Psalm 1: Blessed, 3 July 2022

Psalm 1: Blessed
Series—Restoring Your Soul: Psalms

Series Big Idea:
The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul.
Big Idea: True blessings are found in seeking and following the LORD.
Shortcuts. We all love short cuts. The modern expression is hacks. How can do have it our way…now? Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everybody wants to be rich, but nobody wants to work. Everybody wants a fit spouse, but nobody wants to be the one going to the gym. Everybody wants a degree, but nobody wants to study. Everybody wants to play the piano, but nobody wants to practice.
I realize everybody and nobody are exaggerations, but it’s true, right? We all want hacks to make life easier. Here’s one for you:
Everybody wants to be blessed, but nobody wants to obey the LORD.
Today we’re beginning a summer series on the Psalms called “restoring your soul.” Psalms may be my favorite book of the Bible. It is the songbook of scripture, though we don’t have the original music, unfortunately. I recently learned of an Australian musical group called The Sons of Korah who are trying to put all 150 psalms to music! They have dozens completed thus far.
The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul from a number of different writers. It is my prayer that they will speak not only to your mind, but also your heart and soul
A blessing is literally “God’s favor and protection.” Who doesn’t want that?
Today we’re beginning our series with Psalm…one! Its first letter is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. I learned in studying for this sermon the Psalms have five sections or books just like the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses that begin the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible. Psalm one is something of an introduction to the entire songbook, but it’s a simple yet profound piece of wisdom. The big idea is
true blessings are found in seeking and following the LORD. Don’t look for shortcuts. You can pray for blessings—for yourself or others—but we can participate with our lives.
The New International Version of Psalm 1 begins
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, (Psalm 1:1, NIV)
That’s a mouthful. We’re going to use the
New Living Translation this morning, but I want you to catch the “blessed.” Some versions say “happy.” The original Hebrew word is “Asheri.” That doesn’t mean much to most of you, but the NLT translates it
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. (Psalm 1:1, NLT)
I used to tell my kids, “You are your friends. Choose wisely.” Perhaps you’ve heard, “Birds of a feather, flock together.” Paul said,
“Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33). We are all influenced by others, whether it’s family, friends, or even social media. Who do you hang with? Are they wicked? Do they sin without regret or repentance? Do they mock others? Are they filled with pride? What comes out of their mouth? Would it be appropriate around children?
The very first sentence of the very first Psalm says one is blessed not when they ask God to bless them, but rather when they don’t let the wicked influence them. There is effort involved. There is self-control involved. It may mean thinking twice about how you spend your time…with whom you spend your time!
This does not mean we should never develop relationships with non-Christians. It does mean in doing so we need to shine light into the darkness, not let our light get snuffed out by the darkness. Notice the progression: walk/follow, stand, sit/join. The righteous don’t have time to stand around and mock and gossip because they’re delighting in the LORD.
The LORD said to Joshua,
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)
You’ll be blessed!
The psalmist continues the thought in verse two:
But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. (Psalm 1:2, NLT)
This is what a blessed person does. If you want to experience joy, this is what you do. You fill your mind with truth. You meditate not on your navel, but on the scriptures! According to numerous studies, biblical illiteracy has been on the increase for decades. Even many so-called Christians don’t know what the Bible says…or act like they don’t! I’ve been amazed—especially in the past few years—at the ungodly attitudes of so-called Christians. I expect the world to act like the world, but the lack of love, peace, compassion, empathy, courage, sacrifice, patience, and goodness of many who claim to follow Christ is evidence many simply don’t meditate on the Word of God. They’ve been more influenced by political parties or trendy ideas than on the law of the LORD.
Family, we need to meditate on the Bible day and night. Just reading it isn’t sufficient. Thirty minutes on Sunday morning is not enough. Most people I know eat more than one meal a week…more than one meal a day! We need to not only feed our bodies, we need to feed our minds. We need to feast on God’s Word, especially when we’re exposed to countless lies every day on billboards, television, and the Internet.
The Hebrew word for meditate,
hagah, means to moan, growl, ponder. The same word is found in Isaiah 3:14 for a lion’s low growling and later for the cooing of a dove. Perhaps you’ve tried to memorize something, repeating it quietly out loud. Day and night the blessed, the happy, the joyful marinate their minds on God’s Word. It is their delight. By the way, the Hebrew word for “law,” Torah, is more than just rules. It’s all of the stories, prophecies, and instructions in the Bible, provided for us to know and understand God and reality.
It's no wonder our world is filled with so many opinions and perspectives. People are reading different books…literally! What is your basis for faith? For truth? For understanding life?
We’ve given you several tools to help you meditate on God’s Word. Let me remind you of some of them:
1.    Mission 119. This free app will guide you through the entire Bible over about 20 months. Alliance Pastor John Soper will give you scriptures and offer a daily audio commentary on the passage, which is especially helpful in those difficult texts. I’m doing it for the third time now and it’s one of the best habits I’ve ever done.
    Lectio 365. This is another free app which has both a morning and an evening meditation on God’s Word. It provides space for prayer and reflection as well as biblical content. Heather and I do it most every day together and it’s one of the best investments we’ve made in ourselves and our marriage.
    RightNow Media. First Alliance pays for you to have a free subscription to this huge library of videos, all available on your mobile device or streaming box. There are resources for children, small groups, and personal Bible study from some of the best teachers on the planet.
    YouVersion. This is so much more than a Bible app. It’s packed with Bible reading plans, videos, a verse of the day, and the “live” section has First Alliance Church each week!
    Life Groups. The heart of First Alliance is not actually Sunday morning in rows, but in circles with small groups. It’s difficult to interact with my preaching live (unless you’re online; chat away!), but doing life together with others is a terrific environment to not only feed on the Bible but also digest it into your soul.
Of course, there are many other ways to get God’s Word in your heart, letting it fill your mind. The best Bible translation is…the one you read! I like the New Living Translation and the New International Version, but if you prefer a different one, go for it! I like my
NIV Study Bible and my Life Application Bible.
One core value of our Alliance family states, “Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success.”
One of this church’s core values says, “We are committed to prayer, the Word of God, and following Jesus.” Don’t miss that last part. It’s not enough to know it in your head. It needs to leak into your heart and hands, too!

Arguably the best chapter in the Bible about the Bible is Psalm 119. It’s the longest chapter in the Bible (176 verses!). If you want a great place to start meditating on God’s Word, read it slowly. Those who delight in God’s Word, those who meditate on it…
They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. (Psalm 1:3, NLT)
Have you ever slowed down long enough to observe trees? God designed them to get nourishment through their roots and the results can be seen in the leaves. It seems like trees near water have an advantage! Even when the weather is dry, a tree near water is able to drink. They are able to bear fruit. I love fruit, especially fresh fruit!
But have you ever had bad fruit? Moldy fruit? Those who feed on God’s Word, those who meditate on the LORD, will produce good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a, NIV)
This is the fruit of doing life with God, filling our minds with truth and righteousness. Note trees don’t eat their own fruit, but produce it to benefit others. That’s true for the righteous.
But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. (Psalm 1:4, NLT)
I’m no gardener, but I know the wheat and chaff are separated. One has value, the other is worthless trash. The kernel falls to the threshing floor and saved while the chaff blows away. Imagine a watermelon. You eat the fruit and throw away the rind, right? This is how God describes the wicked, those who ignore God and His wisdom. It gets worse.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. (Psalm 1:5, NLT)
Judgment Day is coming…for all humans. Are you ready? I know our culture is filled with gray, but scripture repeatedly talks about the sheep and the goats, the wide and narrow road, heaven and hell. There are two paths. Which have you taken? It’s never too late to repent, turn, and follow Jesus.
For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1:6, NLT)
Which path are you choosing?
Jesus once said,
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28, NIV)
It’s not enough to hear it. It’s not enough to read it. We must live it!
Do you want to be blessed? There’s something you can do about it! To experience God’s favor, you need to seek and follow Him. It’s not enough to say, “Bless me, LORD!” There are no shortcuts. You need to spend time with Him, meditate on His Word, surround yourselves with others who will speak the truth in love and model a Jesus lifestyle. Garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out!
The message today is quite simple, yet we’re so easily enticed by the lies of this world and miss the pathway to blessings. It’s ultimately about seeking and following the LORD. It’s about building your life around Jesus. It’s about Christ being our cornerstone…our life!
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance. (Psalm 33:12, NIV)
May God bless the United States of America this week as we celebrate our freedom…and may He bless every nation on earth!

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

Church & State, 18 April 2021

Church & State
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 12:13-17

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

Big Idea: Ultimately, everything we have belongs to the King of kings.

We’ve been going verse-by-verse through the book of Mark, the shortest of the four gospels or “good news” that tell the story of Jesus.

If you joined us last week, Jesus retold an ancient parable to the religious leaders, making them the bad guys in what Isaiah prophesied about Israel. Put simply, Jesus called them out, adding fuel to the fire of these wicked leaders who wanted to see the Messiah killed. They were successful in getting Christ crucified, but their victory was short-lived.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Our text today is short…only five verses. Before we look at them, it’s helpful to understand some historical background. As a Jew, Jesus spent most of his life and ministry among Jews living under Roman rule in a culture that had many gods. The people of Israel were somewhat unique in their monotheism, their belief in one God.

shema—the most essential prayer in Judaism, often prayed each morning and evening—begins

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

One God…who exists in three Person: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ day, some leaders were considered gods. This may seem odd in our culture, but that’s how much power they possessed among the people. Caesar was not an elected official like we have presidents and governors. But he ruled and taxed and was not exactly admired by the Jews!

Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. (Mark 12:13).

We’ve heard about the Pharisees. They were the conservative, legalistic Jewish leaders. Here Mark also mentions the Herodians. They were a political group who supported Herod. The Pharisees and Herodians are strange bedfellows! It’s amazing how people can come together over a common enemy, in this case Jesus. These religious leaders are ruthless! They have already determined to kill Jesus. They are doing everything possible to destroy his credibility, to “catch him in his words.”

Have you ever had someone “out to get you?” Do you walk on eggshells, so to speak, when you’re around certain people? Imagine your greatest critics were literally seeking to kill you!

In our text for today, a question is brought to Jesus, but they were not seeking knowledge. They were trying to trap Jesus.

Why do you do the things you do? I’m a big fan of the “why?” Motives matter. We often do things without even realizing why we’re doing them. Good and bad habits dictate many of our actions. It’s possible to even do good things with bad motives. This is a perfect example. Mark tells us from the beginning the “why.”

They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. (Mark 12:14a)

Notice they begin by buttering him up, praising him for his integrity. Their sarcasm—or anger in a clown suit!—is actually true. Jesus is a man of integrity. He wasn’t swayed by others. He taught the way of God in accordance with the truth. They were masquerading as genuine followers of Jesus and the truth, but they weren’t. Are you ready for the question?

Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” (Mark 12:14b-15a)

You have to admit it’s a good question! After all, the law of Moses written hundreds of years earlier which guided Jewish conduct knew nothing of Rome or Caesar or imperial taxes. It was a different era, much in the same way we face questions today which are not explicitly spelled out in the Bible.

Again, it’s a practical question, but it was asked with impure motives. I’m sure they were excited, placing Jesus in a no-win situation. Or so they thought!

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” (Mark 12:15b)

There are a lot of people who look, act, and sound impressive. They know the Bible. They go to church. They have the perfect family. Everyone knows about their generosity. But some simply know how to put on a show. The word for “hypocrite” is from the same root word as “actor.” Jesus knew their hearts…and he knows ours, too. One of my favorite verses in the Bible involves the selection of the next king of Israel.

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 people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1Samuel 16:7)

As I’ve said, these religious leaders were impressive. Their books were on the bestseller list. They had thousands of followers of social media. Their podcasts were hugely popular. Their tv shows had great ratings. But their hearts were wicked.

By the way, some things never change. Like many of you, I’ve been deeply disappointed seeing various Christian leaders fail over the years. They are impressive, but fail to finish the race well. Their charisma attracts great crowds, but their character is corrupt. The outside of the cup is shiny, but inside it’s filthy.

Jesus asks them for what we would call a penny. He may not have even had one himself. He had no credit cards!

They brought the coin, and he asked them,
“Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied. (Mark 12:16)

If Jesus said give to Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor, that would imply Caesar was greater than Moses, and they would’ve accused him of idolatry. If he said don’t give to Caesar, the Roman authority would have great concern! That would be insurrection. One response would offend the Pharisees, the other the Herodians.

You may know the Jews were not allowed to make carved images, yet the Roman coin had Caesar’s image on it…along with writing that said in Latin, “Augustus Tiberius, son of the divine Augustus.” On the other side, it said, “High Priest.” This coin was more than just a way to buy goods and services. It was a statement of power the Jews found downright offensive.

Then Jesus said to them,
“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

God is sovereign and in control over all, including Caesar!

And they were amazed at him. (Mark 12:17)

I’m sure they were also very disappointed for their trap failed. They were flooded in divine wisdom regarding stewardship, but found no evidence to support their quest to end his life.

Jesus is amazing! Jesus’ teachings are amazing. His life and death and resurrection are amazing. His prayers and intercession for us now are amazing. His return will be amazing. Best of all, spending eternity with Jesus will be amazing!

So What?

- We have a responsibility to government.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

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)

Obviously there have been times throughout history when a choice must be made between following Jesus and following the government. Our first allegiance must be to God, but He has created three institutions for human flourishing: the family, the Church, and government. As much as we criticize government, we would be far worse without a defense, schools, roads, and other services they provide. I rarely hear people say their taxes are too low, but they are needed to fund the government.

Jesus said to give to Caesar—or the government—what belongs to Caesar.

Columbus takes 7% of nearly everything we buy. Lucas County takes ¼% of our purchases. Washington DC takes…too much!

But the message is about more than money. It may include obeying laws, including speed limits! We may have a responsibility to the government to apply for the draft when such a thing is required. We give our time to the government and to one another when we vote. Good citizens can do many things to partner with and serve the government for the sake of the community.

One of the challenges in our culture is hyper individualism. The attitude of many is it’s all about them. We’ve even brought this into the church, saying Christianity is all about me and my personal relationship with Jesus. A personal relationship with Jesus is incredibly important, but we were created for community. Following Christ is a team sport. That’s why we have the Church.

- We have a responsibility to the Church. We are to give. We are to serve. We are to love one another. We are to do life together. When it’s good, it’s really good! I admit when we get it wrong, it’s really ugly. In fact, the gossip, judging, condemnation, hypocrisy, and even hatred of so-called Christians has called many to end their pursuit of God. Few things break my heart more than hearing of people who have walked away from God because of a bad experience with the Church.

If you’ve been hurt by Christians—and we all have—I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Please forgive us. Saying we’re not perfect is no excuse, though it’s true! We all need Jesus. I sometimes wonder why God entrusted His Kingdom to broken ragamuffins like us instead of Jesus spending more than three years of ministry here on earth.

But we have responsibility to one another. I need you. You need me. None of us has all of the spiritual gifts. Give to the church what belongs to the church. Yes, that includes not only time but also talents and treasures. Now that we’re opening up more, I encourage you to get in a Life Group, serve on the Hospitality Team, join the Music or Tech Teams, …and support God’s work here and around the world with your finances.

Some religions have what are essentially dues in order to participate. We don’t sell tickets around here! But one of our newly adopted core values as a church which we’ll reveal in the coming months is generosity. God is generous. He gave us the most precious possible gift…His son Jesus. Jesus gave us his life. What more could he give? The Holy Spirit fills the planet in every follower of Jesus.

Again, the message from today’s text is more than just money, but it certainly includes money. In a few weeks we’ll look at Jesus’ teaching on investing in God’s Kingdom.

I’ve had people over the years ask me if tithing is a command for us today. Tithe literally means ten percent and it was prescribed in Old Testament worship, not only of cash but crops. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

We are a generous church. We have people that give dozens of volunteer hours each month. We have people generously sharing their talents and expertise. We have people who use their wealth to give extravagantly to bless our community.

I think ten percent is a good starting point for generosity, but it is by no means the max. Honestly, I can’t think of a better investment of finances than First Alliance Church and its work in Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and the ends of the earth through our Home Missions, Faith Missions, and Great Commission Fund partners. I love investing here!

By the way, in addition to giving cash online or in person, we can accept other assets and potentially save you substantial money on your taxes. If you have stocks, bonds, real estate, cattle, a business, or most any asset, we have the means of receiving them and using them for God’s glory.

As I said, the government, church, and family are the three institutions God created.

- We have a responsibility to our family. Parents, train your children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)


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

Ultimately all of our responsibility to government, church, and family can be summarized in one command we’ll look at in two weeks:

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)

I realize that verse is missing a bit of context…and it relates to our greatest responsibility…our responsibility to God.

Everything is created by God, for God, and for God’s glory.

If we are to properly give to Caesar’s, what do we give to God? When asked which of the commandments is the greatest…

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29-30)

Did you catch Jesus quoting the shema? The Lord is one. We worship one God. How do we worship Him? With everything! All of our heart. All of our soul. All of our mind. All of our strength.

One hundred percent of our time, talents, and treasures belong to God. They’re on loan. We must be good stewards of what’s He’s entrusted to us.

How do your finances bring God glory?
How does your calendar bring God glory?
How does your physical body bring God glory?
How does your mind bring God glory?

What do I need to submit to God? Where is Jesus not LORD in my life?

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar…and give to God what belongs to God…which is everything…including Caesar!

One more thing

You might think God is awfully demanding. You mean I have to give up everything to follow Jesus? Yes! You mean I have to die to myself and my desires and passions to serve God? Yes!

“Why would I give up everything for God?” Because He gave up everything for you. He loves you. He knows you. He created you. He knows your name. He wants nothing but the very best for you, even when it doesn’t feel good, even when the storms come, even when it’s not popular or politically-correct. God’s ways are perfect and so much higher than ours. He can be trusted.

We can do life our way. We can hoard our money. We can cheat on our taxes. We can rob God. We can be selfish with our talents and time. But disobeying God harms us more than anyone else. Eventually we’ll discover we don’t have all of the answers. We really need God. We need love.

I want to encourage you…you are loved, you are known, God is here, and He wants everything from you…and He wants to be your everything.

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

Boldly Answer God’s Call , 1 March 2020

Boldly Answer God’s Call
Series—Jeremiah: Called to Faithfulness
Jeremiah 1

Series Big Idea: Jeremiah was faithful despite his difficult prophetic task.

Big Idea: Obey God’s calling on your life, whatever it may be.

Mark Twain said that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

Why are you here…on this planet? What is your purpose? What is your calling?

Welcome to March! We’re going to spend the next four weeks looking at the life and book of Jeremiah. Although Psalms has more verses, Jeremiah has more words and thus can be considered the longest book in the Bible. It would easily take us the rest of the year to go verse-by-verse through the entire book, but we’re going to examine four key chapters in this book, but first, a little introduction.


The book of Jeremiah begins…

The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the LORD came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile. (Jeremiah 1:1-3)

That’s historical background, but the point is God comes to Jeremiah.

The word of the LORD came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew
you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

I love those ten words: before I formed you in the womb I knew you.

Parents have several milestones before they every meet their child. The first is obviously conception, though that moment is not known until the second milestone: the positive pregnancy test.

I’ll never forget the Sunday afternoon when my bride exited the bathroom and said, “It’s pink!” I had no idea what she was talking about until she said the pregnancy test revealed we would have a baby. I’ve rarely had so many emotions at one time! Thrilled would be an understatement. My world changed that day.

The next milestone came when we were able to hear the baby’s heartbeat. Wow! A real, human life was growing inside my wife. I had sonic proof I was going to be a daddy!

The ultrasound appointment literally showed us the baby and, in many cases, the gender (we didn’t want to know with our first two but caved on our third!). Gazing at our otherwise invisible baby is nearly miraculous.

These days, so much takes place in preparation for a baby—gender reveal parties, nursery prep—the birth might almost seem to be anti-climactic, though it’s amazing!

I had hopes and dreams for my children before I ever met them. In fact, we started praying not only for them, but their spouses…before they were even conceived! In a sense, I knew our children before they were born.

The same is true with God, our heavenly Dad. God knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. He didn’t need an ultrasound machine or even a pregnancy test! My favorite psalm says,

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

Before you were born, you were seen by God. You were known by God. You were not a surprise or an unwanted child of God!

He also had a plan for you and your life. It’s different for each of us. God’s calling on your life might be for you to become an incredible school teacher, raising the next generation of leaders in our city and world. Others may have that same mission in the home as stay-at-home parents. Some are called by God to be successful in business, building wealth and generously funding God’s work at home and abroad. Still others are sent to the Jeep plant, the courthouse, the coffeeshop, or the hospital to fulfill their calling.

I don’t upset easily, but I get angry whenever I hear Christians neglecting their calling or considering it less spiritual than mine. If God calls you to be a pastor, be a pastor. If He calls you to go overseas and be an Alliance International Worker, do it. But don’t think for a minute that being a professional, vocational Christian is any more or less important than another calling.

We are all called to full-time ministry, but we’re not all called to vocational ministry.

God has created you with a plan, with a purpose, with potential. Don’t ever settle for anything less…or different! He knows you. He loves you. He wants to do life with you. We’re even told…

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4a)

You’ve been invited to follow Jesus. You’ve been commissioned to make disciples…wherever you live, work, and play. We need disciple-makers—missionaries—all over our city and region.

Where is God calling you to minister? He told Jeremiah plainly.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

The Hebrew word for “formed” here is the same word used to describe the creation of Adam (Genesis 2:7). It is a word that conveys close, careful, personal effort. The word “knew” is earlier used to describe the face-to-face relationship between God and Moses (Deut. 34:10). There intimacy between God and Jeremiah…and God desires intimacy with us, too.

You may think a calling to be a prophet to the nations is a big deal…and it was, but it wasn’t an easy assignment. A prophet declared God’s messages to the people, something we rarely see in our day, partly because we have God’s written word, the Bible, to guide us. Listen to Jeremiah’s response from God.

“Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” (Jeremiah 1:6)

When God called Moses, he had a similar reply.

Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)

God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

The only appropriate response to a calling from God is…yes!!! God knows our weaknesses…and often chooses us because of our them…so He can get the glory.

God used Noah, a drunkard.
God used Rahab, a prostitute.
God used David, an adulterer and murderer.
God used Jonah, a man who ran away.
God used Matthew, a tax collector.

God’s not looking for successful people. He’s looking for surrendered people.

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 1:7-8)

These verses include two of the most common and most important statements in the entire Bible:

- Fear not.
- I am with you.

Do you see the connection?

If God is for me, who can be against me?
If God is with me, whom shall I fear?
If God is in control, I don’t have to be.

Last week we simply said God can be trusted. If you rebel and do your own thing, it will eventually catch up with you. I guarantee it!

If you obey God, you’ll never regret it. Sure, it won’t always be easy, but you’ll never be alone. You’ll never be out of God’s will. You’ll find peace even in the middle of life’s storms. There’s nothing greater than the presence of God.

Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

God’s equipping Jeremiah for His assignment. Where God guides, He provides. You might not have what you need now, but He’ll equip you…with wisdom, resources, people, vision, whatever you need to accomplish His plans…for His glory.

The problem is so often we’re concerned about our glory. We worry about our reputation. We focus on our success. We fear our failures.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve thought about how I need to preach a good sermon, I’d be a rich man! If I could have back every minute I’ve thought about success, I’d probably have time to write a book! If I could harness the energy wasted on worrying about what people thought of me, I could probably power a small town!

When we serve the King, it’s His responsibility.
When we serve the King, it’s His battle.
When we serve the King, it’s His reputation.

God made promises to Jeremiah…and He always keeps His promises.

God has made promises to you and me…and He always keeps His promises.

What’s your excuse? Is your God too small to provide what you need to do what He wants you to do?

I sat in the office of our District Superintendent not long ago and said I’m inadequate to lead First Alliance Church. He said, “If you ever feel adequate, let me know so I can remove you from your position.” He was serious…and I was thankful.

I can’t do my job. I can’t make disciples. I can’t transform people to become like Jesus. Sure, I can play a song on the piano. I can give a lecture. I can even lead a staff meeting, but my mission is not to be a manager. I’m not called to maintain an organization. He’s called me—and you—to make disciples. He’s called us to become like Jesus and help others to become like Jesus. The problem is, we can’t…apart from the Holy Spirit. We can’t…apart from God. We can’t…apart from divine intervention.

I’m grateful for our beautiful, debt-free campus.
I’m grateful for our competent staff.
I’m grateful for all of you showing up today and all of the volunteers who serve.

But we’re not here to distribute religious goods and services. We’re here to restore God’s masterpieces. We’re here to be conduits of blessing to our city. We’re here to change the world, one life at a time. We are inadequate—all of us—but when we are weak, He is strong (2 Cor. 12:10)! We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13)!

Now God begins to give Jeremiah his assignment. It won’t be glamorous. It will, in fact, be downright offensive, but when God gives you an assignment, it’s not your place to judge it, critique it, or walk away from it. Just do it!

The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.

The LORD said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching
to see that my word is fulfilled.” (Jeremiah 1:11-12)

The first tree to blossom and bear fruit was the almond tree.

The word of the LORD came to me again: “What do you see?”

“I see a pot that is boiling,” I answered. “It is tilting toward us from the north.” (Jeremiah 1:13)

Jeremiah must be thinking, “LORD, what’s going on?”

The LORD said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the LORD.

“Their kings will come and set up their thrones in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem; they will come against all her surrounding walls and against all the towns of Judah. (Jeremiah 1:14-15)

Disaster was coming because the people had done disastrous evil by forsaking God.

I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made. (Jeremiah 1:16)

God’s not happy, and when God’s not happy…

God calls Jeremiah to call out the people, to pronounce judgments, to warn them of the consequences of their sin. Does this sound like a fun assignment to you? God continues,

“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 1:17-19)

The next 51 chapters describe what happens as Jeremiah responds to God’s calling.

So What?

Obey God’s calling on your life, whatever it may be.

There are three types of people. There are those who have heard God’s call and said no. How’s that working out for you? There are those who have heard God’s call and said yes. Well done. There are those who want to hear God’s call but haven’t…or you’re not sure. Be patient. Seek. Pray. Ask. Knock. Share your thoughts with a trusted friend. I’d love to talk with you.

Some of you may be waiting for a calling with global impact while you fail to influence those around you now. Maybe you feel like you’re “only” a stay-at-home mom or only a mechanic or only a student or only a retail clerk. Be faithful in the small things and God may give you more (Luke 16:10).

Maybe He’s calling you into a new assignment, into deeper waters. Perhaps you’re resisting because you feel inadequate and unworthy. You are! Let Him do the heavy lifting. Start by saying yes and leave the results up to God.

One more thing…

Jesus was given the most difficult assignment of all. His calling was to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). His mission was to leave heaven and hang out here for three decades for the purpose of dying the most brutal, agonizing death imaginable…for the junk, mistakes, rebellion, pride, and sins in our lives.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God Pursues the Disobedient, 6 October 2019

    God Pursues the Disobedient
    Jonah 1:1-17

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

    Big Idea:
    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    Today we celebrated Jesus as our Savior. He died on the cross and rose from the dead to demonstrate his power over sin and death. He not only conquered the grave, he offers forgiveness for all of our rebellion against God. I love that Jesus is our Savior! But he’s more than just Savior.

    As our founder A.B. Simpson said in his four-fold gospel, Jesus is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. We love that Jesus saves us. We love it when he brings healing. We look forward to the return of the King. But his role of sanctifier is a bit different. You might say sanctifier means through the power of the Holy Spirit if we submit to him and his lordship, Jesus is enabling us to become like himself. A disciple of Jesus is someone who looks and acts and thinks like Jesus. A disciple becomes like their mentor, their leader. Jesus is not looking for fans. He’s looking for disciples who make him Lord of their lives, master of their lives, people who will say, “Jesus, I give you my life.”

    When you do that, you give up control. You surrender your preferences and rights. You let Jesus take the wheel while you jump in the back seat! If God were insecure or mean, this would be a frightening exercise, but I’m here to tell you

    God is trustworthy.
    God is love.
    God has better plans for you than you could ever imagine.
    God is not out to harm you.
    God wants the very best for you.

    And sometimes God’s will doesn’t make sense…at least in the moment.

    It can be dangerous to use words like “always” and “never,” but the big idea today is:

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    Jonah is one of the most well-known characters in the Bible. He’s mentioned in one, small, four-chapter book which bears his name—and briefly by Jesus—but his story is remarkable. It’s so remarkable, in fact, that many have questioned whether it describes real events or if it’s just a poetic analogy. I believe it’s real—especially since Jesus refers to him—and I believe his life can teach us a lot about our lives.

    There are four chapters in the book of Jonah and we’ll cover each one of these four weeks in October. Written around the time of Hosea and Amos, many believe Jonah himself wrote this book between 793 BC and 753 BC. He was likely a part of a group of young prophets who were in training together. While you may find parts of the book familiar, I think you’ll be surprised at some new things we’ll discover together.

    So let’s dive in…

    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)

    He was supposed to travel 500+ miles northeast, but instead, he headed in the other directions toward Tarshish. Maybe he thought God would choose someone else for the assignment if he was able to get away from Nineveh!

    How does God speak?

    God speaks through the Bible, through circumstances, through people, through dreams,…

    How can you be sure it’s God?

    Seek wise counsel. Fast and pray. Be still and listen. As far as I know, God won’t text you, but if you seek Him with all of your heart, I believe you will find Him and His will.

    God gives Jonah a simple, clear assignment to go to the city of Nineveh and preach. Why does God care about these wicked people? He loves them. He created them. He wants them to repent, turning away from their sins and following Him. Today, He still desires for every man, woman, and child to know and worship Him. That’s why we’re so passionate about not only Toledo, but also the ends of the earth. We want everyone to know about Jesus, and today, even with the Internet and iPhone, there are
    billions of people who haven’t experienced God’s love, mercy, and grace. We’ve got work to do, family!

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

    One of the most tragic phrases in the entire Bible is, “But Jonah ran away from the LORD.” Why? Jonah’s narrow patriotism was greater than his theology. His disdain for another people group was stronger than his love for God.

    It’s easy to criticize Jonah for this rejection of God. After all, we can read his entire story in a matter of minutes. We read of the consequences of his disobedience.

    But don’t we do the same thing? Don’t we run from God sometimes? Don’t we sometimes pretend we didn’t read
    that in the Bible or fight what God is speaking to us?

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    Why? Because He’s God and you’re not! He knows best. Really. He’s faithful. He’s trustworthy. He knows what He’s doing! He’s not out to get you or harm you. He loves you more than any mother or father or friend or spouse could ever love you.

    Jonah’s headed away from Nineveh. He’s on his way to Tarshish. Did God see him? Yes!

    Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. (Jonah 4-5a)

    Here’s God’s prophet, Jonah, on a ship with pagan sailors who worship other gods. They’re afraid of sinking in this nasty storm. Obviously their false gods did nothing to help them!

    Have you ever been in a boat during a storm? It can be scary!

    Notice this storm was sent by the LORD. He controls everything, including the weather!

    Warren Wiersbe wrote, "God was no longer speaking to Jonah through His Word; He was speaking to him through His works: the sea, the wind, the rain, the thunder, and even the great fish. Everything in nature obeyed God except His servant!"

    But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. Jonah 1:5b)

    How in the world can he be sleeping during this storm? Perhaps he had lost sleep arguing with God about going to Nineveh. Maybe he was exhausted from running from God.

    Hundreds of years later, Jesus would be sleeping on a boat during a big storm, too!

    The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 1:6)

    Evidently Jonah was willing to share his faith with the sailors, just not the Ninevites.

    Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” (Jonah 1:7-8)

    We often skip over this detail about casting lots, but it is one way people made decisions back in the day. In fact, Judas’ replacement among the twelve disciples was made by casting lots (Acts 1:26).

    God speaks through the Bible, through circumstances, through people, through dreams,…but casting lots? It’s actually mentioned seventy times in the Old Testament and seven times in the New Testament. The practice was similar to us flipping a coin or rolling dice. Today, we can discern God’s word and will through the Bible and the Holy Spirit rather than casting lots.

    Do you think Jonah was convicted when they asked about his occupation?

    He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9)

    This is one of many biblical mentions of creation, a bold declaration of Jonah’s faith in God…a God he is not willing to obey…a God he’s running from…a God who is functionally not a god at all in Jonah’s life as he rebels.

    This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) (Jonah 1:10)

    They were terrified, but at least they got to the root of their problem. Jonah’s disobedience affected others…and our disobedience usually does, too.

    The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” (Jonah 1:11)

    This strikes me as an odd question. If I knew a godly man was responsible for a calamity, I’d ask him to pray to his god to stop it. They ask, “What should we do to you?”

    Jonah does not repent. He does not ask God to give him a second chance. Maybe he didn’t believe God was even capable of forgiving his disobedience. Maybe you feel God is incapable of forgiving your sins…if so, you’re very mistaken!

    “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12)

    Jonah knew he was to blame. It must’ve been a shocking admission of responsibility for him to claim his actions were the cause of the storm. I wonder if they really thought getting rid of Jonah would calm the storm. Clearly that wasn’t their first thought because the text continues…

    Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the LORD, “Please, LORD, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, LORD, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:13-16)

    It took removing Jonah for God to calm the storm, resulting in new believers. The presence and preaching of prophets is supposed to lead to repentance, but in this case, the absence of the prophet led to spiritual awakening! God works in mysterious ways! First, the sailors were afraid of the storm, and now they greatly feared—they reverenced—God.

    There’s one final verse in this chapter, a little “P.S.”

    Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)

    It doesn’t say a whale, but a “huge fish” was “provided” by the LORD. I’m not sure if Jonah fully appreciated the fish during those three days and three nights, but it was the LORD’s provision.

    So What?

    I think the message is simple: Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    God can redeem anything. Here He even redeems Jonah’s disobedience to cause a revival among pagan sailors! But Jonah obviously suffered greatly for his rebellion against God.

    I’ve told the story before, but years ago I was asked why I would leave a nice, comfortable job in Chicagoland to go to Ann Arbor and start a church from scratch. I often remarked, “God called me to plant a church and I don’t want to end up in the belly of a fish!” One time after speaking to a group about our plans for the new church, a man came up to me and said, “I’m Jonah and I’ve been in a fish for many years, running from God who wants me to move to Colorado!” I said, “What are you waiting for? Load up and go west, young man!”

    We’ve all had moments when we’ve run from God. Sometimes the consequences are severe, other times we may not even be aware of our disobedience. The point remains:

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    This is a huge challenge in our culture today. We live in a consumeristic culture which says it’s all about us, our choices, our decisions, our control, our preferences. Some people have even been taught that if you follow Jesus, you’ll be happy, healthy, and wealthy…and they’re so surprised when they encounter the slightest bit of discomfort or, worse yet, pain and suffering.

    Jesus did not come and die to make you happy. He came to make you holy.

    You and I can save ourselves a lot of heartache if we just obey God the first time (spoiler alert: Jonah made it to Nineveh, but he took a smelly detour getting there!). You either trust God and make Him LORD or you don’t. But please don’t call yourself a Christian if you’re not going to follow and obey him!

    I’m challenged by this chapter. Every day I make multiple decisions to follow or flee from God. What do I do with my money? What goes on my calendar? How do I treat people…including the annoying driver on the Trail! What will I do with my body? What will I put into my mind? And yes, with whom will I share the good news of Jesus?

    As we were reminded this morning during communion, Jesus died for me. Will I live for him?

    I want to ask you two simple yet profound questions. These questions are the primary tools I use in discipling people to become like Jesus.

    1. 1. What is God saying to you?
    It might be instructions to go, to stay, to do, to step up, to slow down. It might be a word of encouragement or a convicting challenge. If He’s not saying anything to you, perhaps you’re too busy to listen or you’re ignoring the primary way He speaks: through the Bible.

    1. 2. What are you going to do about it?
    Maybe you don’t want God to speak to you because you’re afraid of what He might say. If He tells you to do something, you’ll be responsible for the message if you receive it.

    What if He sends me to Africa…or Afghanistan…or Columbus?! What if He wants me to change my sexual behavior, my entertainment consumption, my loose tongue, or my laziness? Then again, what if He simply wants to sing over you, His precious child, and remind you of how much you are loved by Him? What if He wants you to indulge in sabbath rest or delight yourself in Him? Maybe He wants you to smell the roses, dance, sing, or just smile. Whatever it is,…

    Always obey God, even when you don’t feel like it!

    And also,

    Always obey God, even when you do feel like it!

    Jonah’s disobedience caused others to suffer. Likewise, our obedience may cause others to flourish, to be encouraged, to grow, to experience Jesus. We obey God first and foremost because He is God and because we love and trust Him, but obedience can also bless others.

    Closing Challenge

    What is God saying to you?
    What are you going to do about it?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • The Danger of Disobedience, 28 July 2019

    The Danger of Disobedience
    Series—All The King’s Choices
    2 Kings 25:1-21

    Big Idea:
    Our actions have consequences, and disobedience can be dangerous…even deadly.

    Every parent’s favorite verse can be found in the book of Ephesians, where Paul writes,

    Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)

    Paul repeated the command when writing to the church in Colossi:

    Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)

    Of course, obedience is not only for children. Jesus said plainly,

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

    Do you love Jesus? Prove it…by your obedience.

    We’ve been looking at various kings in our series “All The King’s Choices.” Last week during our study of King Josiah, we noted

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    God blessed the (few) good kings of Israel and Judah, but the fate of those who rejected God was quite different as we’ll see today. God warned them, as far back as Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 28. Quite simply,

    Our actions have consequences, and disobedience can be dangerous…even deadly.

    Before we look at today’s text, I want to set the scene for you. You may remember when God led the people into the Promised Land, he gave them occupancy on one condition: their obedience. As we have seen, most of the kings were evil, leading to their downfall. Nebuchadnezzar has come against Judah, the southern kingdom of the Jewish people. He invaded in 605 BC, taking more than 3000 captive including Daniel. Eleven years later, he took 832 captives back to Babylon. He takes Jehoiachin captive and in 2 Kings 24:17, we’re told of King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon,

    He made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place and changed his name to Zedekiah. (2 Kings 24:17)

    Nebuchadnezzar was quite the king! He replaces one king with another and then changes his name. I can’t even imagine ruling over another king!

    Do you remember good king Josiah from last Sunday? Zedekiah is the third and final son of Josiah’s to rule Judah, yet he was nothing like his godly father. Zedekiah reigned for ten years with self-interest, indecisiveness, brutality, and self-preservation which led him to form an alliance with Egypt to rebel against Babylon. Chapter 24 is filled with the evil ways of not only Zedekiah but Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin before him.

    It was because of the LORD’S anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence.

    Now Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. (2 Kings 24:20)

    2 Kings chapter 25 begins in 586 BC.

    So in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. He encamped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. (2 Kings 25:1-2)

    The details of the date show reveal the importance of this event. This is the beginning of the end for the holy city of Jerusalem.

    By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat. (2 Kings 25:3)

    It got so bad that parents ate their own children (Lamentations 2:20; 4:9-10)!

    Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled at night through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city. They fled toward the Arabah, but the Babylonian army pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured. (2 Kings 25:4-6a)

    This scene seems so distant from the world in which we live. Of course, there are many wars raging around the world right now, but the warfare methods were obviously more primitive than the high tech battles of today. There was a wall around the city of Jerusalem—there is a newer one there today—and the wall was penetrated. The people were starving, the king and his army flee the city, the soldiers are scattered, and king Zedekiah is captured. It wasn’t enough that he rebelled against God…he revolted against King Nebuchadnezzar, his boss.

    This is not a good day, yet it was avoidable. It was all the result of disobedience. In fact, Jeremiah predicted Jerusalem would fall, yet the people just hated the prophet for speaking the truth.

    Our actions have consequences, and disobedience can be dangerous…

    King Zedekiah is captured and then

    He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where sentence was pronounced on him. They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. (2 Kings 25:6b-7)

    Can you imagine anything worse?

    I’ve been told the hardest thing in the world is to lose a child. I know some of you have had that experience and my heart grieves for you.

    This king not only loses a child, he loses his sons. Furthermore, they are killed in front of him. If that’s not bad enough, then they put out his eyes, bind him, and carry him to Babylon. The last thing Zedekiah ever saw was the execution of his sons!

    One of the most common questions is why bad things happen to good people. There’s little wonder why bad things happen to bad people, or at least disobedience people. This invasion didn’t just happen. This was not an ordinary war. It was the result of rebellion and defiance against Almighty God by Zedekiah and most of his predecessors.

    Sometimes people blame God for their pain and suffering, and in this case it would be justified. God allowed this catastrophe to happen, but it wasn’t because He was being mean. He was being just. His wrath is real because He hates sin. He despises disobedience. Is anybody listening? Clearly King Zedekiah wasn’t listening.

    But there’s more!

    On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. (2 Kings 25:8-9)

    Again, we’re told the exact day, one which would live in infamy. The holy temple where the presence of God dwelled was destroyed by fire along with virtually every building in the city, including the king’s palace which stood for nearly 400 years.

    I’ve read about the Great Chicago Fire and it was nothing like this! This wasn’t just any city. It wasn’t any temple. Jerusalem was leveled! False prophets said it could never happen, but they couldn’t have been more wrong.

    On a side note, I wonder what God thinks of our nation. After all, our money says, “In God we trust,” but it seems like we trust money more than God. We are not Israel and the promises made to the Jews in the Old Testament do not apply to us, but it seems like God has been exceptionally merciful with our country. Some say it’s because we’re friends with Israel. Maybe it’s because there remains a remnant of USAmericans who
    are obedient to God’s commands to love Him, love their neighbors as themselves, and make disciples. I’m not certain, but I do know no place is beyond God’s blessing or judgment. I’m reminded of Psalm 139:

    Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
    If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
    If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
    even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
    If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
    even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you. (Psalms 139:7-12)

    This is comforting…for the one who is faithful to God. It is quite frightening for the one who is running from God.

    The whole Babylonian army under the commander of the imperial guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem. Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile the people who remained in the city, along with the rest of the populace and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon. But the commander left behind some of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields. (2 Kings 25:10-12)

    Nearly every person is taken to Babylon. Only the poorest remained to maintain the land. We’re still not finished!

    The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the LORD and they carried the bronze to Babylon. They also took away the pots, shovels, wick trimmers, dishes and all the bronze articles used in the temple service. The commander of the imperial guard took away the censers and sprinkling bowls—all that were made of pure gold or silver. (2 Kings 25:13-15)

    These were sacred tools used for worship, removed before the temple was burned into a pile of rubble.

    Jerusalem has been turned into rubble nearly thirty times throughout history. After each destruction, it is rebuilt upon the remains of the past cities. This is why archaeology is such a challenging task. Many ancient cities are buried twenty, thirty, or more than forty feet underground! There are actually cities on top of cities on top of cities!

    The bronze from the two pillars, the Sea and the movable stands, which Solomon had made for the temple of the LORD, was more than could be weighed. Each pillar was eighteen cubits high. The bronze capital on top of one pillar was three cubits high and was decorated with a network and pomegranates of bronze all around. The other pillar, with its network, was similar. (2 Kings 25:16-17)

    There was so much copper they couldn’t weigh it! That’s incredible!

    The commander of the guard took as prisoners Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the priest next in rank and the three doorkeepers. Of those still in the city, he took the officer in charge of the fighting men, and five royal advisers. He also took the secretary who was chief officer in charge of conscripting the people of the land and sixty of the conscripts who were found in the city. (2 Kings 25:18-19)

    The religious, military, and government leaders are taken as prisoners, but it would get even worse!

    Nebuzaradan the commander took them all and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. There at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king had them executed.

    So Judah went into captivity, away from her land. (2 Kings 25:20-21)

    There has rarely been a greater tragedy in the history of the world. And it was all the result of simple disobedience by the king and his subjects.

    Our actions have consequences, and disobedience can be dangerous…even deadly.

    I know you’re not a king. You probably wouldn’t be an evil king if you ever were to become a king or queen. This story happened thousands of years ago. How could this possibly be relevant to us in Toledo in 2019?

    I’m glad you asked!

    God never changes. He has always hated sin. He has always loved His children. He has always been omnipresent…everywhere at once. He has always been omnipotent…all-powerful. He has always been omniscient…all-knowing. He’s God!

    Because we can’t see Him, sometimes we forget He’s here, with us, watching us. He’s not out to get us, but He does want us to get Him, to know Him, to obey Him, to love Him. He’s a good, good Father, but good fathers know they can’t let their kids run wild and do whatever they choose. They need guidance. They need discipline.

    Whether it is an individual or a nation, He wants obedience. He knows what’s best for us. He can be trusted.

    Countless research studies have shown most USAmericans believe in God, but what does that really mean? Satan believes in the existence of God (he used to work for Him), but he doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t follow God. He doesn’t humbly obey God.

    Author Ruth Haley Barton (
    Invitation to Silence and Solitude) gets to the point when she writes,

    When it comes right down to it, many of us do not believe that God's intentions toward us are deeply good; instead we live in fear that that if we really trusted him, he might withhold something good from us.

    Most of the kings of Israel and Judah rejected God, His wisdom, His commands, and His Word. They did so at their own peril.

    I love you, church. I want what’s best for you. I want you to be successful. I want you to experience deep satisfaction. Lasting contentment will never come from your stock portfolio, car collection, job title, education, or even relationships. It only comes from loving God and loving others as we love ourselves. It comes from listening, reading, knowing, and obeying God’s Word. It comes from following Jesus…with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

    The message today is simple:
    obey God!

    We’ve all sinned. We’ve all messed up. So repent, do a 180, get rid of the sin, flee from the enemy and run to Jesus. His arms are wide open. No shame. Don’t wait another day. The Almighty is a God of justice, but He’s also filled with grace. Zedekiah had many chances to repent and God would’ve extended mercy, but he refused to obey God and suffered terribly.

    Last Sunday I was overjoyed when more than one person told me they’re sick and tired of their sin. They said enough is enough! I praise God for their courage and obedience, because

    Our actions have consequences, and disobedience can be dangerous…even deadly.

    Most of us have no idea how harmful sin is in our lives, and we’re usually clueless about how our sin affects others…usually the ones we love the most.

    On the flip side,

    “Obedience is the burial of the will and the resurrection of humility.” – John Climacus

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    You can say all you want to about our president or governor, Baby Boomers or Generation Z, the rich or the poor, the bottom line is one day you and I will stand before Almighty God and be judged for how we lived this one, precious life we’ve been given. I know it’s old school, but trust and obey God. You’ll never regret it!

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

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word, 21 July 2019

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word
    Series—All The King’s Choices
    2 Kings 22:1-20; 23:1-3, 21-25

    Big Idea: Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    Success. It’s a word we hear almost every day. We see successful people on television. We hear successful people on the radio and on podcasts. We read books by successful people…who tell us how to be successful! We’re told the importance of being successful because, after all, what’s the opposite? Failure? Who wants that?

    Satisfaction is another thing we seek. We hope it comes from being successful! Yet we know people who are successful are not always satisfied in their fame or fortune or whatever made them a success.

    Is it possible to be successful and satisfied? If so, how?

    This morning as we continue our series “All the King’s Choices,” we’re going to look at king who began his reign at the age of eight…and who humbly obeyed God’s word. I believe…

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    Last week we looked at the good king Jehoshaphat who obeyed God and was blessed, but made one critical mistake in making alliances with the evil king Ahab which proved to be costly not only to him but also to his descendants. In 2 Kings chapter 21, we read of the death of King Amon, an evil king. Then in 2 Kings 22 we read,

    Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left. (2 Kings 22:1-2)

    He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. That’s what I want to be said of me. If you read through all of the kings, you’ll see Josiah is the exception, not the rule, tragically. He begins his reign at the ripe old age of eight! The book of 2 Chronicles tells us he began to seek after the LORD when he was 16. Fortunately, Josiah had good advisors.

    In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the LORD. He said: (2 Kings 22:3)

    “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the LORD, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the LORD— the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.” (2 Kings 22:4-7)

    King Josiah, at age 26, tells his secretary to tell the high priest to go to the ATM, get a load of cash, and start fixing the temple! He’s the fourth and final king of Judah who made reforms, and his changes were more extensive than those of Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah.

    The temple of God had not only fallen into disrepair, it had been desecrated by Manasseh who used it for pagan images and altars. It was a mess!

    Money had been collected for some time to repair the temple and now they had enough to get to the task.

    Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the LORD and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.” (2 Kings 22:8-9)

    This is written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus and much of the writings we call the Bible (which is simply a collection of books). The Pentateuch—the five books of Moses—was available. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are known as the Book of the Law because Moses wrote them to guide the people of Israel. It is also known as the Mosaic Law. These books—the first five in our Bible—are loaded with history, instructions, and stories. Most likely, this is what was discovered by Hilkiah.

    It's hard to imagine the evil of previous kings, not only desecrating the temple but also destroying copies of the Book of the Law.

    Evidently the Book of the Law was lost and, therefore, was not read or understood. The high priest finds it while they’re beginning to restore the temple.

    Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. (2 Kings 22:10)

    This is a big deal! The existence of these sacred writings was known, but since it was lost, nobody knew its contents. For the first time in this generation, God’s Word—His will, commands, and plan—could be discovered.

    When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’S anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:11-13)

    The king realizes the people have been disobedient and changes must be made immediately. It had obviously been some time since God’s Word had been read and understood, and now Josiah fears the anger of the LORD for the disobedience of the people.

    Ignorantia juris non excusat

    This Latin phrase means “ignorance of the law excuses not.”

    God had punished evil kings for their disobedience, and now Josiah wants to put the nation on a new path, a new direction. He wants them to repent—to turn, to do a 180—and humbly obey God’s Word. The king knew

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter. (2 Kings 22:14)

    This woman seems to be highly regarded for her gift of prophecy. Why the priest didn’t consult other prophets such as Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, or Habakkuk is unknown. What we do know is this woman plays an important role in the spiritual revival lead by King Josiah.

    She said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me,

    ‘This is what the LORD says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ (2 Kings 22:15-17)

    God’s not happy, and if God’s not happy…!!!

    You might know the first of the ten commandments is to have no other gods. The second is to have no idols. The people had violated both. Sin has its consequences and the wrath of God was coming for the nation, though it would come after Josiah died.

    Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: (2 Kings 22:18)

    Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse
    and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’ ”

    So they took her answer back to the king. (2 Kings 22:19-20)

    This is great news for Josiah!

    Humbly Obeying God brings His blessing.

    Who wants God’s blessing? It doesn’t happen automatically. God loves us all, but He can express His love—looking out for our best interest—a number of ways. When we obey, that often looks like blessings. When we disobey, that could mean loving discipline. In this case, God blessed Josiah with His mercy because he humbly obeyed God.

    Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the LORD with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD—to follow the LORD and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. (2 Kings 23:1-3)

    Josiah wastes no time in proclaiming God’s covenant to people. They respond.

    Our humble obedience can influence others.

    (so can our disobedience!)

    Sure, Josiah was the king and had just a bit of influence on the people, but notice that last sentence. All the people pledged themselves to the covenant.

    I don’t think Josiah used force. He humbly obeyed—submitting himself to the LORD—and set an example for all the people to follow. He understood the source of true wisdom and the people were drawn to his humility and obedience. Are you known for your humility and obedience to God?

    If we skip ahead, we see

    Humble obedience requires action.

    We must not merely agree with statements in a book, we must repent, turn away from our sin, and live God-honoring lives.

    The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” Neither in the days of the judges who led Israel nor in the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah had any such Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the LORD in Jerusalem. (2 Kings 23:21-23)

    Josiah didn’t just put an end to the idolatry that preceded him. He threw a massive party! Imagine the biggest New Year’s Eve in New York City times the Super Bowl Champion’s parade times…you get the idea! The king give orders to celebrate to the LORD, to reestablish the Passover, to remember what God did through Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This was Israel’s oldest feast, and 2 Chronicles (35:18) tells us people from both kingdoms—Judah and Israel—celebrated together in a massive feast!

    Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the LORD. Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. (2 Kings 23:24-25)

    Humble obedience requires action. He didn’t ignore the false gods and the idols. He cleaned house. He dealt with sin. Household gods were purged. No other king more faithfully observed the Word of the LORD, including David and Solomon!

    Perhaps there’s some sinful things in your life that need to be destroyed. Maybe it’s unhealthy entertainment. Uncontrolled anger. Greed. Gossip. It could be a relationship which is not glorifying to God. Perhaps it’s bitterness and unforgiveness. It might even be a sin of omission, failing to do something like generosity, compassion, or time with God. Whatever it is,
    get rid of it! Today! Now! Tell a trusted friend to help you with the change.

    The cause and effect between obedience and blessing could not be clearer.

    So What?

    The implications of this story should be obvious for us. Sure, we live in a different era. We are not kings. But the truth remains.

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    Let’s unpack that statement.

    Humbly. Humility is a rare character trait today. It doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less. The thing about God is He’s God…and we’re not! We sometimes want to be god. We sometimes act like we’re god. Comparing ourselves to God is like…ridiculous! This is the Creator of the universe!

    God loves us. He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for us. But we’re not gods. We’re not in His league! We must always posture ourselves in humility before God.

    Obey. Obedience is God’s love language. Talk is cheap, but obedience is real. Jesus said

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

    Does that need any interpretation?!

    God’s Word. This is not speaking of our leather-bound 66-book volume called the Bible. It didn’t exist at the time of this writing. The people had portions of what we call the Old Testament…on scrolls. As we learned today, those scrolls were sometimes lost or hidden.

    God’s Word can include the Bible, but it also includes the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The real Word is Jesus.

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

    Jesus is the Word of God. It’s stated again in Revelation:

    He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. (Revelation 19:13)

    We don’t worship the Bible. We worship Jesus. The Bible is how we learn about Jesus and God’s commands for our lives, but Jesus is the Word of God.

    Humbly Obeying God’s Word is the true path to success and satisfaction.

    I’m not pushing religion on you. There’s no guilt or shame. I simply want to encourage you to trust God and obey. There’s no greater wisdom. There’s no great power. There’s nothing more timeless.

    I’m making an assumption that you trust God, at least you trust His wisdom more than your own. At least sometimes!

    Countless research studies have shown most USAmericans believe in God, but what does that really mean? Satan believes in the existence of God (he used to work for Him), but he doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t follow God. He doesn’t humbly obey God.

    Author Ruth Haley Barton (
    Invitation to Silence and Solitude) gets to the point when she writes,

    When it comes right down to it, many of us do not believe that God's intentions toward us are deeply good; instead we live in fear that that if we really trusted him, he might withhold something good from us.

    Most of the kings of Israel and Judah rejected God, His wisdom, His commands, and His Word. They did so at their own peril. Josiah, on the other hand, trusted God, humbly obeyed Him, led the people to do so, and God blessed them as a result.

    As I said last week, God’s blessing doesn’t always mean we’ll be happy and comfortable, but it does mean we’ll experience His presence and power, His peace, and His joy, even in the midst of life’s storms.

    I love you, church. I want what’s best for you. I want you to be successful. I want you to experience deep satisfaction. Lasting contentment will never come from your stock portfolio, car collection, job title, education, or even relationships. It only comes from loving God and loving others as we love ourselves. It comes from listening, reading, knowing, and obeying God’s Word. It comes from following Jesus…with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

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

    Choose Wisely, 14 July 2019

    Choose Wisely
    Series—All The King’s Choices
    2 Chronicles 17:3-13; 18:1; 21:1-6; 22:1-12

    Big Idea:
    Our daily choices create the future for us…and sometimes others, too.

    Choices. We love choices…until we don’t!

    One of my undergrad degrees was in marketing, and since college I’ve been fascinated by brands, products, and the ways in which companies sell their goods and services. A quick walk through any Meijer, Super WalMart, or Kroger Marketplace store would be enough to convince you that we love choices. Do we need dozens of different toothpastes, types of milk, brands of orange juice, or varieties of pop?

    Aldi thinks not! If you’ve ever been there, you have almost no choices to make. If you want peanut butter or granola bars or ice cream you don’t have to spend hours deciding which one to purchase. You usually have one option!

    Life, of course, is far more complicated than a trip to the grocery store. We make decisions from the moment we wake up in the morning until we begin to drift off to sleep. We make choices about what we wear, eat, and drink. We have to decide how we spend our time and money. Our cell phones are loaded with apps inviting us to spend time reading, writing, and playing.

    No wonder we’re so busy and stressed!

    One of the most important things I told my children was, “You are your friends.
    Choose wisely.” Today we’re talking choices in our series “All The King’s Choices” and my simple message to you is make wise choices, because

    Our daily choices create the future for us…and sometimes others, too.

    The Bible is packed with historic stories of people who made good and bad choices. It’s easy for us to see the good from the bad because we have the benefit of looking back at their lives and the consequences of their actions. If only we could get a sneak preview of the outcomes of our choices!

    Our daily choices create the future for us…and sometimes others, too.

    Today we’re going to look at a few passages from the book of 2 Chronicles, found in the Old Testament or what we might call the Jewish Bible. It tells the story of several kings, beginning with Solomon.

    If you’ve ever read the books of Kings and Chronicles, you’ll almost certainly see a pattern emerge. The pattern goes something like this:

    God blesses the kings who follow God.
    God does not bless the kings who ignore God.

    Unfortunately, most of the kings of Israel ignored God…and they paid dearly for their disobedience. You would think with the history of these kings recorded, new kings would want to learn from the predecessors.


    They often responded the same way we tend to deal with tragedy.

    “It will never happen to me.”
    “I’m different.”
    “I’m special.”
    “You don’t understand.”

    The older I get, the more I see this story repeat itself. We’re tempted to see ourselves as the exception to the rule.

    “If you don’t get to bed soon, you’ll be sorry in the morning.”
    “Be careful who you date because they might become your spouse someday.”

    Here’s one I still struggle with:

    “Make sure you leave a few minutes early in case there’s traffic.”

    We all learn from mistakes: ours or the mistakes of others. In the book of 2 Chronicles, we see Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, the southern kingdom which was vulnerable to attacks by the northern kingdom of Israel.

    In chapter 17, it says,

    The LORD was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him. He did not consult the Baals but sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel. (2 Chronicles 17:3-4)

    Was Jehoshaphat a good king or a bad king? A good one. He followed the ways of David who was a man after God’s own heart. He sought God rather than idols. He followed God rather than the people. What’s the result?

    The LORD established the kingdom under his control; and all Judah brought gifts to Jehoshaphat, so that he had great wealth and honor. His heart was devoted to the ways of the LORD; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah. (2 Chronicles 17:5-6)

    An Asherah pole was a sacred pole or tree that was used to worship the pagan goddess Asherah. The Israelites were drawn away from their worship of the one true God to the worship of the false gods of other nations after they entered the land of Canaan.

    In other words, Jehoshaphat cleans house and reinstitutes the worship of YHVH, the LORD God almighty.

    In the third year of his reign he sent his officials Ben-Hail, Obadiah, Zechariah, Nethanel and Micaiah to teach in the towns of Judah. With them were certain Levites—Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah and Tob-Adonijah—and the priests Elishama and Jehoram. They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the LORD; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people. (2 Chronicles 17:7-9)

    Teaching was extremely important, especially before technologies like the printing press, to say nothing of the Internet!

    What is the result of the king’s obedience to God?

    The fear of the LORD fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, so that they did not go to war against Jehoshaphat. Some Philistines brought Jehoshaphat gifts and silver as tribute, and the Arabs brought him flocks: seven thousand seven hundred rams and seven thousand seven hundred goats. (2 Chronicles 17:10-11)

    That’s a lot of animals!

    Jehoshaphat became more and more powerful; he built forts and store cities in Judah and had large supplies in the towns of Judah. He also kept experienced fighting men in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 17:12-13)

    God blesses those who follow Him.

    This makes sense, right? We see it in history, but we also see it practically. When children obey their parents, they are often rewarded in some way…allowance, more trust and freedom, acts of appreciation. Disobedient children, on the other hand, are punished.

    Paul wrote,

    Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)

    This does
    not mean followers of Jesus will always be happy and that God-haters will always be miserable. But our choices have consequences, sometimes immediate, sometimes into the future, and sometimes eternal.

    Jehoshaphat was a good king who followed God. He commanded the judges to be just (what a concept! 19:6-9). He trusted God for victory in chapter twenty. But like all but one person in the Bible, he wasn’t perfect. He’s a prime example that

    Godly people can make unwise choices.

    King David is another example.
    Solomon is another example.

    In many ways, we see Jehoshaphat indeed following his forefathers. The next chapter begins…

    Now Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage. (2 Chronicles 18:1)

    This was what my dad used to call a “no no.” Ahab was not a godly king. His wife, Jezebel, threatened to kill Elijah the prophet who we discussed last week. The people of God—then and now—are to never make alliances with the ungodly. We are to love them. We are to introduce them to Jesus. But we must be careful about lasting partnerships with those who have a different worldview. Paul also wrote,

    Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

    This verse is often used to discourage Christians from marrying non-Christians, which seems to fit, though the context shows its application much broader.

    Do you remember what I told my kids? “You are your friends.
    Choose wisely.” This is true in marriage. This is true in business. This is true in family.

    What was the result of Jehoshaphat’s one poor choice to align with ungodly Ahab? Let’s jump ahead to chapter twenty-one, after his death (sometimes it takes time to see the true effect of our actions).

    Then Jehoshaphat rested with his ancestors and was buried with them in the City of David. And Jehoram his son succeeded him as king. Jehoram’s brothers, the sons of Jehoshaphat, were Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Azariahu, Michael and Shephatiah. All these were sons of Jehoshaphat king of Israel. Their father had given them many gifts of silver and gold and articles of value, as well as fortified cities in Judah, but he had given the kingdom to Jehoram because he was his firstborn son. (2 Chronicles 21:1-3)

    Naturally, Jehoram is a good king like his dad, right?

    When Jehoram established himself firmly over his father’s kingdom, he put all his brothers to the sword along with some of the officials of Israel. Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD. (2 Chronicles 21:4-6)

    Did you catch that? Who led Jehoram away from God? The house of Ahab, including Ahab’s daughter that he married. Do you see a pattern?

    This expression “evil in the eyes of the LORD” appears 50 times in the NIV translation of the Jewish Bible, many describing various kings, including Solomon, Judah, Nadab, Ahab, and the Israelites.

    Perhaps you think God grades on a curve. If you’re pretty good, above average, everything will be ok. The reality is all of our choices have consequences, good or bad, immediate or future. Your past successes and failures are impacting you today, and today’s decisions will be more fully realized tomorrow, in your life and/or the lives of others, including your children and grandchildren.

    Last month I met a man in Toledo who was telling me about his son. He said something that shocked me. He said, “I don’t want my son to turn out like me.” The man had made many poor choices in life…though none of them are beyond the power of God to forgive! I appreciated his self-awareness and love for his son. He was able to recognize how his choices affect not only himself but also his offspring.

    We’re going to look at one more story which shows us how…

    We can make the right choices, even in difficult times.

    The people of Jerusalem made Ahaziah, Jehoram’s youngest son, king in his place, since the raiders, who came with the Arabs into the camp, had killed all the older sons. So Ahaziah son of Jehoram king of Judah began to reign. (2 Chronicles 22:1)

    Jehoshaphat’s grandson is on the throne. All of his older brothers had been killed, so he became king.

    Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem one year. His mother’s name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri. (2 Chronicles 22:2)

    He too followed the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him to act wickedly. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as the house of Ahab had done, for after his father’s death they became his advisers, to his undoing. He also followed their counsel when he went with Joram son of Ahab king of Israel to wage war against Hazael king of Aram at Ramoth Gilead. The Arameans wounded Joram; so he returned to Jezreel to recover from the wounds they had inflicted on him at Ramoth in his battle with Hazael king of Aram. (2 Chronicles 22:3-6a)

    Then Ahaziah son of Jehoram king of Judah went down to Jezreel to see Joram son of Ahab because he had been wounded. (2 Chronicles 22:6b)

    Ahaziah leads the people into idolatry and war.

    Through Ahaziah’s visit to Joram, God brought about Ahaziah’s downfall. When Ahaziah arrived, he went out with Joram to meet Jehu son of Nimshi, whom the LORD had anointed to destroy the house of Ahab. (2 Chronicles 22:7)

    We finally have a “good guy,” Jehu, who follows God’s instructions to put an end to the madness.

    While Jehu was executing judgment on the house of Ahab, he found the officials of Judah and the sons of Ahaziah’s relatives, who had been attending Ahaziah, and he killed them. (2 Chronicles 22:8)

    This is extreme, right? Thankfully God doesn’t give such instructions today, but remember, God hates sin, so much that he destroyed nearly everyone on the planet in the flood. I’m so thankful we live on this side of the cross, of Jesus.

    He then went in search of Ahaziah, and his men captured him while he was hiding in Samaria. He was brought to Jehu and put to death. They buried him, for they said, “He was a son of Jehoshaphat, who sought the LORD with all his heart.” So there was no one in the house of Ahaziah powerful enough to retain the kingdom. (2 Chronicles 22:9)

    Next in line was Ahaziah’s son Joash, but he was but an infant.

    When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah. (2 Chronicles 22:10)

    What a nice lady! She regins as queen for six years…and her life is summarized in only three verses! The author of Chronicles all but wipes her out of the history books!

    But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Because Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and wife of the priest Jehoiada, was Ahaziah’s sister, she hid the child from Athaliah so she could not kill him. He remained hidden with them at the temple of God for six years while Athaliah ruled the land. (2 Chronicles 22:11-12)

    Jehoshabeath risked her life to save a life, hiding the infant Joash who would later become king (2 Chronicles 24:1) and maintain the lineage of King David out of whom would eventually come Jesus, the Messiah.

    We can make the right choices, even in difficult times.

    So What?

    I know none of you have the wealth or power of a king, but we all have influence.

    Our daily choices create the future for us…and sometimes others, too.

    I often wish our choices were as simple as right or left! Every day we’re faced with so many options for how we spend our time, our money, our energy, our thoughts, our technology, our relationships, …

    Someone said it takes years to earn trust and seconds to lose it, and that’s so true. Even people who passionately serve God and love others can make one tragic mistake that can impact the rest of their lives…and the lives of others. This is why we all need this reminder…to choose carefully until our last days on earth. Last week we saw the faithfulness of Elijah and Elisha who both made it to the finish line, not perfect, but with their character intact. I desperately want that for you and for me, but it requires daily discipline, alertness to temptation, accountability, and positive influences.

    Jesus’ half brother eloquently described the tragedy of sin:

    When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

    Sin leads to death.
    Desire leads to sin.
    Temptation leads to desire.

    None of us is exempt. We are all capable of heinous sins. We are in a battle. We need our spiritual armor one (which we talked about two weeks ago). We need godly friends who can guide us into truth and righteousness when the world screams lies of selfish pursuits and pleasures.

    Our daily choices create the future for us…and sometimes others, too.

    What kind of tomorrow do you want to experience? It begins today.

    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.


    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.

    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.
  • Sent: Preaching & Anointing

    Sent: Preaching & Anointing
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 6:6-29

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

    Big Idea: Following Jesus is radical and dangerous…but worth it!


    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. According to the Declaration of Independence, these are our unalienable Rights endowed to us by our Creator. Despite its countless flaws, I love the United States, but Thomas Jefferson’s words are not taken from the Bible. In fact, following Jesus may result in the loss of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…but it will be worth it.

    Today we continue our look at Jesus from Mark’s biography of him. Last week we saw Jesus’ amazement at the lack of faith among those in his hometown of Nazareth. The text continues…

    Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. (Mark 6:6)

    I want to pause and analyze Jesus’ leadership. Contrary to popular belief, leadership is more than a title or position. At its core, leadership is influence. We all have some influence on others. The best leaders do not merely have followers, but rather they develop leaders. Perhaps my favorite verse describing this comes to Timothy from his mentor Paul:

    And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2)

    Four generations are found in one verse: Paul, Timothy, reliable people who teach others.

    Here’s Jesus’ model as outlined by Dave Ferguson in his book

    1. I do. You watch. Jesus was teaching and healing and the disciples observed.

    2. I do. You help. At some point Jesus told them he had a purpose for them beyond companionship. He wanted them involved, helping.

    3. You do. I help. We talk.
    This is the point of action. The baton is being passed; not thrown, but passed. Debriefing is important, too. Feedback can be so valuable, especially when we are doing something new.

    4. You do. I watch. We talk.
    Not the leader does not assist except to coach afterward.

    5. You do. Someone else watched.
    Now the student becomes the teacher, the apprentice is the leader. Things have come full circle.

    This process works if you are teaching your kids how to load the dishwasher, training your apprentice small group leader, or equipping a new employee at the office.

    John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus who is preparing his twelve disciples to transform the world…without cable tv, Twitter, or even the newspaper.

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

    It sounds like Noah’s ark, doesn’t it, two by two? It’s not good for man to be alone, God said after creating Adam. There’s strength in numbers. A partner helps protect against the dangers of temptation and attack. Who does two by two well? The Mormans and JW’s! They have it mastered, undoubtedly drawing their inspiration for this verse. If only the entire Bible was followed as carefully by them. Notice Jesus gave them authority. He equipped them. He didn’t shove them out the door and say, “Good luck!”

    These were his instructions:
    “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. (Mark 6:8-9)

    They are to travel light. They can’t even run to the ATM and get some cash! He wants them focused on the mission and dependent upon God for daily bread. Personal comforts are not a priority for Jesus. Now this is not meant to be a universal plan for missions work. Today we raise money to provide for ministries around the world, but this particular mission was dependent upon the hospitality of others.

    Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.
    (Mark 6:10)

    I want to suggest perhaps Jesus is saying, “Get to know the people. Build relationships. Don’t rush off. Preach repentance. Drive out demons. Heal the sick. You’ve seen me do it. Now it’s your turn.”

    And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
    (Mark 6:11)

    This is an odd instruction in our culture, but he’s saying if they ignore you, let them know the consequences. Let them know judgment would eventually fall on them…they’ve been warned. The disciples were commissioned to preach repentance, to urge people to turn from their selfish desires and follow God. Repent means to turn, to do a 180. Not everyone is eager stop what they’re doing and surrender to Jesus. This is obviously just as true today. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but to make dead people come alive…but first they must die…to themselves. This is where I struggle with Thomas Jefferson. I’m not against life, liberty or happiness—nor is God—but those are not God’s highest values for us. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, submit to Jesus as LORD, and pick up our cross and follow him. It is not always easy, fun, or comfortable.

    I get worried when I see Christianity sold to USAmericans as just another self-help alternative. Pray this prayer and God will make you happy. Have enough faith and you’ll be rich. The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. UGH! What garbage!

    Jesus gave up everything—including his own life—and he asks us to do the same…because it will be worth it in the end. He doesn’t promise is safety and comfort and pleasure now. We have work to do. We are in the middle of a war…between good and evil. So many so-called Christians are lounging by the pool unaware there’s a battle on the other side of the gate. Look around, friends.

    Heroin. Sex trafficking. Racism. Hunger. Homelessness. Violence. Hatred. Injustice.

    Jesus didn’t come and die so we could sit in comfy seats for an hour a week with our nice leather-bound Bibles and fancy clothes…and I’m not against any of those things. But following Jesus must take precedent over life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Kingdoms collide.

    One final thought on this verse: we are not to coerce, threaten, entice, or pressure people to follow Jesus. The command for the twelve was to preach repentance, to invite people to turn from their pleasure to seek God’s kingdom. And if they don’t listen, move on.

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

    They did it. They obeyed Jesus. The miracles authenticated their message. I wish I had a recording of their conversation with Jesus afterward. The stories must’ve been amazing! God obviously provided despite their lack of provisions. Ministry was accomplished. Lives were changed. The twelve began to get a glimpse of what it truly meant to proclaim truth and follow God.

    And then Mark inserts a bizarre flashback, a story that reminds us the risks of obeying God.

    King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Mark 6:14)

    Herod hears rumors about Jesus and begins to think perhaps John the Baptist was back, resurrected.

    Others said, “He is Elijah.” 

    And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

    But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” (Mark 6:15-16)

    Remember, the central question in our series is, “Who is Jesus?” Herod thinks the only one who can preach with authority and heal is John, whom he beheaded! He killed John but has enough faith to believe in the resurrection, even though John was still dead! Yet he does nothing to pursue Jesus.

    For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. (Mark 6:17-20)

    Herod liked John the Baptist even though John spoke out against the king’s marriage. He married Herodias, his niece, who is already the wife of his half brother, according to scholars. It’s rather confusing because Herod was a family name, not one man’s name. This was not Herod the Great. This was his son, Herod Antipas. He was banished to southern France by AD 39 and his kingdom was given to Herodias’ brother Agrippa. Mark calling him “King” Herod was ironic and sly.

    Let me be radical and politically incorrect and say despite what some say, our culture does not believe any two people in love should be able to marry. What if one is a minor? What if one is a relative (eww!)? What about polygamy? Then again, it may just be a matter of time.

    Herodias hates John because he criticized her marriage, likely a plot of hers to gain power by marrying Herod.

    Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. (Mark 6:21-22a)

    This was not some Chuck E. Cheese birthday party. Jews saw birthdays as pagan celebrations, and this occasion was filled with paganism: dancing girls at a stag party, a drunken king, …you get the idea. Most likely the amoral Herodias sent her teen daughter to perform erotically for her uncle and these other powerful men.

    The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.” (Mark 6:22b-23)

    This must’ve been quite a dance! Herod actually can’t give half of the kingdom away because he’s merely a puppet of Rome. Jesus, however, gives his disciples the power of the kingdom of God which brings healing and salvation.

    She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” 

    “The head of John the Baptist,” she answered. (Mark 6:24)

    At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Mark 6:25)

    I’ve played that genie game many times, the one where you ask, “If you could have three wishes, what would they be?” I’ve never heard someone mention a person’s head on a platter!

    The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:26-29)

    What an incredible story.

    So What?

    What do we do with it? Be careful what you ask for!

    It might seem odd, but look what Mark says next.

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

    This is the only time Mark calls the twelve “apostles.” They are sent ones who have completed a commission. It seems like Mark is connecting the dots between John, Jesus, and the disciples. Their mission to preach repentance is the same. Their fate as martyrs is the same. They are hated like the prophets of old. David Garland notes that “what happened to John the Baptizer presages what will also happen to any who preach the same message of repentance in a hostile world. They too will be handed over. They too will have to stand before kings. While Jesus’ ministry began after John’s imprisonment, the disciples’ preaching begins after John’s death.”

    Paradoxically, this is how the kingdom of God has grown for thousands of years. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Kierkegaard stated, “The tyrant dies and his rule ends, the martyr dies and his rule begins.” Mark shows us a cowardly man, Herod, with wealth and no character. He also shows us brave men with character and no wealth. One enjoys life now, the others for eternity.

    A choice must be made. Following Jesus is risky business. Sure, we’re blessed with tremendous freedoms in this nation today, but tomorrow offers us no such guarantees. One report I read this past week said a Christian was killed every six minutes last year for their faith. Over 90,000 of our brothers and sisters, slaughtered for following Jesus. That doesn’t include those arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.

    It’s a radical thought, but might God be preparing you for a life of suffering, of radical living, of dangerous adventure for the sake of eternity? Jesus never promised us a successful career, good health, or a stocked 401k. He never said obedience would result in popularity, comfort and pleasure. Jesus taught and modeled the denial of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the glory of God, for the kingdom of God.

    Credits: some ideas from Stephen Leston, Mark Strauss, Ian Fair, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Identity: Family & Foes, 30 July 2017

    Identity: Family & Foes
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 3:20-35

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

    Big Idea: Jesus’ followers are his true family…and you are welcome to join it!

    Earlier this year we did a series entitled Ideal Family. Throughout the series I said there are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

    The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families.

    As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we are told Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—is growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious.

    Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

    As I said, all of our families are messed up. All of them. If you don’t think yours is messed up, yours is REALLY messed up! Jesus is trying to eat, a huge crowd mobs him, and his family think he’s crazy. They want to get him in line! “Make Jesus stop,” they say! Jesus’ family wants Jesus to stop his ministry because they don’t understand what he’s doing.

    On the other hand the religious people know what he’s doing…and they’re hostile.

    And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Mark 3:22)

    This must be one of the dumbest statements in the Bible! I’m not saying the Bible is stupid, of course, but the religious leaders accuse Jesus of being demonic…and driving out demons. Huh?

    So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables:
    “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. (Mark 3:23-26)

    This is just common sense…but Jesus obviously needed to say it. A divided kingdom or house cannot stand. You may have noticed our nation is a bit divided these days. It’s scary to think what could happen if we remain this way. It seems like the options are to be overtaken by another country or find ourselves in civil war…because a house divided cannot stand. This is why unity is one of my top four prayers for First Alliance Church. United we stand, divided we fall (a phrase possibly used first by Aesop in his fable of “The Four Oxen and the Lion”). When we rally around a common mission, vision, strategy, and LORD, there is no limit to our potential. If we experience division, the ballgame is over. And we see this all the time…well-intended Christians arguing over things that often lead to awful results, including church splits and even people losing their faith in God altogether.

    Satan knows this. He knows if he can divide us, he can conquer. And again I say we need to always be praying for unity. I pray for direction, protection, passion, and unity. I know unity is a God-honoring prayer because it is Jesus’ prayer for us…right now. In John chapter 17, he says

    “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. (John 17:20-21)

    Jesus is praying that we would be one…so that the world may believe!

    As if Jesus has not already made his point about division and unity clear, he adds these words:

    In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. (Mark 3:27)

    It’s easy to miss his message. Satan is like a strong man. Jesus is a stronger man! Jewish listeners may have been reminded of this passage in Isaiah:

    Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce?

    But this is what the LORD says: 

    “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. (Isaiah 49:24-25)

    Jesus also may have been thinking about this text:

    After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
    by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
    Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, 
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
    because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
    For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12)

    The Messiah is right before their eyes, yet they are unable to see.

    Returning to the verse…

    In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.
    (Mark 3:27)

    We have a real enemy, brothers and sisters. He is a liar, a thief, an accuser, a big fat jerk! He is powerful and destructive…but our God is greater!!! Be encouraged. There are battles, but we will win. Love prevails. Truth reigns. Peace conquers. Jesus rules!

    I want to add one more thing about unity…Dave Ramsey’s five enemies of unity. These five destroyers are true in the marketplace, but they can be found in churches and even homes, too.

    1. Poor communication
    2. Lack of shared purpose/mission/goals
    3. Gossip (Ramsey’s employees are warned once and fired if it occurs again)
    4. Unresolved disagreements
    5. Sanctioned incompetence (John Maxwell), keeping poor performers on the team

    That was just for fun! Back to Jesus…

    Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter,
    but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:28-29)

    Throughout my life I’ve heard people talk about these verses. Did I commit the unforgivable sin? If you have to ask, the answer is a resounding no.

    Nobody disputed Jesus’ miracles. They were real. The healings were real. The exorcisms were real. The resurrection was real. Since the religious leaders couldn’t deny Jesus’ power, the only way they could discredit him was to attack the source of his power, claiming it is satanic. They knew better, but they were obviously desperate.

    Jesus presents a paradox, a self-contradictory statement. He says all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven and then says the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Which is it?

    Forgiveness of sins comes only from God. If you claim God is evil, who can forgive your sins?

    If you choose to deny God, it’s impossible to receive his forgiveness.

    Jesus doesn’t even say these religious leaders have committed the unforgiveable sin, but it’s a stern warning.

    He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” (Mark 3:30)

    Now we see Jesus’ family again.

    Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” (Mark 3:31-32)

    When is the last time someone said, “Where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you!”? Mary and the boys are outside, unable to get to their popular son and brother. Then Jesus asks a simple question.

    “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. (Mark 3:33)

    No wonder they thought Jesus lost his mind! He couldn’t even identify his mom and siblings?

    Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said,
    “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

    Wow! That’s radical! Jesus is starting a new family, a holy people. He’s willing to sacrifice his biological family for a new tribe, club, group. This is shocking!

    Growing up in a “good, Christian home,” I always felt close to my sister and parents, my grandparents, and even my aunts, uncles, and cousins. If we were visiting family out of town, we would always attend church with them on Sundays, reinforcing our Christian heritage and bond in Jesus. I married into a family that was…different. Church was generally reserved for Christmas and Easter.

    So imagine my surprise at my life in 2017. Two weddings last year led to major division among my Christian family members, while many members of Heather’s family are closer to me than my own flesh and blood. I keep reminding myself all families are messed up…including mine!

    I’m beginning to better understand Jesus’ words about family. Perhaps what matters most isn’t your blood but your relationships. I’m certainly not saying family doesn’t matter. Quite the opposite. Family is incredibly important, but to Jesus’ point, relationships matter more than family. Jesus did not abandon his mom and brothers. He merely extended his family to include all God seekers, or more accurately all God followers.

    So What?

    Are you a part of Jesus’ family? I didn’t ask if you attend this church or believe in God or were born in the USA. I’m asking if you are part of Jesus’ family. Do you do God’s will? Do you obey God? Are you truly a follower of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his teachings. I’m not talking about religion, but rather righteousness and relationship.

    Jesus invites you and me to join his family. We are welcome to become sons and daughters of the Most High God, thus becoming the brothers and sisters of Jesus. In fact, if we follow Jesus today, we are closer kin to Jesus than even his mother and brothers! That’s incredible! No matter your family of origin, you can be born again, become a new creation, receive the gift of eternal life…and an abundant life now. I’m so glad I’m a part of God’s family…not because of anything I have done, but rather because of what Jesus did in inviting us to follow him.

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

    some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Joseph, 18 December 2016

    Series: First Christmas
    Matthew 1:18-25

    Series Big Idea:
    Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

    Big Idea: God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

    The thing I can't figure out is why He chose me. Have you ever thought that? Why did He choose for you to live here? To work here? To serve here?

    I had a great phone conversation with one of our church’s outstanding leaders. She was feeling out of her comfort zone, inadequate, and unqualified. I reminded her God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

    Why did He choose Mary?
    Why did He choose Joseph?
    Why did He choose you?

    Scariest, most difficult, confusing, puzzling, mystifying, amazing, glorious, inexplicable, exciting, gripping, intoxicating, powerful, petrifying, terrifying, most wonderful day.

    Parents, does that describe your child’s birthday? No day changed my life more than May 21, 1992. That was the day our first child, Kailey, was born. I’ve never been the same since.


    There are two important biblical characters named Joseph. The first was Jacob’s son, the boy given the coat of many colors who became the second most powerful person in Egypt under Pharaoh. The other is Jesus’ step dad, Mary’s husband. A humble carpenter.

    We don’t know much about Joseph. Mary is quoted, present throughout the life of her son, and a prominent figure. But Joseph…he almost looks like one of the shepherds in many nativity scenes!

    Does he complain? Hardly. Well, actually, we don’t know, but let’s assume the drama was accurate. It’s a privilege to be the stepfather of the Messiah. In fact, it is a tremendous gift and responsibility.

    What’s the greatest thing that has ever been entrusted to your care? For many kids it’s a dog. I know of at least one child who wants a dog for Christmas. But dogs require care—well, live dogs require care. I’m not talking about a stuffed animal. Dogs need food, water, treats, trips to the vet, and everyone’s favorite chore…cleaning up the back yard!

    Several years ago a friend of mine at our church was loaned a yellow Lambourghini, a car worth hundreds of thousands of dollars! He was so nervous knowing he possessed—at least temporarily—a treasure. He drove it so carefully, not wanting to risk even a small scratch on it.

    Parents, you certainly remember the first time you held your child in your arms, aware of the tremendous blessings—and responsibility—you were holding.

    Birth parents have a role in the gift they produce. I won’t get into a detailed explanation of that today (!), but in Joseph’s case he not only became a dad, he was chosen—by God—to raise the promised Messiah. It’s hard for us, sometimes, to understand just how significant this child was to the Jewish people. There were prophecies for hundreds (thousands?) of years concerning the Messiah…and then silence. There were about four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, between the prophecies and the arrival of Jesus. Four hundred years—of silence. Imagine silence since 1616! And then God announces you’ll parent God’s son!

    This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:18-19)

    These two verses tell us quite a bit about Joseph. He was faithful to the law. This means he was a righteous man. He obeyed God, which involved loving others. In this case, he wanted to protect the girl/woman he loved. Quietly divorcing (calling off the wedding) Mary would’ve been far less shameful for a teen mom than exposing her for “sleeping around.” Joseph was a good man. We know Mary was righteous, and she would surely not be engaged to a loser!

    Yet on the surface, Joseph must’ve surely thought he made a mistake by proposing to this teenage girl with bun-in-the-oven. Imagine how he felt. His love is pregnant…and he’s a virgin. He cannot be the father of this child, which means…who is it? Sure, Mary, the Holy Spirit. Who’s the Holy Spirit? I know people who think they’re holy, but Spirit is a strange last night for a guy, don’t you think?!

    As is so often the case with Bible passages, we know the rest of the story. We know what’s going to happen. We’ve seen the end of the movie! But Joseph had no clue. I can’t imagine the disappointment, the heartbreak, and the embarrassment. Make no mistake, people knew about his pregnant fiancée…or they would. It’s not like you could fly to another state or country and take on a new identity. Unwed mothers were not the norm as they tragically are today in so many communities. Joseph’s bride-to-be was a disgrace. Even associating with her would affect his reputation…and it did.

    But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (
    Matthew 1:20-21)

    I wonder how long it took Joseph to fall asleep. You don’t just get life-changing news, call off a wedding, and snooze when your head hits the pillow. He may have laid in bed for hours before finally drifting off into la-la land. And then he has a dream!

    The dream confirms what Mary said. Wait, is this a dream or a hallucination? Am I just making this up? So Mary is carrying the Messiah? The Savior?

    All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (
    Matthew 1:22-23)

    Even though all of this news was surely shocking to Joseph, it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. He knew the ancient scriptures. He was faithful to the law. As a Jew, he knew about the prophecies of the coming Messiah.

    Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:13-14)

    The book of Matthew quotes the Old Testament at least 47 times, most of them Messianic, dealing with Jesus. Matthew begins his gospel—good news—with a genealogy of Jesus. He wrote,

    This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

    Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, …Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. 

    David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam…and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

    After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

    Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah. (Matthew 1:1-17)

    Joseph knew the prophecy of the Messiah, but couldn’t have imagined he would play a part in the most important—and famous—birth in human history.

    Immanuel: God with us. God will be with Mary. God will be with Joseph. God will be with us. What a dream!

    When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (
    Matthew 1:24-25)

    He did not divorce her. He did not abandon her. He chose to travel this remarkable—and often painful—journey with her. He married her. I have to add, contrary to some traditions, Mary and Joseph
    did consummate their marriage…after the birth of Christ. They had other children, too (so much for the “perpetual virgin” notion!).


    Although we don’t know much about Joseph, we know he was righteous, obedient, and faithful. I’m sure he felt unworthy of the gift and responsibility placed into his care, but he said, “Yes.”

    God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.

    What is God calling you to do? Sure, you won’t be entrusted to raise God’s son, but He’s calling you. Maybe He’s calling you to quit playing religion and truly surrender your life to Him. Quit playing games and let God truly be LORD in your life.

    Maybe God is calling you to step out in faith, to take a big risk. Perhaps it’s to write a ridiculously generous check, trusting Him to provide for your needs.

    I believe God is calling some of you to step into new positions of leadership. It may begin with apprenticing under a small group leader, eventually leading to caring for your own group. Leading a small group is a tremendous gift and responsibility. The eternities of men, women, and children are at stake.

    Some of you have been resisting an investment in the next generation. Our children, our youth need you. God might want you to disciple students. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, only that you obey God’s call.

    If you feel inadequate, join the club!

    I was recently talking with Thomas George, our District Superintendent. He asked how things were in Toledo and I said, “Fantastic! I love First Alliance Church. I’m so grateful God called us to Toledo, though I feel unworthy of serving such a great congregation.” He looked me in the eye and said, “If you ever feel worthy, call me and I will remove you.” He was serious. I was appreciative. When we feel like we can do it, we no longer need God.

    God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called. When we ask, “Why,” He often responds, “Why not?”

    “We all have to embrace the fact that God wants to use us. He’s given us talents, passions, gifts; He’s given us a community of people to do life with. If we focus and have intentionality, He will absolutely use us to make a difference in the world.” – Chris Marlow

    It’s my desire for God to call many of you into new opportunities, new challenges. You can make excuses, but some of you know it’s time. It’s time to get out of the boat and experience the thrill of being used by God to accomplish great things. And when you are faithful in small things, He will entrust even greater things to your care. And remember, you are never alone. We are here…and so is He. The message of Immanuel is “God is with us.”

    • Credits
    Some ideas from SkitGuys.com.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Be Holy! 8 November 2015

    Note: This message is similar to one preached at Scio Community Church, September 13, 2015.

    Be Holy!
    Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 1:13-21

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

    Big Idea: When suffering, we need not only need empathy but also holy action.


    Last week we began our series on 1 Peter, “What In The World Is Going On?” We live in crazy times, amen?

    • - We can kill babies and sell their parts but go crazy if a lion is shot
    • - It’s ok smoke weed but not cigarettes.
    • - Bush might run against Clinton for president!
    • - Women now have wives and men can have a husband.
    • - We are to be tolerant of everything yet offended by everything.

    I’ve heard Christians in the USA talk about suffering and persecution. Perhaps you’ve lost friends over your faith, have been skipped over for a job promotion for following Jesus, or been teased because you love Christ. While I don’t mean to minimize those things, it’s nothing compared to the imprisonment, torture, and even death faced by our brothers and sisters around the world. In recent days, the media has shed light on the horrific actions of ISIS and other groups who have promoted violence, prompted refugees to flee their homelands, and murdered our spiritual siblings.

    The theme of this book may well be called hope and grace in the midst of suffering. While we all experience trials, Peter—one of Jesus’ three best friends—is writing to scattered peoples fleeing for their freedoms and, in many cases, their very lives. In the first twelve verses of this epistle—or short letter—these exiles are addressed with reminders of their salvation, the temporary nature of their suffering, and hope both now and forever.

    Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

    What is therefore there for? These exiles are suffering and have been given encouragement and hope.

    When you’re suffering, encouragement and hope are wonderful, but something else is needed to prevent despair: action. There are times we are to be still, quiet, reflect, and meditate, but when life gets hard, we can focus inward on our problems and miss out on God’s blessings. Most everything in life begins with our minds, our thoughts.

    I’d be the first to say positive thinking can be overrated, but not always. Paul famously wrote

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

    Our actions begin with our mind. Garbage in, garbage out. Purity in, purity out.

    The temptation in suffering is to turn inward and suffer your own suffering, troubling your own trouble. Peter gives them a vision of something greater than the present. God is still on the throne.

    Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. (1 Peter 1:13)

    With minds that are alert and fully sober…what an interesting phrase. It means to prepare your minds for action, literally “gird up the loins of your mind.”

    Some have suggested we translate this passage “taking off the coat” or “rolling up the sleeves” of your mind. Take off your warm-up suit so your mind can move freely.

    Peter is saying maintain a loose grip on this world and a tight grip on what lies ahead. This world is temporary.

    Life is short. Eat dessert first!

    Then he says to make sure your minds are fully sober. This is a metaphor. He’s saying be self-controlled. Drunks cannot control themselves or their bodies. What’s the point of this gird of loins and self-control? Hope! With focused, ready minds “set your hope.”

    Hope is a challenging word because it means so many different things. I can hope to play baseball for the Detroit Tigers or I can hope you like this sermon or I can hope my wife will love me tomorrow. Like faith, the issue isn’t so much with me, but with the object of my hope. Playing for the Tigers is wishful thinking. It’s not going to happen no matter how much I think about it, pray about it, or hope for it. The love of my wife, however, is secure. Although I haven’t experienced tomorrow yet, I am confident in the love my wife has for me and I look forward to being with her tomorrow.

    Peter is saying our hope is in Jesus and His return. We can be sure Jesus is alive and coming back. It has not yet happened. We are waiting, but it is going to happen! There may be pain and trials now but Christ will return and justice will be served.

    1 Peter 1:14…

    As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

    Although our culture likes to talk about how things are not black and white but gray, the Bible is filled with contrasts: hot or cold, good or evil, heaven or hell. Every day we can choose to follow the world or God. We can reflect society’s consumerism and individualism or we can reflect God and His character, His nature, His holiness.

    There’s a lot of opinions in our world about right and wrong…or if there is any such thing. One of the tenants of postmodern philosophy is the belief that since words are subjective, there is no such thing as absolute truth.

    Of course the problem with saying there is no such thing as absolute truth is it is a declaration that the statement itself is true!

    Truth. This has been the dilemma of our court system. Who is right? What is ok? Abortion? Marijuana? Gay marriage? Adultery? Sharing a Netflix account with a friend? Pornography? Human cloning?

    Ethics originate from within ourselves (conscience, reasons, nature) or from outside ourselves (the Constitution, revelation, codes of ethics). Scot McKnight writes

    Christian orthodoxy teaches that ethics flows from salvation and that humans, by themselves, cannot discern the will of God—for personal salvation, for personal ethics, or for the social order. We know God’s will because in his grace he has made his will known to us through his revelation, the Bible being the primary mode of this revelation. The same construction applies to our knowledge of ethics: We know what is good from what is bad because God has told us in his Word, beginning with the Mosaic legislation and climaxing in the teachings of Jesus and the apostolic testimony.

    Our text for today is quite explicit in this, distinguishing between evil desires of the world and holiness, reflecting God. Holy means “set apart” or “different.” It’s not necessarily saying perfection—though God is perfect and we are not—but different, unique, special. We are to be holy because we have been changed and because we are children of a holy God. Kids are like their parents (sorry kids!). Obedient children follow Daddy. We were children of the devil, the world, following its ways. Now we are to be obedient children of God, walking in holiness, imitating Jesus.

    We are
    called to be holy. As Jesus called Peter to follow Him, so also He is calling us to be holy and follow His example.

    Notice, too, Peter says, “It is written.” The Word of God is powerful. Do you know it? Do you read it? Do you live it? An hour on Sunday isn’t going to make up for the 167 hours you’re in the world, absorbing its messages of selfishness and pride. As Warren Wiersbe says,

    The Word reveals

    God’s mind, so we should learn it.
    God’s heart, so we should love it.
    God’s will, so we should live it.

    Author John Eldridge wrote, “Our journey to holiness is the process whereby we receive more and more of the holiness of Jesus Christ into more and more of our being…In fact, the assumption of the New Testament is that you cannot become whole without becoming holy; nor can you become holy without becoming whole. The two go hand in hand.”

    In order to make humans what they are meant to be the love of God seeks to make us whole and holy. We are not holy because of what we do for God, we are made holy because of what God has done for us.

    Are you an obedient child of God?

    When I reflect upon God’s holiness and my sin I realize I am desperate for Him.
    When I recognize God’s power and my weakness I realize I am desperate for HIm.
    This is why worship is so important.

    When I am desperate for God, I spend time with Him.
    When I spend time with Him, I know Him.
    When I know Him, I love Him.
    When I love Him, I obey Him.

    Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. (1 Peter 1:17)

    This fear does not mean anxiety or scary, but rather awe. Dad is watching us now, and one day He will judge each of us. We can have awe or desire the approval of the world as citizens or we can be in awe of and seek the Father as foreigners; visitors.

    For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)

    We have been redeemed, purchased with a price. Jesus died, shedding His blood for us. Our redemption makes us grateful for not only forgiveness but adoption into our new family and a desire to live in holiness and awe before God.

    Our Father is the standard. He is holy. He shows us through Jesus what it means to truly be human, to live as we were created to live, full of faith, hope and love. He shows us the benefits of salvation, an eternal hope that cannot be taken away.

    So What?

    Is your faith and hope in God…or in the stock market?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your friends?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your job?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your social media popularity?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your stuff…the house, the cars, the vacations?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in our president, governor, or political party?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your gifts, talents and abilities?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your education and diplomas?

    Is your faith and hope in the present…or in the future?

    Peter encourages us to be aware of the future—God’s righteous judgment of our lives and also the hope of the joy of final salvation. The best is yet to come.


    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 Wiersbe

    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.

    Harmony, 20 September 2015

    Harmony: Christian Togetherness
    Series: What In The World Is Going On? A Study of 1 Peter
    1 Peter 1:22-2:10

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

    Big Idea: When persecuted, we have not only hope and a call to holy living but also a harmonious family of God we are to love.


    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.

    If you’re read through the book of 1 Peter this past week as I challenged you last Sunday, you may have found it lacking order. I was relieved to read one writer who said,

    Once again, Peter’s style here—weaving in and out of topics, exhorting and then stating the foundation for the exhortation, and digressing to cover important ideas— prevents many readers from finding any logical sequence. (Scot McKnight)

    If you like a neat, organized, three-point sermon with each point beginning with the same letter or forming an acrostic, you will not find it today or probably in any sermon in this series. You’ve been warned! But don’t take that to mean this letter is disorganized or unimportant. The messages are timeless, timely for us today, and a true treasure.

    Two weeks ago the focus was hope. Last week the key word was holy, being and living different, set apart lives reflecting Jesus.

    We ran out of time last week so I want to begin by looking at verses 17-21 before diving into today’s text.

    Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. (1 Peter 1:17)

    This fear does not mean anxiety or scary, but rather awe. Dad is watching us now, and one day He will judge each of us. We can have awe or desire the approval of the world as citizens or we can be in awe of and seek the Father as foreigners; visitors.

    For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)

    We have been redeemed, purchased with a price. Jesus died, shedding His blood for us. Our redemption makes us grateful for not only forgiveness but adoption into our new family and a desire to live in holiness and awe before God.

    Our Father is the standard. He is holy. He shows us through Jesus what it means to truly be human, to live as we were created to live, full of faith, hope and love. He shows us the benefits of salvation, an eternal hope that cannot be taken away.

    Is your faith and hope in God…or in the stock market?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your friends?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your job?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your social media popularity?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your stuff…the house, the cars, the vacations?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in our president, governor, or political party?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your gifts, talents and abilities?
    Is your faith and hope in God…or in your education and diplomas?

    Is your faith and hope in the present…or in the future?

    Peter encourages us to be aware of the future—God’s righteous judgment of our lives and also the hope of the joy of final salvation. The best is yet to come.

    Today’s word is

    Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1:22-23)

    Children of God have been born again (John 3). We have been born again through the word of God. Notice Peter connects obedience and loving one another. As we’re going to see, following Jesus is more than an individual journey. We are a part of a family. We have not only a Father and a Big Brother, Jesus, but also spiritual brothers and sisters we are to love…deeply…from the heart.

    If we could just do this one thing—love one another deeply—we’d be almost done! The two greatest commands are love God and love others…and we love God by loving others.

    The word “deeply” cannot be overstated. We use the word “love” in English to describe so many things, yet this is a radical commitment, fervency, constancy, and effort. We are to share both philadelphia love—brotherly love—and agape love which is godly sacrificial love. Loving deeply is not tolerance; it may be the opposite of tolerance!

    When we are adopted into God’s family we experience a new birth, receive a new family, and are given an unconditional love we are to share with others.

    When we were born naturally, we were given bodies that will die. When we are born again, we are given the eternal Word of God. Some modern Christians call the Bible the Word of God—and it is—but the same word, logos, is used in John 1 to describe Jesus Himself.

    Remember, Peter’s readers did not have YouVersion on their iPhone or a leather-bound NIV Study Bible! He quotes Isaiah 40:6-8.


    “All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
    the grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

    And this is the word that was preached to you. (1:24-25)

    We’re like the grass. We will eventually die. No matter how strong, smart, cool, or talented you are, you’re going to die. God and His word are eternal.

    Therefore, …(2:1a)

    What’s it there for?

    Because this world is temporary and God’s Word is eternal…
    Because born people will die but born again people will live forever…
    Because we are not merely children of our parents but children of God…

    Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (2:1-3)

    We need to get rid of sin.

    Malice is congealed anger; an unforgiving spirit. Are you bitter? Is there someone you need to forgive. They don’t deserve to be forgiven, but neither do you! That’s grace. That’s agape love from God. Get rid of malice. Give it up. Surrender it to God. Replace it with God’s grace.

    Deceit is guile. Ananias and Sapphira were deceitful (Acts 5). The devil is a deceiver. We are to be filled with the truth.

    Do we need to talk about hypocrisy? One of the greatest criticisms of Christians by non-Christians is we’re hypocrites. We say one thing on Sunday and do something different on Monday. None of us is perfect, but when children of God screw up, they confess and make it right.

    Envy. This is one of those somewhat acceptable sins, perhaps because it’s easy to hide. Look around. Whose job do you want? Whose paycheck? Whose car? Whose family? Whose body? I believe the opposite of envy is gratefulness and contentment. God has showered all of us with a vast array of gifts, beginning with Jesus and continuing to our freedom to worship today.

    Slander…of every kind. Gossip. Behind-the-back criticism. If you wouldn’t say it in their presence, don’t say it in their absence!

    We need to get rid of all sin in our lives and replace it with Jesus, with the fruit of the Spirit, with character and godliness…because we’re God’s kids, children of the King!

    I love Peter’s metaphor of spiritual milk. He’s not writing to new Christians, but instead acknowledging how newborn babies crave milk. They long for it. They cry for it! Because we’ve tasted that the LORD is good! We used to crave sin and now we are to crave prayer, obedience, serving others, sharing Jesus…God. We can fill our lives with vices or virtues.

    The psalmist famously wrote in Psalm 42:

    As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. (Psalm 42:1)

    The LORD is good! He’s so good! He’s greater, smarter, stronger, more present, more loving, more kind, more compassionate, more powerful…than anyone or anything.

    One reason we gather is to be reminded we are children of a mighty God!

    This week you may have faced criticism, bills, broken cars, broken bodies, bad news, sickness, addictions, temptations, fear, anxiety…but God is greater! The LORD is good! We must run to Him. We must flee sin and run into the arms of our Daddy who loves us unconditionally!

    We are to desire the word of God, spiritual milk. We need to grow and will discover the goodness of the LORD. We need to worship. We also need to get into the word of God!

    I often pray the prayer of a father who exclaimed to Jesus,

    “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

    Does your passion for God grow when you’re with other believers?
    Does your passion for God grow when you’re in God’s Word?
    Does your passion for God grow when you worship?

    LORD, I want to want You! Give me a passion for You such that knowing You is truly the greatest thing in my life!

    Now Peter shifts gears.

    As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (2:4-5)

    Precious is an interesting word, especially for a fisherman, but Peter used it liberally. Jesus said He would build His church. Peter was a little stone like us. God is building a living temple. A better translation is “build yourselves.” Take action. We are to come together as living stones connected to the living Stone to form one spiritual house where—like the old temple—God dwells.

    Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
    “ ‘The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
    the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

    “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matthew 21:42-44)

    The foundation is salvation. You come to the Stone broken.

    The stone of judgment is also coming according to Daniel.

    For in Scripture it says:

    “See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
    and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame.” (2:6)

    Jesus is this stone.

      Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

    “The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”


    “A stone that causes people to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall.”

    They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. (2:7-8)

    These aren’t rolling stones but stable rocks.

    We all choose to accept or reject Jesus. He’s a stepping stone or a stumbling stone.

    Psalm 118:22 speaks of the temple.

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

    We live in world that rejects Jesus. Peter’s audience was rejected by the world. We may be rejected, too, but the world’s rejection pails in comparison to the Father’s acceptance. The story is still being written. Vindication is coming.

    Now we come to our focus today.

    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. (2:9)

    We are a chosen people/generation. An elect race. These people are a scattered diaspora but they’ve been chosen like the people of Israel. We choose Jesus because He’s chosen us. We love Him because He first loved us.

    We are a royal priesthood. In the Old Testament God chose the nation of Israel to be priests. They sinned so God chose God fearing Jews and Gentiles to become priests. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a priest. We are royalty. In Peter’s day, royalty was inherited, but we have been adopted as sons and daughters to be not only children but priests who serve God.

    Scot McKnight says, “To become a Christian is to be raised to the ultimate height in status because we suddenly become children of the God of the universe, and we have direct access to him because we are his children.” Hallelujah!

    We are a holy nation. We’ve never been fully holy in conduct but we are holy in our relationship with God. Jesus is our righteousness.

    Our purpose is to declare God’s praises. We are to announce good tidings of peace and joy. We are to show the light to our dark world. Some will accept and some will reject.

    We are special people, a peculiar people, people of His own, a special possession. We are a ragamuffin collection of broken sinners who have found salvation in Jesus. We are God’s. We belong to HIm. He invites us to not only be with Him but also to love the people of this world and one another. This reminds me of Jesus’ prayer recording in John 17:

    “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.

    “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:20-24)

    This is my favorite prayer in the Bible because Jesus prays for us! He says we have been given to Jesus by the Father.

    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. (2:10)

    God is rich in mercy. Paul wrote

    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)


    God has not created us to know Him in isolation.
    God has not created us to live in isolation.

    God exists in community—Father, Son and Spirit—and created us to do life together, to be a family, a nation, a people, a group of priests that know God…and make Him known.

    No matter what trials we face, we are to be a united, harmonious family, faithful to Jesus. We are God’s people. We are a priesthood, a nation, a people. We the people! Let’s live like it!!!


    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.

    The World, 1 John 2:15-17, 10 May 2015

    Big Idea: We are not citizens of this world, but citizens of heaven on God's mission in our world.

    Scripture: 1 John 2:15-17

    Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.


    Do you like to travel? What’s the most fascinating place you’ve visited? Why?

    There’s a common expression many make regarding a place. The phrase is…

    “It’s a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

    There are various reasons people give for their statement, but interestingly enough virtually every visited place has people that live there!

    In 1972 Christian music pioneer Larry Norman released an album called “Only Visiting This Planet.” More recently, t-shirts have proclaimed, “Don’t mind me, I’m just visiting this planet.”

    Visitors and residents live very different lives, don’t they? I was with a friend from out of town last week during the election and they weren’t too concerned about whether or not Proposal 1 was going to pass. They don’t have to drive on our crater-filled roads each day!

    Actually, it would be quite odd if they were deeply concerned about the election, aside from their interest in how it would affect me.

    This past week I joined a group of people in downtown Ann Arbor for the National Day of Prayer observance, an annual half hour of prayer at the Federal Building flagpole. While I appreciated their concerns and prayers, I was struck by how opinionated their prayers were, certain of God’s will for the United States and ever so bold in telling God how politicians and leaders should vote, with hardly a word of thanks for the freedoms we enjoy, the progress we’ve made, or even worship for God simply being God. A day set aside for talking with our Dad turned into a laundry list of fear, angst, and pleas for power.

    I’m quite sure I over-reacted to their prayers, but today’s passage from the first epistle of John reminds us not to be overly concerned with this world. I want to live in peace and freedom and smooth roads as much as the next guy, but we’re just visiting!

    Do not love the world or anything in the world. (1 John 2:15a)

    This is not a reference to creation or the planet. It’s not a reference to people in the world. It’s a reference to the world’s system, to worldly things, to temporary things.

    Since sin was introduced to our world, evil has been present, causing death, pain, and destruction…all disguised beautifully in tempting forms…like chocolate covered poop!

    Jesus spoke of this world. Although he created it, he has allowed satan and his demons to tempt and deceive, presenting us with daily choices to follow God or the world. Jesus called him the prince of this world (John 14:30; John 16:11).

    I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, (John 14:30)

    …and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:11)

    In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul spoke of what it was like for people before they followed Jesus.

    …in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:2)

    Evil is real. Just watch the news! Every day we are bombarded with lies that suggest we will be truly satisfied when we have __________.

    Fill in the blank: money, sex, power, the latest cell phone, the fastest car, the best clothes, the most Facebook friends, the most encounters with celebrities, the biggest paycheck, the most prestigious job, the best grades, the finest school, the most beautiful family…

    Paul told the Galatians…

    May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

    The cross and the world are in tension. Good and evil are in tension. God and satan are in tension.

    Peter recognized the evil in our world.

    If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. (2 Peter 2:20)

    John continues…

    If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. (1 John 2:15b)

    This is harsh, but true. Jesus said nobody can serve two masters.

    Have you ever had two bosses?

    A few years ago I found myself driving a fifteen passenger van in Los Angeles with three navigators! I finally had to tell two of them to put away their GPS devices so I could follow one person.

    You can’t run with the devil during the week and run with the LORD on Sunday!

    You can’t love sin and God. We are in the world but not of the world.

    There is a perpetual conflict between our old sinful nature and our new, righteous nature given to us through Jesus.

    For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:16)

    God gives us all desires. Those desires are not bad since they were from God, but we are often tempted to meet those desires in unhealthy, sinful ways.

    It’s like running a marathon, wanting to finish, and then taking a taxi to the finish line.

    The flesh, the eyes, and pride. Notice how these themes appear repeatedly in the Bible.

    The lust of the flesh. Our bodies have cravings. Gluttony is a real temptation. Eve was tempted by satan to eat the forbidden fruit. It wasn’t that God said she couldn’t eat, but rather she couldn’t eat from just one tree in the garden.

    Jesus was also tempted this way in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. He was hungry after fasting for forty days (duh!) and satan tempted him to turn stones into bread to inappropriately feed his flesh. He even misquoted scripture to lure Jesus into sin.

    By the way, temptation is not sin. It’s what we do with the temptation that matters. Eve said yes and Jesus said no.

    The lust of the eyes. Our eyes are drawn to attractive things. They are often the gateway to lust, pornography, or materialism. The tree looked good to Eve. The fruit looked good.

    Jesus was also tempted this way. He was taken to a high place and satan showed him the kingdoms of this world, offering them to Jesus if he would only worship satan.

    The pride of life. Eve was told if she ate the fruit she would be wise. It wasn’t simply an urge to eat something tasty, but a desire to be like God.

    Jesus was also tempted this way. He was told to jump off the top of the Jerusalem temple and show his superiority by summoning angels to protect him. Jesus never performed a miracle to impress people.

    The stomach, beauty, and even religion can be deadly and of the world when we give into sinful temptation. Here’s why:

    The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)

    The Roman Empire, Michael Jordan’s athleticism, the wealth of many who invested in Enron and Radio Shack, …

    It All Goes Back In The Box

    Author and pastor John Ortberg tells a great story about learning to play Monopoly from his grandmother. She repeatedly beat him and finally said John needed to risk it all, go for broke, buy every house and hotel possible and accumulate as much wealth as possible. She said, “One day you’ll learn to play the game.”

    So he played with a neighbor all summer long, understanding money and possessions were the way to keep score. That fall he sat down to play with grandmother and ruthlessly beat her, taking every last dollar she had! She had one more thing to teach John. She said, “Now it all goes back in the box. All of the houses and hotels, railroads and utilities and money goes back in the box. None of it was really yours. It was here before you came along and it will be around after you’re gone.”

    So What?

    This world is not our home. No matter how exciting it can be to experience money, sex, power, fame, and comfort, the thrill will eventually wear off. Then what?

    What really matters?

    We are just visiting this planet.

    As odd as that may sound, we’re not the only ones. Jesus made a visit, and He set for us a great example of how to live here while being citizens of heaven. He only visited for about 33 years. He said to give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God. He never demonstrated fear, even when seemingly most of the world wanted him dead. There is no record of him campaigning for a candidate or even a political issue, though his sermons were loaded with radical commands and ideas no politician would dare utter.

    Some Christians are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good. We need to be involved in this world, but only to the extent that we’re on mission, that we are obediently following our assignment to make disciples, to love others, to lose our lives for God’s sake.

    A growing trend in travel is eco tourism where people do more than visit and consume; they serve the residents, perhaps through digging a well or volunteering at a soup kitchen. They are on a mission, but permanent residency is not part of the arrangement. The tourists know they will eventually return home.

    This world is not our home. We’re just visitors. Let’s live like it! In the meantime, let’s complete our mission and leave this world in better shape than we found it!

    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)


    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.



    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

    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.

    Witness: Woman of Sorrow, 04 January 2015

    Big Idea: Mary experienced great joy as a mom…and great sorrow.

    Key Scripture: John 2:1-11; Mark 3:20-35; John 19:25


    Happy 2015! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. The highlight for me was undoubtedly spending nearly a week with our entire family that now resides again in three different states.

    Many churches today are talking about the new year, resolutions, goal setting, and ways to have your best life now. I’m deliberately avoiding the temptation for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my desire to finish what we started with regard to Mary. As I said last Sunday, we can’t just throw her in the attic with the nativity set until next year. While her most significant moment may have been Jesus’ birthday, labor and delivery is the beginning, not the end of motherhood. We looked at Mary the mom last week as she brought Jesus to the temple for dedication where they were blessed by Simeon.

    The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:33-35)

    In full disclosure, I’m not a mom! I’ve never been a mom…and I never plan on becoming a mom! I am, however, a parent. Nothing in life has been more challenging for me—or more rewarding—than being a parent. I’ve experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. I’ve felt every conceivable emotion and been impacted physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, financially, and relationally by parenting three incredible humans.

    I believe love is the reason parenting is so significant. Love involved risk, and the more you risk, the greater the joy and the greater the sorrow. During lunch on New Year’s Day, Heather and I were reflecting on our parenting journey and how it has taken us through tragedy and triumph, horror and happiness. She asked if I’d do it again if I could turn back time and I said absolutely though nothing could prepare me for all of the challenges. Perhaps nothing has shaped me into the man I am today more than being a parent.

    Today I want to look at a few final moments in Mary’s motherhood adventure.

    The First Miracle

    Jesus began His public ministry by making wine. We often miss Mary in this story.

    On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” (John 2:1-3)

    Remember, children were to honor their parents according to the fifth commandment (which I believe is still relevant today!).

    “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
    (John 2:4)

    “Woman” could also be understood as “mother.” “My hour” was a reference to the crucifixion. Note Jesus does nothing until Mary directs the servants to obey Him.

    His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

    Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

    Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

    Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

    They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:5-10)

    What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)

    This wedding began a public shift in Mary’s life. Imagine her joy! Talk about a proud mama! She would learn to be obedient to her Son. He was the One before whom she was to have no other gods. Honoring God meant following her own Son while surrendering her own honor.

    Scot McKnight says, “If Jesus alone knew God’s will, then the only ones who knew God’s will were the ones to whom Jesus revealed that will. For Mary to know and do God’s will, she would have to follow Jesus. Her honor would have to surrender to his honor. Jesus’ words were subtle, and they pierced Mary’s heart. She would have to allow her son to become her Lord. This interchange between Mary and Jesus is nothing short of stunning…Because Mary directed the servants to do as Jesus said and because the servants obeyed, Jesus converted six thirty-gallon jars of water into the best wine yet served at that wedding.”

    This was only the beginning.


    Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

    Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

    “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

    Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

    “Thanks a lot, Son! Your mission is more important than your mom?!” Was this the sword Simeon said would pierce Mary’s heart?

    Sometimes honoring God and honoring your father and mother come into conflict with one another. Of course, in our western culture, honor is a word rarely spoken. We focus on our own rights rather than selflessly honoring others. The Jewish priorities were God, parents, family, society…and lastly one’s self.

    Mary and her other children were ambivalent about Jesus, perhaps much of the time. They expected the Messiah to be a prophet like Moses, like ancient prophets, a descendant of David, and a reigning King combining the glory of David with the wisdom of Solomon. He would be powerful, ruling over all governments and peoples. He would restore Israel, establish peace, righteousness, and holiness.

    Jesus didn’t fit their expectations…and the most unimaginable was yet to come.

    The Cross

    I have heard the worst experience on earth is losing a child. I was reminded of this a few days ago as I heard the wails of a grieving mom whose child died. My mind raced to Mary’s agony watching her Son die. She not only witnessed the loss of her Son, but also her Savior, her Messiah, her hope.

    Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19:25)

    About fifty percent of the first century Jewish women were named Mary!

    She was near the cross (all of the males fled except for John!). She saw it all. She remained faithful to Him. A sword pierced the side of Jesus…as Mary’s heart was pierced.

    Anglican poet G.A. Studdert Kennedy said:

    She claims no crown from Christ apart,
    Who gave God life and limb,
    She only claims a broken heart,
    Because of Him.

    Are you near the cross? Has your heart been pierced?

    The Rest of the Story

    Mary does not vanish at Calvary. In the Upper Room following Jesus’ ascension into heaven we are told of the early followers of Jesus.

    They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:14)

    She no doubt had a tremendous role in the early church, including the telling of stories that we now read in the Gospel biographies of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. She was an eyewitness to His birth, life and death.

    One More Appearance?

    Mary may appear one final time in the Bible…in Revelation 12. Look it up! It may refer to Mary and/or the People of God and/or Israel and/or the Church.

    So What?

    May surrendered to her Son. Family is important, but obeying and glorifying God the Father is most important. We are to love our children and honor our parents, but even family can become an idol, a god.

    Jesus revealed a new family in which His brothers and sisters and mother are those who do God’s will.

    Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

    Mary is not a perfect example, but a real example of someone who trusted God and surrendered to His will, a real human with a real faith in the real world.

    “Do whatever He tells you” is the motto and mantra of Jesus’ family.

    For Further Study

    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

    Motherhood: Woman of God, 28 December 2014

    Big Idea: Moms—and Mary, in particular—do more than simply give birth.

    Key Scripture: Luke 2:21-52


    As a general rule, I don’t like reruns. I don’t like seeing movies for the second time. The reason is simple: I know what’s going to happen.

    Of course, sometimes I forget I’ve even
    seen the movie! One time I called Heather from the video store (remember those?) and asked if we had seen a particular movie. She said, “We rented it last weekend!” I then asked, “Did we like it?”

    There’s nothing like a show for the first time, be it on tv, the movies, or live. On Tuesday we are celebrating Heather’s birthday by going to the Detroit Opera House to see the musical Wicked. It’s her favorite show and we’ve both seen it before…but it will be the first time for two of our kids. It will be great for the three of us who have seen it before, but when you know the ending, the suspense is diminished, the thrill is muted, the mystery is lost.

    This is one of the challenges of the Bible. If you’ve read it before, it can become familiar. While it’s great to be comfortable with the truths of God’s Word, as Apuleius said, familiarity breeds contempt. We can miss the awe when we’ve “been there and done that.”


    We have two final weeks in our series on Mary. Hopefully you haven’t packed her away in the attic with your nativity set until next December! Giving birth to Jesus—while essential—was just the beginning, not the end of her influence and importance. Sure, the pain of labor and delivery were over, but a host of experiences and emotions lie ahead for her…and Joseph. We are going to take a peek at some today.

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

    Does that really say He wasn’t named until the eighth day, even though months earlier they were told what to name Him?

    When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24)

    Last Sunday we had a child dedication—actually a parent and child dedication. Jesus was dedicated by His parents to the Lord. Fortunately for us, we do not have to slaughter animals in the process, but this was the Old Testament Law.

    Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

    “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
    For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
    a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)

    Surely this was further confirmation that their child was special—as if they needed further proof following angel visitations, the glory of the Lord shining, choirs of singing angels, strange shepherds visiting the labor and delivery room, and the fulfillment of ancient prophecy.

    Simeon saw Jesus as the Savior of all, not merely Jews, a radical expansion of God’s redemption promised in the OT (Ps. 98; Is. 49:6).

    The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:33-35)

    This was a beautiful moment, this righteous man rejoicing at the presence of the Messiah. He praised God, his parents marveled, He blessed the child…and then those nine words to Mary: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Imagine how jarring that sentence must’ve been to this young mom. There was no warning. Simeon didn’t say, “There’s some good news and some bad news. What do you want first?” It’s almost a P.S. “By the way, Mary, your soul will be pierced by a sword. Have a nice day!”

    There’s more.

    There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

    We’re introduced to Anna the prophet (a female!) who confirms Jesus as the One, the child.

    It often seems the greater the challenge, the greater the clarity required. For instance, if God wants you to sell everything and move to Africa, it may take more than a hunch, a brief thought in the middle of the night after late-night pizza and pop! Such radical action requires great clarity, most likely through multiple messages.

    It was critical that Mary and Joseph knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that their Son was special, the Messiah. Many people told them so, including two at His consecration.

    When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. (Luke 2:39)

    This verse raised questions for me. Didn’t they get a visit from the Magi and have to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys in accordance with Matthew chapter two? Luke did not feel it was an important detail.

    And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. (Luke 2:40)

    This is about all we know of Jesus’ childhood…except for one incident…a dozen years later.

    Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (Luke 2:41-48)

    The trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem was not a one-time journey for Jesus’ birth. It was an annual affair.

    Parents, if you’ve ever lost your child, you know how consuming it can be. Imagine three days of searching!

    “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:49-50)

    We understand, but you have to admit those words must’ve sounded strange to Mary and Joseph…especially Joseph. “Father? You don’t know your father? Hello!”

    Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:51-52)

    Jesus grew and Mary treasured all these things in her heart.

    I believe Mary was a great mom. She certainly had huge challenges, yet she persevered. She raised a boy with a Messiah complex! She was forever known as conceiving before marriage. It is thought that her husband died young, though the Bible is not explicit about this. We are told she had other children (who must’ve struggled to live up to the expectations of Jesus; “why can’t you be more like your brother?” “Because He’s perfect!”).

    Clearly Mary was thoughtful; deliberate. Like all moms, she loved her child in a way unlike anyone else. She gave birth, nursed Him, and did everything possible to provide a good life for Him, all the while knowing He was special, yet not at all what she or anyone was expecting from the King of the Jews.

    Next week we’ll look at the most unexpected moment in Mary’s life.

    So What?

    Moms, you can relate to Mary better than anyone. You know the joys and heartache of not only parenting but doing what only moms can do. Just as I learned more about our heavenly Father the day I became a dad, moms can identify with Mary.

    We can only imagine the conversations she had with Jesus, the questions she asked, the haunting words of Simeon throughout His growth, and the mystery of His identity.


    Just for the record, there are a few things I like to watch more than once, but it’s not so much for the intrigue and wonder but rather the tradition. A Charlie Brown Christmas comes to mind. The beauty, of course, of familiar shows is you can be interrupted by a bathroom break or phone call/text without missing anything. You also notice new things each time you experience it.

    The more you read the Bible, the more familiar it becomes, but the more the Holy Spirit can guide you into truth. We are constantly changing and God’s Word has the power to encourage, convict, challenge and transform us.

    I’ve read it cover to cover—many times. We have together as a church. This year we’ve read through Psalms and Proverbs each day. In 2015 we have a new reading plan. It’s called One Story and it will cover the major themes of the Bible with six readings each week. If you have a smart phone, the readings can be easily obtained with the YouVersion app as well as
    OwnIt365.com. There are free videos, Experience study guides, and Let’s Discuss It discussion guides for your family and/or Life Group.

    As we prepare for the new year, it’s my hope and prayer that we would passionately pursue God like never before, as individuals and as a family together.

    For Further Study

    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

    The Call: Woman of Obedience, 23 November 2014

    Big Idea: Mary is not just for Catholics, but an obedient girl who responded to the call of God.

    The story of the birth of Jesus begins not on Christmas Day, but nine months or so prior. An angel calls Mary and announces her assignment (she really has no say in the matter!). She understandably asks the obvious question (v. 34) but does not object (as we will see next week). Has God called you to do something? It may not be as significant as giving birth to the Messiah, but are you being obedient to the smaller assignments He has given to you? Why did God choose Mary? It was likely because she was a woman (girl?) of obedience prior to the assignment.

    keywords: calling, mission, obedience

    Key Scripture: Luke 1:26-37

    Introduction: Call

    When someone calls you, what do you do?

    That’s a vague question, right? It depends upon who calls and how. Two hundred years ago if you wanted to call a person you could use your voice or possibly a letter, one a bit more instantaneous than the other!

    Then the telephone. We still have a land line. We almost never answer it, especially before political elections! If you ever call my house and we hang up on you, don’t take it personally! I’ve always tried to be respectful to people when they call. Half the time it’s not even a human on the other end. I sometimes pick up and just listen, waiting for a voice, then hanging up if there’s much more than a moment of silence on the other end. You might say I’m not very responsive if you call me on my home phone.

    The same is sometimes true for the office phone. Caller ID is a blessing! Perhaps a third of the calls to the church office are telemarketers, another third are people in distress asking for money, and the final third are people calling for other purposes.

    My cell phone is different. When it rings, I almost always respond. I don’t get too many telemarketers (knock on wood!). If my wife or one of my kids is on the caller ID, I almost always respond.

    Have you ever noticed sometimes the phone is more important than the person in front of you? It’s amazing how tempting it is to let a phone call with a human take precedence over the human with whom we are interacting. I try to never interrupt a live conversation for a phone call unless it is my immediate family. That’s why they created voice mail!

    Have you ever heard your name called in a public place? Your name may be the most important word in the world. It grabs your attention immediately. Perhaps you’ve heard your name over the PA system in a store or someone yelled your name across a parking lot. It’s unexpected, surprising, and sometimes rather fun. My father-in-law is the king of this! He retired to Florida and it seems every we talk with him he has another story of some old military buddy or high school colleague he encountered near his home.

    Imagine a stranger called your name. They came to you and said, “Greetings!”

    I’d probably run or tell them I’m out of cash if they wanted my money!

    Imagine being a teenage girl and suddenly you’re confronted by…an angel!

    Angels are real. The Bible is full of them. One third left to follow satan when he was kicked out of heaven for his pride, a failed coup attempt against God.

    Have you ever met an angel?

    In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel
    to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:26-28)

    This is great new! First, the angel is very friendly. “Greetings.” Then Mary is told she is highly favored. Who wouldn’t want an angel to announce that to them? Then Mary is told the Lord is the her.

    Imagine you go for a walk in the park and a friendly angel announces God is with you and you’re highly favored. What could be better?

    Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:29)

    Greatly troubled at his words? It doesn’t say she was troubled by the appearance of a ghost. She was troubled at the angel’s words.

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

    Mary was afraid. Perhaps angels can be scary! He repeats Mary’s favor with God. David is mentioned again…and Jacob, too. Gentiles tend to skip over these details, seeing them as unimportant facts, but as a Jew, they were significant. Prophecy clearly stated the Messiah would be a descendant of David. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the beginning of the people of Israel.

    Matthew states it this way:

    A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose
    mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:1-16)

    Last week we talked about women and how they have not always been given the freedom, recognition, responsibility, and opportunities afforded to men. Here is the family tree of Jesus. It’s not too exciting at first, but notice the women included—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba…and Mary.

    Tamar and Rahab were prostitutes or alleged. Ruth was a foreigner. Bathsheba committed adultery—or was a rape victim. It’s startling that these women would be specifically mentioned (since each man listed had a mom!).

    The repeated phrase “The father of” shifts with Jesus since Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, but He was born of Mary.

    For about 400 years God had been silent, the inter-testamental period between the old and new. Then the aged Elizabeth gets pregnant and now the virgin Mary is with child.

    “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

    Very good question!

    The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:35-37)


    With few exceptions, “Mariam” has been tossed aside by Protestants except for the month of December when we let her sit in the nativity scene beside the baby Jesus. Not wanting to “worship” her as Roman Catholics are often accused of doing, we ignore her faith, obedience, and important role throughout the life and death of Jesus. This series will strive to uncover the character and narrative of one of the Bible’s most underrated figures and one we are to call “blessed” (Luke 1:48b).

    Why do we virtually ignore Mary? For some it is a reaction to Catholics. Contrary to some rumors, Mary was not a Roman Catholic!!! If Mary is overrated by Catholics, she is underrated by Protestants. Aside from being the mother of Jesus, she found favor with God and was carefully chosen to bring the Messiah into our world. As my professor Scot McKnight says, “We are Protestants; we believe in the Bible; Mary is in the Bible; we need to believe what the Bible says about Mary.”

    Mary was obedient, not only in giving birth to Jesus (did she have a choice?!) but she clearly lived a life that honored God. She was undoubtedly faithful in the small things that allowed her to be chosen for a most monumental task.

    So What?

    What about you? Are you highly favored by God? I can promise you God is with you. That was His promise. Matthew’s final recorded words of Jesus—known as the Great Commission—say this:

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

    Notice two things:

    1. Jesus wants His followers to obey…and teach others to obey. Obedience is God’s love language.
    2. He promises to be with us. Always. Psalm 139 is one of many explicit passages about God’s omnipresence—His ability to be with us always and everywhere. We are never alone. Never.

    What is God saying to you today? What are you going to do about it?

    Those two questions will determine not only your present but your future. God is not mad at you. He’s not trying to harm you or make your life miserable. He’s a great, loving Dad who can be trusted—even when He’s not understood.

    One of the great things about Thanksgiving is the way it reminds us how we are truly blessed. Every good and perfect gift is from the LORD.

    My prayer for you and me is that we would trust and obey. He’s calling you to obey. He’s calling me to obey. Have you heard His voice? If not, perhaps it’s time to spend more time with Him—in prayer and study of His Word.

    For Further Study

    The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

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

    Covenant & Kingdom: Moses, 21 September 2014

    Big Idea: God made a covenant with Moses out of which he led the God’s kingdom people of Israel.


    In previous weeks we said the Bible is a big book. It’s actually a library of 66 books. We usually study it verse-by-verse, like looking through a microscope. This series will look at it through a telescope, examining the big idea of the Bible.

    Covenant and Kingdom are woven throughout the Scriptures like a double helix is woven in DNA.

    Covenant is a sacred treaty in which two parties become one. In ancient times, this always involved the shedding of blood by an animal to imply consequences for failure to fulfill the agreement.

    God made a covenant with Abram, promising blessings to him and his offspring in order for them to bless the world.

    Covenant is about relationship. Being. Invitation.
    Kingdom is about responsibility. Doing. Challenge.

    Life is filled with tension between being and doing, relationship and responsibility, being invited into relationship with God while also being challenged to represent Him and bless the world.

    As we look at this idea of challenge, of kingdom, of doing God’s work in the world we are going to look at one of the most important characters in the Bible—Moses.

    Who are you?
    That is one of the two most important questions you and I must address. The other is, “Who is Jesus?” Earlier this year in our series Who Do You Think You Are? we looked at the book of Ephesians and saw the ramifications of being “in Christ.”

    Identity comes from many places. It begins with our name and family of origin. What does your name mean? Do you know why it was chosen for you? What messages did you receive as a child? You may be troubled to even think about the answer or you may recall great memories. We are a product of our past, for better or worse.

    One of the great things about the kingdom of God—the church—is regardless of our past, God dictates our present future when we entrust it to Him.

    Like Abraham, we are invited into covenant with God, surrendering our individual existence to become “one” with God and His people. We are given a new name—child of God. We enjoy the same rights and freedoms of God’s other children, including Jesus!

    Like Joseph, we are a part of God’s kingdom, representing God and taking responsibility and authority, exercising the power of forgiveness.

    There are so many fascinating Bible characters and few as important as Moses. You may be familiar with the stories of his life, but I want to encourage you to encounter them in a fresh way as if you had never heard them before.

    Our story begins in Exodus 1. Joseph is Pharaoh’s right hand man providing provisions to his family and other Israelites in Egypt. A new king sees this growing Israelite population and makes them slaves, working the ruthlessly. Furthermore, he told the Hebrew midwives to kill all baby boys so the Israelite population could eventually die (1:16). When they refused, he ordered every baby boy thrown into the Nile river.

    This isn’t pretty. It’s actually horrifying. The Bible can be quite graphic and disturbing…because humans can do some pretty disturbing things, as we see every day in the news.

    A woman has a baby, hides him for three months, and realizes she can no longer hide him. She puts him in a basket in the very river where she is to drown him.

    Pharaoh’s daughter sees the basket, opens it, sees the baby, and keeps Moses as her son.

    One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”

    The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”

    When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. (2:11-15)

    Charles Swindoll says, “Here we see the beginning of a narrative that is all of our lives. We are blessed, broken and then we are used. Used by God.”
    Perhaps you’re waiting for God to use you while He waits for you to be broken, not in a harmful way, but in a way that causes you to be desperate for Him.
    Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
    That’s lordship. That’s what it means for Jesus to be king, to be Lord. Die to yourself and live with and for Him. That’s the message of baptism, we die and then live.
    Who do you think Moses thinks he is?
    Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. (3:1)

    If youʼre in the desert, embrace it. Go into it and pass through it. Moses embraces the desert and finds there the symbol and metaphor of the desert that is woven throughout Scripture: Desert leads to dependency on God.
    There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight — why the bush does not burn up.” (3:2-3)

    Fire is the symbol of God’s presence.

    When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

    And Moses said, “Here I am.”

    “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (3:4-6)

    God knows Moses’ name. He knows his identity. He knows his past living in privilege in the palace and later hiding in the desert after committing murder. This is God’s invitation into relationship with Moses. Covenant.

    The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey — the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (3:7-10)

    “And I have heard the cry of my people.” Not of “the people” but of “my people.” “I am their God because I have a Covenant with them. And I will stay faithful to them. And out of that Covenant security, Moses, Iʼm sending you to do the work of my Kingship.” This is God’s challenge for Moses to be involved in kingdom work.
    God’s promises can be trusted. Where He guides, He provides. He doesn’t promise we’ll be happy and healthy all the time, but He honors obedience and faithfulness.

    So Moses is excited, grateful for the opportunity to lead the people of Israel, and joyfully accepts the challenge. Hardly!

    But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11)

    And Moses says, “Not me! Anybody else but me!”
    Why does he resist?
    And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (3:12)

    I will be with you. That’s a promise. It’s a promise that’s echoed throughout the pages of Scripture.

    Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Ps 139:7)

    And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:20b)

    Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)

    Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

    God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation. (3:13-15)

    God speaks to him about the Covenant: “I am the God of your Fathers. You are the Son of Abraham, the Son of Isaac, the Son of Jacob, that Identity comes from me and you know it!” And already we have the resonance of Fatherhood. Why are they fathers? Eventually we find that they are fathers because they are in Covenant with THE FATHER. But right now, in the unfolding revelation of Scripture, is a matter of life and blood and bone. But Moses hears from God, that God is in Covenant with him. “Youʼre mine.”
    “And I have heard the cry of my people.” Not of “the people” but of “my people.” “I am their God because I have a Covenant with them. And I will stay faithful to them. And out of that Covenant security, Moses, Iʼm sending you to do the work of my Kingship.” And Moses says, “Not me! Anybody else but me!”
    God invites Moses into relationship and challenges him to lead the people.

    But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” (4:13)

    Have you ever said that?

    Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. (4:14-16)

    What follows is a series of exchanges between Moses and Pharaoh, ten plagues, the last a plague of death in which the first-born child and animal of everyone in Egypt was killed—except for those Israelite homes that had the blood of a lamb on the sids and tops of the door frames. The death angel passed over those homes which leads us to call the celebration Passover. Finally, Pharaoh lets Moses and the people go.

    Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. (12:40)

    God was their king. Isn’t that great?!

    By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (13:21)

    Moses surely thought the worst was over. The exodus from Egypt was going great…until Pharaoh had a change of heart.

    The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. (14:8)

    The Israelites are furious.

    Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (14:12)

    Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (14:13-14)

    Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. (14:15-16)

    The rest, as they say, is history.

    Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (14:21-22)

    The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. (14:23)

    During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.” (14:24-25)

    Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen — the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. (14:26-28)

    But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (14:29)

    And they all lived happily ever after! Hardly! For forty years they wandered in the wilderness, complained, disobeyed God, and drove Moses crazy!

    Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (19:3-6)

    What is the “If?” It’s the Ten Commandments, not rules to follow, but instructions to obey.

    Who are you?

    Israel is to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. That may sound far from a group of Gentiles like us thousands of years later, but actually it applies to us. Through Jesus—whose live, death, and resurrection allowed us to be grafted into God’s story, we are a part of the kingdom. The kingdom is a people. It’s a people of priests. It’s a holy nation.

    The Rest Of The Story

    Moses leads the grumbling people for 40 years in the wilderness. There are highs and lows, but God remains faithful to Moses and the Israelites.

    So what?

    Without identity, obedience is just rules. With identity, it is an expression of love, something we desire to do.

    You can’t make God love you more by obeying Him. We can never be good enough, but Jesus is and we take on His identity.

    Moses understood his covenant identity and knew he had the backing of the King of heaven.

    For the Israelites and many of us obedience without Identity becomes the mark of their lives.


    You know itʼs a great thing to be obedient to the Lord, but he wants it to be out of your identity. And if you can be obedient out of your identity then you can function in power because you have received his authority. You see, identity and authority go together, and obedience and power go together. These are the key concepts of Covenant and Kingdom and they function as the Father, who is our King, reveals himself to us. Our identity is tied up with him. Because our identity is tied up with him, we are the children of God. And because we are the children of God we recognize that whatever he is, we are. Heʼs the King. We have royal blood running through our veins so we have the Kingʼs authority.

    Because power is tied up with obedience, and obedience flows out of identity. The way that it works is this: We know we are the children of God and out of that authority of being the children of God we are able to dispense that power that God places into our hands because authority will always lead to power. Because power without authority is always tyranny. And God never wants that. He wants his people to break the bonds of tyranny. He wants his people to feed the hungry. He wants them to lift up the weak and the broken. He wants them to come, in his authority, dispensing power, breaking the chains of the Kingdom of darkness. And we can only do this successfully and sustainably if you know both your Covenant and your Kingdom calling.

    Iʼve watched it so many times. The Kingdom becomes the subject. The Kingdom becomes the agenda. And people rush to do the works of the Kingdom and they begin to become detached from their sense of identity and they have no idea about the rhythm that is woven into their lives that is spoken of so clearly in Scripture:
    There is a rhythm of advance...and then return. There is a rhythm of working and resting. Of taking the works of the Kingdom and doing something for God and then returning and abiding in Jesus and being with him. And if you donʼt know that rhythm, you wonʼt sustain the work of God. Do you see that?

    Itʼs so important that we hear this. Itʼs out of our understanding of our Father that we reflect that our Father is the King.

    - Mike Breen


    Ideas for this series taken from book of the same title by Mike Breen and 3DMovements.com.

    Haggai, 10 August 2014

    Big Idea: God blesses obedience and provides consequences for disobedience…because He loves His children.

    Overview: The Jews had put off rebuilding God’s temple, but had made nice houses for themselves. The prophet Haggai rallies the people to finish the temple and enjoy God’s blessings again.

    God made a covenant with Abraham who became the father of the Jews. God said if Abraham’s ancestors would obey, God would bless them. If they disobeyed, God would punish them—not because He is mean, but because He loves them and wants them to wake up and return to Him. God often used prophets to call people to repentance and alert them of their sinful ways. Jonah, Joel and Zephaniah are three prophets we have already examined and now we look at a fourth: Haggai.

    We actually know little about Haggai the prophet. His name means “festal” or “feast.” He was the first of three post-exile prophets from the Neo-Babylonian Exile of Judah (along with Zechariah, a contemporary, and Malachi who lived about one hundred years later). He may have witnessed the destruction of Solomon’s temple (2:3) which would mean he was in his seventies when he ministered.

    We have surprisingly great detail about the time of this writing. This book contains five separate messages. First, some background. In 538 BC, Cyrus king of Persia issued a decree allowing Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Zerubbabel led about 50,000 Jews back to Jerusalem where they completed the foundation of the temple in 536 (Ezra 3:87-11) causing great celebration. Unfortunately, the Samaritans and other neighbors felt threatened by this progress and opposed the continuation of the work. As we will see, the Jews abandoned the project leaving the temple unfinished.

    • First Message (1:1-11) Rebuild The Temple
    September 1, 520 BC

    In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: (1:1)

    He used a gentile king to date his writing. He is very specific. September 1, 520 BC Zerubbabel (“sown in Babylon”) is the political ruler.

    This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’” (1:2)

    When the people returned to the land, they were enthusiastic but they encountered great obstacles. They decided to maintain the status quo.

    When things get hard, we often say, “The LORD is leading me elsewhere.”

    Nehemiah encountered great opposition when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

    the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (3-4)

    People decide to follow the LORD’s will until it requires sacrifice. When we decide to follow our will, we overcome the obstacles.

    They used time as their excuse. It’s not the LORD’s will. It’s not the right time.

    Following Jesus is rarely easy, safe and comfortable.

    How much do you spend on God and how much do you spend on yourself? Money? Time? Energy?

    Many tip the waitress more than they tip God!

    “Many Christians are like those ancient Hebrews, somehow convincing themselves that economy in constructing church buildings is all-important while at the same time sparing no expense in acquiring their personal luxuries. Contrast this with medieval Europe where peasants lived in squalid conditions while great cathedrals were being built.”
    -Expositor’s Bible Commentary

    We are so comfortable! Prophets were stoned, not stars. They woke up the people.

    Now this is
    what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” (1:5-6)

    These are biting words!

    This is
    what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. (7)

    Twice God says, “Give careful thought to your ways.” “Put/set your heart upon your roads/ways” is more accurate. This is essential for us today. Why do you do what you do? What future are you planning? Most people spend more time planning for a vacation than they do eternity…or even the next season of their life.

    Give careful thought to your ways.

    God disciplines those He loves. (Hebrews 12:5-11; Revelation 3:19)

    There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25)

    “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)

    What road are you on today? Where is it leading?

    Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD.

    People look for miracles but God says go to work! He does not bless lazyness.

    Student: “Professor, the book you gave us to read is dry.”
    Professor: “Dampen it with a little perspiration from your brow!”

    We have spectator sports but are not to have spectator Christians.
    Get in the game. Get to work!

    Go to the mountain
    Bring wood
    Build the house

    “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.”

    God withheld blessing.

    Blame God. He says He’s responsible, but He will explain why.

    - The Response of the People (1:12-15)
    September 24, 520 BC

    Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD.

    Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: “I am with you,” declares the LORD.

    God is with them. He is with us.

    So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius.

    The people responded during the previous 23 days.They are ready to build the temple. Haggai inspired the people to action.

    The civil leader: Zerubbabel the governor
    Shealtiel means “asking of God in prayer”

    - Second Message: The Temple will be Filled with Glory (2:1-9)
    October 21, 520 BC

    On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?

    See Ezra 3:8-13

    But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. (Ezra 3:12-13)

    There were shouts of joy and the sounds of weeping. This temple is small compared to Solomon’s temple. “Back in the good old days…”

    But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.

    “Be strong, be strong, be strong…and work!”

    Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10)

    God determines who is great.

    ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ (2:5)

    “This is
    what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (2:6-9)

    All nations desire silver and gold. Solomon’s temple had millions of dollars worth of silver and gold. This new temple was nothing compared to the splendor of the first temple. A future temple is coming that may be in view here.

    When Jesus returns to this earth, He will enter Jerusalem and bring peace.

    God looks upon these series of temples as one house.

    Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

    - The Third Message: The Defiled People will be Blessed and Purified (2:10-19)
    December 24, 520 BC

    On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Haggai:

    “This is
    what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: If a person carries consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”

    The priests answered, “No.”

    Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”

    “Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”

    Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the LORD. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.

    On this day, Haggai went to the priests and asked two things about the law:

    1. Will the holy that touches the unclean make it holy? No.
    2. Will the unclean that touches the holy make it unclean? Yes.

    Holiness is non-communicable.
    Unholiness is transferrable/communicable.

    The Mosaic law did not cover every possible scenario. The priests decided such matters and it became the law.

    We have a similar method today. There is a difference between statute or statutory law (passed by legislation/congress) and common law (a matter brought before a court).

    “‘Now give careful thought to this from this day on — consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the LORD’s temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty. I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me,’ declares the LORD. ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.

    ‘From this day on I will bless you.’”

    God says the people returned to the land but not to God. You can swim in holy water and it won’t make you holy. Baptism of your body won’t automatically change your heart.

    “‘If a descendant of Aaron has an infectious skin disease or a bodily discharge, he may not eat the sacred offerings until he is cleansed. He will also be unclean if he touches something defiled by a corpse or by anyone who has an emission of semen, or if he touches any crawling thing that makes him unclean, or any person who makes him unclean, whatever the uncleanness may be. The one who touches any such thing will be unclean till evening. He must not eat any of the sacred offerings unless he has bathed himself with water. (Leviticus 22:4-6)

    Ceremonies and religious rituals will not purify your heart.

    “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’” (Matthew 15:17-20)

    By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 7:16-20)

    You can’t make manure smell good by dumping perfume on it!

    The heart must be changed. How?

    Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”? (Proverbs 20:9)

    “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

    For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

    What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

    God is saying the reason the people are not blessed is they have unclean hearts. Now that their hearts are right, they will be blessed.

    Is your heart blocking God’s blessing in your life?

    - The Fourth Message: The Promise to Zerubbabel (2:20-23)
    December 24, 520 BC

    Why two messages on the same day? Good question!

    word of the LORD came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: (2:20)

    Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.

    God will overthrow all nations.

    “‘On that day,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (2:23)

    The signet ring is an identification of royalty. Zerubbabel is in the line of David.

    The Messiah will not only come through David but also Zerubbabel. He appears in both Matthew 1 and Luke 3 genealogies.

    Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. He will rule and reign someday.

    The little temple built in Haggai’s day will one day welcome Jesus.

    So What?

    There are a few vital lessons we must understand from Haggai.

    1. God must truly be first in our lives. No other gods. No idols.
    2. God will bless us when we obey and discipline us when we disobey.
    3. God’s grace is amazing. He never gives up on us. His love is unconditional.

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

    Jonah, 6 July 2014

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

    Series Introduction

    Do you like books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Second, the
    author was likely Jonah.

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

    location of the beginning is the city of Joppa.

    Jonah is one of the minor prophets.

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

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

    The story

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

    God decrees

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

    Jonah flees

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

    Storms follow

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

    Fish swallows

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

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

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

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

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

    Second chances

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

    Jonah advances

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

    God relents

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

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

    Jonah’s lament

    But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.

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

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

    Jonah’s case

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

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

    God’s grace

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

    So What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John 17

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

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

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

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

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

    Jesus Prays For Himself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jesus Prays For His Disciples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Again He prays that the Father would protect them.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Every unfruitful branch is cut off. Ouch!

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

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

    The Parable of the Sower describes planting and harvesting.

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

    J. Vernon McGee said the fruit is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    He again connects love and obedience.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Holy Spirit, John 14:15-31, 26 MAy 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus loved us enough to leave…in order to usher in the Holy Spirit


    What is the greatest thing you’ve ever waited for?

    - spouse
    • job

    Chicago Cubs fans have been waiting for them to win the World Series since 1908!

    Was it worth it?

    Last week in Jesus’ farewell to His disciples, He said it’s good that He leaves because He’s going to prepare a place for them. He’s getting the house ready but He’ll return.

    In today’s passage as we continue our series on the Gospel of John, Jesus continues His farewell address to His eleven disciples in the Upper Room.

    It’s always hard to say goodbye to a loved one, but it’s easier if we know they are returning for a purpose...and that they will return.

    Jesus is telling His friends that He is leaving, He is leaving for a noble purpose, He will die, AND He will return.

    “If you love me, you will obey what I command. (14:15)

    We don’t usually command people to obey, except, perhaps, a parent to a child. This word “command” could be translated, “to watch carefully or attend to; training the eyes.” We will be attentive to Jesus’ commands if we love Him.

    If you love Me, you’ll care about what I have to say and you’ll listen to my instructions. If you love Me, attend to my teachings.

    Actions speak louder than words.

    And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (16-17)

    The Greek word translated “Counselor” in the NIV,
    parakleton, might best be conveyed as “advocate,” someone like a defense attorney. “Para” means alongside and “kletos” is to call. The paraclete will come alongside and help in your defense.

    Notice the Father will give “another” Counselor or advocate. The Father sent Jesus, and He will send the Holy Spirit.

    Because of the Holy Spirit, we are better off today than the disciples. We have 24/7 access to God through the Holy Spirit. Last week we noted we will do greater things.

    The Greeks used the same word for truth and reality. Usually it conveyed reality. Jesus is offering us a Spirit of reality, access to things that are most real. We live in a world of illusions and delusions.

    For example, we believe we are entitled to at least seventy or eighty years of healthy living on this planet. Anything less and we are robbed. This is an illusion because every day is a gift we receive. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

    Jesus says, “I will introduce you to reality.”

    I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (18-21)

    I cannot imagine being an orphan. The pain of being alone in the world must be excruciating. Jesus says He will return.

    What does Jesus mean when He says, “I will come to you? It could refer to one of three things.

    - second coming
    - the Holy Spirit
    - most likely the resurrection on Easter

    We are containing the divine. This is a radical reality.

    Paul will write that we are “in Christ.”

    Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (22)

    J. Vernon McGee notes Judas is the first missionary. His concern is for the world. Is yours?

    Back in John 1:10, we saw Jesus in the that He made, yet the world didn’t know Him.

    John 3:16 says God so loved the world.

    Much of the world does not love God today.

    Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (23-24)

    This is pretty straightforward.

    Now Jesus gives a sneak preview of Pentecost Sunday, which was actually last Sunday on the Christian calendar. The second chapter of the book of Acts will record the moment in which the Holy Spirit is activated on earth. Jesus says,

    “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (25-27)

    Verse 25 was long a source of Church history, some believing the Father sent the Spirit and others saying the Father and the Son sent the Spirit (Nicene Creed).

    Notice the Spirit will help John and the others remember what Jesus said and they will write it down!

    Jesus’ legacy to His followers was Peace; Shalom. This is not a temporary, earthly peace but a divine peace with God (Romans 5:1) that cannot be disrupted.

    The passage concludes with Jesus saying…

    “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

    Jesus knows satan is coming.


    “Come now; let us leave.

    Go...with the Word of the Father, the truth of the Holy Spirit, and the peace of God.

    It’s almost time for us to leave, too!

    As we await Your return, LORD Jesus, may the power of the Holy Spirit be alive in our lives. Fill us, Holy Spirit. In Jesus Name, amen.

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

    The Radical Experiment, 6 November 2011

    Big Idea: the conclusion of our Radical series offers five next-steps for knowing Jesus more deeply.

    Opening Video

    We are concluding our series
    Radical based somewhat on the book of the same name by David Platt.

  • Last week I issued two cautions. One was that we would not take Jesus’ hard teaching seriously, rationalizing them away. The other is that we turn them into a legalistic to-do list that will get us to heaven or make God love us more.

  • Nothing you can do can make God love you more. Nothing you can do can make God love you less.

  • What I’m about to share with you has an additional caution—apathy. Jesus’ brother said simply...

  • Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. – James 1:22

  • It’s easy to hear challenging teachings and nod our head or even compliment the preacher at the end, but what matters is not merely what we know but how we respond. Jesus was not merely a good teacher, He came to be LORD. Action is a natural response to love.

  • We have celebrated communion together, remembering all that Jesus has done for us. Anything that we do in obedience to Him is nothing more than a response, a privilege! The amazing thing is that when we obey Jesus, we are blessed. We experience what it means to be fully human. We encounter a depth in our relationship with our Creator that we can discover no other way. We are filled with joy and peace and satisfaction found nowhere else.

  • Today I want to invite you to The Radical Experiment. There are five parts to the Radical Experiment and they are just that, an experiment. These are five things that I believe will draw you closer to Jesus. They reflect His heart, His passion, and His commands. These five things are not magic, but I believe they can change your life, our church, and ultimately our world.

  • Pray for the entire world

  • This week the 7 billionth person entered our world. Billions have never even heard of Jesus. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, Jesus said in Luke 10:2. “Ask the LORD of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.”

  • We can join God in His mission on our knees. Our denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, states in its Core Values

  • Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. (Philippians 4:6-7)

  • OperationWorld.org will be our main tool for praying for the entire world. They have a book, a website, and other resources where you can learn about a different nation each day and pray for them.

  • We want God to bless America, but also all of the nations of the world. John 3:16 says that God so loved the...world! The first step in being a blessing to the nations is to pray for them.

  • Read through the entire Word

  • This relates to another value of the Christian & Missionary Alliance:

  • Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success. (Joshua 1:8)

  • We can’t know it if we haven’t read it. Spiritual warfare is real. We need to know the Truth of God’s Word. The purpose, again, is not to perform a task but to know our Father.

  • Steve Jobs asked Walter Isaacson to write a biography of his life so that his children could know their dad. That makes me so sad, yet it would be even more tragic if his kids had no interest in reading it!

  • Our Father has given us not only information about Himself, but also wisdom for living, exciting stories, history, poetry, prophecy, and so much more. I want to challenge you to read through the Bible in 2012.

  • You may be saying, “2012? It’s not even December 2011!” You can use the next several weeks to practice or get a head start. We have a tool for this, too.

  • Dr. George Guthrie (www.readthebibleforlife.com) developed the Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

  • This plan takes the material of the Bible and organizes it to flow in chronological order. Since exact dating of some materials or events is not possible, the chronology simply represents an attempt to give you the reader the general flow and development of the Bible's grand story. Some passages are placed according to topic (e.g., John 1:1–3 in Week 1, Day 2; and many of the psalms). There are six readings for each week to give you space for catching up when needed.

    In addition to the website and book, free apps are available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch and it is fully compatible with the
    YouVersion website and apps. You can listen to the audio, read the book, visit online, or view the app. However you do it, we want to read through the entire Bible...together.

    Imagine what it would be like if you told a friend about what you read that morning and they said, “Hey, I read that, too!” As a church family, we will all be able to read the same chapters each day and grow together. We’ll even build some of our Sunday morning texts from the reading plan.

    In addition to the verses, ReadTheBibleForLife.com offers podcasts and videos with Michael Card and others that will help you read, understand, and apply God’s Word.

    Sacrifice our money for a specific purpose

    Everything that we have belongs to God—not 10%, not 50%, but 100%. As we have noted, every person in this room is financially rich compared to the other 7 billion people on the planet. What would happen if we committed to free up resources for urgent spiritual and physical needs around the world? Do you think God would honor our generosity if we take what is from Him and sacrificially use it for His purposes?

    Instead of asking how much we can spare, what if we asked, “What will it take?”

    The needs of our world are so overwhelming. Bob Pierce, the former president of World Vision said,

    "Don't fail to do something just because you can't do everything."

    Each of us can do
    something, whether it is to skip a meal, cancel cable, increase the percentage of our giving, sponsor a child with Compassion International, or even make a micro-finance loan through Kiva.org.

    It has been said that Christians spend more money on dog food than missions! Seriously?

    Everything we have belongs to God; we are His stewards. (1 Chronicles 29:14)

    The world is not our home. Let’s stop living like it is.

    Give our time in another context

    I challenge you—and myself—to spend 2% of your time—or one week—in another context. This could be a missions trip to Africa or a week next summer in Detroit. We’ll be presenting opportunities in the coming days for youth, individuals, and families or you can create your own.

    Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. (Luke 19:10)

    Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully-devoted disciple. (Matthew 28:19)

    That means you!

    Commit our lives to a multiplying community

    Be a committed member of a local church, here or elsewhere.

    Following Jesus is a team sport. We need each other. God created us to be interdependent. Just as the Father, Son and Spirit exist in community so we are to, also.

    In 2012 we are going to pray for the world together, read the Word together, give together, and serve together.

    The point is not to follow Christ but to follow Him together.

    They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
  • - Acts 2:42-47

    Do you see it?

    They were radically committed to the Word of God and the apostle’s teaching.
  • They were radically committed to fellowship together, in public and in homes.
  • They were radically committed to prayer, experiencing miracles.
  • They were radically generous, giving to anyone as he had need.
  • They were radically committed to one another, meeting together daily.

  • This was not a perfect church, but it was a radical one. I cannot imagine a more compelling vision for Scio—a group of normal but radical people, passionately committed to loving Jesus, one another, and their neighbors.

  • It doesn’t just happen, though. We can’t wish it into reality. It requires total surrender, but it’s worth it.

  • You might ask why we’re talking about 2012 in November of 2011. As I said with the Bible reading, this will give you some time to experiment. I urge you to prayerfully consider the challenge, especially as we head into the crazy holidays.

  • Finally, let me say once more that we must avoid legalism, thinking we need to follow man-made rules or even God-given commands in order to earn salvation or approval before God. Nothing you can do can make God love your more/less. God’s favor in your life is not based on your performance but on Jesus Christ and what He did for you. That’s what we celebrated earlier with communion. That’s also why do serve Him. We love and serve Him because He first loved and served us. This is our response.

  • Concluding Video

  • You can listen to the podcast here.
  • Faith Works, 7 August 2011

    Big Idea: Faith and works are marks of true believers.

    When I was in middle school, I asked the question of friends, all of whom said heaven. “Why?” I asked. “Because I’m a good person and haven’t killed anyone,” they would usually respond.

    “There’s a problem, though” I would say. “You’re not good enough. I’m not good enough.”

    ...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)

    All of my goodness is as filthy rags it says in Isaiah 64:6.

    Let’s look at some of Paul’s writings for a moment:

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

    How are we saved? By grace. Through faith. By God.

    This is one of the most vital passages in the Bible. You are not good enough to go to heaven.

    It’s not what you do that gets you to heaven but what was done by Jesus.

    So does that mean that all dogs go to heaven, and people, too? No. We must receive the gift. Action is required. Faith is not merely something in your head, but something that is expressed.

    Niagara Falls story

    The Great Blondin - the man who invented the high wire act, announced to the world that he intended to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. More than five thousand people gathered to watch. Halfway across, Blondin suddenly stopped, steadied himself, back flipped into the air, landed squarely on the rope, and then continued safely to the other side. Blondin crossed the Falls again and again; blindfolded, carrying a stove, in chains, and on a bicycle. Just as he was about to begin yet another crossing, this time pushing a wheelbarrow, he turned to the crowd and shouted, "Who trusts that I can cross pushing this wheelbarrow?" Every hand in the crowd went up. Blondin pointed at one man:

    "Do you trust that I can do it?" he asked.
    "Yes, I trust you can." said the man.
    "Are you certain that you trust me?" said Blondin.
    "Yes" said the man.
    "Absolute trust? Absolutely certain?"
    "Yes, absolute trust, with absolute certainty."
    "Thank you," said Blondin, "please get into the wheelbarrow."

    On Thursday I took my son and two friends to see the Detroit Tigers. They were losing 5-0 near the end of the game and I told my friend, “If I was a betting man, I’d say the Tigers will lose.” After the Tigers scored two runs and had opportunities for more, I leaned over and said, “I’m glad I’m not a betting man.”

    There’s a difference between saying you believe something and putting action behind it. It’s one thing to say the Tigers will win and another to put money on it, not that I’m advocating gambling!

    Are you willing to get in the wheelbarrow?

    Let’s look at today’s passage from the book of James.

    What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

    Here James refers to the poor again as he did in his definition of “pure religion.”

    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)

    Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. That’s why I love Jesus. He didn’t just tell people, “I love you.” He demonstrated His love by giving His very life for us, dying on the cross in our place, receiving the punishment of
    our sins.

    Martin Luther took issue with James, arguing that we are not saved by works, but instead by faith.

    James' point is not to argue whether we are saved by faith or by works. His point is that our belief, which saves us, is only true belief if it is confirmed by our actions, if it is confirmed by hopping in the wheelbarrow.

    But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

    Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.

    Check this out—satan believes in God, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to heaven!

    It’s not enough to say you believe in God. Again, talk is cheap. Knowledge isn’t enough. Following Jesus is a verb, it involves action. Demons may believe in God, but they don’t serve Him, they don’t call Him LORD, they haven’t died to themselves in order to let Jesus live in and through them. Jesus said if we want to follow Him we must pick up our cross daily. We must die. We must put our faith into action.

    You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (2:20-24)

    Real faith requires action.

    At this point it should be obvious that in context James is talking about works and faith being so tightly interwoven that to suggest you are saved, but do not do good works in response to that salvation then it's likely you are not really saved.  Notice that James does not say, "You are justified by works alone." He very clearly unites works and faith. Either one alone is useless. It’s like a screen door on a submarine.

    It’s so useless that James equates it to a body without a spirit, which is a dead body. The living dead. Those who claim to have faith but have no works are living with a dead thing; their dead spirit.

    In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (2:25-26)

    Jesus did not die 2000 years ago to simply make history. His butchered body didn’t hang on a cross for people to say they witnessed a death. He died to demonstrate His love for us that we would die to ourselves, be recreated in His image, and make a difference in our world. Christians are to do more than talk the talk...we are to walk the walk. The world can’t see our mental beliefs, but they can see our actions...and often they FAIL to see our actions, making us hypocrites.

    Jesus’ ministry was filled with good works as he healed the sick and fed the poor. That opened the door to dialogue about faith.

    We need to walk in faith, not sit in faith.

    So my challenge to you...and to me...is to walk the walk and put are faith into action. That’s what our Master did.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    Words, 24 July 2011

    Big Idea: We are to know the Word, obey the Word, and share the Word.

    What is your favorite word? Probably your name. Words are the building blocks of communication. They are the subject of the game Scrabble and its newer rival Words with Friends. Words are powerful. They convey meaning. Words can encourage or destroy, inform or confuse.

    My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (1:19-20)

    That sounds simple, doesn’t it?

    Quick to listen
    Slow to speak
    Slow to become angry

    Let’s go back for a moment and review the context. The previous verses say

    Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 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 1:16-18)

    Notice that phrase...

    ...“word of truth.” The Greek is “logos” and means “word, spoken or written, often with a focus on the content of a communication.” Jesus is referred to as “The Word” in John 1:1 which emphasizes His own deity and the communication of who God is and what He is like.

    We have been given the Word, both Jesus Christ and the Bible. God chose to give us new life and the Word.

    Followers of Jesus that know Jesus and the Bible are to be...

    Quick to listen
    Slow to speak
    Slow to become angry

    When I was writing my message this week, I accidentally wrote

    Quick to speak
    Slow to listen
    Slow to become angry

    Unfortunately, that probably describes me more accurately. I love to speak (aren’t you glad!). It has been said, however, that God has given us one mouth and two ears. I’m trying to become a better listener. It’s difficult. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about what I’m going to say next rather than truly listening to the speaker.

    We are also to be slow to anger. This is impossible without being filled with the Holy Spirit, something we talked about a few weeks ago. If you missed it, I encourage you to download the podcast because being filled with the Holy Spirit is one of the most vital and yet ignored aspects of following Jesus. We need to confess our sins, get rid of the junk in our lives, and invite the Holy Spirit to fill us. That’s exactly what the next verse says...

    My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (1:19-21)

    Is there any moral filth or evil in your life? Get rid of it!

    Last week I mentioned my (weed) garden. Before I could plant my garden, I had to first remove all of the weeds from last year. I rototilled the soil and then planted seeds.

    What is in the garden of your mind? Fox News? Facebook? Gossip? Lust? Or the Word?

    Let me be very frank: if you are not filling your mind with the Word, it’s sin!

    Last week I said there were sins of commission that we commit and sins of omission when we ignore things. You cannot follow Jesus if you don’t know Him. You can’t obey God’s Word if you don’t know what it says.

    We have more resources and opportunities to fill our minds with God’s Word than ever before. People in other countries smuggle pages of the Bible, risking their own lives, in order to read it. We can listen to it in our cars, read it on our phones, buy countless translations and study editions, and even watch much of it on film.

    If you spend any time online, I urge you to download the free
    YouVersion app or bookmark YouVersion.com on your computer. It’s a totally free resource where you can both read and listen to the Bible, post notes, interact with others, and view various reading plans. I’m reading through the Bible this year with the Life Journal reading plan. I begin most every day using my iPad to read the Bible before I even get out of bed. It’s a great way to start the day!

    Perhaps you’ve tried to read the Bible and found it to be boring or difficult to understand. If so, a reading plan is great, especially one that takes you through both the Old and New Testament each day. I often find that out of the four or five chapters I read each day, if one or two are less than exciting, inevitably one or two will be timely and powerful. For daily reading, I’m using the New Living Translation and love it.

    Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. (1:22-25)

    Did you catch that? Don’t just read the Bible, do what it says.

    I’ve met people that love to study the Bible, but they never apply it. That’s like a soldier who spends all day polishing his gun collection but never goes into battle. There are many so-called Bible scholars that are atheists! They completely miss the point! They are educated, but not transformed. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were like that. Their brain was filled, but it never reached their heart.

    Watching workout videos won’t help you lose weight!

    Most of us are educated far beyond our level of obedience.

    A common complaint to pastors is that they want deeper teaching. Deep teaching means I want you to confuse me so I don’t have to do anything about it! Mark Twain famously said, “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

    Jesus said

    “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)

    They both heard the same word but had different outcomes.

    Listen to this!

    “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:47-48)

    We’re judged by what we do, not what we know (the opposite of most schools!).

    James concludes...

    If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 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. (1:26-27)

    A few years ago I was talking with a man who told me that he was not into organized religion. I told him that I hated organized religion! He was surprised and said, “But I thought you were a pastor.” I explained that I follow Jesus, not a religion. I know Jesus through prayer and the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. Religion is man’s attempt to know God, but Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion. He came to foster a relationship, to give us freedom and real life, and to establish His Kingdom. He has sent us on a mission to be His hands and feet, serving orphans and widows and the poor and needy. He wants us fully engaged in the world, but so filled with the Word that it transforms the world rather than the world polluting us.

    It grieves me when I see Christianity reduced to information without transformation. We need information, but it most not stop with information. We need application which then leads to transformation.

    We were created to know God, not merely know about God. Jesus Christ is the Word. Do you know Him? He gave Himself and also the Bible. Let’s get into the Word. Let’s let the Word get into us. Finally, let’s practice true religion and get the Word into the world, our broken world that is desperately in need of faith, hope, and love.

    You can listen to the podcast here.