passion for their computers led him to make promoting Apple his vocation. Sure, there were Windows users uninterested in his message, but he considered it an honor to proclaim good news about the products he loved.

Have you experienced the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ? If so, why would you keep it to yourself? Why would you deprive others of the life you’ve encountered, the joy, the peace, the love? Why wouldn’t you be a Jesus evangelist, proclaiming good news—great news—to those around you?

Our text today is from Colossians chapter four. Paul is writing from prison to a church in modern-day Turkey.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4:2)

What a fitting verse during 40 Days of Prayer! He doesn’t say pray. He says to be devoted to prayer. Are you devoted to prayer? What would that look like?

In another letter, Paul wrote,

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Pray continually. That’s being devoted to prayer! We often think of prayer as a highly formal, religious activity with closed eyes and folded hands. You can certainly take that posture, but it’s not necessary. I used to think prayer was talking to God. Then I began to see prayer as talking with God…a conversation. Now I view prayer as life with God, a 24/7/365 relationship in which I am pouring out my heart to God and I’m listening for His voice, seeking to discern His will. There are times when I pray without distraction, giving God my undivided attention, often through journaling. At other times, I’m aware of His presence and grateful for the relationship we have. I’ve never heard His audible voice, but He speaks loudly through His Word, the Bible, as well as through people, circumstances, dreams, and occasional spiritual hunches which may require confirmation from others to determine if it’s from God or bad pizza!

While we’re on the subject of God’s will, some see it as this highly mysterious plan in which God picks out your socks each morning, tells you what to eat for breakfast, and what toothpaste to buy. I’m not sure He cares too much about that, but there is a brilliant way to discover God’s will contained in these three verses. God wants you to rejoice…always. He wants you to pray continually. He wants you to give thanks in all circumstances. That’s God’s will! Of course, there’s more, but that’s a great start. How are you doing with those? Back to Colossians…

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (Colossians 4:3)

If you were in prison asking people to pray, what would you request? “Get me out of here!” Paul doesn’t say that. He doesn’t even write, “Send me a care package” or “stop by and pay me a visit.” He says pray for opportunities to proclaim good news, to evangelize, to do the very thing that got him into prison in the first place! Is this guy crazy? He’s passionate.

Paul had an encounter years earlier which changed his life. It prompted repentance, a u-turn. It led him to set aside his religious agenda and devote the rest of his life to promoting Jesus Christ, to letting the world know they are loved by a God who proved it on the cross. Paul says pray so he can evangelize, so he can proclaim good news.

Have you ever asked someone to pray for you so you could be effective in sharing your faith with others, so you can proclaim good news? If you’re going to evangelize, prayer is the best place to start.

Jason Horton delivered a powerful message last Sunday on evangelism, on sharing good news. Somehow we’ve got this idea that it’s a scary thing. Well, it got Paul in prison, but in our culture, we’re blessed with freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Do you take advantage of it?

Evangelism is not sales. I worked a sales job in college…on straight commission. I sold carpet, tile, and blinds and some weeks my sales were so bad, they had to pay me minimum wage because my sales weren’t even enough to cover the $3.35/hour!

Evangelism is not sales. There is no manipulation, shame, or pressure required.
Evangelism is an invitation. It’s proclaiming good news and inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, the one who loves them and proved it.

Jesus Christ is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. The more I understand how sinful I am and how incredible God is, the more I love Jesus and want others to follow him.

I think most people share what they love. Don’t you? All of my friends know I love my wife, ice cream, roller coasters, music, …and Jesus. They don’t have to love those things, but if they haven’t experienced them, I want them to do so.

This might be a stretch, but although I rarely drink pop (not soda!), Vernors is my favorite. I realize not everyone likes it, but everyone should at least try it once to make an informed decision about whether or not they like it. How can you reject something you’ve never tried…and yet people reject Jesus all the time. I’m amazed at people who say they don’t believe the Bible…but they’ve never read it! Come on!

Tragically, many people haven’t rejected Jesus because they’ve never even heard his name. We’ll talk more about that in the next two weeks. What I want you to understand is evangelism is an invitation…to a relationship…to a lifestyle of abundance…to a party that will last for eternity.

Honestly, I don’t understand how someone could reject the love of Jesus…except that the enemy has blinded the eyes of people. His mission is to steal, kill, and destroy and that’s physical and spiritual. I think it takes satan to keep someone from following Jesus…and unfortunately, he does a good job!

Evangelism is an invitation, but there are spiritual forces at work urging people to reject Jesus and do whatever makes them happy for the moment. You can follow God or yourself, but not both. No one can serve two masters. In order to overcome the spiritual forces, we…pray! Paul says to
pray for open doors. We might call that open hearts.

I was with a group of friends last week and I asked them what keeps them from proclaiming good news, for sharing their faith, for evangelizing. The number one response was fear of failure. What if I invite someone into a personal relationship with Jesus and they say no? My response: move on! Jesus’ response: move on! See Matthew 10:14. We begin by praying for open doors. Some people simply aren’t ready to experience the love, joy, peace, and purpose found in a relationship with Jesus. They’re too busy trying to do life their way. But many people are searching for answers…for the Answer. It would be so selfish, so cruel to deny them the opportunity to be forgiven, to be reconciled to their Heavenly Father, to know abundant life. Evangelism is a joy. Proclaiming good news is an invitation, but don’t take rejection personally. Most people rejected Jesus Himself! But many people right now are open. Pray for open doors, open hearts.

Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Colossians 4:4)

He says pray for clarity. Pray for the right words. Have you ever tried to communicate an idea to someone and they just didn’t get it? Maybe you were in sales and the potential customer had no interest. Maybe you tried to communicate a difficult concept to a child who simply couldn’t understand. Or maybe, like me, you process out loud, use too many words, and struggle to get to the point!

Paul is very specific. He’s saying, “I’m in prison for sharing good news. I want to reach more people, and I want the message to be clear. It’s more than information, though. It’s a life-transforming announcement that Jesus is LORD…not Caesar, not money, not your own feelings or pleasures.” It’s a polarizing message drawing followers and opponents who have thrown him into prison.

Two thousand years later, there are people in prison for proclaiming good news. We have brothers and sisters who are tortured for simply inviting people into a relationship with their Creator. It seems crazy, but it’s true. We often think we’ve got it rough, but we’ve been given so many resources, freedoms, and opportunities. We need to proclaim Jesus Christ clearly.

Perhaps the best way to do that is to share your story. Nobody can argue with it. You don’t need to prove anything historical. “I once was blind, but now I see.” If you don’t have a story, you have nothing to proclaim…and I’d love to talk with you about what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

He loves you. He proved it by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. He offers forgiveness for everything you’ve done wrong, He is the ultimate example of what it means to be human, and He’s inviting you into a life-giving relationship filled with meaning, purpose, freedom, hope, and joy. You can choose to continue to do life your way, on your terms, with you in control…or experience life the way it was meant to be lived, following the wisdom of your Creator. Would you like to give your life to Jesus?

Was that clear? Was it in invitation. Actually, that wasn’t even my story. He’s my story, which is another way to proclaim good news:

I grew up in a religious home. I was taught to always do the right thing. I believed in God and went to church, but although I knew a lot about God, I didn’t know God personally. I didn’t really follow God, just my parents’ instructions. When I was a teenager, I encounter peers who really followed God. They found ancient wisdom and life in studying the Bible. They discovered prayer is not just talking to God, but with God. They encouraged me to make Jesus the leader of my life and ever since, I’ve been seeking to know and follow Jesus, the One who proved his love for me by coming to earth, dying for my sins and failures, and rising from the dead. It’s not about religion and what we do. It’s about a relationship and what Jesus has done. I love Jesus and I’d love to invite you to follow Jesus, too.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5)

Actions speak louder than words, and sometimes the messenger is the message. One of the top obstacles to people proclaiming good news is they don’t want to be a hypocrite…or they’re concerned about the reputation of Christians. This is a huge one for me. It’s absolutely evil that we are known for politics, self-righteousness, and even hate rather than the love we were instructed to exhibit. I’m not saying every Christ-follower is guilty, but many so-called Christians have not acted well toward outsiders, toward those Jesus called the lost, the unbeliever, the non-Christian. Jesus is our focus. Jesus is our message. But if our lives are not attractive, nobody will want to hear. We are to pray for the right actions…and love well. Peter wrote,
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)
We are to be in the world but not of the world. Paul’s concerned about their behavior not only within the church, but also among non-Christians who he calls “outsiders.” Rather than telling them to ignore them and stay in a holy huddle, he tells them to be intentional, to engage, to seize every opportunity…to do what? To proclaim good news. To evangelize!

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

In other words, love others so well that they ask questions. Faith is expressed in actions
and words. Another top obstacle to sharing one’s faith is fear of not having the right answers. There’s a simple solution: pray for the right answers! That’s Paul’s point, speak and act with love. People can tell if you care or if you’re just trying to earn points or make a sale. Again, tell your story. Invite them into a relationship with Jesus. If they ask a question you don’t know, say, “That’s a great question. I don’t know. I’d love to do some research and get back with you.”

Most people aren’t going to respond to an invitation with philosophical arguments or demands for archaeological proofs. If they do, there are great responses. There’s fantastic evidence for our faith. Christianity is filled with some of the most brilliant minds, the most successful resumes, the most creative arts, and the most loving people. Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus. The gospel is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. That’s the message we proclaim. Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship with a Person who is inviting every man, woman, and child of every nation, race, religion, sexual orientation, political party, and language give up control and follow him.

Who is your best friend? If I’ve spent any time with you at all, I’ve probably heard about your best friend, especially if you are married. It’s natural to talk about our spouse, our kids, our best friend. If you know Jesus, he should naturally show up in your conversations, too. I want everyone to meet my wife because I think she’s the most amazing woman on the planet. Even more, I want everyone to meet Jesus because he’s the most amazing human in history…and he lived not only for his sake, but ours.

A Confession

Perhaps this subject of proclaiming good news causes you to feel guilt and shame. I’m with you! I struggle with evangelism, not because I’m necessarily afraid, but because most of my conversations are with Christians. That tends to happen when you work at a church! I love to talk about Jesus, but I rarely get the opportunity. Or I rarely take the opportunity. I confess that to you and ask you to pray for me, that God would open doors for me to proclaim good news.

I’ve heard research studies which say the longer one is a Christian, the fewer non-Christian friends they have as they hang around with Christians. We certainly need one another, but we must never neglect the lost, the hurting, the broken, the hopeless around us. It goes back to praying for open doors…and being prepared to take action. One of my favorite conversation starters is, “Where are you at on your spiritual journey?” You could begin with, “What do you think of Jesus?” or “What do you think our world needs more than anything?” If you want to go really deep, ask, “What do you think is the meaning of life?” And listen! Discover where someone is before you suggest a path for them to take.

God is on the move. Jesus is the answer for the world today, and many are seeking answers. If we don’t offer Jesus, they’ll stumble into any number of false gods, religions, philosophies, or simply follow the path of consumerism, individualism, and narcissism. Pray for open doors. Pray for clarity. Pray that the Holy Spirit would fill you with attractive fruit and God-honoring actions, and pray for the right words in your conversations. We need actions and words. When we are weak, He is so strong! It all begins on our knees.

Benediction:
It is a joy to pray for and proclaim good news to the lost.

Credits: some ideas taken from Ivån Marti’ and The Alliance

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

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

Take Away, 12 January 2020

Take Away (start doing)
Series—A Fresh Start

Series Big Idea:
As we begin this new year/decade, it’s out with the old, in with the new.

Big Idea: There are many things we need to start doing in order to love God and others.

Several years ago I attended a conference. At the end, each person was given two Post-It Notes. We were instructed to use one to list one or two things that we wanted to leave behind. The other was used to list things we wanted to take away from the event.

Last Sunday we began a two-week series, A Fresh Start. We said that most of us have to-do lists, but few people take the time to create a stop-doing list. We need to leave behind some things from the past as we enter 2020. Maybe you want to leave behind those extra pounds you gained eating Christmas cookies! Perhaps you want to leave behind a bad habit such as biting your nails, smoking, or maxing out the credit card. In order to begin new habits or rhythms, we often have to let go of some things to make room in our lives for the things we want to start doing, which is our subject this morning.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Do you want it to matter?

I think deep inside of us, we all want to make a difference. We want our lives to count. We want something on our tombstone besides, “He lived and died.” How will you live your dash…that space between your birth and death?

It all begins today! Well, not exactly…but today can be a new beginning. As I took time to reflect upon 2019, I thought about what I want to be said at the end of this year. What will I do? Where will I go? Who will I meet? Most of all, who will I become…and worship.

One of our scriptures from last Sunday says,

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

We want to leave behind sin.
We want to leave behind all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice. Right?!

Paul continues,

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

We said last week it’s nearly impossible to just stop doing something cold turkey. You need to replace a behavior with a behavior. Paul’s saying stop treating others as enemies and then presents an alternative: be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. This sounds good, right? But how? The key is at the end of the verse. Do you see it? We can only be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to the extent that we have experienced the kindness, compassion, and forgiveness of Jesus.

You can’t share something you don’t possess. Have you experienced Jesus? Does your life reflect it?

We’re only twelve days into the new year. Now is a great time to start spiritual rhythms, to develop good habits (which often take 21 days), to cultivate our character. I want to offer a vision for what this might look like in your life. This may be familiar to many of you, but just imagine if you could look back at 2020 and say you have more of this:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

We call that good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, the result of doing life with God. Galatians chapter 5 provides us with this portrait of a mature follower of Jesus.

How do we get more of this fruit? We must let go and let God. We must surrender. We must follow Jesus. We must obey Jesus’ command to

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

We all love the idea of love. We certainly love the idea of people loving us. I think most of us would say would want to love God. Hating God is a dangerous proposition, though indifference is also risky. The fact that you’re here today shows some desire on your part to know God, to love God. But what does Jesus mean when he says to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength? It means to love God with everything.

The reason most people make new year’s resolutions is because they want to improve themselves. They want to look better. They want to feel better. They want to have more money, more time, or improved health. Right?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to improve yourself, but it should never be the primary goal of life. In his book
SoulTalk, author Larry Crabb writes,

“…
our first order of business is not to pursue satisfaction, but to identify what’s getting in the way of the deepest satisfaction available to the human soul.”

What is that? It's communion with God.

Too often we use God for our purposes. We give Him an hour on Sunday and otherwise ignore Him until we lose control. We seek His cooperation to improve our lives and a lifetime of blessings. If we do a few religious things, God owes us, right?

Anything that gets in the way of knowing, trusting, and following God is idolatry.

This includes church attendance, time with your family, serving those in need, giving money to charity, working on a degree, exercise, …anything!

To borrow Larry Crabb’s words, the world says, “I want to do something that will make my life better.” That’s good, but it’s secondary to the deepest satisfaction available to the human soul, which says, “I want to experience God through whatever means he provides and keep trusting him whether life gets better or not.”

Trust and obedience go hand in hand. I often say obedience is God’s love language. The number one command in the Bible is

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

If you can do this, I promise you it will be better than losing all of the weight, gaining all of the muscle, eliminating all of the debt, and whatever else you might resolve to do this year.

I want to suggest three practical ways to love God in 2020 and beyond. This is not about you and your pleasure, but you will be blessed. This might not produce the immediate results you might get from giving up sugar or working out an hour a day. But if you want to experience the deepest satisfaction available to the human soul, it begins with loving God with
all of you.

1.
Love God with your time. I know, you’re so busy. We all get the same 24 hours each day. The average person spends 30 minutes in the bathroom. If we spent 8 hours working, 8 hours sleeping, and 90 minutes eating, that leaves six hours to…

What would happen if you spent one hour—or one additional hour—a week in
prayer? That’s less than ten minutes a day. Pour out your heart to God. You can journal your prayers. You can pray out loud in a car or closet. You can silently pray anywhere.

What would happen if you spent one hour—or one additional hour—a week in
God’s Word? Read it. Listen to it. Study it. Let it feed your soul.

What if you devoted two hours a week to attending the Alpha Course on Thursdays to really explore what it means to know and follow Jesus? If you’ve already been through Christianity 101, how about being a helper on the Alpha Course and helping others know and follow Jesus?

What would happen if you spent one hour—or one additional hour—a week in solitude, listening to God, being still, slowing down, resting, being fully present?

By the way, being here matters. Really. Many people are too busy to be here today. I chuckle when people talk as if another church is our competition. If they love Jesus, we’re on the same team! Our competition is the pillow, the golf course, the Internet, Netflix.

Love God with your time. Show me your calendar and I’ll show you what you
really love.

2.
Love God with your talents. We all have gifts and abilities.

What would happen if you spent one hour a week
volunteering? You could serve in the nursery, prepare a meal for a family in need, listen to a shut-in tell their story, sing in the choir, or help at the Rosa Parks Teacher Pantry. One hour…out of 168. It would total 50 hours this year. Imagine how much impact 50 hours would have on the lives of others. It doesn’t have to be here on the campus of First Alliance Church, but we have so many ways for you to get connected, to bless others, …and nobody serves alone. One of the great things about joining a team at First Alliance is you get to serve alongside other people, making new friends. Each week the Connection Card is filled with opportunities ranging from ushering and greeting to leading a small group to serving on the kitchen committee to serving our students. We are always looking for artists, web designers, photographers, and digital storytellers. Our Trustees need help maintaining our beautiful campus buildings and grounds. What do you love to do? Do it for God! Love God with your talents.

3.
Love God with your treasures.

This is where things really get interesting. Does your wallet or checkbook or online bank account reflect your love for God? Everything we have is a gift from God. Whether you have a penny to your name or a huge stock portfolio, all of our treasures are from God…on loan from God. He allows us to be stewards—overseers, managers—of stuff…money. The Bible never says we should give a certain dollar amount of money, but there is a concept in the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, known as the tithe. Tithe simply means ten percent. We have sales tax, which means 7.25 percent in Ohio.

Actually, the state sales tax is 5.75% but we pay 7.25% because of county and city taxes (Michigan’s sales tax rate is 6%).

Whether you’re at Dollar Tree or Macy’s, you have to pay taxes on most everything you buy. The tithe is not a tax. It’s not a max, either. It was something of a starting point for generosity before Jesus.

There’s a fascinating passage in the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, in which God makes some incredible statements to the people of Israel. He says,

You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. (Malachi 3:9)

It’s one thing to think you’ve been cursed, but it’s quite another to have God tell you you’re under a curse! Imagine God came to you and said you are robbing Him. Wow! In the previous verse, the people ask God, “How are we robbing You? What do you mean?” God continues,

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

I think this is the only place in the Bible where God says, “Test Me.” The original Hebrew word, bahan, means “to test, try, probe, examine,” like seeing if a metal is pure.

Some tv preachers have manipulated this verse to say if you give them all of your money, God will make you rich. Actually, if you give them all of your money, you will make
them rich! But that’s not the point.

God is saying be generous. Invest in eternal things. Support your church.

This does not mean if you put twenty dollars in the offering plate today you’ll find a twenty in your pants pocket tomorrow (though you might!). It does mean that you will be blessed when you bless God, when you surrender to God, when you love God with your treasures. The text continues,

I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:11-12)

My parents taught me to tithe when I was a young boy. I have given at least ten percent of my income to God my entire life. I love to do it! Over the years, that’s added up to quite a bit of cash, but I don’t view it as money I’ve lost or spent. It’s money I’ve invested…in God’s Kingdom. He has blessed me with jobs, health, friends, and most of all Jesus. I could never begin to repay Him for His goodness and faithfulness to me. That doesn’t mean I’ve always been happy, healthy, and wealthy, but I have tested God in this area and He has never let me down.

I don’t have access to what people give around here, but I’ve been told many of you don’t give a dime. I feel bad for you. Really. Never mind what you give McDonald’s or Starbucks or Amazon or Kroger. You give to Columbus every day! A percentage of your money is given to our government, and I’m grateful for our government. But you’re missing out on the blessing of giving to God. He says, “Test Me!” Test Him!

If you don’t have much, you don’t have to give much. The tithe is a percentage thing. If you’ve got ten bucks, put one in the plate. If you’ve got a thousand, drop a Franklin! You can give online. You can text to give. You can do bill pay with your bank. We accept cash, checks, and even alpacas! On our website you can donate stocks and real estate and baseball cards and anything of value. This isn’t a fundraising pitch for First Alliance Church, but it is a challenge to test God, to invest in what He’s doing here in Toledo and around the world. There are a lot of great organizations out there, but First Alliance Church serves you AND others.

When you give here, you support Dinner Church, Sports & Arts Camp, and Elevate Student Ministry. Lives are being changed. People are being healed. Hope is being delivered. Masterpieces are being restored.

In this new year, I want to challenge you to love God with your treasures. If you give, great! What would it look like to test God and increase your giving? It seems like every time I increase my giving, I get an increase in my income somehow. It’s amazing! Again, I’m not making a promise that God will refund your money tomorrow if you give today, but the older I get, the more I believe
you can’t out-give God.

Giving is fun, too! Sometimes we’ll get extra money when Heather works extra hours or when we get a Christmas gift and I love giving extra money to God. It really is better to give than to receive, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, try it. Test God. Write a check. Give some cash. Invest in God’s work. I don’t know a better place to put your money.

I know some of you would love to give, but your finances are a wreck. We have a variety of resources to help you with finding a job, putting together a budget, and even saving money. You can call the office, send us an e-mail, or just write “Money Help” on your Connection Card.

Right Now Media has some great, free financial resources you can watch today on your phone, tablet, or tv. We can send you a free subscription if you request one on a Connection Card. Our sister church, Westgate Chapel, has invited us to their
Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course beginning this Wednesday. You can find details on our Facebook page.

You say you love God? Prove it! Loving God is more than just having positive thoughts in our mind. Love requires action. Show me your time, talents, and treasures and I’ll show you what you love. It might be your girlfriend, movies, pizza, work, football, or Jesus, but your calendar and checkbook will show what you really love.

My prayer for you—and me—in this new year is that we would go beyond good intentions and be intentional. We need to leave some things behind, stop doing them. We need to develop some new practices and start doing some healthy habits. Here are a few suggestions:

Generosity. Grace. Kindness. Exercise. Love. Healthy eating. Honesty. Forgiveness. Volunteering. Listening.

These don’t all directly show our love for God, but when we love others as we love ourselves, we declare our love for God. I want to close with one of the most important passages in the Bible, written by Jesus’ close friend John.

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

Do you know what this means, family? Treat one another the way you want to be treated. It’s not rocket science, but it requires thought, action, and effort. This next section seems a little extreme, to be honest. I hope this doesn’t apply to anyone in this room!

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:12-15)

Those are strong worlds. I know none of you would ever say, “I hate so-and-so,” right? But do we really love one another?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

Many people know John 3:16. This is 1 John 3:16. It sounds good, right? Love one another. But love is more than a feeling.

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

Here’s what I want you to take away today: love with actions. Love God with actions—your time, talents, and treasures. Love others with actions—your generosity, your kindness, your listening ear, your undivided attention.

What’s your next step? What’s one thing you can do this week—and each week this year—that will show your love for God and others?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Wise Man, 29 December 2019

    Wise Man: Christ
    Series—Away in a Manger
    Matthew 2:1-12

    Matthew 1:1, Luke 2:11, Luke 2:22-39, Leviticus 12:1-8, Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:6, Matthew 27:19, Matthew 27:29, Matthew 27:45, Matthew 27:54

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

    Big Idea:
    Wise men and women still seek truth…and bring him presence.

    I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t Christmas over? We blew out Jesus’ birthday candles days ago. Sure, we haven’t taken down the tree yet, but it’s time to move on, to get ready for New Year’s Eve, the ball drop, the football bowl games…

    Here’s a thought: Jesus is the reason for the season…every season! And wise men—and women—still seek truth…and bring him gifts.

    We don’t know Jesus’ exact birthday. We know it was about 2000 years ago but there’s a 1-in-365 chance that Jesus was born on December 25. Mary and Joseph were there. Shepherds were there. Animals and angels were there. The three kings or wise men? Not a chance!

    Here’s the story from Matthew’s gospel—“good news”:

    After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

    These are Magi from the east. It says nothing about kings. The names of the Magi—Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior—and their status as kings from the east or “Orient” are based upon legend and tradition, not the Bible. So what are Magi? They are learned Gentile men. They may have come from Arbia, Ethiopia, Persia, or even India. They were likely astrologers, paying attention to the stars, which was easier to do then—before electricity and lights! It may seem odd to us that people took cues from what they saw in the sky, but they believed everything we interconnected. When a something special appeared in the sky, they assumed something special was occurring on earth. Scholars aren’t sure what the Magi saw exactly, but some think it may have been the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter was the royal, kingly planet and Saturn was thought, by some, to represent the Jews. They came to Jerusalem, the Jewish capital, looking for the king of the Jews. However, Matthew wants us to know his rule is not limited to the Jews.

    When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-4)

    No king wants to be overthrown. It is my understanding that the Romans were fine with the Jews so long as they were good, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. When stars announce a new king, that can be threatening! Herod was not someone you wanted to threaten, as he murdered his wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, and many others. And soon he would slaughter baby boys, too. He was not a descendant of David…or even Jacob, but rather Esau, causing hatred from most of the Jews.

    Notice how a simple question from the Magi disturbs not only King Herod—the fake king of the Jews—but all Jerusalem.

    “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

    “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5-6)

    I still find it remarkable that the birthplace of Jesus was prophesied about 700 years before his birthday (Micah 5:2, 2 Samuel 5:2)!

    It says “a ruler who will shepherd.” How many kings and rulers actually care for their people?

    Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

    Why did Herod call the Magi secretly? He was obviously scheming since he had no intention of worshipping this child…this king…or anyone!

    After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. (Matthew 2:9)

    The star in the east reappears to the Magi. Though some believe these were actually planets, others think maybe it was the Shekinah glory of God that led the people of Israel for forty years in the wilderness as a pillar of fire and cloud.

    When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. (Matthew 2:10)

    We talked about joy last Sunday. They had great joy. They saw the star. It was moving until it reached the place where the child Jesus was, about five miles south of Jerusalem.

    When I toured Israel many years ago, our tour guide told us to consider not only the historical buildings, fields, and bodies of water, but also the sky above us. Angels sung above Bethlehem. In this account, a star guided the Magi as they traveled and stopped above Jesus.

    There’s a passage in the book of Isaiah that may prophesy this occasion.

    Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:6)

    Gold, incense, and praise. Where have I heard that before?

    Psalm 72 makes some references which may be relevant.

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

    Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long. (Psalm 72:15)

    Jewish tradition and the early church saw this as pertaining to the Messiah.

    On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

    We don’t know how many Magi were present; maybe two, maybe twenty. We sing “we three kings” because there were three gifts mentioned and those three men with three gifts look so nice in the nativity scene! The Roman Catholic Church states Orient tradition would favor at least twelve Magi. This is the only verse in the New Testament that lists the gifts given to Jesus.

    We usually see Magi in Nativity scenes carrying small “samples” of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Magi were high-level dignitaries who likely brought great quantities of these gifts, perhaps even a whole train of pack animals loaded with them. When the Queen of Sheba brought a gift to king Solomon, for example, she gave 9000 pounds of gold (2 Chronicles 9:2)!

    It's possible that these gifts had special significance. They were appropriate presents for kings or even gods. Gold might reflect Jesus’ deity or purity, frankincense the fragrance of his life, and myrrh —which is used to embalm the dead—a foreshadowing of his death on the cross. It’s likely is these gifts provided the resources needed to flee to and live in Egypt until Herod died.

    It’s worth noting years later, Pilate’s soldiers will be the first Gentiles wince the Magi to call Jesus the king of the Jews, though his crown would be made of thorns, his throne a cross, and instead of a star, darkness would cover the land while a Gentile man declares Jesus to really be God’s son.

    We don’t know when the Magi arrived, either. It is probably months, possibly days, but it may have been up to two years since Herod wanted all baby boys up to two years old killed on a not-so-silent night. Matthew tells us the family was in a house, so this was definitely not Jesus’ birthday.

    Every time the child Jesus and Mary are mentioned together, Jesus is mentioned first. Notice Matthew calls him a child now rather than a newborn infant.

    Our text for today concludes,

    And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:12)

    What followed was Joseph taking his family to Egypt to escape King Herod’s slaughter of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.

    So What?

    Great, powerful men traveled far bringing gifts to a royal baby, one whose mission was to die. Other kings rule and reign, and when Jesus returns, that’s exactly what he will do…forever! He is the Lord of lords. He is the King of kings.

    But as we look back at history, we see the most unlikely birth of a king. We see the most unexpected death of a king. We see here the king of the Jews pursued by wise Gentiles.

    The wise men were searching for truth. Are you?

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

    Jesus is the truth. What he says is offensive to many, yet timeless and true. If we read and listened to Jesus as much as we do the news, I believe we would be different, to say nothing of the other 7+ billion people in this world.

    The wise men were searching for truth. Are you?

    One of the most searched, quoted, and misquoted verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11.

    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)

    The problem with this verse comes when you take it out of context. God is speaking to the Israelites exiled in Babylon. It’s not something to cut and paste onto a t-shirt. I’m not suggesting God wants to harm you, but that there’s more to the message. It continues:

    Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:12)

    God’s inviting the people of Israel to get involved, to pursue, to pray. Then God adds:

    You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

    Wise men still seek him. Wise women, too!

    Jesus said,

    But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:33-34)

    Finally,

    The wise men brought gifts? Did you?

    I must confess I always thought the gifts of the Magi were small samples that could fit in the palm of your hand. While that makes for a nice Nativity scene, it’s highly unlikely. Kings were given great, extravagant gifts. If you’re going to travel a distance, why not bring the best?

    What did you get Jesus for his birthday? No, it’s not too late! Every day is a day worth celebrating the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

    You might wonder what you can give? One of my favorite Christmas songs—perhaps because it’s about a musician—is The Little Drummer Boy. If you omit the “rum pump um pum,” you’re left with these words:

    Come they told me A newborn King to see Our finest gifts we bring To lay before the King
    I am a poor boy too I have no gift to bring That's fit to give a King
    I played my drum for Him I played my best for Him Then He smiled at me Me and my drum


    What’s the message? A poor boy brought what he had…his drum…his best.

    Some of you have great financial wealth. Give Jesus your best. Invest in his church.

    Some of you have great talents. Give Jesus your best. Sing. Dance. Serve. Design. Paint. Lead. Invite. Love.

    Some of you have great quantities of time. Pray. Visit. Read. Encourage.

    We all need to give of our time and talent and treasures…and give our best. It will look different for each person, but the point is we need to give God our very best. We’ll talk more about this next Sunday, but for now, think about your gift to the King of kings.

    Do you know what he wants more than anything? You can’t get it at Walmart! He wants you! He wants your heart, your obedience, your worship, your witness.

    I think he also wants you to seek him, to pursue him, to be fully present with him. Not just now. Not just on Sundays. Not just at Christmastime. Every day. Every hour. Every moment. I believe if Jesus walked into this room and we gave him one wish from us, he would say the same thing he said to his friends:

    Follow me.

    He says it six times in the book of Matthew (Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9; 10:38, 16:24, 19:21) and numerous times in Mark, Luke, and John.

    Wise men and women still seek truth…and bring him presence.

    They are present. They pursue. They listen. They read. They pray. They slow down. They love. They worship. They follow.

    My prayer for all of us as we draw near the end of this year and decade is that we would seek truth, seek God’s Kingdom, and give all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength to the King of kings.

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

    Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Mary: Love, 8 December 2019

    Mary: Love
    Series—Away in a Manger
    John 3:16, 1 John 4:7-11, 19, Luke 2:16-19, Luke 2:21-24

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

    Big Idea:
    Mary provides us with a beautiful portrait of true love to God and people through her devotion and presence.

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

    This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)

    Love. It’s the heart of Christmas. It’s the heart of God.

    We talk about love a lot at First Alliance Church. We should. The word appears more than 600 times in the Bible. Jesus used it about 50 times in the four gospels, the biographies about him.

    If you’re new around here, welcome! You belong here!

    We talk about love a lot because God is love. He’s the definition of love. Did you hear that in the scripture reading? God is love.

    Unfortunately, love is one of the most confusing words in the dictionary, especially the English dictionary.

    I love God.
    I love my grandbaby.
    I love ice cream.

    A few days ago I saw a fortune cookie fortune which said, “Love is the first feeling people feel, because love is nice.” Wow! That’s deep!

    I repeat once again Dr. Scot McKnight’s definition:

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

    This is what it means when I say I love you, family. I am committed to be with you. I’m committed to be for you. I’m committed to grow with you to follow and become like Jesus, the ultimate example of what it means to be human.

    Jesus lived a life of love. It was more than words. It never involved lust. It was never cliché or trite. It was a choice, a decision, a rugged commitment to look out for the best interest of others.

    God is love. He proved it.

    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)

    Love gives. Bob Goff says love does.

    As we continue our series Away in a Manger, our theme is obviously love, expressed beautifully in the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We devoted our entire 2018 Advent series to her. She is not only one of the most remarkable women in the Bible, she’s one of the most remarkable humans…in history! No sermon could ever begin to help us experience the shame this unwed mother endured, the courage this teenage girl expressed, the obedience this faithful saint demonstrated. If Roman Catholics think too highly of her—as some Protestants have suggested—she us surely the most underrated Bible character among Protestants. Some Christians have all but ignored her entirely for fear of worshipping her, yet there is so much to take from her life and story. Her love was expressed both to baby Jesus and the suffering Messiah, literally from the cradle to the grave…and beyond!

    But we’re getting ahead of ourselves!

    Jesus summarized all of the teachings in the Bible into two statements:

    Love God.
    Love people.

    Mary is a terrific example of someone who did both.

    In his book Soul Talk, Larry Crabb writes,

    Every follower of Jesus has two sets of desires: the desire to know God and to experience intimate communion with the Trinity, and the desire to hear the specific calling of the Spirit in our life, to be so anchored in the hope of eternal joy and to be so in love with Jesus now that we endure every hardship as a privilege and as an opportunity to become more like Christ.

    What did he say? Our love for God must be so great that suffering for Christ would be considered a privilege. Sacrifice for the LORD would be welcome in our lives. Obedience and faithfulness to our Creator would be prioritized above anything and anyone…even our own pleasures and comfort. That’s love! That’s a rugged commitment to another Person.

    Does that describe my love for God? I want it to, though if I’m honest, no, at least most of the time. Often I love myself first, then if I feel like it, I’ll love others and God. I love God because He makes me happy, takes care of me, helps me be successful. Right? Don’t we use God? This is not love, or at the very best it’s conditional love. God, I will love you if…

    Larry Crabb continues,


    Jesus taught that the core longing of our soul is the desire to know God, not the desire to feel loved, not the desire to experience meaning, not the desire for the pleasures of family, friends, or success, but the passion to know God as high and lifted up and to place ourselves beneath him, resting in his goodness and available for his purposes.

    This is what it means to follow Jesus.
    This is what it means to love God.

    The central battle in the souls of Jesus followers is the battle to keep the first-thing desire in first place and second-thing desires in second place.

    John wrote,

    We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

    Notice this is in the past-tense. Does God love us today? Yes, absolutely! But He has already loved us so much that an eternity of devotion to Him will never begin to equal His love.

    The whole point of Christmas is not God gave us a gift so we can go to heaven when we die. The real message is God loved us, wanted a relationship with us, we screwed it up through our sin and rebellion, the only solution to restore our relationship with our Creator was the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, and while the cross and empty tomb are the defining moments in human history, it’s all about a relationship now…and for eternity. Our faith is based upon past events, but it also about today…and tomorrow.

    And I don’t just mean after we die. Last week I mentioned one of my favorite names for the Messiah is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus came here. He lived among us. Eugene Peterson famously said of Jesus,

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

    He didn’t come simply to keep you out of Hell. His mission was to restore a relationship.

    “The biblical story is about God making a world where God wants to come and live with people in His world so that the final act in Revelation Is not saved souls going up to heaven but the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth and a voice is heard saying, ‘The dwelling of God is among humans.’” - N.T. Wright

    Do you see the difference?

    Love requires relationship.
    Love requires time.
    Love requires presence.
    Love requires sacrifice.
    Love requires commitment.

    This is why slogans such as “Toledo loves love” can be confusing. True love is not about what I can get from another person. It’s not about my feeling good. In fact, it’s not really about me at all. It’s about the One I love.

    We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

    Mary loved Jesus. Sure, she was his mom and all moms love their children, right?!

    But Mary loved God long before Jesus was born. She accepted a costly assignment. She suffered greatly for her LORD.

    There was a social cost during her pregnancy, the scandal of a baby out of wedlock.

    There was a physical cost during the birth. They call it labor!

    There was a relational cost during the early years as the family became refugees in Egypt.

    There was an emotional cost as she watched him crucified, dying before her eyes.

    That’s love! It’s
    a rugged commitment to be with other people, to be for other people, and to grow together in Christ-likeness.

    She welcomed Jesus into her life, into her heart, into her world.

    Relationships

    Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion. He came to restore a relationship. He wants to do life with you. Loving God is not about an hour on Sunday or even a daily quiet time or a generous end-of-the-year donation. Loving God means being fully present with Him, keeping Him first in everything—time, talent, treasures. It is demonstrated by your calendar and your checkbook. It’s visible in how you relate to others.

    “The central battle in the souls of Jesus followers is the battle to keep the first-thing desire in first place and second-thing desires in second place.” – Larry Crabb

    What would it look like for you to truly love God?

    I’ve often said I want to want God. I believe, but I need help with my unbelief, my lack of faith, my fear, my wavering trust, my selfishness. I want to desire God above all else, yet my flesh puts up a fight.

    Most of us know there were shepherds in the Christmas story who were told of the Messiah’s birth by angels. Talk about a cool birth announcement!

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

    I think the shepherds loved Jesus. They knew this was a special baby and they loved others enough to “spread the word” about the Messiah’s arrival. “All who heard it were amazed.” The scene was incredible, but Dr. Luke adds a profound statement in the next verse.

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

    That’s love. She treasured the encounters. She treasured the conversations. She treasured the relationships. She treasured the privilege of knowing both God and people. She had all of the emotions of a new mom, yet she knew her son was special. She knew the biblical prophecies. She understood suffering was part of the package, yet her ultimate focus was on knowing God and being obedient. As Larry Crabb said, she was willing to endure every hardship as a privilege and as an opportunity to become more like the Christ she would mother.

    Jesus would say,

    “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15)

    and

    Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (John 14:24a)

    Is that clear?

    Again, love is more than a feeling. It requires action. Mary not only loved Jesus as any good mother would love her son, she loved God and accepted a difficult assignment. Even her first moments of motherhood were filled with strangers making an unannounced visit to see her child. Rather than complaining, she treasured up these things, these people, these moments.

    One translation of this verse says,

    Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. (Luke 2:19, The Message)

    I want that kind of devotion, intentionality, engagement. I want to be fully present in every moment, with you and God. I want to be captivated by the majesty of God. I want to love Him so much all of my other desires pale in comparison. I want that love to be obvious to everyone who meets me…not because of a slogan on a t-shirt or a fish on a bumper sticker, but because of my life.

    James K.A. Smith says you are what you love. I want to become like Jesus. I want you to become like Jesus. I want all who call themselves Christians to become like Christ.

    You are what you love.

    The message today is not shame on you for not being a good Christian.
    The message today is not try harder and be better.

    The message today is love God. Be with God. Respond to His love for you. Treasure the things He has done to show—to prove—His love for you. Ponder them in your heart. Meditate on the scriptures. Slow down. Reflect. Be still and know He is God. Open yourself up to the Holy Spirit.

    Paul said it this way:

    So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16-18)

    Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25)

    Love is so much more than a feeling. It’s
    a rugged commitment to be with other people, to be for other people, and to grow together in Christ-likeness.

    Be present with God.
    Be present with people.

    Many years ago I was having dinner with a best-selling author and world-class speaker and I asked for his definition of success. After some hesitation, he said, “Being fully present in the moment.” I’ve never forgotten that. Be present. That’s what people need. That’s what I need. That’s what your family and friends need. Presence is powerful, especially in our world of non-stop screens, distractions, multi-tasking, and hurry.

    Love God.
    Love people.

    They both require action…or maybe inaction.

    They both require attention…our attention to be fully present with others.

    So What?

    Perhaps the greatest gift we can give this season is Christmas presence.

    Spend quality time with God. Spend quality time with others. Slow down. Turn off the noise. Shut off the screens. Ponder deeply what God is doing in and through you. Listen to those around you. Set aside your desires to truly seek first God’s Kingdom, His will, His desires.

    Be with God and others.
    Be for God and others.
    Let’s grow together in Christ-likeness.

    Let’s love!

    Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.

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




  • Love Your Neighbor, 7 April 2019

    Love Your Neighbor
    Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
    Luke 10:25-37

    Series Big Idea:
    Love is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture, yet it is at the heart of the two greatest biblical commandments: love God, love neighbor.

    Big Idea:
    We are to love everyone, which means…everyone…because we’ve been loved by God.

    Today’s text is so clear, so famous, so obvious. If you’ve spent any amount of time around here, you’ve heard about the Great Commission—make disciples or students of Jesus—and the Great Commandment: love God and love your neighbor.

    You heard about the Great Commission last week during our Global Missions Conference. We are to make disciples as we are going through life, and for many of us we are to go and make disciples, go and share the story of Jesus with people who have never even heard his name, go to Africa or Columbus or even next door. But we must always, always, always go…with love.

    Last month we were in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. This month we’re going to be in the book of Luke in a series we’re calling
    The Quest of the Good Shepherd. Holy Week is right around the corner so it makes sense for us to focus on some of the key teachings and life events of Jesus. Dr. Luke is writing a biography of Jesus and in chapter ten he writes,

    On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

    This is a test…from a very smart man, an expert in the law, a religious leader, a respected person in the community. Jesus does what he so often does, he answers a question with a question.

    “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26)

    I think I might respond, “Jesus, I asked you first!” But…

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

    God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

    Where did this scholar come up with this answer? He knew the known-Bible, what we call the Old Testament.

    Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. (Deuteronomy 11:1)

    “ ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

    The scholar began with a question, Jesus replied with a question, the man answered Jesus’ question, and then Jesus speaks.

    “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28)

    There it is, the end of the story. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Simple. Clear. Any questions?

    The scholar had one.

    But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

    What’s the first thing when you hear the word…neighbor?

    Who is my neighbor? When I was a kid, I always thought of my next door neighbor. Andrew was my friend, and it seemed reasonable to love him, to respect him, to show kindness and exercise the Golden Rule with him.

    We can certainly extend neighbor from our next door neighbor to the person sitting next to us right now. This year, the National Day of Prayer is on May 2 and the theme is “Love One Another.” Jesus said,

    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

    We will gather with people from across our city at Cherry Street Mission’s Life Revitalization Center down the street at 7 PM on May 2 to pray together, worship together, and love one another.

    Perhaps you’re thinking love one another is too basic, too simple. You want me to get deep, you want meat, come on preacher, give me something new! I’m sorry, but until we truly love God and love one another, we’re never going to be the mature followers of Jesus we claim to be. I’m not being critical, but simply saying loving one another is a lot more challenging than it sounds. Jesus said the hallmark of our devotion to Him is our love for one another, the people in our church family, our brothers and sisters in Christ in Toledo and beyond, yes, even those from a different congregation or denomination with a different worship style or with theological differences. There’s a time and a place for dialogue on our differences, but at the end of the day, we must love one another. Tragically, the world has seen division rather than unity, hate rather than love, and criticism rather than compassion from the Church of Jesus Christ. No wonder so many have given up on organized religion!

    But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can love one another. We
    must love one another if we have any hope of seeing spiritual awakening. This is not a commercial, but I want to challenge you to join in the National Day of Prayer gathering on Thursday, May 2. You’ll be hearing more about it and it’s already on the church calendar, but this could be a great stop toward loving your neighbor, your brothers and sisters in Christ. If we can’t love one another, how in the world will we love those outside the church?

    Maybe we should back up and ask, “What is love?” 1 Corinthians 13 offers a good description. It’s not about marriage—though marriages should be filled with love. It describes true, unconditional, agape love.

    Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7,
    NLT)

    Love requires action. It’s more than a mushy feeling. It’s a rugged commitment to another person demonstrated not only with words but deeds. We are to love one another. We are to love our neighbor. Now back to our text,…

    But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

    Another question from this man!

    We are to love one another, but clearly it doesn’t stop when we exit the building.

    In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. (Luke 10:30)

    I’m guessing this isn’t the answer the expert in the law was looking for when he asked Jesus to define neighbor. Nevertheless, Jesus tells the story of this robbery victim. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be dangerous and difficult, even called the “Way of Blood” due to the violence that occurred there.

    A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:31)

    This kind of hits close to home for me. My title is not priest, but it might as well be in this instance. Notice the priest saw them man and deliberately avoided him.

    Maybe the man was thought to be dead, in which case contact would defile the priest and make him ritually unclean. However, there was an exception for neglected corpses. What we do know is the priest did not love this man.

    So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:32)

    Levites were respected leaders in the day and this Levite did the exact same thing as the priest. Almsgiving to the poor was how the Pharisees—experts in the law—loved their neighbors as themselves.

    But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. (Luke 10:33)

    This surely offended the expert in the law asking Jesus the question. Jews hated Samaritans.

    He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. (Luke 10:34)

    Is this love? Of course. Don’t miss the next verse. I love how the Samaritan delegated care to this man.

    The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:35)

    The Samaritan touched the man, bandaged him, poured oil and wine, transported him on his donkey, and took him to an inn where he cared for him. But he doesn’t stop there. He pays the innkeeper to care for him. Delegation is a powerful leadership tool. As I often tell our church staff, you don’t have to do everything…you just have to make sure everything is done. There may be times when you can’t provide the help someone needs, but you can help them get the help they need. There are six verbs here that describe the loving action this Samaritan took. He invested emotionally, physically, and financially in this stranger’s rescue.

    The story concludes by Jesus asking the expert in the law,

    “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

    The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

    Jesus told him,
    “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

    Notice the expert in the law wouldn’t even utter the word “Samaritan!” In the Greek, “do” is an imperative verb, a command. It’s not optional. Have mercy. Love others. Put your faith into action. We often love God by loving others.

    We could analyze this story for hours—and many articles and books have been written about it—but don’t miss the central point:

    Our neighbor is anyone we encounter.

    They might be a friend or acquaintance. They might look and act like you. Then again…

    Our neighbor may be a stranger.

    It could be someone you encounter for the first time, as was the case in this story. It might be an Immigrant, a refugee, a prostitute, a panhandler, a lawyer, a drug dealer, a pastor, …

    Here’s the really challenging reality:

    Our neighbor may be an enemy.

    That was clearly the case in Jesus’ story. We can’t begin to understand how much the Jews hated the Samaritans.

    Who’s your enemy? I know,
    you don’t have any enemies, right? But seriously, what about Democrats or Republicans, refugees or immigrants, your boss, the gangsters down the street? Perhaps members of the LGBTQ community disgust you. Maybe you have hatred toward or have received hatred from someone of a different race, nationality, or religion. On a more personal level, maybe your enemy is an abuser, a criminal, someone who has done you great harm. We are to love them, too (though “love” does not mean trust; we need healthy boundaries).

    At this year’s MERGE Summit, Savannah Martin shared a powerful story about The Pregnancy Center’s opportunity to open a location next door to Toledo’s lone abortion clinic. Talk about loving your neighbor! She said God made it clear she was to not only love those seeking an abortion, but also those who worked inside. It was a startling realization, yet one which resulted in The Pregnancy Center providing Christmas gifts to the abortion workers! They realized these workers are not the enemy, but actually masterpieces created by God with dignity, value and worth. They may not value the life of an unborn child, but they are not the enemy. They need to experience God’s love, too…in word and deed.

    The word “enemy” appears more than 300 times in the Bible! Paul told the Roman church:

    …“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
    (Romans 12:20)

    I have a confession: I’m not a loving person. I love myself pretty well! Most of the time I’m loving toward my wife and kids and grandbaby. I think I do a decent job of loving our staff and our congregation…I truly love you, church! But there are other people who are more difficult to love.

    I really can’t love my neighbor…apart from the power of God. Only the Holy Spirit can give me the love I need to love my neighbor, my friend, my family, my enemy.

    Here’s the real scandal:

    We were all enemies of God, yet He loved us through both words and action.

    This the perfect segue to communion, the LORD’s Supper, the Eucharist. In that letter to the Romans, Paul said,

    For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)

    We can only love others—and God—with the love we have received from God. This was Jesus’ point in Luke chapter 7 when he said that “whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47b)

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

    Communion

    Author and speaker Bob Goff has two books. The first is entitled, “Love Does.” His second book describes the scope of love: “Everybody always.” That includes our God, our neighbor, our friend, our church family, and our enemies.

    Pastor Bryan Loritts said, “The gospel begins with a vertical relationship with God that propels us into horizontal relationships with our neighbors who don’t look like, think like, or vote like us.”

    May the Holy Spirit fill you with love—the greatest of all gifts—that you may go and love your neighbor—even your enemy—as yourself.

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

    Grace is Greater than Yourself, 1 October 2017

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

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

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

    Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

    God’s Grace Is More Beautiful than Your Brokenness.

    God’s Grace Redeems All Our Past Regrets.

    And quoting author Philip Yancey,

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

    That’s amazing! That’s grace!

    Then we said
    grace is greater than your hurts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here’s Pastor Pete Scazzero’s response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment…

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

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

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

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

    Who do you need to love more graciously?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Vision Sunday, 5 March 2017

    Vision Sunday
    Matthew 28:18-20

    Big Idea: God has an exciting mission for us to (continue to) pursue.

    Those words, often called the Great Commission, are our mission. They are why we exist as a church. They are our mandate, our calling…make disciples.

    My name is Kirk and about eighteen months ago I was invited to move to Toledo and serve as your lead pastor. It was a humbling opportunity. Heather and I continue to thank God for calling us here.

    Several people have asked about our future, our vision. I dedicated my first year to listening—to you, our city, and most of all our Senior Pastor, Jesus. I came with no agenda. I came with little understanding of Toledo or First Alliance and its rich history.

    I’m excited to say things are beginning to get clear. I’m starting to get the pulse of our church and neighborhood. I don’t have a 20-year strategic plan to share with you today or announcements of ten new initiatives, but after many discussions with our staff and elders, I believe things are slowly coming into focus and I want to share with you glimpses of our future.

    Before we talk about First Alliance, I want to reflect upon our scripture text for today. To set the scene, we need to back up a bit. Matthew tells us about the resurrection of Jesus at the beginning of chapter 28. This, of course, is the great climax of Lent, arguably the greatest day in the history of the world.

    By the way, I want to encourage all of you to join me in this season of Lent, the journey toward the Cross…and resurrection. It’s not just a Catholic thing! These forty days remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We still have some devotionals if you didn’t get one last week, available at the Information Center in the lobby. Next week we begin a Lent series called, “A Love That Never Dies” to help us prepare for Holy Week.

    Matthew, one of four biographers of Jesus Christ, tells us the resurrection and then says…

    Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 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 28:16-20)

    These are Matthew’s final words in his gospel or “good news.” The mission—the commission—is simple:
    make disciples. Great! What’s a disciple? A simple definition would be a student or apprentice of another person. The goal of a disciple is to become like their master. When Jesus says make disciples, he is telling his followers to invest in followers who will become Christ-like.

    A disciple is not someone who just has the knowledge of the master.
    A disciple is someone who acts like the master.

    You may be a master chef and spend years showing me how to cook, but the test of my discipleship is not what’s in my head, but rather what I put on the dinner plate.

    You may be a master plumber and spend years showing me how to fix a leaky faucet, but the test of my discipleship is not what I know about plumbing, it’s whether or not I know how to keep the floor dry!

    Tragically, the focus of many churches has been attendance, getting people to go to a church service or small group. For some it is information, stuffing people with Bible knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t truly measure discipleship.

    The measure of discipleship is how much you look and act like Jesus. He said, “Follow me.”

    I have heard countless times people respect Jesus but they don’t like the church. That’s a discipleship issue, friends. If you are a Christian—or “little Christ”—your life should resemble Jesus. Obviously, none of us have arrived—we’re all imperfect sinners—but our goal, our example should be Jesus. If you need a more specific description of a disciple of Jesus, consider the fruit of the Spirit:

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

    How do you make disciples? First, be a disciple. Are you a disciple of Jesus? How does your life reflect the fruit of the Spirit?

    It should be noted Jesus never commanded us to start churches, go on mission trips, engage in Bible studies, attend prayer meetings, or even listen to a sermon every Sunday. Again, none of those are bad, but they are not the goal. Our mission is to make disciples, people who look like Jesus, people who love God and others. Make disciples is the Great Commission. Jesus also gave the great commandments:

    One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28)

    “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

    Have you heard this before? You’ll hear it again, I promise, because at the end of the day, Jesus told us the entire Bible is summed up in two commandments:

    Love God
    Love your neighbor

    And he has given us one mission

    Make Disciples

    Simple? Yes.
    Easy? No.

    The reality is, we can’t love God and our neighbor and make disciples on our own. We need the Holy Spirit. Thomas George spoke about the Holy Spirit a few weeks ago. If you weren’t here, you can download the message for free on iTunes or our smartphone app. In a sentence, he said we need to let go and let God, surrendering ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us in order for us to bear fruit.

    So make disciples. But how? Actually, the command is go and make disciples. What does it mean to love God and love others? Let’s take a look at our church’s mission statement. It says

    The mission – make disciples - fully devoted followers of Christ. We define discipleship at First Alliance as someone who is: Connecting to God (worship), others (growing in community), and the world (missions – here and around the world)

    As our logo says, we’re about connecting to God, others, and the world.

    Are you still with me?

    The elders have been working on bringing more clarity to our mission. It’s biblical, but very broad. Any church could/should help people connect to God, others, and the world. I don’t have a revised mission statement for you—though we’ve been discussing one—but I want to suggest two details I cannot avoid:

    1. Toledo

    I know, this isn’t exactly rocket science, but Toledo is our “Jerusalem,” our home mission field. I’m sure there was a day when Toledo was filled with followers of Jesus, but like most any city in the west, it is becoming increasingly secular or non-Christian. We probably have more atheists, agnostics, and people of other faiths in our city than ever before, to say nothing of lukewarm Christians.

    If God called you to be a missionary in west Africa as he did last week’s guests Doug and Karen Conkle, you would live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus, right?

    Most of you have been called by God to be missionaries in Toledo. This is our mission field. We need to live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus.

    Let me briefly share a few reasons why I believe we need to focus on Toledo:

    1. We’re here!
    2. We’ve been here for 129 years
    3. We chose to stay here when the old building burned down
    4. Toledo has many needs we can address
    5. We’ve been given some wonderful opportunities to pursue
    6. We can be a part of the city’s growth and renaissance
    7. God is on the move in Toledo, not only at First Alliance but in the dozens of churches who are praying, serving, and worshiping together

    This morning I want to declare my personal commitment to this city. For as long as God has me here at First Alliance, I want to live, work, shop, and play in Toledo. Heather and I really have done better in Toledo and we’re excited about the future.

    2. The Next Generation

    No, I’m not talking about Star Trek. Actually, the next generation can be interpreted in a number of different ways—the next generation in US history (the Millennials) or the one that follows (GenZ), the next generation of members at First Alliance, the next generation of followers of Jesus…but it’s not me. It’s not many of you. Obviously we’re not going to go crazy, hang a disco ball from the ceiling, and sing Lady Gaga songs, but many of us have had our day. People served and sacrificed so we could encounter Jesus. We must make space for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. If you know Jesus, it’s critical to help the next generation know him. You saw some of them earlier waving ribbons. Others spoke last Sunday about their trip to the Avalanche youth retreat. They are our future…they are our present!

    We’ve always been about the next generation. We were involved in starting Toledo Christian Schools. We have an After School Klub. We run an annual sports and arts camp. We have possibly the best children’s director in the state of Ohio (Sue Trumbull) who is leading one hundred volunteer workers!

    Jesus told this great parable (story) in the 13
    th chapter of Matthew. He said seed was scattered in soil. Some was eaten by birds. Some fell on rocky ground and died. Some was choked by thorns. Some fell on good soil and produced a great crop. Jesus explained the story by saying…

    When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
    The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:19-22)

    But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
    (Matthew 13:23)

    After being so impressed by my first year at sports and arts camp last summer, I told Sue we did a great job scattering seed for a week, but what about the next 51 weeks? We need to cultivate the seeds, making sure they receive sun, rain, and fertilizer, keeping away the thorns, rocks, and birds.

    We are starting to do just that, through Toledo Urban Impact, the new van pickup each Sunday, new students from the neighborhood coming on Wednesday nights to girls club, boys club, and youth group, and our growing relationship with Rosa Parks Elementary School two miles away. We’re certainly not done, but we’re in the process of developing a birth to college pipeline of discipleship.

    Our involvement at Rosa Parks began largely through an invitation from Dr. Durant, the TPS superintendent, to be present in the school with the students and staff—before, during, and after school! He is a God-fearing man who is unashamed of his faith and we accepted his invitation. I wrote him this past week to say I was thrilled to read his contract was extended three years. Rosa Parks Elementary is a huge part of our mission field, people we are called to love, serve, and bless.

    Do you want to know my dream? It is to put Dan Rogers at Cherry Street Mission out of a job! Seriously! He would love that!

    He would love to see homelessness end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to experience graduation, a career, and most of all Jesus Christ.

    He would love to see poverty end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to develop a career.

    He would love to see crime and teen pregnancy end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to encounter Jesus Christ.

    We’re not giving up on adults, but something like 80% of Christians trust Christ before they turn 18. We can share the gospel with adults, but it’s a lot harder. We can rehabilitate the 55 year-old addict, but it’s a lot harder.

    And do I need to tell you the kids of Toledo need hope? They need help? They need Jesus.

    Last week Toledo’s 9
    th teen was shot dead.

    The current graduation rate for TPS is less than 65%.

    Teen moms are not just 16 and 17. Some are 12 and 13 years old in junior high.

    So What?

    Toledo needs Jesus. Not religion. Not programs. Jesus.

    The next generation needs Jesus.

    Where is Jesus on earth? We are to be his hands and feet, loving and serving and inviting people to come and see the one who loves them, who died for them, who never shames or pressures or manipulates, but simply says, “Follow me.”

    Discipleship is praying for our city and next generation.
    Discipleship is serving our city and next generation.
    Discipleship is loving our city and next generation.

    Will you join me?

  • You can listen to messages at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Grow into an Emotionally Mature Adult, 29 May 2016

    Grow into an Emotionally Mature Adult
    Series: Go Deeper
    Luke 10:25-37

  • Series Theme
  • “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

  • The Big Idea: The sixth pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is to grow into an emotionally mature adult…to love.

    Introduction

    We’re nearing the end of our series Go Deeper. The purpose of the series is to get real—with God, others, and ourselves—in order to better love God and others. Many live in denial about their past, their struggles, their sins, and their pain.

    “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives,” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero.

    Two weeks ago we talked about the rhythms of the Daily Office and a weekly Sabbath. If you’ve been experimenting with praying throughout the day and/or a designated day of rest, I’d love to hear about it. If not, I challenge you to pursue God in fresh ways and prioritize one, “unproductive” day of the week to rest, recharge, and renew.

    Today’s topic is growing into an emotionally mature adult. Many people confuse age with maturity. Just as the phrase “older and wiser” is not always true, so also “older and mature” is not necessarily reality. No matter how old you are, there is room for growth and maturity. Our ultimate goal is to look like Jesus.

    Many people overestimate their maturity. Specifically, they believe because they’ve attended a lot of church services and Bible studies they’re mature. Most people I know are educated beyond their level of obedience—including me!

    Maturity requires more than great faith, sacrificing your body, giving everything you have to the poor, having great knowledge, and speaking multiple languages (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

    In the Church, many mistakenly believe that if they have spent decades attending a church gathering on Sundays, they will automatically become spiritual giants. Not long ago a local pastor mentioned how he is so frustrated by several senior citizens in his congregation that think they’re mature, yet they are mean-spirited, selfish, grumpy, and lack joy and the most important of all love.

    Love

    Few words are more misunderstood in our culture than love. Love is a feeling. I love ice cream and roller coasters. People say they fall into love and fall out of love.

    Years ago I saw a group from the UK called The Waterboys. They have a song in which they declare love “lives in the girl in the swing.” Deep!

    I remember a man telling me he had fallen in love with a woman, or so he thought. He wrestled with this question of defining love. He wisely turned to the Bible and discovered the answer in the book of 1 John.

    God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1John 4:16)

    God is love. Love is God. He is the definition of love!

    Many of you know John 3:16

    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)

    1 John 3:16 is similar.

    This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

    The original Greek in the Bible uses three different words to describe three different types of love.

    • - eros (ἔρως), passionate
    • - philia (φιλία), friendship
    • - agape (ἀγάπη), unconditional

    One of the most famous of Jesus’ stories is often called The Good Samarian.

    The Good Samaritan—Luke 10:25-37

    On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

    “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:25-26)

    Jesus loved to answer questions with questions!

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

    These two commands were known by every Jew, found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

    “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28)

    Love God. Love your neighbor. So simple. That’s it. That’s why we’re here. That’s what First Alliance is all about…just two things: love God, love your neighbor. Simple. But so challenging…especially if your neighbor is…uh, unlovable!

    But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

    This man thought he was mature. He thought because he was an expert in the law he’d pass any morality exam with flying colors. He should’ve just walked away, but instead he tried to “justify himself.”

    In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. (Luke 10:30)

    The journey from Jerusalem to Jericho is about 17 miles long with a descent of about 3000 feet. It was a dangerous road, frequently filled with robbers who hid along the steep, winding path.

    A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:31-32)

    These two respected, religious, supposedly loving men ignore the victim of violence. Most likely the victim, priest, and Levite were all Jews. They studied what is known as the Torah, the first part of our Bible. It would make sense to help a brother in the faith, yet the two men were too busy or proud to be inconvenienced.

    But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. (Luke 10:33)

    It’s nearly impossible for us to understand the hatred of Samarians by the Jews. Samaritans were a mixed race of Jew and Gentile. The Jewish Talmud says that he who eats bread with a Samaritan is like the one who eats the flesh of pigs, something so offensive I can’t come up with a modern-day equivalent!

    He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:34-35)

    The Levite was religious. He had probably memorized the first five books of the Bible! He had likely given sermons on loving others.

    Notice that this hated Samaritan loves, yet his love has appropriate boundaries. He doesn’t completely abandon his plans, but he seeks help, delegates to the innkeeper, and resumes his scheduled activities. He is generous. He loves.

    “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

    The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

    Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

    The essence of true Christian spirituality is love. This is not the feeling of love. It’s the commitment to seek the best interest of another, regardless of who they are, the color of their skin, the accent in their language, the clothes on their body, their age, religion, or gender.

    But love cannot just be in our head. It has to be in our heart and hands. One of Jesus’ three best friends said

    If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? (1 John 3:17)

    John narrows his focus to brothers or sisters, but Jesus says to love one’s neighbor, which is essentially anyone and everyone.
    Emotional Maturity

    Emotional maturity could be defined as loving well. Are you a good lover?

    Loving your neighbor may mean caring for their physical needs in a moment of crisis, but most often it has to do with our day-to-day relationships with those we encounter at home, work, school, or in the marketplace. Just as infants grow physically into adults, so also emotional infants can become children, adolescents, and adults. Look at these examples:

    Adult as Emotional Infant

    -- treats others as “objects to meet my needs”
    -- acts like tyrant and wins through intimidation
    -- unable to empathize with others

    Adult as Emotional Child
    -- acts out resentment through distance, pouting, whining, clinging, lying, withholding, appeasing, lying.
    -- does not openly and honestly express needs

    Adult as Emotional Adolescent
    -- cannot give without feeling controlled or resentful
    -- capacity for mutual concern is missing
    -- defensive, threatened by criticism

    Adult as Emotional Adult

    -- Able to ask for what they need, want, prefer – clearly, directly, honestly, respectfully.
    -- Desire for relationships to win. Seeks win-win situations.
    -- Able to listen with empathy.
    -- Willing to risk saying what is needed without attacking.
    -- Respects others without having to change them.
    -- Able to resolve conflicts maturely and negotiate solutions.
    -- Gives themselves and others room to make mistakes and not be perfect.

    The problem is that we live with us in the center of our universe. The Good News is that we don’t have to stay there.

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

    This is one of my favorite verses. Christ has the power to change and transform us. His sacrifice on the cross made it possible for us to reconnect with our Father, despite our sin.

    Salvation does not mean we are instantly mature, however. Just as a Christian alcoholic must take steps to address their addiction and a Christian who never finished high school might want to work hard to get their GED, so also our emotions may need some deliberate, focused attention. Sure God could just miraculously heal the brokenness from your past, but more than likely He will work through your efforts at wholeness—not salvation, but wholeness.

    This is one of the greatest challenges within the Church—denying our history and thinking that this verse means we’re instantly cured of every dysfunction in our lives when we encounter Jesus. We grow into maturity, it doesn’t just happen.

    So What?

    Take practical steps of discipleship to grow into an emotionally mature adult

    It can be terrifying. Some of us do not even know how to feel. Where do we start?

    We must follow the path of Abraham, leaving our pasts and families and cultures (the bad stuff) and turning to God. This is obviously impossible apart from God.

    We must repent (turn away) from our past and then move forward.

    If you want to run a marathon, you must train and build up to it over time. Becoming an emotionally healthy adult requires baby steps.

    Discipleship is a lifelong journey. It is hard. It takes time. It is worth it!

    The alternative is living your life as a prisoner of your past.

    We should love the best because we are loved the best.

    You can’t just love God. You have to love people, too. Loving God is more than reading the Bible, prayer, and church attendance. To obey is better than any sacrifice, and Jesus repeatedly taught us to love one another. Let’s face it, it’s relatively easy to love a loving God, but loving our enemies and neighbors is far different, especially since they are not perfect like Jesus!

    As a church family, we are beta-testing some discipleship strategies. Jesus said to make disciples and we are very serious about not only making spiritual disciples but holistic disciples that are vibrant, healthy, and contagious (yes, I used health and contagious in the same sentence!).

    What does an emotionally mature adult ultimately look like?

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

    Jesus is our perfect example.

    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

    Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

    Does that describe you? If not, there is room for growth!

    Jesus was the ultimate human being. He was the ultimate example of love. He was the most emotionally mature person to enter our world.

    The amazing thing is that His power is alive and well through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is able to reside inside you, not to instantly make you perfect, but to help you grow in all aspects of your life. Growth takes time. It takes intentionality. It takes effort. It takes surrender to God.

    Perhaps you’ve had the fire and passion for God but you’ve grown complacent and comfortable. Maybe your next step this morning is to recommit your life to Christ, invite the Holy Spirit to live inside you, and give you the courage to confront your past and the strength to create a healthier, whole future.

    Maybe today is the day of salvation, the day you begin your journey, the day you learn how to love, knowing that you are loved…by God and by our faith family.

    Regardless of where you find yourself in the spiritual journey, I want to encourage you to take the next step forward, to know God more, to know love more, and to love God and others more. John said

    Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18)

    Arguably the best way we can love others is by first reflecting upon how much we are loved by God. This is why time with God is so valuable.

    If you get nothing else out of this morning, know you are loved. You are precious to God. You were created in His image with value, dignity, and worth. We all have days when we are not all that lovable, yet God still loves us. In the same way we are to love the unlovable, sharing God’s love we have received with others.

    The measure of our maturity is not how many sermons we’ve sat through or how many Bible verses we’ve memorized. The real measure of our maturity is how well we love…God…and others.

    I don’t know about you, but I often struggle to love others. It truly requires effort, sacrifice, and intentionality. We love God because He first loved us. We love others because He loves them. We are able to love when desperately seek God and His love.
  • Credits and Stuff

    Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.

    Series outline and ideas from
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

    Some study questions from Lyman Coleman (
    The Serendipity Bible and The Serendipity Student Bible). Used with permission from the author.

    Other study questions from
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Workbook by Peter Scazzero (Center for Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 2007).

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Preparing for the Best, 10 January 2016

    Preparing for the Best!
    Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 3:8-17

    Series Overview:
    God’s grace is present in the midst of suffering.

    Big Idea: Love one another and prepare your story for the best is yet to come.

    Introduction

    This morning we continue our series on 1 Peter, “What In The World Is Going On?” This short letter to the early, suffering church is a powerful message not only to an ancient people but is increasing relevant to modern Christians as we face persecution. We may never face the horrors of ISIS victims, but nevertheless we can—and perhaps should—feel in the minority as followers of Jesus in a world consumed with money, sex and power. The theme of this book may well be called hope and grace in the midst of suffering. We’ve looked at hope, holiness, and harmony. Then we looked at the unpopular word of submission, first at the marketplace, then at home, and today in the church.

    Our church’s mission is…to make disciples.

    Great! So how do we make disciples? How do we become disciples? Today’s passage offers a clue.

    Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. (3:8)

    If I had one challenge for us, First Alliance, one verse upon which to meditate and practice it could very well be this one.

    First, he says to be
    like-minded.

    I have been praying four things for us as a church family:

    1. 1. Direction: wisdom to hear from God
    2. 2. Protection: we are engaged in a battle against satan
    3. 3. Passion
    4. 4. Unity: Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17

    Peter tells us to be united. He doesn’t promote uniformity but unity. We are different—by design—but we are to work together. We are to love and serve one another.

    We may not always agree on how to do things, but we should always be united regarding what to do and why. That’s the mission. That’s the Great Commandment. That’s the Great Commission.

    D.L. Moody was once criticized for his evangelism methods. He responded, “Well, I’m always ready for improvement. What are your methods?” The man had no answer so Moody said, “Then I’ll stick to my own.”

    Unity, not uniformity. Like-minded, not always exactly alike.

    Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. (3:8)

    Peter says to be sympathetic, compassionate and humble. We all love to be around people who possess these qualities. It seems obvious, but it’s godly instruction.

    In between sympathetic, compassionate, and humble he says to love one another. There are several Greek words for love. This one is philadelphos, brotherly love, the root of the city of Philadelphia.

    Jesus had a similar instruction, though He used the word
    agape, a deeper love.

    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

    Don’t miss that last sentence.

    Everyone will know we are disciples of Jesus by…

    • - Our nice building. No!
    • - Our perfect theology. No!
    • - Our denomination. No!
    • - Our home and global missions work. No!
    • - Our tithes and offerings. No!
    • - Our church attendance. No!
    • - Our memorization of the Bible. No!
    • - Our great prayer life. No!
    • - Our avoidance of sex, drugs and rock and roll. No!
    • - Our evangelistic fervor. No!

    Our love for one another!

    Just to clarify, this does not merely mean how we love one another here at First Alliance. It means how we love one another on Facebook, in the comments section of blogs and newspapers, when we disagree, when we’ve been wronged, …when we don’t feel like loving!

    When you don’t
    feel like loving, remember you are not always loveable, but the Father still loves you. He’s still nuts about you! When your love tank is empty, bask in the love the Father has for you and allow Him to fill you.

    Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (3:9)

    We are to bless others. The Golden Rule. Turning the other cheek. Community 101.

    Returning evil for good is satanic.
    Returning good for good and evil for evil is human.
    Returning good for evil is divine. Jesus set the ultimate example for us.

    For,

    “Whoever would love life
    and see good days
    must keep their tongue from evil
    and their lips from deceitful speech.
    They must turn from evil and do good;
    they must seek peace and pursue it.
    For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
    but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (3:10-12)


    Peter quotes Psalm 34:15-16 and Ecclesiastes 2:17. There’s so much here.

    1. 1. We choose to love life. It is truly a gift…and the next one will be even better!
    2. 2. We must control our tongues, the source of so many of our problems.
    3. 3. We are to do good and hate evil.
    4. 4. We are to seek and pursue peace, though it is not always possible (Romans 12:18).

    Let’s live it up…doing good!

    God is watching. God is listening. He hears the prayers of His children.

    Can I tell you one of my prayers? It’s for Toledo to follow Jesus, for our city to have a spiritual awakening, for men, women and children to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ, experiencing what it truly means to be human.

    Thursday night was a defining moment in my time in Toledo…and I pray in the history of Toledo. Hundreds of people gathered in a ballroom to pray for our city. Dozens of churches joined together on the 179
    th birthday of our city to declare Jesus is the King of Toledo. He is the LORD of this city. We prayed for the government, business, education, arts and entertainment, the family, media, and the Church of Toledo.

    I love serving as the lead pastor at First Alliance but I also serve on staff of the Church of Toledo along with dozens (hundreds?) of pastors with the same mission: to make disciples, to see people in Toledo follow Jesus, transforming our city and the world in the process, one life at a time.

    The motto of Toledo is, "Laborare est Orare.” It is in our city seal, but very few know what it means because it is written in Latin. It is an old Benedictine saying, "To work is to pray.” Prayer is at the very core of our city’s foundation.

    It was a thrill to see so many of you on Thursday night as we prayed for 500k, for God to save every soul in the Greater Toledo area, 500,000 people.

    www.500k.org

    In biblical times people said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

    We aren’t the most popular or powerful city, but this week someone suggested perhaps revival could begin here and spread around the world, challenging the question, “Can anything good come out of Toledo?”

    By the way, the answer is a resounding YES!!!

    Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” (3:13-14)

    We talked about suffering in chapter two. Suffering for being right should bring us joy, not because we enjoy suffering, but because God is watching and doing the right thing brings Him glory.

    Now we come to one of my favorite verses in the Bible.

    But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (3:15a)

    How do we make disciples? It begins with a conversation. It might be at a picnic, a party, a water cooler chat, or an online encounter. If we are truly following Jesus, our lives will be different. They will radiate love, joy, and peace. They will be filled with hope, and people will ask.

    But you have to be ready. We must know the Bible. Even more, we must know Jesus and always “be prepared” (the Boy Scout motto!) to introduce others to Him. The word “apology” is from the Greek word “answer.” It’s not regret or saying you’re sorry, but rather like a defense in a court. Apologetics is defending the faith.

    If we are truly following Jesus, our lives will look different. It’s not that we’re supposed to act weird, but we’re supposed to act different than the selfish, prideful, insecure people around us, especially in the midst of the fear and chaos we encounter every day. Our lives should be characterized by peace, joy, hope, generosity, and most of all love. This does not mean we cannot share our faith until someone asks why we’re different. Quite the opposite. We need to be prepared with our story.

    What’s your story?

    I want to hear it. We want to hear it. The world wants to hear it.

    I’d like to invite you to share your story and there are several ways you can do it.

    1. 1. Get baptized. If you haven’t been baptized to publicly declare your faith, we would love to baptize you. It’s a command of Jesus and although baptism itself does not save you, it is a powerful way to declare God’s power in your life.
    2. 2. Share your story on a Sunday morning. I would love to have 3-5 minute commercials for God every Sunday. What has He done in your life? What is God doing in your life? It can be done live or video recorded, if desired.
    3. 3. Share it with your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. I don’t recommend an hour-long speech, but prepare a 3-5 minute explanation of what God has done in your life. Again, think about a commercial for God. How do you know God is real? What difference has He made in your life?

    The great thing about your story is no one can argue with it. You might not be able to offer intellectual, archaeological, philosophical, or existential proofs for the existence of God, but your story is real. There are great reasons to believe, but even if you don’t know the Bible like Pastor Keith or understand world religions like Ravi Zacharias or be able to explain the historical basis for our faith like Ray Vander Laan your story may be the only thing people need to take their next step with God.

    And be sure to ask about their story. One of my favorite questions is, “Where are you at on your spiritual journey?”

    In Michigan we had fantastic neighbors who were Buddhists. I loved asking them about their faith and it gave me the freedom to share mine. Our friendship grew as we dialogued. We didn’t debate, but we dialogued. We listened to one another. We respected one another, which is exactly what Peter advised.

    But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (3:15b-17)

    I love this passage! We are to treat everyone—Republicans, Democrats, even Buckeyes—with gentleness and respect as they are created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. They’re lost and Jesus wants them found (Luke 15). There’s no greater thrill than introducing people to Jesus! But it’s not just what we say that’s important, but how we say it. Megaphones are not always the best tool for evangelism and discipleship!

    We must keep a clear conscience in the process.

    Peter closes this section by reiterating what he has said so many times before: sometimes we will suffer for doing good, and that may be God’s will. We pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If you suffer for Jesus, rejoice. Great will be your reward. Our enemies may hurt us, but they can never harm us.

    So What?

    Our mission is to make disciples. Disciples of Jesus. The world will know we are His if we love one another.

    The world will know He is real if we live radical, counter-cultural lives of faith, hope and love that cause people to ask about our lives. Then we can tell our story—His story—and invite others to follow Jesus with us, thus making more disciples of Christ.

    It is my prayer that in 2016 we will see many new people begin their journey and grow to become like Jesus.

    I pray our baptistery is filled this year with people eager to tell the world about our amazing God!

    I pray Toledo follows Jesus this year!

    Love one another.
    Prepare your story.

    The best is yet to come!

    Credits

    Some ideas from

    Be Hopeful (1 Peter): How to Make the Best of Times Out of Your Worst of Times (The BE Series Commentary) by Warren

    Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

    1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

    The Vine & The Branches, John 15:1-17, 2 June 2013

    Big Idea: We must remain in Christ, even when we are being pruned.

    Introduction

    As we continue our series on the Gospel of John, Jesus continues His farewell address to His eleven disciples. They were in the Upper Room together before Jesus said, “Come now, let us leave” (14:31).

    Now they are probably between the Upper Room and the Garden of Gethsemane. John 15 and 16 are likely describing their conversation during their walk.

    Vines

    Jesus may have walked by the gates of the temple. The gates were gold and woven with vines that stood for the nation of Israel.

    There are several instances when vines are mentioned in the Old Testament as a symbol of Israel. In each, however, Israel was lacking somehow.

    You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. (Psalm 80:8-9)

    I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (Isaiah 5:1-7)

    I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? (Jeremiah 2:21)

    Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones. (Hosea 10:1)

    Jesus is going to talk about the vine, an image of the nation of Israel. Notice what He says.

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. (15:1)

    Jesus is not just any vine but the true vine. It’s easy for us to see this as merely a gardening metaphor but its symbolism is even more rich. If the vine is Israel and He is the true vine, He’s making a very bold statement.

    True can be the opposite of false or the opposite of a counterfeit. Jesus is saying, “I’m the genuine vine.” Religion is not enough. Ceremonies and church attendance and giving to the poor is not enough. We need to identify with Jesus.

    We must be joined to Jesus, the vine, in order to bear fruit.

    He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (2-4)

    “In” when it precedes Jesus refers to being in Christ, trust Him as both Savior and LORD. This passage is about believers.

    Every unfruitful branch is cut off. Ouch!

    He prunes/purges/cuts or washes it. The Word of God is a cleansing power.

    “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (5-8)

    The Parable of the Sower describes planting and harvesting.

    What is fruit? The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

    J. Vernon McGee said the fruit is

    Prayer effectual (8)
    Fruit perpetual (8)
    Joy celestial (11)

    How does God remove the branch? He takes them from the place of bearing fruit. They’re no longer effective in their ministry or they die (Ananias and Sapphira are an example).

    Purge or pruning actually means “to cleanse” in the Greek. They used water to wash the vine from bugs and debris.

    Pruning can be painful but it’s done to promote growth. We rarely grow through success, health, and happiness. Our greatest growth comes in the midst of defeat, loss, and suffering. A popular TV show years ago was called “Growing Pains.” No pain, no gain.

    Pruning is not a sign that God is against us but that He loves us, He wants the best for us. As difficult as it is, we need to embrace pain.

    The closer we get to the LORD, we less pain we feel. If you are ever in a fight, step toward the person.

    Several years ago around New Year’s Day I was driving I-75 from Florida to Michigan. It’s a long drive, nearly 24 hours, and with everyone else in the vehicle sleeping I took some time to prayer, seeking God, His voice, and direction. I still remember five distinct words, not audible but clear: the tree will be pruned. I immediately knew He was speaking of the church where I was a pastor. It was a powerful, prophetic word that guided me throughout that year. We saw people leave our church, the numbers decreased, but the church became more healthy and strong.

    Sometimes less is more. Sometimes God wants to clear out the baggage in our lives in order for us to produce more fruit—love, obedience and faithfulness in our lives.

    Speaking of love, now we come to some love verses. Don’t mistaken these for greeting card sentiment. Jesus is going to tell us what love really is.

    As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (9-11)

    He again connects love and obedience.

    He also mentions joy, part of the fruit of the Spirit.

    My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. (12-17)

    We can’t…unless we are connected to the Vine.

    Conclusion

    I have one simple question: are you connected to the true Vine?

    The metaphor is clear: if we’re disconnected, we die.

    There are many good things in our world that will give you inspiration and energy, but connecting a branch to a can of Coke or an electric socket or an iPhone or even the Bible won’t allow it to grow. The only way a branch can grow is if it is connected to a living, breathing vine, in this case Jesus Christ.

    I want to conclude with some thoughts from A.W. Tozer’s class book
    The Pursuit of God. Notice what he says about knowing Jesus Christ.

    There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives…Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold "right opinions," probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the "program." This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.…The modern scientist has lost God amid the wonders of His world; we Christians are in real danger of losing God amid the wonders of His Word. We have almost forgotten that God is a Person and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can.
    -
    A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, quoted in Intuitive Leadership by Tim Keel (p. 125)
    How is your relationship with Jesus? Living things grow. Remain in Him!

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

    Love One Another, John 13:18-38, 12 May 2013

    Big Idea: Love one another!

    Introduction

    We’re in the middle of a series studying the Gospel of John, a biography of Jesus written by one of His best friends, John.

    After twelve chapters chronicling the public ministry of Jesus, we began chapter thirteen last Sunday, the events leading up to the cross.

    We saw Jesus in the Upper Room washing the feet of His disciples, demonstrating what it means to truly serve. In addition to audacious Peter, Judas Iscariot was both present and a recipient of Jesus’ love and service.

    Jesus is in the midst of a tradition known as a farewell. It became a literary genre. We have the farewells of Moses, Solomon, and many others, either actual or possible.

    All Jewish farewells had four parts:

    1. A plea to obedience (Deut. 32:46)
    2. A plea to study the Word of God
    3. A promise that God’s Spirit will remain (Deut. 34)
    4. A promise/blessing of comfort (Deut. 33)

    Our culture does not usually contain farewells. I have experienced two, both from Alzheimer’s victims (my dad and Darrell Prichard).

    If you had a week to live, what would you tell your family and friends? Would you talk about the new Leonard DiCaprio movie or the next iPhone?

    Jesus knows He’s about to die, and though He wants to avoid the agony of it, He faces death itself with confidence, knowing it is the Father’s will.

    Jesus has washed the feet of the disciples, perhaps the most humbling act possible, and now they engage in the traditional Passover meal. Verse 18 begins by Jesus saying

    “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ (18)

    He quotes Psalm 41:9, referring to Judas Iscariot. It’s incredible to imagine Jesus washing the feet of the one who will betray Him moments later.

    “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” (19-20)

    After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” (21)

    His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” (22-24)

    Nobody had a clue as to who it would be.

    Who is the disciple that Jesus loved? John, almost certainly.

    Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” (25)

    Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. (26-27a)

    This is Judas’ last chance, though He knew what Judas would do.

    J. Vernon McGee says that God ratifies human decisions. We choose and God seconds the motion.

    “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. (27b-30)

    Do it quickly. The religious leaders didn’t want to crucify Jesus during the feast.

    The disciples were clueless (again!). It was night, devil’s night. Judas leaves.

    Night was both a description and a symbol that the end of Jesus’ life is coming. The grand farewell begins at verse 31.

    When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. (31-32)

    Jesus is preparing to be glorified in His death…and resurrection.

    “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. (33)

    Why does He call them children? This is the only time John uses this Greek word,
    teknion, an endearing term used between parents and their children. It’s an intimate expression.

    He’s about to leave them.

    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (34-35)

    What’s new about it?

    Leviticus 19 says to love your neighbor as yourself, something Jesus often quoted. This love is more descriptive—a dramatic, sacrificing love as He demonstrated. “As I have loved you.”

    Jesus is concerned that His followers would love one another. This is His
    command.

    What is the hallmark of followers of Jesus? Our theology? Our church attendance? Bible-reading? Mission trips? Charitable donations? The world will know we follow Jesus if we love one another.

    Tertullian, a Roman historian who lived in the late second to early third centuries (AD 155-220), wrote that even those who opposed Christianity knew that the mutual love of those who followed Christ was unique. “Our care for the derelict and our active love have become our distinctive sign before the enemy … See, they say, how they love one another and how ready they are to die for each other.” (Apology 39)

    We have failed and the world has noticed.

    This clearly impacted John, who later wrote

    We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19)

    Dr. Gary Burge has observed three things about the love Jesus describes.

    Love is connected to obedience. It’s not merely a feeling but an action. (14:31)
    Love is about sacrifice. Feet washing and the crucifixion are two examples. (15:31)
    We know John 3:16. but 1 John 3:16 is also notable.

    This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3:16-17)

    Love is connected to witness. Our greatest testimony is not our words but our life together. (15:35)

    You can’t force yourself to love someone. We can’t just try harder to love an lovable person. Instead we need divine intervention. We love because He first loved us. Only by knowing God and experiencing His love can we become like Jesus and love others.

    Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” (36a)

    Children ask this frequently? Where are you going? Can I come with you?

    Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” (36b)

    Where is Jesus going? He is going to die.

    Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” (37)

    He doesn’t want to wait. He wants to be with Jesus.

    Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! (38)

    Conclusion

    I pray that we would be known by our love for one another.

    Credits

    Some ideas taken from Dr. Gary Burge, Willow Creek Midweek podcast, 4/12/12

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

    Grow Into An Emotionally Mature Adult, 12 February 2012

    Theme

    “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality, when interwoven together, offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution, transforming the hidden places deep beneath the surface of our lives” says author and pastor Pete Scazzero in his book
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This series is based upon the biblical themes of Scazzero’s book in an effort to help us better understand ourselves in order to better love God and others.

    The Big Idea

    The sixth pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is to grow into an emotionally mature adult.

    Love

    What is love?

    Martin Buber has said that as we become emotionally mature, we experience each person as sacred (including ourselves), viewing them as a “Thou” and not “it.”

    Loving well is the goal of the Christian life.

    The Good Samaritan—Luke 10:25-37

    On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

    “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” (
    Luke 10:26)

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

    “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
    (Luke 10:28)

    But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
    (Luke 10:29)

    In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
    (Luke 10:30-35)

    “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
    (Luke 10:36)

    The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

    Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
    (Luke 10:37)

    Different Parts/Components of Who We Are

    Emotional
    Physical
    Intellectual
    Social
    Spiritual

    Becoming a follower of Jesus does not instantly transform every area of our lives.

    Two Myths

    1. When I accept Christ and He comes to live inside me, growing into an emotionally mature adult is natural.

    2. Christian’s ability to love those around them is qualitatively different than those outside the church.

    Emotional Maturity

    Emotional maturity could be defined as loving well. Are you a good lover?

    Infant

    -- feels a need, but can only cry
    -- must wait for parents to figure it out
    -- becomes angry if parent is inattentive

    Child
    -- can communicate but still dependent on others
    -- acts out feelings of pain, fear and resentment
    -- lacks skill to openly discuss and negotiate getting needs met

    Adolescent
    -- rebels against parental authority
    -- defines self in reaction to others, fears being treated as “child”
    -- “don’t tell me what to do”

    Adult as Emotional Infant
    -- treats others as “objects to meet my needs”
    -- acts like tyrant and wins through intimidation
    -- unable to empathize with others

    Adult as Emotional Child
    -- acts out resentment through distance, pouting, whining, clinging, lying, withholding,
    appeasing, lying.
    -- does not openly and honestly express needs

    Adult as Emotional Adolescent
    -- cannot give without feeling controlled or resentful
    -- capacity for mutual concern is missing
    -- defensive, threatened by criticism

    Adult

    1. Able to ask for what they need, want, prefer – clearly, directly, honestly, respectfully.
    2. Desire for relationships to win. Seeks win-win situations.
    3. Able to listen with empathy.
    4. Willing to risk saying what is needed without attacking.
    5. Respects others without having to change them.
    6. Able to resolve conflicts maturely and negotiate solutions.
    7. Gives themselves and others room to make mistakes and not be perfect.

    God’s Top Two

    There are two primary commands in Scripture

    a. love God
    b. love others

    Neighbor

    The key question in the story involves the definition of one’s neighbor. Most people seek good neighbors when they move into a house. We want to be surrounded by people who are nice and safe. It obvious that the expert in the law had a narrow definition of neighbor. The biblical command was simple:

    “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

    The Hebrew word is “rea” which means neighbor, friend, companion, or associate.

    Jesus blows his mind with His definition of neighbor, the central argument of the story.

    The Good Samaritan

    The road traveled in this story descends about 3300 feet over a seventeen-mile path through desert and rocky country. Jericho was home to many religious leaders. Why did the priest and Levite walk on the other side of the road? Have you ever done such a thing to another person, not literally, perhaps, but figuratively?

    The priest and the Levite have disconnected loving God and loving others. They knew the Bible and paraded religion, but their hearts were hard. They passed by.

    The Samaritan takes pity. He is moved. The real scandal of this story is that Samaritans were viewed as second-class citizens by the Jews. The Talmud says that he who eats bread with a Samaritan is like the one who eats the flesh of pigs.

    Who do you hate? Who do you know that is going to Hell?

    The Samaritan is moved with deep compassion and he responds. Jesus tells us to “go and do likewise.”

    Note that the Samaritan has enough self-awareness and self-respect to continue his own journey, yet still manages to serve the man in need. He delegates some of the care but provides the resources. We are all given many resources—time, talents, treasures, relationships—that can be leveraged to serve others.

    Perspective

    You and I are the person on the side of the road and Jesus is the One who had mercy on us, forgave us, gave His life for us, and rescued us. We are here by the grace of God.

    Two Applications:

    1. Become aware of your family of origin’s capability for emotional connection

    Many families invested in our education, physical health, or even spiritual knowledge. Many fail to invest in our emotional maturity. Can you recall being comforted as a child after a time of emotional distress? Think of a time when one of your parents/caregivers comforted you when you were really upset, scared or sad for some reason?

    The goal is not to find fault with our parents, but to ruthlessly face the truth of our upbringing in order to deal with issues from our past.

    1. Did you learn to trust?
    2. Did you learn to respect others?
    3. Did you learn to wait and to take turns?
    4. Did your parents/caregivers understand your behavior?
    5. Were your feelings allowed?
    6. Were you allowed to be the child?
    7. Did you learn independence and dependence?

    2. Take practical steps of discipleship to grow into an emotionally mature adult

    It can be terrifying. Some of us do not even know how to feel. Where do we start?

    We must follow the path of Abraham, leaving our pasts and families and cultures (the bad stuff) and turning to God. This is impossible apart from God.

    We must repent (turn away) from our past and then move forward.

    If you want to run a marathon, you must train and build up to it over time. Becoming an emotionally healthy adult requires baby steps.

    Discipleship is a lifelong journey. It is hard. It takes time. It is worth it!

    The alternative is living your life as a prisoner of your past.

    We should love the best because we are loved the best.

    “Being listened to is so close to feeling loved that for the average person they are indistinguishable.” -David Augsburger

    We need to practice the presence of God (see book by Brother Lawrence) and practice the presence of people.

    We are born sinful and selfish, but when we die to ourselves and allow Jesus Christ to live in and through us, we are able to love others the way Jesus loves us.

    Paul said,

    Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

    Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

    Fill In The Blank

    I really appreciate ______________.

    I really hope _________________.

    Questions for Discussion

    What does this text tell us about God?

    What does this text tell us about ourselves?

    Who do you love? Who do you hate?

    How is it possible that we can love God and not our neighbor? Or is it possible?

    Do you use people to get things or use things to serve people?

    What would it look like for you to treat every human being as a “Thou,” created in God’s image with dignity, value and worth?

    How would our world be different if everyone loved their neighbor?

    Do you treat people differently on their birthday? What if you treated everyone as if every day was their birthday?

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Note: many ideas derived from Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituailty.
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