Evangelize now, 11 February 2024

Evangelize now
40 Days of Prayer
Matthew 28:18-20
Series Big Idea: We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Big Idea: The “e-word” is not only a command of Jesus, it’s a joy…sharing good news.
“What would be good news in Toledo? What headline would you love to see in the Blade?”
I asked those questions to some of the most prominent people in our community several years ago when I was working on my doctoral thesis. What do you think? What would be good news to you? A big going-out-of-business sale at the mall? The birth of a baby? Your favorite team winning the big game? A job promotion with a big raise? A new car? An outstanding meal? A budding romance?
In 1985, there was a movie called Brewster’s Millions. Monty Brewster, a minor league baseball player, must choose between a $1 million inheritance upfront or an entire estate if he can spend $30 million in 30 days. There are several catches to the deal (he can’t give it away except for 5% to charity and 5% in gambling losses), but perhaps most challenging, he must keep it a secret.
Generally speaking, I don’t like secrets. I can keep a secret, but I usually don’t like to do so, especially when it’s good news. Good news needs to be shared!
Good news needs to be shared. Church people often talk about the gospel. We mentioned this last Sunday. Gospel simply means “good news.” Sharing the gospel, proclaiming the gospel is all about good news. When I interviewed people in UpTown about good news, I was trying to discern what it would mean to bring the gospel to our neighborhood. Many of the things shared answered that question. They spoke of jobs, safety, and health. Are those good? Yes! Does the gospel address them? Yes! Ultimately, the gospel is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. Jesus is King and wants all of humanity to submit to his Lordship, not because he wants to oppress us, but rather he wants to liberate us from the bondage of sin, addiction, poverty, and violence. He wants to be LORD of your life and mine…every day…every moment. Sometimes we let him!
The last recorded words in Matthew’s gospel—his biography of Jesus—say this:
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18, NLT)
Jesus is LORD. This is the gospel. This is good news! He has been given all authority.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NLT)
Because Jesus is LORD, because he has all authority, he can commission his friends to go. The original Greek word here is poreuomai. It means to traverse, to travel, to depart, to go! We can’t do it from our La-Z Boy recliners! We must take action, move, go! This is the calling of every follower of Jesus. This is the commission of every disciple of Jesus.
Which begs the question: what is a disciple? It is a student, an apprentice. I often hear people talk about how this football coach is a disciple of another one…a student becoming like his teacher. It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for people to ask the rabbi to disciple them. It’s fascinating to me how Jesus chose his twelve rather than act upon their request.
The only way we can make disciples is by being a disciple. Who is discipling you? Who are you discipling? Do they know it?
Generally speaking, this can’t happen on Sunday morning. We gather to worship and study the Bible, which is great, but discipleship…spiritual formation…life transformation is “slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others” as Alliance leader Richard Bush used to say.
What is the first step to becoming a disciple? It’s meeting Jesus!
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15, NLT)
Boom! There it is! Going and tell the gospel, the good news. That’s not written to professional clergy. That’s what disciples do. Disciples make disciples. Disciples share good news. Disciples go and make disciples…of all nations, which is why we’re so committed not only to Toledo but also Germany and the Dominican Republic and every nation, tribe and tongue…until all have heard the good news!
Imagine living your entire life and never tasting ice cream. I can’t imagine! How sad!
Imagine living your entire life having never experienced air conditioning or heat or running water or motorized transportation.
Imagine never hearing the name of Jesus, knowing nothing of this historical figure who changed the world. Imagine never knowing about the cross, the crucifixion, and the empty tomb. Imagine being completely clueless about God’s love, the invitation of salvation, the pathway to peace, and the opportunity to experience forgiveness and grace. I can’t imagine, but as I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve encountered people who have not rejected Jesus…they’ve never been introduced to him!
That’s our job! That’s our mission! The first part of disciple-making is evangelism, proclaiming good news, inviting people into the Kingdom of God, introducing them to Jesus!
I have two friends who were born in other countries and knew almost nothing about Jesus before we met. I can’t tell you how much joy I have sharing my story and His story. They are not my projects. I’m not trying to force anything upon them…but I want them to know my best friend. I want to faithfully represent what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and encourage them to follow him, too. It takes time. I’ve known one friend for several years, the other for almost a year. I love to get together with both of them, hang out, talk, play sports…It’s not scary or intimidating…it’s just being intentional. GO and make disciples.
What about you? How many unbelieving friends do you have? I’m not saying I have a lot, but I deeply love these two men and I’m committed to them…again, not because they’re projects, but they’re my friends. I like them! I like being with them! I have been praying for them and believe someday they will surrender their lives to Jesus and tell others, disciple others. That’s how we’ve gotten here after more than two thousand years…disciples making disciples, proclaiming Jesus in word and deed, living radical, alternative lifestyles filled with faith, hope, and love.
I know for some of you it’s hard to GO and make disciples. You’ll never travel to east Germany where less than 1% are Christians. Can you pray for our trip in June? Can you help us pay for the plane tickets? Can you volunteer at Mud Hens games and help us raise money for the trip?
Not all of you are called to go to Germany, but you can probably go next door. You can probably go across the street and meet your neighbor. It amazes me how many people don’t know their neighbors…even the people who live right next door!
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NLT)
GO and make disciples…of all nations. The Internet has certainly allowed us to reach people far away, and let’s not forget the hundreds (thousands?) of international students, immigrants, and refugees living right here in Toledo. You don’t need a passport to do global missions! Volunteering with Water for Ishmael would be a great first step.
The rest of Jesus’ commission says that once people are introduced to Jesus and surrender to him, then…
Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NLT)
Discipleship is more than praying a magic prayer so you can go to heaven when you die. It’s a lifestyle of obedience. Christianity is not a spectator sport! Disciples make disciples, and it begins with proclaiming good news…evangelism.
Author and pastor Ed Stetzer says of this text, “Jesus’ last words should be our first priority.” Family, we’re on a mission from God. The mission is not to sing a few songs and listen to a sermon once a week. It’s not to be busy distributing religious goods and services. We’re on a mission to make disciples, to restore God’s masterpieces, to love God and others well. The greatest way to love another human is to introduce them to Jesus, to share good news…evangelism!
As we finish our 40 Days of Prayer series with our Christian & Missionary Alliance family, our subject is Evangelize Now. The “e-word” is not only a command of Jesus, it’s a joy…sharing good news.
Sharing good news is a joy! Sure, there are those who are imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for their faith. I don’t want to make light of that. In fact, I want to pause and remember those who truly suffer for Jesus. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a classic collection of such stories, and Persecution.com has wonderful resources to help you pray for the persecuted church.
But we’ve been blessed with freedoms in this nation we must never take for granted. Instead, we should seize every opportunity to share good news. Not everyone will accept it, but that’s not the point. Sharing good news is a joy! I love to talk about my grandkids, even if the only person who is as excited as I am is their grandma!
We naturally talk about what we love—our family, pets, sports teams, hobbies…why not our faith? I know, we’re not supposed to talk about religion or politics, but what if it’s not about religion at all? What if it’s simply sharing the good news of what Jesus has done in our lives? We don’t need a megaphone. We don’t need to pressure anyone. Evangelism can be as easy as sharing our story…His story. At the end, I’m going to give you several tools to help you share good news, but first you need to see the urgency of doing so.
Our world is broken, desperate, and dark. People are lost, searching, and hopeless. I often say we are called to be hope dealers! Not everyone wants hope, but many people today are struggling with anxiety, fear, depression, loneliness, and a lack of purpose. We have the solution! We have good news! We have Jesus! I don’t know about you, but I’m so glad I’m living in this moment, this election year, this time in history where things seem to be falling apart. The darker the world, the brighter the light of Jesus can shine in and through us!
I used to hear people say the greatest time to introduce people to Jesus is when someone is in crisis…a divorce, a job loss, the death of a child…some life event that has them seeking, asking questions, looking for help. Sometimes that window is very small and once people get back to busyness, they won’t have time for or sense a need for God.
But right now, virtually everyone you meet is in crisis! COVID has been disorienting for all of us, but there’s more. In a 2018 Cigna health study—before the pandemic—nearly half of Americans said they sometimes or always feel alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent). More than one in four (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
In fact, loneliness is so bad, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in terms of lifespan, loneliness is equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day! People are dying because they need a friend…just a friend!
Can you be a friend to someone? It’s not just going to happen. You can’t do it playing games on your phone. You need to go…and make disciples.
Before we get to some practical tools, let me remind you of the urgency. We need to evangelize now because people are dying…physically, but even more tragically physically. If you still don’t believe me, Barna released a report this past week which showed the top thing urban churches like ours can address is…loneliness. Church and unchurched people said loneliness is the top thing we can address…and the Surgeon General is urging faith communities to do so. We are uniquely equipped to meet one of the greatest needs in our city. Let’s go!
So What?
What now? How do I make a friend? How do I start a conversation? First, pray. Ask God to show you someone to love, to befriend. It might be someone next door, but it could be a co-worker, a family member, the cashier at the grocery store…it could be any human. Each is a masterpiece, and many are hurting, lonely, living in fear.
Last fall I was introduced to Heather and Ashley Holleman. Heather’s a professor at Penn State and she wrote a book called The Six Conversations. It might be the best tool I’ve seen for engaging people in relationships. This is for introverts and extroverts, by the way! She said the four most critical things to do to foster a warm and connected conversation are:
-       Be curious
-       Believe the best
-       Express concern
-       Share your life
It’s really a great book on how to ask good, engaging questions, build relationships, and love well. That’s the first step to evangelism. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. In our present day when the church has a PR crisis, we have to earn the right to be heard. Tragically, church and Christianity do not sound like good news to many in our culture. They sound like politics. They sound like judgment and condemnation. They sound like guilt and shame. They sound like boredom and stuffiness (as Kenny said last Sunday). Let’s change that, family!
“What would be good news in Toledo? The Gospel! Jesus is LORD! He loves and died for every man, woman, and child in our city and beyond. He offers abundant life, eternal life, forgiveness, mercy, grace, peace, meaning, and purpose. He’s not as concerned about where we’ve been but where we’re headed. He is the perfect example of what it means to be human, and he’s where the joy is!
I want to challenge you with three things:
1.    List three names of people you know that need salvation. If you can’t, pray that God leads you to some. Pray for them.
2.    Look for “divine appointments.” Commit to praying for them and asking God to provide you with an opportunity to share the gospel with them.
3.    Go and evangelize to someone! Share your story. Invite them to Dinner Church and Celebrate Recovery. Invite them to our Easter celebration next month. Invite them to our next Alpha Course.
Family, we have good news to share. Don’t hoard it. Don’t keep it to yourself. Let’s let the whole world know in word and deed that Jesus is LORD! 
Preach the gospel…it’s necessary to use words…and deeds!
You don’t have to have all of the answers to share the gospel. Just share your story. We just sang about it. Pray…Go…be intentional…take a risk…make a friend…share your story…share His story…for His glory!

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

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

Reawakening to the Mission of Christ, 30 January 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you catch it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the Kingdom of God!

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

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

So What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you respond?

One more thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The e-word, 24 January 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In another letter, Paul wrote,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Confession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get (the) Lost! 14 April 2019

Get (the) Lost!
Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
Luke 15:1-32

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

Big Idea:
We are to love everyone and perhaps the greatest way we can love someone is to introduce them to Jesus.

This morning we’re continuing our look at the gospel or good news of Luke in our series “The Quest of the Good Shepherd.” Today we’re in Luke chapter 15 where Jesus tells three stories of something lost and found. I’ve entitled my message, “Get (the) Lost!” God’s heart is truly for the lost. If we are to love God—and love our neighbor—we are to pursue the lost and guide them toward the Good Shepherd so that they may be found and experience the amazing love of our Creator God.

One of the Alliance core values states,

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

Do you believe that? Does your life reflect that value?

I believe every soul needs Jesus. It is not merely an obligation but actually a privilege to introduce people to the source and definition of love, Almighty God.

Last week we were reminded of the Great Commandments: love God and love your neighbor. One of the ways in which we love God is by loving our neighbor, even when that neighbor is an enemy.

If we truly love God, what matters to God must matter to us.

Every person you encounter this week is masterpiece created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth.

This Friday we will gather at 7 PM to remember God’s unbelievable love in action through the death of Jesus on the cross, an act so outrageous it is literally the definition of the word “passion.” Is it any wonder that after such a sacrifice, the LORD is

…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9b)

Last Sunday we said love is not just a feeling, but a rugged commitment to another person which requires action. Love is a verb.

Lost Things

Have you ever lost something of value?

I pride myself in keeping track of my stuff, ensuring that I don’t misplace or drop my keys or other such objects. So imagine my surprise when I was at a Detroit Tigers game last year and couldn’t find my phone. It’s a very old phone, but its contents are very valuable to me, especially my photos. One moment I was using my phone and seemingly moments later it was lost. I was so surprised. I had a moment of panic. My pride was squashed (not a bad thing!). What to do?

After some discussion with people nearby, I learned it had fallen on the ground, someone took it to the lost and found, and I was able to retrieve it, safe and sound!

I could’ve sat in my seat the entire game, waiting for my lost phone to fall out of the sky onto my lap, but that’s not how we usually find lost things! We need to take action, to search, and even pray!

If a piece of gum fell out of my pocket or a tissue, I never would’ve gone to the trouble of finding it, but when it was something of value, it was worth the pursuit. Let me say again,

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.

Our text for today actually includes three stories of lost things. The first is the lost sheep.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

Then Jesus told them this parable:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ (Luke 15:3-6)

Sheep and shepherds are not popular in our culture, but the Bible is filled with them. Psalm 23 tells us the LORD is our shepherd. Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd in John chapter 10.

The celebration is not merely for the sheep, but also for the shepherd who found the lost animal. He doesn’t simply say, “The sheep has been found,” but “I have found my lost sheep.” Sheep are not the brightest creatures on earth, and when they’re lost, there’s not much they can do to be found.

Why would the shepherd risk the safety and well-being of ninety-nine good, healthy, “obedient” sheep to find one stray? Jesus continues,

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:7)

Does this mean Christians don’t matter to God? Hardly, but our Heavenly Father will not be satisfied until all of His children are adopted, reconciled to Him, found. To further make his point, Jesus talks about a lost coin.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)

Married Jewish girls often wore a headband of ten silver coins, similar to how women in our day wear wedding rings. Losing one of the coins necessitated a search. Again, it’s not just that the coin has been found, but rejoice that “I have found,” she says.

Are you getting the point? Angels rejoice over lost person who is found. I’m not sure how angels rejoice, but I bet they know how to throw a party! Imagine how they must’ve partied when you repented and began to follow Jesus…if you have done so.

If the messages of the lost sheep and lost coin were unclear, the lost son—also known as the prodigal son—surely conveys God’s love for the lost.

Jesus continued:
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. (Luke 15:11-12)

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. (Luke 15:13)

Far or distant country didn’t just mean a place a long ways away, but Gentiles—a different worldview, a different culture.

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (Luke 15:14-16)

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ (Luke 15:17-19)

So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

It would've been unusual for the father to run. The wayward boy brought disgrace to his family and could've been stoned to death in the culture. The father running possibly kept the neighbors from stoning the boy. What a picture of Jesus on the cross!

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 15:21)

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:22-24)

The lost son has returned home and there is a celebration. I know of several prodigals in our church family, men and women who have walked away from the faith and/or their family. The pain is heartbreaking while the prayers seem unending. I have first-hand experience with this and beg God to bring reconciliation to my family. I have the fattened calf ready to go!

I wish the story ended here. I really do. Lost and found. Lost and found. Lost and found. But there’s more to the story of the prodigal son. It involves the ninety-nine sheep. It’s about the nine silver coins which were not lost. It’s about the older son. We might call him the good Christian boy who went to church every Sunday, never said cuss words, and got straight A’s on his homework while his brother partied until he was broke and hungry.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ (Luke 15:25-27)

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:28-30)

“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ” (Luke 15:31-32)

So What?

Family, I love you. I truly love you, and I know God loves you, too. He loves each and every one of you. He loves our brothers and sisters at Westgate Chapel, the Vineyard, the Tabernacle, Bedford Alliance, That Neighborhood Church, and Cedar Creek.

But God also loves the lost. Jesus died for the unchurched. He sacrificed his life for atheists. His blood was shed for Muslims. His body was broken for Buddhists.

Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. Do you? Do we?

Perhaps there was a day when we would ring the bell and everyone would rush into our church building, but that’s clearly not the case today. Our competition is not Harvest Lane Alliance Church or Calvary Church. Our competition is the television, the golf course, the Internet, and the pillow.

Our city is packed with people searching for hope and meaning. Some are so depressed and discouraged that they’re taking their own lives…or those of others. Countless men, women, boys, and girls feel unloved, rejected, and worthless. They are lost.

Sure, I would love for God to appear to them in a dream and reveal His love for them—and that is happening, especially among Muslims—but more often than not God uses people like you and me to go and make disciples, to search for the lost, to introduce people to Jesus. Yes, God can use billboards and radio programs and television shows, but most people are following Jesus because a friend or family member shared their story and God’s story.

Perhaps the greatest way we can love someone is to introduce them to Jesus.

John Wesley said, "The church has nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore, spend and be spent in this work."

This is so important, family, not to get more people to attend First Alliance Church, but rather to get more people into the Kingdom of God! Jesus gave us three examples of lost and found to show us his heart and our mission…our commission.

I realize it can be difficult to just walk up to a stranger and say, “Hi! Are you lost?” I want to offer some simple, tangible next steps you can take in the next few weeks to get (the) lost!

1. Breakthrough movie. Opens Wednesday.
2. Easter. Next Sunday. 9:00 and 10:30 AM
3. Dinner Church. Preview on May 5, 5-7 PM.
4. Celebrate Recovery. Relaunches on May 8

Before you make invitations, please do one important thing: pray. Pray about who to invite. Pray for the person to accept the invitation. Pray for the Holy Spirit to open their eyes to the truth and their heart to Jesus.

Lets’ get (the) lost!

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

Reach, 23 September 2018

Series: FAC-DNA
Acts 17:24-28

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

Big Idea:
 Do we have eyes to see People on the Move, People Overlooked, and People Lacking Access?

One of my favorite songs as a kid was about a wee little man. Have you heard this one?

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, And a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree For the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way He looked up in the tree and he said,  'Zacchaeus you come down, For I'm going to your house today!' For I'm going to your house today!
The nineteenth chapter of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, a man so short he climbed a tree to see Jesus as he was Jesus passed through a crowd in Jericho.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. (Luke 19:5-6)

Did I mention Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector? Imagine an IRS agent who works on commission…and can charge whatever he wants. Needless to say, he was not popular with the people, especially the religious people. Why is Jesus giving this guy the time of day? This is a hated man, the scum of the earth.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)

Who was upset? All the people! Jesus, do you know who this guy is? He has robbed us all? I wonder if they intentionally pushed Zacchaeus away from Jesus, forcing him to climb the tree for a better view.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

That was an incredible promise! This guy cheated everybody…out of most everything they had! How could he pay back four times the amount? It actually doesn’t matter, because he’s not the key character in this story.

Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)

My name is Kirk and we’re in the middle of series addressing the “why” question of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, our global family. Why do we exist? What’s in our DNA? The Zacchaeus story shows us why Jesus came to earth—to seek and to save the lost.

He didn’t come to start a new religion.
He didn’t come to win a preaching contest.
He didn’t come to give us a list of rules to follow.
He didn’t even come for the righteous and holy people of his day.

He came to seek and to save the lost. This is expressed beautifully in one of the core values of The Alliance.

• Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. Luke 19:10

If Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and he asks us to follow him, what should we do? We should seek and save the lost! Obviously, we can’t save them, but we can point the way to salvation, to the cross, to the empty tomb, to Jesus the Messiah. We can let them know about the King and His reign.

It’s interesting to note this year The Alliance has done regional events called
Seek. They are all about us seeking God, yet it was God who first sought us. Jesus’ mission was to go and seek the lost.

Seek is a verb. It’s an action verb. It’s hard to seek in the La-Z-Boy unless you are seeking a tv show with your remote control! It’s hard to find something lost by relaxing on the beach or lying in bed. You need to go. We need to go. We’ve said throughout this series we’re guided by the Great Commandment (love God and love your neighbor as yourself) and the Great Commission…go and make disciples. Some have translated it “as you are going, make disciples.” In either case, we love God and others by reaching out to the hurting, the broken, and the lost.

The “why” is to glorify and obey God.

The “what” is to love God, love others as we love ourselves, and make disciples.

But how? In the first two weeks of this series, we heard Alliance president, Dr. John Stumbo, talk about love and proclaim. We are to proclaim good news with love. Everything we do should be done with love—"a rugged commitment to be with another person, to be for another person, and to grow together in Christ-likeness” as Scot McKnight likes to say. It’s not just a feeling, but involves action, presence, advocacy, and transformation. That transformation comes through the proclamation of the gospel with word and deed as we show and tell. Here’s Dr. Stumbo on our third verb:

Stumbo video transcript:

I’m calling us to three things when I say reach. Reaching the overlooked. In every community, there’s somebody being missed. I experienced it when I was in a wheelchair that often the disabled are overlooked. And for some communities it’s the deaf. For some it might be children. For some it’s senior citizens.
I don’t know who it is that’s being missed in your community. It might be the immigrant who’s come to your town. Would you ask God to give you eyes to see and to reach those who are currently being overlooked, missed, in your own community?
Reaching not only the overlooked but also those that are
on the move. Never before in human history have there been so many people in transition, no longer living in the home of their origin. And when we first started speaking of this four years ago, it was just seeming to arise as a significant worldwide trend. And now it’s amazing how many people are in transition, and some of those have come to your community.
And I challenge us to be people who reach those who are overlooked and not get so caught up in the political wrangling on so many issues that center around immigration that we miss the simple fact that The Alliance from pre-day one—Dr. Simpson, in his earliest days in New York City—[has been] ministering to the immigrant. And so who are we to think that we’ve grown past that or that our issues are more complicated this day and age, so we can forget that? Friends, let’s reach those who are on the move.
And thirdly, under that category of reach, I’m concerned there’s still people that do not have access to the gospel of Jesus, and so . . . reaching the overlooked, those on the move, and
those lacking access.
This is a justice issue, is it not? Is it not unjust that you can still live in this world and still not know that forgiveness is available to you? You don’t have to accept that message, but to not even know that the Christ has come to provide that? It’s not satisfactory, it’s not good enough. So, happily, you’re part of a family that’s doing something about it. You’re part of a family that is reaching those [who] are lacking access, and I’m continuing to ask the Alliance family to engage further in that process.
Let me state again,
• Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. Luke 19:10

As the classic songs says, “I once was lost/But now am found.” Hallelujah! Someone reached out to you and me. Someone loved us. Someone proclaimed good news to us. In many cases, it was a family member.

Perhaps it was a friend.

We’ve been blessed in this nation to have a robust history of faith. Although Christians in this country have not always acted like Jesus, religious freedom in our great land has made it possible to have access to the Bible. We even have Christian radio stations and television stations and thousands of books and videos to help us find God and grow in our relationship with Him.

But it’s easy to take that access for granted. It’s easy to assume everyone knows about Jesus, his death, his resurrection, his love, and his coming return. The truth is, there are people in our city and around the world who have no clue they are loved. They only know Jesus as a swear word, if at all. They know nothing of grace, forgiveness, joy, or hope. And like Jesus’ pursuit of Zacchaeus, it is a privilege for us to reach out.

Paul spoke…

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. (Acts 17:24-26)

There is so much packed into this paragraph. In fact, Heather and I stood on the very place in Athens, Greece where Paul spoke to a group of Greek philosophers and leaders at a place called Mars Hill or the Areopagus. As I often say, our faith is based upon historical events and real people.

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:27-28)

We need to reach out to others because God reached out to us. It’s not hard to find people in need of God’s love and our love. It used to be expected that people in our nation would spend Sunday mornings attending a worship gathering like ours here today. As fewer and fewer people are exposed to the gospel—the good news—they are remarkably unaware of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Put another way, our world, our nation, our city is filled with unreached peoples. They’re right here! You don’t need a passport to reach the nations. They’re in line with you at Kroger, they’re pumping gas beside you, they live on your street. Will you reach out? Will you offer them a smile? A cup of coffee? Jesus the Messiah?


As much as I want to challenge you to reach out to the overlooked, people on the move, and those lacking access, I want to offer some encouragement.

As a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, we have been actively involved in reaching our Jerusalem—Toledo—as well as our Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. For thirteen decades we have been reaching out to the overlooked, those on the move, and those lacking access. Through the Great Commission Fund, Envision trips, overseas projects, partners like Water for Ishmael, Cherry Street Mission and the After School Klub, and spiritual conversations we are living out our mission and calling. It is such an honor and privilege to serve such a vibrant church committed to outreach…reaching out. And we’re just getting started!

But I want to add as a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family, we’re also committed to reaching in. We need both. In almost thirty years of vocational ministry, I can never remember being a part of a church with so much grief, loss, hospitalizations, and suffering. For whatever reason, we are in a season of pain and trial, pruning, reflection…yet I continue to hear stories of our family members loving and serving one another. Hospital visits, cards, meals, prayers…we are a family of love and I’m humbled and blessed to be a part of it. Family first.

But healthy families grow. It’s a both/and. We want more and better family members. It’s not about building the Alliance family or the FAC family, but rather God’s family, God Kingdom. We want to enhance the quality and quantity of God’s family, God’s Kingdom.

We are to love.
We are to proclaim.
We are to reach.

Will you join us?

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Defending the Truth, 26 August 2018

    Defending the Truth
    D6 Series—Truth on Trial
    1 Peter 3:13-17

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

    Big Idea: We need to know the truth so we can accurately and lovingly share the truth.

    We’ve been talking about truth throughout this month. We said first and foremost, Jesus is the truth—the way, the truth, and the life. The Bible was God-breathed or God-spirited or inspired by God. It is a miracle: 66 books written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years in three languages, yet it is remarkably cohesive and consistent in telling a beautiful love story between a Creator and His creation, between God and humanity.

    We can know God through general revelation—creation—and specific revelation, including the Bible. So how do we get everyone to believe the Bible is true and obey it perfectly like us?!?! Ha!

    Today we’re looking at truth upheld. The fancy word is apologetics. No, it’s not to to say you’re sorry. Apologetics is “the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse.”

    In plain English, it’s defending the Bible from critics. Today we’re talking about defending the truth, which ultimately means both helping others experience God and drawing us closer to our Creator.

    We’re all at different places in our spiritual journey. Some of you may be atheists. Welcome! Some of you may be agnostics. We want to welcome you, too! Others of you are new to the faith, some have followed Jesus for a while, and still others of you have been Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians for decades. Therefore, any discussion about defending the Bible acknowledges some of you want to be equipped to defend the Bible while others of you are on the other side, wondering why anyone would believe it in the first place. I’m so glad you’re here, regardless!

    Jude wrote to early Christians,
    Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. (Jude 3)
    One of the great things about the Bible is it’s a book about real people and real, historical events. Every year archaeologists are uncovering evidence verifying the authenticity of the Bible. Hundreds of biblical prophecies have been fulfilled. Micah 5:2 and Luke 2:4-7 connect as just one example.
    Skeptics often say the Bible has contradictions and errors, but a more careful examination reveals that’s simply not the case. For instance, they’ll say God never changes, yet He changed His mind…but did He? Or was it merely from the perspective of the writer that He
    appeared to change His mind. There are difficult biblical passages, but I have yet to find one without an explanation.
    I mentioned last week how many of the sharpest critics of the Bible have become followers of Jesus, embracing the Scriptures as God’s Word. Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell are among them, and if you have questions about the Bible and its truthfulness, I urge you to read their research. Other prominent apologists—or defenders of the Bible—include Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, and even C.S. Lewis. I’m not suggesting I agree with everything each of them have written, but they have devoted much of their lives addressing biblical critics and revealing evidence for the reliability of the Bible.
    If you’re a skeptic, I doubt a single sermon will change your mind, but I urge you to investigate. Ask questions. Text me your questions. It might sound cliché coming from a pastor, but I’ve studied, I’ve done the research, and I’m convinced the Bible is God’s Word. I declare my full support for The
    Alliance Statement of Faith which says,
    The Old and New Testaments, inerrant as originally given, were verbally inspired by God and are a complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men. They constitute the divine and only rule of Christian faith and practice.

    If you believe the Bible, do you know why? Can you defend it? The greater question is, what are you doing about your belief in the Bible?
    I’m going to say something radical which will probably get me in trouble.

    I don’t care if the Bible is true. Well, that’s not quite true. Don’t post that on Twitter!

    I care more about Jesus being true than the Bible being true. Our faith is not built upon a book, but rather a person. Truth is not a list of propositions. It’s a person. Again, Jesus said,

    “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
    Everything in the Bible is true, but it’s not the center of our faith, nor does it claim to be. Christianity is built upon Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection.
    Pastor Andy Stanley summarized this point when he said: “Christianity does not exist because of the Bible any more than you exist because of your birth certificate. Your birth certificate documents something that happened. If you lose it, you do not go out of existence.”
    We need to let the Bible guide us toward Jesus. The Bible is all true, but it’s not the center of faith for us. Jesus is that center.
    Some people get so caught up in defending the Bible and whether it is inspired or inerrant or King James or infallible or whatever that they miss the purpose of the Bible—to help us know the God who created us, loves us, died for us, rose from the dead, and will return to judge us all. The Bible is a love letter. It tells us who God is, who we are, and how we are to love God and one another.

    The Bible is divine revelation, revealing God’s will for salvation. The Scriptures guide our faith and practice. They tell us how to live…and why we should live. They tell us how to love…and why we should love.

    With all respect to the great apologists who defend the Bible, who cares if the Bible is true if it is not studied and applied? Most people in our city aren’t asking, “Is the Bible true?” They want to know, “Does it work? Can I apply it to my life? So what?”

    I love the Bible. I read it. I study it. I proclaim it. I believe it. I know it is inspired by God.
    But the foundation of our faith is not a book. It’s not theology. It’s not laws or rules. It’s a story. It’s a Person. It’s an empty cross…and an empty tomb. Our faith is built upon the historical, living Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. To quote a great hymn,

    My faith is built on nothing less/than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

    If you asked me about my wife and I showed you all of the love letters she wrote me over the years but never said anything about my relationship with her, you’d find that rather odd, right? I care more about my wife than the letters she wrote me, and the same is true for the Bible. I love it, but it’s a means to an end. It helps me know God.

    The Bible is big. It’s controversial. A friend of mine recently put together a list of 24 questions and asked people to rank their order of importance. The point of the exercise is not to answer the questions, but rather to determine if the question is peripheral, important, essential, or affects salvation. Here are a few examples:

    Is the story of Jonah and the fish a (fictional) parable or did it actually happen?
    Was the universe created less than ten thousand years ago in six 24-hour days?
    Will pets be in heaven?
    Are there errors of any kind in the Bible?
    Did Jesus physically rise from the dead?

    Our six elders agreed on the priority of only one of these questions. That is, some felt the question was a salvation issue while others felt it was essential, important, or peripheral.

    Scripture never says we must believe in an actual person named Jonah who was swallowed by a great fish in order to be saved and experience eternal life.

    Scripture never says we must believe in a literal, six 24-hour day creation to be saved.

    I think Paul was pretty clear:

    If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

    Don’t hear what I’m not saying! I don’t know how old the earth is, and it’s really not that important to me. If you want to use an alternative narrative to deny the existence of God, I’m out of here, but if you content God may have used some type of evolution to produce our universe, I’m not going to get hung up on six 24-hour days…especially since the sun and moon were not even created until the fourth day…so what defines a day and how long were the first three days?

    With all due respect to the Creation Museum, the age of our universe has no bearing on whether or not Jesus died and rose again for you and me. In the beginning God. That’s my focus. Maybe the earth is billions of years old and maybe it’s thousands of years old. I don’t know! I don’t care! What I do know is Jesus is Lord, I believe in my heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that I’m commanded to love God and love others as I love myself.

    If you want to study the age of the earth, that’s great. Really. But don’t worship the study of creation. Worship the Creator…and obey Him.

    See, the challenge we all face is how to read the Bible. Some have called for a literal interpretation. Well, that’s fine when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But
    always taken literally, we would have to declare the Bible is clearly false. For example,

    The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets. (Psalms 50:1)

    The sun does not rise. We know this. It is undeniable. The earth rotates in such a way that it appears that the sun rises, but it is the earth—not the sun—which moves. There! This is an example of biblical criticism. The critics say the Bible can’t be true…

    …except the Psalms are not a science textbook. They are songs and poems. When a singer sings, “I love you with all of my heart,” they’re not speaking of the organ in their chest that pumps blood. It’s a metaphor for deep emotion and commitment. There are many things in the Bible which need to be interpreted, not merely read like a
    Toledo Blade article. As we understand the Bible and, in particular, the overarching narrative of the Bible, the problematic passages begin to make sense. If you were to read a John Grisham or Steven King novel, you don’t begin with chapter six and say it’s confusing. You need to understand the big picture…the story.

    Sometimes the Bible—or its misuse—has actually become a barrier to people knowing Jesus. Could there be anything more tragic? Scot McKnight wrote in his book The King Jesus Gospel

    “When the plan (of salvation) gets separated from the story, the plan almost always becomes abstract, propositional, logical, rational, and philosophical and, most importantly, de-storified and unbiblical. When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off from the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future. We separate ourselves from Jesus and turn the Christian faith into a System of Salvation."

    So What…now?

    I know, some of you are getting confused, maybe even upset. Studying and obeying the Bible is not always simple, and like I said last Sunday, it’s not always best done by ourselves. We were created for community. From beginning to end, relationships are found on virtually every page of the Bible. We gather together to study. I’m not saying you should never open the Bible alone, but I am saying you probably can’t understand and apply every verse of the Bible alone.

    Last week I mentioned the value of study Bibles, online tools, small groups, and most of all the Holy Spirit.

    Should you eat ham on Easter?
    Should you vote Republican or Democrat?
    Should women pray without wearing a hat?
    Should you go to a Rated-R movie? What if it’s “The Passion of the Christ?”
    Should you own a house…or anything at all?
    Should you give ten percent of your income to First Alliance Church? If so, gross or net?
    Should you send your kids or grandkids to public, private, or home school?
    Should you observe the Sabbath every Sunday? Or what about Saturday?
    Should you get a tattoo or not?

    Here’s the honest truth: the answer to all of those questions is maybe.

    So what are we to do now?

    First, focus on Jesus. He’s the subject of the Bible. The great thing about Jesus is he’s alive, so as we learn about him, we also can talk with him through prayer. He summarized the entire Bible quite simply.

    Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36)

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

    ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth as it says in John chapter 16. Knowing God is a fascinating adventure because we have the Bible, we have the church, and we have the Holy Spirit helping us know our Father and His son, Jesus.

    Third, be a student. Recognize you don’t know and understand everything in the Bible, much less obey it. That’s ok. I don’t know and understand everything about my wife, either. Each day is a new opportunity to discover her, and a new opportunity to discover Jesus. Dr. Leonard Sweet once said, “20% of my theology is wrong. I just don’t know what 20%.” That’s humility, and that’s the posture we need to have when it comes to the Bible. There are many things which are very clear: love others, pray, care for widows and strangers and orphans, speak truthfully, stay sexually pure, etc. These are repeated throughout the Bible and throughout church tradition, too. If you ever hear of someone claiming a radical new understanding of the Bible, question them. We stand today on the shoulders of men and women who have studied and applied the Bible for centuries. God never changes. His Word, the Bible, continues to change the lives of people around the world, however.

    Our apologetic—our defense of the Bible—is the resurrection of Jesus. Paul, the great persecutor of the first Christians who became a follower of Jesus and spent much of his life starting churches, wrote,

    And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

    The Bible is all about Jesus. Do you know him?

    Jesus’ friend Peter wrote,

    Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)

    The greatest apologetic—the greatest defense of the Bible—is your life transformed through it. It has often been said your life will be the only Bible some people will ever read. The best defense is a good offense—an attractive, compelling life.

    I challenge you to read the Bible. Study it. Apply it. See if it doesn’t change your life. See if God doesn’t change your life. He has changed mine. Jesus is alive. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

    Apologetics Resources (defending the Bible from critics)

    Ravi Zacharias
    Josh McDowell
    Lee Strobel
    William Lane Craig

    Online Bible Study Resources

    The Navigators
    Mission 119

    Books on Studying the Bible

    The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
    How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart
    Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Richards and O'Brien

    A Provocative Interview

    Andy Stanley

    Credits: some ideas 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.
  • Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing, 4 June 2017

    Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:1-12

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

    Big Idea: Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

    A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. (Mark 2:1)

    Jesus’ headquarters moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. If you recall, Jesus healed a leper, told him to keep quiet, and instead the healed man told everyone about Jesus. The crowds loved to see physical healing but cared less about the spiritual messages Jesus preached.

    Jesus left Capernaum…and later returned to Simon Peter’s house. Most homes had 1-4 rooms so it would’ve gotten crowded quickly.

    But wait. Some scholars believe this was probably Jesus’ own house. Have you ever heard that before? That was news to me, and it shifts the story a bit.

    They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. (Mark 2:2)

    Preaching the Word of God was Jesus’ primary ministry. It is powerful. Whether it was his own house or not, he was obviously trapped. I’ve never been the subject of TV news, fortunately, but we’ve all seen private homes overrun with paparazzi when overly-zealous reporters try to get an exclusive interview. It’s chaos. In this case, it’s not media but people. Jesus is preaching to a crowd that gathered without any press release, billboards, or direct mail invitations. Did they want to hear…or just get healed?

    Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
    “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:3-5)

    Five guys show up, can’t get to Jesus, and take things into their own hands!

    It was a thatched roof made of straw, but getting the man on the roof must have been challenging, though many first-century homes had an outside staircase leading to a flat roof made of sod and branches.

    How would you feel if someone put a whole in your roof? Jesus says, “All right, I forgive you!” Of course, this was a deeper forgiveness than just necessitating a home improvement project! But if it is Jesus’ house, it makes his forgiveness a bit more interesting, don’t you think?

    Whose faith? The faith of the men. Their faith led to the man’s sins being forgiven? It’s not their faith that saved him but their faith led to the man meeting Jesus.
    Our city is filled with sick people—physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. We need stretcher bearers, people who will bring people in to hear the gospel.

    Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7)

    Only priests could declare forgiveness, speaking in the name of God. Of course, if that’s what his friends were seeking, they would’ve taken him to the temple in Jerusalem, not to a guy preaching in a home.

    Mark tells us what they were thinking. Only God can forgive sins. They’re right about that, but Jesus is not blaspheming. He’s God. He came to earth to provide salvation. Isaiah the prophet had said the Messiah would forgive sins, restore the broken hearted, and bring healing to the lame (chapters 29; 35; 61).

    The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
    because the LORD has anointed me 
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1)

    Today’s story is a micro version of the entire gospel of Mark: Jesus teaches, heals, is condemned for blasphemy, and vindicated.

    Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,
    “Why are you thinking these things? (Mark 2:8)

    He knew what they were thinking. They were speechless!

    Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? (Mark 2:9)

    Only God can do either one! Jesus will do both.

    But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:10)

    This is the first time in Mark where Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” This is the key sentence in today’s text. Daniel 7 said “one like a son of man” would be the representative of God’s true people. He would be opposed by evil, vindicated and rescued by God, proved right, and given authority to dispense God’s judgment.

    “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

    Jesus has authority, even the authority to forgive sins.

    Mark 2:10 also points to Jesus’ answer to Caiaphas in chapter fourteen:

    Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

    “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

    Jesus declares himself to be the Son of Man. He also forgives, the most powerful thing in the world.

    So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:11)

    The paralyzed man obeys. Incredible!

    He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:12)

    I love how this story ends with people praising God.

    So What?

    We are called to be stretcher-bearers for others. The man had great friends!

    The greatest healing is spiritual, not physical. Even healed bodies will eventually decay, but the soul is eternal. Jesus addressed the paralyzed man’s spiritual brokenness before addressing his body.

    God is not done healing souls. He offers forgiveness for all of your sins. All of them!
    God is not done healing bodies. His timing is perfect, even when it is slower than ours.

    Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

    We can receive forgiveness and healing.
    We can proclaim forgiveness and healing.
    We can bring people to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.

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

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Messenger: John the Baptist, 30 April 2017

    Messenger: John the Baptist
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:1-8

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

    Big Idea: John prepared the way for Jesus’ coming…and so can we.

    Holy Spirit

    Last night I returned from the Missio Alliance conference near Washington DC. It was a great opportunity to connect with new and old friends, hear from world-renown theologians, and be reminded of the most misunderstood member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

    If you are a follower of Jesus, you were given the Holy Spirit. God dwells within you. What an amazing reality, one we often forget. I have much to say at a later date about the Holy Spirit, but for now I simply want to welcome and acknowledge the Spirit’s presence here.

    Would you please take a moment of silence and pray, inviting the Holy Spirit to open your heart to the Word of God and to give me words to speak?


    Many years ago, I heard about this new rock group that allegedly had one or more Christians in it named Bourgeois Tagg. They were the opening act for singer Robert Palmer’s concert at Pine Knob, now DTE Music Theatre in metro Detroit. Some friends of mine asked if I wanted to go to the show, not to see the headliner, but to check out the opening act. We all liked their performance, and before I knew it we were backstage meeting the band! It was surreal for a teenager to be backstage with rock stars! They were excited to have fans thousands of miles from their Sacramento home. It was a memorable night for all of us.

    Over the years I’ve spent enough time talking with touring musicians to know being an opening act can be a tough gig. You usually stand between the fans and the headliner. It can be great exposure for a new artist, but it can also be a struggle.

    Have you ever been an opening act? Maybe you played on the junior varsity team before the varsity team took the court or field. Perhaps you introduced a keynote speaker at a big event, aware that people did not come to see you!

    Today we’re going to look at Jesus’ opening act, his cousin John.


    In Jesus’ day, a messenger would precede the arrival of any important person. Today, the media lets us know if a rock star, celebrity, or politician is coming to town. Imagine a world without the Internet, TV, radio, or even newspapers. Messengers would ensure the roads were in good repair (good luck in Toledo!), make arrangements for food and lodging, and announce the arrival of the dignitary. This is what John did for Jesus.

    Last week we looked at the first verse of the book of Mark in our quest to discover the real Jesus. Charles Carter told me if we take one verse each week we’ll be studying the book for more than ten years! Today we’ll tackle seven more verses, but first, let’s review verse one:

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)

    Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He is God. Jesus is 100% and 100% human. This book is the gospel—or good news—of Mark. Jesus is the gospel. The gospel is Jesus is LORD.

    The comma at the end of the verse is not a typo. The sentence continues in verse 2:

    as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: 
    “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way” — 
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
    ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’ ” (Mark 1:2-3)

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the reasons I trust Jesus is the hundreds of prophecies he fulfilled. This is actually a collection of three different Old Testament books—Exodus (23:20), Malachi (3:1), and Isaiah (40:3). These writings said hundreds of years before the birth of Christ a messenger would come before Jesus. John the Baptist is that messenger.

    And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)

    Were there baptism before Christian baptism? Yes!

    In first-century Judaism, people would cleanse themselves according to the book of Leviticus when they were impure from things such as touching a leper or a corpse. Later, when Gentiles converted to Judaism, the meaning of baptism was extended as a sign of the covenant given to Abraham.

    This does not fully explain John’s “baptism of repentance.” One group at Qumran, the people known for creating the Dead Sea scrolls, believed a person could not become clean if they disobeyed God’s commandments. Their manual stated,

    "For it is through the spirit of God's true counsel concerning the ways of man that all his sins be expiated, and when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water, it shall be made clean by the humble submission of his soul to all the precepts of God."

    To enter their community, one would need to “go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, ‘Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a path for our God.” The wilderness is key in Jewish history, the place where they were tested, where they rebelled against God, and where they sinned and repented.

    John preached repentance, urging people to turn away from their sins. To repent is to turn away, to do a 180. The Greek word is “metanoia” and means a change of mind or direction. John was preaching of the need for people to change, to get off the throne of their lives and surrender to God. He was obviously very effective.

    The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:5)

    People traveled to see this preacher. It had been more than 300 years since a prophet was active in Israel. They were convicted of their sins, confessed them, and were immersed in water, in the Jordan River.

    Water is a powerful image throughout the Bible. It begins at creation, as God separates the waters from the earth. It covers the earth during the days of Noah. God miraculously parts the sea through Moses, allowing the people to walk on dry ground with water on either side. Huge crowds of people (the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem; not literally, of course!) were visiting John. He must’ve been quite popular. As opening acts go, he was developing his own fan base, perhaps partly because of his appearance.

    John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:6)

    Just think about that for a moment! Notice the detail. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four, a book of headlines. When you vivid descriptions, don’t miss them. John is quite the fashion statement! There’s more than meets the eye. This description is similar to that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). His unusual diet was part of the prophetic tradition. Locusts were kosher. But remember, he had a greater mission, to prepare the way of the LORD. He was a messenger.

    It’s interesting to note there were other messengers announcing Jesus’ arrival. Old Testament prophets predicted it. The angel Gabriel told Mary. Now John is the messenger.

    Let’s not forget John had a messenger, too. The angel Gabriel first appeared to John’s father, Zechariah, to announce his birth. This was a big deal since John’s parents were elderly, surprised, and somewhat doubtful about having a son. We have messengers all over the stories of John and his six-month younger cousin, Jesus.

    And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. Mark 1:7

    John knows he’s just the opening act. He’s preparing the way. He’s getting people ready for the coming of the Messiah. Despite his popularity as the first prophet in 300 years, he humbly acknowledges his role as messenger and the arrival of someone much greater.

    I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

    Baptize means to immerse, to overwhelm, to submerge. This is what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives. As John prepares the way for Jesus, Jesus prepares the way for the Holy Spirit. Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus said

    But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

    Have you ever wished Jesus was here? Me too! Jesus said it was good for Him to leave, though, to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us—all of us. Do you trust Jesus? He prepared the way for the Holy Spirit, a wonderful gift available to all of us who surrender to the Spirit.

    Now catch this! Jesus said

    Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

    I want to give you an assignment for this series. As we go through the book of Mark, think about what it would mean for us to do what Jesus is doing in the text.

    Let’s review:

    Gabriel announces the births of John and Jesus
    John prepares the way for Jesus first coming
    Jesus prepares the way for the Holy Spirit
    The Holy Spirit fills us.
    We are invited to prepare the way for Jesus’ second coming
    We are called to be messengers. We are to prepare the way for the return of the King. We are to announce His arrival.

    I know the idea of being a messenger for Jesus may sound scary or weird. What do we do, go door-to-door and tell everyone to get ready for Jesus? That’s one way to do it! Perhaps another way is to stop, be still, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the name of a person, pray for them, and ask the Spirit for an opportunity to talk with them about Jesus. Here are a few simple starter questions:

    Do you believe in God? Why or why not?
    Who is Jesus?
    Who is Jesus to you?
    Where are you at on your spiritual journey?
    When have you felt the most loved?

    When it comes to proclaiming the truth of Jesus, it should never feel forced. We’re not sales people for Jesus, getting others to sign up for church membership or fire insurance. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit to guide us, to lead us, to allow us to re-present God in word and deed to our world. It’s not about us. We’re just the opening act. We’re only the messengers preparing the way for the coming of the King of kings, Jesus Christ. We are privileged to let the whole world see our risen King!

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Toledo: Get Ready, 28 August 2016

    Toledo: Get Ready
    7 Letters: Revelation 2-3
    Revelation 1:1-8

    Series Overview

    Revelation is the Gospel according to Jesus. In chapters two and three, he speaks to seven churches, offering both correction and encouragement. Each is relevant to our church today.

    Message Overview

    Toledo is not mentioned in the Bible, but we are a part of the universal Church. How are we like the seven churches in Revelation? What is Jesus saying to us in 2016? Our baptistery has been empty. Who will be an advocate for the lost? The focus will be on hospitality and outreach: pray, serve, share.

    Big Idea

    Jesus loves Toledo and is alive and active in our city inviting us to join him.


    Welcome to First Alliance Church. The Bible often refers to the Church as the Bride of Christ. For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at Jesus’ words to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. We examined…

    • - Ephesus (First Love)
    • - Smyrna (Persecution)
    • - Pergamum (False Teaching)
    • - Thyatira (Sexual Sin)
    • - Sardis (Wake Up)
    • - Philadelphia (Faithful)
    • - Laodicea (Lukewarm)

    Each week in the series we’ve tried to apply the messages of these seven ancient churches to our own lives, church, and city…which begs the question,

    “What is God saying to us in Toledo?”

    This series has focused on the second and third chapters of Revelation. Today I want to go to the beginning, back to chapter one. It begins

    The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2)

    As we have often said, First Alliance Church is about Jesus. We do not exist to make a name for our church, for the Christian & Missionary Alliance (our denomination), or even Toledo. We are all about Jesus Christ. He is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King.

    Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

    Do you want be blessed? Read God’s Word. Study it. Read it aloud, it says. Most of all, obey it. Put it into practice. Take to heart what is written in it. This is true not only for the book of Revelation but the entire Bible.


    To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

    Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Revelation 1:4-5a)

    As we said, Jesus speaks to John who writes the book of Revelation.

    To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5b-6)

    There’s so much here! Jesus has freed us from our sins. Hallelujah!

    Jesus has made us to be a kingdom and priests. We are all called to be ambassadors of Jesus to our city and world.

    “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

    Jesus will return and all will see him. What a day that will be!

    “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

    This is our God. He is Almighty. He transcends time and space. He has always been. He is. He will always be. Our God is truly awesome.

    Revelation 7:9-10

    If we skip ahead several chapters, we get a glimpse of what appears to be the future:

    After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

    “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

    We are on God’s mission to make disciples of all nations. What a privilege! What a responsibility! How are doing?

    Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. All of life is about relationships. I like to think of it like a triangle:

    UP: relationship to God
    IN: relationship to one another (the church)
    OUT: relationship to the world

    I’ve been at First Alliance Church for less than a year. I have made a conscious decision to spend this first year listening, learning, and making as few major decisions as possible. People have asked me what my vision is for our church and I’ve said

    1. a. It’s not about my vision, it’s about God’s vision. Jesus is our Senior Pastor
    2. b. I need to know where we are before I can imagine a destination

    Therefore, what I’m about to say is preliminary. This is my sense of what Jesus is saying to First Alliance Church. This is not “thus saith the LORD” and is not to be taken as scripture. Would you like to hear it?

    “To the angel of the church in Toledo write:

    These are the words of the Son of God, who has a throne in front of what looks like a sea of glass.

    Did you catch that, Glass City?!

    I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance. I know you love Me. You are faithful in worship, generous with your money, and eager to serve. You eat together (as evidenced at last week’s picnic) and fellowship together on Sundays and in small groups. Your UP and IN relationships are commendable.

    Nevertheless, I have this against you: Your passion for the lost is weak. Sure, some of you reach OUT, but you went two years without a baptism and there are those right outside your doors desperate for salvation, hope, and healing. Go and make disciples!

    Allow me to elaborate.
    UP: relationship to God

    I believe our church truly loves God. Many of you have been faithfully attending on Sunday mornings for years, even decades. For more than twelve decades we have been worshipping in UpTown Toledo, praying, giving financially, and committed to the Word of God.

    One part of our church’s story is the creative arts. God is an artist and we were created in His image. We have had choirs, orchestras, handbells, and bands along with drama, musicals, and even this building which I believe is a work of art. We are geographically on the Avenue of the Arts next to one of the nation’s greatest art museums just blocks for dozens of art galleries. For years we have even trained future artists at our summer arts camp. I’m excited to announce today a new addition to our team to help enhance our worship. Charlie Flack has been hired as our Creative Arts Consultant. His part-time role will include mentoring Hayden Bewley, our outstanding young worship intern, and developing other artistic ministries such as tech and video. Our elders initiated the idea earlier this month after Charlie blessed us as a guest worship leader and we are thrilled to welcome him.

    I might add we have a growing staff, though only two of us—Josh and myself—are full-time. God has blessed us with an incredible staff whose job is NOT to do the ministry, but rather to equip the saints (that’s you!) for the ministry.

    IN: relationship to one another (the church)

    Our church loves one another. Truly! One of my four prayers for us is unity and I’ve experienced a sense of oneness during my months here. Heather and I deeply love being a part of this family…and if you’re new around here, welcome! I might add these gatherings are vital, but the real connections occur in groups: Sunday School, Bible studies, and small groups. If you’re not in one, you’re missing out on possibly the richest dimension of First Alliance. There’s a list of groups at the Information Center in the lobby.

    By the way, I love our groups. I love when they relate UP to God. I love when they relate IN to one another. Today I want to challenge every group to do some kind of OUT activity. Throw a party, serve at Cherry Street Mission, set up a prayer booth,…do anything that will help you build relationships with the unchurched. Do it once a month, once a quarter…once a year!

    Which leads us to

    OUT: relationship to the world

    Making disciples ideally begins in the home, but today in our city so many are growing up with no understanding of God and His love. Our church has chosen to be in the city of Toledo, even when others fled to the suburbs. We are uniquely positioned in UpTown to reach out to not only the underprivileged but also the up-and-coming artists and young professionals who will become our neighbors over the next few years. Would you like a sneak preview of what’s ahead?


    Sue Trumbull is an exception leader leading an exceptional team of people committed to children’s ministry. Each Sunday they love kids during Sunday School and the worship hour. They produce special events. They have Wednesday night programs for students. And then there’s sports and arts camp.

    For months people told me about sports and arts camp…and then I experienced it. Wow! It was so exciting to see dozens of kids from the neighborhood exposed to faith, hope and love. It may have been the best week of the year for me.

    But then I began to think about the 51 weeks until next summer’s camp. So many of the seeds scattered will surely be snatched up or choked by the weeds and rocks of this world. What can we do to build lasting relationships with these precious children?

    I’m glad you asked! First, the After School Klub (ASK) starts up again in October serving many of these kids two days a week. That’s great! I praise God for everyone involved in Toledo Urban Impact and the After School Klub.

    Recently Charles Carter has had a burden to get these kids here on Sunday mornings. Imagine what a difference it would be to go from one week to 52 Sundays a year. We need two things to make this happen: more children’s ministry workers and van drivers to pick up the kids. Is God calling you to invest in the next generation? They need you!

    We are also in conversations with the local YMCA about ways we can expand our partnership. They assist with sports and arts camp but we could do so much more for these kids if we work together.

    Perhaps the most exciting development is Keep Watch: Praying for the Hearts of Our Children. I don’t know how this is even possible in our day of political correctness, but we’ve been invited to pray in and through Rosa Parks School on Cherry Street once a week. This pre-school through grade eight school has 250 students who test in the lowest 5% of all students in Ohio. The principal, Ms. Richburg, is asking for us to adopt her school, read to students, encourage teachers, and pray…pray in the school! This seems like an incredible opportunity for us, an opportunity that could close in the future if TPS staffing changes.

    Imagine if we had weekly—even semi-weekly—influence on the lives of children in our city? It could literally change our city. Studies show kids are far more likely to follow Jesus than unchurched adults. We have a unique invitation to build relationships with those outside our church family, extending God’s love and hospitality.


    Speaking of relationships and hospitality, we have been working hard to enhance our hospitality—welcoming the stranger, the guest, the newcomer—on Sunday mornings. However, long before I arrived at First Alliance a group of people realized no matter how dynamic our gatherings in this building, many in Toledo will never walk through our doors. We need to go to them. In fact, Jesus 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)

    He said go! He didn’t say, “Ring the bell and watch everyone come to church.” He said to go under his authority into the world and make disciples.

    After some considerable, unavoidable delays, we are weeks—maybe days—from opening CLARO Coffee Bar, our new hospitality ministry in UpTown at Adams and 18
    th. Many have asked how we intend on using this space for ministry and the answer is simple: relationships. We are intentionally creating space for spiritual conversations. This means listening, learning, and loving. Christians are, unfortunately, known for monologue rather than dialog. Whether it’s fair or not, many picture a guy with a megaphone rather than someone truly concerned for their welfare.

    CLARO will be serving amazing coffee and tea. It will be staffed by caring, friendly baristas seeking to develop friendships with guests, not just taking orders from customers. Tables will be open for you to engage with people, listening to their story, and sharing yours. I heard someone talking about putting tracts or leaflets in the bathroom and my first thought was to use them in dialog with a person, not monolog on a sink. We want people building relationships with us, not a toilet!

    Research indicates the longer someone is a follower of Jesus, the fewer unchurched friends they have, which makes sense on one hand but is unfortunate. We are to be salt and light in our dark world. We must always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus…but it begins with relationships.

    How many unchurched people do you know? How many of your neighbors can you name? When is the last time you had a meal with a non-Christian?

    OUT need not be scary or painful. Buy someone a cup of coffee. Go to Rosa Parks school and pray. Throw a Labor Day party and invite your neighbors. Join a local parks and rec team. Become a conversation partner with an international student through Water for Ishmael. Serve with Cherry Street Mission or Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission.

    I’ll make this extremely simple: pray, invite, and listen. Pray for your unchurched friends—or pray FOR unchurched friends—and invite them over for a meal or out for a cup of coffee. And listen. Don’t make them your project. Don’t preach to them. Just love them like a human being. Have fun with them. Be a friend to them. Ask them about their spiritual journey.

    If and when it seems appropriate, invite them to the Alpha Course…or Sunday morning here. This fall we’re doing a six week series entitled, “What happens when you die?” It’s about heaven. We’ll talk about hell, too, but people are fascinated with heaven. Movies have been made about it. Best-selling books talk about it. We all have questions about it, but we’re going to look at what the Bible actually says (and doesn’t say) about heaven. But it all begins with conversations, with friendships, with intentionally reaching OUT.


    Months ago I sensed God saying two words to me regarding our church: Get Ready. We are equipping leaders, building our staff, and preparing for a great harvest. The cobwebs are off the baptistery and I hope we fill it often. God is blessing us with incredible opportunities to connect with children and our UpTown neighbors. Get ready, church. Get on your knees. Pray and invite…and make disciples for the glory of God.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Share Your Story, b.l.e.s.s., 3 February 2013

    Share Your Story

    Big Idea:
    Share your story—HiStory

    Scriptures: 1 Peter 3:13-16; Matthew 28:18-20


    Three weeks ago we began our new year with our new series and annual theme, b.l.e.s.s. We said that we have been blessed to be a blessing. This is a theme throughout history, most prominently in God’s covenant with Abram (Genesis 12:1-3)

    Our first week’s challenge was to bless one person. Week two’s challenge was to spend one hour listening to God. Week three’s challenge was to eat with a lost person. Last week’s challenge was to study Jesus.

    These are not one-time challenge, but rhythms, patterns for the new year, every week. Some would call them spiritual practices or disciplines. As our series logo illustrates, none of these five steps are a “have to” in order to kill guilt, but rather a “get to” privilege that comes from being so blessed and filled by God that it overflows to others. Put another way, Jesus said in John 15:14 that we must remain in Him. When we are connected to Jesus, we will bear fruit. Blessings will leak. The more we practice disciplines such as prayer, listening, eating with the lost, and studying Jesus, the more natural it will become. The more we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the more the Spirit will overflow to others around us.

    Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4)

    The final letter is “S” and it stands for
    story. Everyone loves a good story. Whether it is a nursery rhyme, a movie, a book, or even a conversation, there’s nothing like an engaging story. The content of a story is obviously its most important feature, but the storyteller is vital, as well. Can you think of some good storytellers? What makes them good? We are all part of God’s story. Life is HiStory.
    Story is built into our mission statement:

    We exist to fulfill the Great Commission and follow the Great Commandment by 

    - serving our communities

    - sharing our story

    - sending disciples to bless the nations

    so that God is glorified.

    Jesus was a master story teller. Much of His teaching was not through verse-by-verse analysis of the ancient Scriptures, but rather through parables—stories.

    What’s your favorite Bible story? One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John. A blind man was healed by Jesus. The Jews were furious and envious of Jesus and refused to believe Jesus had, indeed, allowed this man to see.

    A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

    He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

    Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

    He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” (John 9:24-27)

    The man said, “This is my story. End of discussion...unless you want to follow Jesus, too!” They couldn’t argue with what happened to this man when he encountered Jesus.

    Your Story

    What is your story? One of the great things about your story is that it’s yours and nobody and deny it. Sure, if your story involved unicorns and candy clouds and talking bunnies, you might get some strange looks, but for the most part your story is indisputable. What God has done and is doing in and through you does not need archeological artifacts, scientific laboratory proofs, or journals of scholarly evidence. Either God is at work in and through you or He’s not, and if He is, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and the same power that is at work transforming you to be more like Jesus is available to every man, woman and child.

    Words...and actions

    Although there are those that dispute it, many believe St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and If necessary, use words.” Have you heard that quote? The original quote was actually, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” Do you see the difference? We need words. We need to share our story. We need deed and word, serving and story. It’s yet another “and.” Whether he said it or not, what does it mean? We know that often actions speak louder than words. Our acts of kindness and blessing go a long way toward establishing credibility and trust with others that grant us permission to share our story and truly be heard.
    Imagine someone saying, “Feed the hungry and if necessary, use food” or “Love your children and if necessary, spend time with them.” Words are necessary, but they are not necessarily where we begin.

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

    A Privilege For All Of Us

    Some Christians think story telling is for paid professionals. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in the eighth chapter of Acts everyone
    except the apostles spread the message of Jesus.

    Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:13-16)


    One of the challenges with sharing our story relates to our expectations. Personally, I want everyone to follow Jesus, not because I get brownie points, but because I can’t imagine a better way to live. If I truly love someone, I will want them to experience the ultimate love from the Author of love. Like many of you, I’ve shared my story in hopes that others will become followers of Jesus. I’ve had the privilege to see people begin their journey with Jesus, but most of the time my story is one of many steps in their spiritual adventure. Paul made this very clear in his letter to the people of Corinth:

    What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)

    Actions and words plus time and the power of the Holy Spirit will produce fruit.

    This Week’s Challenge: Share your story.

    Why is it so scary for many of us to share our story? Perhaps we fear rejection. Maybe we wonder if it will raise questions we can’t answer. It is possible that we are just shy and don’t like to talk to anyone about anything!

    Don’t forget there are many ways to share your story. It could be through a conversation, but it might be via a letter, an e-mail, a card, a Facebook post, or even a blog. We need actions, but we also need words. Both are required to truly bless the world…and God.


    So how do you share your story? It’s really quite simple. What was your life like before following Jesus, how did you encounter Him, and what has happened since? It doesn’t have to be a radical transformation account. For some of you, your story is colorful. That’s great. If not, that’s fine, too. Here’s mine:

    I was raised in a Christian family. In fact, my parents named me “Kirk” which means “church” or “church dweller.” They wanted me to experience the faith, love, peace, joy, and purpose that they had found in Jesus. I was a pretty good kid and went to church, but didn’t get much out of it until I encountered peers that were passionate for God. They inspired me to pursue God, to not just know about Him, but to actually know my Creator through prayer and Bible study and community with others. That was the spark I needed to ignite my faith. In college, I tested my faith, explored other religions and world views, and kept returning to Jesus, the only One who died for me, demonstrated His love, and offers grace—unmerited favor. I deserve eternal death for the sins and failures in my life, but I’ve learned that it’s not what I DO, but what Jesus has DONE for me by dying for me that gives my life meaning and hope and a future with Him forever. Our family has spent the last six years dealing with a series of tragedies, but even through the storms, we have had peace and joy knowing the God is with us. I want everyone to experience the radical, exciting life that only comes through following Jesus.

    What’s your story? If you’ve truly encountered Jesus, you have a story!

    Maybe you don’t have one...yet. Perhaps you’ve never fully surrendered your life to Jesus. If that’s the case, I urge you to do so. Simply tell God you are sorry for your past sins, receive His love and forgiveness, and follow the words and deeds of Jesus.

    Let His story become your story.

    You can listen to the podcast here.