Armor, 5 November 2023

Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity

Ephesians 6:7-24

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

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

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

Prayer as Confession, 22 January 2023

Prayer as Confession
40 Days of Prayer
2 Samuel 11; Matthew 6:12; Psalm 51:1-17

Series Big Idea:
We are beginning the new year on our knees, joining other Alliance churches for 40 Days of Prayer.
Big Idea: Confession is a vital, liberating component of prayer.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Cheery question, right?! You’re in good company. The book of Romans says,
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3:23, NLT)
Sin is “any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God” (1 John 3:4; Rom. 4:15), in the inward state and habit of the soul, as well as in the outward conduct of the life, whether by omission or commission (Rom. 6:12-17; 7:5-24). (Source: Easton’s Bible Dictionary)
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? All sin leads to death. All sin is harmful…to us and/or others. All sin is an offense against God. While any sin is enough to break the intended relationship between us and God, not all sins have equal consequences in this life. Going 61 miles an hour in a 60 will not have the same impact on our lives as going 100 miles an hour and crashing into a church nursery!
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Whatever it is, you’re in good company.
Jacob was a cheater.
Peter had a temper and denied Jesus.
Noah got drunk.
Jonah ran from God.
Paul was responsible for murder.
Miriam was a gossip.
Martha was a worrier.
Samson was a womanizer.
Rahab was a prostitute.
But one of the greatest figures in human history was involved in lust, likely rape, adultery, fathering a child out of wedlock, getting someone drunk, lying, and pre-meditated murder…in one story…and was still forgiven. His name: King David.
The story is epic.
In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1, NLT)
Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. 3 He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home. 5 Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.” In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:2-5, NLT)
This is the second time we’re told David stayed behind in Jerusalem…and plans a cover-up.
Then David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. 8 Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. 9 But Uriah didn’t go home. He slept that night at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard. (2 Samuel 11:6-9, NLT)
When David heard that Uriah had not gone home, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?” (2 Samuel 11:10, NLT)
Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents, and Joab and my master’s men are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I would never do such a thing.” (2 Samuel 11:11, NLT)
 “Well, stay here today,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance with the king’s palace guard. (2 Samuel 11:12-13, NLT)
So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. 15 The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” 16 So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. 17 And when the enemy soldiers came out of the city to fight, Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers. (2 Samuel 11:14-17, NLT)
Lust, likely rape, adultery, fathering a child out of wedlock, getting someone drunk, lying, and pre-meditated murder. What follows—after a confrontation by Nathan the prophet—is confession…and forgiveness.
Have mercy on me, O God,
                        according to your unfailing love;
            according to your great compassion
                        blot out my transgressions.
2          Wash away all my iniquity
                        and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2, NIV)
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Imagine it is blotted out. Imagine God washes it away. Imagine He no longer even knows what you’re talking about! That’s what King David was seeking. That’s what we all desire, right?
The king (eventually) acknowledged his sin. He confessed it. He came clean.
Do you find confession to be easy? Why or why not? I often find it easier to rationalize, to be defensive, to excuse my sins…it’s not that big of a deal…I didn’t kill anyone…people on TV do worse things…
But there’s freedom when we ‘fess up.
Confession is a vital, liberating component of prayer.
It’s the pathway to forgiveness . One of the most beautiful promises in the Bible says,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, NIV)
This is a conditional promise. If we confess. The psalmist offers a brilliant picture of that forgiveness.
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12, NIV)
Is that good news? It’s why Jesus came, died, and rose.
We all experience the guilt associated with our sins. The number one reason people feel guilty is…because they’re guilty! But there’s hope for the person who has surrendered their life to Jesus Christ, accepted the reality of his life, death, and resurrection. What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
I could talk about this for hours! The reason the cross has become the symbol of our faith is because it represents both the incredible sacrifice of Jesus and the incredible hope for us. Hallelujah!
Confession is vital, but there’s more. We must repent, turn, change.
Have you ever heard a parent say to a child, “Say you’re sorry” and the child responded, “Sorry!”?
Have you ever had someone apologize to you for the same thing…over and over?
It’s easy to question the sincerity. “Sorry” is not a magic word. True reconciliation is rooted in authenticity and sincerity. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll never do it again, but we must genuinely seek change. This is why we offer Celebrate Recovery on Wednesday nights. It’s usually not enough to try harder. We need help. We need support. We need prayer. We need others. We certainly need the power of God.
In Psalm 51, David doesn’t just say, “Sorry.” A few verses later he says,
10         Create in me a pure heart, O God,
                        and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11         Do not cast me from your presence
                        or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12         Restore to me the joy of your salvation
                        and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
He wants restoration. Our mission is “restoring God’s masterpieces.” He wants the relationship with God that was broken by sin to be mended. He doesn’t stop there. He is changed by forgiveness.
13         Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
                        so that sinners will turn back to you.
He wants others to confess and experience the joy of forgiveness. Good news needs to be shared! If you’ve been forgiven, let others know the same freedom and cleansing is available to them.
David offers praise and worship to God as a result of our forgiveness, and we should, too.
That’s all background for today’s scripture!!!
As we continue our 40 Days of Prayer series on what we call the LORD’s Prayer, out text for today simply says,
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12, NIV)
Another translation says,
and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. (Matthew 6:12, NLT)
Debts. Sins. Trespasses. They can generally be used interchangeably.  This is a fascinating verse. We are to ask God to forgive us our sins, but there’s more. There’s an understanding—an assumption— that we have forgiven others. It’s as if Jesus is saying forgiveness is available, but don’t hoard it.
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:9, NIV)
We’ve been blessed to be a blessing.
We’ve been forgiven in order to be able to forgive.
We have a role to play in forgiveness. It begins with confession, but it seems greater than that.
I’ve noticed when it comes to prayer, we often want God to do all of the work. We might pray, “Feed the hungry, LORD” and God says, “You feed the hungry!” We may pray, “LORD, help me ace the exam tomorrow” and He responds, “Did you study?!”
Some of you have bought this lie of what some call cheap grace. It goes something like this: pray this magical prayer and then do whatever you want for the rest of your life. That’s not following Jesus. That’s not true repentance, turning from your sin. That’s not sincere confession.
I am not suggesting we have to walk on eggshells or worry about our salvation, but I am saying the deeper life with Jesus is not passive. We are invited to participate, by loving God, by loving our neighbor as ourselves, by making disciples of all nations, by picking up our cross daily and following Jesus, …and by forgiving. We don’t earn forgiveness by forgiving, but if we have experienced God’s forgiveness, we will be ready to forgive others. One writer notes, “Forgiveness of others is proof that that disciple’s sins are forgiven and he or she possesses salvation.” (NIV Application Commentary) Jesus said,
Matt. 6:14    For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV)
Wow! Someone said forgiveness is easy…until you have someone to forgive!
“But they don’t deserve to be forgiven.” True. Neither do you.
“But they hurt me.” True. Sin hurts.
“But I don’t have the power to forgive.” True. That’s why you need God and His forgiveness. You can’t give what you don’t have. Forgiven people forgive others.
One of Jesus’ best friends had a remarkable conversation with him.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)
That doesn’t mean 490. Jesus meant for us to keep forgiving others as long as we want to be forgiven. The rest of Matthew 18 has more of Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness.
So What?
The message of our text is simple, but not easy.
and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. (Matthew 6:12, NLT)
God is quick to forgive, but he wants us to confess, to repent and turn away from sin, and to pass on forgiveness to others. What do you need to do today? Maybe you need to confess, to come clean, to get right with God. Perhaps you’re sick of confessing the same thing over and over and it’s time to take some serious action, to go to Celebrate Recovery, to share your struggle with a friend, to receive prayer from our elders. Some of you simply need to forgive…yourself or others. Jesus died to make that possible. Forgiveness brings freedom.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?
Maybe it’s refusing to forgive someone. Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. They might not even know you’re bitter. Today’s the day to forgive and get free. It doesn’t necessarily mean to trust, nor does it mean to forget, but it means to pass on the forgiveness you’ve received to others.
Maybe the worst thing you’ve ever done is refusing to forgive yourself. Is God a liar?
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9, NLT)
We’ve been forgiven and, therefore, have the power to forgive others and ourselves. Hallelujah!

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

Citizens, 13 November 2022

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

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

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

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

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

Get on Your Knees, 29 May 2022

Get on Your Knees!
Series—Alliance Core Values
Philippians 4:6-7
Series Big Idea: After a 2021 reveal of our First Alliance Core Values, this series is a presentation of the Christian & Missionary Alliance Core Values.
Big Idea: Prayer is the primary work of God’s people.
The year was
1988 and musician Bobby McFerrin hit big with a little ditty called Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Nobody in 1988 could imagine the amount of worry people in 2022 would be facing. Anxiety is running rampant. Mental health professionals have seemingly endless job security. Fear continues to rise over COVID, inflation, Ukraine, …and now monkeypox?! Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply stop worrying and become happy?
Our scripture text for today conveys a similar message, but one with much more power.
Don’t worry…pray! That’s essentially what Paul said to the church in Philippi, a city in modern-day Greece.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. (Philippians 4:6a, NLT)
That would be a great verse to memorize…or shall I say half of a verse. These words are on the wall of our bathroom at home. They comfort me—and sometimes convict me—in my moments of worry.
What about you? Are you prone to fear…or faith? Worry or prayer? Anxiety or petition?
Prayer is one of those things everyone knows is a good idea, but most find challenging. How many of you eat your veggies? Floss your teeth? Exercise?
Prayer is work. The city of Toledo logo says as much…to work is to pray. Sure, a quick prayer before a meal is simple, but how do we pray when life gets hard?
We’ve been going through a series on the core values of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, our global family. We have previously noted
-       Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. Luke 19:10
-       Everything we have belongs to God; we are His stewards. 1 Chronicles 29:14
-       Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully-devoted disciple. Matthew 28:19
-       Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success. Joshua 1:8
Today’s core value states
-       Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. Philippians 4:6-7
I said it’s work, but that’s because all relationships are work. They require time. They involve effort. I’ve never met a couple that said, “We’ve had a great marriage for decades. We never really talk or do anything together, but we are so close!” Never. Marriage is hard work, but it’s worth it.
Friendship can be hard work, too. I was recently in a meeting with a good friend and he said and did some things which made me feel like my input was worthless. I was tempted to let it go, but it was really bothering me and I knew my friend was clueless about his actions. After an hour or two of prayer and planning, I confronted him as graciously as I could and lovingly confronted his behavior. He apologized, thanked me for drawing it to his attention, and we hugged. It was work, but it was so worth it.
By the way, the enemy loves to steal, kill, and destroy…especially relationships. Just look at our cancel culture today. If you really want to kick the enemy in the teeth, work on reconciling a broken relationship. Not all relationships are mendable, but if you speak the truth in love and experiencing restoration, it’s an amazing feeling! Relationships are work, but they’re worth it.
Prayer is work, but what really is prayer? I used to think it was talking to God, but it’s more than that. For years I thought it was talking with God, but it’s more than even that. I submit to you prayer is doing life with God. Marriage is not just talking to or with someone. It’s doing life with them. Life is what we do. It’s non-stop. Perhaps that’s why Paul wrote elsewhere,
Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV)
Pray continually. Talk with God continually. Do life with God continually. How?
There’s actually more to verse six in Philippians chapter four:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)
Don’t worry. Pray. I wish I could tell you I’ve mastered this, but I’m a fellow pilgrim on the journey toward a worry-free life! I want to be in control…or think I’m in control! Many of the things I fear never even occur. What a waste of energy…energy that could’ve been spent praying for others or just being with the LORD.
How do we pray, then? We could do an entire sermon series on prayer. Countless books have been written on the subject. The scriptures are filled with examples (though most are rather short). We’ll scratch the surface today, but examining our text, it says, “Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Of course, He knows already, but He loves to hear your voice. I think your voice is the most beautiful sound to Him. The next verse tells us what happens when we pray:
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7, NLT)
Who wants peace in their life? How many of you want God’s peace? This might be one of the few formulas in the Bible, but it’s clear.
Prayer leads to peace. Our world needs more peace, doesn’t it? We try negotiation tactics, call on law enforcement, hire mediators, defend ourselves, …but there’s nothing like God and His peace.
Notice Philippians 4:7 says God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds. That’s God’s protective custody. How
does that work?  When we thank God, we’re reminded of His goodness, power, and thankfulness. Our problems often seem small once we realize God is great. Someone said, ““Kneeling to pray is what gives you the strength to stand.”
This should be obvious, but the power of prayer is not in the person praying, but the Person to whom they are praying. You can pray to a volleyball (Tom Hanks almost did in
Castaway!) but nothing will change. I’m fascinated with the popularity of meditation in our society. It’s huge! Scripture is filled with encouragement to meditate, but the real issue is the object of our meditation…on nothing, ourselves, or God and His Word? The same is true for prayer. It’s about doing life with our Creator. Prayer is an alternative lifestyle! We simply need to work, take time, be present with God.
"Most Christians want to experience spiritual transformation. But many are frustrated by the limited progress of our spiritual self-improvement efforts. We find our praying burdened by a sense of obligation and failure. But prayer is not merely something we do; prayer is what God does in us. Prayer is not just communication with God; it is communion with God. As we open ourselves to him, God does the spiritual work of transformation in us." - David G. Benner
I think too many people think of prayer as a magic power to get God to do what we want…and then we get disappointed when He doesn’t serve us on demand. “Prayer,” said Robert Law, “is not getting man’s will done in heaven. It’s getting God’s will done on earth.” It’s all about a relationship. I think prayer is a lot like marriage.
I’m married to my wife. I’m always married to my wife, 24/7/365. I’m married without ceasing. It’s a state of being as well as a state of doing. I’m still married when I’m not with her. I obviously feel more connected when we’re having dinner together, but sometimes we connect via text, phone, or FaceTime. Sometimes we’re physically together but not even communicating, like when we watch a movie together or even when we take a drive in the car and say nothing. Marriage is all about communication, honesty, and experimentation…and so is prayer.
Obviously, prayer involves communication. Honesty is a given with God (uh, He knows everything!). And
it’s important to experiment with prayer. I want to give you some tools to get you started.
ACTS. This is a popular acronym to guide your prayers. Begin with Adoration, praise, worship. Tell God how awesome He is! This is not to butter Him up, but to remind yourself who it is you’re talking with.
C is confession. Get real with God. Again, He knows it all. There can be great joy and freedom in confessing, agreeing with God how you’ve sinned, and being reminded of the joy of forgiveness.
T is thanksgiving. We spoke of this earlier. It’s not just an annual holiday! It should be a part of our rhythms to be grateful.
S stands for supplication or requests or petitions. Tell God what you want. Pray for others. Pray for yourself. He’s a good, good Father who loves to give gifts to His children…though not always when and how we desire. Daddy knows best!
Another prayer tool is a
journal. Write out your prayers…on paper or a laptop. I hate to burst your bubble, but I don’t spend three hours each moment on my knees with my eyes closed in prayer. It would quickly become a nap! Some of my best times of prayer involve me essentially writing a letter to God. It keeps me focused…and I can go back and see how God responded to my prayers.
Praying with others is another thing I do. It’s harder to fall asleep praying when you are with others! We have Zoom Prayer every weekday from 9 AM to 9:30 AM. You’re all invited! It’s a great way to meet people and love well, praying prayers of blessing, hope, and healing over one another. Life Groups are another great forum for prayer.
Listening is another prayer tool. I know that might sound unusual, but we need to give God an opportunity to speak, too! What has God been saying to you? What are you going to do about it?
I’d be the first to admit I’ve never heard God speak audibly, but He does speak…through other people, circumstances, dreams, and sometimes an internal prompting. But the primary way God speaks is through the Bible. If you’re not reading it, don’t be surprised if you’re not hearing from God.
If we’re honest, sometimes we don’t want God to speak to us! Maybe we choose to live busy, noisy lives in hopes that He doesn’t speak! Such an attitude says a lot about our view of God. He’s a good, good Father who loves His children. Yes, He does discipline us, but He always has our best interest at heart. Really!
I realize a relationship with God can be challenging. After all, you can’t see Him, hear Him, or even text Him! But He has created you first and foremost for a love relationship with Him. Prayer is work. Relationships are work. They take time and effort. They’re don’t always feel warm and fuzzy! But they’re worth the effort.
Perhaps you’ve been told Christianity is just about praying a prayer so you can go to heaven when you die. If so, I’m deeply sorry! It’s a tragedy to think prayer is a one-time thing…or even something we do at bedtime or at meals as a ritual. It’s a rhythm of life!
“Jesus tells us to pray for daily bread, but we’d rather have a Costco relationship with God. We’d rather have stuff in bulk so as not to come back to God so often. But we can’t live without daily dependence.” – Rich Villodas
God wants to do life with you! The Creator of the universe wants to spend every moment of your life with you! How cool is that?! Will you make yourself available for Him? Will you get on your knees?
Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. Philippians 4:6-7
I want to offer one final tool before we close. It’s a free app called
Lectio 365. I may have mentioned it before, but it’s a simple way to make room for God, to be fully present. It takes about ten minutes in the morning and about ten minutes at night to be still and listen to these guided prayers with scriptural meditations. It’s probably the best tool Heather and I have found to develop our spiritual life together. We use it most every day. They have an acronym, too…PRAY.

Pause to be still
Rejoice and reflect
Ask for God's help
Yield to His will
There’s so much that can be said about prayer—and so much has been said—but know it is work, but anything worth having is worth the investment. It is how we do life with God, and that relationship is at the core of the meaning of life.
Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. Philippians 4:6-7
“Don’t worry, be happy.” – Bobby McFerrin
“Pray and let God worry.” – Martin Luther

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

Faith, 13 March 2022

Series—Faith Works: The Book of James
James 5:13-20
Series Big Idea: Jesus’ half-brother, James, offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.
Big Idea: Faith works when we pray, praise, profess, and pursue.
Faith works! That’s been the message throughout our series on the book of James which we conclude today.
For centuries there has been a tension between faith and works. Many believe if you have enough good works, they will cancel one’s sins and earn you eternity with God in heaven. Much of the Protestant Reformation was an attack on this “works” heresy, emphasizing Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)
Praise the LORD for His amazing grace, His gift, for Jesus. If we are good enough to earn God’s approval, Jesus suffered and died needlessly!
The book of Romans declares,
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24, NIV)
And yet Jesus’ half-brother, James, boldly states,
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:26, NIV)
We are not saved by our works, but they are evidence of genuine faith. So many have misunderstood the “believe” in John 3:16 to mean if they mentally agree with historical statements, they can do whatever they want. James’ response:
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19, NIV)
Family, that’s one of the most sobering verses in the Bible! To say you believe Jesus died and rose again is not enough, according to James, because satan himself witnessed the events. He knows it’s history, but he has refused Jesus’ simple invitation to “follow me.” Have you?
Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” Faith works! Grace works! How? The conclusion of this short yet powerful book offers four action steps. For those of you who like alliteration, this is your day! First,
Pray when you suffer.
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. (James 5:13a, NLT)
Simple, right…but is that always your first response? When I’m sick, sometimes I go right for the Tylenol. When someone hurts me, I want to lash back—or at the very least tell others about how I’ve been wronged. When I suffer anxiety over the news, I’m prone to panic, strategize, worry, or try to control situations far beyond my control.
Last week, Pastor Mike talked about suffering. It’s a part of life. Dare I say it’s a part of God’s plan, often, to build our character. If you ever hear prosperity heresy saying God wants you happy, healthy, and wealthy at all times, turn them off! Jesus knows suffering. He promised we’d know it, too…yet we’re so shocked when it happens. Gas prices go up and we freak out while people in Ukraine are running for their lives. We bellyache when our favorite brand of toilet paper is sold out at the store or when winter weather is…cold! Many of us have no idea what true suffering is all about—though many of us do. The point is simply this: pray!
Last Sunday at a First Alliance reunion, one person shared of their incredible suffering, calling it both their “high” and “low.” How can suffering be a high? It has drawn them closer to God.
When things are going well, it’s easy to forget God. I believe that’s one of the reasons why the movement of Jesus seems to be in decline in our nation. We haven’t needed God. Yet what message have you seen and heard more than any other during the war overseas? Pray for Ukraine. I’m told 70% of Ukranians are Christians…and I wouldn’t be surprised if that number is growing! They need God! They have nothing else! Their homes are being destroyed. Their valuables are being abandoned as they flee for their lives. I doubt any are calling their Internet provider to complain about slow downloads!
Pray when you suffer. Can we do that now?
The rest of verse thirteen says,
Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. (James 5:13b)
He doesn’t say only praise when you’re happy. God is always worthy of our praise. He is good…all the time! But all of us have moments of suffering and moments of happiness. God wants us to share both—with Him and with one another. Romans again:
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15, NIV)
It’s interesting how Christians seem to be good at the second part, but not the first part! The point is,
Praise when you are happy.
By the way, this is why we sing on Sundays…and elsewhere. It’s a command! Whether you’re a singer or not is beside the point. The word “sing” appears over one hundred times in the Bible. It doesn’t matter if you sing like an angel or can’t carry a tune in a paper bag…make a joyful noise! We sing for the LORD! We sing to the LORD! It's all about Him!
I know a guy in another city who purposely shows up thirty minutes late to his church to skip the music because he says he doesn’t like worship music. But God does!!!
Just to review verse 13,
Pray when you suffer.
Praise when you are happy.
Now James circles back to suffering and prayer.
Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15, NLT)
We believe in the power of prayer! Each week our elders are available at the conclusion of our gathering to pray for the sick. We’ve seen God heal! Miracles have not ceased! He doesn’t always answer when and how we desired, but as James said earlier,
You do not have because you do not ask God. (James 4:2b, NIV)
Again, when we suffer, when we are sick, pray! God is not a genie offering on-demand responses to our petitions, but He does hear and He always answers…in His perfect timing. I have tons of questions for God. I have doubts, at times. But I know God is good. I know He can be trusted. I’ve suffered for many years with various challenges, yet I am here to declare God’s faithfulness.
Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. (James 5:15, NLT)
Don’t miss the last part. I believe the greatest miracle is not cancer cured or even broken marriages restored, but forgiveness…salvation. If all God ever did for us was send Jesus, that would be more than enough. Family, this life is so short. Followers of Jesus will be with him forever. Forever! How does that compare to 80 or even 100 years? If the sickness is related to sin—which is possible—it can be forgiven.
Pray when you suffer.
Praise when you are happy.
Profess your sins.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16a, NLT)   
It doesn’t say confess to a priest. It doesn’t even say confess to God. He knows! It says confess to and pray for each other…so that you may be healed. Scientists are discovering what the Bible has said for generations: our mind impacts our body. Bitterness can cause physical problems. Buried guilt and shame can make us sick. And let’s not forget sometimes our suffering is the result of our sin. This is not always the case, but many of our ailments and pain are the consequences of sin—ours or those of someone else. This is why God hates sin!
The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16b, NLT)   
First Alliance is as church of prayer. One of our core values states,
Faithfulness. We are devoted to prayer, the Word of God, and following Jesus.
We have Zoom Prayer each weekday at 9 AM. Elders are available each Sunday morning.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16a, NLT)   
Our Life Groups are perhaps the best prayer gathering we have as people do life together, confessing sins and praying for one another.
The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16b, NLT)   
I could spend all day telling stories of the prayers of righteous people producing wonderful results. Hallelujah!
James uses Elijah as an example of the power of prayer.
Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. (James 5:17-18, NLT)   
That’s the power of prayer! You can read all about it and other miracles in 1 Kings chapter 18.
Pray when you suffer.
Praise when you are happy.
Profess your sins.
Lastly, James says we are to
Pursue the wanderer.
We live in a culture that seems to be increasingly independent. People don’t want to get involved in the affairs of others, and often for good reason. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of confrontation. But I’m often reminded of a wonderful book title by Lewis Smedes: Caring Enough to Confront. James says,
My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. (James 5:19-20, NLT)
This isn’t about self-righteously judging others, but rather loving…looking out for the best interest of another. It’s not always “nice.” Sometimes love can look rather harsh. It can even inflict pain! Why did I vaccinate my children? Love. Did it hurt? You bet! Did it harm? Quite the opposite.
Nice is not love. Tolerance is not love, either. How would you feel if I sent you a card that said, “I tolerate you!” Love gets involved. Love shows kindness, compassion, and empathy. Love believes in a preferred future and takes risks to protect another. Jesus said,
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. (Matthew 18:15, NIV)
That’s not easy…especially if they don’t listen!
But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:16-17, NIV)
By the way, it never says gossip to others. It never says tell Facebook! The goal is always restoration and reconciliation, and that’s James’ point.
My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. (James 5:19-20, NLT)
This is not easy. It’s risky. You might be misunderstood. Your motives must be checked. James is not condoning condemnation. It is about helping a brother or sister get back on the path. Questions are helpful rather than attacks. One of my favorite tools is, “Help me understand.”
It seems as though people are wandering in record numbers. It’s trendy to “deconstruct” one’s faith, which is fine, so long as it is reconstructed and not abandoned. I recently saw a post which said,
Many people reject Jesus because of bad experiences with religious people. But, here’s the thing…Jesus had bad experiences with religious people, too. In fact, they killed him. People will let you down. Jesus won’t.
I pray that we can lovingly bring back wanderers to the faith. I am praying for several prodigals to return to their first love, Jesus. It’s a thrill to see someone repent of their sins and surrender to Christ.
Pursue the wanderer.
This is how James ends his important book. To summarize,
Pray when you suffer.
Praise when you are happy.
Profess your sins.
Pursue the wanderer.
What is your next step? Do you need to pray? Praise? Confess and profess your sins? Pursue a prodigal?
Throughout this book, Jesus’ half-brother, James, offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life because…faith works!

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

Marginalized People, 31 January 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more thing…

Jesus was marginalized. The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah

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

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

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

When we love others well, we love Jesus well.

Credits: some ideas taken from Rosilio Roman and The Alliance

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

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

God of the Impossible, 10 May 2020

God of the Impossible
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 9:2-32

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

Big Idea: Nothing is impossible with our great and awesome God.

On the fringes of what has been known for decades as contemporary Christian music is a band called Daniel Amos. In 1988, they formed an anonymous spinoff called The Swirling Eddies. Some of their more interesting song titles include “Coco the talking guitar,” “Arthur Fhardy’s yodeling party,” “Outdoor Elvis,” and maybe my all-time favorite song title, “Hide the beer, the pastor’s here!”

In the midst of their playful satire and comedy, one song has stuck with me for decades. It’s entitled, “Yer’ Little Gawd.”

i don't want to speak to yer little gawd  i don't want to drink to yer little gawd  interface or link with yer little gawd 

How big is your God?

We’re in the middle of a series called Mark: The Real Jesus. We’re looking at his life from the gospel—good news—of Mark. Perhaps the pivotal question in the entire book was when Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” in the previous chapter.

Today’s text is packed with startling stories that bring clarity to the question of whether Jesus is fully God or fully human. The answer is yes! And he’s great!

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. (Mark 9:2-4)

This must’ve been an incredible sight…and sound! Can you imagine the conversation? Elijah represented the prophets and Moses the law. Both are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. A masquerade is an outward change that does not come from within, while transfigured describes an outward change that comes from within.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:5)

Peter’s mouth is always getting him in trouble! I love John Mark’s commentary that follows in parenthesis.

(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) (Mark 9:5-6)

Has that ever happened to you? When is the last time you were speechless…or should’ve been speechless and you couldn’t stop talking?!

Some people question whether the Bible is authentic or a bunch of fairy tales. If you were to write fiction, you wouldn’t include accounts such as Peter’s clumsy suggestions! I’m sure Peter was embarrassed about many of the things written about him, but they only show God’s amazing power to redeem and restore blemished masterpieces for His glory.

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)

What is the most astonishing thing about this encounter? Everything! This is multi-media extravaganza! God the Father identifies Jesus once again (Mark 1:11) as His Son. The command to the three disciples is simple: listen to him!

This is a timeless message. We need to listen to Jesus. We need to obey his commands, his teachings, the “red letters” in many Bibles. We are to follow his example of loving even our enemies. We are to re-present Jesus to the world, bearing witness to the reality of God and His Kingdom, praying for it to become a reality here on earth as it is in heaven.

Family, I know we all long to be physically together again soon, but First Alliance Church is not a building or even a gathering. We are not in the business of distributing religious goods and services. Our mission is to restore God’s masterpieces. It’s to make disciples. It’s to become like Jesus and help others become like Jesus…something which is best done in small groups rather than large gatherings. Although much of Jesus’ ministry occurred with twelve disciples—a group larger than the ten we are encouraged to stay within at this present moment—his deepest work was done in the lives of these three men—Peter, James and John. Jesus did not lead a megachurch. There’s actually few references to him teaching in the synagogues. He did attract crowds—largely due to the hope of healings. But discipleship seems to happen best in smaller groups that do life together.

I’m grateful for all of our small group leaders who disciple others through Zoom, in-person socially-distanced gatherings, and one-on-one interactions. We are to listen to Jesus. We are to follow Jesus. That’s what First Alliance Church is all about, and it’s what the Father has commanded us to do…
we must listen to and obey Jesus.

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. (Mark 9:8)

The show’s over! It’s time to go home. I’m so glad there were three witnesses because I’m sure a solo observer would’ve thought they were hallucinating!

It’s worth noting nobody saw Elijah or Moses die. Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind and Moses died alone, buried by God Himself according to Deuteronomy 34:5-6.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. (Mark 9:9-10).

Here’s another example of Jesus predicting his death and resurrection…yet they still didn’t catch on.

And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” (Mark 9:11)

They’re talking about prophecy and the future. Elijah and Moses prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:12-13)

Jesus tells them again that He’s the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, and that he will die. Now the scene comes to a close and a new one begins.

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. (Mark 9:14-15)

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. (Mark 9:16)

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” (Mark 9:17-18)

When is the last time you saw someone possessed by a spirit? Have you ever seen someone foaming at the mouth and gnashing their teeth?

I’ve long been fascinated by the role of the supernatural here in the west versus spirituality in other countries. I once spoke with a man who travels all over the world. He said in some parts of the planet, both demons and healings are common. The spiritual world is understood. However, he said he sees fewer demons and healings in the United States. I can’t fully explain why this may be, but I think it has something to do with our love for logic, facts, reasoning, and science which can remove the mystical, the mysterious, and the supernatural.

Are demons real? Absolutely!
Are angels real? Absolutely!
Does God still heal today? Absolutely, though sometimes God often uses doctors and medicine. But sometimes He shows up and confounds the experts with the miraculous.

Jesus often exorcised demons, offering liberation for the oppressed.

This text makes is clear there are different degrees of demons. The disciples had driven out demons before, but they were unable to drive out this one. Was it their lack of faith?

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” (Mark 9:19)

Jesus is so real! He’s so emotionally healthy, able to express his frustration without sinning.

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

There is power in the presence of Jesus. There is power in the name of Jesus!

Jesus asked the boy’s father,
“How long has he been like this?” (Mark 9:21)

“From childhood,” he answered.

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

Spiritual warfare is real. We have a real enemy that wants to steal, kill, and destroy. In this case, a demon repeatedly tried to kill this boy. I don’t understand all of the factors that lead to murder, self-harm, suicide, or domestic violence, but they are not from God. There are signs of the enemy all over our communities, making our job of demonstrating faith, hope, and love so vital.

To be clear, I’m not blaming every bad thing on satan—and mental illness is real—but sin leads to death, while God is the author of life, the source of every good and perfect gift, the healer and lilberator.

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

I love Jesus’ response: if you can? The father’s hesitation is understandable. After all, the disciples couldn’t help. Loving parents will do virtually anything to help their children. One of the reasons we love our mothers is their devotion, their commitment, their desire to care and seek healing for their offspring. This father had a similar passion, yet he was surely disappointed at the failure of the disciples.

This verse contains the key sentence in our scripture for today.
Everything is possible for one who believes. I looked up the original Greek word for everything. The word is pas and it means…everything, whole, whatsoever, thoroughly, all. This declaration by Jesus echoes his words in Matthew 19:26…With God, all things are possible.

Did you know Ohio is the only state in the USA with a biblical motto? This is it: with God, all things are possible.

“Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23b)

We love, worship, serve, obey, and love the God of the impossible.

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

There it is, one of my favorite prayers in the Bible!

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit.
“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” (Mark 9:25)

Jesus didn’t want to create a scene, perhaps for both his sake and these two men.

I love Jesus’ command to not only leave, but to never return!

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. (Mark 9:26-27)

Peter, James and John had seen everything now! First, the transfiguration of Jesus with Elijah and Moses in a supernatural moment of glory, and now a manifestation of supernatural evil. If they thought they were hallucinating before…

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (Mark 9:28)

He replied,
“This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

Wait! Does it ever say Jesus prayed? There’s no mention of him closing his eyes and talking to the Father. He doesn’t spit on the boy as he did with one of his earlier healings. He simply speaks with authority…an authority that comes through his ongoing relationship with the Father, praying without ceasing, not only praying to the Father or talking with the Father but doing life with the Father.

Jesus never says the disciples don’t have enough faith. He doesn’t say miracles are reserved for the Messiah. He has received the power and the authority to cast out demons from the Father, through prayer.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is known as the Great Commission where Jesus tells his followers to go and make disciples of all nations. We often forget how it begins.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

Jesus was given all authority…and he passed it on to his followers. Our text for today concludes…

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:30-32)

Again, he plainly tells them he will die and rise, but they were clueless.

So What?

How big is your God? Is He the sky fairy, a good luck charm, a comfort piece like a stuffed animal?

Is he the big guy upstairs who punched your ticket so you can go to heaven when you die?

Or is Jesus LORD, Messiah, King of Kings, all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present?

Family, our God is the God of the impossible. He’s the one who raises the dead, heals the sick, mends the broken, frees the oppressed, and offers hope to the hopeless. He has conquered sin, death, demons, and satan. He loves you with an everlasting love.

This isn’t positive thinking or psychobabble! Our God is awesome! He is powerful! Paul declared to a church in modern-day Turkey,

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

He can do what we ask.
He can do what we imagine.
He can do more than we ask or imagine.
He can do more than all we ask or imagine.
He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!
He is the God of the impossible!

Sometimes He says, “Wait.”
Sometimes He says, “No.”
Sometimes nothing happens because we simply don’t ask! Jesus’ half-brother once wrote,

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)

We must ask. We must pray. We must follow Jesus every day, not just Sunday morning. And then we must thank and praise Him for His faithfulness and goodness.

Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer. I participated in several online events. Perhaps there’s never been a better time in our lifetime to bow our heads and kneel before Almighty God and pray…for the impossible!

How big is your God?

When we seek first His Kingdom, His will, His plan, we can ask the God of the impossible and expect great things…because He is a great and awesome God!

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

You can watch this online worship experience

God Answers Prayer, 13 October 2019

God Answers Prayer
Jonah 2:1-10

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

Big Idea:
God invites us to pray prayers of repentance which can lead to redemption.

After running from God and His instructions to preach to the great city of Nineveh, Jonah finds himself miraculously in the belly of a fish (not an actual spaceship!).

The last verse of Jonah, chapter one says,

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

His story is similar to that of the prodigal son, a rebellious man who came to his senses and came home, so to speak, grateful for the kindness of the Father who brings him to repentance, sparing his life.

Imagine God gave you an assignment which you completely ignored; you fled! The next thing you know, you’re inside a fish. You can’t get any cell phone service. Your phone battery is dead, anyhow. You’ve tried to sleep, had an unusual craving for seafood, and felt left in the dark! We can only imagine what those three days were like, but Jonah, chapter two tells us…

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. (Jonah 2:1)

This doesn’t merely say Jonah prayed.
This doesn’t merely say Jonah prayed to the LORD.
It says Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.

Is God your LORD? I bring up this word “LORD” often because its real meaning is so foreign to our culture, even our church culture. We like to use God for our purposes. Bless me, LORD! Help me, LORD! Heal me, LORD! The all-caps, by the way, indicate the original Hebrew usage of the sacred name of God, a word Jews refuse to pronounce but is probably something like Yahweh. Jonah prays to the Almighty, sacred, holy, awesome One.

When is the last time you prayed? What did you pray?

Our prayers are often more like wish lists for Santa than authentic conversations with our Creator. Right?

How big is your God?
How great is your God?
How awesome is your God?

G. Campbell Morgan said, “Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God.”

How awesome is your God? If He’s just your genie in a bottle, your SOS, your sky fairy, He’s way too small.

If we could truly grasp Who it is we pray to, not only would our prayers be different, our lives would be different.

I must confess I’ve prayed some really pathetic prayers.

“God, please help everyone in the whole wide world.”
“God, bring peace to the world.”
“God, please feed all the starving children while we enjoy this feast.”

William Law said, “He who has learned to pray has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life.”

He said:

“In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me. (Jonah 2:2-3)

He’s in a fish and he’s testifying to God’s answer! Is he grateful? Absolutely! His life was spared. He knows he sinned against God and now he repents. He’s not just admitting wrong, he’s turning away from his rebellion and moving toward God. Repent means to turn, to do a 180. Although the sailors physically hurled Jonah into the sea, he realizes it was God who was behind it, loving discipline.

How do you respond to discipline? Hebrews 12 tells us we can despise it and fight, resist it and face even greater discipline, or submit and grow in faith and love. God’s discipline is never to harm us, but rather to help us grow like an athlete’s muscles grow from training. The Father chastens/disciplines only His own children (Hebrews 12:8).

God invites us to pray prayers of repentance.

Jonah continues…

I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head. (Jonah 2:4-5)

This is a vivid description of his frightening, aquatic experience. Remember, he’s praying from the belly of a fish, and yet he is grateful. He worships God, the one from whom he was running days earlier. He knows God’s character and mercy.

One writer noted how up until now, Jonah continues to go down—down to the city of Joppa, down into the sides of the ship, and he continues…

To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, LORD my God,
brought my life up from the pit. (Jonah 2:6)

He went down into the fish’s belly. Running from God is a sure way to go down! But now that Jonah has repented, he begins to look up…from the pit…to God.

“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple. (Jonah 2:7)

He looked up to God’s holy temple, following the instructions of 1 Kings 8:38-40. He knew and claimed God’s promises.

They say there are no atheists in fox holes or when a plane is about to crash. Why do we remember God when we’re facing death? Why don’t we remember God in the midst of life?

“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’ ” (Jonah 2:8-9)

Jonah is back in the game. His faith is engaged. He knows his God. He recognizes the futility of idols. His near-death experience has transformed Jonah from a rebel to a worshipper.

What worthless idols are in your life? For Jonah, it was extreme patriotism and bigotry toward the Ninevites. John Calvin said Jonah’s sin was that he was “very inhuman” toward the people of Nineveh, refusing to see them as masterpieces created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. He makes vows to God, the only One who can save. He is no doubt recalling the psalms when he speaks of salvation:

The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. (Psalms 37:39)

But what worthless idols are in your life? What’s more important to you than loving God and loving people? Pleasure? Entertainment? Money? Power? Sex? Popularity?

There is no mention of the fish, the smell, the darkness, the discomfort, or even his own sin. He doesn’t ask for a housing upgrade, yet God obviously hears his prayer. In chapter one, God provided the fish. Chapter two ends by showing God’s activity again.

And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah 2:10)

Just for fun, I looked up this verse in several translations, most of which used the same verb to describe Jonah’s transport to the beach!

God invites us to pray prayers of repentance which can lead to redemption.

So What?

The moral of this story is…well, let’s go back to last week’s big idea:

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

Today’s big idea is

Prayer matters, no matter what you’ve done.

God spared Jonah’s life. If the story ended here, we’d see disobedience followed by prayer and God’s intervention.

We were created for relationship with God. That means God loves to hear our voice. I believe the most beautiful sound in the universe to God is your voice. When is the last time He heard it?

A few weeks ago, we talked about prayer in our study of the book of Colossians.

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

Prayer is more than talking to God.
Prayer is more than talking with God.
Prayer is being with God, which may sometimes involve silence, listening, stillness.

Are you ok with that? For some of us, slowing down and quieting down is not easy. Is anybody with me? I like to be busy, productive, and sometimes noisy…but it’s not ideal for relationships. I get annoyed when I’m talking with someone and they keep checking their phone…or even worse, start texting or talking as if I didn’t exist.

Prayer is being with God. It’s about building a relationship. We need to talk and listen…and always be fully present.

When you pray, begin with God. In his book The Rest of God, author Mark Buchanon writes,

“Are you in the midst of a situation where, as you pray, you find yourself putting the problem first? If so, you’re starting where you should end. You’re rehearsing the problem, making it seem larger than it is, when what you need to do is rehearse God’s greatness and bigness. Then the problem shrinks to its right portions.”

I love that! Start with God. Look what He has created. Remember how He has been faithful. Use the book of Psalms to guide you into praise and adoration of our awesome God so you know who you’re dealing with!

Recently I was burdened by a number of situations out of my control and I prayed, “Help, God!” Pausing to acknowledge WHO I was talking with—starting with God and His greatness—would’ve certainly given me greater peace and confidence.

I love that we can talk with God anytime, 24/7. We’re not a burden. We’re not an interruption. He
wants us to pray. He invites us to pray.

Some of us don’t pray because we’re not sure God hears us. He does. Even from a fish!
Some of us don’t pray because we’re afraid of what God will say. He loves you. Really.
Some of us don’t pray because we feel unworthy. We are, but He still loves us.

It’s never too late to repent, to turn, to agree with God that you screwed up.
It’s never too early, either!

Take a moment to reflect upon your life. How did you get here?

Maybe you’ve made some wise choices and you’re enjoying the fruit of those decisions. Praise God. Thank Him for giving you wisdom, freedom, education, and opportunity.

Perhaps you’ve made some poor choices and you’re in the belly of a fish, so to speak. It’s dark. It’s smelly and cold. You really want out. Surrender to God. He hears you. No matter what you’ve done or who you are, He loves you and will forgive you if you trust Jesus, if you surrender your life to Jesus, if you make him your Savior and your LORD. You can begin by simply saying, “Jesus, I give you my life.” If you’ve been running, stop, repent, turn, and run to the God who created you and loves you more than you can imagine.


In a matter of hours, Jonah’s prayers were heard and he went to the beach. Sometimes God’s response to our prayers takes longer…maybe days, months, even years. I don’t always understand His timing, but I know it’s perfect, because He is perfect. His ways are perfect.

There are some situations I’ve been praying about for years, but I refuse to quit…and I know He wants me to continue. Jesus was talking with his friends about prayer and said,

“…Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

God always answers the prayers of His children.

He might say yes. He might say no. He might say wait. Be he always answers.

Do you know God? Really? If not, you can begin today. Repent. Turn away from your selfish living and run to Jesus, the one who proved his love by giving his life on the cross.

If you do know God, you’ve been commissioned to help others know God. Faith is personal, but not private. Good news needs to be shared.

God wants nothing more than a relationship with us where we talk, where we listen, where we do life together. Does that describe your life?

One of the greatest thrills of knowing God is when we make a request and He responds. Today and every Sunday we invite you to come forward and receive prayer…for anything. God answers prayer, but first we must pray!

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Daily Office & Sabbath, 15 May 2016

    Discover The Rhythms of Daily Office and Sabbath
    Series: Go Deeper
    Daniel 6:10-12; Exodus 20:8-11

    The Big Idea: The fifth pathway to emotionally healthy spirituality is to discover the rhythms of the Daily Office and Sabbath.


    The essence of this series is our lives are like an iceberg. Some of it is visible to others, but most is buried out of sight from the world, sometimes ourselves, but never from God. The sooner we can get real with ourselves, others and God, the sooner we will experience growth and breakthroughs. We’re all messed up and in need of help…which is where God and His people become so vital. We need God. We need one another.

    Author and pastor Pete Scazzero said his book
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

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

    We’ve been looking at emotional health and for the conclusion of this series we will be looking at contemplative spirituality, tools and practices that help us to know God and His Word and become more like Jesus.

    A Disclaimer

    I hope it goes without saying, but let me emphatically state our authority at First Alliance is God and the Bible. I pray that I will never preach or even say anything contradictory to the Bible…and if I do, I urge you to tell me. I do not have the final word, and certainly Pete Scazzero or Billy Graham or John Stumbo or any other pastor or writer has the final word. I don’t agree with everything Scazzero has written and I especially don’t agree with every author Scazzero quotes. If you read
    Emotionally Healthy Spirituality or any other book, be careful. Read with discernment. Ask me, an elder, or your group leader questions if something seems off. Some of you have, and I greatly appreciate it. We’re not always going to completely agree about everything in the Bible, but we need to sharpen one another…and I never want to speak anything but truth.

    Connecting With God

    All of life is about relationships. Just as there are many ways I can build a relationship with my wife—date nights, texts, phone calls, conversations at the dinner table at home, vacations, etc.—there are many ways we can build our relationship with God.

    How do you connect with God? Many people engage in religious activities to learn about or appease God. The essence of Christianity, however, is a relationship with God. All relationships require time, effort, and dedication. Today we will be discussing two powerful tools to help you grow in your relationship with God. These are not two things to add to your to-do list. They are not a measure of your spirituality. If used, however, they will radically enhance your relationship with God and yourself.

    We begin in the book of Daniel. Allow me to set the scene. King Belshazzar, the king of the Babylonians, was slain and Darius became the new king. Daniel was one of his top assistants. In fact, we are told

    Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. (Daniel 6:3)

    This made his colleagues envious.

    At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:4-5)

    They go to the king and ask him to make a law making it illegal to pray to any god or man except the king during the next thirty days.

    Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?” (Daniel 6:10-12)

    If you don’t know the rest of the story, check out Daniel 6.


    Our culture knows nothing about rhythms. We live life 24/7, an expression that was unknown a decade ago. We use words like chaos, scattered, distracted, stressed, and overwhelmed to describe our existence. We are always on the way to something or somewhere. We strive for bigger, better, and faster.

    How do I have a calm, centered life that is oriented around Jesus?

    You were created to know and love God and be known by and loved by Him.

    We need to slow down to connect with God. How?

    You cannot jump off a moving treadmill. You must slow it down first.

    The Daily Office and Sabbath bring rhythm to our lives daily and weekly.

    The Daily Office or Fixed-Hour Prayer: daily rhythm

    The Daily Office is simply about making space throughout the day for God. Office (
    opus) means “work of God” in Latin. Our work is to seek and be with God.

    Daniel is essentially at the University of Babylon. His name is changed and the leaders attempt to take God out of him. Our culture is much like Babylon, trying to make us think and act like the world rather than God.

    Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:10)

    Daniel prays three times each day on his knees. Do you?

    One of my favorite questions to ask of a biblical text is whether it is descriptive or prescriptive. Does it describe what someone did or does it prescribe for us today a behavior to imitate.

    I don’t think God commands us to go to an upstairs room, open our windows toward Jerusalem, and get on our knees three times a day to pray…but it’s not a bad idea!

    How do you meet with God each day? Reading the One Story Bible plan? Prayer at a certain time of day? A devotional?

    David wrote

    One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. (Psalms 27:4)

    That is David’s work. An office is about being with God, not trying to get things from God. Paul wrote to the church in Thessaloniki:

    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)

    I think that is a prescription. I believe it’s a timeless mandate for all followers of Jesus. But how can we pray continually? How can we be aware of and conscious of God throughout the day? One way is to stop and pause throughout the day to be aware of His presence.

    Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. (Psalms 119:164)

    It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, (Psalm 92:1-2)

    Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. (Psalms 55:17)

    The Psalms are a prayer book. The Daily Office is frequently associated with Catholics or highly liturgical denominations, but all followers of Jesus can benefit from books of prayer that incorporate Scripture and reflection. The issue is not what you do, but getting connected with God through Scripture and silence where you can be still in the presence of God. The idea of the Daily Office is to stop several times throughout the day to pause and remember God. It is a discipline to order your day to remind you what is important in life: God.

    Meals provide such a rhythm for many of us, praying three times a day at morning, noon, and evening. Bedtime is another common time to talk with God.

    The Daily Office may involve prayer, reading scripture, journaling, taking a walk, or whatever helps you connect with God throughout the day. There’s no magic formula, but intentionality is crucial. What’s most important in your life? Show me your calendar and prove it!

    If your only time with God is an hour on Sunday, you can’t possibly have a deep relationship with God. You will develop spiritual anorexia. Just as I can’t expect to have a great marriage by talking with my wife for an hour on Friday night, I can’t expect to truly know God by only “going to church.” It’s a great practice, but more is needed. Spend time with God daily…the Daily Office.

    Sabbath: weekly rhythm

    Knowing and following God is radical. It is counter-cultural. It is revolutionary. Few things are more radical than Sabbath, a 24-hour break each week during which we rest. The word “Sabbath” appears 116 times in the NIV translation of the Bible. The seventh day is the first holy thing mentioned in the Bible. Sabbath is found in the Ten Commandments. Without the fourth and longest commandment, you cannot do the other nine.

    God’s Top Ten: Exodus 20:1-17

    1. You shall have no other gods before me
    2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
    3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

    4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord our God. On it you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11)

    5. Honor your father and your mother.
    6. You shall not murder
    7. You shall not commit adultery.
    8. You shall not steal.
    9. You shall not give false witness.
    10. You shall not covet.

    God commands rhythm in our lives of work and rest. Do you know what the penalty was for breaking the Sabbath?

    Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. (Exodus 31:14)

    Notice the Sabbath is listed in God’s Top Ten ahead of murder, adultery, and stealing.

    I know, it’s the Old Testament. We don’t follow the Old Testament law, right? It seems to me Jesus not only followed God’s instructions, He made them more challenging. He called lust adultery (Matthew 5:28) and unholy anger equivalent to murder (Matthew 5:21-22).

    Jesus said,

    Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

    Sabbath is about
    rest. We need it. We were created to need it. Science merely confirms the wisdom of the Bible.

    [A study from Stanford] found that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours, and productivity drops off so much after 55 hours that there’s no point in working any more. That’s right, people who work as much as 70 hours (or more) per week actually get the same amount done as people who work 55 hours. (

    Sabbath is also about
    trust. Do you trust God can do more with six days than you can with seven?

    My Story

    I’ve had good and not-so-good seasons of Sabbath. Presently, I try to devote Saturdays as my unproductive day. Just saying that word “unproductive” sounds so wrong, but I believe that’s the intention of Sabbath. It’s like a weekly “snow day!” It’s a day to play, to relax, to delight, to reflect, to do things that replenish, to be grateful to God, to enjoy family and friends. We taste heaven on the Sabbath.

    Needless to say, you must prepare for the Sabbath. You can’t just do it. It’s not a punishment but a gift. There is no place for legalism, it is to be a delight.


    We live in Babylon. Our culture is diametrically opposed to God. We are bombarded by subtle and not-so-subtle messages that seduce us away from the things of God.

    If you are serious about following Jesus, you will need to do radical, counter-cultural things with your time, talents, and treasures. An hour on Sunday is not enough to maintain a relationship with God. A quick prayer at dinner or bedtime is not sufficient either. None of us—myself included—are able to spend all of our waking hours in prayer and Bible study, but we can periodically incorporate Scripture and silence into our daily lives and pause for one day a week to do nothing.

    There are no shortcuts to relationships. Ever!

    We were created to know God. The Daily Office and weekly Sabbath are biblical, powerful, and revolutionary ways to breathe deeply, be with God, and become like Jesus.

    All healthy relationships require time, intentionality, and variety. Experiment. There are biblical patterns for daily time with God that include prayer and time studying the Bible. There is a biblical pattern for a weekly Sabbath, a day of rest and refreshment. The goal is not following a formula but rather following Jesus…day by day, week by week, year by year…until He returns.

    Questions for Discussion

    What does this text tell us about God?

    What does this text tell us about ourselves?

    How did Daniel’s prayers affect his work? His life?

    Are you willing to make the sacrifices necessary to truly know God?

    Why is silence so difficult for us?

    Why is Sabbath so difficult for us? What prevents you from practicing Sabbath?

    What difference would a weekly Sabbath make in your life?

    What small step(s) can you take this week to know God?

    A Sample Daily Office For Groups

    1. 1. Pause for two minutes of silence (Psalm 46:10)
    2. 2. Read aloud Psalm 90:4, 12, 17
    3. 3. Pause for 15 seconds of silence
    4. 4. Read aloud Psalm 33:20-22
    5. 5. Pause for 15 seconds of silence
    6. 6. Read aloud Matthew 6:9-14
    7. 7. Pause for 15 seconds of silence
    8. 8. Read aloud Isaiah 30:15 and Psalm 86:11, 13a
    9. 9. Pause for two minutes of silence

    For Further Reading

    Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today by Scot McKnight
  • Credits and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Our church’s mission is…to make disciples.

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

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

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

    First, he says to be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Don’t miss that last sentence.

    Everyone will know we are disciples of Jesus by…

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

    Our love for one another!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Let’s live it up…doing good!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What’s your story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    We must keep a clear conscience in the process.

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

    So What?

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

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

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

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

    I pray Toledo follows Jesus this year!

    Love one another.
    Prepare your story.

    The best is yet to come!


    Some ideas from

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

    Thru The Bible audio messages by J. Vernon McGee

    1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary) by Scot McKnight

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

    We Are Heard, 23 February 2014

    Big Idea: We are heard by our Father—Daddy!

    Ephesians 3:14-21

    Our world is filled with noise. I don’t mean just sound, though sound is certainly a type of noise. We are daily bombarded with messages—thousands of them—from billboards to telemarketers to television, radio, texts, tweets, Facebook posts, phone calls, e-mails, snail mails, …

    Stop the madness!

    Is it any wonder that we struggle to communicate? Are we surprised that people are misunderstood? Despite all of our communication tools, we do not always effectively use them.

    This is especially true in interpersonal relationships and listening. How many times have you realized someone didn’t listen to a word you said? I’ve got great news this morning. God listens to us. God hears us. He’s with us right now, wants to speak, wants to listen, and wants to do life with us.

    We are in the middle of a series called “Who do you think you are?” a study of the book of Ephesians that examines our identity in Christ. We are in Ephesians chapter three, continuing what Jonathan Hurshman began last Sunday. J.I. Packer offers some profound thoughts about those first fourteen verses of Ephesians 3, a paragraph with a particular pattern:

    Paul is Christ’s prisoner because he’s a preacher of God’s plan and purpose to pagan people, Gentiles (3:1). He counts it a personal privilege to be such a preacher (8) because of his previous poor performance and the power that prepared him for preaching (7) and because of the preciousness of the Person and promise he proclaims (6, 8) and because of the pleasure and the profit produced by his proclamation. He has performed with his pen (3) and now prepares to pray for true perception of the glorious things of which he has been speaking.

    We have earlier noted how the first three chapters are filled with doctrine while the second half deals with application and ethics. Much of these first three chapters is actually a prayer rather than mere information including our text for today which begins:

    For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. (14-15)

    Paul was a man of prayer. He bows before the Father. Posture is important. It communicates to us, God, and sometimes others.

    raise hands
    lay prostrate on the floor

    It’s not uncommon at the PACT Pastors Prayer Summit for people to kneel or even lay on the floor in prayer.

    Paul prayed to the
    Father in the name of the LORD Jesus Christ. This is a model. Jesus said:

    In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 16:23)

    Jesus is our intercessor. He prays for us. We are to pray to the Father or Dad. I actually prefer the word “Daddy.” I love it when my kids call me “Daddy” or even “Dad” since Father seems so formal.

    Paul’s prayers were brief. Jesus’ prayers were brief, including John 17 (the Lord’s prayer for us). Actually, all prayers in the Bible are brief. We need not use vain repetition.

    The shortest prayer in the Bible is…Peter as he was sinking:

    But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30)

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

    Being a Christian is more than praying a prayer. It is to become a little Christ. Paul wants Christ to live in us. Christ is to be our possession.

    New Testament scholar N.T. Wright translates verse 17

    that the king may make his home in your hearts, through faith; that love may be your root, your firm foundation…

    I love that. Jesus does not want to merely be an historical figure or even a living Person far away; He wants to live in our hearts. We talk about being Jesus with skin on or being the hands and feet of Jesus, but ultimately Jesus wants to live in our hearts. He wants us to be full of Himself!

    This is the only place in the Bible where it says to have Jesus in your heart. He doesn’t want your heart to be a hotel where He stays occasionally but a home where He resides. He wants to live in us and work in and through us.

    Are you full of Jesus? That’s His desire. He wants us full of love and power—His love and power. More of Jesus, less of me! Jesus wants to do life with us.

    He wants us to know God and His love.

    Only the Holy Spirit can lead us into God’s love (again we see the Trinity).

    Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (20-21)

    God hears and answers! This is a fantastic way to conclude a prayer! Listen to these words:

    immeasurably more
    His power
    within us
    glory in the church
    glory in Christ Jesus
    all generations

    Prayer is exciting and powerful!

    You can pray for others…or yourself. It’s ok. Paul prayed three times for God to remove a thorn in his flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-8).

    He is able to do more than we can imagine. I love that! I have quite the imagination, yet I often pray small, weenie prayers! The book of James tells us that “we have not because we ask not (James 4:2). We need to pray big, bold, audacious prayers and see what God does in response. He’s not a cosmic genie, but He loves His children.

    Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

    Present your requests to God!

    Thoughts on Prayer

    Are you satisfied with your prayer life? Have you ever felt guilty because you don’t pray more? I’ve heard stories about people who spent hours every day on their knees in prayer and I think I’m a loser in comparison; after all, I get paid to pray 40 hours a week, right?!

    Like evangelism, helping the poor, and giving money to charity, we all know prayer is the right thing to do and we
    should do it more, but it’s not easy. In fact, sometimes prayer can be work.


    The key to prayer is the recipient. Who is God? If you view Him as a weak grandpa or an angry monster, prayer will be difficult!

    When we pray, we’re talking to our Dad. That’s it. You don’t need to use fancy words or get formal about it. Just talk to Dad. Don’t focus on prayer but on the Father.

    For some of you, you had a bad dad and have father wounds or you didn’t know your dad. Start with God and His character rather than your earthly father. He promises to be a Father to the fatherless (Ps 68:5).

    I’ve been blessed to have a great dad and watching his health deteriorate has been one of the most gut-wrenching things I’ve experienced. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to pick up the phone and call him, only realize we haven’t had a conversation in years. Nevertheless, the time I’ve spent with my dad has shaped me into the man I am today.

    Becoming a dad has helped me understand God more than anything else. God loves me even more than I love our kids, which is a lot!

    I love it when our kids talk with me. With one in Delaware, one in Grand Rapids, and one occasionally at home it’s often a highlight of my day to receive a text, e-mail, phone call, or—best of all—a FaceTime call from them. On Monday I celebrated a birthday (thanks for the cake last week!) and there was a moment when I was home with Heather and Kailey and I was video chatting with Trevor on one iPhone and Rachel on another so I saw all three of our kids at the same time! It was fantastic!

    They could’ve said “happy birthday” and hung up but, instead, we had a great family conversation for a while, almost as if we were all together in the same room. I loved every second!

    That’s how prayer is to God. The most beautiful sound in the universe to Him is the sound of your voice.

    He loves it when you praise and thank Him for things, just as I do as a dad.
    He loves it when you confess, apologize, and reconcile, just as I do as a dad.
    He loves it when you ask Him for things, just as I do as a dad.
    He even loves it when you are just still and quiet with Him, just as I do as a dad.

    Your Dad loves to be with you, hear from you, and know you!

    There’s nothing like time with your kids, regardless of their age. God doesn’t need us but He wants us.

    How To Pray

    Jesus’ followers struggled with prayer much like we do. In fact, they finally asked Jesus how to pray and He famously said

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

    Notice Jesus said “our” Father. There’s something special about God’s children praying together. I could’ve had three individual FaceTime chats with our three children on Monday but there was something special about us all being together at once. Dad loves it when His kids get along and share their hearts together.

    Individual Prayer Ideas

    Perhaps you—like me—find it easier to pray with others. Maybe your mind wanders when you’re alone…or even fall asleep when you close your eyes to pray! I have a few practical suggestions for you.

    Pray with others. That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? The Scio Soul lists various prayer gatherings that occur within Scio, including our 8:45 AM Sunday group. They would all love more participants.

    Write out your prayers in a notebook or even a laptop. Some of my best prayers are done on my Mac. I don’t do it daily, but I have literally years worth of prayers that I’ve typed and they provide a great reference for me…and maybe someday my children.

    Use a prayer list. This past week I realized I hadn’t looked at my prayer list in a while and discovered several prayer requests had been answered. A prayer list reminds you not only of things to pray for but also God’s faithfulness with past requests. Remember, God always answers our prayers, just not always how and when we desire.

    Pray continuously. When our children are home, we talk throughout the day. We don’t have to set up a formal appointment. We may schedule a long conversation about a particular matter, but often the best chats are spontaneous and short. Talk with Dad…wherever, whenever. Sometimes I’ll turn off the stereo in my car and talk out loud as if He’s with me—because He is! It’s not uncommon for me to marvel at a sunset, pray for a friend when I see them on Facebook, or grab Heather’s hand and pray when alerted of a crisis.

    Pray on the spot. Have you ever said to someone, “I’ll pray for you” and forgot? It’s embarrassing to have someone thank you for praying when, in fact, you never did! Years ago I e-mail a prayer request to a friend and he e-mailed a prayer back! I’ve done that on several occasions. I’ve also paused from activity to pray with or for someone in the moment.

    Sing. Prayer doesn’t have to be just words. Praise and worship is one way to talk with God.

    Listen. God speaks. It’s usually not audible, but through His Word, circumstances, the church, and prayer He is able to encourage, challenge, convict and guide us. My favorite verses in the Bible, Proverbs 3:5-6, tell us that if we trust Him, He will guide and direct our paths. He has certainly done that in my life more times than I can count. Prayer is not a one-way message but an interactive—albeit unique—conversation.

    If there’s one thing to know about prayer, just do it! Talk with Dad. He loves you. He loves your voice. He’s listening, and your prayers—our prayers—are heard. Hallelujah!


    Our Dad loves us. He wants to know us. He loves to talk with us. He hears us.

    Listen to Eugene Peterson’s translation of the final eight verses in
    The Message:

    I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

    God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (16-20)
    Glory to God in the church!
    Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
    Glory down all the generations!
    Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes! (21)



    Some ideas from

    J.I. Packer, Ephesians (sermon series audio)
    Mark Driscoll,
    Who Do You Think You Are (book and podcast series)
    GLO Bible
    Louie Giglio, Passion City Church sermon series
    J. Vernon McGee
    , Thru The Bible,

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

    We Are Appreciated, 26 January 2014

    Big Idea: We are appreciated…by God!

    Ephesians 1:15-23

    When did you most feel appreciated? Why?

    When did you recently express appreciation to someone? Why? What did you do? How did it make you feel?

    We all like to be appreciated. We may intellectually know that God loves us, but it’s quite another thing to hear the words “thank you” or receive a gift of appreciation.

    Two things

    There’s two things I want you to know: I appreciate you and God appreciates you.

    Did it surprise you when I said God appreciates you? When I recently heard those words, I wasn’t so sure. God is God. I appreciate Him, but could He possibly appreciate me? He loves me, He died for me, but He appreciates me?

    For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

    Paul is writing to a church, a church he started in the city of Ephesus. He likely was speaking to a broader audience, however, since this letter was circulated among many churches…and has continued to be read by churches around the planet for the past 2000 years!

    The church was filled with faith in Jesus and love for people. Those are the two most important things according to Jesus—love God and love people. Period. That’s the goal. That’s the litmus test. That’s success.

    Do you love God? Really? How do you know? Does God know?
    Do you love people? Really? How do you know? Do they know?

    We often equate love with what’s in our head. It’s easy to say we love something but action is entirely different.

    This past week I read that a restaurant I loved closed. I loved their food. I loved their atmosphere. I loved the service I received.

    I dined there once! My love in my head did not translate into action. They closed. Can I blame them for closing?

    Paul was saying that these people genuinely loved God and others. Their faith was visible, not just intellectual. He says that these people are in his prayers and he appreciates them and continually gives thanks to God for them.

    I love that! He’s a great pastor. Remember, he’s writing from prison. He can’t exactly bring them gifts or FaceTime them. He uses the only tools he has—prayer and letters—to communicate his appreciation and love.

    In Revelation chapter two we learn that the church in Ephesus was a great church.

    Paul could’ve used the precious ink and paper to complain about the conditions in prison and to ask them to pray for him. That’s what I would’ve likely done! I’d write, “Help! Pray for God to miraculously release me from prison again!”

    How many of your prayers are cries for help? God loves any honest prayer, but like any Father—like any person—He loves to receive thanks, too. This is a prayer of thanksgiving. We don’t need to wait until November to give thanks!

    Are you thankful to God for anyone? Take some time and pray prayers of Thanksgiving.

    Paul appreciates these people, but he also speaks for God as he writes scripture. He appreciates them but so does God.

    Scio, God appreciates you. He loves it when you obey Him, love others, and pray.

    I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

    Paul gives thanks but also prays for them—and us—to know God better. There’s nothing more important than knowing God. Nothing. We were created to know God.

    Here's another beautiful depiction of the Trinity. We see Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Paul asks God to give them wisdom and revelation in order to know Him better.

    I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (1:18-21)

    That’s a mouthful! Paul had a habit of writing run-on sentences!

    The eyes of your heart, not mind. Intelligence does not guarantee understanding of spiritual truth. There are some things only the Spirit can teach us.

    Paul does not pray for material things but spiritual blessings. He wants them to know hope, their inheritance, and His power.

    If we truly understood God’s power, I believe our prayers and our lives would be radically different.

    This month we have learned about the power of wind and cold and snow.
    The Detroit News headline on Friday said, “Enough already!” We often think about God’s power in creation or storms or the resurrection, but His power has been unleashed in other ways such as the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Can you imagine seeing Jesus lift off the ground into the sky?

    The first three chapters of Ephesians are largely filled with doctrine and truths about God while the final three chapters provide practical instruction about how to apply the doctrine and live God-honoring lives. What I want you to see here is the vivid portrait of God.

    This chapter ends with a reference to us, the church.

    And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (1:22-23)

    We are the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the church. Since we are in Christ, the Father views us as He views Jesus.

    He loves Jesus. He loves us.
    He appreciates Jesus. He appreciates us.
    He loves to hear the voice of Jesus. He loves to hear our voices.
    He will spend eternity with Jesus. He will spend eternity with us.

    Daddy is nuts about you! He loves you! He appreciates you!


    Some ideas from

    Mark Driscoll,
    Who Do You Think You Are (book and podcast series)
    J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible,

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John 17

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

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

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

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

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

    Jesus Prays For Himself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jesus Prays For His Disciples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (13-19)

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

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

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

    Again He prays that the Father would protect them.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

    The Walking Dead, John 11:38-57, 17 March 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus specializes in raising the dead. He is life!


    For reasons unknown to me, zombies are all the rage in our culture today. There are books, films, walks, and even festivals! Have you noticed? There are various definitions of zombies, but for our purposes let’s define them as dead people that come to life. It sounds crazy doesn’t it? It’s clearly the stuff of movies and TV shows like The Night of the Living Dead and The Walking Dead. Some are even preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse! Are you a fan of zombies?

    Perhaps one of the attractions of zombies is that we are afraid of death, but zombies is such a ridiculous notion that we can get creeped out but not truly afraid since we all know zombies are fiction and dead people don’t come back to life…right?

    If you’re easily offended, don’t read the Bible! There are some very disturbing images in the pages of Scripture, including today’s text. The Bible is not Rated G!

    We continue our series on the Gospel of John, a biography written by one of Jesus’ best friends. His purpose in writing can be found in chapter 20:

    Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:30-31)

    The first ten chapters have presented Jesus as a controversial figure, attracting great crowds through miracles and teachings while creating great hatred among the envious, legalistic, judgmental religious leaders.

    It’s easy to skim through familiar stories, but as we read the narrative, imagine you had never heard it previously. Imagine that you have no idea what follows and each word is a choice mortal in your ears.

    Last Week

    The first part of John 11 describes Jesus being told that His friend, Lazarus, is sick. Instead of healing Him, Jesus hangs out for two days only to learn that He has died. Mary and Martha understandably question Jesus, saying that if only He had gone to their brother, He could’ve been healed and they would’ve been spared the tremendous grief and loss of this deeply-loved man. They said, “If only…” and the challenge last week was whether we love and trust God because of what He does for us or simply for who He is. Is your faith dependent upon answered prayer?

    Jesus’ friend Lazarus is dead. His sisters can’t understand why Jesus didn’t heal him. But the story’s not over!

    Scene Four

    Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

     “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” (38-39)

    Jesus is “once more deeply moved,” though the Greek verb mentioned last week is used again here, meaning outraged. Jesus is life, and here He is facing His opponent, death.

    This was a “rolling stone” tomb that could be rolled, like a giant stone wheel.

    We said last week that four days in the tomb was significant because the rabbinic teachings believed that when a person died, their spirit hovered over the body for three days so if the body was resuscitated, the spirit would return to it. After three days, the spirit was gone and there was no hope for the body.

    In an early medieval Jewish tradition, Jews would actually go to the cemetery three days after burial to see if the person was living (I wonder how often they were surprised!).

    Martha rightly cautions Jesus about the smell. Dead things stink, especially after four days! John wants us to know that Lazarus was clearly dead.

    Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (40)

    As we have noted so many times previously, God’s timing is never late but rarely early. His glory is far more important than our temporary happiness.

    So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (41-42)

    It is obvious that Jesus has already been praying for Lazarus. It’s not an impulsive request.

    He looked up. This was common posture for Jewish prayer, looking up and likely with hands raised. He prays aloud not to impress, but to allow those around to hear His conversation with the Father. He says, “Father” rather than “our father” to show the intimacy in their relationship. Jesus was constantly following the mission and will of the Father.

    When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

    Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

    Jesus uses an authoritative shout to call Lazarus.

    Dead Man Walking! Here is one of the first zombies in the Bible! I love the phrase, “The dead man came out.” Wow!

    Can you imagine being a character in this story? An eyewitness?

    Dead bodies were considered unclean and untouchable in Jewish law, but Jesus had a reputation for touching the untouchable and most likely gave Lazarus an embrace that some would’ve found offensive.


    There are many biblical stories that I wish were captured on video! This is certainly one of them. What was the reaction of Martha? Mary?

    What was Lazarus’ reaction! What did he think about all of this? Would you want to return to this planet after four days of “sleeping?” I’m sure his sisters were delighted, but I wonder if Lazarus wanted to return! Of course, he did eventually. They say that death and taxes are the only certainties in life. Lazarus was given a second life—bonus time—but he eventually died. As we noted last week, death is merely sleeping for the believer. Jesus offers real, eternal life to those who respond to His invitation. He created us and is able to recreate us, providing freedom from both sin and death.

    I often wonder how anyone can live without Jesus. Death surrounds us. You are one day closer to the grave than you were yesterday! You can be one day closer to eternal life with Jesus, though, which is far greater than anything this life can offer.

    “Death is but a gateway to further life and fellowship with God.” - L. Morris

    One More Thing…

    You might think that anyone who witnessed this scene followed Jesus, but tragically that was not the case.

    Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

    This is Jesus’ last public appearance before His death. His public ministry ends here. Some saw the dead raised but they still didn’t believe. Instead, they tattled on Jesus to the religious leaders who would have Him crucified.

    The problem is not with the evidence but the unbelief of man. Many say they will belief if they see Jesus or a miracle, but many saw dead Lazarus raised from the dead and still refused to believe. Signs alone cannot prompt faith. Experience alone is not enough to persuade the human heart. This is why we need words to accompany our deeds.

    Not only did eyewitnesses not believe in Jesus, this beautiful miracle or resurrection actually led to Jesus’ death!

    Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

    What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

    Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

    He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

    Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

    When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the Feast at all?” But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him.
    (John 11:47-57)

    So what?

    There are many people today that are zombies. They are the walking dead. They were at one point dead in their sin, yet they have come alive in Jesus Christ. Jesus is life! He is The way, The truth, and The life (John 14:6).

    Sometimes God answers our prayers instantly. Sometimes He takes His time! Hebrews 11 tells us that many of us will live our entire lives seeking to understand God’s responses to our prayers, but Daddy knows best. His timing is perfect. His will and plans never fail. He can be trusted.

    No matter where you find yourself today, no matter what is dead in your life, Jesus is life. He conquered sin and death. He caused the dead to rise. He did so Himself, in case you haven’t heard! We’ll talk about that in two weeks! We worship the God of miracles. He is alive today and wants you to experience life—abundant life (John 10:10), eternal life, supernatural life.

    What is dead in your life that Jesus can resurrect?

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

    Listen to God, b.l.e.s.s., 13 January 2013

    Bless Everyone
    Series: b.l.e.s.s.

    Big Idea:
    Listen to God.


    Last week 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.

    The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

    We have defined success for Scio Community Church:

    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.

    Last week’s challenge was...bless one person. Who and how did you bless last week? Don’t stop! It is my hope and prayer that Scio is known as a community of people that bless others. Today I’m going to introduce a second thing that I hope we are known for, but first let’s pray.


    We just prayed. What is prayer? I used to think it was talking to God, but it is talking with God.

    Do you like to talk? It has been said that we were given one mouth and two ears, suggesting that we ought to spend more time...listening.


    Today’s word is “listen.”

    Have you noticed how hard it is to get someone to listen...really listen? You can’t even call customer service and get someone to have to wait for twelve pre-recorded prompts before you can even talk to a human being!

    I find it challenging to be a good listener. Do you?

    It has been said that the opposite of listening is not speaking, but rather waiting to speak. It’s easy to think about what you want to say rather than truly hearing the other person.

    Don’t believe me? Check out these gems from

    “I don’t like to think before I speak. I like to be just as surprised as everyone else by what comes out of my mouth.”

    “I wasn’t ignoring you, I just simply forgot to listen.”

    “If I’m not trying to interrupt you, I’m probably not listening.”

    “Thanks for listening to my problems and somehow making it all about you.”

    “Sure, I’m a good listener. As long as we are talking about how great I am.”

    Being fully present in the moment and truly listening to another is rare. Listening may be as powerful as anything you ever say.

    How many of you have heard God speak in an audible voice?

    If we’re honest, we might not want God to speak to us. We might be afraid that He’ll send us to Africa or take away all of our fun. The truth is, our Father loves us and wants the best for us...always. Always. It’s a matter of trust. If prayer is more than talking to God, it obviously involves listening to God.

    How Do I Listen?

    “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

    Being still and listening to God can feel very awkward.

    There are actually many ways in which we can hear from God. The first one—seen in the video clip—is the Bible. This is why it’s essential for us to be in God’s Word every day—not simply to tell everyone at the end of the year that we’ve finished reading the New Testament, but to listen to God.

    He also speaks through circumstances, people, and often a still, small voice in our hearts, a voice that is not audible, but often just as real.

    What has God been saying to you lately?

    God’s Timing

    As much as I love to think about prayer as a conversation with God and not merely talking to God, I must admit that many of the most significant things that God has spoken to me were not instantaneous responses to my prayers/questions. In fact, when I have set aside a minute or an hour or a day...or even a few days at the annual Pastors Prayer Summit, He rarely speaks on demand. I always leave those listening times at peace, though, knowing that I quieted my heart in order to hear God if He did have something to say to me at that moment.

    I found this brief interview with Mother Teresa. I can’t very its authenticity, but it seems legitimate.

    Interviewer: So you talk to God?
    Mother Teresa: Yes.
    Interviewer: What do you say?
    Mother Teresa: Nothing.
    Interviewer: Does he talk back?
    Mother Teresa: Yes.
    Interviewer: What does he say?
    Mother Teresa: Nothing.

    Actions speak louder than words. Sometimes words get in the way. Presence is all you need.

    God wants to speak to us. He wants nothing more than a relationship with us. Some Christians talk about a relationship, but what they mean is Jesus died, they prayed a prayer, and now they’re going to heaven and can live life like everyone else.

    Friends, God

    I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. (Proverbs 8:17)

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

    I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

    Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. (Habakkuk 2:1-2)

    Often, when I least expect it, God speaks to me...surprise! I don’t know if He would speak as clearly, though, if I had consistently ignored Him. Spend time with God and you will hear His voice...eventually.


    The challenge this week is simple:
    spend one hour listening to God. You have 168. Can you spare one?

    “What do I do for an hour?” you may ask.

    Be still. Be quiet. Some of you are ready right now and others are freaking out!

    In case you are envisioning sitting in your room, silent, for an hour, staring at the wall, let me suggest some tools to assist you.

    1. Prepare. This might include fasting or even asking others to pray for your time. It involves setting aside time. Don’t rush. You cannot expect to share a great dinner with a friend in 60 seconds, nor can you expect a great conversation with God on the fly. Also, find a good—usually quiet—place.

    2. Ask Questions. One of the best ways to listen to God is to simply ask Him a question. Following last week’s message and our annual theme bless, ask God, “Who and how can I bless today?”

    3. Listen

    My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,... (James 1:19)

    4. Take notes. Write down whatever thoughts/impressions you might have.

    I often do what I call red-letter journaling. I will type out my prayers on my laptop and then change the text color to red, ask God to speak, and I type everything that comes to mind.


    A man once asked God, “Why don’t you feed the starving people around the world?” to which God replied, “Why don’t you feed the starving people around the world?”

    Note: God may speak through others. Keep your ears open!

    How Do You Know It Is God?

    Many cults have been formed after a person thought they heard God...and didn’t. How do we know it is God? First, it takes time. Imagine that I called you on the phone for the first time...a phone without Caller ID! You’d probably be pleasant for a while and eventually ask, “Who is this?”

    Disclaimer: for those under 25, a phone call is what we used to do with phones before texting!

    If I called you a few more times, eventually you’d recognize my voice and say, “Hi Kirk!” You know my voice.

    There are few ways you can test whether the message you
    think is from God is not bad lunch...or wishful thinking...or the enemy.

    Jesus said, “
    My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

    1. First and foremost, what does the Bible say? God will not contradict Himself. Period. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

    1. 2. Seek wise counsel. Godly men and women can often discern the source of messages. (Proverbs 11:14)

    1. 3. Pray for confirmation. If the message is persistent, it may be valid. (Matthew 18:16)

    4. Is it possible? If it is, it might not be from God. He loves to work through our weakness. If it seems crazy, it
    might be from God! (2 Corinthians 12:10)

    1. 5. Do you have peace about it? (Colossians 3:15)

    1. 6. Obey God. This goes back to the first test. You have to know the Truth...Jesus and His Word. Don’t expect it to be politically correct, either!

    Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

    Jesus Listened

    Have you ever noticed how many times Jesus got away to pray? I used to think He did all of the talking, but He listened to the Father. He spent forty days fasting and praying before selecting the twelve disciples. He asked if there was a Plan B in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested and crucified. He made time for the Father. See Luke 22:39-44 as an example.

    I doubt Jesus spent time asking the Father for more safety, comfort, or pleasure. He was seeking the will of the Father, and we can seek it, too...but be prepared to act.

    Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)

    Acts 12:25 – 13:3
    When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.

    In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

    How did the early church listen to God?
    They heard from God as they worshipped and fasted…as they were laying down their own agendas for God’s. As the early church leaders were worshipping and fasting, they heard from God. God inspired them to send out Barnabas and Saul for the sake of blessing other people.

    My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers

    They said to Moses, ’You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die’ `—Exodus 20:19

    We don’t consciously and deliberately disobey God— we simply don’t listen to Him. God has given His commands to us, but we pay no attention to them— not because of willful disobedience, but because we do not truly love and respect Him. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (
    John 14:15). Once we realize we have constantly been showing disrespect to God, we will be filled with shame and humiliation for ignoring Him.

    “You speak with us, . . . but let not God speak with us . . . .” We show how little love we have for God by preferring to listen to His servants rather than to Him. We like to listen to personal testimonies, but we don’t want God Himself to speak to us. Why are we so terrified for God to speak to us? It is because we know that when God speaks we must either do what He asks or tell Him we will not obey. But if it is simply one of God’s servants speaking to us, we feel obedience is optional, not imperative. We respond by saying, “Well, that’s only your own idea, even though I don’t deny that what you said is probably God’s truth.”

    Am I constantly humiliating God by ignoring Him, while He lovingly continues to treat me as His child? Once I finally do hear Him, the humiliation I have heaped on Him returns to me. My response then becomes, “Lord, why was I so insensitive and obstinate?” This is always the result once we hear God. But our real delight in finally hearing Him is tempered with the shame we feel for having taken so long to do so.

    For Further Study

    Credits: some materials borrowed from Charles Kiser (

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    The Radical Experiment, 6 November 2011

    Big Idea: the conclusion of our Radical series offers five next-steps for knowing Jesus more deeply.

    Opening Video

    We are concluding our series
    Radical based somewhat on the book of the same name by David Platt.

  • Last week I issued two cautions. One was that we would not take Jesus’ hard teaching seriously, rationalizing them away. The other is that we turn them into a legalistic to-do list that will get us to heaven or make God love us more.

  • Nothing you can do can make God love you more. Nothing you can do can make God love you less.

  • What I’m about to share with you has an additional caution—apathy. Jesus’ brother said simply...

  • Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. – James 1:22

  • It’s easy to hear challenging teachings and nod our head or even compliment the preacher at the end, but what matters is not merely what we know but how we respond. Jesus was not merely a good teacher, He came to be LORD. Action is a natural response to love.

  • We have celebrated communion together, remembering all that Jesus has done for us. Anything that we do in obedience to Him is nothing more than a response, a privilege! The amazing thing is that when we obey Jesus, we are blessed. We experience what it means to be fully human. We encounter a depth in our relationship with our Creator that we can discover no other way. We are filled with joy and peace and satisfaction found nowhere else.

  • Today I want to invite you to The Radical Experiment. There are five parts to the Radical Experiment and they are just that, an experiment. These are five things that I believe will draw you closer to Jesus. They reflect His heart, His passion, and His commands. These five things are not magic, but I believe they can change your life, our church, and ultimately our world.

  • Pray for the entire world

  • This week the 7 billionth person entered our world. Billions have never even heard of Jesus. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, Jesus said in Luke 10:2. “Ask the LORD of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.”

  • We can join God in His mission on our knees. Our denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, states in its Core Values

  • Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. (Philippians 4:6-7)

  • will be our main tool for praying for the entire world. They have a book, a website, and other resources where you can learn about a different nation each day and pray for them.

  • We want God to bless America, but also all of the nations of the world. John 3:16 says that God so loved! The first step in being a blessing to the nations is to pray for them.

  • Read through the entire Word

  • This relates to another value of the Christian & Missionary Alliance:

  • Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success. (Joshua 1:8)

  • We can’t know it if we haven’t read it. Spiritual warfare is real. We need to know the Truth of God’s Word. The purpose, again, is not to perform a task but to know our Father.

  • Steve Jobs asked Walter Isaacson to write a biography of his life so that his children could know their dad. That makes me so sad, yet it would be even more tragic if his kids had no interest in reading it!

  • Our Father has given us not only information about Himself, but also wisdom for living, exciting stories, history, poetry, prophecy, and so much more. I want to challenge you to read through the Bible in 2012.

  • You may be saying, “2012? It’s not even December 2011!” You can use the next several weeks to practice or get a head start. We have a tool for this, too.

  • Dr. George Guthrie ( developed the Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

  • This plan takes the material of the Bible and organizes it to flow in chronological order. Since exact dating of some materials or events is not possible, the chronology simply represents an attempt to give you the reader the general flow and development of the Bible's grand story. Some passages are placed according to topic (e.g., John 1:1–3 in Week 1, Day 2; and many of the psalms). There are six readings for each week to give you space for catching up when needed.

    In addition to the website and book, free apps are available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch and it is fully compatible with the
    YouVersion website and apps. You can listen to the audio, read the book, visit online, or view the app. However you do it, we want to read through the entire Bible...together.

    Imagine what it would be like if you told a friend about what you read that morning and they said, “Hey, I read that, too!” As a church family, we will all be able to read the same chapters each day and grow together. We’ll even build some of our Sunday morning texts from the reading plan.

    In addition to the verses, offers podcasts and videos with Michael Card and others that will help you read, understand, and apply God’s Word.

    Sacrifice our money for a specific purpose

    Everything that we have belongs to God—not 10%, not 50%, but 100%. As we have noted, every person in this room is financially rich compared to the other 7 billion people on the planet. What would happen if we committed to free up resources for urgent spiritual and physical needs around the world? Do you think God would honor our generosity if we take what is from Him and sacrificially use it for His purposes?

    Instead of asking how much we can spare, what if we asked, “What will it take?”

    The needs of our world are so overwhelming. Bob Pierce, the former president of World Vision said,

    "Don't fail to do something just because you can't do everything."

    Each of us can do
    something, whether it is to skip a meal, cancel cable, increase the percentage of our giving, sponsor a child with Compassion International, or even make a micro-finance loan through

    It has been said that Christians spend more money on dog food than missions! Seriously?

    Everything we have belongs to God; we are His stewards. (1 Chronicles 29:14)

    The world is not our home. Let’s stop living like it is.

    Give our time in another context

    I challenge you—and myself—to spend 2% of your time—or one week—in another context. This could be a missions trip to Africa or a week next summer in Detroit. We’ll be presenting opportunities in the coming days for youth, individuals, and families or you can create your own.

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

    Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully-devoted disciple. (Matthew 28:19)

    That means you!

    Commit our lives to a multiplying community

    Be a committed member of a local church, here or elsewhere.

    Following Jesus is a team sport. We need each other. God created us to be interdependent. Just as the Father, Son and Spirit exist in community so we are to, also.

    In 2012 we are going to pray for the world together, read the Word together, give together, and serve together.

    The point is not to follow Christ but to follow Him together.

    They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
  • - Acts 2:42-47

    Do you see it?

    They were radically committed to the Word of God and the apostle’s teaching.
  • They were radically committed to fellowship together, in public and in homes.
  • They were radically committed to prayer, experiencing miracles.
  • They were radically generous, giving to anyone as he had need.
  • They were radically committed to one another, meeting together daily.

  • This was not a perfect church, but it was a radical one. I cannot imagine a more compelling vision for Scio—a group of normal but radical people, passionately committed to loving Jesus, one another, and their neighbors.

  • It doesn’t just happen, though. We can’t wish it into reality. It requires total surrender, but it’s worth it.

  • You might ask why we’re talking about 2012 in November of 2011. As I said with the Bible reading, this will give you some time to experiment. I urge you to prayerfully consider the challenge, especially as we head into the crazy holidays.

  • Finally, let me say once more that we must avoid legalism, thinking we need to follow man-made rules or even God-given commands in order to earn salvation or approval before God. Nothing you can do can make God love your more/less. God’s favor in your life is not based on your performance but on Jesus Christ and what He did for you. That’s what we celebrated earlier with communion. That’s also why do serve Him. We love and serve Him because He first loved and served us. This is our response.

  • Concluding Video

  • You can listen to the podcast here.
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