Repentance

Repentance, 10 January 2021

Repentance
Series—40 Days of Prayer with The Alliance
Revelation 1-3

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

Big Idea: “Be holy, for I am holy.” Repentance can help us turn toward holiness.

I’m so grateful to the leaders of the Christian & Missionary Alliance to call us to 40 Days of Prayer to begin 2021. Last year was a challenging year for all of us, and the events of Wednesday in our nation’s capital proved the new year did not magically fix everything. We are broken people desperately in need of a Savior. Some thought our president was that savior. Others have given their allegiance to the next one. The hopes of herd immunity to rid the world of COVID-19 are everywhere. If we can just get those $2000 checks, eliminate racism, stop global warming, develop a source of accurate news, beat Alabama tomorrow night…!!!

Ever since Adam and Eve ate from the fruit in the Garden of Eden, our world has been plagued by sin. We are plagued by sin. It’s easy to point fingers at people on TV, but as the song says, “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with…me.” I can’t control the outcome of elections, the behavior of blasphemers, the attitude of adulterers, the liars, the haters, the murderers, the…

It begins with me. It begins with you. It begins with us…on our knees.

Last Sunday we began our series talking about God’s holiness. Alliance pastor A.W. Tozer said,

God's holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God's power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.

The Tozer Devotional adds…

Until we have seen ourselves as God sees us, we are not likely to be much disturbed over conditions around us as long as they do not get so far out of hand as to threaten our comfortable way of life.

We underestimate God’s power and holiness while overestimating our goodness. He is God…and we are not. We don’t deserve to even gain an audience with Him, yet He loves us, proved it, and invites into an eternal relationship with Him. Jesus models for us what it truly means to be human—and holy.

Do you want to be like Jesus? That’s essentially the definition of
discipleship—becoming like Christ.

We know that’s his desire for us, which is why I get so frustrated when my life—or the lives of others who claim to follow Christ—doesn’t look like Jesus.

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

Are you holy? It’s sort of a trick question. On the one hand, we are made holy because of the cross. Hebrews tells us about God’s will.

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

We are set apart. We are purified, consecrated, set apart, sanctified.

But on the other hand we’re not perfect. We sin, fail, rebel, and disobey. Our lives do
not always look like Jesus. He is our example, our teacher, our model, our hero. Just because we don’t get it right every time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”

God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” How do we do that? Repentance is required. Repentance is another one of those religious words we don’t often here in the broader culture and it’s often confused with confession.

Confession is a statement. Repentance requires action.

Confession is admitting wrongdoing. It might involve remorse and an apology, but at its most basic level, confession is saying, “I did it.”

Repentance is something we do. It’s a verb. Eugene Peterson wrote,
You don’t repent by taking a deep breath and then feel better. You only repent when you turn around and go back or toward God. It doesn’t make any difference how you feel. You can have the feeling, or you don’t have to have the feeling. What’s essential is that you do something. The call to repentance is not a call to feel the remorse of your sins. It’s a call to turn around so that God can do something about them.
Repentance is to do a u-turn, to turn around, to move in a different direction.
I’m grateful for GPS when I drive. Some of us old people remember the days of pulling
maps out of the glove box (did anyone ever have room for their gloves in the glove box?) to get directions. We’d fumble around with this huge piece of paper until we could discover our place, our destination, and the path between them.
Now we just tell Siri where to go and she tells us where to go! Occasionally I find myself disobeying her commands! Recently on the expressway I had to make a pit stop at an exit and she wanted to re-route me. Turn around! You’re going the wrong way! Get back on the right road!
Many of us have been moving in the
wrong direction…and therefore, we’re not in the right place. We’re not experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised. We’re living with anxiety, fear, regret, or guilt. We’re ashamed of where we’ve gone and we don’t know how to turn around.
I need to stop right here and say that’s where Jesus comes in! That’s why God’s grace is so amazing. Forgiveness is always available. It’s never too late to turn around, to repent,
to turn around, to get right with God, to follow Jesus. He said,
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
The good news—the gospel—is that Jesus is LORD, and he invites us to follow him, to experiencing forgiveness and salvation not because of what we do, but because of what he’s done for us on the cross, proving his love and commitment to us by dying for us, for our sins, and reconciling us to our Holy, Heavenly Father.
But we must repent. We must turn. We must change…not by trying harder, but by surrendering to God and letting the Holy Spirit work in and through us.
Jesus didn’t say confess and believe. He didn’t tell us to say a little prayer and go back to normal life. He said repent—turn, change—and believe. The Greek word, pisteuo, for believe means to commit, to put in trust with, to have faith. Like repentance, it involves action.
Why Repent?
You might be asking yourself why we need to repent. If Jesus paid it all, can’t I take my “get out of hell free” card and do it my way? There are several reasons why repentance is essential. The first chapter of the last book of the Bible—Revelation—reveals several. Jesus’ best friend, John, had a revelation from God. He wrote,
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

I repent because I am blessed.

I have a friend who has a reputation for giving candy to children at his church. It’s not a creepy thing, but a kind gesture that the area dentists love! He’s a magnet for kids who know that turning toward him will result in a blessing. We’ve been blessed by God and it should be natural to want to be with Him, to follow Him.

Two verses later, John greets his readers with grace and peace…

and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, (Revelation 1:5)

I repent because I am in awe of Jesus’ work on the cross.

After decades of knowing Jesus, I still am in awe of his sacrifice. Last Sunday we celebrated communion together, remembering the cross and the empty tomb. We turn away from sin, repent, and follow Jesus because of all that he has done for us.

The next verse continues by saying that Jesus
and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:6)
I repent because I am a priest.

I don’t mean a pastor. That’s my job title. But Jesus has made all of his followers to be priests, serving God. I don’t even understand completely what that means, but I know I can’t bring him glory if I’ve wandered away from Him…which leads to a fourth reason to repent.

I repent because I am able to walk away from holiness and need a wake-up call. (Revelation 1:11-3:22)

Sin has consequences, both from God and from everyday life. You reap what you sow. No matter how passionate and sincere you may be today, it’s possible to wander tomorrow. This is why sanctification is both an action and a process. Repentance is not once-and-done, but like driving a car, a constant steering of our lives, making adjustments, and sometimes making significant corrections.

Many students of the book of Revelation love to search for meanings in the symbolism and apocalyptic messages of the book, but the first three chapters require little interpretation. Jesus speaks to seven churches in cities you can visit to this day. Here’s a quick summary:
  1. 1. Ephesus: Repent from Idolatry
“You have forsaken your first love.” (Revelation 2:4)
“Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:5)
  1. 2. Smyrna: No repentance warning; suffering produces holiness
  2. 3. Pergamum: Repent from tolerating false teaching and sexual sin
Following teaching of Balaam (sexual sin) and Nicolaitans (false teaching) (Revelation 2:14–15)
“Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Revelation 2:16)
  1. 4. Thyatira: Repent from tolerating sexual immorality and idolatry taught by false prophetess, causing disunity
Gave her time to repent; she is unwilling to repent of sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:21)
“So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (Revelation 2:22–23)
  1. 5. Sardis: Repent from dead faith and lack of deeds
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Revelation 3:3)
  1. 6. Philadelphia: No repentance warning; suffering produces holiness
  2. 7. Laodicia: Repent from self-sufficiency, materialism, and lukewarm faith
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)
So What?

It can be interesting to read the accounts of others and their sins, but what about you? At this moment, do you need to repent? Fill in the blank:

I need to repent from ______________

Maybe it’s idolatry. You’ve given more of your time, talents, treasures, and love to something or someone other than God. It might be a good thing like family or a destructive habit like drugs. Politics has clearly become an idol for many in our day. The church in Ephesus had lost their first love, Jesus. Have you?

Maybe it’s sexual sin like those in Pergamum. Porn, adultery, …any sexual activity that isn’t between a husband and wife. Our culture says it’s no big deal, even celebrating it, but it’s unholy. It’s settling. It’s sin.

Maybe it’s something related to disunity like the Thyatirans. Gossip, slander, criticism, half-truths, judging others, divisiveness.

Maybe it’s a dead faith like the church in Sardis. Maybe it’s not your actions but your inaction that needs to change. When is the last time you really prayed, studied the Bible, shared your faith, gave sacrificially of your time or talents or treasure? You say you believe, but is there evidence…or do you just go through the motions on Sunday morning?

Maybe it’s the self-sufficiency and materialism of the Laodician church. This is especially common among many in our nation who think they don’t need God. We have money, hospitals, cars, the Internet…who has time or need for God? Do you really trust God…or your bank account, career, or power?

Where do you need to repent, to turn, to change? Again, the good news—the great news—is that God offers forgiveness and grace to all of us. Nothing you can do can make God love you more, and nothing you can do can make God love you less.

But until you repent, you won’t be following Jesus. Until you turn away from your sins, you won’t experience true peace. Until you choose to make Jesus LORD and not just Savior, you will never know true intimacy with your Creator and the fruit of the Spirit.
Where do we need to repent as a church? What sin are we tolerating? Where do we exalt wrong teaching or worldly philosophy? Where are we allowing division to creep in? Where have we started to become dead or lukewarm in caring about our community and the world? Where have we become confident in our own wealth and power? Are we even able to suffer?
LORD, Have Mercy

Credits: some ideas taken from Amy Roedding and The Alliance

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

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

Mourn, 19 July 2020

Blessed are Those Who Mourn
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:3

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: We are blessed and comforted when we mourn and mourn with others.

NIV:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

NLT:
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

NKJV:
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

The Message: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

Think about your greatest loss. I know, it’s not the most uplifting way to begin today! Life is full of loss. It might be a job, your health, or your marriage. What is your greatest loss? Athletes might think of a championship they nearly won. Children might recall a favorite pet who died. What is your greatest loss? It might be a spouse or child or even your memory and mind.

As we continue our series on the Beatitudes,
Blessed, we’re going to look at what Jesus said about loss and grief. The subject is often dark, yet Jesus offers hope and encouragement for those who mourn, which just might be you at this very moment.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

We mourn our losses.

We will do most anything to avoid loss. Some professional sports teams have gone to great lengths to cheat in order to win games. The medical community has incredible tools for extending one’s life. We now have electronic devices to prevent us from losing our keys and computers. The only thing we like to lose is weight!


Yet our world is full of loss, which usually elicits the emotion of mourning. The original Greek word for mourn here,
pentheo, refers to the feeling or act of mourning or wailing.

Whenever I think of wailing, I think of one of the most famous sites in Israel: the Wailing Wall. It’s in the Old City of Jerusalem, also known as the Western Wall, the only remains of the Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 AD, the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray. It’s called the Wailing Wall because of the weeping at the site over the Temple’s destruction. More than a million prayers on pieces of paper are placed in the wall crevices each year.

Talking about grief, loss, mourning, and wailing is unpleasant. It can make us uncomfortable, yet Jesus calls those who mourn “blessed.” Last week we said this word, makarios, means “happy, fortunate, well off, supremely blest” which makes no sense to us, at least on the surface. Can you imagine visiting funeral homes and announcing to the mourners they are blessed?

Last Sunday I gave my rough definition of blessing:
having God’s presence and favor. I think we all want God’s presence and favor, but often we are distracted by other things. I submit to you anything you want more than God is an idol. It’s sinful. We can make idols out of good things: our children, our spouses and friends, food, pleasure, money, power, …just about anything can take God’s rightful place in our lives.

Sometimes God allows us to lose those things precious to us, not necessarily to punish us, but to draw us back to Him. These can be painful lessons, yet we are to live not for our glory but His. When God is all you have, you discover He’s really all you need.


I am not in any way making light of the anguish caused by loss. I’ve experienced some tremendous losses in my life and grieve them regularly, even events from years ago. But part of the blessing of loss is experiencing God’s presence and favor.

Psalm 34:18 says,

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

That sounds so sweet, doesn’t it? What poet wrote those words? They were probably sitting in a meadow on a sunny, spring afternoon trying to encourage a suffering friend, right? Hardly! This is the writing of David while he was being hunted by King Saul!

Psalm 34 is a powerful song of God’s deliverance in the midst of agony. The verse before eighteen says,

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34:17)

Perhaps most remarkable of all is how the psalm begins:

I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:1-4)

Remember, this is from a man fleeing for his life! David realized despite his problematic circumstance, God was present and worthy of worship. This is one reason we sing at funerals. We are to remember

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

This life is filled with death and loss. It’s the tragic result of sin. We’re quick to blame God every time we experience pain, but it’s in those moments where God is often the most real. We can—and should—praise Him in the storm, not because we like the storm, but because He is near, He is present, He is with us. He remains worthy. We might not understand, but by faith we can trust He has a plan. Unfortunately, we’re often so busy pursuing our own interests that we completely ignore God. We make life about us instead of about glorifying Him.

You were made by God.
You were made for God.
You were made for God’s glory.

Before we get too convicted (!), let’s return to our text for today.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

We mourn our losses.

The loss of anything valuable produces mourning. We need to grieve. Sorrow must be embraced. There are no—healthy—shortcuts. Jesus wept. It’s alright to cry, as the old song says. Everybody’s journey always finds its way to sorrow.

I get concerned when I see overly-happy people in the midst of great loss. Getting spiritual and quoting Bible verses won’t erase the emotional pain. We need to be present with our pain. We need to pay attention to those God-given emotions inside, like Job, David, Jesus, and so many others in the scriptures. Pete Scazzero writes,

´╗┐Limits are behind all loss. We cannot do or be anything we want. God has placed enormous limits around even the most gifted of us. Why? To keep us grounded, to keep us humble. In fact, the very meaning of the word humility has its root in the Latin humus, meaning “of the earth.” (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality)

We must mourn. We must be present with your grief. Failing to do so can have dire consequences on our health. Tragically, many numb their pain through denial, addiction, blaming, avoidance, or rationalizations. If we can embrace the pain and mourn the loss, we will likely discover God’s presence. He often shows up at the most unexpected moments. One modern translation of the Bible says,

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (Matthew 5:4, The Message)

Jesus doesn’t simply say mourners are blessed. He offers a promise of hope, a preferred future. They will be comforted.

Last week’s beatitude was in the present tense.

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

Theirs
is the kingdom of heaven. Now. Today.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Jesus says those who mourn
will be comforted. Comfort. What a contrast to mourning! We love comfort. We love to be comfortable. We buy comforters for our beds. We enjoy comfort food.

The original word for comforted,
parakaleo, is from the same root as the word Jesus used when we promised the Holy Spirit, parakletos, the Advocate, the intercessor, consoler, comforter (John 16:7).

While I can’t imagine anything better than being in the presence of Jesus, he told his disciples,

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

We have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter living inside of us if we are followers of Jesus. God is with us…here…now! When we ignore our need for comfort, we fail to invite the Comforter into our lives and we miss out on the blessing of God’s presence.

Although we are not always happy, we can experience the joy of the LORD at all times (Nehemiah 8:10). We can give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We can be filled with hope knowing God is with us and we have a future with Him forever. Hallelujah!

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

The word “mourn” is used more than a hundred times in the Bible! The writers understood grief and loss! Paul wrote to the church in Rome,

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

We mourn with others.

Loving well means we celebrate with those who a rejoicing and we grieve with those who are mourning. This can be very uncomfortable. I think the most common questions are, “What do I do?” and “What do I say?” Often the best thing we can do is be present and silent. See someone else’s pain without trying to fix them.

In this pandemic, it’s especially challenging to be physically present, and sometimes impossible. Any message which says, “I’m here. I’m with you. I’m for you. I’m praying for you. I’m available.”

When it comes to talking, often less is more. Silence can be golden. Actions speak louder than words. And as I’ve said before, please avoid quoting Romans 8:28! It is true that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” but people need to mourn and grieve. We can’t rush the process. Grieving is a necessity of life. There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).

Funerals are the most obvious time to mourn, but we can grieve lesser losses, too. Even good things like a child going off to college or getting married and moving out of the house can be a loss. We lose our dreams, our youthfulness, our innocence. Acknowledge it. Share it. Tell God about it. Christian counseling and Celebrate Recovery Wednesdays at 7 PM can be outlets for grief.

We are all in the midst of a significant loss at this moment. The coronavirus has disrupted our lives, cancelling sporting events, graduation ceremonies, family reunions, and a host of other events. It has caused the loss of jobs, vacations, and even human lives. We need to acknowledge the loss, grieve what is gone, and comfort one another.

We mourn with others.

There is a Jewish tradition called shiva which is a seven-day period of grieving where mourners sit at home on low stools for a week following the burial of a loved one. That may sound extreme, but what a beautiful tradition! They say that time heals all wounds, but I don’t think you ever fully recover from the death of someone close to you.

Family, we need one another. We need to love one another well. We need to mourn with one another, rejoice with one another, pray for one another, and perhaps most of all be present for one another. Jesus came as Emmanuel—God with us—and when we are present for others, we become the hands and feet of Jesus. We are Jesus with skin on! What a blessing!

We mourn our loss.
We mourn with others.

One more thing…

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

I was surprised in my study to discover one writer who mentioned how
we mourn over our sins. We all sin. We rebel against God. We harm others. We create idols. We are prideful and selfish.

When is the last time you grieved over your own sin? Being forgiven by the work of Jesus on the cross doesn’t mean we gloss over our offenses. Sin means a loss of relationship, of intimacy with God and others. It means missed opportunities and blessings. Many of our sins have temporary or even permanent consequences which are regrettable. When we pause to grieve, when we repent, it creates space for God’s peace, and comfort to come alive in us.

When we celebrate communion on the first Sunday of each month, we remember our sins, Christ’s sacrifice, and amazing grace. We are comforted by the discovery and appropriation of God’s pardon. When we mourn our sin, we yearn for purity, righteousness, and godliness as we seek first God’s kingdom and follow Jesus. We all need to change. Something within us needs to die…so we can truly live.

We can mourn and repent not only of our own sins, but also those of our society. No culture is perfect. There has never been a truly Christian nation. It’s important to repent on behalf of our country, our lack of concern for the poor, our murder of precious lives through abortion, systemic racism and injustice, and other human activities which devalue or destroy God’s creation.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Family, it’s not about you. It’s about God. He is sovereign and in control. He gives good gifts and allows pain. We don’t always understand why, but I promise you He can be trusted. He is good and faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

If you are mourning today, I truly want to fix it and make it better. I want to bring back whatever you’ve lost, whether it’s a job, a loved one, a relationship, or your health. I can’t do that, obviously, but I can remind you God never wastes anything. Mourn. Grieve. Allow others to comfort you. Allow the Holy Spirit to comfort you, to strengthen you as the Latin root of comfort implies.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8a)

Ian Cron said, “In that experience of grief—of mourning—the presence of God is felt most acutely.”

Blessed Be The Name

Gerald Sittser notes the quickest way to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west chasing after it, but to head east into the darkness until you finally reach the sunrise (
A Grace Disguised).

Wholeness and healing are incremental processes. It’s a daily journey. It takes time. You’re not alone. You’re never alone. God is on your side. Your family is here—just a phone call away. We all mourn. Let’s mourn well. Let’s mourn with one another. Let’s comfort one another…and experience the presence of the Comforter.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project.

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

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

Come, Holy Spirit, 31 May 2020

Come, Holy Spirit
Acts 2

Big Idea: We must be filled with and led by the Holy Spirit.

Video: Holy Spirit (The Bible Project)

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church in Acts 2 as found in today’s scripture reading. It’s a profoundly important moment in history.

Today is significant to First Alliance Church because it’s the first time many of you have been able to see each other face to face. Letters are great, texts are fine, phone calls are nice, and I’m grateful for FaceTime and Zoom, but there’s nothing like being physically present with someone.

Have you ever wished you could spend some time with Jesus? I mean physically be with Jesus. Let’s face it, prayer is wonderful and the Bible is fantastic, but haven’t you had those moments when you longed to see Jesus face to face?

Imagine you were a disciple of Jesus. You traveled with him. You ate with him. You saw him heal the sick, raise the dead, feed the thousands, and preach incredible sermons. Life with Jesus literally transformed your life. Now imagine in the middle of three years with him, he drops this bomb:

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

You’re leaving us, Jesus? You’re going away? How can you call this good? We like you! What could be better than having you lead our team?

Jesus said it was for their good that he would go away. That was partially a reference to Good Friday when he would leave his friends and die for them…and us. But it was also a reference to his ascension when he left our planet, paving the way for the Holy Spirit.

N.T. Wright in at least two of his books describes history as a five-act play. Act One is creation, seen in the opening pages of the Bible in Genesis. What follows, Act Two, is the Fall of Adam and Eve, sinning in the Garden of Eden and creating chaos for all of creation from that day forward. Act Three is Israel, God’s chosen people beginning with His covenant with Abraham which continued throughout Jewish Bible we call the Old Testament. Act Four is Jesus, chronicled in the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Act Five begins in the book of Acts, the emergence of the Church, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, events that continue to this day.

We worship one God in three Persons, a mystery known as the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been present throughout all five acts. In fact, Pentecost began as
an Old Testament celebration called the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks. We think of Pentecost as the day the Holy Spirit birthed the Church with power, adding 3000 new believers in Acts 2. Prior to Pentecost, we see the Spirit in one place at a time. What made Pentecost so special was the distribution of God’s presence among multiple people.

Throughout act three—Israel—God’s presence on earth was most visible in a special part of the temple called the holy of holies where God dwelled behind a curtain. The day Jesus was crucified,

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38)

You might say God’s presence escaped the temple. God left the building. It wasn’t that God wasn’t present in the temple, but that the temple could not hold Him. No longer would people have to travel to a particular place to encounter the living God. Let’s look at what happened on Pentecost Sunday.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)

This was no ordinary day. This was a multi-media extravaganza! The Holy Spirit filled all of those gathered. They started speaking known languages they had never learned, a reversal of the Tower of Babel when God confused the people with multiple languages (Genesis 11:9). Author John Gill notes,

“Through this baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, the apostles became more knowing, and had a greater understanding of the mysteries of the Gospel, and were more qualified to preach it to people of all nations and languages.”

For many of these believers, they loved Jesus, grieved his death, celebrated his resurrection, watching him ascend into heaven, grieved his departure, and then became temples of God as the Holy Spirit arrived.

It’s a little ironic talking about Pentecost on the day we return to our physical campus. First Alliance Church never closed. Our buildings were shut, but these buildings are not the house of the LORD. They are not the temple. God’s presence and power dwells in each follower of Jesus since Acts 2. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

All of this. Had been prophesied. Jesus, of course, had announced the future coming of the Holy Spirit.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)

He also said,

When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:8-11)

He gave even more details in the first chapter of the book of Acts.

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)

This all came to pass in the very next chapter.

Jesus was not the first to predict the events of Pentecost. The prophet Joel declared God’s words.

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28)

Peter quotes this text in the second chapter of Acts. What follows is nothing short of miraculous. The capital-C Church was born, a group of Spirit-filled believers who literally changed the world. I never get sick of reading this passage. Acts 2:41 says because of the movement of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s preaching,

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41)

Wow! That’s what I call church growth! Those numbers are impressive, but that’s not all.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who 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)

Years ago, I worked at a church called 2|42 Community Church. Its name came from this text. It’s a wonderful picture of church. Again, the temple is mentioned, but church was not a building or a service, but a family of people who did life together. They were devoted to

  • - Teaching
  • - Fellowship
  • - Community meals
  • - Prayer

They experienced miracles. They did life together, sharing everything. This occurred every day, not merely an hour a week. Much of their lives were spent in homes.

This sounds a little like the past two and a half months for First Alliance Church! We’ve not been in large groups, but people have been meeting together both online and in person in small groups. Meals have been shared. Prayer have been prayed…and answered! Teaching and equipping are occurring. It has been very different, but the Holy Spirit has been at work in and through us.

I’ve heard many pastors say they want a “New Testament church.” The problem is, there are many mentioned, including seven called out in the beginning of the book of Revelation. They were all messed up. Each had issues, just like ours. There is no perfect church, only a perfect Senior Pastor whose name is Jesus.

Acts 2 sounds amazing—and it was—but Jesus promised following him would not always be easy.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

A moment ago, we looked at his words in Acts 1:8. The Alliance calls itself a “Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.” This is a pretty important passage!

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)

The original Greek word for witnesses,
martus, means “martyrs.” Many of these early believers who were filled with the Holy Spirit were persecuted for their faith. Many died as martyrs. Their passion was real. Church wasn’t something they did, it was who they were.

So What?

What about you? What about us? Where do we go from here? As we create the future, we desperately need the Holy Spirit. If you think I’m smart enough to guide us, you’re fooling yourself! If you think the elders possess the necessary wisdom, you’re mistaken. We need the Holy Spirit. Individually. Corporately.

When you give your life to Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too. Unfortunately, many are not filled with the Spirit. Some are afraid of the Holy Spirit because they think the Spirit will make them bark like a dog or do something weird. Others have dismissed the Spirit, practically seeing the Trinity as the Father, Son, and Holy Bible. Because certain gifts of the Spirit have been abused, they conclude we don’t need them…though the enemy is capable of distorting all of God’s good gifts.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts, not for our selfish use, but rather for the benefit of the Body, the Church. Nobody has all of the gifts. There’s no one gift that every believer possesses. Some of the gifts include teaching, giving, mercy, service, healing, wisdom, faith, tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, helps, leadership, and miracles. There are four primary lists of spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Timothy 4. As a Christian & Missionary Alliance church we believe in all of the gifts and their proper use to serve the Body of Christ.

The Holy Spirit also produces fruit in our lives.

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

Show me someone who is growing in those areas and I’ll show you someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit. The true test is Christ-likeness, not any particular gift.

We are to be filled with the Spirit.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

Being filled with the Spirit is something we must continually do, like breathing. You don’t stop! That’s the meaning of the words “be filled” in Ephesians 5:18.

How can you be filled with the Holy Spirit? It involves surrender, picking up your cross daily to follow Jesus, setting aside your agenda and rights, inviting the Spirit to live in and through you.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, the Spirit is already living inside of you, but might not be fully activated, much like you can have central air conditioning in your house but it won’t cool your home until it’s turned on.

There’s so much that can be said about the Holy Spirit, but here’s the bottom line:

We need God. We need the Holy Spirit. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know what lies ahead for First Alliance Church, but the Spirit knows.

I don’t know how we can restore God’s masterpieces in Toledo, but the Spirit does.

I don’t have the power to change a life, a marriage, a broken body, a hurting heart, but the Spirit does.

I don’t possess all of the gifts necessary to be Jesus to our city, but together if we are filled with the Spirit, we do.

The Holy Spirit descended upon the city of Jerusalem about 2000 years ago and the world has never been the same as men, women and children around the world have been conduits of God’s blessing, presence, and power.

I am praying for the Holy Spirit to descend upon the city of Toledo, equipping us and our spiritual siblings at The Tabernacle, The Vineyard, Harvest Lane Alliance, Perrysburg Alliance, Westgate Chapel, Cedar Creek, and others to become more like Jesus, to be transformed by faith, hope, and love.

This is a critical moment in history. We’re not going back. God is doing a new thing. Now more than ever, we need the Holy Spirit to guide and provide, to encourage and give us courage, to direct and protect.

Come, Holy Spirit. You are welcome here!

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

God Forgives the Repentant, 20 October 2019

God Forgives the Repentant
Series—Jonah
Jonah 3:1-10

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

Big Idea:
God is a God of second chances, which is good news for us and others.

I love sports! October is one of the best months of the year because it might be the only month you can watch baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. I’m not much of an athlete, but I love to play as well as watch sports, especially with friends. Although it’s not my favorite sport, I enjoy an occasional golf game (and when I say occasional, I mean the annual First Alliance men’s golf outing!).

I’m a terrible golfer, but there’s two things I love about playing golf: nature…and mulligans! For those unfamiliar with the sport, a mulligan is when you swing at a golf ball and…the result is embarrassing! The ball ends up in the woods, the water, or simply a few inches from where you tried to hit it! Forgiving golfers will often say, “Take a mulligan,” which means a do-over…a second chance.

Wouldn’t it be great if life were like that? Actually, I’m here to declare that

God is a God of second chances, which is good news for us and others.

We’re in the middle of a study of the book of Jonah, a short four-chapter book made famous by a fish. Our text for today, the third chapter of Jonah, is a wonderful story of people repenting and God relenting. The short book of Jonah begins with these words:

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

Nineveh was an evil city. The people were known for their violence and ruthlessness, impaling live victims on sharp poles, beheading by the thousands, stacking skulls by the entrances to the city, skinning people alive, and killing babies and young children. It was a great city, not because of its godliness, but its notoriety and size.

Who do you hate? I know, Christians aren’t supposed to hate, but who do you despise? If you’ve served in military combat, you had an enemy. If you’ve been abused, you have a perpetrator. If you’ve been wronged, you have someone you’d like to see God judge.

Jonah despised the Ninevites. Israel’s rival was Assyria and Nineveh was its capital. In fact, it’s somewhat surprising that he disobeyed God and
didn’t go preach fire and brimstone on these people, watching God destroy this evil city.

As we saw in chapter one, Jonah disobeyed God, heading in the opposite direction of Nineveh. A massive storm led to his transport into the sea where found himself in the belly of a fish for three days before being launched onto a beach.

We don’t know if anyone saw Jonah vomited from the fish.
We don’t know if word spread about his journey.
We don’t know if his appearance was bleached by his home for three days!

We do know Jonah’s learned his lesson and he’s ready to go to Nineveh.

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

Chapter three begins

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” (Jonah 3:1-2)

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again! God has Jonah’s attention now! It’s time to resume the mission. But the mission has slightly changed. The first word of the LORD in chapter one, God said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it.” Now God says to proclaim to it.

God is the God of second chances. God forgives the repentant, the one who turns away from sin, does a 180, and runs to God seeking mercy and forgiveness.

God forgave Noah the drunk.
God forgave Abraham the liar.
God forgave Jacob the cheater.
God forgave Moses the murderer.
God forgave Rahab the prostitute.
God forgave David the adulterer (rapist?).
God forgave Peter the denier.
God forgave Martha the worrier.
God forgave Saul the persecutor.

God gave Jonah a second chance. He offers us a second chance, too.

How many of you are glad God is the God of second chances?

Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. (Jonah 3:3)

Jonah obeyed. It’s about time! He finally goes to Nineveh after taking a three-day, dark detour. Perhaps we should call it “alternative transportation!” We’re not sure if Jonah felt like it this time, but he goes. He knows the alternative is not pretty!

It says

Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. (Jonah 3:3b)

That’s huge! It was founded by Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10) and could’ve been about the size of the Toledo metro area in both population and land mass. One wall of the city had fifteen hundred towers and a circumference of eight miles, according to one researcher. Nineveh was built near the Tigris River and the Khoser River ran through it.

Nobody is sure if three days meant the amount of time to preach to the entire city or to travel through it. Regardless, it was a very large and significant city.

Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4)

This is not a way to make friends and influence people…but when God says go…

The life of a prophet was not easy. It is truly a calling to “call” people to repentance, to turn away from their sin, to change.

I might add this must be done with love, genuine concern for others. Standing at a street corner yelling at people, judging and condemning does not count!

Issuing warnings before disaster because you care about the potential victims is another matter entirely.

Alliance president Dr. John Stumbo recently reminded us of the importance of show and tell. We need to live attractive, grace-filled lives
and proclaim the truth lovingly to others. We need to demonstrate the gospel—the good news of Jesus—and verbalize it, too.

A popular myth is that St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” He did not say that! Words
are necessary. The book of Romans declares,

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:13-14)

We need words. We need to proclaim, one of the four verbs emphasized by the Christian & Missionary Alliance.

I realize words can be difficult. Some of you love the
idea of evangelism—of sharing good news—but you’re nervous about what to say. Maybe you’re an introvert. Perhaps you’re a new follower of Jesus and feel insufficiently trained. First, share your story. If you don’t have a story, don’t worry about it. I’d love to introduce you to Jesus. Let’s talk!

Second, there are tools to help. Sunday mornings right here. Dinner Church on the last Sunday of the month. And next month,
Saturate Toledo.

Imagine what will happen when every household in the five-county area is given a chance to experience the gospel!

You might look at people in our area the way Jonah looked at Nineveh. Let’s face it, our city is filled with needy people, broken people, and evil people. This might surprise you, but there are sinners in Toledo…and in this room…including me! But God is a God of second chances.

We don’t really know Jonah’s attitude, but he nevertheless is obeying God.
If you’ve spent any time reading the Bible, you’ll know the number forty appears frequently, usually connected to judgment. Noah and his family were in the ark while it rained forty days and nights. The Jewish spies explored the Promised Land for forty days. Goliath mocked God for forty days before his demise.

Jonah obeyed God and warned the people of judgment with five Hebrew words (eight in English)…and then something happened.

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (Jonah 5)

Was this supposed to happen? People actually repented? They turned away from their sins? They fasted and put on sackcloth, a symbol for mourning and repentance. It wasn’t just the commoner who repented.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. (Jonah 3:6)

Can you imagine the king repenting? Can you imagine any politician acting out of such humility?

Oh that our leaders would repent.
Oh that we would repent.

We all sin…and we must mourn our sin. We must repent. Yes, Jesus died to forgive us our sins, but that doesn’t give us a license to sin. It doesn’t mean we should be flippant about it? We must acknowledge and mourn over our sin…and be grateful for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:7-9)

What a leader! What repentance! Even the animals were included! Notice the kind didn’t simply say, “We’re sorry, God.” He decreed that the people change, that they turn, that they give up their evil ways and their violence. Some would call that revival!

Jonah (finally) obeys God and it truly makes a difference. A huge difference! The people of Nineveh—like the sailors in the boat in chapter one—don’t want to perish. God doesn’t want them to perish.

God is the God of second chances.

John 3:16 says that those who believe and trust in Jesus will not perish. Peter reiterates God’s attitude toward sinners:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Some Christians can’t understand why Jesus hasn’t returned yet. I long for him to return soon, too, but God is waiting for us to make disciples of “all nations.” He doesn’t want anyone to perish. He wants everyone to come to repentance. Everyone. Young and old. Communist and capitalist. Rich and poor. GED and PhD. Married and single. Gay and straight…and other. Homeless and home owner.

God is the God of second chances.

He sends Jonah to utter five Hebrew words:

“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4b)

Instead, they repent.

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

God relented. He responds to their repentance.

God is the God of second chances.

There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.
There’s nothing you can do to make God love you less.

This is great news…and it needs to be shared. We can’t keep it to ourselves.

God showed compassion upon the wicked but repentant Ninevites.

God has shown compassion to you and me. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6).

But we must repent. We must confess our sins. We must agree with God when we have sinned and disobeyed and return to obedience. No excuses. No compromise.

Where do you need to repent? Where do you need to turn and do a 180? Where do you need to obey?

Part of obedience—of following Jesus—is to proclaim. It is to let others know God is the God of second chances. There’s hope for them, too. We’ve all been called to make disciples. We’ve all been called to love others…in word and deed. We need to let the world know…

There’s nothing they can do to make God love them more.
There’s nothing they can do to make God love them less.

Family, we must show and tell. We must proclaim in word and deed.

God is a God of second chances, which is good news for us and others. Praise God!

Credits: some ideas from Warren Wiersbe, Jeremy Myers.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God Answers Prayer, 13 October 2019

    God Answers Prayer
    Series—Jonah
    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.

    Waiting

    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.
  • Sin & Repentance, 24 February 2019

    Sin & Repentance
    Series—Back to Basics
    Romans 7:15-8:2

    Big Idea:
    Following Jesus would be easy if it wasn’t for sin…but it is possible.

    Throughout the month of February, we’ve been going Back to Basics. We began by looking at why we exist, why First Alliance Church was started more than 131 years ago by Albert Benjamin Simpson.

    In week two, we looked at two of my four prayers for First Alliance Church: passion and unity. Last week, we examined the other two prayers I have been praying since my first day as your pastor: direction and protection. Jesus is our Senior Pastor, our leader, and we want to know and obey His will and direction for our individual lives and this local church, our church, His church. We also presented the reality of a real enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy and why we pray, “Deliver us from evil.”

    The subject of protection is a great tie-in to our topic today on sin and repentance. If it weren’t for sin, we’d have no problems in our world. It’s virtually impossible to even imagine! A temptation-free planet without satan and demons would seem to be like playing basketball without an opponent. It would be easy.

    Unfortunately, sin is real, and we all succumb to temptation. Even Paul, the writer of much of the New Testament of the Bible, was far from perfect. In fact, he once said,

    Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)


    This is the leader of the early church and he’s the worst of sinners? Where does that leave you and me? That’s our focus this morning—sin and what to do about it.

    Let’s get the obvious out of the way: sin is not a pleasant subject. It’s not a word we often hear outside the church, yet the word appears more than 900 times in the Bible.

    What is sin?

    There are two meanings for the word sin:

    1) a sin from a human perspective; and
    2) a sin from God’s perspective.

    Consider the first two Merriam-Webster defin
    itions. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of sin:

    a. an offense against religious or moral law
    b. an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible - it's a sin to waste food
    c. an often serious shortcoming; fault

    The first definition is the common definition. By this definition, a sin is a violation of some specific law or expectation: do not murder, do not steal, do not abuse animals, etc. Using this definition, most people can keep from sinning most of the time.

    Sin can be viewed from a human perspective.

    Sin can be viewed from God’s perspective.

    Merriam-Webster’s second definition involves much more of our lives:

    a. transgression of the law of God
    b. a vitiated (corrupted) state of hum
    an nature in which the self is estranged from God

    So what is God’s Law? We could go to the 10 Commandments. We could examine the 613 Jewish Commandments. Or we could jump to Jesus’ summary of the entire Law. When asked the most important of the commandments,

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

    If you think that you have recently lived up to these, then you are deceiving yourself. I know of no person who lives up to either of these laws – ever. We are all sinners continually. Think about this past week and the sins you have committed…or those sins of omission. How have you not loved God? How have you not loved your neighbor?

    If you’re struggling to think of any sins, perhaps pride is the first thing you need to confess. Jesus’ close friend John wrote,

    If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8).

    I’ve mentioned this verse on more than one occasio
    n, partly because some churched people are unaware of their sins.

    We all sin.

    I don’t mean that just in the past tense. I mean even if you’ve attended church for decades, taught Sunday School for generations, memorized half the Bible, and given thousands of dollars to domestic and global missions, you’ve not yet reached perfection. If you don’t believe me, ask the person sitting beside you!

    The remarkable thing about Paul—likely the writer of Romans and much of the New Testament of the Bible—is how he viewed himself not just as a sinner, but the worst of sinners. Even though he was mature, self-controlled, educated, and respected, he continued to struggle with sin.

    I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:15-20)

    Does this sound like a mature Christian or a new believer? Paul’s writing in the present tense. This is arguably the greatest leader in the early church!

    I think this may be the most frustrating passage of literature ever written! Do you feel the tension?

    Actually, there’s more!

    So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Romans 7:21-23)

    This is that war between God and satan, between good and evil, between right and wrong. This is why we pray for protection…from temptation, from evil, from hatred, from division, from sin.

    All
    humans have an innate or inherited sinfulness. America’s first textbook, The New England Primer taught this doctrine with the simple poem: “In Adam’s fall – We sinned all.” I’m not sure how many public school textbooks have such statements today!

    Two chapter back in Romans 5, Paul writes,

    Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)

    Sin against God is very serious. Paul obviously thought so. Perhaps we too often compare ourselves to others.

    “I’m not perfect, but at least I didn’t kill anyone like that guy on tv.”
    “I pay my taxes. I’m a good person.”

    If you’re like me, your favorite teachers are or were those who graded on a curve. You might get an A even if you would’ve earned a B or C on a straight scale.

    We’re accustomed to imperfection. Baseball players get three strikes before they’re called out. The best basketball players miss about half of their shots.

    Nobody’s perfect, right?

    But God’s standard is perfection. 100%. Jesus said,

    Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

    Have you “loved God with your whole heart” today?
    Have you displayed selfless love to everyone you encountered today?
    If not, you are a sinner.
    Can you join with Paul, one of the most important Christians ever, in saying,

    What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:24)

    Most of you know the good news in this passage.

    Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25a)

    We’re all about Jesus because Jesus is all about us. He gave very life for us, to deliver us from the death and penalty of our sins. If you’re good enough to go to heaven when you die, Jesus was an idiot for enduring crucifixion!

    But Jesus didn’t just come and die so we could go to heaven when we die. He came so we could experience heaven before we die. Heaven is where God is, and Jesus wants to be with us now. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God lives within every believer, but for many, that Spirit lies dormant. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, confessing our sins and surrendering to the power of the Holy Spirit to change us, to sanctify us, to make us more like Jesus. Paul continues,

    So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:25b)

    Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)


    Because we all sin, we all need forgiveness.

    I’m afraid too many people think all they need to do is pray a prayer, believe in a historical Jesus, and never worry about their sin.

    Jesus’ invitation was never, “Pray a prayer.” It was, “Follow me.” It was, “Love God and love your neighbor.” This is where we all fall so short. This is where Paul failed, too.

    We all must repent. Peter, another one of Jesus’ best friends, said,

    … “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

    Repentance means to turn. It means to do a 180. It means to change. It’s both an initial step in following Jesus as well as an ongoing process of becoming like Jesus.

    By the way, Peter said, “Repent and be baptized.” Baptism is an outward demonstration of inward repentance. It’s going public with your faith. It is a repeated command of scripture. If you haven’t been baptized and you have accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him, I’d love to talk with you about getting baptized. It’s arguably the greatest possible celebration our church family can possibly experience.

    The initial decision to follow Jesus is so important, making him Savior. But that’s the beginning, not the end.

    Jesus can be our Savior, but he must also be our LORD.

    The reason so many Christians don’t look like Jesus is because Jesus is not their LORD. They have accepted theological truths, but have never fully surrendered to Jesus.

    Two weeks ago when talking about passion, I said if you’re truly passionate for God, prove it! Prove it with your money. Prove it with your time. Prove it with your life.

    I get so frustrated with people wearing crosses around their neck and acting nothing like Jesus.

    I get so frustrated with people putting fish on the back of their cars or calling themselves Christians and acting nothing like Jesus.

    And yes, like Paul, I get frustrated with my own life when I see sin invading my life.

    That’s when repentance is necessary. Remember, repentance means to turn. It’s about change. It’s not just saying I’m sorry, but it’s actually changing. It’s confessing, yes, but then it’s surrendering to the Holy Spirit, asking for Jesus to be LORD.

    Judas had remorse for betraying Jesus, but not Godly repentance (Matthew 27:3).

    Paul said,

    I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. (Acts 26:20)

    Both King Saul and King David were famous, powerful leaders in the Old Testament. Both were sinners, like all of us. When confronted with his sin, Saul made excuses (1 Samuel 15:30-31). When confronted by Nathan, David immediately said, “I have sinned against the LORD.” (2 Samuel 12:13). Then, David wrote,

    Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10)

    That’s more than confession; that’s repentance.

    That’s more than, “I’m sorry.” It’s, “I want to change.”

    True repentance also means making amends, forgiving others, and being merciful. Following Jesus is not just about loving God. It also means loving others.

    If we are truly repentant, we will experience forgiveness.

    For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalms 103:11-12)

    We will also become the person G
    od created us to be, the restored masterpiece.

    For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

    But it’s a process. Each day we are to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. Each day we are to confess our
    sins and acknowledge how we have fallen short of the mark of perfection modeled by Jesus. Each day we are to experience more of God’s unmerited favor, His grace.

    The late Dallas Willard wrote,

    Consumer Christianity is now normative. The consumer Christian is one who utilizes the grace of God for forgiveness and the services of the church for special oc
    casions, but does not give his or her life and innermost thoughts, feelings, and intentions over to the kingdom of the heavens. Such Christians are not inwardly transformed and not committed to it.

    Paul understood this, calling himself the worst of sinners. We are all in need of God’s grace, not merely for our salvation, but for our sanctification, our daily journey to follow Jesus.

    Credits: I’m grateful for the research and assistance of Doug Oliver.

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

    Invitation: Repent & Believe, 14 May 2017

    Invitation: Repent & Believe
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:14-20

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

    Big Idea: Jesus invites us to repent, believe, and follow Him.

    Invitation

    What’s the greatest invitation you’ve ever received?

    • - Attend a birthday party
    • - Sit with someone in the school cafeteria
    • - Join a sports team
    • - Participate on a ministry team
    • - Graduation celebration
    • - Wedding proposal
    • - Job opportunity

    It’s usually nice to receive an invitation, though some are better than others. My Facebook account is often filled with invitations from people I barely know for events I know next to nothing about. Contrast that with an elegant, “snail-mail” wedding invitation. Yes, some people still use paper!

    Often we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into when we accept an invitation. Agreeing to stand up in that wedding means I have to shell out a hundred bucks for a tuxedo rental? Joining that board requires ten hours a week of volunteer team outside of the monthly meetings? Taking the job involves several weeks a year of travel? Marrying that person means…?!?!?!

    We’re in the middle of a series from the gospel or “good news” of Mark in our pursuit of knowing “The Real Jesus.” In the first verse of the book we see Jesus introduced as the Messiah and Son of God. Then we examined John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for His arrival. Last week we discussed Jesus’ preparation for public ministry through baptism and temptation. Today we look at an invitation from Jesus, an invitation He is still making to us thousands of years later.

    After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. (Mark 1:14)

    Mark is our “headline” gospel. He gets right to the point. John’s in prison. Jesus is in Galilee.

    Why was John put in prison? See John 1:19-4:54.

    What is the good news of God? It’s the gospel. What’s the gospel? In a word, Jesus. In three words, Jesus is LORD.

    The gospel is not you’re bad, Jesus is good, He died, pray a prayer, and go to heaven when you die. That might be a part of the gospel, but the gospel is so much more than life after death.

    It’s about life before death.
    It’s about faith, hope and love.
    It’s about loving God and neighbor.
    It’s about knowing and being known by your Creator.
    It’s about being a part of an eternal family.
    It’s about coming home.

    Can I preach for just a moment?

    There are too many people loved by God that don’t know it because they aren’t being loved by us.

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    This verse summarizes the teaching of Jesus. God’s kingdom is near. What is the kingdom of God? This was the focus of Jesus’ proclamation. It wasn’t about dying and going to heaven, it was about heaven coming down to earth, heaven kissing earth, God’s kingdom coming near. First-century Jews would have understood the kingdom of God to mean “the day of the Lord.”

    To enter the kingdom, we must repent and believe. This is easier said than done. It means laying down our lives and picking up the cross.

    Repent is from the Greek metanoia. Like metamorphisis, it means to change…one’s mind. Repent is not about condemnation or shame, just a change of mind and heart that results in a change of behavior and lifestyle. All of our actions begin in our mind. Repent means to change, to do a 180. It’s not optional for followers of Jesus. We are to turn from our selfish, sinful ways and turn to God’s generous, perfect ways.

    Repentance does not mean we change. It simply means to change one’s mind. Then the fun begins!

    Jesus said repent and believe.

    The most famous verse in the Bible is…John 3:16. It says

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

    The Greek word for believe is “pisteuo.” The English translation, believe, frustrates me because many “believe” if they agree with the historical notion Jesus died and rose again they are, therefore, going to heaven when they die and can continue in their sinful, God-dishonoring ways. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Believe is a verb. The noun form means faith. Believe means to commit or to trust. That’s action. In this context it means to trust in Jesus, to commit to the charge of Jesus. It means to surrender and follow Jesus. Here’s how one writer put it:

    It is the act whereby a person lays hold of God's resources, becomes obedient to what He has prescribed and putting aside all self interest and self-reliance, trusts Him completely. It is an unqualified surrender of the whole of one's being in dependence upon Him. It is wholly trusting and relying upon Him for all things. It is not just mental assent to the facts and realities of truth, it must come from a deep inner conviction.

    Believing that there is a God is no big deal. Even the demons believe that, we’re told in James 2:19!

    This kind of belief is trust. Surrender. Dying to yourself and becoming a new creation, resurrected with Jesus. This is the image of baptism we’ll all witness shortly.

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    Repent and believe.
    Turn and follow.

    This is how we change to become like Jesus.
    This is how we grow in our faith.
    This is discipleship.

    People have wrongly said repentance is about changing your outer behavior and belief is something that is inward and private. Jesus says to transform the inside first and then the outside follows.

    I want to introduce you to the Learning Circle, one of the most valuable tools I’ve encountered in following Jesus.

    LifeShape: circle video, https://vimeo.com/101761387

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    The Learning Circle is based upon this verse. We can’t change alone. We need others to help us observe, reflect, and act as we repent. We need others to help us plan, account, and act in order to truly become like Jesus.

    The Learning Circle shows us:

    •what it means to live a lifestyle of learning as a disciple of Christ;
    •how to recognize important events as opportunities for growth; and
    •how to process these events.

    The Learning Circle—which is just a tool you can use with others—is based on two questions:

    What is God saying to me?
    (This will help change the inner parts of me)
    What am I going to do about it? (The inner change has to produce an action)

    Now we turn to two sets of brothers who chose to repent and believe.

    As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 
    “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)

    The gospel of John tells us this is not their first encounter with Jesus. Notice He didn’t say join a cult or help Him start a religion. He offered an invitation of relationship. They responded. He didn’t say, “Follow God.” He said, “Follow me,” which was the same thing.

    These brothers are fishermen. They were not religious scholars, gifted speakers, or special leaders. They were ordinary people like you and me. They may have been to poor to afford a boat, casting their nets from shore. Jesus does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called. His invitation is simple: follow Me.

    When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.  (Mark 1:19-20)

    Simon and Andrew were fishing brothers. James and John were, too.

    They left their nets. They left their boat. They even left their father to follow Jesus.

    What do you need to leave behind to follow Jesus? What will it cost you?

    Following Jesus…

    It’s more than a prayer you pray.
    It’s more than knowledge you believe.
    It’s more than sin you avoid.
    It requires trust and action.

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

    Credits: some ideas from Mike Breen, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Zephaniah, 27 July 2014

    Big Idea: God loves His children through wrath and blessings.

    Overview: God is going to remove and restore everything: Israel, Judah, the surrounding nations—everything will be judged, and then everything will be made much, much better.

    Introduction

    I have had many defining moments in my life, but one day changed my life more than any other. It was on that day that I became a daddy as my bride gave birth to our first child, Kailey.

    Since I became a dad, I have cherished my relationship with each of our three kids. There have been moments when we have had our differences, but they have always known my unconditional love for them, and though they have occasionally said otherwise in the heat of the moment, I have been secure in their love for me. Next to God, my family is the most important thing in my life. When our kids are good, I’m almost always good. When they struggle, it’s hard for me to think of anything but their struggles. When they are sick, I am burdened to pray and seek any possible healing resource.

    Imagine after raising, feeding, clothing, and sheltering our children they left. I don’t mean they moved away, I mean they left the family. They went to the court and changed their last name to…Jones! Imagine they unfriended me on Facebook, changed their phone numbers, and did everything possible to prevent me from having a relationship with them. How would I feel? How would you feel?

    God is all about relationships. From the very beginning He has created males and females for the purpose of relationships—relationships with Him and one another. Thousands of years ago after our first ancestors broke God’s heart by turning away from Him and rebelling, He made a covenant with Abraham which began the nation of Israel and God was their God, their King. Perhaps there was no greater pleasure God experienced than being with His people who enjoyed being with Him.

    The Old Testament is filled with stories of Israel following God and rejecting Him, running to Him and wandering off, obeying Him and ignoring Him. It’s starting to sound a little like
    The Giving Tree, isn’t it?!

    Although they had no King but God, eventually the people wanted a human king like the surrounding nations. God reluctantly granted them their wish, installing Saul as king, then David and Solomon. As they turned their attention from God and to the world, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Both kingdoms fell as enemy armies invaded, first Israel and then Judah.

    We are in the middle of a
    series called the most unread books of the Bible as discovered by BibleGateway.com.

    First we looked at Jonah.
    Then we examined Joel.
    Last week we studied Jude.
    Our book of the week is Zephaniah.

    The book of Zephaniah was written after fall of Israel and before the fall of Judah while Josiah was good, arguably the last good king of Judah. Zephaniah was a prophet—not to be confused with Zechariah (something I did all last week!). Prophets did not predict the future, but they spoke for God on behalf of the people, serving as messengers, in most cases calling God’s people to repentance before judgment, a time often referred to as “the day of the LORD.” It is a phrase used throughout the Bible, especially in the prophets (we saw it in Joel two weeks ago).

    Zephaniah presents two radically different messages:

    1. Woe to those the reject God
    2. Blessings to those who follow God

    This was true thousands of years ago and it’s still true today.

    For the sake of time, we cannot read every verse in the book, despite it being only three chapters long. Instead, I want to highlight the beginning and the end (as read earlier during Scripture reading).

    Zephaniah 1

    The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah: (1)

    We get great details about Zephaniah’s family. He was not the only one with the name Zephaniah so this distinguishes himself from the others and offers the historical note of Josiah as king.

    “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD. “I will sweep away both men and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. The wicked will have only heaps of rubble when I cut off man from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD. “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal, the names of the pagan and the idolatrous priests — those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the LORD and who also swear by Molech, those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of him.
    (2-6)

    This does not sound pleasant! God’s more than a little angry, but it is holy anger. Daddy knows best and He knows what is best is for people to love, follow and serve Him, not themselves, and certainly not idols.

    Once again we go back to the first two Commandments—no other gods and no idols.

    Baal and Molech were two common idols of surrounding nations adopted by Zephaniah’s contemporaries and mentioned throughout the Old Testament. Molech, in particular, was associated with death and the underworld. There is some debate as to whether people would fire-walk to appease Molech or even sacrifice children in fire. Either way, worshipping Baal and Molech was detestable to God, a Father heartbroken by His wayward children.

    We get a clue as to why the people abandoned God.

    At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.’ (1:12)

    They underestimated God. He will do nothing good or bad. They think God is dead…or sleeping…or aloof. Perhaps they simply forgot about God’s judgment. This was the first lie of satan in the Garden of Eden.

    “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

    “The great day of the LORD is near — near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. (1:14)

    Here we see the phrase “the day of the LORD” as mentioned in Joel and elsewhere, a day in which God will judge. For the ungodly, it will be a terrible day.

    That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.” (1:15-18)

    God
    will judge sin. He is a jealous God, not an insecure lover, but a loving Father who knows what’s best for His children. He wants an intimate relationship with them. He wants to be with them, to bless them, and to know them. When they run off and abandon Him, there is no greater pain, no greater loss.

    Does that fit our view of a “loving” God? Theologian Miroslav Volf had a shift in his thinking after watching his country of Yugoslavia destroyed.

    “I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”

    So the people are in trouble with God. What are they to do?

    Gather together, gather together, O shameful nation, before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD comes upon you, before the day of the LORD’s wrath comes upon you. Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger. (2:1-3)

    Seek the LORD.
    Seek righteousness.
    Seek humility.

    That’s their only hope.

    Seek the LORD. Jesus said it plainly:

    But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

    How much time do you spend seeking the LORD?

    Seek righteousness. Do the right thing. Follow the perfect example of Jesus. Fill your mind with God’s Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you of any unknown sins. Get right with God.

    Finally, seek humility. Don’t try to be humble. As soon as you think you’re humble, you’re not! We underestimate God when we overestimate ourselves. Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. It is how you think of others and God. How great is your God? It should put things in perspective quickly. Idolatry today does not usually involve statues of Baal and Molech but for me, at least, it involves the man in the mirror. Perhaps the best way to attack pride is serving those who cannot return the favor, anonymously blessing the poor, sacrificing your preferences for those of others. As Paul told the Church in Philippi:

    Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

    So What?

    I wish I could view Zephaniah’s audience as a bizarre tribe doing unimaginable things, but it sounds too much like our culture. We often revel in arrogance and pride, praising ourselves for our accomplishments, all the while ignoring our Creator whose very purpose in creating us was relationship.

    God is not a monster out to harm people that don’t obey Him. He’s a loving Father longing to know and be known by His children.

    This week my daughter will move away from her Father, but that won’t end our relationship (thanks to the phone, texting, FaceTime, and transportation). If she ever abandoned me—or if any of our kids renounced our family—I would pursue her out of love, knowing her life and mine will be more satisfying in relationship.

    We serve a gracious God who loves prodigals. He is eager to welcome home the departed. He is a God of wrath to those that dishonor Him, but He’s also a loving Father when His children seek Him.

    The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” “The sorrows for the appointed feasts I will remove from you; they are a burden and a reproach to you. At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you; I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they were put to shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the LORD. (3:17-20)

    No matter who you are or what you’ve done, God longs to know you. He takes great delight in His children, singing over us!

    When our kids were little, I loved to sing to them. I loved to hold them and I still do! We can celebrate today knowing that God is alive, He is active, He loves us, and one day we will be with Him forever.

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

    Joel, 13 July 2014

    Big Idea: The day of the Lord is coming. Are you ready?

    Overview: Joel explains that a recent plague of locusts is a judgment from God and calls Judah to repent. Although God judges Judah now, He will avenge Judah of her enemies.

    Introduction

    The day of the LORD. Today is Sunday which many call the LORD’s day. One could make a case that every day is the LORD’s day since the psalmist wrote

    “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

    This fascinating phrase, the day of the LORD, appears several times throughout the Bible.

    Last week we began our series
    The Most Unread Books of the Bible with a look at the book of Jonah. While the story is familiar, the book is infrequently read according to BibleGateway.com.

    Joel

    Last week’s lead character, Jonah, was called by God to proclaim God’s truth to the people of Nineveh.

    Today we look at another prophet,
    Joel. He also was sent to proclaim God’s truth, but we have more details about the content of his message.

    The Day of the Lord

    In the Old Testament, God created Adam and Eve, saved humanity through Noah and his family in the arc, and made a covenant with Abraham to bless his offspring—the Jews—and ultimately Gentiles, too. For generations, God’s people vacillated between following God and obeying Him. Prophets were sent to urge the people to repent and follow God or face dire consequences. The day of the LORD meant the day of judgment, whether it was judgment for Israel or other nations.

    The flood itself was one example of God’s judgment. Other punishments included invasions by enemy nations or even natural disasters. The book of Joel highlights one of these tragedies.

    The book of Joel begins with these words

      The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel. Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers? Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you drinkers of wine; wail because of the new wine, for it has been snatched from your lips. A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number; it has the teeth of a lion, the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white. Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the husband of her youth. Grain offerings and drink offerings are cut off from the house of the LORD. The priests are in mourning, those who minister before the LORD. The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed. The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree — all the trees of the field — are dried up. Surely the joy of mankind is withered away. Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes — joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up. How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering. To you, O LORD, I call, for fire has devoured the open pastures and flames have burned up all the trees of the field. Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up and fire has devoured the open pastures. (Joel 1)

    A great plague of locusts has been unleashed on the earth as a consequence of sin and rebellion, with warnings of greater punishments.

    If you’re like me you think, so what? They couldn’t stand a few locusts?

    A few months ago I saw a moth in our home. It was small, easily captured, and didn’t seem to be much of a bother…until we discovered it had friends! For months we set traps to capture the dozens of flying pests that invaded our pantry and nearly every room in the house. We finally rid our home of them, but they were annoying and expensive to exterminate.

    Locusts are pests like moths, but larger. They are basically grasshoppers. They look pretty cool when they are alone, but they can swarm and when they do it can be nothing short of a natural disaster.

    Even small swarms may cover several square miles, and weigh thousands of tons. They eat the equivalent of their own weight in a day, and, flying at night with the wind, may cover over 300 miles! The largest known swarm covered 513,000 km², comprising approximately 12.5 trillion insects and weighing 27.5 million tons!
    Wrath

    Why would a kind, gentle, loving God ever send such disaster upon His children? Precisely because He
    loves them! Their behavior was destructive, they forgot Him, and He wanted to get their attention before they self-destructed.

    God chastens those He loves, and that chastening calls people to repentance. He keeps His covenant by showing mercy—giving them warnings before punishment. He often sends prophets like Jonah and Joel to get the attention of wayward people.

    Chapter one of Joel describes the immediate locust plague which lead to a call for repentance and prayer.

    Chapter two is similar. It begins

    Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand — (Joel 2:1)

    A third scene (2:18-32) shows God’s response, returning destroyed crops and promising a future age of the Spirit.

    Finally, judgment against the nations is presented, ending with God’s blessings on His forgiven people (3:17-21).

    “Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. “In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the LORD’s house and will water the valley of acacias. But Egypt will be desolate, Edom a desert waste, because of violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they shed innocent blood. Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations. Their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned, I will pardon.” The LORD dwells in Zion! (Joel 3:17-21)

    Joel mentions little about the details for the disobedience that led to the punishment. His audience likely knew their transgressions.

    Amos is the first prophet to mention “the day of the LORD.” The pattern is commonly judgment followed by salvation. The locust is followed by the restoration of God’s people.


    The Day of the LORD in the New Testament

    The New Testament speaks of the day of the LORD, the second coming of Christ. Jesus came once as a little baby, but He promised to return and the coming is unexpected.

    …for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

    But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:10)

    So What?

    Thousands of years ago a guy wrote about plagues followed by restoration. So what?

    God hates sin.
    God judges sin.
    We must repent of our sins and receive His merciful forgiveness.

    I can hardly go a day without hearing about a tornado, global warming, mudslides, hurricanes, famine, drought, or some other natural disaster. Wars are raging in the Middle East and beyond. Is it God’s judgment? Is it the natural consequence of sin? I have no idea, but I do know we’re all one moment, one event from catastrophe. I also know our country has had a reputation for seeking God, an idea that seems like ancient history. God judges all sin, all people, all nations.

    The good news is that we all have access to mercy, forgiveness and grace not because of what we have done, but because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. All other religions are about doing things to make God love and accept us. Only the Christian faith describes a loving God who sent His son for us. Nothing you can do can make God love you more. Nothing you can do can make God love you less…but you must repent and receive the gift of grace, unmerited favor. That’s why Jesus died. That’s why we worship and celebrate, remembering the great sacrifice of God.

    The great “day of the LORD” is someday in the future. It could be today. It could be tomorrow. You don’t have to subscribe to a stack of periodicals to realize our nation has been increasingly turning from God. Sin abounds, often unrepentant and even filled with pride. Judgment day is coming for all of us. Are you ready?

    This is not one of those warm, happy sermons. People hated prophets because they were called to sound an alarm. So, too, I urge you to repent of your sins, get right with God, run into His arms, receive His gift of grace and mercy, and experience forgiveness and deep shalom peace.

    If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

    Oh how we need that today!

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