Finding the Love You Want, 21 April 2024

Finding the Love You Want
Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary
Ruth 1:19-2:14

Series Big Idea:
God does extraordinary things in and through the ordinary.
 
Big Idea: God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people.
 
Marriage has changed a lot in our culture, just in my lifetime. Its literal definition changed in 2015 in the USA. Cohabitation is seen as an alternative to marriage for many. In the last five decades, marriage rates have dropped nearly 60%. But our text today is about—spoiler alert—a woman meeting her future husband. They didn’t meet on a dating site or at a bar, but it’s a great story.
  
Two weeks ago, we began our series on the book of Ruth. If you missed Pastor Mike’s sermon, the first chapter of the book introduces us to a woman named Naomi. She’s from Bethlehem—yes, that Bethlehem, though centuries before the birth of Jesus—and her family leaves during a famine and lives in Moab for about a decade. While there, her husband and two sons died, leaving her without the three men in her life, surrounded by her two daughters-in-law who are also widows. Naomi tells them to return to their mothers. One does…
 
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more. (Ruth 1:16-18, NLT)   
 
Ruth and Naomi are widows, a great challenge in our day, but far more treacherous in their culture. Ruth is so committed to Naomi she gives up her cultural and religious identity to be with her. It’s possible she was impressed not only with Naomi, but her God. This vow is so compelling, Heather and I had it read at our wedding as a declaration of our dedication to one another.
 
Speaking of weddings, today’s message is entitled, “Finding the Love You Want.” We’re going to look at the incredible way God led Ruth to find a husband after the death of her first one. Before we continue, let me make a few important disclaimers. First, married life is not superior to single life. Some of you unmarried people like being single. Others think a spouse will “complete you” and idealize marriage. God doesn’t want everyone married, though it was His design for some of us to marry in order to reproduce, but with 8 billion people on the planet, I think we’re doing a pretty good job at that! There are many reasons why people are single, but it is not a curse. I’m deeply sorry for the way some church people have treated singles, whether it be unwanted match-making, a what’s-wrong-with-you attitude, or creating meat markets called “singles ministries.”
 
We are family, and we need one another. Singles can learn from marrieds and vice-versa and we need to do life together. Our Life Groups are a great tool for this…diverse, small communities where the young and old, married and unmarried, parents and those without kids, rich and poor…can experience life together, serving one another, loving one another. There are two single men in our church family who have each been “adopted” by a family and it brings me great joy to see them live life in such a community, despite not having a spouse. Paul wrote in the Bible,
 
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. (1 Corinthians 7:8, NIV)
 
Jesus was unmarried. There’s no shame in singleness. But if you need help finding a mate, you might want to pay attention to this.
 
VIDEO
 
You’re welcome!
 
Ruth and her mother-in-law have lost their husbands…and they never had the privilege of seeing that video to aid in finding new ones!
 
So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. (Ruth 1:19, NLT)   
 
Naomi had lived here and must’ve made quite an impression for “the entire town” to be excited to see her.
 
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21, NLT)
 
This is kind of dark, but I love her honesty. In this culture, names had tremendous meaning. Naomi’s life had changed so much she wanted to be called “bitter.” She felt God was punishing her, perhaps for leaving Bethlehem to live in a foreign country that worshipped other gods. While I can see why she felt it was a punishment, the Bible is filled with refugees, immigrants, and aliens and cares deeply for them. Guess what the name Ruth means? It means friendship or clinging. How appropriate! And Naomi? It means pleasant! Note in these two verses Naomi says, “I” or “me” eight times! She so fixated on herself she doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of Ruth, saying “the LORD has brought me home empty.”
 
It’s easy to pick on Naomi, but as Pastor Mike said two weeks ago, there’s much we don’t know about her, and there are things that reveal both her godliness and imperfections. One writer noted the similarities between her and Job. They both experienced tremendous loss and suffering, though Naomi did it as a woman, a widow, and a foreigner while living in Moab, things Job never experienced.
 
So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest. (Ruth 1:22, NLT)
 
Harvest time has always been important, but especially in an agrarian society. They couldn’t run up to Kroger and grab a frozen burrito or pick up fast food. If you don’t harvest, you die. Chapter one began with Naomi leaving Bethlehem and ends with her returning.  
 
Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1, NLT)   
 
Hello Boaz! He’s a relative of Naomi’s late husband and is wealthy and influential. The book of Matthew mentions he is the son of Rahab, the former prostitute in Jericho who hid Israel’s spies in the book of Joshua.
 
One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
 
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.” (Ruth 2:2, NLT)   
 
They were hungry and needed food.
 
So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:3, NLT)   
 
“As it happened.” The author is telling us this is not chance or coincidence, but God’s providence. He is at work in this situation, and He’s far more active in our lives than we realize. Ruth is a hungry, desperate widow, but God sees her. God sees you, too. This story is remarkable, but the greatest impact of Ruth and Boaz will not occur in their lifetime. God is doing something that will impact generations for centuries…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
 
This process of picking up leftover grain was known as gleaning (see Leviticus 19:9-10). There’s a food bank in metro Detroit called Gleaners.
 
While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The LORD be with you!” he said.
 
            “The LORD bless you!” the harvesters replied. (Ruth 2:4, NLT)   
 
This seems like a nice guy! He’s a wealthy, influential man who takes time to greet the poor collecting his leftovers.
 
Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?” (Ruth 2:5, NLT)
 
He notices Ruth…because she’s new? Because she’s young? Because she’s beautiful? The culture was patriarchal where every woman must belong to a man, whether it’s a husband or father. Unfortunately, some of these attitudes remain today, where women are treated as second-class citizens and single women are incomplete.  
 
And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. 7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2:6-7, NLT)
 
She’s a hard worker. That’s a good character trait.   
 
Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. 9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.” (Ruth 2:8-9, NLT)   
 
This is probably not typical treatment of a gleaner. Either Boaz is very kind, he has an interest in her, or both.
 
Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.” (Ruth 2:10, NLT)   
 
Remember, Naomi was from Bethlehem, but Ruth was from Moab,
 
“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12, NLT)
 
Boaz is kind, but he’s also heard about the kindness of Ruth…without social media! Could this be a match made in heaven? We’ll see!  
 
“I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.” (Ruth 2:13, NLT)   
 
All Ruth is seeking is food for her and her mother-in-law, Naomi. But she is a vulnerable widow, as is Naomi.
 
At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over. (Ruth 2:14, NLT)   
 
Now she has food, all right, but not from gleaning. These aren’t leftovers. She’s eating with the master of the house, so to speak. Not only did she have quality food, she’s dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I hope there’s a doggy bag for her to take some food to Naomi!
 
And that’s where we end today! Come back next time for the continuation of the story and see what happens between Ruth and Boaz.
 
So What?
 
The moral of this story is if you want to find love, glean from the nearest farm and hope the owner sees you and shows you favor! Not quite, but it is a truly remarkable story. It’s important to see that God is the main character. LORD—the all-caps sacred name for God—is mentioned several times. This is much more than a tragedy becoming hopeful or the search for a spouse.
 
There are some principles that apply not only to dating, but all friendships. First and foremost, God is sovereign. He is in control. Although He didn’t force these events to take place, He had a plan for Ruth…and Naomi…and Boaz…and an even bigger plan that we’ll see later in the series that impacts us today!
 
Second, God sees needs. He saw these widows. He hasn’t forgotten them. And He sees you, too. We have many actual widows in our First Alliance family. God sees you. We do, too, and want to love and serve you in your loss, grief, and loneliness. I read a remarkable statistic that 90% of wives will be widows for at least part of their lives. Throughout the Bible, we see three vulnerable people groups God instructs us to care for: widows, strangers, and orphans.
 
Third, God sees deeds. He not only sees our needs, He sees our deeds! Ruth showed radical love to her mother-in-law. She could’ve listen to Naomi who said, “Go find a husband. I don’t want to be a burden to you,” but instead, Ruth was committed to Naomi. God saw this, and others did, too, which is why Boaz heard about it and a primary reason why he showed such kindness to Ruth.
 
I’m not sure who needs to hear this today, but listen to these words from Paul:
 
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT)
 
Ruth didn’t explicitly stay with Naomi for the Lord, but her devotion was an expression of love. Ruth was a woman of faith who loved God. This was clear in verses 1:16 and again in 2:12.
 
It’s easy to feel hidden and unnoticed. Sometimes the work we do takes weeks, month, years, even decades before it’s noticed, but God is always watching…and in time, it’s likely that your good deeds will be noticed and rewarded. Don’t give up. Don’t worry about human applause. You will be rewarded for eternity for the things you do for the LORD.
 
By the way, we don’t do good works to get saved. We do good works because we’ve been saved. Faith without works is dead. As Dallas Willard said, God’s not opposed to effort. He’s opposed to earning. Serving God and others should be the natural response to the cross, the empty tomb, and God’s amazing grace toward us.
 
Ultimately, God will bless our faithfulness to Him and His people. That blessing may be finding the love of your life. It might be experiencing the joy of a deep friendship. What we do matters. Who we worship matters most of all…and my heart is full of gratitude for our amazing God and His faithfulness. 
 
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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

Love, 24 December 2023

Love
The Season of Advent

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

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

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

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

Racism: Part 3, 26 June 2022

Racism
 
Series Big Idea: Racism is a thoroughly biblical subject which continues to plague our world.
 
Big Idea: Racism is sin which requires repentance and lament.
 
I have some good news and some bad news. First, the good news. Although First Alliance is an imperfect church led by imperfect people under the authority of a perfect LORD and Savior, our topic of racism today is not a reaction to things I have seen and heard around here. Rather, I’ve been thrilled to not only watch this congregation diversify, many of various backgrounds and ethnicities have told me they feel loved, respected, and accepted here. Praise God! I love what God is doing here!
 
The bad news, as you might expect, is racism is not dead. Pastor Derwin Gray is often asked why he talks about race frequently. He replies, “Because the Bible does.” He writes in his book
How to Heal Our Racial Divide, “Racial reconciliation in Christ is not peripheral to the gospel, an optional ‘nice to have’ or a fad issue, but central to Christ’s mission and God’s plan.” I wholeheartedly agree.
 
When most people today in our nation think of racism, they think of black versus white, slavery generations ago, George Floyd, and maybe the names of those who died because of the color of their skin. But the Bible shows us throughout its 66 books people have been prejudice from nearly its first pages. Our enemy knows how to divide and conquer. Jesus himself said,
 
“Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. (Luke 11:17b)
 
We see this virtually every day in our political system, to say nothing of the other things that cause people to
cancel one another. Perhaps the most glaring biblical example of division is the distinction between Jew and Gentile, something we hardly think about, but it was every bit as daunting—if not more co—than any ethnic conflicts in our nation’s history. Yet Paul wrote to the church in Galatia,
 
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Galatians 3:26-29)
  
Pastor Donald is a tough act to follow! He asked me to give this message, part three of a series he began last fall and continued last Sunday. While I have no stories of being the victim of ethnic prejudice, I feel qualified to challenge us to view every person as a masterpiece created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. The first chapter in the Bible makes this clear.
 
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26, NLT)
 
We already saw…
 
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
 
But consider these words of Paul to another church:
 
But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites. (Colossians 3:25)
 
Dr. N.T. Wright notes,
 
“The theology and praxis of a church united across the traditional boundaries of ethnic, class, and gender distinctions was never for Paul a secondary matter; it was at the very heart. Otherwise, one would in effect be saying that the Messiah did not after all defeat (through his death) the powers of darkness that divide and corrupt the human race.”
 
Peter had the same message:
 
Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. (Acts 10:34)
 
The book of Romans says,
 
For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2:11)
 
Back in the Old Testament Moses declares,
 
For the LORD your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. (Deuteronomy 10:17)
 
I could go on and on with examples. The Bible paints a beautiful picture of a new community, a multi-ethnic family formed around King Jesus.
My guess is most—hopefully all—of you believe “we are all one in Christ Jesus” as Paul said. You reject the satanic belief that one’s skin color makes them superior or inferior to another. To all of my lighter hue brothers and sisters, I hope you’ve discovered racism didn’t end with Abraham Lincoln or Juneteenth or the election of President Obama or George Floyd. None of my African-American friends want to go back in history. Progress has been made. But there’s much work to do in the arena of reconciliation among all peoples and ethnicities. We’re all members of one race, the human race.
Pew Research Center data shows a full three-quarters of Black Americans say opposing racism is essential to their faith or sense of morality. My guess—and hope—is you all recognize the evil of racism…and probably wonder what to do about it. What can I possibly do about “those racists?”
I’m so glad you asked! Regardless of your skin color or background, I want to offer several next steps that I believe will help us become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. We’re not going to eliminate racism in our nation this week, but there are proactive things we can all do. I’m borrowing this outline from Derwin Gray’s book mentioned earlier, How to Heal Our Racial Divide. Derwin is a pastor in Carolina who worked on his Doctorate at Northern Seminary the same time I did (in a different cohort).

1.    Trust the supremacy of Christ
We’ve heard a lot about white supremacy in the news. Dr. Martin Luther King once said,
“[W]e must never substitute a doctrine of black supremacy for white supremacy. For the doctrine of black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy. God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men but God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race, the creation of a society where all. Men will live together as brothers.”
King Jesus is supreme. He is the greatest. He is above all. Jesus is LORD! Satan loves to tempt each of us into pride, seeing ourselves somehow better than another, whether it’s our skin color, education, wealth, appearance, or abilities.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
It doesn’t say anything about Jews or Gentiles, black or white or brown. This is love. This is what Christians do. This is who we are. Why? It’s who Jesus is, and following Jesus means loving like Jesus loved. When we say Jesus is LORD, we mean He is our Master. He’s the boss. We trust and obey, not matter the cost.
Following Jesus is not the American dream. You have no rights. It’s not your body. We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. It’s not your wealth. Everything we have belongs to God. It’s not about you and your comfort and your convenience or even your safety. It’s all about Jesus! Jesus is LORD!
One of the most disturbing books I’ve read is
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. The subtitle is The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. It’s a thoroughly researched book about the evil acts of so-called Christians.
Jesus is LORD! Not whites. Not blacks. Not browns. Not Republicans. Not Democrats. Not Independents. Not Americans. Not Buckeyes. Not even Wolverines!
Jesus is LORD, and every person you meet this week is a masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth.

2.    Engage in Difficult Conversations
First, engage in conversations. Someone said once you’ve heard someone’s story, they can never be your enemy. I desperately want to hear Putin’s story!
But seriously, empathy is formed when we listen. Last month I was on jury duty on a case that ended up in the conviction of a woman for murder, animal cruelty, and arson. As I watched this woman during three days of testimony, I couldn’t help but think years ago I would’ve judged her for her evil acts. Technically, I did judge her along with my jury mates, but as we were seeking justice, I began to imagine the life she has lived, her childhood, her friends, the circumstances that led to her abominable actions. It would not excuse her behavior, but it would surely help explain it.
Similarly, we need to listen to others…people of other ethnicities, other faiths, other political perspectives, and other generations. We can learn so much by seeking to understand rather than only trying to be understood.
Last year, Bishop Culp from First Church of God down the street invited me and several other black and white pastors to read The Color of Compromise together. We’ve been meeting consistently and my favorite part of the experience has been hearing the stories of my brothers of a darker hue. We are related by blood—the blood of Jesus—yet they’ve had countless experiences I can only imagine as a person in the majority culture. As we’ve begun to discuss how we collectively can attack racism, it has led to some clearly different viewpoints, yet we’ve learned to trust and love one another after dozens of conversations.
One thing that makes these conversations difficult is language. Do I call you black or African-American? What do you mean by racism? What about our Hispanic brothers and sisters? And Asians? Should we say Black Lives Matter when the organization was started with non-biblical principles…or do you mean the message of the slogan, not the organization? Am I really white, or some shade of peach? Why can blacks use the N-word but nobody else? Is that word ever appropriate? Why do most rappers cuss in all of their songs? Should I feel bad for being born in the majority culture? What can I do to make this world a better place?
Relationships move at the speed of trust. Love is spelled t-i-m-e. I encourage you to get to know someone different from you, listen, learn, and extend grace when you have awkward or difficult moments. We don’t know what we don’t know and we all need help understanding one another. We are family. Family can be messy, but it can also be so good!

3.    Collectively Mourn Injustice
Most Christians I know like happy songs, happy sermons, happy, happy, happy. To be honest, I’m a pretty optimistic person, but although we are told to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), it doesn’t mean we never pause to mourn, to lament, to acknowledge the injustice and seek ways to change ourselves, our culture, our world. I’ve been involved in powerful moments of recognizing injustice, times of confession and repentance, reconciliation exercises, and sessions of sorrow and grief. I’ve done it around the unborn. I’ve done it around issues of racism. It’s not fun, but it can be powerful. The Psalms are filled with lament.

4.    Display Gospel Character
Moments ago, I used the word “grace.” It means unmerited favor. It’s undeserved. We all seek God’s amazing grace, and we need to be generous in extending it to others. This is where we need to look at the culture and do the exact opposite. We don’t hate. We don’t cancel. We don’t hold a grudge. We don’t gossip or tell inappropriate jokes or pre-judge people, not matter what we see on the surface. We love. That’s the Jesus way.

5.    Affirm the Reconciler’s Creed
Derwin Gray created this five-part creed:
 
1. Worship: We will relentlessly worship God by loving our brothers and sisters of different ethnicities in Christ (Matthew 22:37-40). According to Jesus, loving God and loving others are the greatest commandments, and they go together.
 
2. Justification: We will relentlessly see our brothers and sisters of other ethnicities as the righteousness of God in Christ (Romans 3:22). We are all covered in the same justifying blood.
 
3. Holiness: We will relentlessly ask God the Holy Spirit to purge us of any prejudices that we have in our hearts (Romans 8:28-29; Galatians 4:19). Honest self-examination is vital to healing and maturity.
 
4. Unity: We will relentlessly pursue and live in the unity Jesus secured through the bloody cross (Ephesians 2:14-16). We do not work for unity; we live from unity in Christ.
 
5. Guard: We will relentlessly guard our unity in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6). Our unity in Christ is, gift and treasure that must be guarded. Demonic powers and those under the power of the evil one want to divide God's people. Our unity displays the beauty of our risen Redeemer; our disunity is a poor witness.
 
Listen to these beautiful words from Paul to the church in Corinth:
 
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, NLT)
 
 
One thing I’ve heard people say is they are colorblind. We need to see color. Derwin Gray calls it being color blessed! We need to see our differences…and celebrate them, learn from them, use them as opportunities to grow, to listen, to demonstrate patience and humility. Our differences are not an accident. As one of our core values states,

We are a mosaic of people loving God and doing life together.
 
I love it!

“Diversity is inviting people to the party, inclusion is asking them to dance” – Verna Myers

 
 
THE DECLARATION OF RECONCILIATION (Derwin Gray)
 
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
Blessed King of the universe,
in your eternal Son, Messiah Jesus,
the King of kings,
the one who is grace upon grace and
who created a new race, made of all of the human race,
through his life, death, and resurrection—
in his name, by the Holy Spirit's power,
we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, dwelling places of God
King Jesus, we affirm that you purchased a richly diverse
people for your Father,
a people declared righteous by your blood,
a people who are one, yet many.
Your blood binds us to you and to each other as
a beautiful mosaic.
We worship you by loving one another.
We are the family of the redeemed.
We belong to the King.
We pledge our allegiance to King Jesus, the Lamb of God
who sits on the throne.
May we live from and guard the unity Jesus secured on
the cross.
As we grow in holiness, Spirit, empower us to reflect Jesus
more and more.
Way the world see we love Jesus by the way we love each other.
May we treasure our brothers and sisters more than we treasure economic interests, political affiliations, fears, or cultural customs.
In your name, King Jesus, we pray.
Amen

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

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

Good, Good Father, 21 June 2020


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

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

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

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

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

What in the world is going on?

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

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

Happy Father’s Day!

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

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

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

Grace. Unmerited favor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it more important to please God or trust God?

The authors state quite properly, in my humble opinion,

Motives —> Values —> Actions

Pleasing God

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

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

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

More right behavior + less wrong behavior = Godliness

Right?

Motives —> Values —> Actions

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

Trusting God

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

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

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

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

Trusting God pleases God!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the difference between works and grace.

It’s the difference between doing and being.

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

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

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

The Father’s Love Letter

https://www.fathersloveletter.com/

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

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

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

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)

Dr. Luke recorded something similar from Jesus:

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

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

Psalm 103 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racism & Injustice, 7 June 2020

Racism and Injustice
Series—What in the World is Going On?
Featuring special guest Pastor Donald Smith

Big Idea:
Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love.

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

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

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

What in the world is going on? Are these the last days? Is Jesus coming back soon? If so, what difference does it make?

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

Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love.

Family,
we are engaged in a war! We’re in the middle of a battle! It’s easy to forget that sometimes in our air-conditioned cars and houses with our flat-screen TVs, and La-Z-Boy recliners. We enjoy prosperity and freedoms in this country others on our planet can’t even imagine.

Sin is ugly and evil in all of its forms—blatant and subtle—and the antidote is love.

We’ve seen blatant sin in full-color. We watched a man murdered. We witnessed violence toward police, civilians, whites, and blacks. We’ve seen buildings burned, businesses looted, …and there are a hundred different narratives to describe these disturbing events.

Tragically, it’s nothing new. Racism isn’t new. Pandemics aren’t new. Hatred and violence aren’t new. They’re simply signs of our enemy, satan.

Paul wrote these famous words to the church in the city of Ephesus in what is modern-day Turkey:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

The enemy loves to steal, kill, and destroy. Sin leads to death, and it’s the hallmark of satan.

Years ago, I heard Ravi Zacharias respond to whether the decline of Christianity in the West or the rise of it in the developing world was more significant. He said they balance each other out.

That makes sense to me. I don’t believe angels or demons reproduce. According to my math, there are two angels for every demon. We will win the war, but the battles are real.

Two weeks ago, I gave a sermon entitled, “
Love Well.” In it, I reflected upon the fact that as a church family, we are diverse. We are different. We have a huge variety of views on politics, football teams, theology, fashion, and music. But we’re family. We’re a Jesus-centered family. We exist for God’s glory, not our own.

We are a Jesus-centered family
Restoring God's masterpieces
In Toledo and beyond
For His Glory.

I’m really glad we’re different. It would be so boring if everyone thought and acted like me! Sure, I have opinions and preferences, but when my focus is on God’s glory, I can set them aside. Sometimes I actually do!

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)

That phrase “love one another” was echoed in the book of Romans (13:8). Peter preached it (1 Peter 1:22; 3:8) John restated it (1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11; 2 John 5).

We are to love one another, even when we disagree. I think we were created to disagree! Again, it would be boring if we were all the same, but our differences allow us to be stretched, challenged, and grow. As someone once said, the purpose of marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy. I think that’s true for family, too.

Today I want to put some action behind this idea of love well, of loving one another. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the analogy of a body to describe the Church, the family of believers. It’s a brilliant metaphor vividly showing how we are all different, we’re supposed to be different, and when we are united, beautiful things emerge. When we are divided, of course, things get ugly…quick. Paul wraps up his instructions by saying,

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

If you stub your toe, your whole body suffers. If you have a sliver in your finger, attention is drawn to it. When you have a migraine…

Family, we have some parts who are suffering. It’s not a new pain, but one they have known since birth. It’s a suffering I can’t understand, but I can empathize. Just like I’ll never know the pain of giving birth, I can appreciate the agony as I hear it described (or by being an eyewitness three times!).

It’s easy for people in the majority culture to dismiss the struggle of those in the minority, whatever the situation. I’ve heard people of the lighter hue for years talk about how there’s equal opportunity, everyone should pick themselves up by their bootstraps, look at Oprah and Obama, and turn the other way whenever racial issues are presented.

Racism is not a political issue. It’s a biblical issue.
It’s a human issue. Jesus died for all masterpieces. We are all created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. All of us.

Pastor David Swanson writes, “It is deeply disturbing that so many Christians think that racial reconciliation is some kind of liberal, politically motivated social agenda that has nothing to do with their faith as followers of Jesus Christ.”

Tragically, some Christians seem to have more in common with those who share their race than those who share their faith. Some are more influenced by politics than Jesus.

Racism is not a political issue. It’s a biblical issue.

Proverbs, the book of wisdom, includes this important instruction:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

I’ve often heard that verse used by the pro-life movement, which is appropriate. Dr. Tony Evans said this week that God, “Wants to protect the life of the unborn in the womb, but wants to see justice of the life once born to the tomb. God wants a whole life agenda, not a term agenda.”

Evans said, “We’re in a medical pandemic. Simultaneously, we’re in a cultural pandemic because we’re seeing the devolution of our society…and we’re in a cultural pandemic because we’re in a spiritual pandemic.”

Family, I’ve spent countless hours these past several days praying, reading, and listening. Again, I confess I simply want to fix it! How? Should I run for political office? Will a great sermon do the job? What can I do on social media to make a statement? Is peaceful protest the answer?

One of my best friends on the planet, Dr. Calvin Sweeny, offered three suggestions for me:

  • 1. Listen to understand, not respond
  • 2. Learn about racial injustices
  • 3. Lead your congregations toward solutions (not just response) bathed in prayer

  • I’ve been focusing on steps one and two. Today is the beginning of step three.

    I prayed about how to address this issue today, knowing we’re not going to fix it in sixty minutes, but we can’t be silent, either. I spoke to many friends of color this past week—including many of you—and felt led to invite Pastor Donald Smith to join me today. Reverend Smith is the pastor of Sylvania Community Church, our sister Alliance congregation. He’s been here before for joint worship gatherings and I’ve asked him to speak to us today. Please, listen to understand, not respond.

    Interview with Pastor Donald Smith

    You can download our Next Steps resource guide
    here.

    You can watch a panel discussion on race, justice, and the Church's response led by Alliance President Dr. John Stumbo
    here.

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

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

    Love Well, 24 May 2020

    Love Well

    Big Idea: We must love—God, ourselves, one another, and others—well.

    Scripture Reading:
    John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:11

    Love. It can be such a mushy word. Perhaps you’re sick and tired of me saying love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Blame Jesus! He’s the one who said those two commandments summarize the entire Law and the Prophets, the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament.

    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)

    We often depict our love with a triangle (credit: Mike Breen, 3DM).

    3DM-triangle with words


    Love God (up). Love others (as we love ourselves; out). Love one another (in).

    We’re taking a break from our series on the Gospel of Mark to examine some important and timely topics. Pastor Keith shared a good message with us last Sunday. Today I want to talk about what it means to
    love well.

    We love God. I hope that’s obvious…not only to us, but to the world. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We are to love God well, our “up” relationship.

    On the surface, it can be easy to love God. Sing Him a song. Give Him an hour of your week on Sunday morning. Give a portion of your income. Spend some time in prayer and Bible study.

    I want to suggest one of the primary ways we love God is much more challenging:
    love your neighbor as yourself. If you like your neighbor, that might not be a big deal. We have great neighbors who live on either side of our house. I’m sad one family is moving away (they will either sell or possibly rent it; let me know if you want to be my neighbor!). The thing about loving others is you can sometimes get away from them! You can avoid other people in many cases. Tolerance—which is almost the opposite of love—is usually possible. We are to love others well, our “out” relationship.

    Often the hardest people to love are…family—biological or spiritually, our “in” relationship. John wrote,

    Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:20-21)

    We are a family. Family can be messy. People typically don’t leave family. They learn to do life together. In a spiritual family, our love for one another does three things:

    1. 1. It shows our love for God.
    2. 2. It shows our love for one another.
    3. 3. It is a witness to others, the watching world.

    In our scripture reading for today, Doug Oliver read,

    “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)

    When we love one another well, we prove our faith. It’s how people identify us as true believers, followers of Jesus. Healthy families love one another. Godly families love one another.

    We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory. (Ephesians 2:10)

    While this pandemic has been tragic for many and trying for all of us, I’ve seen God use it for His glory.

    One man told me of incredible conversations he’s having with people in the marketplace as people search for hope. Several people have said they feel more connected to our First Alliance family than before the lockdown. We’ve been equipping you and your family with fresh, spiritual content six days a week. Corporate prayer has engaged more people, more often. People have seized opportunities to tutor children, feed the hungry, and help those in need…loving our neighbor as ourselves. Family, we have been living out our mission beautifully during these past two months. I thank you and praise God!

    Our video question of the week for this upcoming week is, “How has God used the pandemic in your life?” Make a short, landscape (not portrait) video and send it to
    abigail@factoledo.org using wispeo.com.

    Church is not a building. It’s not an event. It’s a
    family. You don’t “go to” family. You don’t “close” family. First Alliance Church has never closed! As I’ve said, this season may be one of the most fruitful. This “reset” has allowed us to examine everything we do in light of our mission. Our goal moving forward is not to return to the way things used to be. Everything we add to our menu must be driven by our mission. There are new things we need to create, old things we need to revive, and some things we simply need to leave behind. We need to begin with “why?” Does it further or distract from our mission?

    In March, nearly everything on our menu was wiped out, immediately replaced with three items:

    • - FAC Online Worship
    • - Zoom Prayer (weekdays at 9 AM)
    • - Pastor Kirk’s Daily Briefing (4 PM weekdays on Facebook Live)

    Soon afterward, we added three more:

    • - Zoom Small Groups
    • - Kids Club United Online (Wednesdays on Zoom)
    • - Elevate Youth Online (Thursdays on Zoom)

    Our entire staff has been hard at work providing these six ministry vehicles as well as personal discipleship and preparations for the future, and I’m very proud of and grateful for them as well as our Elders, Deacons, Deaconesses, and Trustees who have continued to serve behind the scenes. Thanks not only to our leaders, but everyone who has been praying, supporting financially, and participating in the life of FAC.

    On Tuesday, our Elders met to discuss—among other things—reopening our physical campus. We closed it in March not because the government required it, but rather because we believed it was the best interest of the health and safety of you and our neighbors. The church left the building because we love people, which is also one of the best ways we love God.

    When COVID-19 began, I was encouraged by the unity that I heard as people proclaimed, “We’re all in this together.” Tragically, fake news, conspiracy theories, politics, pride, and fear have brought division…especially within the church.

    I have four prayers I pray for First Alliance Church:

    1. 1. Direction. Jesus Christ is our Senior Pastor. We want to be led by the Holy Spirit. I am not the boss! Our staff and elders seek God’s wisdom, guidance, and will. We begin every meeting by celebrating wins and engaging in open-ended prayer. This is not my church. This is not our church. First Alliance Church is God’s.
    2. 2. Protection. We have a real enemy who wants to steal, kill, destroy, lie, and divide. He’s having a field day right now, not only here but also around the country. I pray God would protect us from the physical, mental, emotional, financial, and relational pain of the coronavirus.
    3. 3. Passion. I want to want God! I want my heart to sync with His. I want God to give all of us His heart for the lost, the unborn, the least of these, the widow, the stranger, and the orphan.
    4. 4. Unity. This is where I want to focus for a few moments.

    I’m aware of only one prayer Jesus prayed specifically for us, his future followers.

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

    Imagine you and I were as close as Jesus and the Father! It wasn’t necessarily easy and it required effort and prayer, but Jesus and the Father were on the same page. Along with the Holy Spirit, they are one God in three Persons, a mystery we call the Trinity. Jesus wants us to be like this…one church, one body in many persons. He wants us to be one.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the Church—the Bride of Christ—is not known for its unity. There are literally thousands of Christian denominations that have split off from what once was one church. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for Jesus to see his Bride so divided. I’ve often said my dream is for the global Church to be so unified and beautiful that Jesus would turn to the Father and beg Him to return to earth for us! Right now, we must look like a dismembered mess!

    It’s not uncommon for such disunity to appear within a local church. Where two or more are gathered together, there’s bound to be conflict. Family is messy. When it’s hard, it’s really hard…and when it’s good, it’s SO good!

    They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and while many of you have been engaging passionately online, many of us long to be physically together. We were created for community, and while a letter is good, a phone call is better, and a video chat is better still, and being in the same room is even better.

    As you may know, there are vast opinions about the pandemic, its legitimacy, and its consequences. Anyone who says they know and understand coronavirus is crazy! New discoveries are being made each day, and this is unlike anything in our lifetime. I’ve prayed more for our President and Governor this year than probably any year of my life! They are in a no-win situation, not matter what they say or do. In a small way, I’ve felt that, too. That’s one of the challenges of leadership. However, I don’t operate in a vacuum. We are led by a team of Elders of which I am the non-voting chair person. I’m grateful for the wisdom of our Elder Team: Rich Bradish, Jim Kirkman, Caine Kolinski, Jim Kujawski, Jim MacDonald, Doug Oliver.

    Much like our church survey results, there’s a great diversity of views on COVID-19. Some of you wondered why we ever closed our physical campus and others are willing to wait a year or longer until a vaccine is available before resuming in-person worship. After surveying you and consulting with other churches, the Great Lakes District, the Governor’s office, a wide variety of medical experts, we met Tuesday and adopted
    Phase One of our campus reopening plan.

    We began with the “
    why?” Does a physical gathering for worship further our mission? We said, “Yes,” especially for those who are tech-less and have been unable to connect with the FAC family. I miss our family members from Ohio Link, Cherry Street Mission, and others who may not have access to the Internet.

    The next question was “
    how?” One of our elders shared his three goals: safety, credibility to the unreached, and a quality experience. Put another way, we obviously don’t want people to become sick–or worse—by anything we do together, we don’t want to hurt our witness to our community by acting out of selfishness, recklessness, or rebellion, and we want to continue to create meaningful experiences for people, albeit different from what we did months ago.

    Then we wrestled with the “
    when” question, the one so many of you have been anxiously awaiting.

    Beginning next Sunday, we will have Sunday worship in three venues. Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. It’s one of the most sacred days on the Church calendar, and one I can’t wait to commemorate. Our reopening coincides with the Catholic Church in Ohio and other congregations, as well.

    Next Sunday at 10:30 AM we will offer three options. These three options reflect both the three different groups that presently exist within our family and allow for social distancing (we can’t all fit in the sanctuary together safely). Here are your options:

    Safe. Youth Center Assembly Hall. Live stream. Touchless. Social distancing. Masks highly recommended, not for you, but for those around you. It is a proven tool for reducing the spread of disease to others. We love with masks! We will have them available if you don’t have your own.

    Safer. Sanctuary. Live. Touchless. Social distancing. Masks required…and provided. This is a safer option, but still has risks. Spending an hour in a room full of people is not the same as being in a grocery store for a few minutes or picking up a pizza. Nobody knows exactly what the risks are, so we will continue to offer a third option.

    Safest. Online. Live streaming. No restrictions. If you want to shake hands, hug, and socialize, have a watch party at your home! Likewise, if you are elderly, diabetic, or otherwise at risk, we urge you to stay home. We have no plans to ever discontinue FAC Online Worship. It will be our safest option for your physical health, and it will be your only option when you’re unable to reach our physical campus.

    We plan to offer these three options for the foreseeable future.

    Plan.001

    This will obviously be a
    different experience than anything in the past. There will be no child care. The restrooms will be available for emergencies, but our goal is for everyone to touch nothing but their individual seats. The new Sunday edition of the FAC Focus will serve as your bulletin. We’ll have offering boxes as you exit (or you can give online).

    We won’t be in Phase One forever. We won’t worship in three venues forever. But this is what Sunday mornings will look like for a while. Thank you in advance for your grace, your patience, your prayers, and most of all your love for one another. We love God by loving others…well. Let’s love well, family!

    How do we love well? Let me close with some suggestions:

    1. 1. Pray. There may be no greater way to love others than prayer. The FAC Focus which will be in your e-mailbox in a few minutes always has a link to our Prayer Connection. Let our office know how we can pray for you. We have Zoom Prayer each weekday at 9 AM and it will continue for the foreseeable future.
    2. 2. Give. I love the stories of how people have been giving meals to one another, giving time to one another, and even sharing resources via the Benevolence fund. Our family is so generous, and if you have a need, please let our office know.
    3. 3. Here’s a new one. Masks. There are conflicting reports about a great many things, but one of the most consistent things I’ve heard is masks protect others. They don’t necessarily help you, but they make it harder for you to spread germs and viruses to others. I know they can be uncomfortable. I recognize it’s not necessarily easy to sing with one. They limit non-verbals which is frustrating. But masks send a message that we love others, that we love one another.
    4. 4. Listen. We all have opinions on the pandemic. It’s easy to look at someone with whom you disagree and condemn them for being too fearful, reckless, cautious, or ignorant. One of the reasons we are offering three venues next week is you told us there are three distinct groups within our family when it comes to gathering together. We’re blessed to have the resources to serve all three during this season.

    Family, let’s love well. Next Sunday will be a real test of our love, not only for God, but also for one another. None of us knows everything about COVID-19, but we know the One who does! As we gather next Sunday online and on our campus, let’s go the extra mile to extend grace, to respect one another, to do everything possible to set aside our own preferences and rights and privileges to humbly love others well.

    We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory. (Ephesians 2:10)

    I love you, family. Next Sunday is the beginning of a new First Alliance Church. It’s going to be different. The future is going to look different. But the best is yet to come!

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

    You can watch this online worship experience
    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.




  • God Shows Compassion, 27 October 2019

    God Shows Compassion
    Series—Jonah
    Jonah 4:1-11

    Series Big Idea:
    The prophet Jonah reveals God’s grace for all nations.

    Big Idea:
    God showed compassion to the Ninevites…and Jonah…and He shows it to us, too.

    Do you like the LORD’s prayer? It would seem sacrilegious to say no. Jesus said,

    “This, then, is how you should pray:

    “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ’ (Matthew 6:9-13)

    Many of us have prayed the Lord’s Prayer countless times, either out of tradition and ritual or in seeking to earnestly pursue God and His participation in our lives.

    But since all relationships require participation from both parties, I want to draw your attention to verse twelve.

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

    Do you see it? There’s an assumption, a condition. Jesus tells us to seek forgiveness as we forgive others. Do we deserve forgiveness any more than another?

    Before we finish the book of Jonah today, I want to give a quick summary of the first three chapters. The book of Jonah begins…

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

    Jonah disobeys God and hops aboard a boat going the opposite direction from Nineveh. He hates these people. God causes a terrible storm which results in Jonah confessing his disobedience and being thrown overboard.

    God causes a huge fish to swallow Jonah, sparing his life. Jonah prays during his three-day stay in the fish’s belly before God commands the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land (you can’t make this stuff up!). Jonah learns his lesson, he goes to Nineveh, the people repent—turn from their evil ways—and

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

    What great news…right?

    God relented.
    God forgave.
    God showed mercy.
    God offers compassion.
    God loves.

    That’s our God!

    I’m going to say something very radical, maybe controversial, and certainly outrageous…

    Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. He really does. He loved the evil Ninevites. He loves sex traffickers and drug dealers, atheists and even politicians! He doesn’t just love Christians! God doesn’t just love church people! He loves sinners…which includes you and me and the other 7+ billion people on the planet. And catch this: He doesn’t love us because we’re good…which is good…because we’re not good!

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

    Our culture is so binary, forcing people into categories: Republican or Democrat, Christian or non-Christian, embrace and endorse and celebrate LGBTQ+ or hate them, black or white, rich or poor. We’ve got to get beyond labels. We’ve got to go beyond friend or enemy. That’s the way the world operates. God says we’re all sinners, we all need forgiveness, we all have an opportunity to receive mercy and grace, and we all choose now how we’ll live eternity—with God or without God. We all choose now who we will worship—God or our desires.

    I love the late Dallas Willard who said, “
    The sinner is not the one who uses a lot of grace... The saint burns grace like a 747 burns fuel on take off.”

    Just because I made a decision more than forty years ago to trust Jesus as my LORD and Savior doesn’t mean I don’t need God grace or love…or that I deserve it more than anyone else. This might be the big idea of the entire book of Jonah.

    God shows grace to Jonah by giving him a chance to preach to Nineveh.
    God shows grace to Jonah by sparing his life through a fish.
    God shows grace to Jonah by giving him a second chance to preach to Nineveh.
    God shows grace to Jonah by giving him a front-row seat to witness revival.

    But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1)

    Jonah hates the Ninevites. They were enemies of Israel. He wants God to destroy them. He wants them gone! Instead, God forgives them. He shows mercy. He is compassionate. That’s who God is, and He loves the whole world. Period.

    Does that mean everyone will spend eternity with God. No. Many choose hell, eternity apart from God. But my Bible says

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    The world. Whoever. Anyone who believes…trusts…surrenders will have eternal life. Anyone who surrenders to Jesus Christ and receives the love and grace and mercy and forgiveness provided by the cross and the empty tomb will spend eternity with God, which, by definition, is what we call heaven…it is where God is present.

    God was willing to spare Nineveh, but to do so He could not spare His own Son.

    Jonah actually knew God is forgiving, gracious, compassionate, and love.

    In chapter one, he was like the Prodigal Son, rebelling against God. Now he’s like the elder brother, angry that God would extend forgiveness and love to others.

    In chapter one he asked God to spare his life.
    In chapter four he asks God to take his life.

    He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3)

    Are you kidding me?! Jonah should’ve died when he was thrown overboard. He deserved to die for his disobedience, but God still uses him to deliver a message of repentance which is successful. Jonah think God only loves his people, his kind…or that he should.

    But the LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4)

    God is compassionate. Jonah is angry.
    God spares Jonah’s life. Jonah wants to die.

    The story continues with one of the most interesting accounts in the entire Bible.

    Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. (Jonah 4:5-6)

    He wants to see God change His mind and destroy the city. He’s hoping he misunderstood God and that his people, the Israelites, would celebrate the destruction of their enemies. And then Jonah is excited about a plant. A plant! No, it was weed for him to smoke or even food for him to eat, but shade. It says the plant made Jonah very happy! Have you ever had a plant make you very happy because of its shade?

    Here’s another sign of God’s grace, His unmerited favor toward Jonah.

    But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:7-8)

    God provided the plant.
    God provided the worm.
    Now Jonah is suicidal again…because of a worm!

    This guy is a hot mess, proving yet again that God can use anybody.

    He can use a murderer and stutterer like Moses to speak to Pharaoh, leading the Israelites for forty years.

    He can use a loose-lipped, compulsive person like Peter who denied Jesus three times to build His Church.

    He can use a suicidal, prejudiced patriot like Jonah to lead a great city to repentance.

    He can use you and me whenever and however He chooses…if we make ourselves available…if we say yes…if we surrender.

    But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

    “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9)

    What audacity!

    But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

    And the book ends there—somewhat abruptly—with a question. Jonah’s angry and wants to die. God is compassionate and forgiving and the great city of Nineveh becomes a repentant, God-fearing city. And don’t forget the animals!

    So What?

    Warren Wiersbe writes, “When reputation is more important than character, and pleasing ourselves and our friends is more important than pleasing God, then we’re in danger of becoming like Jonah and living to defend our prejudices instead of fulfilling our spiritual responsibilities. Jonah certainly had good theology, but it stayed in his head and never got to his heart, and he was so distraught that he wanted to die!”

    Ouch!

    What makes you happy?
    What makes you angry?
    What makes you want to give up?

    Jesus’ half-brother, James, said that Jonah was “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8,
    NKJV). What about you?

    If we return to Jesus’ words following his prayer instruction, he adds…

    For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

    I know it’s hard to love…especially people who are different.
    I know it’s hard to forgive…especially people who don’t deserve it (which is everyone!).

    But this is the test of our faith, of our devotion to Jesus, of our obedience.

    Agreeing with a statement of faith does not make you a Christian.
    Going to church does not make you a Christian.

    The only thing that makes you a Christian is repenting of your sins and following Jesus. Acting like Jesus. Loving like Jesus. Forgiving like Jesus.

    Jason Horton: https://levithepoet.bandcamp.com/track/keep-forgiving

    Keep forgiving. It doesn’t mean you forget. It doesn’t mean you necessarily trust. But forgiving frees you from bitterness and anger.

    Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. He wants them forgiven.

    Do lost people matter to you? Do you have compassion for those far from God? Do you have a passion for the broken masterpieces in Toledo that need to be restored? Do you rejoice when sinners repent and trust Jesus?

    Tragically, Christians are often known more for what we’re against instead of what we’re for…which should be God…and people. All people.

    We’re beginning a series next week on discipleship…becoming like Jesus. It’s easy to get sucked into the binary arguments of our day, seeing everyone as a friend or enemy, us versus them. Jesus looks at all of us as broken, sinful, selfish, messed-up people…and he proved is love for us by giving his very life, dying in our place, taking our sin upon himself, crucified on a cross so we could experience forgiveness, reconciliation with our Heavenly Father, peace, faith, hope, joy, and love. How can you resist that?

    Many have, not because of Jesus, but because of those of us who claim to follow him.

    Don’t be a Jonah. Be like Jesus (who himself taught about Jonah in Matthew 12 and Luke 11). Forgive. Show compassion.

    We may have impeccable doctrine, perfect Sunday School attendance, and give generously to the church, but if we don’t have compassion and forgiveness, we don’t share in the life or character of God.

    "God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, we are to love." -Billy Graham

    Credits: some ideas from Warren Wiersbe.

  • 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.

    Love, 2 September 2018

    Love
    Series: FAC-DNA
    Matthew 22:34-40

    Series Overview:
    God has placed us uniquely in our city and world for such a time as this, a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.

    Big Idea: We are to love—God and others…even our enemies. Will we be dependent upon the Spirit to live His loving fruit through us?

    Why are you here? Perhaps you’re thinking, “Because I don’t have a cottage to close up this weekend!” But really, why are you here? Why did you choose to devote this time to be here this morning? I’m sure there are many reasons—if we’re honest—but perhaps a more important question is why are
    we here? If the answer is, “We’ve been gathering for 130 years on Sunday mornings so it’s just habit or ritual or tradition,” I want to say that’s not good enough! Really, why are we here?

    Unlike independent churches, we are part of a larger family, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. I was at a focus group this past week at the Art Museum and I was asked to describe the Alliance. People often ask, “Is it like Baptists or Presbyterian or Lutheran?” What is the Alliance? Many of you are new to the Alliance. I didn’t grow up in an Alliance church. Next year will be our eighth year—Heather and me—in the Alliance. So what is it?

    We are a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.

    What does that mean?

    Obviously it means we’re focused on Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He commissioned us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), reproducing Jesus in ourselves and others.

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

    This is known as the Great Commission. So the “why” the Alliance exists and why we exist is because Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations. Acts 1:8 defines “all nations” with a bit more detail:

    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)

    We exist to obey and worship and glorify Jesus Christ.

    We are called to make disciples in Toledo, the region, the nation, and around the world.

    We are also a family. We’re not a perfect family, but what family is?

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

    But what does that mean? We’re going to examine that question this month in our series FAC-DNA.

    The “why” is to glorify and obey God.

    The “what” is to make disciples.

    But how? Here’s our Alliance president, Dr. John Stumbo:

    Stumbo video transcript:

    We said, “Lord, as a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, what would you have us to do?”
    And four verbs seem to arise in prayer and in conversation, and I want to unpack each of those briefly today. They’ve become pillars for how we think and function.
    The first verb that seemed to arise was so simple that I was a little taken off guard at first. The word was simply “love.” But what seems simple at first has begun to arise in all its complexity as I realize that this must increasingly be central to who we are as an Alliance family and as the American church.
    That maybe, maybe there was a time that you could get away with a strong program, or a beautiful building, or with great communication, and that people would overlook the fact that they weren’t really being loved in the process. I don’t know if there was ever a time when that was true, but certainly that is not true now.
    The world isn’t going to care about our program. They won’t listen to our message. They won’t come to our building if there’s not the sense that love dwells among us. Love for each other, and as the family, and love for the world. That, what do we lead with? Are we leading with message? Are we leading with action and that some way is all about us?
    Are we leading with program, or building, or are we leading with what Christ said we’re actually to be known for, and that is our love? This drives me back to Jesus, because I don’t have the capacity to love like that, hour by hour, person by person.
    So, it takes me right back to the Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, focused on Jesus, empowered by the Spirit. I need Him in me, every moment, if I’m going to love that way. But I don’t want to back off on this, Alliance family, as if it’s something just to be assumed.
    Because I have to admit, as I travel so much, that I have left places at times, Alliance churches sometimes, and thought, “Pastor, church leader, I watched you worship with those people, preach to those people, take an offering from those people, have a picnic with those people, have meetings with those people, do all sorts of things with those people, but I’m not convinced that you love those people.”
    Other times, happily, on the other hand, I leave knowing that church leadership team loves the congregation that God has called them to serve, and it’s just evident in their demeanor, their attitude, their prayers, their behavior, their words.
    We must love. That’s what we’re called to do. It’s who we’re called to be as a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.
    Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36)

    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)

    Love God.
    Love your neighbor as yourself.

    This is known as the Great Commandment.

    For thousands of years, religious people have sought checklists to follow and things to avoid. “Don’t drink, smoke, cuss or chew or hang around with those that do” was a popular slogan for many. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid sins of commission—committing sins—than sins of omission.

    Love God.
    Love your neighbor as yourself.

    Family, the world identifies us more for what we’re against than what we’re for! We should be known as the most compassionate, generous, kind, humble, gracious, and hospitable people on the planet. That’s love!

    I know the world loves love. A nearby mural says, “Toledo Loves Love.” But what is love?

    Jesus is not speaking of an emotion. He’s not referencing a sexual act. It’s a rugged commitment to another person, looking out for their best interest.

    The “love chapter” of the Bible is often recited at weddings, but it was not written about a couple. It addresses Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

    For some of you, those words are so familiar you’ve almost tuned me out. Here’s a slightly newer version, the New Living Translation:

    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)

    Think about this past week. Were you ever impatient with someone? The person ahead of you on I-75 or in line at Kroger? Did you miss an opportunity to be kind to a co-worker or neighbor? At any point were you jealous? Proud? Rude? Selfish? Bitter?

    Have you ever felt like giving up…on another person?

    On Tuesday I attended a fantastic gathering of Christian leaders at The Tabernacle down the street. Our governor and attorney general’s office sent presenters to discuss the opioid epidemic. I must say I learned a lot, including the way the brain is changed through the introduction of certain stimulants including not only alcohol and heroin but also pornography and some pain killers. Recovery is long, hard and messy. That’s true for the addict as well as the friends, family and caregivers.

    Love never gives up. It’s easy to give up on people. One of the presenters at the gathering on Tuesday was Darryl Strawberry, a superstar baseball player whose career was literally busted by substance abuse. He said he went through rehab five times and it never worked…until he met Jesus Christ! Now he not only speaks, he and his wife have opened a Christian recovery center for people suffering from addiction and mental illness…something experienced by 8 million Americans including many of you. Love never gives up.

    This is a great opportunity to give a plug for Celebrate Recovery. If you are dealing with grief, loss, habits, hurts, or pain—which is really all of us—Celebrate Recovery is for you…Wednesdays at 7 PM in the Fellowship Hall. I attended again this past Wednesday. What a great ministry! You will find amazing people there who love…the hurting, the broken…the unlovable? The most common response to Celebrate Recovery invitees is, “It’s not for me,” yet it is. Only one third of Celebrate Recovery participants are dealing with addictions. The other two-thirds are dealing with pain, grief, loss, and hurts. Last month was one of the most difficult for me and our entire church body as we experienced a funeral, news of several serious accidents, lengthy hospitalizations, an unexpected job loss, …As a family, we have been grieving. We must not rush the process. We must talk, pray, support, encourage, listen, and love one another. Celebrate Recovery is a great forum for such love. Enduring love. Love that never gives up.

    We are commanded to love, family. Yes, we love God by praying, studying the Bible, attending church gatherings, singing songs of worship, and giving financially to support Kingdom work. But we also love God by loving others.

    I’m not good at loving others. Sure, you probably think I’m a loving person because you see me smile and act nice on Sunday, but that’s because you’re all so lovable!

    The real test of our love is not how we treat our best friend or the person we’re hoping will help us in some way. Jesus said love your enemies. He said love the poor. He said love those in prison. He said love the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee.

    Let me get real personal—and I’m very serious—love the Muslim, the Republican, the Democrat, the communist! We are to love the drug dealer, the pimp, the child molester, the person who abused you. Obviously we are not to love all of their behaviors, but Jesus shed His blood on the cross for their sins as well as yours and mine. In fact, Jesus loved—and prayed for—the very people who crucified him!

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

    That’s love! That’s not candy heart, lollipops and rainbows love. That’s raw, messy love.

    Love is a great idea, until you have enemies to love!

    Scot McKnight says love is a rugged commitment to be with another person, to be for another person, and to grow together in Christ-likeness. It’s not just a feeling, but involves action, presence, advocacy, and transformation.

    That’s what Jesus did for us. He didn’t just send us love notes. He came to be with us. He gave his life for us. And today he is for us. He is praying for us. He is preparing a place for us. He loves us. He loves you. And he wants that love shared with others. We love because He first loved us.

    But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, - Matthew 5:44
    “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)

    Family, let’s go love God. Let’s go love Toledo. Let’s go love this world.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • A Lasting Love, 15 April 2018

    A Lasting Love
    D6 Series—
    Songs from the Heart (Psalms)
    Psalm 89

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

    Big Idea: God is awesome, faithful, loving, and just.

    Introduction

    Today we are continuing our series, Songs from the Heart, on select Psalms. I mentioned last week how the book of Psalms was Israel’s hymnbook…and my favorite book of the Old Testament. The passion, authenticity, and artistry of these lyrics are so real, relevant, and inspiring…thousands of years after their writing.

    On Resurrection Sunday, we saw glimpses of the suffering Jesus in Psalm 22. Last week, we looked at the Messianic nature of Psalm 72. Today we will explore Psalm 89, a long and somewhat unique psalm. Written by Ethan the Ezrahite, this maskil—a word with uncertain meaning, but possibly “instruction”—is packed with descriptions of Almighty God. Although it is too short to be considered a biography of God, it reveals to us many features of our Creator, not merely for the sake of intellectual curiosity, but rather to help us know our awesome God who is alive and personally knowable.

    Since it’s so long, the text will largely speak for itself. It’s always my desire to proclaim the Word of God first and foremost every Sunday, letting my commentary merely aid you in understanding and application. The Bible is our authority—not my words. I challenge you today to listen to these beautiful descriptions of the Almighty.


    A maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.

    I will sing of the LORD’S great love forever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.
    I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
    that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself. (Psalm 89:1-2)

    Arguably the most important part of God’s character is love. In the book of 1 John, the scriptures simply say,

    God is love. (1 John 4:16a)

    God is the definition of love. Ethan, the psalmist, not only knows God’s love, he knows it’s great, and he will sing of it forever!

    One of the most popular worship songs of the past twenty years is taken from this passage: “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” except Nathan says he
    will sing of God’s great love forever. He declares it. God’s faithfulness, too, is announced.

    Love and faithfulness.

    You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
    I have sworn to David my servant,
    ‘I will establish your line forever
    and make your throne firm through all generations.’ ”
    (Psalm 89:3-4)

    This note echoes last week’s Psalm describing the king and royalty. King Jesus was born in the lineage of David…and He will return and will rule forever.

    The heavens praise your wonders, LORD,
    your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
    For who in the skies above can compare with the LORD?
    Who is like the LORD among the heavenly beings? (Psalm 89:5-6)

    If you’ve ever gazed at the stars in the sky, you’ve seen the same lights seen by the psalmist.

    You may have heard Pastor Soper in the Mission 119 devotional tell the story of Theodore Roosevelt. He would gaze at the stars with his friend, William Beebe, the naturalist. They would chant together, “
    That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” Then Roosevelt would grin and say, “No I think we are small enough! Let’s go to bed.”

    Living in a city in world with electrical lights dominating our region, we are only able to get a glimpse of the heavenly bodies created at the sound of God’s voice. Another psalmist wrote,

    The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalms 19:1)

    I challenge you to take some time this week—if we get a clear sky—and admire God’s handiwork. A couple of weeks ago I was outside doing just that, nearly blinded by the intensity of the full moon. After being so careful not to look at the sun during the recent eclipse, I hesitated to stare at the moon, it was so bright and beautiful!

    Although none of us have seen God, we can learn much about the Creator by studying creation.

    In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;
    he is more awesome than all who surround him.
    Who is like you, LORD God Almighty?
    You, LORD, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. (Psalm 89:7-8)

    Ethan is at a loss for words. No one and nothing can compare to God. He has no equal. In biblical days, much like today among some religions, there is belief in multiple gods. For example, there are 33 categories of gods in Hinduism with the actual number of gods in the millions!

    I’ve said before that I reserve the word “awesome” for God. If you think a car is awesome or your cell phone is awesome or the arrival of spring weather is awesome, that’s fine, but to me it’s a special “God” word. Our God is an awesome God…the awesome God!

    You rule over the surging sea;
    when its waves mount up, you still them.
    You crushed Rahab like one of the slain;
    with your strong arm you scattered your enemies. (Psalm 89:9-10)

    God is powerful and He’s not afraid to use His power. It’s not that He hates people, but
    rather He hates sin and evil. You might say God’s allergic to them! God has a real enemy named satan who has an army of demons who have been wreaking havoc on our planet since our first ancestors. God is omnipotent—all powerful—and also a God of justice, love, and mercy.

    The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth;
    you founded the world and all that is in it.
    You created the north and the south;
    Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name. (Psalm 89:11-12)

    Everything belongs to God. He created it. He owns it. That includes you and me!

    Your arm is endowed with power;
    your hand is strong, your right hand exalted.
    Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
    love and faithfulness go before you. (Psalm 89:13-14)

    I love the creative use of words, describing God’s arm and hand. God is righteous and just…along with being love and faithful.

    Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
    who walk in the light of your presence, LORD.
    They rejoice in your name all day long;
    they celebrate your righteousness. (Psalm 89:15-16)

    Here things shift briefly to humanity. Those who follow the LORD are blessed. God is with them. How can we not rejoice and celebrate? God is truly good news!

    For you are their glory and strength,
    and by your favor you exalt our horn.

    Indeed, our shield
    belongs to the LORD,
    our king to the Holy One of Israel. (Psalm 89:17-18)

    Is God your glory? Is God your strength? Is God your shield?

    So far we’ve seen our God as loving, great, and powerful. He longs for nothing more than a relationship with you. Intimacy with you. He loves to reveal Himself through the pages of the Bible, among other things, and He loves the sound of your voice in prayer. In fact, I believe your voice is the most beautiful sound to God. Now things shift a bit.

    Once you spoke in a vision,
    to your faithful people you said:
    “I have bestowed strength on a warrior;
    I have raised up a young man from among the people. (Psalm 89:19)

    I have found David my servant;
    with my sacred oil I have anointed him.
    My hand will sustain him;
    surely my arm will strengthen him. (Psalm 89:20-21)

    God chose David to be king over Israel. He wasn’t even considered worthy by his own family when there was a search for a king, yet God saw this shepherd, knew his heart, and made him arguably the greatest leader in Israel’s history. The book of 1 Samuel describes the account:

    Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.”
    So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

    “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

    Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
    So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

    Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” (1 Samuel 16:10-12)

    This is our God. He sees you! He knows your heart. You might not be famous or powerful, but you are known by God…and He can do incredible things in and through your life if you will commit all of your ways to Him. Back to David…

    The enemy will not get the better of him;
    the wicked will not oppress him.
    I will crush his foes before him
    and strike down his adversaries. (Psalm 89:22-23)

    My faithful love will be with him,
    and through my name his horn will be exalted.
    I will set his hand over the sea,
    his right hand over the rivers. (Psalm 89:24-25)

    He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father,
    my God, the Rock my Savior.’
    And I will appoint him to be my firstborn,
    the most exalted of the kings of the earth. (Psalm 89:26-27)

    I will maintain my love to him forever,
    and my covenant with him will never fail.
    I will establish his line forever,
    his throne as long as the heavens endure. (Psalm 89:28-29)

    Now listen to this condition.

    “If his sons forsake my law
    and do not follow my statutes,
    if they violate my decrees
    and fail to keep my commands,
    I will punish their sin with the rod,
    their iniquity with flogging;
    but I will not take my love from him,
    nor will I ever betray my faithfulness. (Psalm 89:30-33)

    Again, God hates sin. All sin. Would you like a list?! He doesn’t hate people who sin, but He hates sin. All sin separates us from God, something only restored through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

    How do you respond to love? A common response to love is love! We love God before He first loved us. And how do we love God? Obedience. That’s it! Obeying God’s Word. The Bible is packed with instructions of how to live life to the full, to the max! Every time we ignore a command, we disrespect God, sin, and basically declare ourselves to be God. We know better than our Creator…or we simply choose to rebel.

    There are some difficult commands in the Bible, but Jesus obeyed them all perfectly and wants us to follow His example, not because God is a control freak and wants to take away our fun, but because Father knows best.

    Our culture—and courts—have basically said do whatever you want. Individual autonomy has been championed by at least one prominent judge, which sounds great on the surface, but we were made for community. We were made to be dependent. Our actions affect others. And most of all, we were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. Following Jesus means you don’t get to do whatever you want, whenever you want!

    You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

    The context is sexuality. Pardon this brief tangent, but God created our bodies and created sex…for procreation and for a husband and wife to bond together and experience pleasure and connection. It’s a gift from God, but only between a husband and wife. That’s not politically correct in a world that says do whatever you want whenever you want as longer as there is “consent,” but God has special plans and purposes for our bodies, for our sexuality, for our health, for our time, talents, and treasures. I didn’t make the rules, but I know they’re for our ultimate satisfaction.

    “If his sons forsake my law
    and do not follow my statutes,
    if they violate my decrees
    and fail to keep my commands,
    I will punish their sin with the rod,
    their iniquity with flogging;
    but I will not take my love from him,
    nor will I ever betray my faithfulness. (Psalm 89:30-33)

    We must never forsake God’s law, His statues, His decrees, His commands. If we truly love God, we will obey Him. Obedience is God’s love language.

    I will not violate my covenant
    or alter what my lips have uttered. (Psalm 89:34)

    God never breaks His promises, His covenant, His word.

    Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—
    and I will not lie to David—
    that his line will continue forever
    and his throne endure before me like the sun;
    it will be established forever like the moon,
    the faithful witness in the sky.” (Psalm 89:35-37)

    Can you imagine such a legacy? What a statement by God! Now Ethan address God again with some strong statements.

    But you have rejected, you have spurned,
    you have been very angry with your anointed one.
    You have renounced the covenant with your servant
    and have defiled his crown in the dust. (Psalm 89:38-39)

    You have broken through all his walls
    and reduced his strongholds to ruins.
    All who pass by have plundered him;
    he has become the scorn of his neighbors. (Psalm 89:40-41)

    You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
    you have made all his enemies rejoice.
    Indeed, you have turned back the edge of his sword
    and have not supported him in battle. (Psalm 89:42-43)

    You have put an end to his splendor
    and cast his throne to the ground.
    You have cut short the days of his youth;
    you have covered him with a mantle of shame. (Psalm 89:44-45)

    This is where things get interesting. Ethan has said these wonderful things about God, yet he has questions. He has concerns. He’s not just singing love songs to God 24/7. He’s real.

    How long, LORD? Will you hide yourself forever?
    How long will your wrath burn like fire? (Psalm 89:46)

    Have you ever felt like God was hiding from you? I have! I have questioned God, doubted God, …and it’s ok to do so. God can handle it. He loves authenticity.

    Remember how fleeting is my life.
    For what futility you have created all humanity!
    Who can live and not see death,
    or who can escape the power of the grave? (Psalm 89:47-48)

    Life is fragile. We all have an expiration date, and we must never forget it.

    Lord, where is your former great love,
    which in your faithfulness you swore to David? (Psalm 89:49)

    More questions. It’s possible to gaze at the sky and proclaim God’s majesty, only to look down at the messy world we live in, filled with suffering and pain.

    Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked,
    how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations,
    the taunts with which your enemies, LORD, have mocked,
    with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one. (Psalm 89:50-51)

    Following God is never easy, but justice will eventually be served and redemption will come. Ethan knows this, concluding

    Praise be to the LORD forever!
    Amen and Amen. (Psalm 89:52)

    So What?

    Psalm 89 is quite the scripture! What have we learned?

    God is loving, but He hates sin and rebellion and refuses to ignore them.

    (D6) We can trust the promises we find in the Bible because the Bible is God’s Word, and he is always faithful to His Word.

    Do you read it? Listen to it? Study it? Know it? It’s the best tool we have for knowing God.

    (D6)
    Israel’s tendency to turn away from God illustrates how we are engaged in a spiritual warfare.

    The people of Israel had a roller coaster relationship with God, claiming allegiance and then abandoning Him. We have a real enemy who is destroying our world: school shootings, homelessness, corruption, racism, abortion, poverty, sex trafficking, injustice, hatred, suicide, …but we also are invited to follow the awesome God, the LORD of lords and the King of kings, Jesus Christ. As we said last week, in a kingdom, subjects submit to the king. We must submit to God, His commands, and His discipline, knowing that He loves us and wants what’s truly best for us. We love because He first loved us. We are faithful because He has been faithful to us. We serve others because He served us. We forgive others because we have been forgiven.

    This week, how will you praise and honor God, even in the midst of stress and distress? You might begin by reviewing Psalm 89, this brief biography of the Almighty. Declare God’s character. Our God is the awesome, loving, faithful God.

    God didn’t just talk about love, He demonstrated it by sending Jesus to live, die, and rise from the dead, bearing our guilt and shame and sin which God hates. Taking our place. We join the psalmists in praising God, yet we have even more to praise Him for being on this side of the cross. Hallelujah!

    Credits: some notes from D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • King Jesus, 13 November 2016

    King Jesus
    Romans 13:1-7

    Note: these are the original sermon notes. The actual sermon is quite different and available here.

    Big Idea

    We have elected a new president…but King Jesus is Lord!

    Introduction

    Good morning, church! My name is Kirk and I want to personally welcome you to First Alliance Church—not the building, but the family, the community of people in this room and beyond. We are a part of a larger family, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. One of the things I love about The Alliance is its diversity. Approximately ten percent of Alliance members live in the United States. About ninety percent of our family is scattered all over the globe.

    Speaking of the globe, our world was taken by surprise this past week. For a variety of reasons—largely due to the decreasing use of landline telephones for pollsters—most, if not all, of us woke up to surprising news on Wednesday morning. Some of you were concerned or even scared at the election results. Others were relieved or even celebrating.

    “For some people the savior has come, for others the sky is falling, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle.” So said someone after election day…in 2008.

    Regardless of your political persuasion, I have some encouraging news for you. No more campaign ads for four years! Actually, there is reason for great hope…and it has nothing to do with Washington or Columbus. God is on the move!

    Jesus Is LORD

    In Jesus’ day, religion was extremely popular. The Jews practiced their faith amongst the polytheistic Roman and Greek gods. Temples to these gods were common. Governmental leaders were even thrown in the mix, some treated as deity and others demanding such attention. It may sound odd to our ears, but a popular declaration was “Caesar is Lord.” To refuse to honor these gods was akin to sabotage. Some early Christians were blamed for famine, plagues, and earthquakes because they refused to worship the various gods.

    At age eighty-six, Polycarp, the second-century bishop of Smyrna and disciple of the apostle John, was brought to the Roman authorities and ordered to confess that Caesar is lord. By refusing, he was murdered, inspiring others to remain faithful.

    Just as “King of the Jews” was viewed by some as threatening to the establishment, so also “Jesus is Lord” was considered by many to be a revolutionary declaration. In fact, “Jesus is Lord” is the shortest credal affirmation found in the New Testament, a statement of faith for those regarding Jesus as fully God and fully man. Today it is the motto of the World Council of Churches.

    How did you feel on Wednesday morning when you heard the election results?

    If you felt anxiety or fear, King Jesus is Lord.
    If you felt joy and relief, King Jesus is Lord.

    The role of church and state has been debated for centuries. How are followers of Jesus supposed to relate to human leaders? Written in the midst of the Roman Empire, the book of Romans says…

    Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)

    Let’s take a moment and unpack this.

    Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

    Twice in one verse it says God has established governing authorities. He has established rule and order. He established positions of power such as kings, presidents, and judges. It was never His plan for humans to narcissistically run around and pursue their own agendas in anarchy. Everything God does is carefully designed. He is the Author of systems, whether it is the solar system or your digestive system. Even the most outspoken atheists admit the universe has an order to it, making life on this planet incredibly unique.

    Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. (Romans 13:2-3)

    Obey the law. Although there are exceptions—especially among our African-American brothers and sisters, tragically—you usually only need to fear authority if you do what is wrong. If you’re going the speed limit on I-75, you need not slam on the brakes if you see a police car hidden behind a bridge.

    By the way, if you routinely speed, you might want to take the fish off of your rear bumper! Christians are supposed to obey the law. Is speeding a sin? Yes. Is cheating on your taxes a sin? Yes. Obey the law and you won’t find yourself in jail.

    For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13:4-5)

    There’s a lot in these two verses. First, the authorities are God’s servants—for our good. I know, I don’t like to drive under 70 on the expressway, either, but our authority thinks it’s for our good! And have you ever thought about our mayor, governor, or president as being God’s servants? That’s what it says!

    Throughout the Bible, leaders are responsible for their followers. This is true in the home, in the church, and in society. We all will stand before God someday and give an account of how we lived our lives, but leaders must also answer for the way they influenced others. So when you believe an authority figure is misguided, remember they will be judged for their behavior.

    This is not, of course, to say we should never break the law when doing so breaks God’s law. No single sermon could adequately address the nuances of such a response. Clearly Daniel was honored for praying to God against the decree of King Darius. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the image of gold established by King Nebuchadnezzar and are commended.

    Personally, I’ve been deeply impacted by movies such as
    Selma and The Butler which depict the non-violent civil disobedience of African Americans in their quest for equality and civil rights. It sickens me that such oppressive laws—to say nothing of slavery itself and our violence against Native Americans—ever existed in this land.

    Yet today it’s against the law to talk about Jesus in the streets—and even homes—of Russia. You can be arrested for possessing a Bible in North Korea. You can go to jail in many countries for praying in the name of Jesus. And while persecution of Christians may be on the rise in the west, very few of the 70 million plus martyrs have been in the United States.

    We must pray for our brothers and sisters in other nations.
    We must pray for our brothers and sisters in this nation, too.

    This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:6-7)

    I admit, that first sentence is difficult for me to swallow! We pay taxes because God’s servants give their full time to campaigning—I mean, governing! For all of the complaining we can do—and I do!—I’m grateful for men and women who protect us (police and firefighters, stand up). I appreciate our mayor and city council who must balance the budget and make policies to guard against hunger and violence. I’m glad roads are paved, our food and water are safe, and we have freedoms of speech and religion, among other things.

    When asked about paying the imperial tax to Caesar, Jesus said

    “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21b)

    Despite threats to move to Canada every four years, this is still a great place to live. Would anyone like to move to Iraq or Sudan?

    The Kingdom of God

    While the scriptures tell us to pay taxes and submit to authorities, our ultimate allegiance is not to a nation or to a flag, but to a King.

    In Greg
    Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation, Boyd contrasts Caesar's kingdom with Jesus' Kingdom, the Kingdom of God/heaven. Caesar's kingdom is based on the 'power over' model, which uses force, coercion, and social pressure to ensure conformity. Jesus' Kingdom by contrast uses 'power under', which is based on the example of love and sacrifice.

    Jesus says "
    Whosoever will, let them come..." He does not demand, overpower, threaten, coerce, or manipulate. He doesn’t use guilt or shame. He doesn’t hate, scream, or disrespect. He simply displays and invites us to follow him.

    It’s important to realize, too, the Kingdom of God is not about individuals. It’s about community. We are a family. Peter said,

    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

    He continues

    Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 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 2:11-12)

    Our lives are to glorify God.

    Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

    Respect everyone.
    Love one another.
    Fear and reverence God.
    Honor the emperor. The mayor. The governor. Yes, the president.

    Good News

    Brothers and sisters, when George Washington became our first president, King Jesus was Lord.

    When Abraham Lincoln led our nation, King Jesus was Lord.

    When JFK was elected, King Jesus was Lord.

    When Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were inaugurated, King Jesus was Lord.

    And when Donald Trump becomes president next year, King Jesus will still be Lord.

    Hope in Jesus

    The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. From his throne he observes all who live on the earth. He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do. The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior. Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory— for all its strength, it cannot save you. But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine. We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone. (Psalms 33:13-22, NLT)

    I’m glad I have a USA passport,

    But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)

    Paul wrote to Timothy…

    I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

    Prayer for city, state, and nation.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • My Two Dads, 19 June 2016

    My Two Dads
    Father’s Day 2016
    1 John 3:1-3; Hebrews 12:7-11

    Big Idea:
    God is the greatest Dad!

    Happy Father’s Day! I realize like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day can be emotional…….

    This morning I’d like to read two letters. I’ve written one to my biological dad and the other to my heavenly Dad. I wish I could introduce you to my earthly dad, though hopefully you’ll get a glimpse of him through my letter. If you don’t know my heavenly Father, I can and will introduce you to Him!

    Dear Dad,

    It has been so long since I’ve spoken with you. I can’t remember the last time I heard you say my name. I miss you SO much.

    It was horrible watching you fade away over the past decade or so, your mind ravaged by Alzheimer’s. I’m grateful you never got angry and loud but instead remained so calm. You seemed to be comfortable, even during your final days two years ago. I’m so glad I was with you on May 5, 2014 to watch you take your last breath, surrounded by mom, Heather, and other family members.

    Thank you.
    Thank you for loving me, for loving my sister, and for loving mom. Everyone who knew you knew you were a man of love. Jesus summarized the entire Law of the Bible in two commands: love God and love others. You were a great example of love.

    Thank you for disciplining me. I know that sounds strange. I certainly didn’t like it when you made me write every verse in Proverbs which speaks about wisdom. I didn’t like being spanked! You disciplined out of love, though. The writer of Hebrews said

    Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

    You disciplined because you loved me. I appreciate that now.

    Thank you for music. I am grateful for my musical heritage. You not only had a love for black gospel music which I share to this day, you were a skilled musician and encouraged me to become one, too.

    Thank you for loving Jesus. He was the most important person in your life and He’s the most important person in mine.

    Thank you for discipling me. Actions speak louder than words. You provided me with both. You were not perfect, but you were a living example.

    I saw Jesus in you as you cared for the least of these, repairing cars for single moms.

    I saw Jesus in you as you were generous, giving to not only our church but other ministries, too. I’m not sure how much you gave, but I know it was far beyond the 10% tithe set as a minimum in the Old Testament.

    I saw Jesus in you as you shared Christ with customers and co-workers, never pressuring people but rather inviting them to a personal relationship with their Creator.

    I saw Jesus in you as you used your gift of leadership as the head of the elder board. Your wisdom was deeply needed many times and without you and mom that church would’ve closed decades ago.

    On a side note, do you remember when I asked your forgiveness for judging you? I told you I once thought if you were a REAL Christian you’d become a pastor but I came to realize it would be as wrong for you to leave the marketplace and become a pastor as it would for me to leave vocational ministry for a marketplace career. You impacted so many lives no pastor would’ve ever been able to reach.

    There’s so much more I could write, so many great memories of vacations, ball games, Boy Scouts, car repair, …and your amazing laugh! I love you, Dad. I want to be like You and I can’t wait to see you!

    Your son,

    Kirk

    ==========================

    Dear heavenly Dad,

    Thank you.
    Thank you for blessing me with such an incredible earthly dad. He remains my small-h hero. I miss him so much…and look forward to a reunion someday in heaven. He was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received and I hope to be half the man he was to my wife, kids, and friends.

    Thank You for loving me. Everyone who knows You knows You are a loving Dad. In fact, You are the definition of love! John wrote

    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)

    I know we often misunderstand love. We confuse it with being nice. Love is not tolerant. In fact, they’re often polar opposites. You don’t tolerate us. You’re not passive. Your nature is to give, to have our best interest at heart, and to do whatever necessary to ensure not necessarily our happiness but our holiness.

    Thank you for loving my sisters and brothers here in this room and beyond. Eight months ago you brought our family to Toledo to join this First Alliance family and we are so grateful! We have been encouraged, challenged, and loved-on by great men, women, and children, too. It all began with You and Your love.

    See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

    There’s so much in those three short verses. You have “lavished” Your love on us…on all of us. We are Your children which means not only a relationship with You but also with one another.

    Thank You for hope. John continues

    Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

    This world is so broken. It is groaning and grieving. Violence, heroin, injustice, corruption, hunger, hatred, and pride are just a few of the many sins ravaged our planet. They don’t reflect Your glory, purity, love, or peace. We are to be a faithful presence here and now, but we also live with the hope that Christ will appear, we will be like him, and we will see him…which reminds of my greatest thanks.

    Thank You for Jesus! I can’t imagine how people could possibly live without Jesus. You proved Your love to us by sending Jesus (John 3:16).

    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. (1 John 4:9-10)

    Oh how I love Jesus! He was the wisest person to ever walk the earth. He was the greatest teacher. He healed the sick. He cast out demons. He modeled for us what it means to be truly human. No other life has been more analyzed or emulated. Yet his life was only part of the story.

    His death was horrific and scandalous, yet so glorious.
    The cross is a symbol of love, of our sins being atoned for, paid for, and ultimately forgiven. You sent your only son on a mission to die…and there’s not greater pain than watching your child die. We’ve seen movies of the crucifixion and imagine the agony of Jesus, but You, Dad, experienced horrific anguish, too. Your one son received the penalty of the sins of your adopted children. No dad has given a greater gift than the gift of Jesus You have given to us. Without the broken body and the poured-out blood of Jesus I would have no hope, no forgiveness, no joy, no peace, and no love. Because of the cross every man, woman and child has the opportunity to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord and experience abundant life with purpose.

    Thank You for disciplining me. The writer of Hebrews was so right!

    No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

    You disciplined because you loved me. I appreciate that now. I have grown through trials. My character has been shaped through testing. I know You’re not done with me yet (which scares me sometimes!) but I can see how You’ve always disciplined out of love, not hate or anger. You want what’s best for me, and sometimes what’s best isn’t a banana split on the beach (though I’d enjoy that!).

    On a side note, I’m so sorry judging you. There have been so many times when I wanted You to do what I wanted rather than truly seeking Your will. The older I get, the more I realize Daddy knows best, but sometimes it’s hard to trust, especially when I have to wait. I know You are good, though…all the time! Hindsight is 20/20 and now I see the reasons for many of the trials.

    Thank You for music. I love music. I love using music to worship and praise You, though worship is so much more than just singing songs. I want all of my life to bring You honor and glory because You’re worth it. You deserve all worship.

    Thank You for Your Word.

    The vast majority of people throughout history have not had 24/7 access to the scriptures. I’m so blessed to have a copy of the Bible…several, really! I love reading and listening to it on my iPhone. I love studying it. There’s so much to learn and explore about You…and me, too! I’m grateful for the Bible not only for knowledge but also wisdom and understanding…and to know You!

    How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.

    Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:103-105)

    There’s so much more I could write, so many great memories of answered prayers, perfect timing, unexpected blessings, and unending faithfulness. I love you, Dad. I want to be like You and I can’t wait to see you!

    Your son,

    Kirk

  • You can listen to this message and others 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.
  • Wedlock or Deadlock? 3 January 2016

    Wedlock or Deadlock?
    Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 3:1-7

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

    Big Idea: Spouses, love one another and submit to Jesus.

    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, harmony, and last week living a cruciform life in the way of the cross, knowing our suffering is temporary and known by God.

    Throughout the book, Peter has been talking about a very offensive word in our culture:
    submit.

    Why do we struggle to submit?

    We want to do things our way. We live in a hyper-individualistic society. We can get seemingly anything customized and on-demand. Don’t like the selection of meat at your grocery store? Go down the street. You’ve got options! Don’t like your spouse? Trade them in for a newer model. Sick of your church? Hop over to another one.

    We want autonomy and control. We want to be independent and free. We want choices and often rebel when told what to do. Of course this is nothing new. It began with Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God and His one prohibition in the Garden of Eden.

    We previously talked about submission to authority. This includes government and commerce, the president and your boss, in the original context the emperor and the slave’s master. It also involves church authority, submitting to godly leaders. Regardless of the outcome, we are to do the right thing knowing we will eventually be rewarded—and oppressors will eventually be punished. Perhaps most important was the example of Jesus who was unjustly treated, died sacrificially despite being innocent of all accusations, and sought to please the Father above pleasing people or even Himself.

    Today’s passage brings the subject of submission from the streets to the home. Peter addresses married people, but the message is applicable to all. If you are unmarried, don’t check out! Listen up. Perhaps someday you will have a spouse. The principles are relevant to all regardless of marital status…and they usually look nothing like Hollywood’s messages to us!

    Remember context is critical. We can never read the Bible in the same way the original recipients read it. Our world is so different. Peter was writing to an early church where a large number of women had husbands who were not yet Christians. It was likely a very patriarchal, restrictive society that debilitated the development of their gifts.

    1 Peter 3…

    Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (3:1-2)

    Likewise. In the same way. This refers to the previous verses on submitting to authority and Jesus' example of sacrifice.

    We may suffer for doing good. If we suffer for doing evil, that’s to be expected. Jesus suffered for doing good. A perfect man was crucified unjustly. He glorified the Father through it all, though. He submitted to the Father’s will. In the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested, Jesus prayed

    “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

    If you don’t like the idea of submission, you’re in the wrong place. Both husbands and wives are to first submit to Jesus…who submitted to the Father. This is about order, not value or importance. God has a place for everything and has ordained levels of authority.

    This does not mean we become doormats and let people manipulate and abuse us. We don’t have time to say much about this extreme, but I highly recommend the book
    Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

    They write

    We have never seen a “submission problem” that did not have a controlling husband at its root. When the wife begins to set clear boundaries, the lack of Christlikeness in a controlling husband becomes evident because the wife is no longer enabling his immature behavior. She is confronting the truth and setting biblical limits on hurtful behavior. Often, when the wife sets boundaries, the husband begins to grow up.

    In other words, “focusing on submission is almost surely an indicator that one’s priorities are messed up.” (Scot McKnight)

    One evangelical scholar said, “I believe in a wife submitting to her husband, but I don’t believe the husband ever has the right to demand it. In fact, I know that when I am worthy of submission, my wife submits; and when I am unworthy of it, she does not.”

    Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (3:1-2)

    Peter is not saying wives are to be slaves or treated like children. Perhaps a better word than submit is respond. It is voluntary. Engage. Partner with your partner!

    Notice Peter’s reason: a witness to the unbeliever. Actions speak louder than words. The Bible warns against being “unequally yoked.” Marriages between a follower of Jesus and a person who is not following Jesus almost always results in grief to both. They have different world views. They have different goals.

    However, there are couples that—for a variety of reasons—are not spiritually compatible. In this instance Peter says to believing wife with unbelieving husbands let your behavior be so full of love and grace and purity that the husband sees real faith to be attractive.

    At the risk of reversing roles, my great grandfather was a bouncer in a bar in Hungary, accepted Christ through a co-worker (if I’m not mistaken), and freaked out his wife! She was skeptical of his faith and wanted nothing to do with Jesus—until she realized it was not a short-term phase he would grow out of but, instead, an authentic relationship with Jesus that was transforming him into a man filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

    Do you look like Jesus to your spouse? To your family? To your boss? To your friends?

    For decades there has been great emphasis on “sharing one’s faith” with words, telling people the gospel—the good news. That’s extremely important, but first we need to earn the right to be heard or we’ll never be heard. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. They don’t care about Jesus until they meet Him through you! What kind of sermon are you preaching with your life, every day?

    Peter continues…

    Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. (3:3)

    This word “adornment” is
    kosmos in Greek, as in the cosmic universe or…cosmetics! It is the opposite of chaos.

    It has been said that beauty is on the inside. I think both external and internal beauty are attractive, but Peter’s saying it’s the inner self that matters most.

    Ladies, have you ever worn a wig? For that matter, men used to wear wigs. In the first century, hair was hugely important…and just huge! Wigs were very ornate.

    Women, inward beauty is most important, but don’t neglect yourself. You’re not of this world but that doesn’t mean you are to look like you came from out of this world!

    Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (3:4-6)

    We know Sarah was beautiful. Several kings wanted her.

    We know Rachel was beautiful. Have you seen my daughter?! Seriously, though, Jacob worked fourteen years for Laban for her hand in marriage. (I’ve been secretly hoping that my future son-in-law would work 14 years for me before marrying Rachel!).

    Suffice it to say Peter is saying to women, “Love your husbands.” He’s not saying be a robot or a slave, but love your husbands. Look out for their best interests. Seek to serve them. Seek to bless them. Seek to honor them.

    Now we turn to the men, though he only provides us with one sentence to husbands.

    Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (3:7)

    Husbands, honor your wife. Be a gentleman. Open doors. Buy flowers. Talk with her…in person…with the phone put away!

    The phrase “be considerate” literally means “living with one’s wife knowledgeably.” Husbands, do you know your wives?

    We are to love and know our wives

    1. 1. physically. This is not just sexually, but presence, protection, and time
    2. 2. intellectually. Know her needs, feelings, hopes, fears, and moods
    3. 3. Emotionally. Be honest, humble, reconcile when you’ve sinned, and respect her
    4. 4. Spiritually. Pray for her. Pray with her.

    Keep dating her. If I hear another married man say to me, “When we were dating…”

    Some women have been offended by Peter calling wives the weaker partner. He’s not insulting them, but rather emphasizing how men need to care for their wives, treating them as partners, as different but equals. Most wives are physically weaker than their husbands and men are to use their strength to serve—never control or harm—their wives. Simply put, men love your wives. Look out for their best interests. Seek to serve them. Seek to bless them. Seek to honor them.

    Notice those final seven words: “so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Don’t miss that. God cares about how we love Him and how we love others. The most important relationship beyond our relationship with God is to be our marriage. The scriptures are loaded with directives regarding men and women, husbands and wives. We are created different and complementary. We were designed to be a team, to balance the strengths and weaknesses of one another. A husband, wife and child are a reflection of the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each with a role and purpose.

    Paul said it this way:

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

    So What?

    Wives, love your husbands.

    Husbands, love your wives.

    Unmarrieds, love those around you, that they may see Jesus living in and through you.

    If you’re still trying to understand your spouse, Gary Smalley says,

    I would venture to say that most marital difficulties center around one fact—men and women are TOTALLY different. The differences (emotional, mental, and physical) are so extreme that without a concentrated effort to understand them, it is nearly impossible to have a happy marriage. A famous psychiatrist once said, “After thirty years of studying women, I ask myself, ‘What is it that they really want?’”

    This week while visiting Carl and Mary Aleksoff I asked them what marital advice they would offer others. They said commitment, wives respecting husbands, and husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the Church, echoing Paul’s instructions…

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

    He continued…

    Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

    Although He was never married, Jesus demonstrated love. He demonstrated submission. He demonstrated how a husband is to treat his bride, laying down His very life.

    One More Thing…

    The divorce rate in the USA is…50%, right? Wrong! That figure is an urban legend based upon projections decades ago that were completely false. Nobody knows exactly, but 71% of women are still married to their first spouse (2009 Census), and many no longer married are widowed, not divorced.

    Researcher Shaunti Feldhahn (
    The Good News About Marriage) discovered four things that are helpful in building a strong marriage:

    •  Don’t live together before marriage. It increases your rate of divorce because the relationship is built on convenience rather than commitment.
    •  Go to church together. It may drop the divorce rate by about 25-50%.
    •  Pray together.
    •  Be intentionally affectionate. Research shows that physical connection builds a sense of happiness in a marriage, so hold hands, hug, and kiss each other good-bye!

    Perhaps you’ve heard the divorce rate is the same for Christians and non-Christians. That is also false. In fact, some research suggests couples who pray together have a divorce rate around 1% (http://www.smalley.cc/do-you-know-the-divorce-rate-of-couples-who-pray-together/).

    Remember, love is not a feeling, but a commitment. If you fall out of love, find a way to fall back in!

    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.

    Wedlock or Deadlock, 4 October 2015

    Wedlock or Deadlock?
    Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 3:1-7

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

    Big Idea: Spouses, love one another and submit to Jesus.

    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, harmony, and last week living a cruciform life in the way of the cross, knowing our suffering is temporary and known by God.

    Throughout the book, Peter has been talking about a very offensive word in our culture:
    submit.

    Why do we struggle to submit?

    We want to do things our way. We live in a hyper-individualistic society. We can get seemingly anything customized and on-demand. Don’t like the selection of meat at your grocery store? Go down the street. You’ve got options! Don’t like your spouse? Trade them in for a newer model. Sick of your church? Hop over to another one.

    We want autonomy and control. We want to be independent and free. We want choices and often rebel when told what to do. Of course this is nothing new. It began with Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God and His one prohibition in the Garden of Eden.

    Last Sunday we talked about submission to authority. This includes government and commerce, the president and your boss, in the original context the emperor and the slave’s master. It also involves church authority, submitting to godly leaders. Regardless of the outcome, we are to do the right thing knowing we will eventually be rewarded—and oppressors will eventually be punished. Perhaps most important was the example of Jesus who was unjustly treated, died sacrificially despite being innocent of all accusations, and sought to please the Father above pleasing people or even Himself.

    Today’s passage brings the subject of submission from the streets to the home. Peter addresses married people, but the message is applicable to all. If you are unmarried, don’t check out! Listen up. Perhaps someday you will have a spouse. The principles are relevant to all regardless of marital status…and they usually look nothing like Hollywood’s messages to us!

    Remember context is critical. We can never read the Bible in the same way the original recipients read it. Our world is so different. Peter was writing to an early church where a large number of women had husbands who were not yet Christians. It was likely a very patriarchal, restrictive society that debilitated the development of their gifts.

    1 Peter 3…

    Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (3:1-2)

    Likewise. In the same way. This refers to the previous verses on submitting to authority.

    We may suffer for doing good. If we suffer for doing evil, that’s to be expected. Jesus suffered for doing good. A perfect man was crucified unjustly. He glorified the Father through it all, though. He submitted to the Father’s will. In the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested, Jesus prayed

    “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

    If you don’t like the idea of submission, you’re in the wrong place. Both husbands and wives are to first submit to Jesus…who submitted to the Father. This is about order, not value or importance. God has a place for everything and has ordained levels of authority.

    This does not mean we become doormats and let people manipulate and abuse us. We don’t have time to say much about this extreme, but I highly recommend the book
    Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

    They write

    We have never seen a “submission problem” that did not have a controlling husband at its root. When the wife begins to set clear boundaries, the lack of Christlikeness in a controlling husband becomes evident because the wife is no longer enabling his immature behavior. She is confronting the truth and setting biblical limits on hurtful behavior. Often, when the wife sets boundaries, the husband begins to grow up.

    In other words, “focusing on submission is almost surely an indicator that one’s priorities are messed up.” (Scot McKnight)

    One evangelical scholar said, “I believe in a wife submitting to her husband, but I don’t believe the husband ever has the right to demand it. In fact, I know that when I am worthy of submission, my wife submits; and when I am unworthy of it, she does not.”

    Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (3:1-2)

    Peter is not saying wives are to be slaves or treated like children. Perhaps a better word than submit is respond. It is voluntary. Engage. Partner with your partner!

    Notice Peter’s reason: a witness to the unbeliever. Actions speak louder than words. The Bible warns against being “unequally yoked.” Marriages between a follower of Jesus and a person who is not following Jesus almost always results in grief to both. They have different world views. They have different goals.

    However, there are couples that—for a variety of reasons—are not spiritually compatible. In this instance Peter says to believing wife with unbelieving husbands let your behavior be so full of love and grace and purity that the husband sees real faith to be attractive.

    At the risk of reversing roles, my great grandfather was a bouncer in a bar in Hungary, accepted Christ through a co-worker (if I’m not mistaken), and freaked out his wife! She was skeptical of his faith and wanted nothing to do with Jesus—until she realized it was not a short-term phase he would grow out of but, instead, an authentic relationship with Jesus that was transforming him into a man filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

    Do you look like Jesus to your spouse? To your family? To your boss? To your friends?

    For decades there has been great emphasis on “sharing one’s faith” with words, telling people the gospel—the good news. That’s extremely important, but first we need to earn the right to be heard or we’ll never be heard. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. They don’t care about Jesus until they meet Him through you! What kind of sermon are you preaching with your life, every day?

    Peter continues…

    Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. (3:3)

    This word “adornment” is
    kosmos in Greek, as in the cosmic universe or…cosmetics! It is the opposite of chaos.

    It has been said that beauty is on the inside. I think both external and internal beauty are attractive, but Peter’s saying it’s the inner self that matters most.

    Ladies, have you ever worn a wig? For that matter, men used to wear wigs. In the first century, hair was hugely important…and just huge! Wigs were very ornate.

    Women, inward beauty is most important, but don’t neglect yourself. You’re not of this world but that doesn’t mean you are to look like you came from out of this world!

    Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (3:4-6)

    We know Sarah was beautiful. Several kings wanted her.

    We know Rachel was beautiful. Jacob worked fourteen years for Laban for her hand in marriage. (I’ve been secretly hoping that my future son-in-law would work 14 years for me before marrying Rachel!).

    Suffice it to say Peter is saying to women, “Love your husbands.” He’s not saying be a robot or a slave, but love your husbands. Look out for their best interests. Seek to serve them. Seek to bless them. Seek to honor them.

    Now we turn to the men, though he only provides us with one sentence to husbands.

    Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (3:7)

    Husbands, honor your wife. Be a gentleman. Open doors. Buy flowers. Talk with her…in person…with the phone put away!

    The phrase “be considerate” literally means “living with one’s wife knowledgeably.” Husbands, do you know your wives?

    We are to love and know our wives

    physically. This is not just sexually, but presence, protection, and time
    intellectually. Know her needs, feelings, hopes, fears, and moods
    emotionally. Be honest, humble, reconcile when you’ve sinned, and respect her
    spiritually. Pray for her. Pray with her.

    Keep dating her. If I hear another married man say to me, “When we were dating…”

    Some women have been offended by Peter calling wives the weaker partner. He’s not insulting them, but rather emphasizing how men need to care for their wives, treating them as partners, as different but equals. Most wives are physically weaker than their husbands and men are to use their strength to serve—never control or harm—their wives. Simply put, men love your wives. Look out for their best interests. Seek to serve them. Seek to bless them. Seek to honor them.

    Notice those final seven words: “so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Don’t miss that. God cares about how we love Him and how we love others. The most important relationship beyond our relationship with God is to be our marriage. The scriptures are loaded with directives regarding men and women, husbands and wives. We are created different and complementary. We were designed to be a team, to balance the strengths and weaknesses of one another. A husband, wife and child are a reflection of the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each with a role and purpose.

    So What?

    Wives, love your husbands.

    Husbands, love your wives.

    Unmarrieds, love those around you, that they may see Jesus living in and through you.

    If you’re still trying to understand your spouse, Gary Smalley says,

    I would venture to say that most marital difficulties center around one fact—men and women are TOTALLY different. The differences (emotional, mental, and physical) are so extreme that without a concentrated effort to understand them, it is nearly impossible to have a happy marriage. A famous psychiatrist once said, “After thirty years of studying women, I ask myself, ‘What is it that they really want?’”

    Paul said it this way:

    Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
    Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

    Although He was never married, Jesus demonstrated love. He demonstrated submission. He demonstrated how a husband is to treat his bride, laying down His very life.

    As we celebrate communion and remember Jesus’ sacrifice, let it be an example of how we are to love and treat one another.

    Communion

    One More Thing…

    The divorce rate in the USA is…50%, right? Wrong! That figure is an urban legend based upon projections decades ago that were completely false. Nobody knows exactly, but 71% of women are still married to their first spouse (2009 Census), and many no longer married are widowed, not divorced.

    Researcher Shaunti Feldhahn (
    The Good News About Marriage) discovered four things that are helpful in building a strong marriage:

    •  Don’t live together before marriage. It increases your rate of divorce because the relationship is built on convenience rather than commitment.
    •  Go to church together. It may drop the divorce rate by about 25-50%.
    •  Pray together.
    •  Be intentionally affectionate. Research shows that physical connection builds a sense of happiness in a marriage, so hold hands, hug, and kiss each other good-bye!

    Perhaps you’ve heard the divorce rate is the same for Christians and non-Christians. That is also false. In fact, some research suggests couples who pray together have a divorce rate around 1% (http://www.smalley.cc/do-you-know-the-divorce-rate-of-couples-who-pray-together/).

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

    Parable of the Hidden Treasure, 9 August 2015

    Matthew 13:44

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

    Big Idea: You are a treasure to God. God wants to be your treasure.

    Introduction

    What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word treasure?

    For some it may be the quest of the Goonies, that group of kids in the 1985 movie.

    For others it might be a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean.

    If your home caught on fire and you could take one non-living thing, what would you take? Why?

    Treasure is a great word. Treasure Island. Treasure chest. Treasure hunt. Oh boy!

    We’re in the middle of a series on the parables from the thirteenth chapter of the book of Matthew. Jesus loved to tell stories. In fact, last week we briefly read

    Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

    “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the
    creation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34-35)

    These are strong words! He spoke nothing to the crowds without using parables or stories.

    It’s important to note these stories were loaded. They were intentional. They were dangerous and offensive and elicited a response. Jesus was not an entertainer filling time during lunch break. He was a revolutionary storyteller.

    We mentioned last week most of the parables are not interpreted for us. They don’t read like the Ten Commandments and, therefore, we must humbly attempt to extract their original meaning and then bring it into our current context and apply it.
    When we come to verse 44, Jesus has left the crowd and gone into a house where His disciples ask Him to explain the parables.

    Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” (Matthew 13:36)

    We looked at His explanation of the weeds two weeks ago. Then we come to today’s text:

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

    Jesus is again teaching His disciples about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. It is the rule and reign of Christ. The bulk of Jesus’ teachings were about the kingdom of heaven—what happens when heaven touches earth and God’s divine plan is executed on our planet.

    Jesus taught on the kingdom.
    Jesus ushered the kingdom upon the earth.
    The kingdom is here now…and also not yet! We are experiencing aspects of it in 2015, but it has not yet been fully realized.

    Perhaps it’s like the Detroit Lions. They are a football team. They have many players and coaches. They workout, individually and together. But people can’t fully experience the Detroit Lions until their first exhibition game on August 13…and yet it’s not until their first regular season game on September 13 that they will be fully actualized.

    Jesus came to our planet and gave us glimpses of the future. He taught what it means to be truly human. His vision was one of ultimate human flourishing. Yet clearly His rule and reign on earth is not fully realized today. But it’s coming. And it’s also now.

    “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. (Matthew 13:44a)

    Why would someone hide a treasure? There were no bank safety deposit boxes then!

    Do you have hidden treasure? Where is it hidden?!

    Would you hide a treasure in a field?
    Jesus is saying the kingdom—His rule and reign—is like hidden treasure. It is real but not visible. It is intentional but not known. Someone hid a treasure in a field.

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

    A man finds the treasure. How? Perhaps he was a worker in the field, digging up dirt.

    When we were in the Dominican Republic we did a lot of digging…every morning. We found some hidden treasure. Actually we found quite a lot! We unearthed clothing, bottles, trash, …ok, nothing of any real value! It was rather startling, though, to find various things under my shovel besides dirt and rocks!


    Have you ever found a treasure? One of my favorite Christmas gifts as a kid was a metal detector. I had visions of finding great treasures at the beach. I think the only thing I ever found with it was pop cans!

    This man finds the hidden treasure in a field and digs it up…NO! He hides it! He doesn’t want anyone to know about it, but he’s excited. In his joy he goes and sells everything he had to buy the field.

    Last year there was great commotion around here about hidden treasure in the form of oil and natural gas. Our church was among many landowners in Scio Township offered money for our property—or at least access to what’s under the ground, the mineral rights. Eventually the land was deemed unsuitable for profitable drilling, but you better believe property values would escalate if oil was found.

    In Jesus’ parable the field suddenly had extra value—to the man who knew what it contained. Can you imagine selling everything you have to buy a field? If the field contained enough treasure it would be a no-brainer!

    What Does It Mean?

    Jesus’ message is for each of us to wander in the field of strangers, search for treasure, sell everything we have, and buy the land. This is His strategy for real estate development, right? Hardly!

    To fully understand Jesus’ parable we must understand the context.

    Jesus is Jewish. The Jews are awaiting a Messiah (who is right in front of them!).

    Most believe the field is the world and the buried treasure is the nation of Israel and/or the Church, the people of God. We don’t live underground in a box, but in many ways we are out of sight. Like the yeast we discussed last Sunday, growth is often slow and invisible.

    What did Jesus do save/redeem us? He gave everything He had—His very self! Jesus bought Israel and us with His blood.

    So What?

    I want to suggest two responses to this passage. First, recognize how much God loves us. We are a treasure to Him. It seems crazy but from Genesis to Revelation it is clear God loves His children. He went to the most extraordinary lengths to prove it, sending Jesus to not only visit but die for us.

    Second, what is your treasure? What would you sell everything for?

    I remember multiple occasions when Heather and I talked to doctors about various treatment options for our sick child. Money was no object when it meant our child’s health. At one point we considered selling our house to pay the medical bills.

    What is your treasure? Who is your treasure? The interesting thing about the treasure in this story is it is hidden. The kingdom of God is somewhat hidden. Salvation and the righteousness of the kingdom are greater treasures than anything the world has to offer.

    I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold (though I often want silver and gold, too!).

    Many of us are so familiar with God, so familiar with the gospel that Jesus is Lord, so familiar with the kingdom we forget their true value. The kingdom is the greatest treasure we can ever find and we must give thanks for this precious gift and joy.

    What is your treasure? Who is your treasure? Paul wrote to the church in Philippi:

    But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

    Paul’s ready to trade everything for Christ and His Kingdom.

    What do you truly desire? What’s your treasure? How do your actions show it?

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

    God is Love, 1 John 3, 31 May 2015

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

    What is your favorite book of the Bible? Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    God is love.

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

    Love is not being nice.

    Love is not avoiding conflict.

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

    Love is a verb. It requires action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:19-21)

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

    How many claim to love God yet hate others?

    Love is a command.

    Do you love?

    I confess

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

    Conclusion

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

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

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

    These words were read that day:

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

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

    Love and Hate, 1 John 2:7-11, 26 April 2015

    Big Idea: Followers of Jesus are to love one another, and this requires sacrificial action, not mere tolerance.

    Scripture: 1 John 2:7-11

    Autenticity

    Two weeks ago while visiting our daughter in New York City I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I love the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago but this was my first visit to The Met. It is a fantastic home to priceless sculptures, pottery, musical instruments, and, of course, paintings.

    Heather and I recently saw a powerful film, The Woman in Gold, an historical movie about a painting captured by the Nazis and the quest by the rightful owner to have it returned. Spoiler alert: it was eventually returned…and sold in 2006 for over $130 million!

    That’s pocket change, though, compared to the February sale of Paul Gauguin’s “Nafea Faa Ipoipo? (When Will You Marry?) for $300 million!

    Which begs three questions:

    1. Who has that kind of money?
    2. Why would you choose to spend that much on that painting?
    3. How do you know it’s real?

    Can you imagine spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a painting and discovering it to be a fake?

    There’s an old expression that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Things are not always as they appear, and our world is filled with counterfeits, be they paintings, money, or even people.

    In our series “Love Illuminated” we’re looking at the book of 1 John, a letter from one of Jesus’ best friends to early believers of the movement we know as Christianity. The early church was threatened by outsiders who wanted to dismiss, disrupt, or even destroy this new religion. An even greater threat, however, came from within, those who claimed to follow Jesus but failed to do so.

    One of John’s goals in this letter is to test the authenticity of their spiritual vigor. Last week we saw two of those tests:

    Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. (1 John 2:4)

    I suggested God’s love language is probably obedience. Knowing God involves action. It’s not simply going to church or reading the Bible or even memorizing scriptures, but rather it is responding to the commands of God. It is obeying god.

    Two verses later John wrote

    Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)

    This phrase “to live in Him” is the Greek term “meno” which John used forty times in his gospel and 27 times in this epistle. It speaks of the indwelling of the Christian in God or even possibly of God indwelling us. It is to abide or remain, to truly know God. Jesus did not come to begin a new religion, but rather He showed us what it means to be human and He invites us to follow Him, His teachings, and His example.

    1 John 2:7-11

    Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.
    (1 John 2:7)

    What’s the old command? Love God and love you neighbor. It was presented generations earlier.

    Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

    One way we love God is by loving our neighbor.

    “ ‘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)

    John’s audience had been told love God. They had been told to love their neighbor.

    Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. (1 John 2:8)

    Jesus not only taught commands, He followed them. He said

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

    Those are strong and difficult words! Jesus demonstrated them, however, even praying for those who crucified Him.

    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

    The center of God’s will is to love one another, and what made it new was Jesus. He showed us what it truly means to love—not tolerate, not co-exist, but love.

    What’s so exciting to me is the Holy Spirit filled Jesus with unconditional love and offers it to us, too, if we are willing to ask and receive.

    How crazy would it be for Jesus to just say, “Love” and walk away? The first part of the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5 is love. We are to receive God’s love from the Holy Spirit and let it overflow in our lives to others.

    This is not about trying harder. It’s about aligning ourselves with the Light.

    The moon has no internal light. It cannot be brighter for us by trying harder. In fact, it can’t shine at all…unless it is aligned with the sun.

    We, also, must be aligned with the Son, S-o-n. We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, letting go and letting God. We are to die and surrender our lives daily to God if we hope to experience His presence and power in our lives and be a blessing to others. We need to grow daily and we grow by feeding upon bread, the Word.

    John’s first test of authentic believers was obedience. The second was love that looks like Christ’s love.

    Here’s the third:

    Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. (1 John 2:9)

    None of us hate, right?! This is church, after all!

    Hate is the absence of the deeds of love. That could include indifference! We often think hate is only expressed in violence or harm, but passivity or inaction could be hateful. Love unexpressed is not love at all. It is not neutral.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. contrasted hate and love beautifully when he said,

    “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” -
    Strength to Love

    He’s undoubtedly reflecting John’s words, which continue…

    Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. (1 John 2:10-11)

    Haters are in darkness. Lovers are in the light.

    Love

    Loving others—especially other believers—is the test of genuine faith. We’re family. Family loves through thick and thin.

    Have you ever noticed the power of love in a family? Some families say and do terrible things to one another, yet there is an understanding of love, a lifelong commitment to the other person. The real test of one’s love is not found in the good times, but in the midst of suffering. You see who your true friends and family are when things get hard.

    Increasingly in our culture family is not merely people with the same last name, but those with whom we do life. This was, perhaps, even more true in the early church where believers were persecuted, resources were often scarce, and the movement of Jesus was spreading virally—without social media!

    God’s redemptive plan was never to get people saved or get people to an altar…the plan of God was to reconcile people to His family. Jesus came to rebuild God’s family.

    Let’s face it, love is hard! It sounds easy, but it’s not. By love I don’t mean nice or tolerant. I mean looking out for the best interest of the other person. Love involves action. It involves sacrifice. It involves!

    C.S. Lewis said
    “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
    An Example: Reconciliation in Armenia
    Although many are aware of my German roots, I’m also one quarter Armenian. This past week marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the slaughter of up to 1.5 million of the 2 million Armenians by Turks. Needless to say, for a century there has been tremendous animosity between Armenians and Turks.
    How do you tell an Armenian Christian to just love Turks, knowing your ancestors were destroyed by their ancestors? It’s certainly akin to asking Jews to forgive Germans.
    My great grandfather was a victim of the Genocide. Though not killed, he hid in a ditch filled with dead bodies, eventually able to escape to the United States.
    Earlier this month, a group of Turkish Christians stood before TV cameras at the Armenian Genocide Memorial and said, “We came to share your pain. We have come here to apologize for what our ancestors did, to ask for your forgiveness.” The new report said
    Gathered around the monument’s eternal flame, the more than twenty Turkish citizens spoke out simply, and repeatedly: “We plead with you, if you can, to forgive us and the crimes of our forefathers.”

    Significantly, the Turks were joined by a number of local Armenian Christians who formed a huge circle, holding hands together around the memorial as they prayed aloud in Turkish and Armenian for their nations and peoples.

    One Western observer of the Yerevan gathering confessed, “I may never see something like this ever again in my life. I was a spectator, watching the walls of division and hostility come down. It’s what the gospel of Christ should be doing all over the world, bringing true reconciliation.”

    This is what love for one’s brother looks like. This is what it means to walk in the light.

    The Bible is filled with descriptions of light and darkness. Few things contrast greater.

    We’ve all been born into sin, into darkness, but we’ve been given an invitation to the Light, an invitation we can accept or reject.

    Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.

    So What?

    Love, don’t hate. If only it were that simple!

    You may be saying, “I don’t hate anybody. Haters gonna hate.” This isn’t about how you react to someone who cuts you off on the expressway, a momentary action. Hate in this context is a state of being, a habit of failing to love someone.

    If we love, we’re in the light. If we’re in the light, we can love, we can shine. But it won’t happen if we merely try harder. We must abide. We must remain. We must be with God through prayer, worship, study of scripture, and fellowship.

    Conclusion

    If I were to purchase a million dollar painting I’d hire an expert to authenticate the work of art. They would surely have a variety of tests to determine whether it is a fake or the genuine article.

    Likewise, John had tests to determine authentic followers of Jesus from fakers who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk.

    Do you obey? Even when it’s inconvenient? Even when it’s costly?

    Do you live as Jesus lived? Are you a “little Christ,” imitating His words and deeds?

    Do you love? Your friends? Your family? Your neighbors? Your enemies? Not love in your head, but love in action?

    Jesus did. He set the bar high, but He gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to live like Christ.

    AMEN!

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

    Sin and Obedience, 1 John 2:1-6, 19 April 2015

    Big Idea: God’s love language is obedience

    Q&A (question from last week)

    Introduction

    Last week we began a new series on the book of 1 John entitled Love Illuminated. Love and light are two dominant themes in this short book written to the early Church by one of Jesus’ three best friends, John, the same man who wrote the Gospel of John and Revelation.

    John describes in the third verse of the book, which we examined last week, the purpose:

    We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

    1 John is written to followers of Jesus so they might have fellowship with one another and with God.

    Last week someone texted in a question about the plural “we.” It is a reference to the early Church leaders. Just as I might use “we” to describe Scio’s elders, so John is representing the first disciples of Jesus who have become “fathers” to new believers.

    This is a book about fellowship, about relationship.

    Have you ever had a strained relationship? How did it feel?

    Sometimes people confuse position with status. For example, my position might be daddy to my kids, but the status of our relationship may be strained in a given moment.

    Our passage today does not deal with salvation. John is writing to children of God. It does, however, deal with fellowship, the status of our relationships with God and one another.

    PRAY

    Love

    Who do you love? It’s a simple question. Think about the people in your life that you most love. Why do you love them? How do you express that love?

    Dr. Gary Chapman’s best-selling book
    The Five Love Languages provides the five ways people express love (we’ve looked at these before):

    • words of affirmation
    • physical touch
    • quality time
    • acts of service
    • gifts

    A note to couples, it is extremely rare for both of you to have the same love language and, therefore, you need to learn the language of the other person and speak their language…since speaking yours is rarely as meaningful.

    I believe God’s love language is
    obedience.

    As a dad, I can tell you obedience—and physical touch/hugs—is my love language. If I ask my kids to clean their room and they buy me gifts and say nice things to me but leave Coke cans in their room attracting ants—or worse—I don’t feel loved! I feel disrespected and ignored. Daddy usually knows best…especially when the ants arrive!

    So many people talk a great talk about following Jesus on Sunday, singing songs and putting money in the offering plate, but ignoring Him during the week. This is nothing new. When Saul disobeyed God, he told Samuel about the great things he did for God.

    But Samuel replied:
    “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the LORD?
    To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)

    Which brings us to our passage for today.

    Scripture: 1 John 2:1-6

    My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. (1 John 2:1a)

    John speaks as a father to his children, his dear children, his spiritual children. The word “children” in the Greek is a term of endearment.

    Sin is anything that separates us from God. By definition, it affects the status of that relationship. If I sin against you, our fellowship is strained. Any sin is ultimately a sin against God.

    But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1b-2)

    Here’s a good “but!” We all sin. We all fall short of God’s glory, His standard of perfection, His righteousness. Praise God for Jesus, the Advocate, the Righteous One who died for us. He is the propitiation for us, meaning He atoned for our sins, meaning His suffering paid for our sins. He took our punishment. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus died as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. He is the atoning sacrifice: at one moment Jesus died to reconcile us to our heavenly Dad.

    This is truly good news!

    We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. (1 John 2:3)

    Christians are not permitted to do whatever they please. They must do what pleases God. This is a radical notion, especially in our hyper-individualistic culture that says do it now, have it now, and seize your rights.

    We know that we know…Him if…we keep His commands. You can’t know if you’re disobeying God. The assurance comes when we keep His commands. That brings peace. That bring joy.

    Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. (1 John 2:4)

    Strong words! Any mystery to what he is saying? A disobedient Christian is a liar!

    Disobedience is proof we don’t know God.

    Many people call themselves Christians but that doesn’t mean they are really God’s children.

    Do you love God’s commands?

    King David did. Perhaps that’s why he’s called a man after God’s own heart despite his own sins and shortcomings.

    The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. (Psalm 19:8b)

    Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. (Psalm 119:35)

    Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. (Psalm 119:98)

    I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. (Psalm 119:131)

    It’s easy to talk the talk, but walking the walk is another story.

    The test of your car battery is not when it’s 70 degrees and sunny, but ten below zero.

    The test of your patience is not when you’re relaxing at the beach, but when you’re stuck in an hour-long traffic backup.

    The test of your faith is not what happens on Sunday morning, but 24 hours later when the boss—or teacher—barks out an order for you.

    Jesus said…

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

    “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

    But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: (1 John 2:5)

    The Word of God and the commandments of God.

    The commandments are the Word of God.

    The Word of God includes the commandments…and more.

    Jesus said

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

    Jesus replied,
    “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23)

    Children of God want to not only do the commandments but please the Father in all they do. Not “how far can I go and still be a Christian?” Is it ok for a Christian to _________? That’s the wrong question. The right question is, “What can I do to please my heavenly Father?”

    Do you want to please God or yourself?

    The commandments are one thing, but the word is another.

    What is your attitude toward sin? What do you do when you sin?

    Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)

    Jesus is our example. He did the Father’s will. He obeyed the Father.

    Do you think it pleased Jesus to die on the cross? No, but it pleased the Father.

    So What?

    Are you living as Jesus did? Of course we all fail to live up to His perfect standard, but each week it’s helpful to reflect, to remember, to read, to realize Jesus is the One we strive to follow.

    We are not merely to obey commands but follow His example, be in fellowship with Him, do life with Him.

    Jesus said the greatest thing in all of life is 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)

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

    Welcome Strangers, Family Rules, 25 January 2015

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

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

    Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jesus told them

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ (Matthew 25:41-43)

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

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

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

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

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

    The writer of Hebrews said

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

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

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

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

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

    We are family. Family takes care of family.

    The Shadow Side of Family

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

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

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

    The Good News

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

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

    So What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    You get the idea.

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

    Our mission:

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

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

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

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

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

    One More Thing

    Jesus set the ultimate example for us to follow:

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

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

    Let’s welcome strangers…until they become friends!

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

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

    2 John, 24 August 2014

    Big Idea: Truth and love must consume the lives of every Christ-follower.

    This series is designed to encourage reading the less-read books of the Bible (according to BibleGateway.com).

    Overview: John briefly encourages a “chosen lady” to walk in truth, love, and obedience. He warns her about deceivers, and promises to come explain things in person.

    Background

    With the possible exception of a letter of introduction, letters have a context. They have a purpose. The writer wants to communicate a message, often responding to a previous letter or situation. Such is the case with the epistles—or letters—of John. As one of Jesus’ three closest friends and—allegedly—the only one of the eleven disciples that was not martyred, John was a prominent figure in the early movement of Christianity. Notice I did not say the religion of Christianity. It had no million-dollar buildings, global television audiences, or political power. It was a grass-roots movement of faith, hope and love that steadily spread from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the earth.

    Like the telephone game, the message was vulnerable to distortion over time and multiple generations of communication. They did not have the luxury of downloading the YouVersion Bible app and all reading the same verses at the same time. Early Christians were dependent upon Old Testament scrolls and letters, none of which were in the possession of every believer. This allowed self-serving teachers to promote false teachings to serve their agendas.

    Throughout Church history there have been several prominent heresies. Some believed Jesus was God but not human. Others taught Jesus’ humanity while denying His deity. One popular group of false teachers were Docetic, denying the full incarnation of Christ and the necessity of His death on the cross.

    Truth

    Truth is an essential component of understanding. The Greek word used by John,
    aletheia, means “truth, truthfulness, corresponding to reality.”

    It should come as no surprise that in this environment John uses the word “truth” twenty times in his three short letters.

    In today’s postmodern culture, one common belief is truth is relative. There is no such thing as absolute truth. There are several problems with such a statement, most notably how it declares an absolute truth in its very message—there is no such thing as absolute truth!

    While it is true—pun intended—that some things are gray rather than black and white and messages are often subject to interpretation by the recipient, it does not negate the possibility of universal standards. Ironically many who deny absolute truth cling to science, a methodology that seeks consistent, repeatable results. We can debate whether or not it is true that the Detroit Tigers are a good baseball team or whether or not Lady Gaga is a good singer but I’m rather confident 1+1=2 and if I pour ice-water on my head it will be cold!

    One of the greatest questions in the entire Bible came from the lips of Pilate as Jesus stood before him awaiting execution.

    “What is truth?” Pilate asked. (John 18:38a)

    John answered the question a few chapters earlier when he recorded Jesus’ words:

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

    Truth is more than words or ideas. Truth is a Person. Jesus is the truth. When we know Jesus, we know the truth. Even earlier in his biography of Jesus, John wrote

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

    Today our culture is often blind to the truth. As Jack Nicholason famously said, “Truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

    We say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” “I want to believe whatever I want to believe.” “It doesn’t matter what they have discovered, ignorance is bliss.”

    People in Ferguson, Missouri continue to react to things they have heard in the media, some of which has been deemed incorrect or untruthful.

    Spirituality asks many questions about truth, including some good ones. What religion is true? What holy book is truth? What is the most truthful understanding of a difficult passage?

    My friend, Alex McManus, says if the Bible isn’t true, it should be because it tells the most incredible story in history.

    We don’t have time today to unpack all of the reasons I believe the Bible is true and billions throughout history have embraced it but suffice it to say truth is important. Without it we are lost, which is why many postmodern philosophers seem so detached from reality.

    John obviously cared about truth. He wanted the Person and message of Jesus to spread to every man, woman and child—much as I do today. It was his task as a leader in the early Church to ensure the accuracy of the message.

    Love

    Love is the second prominent word in John’s letters. God is love. This does not mean God is nice or God wants us happy, but God is love which means…

    Love means so many things in our English language. We love ice cream, we love our children, and we love God.

    The famous Greek word used by John is agape. It is the active love of God for His Son and His people. It is the love we are to have for God, one another, and even our enemies. It is a love that looks out not for our interests but the interests of others. It is a giving, selfless love.

    2 John

    As we read this letter, truth and love will be repeated. It is not an accident!

    The elder,

    John. He is a church leader and an aged man (likely in his nineties).

    To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth — and not I only, but also all who know the truth — because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever: (1-2)

    This may be written to a woman and her children or to a church and its members. The Church is the Bride of Christ.

    Truth is prominent. The truth is both the Word of God—the Bible—and Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He is also writing to early believers.

    We are not to love the world. We are not to love sin.

    Unfortunately, it is easy to confuse the world with the truth. Our culture shapes us into conformity. It’s incredible how many so-called Christians have beliefs and practices that oppose the politically incorrect teachings of God. We can rationalize anything—especially if “everybody is doing it”—and we do!

    We can’t have it both ways, friends. We can follow Jesus—the truth—or the world.

    Remember, following the world isn’t accidental. We have a very real enemy that wants to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) and lies are one of his greatest tools. That’s why we must know the truth. We must read the truth. We must discuss the truth. We must spend time with Jesus, the truth.

    The light and the truth is the Word of God. Love and truth are inseparable. God is love. Jesus is Truth. We need to stand for the truth of God. We might be the only ones, but God will honor us for our faithfulness—and others around us might just discover the truth for the first time.

    Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. (3)

    Grace. mercy. peace. truth. love. What a great list!

    But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

    Mercy is that in God which provided for the need of sinful man.

    John 3:16

    God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

    God has to be righteous and just. How did He become righteous and just? His mercy provided a Savior. Why? Because He loves us.

    And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

    It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (4-6)

    Walking/Walk/Walk. Truth is essential. Walk is essential.

    When I lived in Chicagoland I was in a band called Walk the Walk. We all know how easy it is to talk the talk, but walking the walk is something else entirely. Oh that we would all walk in the truth and not just talk about it.

    God’s love language is obedience. Love is obedience. Obedience is love. We are to walk in that love. We are to live in that love. We are to share that love in word and deed.

    John says this is old news. We are to love another. This is not mushy love or erotic love but agape love, unconditional love that looks out for the best interest of the other person.

    What message would we send to Scio Township and the entire community if we loved one another well? It thrills me to hear about people loving one another, serving one another, helping one another, giving time and money to one another, encouraging one another, praying together, enjoying one another. That’s God’s design for the Church and for all of His children—that we love one another. We can’t run and hide and love God in a closet. We were created for community—messy community! I need you and you need me. We need to walk in love—together.

    Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (7-11)

    This is a huge warning. Last week we saw John emphasize the importance of hospitality—welcoming the stranger, especially traveling teachers. Here he says not all traveling teachers are worthy of hospitality. There were—and are—those who do not speak the truth. They do not know the truth. The speak heresy and falsehoods. They make people feel good but don’t communicate the deeper, more challenging things of God…like that hip and trendy message to DIE!

    Aren’t we supposed to love our enemies? Yes. We must be careful with those who will lead us and others astray, though. You might love your uncle or aunt but not want them to spend extended time with your kids if they are a bad influence. John is warning these early Christians that not everyone is on the same team. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are those who may claim to follow Jesus that teach and live a different gospel, a different “good news,” a different message.

    Specifically, these false teachers denied Jesus as “coming in the flesh.” Today there are many non-Christians that believe in Jesus, but what do they believe? Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but deny He ever actually died on the cross. If He didn’t die, the rest of the story is a waste! The Quran says Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God or claimed divinity. Don’t miss this—our faith has much in common with Islam, but many tremendous differences. I mention this because we can engage in dialog with people of other faiths and find common ground. We must discern, however, where the differences lie, respectfully disagree, and cast a compelling vision for a faith that features the Son of God who set aside His divinity to become one of us—fully human—who died and rose from the dead.

    At the risk of over-complicating the nuances of our faith, let’s turn to the Apostle’s Creed, a series of statements from the 4th century that have served as something of a summary of our faith for hundreds of years:

    1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
    2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
    3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
    4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
    5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
    6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
    7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
    8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
    9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
    10. The forgiveness of sins:
    11. The resurrection of the body:
    12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

    John concludes…

    I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (12)

    The children of your chosen sister send their greetings. (13)

    These are personal greetings. This was a short letter, perhaps because he had limited paper and ink. He made his points…truth and love.

    So What?

    Hopefully the application to all of this is obvious—we must know the truth and live lives of love. Truth and love go together. Truth is expressed in love. Love is always concerned about the truth. Obedience to God necessitates both. We must be aware of counterfeit Christians and false teachings while declaring the truth with our words and deeds to bring honor to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

    Credits: some ideas from J. Vernon McGee

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

    King of Love, John 19:16b-24, 22 September 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus held out His arms and said, “I love you THIS much!” Does everyone know?

    What is love?

    This week I was talking with a friend who told me about a family that has no faith in God because they only believe in science, that which can be proven. I asked about love. Can you prove that love exists? What is it?

    This is a question I return to again and again because it is used so often in our culture to describe so many different things. Frequently it is just a word used to manipulate someone into doing something, but love itself requires doing and action. Love is a verb.

    Our text for today could actually be a short passage referenced months ago in the third chapter of John. It says

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    We continue our series on the Gospel or “good news” of John, a biography of Jesus written by one of His best friends. The next several weeks will address the final hours of Jesus before His burial. I must warn you that some of the content will be graphic and disturbing. Parents, be advised we have some short videos that involve the crucifixion. The suffering we have examined in the past few weeks was excruciating, but Jesus willingly experienced crucifixion, the ultimate Roman torture.

    Before we look at
    what Jesus did, I want to be crystal clear about why He suffered and died. He did it for you and for me.

    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)

    For God so loved you and me that He sent Jesus to die for us.

    Centuries earlier, the prophet Isaiah wrote

    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
    (Isaiah 53:5)

    So begins Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, the most successful rated R movie in history, grossing over $370 million.

    He was pierced, crushed, punished, and wounded…because He loves us.

    Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

    So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.
    (19:16)

    If you recall, Pilate desperately wanted to release Jesus as He found no reason for Him to be arrested, much less executed. Bowing to the pressure of the Jewish leaders and their threats of involving Caesar, Jesus was handed over to be crucified by the soldiers.

    Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). (19:17)

    They took Jesus outside the city to crucify Him. This is a fascinating detail because the traditional place of Jesus’ death is now a church, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, but it is inside the city. Personally, I found it to be something of a religious freak show, a series of buildings that actually house multiple churches, religious artifacts, and a large box built in 1810, the edicule of the Holy Sepulchre that is supposed to commemorate the tomb where Jesus was buried! I found the whole thing to be very strange, dark, extremely religious (and not in a good way) and depressing. I found it a very odd way to celebrate a living Christ!

    There is another site outside the city that is believe to have possibly been the location because of its name, the place of the Skull.

    John tell us…

    There they crucified him, and with him two others —one on each side and Jesus in the middle. (19:18)

    John does not give us details of the crucifixion.

    One detail found in the other Gospels (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) is Jesus quoting Psalm 22:

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
    (Psalm 22:1)

    When you understand a bit about crucifixion, you quickly understand why Jesus felt forsaken. In order to understand the agony from a medical perspective, I found this video.

    https://vimeo.com/20304062

    Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” (19-21)

    It was fairly common for condemned criminals to wear signs around their necks while on their way to execution to serve warning to others.

    Jesus died for all and the sign was in multiple languages, the three most understood at the time. For God so loved the world. Even the declaration of Jesus’ Kingship was announced to all.

    Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
    (22)

    Pilate infuriated the chief priests. He probably doesn’t believe Jesus is a king any more than they do, but he makes fun of them, a “calculated snub,” in the words of scholar N.T. Wright. Regardless, the words were true. Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and He died for every man, woman and child from every nation, tribe and tongue.

    May he rule from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
    (Psalm 72:8)

    May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

    For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
    He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
    He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.
    (Psalm 72:11-14)

    Anyone familiar with the Scriptures had to see the promised Messiah, yet it was the most religious that had Jesus arrested and crucified.

    When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. (23)

    “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

    This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

    “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”
    (24)

    Indeed Psalm 22, which we mentioned earlier, continues

    Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce my hands and my feet.
    All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
    They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.
    (Psalm 22:16-18)

    So this is what the soldiers did. (24b)

    So What?

    I struggled to prepare this message because it involved many disturbing images and accounts. At times, I found myself getting sick when I thought about the agony involved in crucifixion…but it was all part of Jesus’ ambition and plan to seek and save the lost, to offer hope to the hopeless, to offer forgiveness to us sinners, to offer reconciliation between us and our heaven Father we have rejected.

    This is a love story. This is passion.

    Have your received His love?
    Have you shared His love?

    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)

    You can listen to this message and others at 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.

    Share Your Story, b.l.e.s.s., 3 February 2013

    Share Your Story

    Big Idea:
    Share your story—HiStory

    Scriptures: 1 Peter 3:13-16; Matthew 28:18-20

    Introduction

    Three weeks ago we began our new year with our new series and annual theme, b.l.e.s.s. We said that we have been blessed to be a blessing. This is a theme throughout history, most prominently in God’s covenant with Abram (Genesis 12:1-3)

    Our first week’s challenge was to bless one person. Week two’s challenge was to spend one hour listening to God. Week three’s challenge was to eat with a lost person. Last week’s challenge was to study Jesus.

    These are not one-time challenge, but rhythms, patterns for the new year, every week. Some would call them spiritual practices or disciplines. As our series logo illustrates, none of these five steps are a “have to” in order to kill guilt, but rather a “get to” privilege that comes from being so blessed and filled by God that it overflows to others. Put another way, Jesus said in John 15:14 that we must remain in Him. When we are connected to Jesus, we will bear fruit. Blessings will leak. The more we practice disciplines such as prayer, listening, eating with the lost, and studying Jesus, the more natural it will become. The more we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the more the Spirit will overflow to others around us.

    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. (John 15:4)

    The final letter is “S” and it stands for
    story. Everyone loves a good story. Whether it is a nursery rhyme, a movie, a book, or even a conversation, there’s nothing like an engaging story. The content of a story is obviously its most important feature, but the storyteller is vital, as well. Can you think of some good storytellers? What makes them good? We are all part of God’s story. Life is HiStory.
    Story is built into our mission statement:

    We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 

    - serving our communities

    - sharing our story

    - sending disciples to bless the nations

    so that God is glorified.

    Jesus was a master story teller. Much of His teaching was not through verse-by-verse analysis of the ancient Scriptures, but rather through parables—stories.

    What’s your favorite Bible story? One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John. A blind man was healed by Jesus. The Jews were furious and envious of Jesus and refused to believe Jesus had, indeed, allowed this man to see.

    A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

    He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

    Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

    He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” (John 9:24-27)

    The man said, “This is my story. End of discussion...unless you want to follow Jesus, too!” They couldn’t argue with what happened to this man when he encountered Jesus.

    Your Story

    What is your story? One of the great things about your story is that it’s yours and nobody and deny it. Sure, if your story involved unicorns and candy clouds and talking bunnies, you might get some strange looks, but for the most part your story is indisputable. What God has done and is doing in and through you does not need archeological artifacts, scientific laboratory proofs, or journals of scholarly evidence. Either God is at work in and through you or He’s not, and if He is, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and the same power that is at work transforming you to be more like Jesus is available to every man, woman and child.

    Words...and actions

    Although there are those that dispute it, many believe St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and If necessary, use words.” Have you heard that quote? The original quote was actually, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” Do you see the difference? We need words. We need to share our story. We need deed and word, serving and story. It’s yet another “and.” Whether he said it or not, what does it mean? We know that often actions speak louder than words. Our acts of kindness and blessing go a long way toward establishing credibility and trust with others that grant us permission to share our story and truly be heard.
    Imagine someone saying, “Feed the hungry and if necessary, use food” or “Love your children and if necessary, spend time with them.” Words are necessary, but they are not necessarily where we begin.

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

    A Privilege For All Of Us

    Some Christians think story telling is for paid professionals. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in the eighth chapter of Acts everyone
    except the apostles spread the message of Jesus.

    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 what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart 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. 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. (1 Peter 3:13-16)

    Fruit

    One of the challenges with sharing our story relates to our expectations. Personally, I want everyone to follow Jesus, not because I get brownie points, but because I can’t imagine a better way to live. If I truly love someone, I will want them to experience the ultimate love from the Author of love. Like many of you, I’ve shared my story in hopes that others will become followers of Jesus. I’ve had the privilege to see people begin their journey with Jesus, but most of the time my story is one of many steps in their spiritual adventure. Paul made this very clear in his letter to the people of Corinth:

    What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

    Actions and words plus time and the power of the Holy Spirit will produce fruit.

    This Week’s Challenge: Share your story.

    Why is it so scary for many of us to share our story? Perhaps we fear rejection. Maybe we wonder if it will raise questions we can’t answer. It is possible that we are just shy and don’t like to talk to anyone about anything!

    Don’t forget there are many ways to share your story. It could be through a conversation, but it might be via a letter, an e-mail, a card, a Facebook post, or even a blog. We need actions, but we also need words. Both are required to truly bless the world…and God.

    How?

    So how do you share your story? It’s really quite simple. What was your life like before following Jesus, how did you encounter Him, and what has happened since? It doesn’t have to be a radical transformation account. For some of you, your story is colorful. That’s great. If not, that’s fine, too. Here’s mine:

    I was raised in a Christian family. In fact, my parents named me “Kirk” which means “church” or “church dweller.” They wanted me to experience the faith, love, peace, joy, and purpose that they had found in Jesus. I was a pretty good kid and went to church, but didn’t get much out of it until I encountered peers that were passionate for God. They inspired me to pursue God, to not just know about Him, but to actually know my Creator through prayer and Bible study and community with others. That was the spark I needed to ignite my faith. In college, I tested my faith, explored other religions and world views, and kept returning to Jesus, the only One who died for me, demonstrated His love, and offers grace—unmerited favor. I deserve eternal death for the sins and failures in my life, but I’ve learned that it’s not what I DO, but what Jesus has DONE for me by dying for me that gives my life meaning and hope and a future with Him forever. Our family has spent the last six years dealing with a series of tragedies, but even through the storms, we have had peace and joy knowing the God is with us. I want everyone to experience the radical, exciting life that only comes through following Jesus.

    What’s your story? If you’ve truly encountered Jesus, you have a story!

    Maybe you don’t have one...yet. Perhaps you’ve never fully surrendered your life to Jesus. If that’s the case, I urge you to do so. Simply tell God you are sorry for your past sins, receive His love and forgiveness, and follow the words and deeds of Jesus.

    Let His story become your story.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    So Loved, John 3:1-21, 10 June 2012

    Big Idea: God gave. Seekers can find.

    John 3:1-21

    But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. (John 2:24-25)

    Jesus knew what was in each person. He knows what is in you and me. He is God.

    He also knew what was in the heart of a guy named Nicodemus.

    Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. (John 3:1)

    He was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, likely a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court. He was an outstanding man. Today he would wear an Italian suit, drive a sports car, be a member at the country club, and command attention in every room he enters.

    He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (3:2)

    Nick at night! He could not “see” spiritually. He came with a mask. “We” know. They recognized the miracles.

    Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (3:3)

    Jesus interrupts him and starts talking about the kingdom of God. Born again or born from above.

    “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (3:4)

    This is a great question! Jesus wasn’t talking about a physical birth, though.

    Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
    (3:5)

    Water could refer to baptism or the womb but likely the sanctifying, cleaning power of the Word of God (Ezek. 36:25-27) through the Holy Spirit taking the Scripture and using it. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God through the man of God.

    Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (3:6)

    Our old, sinful nature does not change. It will die with our body.

    The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:7)

    The spiritual birth is necessary. We are given a new nature because our old nature is put to death (baptism).

    You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (3:7-8)

    We still know little about the wind. We can’t stop tornados. We can barely predict them! We can recognize when it is blowing, though, despite the fact that we can’t see the wind. “You” must be born again is plural. The same Greek word for wind means Spirit. We can’t see or control the Holy Spirit, but we can experience His power and presence and observe His movement.

    “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. (3:9)

    Nick is no longer a Pharisee or a ruler but a spiritual seeker. The masks are gone. He gets real with Jesus, and that’s what we must do, too. I believe the greatest reason that people in the west reject God is they refuse to humble themselves and admit that they need God. We can’t impress God. We can’t put on a show for Him. We can only come on our knees in respectful reverence, awe, wonder, and desperation.

    “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? (3:10)

    Don’t miss Jesus’ sarcasm here!

    Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. (3:11-13)

    See Daniel 7:13-14

    I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” (John 16:28)

    Jesus is the only One who can speak of heaven because He’s the only One who has been there. Prior to Jesus, the righteous dead went to Abraham’s bosom.

    Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (3:14-15)

    The serpent represented the sin of the people. Christ was made sin for us on the cross. See Numbers 21:4-9. Jesus repeats that message in the most famous verse in the Bible:

    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. (3:16)

    The son of man must be lifted up. We must be born again. The love of God cannot save a sinner. It is by grace that we are saved. He loved so He gave. To believe in Christ means to trust Him for your sins. Believe is more than just mental agreement. Demons “believe” in Jesus, but they don’t trust Him for their sins and soul. They have not surrendered their lives to follow Him.

    For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (3:17)

    Jesus did not come to judge the first time. He came as the Savior. Next time He will come as the judge.

    Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (3:18)

    The name of Jesus, the Savior of the world. The Pharisees believed that the Messiah would come as a Savior and judge. They were correct, but those two roles would occur during two different occasions.

    This week I heard a great quote from Billy Graham:

    God judges. The Holy Spirit convicts. We are to love.

    This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (3:19)

    Nothing that grows in the dark would be welcome in your home!

    Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (3:20-21)

    Credits: Some ideas taken from J. Vernon McGee.
    You can listen to the 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.

    Receive (and love all), 25 December 2011

    Big Idea: Jesus loves us, and we are to love others…everyone!

    Kids are great because they know how to receive. There is no fear or pride or reservation in receiving. Jesus said

    I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17)

    I love that!

    Joy To The World/the LORD is come/let earth receive her King!

    No gift is yours until you receive it.

    Once we receive a gift, we must take good care of it. One of my favorite Bible verses says

    Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:17-18)

    This word “word” or “logos” in the original Greek often refers to Jesus.

    Last week we saw this same word in the first chapter of John.

    The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14, The Message)

    Jesus is a gift. We must receive the gift.

    Two verses earlier, John says of Jesus

    Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)

    When we receive Jesus, we become adopted into His family as children of God. It’s not because we earned it. It’s not because we’re good enough to earn His approval. Christmas is all about Jesus leaving heaven to come to earth, to be with us, Emmanuel, and ultimately to die.

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

    This is Christmas, that God created a beautiful planet, created us, loved us, and when we screwed up our lives through sin He sent Jesus to die for us and give us a second chance. A hope. A purpose. Love.

    My challenge to you first and foremost is to receive Jesus. After you have received Jesus, the challenge is to receive and love all.

    If there is one word that best describes God, it is love. He is the definition of love. He is the source of love.

    Our mission—our purpose for existing—is one thing: love.

    Jesus said the entire law of Moses can be summarized in four words...

    Love God. Love Others.

    That’s it.

    But you can’t love until you’ve experienced love.

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

    Because He has loved us and when we receive His love, we are then able to love Him and others.

    Who are we to love?

    Love all. Serve all.

    That’s the slogan for Hard Rock Cafe. That should be our slogan! That should be what followers of Jesus—followers of love—should be all about.

    Tragically, love is not a word that often describes us. In fact, recent studies indicate words like homophobic, judgmental, and hateful more accurately describe followers of the God of love.

    This past week I had a meeting with two representatives from Scio Township and I told them that it’s my dream that if we ever closed our doors, the community would ask, “Where did those amazing, kind, generous, loving people go?” We exist to love God and others. I don’t want a restaurant out-loving the Church!

    This Christmas, I invite you to spend time with the Author of love, receive His love, bask in His unconditional love for you...and then share it. Don’t hoard it. Don’t keep it to yourself.

    Give to help dig a well in Africa.
    Serve a neighbor in need.
    Sponsor a child with Compassion International.
    Help a co-worker.
    Children, obey your parents.
    Look people in the eye.
    Volunteer.
    Listen.
    Love.

    This Christmas season and into 2012, it’s my prayer that we would

    Worship (more)
    Rebel (and spend less)
    Give (presents)
    Receive (and love all)

    For God so loved the entire world—everyone man, woman and child—that He gave Jesus. Let’s live for Him. Let’s live like Him. That’s radical!

  • You can listen to the podcast here.
  • Favoritism, 31 July 2011

    Big Idea: God loves each of us equally and we are, likewise, to love others equally.

    We all have preferences. That’s probably why there are dozens of different types of toothpaste to choose from when we go to the store. Jesus’ half-brother, James, had some strong words about favoritism.

    My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 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,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (2:1-4)

    Last week’s message could be boiled down to three words:

    Just Do It (obey the Word)

    This week’s message could be boiled down to three words from another 80’s slogan:

    Just Say No (to favoritism)

    The message is pretty simple to understand, yet it can be difficult to obey.

    Why do people show favoritism?

    I’m continually amazed that in a nation whose Declaration of Independence reads “all men are created equal,” it was nearly 100 years later in 1870 that race was removed as a barrier to voting and it took another 50 years in 1920 for women to vote. Favoritism?

    By the way, note that it says that all are “created.” Just a thought!

    God originated the idea of love, of respect, and of equality. In fact, He loves the underdog, the humble, and the weak. Why? He hates pride!

    Today’s passage in James 2 comes on the heels of the final verses from last week. It’s important to note that the Bible was not written with chapters and verses. They were added centuries later. Right before James talks about favoritism, he writes

    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. (1:27)

    God loves the poor and the orphan and the widow. He cares for them—uses us to show that love. The next time you pray for God to bless the hungry, He may ask you to feed them. The next time you pray for God to bless the orphans, be ready to become a foster parent or even adopt.

    There’s an old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover, yet we do. It’s our human nature to judge people by what we see or know about them, yet even if our assumptions are true, they are created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth.

    One of the greatest examples of God’s concern for the underdog is found in 1 Samuel 16. Samuel is told by God to visit the home of Jesse where he would find the next king of Israel.

    When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”

    But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

    I love that last sentence.

    Why do we pay so much attention to outward appearance?

    I’m ashamed to confess this, but this week I judged someone by their outward appearance. I got my hair cut at one of those walk-in places where you get whoever is available to cut your hair. I was hoping for one of the trendy-looking stylists and was called into the chair of an older, not-terribly attractive person…who then proceeded to give me a terrific haircut.

    One of the greatest examples I have ever seen of judging the outward appearance of someone happened two years ago on a British television program. You can view it
    here.

    I have a friend who is a multi-millionaire. You’d never know it by the way that he dresses. He told me of a time when he entered a car showroom ready to buy a new car—or two!—with cash!—yet was ignored by numerous salespeople who gave their attention to better-dressed shoppers.

    That’s an unusual case of a rich man NOT getting preferential treatment, but there was obviously no perceived wealth. James continues

    Listen, my dear brothers: 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? But you have insulted 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 slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? (2:5-7)

    Why are we drawn to the rich? There’s nothing evil about being wealthy, but favoritism is clearly a sin. It’s amazing to me how some of the most rich and famous people are the most miserable—and make others around them miserable.

    James continues...

    If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (2:8-11)

    There are only two things we must do as followers of Jesus—love God and our neighbor. The Golden Rule is referenced here. Love your neighbor as yourself. James is saying that’s the true test of our maturity and obedience. Too many people will tell you that they’re going to heaven because they haven’t killed anyone, but James is saying that favoritism is a sin and all sin leads to death. Period.

    The early church certainly had their issues or else James would not have needed to write these words, yet they became known for taking care of the poor and the widow and the orphan and the outcast. The Good News of Jesus Christ is alive and well 2000 years later because men and women and children before us followed the Golden Rule and lived radical, counter-cultural lives of faith, hope and love.

    The next time you are tempted to pre-judge someone, show favoritism, or discriminate against someone, remember Susan Boyle. Remember James. Remember Jesus. Remember the Golden Rule. Imagine what would happen if we treated everyone we encounter with the dignity, value and respect that they deserve as being created in the image of God.

    James concludes...

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

    James is referring to the Old Testament law that no one was able to follow perfectly, yet Jesus came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. Mercy is not getting the punishment that we deserve and it’s only because of Jesus that we have the opportunity to experience both abundant and eternal life.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Forgive One Another, 30 January 2011

    Big Idea:

    We are created to live in community. Part of being a family is forgiving one another.

    Scriptures:

    Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the lord forgave you. - Colossians 3:13

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

    Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    - Romans 12:19-21

    Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the lord forgave you. - Colossians 3:13

    “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
    -Ephesians 4:26-27

    For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

    - Matthew 6:14-15

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

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

    Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. - Colossians 3:13-14

    He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” - Luke 11:2-4

    Notes:

    Forgiveness is NOT forfeiting justice but it is appealing to a higher court.

    Forgiveness is NOT something you do when you feel like it but a decision.

    Forgiveness is NOT weakness but the ultimate portal to power.

    Forgiveness is to release someone of a debt that they owe you because of the pain they caused you.

    The forgiven forgive! We don’t forgive because it is deserved. We forgive because we have been forgiven.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Love One Another, 23 January 2011

    Big Idea: We are created to live in community. Jesus gives us a command to love one another.

    Scriptures:

    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. - John 13:34-35

    Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. - Romans 13:8

    Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. - 1 Peter 1:22

    This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. - 1 John 3:11

    And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. - 1 John 3:23

    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.
    - 1 John 3:16

    If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

    And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
    - 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, 13

    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. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

    We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
    - 1 John 4:9-13

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

    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 4:20-21

    You can listen to the podcast here.
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